Meet the 'grotesquely obese' food writer who's on a mission to shed the pounds by walking 1,450km in 90 days

Mischa Moselle sets off for the hike of his life through southern India to lose the lard

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 December, 2015, 6:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 December, 2015, 1:18pm

As you read this I’m at the start of an attempt to walk 1,450 kilometres in 90 days in southern India. My plan is to turn my sedentary lifestyle into something far more active and healthy.

The problem is that for most of my life I’ve been a fatness fanatic, spending more than half my career in journalism focusing on food and drink, especially alcoholic drink. I’ve ended up grotesquely obese – that’s my new category above morbidly obese. My normal exercise is a 20-minute stroll from my house to the ferry pier. Recently I’ve had to stop and rest even during that.

When I realised that I was 57 inches (145 cm) around the waist and in prime heart attack territory, I decided that something needed to be done. Of course, it’s entirely my own fault that I’ve ended up this way and my responsibility to shift the fat. I do want to be very clear about that – I’m responsible for consuming every single morsel and drop that has found its way down my gullet.

In more than a decade at the food writing trough I’ve certainly put away more than my fair share of empty calories.

There was the interview and photo shoot with a chef who cooked us the biggest lobe of foie gras I have ever seen. “If you order foie gras, you want to eat foie gras,” justified the chef. The photographer and I piled into the stunningly prepared dish once the pictures were done. Several months later the photographer had a heart attack – I believe he is still paying for the miraculous stent that keeps him alive – and I thought I really must get round to taking up some exercise. I didn’t.

How can I forget the opening of an Italian restaurant at which I took the chef up on his offer to try a small amount of every single dish on the menu? There were 39 dishes on the menu and a food coma for me. Ironically the next chef who gave me a food coma suffers from narcolepsy himself. This was at another Italian restaurant. I asked for tasting-size portions but the chef brought out full-sized portions of 15 dishes and I was nodding into my plate when he came out to talk to me. In a further irony, the only dish that stood out was the one I didn’t like.

When I’m not sitting in restaurants trying to work out what’s going on in their kitchen, I’m often in my own kitchen at home doing some cooking. If I’m not cooking for the family at weekends, then it can be guests. A couple of times a year I invite some fellow food writers to my house for lunch. This relaxation of mine has resulted in a number of eight-hour meals at the most memorable of which – 15 dishes of Russian food, each with a matching vodka shot – I lost my wallet. In my own house.

I truly have been the author of my own downfall.

Being this overweight really does take a toll. I sometimes wonder if at some point my writing annoyed a chef so much that he or she has bought a voodoo doll and is busy sticking pins in me as I go about my daily business. There’s the swollen ankles, hip pains, stabbing pains in the thighs, the rabbit punches to the kidneys and liver and the aches and sores that travel up and down my back.

Waking up exhausted I put down to work and being a father to five children.

Then there’s the mystery pain in the stomach. I’ve done blood tests, urine tests, another test that involved a sheet of newspaper, a wooden stick and a small jar and yet another indignity prefaced by the phrase, “Excuse me, Mr. Moselle, I’m going to have to insert my finger into your rectum”.

I’ve been X-rayed and had an MRI done (too fat for an ultrasound, said the junior doctor who also offered to sew my stomach in half). Nothing’s come up, the mystery remains just that, although cancer has been ruled out.

There is more good news. The first is that losing a lot of weight will help with all those symptoms. The second is that a blood test taken just before I left Hong Kong shows that my liver function is fine, my good cholesterol is high and my bad cholesterol low and my kidney function is mostly good. Apparently I need to cut down on the beef consumption – not hard in India – and mushrooms and lentils.

The lack of beef is not the only reason for choosing India. I first came here as a podgy 19-year-old and left six weeks later extremely thin. That was partly due to my ignoring most safety warnings and ending up with an upset stomach. I don’t intend to repeat that part of the experience, but I do intend to be up and about and doing things for eight to 10 hours a day, instead of sitting at a desk writing or sitting at a table eating.

Of course Indian food is not noteworthy for its slimming qualities but as much as it’s probably full of salt, sugar and coconut milk, it’s also bare of olive oil, foie gras, cream and butter. I have generally been sceptical about the health benefits of vegetarianism (an argument for another occasion) but am curious to see what effect a mostly vegetarian south Indian diet has on my bulk, if any.

The result of an unscientific test run in June this year was that when I flew in I needed an extension seat belt, when I flew back, I didn’t.

One of the things I’m planning on doing is incrementally increasing my walking from about 3km a day to 16km a day, even at Boy Scout pace that’s only five hours on my feet a day. Call it seven with some halts. Meeting my target will involve a few days of much longer walks at the end of my stay. They should be through national parks teeming with interesting wildlife, so that’s a win/win situation.

The difficult part won’t be the walking, it will be missing my children. I’m not sure the younger ones really understand why their dad is disappearing for so long. My youngest daughter is three. I hope she understands by the time I’m there to give her away at her wedding.