HOW do you get rid of this?” I asked my friend, grabbing an inch of flab from around my waist. “You don’t,” she answered, in a matter-of-fact manner, “It’s our fat store.”

Drawing on her distant memories of O-level biology, she explained how women evolved to harbour fat in certain places to sustain them while their menfolk left for days to hunt down woolly mammoths for the next week’s tea.

That’s all well and good, but wouldn’t you have thought that the evolutionary process would have developed to take account of the fact that women no longer need to hang about in caves sketching crude images of bison, while our men stalk sabre toothed cats?

Thousands of years later, we can drive, we’ve got 24-hour Tesco on our doorsteps - plus Click and Collect if we want it - so we really don’t need these extra deposits of fat that get worse the older we get. So why do we have them? Females store fat not only around their waists, but in their hips, buttocks and thighs, some of those reserves being needed for pregnancy and nursing.

If we are lucky we might be able to fight this through diet and rigorous exercise but as we age, we face a new, far more tricky challenge - “middle age spread”.

Spare tyre, muffin top, love handles, call it what you will, middle-age spread collects like an inflatable ring around your stomach.

Men develop it from a decrease in testosterone and a slower metabolism, while lower progesterone and oestrogen wreaks havoc with women. We can eat salads for a year and still have a thickening midriff.

Women are most susceptible to it at the age of 38 and men at 44, a study by a diet aid company found. The middle-aged show a steady weight gain of between one and two pounds a year.

When I was in my twenties I wouldn’t give a thought to how much I ate, because I didn’t seem to gain weight. For decades I was roughly the same size and shape. Now it’s all gone to pot. Every biscuit adds a cluster of fat cells. For the middle-aged the phrase “a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips” comes into its own.

It is painful having to think twice when you’re sitting in café staring at the cream cakes, longing to sink your teeth into them. That sense of food freedom is gone.

A third of us - both men and women - use portion control to avoid middle age spread, says a survey by a leisure firm, with people opting for smaller platefuls at mealtimes. I’ve insisted for a long time that my husband reduce the usual mountain he serves, and he has done, but still it refuses to budge.

Special “core training” exercises can also help, but that looks like a lot of hard, tedious work and I’m doubtful as to whether it would pay off. I have been going to a gym - not regularly I admit, but once or twice a month - for a year and have not noticed any difference.

Even my slim, trim, size 10 friend can’t get rid of middle age spread. I should look at it as just one of many areas of fatty deposits that we suffer from as we grow older. Post-baby fat never seems to disappear, no matter how many Zumba classes and Atkins diets you sign up for. Even our arms act as a fat warehouse.

I don’t think I can be bothered to fight it any more. Unless you’re willing to live on water cress and do circuit training for 11-hours a day there’s little you can do but accept your new shape and move on. As one of my colleagues advised: “You’ve got it - embrace it.”