Friday, 24 October 2008

An Inspirational Poem

I have got lots of wise and wonderful (or not) thoughts to share with you on the subject of food, but it' will have to wait. I've had a very hectic week getting ready for our holiday in Snowdonia (we leave tomorrow) and sending out the first issue of my new magazine, The Yellow Room (see my other blog).

Instead, I'm sharing a poem I find inspirational. I came across it on one of the Weightwatchers Message Boards. I have no idea who wrote it, so apologies to the poet for not crediting you!

Don't quit!
When you've eaten too much and you can’t write it down
and you feel like the biggest failure in town
When you want to give up
just because you gave in
and forget all about being healthy and thin
So what! You overindulged a bit??
It’s your next move that don’t you quit!
It’s a moment of truth, it’s an attitude change.
It’s learning the skills to get back in your range.
It’s telling yourself, “You've done great up to now.”
You can take on this challenge and beat it somehow.
It’s part of your journey toward reaching your goal
You're still gonna make it, just stay in control.
To stumble and fall is not a disgrace,
if you summon the will to get back in the race,
but often the strugglers, when losing their grip,
just throw in the towel and continue to slip
and learn too late when the damage is done
that the race wasn’t over...they still could've won.
Lifestyle change can be awkward and slow,
but facing each challenge will help you grow.
Success is failure turned inside out;
the silver tint in a cloud of doubt.
When you're pushed to the brink, just refuse to submit

Monday, 20 October 2008

Chicken and Chorizo Stir Fry

I love 'one pot' or 'one pan' meals, particularly as I very often make a separate meal for myself. I had this delicious stir fry for tea tonight. I discovered it via the pig2twig Forum and although it is low carb, it is fairly 'Points friendly' as well. I worked out it's 7.5 to 8pts for the whole thing, depending on the size of the chicken breast.

Chicken and Chorizo Stir Fry (for one person)

1-2tps oil (I used olive oil)

1 small onion (sliced or chopped)

1 clove of garlic, peeled and chopped

1 boneless chicken breast fillet (skin removed)

50g chorizo sausage

1 small yellow pepper

a handful of dwarf beans, chopped

a handful of fresh baby spinach leaves

3-4 mushrooms

salt and pepper

Heat a large pan or wok and add the oil. Once hot add the onions and garlic. Cook till softened. Add the chicken and brown. Throw in the pepper and beans and cook for 5 mins. Add the sliced chorizo sausage and cook till the oil oozes out of it. Add the spinach and mushrooms, season and cook till spinach has wilted. Serve.

I eat it as it is, but you can add rice or noodles, if you like. It's very quick and easy. You can add any vegetables you like, of course!

When is a diet not a diet?

When is a diet not a diet? When does it become an eating plan? These are the questions I’ve been asking myself this weekend. I got very muddled, miserable and upset on Saturday, which was mainly down to the fact that I’d weighed myself that morning and I was a couple of pounds heavier. I panicked. I’m good at that. Although I kept reminding myself that my weight does go up slightly in the middle of my cycle and that I always feel bloated around this time, it didn’t help. I just felt fat, frumpy and useless. I guess we’ve all been there.
As you know I’d been trying to follow a low carb style eating plan for a couple of weeks or so. Why? Mmm, if I’m honest, it's partly because I’d bought India Knight’s book, Neris and India’s Idiot-Proof Diet as well as the accompanying cook book. I felt I had to get my money’s worth by trying the diet again. And why did I buy the books in the first place? I love books. I can’t stop myself buying new books, especially if they look as appealing as these two hardbacks and especially if they offer an idiot-proof way to lose weight easily. I’m a sucker for new diet books, basically. I first book India’s book back in 2007 at the Oxford Literary Festival. I read it in one go back in my hotel room. It seemed to make sense and I liked the friendly approach. I also liked the fact you could eat cheese without guilt and cook with fat/cream to make tasty meals. I tried the diet for about three days, felt dreadful and jacked it in. Then I discovered that India and Neris had set up an online forum (, so I registered and continued to check in from time to time. I like the book and I like the Forum (it’s a really friendly place full of women like me who have issues with food and weight, and there are some great recipes on there). India and Neris’s diet and forum are very attractive to foodies like me and it's easy to be seduced into thinking their way is the way to go. However, low carbing as strictly as this isn’t easy. In fact, it’s very difficult… for me, at least. Which brings me to my next point. . .
I’m easily taken in by eating plans or diets which promise that you can eat unlimited amounts of certain foods and still lose weight. Mmm…. I don’t know about you, but as soon as I see that word ‘unlimited’ then I tend to go a bit mad. My portion sizes increase threefold and I keep nibbling at those ‘free foods’ all day long. Then I wonder why I haven’t lost any weight or not enough to make a significant difference. I’m never hungry, which is great and I don’t gain weight, but I don’t lose either. In other words I’m in the same situation as if I’d had a bit of cake in the afternoon or overdid it on the wine most nights. Which is more enjoyable? And here’s the rub, surely anyone is going to feel deprived sooner or later if certain foods are off limits for weeks on end?
I mentioned in an earlier post that I managed to lose two stones between 2006 and 2007. This I did with a combination of exercise (at least three times a week and fairly intensive workouts) and eating according to Weightwatchers Points Plan. Basically, this gives every item of food and drink so many Points and you’re allowed a certain amount according to how much you weigh and how active you are. I lost most of my weight on 22-23 Points per day. You also gain ‘bonus Points’ for any exercise you do. It works. And it’s relatively easy once you get into it. I didn’t go to Weightwatchers meetings (heaven forbid! Can’t stand that sort of ‘meeting culture’ and the patronising attitude of the person who weighs you) and found their Shopping Guide (where Points of manufactured food as well as natural foods are listed) and a Points calculator, which allows you to work out the Points of any food by looking at the label on the packaging (calories and saturated fat) to be invaluable tools. It sounds complicated, but really it isn’t. The danger is with Points, however, is that if you don’t ensure you have three proper meals a day and if you waste Points on treats like alcohol and chocolate instead, then you get very hungry. The key is to plan three good (preferably homecooked) meals and if you have any Points left over, then by all means have a glass of wine or a packet of crisps, whatever takes your fancy.
One of the things I love about Weightwatchers is they have several online message boards, which are free to join. I’ve gained so much support, friendship, inspiration and tips from these (
Although I lost two stones doing the Points Plan, I still had more to lose. I was getting bored (a danger with any eating plan or diet). I started mucking about first with the low carb thing, then with Weightwatchers Core Plan, which gives you a long list of ‘free foods’ to choose from and three basic meals per day with fruit or vegetables as snacks in between, but only to snack if you feel hungry. You’re then allowed 21 Points per week for things like bread, sauces, alcohol or anything that isn’t on the basic food list. Again, this is a great healthy eating plan and easy to stick to, but you are limited to the basic Core food list. You have to plan fairly meticulously on a weekly basis otherwise you end up using all your 21 Points well before the week’s out. I’d rather do my planning on a day-to-day basis and I want the freedom to have a slice of toast with a poached egg if I want one and not take it out of my Points allowance. The other problem with Core, for me, is that there is no portion control so I end up eating too much at mealtimes and don’t lose weight or only lose very little each week, by which time my motivation and enthusiasm is waning considerably. I find that on the Points Plan (see previous paragraph) I lose weight more quickly, which is the biggest motivation of all for me.
How does one overcome the boredom factor? Not by reaching for another diet book, promising great things, that’s for sure! Maybe by trying some new recipes or having a day off the plan? I think the latter is fine as long as you get straight back on the wagon after a couple of days. There’s nothing worse than thinking, ‘I’ve blown it’ and jacking it all in. I’m very much an ‘all or nothing’ person, so I’m one of the worst culprits for this. I guess as long as one is ‘good’ 80% of the time, then the weight still comes off and all is not lost. We need to allow ourselves some leeway. After all, we’re only human. One slip doesn’t mean we’ve failed. All is not lost.
‘It is on our failures that we base a new and different and better success.’ Havelock Ellis
I’ve come to the conclusion that when it comes to choosing an eating plan for life, then it’s down to personal preference. I’ve heard many people bemoaning the fact that the Points Plan isn’t sustainable and certainly not something one can do day-in, day-out for life. I’m not so sure. I probably wouldn’t use it day-in, day-out if I’d reached my goal weight and wanted to maintain. If I gained a couple of pounds ‘doing my own thing’ when at goal weight, then I’d go back to the Points Plan for a week or so until they came off. I’m not sure whether this would work in practice, as I haven’t reached that enviable state yet!
I guess I’ve come to realise that my weight is going to be a life-long issue. If I want to be slim, then I have to work at it. I’d rather do this than be considerably overweight, which makes me grouchy, uncomfortable, unfit and miserable. If having to be constantly vigilant, watching my weight, exercising regularly and following that Points Plan is the price to pay, then so be it. We can’t have it all ways.
I realise that what works for someone else doesn’t necessarily work for me. That has been a hard lesson and one which has taken me a long time to learn. Buying into someone else’s way of eating and slimming down whether it’s a book, online programme, friend’s recommendation or whatever, is not the answer. They might give us inspiration, ideas or a nice new recipe but at the end of the day, an eating plan or ‘diet’ is a personal thing and you have to work it out for yourself.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Problem Areas

No, we’re not talking body parts here. We’re talking food.

My main problem areas are snacking, wanting something sweet after a meal and alcohol. If I have a good breakfast like bacon with scrambled egg or an omelette, for example, then I don’t get hungry until lunchtime and don’t need a mid-morning snack. All fine and dandy.

I find knowing what to have for lunch difficult and sometimes make silly choices. By ‘silly’ I mean I grab something quick which isn’t very healthy or I have something that’s healthy, but I don’t really fancy it and end up leaving some of it. Then I get hungry an hour or so later. If this happens then I fall prey to snacks in the afternoon. I tend to crave a sweet snack at about 4pm with a cup of tea. If I’m being self-righteous then a Medjool date (I keep them in the freezer so they’re nice and chewy) does the trick. I stupidly bought a shed-load of Weightwatchers bars recently, so quite often have one of those even though they’re packed full of nasties! However, carb-wise they’re the same carb count as Atkins bars, but I’m not actively counting carbs, so I don’t know what that’s got to do with anything!

I sometimes struggle with knowing what to have for my evening meal. I invariably cook different things for the others in the family, as they’re all so fussy. Teatime becomes very stressful because I’m cooking so many combinations of foods. If I’m not very careful, I end up either spoiling mine or I get too self-righteous about the whole thing and end up not eating enough. I always fancy something sweet after my evening meal. I used to have a Shape yogurt, but now feel guilty about eating them because a) they’re not particularly low carb b) they contain aspartame and c) I don’t class them as ‘natural’ food. It feels overindulgent to eat Greek yogurt (all that fat!) and I’m not overkeen on low fat natural yogurt. I guess just plain fruit is fine. However, I keep hearing those dedicated low carbers who do Atkins or India Knight’s Idiot-Proof Diet whispering that fruit is full of sugar!

And then the evenings.. ooh, so difficult. Once the children are in bed I start to wind down and what better way than to pour a glass of wine and nibble something nice? No, no, no! A milky decaff coffee before bed is a good alcohol substitute (on a good day!) and a piece of fruit tends to satisfy the need to have something to eat before bedtime (sorry, India, but I find your plan too restrictive!). I keep asking myself whether my snacking habit has to stop or whether healthy snacks are okay. Answers on a postcard, please!

Thursday, 16 October 2008


I think the exercise habit is pretty much ingrained with me now. Having said that, I still have a lazy streak. There are days, sometimes weeks, when the last thing I want to do is go to the gym. I can make all kinds of excuses why I don’t want to go. These phases usually coincide with a particularly creative period when all I want to do is snuggle down and write fiction; or read lots of novels. I’m just coming out of one of those phases. Believe me, it lasted for weeks. When I home educated the incentive for going to the gym was that I could escape from the children for a couple of hours. That incentive has disappeared now they’re back in full-time school.

How did I get myself out of the ‘lazy’ phase? I was still exercising, but not very frequently (two or three times a week at most) and not very intensively. I just wasn’t focused. My old gym membership was running out and I knew I didn’t want to go back to that particular gym, having been a member for over six years and I was getting bored. They’d had a lot of changes of staff and it was the other side of town. I needed something a little nearer so that I could pop in for just half an hour and not feel that I had to justify a five mile drive to get there. I had thought about going it alone and getting by with a few outdoor runs a week and my exercise DVDs. I tried this but found I just wasn’t as motivated. I had to have a specific place to go. Plus I need the social interaction, being at home on my own all day.

I joined my new gym a month or so ago and at first I was very well motivated, as it was such a novelty. My old gym didn’t offer classes, because it didn’t have a separate studio and the new gym does, so I was taking part in Body Attack, Boxercise and Legs, Bums and Tums. But if there wasn’t a class I was reluctant to go upstairs to the actual gym and work out. Why? My old gym was ladies’ only and very friendly. It had the personal touch. The new gym doesn’t and horror of horrors, there are men! I do feel self-conscious using the gym equipment when there are so many men around lifting heavy weights and grunting a lot!

There’s no escaping the fact that to lose weight effectively, then you can’t beat running on a regular basis. I decided that I would start to build up my running distances again and would use the treadmill at the gym as often as possible. To make it less boring and more enjoyable I created a 'running' playlist for my Ipod and took that. And I actually enjoyed the two running sessions I’ve done so far this week. On Tuesday I ran for 12mins without stopping, then walked/sprinted until I’d done a total of 20mins. Yesterday was even better. I ran for 17mins without stopping and walked/sprinted until I’d done a total of 30mins. Both times I used some free weights to exercise my upper body and floorwork to exercise those abs! My legs are aching today, so I’m having a rest, but I’m all geared up for a running session tomorrow morning. I’m aiming to beat my 17mins record so far.

I was beating myself up a few weeks ago because I could no longer run between 5 and 8km each time as I did last year, but I realised that was silly and if I carried on in that vein then I’d achieve nothing. So, it’s onwards and upwards.

The key with exercise is to enjoy it and add plenty of variety. If you don’t feel like running one day, then go for a walk. If leaving the house is too much to bear, then put on an exercise DVD or use the Wii Fit (great fun, but doesn’t give you a very intensive workout). Any exercise is better than nothing! Early in the summer I started going for long country walks (4-5miles) with two new friends. We met after one of them put a message out on the Woman and Home Forum asking if anyone was interested in forming a walking club. Three of us met up at a local reservoir and we’ve become good friends since. We’ve done a lot of walks in our local area now, and it’s great to chat, discuss novels we’ve read and get to know each other better as we walk. The fresh air works wonders, too!

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

No More Diets!

I’m fed up of reading diet books and books on how to eat healthily and being told what and when to eat. I know I don’t have to read them, but I’m looking for a way of eating for life. I’ve been on one diet or another (off and on) since the age of 14 (when I’d gained a slight tummy after Christmas and didn’t need to go on a diet at all.. just get back to my usual way of eating) and each time I’ve gained the weight back and more besides. Fortunately, I've lost a fair bit of weight and kept it off by keeping up with my gym visits, running, long hikes etc, but my eating habits are still pretty erratic and I’m either on a diet or off. I’m sick of it. I just want to eat, not be obsessed with food, not be hungry, yet not gain weight and maybe, just maybe, even lose a bit. It’s like looking for the holy grail.

Anyway, after much soul searching and researching, both on the Internet and reading a lot of books on the subject, I’ve decided that the easiest plan for me to stick to long-term is a lowish carb plan. No, no, don’t panic, nothing extreme like Atkins! Note, I said ‘lowish’. I’ve been cutting out carbs with my evening meal for quite a few weeks now and I have noticed a difference. I don’t even miss them one little bit. No rice, no pasta, no potatoes, just meat or fish and lots of fresh veg cooked in an interesting way (yes, that means with butter, olive oil and/or cream!!). No more low fat hell for me. Meals have to be tasty and I’m sorry, but I find a low fat meals rather bland, unless you tart them up with sauces packed with sugar substitutes and lots of other nasties. I want to eat as much natural food as possible. I want to still enjoy eating out without guilt. I want to enjoy a glass of wine now and again. And I don’t intend beating myself up if I overindulge occasionally or go 'off-piste'. Oh yes, and I’ve vowed not to weigh myself. Our weight fluctuates so much from day to day, even week to week, due to water retention, hormones, time of the month, muscle gain etc that I don’t believe it’s the way to go. I find if the scales don’t show me what I want to see, then it affects my mood for the rest of the day. It knocks my confidence and makes me go into ‘oh, sod it!’ mode. I’m hoping I’ll be able to gauge how I’m doing by the mirror and my clothes.

This blog is intended to chart my journey through this way of eating as well as my general progress regarding weight and food. I’ll include recipes I’ve enjoyed and talk about my cravings, discoveries and downfalls. Here goes….