Saturday, 1 April 2017

Camping Fun

We LOVE camping... I love it most when it's an extra holiday, rather than our main family holiday, although we've done both in recent years... There's something great about spending time outside, getting tired when it gets dark and waking up in the natural light. Eating all your meals outside, and spending tech-free time with family and friends.

I also love the fact that it surprises people about me. I'm mostly highlights and Mulberry handbags, so people are often surprised by how much we like camping. It's way more middle class than you'd think - last year, I rolled my eyes (and was secretly a bit jealous) of the family with the bell tent, bunk beds, fairy lights, toadstools and bunting who pitched up on our site. Secretly, I'd quite like to live in a field and own a campsite, and I have been known to search on the internet to see if any are for sale!

Hopefully, some of this will be useful if you've never camped before, and the recommendations might be useful even if you have. Please do feel free to leave your own links and reviews to campsites, we love trying new (nice/middle class) places!

What you'll need:

A great campsite

Our favourite is Red Shoot, in the New Forest. As well as big clean open fields, there are decent, regularly cleaned shower blocks, including a family shower room and disabled facilities. There's also a laundry room and children's playground. It's in the middle of nowhere so it's very quiet, and there's a shop on site and a lovely pub right next door serving great food. Take (or hire) bikes and cycle (or walk) the 1.5 miles through the forest to High Corner, another pub, with great food, playground and beer garden. From the campsite, it's easy to get to the beach as well as into the forest and all the other local attractions such as Peppa Pig World and Monkey World. Visit Red Shoot's website here.

Holland's Wood, also in the New Forest, was great too. It's a massive site, owned by the Forestry Commission, with plenty of decent facilities. Because of the layout, on windy forest paths, it still feels more private than smaller sites on open fields despite the number of pitches. The site opens onto fields at one side, and you can easily walk into Brockenhurst and into the forest. It's the most 'foresty' place we've stayed, which is lovely for shelter but I reckon it might have the potential to be a bit shady in summer and muddy in spring... It's probably the most reasonable site we've stayed on, under $20 a night, you can check it out and book 
here. You can't reserve specific pitches here, so if you're going with friends, you need to get there at the same time, and arrive early, to be able to pitch together.


Sites shared with static caravans have advantages and disadvantages. In my experience, the facilities aren't that great AND the clientele have been pretty chavvy everywhere we've stayed. That is, a high proportion of noisy, drunk neighbours with scary dogs... The park at Kessingland was fine for a couple of days, but I wouldn't choose to go back there. Check it out here. It has an indoor and outdoor pool (the indoor pool was HEAVING on the day we went), and it was right on the beach - which is great if the weather's nice, but a bit windy for camping if it isn't so great. There was a lovely fish and chip shop nearby, and we also visted the most brilliant zoo, 
Africa Alive, which was amazing and I can't believe isn't better known. 

Birchington Vale, in Kent, had its pros and cons. It was in a great location, close enough to London for an easy weekend trip, and only a few minutes from the beach at Minnis Bay. It's got lots of facilities on site, including a pool, bar, shop and restaurant. There are a few bathrooms around the site, although they were all quite tired and dirty, and the swimming pool changing rooms were even worse, although according the response to my trip advisor review, the site has been recently taken over by another company and refurbished. The pitches themselves were large, clean and evenly spaced, and there are playgrounds and big open spaces for the kids throughout the site. You can read my trip advisor review here.

We also stayed on Spring Barn farm in Sussex, which I'm not disappoined to report is now closed: this site had decent sized, car-free fields with fire pits. Which is not as good as it sounds... We use the car for power, storage and a bit of privacy... And fire pits are way smellier and more dangerous than you'd think... Plus the owners were MEAN. I'd booked two pitches but for some reason, they forced us to share one between us, despite the fact we were virtually the only ones in our field.


Other essentials: A good tent

We started with a 6 man but have recently upgraded to an 8-man. Ours is called a Coleman Costline deluxe from 
Amazon and it was around $300. Ideally, you need a tunnel tent, one that's a continuous loop of fabric rather than one that pins down with a groundsheet, and one that you can stand up inside... No one wants to be crawling around all week. Also, if the weather is shit, one where there's space to sit inside is an advantage. We've recently started adding extra bits of kit... A groundsheet to keep the outside clean and a carpet for warmth. But none of those are essential.

I also take these fold down boxes from ikea... One for each of us to store clothes in, plus one for food, one for toiletries and one for shoes. This allows me to be some sort of organised!! 


Another family to camp with:

Camping with your family is a great bonding experience, but when it gets dark, there's not much else to do besides sit in the dark. For us, our friends are what really makes the experience. Making plans and hanging out for the day, and later, putting the kids to bed then staying up chatting. Not to mention, between you, you're bound to have everything you need... Last camping trip we pitched in a U-shape, which also created a fourth, living space which worked well.


Warm clothes

It can get really cold at night. When we camp at the end of May, I wear socks, leggings, vest, T-shirt and sweater. You'll also need wooly hats and gloves, just in case. My mid summer, it's usually warm enough to sleep in less... Plus wellies and/or crocs. Flip flops for the shower.

A sense of humour!!

A few of my favourite comedy camping moments include unplugging the washing machine in the laundry room to plug in my ghds and straightening my hair using the reflection from the washing machine drum (also, at the cinema, in a kids karate class, in the loo at the pub...). Also spending a lot of time walking the kids back and forth to the loo... And sitting outside the toilet block wondering yet again why this is a good idea. Unpitching the tent in under an hour when our Greek ex-army friend looked panicked for the first time ever as a storm closed in.

Some key equipment

Torches: Lanterns to hang in the tent, head torches for trips to the loo, hand torches for spares. Make sure you know where they are before it gets dark!!

A great air mattress and warm sleeping bag or duvet. We were lucky enough to be long-term gifted two sleeping bags from friends who'd been trekking in Nepal, which are suitable to -5 degrees. The overnight bags from Argos are NOT warm enough. You're better to take duvets, especially if it's your first trip... Also blankets, for sitting on, wrapping up in anger extra layers at night.

Camping table and chairs. You probably don't want to sit on the floor for a week!!

Good quality coolbox. Fill the bottom with ice and refill every day, keep in the shade and it will keep milk and meat fresh for long enough. Most importantly, you'll have chilled wine and ice for cider... Our first year, we bought a cheap one, which was definitely a false economy.

Plastic EVERYTHING. I don't want to spend ANY holiday washing up, least of all outside in a communal kitchen.

Kettle and stove.

Dustpan and brush

Flip flops. No matter how clean the showers, TAKE FLIP FLOPS

BBQ - ideally a small bucket one is better than disposable, it lasts longer for cooking on and you can use it every night... We keep kosher, so we take meat for BBQ with us... Take fresh meat for the first night and frozen for the second night (it should defrost just in time).


Other top tips

Car free sites aren't as good as they sound. We take a lot of kit, so schlepping it across a massive field from a car park is a bad plan. Your car can also be used for phone charging, storage - especially of empty suitcases, sleeping bag bags etc. It can also provide a natural barrier between other campers which offers a smidgen of privacy. 

Choose a good campsite, in a good location. Spend time researching. It's worth it.

If the weather looks really shit, cancel. Believe me, I've pitched a tent in the rain and it's not fun.


Thursday, 9 March 2017

My life: tracking out of control

There are (tens of) thousands of mobile apps available to track your life, and recently, I've become slightly addicted... I use at least three of these EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. I'm not sure how healthy it is to track everything this closely (which is ironic that I'm tracking my health, unhealthily...). Is it overkill? Let me know what you think.

Here are a few of my faves:

Strava - tracks running and cycling; user generated social feed; share to social.

At New Year's a friend planted an idea in my mind and I'm still trying to work out if it's achievable - to cycle 2017km in 2017. To save you the maths, that's 168km a month. Last summer, also using a Strava challenge, I cycled 250km in August (mostly between 6 & 7am around Fairlop Waters). So if I can manage 250k/month for the warmest/lightest summer months, that's only 127k a month for the remaining eight. I'm currently on 181km for the year, but I'm still optimistic that it's doable.

My Fitness Pal - calorie counter and nutrition; weight tracker; blog-style newsfeed (that I've never read)

I've been tracking my calories daily since 17th January - that's 53 days so far. I've been trying to stick to 1200 calories a day although some weeks have been better than others, and I've lost about 6lbs in total. My clothes feel a tiny bit looser and annoyingly, although my saggy tummy is still saggy, my hips might be a teeny tiny bit narrower. The main thing that I love about this app is that you can eat whatever you want (a bit like 'old' WeightWatchers). So if you only want your calories to come from wine and pizza, that's fine, but if you want to eat healthily, that's a good long term plan too. The app uses a bar code tool to find foods, and has literally every type of food saved, as well as most restaurant's menus and food types. I'm not being too fascist about this, so if I can only find a close equivalent, or I have to guess at how much my food weighs, it's not exactly the end of the world. The temptation, though, is to not include everything that I've eaten (I mean, no one saw me have a second slice of 7yo's birthday cake last night...), but if it's going to actually work, it's a good habit to get into.

Misfit Shine - wearable fitness tracker, tracks sports and sleep, links to app.

My lovely sister bought me this Swarovski Shine fitness tracker for my 40th birthday. IMO, it's by far the nicest looking wearable tracker, and although it's not quite as practical as some of the others, it has a few extra advantages once you get used to it. Firstly, it's waterproof so you can switch it onto a rubber strap, and it tracks swimming. Secondly, the crystal tracker pops out and tucks into your sock for cycling (which most wrist trackers struggle with, as you don't move your arms when cycling...). It also has pretty lights on it which show you how far you've gone, and tell the time. Pros: this tracker doesn't need recharging - it takes a swatch-like battery which is still on 3/4 after about two months. Cons: it could really do with a vibrating function seeing as it's linked to my phone anyway! This also tracks sleep, although I've never really found this useful...

*The six minutes awake were when the hamster woke up the furby who woke up the daughter who woke up the mother. FML

Clue - menstrual cycle tracker - can also be used to track fertility

I recently read that the Apple health tracker was designed to track every aspect of your life - except your menstrual cycle - which given that most women between about 14 and 50 menstruate regularly is proof if any was needed that it's still a man's world! This little app is absolutely brilliant for warning me when I'm due on, and I guess would also be great if I was thinking about fertility (I'm not)!!

Are there any other apps you would recommend? Let me know...

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Diet #39, the 5:2 diet

Hopefully, no one's noticed that I've taked a MAMMOTH break from this blog. Most people fall off the diet wagon eventually - I lasted 39 weeks, at least. But this week, I suddenly find myself with some time on my hands and some weight on my hips, and it's time to get back on the diet wagon!! 
I’m always keen to try the newest fad (I will lose that last half stone), and the 5:2 diet is certainly the latest trend. Everyone is on it, friends, colleagues, school mums - even Pizza Express are advertising their latest menu as one you can eat on this diet…
This is probably the simplest diet I’ve tried. For two days a week, you eat no more than 500 calories, and eat normally on the remaining days. The ‘science’ behind this says that it’s better than standard calorie restriction for maintaining lean body mass. By fasting for two (non-consecutive) days, you don’t ever fast for long enough to send your body into starvation mode, where you begin to store fat in anticipation of a lack of future food. Compared with a normal calorie-controlled diet, It also means that there’s no time to get demotivated and break the diet, as, for the majority of the week, you eat what you want (within reason), anyway.
There are lots of sources online to find low-cal recipes that work on this diet. I like the ShapeUp Club app, which is a great way to keep track of what I’m eating. The big shock was the limited amount of food that 500 calories will ‘buy’ you. On day 1, I managed an apple and banana, yogurt and cous cous – and I was 20 calories over! On my second fast day, I created a 'delicious' and low-cal Bruschetta for lunch – only 160 calories in total (recipe: 3 x pumpkin seed ryvita, cherry tomatoes, balsamic vinegar). Most of the 5:2 plans advocate missing breakfast, but I think that’s hard to do if you have a full day – instead I missed dinner on my fast days, choosing an early night instead.
This diet had some unexpected side effects. Not having to prepare, cook and eat dinner freed up lots of time, which is a great way to gain back some extra hours for all the extra shit I like to cram into my life. Missing meals twice a week also cut our food bills right down… Finally, all the early nights (where I chose to sleep instead of eating dinner) meant that my eyes are also looking fresher and brighter, another unexpected benefit! Once you reach your desired weight, you move down to a 6:1 diet, with six normal days and one fast day, which sounds brilliantly easy...

There are some downsides too. Between working lunches and dinner with friends, finding two days in the week to fast can be difficult. You also can’t exercise on the fasting days, and I really missed running on those days. On the days immediately after my fast, I’m hungier than normal, and having to work hard to not overeat to compensate.

After two weeks I've lost four pounds, and I’m finding it really easy to stick to. So much so, that I don't want to move onto diet 40...

This week, 52diets is loving the Cabbage Patch Kids, who turn 30 this year. We were lucky enough to be invited to their 30th birthday party (on a Sunday morning, in Hamleys), and I hope that they're the next retro/vintage craze... and that someone buys me one for my birthday!

Men are from Mars, and this book is from Crazy-town

This is the first time that I've ever read a diet book and thought that I just can't be bothered. According to John Gray, not only will I lose weight, I will experience a renewed and lasting romantic glow.

Men and women gain and lose weight due to their different brain chemistry. Men rely on dopamine - and if he doesn't produce enough he has to "turn up the volume" to get a quick fix - drive faster, watch porn, make more and more money... John Gray goes on to explain "When his dopamine levels are low, emptying the trash just doesn't do it, but making a lot of money does. With this insight, a woman can begin to understand why a man will remember to make a business call but will forget to empty the trash". Really? Will she?? When she's taking out the rubbish, that's what she'll be thinking.

There are 12 symptoms of low dopamine, as follows:

1. Low energy at home: work challenges stimulate his dopamine, the comfortable routine at home does not.
2. Declining interest and passion: apparently eye contact is an indication of dopamine levels - wandering eyes are a symptom of insufficient dopamine
3. Inattentiveness and impatience: A man listens to his wife talk about her day and his energy level drops. He loses his ability to focus like a deflating balloon as she talks beyond two or three minutes.
4. Impulsiveness:
5. Forgetfulness: apparently after a romantic encounter a man says he will call but does not. This is because his dopamine levels drop
6. Solution oriented: Men won't listen to your problems, they'll just be annoyed that you don't have a solution
7. Emotional unavailability: At the end of a work day, a man goes to his cave and then is too tired to come out. The man, apparently, can stay in the cave as long as he likes. Number 7 does not address the issues faced by the working mother who would like nothing less than to go to her cave after work, but can't, as there are children to be bathed and fed and put to bed.
8. Tunnel vision: men focus on the big problems and overlook the little stuff. Like why is my wife so p*ssed off with me (refer to points 1-7 above).
9. Boredom and addictions: With low dopamine, a man is easily bored. He will turn to drugs, smoking and video games to overcome this boredom
10. Needing space and distance
11. Inconsistency
12. Loss of attraction: A husband loves his wife, but after a few years of marriage, he isn't turned on by her the way he was in the beginning, he will desire to have affairs.

Women, on the other hand, can suffer from low Serotonin. Symptoms include
1. Temporary amnesia
2. Sudden mood changes
3. Increased neediness
4. Looking for love in all the wrong places
5. Resentment flu
6. Unrealistic expectations
7. Sabotaging relationships
8. Home improvement committee
9. Women who give too much
10. Feeling overwhelmed
11. Depression
12. Overeating

Seriously. I've never read such bullshit. I can't even be bothered to read the rest of the book. The end.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Diet #38, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus

Yes, really. This book exists! I've been ploughing through it for DAYS and I still haven't got to the bottom of exactly how it can make me thin, but I'll persevere until I do, and then I'll blog about how I get on. In the meantime, here's a brief taste of the 'insightful' dialogue I have so far discovered...

Here's how men and women interact (apparently):

He (Mars) returns home from work.
She (Venus) "Let's go out for dinner tonight"
Mars "Ok, where would you like to go"
Venus "Ummm, I don't know"
M: "Okay, let's go to D'Anglo's for Italian food"
V: "I don't know, I'm not in the mood for Italian. We had pasta yesterday"
M: "Okay, let's go to Jenny Low's, for Chinese food, you always enjoy eating there"
V (happy to have a conversation about food, she says pleasantly): "No, I want something different tonight"
M: Starting to get a little frustrated (really, why so??) "Okay, let's go for burritos at Lucinda's"
V: Once again, innocently expressing her next feeling: "But we had Mexican on Monday night"
M: Now annoyed "Okay, I don't care, you decided, let's just go"

'For the rest of the evening, there is tension between them - she feels he doesn't care about her, and he feels that no matter what he does it doesn't make her happy. He doesn't feel appreciated and begins to withold his warm and frienly feelings. She feels he was too impatient, abrupt and uncaring. As a result, she pulls away and becomes cold and distant. Both of them have closed their hearts'.

Really??? She seems like such an annoying twat. I'm surprised he hadn't stoved her head in with a brick years ago. Too harsh?? Just wait til I've read the rest of the book...

52 diets blog, revealed

This week, the 52 diets blogs has been in Real People magazine - and I've written a feature for Reveal. Just in case you missed them, you can see them here too...

Monday, 9 January 2012

'Happy Birthday to me'

It's my birthday, and lunch is a super wholefood salad with mint vinagrette and an edemame and soy bean salad. Dinner tonight is mushroom barley risotto and baked trout. Turns out, on a macrobiotic diet, you don't live longer - it just feels like it!

9.30pm. The barley risotto was pretty grim and tastless, the shiitake mushrooms slimey, and I think I'd have preferred salmon to trout. Luckily, tomorrow's another day...

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Diet #37, Macrobiotics

Diet #36, Rosemary Conley went surprisingly well. The meals were the tastiest of the prepackaged diets that I've tried so far, and I managed to shift a couple of pounds, meaning that I headed into Christmas party season and finished the year, 36 diets later, having lost the half stone I set out to do. Still want to lose another half stone, though. Doesn't everyone?

Diet #37 is macrobiotics,which has found fame recently due to some high profile celebrity followers - Gwyneth Paltrow and Madonna are probably the best-known. So by the end of the week, I'd like to look like this...

 Although knowing my luck, I will probably end up looking more like this...

I'm using two books this week - The Macrobiotic Way, by Michio Kushi, the Grandfather of Macrobiotics, and Modern Day Macrobiotics, by Simon G Brown. Michio Kushi's dry, stuffy book is my punishment for having a couple of weeks off. Once I've struggled through the preface, the foreword and the introduction, I'm finally ready to learn what macrobiotics is really about.

The word comes from the latin 'Macro' meaning Great and 'Bios' meaning life.The original diet plan was first published in 1796, making this the oldest diet I've tried so far. Michio Kushi says that we can learn from indiginous people who live in close contact with nature, such as the Hunzakuts (a himalyan people with Afghan and Gypsy origins). The foods they eat are locally grown, seasonal and organic. They live in close contact with nature, are very physically active and often live well beyond 120 years. However, a little google searching reveals that their isolation means that they have little need for calendars, instead measuring their age in wisdom. Genius. And makes me wonder what I could measure my age in? Busy-ness? In which case, I'v aged another 20 years! Or money? In which case I'm positively foetal...

Macrobiotics is all about the food that you put in your body - not just what you eat, but how it was grown, where and when. Where possible, you should try to eat whole, living foods. Foods are 'living' if they can still grow - whole grains, dried beans or seeds that will continue to sprout if left in a dark, damp environment (a quick check of my larder cupboard reveals this to be true). Root vegetables can be replanted and leafy greens can live with their stalks in water. Even meat and fish still retain a living energy. However, a kit kat does not have much life left in it, so that's off the menu for this week.

Macrobiotics says that different foods have different energies, stemming from the way that they grow, which in turn can change your own internal energy. Leeks or spring onions, which grow upwards, will help to move energy up your body, making you feel lighter and sending energy to your chest and head. Root vegetables encourage energy to settle, giving you strength in your lower abdomen, making it easier to relax, and be more down-to-earth and practical, whilst round vegetable spread your energy out, giving a warm satisfying feeling.

The medium in which foods grow also has an effect on your energy. Vegetables grown above the ground, in the air, will reflect these qualities, so brocolli (for example) can help free your spirits and make it easier to accept change, and to gain a broader perspective on the world - that's quite a lot of pressure on one wilting bag of brocolli in my fridge! Vegetables grown in the ground take in this engery and make you feel more settled - and sea vegetables, which experience the ebb and flow of the tides will help you to become more flexible, tenacious and adaptable. Wild salmon, which has to struggle to swim upstream will help you if you need to fight your corner - if you want to relax, you'd be better with squid, more used to languising in warmer waters.

On a macrobiotic diet, you can eat anything within reason, as long as you know what the likely influence of that food is and you are sure that it will lead to good health. The diet is predominantly meat-free, low-GI, alkaline and high in protein.

The diet is based on Japanese/oriental principles of healthful eating, which is where it gets difficult. Although the list of acceptable vegetables includes things like brocolli and leeks, there are also a lot of eastern vegetables which aren't exactly local to east London; chinese cabbage, kale, bok choy, spring onions, shiitake mushrooms, sea vegetables like wakame, Kombu, Nor, Dulse, Arame, Hiziki and Agar agar, Beans (Aduki, Black-eye, pinto) and a whole list of fermented foods that I can't even pronounce.

Tesco in Leytonstone was a bit short on the old shoyu and natto (no idea!!), but we did get some interesting whole foods to try this week. Barley, pinto beans, soya (all of which require a level of preplanning I'm usually incapable of, with 8-12 hours pre-soaking in water before use), soba and udon noodles, two types of trout, miso soup, pumpkin seeds, cous cous, almonds, soy sauce...

Breakfast is going to be difficult - the book recommends miso soup (homemade, natch), or soft brown rice (really?), plus two mochi recipes (fried savory, fried sweet). Given that I have no idea what mochi is, and I can't bear the thought of plain boiled rice for breakfast, this morning I had wholewheat bran flakes with Oatly, an oat-drink (milk is not recommended in macrobiotics). A note on Oatly - I've never thought of oats as particularly juicy, so I have no idea how you can make a drink out of them - and it looks like breastmilk - not very appetizing. It actually doesn't taste too bad, fortunately...

The book has some 'interesting' recipes. Natto: Ingredients. 4 containers Natto. 6tbsp grated daikon or jinengo. 1 tbsp shoyu. Method: place ingredients in bowl, mix, eat.  Chinese cabbage and sauerkraut rolls. Ingredients: chinese cabbage, sauerkraut. Method: roll together, eat.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Competition time

Luckily for me, my Rosemary Conley plan seems to be going surprisingly well. It's a christmas miracle! I've chosen a series of spicy main meals (which I'm cheating and eating for lunch, not supper) which are actually quite delicious - although I'm not sure my colleagues are so happy with me eating curry at my desk every day. And while I think of it, my husband's not so happy that I'm forcing him to have soup for supper every day. In fact, he's even refusing to allow me to call it supper any more...

So, I have a cunning plan to make sure that at least someone is happy! If your diet plan isn't go so well, and like me, you've got a series of Christmas party dresses to squeeze in to this month, the lovely people at Spanx are offering three lucky readers of this blog the chance to win their super-duper, Super High Power, best-selling shapewear!! The Spanx have a tummy-taming panel, and will even give your bum a lift. What's not to love??

Before                                        After

All you have to do is email me at by Wednesday 14th December, and tell me about your best diet success or failure, and the three best will win a pair of these fabulous Spanx. Good luck!

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Diet #36, Rosemary Conley

This week, Rosemary Conley. I had assumed that she was she guru of all things 80's, and had no idea that her brand is alive and kicking and going strong all over the UK. Although I suspect from a quick google search that every photo of her was either taken in, or at least styled in, the eighties!

This diet has two core pillars - a low fat, low GI diet, with food that you can buy online, and weekly weigh-ins, with an exercise class.

The diet plan starts of with a very low cal, 1200 calorie/day diet, for two weeks, to kick start the process, followed by a still gruelling but more forgiving 1400 calories a day after that, which allows for alcohol and treats. As I'm only doing this for one week, I'm stuck on 1200 calories - but this is actually a blessing, as we're entering the christmas party season, and that bodycon dress that I'm dying to wear still doesn't match up in the mirror to how it should look in my head...

The class included a very mixed group of women, of various ages, shapes and sizes. They all had one thing in common - that they were MUCH, much more co-ordinated than me. In my defence, they'd all been before and this was my first class, but it may also have something to do with the fact that I have two left feet, and my arms seem to work totally independently from my legs, which in turn do not seem to be controlled by my brain. I have been known to dance, but usually only when there's alcohol involved, and a whole bottle of wine (the minimum amount required for dancing) seemed inappropriate as a) I was driving, and b) the bottle of wine would have contained 500 calories, which would have completely defeated the purpose of going in the first place.

After a brief pep-talk ('sweat is just your fat crying'), we got down to business. The 45-minute aerobics session was good exercise and good fun - well, fun for the women behind me who had to watch me box stepping forwards and salsa'ing back, jumping to the left and right, toe-stepping down, and generally making a right tit of myself. It has made me realise that I should make an effort to do something, although it's not going to be this.

I've ordered the box of Rosemary Conley food - cereal for breakfast, soup for lunch, and various (vegetarian) options for dinner - 200, 300 and 400 calories respectively, supplemented with milk and various 'power-snacks' during the day. My weight hovers around an incredibly annoying 10st2lbs. My goal is definitely to get down to 9st-anything by the end of the year - and to stop sabotaging my efforts with curry and chocolate!

Sunday, 27 November 2011

The end of Diet #34 (diet pills), and the ongoing search for diet #35

Whilst the diet pills didn't exactly make me lose weight, I didn't put back on the weight that I'd lost from the week before, so not a total failure. Weight hovers at a fairly steady 10st 1lb.

Although I was planning to try a diet a week, it's been tougher than I anticipated - finding time to read and understand each diet, buy the necessary ingredients and blog Every.Single.Week, whilst still managing to be a good mother, wife, employer, employee and friend has been more difficult that I thought. Who knew?

A year on, although I've lost the half stone I initially wanted to, I still want to lose another half stone - not even enough to drop a dress size, but just to tone up my stomach and tone down the muffin top.

The other major difficutly has been finding diets. I think that I've probably blogged about most of the main ones, and the rest are far too complicated to be either popular or easy (or both). Take, for example, the Hamptons Diet. The essential ingredient is Macadamia Nut Oil, which is very difficult to come by in Leytonstone (The most 'interesting' thing about Leytonstone is that it's the birthplace of Alfred Hitchcock and David Beckham - which only proves that it's a place you come from, not a place you go to!). The basic rule of the Hamptons Diet is to eat less than 30g carbs per day - which is probably fine if you're summering in the Hamptons - less fine if it's winter, and it's the east end, and your basic subsistance diet consists of baked potatoes, pasta and toast.

I also contemplated the Omega diet, so called due to the importance of Omega fatty acids in food and because the greek letter Omega also means 'conclusion' - referring to what will happen to your weight problems once you've been on this diet... Still with me? Died of boredom yet? I hope not, as you're going to need to concentrate to keep up. The Omega diet consists of 'just' 12 food units per day: Protein; Oil; Nut; Seed; C-Fruit; Fruit 2; Green unit; Flame unit; Pulse; Quality Carb; Calcium; Water. Really, who has the time? No wonder this never caught on.

In the meantime, following on from the feature in the Sun (if you missed it, you can see it here), Reveal have asked me to write about Slimming Clubs for the new year, and so this week, as well as following another diet (more to come about that shortly), I shall also be visiting Rosemary Conley, WeightWatchers (part 2, pro points) and Curves, as well as re-visiting Slimming World. You can read about how I get on in print!

This week's diet (#35) is the Soup Diet. Only two rules: Replacing my evening meal with a nutritious, homemade soup and no chocolate after dinner. Easy, right?

Still on the list to try:

36. Rosemary Conley
37. The Omega Diet
38. *New* Weightwatchers
39. The Hamptons Diet
40. Zotrim
41. Curves
42. Zoe Harcombe
43. Body for Life
44. Joel Fuhrman
45. Macrobiotic
46. Montignac
47. Paleolithic
48. Sonoma
49. Subway
50. Hackers

Which means only two more to find...

Monday, 31 October 2011

Diet #34, Diet pills (aka cheating)

Those of you who follow my blog regularly can probably already predict how this might go. I spent two whole days following the diet religiously, ploughing my way through home-made cookie after cookie, taking little tupperwares to birthday parties, the park, even to work. I ate around 20 of the little buggers before I wanted to die of boredom. And then came half term. Three days off work, playdates with Sadie's friends, and the healthy cookies turned into chocolate chip cookies.

 Then Iced Fingers

Then Millionaires Shortbread

Luckily, I've gone back to work, and the cakefest has come to an end.

As I've been blogging, I've had lots of lovely supportive emails from family and friends, even strangers who've read about what I've been doing and offered help and advice. The most surprising of all came from a cousin (a Doctor, with an amazing Phd in Clincal Psychology), who emailed to tell me her 'secret', how she'd lost all of her baby weight after having an impressive FOUR children.

She emailed to tell me that she'd used "a combination coctail called T-Burn and Fat Attack.  The T-Burn is a stimulant that increases metabolism and cuts hunger, and the Fat Attack sucks out the fat molecules from the food and also has something in to deal with hunger... When I was taking them, I would eat a small breakfast, get a venti latte at Starbucks (more stimulant!) wasn't hungry at lunch, and would eat a healthy dinner. No snacking - I just wasn't hungry! It's manufactured here (in the US) by Klik Nutrition. And yes it's sort of cheating, but not really, cos I'm goal oreinted...I had a goal and this worked!!!"

I'm a terrible chicken, and the thought of buying drugs over the internet from the US terrified me. Not to mention the fact that I can imagine that I would immediately get addicted, and my next blog will be some sort of plea to raise enough money to fund my drug habit. In the same way that some people ask "What Would Jesus Do?" my general mantra for life is "How would I be judged if it ended up in the Daily Mail?". This was not looking good.

So, a compromise. I popped into the very respectable Holland & Barratt, to find out what I could buy over the counter here in the UK. The woman behind the counter looked at me very strangely, before assessing my requirements. Her: Do you do any exercise? Me: No. Her: Do you eat sweets? Me: Yes. Ever so politely, she didn't tell me to get off my fat arse and move more - instead, she recommended two different products - one hideously expensive, and one cheap. So guess which one I went for? And so now I'm taking two "Fat Metaboliser" tablets a day. At only £6.45 for two weeks supply, it's cheaper than most of the things I've tried.

The ingredients include B6 (to metabolise fat), Chromium (decreases fat, increases muscle mass), Cayenne Pepper (from the maple syrup diet), Green Tea (more fat burning), L-Carnitine Tartrate (speeds up metabolism), Kola Nut (more caffeine than coffee - makes me a little crazy), and Uva Ursi (aka Bearberry, a diuretic). Two tablets a day, with one very specific instruction DO NOT TAKE NEAR BEDTIME.

Starting weight is 10st 1lb - slowly creeping down. Can this help? Or will you come back in one week to find a gibbering wreck who hasn't slept for a week?

Saturday, 22 October 2011

The Cookies...

Lots of healthy ingredients...

...Chuck it all in, give it a stir... 

...And make two trays of cookies.

And they taste delicious.
Not sure I'll still think that after I've eaten little else for a week.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Diet #33, The Cookie Diet

Diet #32 was the "Revolutionary Diet". I mean revolutionary in the ironic sense: Just Eat Less! But calorie restriction is just too sensible. It might make good sense, but where's the fun in just eating smaller portions? 

And what could be less sensible than diet  number #33, the Cookie Diet? This diet was created by Dr Sanford Siegal. We're off to a good start, as he appears to be both old and still alive - so he's already one up compared with Drs Atkins and Tarnower (of Scarsdale fame). According to his website, Dr Siegal mixes every batch of his secret amino acid protein blend with his own hands in his private bakery. A month's supply costs 'only' $219.80 (plus P&P).

I plan to make my own cookies - and to use a spoon!! It was easy to find a recipe online, basically lots of bran flakes, almonds, oats and fresh fruit, and the idea is that you eat cookies for breakfast, lunch and snacks, and a healthy meal for either lunch or dinner.

Here's a handy illustration, if you're having problems understanding how this might work. One or two cookies every hour, and one balanced meal every day.

If this is the first time you've read my blog, then welcome!! It started back in November with a simple idea - to lose that pesky half a stone that didn't vanish after the birth of baby number two. It didn't seem like a lot. Probably all it required was a little less chocolate and a little more self-control. But driven by the boredom of maternity leave and the desire to do something more interesting instead, I decided to work my way through 52 diets in 52 weeks, and see how I got on. I'm up to #33, and over the last few months, I've already tried many of the mainstream diets, and a few crazy ones too. I've tried to be honest about how easy they are to follow, how much they have allowed me to continue with normal life, how expensive they've been and most importantly, how much weight it's been possible to lose (or gain, in some cases!!).

I set myself a few rules, which I've mostly stuck to. Nothing crazy or dangerous. Breatharianism (living on fresh air alone), for example, didn't appeal. But some did - I've listed a few of my favourite below, but I'd love you to read through the rest, and let me know what you think...

It all began with the six-meals-a-day diet which you can read here. Followed by my personal favourite, The 100-Mile diet. I've also tried Slimfast and Atkins , I've juiced myself slim, and eaten three apples a day. I hope you enjoy reading is as much as I've enjoyed living it.

I've still got 19 diets to go - so please feel free to follow my blog, share it with your friends, check back on my progress and suggest any new diets you think I might have overlooked.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Diet #32, The Revolutionary Diet

Amazingly, my Revolutionary Diet was front page news this week; I have captured the prevailing zeitgeist (I've been dying to say that for ages!!) This is from yesterday's Evening Standard...

Scarily, though, according to Thursday's Standard, the average recommended calories has actually increased, to 2605 for men and 2079 for women - which means that my 1200 per day, which I'm managing on perfectly well, is well below the suggested level.

Happily, though, it's working!! I've lost three pounds, and I can eat whatever I like (within reason), no stupid rules, no crazy fads (think weird shakes/cabbage soup/green bananas), just lots of fruit and veg, reasonable size portions and chocolate if I fancy some (which mostly, I don't, strangely). I've been using this great little free app on my iPhone, called Shape Up, and tracking my daily food, which I would recommend downloading if you want to give it a try.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Diet #32: The Revolutionary diet

I've been a bit slack in my dieting/blogging recently - something to do with a full time job, two children, a new shopping centre opening on my doorstep... End result - I've lost weight - from my purse but not on the scales.

The Scarsdale Diet was a bit too difficult to stick to - particularly with friends tempting me out for lunch and dinner all week! Apparently the Bel Sit don't know what a 'Scarsdale Highball' is - so I had to settle for the pizza instead.

In the prologue of the Scarsdale book, there's a hint that all did not end well for Dr Tarnower ("...until his tragic and untimely death..."). Turns out that this diet killed him - although not in an Atkins/heart attack kind of way. His diet was so successful that his fame and notoriety attracted a string of beautiful women - and overcome with jealousy, one of them shot him. For the full story, you can rent the film, Mrs Harris, starring Chloe Sevigny as the lover. If anyone murders me over this blog, I think I'd rather Rene Zellweger played me. She has kindly agreed to gain some weight in order to really get under the skin of the part.

Look how she's shamelessly copied my look, for the part.

Uncanny, right??

Anyhow, I've called diet #32 the Revolutionary Diet, in the ironic sense. After 32 weeks, one or two people might have mentioned that there's really only one way to lose weight - eat less, move more. So, for next week, that's what I'm going to try. A few rules: 1200 calorie a day limit. Two litres of water a day. Seven portions of fruit and vegetables. More protein, less carbs. 30 minutes of excercise every day. And if that doesn't work, I've bought some pills from Holland & Barratt.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

The Scarsdale Medical diet (#31)

1984. When shoulder pads were big and the internet was small. Celeb diets hadn't been invented, and so instead the only decent weight-loss advice came from patriachial doctors with patronising overtones. And this is the most patronising of all. Dr Tarnower's Scarsdale Medical Diet (he wasn't lucky enough to live in South Beach...) is possibly the most amusingly patronising diet book that I've encountered so far.

Dr Tarnower is very specific. How much you need to weigh (me: no more than 9st 4lbs - and even this is the top end of the scale), how often you should weigh yourself (daily) and what you need to eat to achieve this (next to nothing, obviously!!).

In some ways, I actually like this diet, as it's based in science (fat/protein/carb ratios) and there are strict rules. Not too much science - just simple sentences so as not to baffle the poor, stupid, fat people.

Much like every other diet I've tried, this diet could have been summarised in around 5 pages. But then it would be a greying pamphlet rather than a  best-selling book, and where's the fun in that?

Here's the diet:
Breakfast, daily
Half a grapefruit, 1 slice of wholemeal toast (no spread), coffee/tea (no milk)
Lunch: Assorted cold cuts, tomatoes, coffee/tea/diet drinks
Dinner: Fish (any kind), green salad, wholemeal  toast, grapefruit.
Lunch: Fruit salad
Dinner: Grilled lean hamburger, tomatoes, lettuce, celery, olives or cucumber
Lunch: Salmon or Tuna salad, lemon and vinegar dressing, grapefruit
Dinner: Roast lamb (no fat), salad
Lunch: Two eggs, any style, no cooking fat, low fat cottage cheese, courgettes or tomatoes, wholemeal bread
Dinner: Chicken, spinach
Lunch: Assorted cheese slices, spinach, wholemeal toast
Dinner: Fish, salad, wholemeal toast
Lunch: Fruit salad
Dinner: Roast turkey or chicken, salad of lettuce and tomatoes, grapefruit
Lunch: Chicken or Turkey, tomatoes, carrots, cabbage, brocolli or cauliflower, grapefruit
Dinner: Grilled steak, salad, brussel sprouts.
Repeat for two weeks only.

This most simple of diets raises so many questions that there follows TWELVE pages of questions on the subject. My favourite is this:

Q: When I'm on the Scarsdale Medical Diet and can't have an alcoholic drink, is there a special non-alcoholic drink I can enjoy, particularly at a cocktail lounge or bar, or at a party?
A: Yes, a number of dieters are enjoing what is becoming known widely as the 'Scarsdale Special Highball'. It's easy to mix - just plain soda and a chunk of lemon in a frosted glass. It's very dry and refreshing, and looks as alcoholic as a gin and tonic or vodka and tonic. Actually, it's the famous Gin Rickey without the gin. Or (my parentheses: 'for variety'), you could try it in a tall glass with a chunk of lime.

There is so much wrong with this!! Where to start?? IT'S. A. GLASS. OF. FIZZY. WATER. My 4-year-olds favourite drink (that is, when she's on Scarsdale and has to forgo the gin).

There are another four, ridiculous variants on this diet, clearly designed to pad out the book rather than the fridge. The Gourmand version: replace grapefruit with 'exotic fruit salad', assorted cheese 'wedges' (so much more exotic than 'slices'); Lobster a la Nage and grilled filet mignon (to replace Sunday's grilled steak). The International version: Monday, American Day; Shrimp cocktail. Tuesday, Japanese day: Tori shrimp and chicken. Wedesday, French day: One hard boiled egg (??) and artichoke provencale. Thursday, Italian Day: Pickled aubergine and cheese sticks. Sunday: Hawaiian day: Pineapple surprise Aloha. Also, the vegetarian version and the money-saver version (the same as the original, but with cheaper cuts of meat).

There follows another TWENTY FOUR pages of hints, tips and questions, to explain this not very complicated diet. Apparently, one scarsdale dieter finds it useful to have the following sign taped to her fridge: "Keep America Beautiful - stick to the Scarsdale Diet. There are no forbidden foods in this house". Three randomly unconnected facts, clearly designed to confuse you when heading for the fridge - you would therefore spend so much time wondering what this actually means that you forget what you went there for in the first place.

More questions:

Q: Lunch on Wednesday includes tuna fish. Can I add carrots to this.
(My) A: Yes!! It's not the carrots that are making you fat!!

(My favourite) Q: I feel terribly guilty - at breakfast with the family I let go and ate three sweet rolls and six slices of buttered toast. What should I do? Starve for a few days?
Dr Tarnower's much more sympathetic than mine would have been A: We all have our failings. This is not catastrophic. Start again. (Lardass)

Q: My husband warns that losing weight will weaken me, and with a houseful of kids I must stay strong. Is he right?
A: Your husband sounds like a twat. Leave him.

Despite all this, I'm still willing to give this a go. Wednesday morning. Weight 145lbs. Have stuck to breakfast and lunch, and am about to go and whip up a chicken salad for dinner. Will weigh myself every day. 20lbs in two weeks would be just marvellous, thank you very much.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Slimming World: Not for me!

Despite two encouraging texts and a phone call from the lovely (and not-at-all-Marjory-Dawes-like) Dyanne, I didn't make it to the second meeting for my weigh in. Something to do with a mad dash to leave the house/forgetting my membership card combined with a massive breakfast at The Wolesley the same morning. Which was a shame, as I'd made a massive effort - even wearing a green dress, to demonstrate my committment and remind me what day I was on.

I still don't really understand how it works, and every time I tried to explain to someone that I didn't really understand this diet, they just shouted "Red Days Green Days" at me... So now I'm confused and terrified - and still not thin!

Ignoring the red and green/extra easy/syns confusions, the main tenet of this diet is basically common sense. Eat as much fruit and vegetables, and meat and fish, pasta and potatoes as you like, limiting bread, sweets, cheese, cereal, milk and alcohol. Realistically, if you had a serious amount of weight to lose, this would be great, as it's all healthy, and let's you eat until you're full without feeling too restrictive, whilst restricting the things that we sneak into our diets pretending that they don't make a difference... a chocolate here, a glass of wine there, takeaway once a week... Although that might only be a quarter or half a pound weight gain every month, not enough to show on the scales, even, cumulatively, that's an extra dress size every year!!

Despite the fact that under normal circumstances, I love being right, in this instance I'm just plain cross with myself. I started on the premise that the last half a stone was the hardest to lose, and guess what? I still can't shift the weight. My size 10 jeans are still a little too tight and muffin top-py for my liking, and my little dresses feel a bit too little for my liking (although that's as much to do with my age as my waistline).

I've still got a pile of diet books to work through: The Complete Scarsdale Medical Diet (lose up to 20 pounds in 14 days), The Biogenic Diet (the natural way to permanent fat loss), The Hamptons Diet (lose weight quickly and safely with the Doctor's delicious meal plans), The Omega Diet (the revolutionary 12-unit plan for health and easy weight loss) and The Good Sex Diet (how to use food to transform your sex life). That last one makes me suspect that the husband has been at my ebay account again.

I think I'll start with Scarsdale. After all, if I can lose 20lbs in 14 days (or 10 in 7), I can stop blogging and go an do something more interesting instead.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Slimming World: Cry for help...

I don't see how they can call this plan "extra easy", when really, it's extra complicated. At least I understand the point of the groups - I'm just so confused by it all, I need someone to hold my hand and tell me it's all going to be ok.

I've been keeping a food diary, and have managed to get this far:
Thursday. Green Day
Branflakes 1st B, milk A
Cashew Nuts 2nd B
Yoghurt: 0.5 syns
M&S Couscous salad: 8 syns
Asparagus: free
Pasta: free
Mozarella: 3.5 syns
So that's 1 A, 2 B's, 12 syns, right??

Friday, Green Day
Banana, grapes: free
2 x yoghurt: 1 syn
1 slice toast: Half a B (can I do that??)
Pret Hoummos wrap: Either, 16 syns (according to the catchily named 'snackulator' online)
Wrap B, Hoummos B, vegetables free. So, which is it???
Chicken: B
Soup, vegetables, potatoes, fruit: free
Plus one small piece of challah and two chocolates, which I ate standing up so they don't count
So, that's either 1.5 B's and 17 syns, or 3.5 B's and one syn. Or something else altogether?

Saturday, Green day??
Mushrooms and scrambled eggs: free
Vegeburgers and salad: free
2 x cheese triangles: Half an A on EE or half a B on Green
3 x corn thins (not on any list, but they vaguely resemble the crispbreads on the B list, so, B then)
Pasta: free
Chicken: B on green (but free on Extra easy, so maybe this can be an EE day??)

Plus, I wanted a bag of crisps, and when I looked it up online, it's 6.5 syns for a small multipack pack of Walkers crisps - my entire days syns basically, which seems a bit unfair to me.

Seriously, you need a degree in this stuff to make any sense of it. Without wishing to blow my own trumpet, I think I'm relatively bright. I've got to grips with 29 diets prior to this one, but I just don't get it. I think that the 'old' red and green days was probably easier, and adding an "extra easy" element was anything but...

I would massively appreciate any comments on this on what I'm doing wrong, and what I can do to simplify it... In the meantime, I'm off to have a little lie down.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Week #30, Slimming World

My name's Katie, and I'm an alcoholic.

Or, as it turns out, just not very good at directions - I'm in the Salvation Army Church on Oxford Street (who knew?) and I seem to have walked into the wrong meeting. There were a few choices - weightwatchers upstairs, choir practise in the main hall, and Slimming World is "through the gift shop". I love shopping on Oxford Street at lunch time, but luckily Christian parephernalia doesn't hold much temptation, and I make it through the gift shop purse intact.

It's all gone a bit wrong over the last few weeks. The incessant dieting is dull dull dull, and even trying to mix it up by changing my diet every week, instead of making it interesting, is turning it into a chore - trying to find a new diet every week - and finding the time to swot up on it, shop for the right sort of food and write about it all, on top of all the other *boring* little details that get in the way (children, husband, job, social life, house, etc etc).

So, a slightly new tack - instead of switching from diet to diet, can sticking with one for a few weeks help me to shift the weight? Slimming World seem to think so, and to prove it, they've given me six whole weeks membership!

Slimming World involves attending meetings, weekly weigh-ins, and sharing your experiences with other members of the group. Dyanne, the incredibly upbeat lady who runs the group, bears only a very passing resemblence to Marjory Dawes. She knows every member by name, and greets them all as long-lost friends, insisting (somewhat uncomfortably in my opinion) that they share their weightloss as they try to slink out unnoticed (slinking comes more easily to some members than others). She has a host of well worn phrases designed to motivate and inspire: "if it's grown on a plant it's free, if it's made in a plant its not", and my personal favourite, a sign which she waves at members as they leave:

Her mantra seems to be how "easy it all is". You can choose between 'Extra Easy Days', 'Red Days' and 'Green Days'. On 'Extra Easy Days' you can eat unlimited 'free' foods from the orange list (fruit and veg), red list (meat/fish/eggs) and green list (starchy veg/rice/pasta/eggs) but only one 'A' (milk/cheese) and one 'B'(cereal/bread), plus around 5-15 syns. On 'Green Days', you can choose unlimited 'free' foods from the orange and green lists, and then two 'A's (milk/cheese) and 2 'B's (meat/fish/dairy) and on 'Red Days', you can have unlimited 'free' foods from the orange list plus two 'A's (milk/cheese again) and 2 'B's (this time starchy veg & pasta), but it's really easy, honest...

Yesterday, I'd already had cereal & milk (one A, one B), and a handful of cashews (7 syns) by the time I got to the meeting, so I thought that the 'Extra Easy' option would be best for today. The whole thing was so complicated, I had no idea what to have for lunch, so I grabbed a roast vegetable and couscous salad from M&S on my way back to the office - which the genius online tool tells me is another 8 syns, and a fat free yoghurt (free). Asparagus (free) followed by pasta (free) with tomato sauce (no idea) and mozzarella (another 'B' on green) at Zizzi means that I've decided, at the very last minute, to switch to a green day (can I do that??). And now I've realised that on 'Green Days', cashew nuts are a 'B' choice, so I'm going to change my mozzarella to a syn (as it's only 3.5 syns), and have the cashews as the B. But it's really easy - honest!!

Seriously, I've read the book three times. There must be something wrong with me! It's supposed to be EASY (sorry, EXTRA-easy), and it's giving me a headache!!

However, just as I have noticed a regular pattern in the diet books that I read, you may have noticed another pattern here on my blog - I start each week annoyed at the ridiculousness of each diet, and end the week converted to the wonderousness that is each new thing that I try. Will the same be true of Slimming World? Check back next week to find out...

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Week(end) #29, Tesco Ultraslim

Saw this on the shelf in Tesco and thought I'd give it a try for a couple of days to get me back on track. Same principle as but cheaper and not as nice. Reignited my sweet tooth... but Poppy seemed to like it...

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Diet #28, The South Beach Diet

Turns out the only way that Paul McKenna can make me thin if I was too thin to start with, and he has just made me "normal" thin (highly unlikely!!!). I put on 5lbs this week. Here's me Slowly and Consciously plowing my way through a plate of chocolate brownie and Ben & Jerry's Phish Food ice cream (I heard that if you eat standing up it doesn't count...)

This week, The South Beach Diet. This puts me firmly in mind of denim-hotpant-wearing, bikini-clad girls rollerblading along the sea front, a la 1980's tampons advertisement. More surprisingly, what you get is a very serious, middle-aged cardiologist, who has (unlike virtually every diet book I've read this year), thoroughly researched his material and presented his findings to a series of highbrow sounding conferences. He's just lucky enough to live near Miami's South Beach!

This is a long, slightly dull, very text-heavy book, filled with scientific facts, and peppered with anecdotal evidence from previously fat, seriously unhealthy, mostly Americans, who have had long-term success in keeping the weight off with this method. Predictably, it follows the same formula as many: Slag off other diets (Piritkin - worsens cholesterol and triglycerides; Atkins - too much saturated fat; Ornish - too many carbs, too little fat, too hard to follow), so what's a guy to do but make up his own, best-selling, multi-million dollar generating diet.

Actually, in this instance, this is a bit unfair. Dr Arthur Agatston, the author of this diet, seems to have fallen into this totally accidentally (much like me and blogging). As a cardiologist treating a number of overweight patients, he saw that many diets weren't working, and developed his own. A news channel picked up on his success, and featured a series of dieters following his plan - worldwide acclaim followed.

In brief, this diet is relatively simple. For the first two weeks (Phase 1), there is severe carb restriction. Phase two begins to reintroduce carbs slowly, until desired weightloss is achieved. The carb restriction is more Atkins than Dukan - it allows for vegetables which makes the biggest difference to the managability of this plan.

Whilst I initially loved Atkins, and the immediate results I achieved, more recently, Dukan has put me off carb restriction for life, even for such a short period of time, so this is difficult to stick to. I'm sick to death of eggs for breakfast, so yesterday polished off what can only be described as a bucket of yoghurt instead. The first phase of this diet doesn't allow for any fruit, so I'm having to be inventive with my vegetables, so that I don't die of scurvy.

A positive side of these diets is that i'm having to be truly creative when it comes to interesting food. Yesterday, an early morning trip to Tesco resulted in a babybel-stuffed celery snack, and my lunchtime jaunt to to M&S inspired a bag of salad and mackrel - all for only £2.59. Bargain!

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Paul McKenna really can make you thin...

Luckily, not reading the second part of the book, I really hadn't missed much. It's mostly about altering your state of mind - neuro-lingusitic programming dressed up as self-hypnosis - anchoring positive feelings, learning to love yourself, motivating yourself to exercise, and overcoming cravings through tapping.

That last part deserves further explanation. The tapping technique is about using acupressure points to reprogramme your brain to eliminate cravings. It *works* like this:

1. Get a craving
2. Tap under your collarbone 10 times with two fingers whilst concentrating on the craving
3. Tap under your eye ten times
4. Tap under your collarbone again
5. Tap the back of your hand between your ring and little finger
6. Continue tapping your hand, close your eyes and open them
7. Still tapping, look down to the right then the left (keeping head still)
8. Still tapping, rotate your eyes 360o clockwise then anti-clockwise
9. (This part is really odd) hum the first few lines of Happy Birthday
10. Count out loud from 1 to 5
11. Hum happy birthday again
12. Get your coat, go and howl in the street (ok, I made that part up, but by now everyone thinks you're mad, so nothing to lose, right?)

Like any simple illusion, this is mostly about distraction. Unlike magic, if I tried this technique in the office (or even worse, say, in a restaurant), I'd be locked up.

My main issue with the book is this: there's nothing in here at all about food... I suppose technically you can't blame the food - all it does is fill my cupboards (and the occasional emotional void). I'm the one who's guilty of shovelling in vast quantities of it. But even if you follow the techniques, I still maintain that you need a basic understanding of what's good and what's bad, so that you are able to make healthy choices whilst following the four rules. Otherwise, I could just wait until I'm hungry and then slowly and consciously stuff my face with chocolate croissants - but only until I am full.

My other issue with the book is that it seems to work. This week, I've definitely eaten less, more slowly and conciously, and only until I'm full. I think he's playing tricks on my mind...

Monday, 18 July 2011

Diet #27, I Can Make You Thin, by Paul McKenna

"Look into my eyes, look deep into my eyes" whilst I talk you through diet #27.

Paul McKenna would (and does, vigorously) dispute that this is a "diet" (don't they all). According to Paul, you can eat whatever you want, whenever you want and still lose weight.

This book is fairly simple to abridge, as follows:

Chapter 1: Why aren't you thin yet? A bit harsh, but good news for Paul, as otherwise this book wouldn't have been a "number 1 bestseller". There are a few reasons why're you're not yet thin, apparently.

Pattern 1: Obsessive dieting: the more you diet, the more you fail. The more you fail, the less likely you are to succeed (or something like that). There is a *small* possibility that I am guilty of this...
Pattern 2: Emotional eating: Feel sad, eat to feel better. Feel shit about yourself  because you ate too much, eat to feel better, repeat until they come and fetch you out of the window with a fire engine.
Pattern 3: Faulty programming: It's not your fault, your wiring is just a bit haywire. Luckily Paul can fix this. Read on...

Chapter 2"The Simplest Weight-Loss System in the World". Apparently, this is trademarked. Is that even possible? Paul says that there are no naturally thin people - a point that I fundamentally disagree with. People might not stay naturally thin forever (sorry if you're reading this in your twenties, but your thirties and/or your childbearing years may not be kind to you), but some people are, just, naturally thin. I've seen Lily Cole, up close and in the flesh. She may look like a strange, beautiful, unusual alien creature, but I'm convinced that she is, at least, naturally, thin.

I'm ignoring the flaws in his logic and plowing on.

Four Golden Rules
When you are hungry, eat.
Eat what you want, not what you think you should
Eat consciously and enjoy every mouthful
When you think you are full, stop eating

The book is peppered with odd metaphors, unsubstantiated facts and weird anecdotes. Apparently, as a child, he attempted to steam open an envelope, and broke the thermostat. Moral of the story is that if you overeat, you'll break your internal "off switch". But I just want to know why on earth he was steaming open someone's post?

Chapter 3: Reprogram your mind. Imagine chocolate cake. Yum. Imagine chocolate cake covered in maggots. Yuck. Easy, right? Imagine your food wasn't described in appetizing terms: so your hamburger becomes a patty of miscellaneous bits of dead cow of dubious providence (if you're lucky, and the cow part is at least right). Focus: Think yourself thin, and you will be thin.

Chapter 4 is, intriguingly, called "Overcoming Emotional Eating". I haven't got this far yet, and I haven't listened to the CD, but repost later in the week, as soon as I do. In the meantime, I'm off to have some dead fish for supper.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Diet #26, The 3-Apple-a-Day GI diet

Diet 26 - half way through!! To celebrate, another mad faddy-sounding one - the 3-apple-a-day GI diet, by Tammi Flynn (an American, natch). The whole book reads like an info-mercial, those cheesy programmes that take up all those channels on Sky and makes you wonder who would ever buy anything from them. In this case, you have to imagine Tammi in a tight-fitting shiny leotard and high heels, standing behind a counter piled up with apples.

Fine, scene set, I'll begin to explain what this is and how it works... Although to be fair, I feel slightly misled. According to the very first line of the book, the "3-apple-a-day diet is not about eating apples". Eh??

The principle is really simple. In addition to following a healthy, low-gi diet, you eat an apple before each main meal (GI diet, week 15). The idea of the apples is that they're high in both soluble and insoluble fibre, fill you up to stop you overeating, provide nutrients, curb your sweet tooth, and provide a portion of your recommended 5-a-day.

As I've mentioned in previous posts, in order to support their credibility, it's imperative for diets books to source a scientific study to back up their findings. Luckily, I think that I've found the most tenuous of all. Tammi quotes a recent "Brazilian study of overweight women" which compared three groups of women who ate three apples, three pears or three cookies a day. Unsurprisingly, the groups that ate the fruit lost significantly more weight than the biscuit group. Really? Now there's a surprise! Another handy hint for anyone writing a diet book: throw in some arbritrary, unsourced statistics to support your case. In this instance, "a family history of obesity increases our chances of becoming overweight by about 30%".

As always, some random quotations that don't seem to make much sense. Here's my favourite:
Think of appetite as a sleeping lion. If you feed him, he will purr and sleep. If you starve him, he will attack. The lion is your appetite. If you aren't prepared with food on hand, your appetite may attach and you'll be relying on your willpower. That's doing it the hard way for sure.  Tip: Take apples with you everywhere you go.

To be fair, aside from the faddy, slightly misleading title, and infomercial tone, this book is actually full of sensible advice. Set yourself realistic goals, get fit, stay motivated, etc. The second half of the book contains over 100 high-protein but mostly delicious sounding recipes, and some suggested daily meal planners. Essentially, you set your own calorie limit, based on your weight in pounds multiplied by 10 (so, for me, 1400 calories), and then off you go...

As always in these books, FAQ's. In this case, should maybe be called SAQ's (stupidly asked questions). For example, can applesauce be used as a substitue? Yes. Of course it can. NOT!! At least we've quickly got to the root of the problem. Not diet. Stupidity. However, no one has asked about whether Cider counts instead of apples, so I'll assume it's ok, and I'll have that three times a day. At least I won't care about my weight.

The breakfast recipes are all-American: Bran muffins, breakfast quesadilla, breakfast burritto, breakfast-in-a-blender, turkey sausage patties. No wonder obesity has become such an issue. I might just stick with my all-English bran flakes and semi-skimmed milk in the morning, but I'll try some of the recipes for supper.