Saturday, 20 November 2004

Following the Atkins path

I haven't eaten any bread since the middle of June 2004. Five months without bread, pasta, potatoes, rice and pastry. To steal the over-used Victor Meldrew phrase, I can't believe it. To anyone who loves their food as much as I do, that seems an impossibility and one I just didn't try and conjure with before deciding that my weight was out of control and it was time I took myself in hand(fuls). I realise that I have only written one blog since I started, on any subject, and it is probably because any spare time for thought has been spent thinking about producing grub that will satisfy but not expand the waistline any further.
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!
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Keep the fridge, the freezer and the larder chock full of good things to eat.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Roast a chicken frequently - you can always tear off a piece and munch if a slab of toast covered in butter tempts.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Eat nuts - not in huge quantities, but in the evening when the after supper munchies attack, have a small handful and feel indulgent
  10. 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
  11. Organic dark chocolate is a three times a week treat (at least) a couple of (big) squares does the trick
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. 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
  16. Keeping fingers crossed