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The sad folly of the food diary



There is a new tyrant in my life. His name is Adam and he is my personal trainer. He’s a whipcord-straight lycra-clad sturmbannfuhrer. Strutting about and barking orders at me at random, he appears to be wearing an invisible Sergeant-Major’s uniform. He makes my life a total misery.

Twice a week we meet for my ritual humiliation (for which I pay thirty quid an hour). During this time, he makes me squat and crouch in inelegant positions, sometimes carrying a heavy rubber tube on the back of my neck.

He tells me this will improve the strength in my thighs, but to be honest I suspect that he is subjecting a ‘rayther stout gennelman of eight-and-forty’ (as Dickens might describe me) to some embarrassing procedures that involve me inelegantly sticking my arse out, for the edification and entertainment of the excessively-toned lycra-clad gym-bunnies in the establishment.

‘Tuck those buttocks in!’ he bellows at me. This puzzles me. How am I supposed to do that, exactly? Does he think that I have retractable ones?

I don’t agree with much of what he says. Why am I supposed to drink four litres of bottled water every day? My cardiologist seems to think it’s important that I take a diuretic, so who’s right? I don’t question Adam however, because I can imagine what he would say, which would be ‘Drop and give me fifty!’ And that would be just the start of it.

I’m slightly sorry that he hasn’t asked me for a note from my GP (which is still me; I know, I know) saying it is ‘safe’ for me to do cripplingly arduous exercise. I would have handed him a scribbled note saying ‘I’ll take the risk, signed, Me.’ But he doesn’t appear to be worried that I’ll drop dead, even though it often feels like I might.

Adam has invaded other aspects of my life. I have to give him a food diary, and this is where it gets relevant for GPs. Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle applies mainly to quantum physics, but there is another version known as the Observer Principle that applies to all other aspects of life, and it is this; it is impossible to measure or record anything without altering it.

I find it is simply impossible to record an accurate food diary. No-one reading it would believe it, and no-one recording it would do so accurately. Let’s have a look at mine, today.

Breakfast; nothing. OK, fair enough. Lunch; couldn’t decide between a corned beef sandwich and a corned beef pasty from the shop, so bought both. Can’t write both of those down, or Adam might karate-chop me to the back of the neck, so I’ll carry the pasty over until tomorrow in case I don’t have time for lunch. Could happen, I suppose. Dinner tonight; corned beef hash.

Snacks; half a jar of Branston Pickle with a teaspoon. Can’t write that down, because it’s ridiculous, despite the fact that we’ve all done it. Second snack; cold Heinz Baked Beans drunk out of the tin in front of the telly. This is similar to drinking any liquid, except it takes a lot longer. Again, ludicrous, so I can’t write that down either. So I put ‘a dry Ryvita, spread with absolutely nowt’. Maybe Adam will believe it, and not bury me up to my neck in sand.

The point being, ladies and gentlemen, don’t bother asking any of your patients to record any sort of diary, whether it’s diet, periods, headaches, fits, or anything else. They’ll lie to you. I’m my own GP, and I even lie to myself.

Dr Phil Peverley is a GP in Sunderland