It was the BBC's Diet Trials that started me thinking. I watched aghast as people tried to live with Slimfast, wondering how on earth it was possible to manage a life on non-foodstuffs. I shrugged at Weightwatchers - been there, not done that, and Rosemary Conley was too uninspiring for words. And then there was the much maligned Atkins Diet that intrigued me. We produce a lot of meat and grow a big plot of vegetables. So I got the book and read it. And then I adapted it for me. The main focus is on non-processed foods which in my book of trying so hard to be organic, fitted the bill. Then I was encouraged to eat a good quantity of protein - although the pound of cheese a day (topped by streaky bacon and a ladle of lard if you read the dafter press coverage) is never advocated - how did that myth come into being? For a couple of weeks only I restricted my fruit intake, and permanently (til now anyway) laid off the major carbohydrates. Breakfast was the hardest thing to adapt. I don't want an egg every day - although a mushroom omelette or scrambled eggs with smoked salmon is great a couple of times a week, I can't stomach that daily. So I decided to forget it was breakfast time and ate whatever was healthy and fresh. I might have a bowl of raspberries and blueberries. A mango or half a fresh pineapple. A (big) salad of cos lettuce, real mayo and shavings of parmesan - a kind of Caesar Salad without the croutons.
We bake all our own bread and the hardest thing is smelling the bread as it comes out of the oven. But now I don't eat it, the six loaves last at least twice as long, so the temptation is only there once a month and I have managed to live through that. Pasta, that previous lunchtime staple, has gone the way of bread. I find it easier to stop something completely than create havoc by trying just a little bit. And five months on I am two stone lighter and have about 8 pounds more to lose before attaining my self-imposed first phase goal. When I get there I'll decide if I can take it any further. If my BMI (or you may prefer this one) is anything to go by, for my 5'6" I should be anything from 8st 3 to 11st, a whole 2 st 11lbs variation of possibilities. I would love to be able to create a 'what if?' graphic image of me at either end of that range!
I have read a range of books that have an alliance, however tenuous, to Atkins to see what other tips I might pick up. South Beach was interesting, but I had already found my own way by then, and that's the only trick - finding what works for yourself. Montignac was unreadable and confused, whilst Ruth Watson's Fat Girl Slim was full of useful advice that I continue to refer to, but many recipes added sugar and garlic, both things I try to avoid. Gillian McKeith's programme You are what you eat was unmissable but I haven't taken myself off for any colonic irrigation as yet, although I know friends who love it! (I was mesmerised by this article when it came out in the Guardian in 2002 - one of those pieces you cannot forget and definitely in the category of more information than you really need to know).
I am writing the list below as a reminder that this is the time when it is horribly easy to fall off the wagon. Having gone down at least two dress sizes and feeling closer to "normal", I am in danger of becoming too relaxed. Perhaps if I write this out I will be saved from the ignominy of reverting to my bad ways and pinching not inches but yards. And just as importantly, I want to record my top tips for myself so I don't forget them and can re-use them because if one thing in life is certain, I will have to!
- get carbs from vegetables - unlike Atkins, I don't restrict how many tomatoes or carrots I can eat - just cook them healthily and pile up the plate. I also eat parsnips - an Atkins no-no. The only vegetables I avoid are spuds and sweetcorn. Grow swiss chard - you can use it as a pasta substitute - just pile the sauce etc on top of the steamed stalks.
- When desperate for a plate of mashed spud, find a celeriac or two, and treat it as a King Edwards - it's delicious and my only problem is that being November I have now eaten all the ones I grew! Swede comes in an ok second best.
- Keep the fridge, the freezer and the larder chock full of good things to eat.
- Try to keep some parmesan or Gorgonzola to crumble/grate into a salad or to just have a chunk on its own - the powerful flavour is incredibly satifying.
- Berries and cherries are great for when a sugar buzz is required, although they need to be eaten within a couple of days or the fur grows.
- Roast a chicken frequently - you can always tear off a piece and munch if a slab of toast covered in butter tempts.
- Have a great piece of steak, add mushrooms and a salad and pretend chips don't exist. Get the butcher to cut two thin slices of sirloin, so it takes longer to eat than a thicker slab, and some hefty horseradish is a must to accompany it.
- Buy whatever I fancy that is on my ok list - loads of tiger prawns, smoked salmon, scallops, fresh fish etc etc. It feels like a constant treat, it tastes yummy and it's just tough if the food bill has gone up.
- Eat nuts - not in huge quantities, but in the evening when the after supper munchies attack, have a small handful and feel indulgent
- I often need to eat something at 5 o'clock - and if I don't that is when I am most likely to eat something I will regret. So either have a snack or just eat dinner ridiculously early
- Organic dark chocolate is a three times a week treat (at least) a couple of (big) squares does the trick
- If cooking for others it is very easy to eat a dish using plenty of vegetables and meat and omitting the noodles, rice, spuds etc whilst you serve that element separately for everyone else. Roast dinners are fine - just leave out the roast/baked spuds and cut off the excess fat from the joint once it has cooked.
- Eat big meals. Make a big bowl of salad with dressing - not low fat synthetic rubbish but with olive oil or real mayo and slowly eat the lot out of an attractive bowl. Don't go hungry - ever.
- Take stuff in the car for long journeys as the petrol station choice is rubbish! Keep a net of baby-bels in the car, plus small bottles of water and put together a bag of fruit and perhaps some cooked chicken before setting out. Keep a fork in the car and make a dressed salad in a tupperware. Chop up a whole pineapple, stick it in a pot with a lid and get the steering wheel sticky if you can't find the fork.
- My complete no-no list: bread in any form, including breadcrumbs; spuds; rice; pasta; pastry; sugar; most processed foods; milk; breakfast cereals; any chocolate or sweets apart from organic dark stuff (Green and Blacks is great); eating the same thing day after day
- Keeping fingers crossed