Fat chance

 

I am always adamant that January is no time to start a punishing diet or fitness regime, no matter what the scales might be telling us. It is cold, it is dark, there is an inevitable crash after the excitement of Christmas, and spring is still a long way off. This year, for good measure, Donald Trump has just become leader of the free world. Seriously, this is not a good time to give up chocolate, cake and wine – they may be the only things which get us through. I love my blogger pal Mostly Yummy Mummy’s latest post on how to take care of yourself and create your own sunshine this January –  wise words indeed.

However. Despite all this sensible advice I give myself, diets, dieting, fitness regimes and weightloss plans are everywhere in January, and and it is very hard not to be drawn into feelings of panic and insecurity. Especially when you managed to lose half a stone slowly and painfully over the autumn before putting it all back on again in December.

I’ve blogged about my relationship with my weight before. I’m not hugely over-weight, but I put on a gargantuan 4.5 stone when I was pregnant with Sophia and now, shortly after her second birthday, I’m still 1.5 stone heavier than I was when I got pregnant. I have no desire to conform to media expectations of what women should look like, and I know that realistically I am far too greedy to ever make it to a size 10 or below. But this extra weight pushes my BMI into the borders of the ‘overweight’ category, and takes my waist measurement to dangerously near what the NHS considers to be the ‘at risk’ zone for health problems. I’ve also got some really nice clothes which no longer quite fit. Losing that extra baby-weight (I’m sticking to this definition, rather than the possibly more accurate ‘chocolate brownie’ weight), would take me from my current top end of a size 14 to my former comfortable size 12, and I would prefer that for lots of reasons. Not least being that if I continue to put on half a stone every Christmas and fail to lose it, it won’t be long before I have a very big problem indeed.

So what do I do? One half of my brain is telling me to bite the bullet, enrol in Slimming World or Weightwatchers, endure three months of restricted eating to lose 2lbs a week, and then job done. The other, possibly more sensible part, is telling me that I am nearly thirty-six and I need to grow up and make peace with my relationship with food.

Apparently something like 95% of diets don’t work, in the sense of losing weight and keeping it off long term. That’s not a very encouraging statistic. If you told me a new washing machine had only a 5% chance of still working in three years time I very much doubt I’d buy it.

I no longer believe that there are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods, in fact I think that’s an unhelpful distinction to make. Obviously there is more nutritional value in a tomato than a Creme Egg, but a sugary chocolate egg doesn’t have a moral value. Eating it doesn’t make you bad, any more than resisting it makes you good. I’m sceptical about organised diet programmes which penalise eating avocado or olive oil and promote sugar-free jelly or FryLight spray.

What I do believe is that I eat for positive reasons – because I’m hungry, because it tastes nice, because it’s fun to share a meal with friends or family, because I want to give my body fuel and energy, but also for negative ones – because I am lonely, bored, angry, tired, stressed or miserable. One of the reasons I have struggled to lose  weight recently is that I have spent quite a lot of time in the past couple of years being lonely, bored, angry, tired, stressed or miserable. Sometimes all simultaneously.

Hopefully things are improving. Sophia settling into pre-school gives me a better balance between full-time mothering and some time and space for myself. After a series of sessions with a psychologist I am coping much better with the PTSD and anxiety I was suffering from. And by and large (fingers crossed) Sophia is sleeping pretty well, ergo so am I. We won’t talk about the recent cold which caused her to wake up pretty much every hour on the hour screaming “Mummmeeee, where are youuuuu?”.

I don’t really want to ‘do a diet’. Partly because I’m not convinced it’s the best route, for me, to what I want, which is long-term good health and healthy habits. Partly because young girls are very vulnerable to developing poor body image, and at nearly eight Anna is extremely shrewd and observant, and I don’t think that watching mummy weigh out her Special K every morning sends a particularly positive message. And partly because I am feeding a family which includes a growing toddler, an energetic school girl and a husband with a metabolism the speed of light who has a tendency to lose weight if he gets stressed, something which happens a fair amount when you’re starting a new business. Just because I have the metabolism of a depressed slug and a tendency to eat family sized bars of Dairy Milk when I get stressed is no reason they should all suffer, and I certainly can’t be bothered cooking endless separate meals, or watching them tuck into homemade sausage and mash while I munch away on a low-cal ready meal.

But equally not being ‘on a diet’ can’t be a carte blanche to eat everything I want. Unfortunately I just want to eat too much of lots of things! I don’t want to calorie count or weigh food or ban entire food groups, but I can’t eat as many sweet treats as I would like to and avoid putting on weight and becoming unhealthy. So my plan is something like this:

  1. Eat three balanced meals a day.
  2. Watch the amount of carbs, especially high GI ones like white pasta and potatoes.
  3. Limit sweet snacks between meals to once a day. I know a lot of people would say once a week, but I’m trying to be realistic.
  4. Wait until I’m hungry, don’t eat for the sake of eating or because it’s expected.
  5. Get a pedometer and walk as much as possible, at least the recommended 10,000 steps a day, but more whenever possible.
  6. If I fall off the wagon, don’t write the whole day off and think that because I had a pain au chocolat for breakfast this is now a reason to think sod it all and have chips for lunch, pizza for dinner and an entire tub of Ben and Jerry’s as an afternoon snack.
  7. Give myself 6 months doing this, and if I’m gradually losing weight, great, and if not then think again.
  8. Put these aims on my blog so that I can’t wiggle out of them.

Oh, and maybe not start until February…

scales

Twenty-Fourth Day of Advent: Christmas

xmas cakeWell, I had to end with Christmas, didn’t I? Regular readers of this blog and my Advent posts in particular will probably have picked up that I absolutely adore Christmas. I don’t want anything Christmassy to intrude until December because I feel it spoils it, but from 1 December, bring it on. I love the carols, the candles, the cooking, the eating, the choosing gifts and receiving them, the little family rituals, the cheesy Christmas tunes, Anna’s palpable excitement (which is about to shoot off the scale). Everything.

I also love the message of Christmas. I blogged before about my ambivalent relationship with Christianity, but equally how can I not warm to the message of Peace on Earth? One of my absolute favourite carols is It Came Upon the Midnight Clear and I can’t hear it without crying. Partly because it was my Nanna’s favourite and so reminds me of her, and partly because of the verse

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing.

Somehow Christmas brings alive the possibility that we might hush our noise and listen to the angel song. There is so much redolent symbolism. Stars and candles giving light, angels giving messages of peace and love, the evergreens with which we decorate our home reminding us even though the days are the shortest and darkest new life will return.

I love spending time with family and friends. Of course that isn’t, and shouldn’t, be confined to Christmas. But life can get so busy that it’s great when Christmas forces us to pause and take time away from work and day to day responsibilities and worries. In fact, Christmas brings together almost everything that makes me happy which I’ve blogged about this Advent. Family, friends, husband, daughters, food, home, baking are all crucial to making my Christmas special.

Thank you for reading my blog this Advent. I’ve been so touched by all your comments and the positive feedback I’ve had. I’ll be back after Christmas, but in the meantime I and going to turn on the TV for Carols From Kings, and wish you and your families a very happy Christmas however you are celebrating.

Eighteenth Day of Advent: Food

Okay, enough with the mushy stuff about how much my friends and family mean to me. It’s true, they do, but today I am being a little more prosaic and blogging about another great love of my life – food!

Yes, I admit it. I am a girl glutton. I love planning meals, cooking them, eating them, talking about food, reading foodie blogs or snuggling up in bed with a good recipe book. Nigella is my favourite food writer because her recipes suit my style of cooking, and because she uses language so beautifully. Nigel Slater is also brilliant, and I love Sophie Dahl, Lorraine Pascale and Ainsley Harriott too. pretty cakes

Today is a particularly good day to blog about food as I had a normal family breakfast (toasted and buttered fruit loaf, since you ask), and then an end of term lunch out with my friend (buttermilk chicken burger with slaw) and then that same friend is babysitting tonight so husband and I can have a romantic dinner a deux (assuming I can get the children to bed and to sleep on time, and I have room left after my indulgent lunch). We’ll return the favour and one of us will sit for her daughter tomorrow night so she and her husband can have a date. It’s a good system.

A lazy lunch out, followed by Anna breaking up early for the end of term, means today’s is also going to be a very brief blog indeed. Sophia is currently having a nap – probably far too late for my goal of getting her settled on time tonight – and Anna is chilling with a bit of telly, but I don’t think my window for writing is a very large one. Plus, if I do have a limited laptop the not insignificant fact that the Boden sale started today is also competing for my time!

Sometimes, normally when looking at holiday photos or being unable to fasten my jeans, I wish I loved food a little less passionately. Or at least chocolate, chips, cheese, pasta and rice a little less. But by and large I revel in it. I make an effort to eat healthily in that I try and eat lots of good stuff and pack the veg in, but I refuse to feel guilty about enjoying sugar, fat, carbs or whatever the villain de jour is as well. After all, we pretty much have to eat three times a day every day of our lives, so surely it makes sense to ensure it’s an activity that makes us happy?

The Food of Love

I love food. No big secret there. I spend a very large proportion of my waking hours either shopping for food, cooking, eating or thinking about what I want to buy, cook or eat.

The last couple of months, though, have challenged this love somewhat. Sophia is now eating three meals a day (and by ‘eating’ I am using the baby definition, which actually means throwing to the floor or smearing as widely as possible across face, hair, clothes and anyone unwise enough to be in her vicinity), and so in addition to all the other family meals I have to think about what she is going to eat. If there’s one thing hungry babies don’t like, it is mummy vanishing into the kitchen to spend ages cooking, so Sophia’s food needs to be planned and preferably cooked in advance.

My husband and I have always eaten separately from Anna during the week. There are several reasons. One is that my husband is almost never home before 7pm, often much later, and, in my opinion anyway, that is far too late for a young child to be eating and going to bed. There is the option of me eating with Anna and husband eating alone later, but that would still be two  separate meals, and it is not something we’ve seriously considered as we both feel that taking the time to sit down together for a proper meal, sometimes a glass of wine, and really catching up on each other’s days, however dramatic or mundane those days have been, is a real cornerstone of our marriage. I sit at the table with Anna, and chat to her, and sometimes have a snack to keep me going until dinner at 8.30pm, but I am always glad to have that adult time to look forward to. Another, more prosaic, reason for our decision is that we (especially I!) love spicy food. Rarely a week goes by without us eating Thai. Indian or Mexican style food, and Anna has made it abundantly clear that she is not a fan, and I’m not prepared to give up my curries in the interests of a family meal.

My plan was (and is) that now Anna and Sophia can now eat their evening meals together. This is working a lot of the time, but they’re not always eating the same food, so often I’m cooking separately for them. Sometimes this is because Sophia is still on a strict(ish) no salt, no sugar regime, and I don’t want to deprive Anna of reasonable treats for the sake of eating the same as her sister. Sometimes Anna has eaten a big school lunch and only wants a sandwich. And sometimes I want to take advantage of the fact that Sophia is yet to develop an intolerance for green veg and cram as much spinach and broccoli into her as I can before she decides they’re inedible. Anna has been of that view since she was about fourteen months. Meals I have discovered which work for both of them are eggy bread, beans on toast, macaroni cheese, pasta with tomato and veg sauce, baked potatoes, and chilli (without the hot spices). I’m working on increasing that repertoire, but in the meantime, a standard day can see me making porridge and toast for breakfast (having previously batch cooked the granola my husband eats), then something for mine and Sophia’s lunch, then a snack for Anna when she gets home from school, then an evening meal for Sophia, an evening meal for Anna and an evening meal for us. Throw in a play date guest, or a bake sale at school, or an ungovernable yearning for chocolate brownies, and you can see why I’m never out of the kitchen.

I still love food and cooking. I love the sense of nurturing and providing for my family. And I am thankful daily that we are lucky enough to be able to afford plenty of good, safe, nutritious food and the fuel to cook it with. But. But. Sometimes it just all feels so relentless. It’s not just the cooking, it’s planning it, and making sure we’ve got the ingredients in stock, and then clearing the kitchen, loading and unloading the dishwasher, picking up the discarded food from under the table and wiping everything clean, washing the filthy bibs and muslins and mopping up the spilt milk. There is a certain, inescapable, amount of drudgery involved, and it can be difficult not to feel overwhelmed by it, and lately I have been.

cinnamon bunsOn Sunday, though, I surprised myself by trying a new and fairly complicated recipe for cinnamon swirl bins, just for the fun of it. I’d got the recipe from Jenny Colgan’s novel The Little Beach Street Bakery (if there’s one thing I love more than a good chick lit novel, it’s a chick lit novel with ace recipes in it!), and I was a little trepidatious because dedicated viewing of the Great British Bake Off has taught me that sweetened, enriched doughs can be very tricky. I could almost see the sceptical look on Paul Hollywood’s face. But, do you know what, they worked! They were absolutely delicious if I do say so myself. Their appearance could probably be tactfully described as rustic, and I may have been a bit heavy handed with the icing (although no one complained), but they tasted incredible – so much nicer than anything similar you can buy. Along with an omelette they made a fantastic lazy Sunday brunch which we all enjoyed (I stretched the no sugar rule sufficiently to give Sophia a taste), and I rediscovered my love for pottering in the kitchen. Perhaps simply because they weren’t an essential meal it made baking them all the more enjoyable. The food I make generally comes out of love for my family, but it was nice to reignite my own love of food too.

That was the summer

It’s been a long time since my last blog, and the summer holiday has passed in a whirl with barely a chance to catch my breath, let alone do any writing. It was Anna’s first day back at school this morning, and walking through the gates it felt as though the last six weeks hadn’t happened. It definitely did, though, and has been an incredibly busy time.

We travelled to seven different European countries by train (France, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Italy, Spain), in a crazy, action-packed, fun-filled sixteen days which encompassed learning (and then rapidly forgetting) how to say hello, goodbye, please and thank you in five different languages, eating schnitzel, strudel, goulash, sheeps cheese filled dumplings, mussels, pizza, spaghetti, paella, salt cod croquettes, tortilla, custard filled croissants, sea snails and a LOT of gelato, swimming in the sea, exploring Roman remains and a mountain top theme park, Venetian calle and Spanish ramblas, and journeys by high speed train, sleeper train, metro, coach, bus, taxi, boat, gondola, tram, funicular railway, trolley bus and aeroplane. We were variously attacked by vicious mosquitos, over-active automatic doors and poisonous seaweed. We watched the sun set over the river Danube, took a boat the length of the Grand Canal and ate tapas in candlelit Spanish squares. It was utterly magical, and we created a lot of very happy family memories.

There were lots of adventures back in the UK too, with trips to Liverpool, New Brighton, Speke Hall, Chester Zoo, the Museum of Childhood, innumerable playgrounds, and the Festival of Love on the South Bank. Anna completed the Magical Maze summer reading challenge at our local library and a week’s crash course of swimming lessons, baked a chocolate hedgehog cake, picked and ate vegetables from Grandad’s garden, and built a zoo’s worth of Lego animals with Uncle Matt. We had playdates with friends (ours and Anna’s!), I met my oldest friend’s gorgeous new baby boy and we said goodbye to my cousins-in-law who moved to the US a few weeks ago. We went to our twenty week scan together and Anna had her first, rather grainy, view of her new sibling. Lest all this sound too blissful, we also had no less than six increasingly fractious trips to different shoe shops in what seemed like a doomed attempt to find school shoes which fitted Anna’s feet and both mine and Anna’s practical and aesthetic requirements. After all that, the weather is so nice today that she has gone back to school in slightly-too-small sandals! There were also a few sessions with the nit comb and then a trepidatious visit to the hairdressers where, thankfully, we were declared nit-free and Anna had a hair cut which should hopefully enable her to actually be able to see her new teacher today.

So now I’ve got that back to school feeling. We waved Anna off in the playground – she and all her classmates seeming to have grown several inches over the summer – and although I’ve been looking forward to school starting and a little time to myself, I’m now counting the minutes until 3.10pm when I can find out how her first day in Year One went. 

If all continues to go well with my pregnancy (twenty-four weeks, five days and counting!) then I have a window of a little over three months to get our lives sorted out. In no particular order I have to: edit my short story, write the first draft of my third novel, get our old baby stuff down out of the loft, discover it’s been attacked by mice and/or moths and replace half of it, transform the spare room into a nursery, start taking some kind of pregnancy-friendly exercise, stock the freezer with wholesome meals to minimise our reliance on takeaways come January and make sure all our preparations for Christmas completed by the end of November so that I’m not trying to wrap presents while breastfeeding a newborn. Oh yes, and try and stock up on the naps and early nights which will soon be in short supply, whilst also spending lots of quality time with Anna in her last few months as an only child. Which all sounds perfectly do-able. Happy September everyone!