Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Whole Pound

Day 2

Then: 216lbs (15 st 6 lbs)
Now: 215 lbs (15 st 5 lbs)

When Jo decided to return us to the world of Californian hippie cuisine last night, with her satisfying dinner of tofu, chickpeas and amaranth seed parmigiano, I doubt she suspected that one unfortunate consequence would be acute indigestion.

Having both been up all night (Jo in not inconsiderable pain), by the morning we both agreed that the culprit was the amaranth, and consigned the remainder of the packet to the trash bin. I wonder if 60s communes had similar problems?  It must be tough to spread peace and love with heartburn. So as an antidote, tonight we ate meat: delicious spicy turkey breasts, on a bed of even more spicy kale.

Jo is a really good spontaneous cook. Whereas I learnt my skills in Raymond Blanc’s butter-and-cream-filled kitchen, and so find it impossible to cook anything without an ocean of accompanying high calory sauce, Jo has a natural instinct for amalgamating fresh, Mediterranean ingredients in increasingly interesting but light combinations. Tonight's meal was delicious.

This was our last healthy dinner for a couple of days: tomorrow we’re guests at the annual black-tie dinner of our local theatre company Northern Stage - it's always wholesome fare but very filling - and on Thursday no diet will stop me indulging in birthday seafood linguine at my favourite Italian restaurant. So today was our Healthy Day (we forwent wine again to give us a clear run at tomorrow night's festivities).

The day started well with the surprising revelation that after 24 hours of taking the RealDose tablets, and despite the huge portion of lasagne and chips, I’d lost an entire pound.  Now any dietician will tell you this is irrelevant nonsense – the body gains and loses several pounds in a day – but it didn’t half cheer up my very sleep-deprived mood as I took Izzy down for breakfast. I had a RealDose capsule, followed by two lightly boiled eggs. We were supposed to have one each, but Izzy scorned hers, instead opting for the twin brother of the blueberry muffin I’d devoured the previous evening. It sat on the table in front of her as she slowly crumbled it, holding it tantalizingly directly under my nose. But I didn’t succumb, instead turning my back and focusing on the exploits of Peppa Pig on the television. Daddy Pig was eating a large donut: “Mmm, delicious”, he kept snorting.  He would have made a great bacon sandwich to go with my eggs.

Jo and I were working in the office together today, and at lunchtime she prepared a wonderful salad with smoked mackerel and salmon, dressed simply with balsamic and olive oil. It was like being back in Sweden, except with bigger portions. Swedish people are universally thin, by the way, largely because they eat only very tiny mouthfuls of quite delicious, simple food. By far the best restaurant in St Lucia, we discovered, is a place called The Edge which is owned by a charming and very talented Swedish chef called Bobo Bergstrom. His portions are tiny, but utterly exquisite – the antithesis of the other fine dining establishments on the island. He calls his cuisine 'Eurobbean', which I initially thought was a new type of coffee, until I realise it was a clever fusion of European and Caribbean. He does great sushi too – I guess he'd call that Japabbean.

Maybe I should register a name for Jo's lovely style of cooking.  How about Hippy-Cali-talian?.  Sounds like a song from Mary Poppins. 

Monday, January 30, 2012

Guilty Pleasures

Day 1

Then: 216 lbs (15 st 6 lbs)

I crawled out of bed this morning feeling like lead. Izzy has been suffering from a virus all week that causes coughing and tears at odd moments throughout the night. We’ve taken it in turns to go to her and pour out sympathy and linctus. Poor little love, she’s bearing up with her smiles even when she can hardly draw breath from all the wheezing.  Jo has taken the brunt of it, as I was in Stockholm most of the week, eating cured salmon and smoked reindeer, so last night I felt obliged to take my fair share of sleeplessness. 

As I had a 9am meeting in town, we set the alarm early and I vowed to make myself a nice tasteless bowl of Dr Dukan’s cardboard (see my 2010 posts for the recipe) to kick off this diet. After a sleepless night, what I really wanted was a nice big chunk of toast oozing with salty butter and smothered with marmalade. But having slammed the alarm’s snooze button five times, I realised I had time only for Weetabix.

Dukan wouldn’t have approved of the carbs and milk, but the good doctor Sisskind is marvelously tolerant. He’d like you to follow his guidelines, and really hates processed cereals, but he isn’t proscriptive or dogmatic. Bearing in mind the agony of the 2010 diet experiment, where I had to turn a shade of grey-green before Jo made me see sense and start eating properly, this time I’m doing my own thing. I’m starting without bread or other white starchy products, potatoes or heavy carbs. I’m certainly not giving up wine – although I aim to abstain just twice a week, starting with tonight. Well, this was the plan. Unfortunately the day had other ideas.

The theory behind these little pills is fascinating. According to the blurb, they have four key ingredients.

The first two work to increase the body’s supply of adiponectin, the hormone that makes your fat cells burn fat for energy and which also decreases the body’s ghrelin levels. I was so sleepy, I didn’t really feel I needed any energy this morning, so there probably wasn't that much for the first two ingredients to do.  These were piper betle leaf and dolichos biflorus seed extracts.  Ghrelin is the hormone responsible for making people hungry. I guess I am ghrelin-dependent.

The next key ingredient is a sugar blocker. It’s a green coffee bean extract which is supposed to prevent carbohydrates from turning into fat. Let’s hope it works on Weetabix. Apparently it works by inhibiting glucose absorption, which helps reduce insulin resistance, the reason why people turn whatever they eat into fat.

Together all these ingredients are supposed to more than double your fat loss during a diet. To this cocktail of slimming elixir, they have added one more ingredient: Siberian rhodiola rosea, which attacks cortisol. In other words, it’s a stress buster. It’s certainly the case that the happier I am the less I eat, and that any form of anxiety usually takes its remedy in Green & Black’s chocolate ice cream. The label having been read, in went the first little brown capsule, and half an hour later the Weetabix. My diet was on its way.

Why the name RealDose? Because Dr Sisskind believes that it’s important that ingredients are sourced from the same places and used in precisely the same doses as in human studies which lie behind the science. It’s a strong marketing idea. How will it fare when faced by a man with absolutely no willpower whatsoever? Watch this space over the next few weeks.

Lunchtime came and in went another pill. Unfortunately the location was a little “greasy spoon” café we found in a gap between two very stressful meetings. The menu was limited to say the least. My colleagues had chilli, rice and chips. I had lasagna and chips. I think the other choice was chicken curry and chips - we are in the north east of England, after all.  The chips were soggy, dripping with fat, and totally delicious.  I am admitting all this with no small amount of contrition: my diet was derailed almost before it had begun.

After two hours of pitching to prospective clients and a 60 mile drive home, I arrived exhausted and starving.  That's my excuse for grabbing a fresh, soft, juicy blueberry muffin which was seductively waving at me from the kitchen table.  The guilt only hit me as I picked up the last crumb.  I generously threw it at Truffle and Mabel, who were sitting at my feet with doggy tongues hanging out.  This diet is going to be a long, tough journey.

Later Jo came to the rescue with an extraordinarily inventive vegetarian meal. She, too, is losing weight, but without the help of the piper betle leaf. Instead, she has vowed to eat just healthy, wholesome food.

Tonight she prepared butternut squash roasted with thyme and olive oil, which had been combined with chickpeas and juliennes of courgettes, lemon zest sautéed in garlic and chilli. On the side lay, eccentrically, a mound of cooked amaranth seed.  Amaranth is full of protein, apparently, and is really quite tasty when cooked with spring onions (which Jo still calls scallions) and a little parmesan.  Sitting atop this feast was a slab of fresh tofu, marinated with fresh ginger, lemon juice, and Jo's magic ingredient, Braggs Amino Acid (a more healthy alternative to soy sauce).  The tofu had been fried in garlic oil and finished with thin slices of fresh red chilli.

By now, the lasagna and chips were long forgotten: though I suspect I’ll remember them only too well when I weigh myself tomorrow morning. I wonder how much today's excesses will have added to my waistline.  Oh dear.  Let's hope Izzy sleeps through the night.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

A (Far Too) Big Birthday

Day -1

Now: 216lbs (15st 6 lbs)

I do hope this wretched week crawls by. In fact, I’ll be quite happy if Thursday doesn’t bother turning up at all. I’d like it to be Wednesday 1st February for quite a few years – until my brain has caught up with my age, that is. For on Thursday I’m due to reach the terrible milestone that marks the beginning of my sixties.

Why on earth do we pretend to celebrate big birthdays? They take years off your life. On my 40th, I took over a Russian restaurant in Chelsea and about 100 friends and I sampled every one of the 76 vodkas in the bar. I don’t remember a lot about what followed. Apparently we all decamped to my flat at four in the morning. I woke up at midday to find that my friend Rowland Rivron had spilt black coffee all over the white shagpile carpet and upended every item of furniture, including the wardrobes and the grand piano. It took me a week to recover; the carpet never did.

My 50th was rather less wild but just as exhausting. Having discovered a talent for cooking, I decided to cater my own dinner party for 100 friends and family. It was a complicated four-course meal, so I spent most of the evening in the kitchen searing scallops. It was stressful beyond belief. Rowland was there again: but by now he was married with children, so he simply made a rude speech about how ancient I’d become. Time tempers the wildest spirit. Since my 40th birthday I've managed to add a pound to my weight for each year of my indolent, exercise-free life. 

I read somewhere that having another child in your fifties makes you feel younger. Sure, I’ve rediscovered the joys of jigsaws, and I can recite whole episodes of Peppa Pig, but since Izzy arrived, I can’t say it’s been exactly rejuvenating. Constant toddler-carrying hasn’t removed my middle-aged spread, instead it’s given me a permanent twinge that feels suspiciously like a need for a hip replacement.

Two parcels arrived this morning and I groaned: people are already remembering the event I’m determined to ignore. The first was from my eldest daughter, with strict instructions not to open till “the big day”. Of course I immediately tore it open.

Inside was a book called “The 4-Hour Work Week: How to Escape the 9-5 and Join the New Rich”. It’s a best-seller, apparently – no wonder the author can enjoy a 4-Hour Work Week. I immediately resolved to write a book called “Do No Work At All And Make A Million.” Chapter One: Write book called “Do No Work At All And Make A Million”. Chapter Two: Wait for royalty cheques and put your feet up.

The second package turned out to be three small jars of pills, sent to me by a very nice chap I met on holiday. He’s a doctor: well he has a medical degree and he’s using the qualification to make himself a fortune. He’s invented some new diet product that’s getting people excited in America. Of course, I offered to test it for him: if you’d seen me on the beach in St Lucia, you’ll know why. Talk about scaring the locals.

It’s called RealDose Weight Loss Formula No 1 and the label says it has ingredients clinically proven to “Accelerate fat burning, Reduce appetite, Increase energy and stamina and Enhance mood”. Now we’re talking.

In truth, there’s a tiny asterisk next to each claim that leads to some small print warning that “These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.” Well, they’re about to be evaluated by me.

A couple of years ago I started this blog and lost 20 pounds in 64 days. Then I had a target: my wife had booked a photographer to take a family album.  The pictures of a 195-pound me bedeck the house, like images of some distant and long-lost cousin.

The weight took quite a while to return.  Indeed I entered 2011 at just a little over 200 pounds.  A year later I've added back all I lost.  That's why I have no photographs of me on the beach in St Lucia, but plenty of the svelte Dr Steven Sisskind and his delightful family.

Over dinner one night I offered to test out his formula and Steve agreed to send me three months' supply.  I'll start taking the pills tomorrow morning:  one before each meal.  Although I doubt I can lose ten years by Thursday, or even 10 ounces, I've set myself some rules.  I'm cutting out potatoes, bread and ice cream.  Everything else stays as normal.  I shall weigh myself each day.  And I shall be honest.

It's going to be difficult for the first week.  On Wednesday I have a black tie banquet to attend; on Thursday nothing will stop me enjoying a large bowl of birthday seafood pasta and a large bottle of Sardinian wine in my favourite Italian restaurant;  and this weekend Jo and I are going to spend two nights in a Lake District hotel with a Michelin starred restaurant.  Heavy rain is forecast:  there will be nothing to do but eat the most wonderful gourmet food.  So I doubt Dr Sisskind's diet pills will have much effect for a while.  But over time I hope we'll win through together, and on May 1st I shall post a new picture.  Wish us luck.