In case you missed it: This was one of Lifestyle's most-read columns of 2016

I am sitting here in my paisley pyjamas (missing button) on my purple velvet couch (stained) drinking coffee (instant) as I do every Sunday morning when I write to you. (Hola!)

Sorry I think I may have started a column exactly like that before; but this time I have a radical new thought. I'm not just a brain on a sofa. Guess what? I have a body. A rather fatter-than-usual body, to be honest.

You know all that stuff about girls and young women struggling with "body issues"? Well not me, buster.

As a child I apparently misunderstood the instructions and obediently adopted the credo "Think, don't feel" to the extreme where I was 100 per cent pre-frontal cortex. (Accompanying sound effect: a sinister ning, ning, ning, with a pulsing purple light emanating from my forehead). I just didn't really accept I had a body. My brain could have lived in a jar.


This not-having-a-body thing was probably why as a teenager I would wander home insouciantly through the Domain at 2am. Also why I have never been able to have a massage and spent most of my adolescence fretting that I would never be able to have sex, given that I couldn't stand being touched.

Frankly, it is impossible to treat your body gently when you don't even feel it is part of you. It was a relief to find I'm not the only one. Caitlin Moran in the Times: "If you'd asked me, when I was 13, and a very fat girl, where my body was, and I'd answered truthfully, I would have said, 'About three miles away'."

But at this rather advanced stage of life, I am trying to become acquainted with my body.

Turns out there is a "me" from the neck down. Hi there, body! How you doin'? Turns out my body likes swimming. Also mint and tea tree oil soap, singing, patting the cat, the ritual sharpening of pencils. And that means, well, this is the way it's going to go for a while. Elastic waistbands. I'm okay with that.

But as I've tried to be more attentive to my body it has made me wonder, whether the obesity epidemic is not about cheap fizzy drinks, or even food, at all. It's about dissociation. Because what really matters is learning how to tolerate reality without eating potato chips.

In psychological terms, dissociation is a coping mechanism, often as a reaction to trauma, involving a detachment from reality. It may manifest as a disconnection from one's body.

It has made me wonder whether the obesity epidemic is not about cheap fizzy drinks, or even food, at all.


This is dangerous because our bodies give us information about how to keep safe. (Lone midnight Domain walks possibly not a great idea.)

Turns out we think with our body as well as our brain.

Neurologist Antonio Damasio's research - yes, him again - has found rationality requires emotional input. (This is called the Somatic Marker Hypothesis. Flop that one out sometime. You're welcome.)

Damasio found patients who have had damage to the emotional centre in their brain, but not their rational faculties, struggled to make simple decisions. Without gut feelings, they had to rely on slow and laborious cost-benefit analyses for every given situation, and despite being able to "think" still made dumb choices because they couldn't feel.

Don't you find it elegant that here is such a goddamned cerebral explanation for why we are not merely cerebral?

But anyway, back to meeee! The fact I have my gut feelings back - and my gut - is actually a good thing. But it can be painful. And not just because I had to throw out my tie-dyed lime green Versace skinny jeans.

If you have to acknowledge you have a body then you also have to acknowledge the feelings in your body, the grief, rage and terror that you spent so many years trying to escape.

It is lifesaving for a child to develop defences that allow her to leave a situation she can't physically leave by shutting down her feelings or turning to something that soothes her. But as adults we don't need to "leave" because we believe the pain of staying, or feeling our feelings, will kill us.

It won't.

But it takes years of brutal pressure for these defences to "get installed" and you can't dismantle them overnight. Having an emerging physical self can be blissful - hot pools!- but it can involve retina-detaching agony.

The process is also fricking slow. But I still believe it is worth it. There are treasures hidden in the sensations, feelings and thoughts we have habitually run from. Not least that it turns out we can learn to stop warring with our thighs.

I liked a weight-watchers post. "Lost 10 pounds." And underneath. "And still feel like crap."

Learning to love yourself - your whole self - is still the most powerful therapeutic technique anyone has ever thought of.