I am absolutely the wrong person to review this book. Having never read a diet book in my life, the genre is unknown to me. I have never (this sounds like an obscene boast) gone on a diet. I have never watched my calories or visited a dietician. I don’t even do yoga. My only qualification is that, with middle age, my waist is thickening inexorably into a matronly circumference. Given my tabula rasa state, I approached Kalli Purie’s account of her lifelong battle (‘battle’ really is the right word for what this girl has been through) with no idea what to expect.
Written in a diary form in the light, zany style of Bridget Jones’s Diary, it recounts her diets, workouts, trainers, dieticians, binges, spas, Reich-style health farms and, eventually, the catastrophe of the scales tipping over the apocalyptic 100-kilo mark—the day she realised she had to get a grip on things or the fat would take over her life.
Confessions turned out to be a delightful memoir, written with irony, charm and lots of humour. A measure of the book’s merit is that I enjoyed it even though I was reading it as a general reader (sorry to keep rubbing this in) and not as a fat person dying to delve into Purie’s secrets. The reason why it worked for me is that the story of dieting—43 in all—is inlaid into a wider narrative on her life.
Among the vignettes of a blissful childhood and anecdotes about eating en famille is a whole cast of characters: the foodie grandfather who could turn the peeling and eating of an almond into a grand ceremonial, the loving mother who keeps popping up to take her daughter’s weight in hand (“nobody wants a fat wife”, she tells Purie), the sweet husband who has the sense to keep his own counsel even when Purie, at her worst, wobbles like a huge, soft, shapeless blob, and the Punjabi relatives in the UK who think she’s pregnant when they see her at family weddings.
As a fat toddler, Purie had to earn her jam toast by riding her tricycle 10 times around the driveway. The neighbourhood could hear her exertions as the tricycle squeaked under her weight. At age six, she was tricking her classmate into swapping her gourmet tiffin for some of her water (yes, water). At 32, she weighed 86 kilos and this is when she gets really scared for the first time after a fellow inmate at a health farm goes home only to die of a heart attack.
Here’s a sample of Purie’s engaging, lean-as-Kobe beef style. On getting into a health farm which has a waiting list: “We had to bring out the frequent sufferer card.” On being weighed at a fat farm: “They weighed me on a quintal machine...used for farm animals.” On her cabbage soup diet: “I drank it at parties and people around me asked, ‘What’s that smell?’”
But does the book have any useful advice? Yes, plenty. Even a non-dieting person like myself (sorry...) can see that her tips are excellent. Purie, who has stabilised at around 60 kilos, understands the psychology of a fat person and the kind of motivation and support they need. “Your mind-body-soul has to get hooked onto the high of looking good rather than tasting something good,” she writes.
I enjoyed Confessions over coffee and muffins. But I’m sure it will be just as good over coconut water.