Losing fat. The Big Why and the Big How.

You have all heard of five stages of grief, haven’t you? Formulated by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross to describe the various stages one may go through when confronted with death or dying, (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) it came to me that this might also apply to a life-change and in particular dealing with addiction. For I think it is fair to say that my overwhelming obsession with food and in particular, eating, took the form of an addiction. It’s hard to see eating as an addiction, when you first look. I mean, it’s something we all have to do, every day, or we die, so with a food addiction, you can hide in plain sight. But I think I am a food addict and always have been.

The evidence:

  • I was always thinking about my next meal. I would spend hours thinking about where I was going to eat or what I was going to cook
  • I worried when going to other people’s houses that there might not be enough
  • I always over-ordered, because there might not be enough
  • As a child, I was the only person in the whole school who came home and made their own lunch (Ages 8-11)
  • Every afternoon at school I used to skip religious studies (the last lesson) climb out of the ladies loos’ windows, crawl under the headmaster’s office and run across the playground and out to the sweetshop. I was often in detention. I didn’t care.
  • As a teenager, I bought my own food at boarding school and used to sneak out in the cleaner’s van every lunchtime so I could go to a café in town where I would invariably have a loaded baked potato and meringue with whipped cream. I could easily have been expelled.
  • Until recently, I was going out to eat over 10 times a week on a regular basis and meals out for breakfast lunch and dinner on the same day were not unusual.

It has been going on for years, the food obsession.

I have written elsewhere about getting to the point of despair with my size and resenting the amount of brain time that my weight and appearance took up. But I didn’t know how to move forward. So many previous failed attempts. Here’s a few:

  • Theft of my father’s amphetamine diet pills when I was 19. (I loved them. Loved them. I didn’t eat for a week and was cleaning the house at 3am);
  • Scarsdale Diet;
  • Weight Watchers;
  • Food combining;
  • Montignac, Eat Yourself Slim;
  • Atkins;
  • The Cabbage soup diet;
  • The F Plan diet;
  • Hypnosis, which was a complete failure though it was brilliant for anxiety.

You name it, I’ve done it. The best of the lot was Montignac, where I lost three stone and kept it off for about two years. It’s pretty much a combo of low carb and food combining. It doesn’t have a points system and you can drink, to a point.

The worst was Weight Watchers. I was so unhappy last year, I considered doing it again. I’d done it about five years earlier and lost over three stone, but I also lost muscle mass, looked gaunt and saggy and I put it all back on over the space of a year.

And it went against all my deeply-held beliefs about eating really good quality food, and nothing processed. I did Weight Watchers by living on the Count On Us meals from M & S, which are, frankly, shit. All I was interested in was the points. I ate plasticky chocolate desserts which were full of sugar but low in fat and rubbish Bolognese. I wasn’t cooking, because I couldn’t make what I wanted to eat and stick to the points. I wasn’t going out so I was miserable. And when I dipped my toe into the “new” Weight Watchers, towards the end, I was eating so much “free” fruit I actually put on weight.

Googling Weight Watchers last October, I came across an article which articulated my own thoughts and I decided that I wasn’t going to do that again. After all, it’s like that saying, you know, the one that says that a measure of madness is doing the same thing over and over but expecting the outcome to be different.


That led me onto a website called Decode Your Cravings. I joined. It cost a fortune but frankly I had a wardrobe in four sizes and that was a hell of a lot more expensive than the membership fee. Decoding your cravings involved going through a series of exercises to understand your drivers around food and emotional eating. It gave practical advice which was supportive rather than judgmental. Don’t weigh yourself. Don’t beat yourself up. Don’t measure every step so you set yourself up to fail. That sort of thing.

Whilst it’s very American and won’t suit some English palates, it suited me. I like a bit of self-analysis and I knew that I was going to have to deal with my head before I dealt with my stomach. I needed to find my big “why”.   The big why is the real reason  I wanted to make the change and just looking nice in clothes was never going to be enough, although my shallow self does get a fair amount of pleasure from that alone.

I can’t tell you what your big “Why “ will be. Everyone is different.

Mine? It’s a combination.

  • I am 54. Enough already with the four sizes nonsense.
  • I had struggled through menopause.
  • I felt old. I lacked energy. I had had a major bereavement and severe back problems which had knocked the crap out of me.
  • I looked like shit (puffy and bloated).
  • One of my partners got seriously ill and it gave me a fright.
  • One of my colleagues lost 6 stone and looked brilliant and I felt like the fat frumpy friend.
  • I wanted to be as healthy as I could be because I want to work as long as I can and not be knackered. I like work. It’s really important to me. I don’t want to have to stop because I’m worn out due to being overweight and unhealthy.

So I found my Big Why. What next?

Getting past denial. The voice in my head: I’m not that fat. I enjoy my food. I look OK-ish.  I can get away with it by wearing Issey Miyake.  I don’t want to give up my food-related social life. It’s face or arse at my age.  I’m 54, can’t I just accept that I’m fat? I love my food. I love feeding people. I am good at food. I care about the detail. It’s genetic. I’ve got a large frame. I’ve got a slow metabolism. I’m muscular. I’m fit even though I’m fat. Familiar?

Going to have my fat measured medically put paid to denial. I had already been cutting down for a few weeks before the measurement but there was nowhere to hide from a reading of 45.9 body fat. It put me in the risky category. I reframed it as a medical issue.

Then I started to read. Not only the Decode Your Cravings website, but information about gut health. There were allusions to it on the website but I wanted to know more. I needed to understand  why some people can eat what they want and not get fat and others barely glance at a cake and put on two pounds.

My reading/watching list:

Tim Spector, The Diet Myth. http://www.tim-spector.co.uk

Life-changing information about gut health.

Robert H Lustig : Sugar, The Bitter Truth https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBnniua6-oM

Eye opening about the low-fat myth and the sugar industry.

Gary Taubes :Why we get fat and what to do about it

Here’s a review: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/28/health/28zuger.html

There was quite a lot I didn’t agree with but it’s an interesting read.

Giulia Enders: Gut, the inside story of our body’s most underrated organ. Here she is in a Ted Talk. The book is well written and not for the squeamish around body functions https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=weskzCKki-s

Alanna Collen : 10% Human How your body’s microbes hold the key to health and happiness. https://www.amazon.co.uk/10-Human-Microbes-Health-Happiness/dp/0007584032

There are countless other Ted Talks, articles, medical papers and books that I have skimmed through but these are the ones which have influenced my thinking more than any others.

What am I actually doing, then?

I have been refining my way of eating for over six months now. This is what I eat: I have a sort of snog/marry/avoid attitude to food.

SNOG: foods I will eat occasionally

  • A fair amount of  champagne (healthy-luxe) but I will do wine. Few spirits, no cocktails.
  • Baked squashes (other than butternut, which is a “marry”)
  • Rye bread – maybe once a month (I know, but I’m all about the truth however it may sound)
  • Chocolate: 85% is the one I tend to go for. Haiti single origin, from Waitrose is magnificent for the money. I now eat about two squares a day. Sometimes more. It has not been catastrophic so I keep doing it.
  • Red meat: on an occasional basis. Maybe once a fortnight. Sometimes more.
  • Fruit: I mostly avoid due to sugar, but allow a few blueberries and grapes every now and then. I like a ripe fig as much as the next girl.


  • everything and in particular, full fat cheese. I refuse to buy diet food.I don’t believe in low fat at all.
  • Not a lot of milk because it has quite a lot of sugar in it -13g in one cup – which equates to 3 teaspoons of sugar. I have got used to unsweetened toasted almond milk (Alpro) which doesn’t interfere with the flavour of the coffee. I’m not doctrinaire about milk. I won’t go without if there is nothing else.
  • I also like unsweetened cashew nut milk (Provamel) which again doesn’t seem to interfere with the flavour of coffee. If you have to have cow’s milk, because life would not be worth living without it then I can recommend Lacto-Free, which has about 7 g of sugar in a cup; about one and ¾ teaspoons. It tastes like normal milk.


  • CoYo chocolate yogurt. All that lovely saturated fat. I eat these regularly.
  • Coconut oil for cooking. I really like it now.
  • Waitrose own brand Greek yoghurt at 10% fat. I eat some every day. I cook with it and eat it with a few blueberries if I’m feeling reckless.
  • Feta cheese. I grate it over fried eggs and make crispy fried cheese.
  • Burrata. Do I need to explain?

VEGETABLES: pretty much everything except very high carb vegetables such as potatoes, yam, parsnips and the like. I have become the person with the spiraliser. I use it on the angel hair pasta setting which means that I can eat raw vegetables without making my jaw ache. The best one I have found is this brand:


I never thought I would be the woman with the spiraliser. It’s just too Gwyneth Paltrow. But it’s a revelation and I can now put together a salad with 15 raw ingredients in under 10 minutes. I eat this until I am completely stuffed. I add avocado, nuts, seeds, protein, sprouted things. I make dressings with nut-based oils, also using Apple Cider Vinegar “with the mother” for gut health purposes. I like this one:   http://www.hollandandbarrett.com/shop/product/bragg-organic-apple-cider-vinegar-with-the-mother-60013385?skuid=013385&&utm_medium=cpc&utm_source=google&utm_adid=189474749514&utm_adgID=58700002322859892&gclid=CMfK8Yug29MCFcgYGwodUDMCuQ

I sometimes even drink it, diluted. I know. Gwyneth.


  • Avocados
  • Spaghetti Squash
  • Celeriac mashed with butter and cream
  • Celeriac dauphinoise
  • Artichokes with melted butter
  • Stir fried crispy cauliflower with tahini and feta 
  • Shredded butternut squash fried with cumin with feta crumbled on top and pine nuts. It works

LEGUMES: chickpeas, lentils (the ones that don’t fall apart, lower carb) haricot beans and butter beans on occasion. I make my own hummus. This recipe: http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/quickhummousandolive_71473

I use it as a stuff-your-face-quickly-with-some-good mouthfeel food. Use sliced red pepper as the conveyancing vehicle into your face. Or just a spoon.

NUTS: all of them, in moderation, as I just think I should. Brazil nuts chopped in salad. That 80s favourite, toasted pine nuts. Spicy cashews with lime leaves and chilli.

FERMENTED/GUT HEALTH STUFF: Sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, live yogurt (the Waitrose one works) kombucha, pickled vegetables. I make my own version of bone broth, or the liquid formerly known as beef stock, before  #cleaneating got hold of it . The one in a small cup from Prêt is acceptable but I can make a gallon of it for the same price, at home.


AVOID – stay the f*** away

  • Sugar–heavy foods. Read the label: “Carbohydrates of which sugars” is the key one. 4g equates to one teaspoon.
  • White flour
  • White rice: I will eat black rice and wild rice in moderation
  • All cakes and biscuits
  • Refined carbohydrates
  • Certain oils – including soybean, corn oil, sunflower. This is as a result of reading and concern over trans-fats
  • I was beyond sceptical at the start. I am a convert now. I can manage without them. I think that they interfere with my fat loss and I thought I would try to cut them out to see what difference it made. It has worked for me, but here is an alternative view which is interesting: http://ucdintegrativemedicine.com/2016/08/busting-whole-grain-myth/#gs.HBsdLoQ I will reintroduce when I’ve done with the loss part and see what happens.
  • Foods with lots of additives or which are highly processed. The emphasis is on real food. 

The proof is in the no pudding

11% fat overall

For those of you interested in weight, 2 stone 10lbs


Bust: 6 inches

Waist: 7 inches

Hips: 6 inches.

I have gained lean mass, which means I have not lost any muscle.

Here’s the evidence:


We love a list. Here’s mine.

  • Do not weigh yourself. Not ever. I know mine because the fat measuring place tells me.
  • Accept that you cannot have everything and that this is a life-change but not a drastic one if you are already about good food.
  • Have your fat measured if you feel you need a kick and prefer something to measure.
  • Do not expect to lose weight with exercise alone.
  • Do exercise but make it high impact intensity stuff. I do 90 minutes a week and hate every moment of it. It’s horrible, but it burns fat.
  • Do eat until you are full and I mean full full, not leaving-some-for-Mr Manners full.
  • Only eat when you are hungry. Lower carb has resulted in reduced craving for me.
  • Make sure you plan your shop properly so you always have the essentials in. I can’t overestimate how important this one is.
  • When you eat out, avoid any no-choice tasting menus.
  • Buy yourself a Coravin as a present so you can drink just the one glass (yes, I know..).
  • Buy good quality stuff so you don’t feel deprived. Healthy-luxe is my gameplan.
  • Scour your cookbooks for recipe ideas and have a few regulars ready.
  • Keep reminding yourself of the BIG WHY..

 March 2018 Update

Fat loss : overall, down 15%

Visceral fat: down 16% to 30%

Weight: no change since September 2017

Weight: I don’t really know but I think about three and a half stone

Size: 16 to a 10

Mood: much improved, could do better

Self esteem: much improved

Energy: through the roof


Nov. 2016. Truly not my best moment.


February 2018. Better.

Things I cook.  Because we all like pictures.


cottage pie and celeriac mash


before it gets tossed


spicy dal, the yogurt came later.


brown chickpea curry


an omelette, obviously


Greek food of the gods


Kalettes, stir fried. Burrata almost off shot and toasted hazelnuts 


cheese with the eggs there and some crispy feta lurking underneath


the trick is to make it look good


Fried halloumi (a big standby) and courgettes with fenugreek.


more omelette


butterbean and feta salad