The Skinny Thing- Four Months of Weight Watchers

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motivational pop up from the Weight Watchers app which I earned some weeks ago

Some time in November I told of my dip into the WW world of pointed dieting.

It’s been, well, irritating and effective in more or less equal measures. My progress in weight loss terms has been slow but generally in the right direction despite that pesky business of Christmas the misery month of January and I’m down just under 7 Kilos/not quite a stone since the first week of December.

WW works around the smartpoints system- where you get a set amount of daily points and a weekly budget of top up points, or the no-count system which I will talk about another time. I do smartpoints for the most part.

There is a complicated way that these points are calculated but they basically work around the calorie content of a food with some adjustment for the macro content. Protein and fibre bring the points down, sugar and fat take it up so 250 calories worth of crisps will hold a different points value to 250 calories worth of cod. As such, one is steered towards fruit and veg and lean protein leaving you a smaller treat budget for Dairy Milk and the odd glass of wine as you can. One of the biggest tag lines of WW is that no food is off the menu, but realistically you are going to get used to much smaller servings of a lot of foods. The majority of veg and whole fruit is free, as are small amounts of some ultra lean, low sugar stuff. As an example, up to 100ml of unsweetened almond milk or half a tin of tuna wont hit your budget at all.

Initially, I really struggled with the points because the way I was eating was destroying my total very early in the day to the point where it felt impossible to get along with. I reset my week four times in the first ten days trying to use WW before accepting the realisation that I needed to make significant changes rather than keep trying to squeeze my normal way of eating into the plan. As an example pre WW my usual weekday morning would consist of a coffee whey shake first thing then a couple of boiled eggs mid morning- a ball park of 400 calories and less than 1/3 of my daily calories target. On WW this came to a whopping 13 points- just under half of my daily points- which I try to stick to on school days thus saving weeklies for the Saturday night beer drinking. Adding in my usual lunch of a baked potato with salad and a small amount of olive oil dressing left me 8 points to count for dinner and all snacks and drinks that weren’t water or black coffee. If I had couscous for lunch this went down to just 4 points remaining. In theory, this sounds fine. In theory, you snack on nothing but fruit or carrot sticks and enjoy a dinner of steamed vegetables, boiled potatoes and grilled skinless fish. Every. Single. Day.

It wasn’t working, I felt like I was constantly failing, going well above 30 points on a normal day and then hitting 45 or 50 from what I wouldn’t even consider a proper cheat/treat day. It’s not just wine and chocolate that will wipe out your points. Potatoes, pasta, any kind of oil, avocados, fruit juice, sweetcorn, peas, all hold a value that chips away alarmingly at your total before you even think about salad dressing or a cheeky glass of Pinot Noir. One of the biggest challenges came from the fact that I just don’t eat a lot of the WW trick foods- the low/no points fillers that the program steers you towards. Diet fizzy drinks, not ever. Frylite or similar spray fats, absolutely not. Protein cheese- eeeeeeeeeeeeeurch. Heck sausages- well we’ve all heard about them recently haven’t we!

So I got despondent and I blew it all out for a weekend. And I ate what I felt like and I got to Sunday night and I felt terrible about myself so I sat down and tried to work out the damage before setting into a new week. And it wasn’t actually that bad, alright I was nowhere near within target but a lot of the foods I had assumed would throw me out of points and thus avoided since I made the switch were lower than expected. A binge bowl of non fat greek yoghurt with some blueberries and maple syrup was half the points of a coffee whey shake, and I considered that a weekend treat. I never had greek style anything when I was calorie counting, as it racked up more than non fat natural yoghurt. It came out as a cheaper points option on WW due to the higher protein content, so you can have much more Greek for your points than Natural. For once, the tastier option was also cheaper. Ok this was only yoghurt, by maybe it could work after all. I did more research, read a few blogs and magazine articles on WW staples and found more things that I had been keeping out of my basket were actually easy to fit in without going off plan.

I wont bore you with the myriad of swaps I started to make in order to tally my smartpoints, suffice to say that I have now worked in a daily plan for school days that keeps me full without too much trouble and I come home with at least 9 points left for dinner. Some days we do have steamed veg and a lump of chicken breast, and I don’t kid myself that going to bed with 4 points to spare is going to sabotage my journey or throw me into some BS starvation zone. Some days I still suffer from violent hunger and hit the vending machine and we have a curry and popadoms and I dip into my weeklies too and this doesn’t void the effort that has gone in to the other days before and to come. If I’m vigilant (and honest) and track everything, I tend to be about 10 points over the desired total at the end of the week and lose just under half a kilo. Which is ok. If I’m super dedicated and don’t enjoy myself at all and come in with a few weeklies left, it is more like 3/4 a kilo. If I’m good all week then say to hell with it and have a few beers and a pizza and a full Sunday lunch at the weekend, I stay the same. I have fallen off the wagon frequently but very rarely put on- Christmas and PMS weeks not withstanding.

So what is my point here, that I’ve been a bit half arsed about it all? Yes, I have. But I still got my 5% body weight loss target thingum and that is why I think this plan can work. The gimmicks. The psychology. Because any idiot can work out the amount you should be eating to lose weight. It’s getting you to actually do it that is the real trick. Somehow, my brain is better at trying to preserve points as I count down through a day rather than rely on myself to not go over a target I am building up to. There is probably a clever scientific term for this. I don’t know what it is but keeping in my final three points is a much bigger motivator to me than not going over that 1500 calorie limit. I think it is something to do with not getting to 0 left over rather than aiming for a total target that builds up through the day. The funny thing is that with some rough calculations I can see that my weekly WW points total is very similar in calorie terms to when I was counting those and successfully losing weight. It’s a similar amount of food, made up slightly differently, that is just easier for me to stick to. Because of the countdown psychology. Because of the little cartoon rewards that I get sent when I log a loss in the app. Yes, I know they are automated programs that essentially mean nothing. I still like them.

So I am staying with the program for the time being. I’m not going to groups, and have no desire to start. The app is easy to use and sustainable value at £13 a month to access the foods database and calculators, plus an amount of chat-based support from WW professionals if required. With a sun holiday and bridesmaids duty pending, I am going to try and rein it in a little bit for the coming weeks along with upping my running and yoga now that my stupid legs are back to useable condition after some injuries last summer. I have to say the dieting section has become slightly easier in the last month with some digestive issues I’ve been experiencing but that is another post for another time. I am carrying on with the carrying on now with an almond milk latte (better than it sounds) and I’m feeling OK about it all. Yes, it has been slow going but it is going. I’m down a dress size since Christmas and up in savings after selling my nicer Fat Frocks in the confidence that I wont be wearing them again any time soon. I feel good about it. I might feel better if I was making Biggest Loser style mass losses of double digits every week but to be honest, I’m not huge enough to warrant that and although my losses aren’t sensational, they seem to be sustainable. Slowly but surely isn’t very sexy I’ll grant you, but then neither were those Fat Frocks.

If you are undecided about trying the Weight Watchers plan for a new start or as a switch from some other regime, I can say it’s worth looking at. There are almost always free joining sessions or cut-price web memberships on offer so get to google or if you know someone on the plan you can probably get a sweet deal for both of you via some kind of introduction kick back. There is a UK WW Members facebook group too which is unofficial but I find it incredibly useful for both eating ideas and lighthearted support.

Until next time.

 

 

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Cookshelf: Hemsley & Hemsley The Art of Eating Well

In a treacherous world where so many columnists are throwing down their chopsticks to take up pitchforks against anyone who has ever suggested that food can be clean, I thought I’d say a few words about why I really like this book by the oh so photogenic Hemsley gals.

I’m not sure when clean eating became so dirty, as I have a vague understanding of nutrition and food science so I never really fell into the trap of believing that it is packaging or MSG alone that makes us fat or slow or spotty. Unfortunately the Clean Gimmick can be seen as guilt-inducing, and there is enough in this world to feel bad about without hating yourself for going with shop bought dips and a family sized bag of twiglets on a Friday night. But much like the Brexit bus, the Clean Lifestyle was over pitched with under-truths and now everyone who gave up sausages and beer is pissed off because the NHS is still ruined and they probably still could have lost a bit of weight by just cutting back to half-fat crisps and visiting a treadmill three times a week instead.

I’m pretty sure this doesn’t make the Hemsley & Hemsley the Farage of the foodie realm, however.

Yes, ok, so they bang on about wellness and pseudo grains and they won’t let you eat crumpets but the sudden backlash on clean eating seems to have thrown an unfair shadow on some really good cooking. I’m the first to admit that I believe there is space in most lifestyles to accommodate the odd Camembert binge and frequent slices of toast, coeliacs aside, but just because you don’t have to eat exotic and complicated home smashed hummus all the time it doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t want to once in a while.

Get past the lifestyle trend that they are trying to sell here and you have a bloody gorgeous book about food and cookery with some very pretty pictures. It is a real browser- lovely to flip through to kill half an hour on a Sunday morning or leave casually on the coffee table when your judgey neighbours who work in marketing are coming over for an almond milk latte.

Yes, there are a lot of faff intensive and lengthy methods and you will learn all kinds of things about soaking that your brain didn’t really have the space for. Yes, you will doubt that you really need black bean brownies in your life when the James Martin ones take half the time and a third of the cost to knock up. You will seriously question what possible difference there could be between vegetable and olive oil. Aren’t olives vegetables?

But in all the irritation and googling of arantha stockists, you will find some cracking recipes. They probably wont all be your bag (if they are, you are lying) but I promise you will find at least two to cook and two dozen to modify into your more day to day repertoire. My go to favourite is an atypically simple braised fennel with garlic, lemon and rosemary which works perfectly as a side, salad or even pizza topping (don’t tell the twins if you do that though!). And of course we must mention the infamous Bone Broth, which yes is just bloody stock but it’s a really good staple stock recipe and any self respecting foodie needs one of these under their belt.

You can eat from every meal from this book, assuming you don’t have a full time job or anything like that, or you can stumble into it once in a while for a funny weekend granola attempt or some sweet treats for the gluten-free warriors in your life. Or you can just sit up in the sunny spot at the end of the sofa with a coffee and have a browse for a little inspiration about some ingredients I guarantee you never heard of before. It’s a lovely book. You don’t have to believe in candida over growth or give up chips to enjoy it.

Grow Your Own! Round Two

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We’re gonna need a bigger plot.

You may have noticed that in between the bitingly cold mornings there is a fair bit of sunshine and spring-like-action occurring at the moment. The evenings are lighter. The finches are back. It is gardening time, and this year I’m ready for it.

The last growing season has been basically a long, hard learning experience punctuated with a few minor victories in the shape of early lettuce crops and some very tasty carrots. We had weeds and greenfly and a fair amount of fungus to put those into perspective, however. I’m looking at the new season with renewed confidence though, determined and prepared to get the most out of my little patch of green and pleasant this time around. I have a notebook with Garden written on the front of it and everything.

The Plants

Over the colder months I have had something of a cull, taking out some lavender and seriously hacking back the buddlejas which have been threatening to rip down the fence panels and blot out the sun to deliver an eternal night across Brightlingsea since the summer. I’m just not a lover of lavender, in particular I am really not a lover of endless pruning of scrappy plants that smell like old hippies so this is down to one, small plant which remains mainly for bees and to fight the bloody geranium spread (which began creeping into being the second the clock struck midnight on 1st March). I do, however, quite like French Lavender with its frilly pink flowers and softer aroma though I unfortunately didn’t read up very well on it and have murdered my two frenchies by leaving them out in a frost that their hardier English cousins would have survived. I will replace these some time after payday for bee fodder and eye candy alike. Speaking of bees, they do love the buddleja which will definitely spring back in a couple of months to its behemoth status but until then I have put in extra bulbs, cyclamen and petunias to ensure the bees have enough to buzz about. I also seem to have a staggering number of primroses which I didn’t notice last year.

Another large casualty was the unruly and non-symmetrical pinkish thing up by the shed which was ripped out with little ceremony to make space for something more practical and less irritating. So there’s tulips, obligatory English garden daffs and lavender, iris, two big and one baby rose bushes and the wild sage cracking on with their spring unfurling. The alstroemeria will be coming through later in the spring and all bets are off on the stunning dahlia I put in last year which may or may not be another murder victim by proxy of my neglect on frost precautions.

The Blackcurrant: Now identified, currently blooming with lovely dark pink flowers and set to be looked after properly this year now that I know it is actually a fruit bush. More watering and feeding will be top of the care list.

The Pears: Conference type, stoic and solid. Just about thinking of budding at the moment.

The Plum Tree: I lost this entire crop last year to some kind of weird, funky white growth which basically turned all the fruit into a sticky bubble of yuk. Early pruning of blossoms will apparently prevent this, so I will attempt to get some usable fruit this year however I’m not a great lover of plums and the birds do love the rotting ones so it isn’t the end of the world if we have a re-infection year.

The Gooseberries: I have to say, I am most excited about these two red gooseberry plants which are doing well since going into the recently vacated plot of the unruly and non-symmetrical pink thing.

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Gooseberries, impulse purchased from B&Q around 20th Feb for a fiver each, doing well with plenty of buds over the last month.

The Hazelnuts: Seriously cut back last year by the Mr, thinking about budding but I’m not sure they have the leaf coverage to bounce back this year. I was quite romantic about these trees last year however they grow really quickly and generally outwards as much as upwards which becomes hard to manage and mildly aggressive to anything else trying to grow within a few feet. One day when I’m all grown up and I have space for a hedge or some kind of creepy horror-book woodlands I would have bundles of them but they are not really suited to the small suburban garden.

The Bay Tree: A Christmas gift from the mother ship, currently potted as rumour has it they tend to go a little mental if directly in the ground. Pretty though and hardy, doing well with lots of usable leaves ready to go straight to kitchen use.

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New bay tree, doing well in standard potting compost

Errol The Lemon Tree: I am increasingly concerned for the welfare of Errol since he dropped all of his leaves for the first time ever this winter. Light levels in the house are crap for a plant his size and the conservatory far too cold for his delicate nature since November. I’ve kept him coddled and sparingly watered inside and now moved him out into the conservatory again for some measured feeds and lots of prayers to the citrus gods to rejuvenate him. Google tells me this is possible. His buddy the mini chilli plant is clearly unaffected by this downturn and is putting out new flowers and fruit roughly every 3 weeks.

The Patch

Clearing up and turning over the earth in the veg patch last weekend was a chilling return to the land of the triffids due to the dense maze of bastard oxalis roots infesting the soil back there. Even with all the surface growth cleared there is a persistent and tangled network of evil lurking down there to snag my big digging fork and frankly piss me the hell off. After a painstaking hour or so of turning the soil then picking out the biggest roots by hand I’m hoping to be at least marginally ahead of the assault this spring. Some of last year’s failed onions have sprung into life with a remarkable amount of growth already. I am keeping these in mainly for their bug-deflecting properties and not planning on putting any more out this time, although they do produce very striking flowers. Four pathetic bargain basement rhubarb plants have gone in the back corner also, if they make it through this season it will be to establish only as they won’t be good for picking until next year. Otherwise we are at bare soil that has been painstakingly sifted and dug with some bonemeal ready to accept the life springing forth in the safety of the conservatory in a couple of weeks. Yes, I looked, I learned, and I have set up something of an indoor nursery in the hope that I can get some good growth on all the veg before it goes out into the onslaught of winged and slimy enemies. At present we are shooting lettuce, radish, courgettes, carrots, pumpkin, cabbage and chard to go out along with the Charlotte seed potatoes which have been thinking about chitting for the last couple of weeks. Depending on the propagation success some of this will go into the patch and others stay in the bigger pots. I’m also trying basil, parsley and coriander in pots though fear it is too hard outside and too hot in the conservatory for them to make it through the year. My rosemary plant has thrived through the winter and enjoys his spot outside by the bird feeder.

The Pests

The snail traps from last year have been de-slimed and refilled with delicious beer and I enjoyed the dark pleasure of unearthing many a sleeping slug last week while clearing out a load of moss and scrappy weed growth in the rockery type thing. Let’s say they all slept on painlessly ‘twixt the budleja cuttings and a thick layer of compost accelerator.

I’ve pulled out a fair amount of mint already, mainly around the veg patch and at the rear of the garden where it seems to have actually tunneled under the veg patch to emerge at the other side where the gooseberries now live. A similar story with the bloody geraniums. Only vigilance will keep these buggers at bay.

Speaking of vigilance, Moby Dick has returned and is frequently seen on top of the shed, surveying his dominion and looming like Batman after a rough night at the asylum. He is calmly ignoring my wails, swears and claps until I thump the shed roof which tends to send him back to his kitty-cave next door briefly. Either he or one of his compatriots has taken to pooing about five feet behind the cat scarer, in the very centre of its blind spot. I’m getting three more of those things post-haste and if that doesn’t work I might buy a tiger. Nowhere will be safe.

 

So here we are, on the cusp of either greatness or an RSPCA enforcement order. This weekend holds the promise of some weeding around an Iron Fist binge (it’s not as bad as they all say) and lots of gentle cooing and encouragement to my nursery of shoots. I shall be amusing you with my tales of sipping cold and fragrant wine in the warm and fragrant shade of all the planting glory in no time.

Probably.