June 13th 2014
Sarah Vine: When a diet is not just a diet
June 30th 2014 / 1 comment
With the diet finally starting to feel normal and a kitchen stuffed with healthy food, Sarah Vine is beginning to reap the rewards of all her hard work
Right. It's six-and-a-bit weeks since I changed my eating patterns, and it seems like a good time to take stock. According to the scales, I have lost a total of six kilos, which in real money is just shy of a stone. On average a kilo a week, although that loss hasn't been entirely consistent: I lost a lot at the beginning, then I put some back on again, then I lost some more, then I plateaued for a bit, and now I'm once again moving in the right direction.
I have also settled into a new pattern of eating. What felt very self-consciously like a diet at the start, now feels normal. It's like giving up smoking: at first you envy everyone else their cancer sticks; then one day you see someone light up and you think: weird, why would anyone want to do that to themselves? That's how I feel now when I see someone eating a Pret sandwich.
So in that respect, things have got a lot easier. I have deliberately not sought substitutes for so-called "bad" foods - high GI carbohydrates, sugars, processed foods - preferring to adopt an Alcoholics Anonymous (or Sugarholics Anonymous) approach of total abstention. Basically, I'm too much of a sugar addict to risk contact with the substance. The "healthy versions" don't taste nice anyway, and in many cases they are actually worse for you.
Apart from the slow but steady weight loss, there have been other significant changes. Firstly, I look much better. My skin is brighter and clearer and I no longer have dark shadows under my eyes, or puffiness in the morning. My digestion is markedly improved: no more bloating or (warning: graphic content) loose bowels, constipation or unpleasant smells, which is a relief all round, especially for the dog, who was always getting blamed.
I can now get up early with relative ease; I no longer feel like I'm wading through treacle in the mornings. There are no four o'clock lows, no post-lunchtime yawns. My joints, in particular my knees, are not nearly as painful (there is a theory that gluten is one of the causes of inflammation in the body, so that might explain why). I don't feel like I'm dragging my weight around like a lumbering old elephant. And my tummy doesn't stick out quite as much as it used to.
I'm also drinking a lot less alcohol, not so much through choice as through necessity: where once I could have cheerfully drunk George Best under the table, now I fall asleep after two glasses of wine. I am becoming, in more ways than one, a total lightweight.
Lastly, I cook more. Out of necessity, really: if all you're eating is vegetables, simple proteins and a few nuts and seeds, you have to make a bit of an effort, otherwise you soon get bored and fall off the wagon. So I've expanded my cooking repertoire, experimenting with new ingredients and flavours.
I've invented things like healthy flapjacks, for the days when I'm working flat-out and just need an energy boost; I've honed my smoothie-making skills (basically, everything tastes better if you add mint and lime juice); I've got heavily into pulses and exotic spices; and I've finally worked out how to make quinoa taste half decent (cook it like a risotto, only without all the stirring).
Sweet potatoes are my new best friends. Whenever I get one of my carb-lows (which seem to happen every three or four days, and often after intense periods of mental activity), I roast myself a big dish of these babies, with sunflower seeds and coconut oil and then feast on their sweet, melting flesh. I've discovered that you can mash them up with chickpeas, garlic, tahini, olive oil, paprika and a little lemon juice for the most fantastic hummus-style crudite dip.
Water on its own is boring, so I make my own tea with lemongrass, chopped ginger and a little chopped turmeric root. It's warming and refreshing all at the same time, and keeps hunger at bay when I'm working and don't want to succumb to snacking.
All this I have, naturally, inflicted on my poor family. The other day my daughter, aged 11, opened the fridge door, surveyed the stacks of celery, the parsley, the various greens, the organic meats and plain Greek yoghurts, the tomatoes, the berries and declared, with some frustration: "There's never anything to eat in this house anymore."
And she's right: no cheese strings, no Dipperz, no things with cartoon characters on them or Disney tie-ins. I don't even give them cereal any more, preferring instead to make them pancakes or wholemeal toast (I can't ban them from having bread) or scrambled eggs before school. Which, now that I'm not struggling to get out of bed in the mornings, I have more than enough time to do. They drink glasses of whole milk instead of juice, and I make my smoothies with coconut water (it still tastes disgusting on its own).
In six weeks, I can honestly say that I have revolutionised the way I eat. I have Grayshott to thank for setting me on the path, of course: their seven-day Regime is really excellent, both in terms of immediate results but also because they just teach you so much about nutrition. But the real reason I have been able to stick to this diet is that it's not a diet, or at least it doesn't feel like a diet. It's more a choice, really, no different from the choices we all make every day of our lives. It's about learning to think about food, rather than just shovelling it in unconsciously.
It's weird, isn't it? We think about what to wear in the mornings, about whether to take the bus or the train, about who to have over at the weekends, about where to go on holiday. But when it comes to food, we somehow switch off. We talk while eating, work while eating, watch telly, check our emails, call our friends. That, for me, is almost as big a change as the change in the food I eat: I am no longer on autopilot.