Most teenage girls get a bit weird about food at some point. That’s probably not a good thing, but I’d say it’s pretty universal and if the contents of Cosmopolitan, Women’s Health and even ye olde Good Housekeeping are anything to go by it doesn’t usually stop at the round age of 20, or 30, or even 40.
I begin this way to reassure myself that my experience isn’t anything out of the ordinary. However, following a recent holiday in France I’m pleased to say that I am currently sharing a pretty damn healthy relationship with food, so I thought I’d explain the how and why.
Weight was never a big deal for me until I got to uni. I lost a bit of weight, and then got a bit obsessed with trying to maintain it.
Obviously, once you get to the working world, it’s hard to sustain a careful obsession with food – and over the last five years or so I’ve wavered between 57kg to 61kg- yo-yo-ing between lazy ‘no time to cook’ weeks of microwave rice and uninspired stir fry, and super strict weeks of protein shakes and tuna salad (and copious snacking on dried fruit and cereal bars to fill the void). Not anything major, but weighing myself daily and generally in a constant state of concern over calories.
I know perfectly well that I’m always faster on my bike, and more confident, at the 57kg end, but have never been able to maintain it without spending my evenings gnawing at my fingernails, dreaming of breakfast.
Then – this summer I went on holiday to France, staying with a friend who has a large vegetable patch, and doesn’t eat gluten.
I left for the holiday a “feeling-a-bit-rubbish” 59.9kg.
Every night there was wine, a filling dinner, and a cheese course, plus sometimes pudding. Dinner was generally large, but with lots of fresh, home grown veg. Huge plates of scrambled eggs accompanied by the greatest salads you could imagine, full of mushrooms, sharp slices of raw ginger and shiny red tomatoes. Massive slabs of fish with pumpkin, lamb with potato and swiss chard.
After about a week, I decided it might be a good idea to check where I was on the scales – I was rather pleased to find myself at 58.2kg, despite all the wine and cheese.
The holiday was a bit of a wake up call. I was enjoying food more than I had done in years, and I was losing weight, without being hungry. I reckon because:
- I wasn’t eating simple carbs – but I was still getting complex carbs. Vegetables are carbs, they just don’t spike your insulin levels in the same way.
- I was eating enough at meal times, and thus not snacking between meals.
- I was letting myself enjoy a few ‘banned’ foods – slabs of cheese, glasses of wine and bottles of beer, the odd pudding and squares of chocolate, and even an actual Magnum (honestly – not eaten a full on entire ice cream for years – proper banned food) and thus not obsessing over them and making up for the lack of nice things with lots of small helpings
The Six Golden Rules of the new diet
When we got home, I decided to stick with it. I’m pleased to say, it’s been over a month now, and I’m still 58kg. I’m not weighing myself every day, and I’m enjoying food more than I have done for years. On top of that – the eczema on my right hand? Actually gone. I won’t say I’m cured of the Food Police, but I don’t feel like I need to worry so much anymore, and I generally just feel a lot healthier.
Here are the six golden rules of my non-diet-diet. As my mum ALWAYS said, it’s basically ‘all things in moderation’.
1) Swap Bread, Pasta, Rice, Cous Cous for Potato, Sweet Potato, Squash, Swede, Butternut Squash
This has been the major one for me – and for me, it works. I always used to think it was easier to shove some microwave rice in the radiation machine than it was to cook a potato – but actually you can shove one of those in the microwave for 15 minutes whilst you shower after training and it’s just as easy. Or you can even pop one in the oven before you get on the turbo…
2) Take time to go shopping – properly.
I’d got into a routine of running into Morrisons, and emerging as quickly as possible with bags full of food. Slowing it down means I’ve discovered there is a lot more on offer than I thought. Current new favourites include Almond butter, Avacado, Beetroot, Halloumi… no, not foods I’d not eaten before, but the kind of foods I used to ignore in favour of standard staples like apples and Iceberg lettuce.
3) Take time to cook – properly.
Let’s be honest – for an amateur athlete – if cutting that training session by 20 minutes means you lose 2-3kg through eating properly, you’re actually better off cutting that training session by 20 minutes. Power to weight and all – you can probably gain more speed from losing weight than gaining 1.5 watts from one extra interval.
Add a little extra time and you can go all out – turn a stew into a pie with a potato lid, coat courgettes with egg, flour and sesame seeds for courgette-fries. Did I mention pie?
4) Buy a mandolin, a large glass bowl, tin foil, lemons, ginger and garlic
To those who own and ACTUALLY USE cook books, or watch ‘Dinner Date’ and ‘Come Dine With Me’ for reasons other than to dissect the social interaction, these kitchen additions will seem obvious. But to a person who has viewed cooking as an exercise in calorie reduction for the last few years, they’ve been like a great awakening.
a) The mandolin is simple. Preparing vegetables takes about a tenth of the time with a mandolin. Carrots are no longer chunks, but delicate rings, onions don’t result in tears, and take about 20 seconds.
b) The glass bowl turns slightly dehydrated looking microwaved veg into yummy, soft morsels – with the help of a lid, a squeeze of lemon juice and some herbs.
c) Tin foil, wrapped around meat and fish before placing into the oven, with some herbs thrown in, turns a plate of food into an experience – and takes around 2 minutes.
5) No snacking. Unless actually hungry.
Of course I still snack sometimes, but not on the level I used to. I’d nearly always have a cereal bar/protein bar/other by 11am before, and now I rarely eat between breakfast and lunch, and lunch and dinner. Personally, this was as much a mental habit as a physical need that I needed to break – and just being in an environment where I couldn’t wonder into a shop and buy something snacky meant I kicked it, and genuinely I don’t feel the need to nibble anymore.
6) Enjoy food.
Experiment, try new things, get out the rut of eating the same meals week in, week out – conscious eating means you don’t overdo it. And eat the things you like. Chocolate, cheese and wine are not evil.