Month: August 2011

A-Z of Gloria

Hey everyone

I have a cold ūüė¶¬† I am not too snotty but I’m a bit breathless and feverish and my head hurts. This is in fact the same virus that’s been hanging around since the weekend of the 20th/21st, when I thought I might not be able to race. It makes me not feel like running so I’ve twice been out for long walks instead:

I might have a couple of Health points for that actually, the first one was a mix of walking and running and the second one was a¬†quite long walk that lasted¬†nearly two hours. It makes me laugh to see the line on the chart curving down towards the end, that’s me feeling tired and slowing down as I trudged homewards.

Tonight I am hot and irritable. Everything is making me cross. Therefore I looked around for something easy and fun that I could put on my blog and I found one of those cheery memes: the Blog A-Z. It’s where you tell readers a few things about yourself based on all the letters of the alphabet. Shall we give it a try? We perhaps won’t attempt the whole alphabet all at once but just do a few letters to begin with. Here goes.


A is for Art

… something I should get out and see more of. On my wall, within sight of my PC, I have postcards of paintings by Ingres and David Hockney. What do they have in common, you may ask? Colour. Lovely colour.

Ingres, Princesse Albert de Broglie, 1853.

Hockney, The road to York through Sledmere, 1997. I bought this postcard when I was in Yorkshire visiting my friend C.


C is for Good and Evil

Let me explain. At one time, I was fond of saying that good things always seem to¬†begin with C. I would then cite as examples Coffee, Cigarettes, Chips and Chocolate. More recently, I have come to understand that these are all things I should try hard¬†to avoid. Moreover,¬†it has also come to my attention that C stands for some other things that perhaps aren’t very good for the human condition, such as Cosmetic Surgery, Cocaine and Credit Cards, as discussed by William Leith, see my recent review of his book about over-eating. And of course C is for Carbs, and not the kind you want.

That said, C stands for Cupcakes and Cocktails, two small vices that I would like to have in my life, if only in moderation. Finally and most importantly, C is for my wonderful, kind and supportive friend C, who redeems everything. C, thank you for being my friend.


K is for Knitting

I absolutely love knitting and start many more projects than I complete, I’m always thinking of the next thing I want to make. At this exact moment I am knitting a scarf while thinking about making a large blanket and a nice green wool jacket. Knitting is one thing that contributes to TLYW that I don’t need to tell myself to do more of.


R is for Reading

Of course, R is for running but you hear me talk about running a lot, that’s not news. When I’m not busy with something else I’m a big reader, I’ve just finished Skippy Dies by Paul Murray. It’s about a bunch of teenage boys at¬†school in Ireland, set in the present day. Their psychology, manners and customs are sharply observed, making it tragic and also very funny.


S is for Skating

Is this a mad idea? Am I going to break my nose and teeth? When I was 11 I was taken ice skating by my mom’s friend. It was the one and only time I’ve ever been skating and I loved it. I’ve wanted to go back ever since. I once nearly went with my ex when we were in Vienna but nearly is not actually skating, is it. I am going to try to convince my friend from running that it will be good exercise. I mainly want to ice skate but I am also seriously tempted by roller skating. I recently saw the quite-good film Whip It, directed by and starring Drew Barrymore, also starring Juliette Lewis, which is about the American contact sport of Roller Derby. It was really inspiring. Even though the heroine of the tale is only about seventeen, some of the other characters are quite muscular women in their thirties and there is some wicked roller-skating going on. I want to do that. Well, not¬†Roller Derby¬†exactly, because it is quite violent and you have to wear teeth guards, but you know, I want to put on skates and trundle enjoyably around the park.


Z is for Zhongwen

That is, Chinese language. I am very fascinated by Mandarin Chinese, most especially the written characters and I am trying to learn to read and write in that language.

That’s all for now! We’ll do half a dozen more next time.

Book Review: The Hungry Years (47 weeks in)

The Hungry Years: Confessions of a Food Addict. (2005), Leith, William. London: Bloomsbury.

I read this book when it was first published, at a time¬†when I was¬†as skinny¬†as I’ve ever been, and as skinny as I¬†thought I would always be. I read it because I like psychological case studies. I was rather detached from Leith’s¬†narrative as I had never been overweight or tried to lose weight, it was all alien to me. I¬†knew something about bingeing¬†in other ways but I’d never been fat or felt that¬†food was any kind of a problem.

At the time, Leith’s story read like this: Fat guy likes food; really, really likes food. He likes it as much as he likes alcohol, cocaine and sex, which is a lot. He becomes really uncomfortably fat and after a mandatory period of despair he goes on the Atkins diet, which works. But then he gets some psychotherapy to find out what makes him want to stuff himself with five rounds of buttered toast, and that works even better.

Fast forward to¬†2011.¬†¬†I am trying to lose two stone and I am finding that it is not as easy as just cutting out sugar in your tea for a while. You have to concentrate and make a constant effort to lose weight. As I discover just how effortful it really is, I find myself sucked into all sorts of behaviours that are new to me and that skinny me scorned and wanted to avoid. I weigh myself. I read the labels on food items at the supermarket. I think about calories. I am starting to have opinions about low fat versus low carb. I read diet blogs and books about dieting. I re-read William Leith. Now I’m an insider, now I’m on that team of people who are struggling to eat less and to wear smaller clothes, here’s what I hear him saying.



  • Low carb diets such as Atkins, Glycaemic Index diets and the popular South Beach diet all say the same thing. Stop eating so many white-coloured refined and starchy¬†carbs. Stop eating refined sugar, obviously. Also, stop eating so much bread, pasta,¬†crisps and anything made with white flour. Avoid white rice and potatoes. Chips, bagels and baguettes might as well be confectionery. When you eat them, they turn to sugar inside you. Your blood sugar will spike. Shortly after that, it will plummet and then you will feel more hungry than you did before you ate them.
  • Sugar, in all its forms,¬†makes you hungry. If you eat less sugar you will feel less hungry, eat less and eventually be less corpulent.
  • Low carb diets start working straight away because “if you want a snack, you drift instinctively to the nearest snack place, and – you can’t have anything. Snacks, it turn out, are made from refined carbohydrates”. We are constantly surrounded by snacks, but just because you are constantly surrounded by a certain type of food doesn’t mean it is good for you or that you should eat it. Just because you are constantly surrounded by crisps, muffins, bagels and baguettes doesn’t mean you should try to live on those things, it doesn’t mean you should eat them at all, ever. It just means a lot of people want to sell you crisps, muffins, bagels and baguettes and this is sound economic sense on their part: those foods sell well because they taste good and not very long after eating them everyone’s blood sugar is plummeting and they want some more.
  • “Snacks are an advertisement for themselves,” says Leith, and “The ideal product is the one that does not work.” Like pornography. Like cigarettes. Like cocaine and cosmetic surgery and credit cards. The more you have, the more you want.
  • “What about things that do satisfy us? We’re not so hungry for them, are we? Organic cabbage. Broccoli.” It starts to become clear to me at this point, what Leith is saying. People do not crave cabbage and broccoli because unlike McFlurries and bags of crisps, cabbage and broccoli actually work in the sense of satisfying your hunger. If you eat a plate of green veg with a couple of eggs thrown in for good measure then you are not going to feel hungry again for quite a while. These kinds of foods satiate your hunger, they are satisfying. In that regard, in the context of profit-driven advanced-capitalist economies, they are not very successful, they are not an advertisement for themselves. Imagine if all snack bars and fast food restaurants¬†sold was cabbage and broccoli and boiled eggs. The population would only be able to support about a fifth of them because we wouldn’t be hungry all the time. 80% of those snack bars and fast food restaurants would go out of business.



  • Speaking of advanced-capitalism economies, low carb is a problem for the food industry and low fat is not. See, if everyone goes low carb, rejecting refined, starchy snacks and white flour and instead fills themselves up with cabbage and boiled eggs, it’s hard to make a profit on that. Think about your nearest supermarket. How much of the supermarket is dedicated to fresh produce? At my local supermarket¬†I would say it is about 15% of the store, maybe less. The remaining 85-90% of the store is cheap-to-manufacture processed foods. 120 varieties of crisps. 150 kinds of cake where the main ingredients are sugar and preservatives. Frozen food-like substances made from reconstituted meat particles. All those companies are going to take a massive hit if people start rejecting processed food and going low-carb. The only people rubbing their hands together¬†are those in the organic¬†fruit and veg¬†business, because people who are serious enough about their health to¬†stop eating frozen burgers and sliced bread are suckers for ‘organic’.
  • In contrast, the food industry loves low-fat. No problem at all! Manufacturers of¬†carby foods don’t mind. Manufacturers of fatty foods are happy to¬†bring out low-fat versions of their existing products which in any case are cheaper to make. If big companies want you to choose low-fat, that all by itself is a reason to be suspicious of low-fat diets.
  • Me, I don’t do¬†low-fat. I¬†tried some low-fat Muller Light yogurts for what reason I’m not sure, and they were disgusting. Bitter. Tasted like cleaning fluid. So when I am in the supermarkets in my neighbourhood, I look for yogurts made out of actual milk, you know, like the dictionary definition of ‘yogurt’. They can be hard to find. I was a bit taken aback when I realised that the abundant-seeming displays of yogurts in Tesco and Sainsburys were about 90% composed of these foul-tasting ‘fat free’ pots of sugary chemical yuck. Locating actual yogurt in the yogurt section can be quite a challenge. Most of the items in that section have got as close a relationship to yogurt as Cheetos have to cheese.



  • What’s more, people don’t just eat sweets and bags of chips to satisfy their hunger, they eat for emotional reasons. To reward themselves. To compensate themselves when they are feeling hard-done-by. Just like smokers. To smoke is to carry a little box of rewards around with you all the time, and you can have one whenever you want.


So. That is what I gained this time around from William Leith.

Here’s what all this makes me think: losing weight doesn’t mean being hungry all the time, it means not being hungry all the time. It means breaking your sugar habit in exactly the same way as you break the cigarette habit. To stop smoking, I had to force myself to believe Allen Carr’s simple, obvious message that cigarettes do nothing for you except that they make you want another cigarette. That’s all they do. Cigarettes don’t satisfy nicotine hunger, they create nicotine hunger. Non smokers do not constantly feel deprived and hungry for nicotine. It is smokers who feel that. That is what cigarettes do.

Sugar, same. And that goes for foods like chips and baguettes that turn into sugar after you’ve scoffed them down.

I quit smoking and therefore I am confident that I can successfully reframe my thinking. At this point, losing weight feels like something I am confident of being able to do. I trained myself to look at cigarettes and see that they are without charm, to see them as nicotine-hunger-creating devices and nothing more. Therefore I believe that I can train myself to view refined carbs and packaged foods in the same way. You can see that the way I look at my supermarket has already changed. I used to think of it as a store full of food. Now I think of it as a store that has some food, most of it clustered together in one area, where the fruit and veg is.

Weekly Weigh-in

Well. I have never known the scales to be so inconsistent. I had to weigh myself a bunch of times. But the big news is, this week the scales have gone DOWN! Yippee! I am going to take the most conservative reading and say that I have lost one pound.

That’s good enough for me! I’ll take that! I am going to update my ticker tape right now and vow to eat less cake this coming week.

Review of the (diet) week

Right, let’s do this. I am a bit desperate to eat some cheese so let’s have the Friday weigh-in first.

So exciting! It is like a game show! Will the magic scales go DOWN? Or UP?! Or will there be a third consecutive ZERO change? We don’t know. But we can soon find out.

It’s been a pretty good week for exercise. I ran on Saturday, Sunday and Monday. I tried to run on Thursday but my legs and back were too sore so I made do with a long, brisk walk. Here’s the chart:

That, folks, is what we have stacking the odds in favour of a good result this week. Four exercise sessions. I am pleased to note that that walk used up over 500 calories. Also there was a fair amount of healthy eating this week.

Factors which may yield a bad result: there have been two – no, three – incidents involving cake. Oops! One of them was sort of my birthday cake but I don’t know what the¬†others were in aid of. Also there was a massive greasy omelette that I could have been content with half of but instead chose to eat the whole thing. Finally, I celebrated my birthday last weekend by going to the pub and eating a burger and chips (they were lovely) and drinking a big glass of pear cider.¬† If I haven’t lost anything this week, all that is the reason why.

Right, it is the moment of truth! I can’t bear the suspense! Let’s find out this week’s big weigh-in surprise.

I want sugary lemon pie.

What am I supposed to do with this feeling?

I am not hungry, I had a greasy ham and cheese omelette for lunch thanks very much. (No chips and no other carbs that weren’t in the form of lettuce or carrot.)

I am well aware that if I eat a load of sugar I won’t feel great afterwards. I will just regret having fallen off the diet wagon again, also I will feel bloated and I will think that the experience of eating the pie wasn’t worth it.

And yet.

There’s a cafe up the road from here that sells lemon meringue pie and I am itching to go out and get a slice. Om nom nom. Heavy, moist pastry. Tangy lemon. Great big hunks of meringue. I keep thinking about it. Only a few hours ago I was convinced that I could do low-carb with single-minded zeal, what with protein and fat being so filling but now it doesn’t seem like such a breeze.

Maybe if I hold on for another hour or so the cafe will close and then I will be out of luck.