The criticism has come in dribs and drabs, but arrive it certainly has. The suggestion on one blog, for instance, that while it's acceptable for me to go on a diet, it's really not acceptable for me to write about it. Fair enough. A reader emails in praise of another piece I've written (kind!) but includes the addendum that "I really, really wish you were not writing a dieting column." (Less kind!)
It's not as though the criticism has been unexpected - any woman who loses weight in public can expect judgment. For a celebrity such as Sophie Dahl, the scrutiny in the UK was so intense that she ended up leaving London for New York. And late last month, when it was reported that Nigella Lawson has taken the seemingly reasonable step of hiring a personal trainer, the Sun painted this as a betrayal of the sisterhood: "First Nigella champions curves, and now she appears to be ditching them. And the hourglass star isn't the first famous lady to go back on her word. Lily Allen, Fern Britton and Geri Halliwell" all have too. Interestingly, men who lose weight just don't seem to provoke the same reaction. If a man sheds a few pounds - as Lawson's husband, Charles Saatchi, did recently - the attitude is simply one of mild approval and curiosity. (How did he do it? Eggs apparently.)
On one hand, I can understand the criticism. After all, in a culture saturated with pressure for women to diet, anything that potentially adds to that - be it a celebrity losing weight, or me writing this column - can be seen as problematic. On the other, the idea that a woman is somehow betraying her entire sex by making a personal decision to lose weight underlines just how much women's individual bodies are still treated as public property, to be picked apart and pilloried, whether because they're considered too fat, too thin, or are changing shape - any reason under the sun, in other words. Can you imagine any man saying of Saatchi that he has betrayed the entire male population by losing weight? Men's bodies are their own, to treat as they wish. Women's bodies are apparently the province of the community.
The outlook still persists that if a woman acknowledges her body in any way she is a) giving up her right to be taken seriously, and b) must be hopelessly vain, even if she has health reasons for taking action which, in my case, include having been at least five stone overweight, having thighs that rub together like tinder sticks, and a father who dropped dead of a heart attack before my third birthday.
This isn't such a problem for women with no tendency to paunch, but for those of us who have, the idea that we face criticism if we take action is unhelpful. One of the stories that has been spurring me these past few months, is that of a woman, a friend of a friend, who was, by all accounts, brilliant. She had had a lifetime of abuse, and, like many women in that situation, decided to ignore her body; to devote herself to the life of the mind. She gradually grew fatter and fatter and fatter (as anyone who has been fat will know, once you're on the slippery slope, it's very easy to keep sliding) until one day the unbearable pain caused by her weight led her to check into hospital for a gastric bypass. While under anaesthetic, she had a heart attack and died.
Hearing about her story at a time when I, too, was taking a completely hands-off approach to my body, I realised that I could quite easily find myself in the same position. Faced with this, being told that you're betraying some notion of sisterhood by tackling your weight seems not just facile but insulting. In writing this column, I'm certainly not trying to add to diet pressure. I'm hoping to prove that someone who hates the diet industry can reach a weight at which they personally feel healthy. If that's treacherous, so be it.