Dieting Special #4: Dieting and PMS Cravings

SONG: Duran Duran – Hungry Like the Wolf

Just like that time Alan Davies bit a tramp’s ear, we all have off days.

You can lead a healthy lifestyle, consciously trying to make good food choices (even to the point that you start saying twattish things like “I can’t eat any more carbs today”) and then without any warning at all: BAM. It’s all over. Because your stupid bloody period is about to happen. (Edit, pun not intended at all. In fact it’s gross. Sorry.)

It’s not just PMS – various factors can lead to moodswings – but they all tend to give you hellish days when you’re so desperate for fudge-cake, chips, or Ben and Jerry’s that you’d happily inject yourself with it like some sort of gooey heroine.

How do you fight something like that? You spend all month being rational and committing to conscious choices, and then you have a few days where you’d happily sacrifice your own mother to the Gods in exchange for a packet of chocolate digestives. Nothing in your mind can convince you otherwise: you NEED a mountain of fatty, greasy food.

It’s all you can think about. Trying to appease the beast with healthy snacks is like trying to distract an angry guard dog with celery. So what do you do when your body rebels against you in this way?

A company in America reckons they’ve come up with a herbal pill that alleviates PMS cravings, but I don’t buy it. And a lot of magazines give advice like “Try and eat balanced meals”, “drink herbal tea” and “get plenty of exercise.” Okay, good luck telling a hungry pre-menstrual woman that to her face – she’ll rip yours off.

If that worked, we’d all just do it. It doesn’t. So how do you make the best of things? Well, here’s a little bit of advice – some from my own experience, and some from research I did just for you. And, well, me.

1. The Science Bit: Apparently, if we boost serotonin levels then the cravings are eased – it helps lift grumpy, self-destructive moods. Some people claim fruit does this, but WHO THE EFF WANTS TO EAT FRUIT WHEN YOU’RE PMSing?! Expert Judith J Wurtman PhD has written in the Huffington Post and Psychology Today about a study saying we need to eat a non-fruit, low-protein carbohydrate to produce serotonin. Stuff like popcorn, pasta, low-fat ice cream, cereal, English muffins, porridge with brown sugar, and fat-free fudge sauce. The cravings should ease in minutes. I think I love you, Judith.

2. Be Prepared: Now you know what foods ease cravings, you can make sure you have them around when you’re due on. They’re not exactly health-foods, but they are damage limitation, especially if you try and be realistic with portions.

3. Have less caffeine. It suppresses serotonin. It also makes me want biscuits, but I don’t think that’s exactly scientifically proven.

4. Don’t freak out. Some days, you’ll just eat crap, despite any advice. Let yourself enjoy it, that way A. You’ll realise when you’re full quicker and B. You won’t get into the vicious cycle of bingeing when you eat more because “oh well I’ve fucked it all up now anyway.”
Allow yourself some of your poison, even if it means you relax your diet for more than one day. If you avoid the guilt-binge, you’ll limit the damage, and will probably only have put on a couple of extra pounds at the end of it all.

5. Don’t weigh yourself until after your period. FFS, woman, are you batshit mad? As well as eating extra calories because your body is telling you to, you’ll probably be retaining water so you’ll weigh more anyway. If you weigh yourself, you’ll end up back on the guilt-binge train, destination: Sitting on Your Kitchen Floor Eating Cake Mix And Crying.

6. Remember your tricks. They might not work, but it’s still worth trying things like:
* Drinking a glass of water to check you’re not just thirsty.
* Having a little snack and waiting fifteen minutes to see if you’re actually full.
* Brushing your teeth (I do this shortly after lunch to put off my snack urges because it’ll taste all Colgatey)
Obviously, if none of these work then don’t be miserable, grab what you fancy.

7. I hate to break it to you, but exercise does increase serotonin. It’s the last thing I want to do when I’m pre-menstrual, so don’t feel you have to go to the gym or do that Davina DVD. I try little things, like walking to the shops for the paper every morning, or running around playing hide and seek with my niece. Or you could always wander up and down a jetty wearing a loose pink dress like the Bodyform ad.


Diet Special #1: Evil, Thy Name is Weightwatchers

Song: Perfect 10 – Beautiful South

I’m back already! I know, two blog posts in two hours when the last one was nine months previous. I get my timings wrong sometimes.

It’s time to mention the D word. January brings all manner of wrongs: the knowledge you have twelve months to wait until Christmas, the month with the highest suicide rate, and the dreaded New Year’s Resolutions.

It seems almost obligatory to be on a diet, and because during the previous month it ironically seems almost obligatory to gorge yourself into oblivion, losing weight can seem a somewhat perilously high mountain to climb.

It’s also massively NOT IN ANY WAY FUN, no matter how much the dreaded women’s mags dress it up to seem like such a total breeze and the tastiest time you’ve had in ages. “Craving a snack? Simply eat a small handful of unsalted nuts!” Thanks, but I’d rather die choking on a Twix.

As you can tell, I’m not afraid to admit I am pessimistic about diets. I’m also nowhere near overweight, but I do want to lose maybe half a stone and try to get fitter and healthier – so I signed up to Weightwatchers.

I’ve decided to blog about how it’s going, with the aim of maybe showing a bit of solidarity among all my miserable, dieting friends. I’m also recording my experiences to show it’s okay to hate it, it’s okay to take some bits of advice and leave others in order to make it work in the long term, and it’s okay to have days when you just go “OH FUCK IT, GET ME A TRIFLE.” We’re human, and it doesn’t hurt to fail sometimes. Warning: I fail, a lot.

P.S If you’re not interested in reading about my day-to-day eating, you probably don’t want to read on. Shoo, now. I’m doing this more me more than anything.

Here we go with: Week One

Daily Points Allowance: 26. Weekly Allowance: 49
(If you want to know more about how Weightwatchers works, click here. I’ve been on it in the past – about five years ago – and I lost around a stone, but they use an entirely new system now.)

Day One (Weds 2nd Jan): Ate leftover chocolate cheesecake for breakfast. Erm, my bad. But I made up for it by eating delicious vegetables and a low-calorie sandwich as the sum total of the rest of my daily food. That’s healthy, right?

Day Two (Thurs 3rd): My ‘Sainsbury’s Be Good To Yourself’ chicken salad sandwich manages to wipe out almost a third of my points. ONE SANDWICH, that was mostly cucumber. Spent the afternoon sulking, and had to pick the meat out of my stew in the evening so I wouldn’t go over my points too much.

Spent the rest of the evening screeching “HOW is this normal eating?” at random intervals, and in the end totally caved in and ate a leftover panna cotta in a fit of rage. It was the tastiest thing in the world.

Day Three: I wake up with a horrendous cold and no voice, which makes me feel like the inside of my head is expanding and that someone snuck into my room and sandpapered my throat in the night, so I spend the day in bed feeling even more sorry for myself.
Still, Friday night is supposed to be fun, right? So I decide to set aside enough points for a couple of glasses of wine (that I can’t taste) so I can curl up on the sofa and get tipsy watching Channel 4 mashup with The Boy. I have to watch him eat a hearty, homemade spag bol and biscuits which I AM NOT ALLOWED, while I tuck into the world’s smallest Weightwatchers readymeal. Aside from this all I’ve had is marmite on toast and some shreddies, all day. I do not feel like I am winning at life.

Day Four: Big dinner party plans, so I know I have to be careful during the day. My dinner party host is kind enough to give me the menu in advance. I work out that – without including any drinks – I have the sum total of 1 daily point left for the rest of the day.
Obviously, I go way into my Weekly allowance. This is my lunch:


That, quite literally, is 2 seasoned tomatoes on two slices of toast. This is the point where I start to wonder whether I should just chop off a limb instead.

Day Five: Let me show you my miserable excuse for a breakfast:


(One slice of toast, 1 tsp of margarine) The Boy, on the other hand, ate this:


I hate him. Also: DUN DUN DUN. Sunday means family roast dinner. But, additional DUN DUN DUN: I manage to keep to my points all day, with no problems. EVEN THOUGH I ate this:


In your FACE, diet. I’m back on track.

Day Six: Another day of keeping to my points all day, and I get to eat things like roasted mediterranean vegetables, a chocolate mousse, and a Weightwatchers chocolate miniroll. I even get a glass of wine. And it doesn’t hurt at all!

Day Seven: Just like yesterday, I aced being on a diet and ate seriously delicious food, in moderation. I’m also finding I have more energy than I did at the start, and drinking more water. I expect to wake up tomorrow having lost ALL OF THE WEIGHT and looking like Charlize Theron.

Weigh-in: I have lost half a pound. Half a buggering pound. All together now: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.

Although I’m disheartened, I’m also aware that I need to give this more time before I dropkick it entirely. I just can’t help feeling like this isn’t a normal, or worth it, way to live. But I’m giving it one more week before I jack it all in and eat the contents of all my cupboards.

Are you on a diet? Are you feeling as hard done by as I am? TELL ME ABOUT IT.

I Can See Clearly Now…

About eighteen months ago, I blogged about how I’ve always been really insecure about wearing glasses.

The blog post was kind of whiny, self-indulgent and more than a little bit shallow, but it is one of those body-image hangups we’re all guilty of that I wanted to share, because it’s been hanging around in my brain for over half my life now.

After I wrote it, I felt better but I still didn’t wear glasses all that often, and never when I wanted to ‘look good’ (replace ‘good’ with ‘less like Professor Trelawney’ if you like. Meanies.)

Then, stuff happened. The uber-trendy (YEAH alright that’s Tinie Tempah, but he’s cool) have been wearing big old chunky frames for a good 3 years or so, but it started filtering down to everyone else, and I started hankering after a pair of specs the size of my face.

^ My delightful friend Carrie let me borrow hers while we were absolutely off our tits on free cocktails (marvellous evening, my love!) and that was it: I had to get my mitts on a pair of my own or I WOULD DIE.

So I mooched on down to Specsavers with my beau and we both tried on ridiculous glasses for about three hours until we realised we were actually there for a reason.

^The pair I eventually chose were by Gok Wan and made me feel very sexy indeed. SERIOUSLY: glasses that make me feel sexy. And I’m getting compliments all the time. It’s happened. I’m cured.

They make me want to wear glasses. I actually choose to wear them as part of an outfit. Like this one we chatted about on Twitter last week after I got inspiration from another Domestic Sluttery pal, Elizabeth (she’s rad):

Maybe you’re all thinking this isn’t exactly breaking news, and isn’t even blog-worthy, but for me, on a scale on one to pretty darn hoorayful, it’s up there.

Years of insecurity have gone up in smoke and now I’m going to frolic about in glasses and not give a monkeys whether I look like a geek or not. I’m a glasses girl and proud.

A Weight Off My Mind

Bon Iver – Skinny Love

It’s taken me a very long time to decide whether or not it’s right for me to post this. In fact, if I do ever manage to press the ‘submit’ button, I know I’ll be being braver than I anticipated.

I don’t really do ‘personal’ on this blog (haaate it), but I now think that this is an important step for me, and after discussing this with so many people and seeing how I’m definitely not alone on this, I’ve decided this is for the best, even if its more revealing than I’m usually comfortable with. I just don’t want it to be preachy real life magazine story in a kind of ‘I Shot My Absent Father and Now He’s Haunting My Gender-Confused Kids’ way. This isn’t sensationalism or whining, it’s supposed to help. And hopefully not just me.

So here goes: I guess, if you want to put a label on it, I’m anorexic.

I don’t call myself this, but I have most of the symptoms, so whatever makes you feel better. I’m certainly not an extreme example by any measures. I still have my hair for a start.

Basically, when I’m stressed (and this happens about once a month or two on average, and lasts for a week or so at a time), I severely control my eating. I did it when I was 15-16, and it has crept back into my life with a vengeance in the last couple of years.

I go for days on end eating very little food at all, sometimes nothing for 24 hours, and it makes me feel a little bit more in control with the rest of my life.
I’m a total perfectionist, and if I feel I’m as skinny as I can be, I feel like I’ve achieved something. I know that’s utterly bonkers, you don’t need to tell me. But it can be a small consolation during the times where I feel like I’m struggling to achieve other, more solid things in my life.

I obsess over my calorie intake (yeah, what woman doesn’t from time to time?) weigh myself every day, get paranoid that other people are trying to give me high-calorie foods in disguise, feel I’ve put on weight after every meal, and cook for others without eating what I prepare myself.

And even though I’m actually underweight now, I always feel I can lose more. ‘Well, I’ve come this far…’ Sound familiar? Then you need to pull yourself together, you total bell-end. You’ll end up all ribs and no attitude. And guess what? It doesn’t make it all better.

It all starts with a stress-related reduction in my appetite. Something will change in my life, or something will shake me or my confidence, and I feel sick to my stomach with nerves or pressure, so I genuinely can’t eat.

Then I lose weight, (usually a significant amount, like half a stone in a week) and – as seems to be the default setting for us womenfolk – I immediately feel better. Then I continue forcing myself not to eat, even when I do feel a bit hungry again, because I associate those positive feelings about weightloss with regaining some kind of control on my situation.  ‘Cos everyone knows cake kills your career, and if you eat a kitkat then your boyfriend won’t love you anymore. Right?

If I’m skinny, I’ll feel better.

If I’m skinny, they’ll like me more.

If I don’t eat, I’ll have more time to do things that will make my life better.

The problem is, it doesn’t work like that. Being skinny has nothing to do with my success, my friends, my relationships or my happiness. Being comfortable in your own skin does, and it’s the hardest lesson to learn.

Here’s me in October and December 2009. I’m 11st, and my BMI is exactly 25. Despite that meaning I was technically just overweight, I was pretty happy here, chubby cheeks and curvy bum and flabby arms ‘n all.

On 22nd December, 2009, someone said something to me that reminded me of how I’d been when I was sixteen: starving myself to be happy. It stuck fast in my mind. It was a relatively stressful Christmas, and I found myself back in that mind-frame of self-starving with frustrating ease to combat the issues I was having in other areas of my life. I lost 7lbs in a week, and realised I had the bug back.

A relatively stressful January – April followed: a big work event, my Uni finals, various personal issues, and my thirst for perfection (i.e a First, and general world domination) ensued. By April, I’d lost 35lbs, and two dress sizes. It was nearly entirely achieved by starving, drinking black coffee to curb hunger, and obsessively counting every calorie I dared to consume.

In the summer, I felt like I healed. I got my First, and I loved my job and the people in my life. I bought a new wardrobe of clothes. I got back my old eating habits. I didn’t put on weight, but I felt happier than I had for a long time. Of course, I put this down to the fact I was now skinny, at 8 1/2 stone. And I continued to count every calorie I ate, right down to the single Quality Street offered to me by a colleague. Yeah, basically because I was a bit of a twat.

In December 2010, some of the old stress returned. I had issues, and a dress I knew I would have to fit into for a party in January became my way of distracting from these issues. It was a small size eight, and I was scared I’d put on weight over Christmas (like every other human being in the country, but who cares about common sense?) and it wouldn’t fit. So I returned to my old habits, and lost another 11lbs in two weeks. I was under 8st, and underweight, and the dress hung off me.

These aren’t ‘shock’ photos. Yeah, I’m skinny (my arms and jawline quite frankly look ridiculous in comparison to the ones in December 2009), but I’m only just underweight. I don’t look like I’m starving. What I’m trying to convey is the mindset: that skinny = happy. That losing weight = solving issues that have nothing to do with my size. The photos at my skinniest are always shortly after the most stressful periods of my life.

I actually put on 10lbs between January and June, but in the last two weeks I’ve lost it all again because I’ve been struggling with a few more issues. And the other symptoms of anorexia have made a return with a total vengeance: no energy, insomnia, mood swings, headaches and dizziness, digestive issues, bruising easier than a fucking peach (you should see my calves), weighing yourself every day, fear of eating in front of others, sore throats, etc. There’s a list here: I have nearly every one of those symptoms.

It’s worse than ever before, but that’s finally made me realise that I can’t keep doing this to my body. I’m not happier being skinny – I never was. I’m happier being confident about being me, and that comes from having the self-respect to give your body the food it needs (and a few chocolate eclairs along the way) and the realisation that your weight has nothing to do with how much you are worth as a person.

The trouble is once you get into the habit of doing this to yourself, it’s really hard to stop. When I get nervy about something, I pinch my pointy hip bones and collar bones to remind myself they’re there, or run my fingers up and down my ribs to prove how pronounced they are. And I know that when I next get stressed about something, I’ll want to stop eating again. I don’t know how long it will take me to stop this, but I’m determined to do it. As I said at the beginning of this post, I’ve been discussing this with close friends recently, and some of them have eerily similar issues. I know they’ll give me a poke when I start to lapse back into my old habits.

Life is too short to count calories. Life is too short to think that no one will love you if you can’t shop at Topshop without feeling self-conscious. Life is too short to say things like ‘Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels’ while staring longingly at Raspberry Brulee Cheesecake.

So if you think doing this is going to help you, think again and have a bloody muffin. I promise you’ll feel better in the long run. We both will.

Now you’ve read this post, you can either ostracise me as a crazy person, or realise that no one judges me more than myself. I just want to stop this total silliness, so please feel free to leave your own weight/body-image stories in the comments. I promise every one of them will help.

Smexy Specs

I’ve been meaning to write this for a while, but on a day where short-sightedness seems top of the agenda thanks to a disallowed goal (thank you, Mr. Ref-man, you helped me make a funny), I thought it was particularly appropriate.

A lot of you won’t know this, but I’m incredibly short-sighted. You won’t know this because you never see me wear glasses in photos. The truth is: I’m ashamed of the fact I need glasses. Now, I know that everyone that wears glasses and is reading this blog will currently be swearing at the screen and mentally crossing me off of their Christmas Card List, but let me explain.

When I was ten, my Mama took me to the optician because I complained I couldn’t see the whiteboard at school. The optician was genuinely shocked: during the eye-test, when he asked me to say what letters I could see on the board, all I could read was the great big shiny ‘A’ at the top. I needed glasses straight away, and quite strong ones too.

This was 1998, and in those days glasses were not fashionable: the ones we chose for me were big, round, gold-rimmed, and spelt the end of my self-confidence at school. At that age, glasses = swat. Glasses = geek. Glasses = four-eyes. In the kids’ defence, the glasses I wore were fucking hideous. At any rate, I’m not telling you this to elicit an ‘Awwww…’ (I was probably an annoying little shit as well), I am telling you to try and explain why I am writing this. And it’s not like I didn’t have friends, I just hated wearing glasses.

Obviously, at the time, I was too young to think ‘Hang on a minute, needing glasses is just a health issue, a physical defect – I didn’t choose to have bad eyes, so why should I be ashamed?’ (how could someone have such coherency of thought when they spent so much time thinking S Club 7 were ‘cool’?! Oh dear, 11-year old me. Oh dear.) No, I was just thinking: ‘GREAT! I’m going to secondary school next year, where people won’t have known me before I had glasses, so my self-image will just get worse.’ And it did.

I spent the majority of my secondary school years being ‘the geek’, ‘the ugly one’ – and that’s not necessarily what other kids thought, but it’s the image I brought on myself because of the insecurities wearing glasses brought. I thought it was how I was perceived, therefore I acted like it, therefore it was how I became perceived.

Around the time I went into sixth form, glasses suddenly became fashionable. Everyone started wearing funky, sharp-edged, black-rimmed numbers, and BOOM – we all looked like sexy secretaries. We all became geek chic. I even got some funky zebra-style ones, and everyone loved them (even me, clearly):

(Sorry, this is one of the few photos of me with these glasses on that I can find from my sixth form days. Isn’t it ridiculous? Frankly, this was one of the least posey ones. Shocking.)

So… I ‘blossomed’: I felt popular, I did musical theatre, I got lead parts and sang solos and was voted second or third in the ‘most likely to be famous’ poll in my year or some other utter nonsense. But I did all of these things not because suddenly the ugly duckling had some funky specs – I actually did them because I’d been allowed to buy contact lenses and had learned to use eyeliner, so I rarely wore my glasses any more.

For me, success became synonymous with contact lenses. My first boyfriend was even an optician (I KID YOU NOT. You literally could not make this stuff up) and very kindly helped me find contact lenses that I could wear for longer hours, and got me a nice discount too. I was still stuck in the mindset that glasses held me back, stopped me being attractive and stopped me being confident.

I’m afraid there’s no “But THEN EVERYTHING CHANGED!!!” moment coming up. The feeling has persisted to this day. I still wear contact lenses whenever I want to look ‘good’. I still won’t have my picture taken with glasses on. And I still don’t understand why I can’t dislocate this bizarre, overblown connotation that has developed in my mind – but I fear that is because I am not exactly alone in the ‘Glasses = geeks’ association.

So what can be done? I just bought two new pairs of specs (thank you, ‘Buy One Get One Free’ at Specsavers), and I chose different styles in a slightly pathetic attempt to convince myself I can match them with various outfits. (Yes, that might sound shallow, but do keep up, dear: this is a blog about how I look.). I even took a photo of myself in each pair, and I am going to post them below in a somewhat therapeutic attempt to convince myself I can be sort of at least passable-looking when wearing glasses. Let’s face it, if I don’t start changing how I view glasses, then they will be a waste of money because I will never wear them in public.

So, maybe this will kick-start a change in my perception of wearing glasses. Yeah… but maybe it won’t. Don’t worry, I am not going to do a cheesy perception/glasses pun OH DAMNIT I CAN’T RESIST HERE GOES – “Maybe it will help me see things a little clearer“. Fuck, I should be ashamed of myself. Oh well, at least I didn’t say something about making a spectacle of myself. God. Ahem. Aaaaanyway:

1. Tommy Hilfiger, £125 (Specsavers) – chosen because they sort of blend in with my face supposedly, so are more subtle.

2. Red or Dead, £99 (Specsavers – you know this, I have no idea why I’m typing it)chosen because everyone that has seen them so far has gone “Ohmygod, they are just YOU.” I just thought they were pretty – the pattern is a mixture of tattoo-style love hearts.

Feel free to yell at me/convince me/ post photographic evidence of hot bespectacled men to disprove everything I’ve just said. I would genuinely like that a lot. Especially the bit about hot bespectacled men.

All photos are mine. Unfortunately. Still, you can’t have them, so naff off.