I’ve had a long and troubled relationship with food and self-image, from early childhood right up until my mid-twenties. Even now, I know it’s something that will always be in the back of my mind. Something I need to keep a check on. There are times when it’s a conscious effort. Then I can go for months without thinking about it at all. When my first child was about a year or so old there were some very dark times. I felt the burden of my parental responsibilities and knew I had to get myself in check. So I did. There was a lot of counselling (tears, snot and gurning in front of a stranger) but gradually, very very gradually, I began to look after myself.
I made myself a promise that I would never diet ever again. I would never count calories, grams of fat, points, syns or whatever. I would never keep a food diary. I would never give another penny of my money to the diet industry. No more heavily marketed, over-priced, over-packaged, no-taste diet products. No more synthetic junk, full of artificial sweeteners and not a lot else. I threw away my bathroom scales. I would never weigh myself again (before food/after food, before exercise/after exercise, before toilet/after toilet, with clothes/without clothes – yes, really; that’s how obsessive it can get), nor would I ever attend a ‘weigh-in meeting’. It didn’t matter if I lost weight. It didn’t matter if I gained weight.
I cannot stress to you how life-changing this promise has been. I stopped craving. I stopped obsessing. I stopped fighting food. I stopped bingeing. I started to accept myself. I started to like myself. I started to see myself the way I genuinely am – an overweight woman who is healthy and active and well-nourished (in every sense of the word). And now food is a pleasure. Growing, preparing, cooking and eating food makes me happy. Feeding my family is a pleasure. And my clothes size hasn’t changed in six years.
It’s all in the planning
How do I achieve this? Well, I have a lot of psychological tools and coping mechanisms for the head stuff. Nurturing my inner child and all that voodoo piffpaff. But that’s not something I can pass on here; you’ll have to achieve that in your own ways and in your own time. But the practical stuff? I meal plan. Every month just before payday I write a meal plan for the entire month ahead.
I have my wall calendar next to me while I plan so I can organise appropriate meals around any events coming up – karate night, birthday parties, days out. With the meal plan I write a shopping list to accompany each week and a meat list for my monthly trip to the butcher. It’s always a bit of a chore but I know it’ll save time, money and faffing every day thereafter.
Each week contains a meat-free day. This initially met with some resistance from The Husband who is MAN and needs MEEEEEAT but I did it anyway and he doesn’t complain. The idea behind it is that it’ll save money (meat is relatively expensive) and it will also help me achieve some balance across the week. We all know that lettuce automatically cancels out lard, right? That’s, like, scientific fact, yeah? Today we ate rainbow veggie bulgar wheat:
Other meat-free meals I’ve offered are:
• Lentil and bean cottage pie with broccoli
• Macaroni cheese with salad
• Eggs flamenco with warm, crusty bread
• Mushroom stroganoff, brown rice and green beans
• Homemade soup (broccoli and stilton , pea and mint or spicy butternut squash)
• Mediterranean filo parcels with salad
• Chickpea and lentil curry, Bombay potatoes and chapatis.
A fishy tale
I also include at least one fish day every week. I know so many people who hate fish. They can’t stand the sight, smell or taste. Although I can’t say I’ve ever gutted my own fish, I’m definitely not squeamish about it and don’t want my girls to be either. We all know fish is mega healthy and contains a lot of vital nutrients for their development. Fish doesn’t have to cost a bomb either. Buy fresh if you can but there are lots of great recipes you can make using tinned. A few of my regular dishes are:
• Homemade crab cakes, brown rice and stir-fry veg
• Tapas-style grilled mackerel, pitta bread, olives, houmous, sun-blushed tomatoes and salad
• Ginger, soy and sweet chilli salmon fillets with couscous and broccoli
• Tuna pasta bake with green beans and garlic bread
• Crab and sweetcorn noodle soup with prawn crackers.
So we eat plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables and good quality meat. The vast majority of our meals are cooked from scratch. We buy very few jars or ready-made foods. I never add salt to my cooking because it isn’t good for the small people. I only buy wholegrains – wholemeal bread, wholewheat pasta and brown rice.
BUT each week has a quick and easy meal (mainly because that’s my eldest child’s karate night). This is usually (gasp!) something from the freezer. I know! Slovenly wench! But in the name of balance, we eat ready-made fish fingers with potato waffles, pizza, or chicken nuggets with oven chips once a week. The kids enjoy it and it gives me an easier night with minimal kitchen time.
I also add a couple of takeaway nights to each month’s plan. Takeaways used to be a real issue for me. Shameful, guilt-ridden, secretive affairs. Nowadays I really look forward to takeaway night but it doesn’t dominate my every waking thought for days on end. Takeaway is a real treat. This may seem glaringly obvious but it wasn’t always so for me. We usually go Chinese but sometimes Indian, Domino’s or a dirty old kebab. Occasionally it’s just got to be done. We order too much, overload our plates, eat until we can’t move and collapse on the sofa with a raging thirst. It ain’t pretty. And that’s ok. Because it doesn’t happen all the time.
Balance. It’s all about balance.