A terrible cold is going around London. I know a few people who have had it. Charlie succumbed to it just before I set off for Brussels. I am so, so glad that it didn’t get a grip on me while I was away doing that trade show. I thought maybe I was going to escape it altogether, but no, here it is. It broke out today in full force and now my nose is like a large red turnip and I am streaming with snot. I tried to go to bed three hours ago, at 9.30, mainly because I was no longer capable of doing anything else, but the snot factory that I call my face woke me up again.

So, while I am awake and pumping myself full of Sudafed, let’s talk about food. It seems like the right time. As you know (and can see from recent photos) my diet has been way out of control in recent months. No wonder I’ve been putting weight on. The happy pills, both while I was on them and while I was withdrawing from them, gave me crushing fatigue and I’ve been using huge doses of sugar and caffeine to try and keep myself awake. Added to that, I’ve been eating all sorts of comfort food, like pastry and pasta and fried cheese, Satan help me, and then I act surprised when my weight keeps climbing and climbing.

It needs to stop now. I am acutely aware of that, not just because my weight is rising so frighteningly fast but because my clothes are uncomfortable on me. All my bras hurt me. I can only wear them for a few hours at a time because they cut into my flesh. It’s time for emergency action, so it’s handy that the new cooker has arrived.

Because I don’t do things by halves, and because we are having the Brownie Points themed season, which emphasises developing new skills and doing new things, I have decided to take the opportunity to go for the Chef badge. I have arbitarily decided I can win this badge by preparing my own breakfast, lunch and dinner, in-house for five days. That’s 15 meals. You should bear in mind that I normally do zero food preparation unless you count breakfast cereal and occasionally microwaving ready meals. So five days of home cooking is a lot. It is even more of an achievement when you consider what I am going to make and where my cooking skills are. If you forgot, I made quite a decent chilli in 2012 and even a Christmas dinner in 2013, but also it took me exactly two and a half hours to make lemon cupcakes when the recipe said ‘ten minutes’ so there you go. And that accounts for most of the cooking I’ve done in the four years that I’ve had this blog so there’s that. As you can see, then, preparing all of my food in my own kitchen for five days, using a cooker that I don’t know how to operate, is going to be more of a challenge than it first appears. But at least it will be good practice for Christmas.

Earlier today I did meal planning and grocery shopping, so I have food and I know what I am going to be eating every day, I just don’t know whether I can cook it. I knew that meal planning would be essential because if I am left to my own devices I will eat the above-mentioned breakfast cereal and ready meals and when I am not doing that I will eat melted cheese paninis from the nearby cafe. None of this is good for my waistline. I knew that I needed to plan a whole week of meals and to save time and avoidable fuck-ups, I wanted someone else to tell me what I should eat.

That’s when I went to my bookshelf and pulled out James Duigan’s Clean and Lean Diet, not because it isn’t a great steaming pile of crap, but because it is the only diet book and one of the few recipe books that I own. I bought it as a result of peer pressure when I used to go running with my friend. She, like James Duigan, was not notable for her critical thinking skills, on the other hand she lost two stone on this diet and as it mostly tells you to eat fish and lean meat and fresh vegetables instead of cheesecake, I could see why it would work.

I don’t recommend this book to anyone, okay, I just want to say that. Here are some things you should know about it before you rush out and buy it.

  • James Duigan has no relevant education or qualifications to be talking to people about food. He is a self-styled ‘nutritionist’, this is a totally meaningless and unregulated title and I could call myself a nutritionist if I wanted to. He is in fact a personal trainer who has over-reached himself, no surprises there.
  • The one person who is willing to endorse him and his book is Elle Macpherson, the model, also not known for being overburdened with intellect or relevant qualifications. I would no more ask Elle Macpherson for medical advice than I would ask Jenny McCarthy.
  • The book itself, where there is actual text, and not just colourful pictures, is full of the most laughable, superstitious twaddle about ‘toxins’ and the need to ‘detox’. No-one should be taking this seriously. It is the 21st-century equivalent of blaming your fat on witchcraft.
  • There is a lot of padding in this book in the form of lists of foods that James has decided are okay, bad or terrifyingly bad, based on his need to fill up more pages.
  • The final section of this book is like a magazine feature about exercises, like lunges and squats. It mainly relies on photos, to fill up more pages. All I can say is, if you haven’t found your way into exercise yet, it doesn’t matter what you are eating because diets won’t help you, and if you really know so little about exercise that you need James Duigan to show you photos, then you are screwed. Buy a pair of trainers and go for a walk. Jesus Christ.

Having said all of that, the recipe section in the middle is good. I say that, I haven’t made any of the recipes yet. But it looks good if, like me, you are searching for a lot of ideas for meals that are mainly about fresh produce and not so much Pot Noodles and Red Bull. Also, he will totally tell you what to eat at every single meal (no more breakfast cereal for me – wheat and dairy are right out of the picture, along with refined sugar) and I value that right now. I just wanted someone to do a whole week, if not a month, of meal planning for me, taking every single meal into account.

Here are some of the very portion-controlled meals that I will be eating over the next few days. With my cooking skills, or lack thereof, I expect to spend a lot of time in the kitchen, also a lot of time looking up how to cook on the internet.

Lunch, Day 1. Grilled Sea Bass. I have no idea how to make grilled sea bass, despite this, there is now a sea bass in my fridge. That is the very first time I have ever shopped at the fish counter at my supermarket and I am a bit scared to open the package. I have olive oil and I bought a roll of foil and a brush because those things seemed like they might be useful. I am pretty sure the new oven has a grill. Also note ‘beef fillet’ for dinner. I assume I can lightly fry this because otherwise I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with it. I bought some strips of stir-fry beef because they were relatively cheaper and seemed like they would be easy to cook.

lunch day 1

Dinner, Day 3. Grilled lamb chops, 100g. When I went shopping for lamb chops, something else I’ve never purchased before, I laughed when I found out how much 100g is. 100g is not lamb chops, plural, okay. It is one, very tiny, lamb chop. I bought a pack of four of these miniature lamb chops, one is in a tupperware box in the fridge waiting to be cooked on Wednesday evening and the others are in the freezer so that I can have the same meal again another day.

dinner day 3

I feel so proud of myself and I haven’t even cooked anything yet. It surely cannot fail to lead to new culinary skills and if I stick with the programme and keep going to the gym, I feel sure that I will lose weight. There are 14 fully-planned days of the very austere diet that you see above, then after that fruit is reintroduced and later on, after the 14-day introductory regime, you have more freedom of choice from a small selection of creative-looking recipes. You are allowed to have 1 cup of tea or coffee each day, and I think I will need it.

I will of course furnish you with photos as we go along, and when I’ve eaten my 15th home-made, Duigan-approved meal, I am claiming the Chef badge. In the meantime I am starving and I am going to eat a large bowl of delicious breakfast cereal because tonight is my last chance to eat wheat, sugar and dairy this side of Christmas. I am totally squirrelling away sugary treats for Christmas, which I am unusually excited about this year, for reasons that I will explain another time.

I think the Sudafed are starting to work. I just noticed that I’m not blowing my nose quite as much.

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