The tummy island is very slowly sinking back into the bathwaterby Wendell Steavenson / May 22, 2014 / Leave a comment
There are two kinds of diet: the one where you eat and the one where you don’t eat. The one I practise everyday is the everything diet. No food is bad, no food is forbidden or taboo. I am lucky: I have a steady metabolism, no allergies, no particular cravings, nor a sweet tooth. Farm fresh or junk, both are beloved and happily scoffed. I am very fond of Frazzles bacon-flavoured crisps, especially when paired with Lucozade, but I almost never buy prepared or processed food in the supermarket. I will go through a phase of eating peas with mint and raw apples, and yet I often sing the praises of McDonald’s.
But, you get a little older, you get a little thicker around the middle. Stealthy pounds crept up the scale that I had stopped stepping on for a whole year. Squashy crescents were escaping over the top of my jeans, I could barely get into the dress I bought three years ago, and when I lay in the bath my tummy stuck up out of the water like an island. I was, like pretty much everyone, a stone heavier than I wanted to be. More importantly, I didn’t feel good about it and I didn’t feel good about myself.
Finally, last month, after eating ramen noodles three times a day for a week, some kind of self-control switch clicked—stop! And so, for the past four weeks, I have been on “the Wendy diet.” The other kind of diet, the one where you don’t eat. Very much.
There is so much written about what-to-eat-what-not-to-eat. Overwhelming and conflicting screeds, quackery, government guidelines, revised government guidelines, experts, advice, admonishment. Five servings of fruit and veg a day—no scrap that, seven. Eggs cause cholesterol, don’t eat mercury tuna or hormone beef. Go gluten free, stop eating dairy. Carbs are bombs! Sugar is evil! Salt will kill you! And then, of course, the headline is overturned by another study. Butter is suddenly announced to be good for you again; organic makes no appreciable difference to your health. And lets not even get into the weight-watching diet-industry maelstrom.
I can’t bring myself to subscribe to the fear-mongering or the fads. I cannot bring myself to demonise any food except steamed courgette, which is plainly disgusting. But still, the time has come, again. The last time I went on a proper diet was 10 years ago and I devised a regimen that was reasonable and possible for me. Over two months I dropped 15 pounds. I offer the following—not as any prescription, because we are all different and one size or one lifestyle certainly does not fit all—but just as a thought.
The Wendy diet is simple: no white flour, no white sugar, portion control, one glass of wine a day (not always strictly adhered to), and a little bit of exercise. I don’t think bread is especially fattening and sugar is frankly not as mega-calorific as advertised. But these two ingredients tend to encourage the slathering use of the thing I am really trying to cut down on: butter.
I will, alone, just me at home, go through half a kilo a week. So no bread to spread butter on, no pasta begging for cream and no pastries and cakes. For portion control, I put about two-thirds of what I would normally eat on my plate and don’t have seconds. Exercise is harder to figure out: I cannot abide gyms, I don’t own running shoes, but I have a bicycle, so I am now biking a half-hour looping detour to my morning coffee.
Generally I cook meat or fish with vegetables for myself, tend to order soups and salads in restaurants and eat only half the serving of a big American entree. It takes, they say, three weeks to establish a new routine. I found the first couple of weeks a bit hungry, a bit tough, but not too miserable. There are tricks, there are snacks. Have a banana. I like pineapple chunks and slivers of fresh coconut to stave off a mid afternoon crisis-pang. Packets of instant miso soup provide a quickie filler if I am about to go to a reception with nibbles.
Thinking about leaner food makes me instinctively veer towards Asian. I make a dressing of sesame oil, soy, yuzu juice and chilli and this gets very happily sloshed over almost everything from rare beef to raw salmon, green beans, broccoli, tofu. I made a killer papaya and raw cabbage slaw with thinly sliced red onions doused in fish sauce and tons of lime juice and sprinkled with black sesame seeds. Cooking for one is always about flavour and speed: store-bought rotisserie chicken torn up in a bowl with globs of miso paste, sloshes of sake and mirin and rice vinegar and liberal handfuls of coriander.
And then there is the most important thing of all: extremely good dark chocolate. After all, I need to be rewarded. I am allowed two squares a day; sometimes I have more. The tummy island is very slowly sinking back into the bathwater. I have lost five pounds. I feel good.