Saturday 21 April 2012

Eating by numbers

 Day #30 - Weighing out homemade bircher museli for breakfast

This isn't a recipe, a restaurant review or a recommendation. It's a confession.

Anyone who follows me on Twitter or has checked out my #Project366 challenge will know that I'm completely obsessed with food - if I'm not cooking in our little flat then I'm taking photos of my culinary discoveries, researching recipes to test or drooling over the latest Pinterest foodporn.

But when fellow foodies meet me in the flesh for the first time, they seem surprised that I'm not the size of a house. Recently a friend quizzed me on my "secret for staying so slim", and my initial response was to display some classic British self-deprecation and laugh it off. Deep down it felt like a huge compliment though, because the truth is that I refuse to view myself as thin.

Don't get me wrong - I'm sensible enough to recognise that I'm in pretty good shape physically. But I'm also conscious that it's taken nearly 3 years of concerted effort to get to this stage, and that as you progress the goalposts move. Here’s a few examples of my internal monologue: Yes, it's great that I'm a few dress sizes smaller than I used to be...but now my previously buxom bust has shrunk, then the way my stomach sticks out just feels even more apparent. Ok, so I can finally fit into skinny jeans...but I still can't wear a fitted skirt without constantly pulling at it.

What's worse is that I've pushed my muscles past their natural limit and can't spare the time I'd need to properly morph into a She-Hulk, so I'm not even achieving the same fitness targets as I did a year ago. I'm terrified that if I let myself believe other people’s judgement that I'm a Slim Jim, then I'll relax to the point where I look in the mirror one day and realise I've turned into The Blob.

So at 6:30 most mornings I drag my lumpy bumpy butt out of my warm bed and hit the cold gym in the desperate attempt to at least stay balanced on my current weight plateau. Along with this painful exercise regime, I also have a compulsion for calorie counting that dominates my daily diet. Each day begins with an allocation of calories (with an added bonus depending on how dramatically I felt the burn during my workout), and as the hours go by I gradually graze my way down to zero. I admit to a grain of truth behind my boyfriend's jokes that I'm on the borderline of OCD - when you're of the mentality that points mean tasty prizes, then it feels essential to weigh out every ingredient within a meal to the nearest gram.

My eternal number-crunching means that mealtimes are often a source of stress - unless a dish's calorie count is easy to calculate then I feel in limbo as to how low I can go. So generally I play it safe with a rolling stock of lightweight breakfasts and lunches, bolstered with a few fruity servings from my 5-a-day and other healthy snacks:

Day #17 - Dorset Cereal in a glass jar Day #5 - fresh fruit and fat-free yoghurt Day #40 - cinnamon and ginger porridge stirred with a spurtle

Breakfast: Keeping my favourite Simply Fruity Dorset Cereal fresh in a glass jar…fat-free yoghurt topped with sliced banana, berries and a drizzle of honey…cinnamon porridge with a sprinkling of crystallised ginger…

 Day #8 - chargrilled wrap with tuna, avocado and sweetcorn mash Day #3 - Roast apple and squash soup with baked apple crisps Day #90 - Itsu's salmon nigiri box 

Lunch: A small chargrilled tortilla filled with mashed avocado, tuna, sweetcorn and pepper…roasted squash and apple soup served with baked apple crispsItsu’s salmon nigiri and edamame beans…

 Day #36 - best low-fat blueberry muffins Day #38 - new healthy Graze box for the week Day #48 - Golden tin of amaretti biscuits 

Snacks: Only 125 calories in each of these low-fat bluberry muffins…my weekly Graze nibble box…crunchy amaretti as a lighter alternative to a biscuit…

Normally I try to make sure that I have around 1000 calories left in the nutrition bank by the time I escape the office to give myself some wriggle-room over our dinner options. Dessert is often my favourite part of dining out, so this means I can still enjoy myself without waking up in the middle of the night in a guilty cold sweat caused by a forbidden sugar-rush. However there are times when I need to constrict the calorie quota in my evening meal in order to stay under my overall limit - here's a few quick & easy healthy solutions that I've constructed to help resist the greasy charm of the takeaway:

Day #81 - 600 calorie supper of paprika prawns, chilli baked aubergine, chickpeas, sundried tomatoes and couscous Day #109 - moroccan style chicken & apricot chickpea stew on a bed of spinach couscous Healthy midweek meal #2 - wholewheat pasta with smoked salmon, grated courgette, wilted spinach and leek

Dinner: Using couscous as an alternative to rice alongside these paprika prawns, chickpeas and chilli-baked aubergine…Moroccan-style chicken, apricot and raisin stew…hearty wholewheat pasta with creamy smoked salmon sauce and wilted greens

So now my "secret" is out. The one time when I throw these rules out the window is when I'm at a food festival or Michellin-starred restaurant, as the opportunity to expand my gastronomic knowledge and experience ultimately outweighs my guilt and fear at the possibility of this resulting in an equal expansion of my gastric area. But I can't pretend that my diet is a blissful conveyer belt of the finest delights - it's more like a long slog on a treadmill of light bites. As much as I hate to admit it, the truth is that my size counts...and therefore so do I.


  1. I do very much the same thing! A leftover from my hardcore Diet Chefing is keeping a close eye on calories, and I'll often choose the ready-made packaged sandwich over a fresh one from a nice sandwich shop because I can read the calorie count. I'm usually at fewer than 1,000 calories spent for the day by dinner time which means that I can either have a low calorie meal and count it as a diet day or eat something less healthy but more tasty and know that I'm not going to put on weight as a result. And then add any exercise on top!

  2. Interesting post....very honest. Your diet is really healthy and varied with lots of fruit and veg which is great! I'm sure you're healthier than 99% of people in this country. But (and I don't mean to be critical) painful workouts and stressful mealtimes don't sound like ingredients for a very happy life. Its hard to find a balance - keeping track of calories and staying active is clearly beneficial for everyone but so is breaking the rules sometimes.