Thursday, 27 May 2010

Eating out

When you make a conscious effort to overhaul your eating habits for the better you have to decide where The Line is for you.

As I’ve said before, I do not view Weight Watchers as a diet. It is a system which allows me to monitor, and, as is necessary in order to lose excess weight, curtail my food intake. When I have achieved my goal weight, it will be a system which allows me to monitor the food intake sufficient to maintain that weight. No two ways about it, the planning and tracking that goes into using this system can be tedious at times; it can be an effort to be mindful about every little thing you eat. But for someone like me, whose relationship with food is obviously a bit skew-whiff (I wouldn’t have gained weight otherwise) it is necessary and it is something I am prepared to commit to.

However, for me The Line comes with eating out.

I’m not talking about my weekly post weigh in 6” Sub (see here) and I don’t mind counting a speedy weeknight supper at Wagamamas or Pizza Express as a general rule. But one of the great joys of my life, and one which I share with my OH, is eating out in wonderful restaurants. This is a pricey business and we can’t afford to do it often. So, when I go to one of these places I do not go with any intention of moderating my choices to make them Weight Watchers friendly. I enjoy every single butter-rich mouthful. And then, I get back to my tracking the next day (or possibly the day after that if we’re staying overnight and there is an indulgent breakfast to be had!)

My weight loss has been slow. As I said here, it works out overall at about half a pound a week. There are those who have lost much more weight than me much faster and good for them. But I am not prepared to give up my moments of indulgence, and if that means that my route to goal is a little bit longer then I think it is a price worth paying.

Actually, if my moments of indulgent were limited to the odd time we go out for a truly luxurious meal, I think I’d get that half pound average up a bit. It’s probably the little slips – the Saturday night spent drinking wine and eating Indian takeaway on the sofa, the KitKats I’ve scoffed because I’ve had a bad day…that have done more damage. But again, falling down is all part of the process – it’s getting up again that counts, and, ultimately, what will get me to goal.

I intend to post some of the “reviews” I’ve written of various restaurants we have been to on here. These pieces were done entirely for my own amusement – possibly because my dream job would be that of restaurant critic. Although they do not strictly fall within the “WW” part of this blog’s title, they are an integral part of my life as a “foodie” and therefore, I think they belong here as evidence that these occasional celebrations of high end gastronomy can be incorporated into the life of a serial loser.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

On being accountable

So, at the top of the page you’ll notice that I’ve called this a diet/food blog hybrid. And so far I’ve perhaps concentrated more on the foodie blogging thing. As with most diet bloggers that I’ve ever read, silence tends not to be a good sign when it comes to diets. It generally means that everything is going a little bit wrong.

Let’s cut to the weight loss chase. I’ve lost a total of 3 stone – that’s 42 pounds. Which is great (cue pat on the back). It has taken me a year and eight months so far – that’s a total of 2.1 pounds a calendar month: I’m pretty firmly in the slow-but-steady (a.k.a. tortoise) category. If I had lost a consistent half pound a week throughout that time my guess is that I would have been a little frustrated – although it is a perfectly reasonable rate of loss. But consistency has often been notably absent during this particular scale-tale. The losses have come in fits and starts, interspersed regularly with periods of maintenance and gain. In some ways I am not too worried about this. When I started on WW back in September 2008 I accepted that ours would probably be a lifelong relationship. Like one of those friendships you make on the first day of primary school – enduring, but with periods in which you drift apart and don’t see each other for months at a time.

The other key fact that you may notice I have not mentioned yet is what I want to lose overall. Setting a goal weight is pretty hard, but when I started I fixed on a total loss of 85 pounds. It’s achievable and puts me at a weight and shape that I know is slim without being thin and that I can maintain with a reasonable amount of success.

The last couple of months have turned into a bit of a hiatus for me for a variety of reasons. My tracking has often fallen by the wayside, as has my enthusiasm for the gym. I have managed to roughly maintain my weight but it’s time to try and get things moving (in the right direction!) again. I have three months until my two year WW “anniversary” and I think a fitting gift to myself would be getting another stone off in that time which would take me to a not-too-shabby 56 pound loss and two-thirds of the way to my final goal.

This is NOT a race just as my way of life now is NOT a diet – there’s no finishing post to look forward to just a slight bunny hop over from “losing” to “maintaining” and I’m not there yet. I am NOT going to beat myself for making mistakes because that is all part of the learning process. I AM going to recommit to tracking what I eat, going back to regular exercise and hopefully seeing the fruits of those labours on the scales.

Recommitment challenge #1: birthday buns lurking two desks behind mine….

Saturday, 22 May 2010

A weekend's meals in pictures

So last weekend I decided to chronicle my main meals for blogging purposes. I once read somewhere that the majority of people only eat twelve different meals in rotation for the most part. I don't know whether that is true or not, but it would be a damn shame when there are so many possibilities out there. My main problem when it comes to meal planning is too much choice!

Friday night was a mustard salmon fillet with celeriac and pea mash the recipe to which can be found here. Salmon reminds me of a five foot tall ballerina with a mean left hook - you think of it as very delicate only to be matched with equally delicate flavours, but it more than stood up to the wholegrain mustard topping. I liked the mash too; I sometimes find celeriac a bit much, but here it is blended with potatoes which tempers the flavour somewhat. The sweet peas were a welcome addition. Total damage pointswise? 6 - which is pretty good going for a substantial meal.

Saturday's dinner was a bit heavier pointswise - roast chicken breast, couscous and new season asparagus tossed in lemon, butter and a little mustard, all for 11.5 points. The main reason for this was the chicken breast, purchased from our local farm shop; it was significantly bigger than the WW "average" portion and had the gloriously crispy, salty skin left on to boot. But this amazing piece of meat - so different from the anemic pieces of chicken you often found in the supermarkets - is worth the sacrifice. It just tastes so amazingly....chickeney! This combination of ingredients is a great favourite of ours at this time of the year with asparagus in season. The couscous soaks up the buttery juices and is the perfect foil for the meat and vegetables.

For some reason, D and I seldom eat Sunday lunch. It wasn't a massive institution in my house when I was growing up and so is not a habit I ever got into - although I appreciate a good roast dinner, of course. Anyway, we had some duck legs lurking in the freezer that we decided to roast up, and thought it sounded a bit Sunday lunchish, so for once we indulged. The duck legs were slow roasted in red wine and redcurrant jelly to make a sweet gravy, and we served it with mashed potato and slow braised red cabbage and apple. This was 9.5 points and basically kept us going for the rest of the day with no need for anything but the lightest supper. I'd check out duck legs if I were you - these worked out at 4.5 points a portion, the meat is succulent and delicious and they are far cheaper than breasts.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

The acceptable face of fast food?

I have a bit of a post weigh in ritual.

Well, let’s call it more a bribe. I need to bribe myself to leave the office, head ten minutes up the road and face the Scales of Doom. Whether or not I have had a reasonable week points wise, at about an hour before kick off my mouth goes dry, my heart starts pounding a little bit and I start to doubt every single food related decision that I have made in the past seven days. Then, I start to think of reasons why I can’t go. I must finish this piece of work I think, or, it’s raining and if my hair is wet then it will add literally ounces to the result. During the cold snap earlier this year (if a snap can be said to last six weeks) I fretted about picking my way across the icy pavements. Weigh in or keep all my teeth?

So, I bribe myself. Go to weigh in and afterwards you can indulge in some fast food. Specifically, a six inch turkey and ham sub on wheat with salad (hold the chillies and olives) and light mayo which comes in at a very reasonable 5 points.

Subway, to me, is the compromise between wanting to indulge my naughty child’s desire for something “dirty” and my responsible adult wanting to remain on plan. But it got me wondering why it is fast food is such a treat.

I mean, I’ve read some people say that after x number of weeks on y plan they lose their taste for junk food. Not me. After a shitty day at work, a slice of greasy, doughy, nothing-like-Italian pizza from Dominos tastes like manna from heaven. Had a couple of cocktails? What better to chase them down than a cheeseburger the size of a baby’s head complete with a substantial dollop of lurid sauces?

I love beautiful food as much as anyone. I fully recognise that one of those sad little brown patties from McDs cannot compare with the majestic, organic beef burgers made at my local farm shop. And don’t get me started on the cheese slices that are obviously more closely related to plastic than cheese. And yet the taste…is it just the salt and fat and chemicals pumped into these foods that create some sort of cycle of addiction within the consumer? Or are these foods also tied up so closely with memories, with belonging to a particular culture at a particular time, that they are an intrinsic part of who we are?

As a young child there was no greater treat than a cheeseburger and chips at the Wimpy Bar, unless it be the giddy heights of lunch at Pizza Hut. My parents were not big advocates of feeding kids on a diet of junk, but every few months we would venture into these institutions and I remember being so excited at being “out” to eat. Pizza Hut was where you went on birthdays or special family occasions. I wonder if that is why it is that I still regard a slice of pizza as my go-to food when I am unhappy or stressed. I wonder if that slice of pizza represents a safe place, a happy time, a memory of being with the people I love.

Or am I just reading too much into this? Do I just like pizza because it is full of chemically stuff that is designed to make it appealing?

Either way, it seems to keep my naughty side happy by letting her pay a visit to Subway on a weekly basis. Hey, it’s a very minor rebellion and worth it to keep her quiet.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

The skinny on exercise

As I may have mentioned, exercise and I have never been friends.

I was not, never have been, a tomboy. I was the kind of little girl who insisted on having a ribbon to match every outfit. I had ringlets. I played with My Little Pony, had picnics with teddy bears and was never happier than when curled up in an armchair with Enid Blyton.

Having a younger brother, I would occasionally join in a game of cricket or climb the old apple tree at the bottom back garden - to keep my end up, you understand. But my heart was never in it.

As for P.E. at school…my memories of sport at primary school are indistinct, although I’m fairly sure I never shone at sports day – and fairly sure I never minded. Come the age of 12, I attended an all girls’ secondary, so never had to experience the horror of communal showers that the boys down the road were subjected to…but I vividly remember having to wear the most ridiculously tiny pair of royal blue gym knickers to the athletics track. Which would not have been a problem had not getting to the athletics track involved a walk down the road. The public road. In full view of the public. Why would you inflict that kind of pain on anyone? Presumably the P.E. teachers were also products of Catholic convent schools and thus wished to maintain the cycle of humiliation. Oh, and don’t get me started on gymnastics lessons. I never got further than a forward roll. Physically timid, I hated the idea of throwing myself around, and couldn’t bring myself to handstand or cartwheel or launch myself at a large, looming box (calling it a horse did not make it cute, they could have called it the pink fluffy kitten and I still would have point blank refused to attempt to vault it).

Yes, exercise and I were never friends. I spent most of my early twenties avoiding anything more strenuous than lifting glasses and cigarettes. I had a brief foray into rowing at university, which was fun, but unfortunately the early morning sessions probably led to a net weight gain considering I developed a nasty All Day Breakfast sandwich habit as the result of the early morning sessions. The lesson: exercising first thing in the morning on an empty stomach might be beneficial for some people, but most definitely not for me.

When I made the decision that I had to deal with my weight once and for all, I knew that food would only be part of the picture. As it happens, current thinking seems to suggest that food is a pretty big part of the picture – one article that I came across states that the actual mechanics of weight loss (that is, creating a sufficient calorie deficit for the body to burn fat reserves) is 80% about diet and only 20% about exercise. But this wasn’t a “diet” I was going to embark on – a finite thing that I would finish one day. I was making a lifestyle change. And that meant facing my exercise demons.

So, one momentous day (a Thursday I believe) I walked to my local gym. Well, in actual fact, D gave me a lift to my local gym and I walked from the car to the front door, but the point is that I crossed the threshold. At first, I refused to set foot in the gym proper but just swam length after dogged length. Fast forward a year or so, and I am not only swimming but doing classes, both cardio and strength training, and even beginning to build up my running on the treadmill - although I can still not quite shake the feeling that I’m about to go flying off the back of the damn thing.

I don’t think I’ll ever love exercise but I love the way it makes me feel. I love the positive inner glow I have when I leave, the satisfying ache in my muscles. I love seeing the beginnings of definition in my legs and upper body. And most of all (well, this is the blog of a WW foodie!) I love the fact that an hour of effort can translate into enough activity points for a piece of chocolate or a glass or two of wine.

One of the reasons I am currently writing this is that is has been a week and a half since I last entered the gym. I’ve been in a bit of a funk. My logical self tells me that one of the best ways to lift my mood would be to go and sweat my way through a Body Combat class. My emotional self wants to nap and eat the last of the Easter eggs that taunts me every time I go into the kitchen. It’s time to grit my teeth and get down to it.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Recipe corner - Smoked Salmon and Spring Onion Risotto


120g risotto rice
100g smoked salmon
Small bunch of spring onions
Tbsp olive oil
30g low fat cream cheese
Black pepper
Capers (opt - for garnish)
500ml vegetable, fish or chicken stock

Serves 2, 7 points per person, 10 pro points per person

In a large pan (I find risotto works best if you are working with a large surface area) heat the oil and then add the spring onions and cook until soft.

Tip in the rice and stir making sure it is coated in the oil.

Now, add the stock about a ladelful at a time. After each lot of stock is added, stir vigorously. Bash the grains about a bit - you want them to release their starch. I personally don't find that you need to be stirring absolutely constantly but do keep an eye on it. As the rice absorbs the stock, add more.

Once you are about three quarters of the way through the stock, add the smoked salmon, reserving a few strips for garnish. At this point check the seasoning; you probably won't need any salt but plenty of black pepper is a must.

Cook until the rice is soft and creamy but with a slight "bite" to it - you don't want to make mush! You may find you need a bit more stock for this.

Remove from the heat, cover the pan and leave to sit for about a minute. Finally, stir through the cream cheese and the dill and maybe add a bit more black pepper for luck.