WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED TO YOU?

Before I got married in 2011, my wife-to-be and I braved a really intense detoxifying programme called ‘Clean’. At the time, she read the words of Gwyneth Paltrow as gospel. This saw me – the one who did all the cooking in our home – up early making my own almond milk (literally) and packing very small boxes not very full with very small meals. I say ‘meals’ in the plural only because I was partially cooking mostly raw meals for two – the regime allowed only one solid meal each per day.

It was an intense experience designed, in the first instance, for ill people as it helps the body heal by saving a lot of the energy usually used for digestion (often of more food than we actually need) for overall physical recuperation. It required a lot of rest and sleep – much of which we really needed, too, what with fewer calories than we were used to going in. But it also gave us both incredible and unfamiliar bursts of energy (our baby was only about eight months old at the time so we were still somewhat sleep-deprived).

I remember waking up early one morning and jabbering frantically about how amazing I felt – like I’d just be born, or something equally enthusiastic. Fifteen minutes later I wanted to vomit and couldn’t see how I was going to make it to work that day. My body was doing its thing.

The upshot was that, although we were probably both too thin, we looked a good five years younger than we actually were on our wedding day. So much younger, in fact, that when a friend I had only met after Desreen’s death saw a clip of our wedding video, he was shocked. ‘What the hell happened to you?’ he asked with a big smile.

‘Tough paper round,’ I answered with a scowl.

I guess grief, stress, anxiety, worry, depression and trying to do too much will take its toll on a person’s looks. But how you react to each will, too. I see so many people in my position using sport and exercise to help deal with things. I do sometimes, as well. But I can’t dine out on a marathon I did five years ago for the rest of my life. I’ve been feeling physically crappy for a while simply because I haven’t been taking care of either my body or diet. I used to be so much healthier but recently I’ve just been eating whatever I’ve wanted, revelling in the smugness of being in my late thirties but still having the same metabolism I had ten or fifteen years ago. But slim doesn’t necessarily equal healthy.

I’ve got a big birthday coming up soon; in a couple of months I turn forty. I’ve been struggling with it a bit, not because I’m bothered about the age or the number but because of where I expected my life to be by then. We had it all planned: where we would go to celebrate, where we would live, how many kids we would have, where we would be in our careers. And with just weeks to go, my life is nothing like it was meant to be. I’m not complaining – I’m actually really happy now – but when you see your peers living the life you thought you would have, it can make you quite reflective.

I can’t be bothered to feel bad about things for very long anymore, though. Like digestion, it takes up too much energy that could otherwise be used for healing. I would always rather do something about it: speak out, make a change in my life, exercise, change what I eat, hang out with the people I love, laugh, smile, whatever.

This week, having felt physically off for a while, I revisited the Clean programme. I’m three days in and while I don’t plan to follow the full twenty-one-day plan, I already feel like a different person. I’m sleeping better than I have in years, I feel more energetic when I’m awake, and my mind is so much more focused and positive. It makes me realise that you can’t but Coca-Cola in a sports car and hope for it to run well. There’s no huge secret to feeling well – ultimately we have to nourish and take care of our bodies and minds.

I was tempted to share some pictures of the healthy, almost nonexistent food I’ve been making, but realised how boring and possibly disingenuous that would be. The truth is, I’ve become slightly hooked on people’s reactions when I’ve told them I’m about to turn forty.

‘I’d say thirty-two,’ I got the other night from someone so pissed they could barely see straight or remember their own age. Still, I loved it. And so I have a few weeks to roll back the clock as far as possible on myself. To shift from: What the hell happened to you? to: How the hell do you look so young?

Wish me luck. Oh, and if you see me, don’t forget to look shocked. I honestly don’t even care if you mean it or not.