Tuesday, 24 April 2012

31 years (and counting)

I read a newspaper article today which claimed that dieting makes you fat.  This article followed the announcement by a well-known British journalist that the five stone (70 pounds) she lost last year with the Dukan diet has all crept back on.  The article alleges that when we restrict our caloric intake, our metabolism slows, making it increasingly harder to lose weight.  On top of that, this lack of calories does something crazy to our hormones which triggers hunger - so we therefore starve ourselves to try to lose weight and when the scales aren't shifting (and we're fainting from the hunger pangs), we binge on all the wrong foods - thereby undoing all the good we've so far accomplished.  The wonderfully positive part of the article said that the average British women spends 31 years of her life on a diet!

Normally I scoff at articles such as this - there's always some form of scaremongering in the Daily Mail (first they tell you red wine is good for you, the next day it's going to kill you, blah, blah).  However, I found myself reading the article with interest because over the past month my weight loss has been exceedingly slow.  In the last 30 days I have lost only 4 pounds, which is very disappointing because I've been rigorously monitoring my food intake and I have also started exercising again following a lung infection in February/March this year.  My plan throughout this year was to lose at least 2 pounds per week, ensuring that I would reach my goal by September.  Now, I know there could be a variety of factors explaining the slowing of the weight loss.  I know for example that your body tends to hang onto water when you start exercising, so maybe this could be a factor.  But it does discourage you sometimes when you think "I'm busting my backside here, and practically starving myself for not very much reward at all!".

I am a glass half full person.  I will always try to remain positive, regardless of my circumstances.  So, though my eyes are reading the article telling me I'm doomed to be overweight forever; my brain is saying "hang on in there, sooner or later all of the weight will come off"!  And the thing is, I've done it before and on a much larger scale (I lost over 100 pounds a few years ago), so I know it can be done, but when things don't move as quickly as you expect it's easy to get discouraged.

The bonus in all of this is that I'm still utterly determined to succeed.  And perhaps it's a lesson to not become so obsessive about weight as a number (and therefore try not to weigh myself everyday - or every other day!) and focus on how I'm feeling (which is pretty darn good right now) and my measurements (which are still decreasing).  I still have 48 pounds to go, so having lost 32 pounds already I haven't quite hit the halfway mark yet.  I'm determined to go the whole way though - even if it takes me 31 years to get there!

Sunday, 22 April 2012


My friend Sara spent Easter in the States and she returned on Tuesday with some American goodies for me!  I had asked if she would mind getting me a few bits like baking soda (even though we have bicarbonate of soda here, in America it comes in big boxes!), chocolate chips, taco seasoning and my favourite indulgence - Twizzlers.

Now, don't be deceived - the pack may say "A Low fat candy", however for the first time I actually read the calorie content and there is a whopping 160 calories in 4 twists!  My friend bought me the BIG packet and in the past I could easily eat the WHOLE packet in one sitting!  So, desperate times call for desperate measures...  We have allocated Mondays and Fridays as "chocolate days" for our kids - this ensures that they are not eating chocolate all the time and that they get a treat twice a week.  I also know that they are sneaky little things and if I kept their little chocolate bars in the fridge - well, they'd be gone before I finish typing this sentence!  So - granddad comes to the rescue!  He hides the chocolate bars in his room and brings them out on Mondays and Fridays.  I had a lightbulb moment - if I separate the BIG pack into small ziplock bags of four Twizzlers each - give them to my father in law and ask him to bring out one bag on a Monday and one bag on a Friday, then I get my wonderful strawberry flavoured treat twice a week and even better, it lasts five weeks (instead of five minutes!).

So, now all I have to do is to remember to leave 160 calories allowance for my treats on Mondays and Fridays.

The Rhubarb Cornmeal Cake was a real hit at lunch today - we had it warm with custard - yum!  Sundays are always a bit of a struggle with my diet, so although I do watch what I eat, I invariably go over my 1200 calorie per day goal.  However, I do feel it is necessary to build in a 'break day' into your schedule - this ensures that you don't get burned out from eating little calories and also ensures that you have a day each week to look forward to.  It may slow my weight loss slightly, but compromise is necessary sometimes and I think it helps me from falling off the wagon.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

For the love of rhubarb

Today was my first walk in the country park where the Race for Life takes place in May.  I knew a long(ish) route and wanted to see if this hit the magic 3.1 miles (and more importantly, if I was anywhere near my target of 45 minutes).  I asked my friend Annabelle if she would like to come with me, as Fi is still away and it's always good to have a walking partner in the woods.

We set off just after 11am, and as expected, encountered quite a bit of mud immediately!  Typically, the government here in England has threatened a hosepipe pan because February and March had been quite dry months - so, of course as soon as the words "hosepipe ban" are breathed what does it do but rain constantly!  We've had a lot of rain - but thankfully we had a dry window today for our walk and though it was muddy, we at least stayed dry.  The woods were beautiful today - I stopped briefly to snap this photo and you can just about see a carpet of purple bluebells in the background.

I had not walked this route in about two years, so I had to concentrate much more on my surroundings to make sure I did not take a wrong turn!  This route in particular is very good for training for fell climbing, as there is a variety of terrain and elevation.  Even though I have not taken this path frequently, I would go as far to say that it is my favourite walk in our little country park.  There are some fabulous views across the woodland, which, on a fine day simply cannot be bettered.

Annie and I finally reached the lake, which was a relief as I knew my way back to the car from there!  Our overall walk time was not great considering the distance covered, however there were about three brief stops (to pet the odd friendly dog) and as we were unfamiliar with the terrain, I reckon our time wasn't that bad.  I must admit I was slightly disappointed with our overall distance.  I felt sure that this route would provide the magical 3.1 mile loop I was looking for, but sadly no.  Next week when I attempt this walk again, I shall see if I can add a bit more to it to achieve the 3.1!  Watch this space!

I got home at about 12:20 and knew that my daughter had art class this afternoon and that we needed to leave at 1:30 to get there.  Quickly I had to have a shower (including washing my hair, which was in a dire state!), have something for lunch, slap some makeup on my face, dry my hair and go!  We didn't have a lot in the fridge, so my low calorie lunch comprised of a plain omelette with 10 grams of cheddar cheese and a bit of salad.  298 calories (not bad!).  Amazingly I finished everything with about 15 minutes to spare - phew!


So, Sundays in our house are always a bit special.  When we bought a house six years ago with my husband's parents, his mother and I agreed that every Sunday we would have a roast lunch.  It started with her and I sharing the cooking, but sadly she passed away two years ago - so the task has of course fallen to me alone.  The men in my family appreciate a good roast, and I must admit that I learnt from the very best!  My mother in law made the best roast ever, and she was a perfectionist where this was concerned - but she taught me all she knew and I think that I've managed to carry that baton well.

One area, however, where I require little help is baking!  From a very early age (basically, as soon as I could hold a spoon!), I was in the kitchen concocting something!  My mother was also very good at baking, so I'm sure it runs in the family.  She worked briefly at a bakery in our small Indiana town and during the summer holidays would take me with her - I suppose I was about 10 or 11 at the time, but the ladies in the bakery would let me bake dill bread, black bottom cupcakes - it gave me a wonderful foundation for baking - skills I still use today.  And I must admit that there is no greater stress reliever than kneading bread dough (and nothing quite as satisfying as eating your own freshly baked bread!).

As I type, there is yet another culinary masterpiece in the oven, the aroma filtering through to the lounge.  I should start by explaining that I love rhubarb - I love it!  I love the flavour, I love the versatility, I even love the colour (if I could design a fabric that comprises the perfect green and the perfect pink of rhubarb, I would!).  It's wonderful stuff, and the amazing aroma is that of a Rhubarb Cornmeal Cake.  My most dog-earred cookbook is without doubt, Nigella Lawson's How to be a Domestic Goddess.  If ever I want to bake, this is my first port of call.  Regardless of the ingredients, I know if I search the index whatever I choose will be utterly delicious.  So, I popped the ingredients into my trusty app My Fitness Pal, and assuming that I'm going to cut this little gem into 10 slices, it works out at a respectable 367 calories per slice - which for cake is pretty darn good!  The recipes is as follows:-

Rhubarb Cornmeal Cake
From Nigella Lawson's How to be a Domestic Goddess


500g rhubarb
300g caster sugar
150g plain flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
155g fine cornmeal (polenta)
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
125g unsalted butter, soft
250g natural yogurt, preferably bio (I've used low-fat yogurt)

23cm Springform cake tin, buttered and lined


Preheat oven to 180 C / gas mark 4.

Wash and dry the rhubarb if necessary (which I rarely find it to be), and then trim, removing any stringy bits, and cut into 1/2cm slices.  Put into a glass bowl or china bowl and cover with 100g of the sugar, while you get on with the rest of the cake.  Don't let the rhubarb stand for more than half an hour or the sugar will make too much liquid seep out.

Mix the flour, bicarb, salt, cinnamon and cornmeal together.  With a fork, beat the eggs with the vanilla in a measuring jug or small bowl.  In a large bowl, cream the butter and the rest of the sugar, then gradually add the egg and vanilla mixture, beating while you do so.  Then add the flour-cornmeal mixture alternately with the yogurt.  They just need to be combined, don't over mix.

Finally, add the rhubarb together with its sugary, pink juices, folding into the mix, and then pour the speckled batter into the prepared tin.  Put in the preheated oven and bake for about 1 hour or until springy to the touch.  You may need to cover it with foil after about 40 minutes so that the top doesn't catch.  let cool in the tin on a wire rack for a while before unmoulding.

Serves 8-10.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Blue Monday

Monday was my first "official" training session for the 5k Race for Life in May.  I knew that a loop walk from where I work was just about 3 miles, so I wanted to walk that route, as fast as I possibly could now to get a time to beat for the race.

My walking buddy, Fiona, is currently away on holiday so it was me and the iPod - but that was fine with me - at least this was testing just my pace.  I've often wondered if passers by can see when the song on my iPod changes and if it affects my pace!  I've compiled a fast beat play list and thought rather appropriately, as it was Monday to go for "Blue Monday" as my first song!  I was quite pleased with my overall time, which was 48:39 for 2.99 miles.  I now just need to add a tenth of a mile to that and shave off four minutes to achieve my goal of walking the 5k in less than 45 minutes.  I was wondering on Monday if this goal was at all realistic (I've got quite short little legs!), but seeing my pacing time really encouraged me.

The plan now is to walk this route on Mondays and Thursdays, followed by another walk on Saturdays at the country park, which is where the Race will take place in May - this should give me my most realistic times as the park is quite different terrain to my usual suburban route.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Total Sweet(tooth)!

I have a confession to make - I have a real sweet tooth.  This has obviously contributed greatly to my weight and my struggle to lose weight.  I used to find myself craving sweet things - cakes or cookies, and especially Coke!  Every lunchtime would involve either a Cherry Coke or a Dr Pepper - if I didn't have it, I was craving it for the rest of the day.  This, of course meant that my blood sugar was doing somersaults throughout the day causing me to have serious lows and of course binging because I felt faint.  It's a vicious circle.

At different points over the past few years I have felt certain that there was something medically wrong with me - my blood sugar lows were SO low that there were times when I would literally have to sit down, have something sugary or sweet and wait for it to kick in before I continued doing anything.  I noticed that these lows seemed to occur around about the same time each day - generally just before lunch and around 4-5pm in the afternoon.  I went to my doctor and requested a blood test - assuming I was borderline diabetic, but I also asked them to check for an underlying Thyroid condition (again, hoping that my weight was not due to me stuffing too much in my mouth, but in my body's inability to kick up my metabolism).  Both tests came back clear - there was nothing wrong with me.

Then, I began talking about my problems to a very close friend of mine, who, as it turned out, had very similar symptoms.  I should have mentioned previously, but in addition to my blood sugar lows, I was also very tired - and I mean dog tired - all the time.  I would yawn about 50 times throughout the day, I struggled to concentrate, I relied heavily on coffee, which in turn gave me heart palpitations from the caffeine.  I had zero energy to cope with day to day life, much less get off my butt and start exercising to lose weight!  But talking to this friend really gave me hope.

She had been to see a naturopath in London who did a very detailed assessment and an adrenal gland test.  This adrenal test was different to the one the GP or doctor does (they only test for adrenal failure), this is a saliva test which checks for adrenal fatigue.  What I hadn't realised was that the adrenal glands are so closely connected with blood sugar highs and lows, energy levels - literally everything I felt was wrong with me could simply be adrenal fatigue!  So, I made an appointment with the naturopath and went along for my assessment.  After my assessment, I was sent my adrenal test kit - a very bizarre process where you are required to "spit" into four tubes and then freeze them throughout a 12 hour period.  This then gets sent to the lab for analysis.  When the results came back, I was absolutely flabbergasted!  The naturopath showed me that my adrenal levels dipped quite considerably at two times during the day - just before lunch, and again between 4-5pm!  Finally after years of having no answers to the way I was feeling, I had a solution!

I now take two supplements on a daily basis specifically formulated for adrenal fatigue and the difference in how I feel is unbelievable.  In addition to these supplements, I have switched from taking sugar in my coffee to having a totally natural alternative called Xylitol.  This stuff is awesome - it tastes just like sugar and it has absolutely NO aftertaste (like you get with most artificial sweeteners), and the best part - not only is it low calorie, but it is also low GI!  It is even suitable for diabetics!  I get my Xylitol in the form of "Total Sweet" which is available from Holland and Barrett, Sainsburys and Waitrose, to name a few.
Now, I have done really well with my weight loss, and yes I have cut out a lot of stuff that I used to have regularly (such as Coke!), but there is one area of my life that I staunchly protect and refuse to give up and that is having sugar and cream in my coffee!  I have a maximum of three cups of coffee per day (for the aforementioned reason), and I refuse to compromise where this is concerned!  However, by using Xylitol and Elmlea (a buttermilk based alternative to cream), I find I can have my sweet, creamy coffee each day and not feel guilty about it.

Funnily enough, the times when I have tried to eliminate sugar and cream from my coffee, I find I am much more likely to fall off the wagon on the diet altogether!  So, by incorporating a small treat into my daily calorie allowance - I stay happy and I still lose weight - win, win!

Regarding giving up coke - I wish I could say that there was an equal 'natural' alternative, like I have found for sugar in Total Sweet, but sadly this is not the case.  I have found that apart from my three cups of coffee per day, I drink only water - either still or sparkling.  I am trying, for the most part, to maintain a 1200 calorie per day allowance and sacrificing precious calories on drinks  (apart from my coffee!) is not something I'm prepared to do!  I do find that the sparkling water is a sort of fizzy substitute for coke and it certainly makes water more interesting.  So that I am not completely bloated from all of the fizz, I tend to save the sparkling water only for dinner time.

The strange thing about sugar now is that I can really taste it!  The other week, I was without my Xylitol and decided to have half a teaspoon of sugar in a coffee at church - half a teaspoon tasted waaayyy to sweet for me!  In a weird way, I actually think that Xylitol might be weaning me off sugar without me realising it!

Saturday, 14 April 2012

A productive day

Today has been a very productive day.  The kids are back to school on Monday, so I've been trying to get caught up with laundry, ironing, etc, so that I will hopefully be able to have a moderately restful Sunday afternoon!  This morning I dropped my daughter off at a friend's house for the day and on my way home I stopped by our local supermarket to pick up something for lunch.  I remembered earlier this week I had pinned a recipe from Martha Stewart for a Prawn and Pasta salad that looked quite healthy, so I got a packet of King Prawns and some Smoked Haddock for my father in law (a special treat!).

The forecast again was for rain - but not until 2pm, so as soon as I got home, I put the fish in the fridge and got my music and Walkmeter sorted on my phone and was off for my usual Loop Walk around our village.  Some friend of mine and I have signed up to do the Race For Life on 26th May and I'm trying to improve my walking pace to finish in under 45 minutes.  Today I was really pleased as I managed to trim nearly two minutes per mile off of my average pace!

I'm not sure how close I'm going to get to 3.1 miles in 45 minutes, but I'm certainly going to give it a jolly good go!  When I got back home I was feeling quite pleased with myself, but it was nearly 2pm and I still hadn't had any lunch!  I quickly found the recipe on Pinterest and got the pasta water boiling. All of 10 minutes later - lunch was ready and as I cut the recipe in half (making two servings), I've got Monday's lunch all sorted too!  I've copied a link to the recipe below and according to My Fitness Pal (an invaluable resource for calorie counting!), this tasty lunch only has 256 calories per serving!

Shrimp Pasta Salad with Cucumber and Dill

For my "Dieters" version I used Extra Light mayonnaise and used 100g of Shell Pasta (50g per serving).  I also used 125g of King Prawns.  Converting pounds and variations thereon to grams is tricky!  Because I've lived in England for so long I am very used to the metric way of measuring ingredients (and not to offend anyone, but it is much easier once you get used to it!).

This pasta salad was absolutely delicious and if you're like me and really love your herbs - the addition of dill certainly does not disappoint!

So, the ironing is done, (most) of the laundry is sorted and I can now enjoy the remainder of my weekend with relative leisure.  Tomorrow I will be posting on how I beat my addiction to sugar and some helpful resources I've found along the way!

Friday, 13 April 2012

A walk in the rain and Friday night, Pizza night!

Thursday was a family day - I had taken the day off work to spend with the kids as they are still on Easter break.  We were a bit limited as to what we could do because there wasn't anything on at the cinema that we fancied and the weather forecast was dire, so we spent the majority of the morning just pottering around the house.  However at around 11am the sky didn't look so bad and my iPhone forecast said there was only a 30% chance of rain, so I thought a walk, with rain macs in tow, was worth a shot!

My usual fitness loop is a 2.5 mile route around our village, but I decided to add a little woodland walk to that since I had the kids with me.  So, we started out down our quiet lane, passed some horses and onto the public footpath through the woods.  Whenever my husband and I took the kids on this walk when they were younger, we used to joke that there were trolls living in these woods - well, that name has sort of stuck, so now we call it the "Troll Walk".  It's quite picturesque, with a small stream following the path.

Start of the "Troll Walk"
After about a half a mile, this woodland path joins the main road and my normal "loop" walk.  We are quite fortunate in that our village is surrounded by some beautiful fields, so though we are very near to London, you still feel that you are in the "country".  The kids did a very good job of keeping up with me and all was going well until we reached the 1.5 mile mark when suddenly the skies turned and the heavens opened. Thankfully, we are used to walking in the Lake District, where the weather changes at the drop of a hat, so the rain macs went on and we trudged along.  The rain didn't let up until we got home, but I've got such little troopers for kids - they didn't complain about walking in the rain once!

So tonight is Friday night and for the past two years we have maintained a Friday night family tradition - Friday Night Pizza Night!  Now, I appreciate that pizza doesn't exactly sound like a dieting food (believe me, I am the first the be critical of recipes that claim to be "healthy" with images of pancakes and waffles!), however I make the pizza dough myself, so I know exactly what goes into it.  This, combined with low-fat mozzarella, means that I can enjoy my Friday night treat without feeling guilty!  Here's my recipe:

Mary's Homemade Pizza Dough (makes 5 individual pizzas)

400g Strong White Bread Flour, plus more for kneading
100g Fine Cornmeal
15g sachet Fast Action Yeast
1 tsp salt
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
300ml warm water

410 chopped tomatoes with basil (I use Sainsbury's tetrapak)

Combine the flour, cornmeal, salt and yeast in a bowl.  Add the olive oil and most of the water - stir until combined adding more water as needed.  Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for about five minutes until the dough is soft and no longer sticky.  I normally wash up the mixing bowl, grease it with a bit more olive oil and then place the pizza dough back in the bowl to let some of the warmth work on rising the dough.

Leave to rise for about 1 hour, or until the dough is doubled in size.  In the meantime you can prepare your toppings!  We are not big on lots of veggies on our pizza - though I regularly add the odd pepper or tomato to the toppings.  Our normal toppings are always lean ham and spicy pepperoni and mushrooms.  I always split a pizza with my father in law, who lives with us, and he doesn't like mozzarella, so the photo above has cheddar on the left (his side!) and mozzarella on the right (my side!).  All total this pizza (with the low fat mozzarella) works out at 675 calories per portion - so can easily be accommodated in a 1200-1500 calories per day diet.

Preheat your oven to 220 degrees Celsius.

Once the dough has risen, turn out again onto a floured surface and knead briefly before separating into five equal portions.  I then use a combination of my rolling pin and my hands to shape into a sort of pizza shaped base - don't worry about perfection here, because I think the stranger the shape, the more it looks homemade!  Place your bases on baking trays and then spread the chopped tomatoes evenly over the bases.  Bake in the oven for 10 minutes.

Take the bases out of the oven and now it's time to put on your toppings.  I like to let the kids decorate their own, so I always have a little pizza assembly line going.  Once all the toppings are on, pop the pizzas back in the oven for a further 10 minutes.  When the pizzas are done, allow to cool for a minute or two before slicing with a pizza cutter and enjoy!

The whole idea of Friday Night, Pizza Night came from a fantastic book by Barbara Kingsolver called "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" - she and her family always do homemade pizzas on Friday night and it inspired me to do the same!  It truly is so easy to make your own and I think it creates a real family evening.  Enjoy!

Thursday, 12 April 2012

A few of my favourite things...

I've been toying with the idea of starting a blog for some time now.  I wanted a way of recording my weight loss journey, I suppose a tangible way of seeing my progress other than looking at my decreasing waistline!  More than that, however, I wanted to be able to share my passions about the things in life I love dearly - the things which despite my calorie counting I refuse to give up entirely - namely baking cakes!

Over the past four months I have been disciplining myself to be able to bake for the joy of baking and not simply the joy of licking the bowl, or scoffing all of the cakes secretly myself!  Baking is equally about seeing the reaction on people's faces when they sample your culinary masterpiece.

Then there is the flipside to the things I'm passionate about - walking - more specifically fell walking in the Lake District.  The latter of course aids my weight loss journey greatly!  As my family and I live in Essex, the best I can hope for is a once a year week's holiday in the Lakes - but many months are spent pouring over Alfred Wainwright's pictoral guides planning which fells will be attempted.  Like many of life's passions, this stems from my childhood.  I was raised in a very small town in southern Indiana, USA.  My parents had built a log home on 20 acres of dense woodland - so this was my 'playground'.  Later, my father wanted to try hiking the Appalachian Trail, so during school holidays we would travel to Tennessee/North Carolina and hike sections.  I loved this - blisters and all!
A view across Buttermere lake to Haystacks on the right

So now my goal is to reduce my weight by 80 pounds - but the journey officially started four months ago and I am already 31 pounds down!  I am no stranger to weight loss - having previously lost over 100 pounds, unfortunately most of it crept back on over a period of three-four years.  My goal now is not only to lose the weight for the final time, but to achieve a balance in finding an activity - such as walking - that will keep me active and motivated.  So, to this end I have taken the plunge and entered the Race for Life 5k at the end of May.  I will also be climbing Snowdon in June, followed by Scafell Pike in August (two out of three peaks ain't bad?!) - and the hope is that I can achieve all three of these goals without huffing and puffing and collapsing at the finish line!

My aim with this blog will be to share my trials and tribulations, share some fab recipes I've stumbled across for both weight loss and the occasional treat and to share my love of walking.  To end, I will share an excerpt from my favourite poem by Robert Frost:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.