Friday, 29 May 2015

My must-have diet cookbook!

I mentioned before that I've been quite reliant on the Hairy Bikers' diet books since starting to lose weight.  This isn't a problem – their recipes are delicious, low-cal and always work – but as a committed lover of cookery books, I can't help my wandering eye.  On a recent trip to Wolverhampton to see the wrestling at Fight Club: Pro, I slipped into The Works and came across this:

'Takeaway Favourites' - Justine Pattison

Like all cookbook aficionados, I was initially won over by the photos, but it also helped that there is a calorie count at the top of each page.  Chilli beef stir-fry for under 250 calories?  Don't mind if I do.

If your diet has ever been scuppered by a love of takeaway food or just finding diet food dull, I cannot recommend this book enough.  In the past couple of weeks, we've had katsu curry, ginger chicken with udon noodles, stifado and sticky miso salmon, to name just a few.  The genius of the recipes is that they prioritise flavour without being overly difficult, often just requiring the meat to be marinaded to get the maximum bang for your buck.  You might need to splash out on miso paste or oyster sauce, but the results speak for themselves and there are multiple recipes for each ingredient so you don't have to worry so much about waste.

There are other books in the series that I want to check out.  These aren't just recipes for when you're trying to drop weight so I can see myself returning to them regularly even when I've reached my ideal size.  My husband has been in charge of cooking recently but I think I'll have a go at the Caribbean lamb curry myself.  I need to get back into the kitchen and I also want to properly test out the quality of the recipes.  Based on what I've enjoyed so far, I'm really not worried.

As for my next foray into the world of cookery books, anyone know any good ones about low-cal baking?!

Monday, 25 May 2015

My final fast-track weigh-in

This weigh-in marks the end of my 1200-calorie-a-day fast-track diet 6-week hyphentastic extravaganza with the Hairy Bikers' Diet Club.  I followed the diet well in the first three weeks and lost the best part of a stone but 1200 calories proved too restrictive when other commitments took over.  For the past couple of weeks, I've been aiming for the more manageable target of 1500 calories and it feels more sustainable, although my weight loss has slowed considerably as a result.

With my official move onto the Hairy Bikers' standard Weight Loss programme, 1500-1600 calories is now my target anyway, so I'm hoping for a steady loss of 1-2 pounds a week from now on.  It's more important that I can consolidate my weight loss rather than continue to drop big numbers, as it would be so easy for the old bad habits to start slipping back in.

It's been a reasonable week.  I've been stuck in front of a computer for most of it and the weather was shite, so my step count wasn't up to much.  I've done a bit of swimming, cycling and gymming to make up for it, as well as for a break from the screen.  I've had a couple of significant indulgences but my average intake for the week has still lurked around the 1600 calories mark.  My estimate is that I'll have lost a pound.  I was hoping for two but I have been woefully sedentary.

Let's get to it.

Yep, as I thought.  As of Monday 25 May, I weigh 11 stone 4 pounds (71.7 kg).

I had wanted to get to my 'ideal' BMI of 11 stone 3 but this is a reasonable loss considering the way the week played out.  Anyway, after losing the obvious excess weight, results are going to slow down.  It wouldn't have been healthy for a person of my size to keep dropping 4 pounds a week!  I still have some size to lose though, especially around the tough belly area, so the journey continues.

To focus my energies, now that my time is once more my own for a bit (note to self: stop volunteering for work stuff), I've set two achievable targets:

1 - exercise four times a week.  I'm thinking swimming, 2 x gym, and one long walk, but any exercise is a good start.

2 - cook a new recipe at least once a week.  All the kitchen work has fallen to my husband recently so I need to get more hands-on again.  After all, the main point of this blog is to help me get over my OCD via cooking, not to get all OCD about my weight.  A better focus on the former might help me with the latter anyway.

Manageable targets.  The diet experiment slows down from now on but, if anything, this period of maintenance is more important in the long run.  It's one thing losing the weight, but it's quite another keeping it off...

Friday, 22 May 2015

Asda's Classic Teabread

This is something I cooked a while back, reviewed and promptly forgot about.  As I'm not supposed to be having cake right now (note: I did not say that I'm not having cake), it might be cruel to make myself relive this yumminess but it was a pretty good recipe.  Enjoy.

OCD Panic Rating: 1/5
Handwashes: 3

After my foray into the world of meat, I went back to the basics for my cooking this week.  My crazy work schedule has made it harder for me to ignore my sweet tooth (yeah, I'm a stress eater) so I thought a fruit-based teabread might be a slightly less guilty pleasure than my usual snack fare.  The Asda magazine had a section on teabreads and the classic recipe had an attractive mix of apricots, sultanas and sunflower seeds to make it a 'healthy' cake choice.  So I made it, like.

As with most teabreads, it's a remarkably easy recipe to follow.  Took a few handwashes due to use of the rubbing-in method (combining butter and sugar with your fingers to form a breadcrumb texture)  but the rest of it was nice and simple.  The texture was wetter than I'd hoped.  I either added too much milk or using skimmed milk instead of semi-skimmed maybe made it too watery.  It certainly took longer to cook than it was meant to and, when it was ready, the top of the cake had a weird cracked finish that I've never seen before.  It did look kinda like teabread though:

Other food photos look like this, right?

So not exactly a looker although it was more attractive once cut into.  There's a lot of fruit in the recipe so there was a lovely thick spread of it all the way through the loaf.  Despite the longer cooking time, the fruit kept it moist, as well as providing a strong sweet flavour.  There's not a massive amount of sugar compared to many cake recipes, so the dried fruit added a natural sweetness without making it feel like a diabetic nightmare.

Normally, a teabread seems to last a solid week but I started to find this quite dry after only a couple of days.  I'm blaming this on the milk faux pas again.  Next time, I shall either put the milk in correctly or just eat the damned thing quicker.  

Key Points:
  • Use the right milk or, at least, the right amount.
  • Cake is still cake.  It might contain fruit and claim to be bread, but my body is not impressed and THE SCALES WILL KNOW!

Win Rating: 3/5

Monday, 18 May 2015

Weighing up weighing in...

After over a month of dieting, it's fair to say I've been through both the good and the bad of the experience.  I can definitely understand why people are dubious about dieting as a health choice, particularly when there is so much misinformation and fashion involved, but I also know I feel better and look better as a result.  If you are thinking of taking a shot at calorie restriction, here are my top five tips*:

1)  Make a meal plan and STICK TO IT!  One of the reasons my weight loss has slowed over the past fortnight is because of failing to plan for those days when I'm out and about for 12 hours with no access to a fridge or oven.  No matter how hard you try, you will almost always eat more calories from shop-bought food than from the equivalent made at home.  Look at your diary, plan for the week ahead, and you will see the difference.

2) BUT, give yourself some wiggle room.  If you have planned a diet of celery and salad for the next six months, you'll almost certainly fail.  We eat for so many reasons, from hunger to stress relief, and trying to avoid all naughty food doesn't take into account the pivotal role food plays in all our lives.  So, if chocolate is your weakness, allow yourself a small ration of it, perhaps as a weekend treat.  If you're a pizza person, check out a lower calorie version to help tide you over. Completely remove these treats from your diet and the cravings will just get harder to control.

3) Drink plenty of liquid.  Preferably not alcohol or full-fat soda, but water, tea and the like are all important.  We get a lot of water from our food so any diet can risk increased dehydration.  Having a drink can reduce hunger pangs, so try a glass of water before reaching for a snack.  Dieters with a sweet tooth can also get some relief from diet soda.  It's never recommended to drink too much of it but the sweetness can feel like a treat for those missing sugary foods.

4) Yes, you're going to have to exercise to see the results, but it can be as easy as taking a walk. Some people get sniffy if you say that taking the stairs is exercise but the fact is that all additional movement is additional calories burnt.  If you can manage 10,000 steps a day, you're well on your way to a healthier lifestyle.  Resistance and weight training is a real boost for weight loss too, and can be done in a spare fifteen minutes of your day.  At the very least, try to factor more movement into your daily life.

5) The most important thing: don't get too hung up on the numbers on the scale.  Some weeks you can bust your arse at the gym and eat like a supermodel only to see the scales refuse to budge from where they were last time.  But weight loss can be affected by lots of factors (particularly for women, sigh) and pounds will often come off in bursts rather than at a consistently steady pace. Also remember, is it the number that matters or keeping the weight off?  Do the scales tell the whole story or is there more to be learnt from how much better you feel and the changes you see in the mirror?  It's easy to see a bad day on the scales as a sign of failure but each weigh-in is just a step on a longer journey.

Nothing revolutionary, I'm afraid, but these are all things that I've discovered during the dieting process, if not always stuck to.  Honestly, I've had a bloody awful week foodwise and cannot expect any joy on the scales when I weigh myself, but I need to remember the positive comments I've received from colleagues, how much more control I feel I have over my eating, and the increased physical confidence I now have.  That is surely what matters.

Ok, time to see the damage.

As of 18 May, I weigh 11 stone 5 (72.1 kgs).  Still.

But if I can manage to just about maintain my weight despite eating out more than I ate at home, I'm clearly still making decent enough food choices.

The plan for this week is to lose 2 pounds, as this will take me to my allegedly optimal BMI.  More gym, more eating at home, fewer excuses.  Let's do this.

*Inevitable disclaimer: these are based on my opinions and experiences only.  Get yourself some proper medical advice if you're thinking of making changes to your diet and lifestyle.

Monday, 11 May 2015

I've lost a stone!


I'm genuinely thrilled, especially as I'm starting to see the physical benefits as well as feel them.  After three weeks, the scales were saying that I had lost weight but I wasn't seeing any sign of it in the mirror.  Now, there is a definite flattening of my pot belly and my belt has had to be tightened a notch or two (and not just because the Tories are still in power...).

What has made me most pleased this week is that I've achieved the 2-pound weight loss despite a less-than-virtuous week of food.  I was still quite poorly in the first couple of days, so I was unable to exercise or restrict my calories too heavily.  Midweek, I was on a hectic work schedule, meaning I was getting my 10,000 steps in easily enough but was having to grab food when I had chance.  As for the weekend, I was working, watching wrestling and, erm, indulging a bit.  There was one of the best hot dogs I've ever had and there was also a crafty Snickers at one point.  I guess I should be grateful that I don't drink!

Remember when Toadie was really fat?
The difference to my old habits, though, was that I was aware of these naughty treats and made an effort to eat a bit better around them.  Had to grab breakfast on the go?  Ok, just make sure that we have a sensible dinner.  Couldn't resist that slice of cake?  Looks like I'll be on the stationary bike when I watch Neighbours then.  It's not rocket science, but this mindfulness about food and exercise is so important.

I've only got a couple of weeks left on the Fast Track diet, so I'm hoping to lose another 4-5 pounds before moving onto the less rigid 1500 calorie program.  I picked up a diet cookbook which seems packed with amazing low-cal recipes when I was out this weekend, so it should be a tasty week.

Right then, as of 11 May 2015, I weigh 11 stone 5 (72.1 kgs).

Friday, 8 May 2015

Warburtons Quick Pizza

OCD Panic Rating: 2/5
Handwashes: 2

Having relied on the Hairy Bikers for the past few weeks (with admittedly great results), I decided to branch out and try a few different things.  This is actually a recipe based on a serving suggestion on the back of a packet of Warburtons' White Easy Roll Wraps.  As a pizza fanatic, I've had some serious withdrawal symptoms on this diet, so the promise of a low-cal pizza was irresistible.

Unsurprisingly, it is the simplest recipe in the world.  Take a wrap, put some pizza toppings on it, bake and eat.  Even I can do that!  I utilised some of the leftover puttanesca ingredients, spreading a thin layer of passata on the wrap then adding some chilli and capers.  I freaked myself out by adding a sprinkling of chestnut mushroom (the handwashes), as I couldn't decide whether ten minutes would be long enough to bake them safely,  Turns out you can eat them raw.  The more you know.

A meagre sprinkling of low-fat cheese and the pizza was ready for the oven.  Being on such a thin base, it didn't need more than a few minutes and it came out looking like this:

Looks like pizza, that!

Obviously, you're not getting the deep soft base of a deep-dish pizza, but the base works well if you prefer the traditional Italian thin style.  With a side of salad, it only came in at about 250 calories and felt like a treat.

I will amend my choice of toppings in future though.  Mushrooms and capers are great pizza toppings, but perhaps not so much together.  As for the chilli... I love heat but this was heavily misjudged.  A whole long red chilli, seeds and all, only seems to get bloody hotter with baking, and it practically blew my head off.  My lips felt swollen and weird all day, and my husband thought it was hilarious.  Unacceptable.

User error aside, the premise here is great and this quick pizza makes a fantastic lunch choice, diet or otherwise.  Good times.

Key Points:

  • Know your mushrooms.  I'd have been much happier if I'd known they were edible from the start.
  • Judge your chillies wisely.  Or have milk nearby.  Your call.

Win Rating: 5/5 for the idea; 3/5 for the execution.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Weigh-in time...

So far on this diet, I've absolutely smashed my own expectations.  Half a stone lost in a fortnight?  Get outta here!  This week, as if to remind me that pride cometh before a fall, the worst diet spoiler occurred: I got sick.

Sickness is always a difficult obstacle to navigate around.  Appetite goes all over the place; you can be constantly tired but unable to sleep; even standing up can be a problem.  For a dieter, these problems are even more pronounced.  Can I really stick to 1200 calories when I feel this weak?  What do I do about my exercise plan?  At first, I tried to adhere to the program.  I wasn't puking or pooping everywhere so it didn't seem like a bad idea.

After two days, I felt so much worse.

Change of plan then.  Exercise was off the table for a start.  As for food, my body clearly needed fuel to fight off this bug so I had to relax my calorie restriction.  I didn't go too overboard (well, not compared to how much I could've done.  Poorly me really wants cookies) but I went back up to about 2000 calories a day.  As a result, I started to feel immediately better.

Not great for the diet though, so I have mixed feelings about weighing in this week.  I'm expecting to have stayed about level, although a pound or two over/under is certainly possible.  Sickness makes it impossible to judge.  If I have lost more, it's more to do with being unwell than any effort on my part.  If I've stayed the same or gained, well, I'd rather that than still feeling super crappy.  Either way, this bug has thrown a real spanner in the works, and it feels like I'm going to need a serious mental reset to get back on track,

Enough prevaricating.  What's the damage?




Ok then.

As of Monday 3 May, I weigh 11 stone 7 (73 kg).


Maybe my scales are broken...

Friday, 1 May 2015

Hairy Bikers' Pasta Puttanesca

OCD Panic Rating: 1/5
Handwashes: 1

I'm perhaps relying a bit heavily on the Hairy Bikers as I navigate the early stages of my diet, but there's no doubt that the recipes are working for me.

Pasta Puttanseca (whore's pasta, as I'm sure you're all aware) is one of those marvellously satisfying pasta dishes that can be thrown together with cupboard staples and minimal effort.  I used passata in mine and also included anchovies, although there is some contention about how authentic their inclusion is in the recipe.  Not a real concern for me; I just like how they taste.

Puttanesca can be made in a few minutes but the recipe recommends simmering the tomatoes for a little bit in order to reduce the sauce down and intensify the flavour.  This is definitely recommended if you're using anchovies – they virtually dissolve into the tomato, leaving their deep fishy flavour behind.  The anchovies were the only problem for me with this recipe though.  I couldn't get the jar open at first.  When I finally did, I got anchovy oil everywhere, meaning I needed to clean my hands and half of my kitchen utensils.  User error, I'm afraid.

As it's a dish consisting of pasta, tomato sauce, anchovies, olives, capers and a bit of garlic, I felt confident that it was going to taste great, even if it looked a little messy:

Seriously, there is a real skill to making a dish of pasta look elegant. The taste was perfect though.  I added a small pinch of sugar to the sauce before serving just to take the edge off the saltiness of the ingredients and the acidity of the tomatoes, so the balance of flavour was just right.  I've had restaurant puttanesca that's left me gasping for water, but this was satisfying, deep and rich.  As I'm on the diet still, I used only 50g of pasta, but the sauce stopped it feeling too frugal.  By itself, it did for a quick lunch; with a serving of salad, it makes for an excellent dinner.  Definitely on the regular rotation.

Key Points:

  • Open your jars before starting cooking, and preferably do it over the damn sink.
  • If fish bones freak you out a bit but you like the anchovy taste (yeah, I know they're tiny bones but they set my OCD off like nothing else), break the fish up in the frying pan before you add the tomatoes, then let them simmer in the sauce for a bit.  The bones all but dissolve away, leaving you the flavour without the fuss.

Win Rating: 5/5