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.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Gluten-free experiment

Avoiding gluten for a week is kind of cheating in the world of dieting. My aim was to lose half a stone (which I'm still trying to do, btw), and avoiding gluten for a week probably won't help with this, although it might make me feel a little less bloated, which is a good thing.

It has made me think about food allergies, though. When I was young, I don't really remember anyone who was allergic to anything much. I also don't remember anyone wearing glasses, and the naughty kids were just 'naughty', not ADHD. These days, every school picnic has to be "nut-free", and kids parties have become a minefield of nut-free, wheat-free, dairy-free (fun-free) trouble.

This week, I bought a packet of crisps in Marks and Spencer, and they're marked as unsuitable for egg, milk, wheat, barley, gluten, soya and shellfish allergy sufferers! That's a lot of boxes ticked for a packet of ready salted potato squares.

It does seem like we've gone warning mad. Have you ever noticed that kids clothing labels all say "Keep away from fire". Of course you should, it's got a child in it!! And despite rising gas and electricity prices, when was the last time anyone reading this sat themselves (or their children) in front of a fire in their pj's??

An interesting study recently on British and Israeli children seems to prove that early exposure to nuts can actually reduce, rather than increase the risk of allergy. Israeli's wean their children on a snack called Bamba - peanut flavoured wotsits, whereas us risk-averse Brits avoid them like the plague.

Anyhow, none of that ranting has much to do with dieting. But an experiment of my own: Tonight, I'm making Simon (the 'other half'), a gluten free pasta bake. Do you think he'll notice the difference?

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Diet #25, living Gluten-free

But first, the end of the Kick Start/Cabbage Soup diet: The problem with faddy diets is that they're so goddam hard to stick to. This diet worked well for the first three days (soup and fruit/soup and veg/soup and fruit AND veg), but it all fell apart on day 4. I had a most lovely lunch with Russell Blackburn (of Blackburn Bridal Couture) at the shiny new Pollen Street Social, with delicious food from Gordon Ramsey's protege Jason Atherton. Our waiter was so charmingly amenable, I'm sure that if I had explained that all I could eat was soup and banana's, they would have rustled me up something delicious, but it seemed churlish to resist the carefully crafted, cool modern menu.

Here's a picture of my starter: The description (light cured Shetland salmon, avocado, smoked herring roe cream) doesn't really do it justice...

I'm conviced that, crazy as this diet sounded, had I stuck to it, there's no doubt that I would have lost weight, and so I might come back to it later, to give it another go...

Some more excitement this week, my blog is going national!! I did a shoot for a national newspaper (strike that - HUGE national newspaper...) this week. Here's a sneak peek...

Enough about me, and on to diet #25, living gluten free. My BFF doesn't eat gluten (for medical reasons), and is somewhat of an expert on all things wheat-free. I'm expecting her to furnish me with baskets of home-made bread, and a list of Soho's finest eateries for lunchtimes...

The lowdown: Gluten is a protein which is found in wheat, but also in spelt, barley, rye and oats. It's often used as a thickener in food (under the label 'dextrin'). Luckily for me, potatoes, rice, corn and quinoa are gluten-free, and so on the menu for this week.

According to, "between 50% and 70% of the population are sensitive to Gluten". This seems a little dramatic to me - on a macro level, that's 3 people just in my house!! Wouldn't it be ironic if the one person who wasn't gluten intolerant was me!!

Although this is usually a medical diet, there are lots of reasons for everyone to try to live gluten-free:
  • Wheat is hard to digest - undigested wheat ferments, forming 'gas'.
  • Wheat is quickly converted to sugar, leading to a spike in insulin.
  • Apparently, wheat can cause 'leaky gut syndrome', allowing toxins to leak into your bloodstream.
  • Refined wheat has very little nutritional value.
Two scrambled eggs and cheese for breakfast (again!!), and any suggestions for gluten-free pizza for dinner tonight would be most welcome.