Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Setting The Date

Day 14

Then: 15 stone 5 pounds (215 lbs)
Now: 14 stone 10 pounds (206 lbs)

By this time tomorrow (8am) my diet will be two weeks old. 9 pounds lost so far.

The photographer came to see the house yesterday. She thought the garden looked wonderful and asked why we weren’t ready to take the pictures immediately. Jo loyally told her it was something to do with my schedule. So far she hasn’t disclosed the real reason for the delay. To save new readers (welcome to you, by the way) the effort of skipping to the front of this blog to find out why I’m subjecting myself to this ordeal, I should explain that my wife has given me a father’s day present of a family portrait and I’m determined that this lasting image of me with my one-year-old child will be something she can look at with pride. It’s all to do with my relationship with my own father, something I’ve written about, with no small shame, in my Blog From The North.

It’s sad we don’t have a professionally photographed record of the garden right now. Every single rose has about a dozen blooms, there are climbers all over the walls, and the big herbaceous borders have come alive quite spectacularly. In a few weeks’ time all this late spring exuberance will have died down into mellow summer maturity. Everything goes a bit floppy. Like me.

I’ve set myself a target of 195 pounds for the photo – that’s a 20-pound loss in all, which would bring me under 14 stone for the first time in 10 years. Dr Pierre Dukan, who invented the diet I’m vaguely trying to follow, reckons I should really aim for a further 14 pounds beyond that. But I calculate that should be sufficient for the photograph, particularly if I wear black and keep my head up.

To put the pressure on, today Jo and the photographer set a date for the shoot: August 21st. That’s six weeks from now, and, thankfully, just a few days before our first wedding anniversary. The diet definitely ends by that weekend: if I can’t have a decent meal and a really good bottle of wine to celebrate, then our first will surely be our last. Tonight, Jo and I spend the whole evening on Google, ogling luxury gourmet hotels in Ireland and France. We’re rating them solely by menu.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Stuck On The Plateau

Days 12 & 13

Then: 15 stone 5 pounds (215 lbs)
Now: 14 stone 11 pounds (207 lbs)

The French doctor said it would happen: once I started eating vegetables again, the liquids builds up and the weight loss happens much more slowly. This despite continuing my rigorous, absurd, anti-social and almost certainly unhealthy diet of “one day just protein, the next protein and vegetables, but never any fat, carbs, alcohol or anything that remotely takes your fancy”.

Jo says I’m turning green, even though I’ve already lost one of my chins and my stomach is now two-thirds its original size. In the bathroom in the morning I can look down and see things I haven’t seen for years, if you catch my drift. I actually do feel lighter and my back is straighter; I walk more confidently and I don’t get puffed out when I take the dogs round the fields.

But I do feel permanently sleepy (a lack of energy, she says – she seems to know a lot more about diet than Dr Dukan), and that’s not good at all. I think I may have stopped snoring, but Jo has always been asleep when I’ve wanted to ask her. She won't mention the bad breath - I'm cleaning my teeth eight times a day just in case.

However, the most disturbing side effect is that Jo says I smell like a different person, and she doesn't like it at all. Friends of ours who have been on the Atkins Diet say that they positively stank - to the point of separate bedrooms. Jo says that isn't the problem, it's just that I no longer smell of me, and that's upsetting her. She liked my smell, apparently, and used to go to sleep with an old, used t-shirt of mine whenever we were apart. I asked her, "What did I used to smell of?". "Alcohol", she moaned. "Please can we have a glass of wine?"

I wonder what Izzy is making of her new Dad. I suspect she finds me much less cuddly. Though I can now kneel down on the floor and positively bounce back up like a young thing, she used to rely on my extra-pillowed stomach for falling asleep. At least I don’t feel like a slug when I sit down.

It’s been just 11 days so far, and I’m down to a weight I haven’t been since 2008. My immediate goal is to lose another 12 pounds – to reach 195 lbs, by which time I think I should be ready for the family photograph. That would make me lighter than I was in California, back in 2005. I calculate that at this new, slower, rate, this will take me another 5 weeks. Jo says we will be divorced by then. It also doesn’t allow for the peas.

You see, the pea crop is flowering in the vegetable garden, and Dukan says they’re off-limits. As I love home-grown peas more than life itself, I suspect the doctor and I are going to have a major confrontation before July is out.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Germany 4, England 1, Tom 2

Then: 15 stone 5 pounds (215 lbs)
Now: 14 stone 11 pounds (207 lbs)

Enough said. I lost some, but England lost everything. I had half a pint of beer and a glass of wine in my gloom. But I pushed 7 roast potatoes, a giant Yorkshire pudding a pile of stuffing and a mound of mashed potato off my plate of roast beef at lunch. Just ate the meat and hi-fat gravy. Imagine that just 2 weeks ago I would have eaten all that stuff - and probably stolen some of Jo's chips too.

Disappointment: a feeling of sadness or frustration because something was not as good, attractive or satisfactory as expected. The whole thing was so embarrassing, the entire pub was shell-shocked. I so need pie and chips right now.

Last night I went on a 2 hour walk to calm down. The sunset (at 9.30pm!) from the top of Shaftoe Crags is amazing: you can see Yorkshire, Durham, Berwickshire and the whole of Big-Sky Northumberland. The sheep bleated commiserations for our appalling performance. Back home, I wrote a new blog about the frailties of sportsmen on Blog From The North, with no mention of my wretched, though apparently effective, diet.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


Days 9 & 10

Then: 15 stone 5 lbs (215 pounds)
Now: 14 stone 12 lbs (208 pounds)

How a grown man can get excited about 2 pounds is beyond me. But excited I am. And yet fearful of tomorrow’s result, for reasons that will become plain.

Yesterday I couldn’t blog, nor could I weigh myself in the morning as the City Inn in Bristol doesn’t have scales in the bathrooms. They do have a perfect breakfast for an all-protein dieter, though: smoked haddock with a poached egg and grilled tomato.

Just as well, because lunch was a bit embarrassing. The BBC had laid on a “sandwich lunch” at the conference, which consisted almost entirely of sausage sandwiches, with a huge bowl of fries and a rich dark chocolate dessert. Over the years I’ve always secretly sneered at people who have “dietary requirements” at public events. Now it was my turn. I could eat not one item of the lunch: not even the salad, as it was already dressed and ready to go. So I waited while they made a great fuss of rustling up a piece of grilled chicken and a dry salad for me. The salad was delicious with a myriad of herbs. Sadly they stuck in my teeth. A friend at the conference told me I had green bits in my molars – but not until we were on our way back to the airport. I’d spent the entire afternoon making small talk with commissioning editors. I thought they were looking at my double chin.

Bristol airport was heaving with delayed Easyjet passengers. I’ve already written in my Blog From The North about Easyjet's utter inability to communicate with its passengers. They didn’t let me down this time. No sooner had a sign gone up saying the flight to Newcastle had been delayed by ninety minutes and I’d gone to the seafood bar to order a plate of Norwegian smoked salmon (I always go to the Prunier caviar and salmon bars, because their Balik salmon is better than any Scottish or Irish fish I’ve ever tried) than they suddenly announced they were boarding the plane. So I gulped down what would have been a nice leisurely snack.

When I got home, our best friends from America, Matt and Marla had arrived for the weekend and Jo had prepared a huge feast of pumpkin pasta with fresh spinach, organic salmon and red peppers stuff with rice, fruit and topped with grilled cheese. I had salmon and salmon. And a glass of water. They quaffed a rather good Gigondas.

This diet is utterly anti-social. It’s seriously stressful to any relationship, because you simply can’t join in. I’m sorry, Dr Dukan, I’m sure it works for overweight single women in bedsits, or housewives who never get out, but for anyone trying to lead a normal social existence, there’s no way your protein-only prescription can possibly fit. I’ve grinned and borne it for 10 days now, and by yesterday evening I was getting exasperated. As Matt and Marla sat down with brandy and homemade chocolate brownies, I felt like some sort of outsider in my own home.

So I took one tiny bite off the corner of Jo's brownie, and the sugar rush nearly blew my head off.

Thus is was that, despite my exhilaration at finding I’d lost another two pounds this morning, I decided on a new plan: to see if were possible to hold firm to the principles of the Dukan diet while at the same time having a life.

So this evening we had a barbecue. I got half a beef fillet (rare beef, from a Belted Galloway cow, aged for 28 days) and covered it with my own mix of ground pink, green and szechuan peppercords. Grilled, with marinated red onion, grilled peppers and sweetcorn, and – wait for it – a single glass of very fine claret. Yes, you read it correctly. I blew the diet for a glass of claret. And everybody cheered. For one glorious evening I became myself again.

It got worse: today the first Northumbrian strawberries came into the village. Now, overweight or not, no Frenchman is going to tell me I can’t eat strawberries on the first day of the season. They were absolutely wonderful. Though I have a dreadful feeling it’s all pointing to a disaster on the scales tomorrow morning.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Avoiding the Freebies

Day Eight

Then: 15 stone 5 pounds (215 lbs)
Now: 15 stone 0 pounds (210 lbs)

Oh dear. Added two pounds since yesterday. This could be down to one of three things. It was either

  1. the stuffing at yesterday’s hog roast, or
  2. Dukan is right that the first day of eating salad induces excessive water retention, or
  3. the fact that I weighed myself at 4 in the morning rather than at 9am as usual because I had to catch an absurdly early flight to Bristol to this BBC meeting.

The early departure meant I couldn’t enjoy (if that’s the right word) my daily dose of oatbran. In the airport’s executive lounge I normally consume a couple of free croissants with butter and marmalade and a huge cappuccino. I love a freebie, and the fact that I have a pass to the lounge means that I can’t bear to fly without grazing through it. I have a whole cupboard at home with tiny bottles of hotel conditioner in it. I don't use conditioner.

I made do with a small espresso and then, realizing I was flying Easyjet and the only edible option on board was likely to be the “ham and cheese melts” (see my Blog From The North on this one), decided I had to eat something to keep the hunger at bay.

That’s when I spotted the Special K 88-calories-only bar. We’ve all seen the impossibly glamorous girl in the red leotard consuming them happily in the commercial breaks and I decided that, although I was a long way off wearing the leotard (red was never my best colour), they clearly hadn’t done her any harm. Tearing open the packet I devoured it in about three seconds, then felt the sugar rush. I looked at the ingredients then wished I hadn’t. It appeared to have all the ingredients of my oats and yoghurt breakfast, including the yoghurt coloured icing on the top. But the sugar kept me going till lunchtime.

Thankfully, the BBC didn’t book Pizza Express last night: that would have been a temptation too far. Instead, they led us to Goldbrick House, which sounds like a Social Security building, but is in fact a very nice, almost club-like restaurant with what looked like very good food. Well, the menu was good, but the only thing I was allowed was smoked salmon with a poached egg on top and Chicken and root vegetables. Once I’d pushed all the tantalising vegetables to the side and scraped the hollandaise off the egg, my meal looked very small compared to everyone else’s: most had gone for the belly pork or the risotto or fishcakes. Large quantities of wine were consumed. I slunk out early, too full of water to join in.

I know this diet is working, because I actually had no desire to have a glass of wine and, more important, when I went to bed in my hotel room, I didn’t touch the free biscuits in the tea-making facility. Both are real signs that something big is happening (or, rather, not quite so big as before).

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Dry Lettuce and An England Victory

Day Seven

Then: 15 stone 5 pounds (215 lbs)
Now: 14 stone 13 pounds (209 lbs)

“Just the pork, please. No bun, stuffing or apple sauce, no sausages, no burger or kebab. No, no beer, thanks, just a bottle of water. Can I have ice with that?”

My wife is right: this diet is not designed for living. It’s for sitting at home and eating precisely what you’re told to eat, miserably, with a glass of water in your hand. Try telling the servers at a barbecue for 400 people you’re on a protein-only diet and please can they give you beef, not pork, because you can see the grease oozing out of the hamburgers, and Dr Dukan says you can’t eat pork because it's too fatty.

Well I did eat pork, because there was no beef product that appeared to be made of meat, and the smell of a barbecue on a hot summer afternoon when you’re about to watch England play Slovenia with their backs to the wall is too intoxicating to ignore. While all around you are clutching buns and shouting at the screen, I’m standing there like a wuss with a paper plate and a plastic fork with a few sinews of rather dry meat and some lettuce.

Actually, that's not quite true, because, despite my protestations the girl added a dollop of stuffing. Packet stuffing. Full of nasties and bread and other things. But I wasn’t looking at the consequences. My nerves were at breaking point because England had to win to stay in the cup and we were 1-0 up and trying to hang on to the bitter, nail-biting end. Who can blame me for eating a little stuffing to calm me down? Even if it means that I’m not likely to continue this meteoric decline in my weight.

6 pounds in 6 days, just like it says in the book. The book also says I’ll stop losing weight for a bit now, because I’m eating salads and vegetables every other day and some of the water retention will return. In the North East of England they don’t bother to serve salads with dressings unless you ask for it, and Dr Dukan says that I can only dress mine with balsamic vinegar, which strangely wasn’t on the table next to the brown sauce and ketchup. So a mound of dry lettuce joined the pork and stuffing and I desperately tried to balance the paper plate with one hand, the other clutching a bottle of warm water, as hands of agony, encouragement and ultimately victorious joy were flung all around me. England’s win was truly emotional. By the end, I could have murdered a cold beer.

Last night Jo and I barbecued turkey burgers from fresh turkey meat, spiced with Cholulah sauce and wrapped in leaves of iceberg lettuce instead of buns. Bless my wife for going along with this diet too. I should have mentioned that there are two of us enduring this, though only one of us really needs to lose weight. She's gamely joining in, but certainly doesn’t need to, being of perfect proportion and gentle disposition. So she has the turkeyburger-and-no-bun, but devours a plateful of Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Brownie Ice Cream at the end of the meal.

Which she deserves, as she’s put up with me for a whole week so far. During this time I’ve been an unreasonable, edgy, distracted, kvetchy diet bore. So who can blame her for a little Ben and Jerry at the end of the night? At least my headaches have gone now, and there was nothing like an England victory to cheer my mood.

Jo is still pushing me to set a date for our family photograph. I looked at myself in the mirror before I went to bed. “Not for a quite a while, I'm afraid”.

Tomorrow's another protein-only day and I'm down in Bristol at a BBC event. The last one was held in a Pizza Express and the menu was pizza or pizza. That was fine, because I adore their American Hot almost as much as my hot American. But tomorrow let's hope they've booked a Dukan-friendly Diner instead, or I'll be taking my own fat-free yoghurt.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Clearing The First Hurdle

Day Six

Then: 15 stone 5 pounds (215 lbs)
Now: 14 stone 13.5 pounds (209.5 lbs)

Well, well. Who’d have thought it? Nearly six pounds in five days. My weight now has a 14 in front of it, which hasn’t happened for a year or two. So Monsieur le Docteur’s diet might have something about it. Only about 25 pounds to go (and I know it gets a lot harder: you don’t have to tell me). But I think a small hurray is deserved. And all without a single poo.

Yesterday was vegetable day, so today I can only eat proteins, apart from my morning excitement of oatbran, which I completely messed up by forgetting the salt again. Do you think horses would prefer them with salt, or honey and milk? I can’t imagine how any creature could enjoy them plain. Thankfully fat free yoghurt came to the rescue and took the taste away.

Lunch was on the road to Manchester, from M&S again (coriander prawns, some quite good flaked peppery salmon, and Coke Zero, which is a million times better than the Diet variety – which is not saying a great deal as they’re both pretty vile, but Diet Coke does have that appalling aftertaste). And last night, when I got back home late (driving to and from Manchester in one day is a real schlepp, but when the BBC calls, a producer must go), I had a real treat: a pair of kippers from Robson’s in Craster.

Craster kippers (smoked herrings to those outside these shores) are the ultimate treat. They’re a wonderful alternative to bacon and eggs for the English breakfast and I will now offend every person from Scotland or Great Yarmouth – the other main providers of this peculiarly British dish – by saying that the tiny Northumbrian village of Craster, with its smokehouse still run by the fourth generation of the Robson family, produces the very best in the world. Harrods thinks so too, which is where you can go in London for them. And so does the Queen, apparently. If you’re not invited to Buckingham Palace for breakfast, L. Robson & Sons will send them out by mail order. They’re sold in pairs, which used to make me a little sad, because as a child I assume one was female and the other male. I guess they died together and so didn’t have to pine for each other.

I normally grill kippers (or broil, as they say in America) with a little butter on top. It’s only to warm them, as the smoking procedure has already cooked them. But yesterday I discovered that you don’t need the butter, as the fish oil just drips out of them. They make a delicious snack at 11pm. Some people put marmalade on them. That’s just eccentric.

Best of all, yesterday’s vegetables did their job. I’m talking a proper job here, if you know what I mean, and I hope you don’t need further details. However I mustn’t get too excited: Dukan does caution in his book that the first day after you start adding vegetables to the diet, you can put on a couple of pounds (something to do with water retention). Now that would set me in a bad mood for the England game tomorrow. I’m watching the match at a huge barbecue with roast hog and gallons of beer. This is going to be a real test of resolve. And not just for Wayne Rooney.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


Day Five

Then: 15 stone 5 pounds (215 lbs)
Now: 15 stone 1 pound (211 lbs)

This blog finally went live yesterday morning. I’d been holding back publication until I’d posted my weekly Blog From The North ( -- there’s nothing sadder than a blog which nobody reads and I’m delighted to welcome some of my regular readers across to this new forum.

If you’re following this, you’ve probably either been sent from there or from my Facebook page. If you’ve arrived from somewhere else, or just happened upon me by accident, please don’t think of yourself as an interloper, you’re very welcome to share my pain as I go down this unlikely road. At the age of 58, with a one year old child, I’m trying to lose sufficient weight to look good in a family photograph. And, if it works, I’ll publish the photo on these very pages. If it doesn’t, I most certainly won’t.

As yesterday’s Blog From The North readership was nearly triple the average, I guess dieting is something that concerns a lot of people. I’ve already had lots of advice and encouragement, which is really welcome, although my mother-in-law’s suggestion that I should just forget it all, fix my plate with everything I love to eat, then cut every serving in half, suggests that she can’t quite fully appreciate how utterly useless I am at any form of self-control. My Mum blames the war and ration books for her habit of eating (very slowly) everything on her plate or, like an American, insisting on taking half her meal home where it doubtless festers in her fridge for days. I never order takeaway because there’s never anything to takeaway. I am the Hoover of the culinary world.

So among the kind words of helpfulness are the following:

Our dear friend Deryn wrote “just taken delivery of a quarter of a cow. Come round for a protein lunch soon.” She, like us, lives on a farm.

An old (yes old, like me) BBC colleague, Christopher Swann, wrote “I have gone from 120 kilos to 94 kilos [I really can’t be arsed to work that out in pounds – somebody help me please, though it sounds like an awful lot] in 10 months. It is doable and people keep asking me about diet and frankly I didn’t go on a diet I went for lifestyle change and it worked. It is possible and boy do I feel better for it. I have actually enjoyed the process enormously.”

My new friend in LA Jeremy Gray wrote, “The first few days are the hardest then things settle down. I used the “Shapeup” app for my iPhone and kept track of everything I ate. Tried to stay at 1500 calories per day.” Unfortunately Jeremy also embarked on “an aggressive exercise regime”. You’ve lost me there, my friend.

Jo’s cousin Audrey said it had inspired her to get her dad onto a diet. Poor Uncle Stevie, please don’t do it to him. He’s the funniest and shortest gynaecologist in California and almost completely spherical. Stevie’s like a large bouncy globe that spouts rude jokes - he would make a great adult cuddly toy. Slim Stevie just wouldn’t be the same person.

All of which digresses from the good news this morning that the weight loss has kicked into life again – 2 pounds since yesterday. Despite there being still no tangible result to the constipation problem. So I’m carrying on with this almost-only-protein Dukan Diet to see where it takes me. And hope that at some point I don’t burst.

I’m now in the Cruising stage, which means that I can add vegetables to my protein on alternate days. So, for the record, today for breakfast, I had:

1 strawberry fat-free yoghurt
1 ½ tablespoons of oatbran, cooked for 3 minutes with water and, this time, salt. I used real oatbran, not porridge oats, which are flaky. I’m getting hooked on this stuff.

For lunch, my usual packet of chicken breasts, this time with a kind of tikka flavouring. And a vanilla yoghurt.

For supper, for the first time since the diet began, real vegetables: steamed spring greens with grated lemon rind, thinly beaten veal escalope (flash fried with garlic, the tiniest sprinkling of Worcestershire Sauce, peanut oil wiped round the pan) and crisp English asparagus. After the veal was cooked (about a minute) I took it out, deglazed the pan with a little water, reduced it almost to nothing, added some Balsamic vinegar, reduced it all again to a few teaspoons, and, with black pepper, made a quite tolerable jus for the veal.

I then put the vegetables into the pan and added some of my Californian mustard greens – the result, a fantastic virtually fat-free plate. Veal is hard to get up North – only Waitrose seems to sell it, and it was far from the best quality because they don’t appear to know how to slice it. But Dr Dukan recommends it, so who am I to argue ? I am this Frenchman’s slave.

As a starter, we had smoked mackerel and trout fillets, with a little condiment made of (fat-free, what else?) yoghurt, lots of fresh dill from the garden, a little Dijon mustard, white pepper, and a squeeze of lime. More than tolerable.

And tomorrow, Tuesday, is another protein-only day – no vegetables, sadly. I still don’t feel “euphoric”, but a lot better than yesterday, even though Jo says my mood still makes me thoroughly unlikeable. These weren’t the words she used, by the way.

Today's final word is from mother-in-law. Apparently, I should "jog around the lake instead of sitting sedentary writing this blog!" She's right of course. But, assuming I don't take her good advice, join me again tomorrow.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Something's Lost In Translation

Day Four

Then: 15 Stone 5 pounds (215 lbs)
Now: 15 Stone 3 pounds (213 lbs)

Oh no, disaster. Exactly the same as yesterday. I’m getting in a panic about the constipation now. Not the slightest stirring, and I’m sure I’m doing something wrong. I consult the book again. “The body has little resistance to the loss of the first few pounds”, it says. Well mine does. It’s resisting by refusing to let me shit. “It’s a low-frustration diet”, it trumpets. Well I’m bloody frustrated right now. And hungry.

Dr Dukan’s book must have lost a lot in translation. It’s written in a clunky disorganized way, returning again and again to hyperbole about how wonderful the diet is, how transforming, how easy it is to do, and so on. But its main points are scattered through the pages – you have to search for information.

Take exercise, for example. There’s a chart on page 13 called “The Dukan Diet summarized”. It talks about the four stages: Attack, Cruise, Consolidation and Stabilization, but the only mention of exercise is “No more lifts and escalators”. Fine for me – there aren’t any in our office building. I had to wait till page 55 for the next mention:

Recently I have realized that losing weight without taking exercise…runs the risk of undermining this undertaking. In a world where being sedentary is an integral part of our societies’ economic model and where it is not only accepted but encouraged, simple common-sense advice is not enough. I have therefore decided to include exercise and in particular walking as a full driving force in my programme. I now no longer just recommend it but I PRESCRIBE it as I would medication. It will be described to you in great detail in a later chapter.

But no mention of what sort of exercise, and how much, until page 81 when it tells you to avoid, during this part of the diet, "hard physical exercise, competitive sports and, in particular, skiing at high altitude.” Phew, better cancel that skiing trip, then. It then slips in the information that you really need: walk for 20 minutes a day. Which I do with the dogs round our fields every morning. So I’m alright there.

But still something's not right. For Dukan writes:

By the third day, your tiredness will disappear, and is usually replaced by a sense of euphoria and dynamic energy further reinforced by the encouraging messages on your scales.

Note the word “usually”. Not “always”. And certainly not me. It's Day Four and I couldn't feel less euphoric. Or more tired. Maybe it's the lack of encouraging messages on my scales.

Today Jo and I barbecue steak and fresh tuna for lunch. With a lemony minty fat-free-yoghurty sauce and fresh garden salad. Yes, salad.

I finally released myself from the Attack phase not because I thought I had achieved anything (in weight loss terms, anyway), but because Dukan himself told me to do so. This morning, while writing my customary weekly Blog From The North, I went onto his website where it told me precisely how much I should weigh – 12st 13lbs – that’s 181 pounds, or 32 pounds less than I am now. It then prescribes how much attack, cruise, consolidation and stabilization I should be doing, and, amazingly, it tells me I should have only been attacking for 2 days, not 5.

Hurrah. I can have salad. Radishes have never tasted so good.


Day Three

Then: 15 Stone 5 pounds (215 lbs)
Now: 15 Stone 3 pounds (213 lbs)

Only one more pound! I’m really disappointed now. But I keep telling myself that it’s because I haven’t, er, you know, for two whole days. I try to calculate what all that fish and chicken and yoghurt must be weighing in my colon. Then drive to Waitrose to buy some oatbran.

Back home, I carefully measure out the one-and-a-half tablespoonfuls I’m allowed and add water. Boiled for three minutes it comes out – disgusting. Next time I’ll add salt. I actually like porridge, but mainly when you add honey, brown sugar and milk. Ah, milk. I’d almost forgotten what it tastes like. I make note to buy some fat-free. It makes tea turn the colour of cardboard, and tastes of almost nothing, but it might cheer me up. Apparently I’ve become extremely grumpy (“I don’t like you anymore”, says Jo).

It’s not surprising: I have a splitting headache, feel sapped of energy, I’m walking around like a zombie and England are nearly out of the World Cup. What does she expect?

Saturday night and it’s party time. Our neighbours Dick and Linda are throwing a summer feast for thirty or so friends: prawns and rare fillet of beef, coronation chicken, potato salads, pasta salads – and Linda’s speciality puddings: Summer Pudding, Eton Mess, homemade cheesecakes. The smell as we enter the kitchen is overpowering, the wine is flowing. And I’m drinking Coke Zero. All night. I sadly have seconds, thirds and fourths of the beef. And a couple of prawns to remind me of better times.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Fish and Chip Day

Day Two

Then: 15 stone 5 pounds (215 pounds)
Now: 15 stone 4 pounds (214 pounds)

Yea! A whole pound. And if I could just go to the loo, it would probably double my loss. But the omelette must have done its gelatinous stuff. Dukan says you should also have one and a half tablespoons of oatbran a day, presumably for unbunging purposes. I make a note to buy some on the way home from the office, and make do for breakfast with black coffee and yoghurt.

On the way in to work I pick up large quantity of fat-free yoghurts of every conceivable variety and another packet of roast chicken. I’ll be clucking soon.

Friday is fish-and-chip day in the office. The little café in our building fries the freshest haddock, brought straight from the fish quay at North Shields, and it’s our weekly treat. Jo rings to say she’s in Chinatown with a friend. She’s enjoying pork dumplings. Paddy sneaks out of the office at 12.30, while I pretend to work through. I know where he’s going, but I’m not tempted. I tear open the pack of chicken, but this time only manage to eat half. Is my stomach shrinking already, or am I tiring of the wretched bird? Make note to buy smoked trout on the way home. Another vanilla yoghurt keeps me sane.

It’s World Cup night, and the less said about that the better. Jo has gone out with her girlfriends for a meal at our favourite Italian restaurant, Fratelli. They do the best seafood linguine, even better than my own (though I reckon I’m getting close). And it was there that we discovered Terra Rare, a great, warm red from Sardinia which has become our own house wine. I’ve ordered halibut and salmon from Ridley’s, a fabulous fresh fish supplier which delivers locally. But first, to the local pub for the match. I’ve been two days without alcohol. Can I survive?

England’s performance was dire – enough to drive anyone to drink. But in that beery atmosphere I meekly ordered a diet Coke – seriously, the drink with the most disgusting chemical aftertaste. Yet somehow, as England sank to a pathetic 0-0 draw, I found it strangely comforting. As pie-and-chips, fish-and-chips and hamburger-and-chips floated before my eyes, I looked forward to the end of the game and my own fish supper. Back home, I tried baking the halibut. I’d normally do it in foil with a little vermouth, a knob of butter, maybe a scratch or two of shallot with a little lemon juice (or, best of all, with a rich sage butter sauce). Dukan allows no alcohol or dairy, so I was left with the onion and the lemon. Then a brainwave, a poached egg on the top, with the yolk very soft so I could emulsify it into the lemon and fish juices. Barely palatable – desperately needed the butter. Vanilla yoghurt again. And lots of water.

Thursday, June 17, 2010


Day One

Weigh-in: 15 stone 5 pounds (215 lbs)

According to Dukan’s book, most people stay on the “Attack Phase” for 5 days. Eat as much as you want, it says, of 72 protein-rich foods. And nothing else. Your body goes into shock. No time to start like the present. I’m going to attack till Tuesday.

This morning I had to drive to Leeds to chair the Skillset North Media Industry Panel: a committee of all the top media executives, screen agencies and universities in the North of England. We discuss the training needs of our various media sectors. It’s a three hour slog and, having arrived home from LA late yesterday evening, I’m not sure how my jetlag will react. What I’d normally do is stock up with a nice bacon sandwich and have a real Coke by my side for emergency caffeine and sugar hits. Not today.

I’ve weighed myself in the morning: 215 pounds. I’m disappointed. I have been as heavy as 219, and I average around 217, so I thought that after all the overeating in LA for the last week (not to mention the flagons of good red wine at my brother-in-law’s house), I’d at least be somewhat overinflated to begin this diet. This is going to make the weight loss less dramatic. I drink a black coffee (no more cappuccino for me) and hit the road to Leeds.

At noon I pull off the freeway at a motorway service area and go to Marks and Spencer’s food market. I’m looking for some of those 72 protein-rich foods. They have sliced roast chicken and large cooked prawns. That’s it. The yoghurt is full fat and fruity. And forbidden.

Rows and rows of tempting snacks are out of bounds. I make my way past two entire aisles of chocolate bars to the checkout, stopping only to pick up a large bottle of water. Once back in the car, it takes me less than two minutes to devour the chicken and prawns. I’m ravenous.

They’re serving lunch before the meeting: quiches and sandwiches with scores of mayonnaisy fillings, little sausage rolls, chocolate muffins and orange juice. Thankfully the chicken and prawns have filled me up. I turn my back on the buffet and pretend not to notice. I drink water throughout the meeting, so much so that I’m rather desperate for the loo halfway through. But the chairman can’t leave – we’re having quite a spirited debate, so I have to survive to the end.

On the way back, just as I’m approaching the very same service station, hunger strikes again. Back to M&S and I scour the aisles in case I missed something tasty. Sure enough, a different type of roast chicken, and some packaged slices of roast beef. Back in the car, I open the beef and nearly wretch. They’ve coated it with something beefy. Too beefy. It’s probably fresh, but it makes me nauseous. I have a real problem with packaged cooked food, but today I have no option. The chicken does its stuffing - again.

Back home, Jo tells me we have fillets of sea bass for supper and a variety of exotic vegetables for a stir fry. I slowly explain the concept of the diet. “That’s absurd”, she says. “You can’t just eat fish – you need vegetables”. We discuss eggs and yoghurt. How about an omelette? Oil-free, with no more than two yolks per person (you can add as many whites as you like). She rustles up a starter of chicken breasts with a wonderful mustardy-yoghurty dressing. No oil at all, and quite delicious.

Then I open Dukan’s book again. Yes, I’m allowed herbs. I race out to the vegetable garden where I have every herb known to man. I pick some chives and a few rocket leaves – yes, it’s really a herb – and some tiny mustard greens I’ve grown from seeds I picked up in California. They’re peppery and delicious and turn the omelette into a gourmet feast. I steam the fish lightly with fresh dill to infuse the atmosphere in the pan. It’s not quite the hamburger I had in the airport at LAX, but it’s filling, different, and, with a fat free peach yoghurt for dessert, I’ve survived my first day.

Why I'm Doing This Thing

[This is an extract from my Blog From The North, detailing the events that have led me to an almost certainly doomed experiment with Dr Pierre Dukan’s revolutionary weight loss programme. Here’s why I felt it necessary to go down this painful road. In order to encourage me to stay on this absurd path, I’m supplementing my usual blog with these additional daily reports of my progress (or, as I predict, my ineviteable failure). I really don’t expect anyone to follow me on this journey. If you do persist in reading my musings, please don’t judge me too harshly. I have no willpower, which is how I got to this overweight state in the first place. But in the unlikely event that I succeed in my goal to lose what amounts to twice my daughter’s current weight, with or without the aid of Dr Dukan, I shall be happy to buy any readers who stay the course a vanilla yoghurt. It’s the least I can offer.]

It came to a head in LA. There I was, optimistically pitching a show for young people to the relentlessly trendy MTV, when it came to me that I wasn’t convincing anyone in my black shirt and Ferragamo loafers. To these bright young things I could only have looked like an old, grey, fatty.

To make it worse, my mother-in-law has published pictures of me and Izzy on Facebook. I used to be embarrassed by my own father, who was also a considerably overweight man in his fifties. Last week I found a picture of him proudly holding me when I was 18 months old. I was appalled to see that he undoubtedly weighed less than my current 15 stone 5 lbs.

So I’ve resorted to drastic measures. Woman’s Hour has offered me a solution. The other day they featured a Frenchman called Pierre Dukan who has a revolutionary weight loss programme claiming 1.5 million devotees, including Gisele Bündchen and Jennifer Lopez. Apparently they’re all enjoying the ultimate dream: eating whatever they like in a permanent state of slimness. Dukan’s diet offers permanent weight loss despite consuming limitless amounts of proper food. You start off with a few days of eating only protein, then add in some vegetables for a month or two, and, bingo, belts tightened forever. In fact, you have to buy a new, smaller belt, because you’ll never need the big one again.

Normally I’d pass this off as another fad, but the BBC, in their unrelenting quest for balance, felt they couldn’t just give Dukan a free puff and paired him against a killjoy from the British Dietetic Association. She burbled on about the dangers of a protein-only diet and how nothing was as good as controlling calories and exercise.

What utter tosh. We’ve all been trying that for years. Our trained dieticians refuse to accept that people like me will never have the gift of willpower. We’ve been putting on a pound a year since we were 25 and no amount of advice is going to change us: we need a long sharp shock. Her smugness made me so cross, I vowed to give Dukan a go – but not till I got back from LA. Nothing was going to stop me enjoying the French toast, barbecues and wonderful red wine at my brother-in-law’s house, with portions as big as a house.

I started the diet on Thursday. After three days, I can report that it’s absolute hell. I’ve had nothing but plain meat, fish, water and fat-free yoghurt. I endured our World Cup disaster down the pub with a diet Coke (do you know how disgusting it tastes?), eschewing, not chewing, the chef’s fantastic fish and chips. On Saturday night I watched a lot of happy people getting wondrously drunk and gorging themselves at a neighbour’s party. Dr Dukan says my ideal weight is 12 stone 13 pounds. The way I’m feeling right now, I’ll be dead long before that.

Fortunately my resolve was strengthened by my darling wife’s clever Father’s Day present this morning: a gift certificate for a local photographer, who’s coming to the house to take family portraits. The sort of pictures you hang on the wall and enjoy for years to come. I’ve got three weeks to transform myself. And buy a new belt.