Saturday, 25 May 2013


In my job I am regularly called upon to make statements such as “gardening burns 272 calories an hour” – which sounds great, unless you’re a snip and sniff type of gardener like me.
I suggested “we” did a bit of gardening today, and while Steve may well have burned a good 500 calories or more, through hard graft (oh goody, he can double the bananas he eats on Monday!), I just pulled out a few weeds (so weakly that I failed to extract their roots) and enjoyed the uplifting scent of our wisteria. Calories burned: 0/10. Pleasure derived 10/10.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Slim pasta, tried and tasted

I was supposed to take a picture of my slim pasta supper to show you – but in my complete excitement, I forgot.
I got the call yesterday to say my 200g had arrived and was in the health store’s fridge with my name on it. That was the first shock because I hadn’t realised it was a fresh food needing refrigeration.
When I collected it, I further realised that 200g was just one portion. And when I read the cooking instructions, which start with: “Pour plenty of hot water over your pasta to remove the starchy smell” I wondered what I was letting myself in for.
The next step is to heat the pasta in an open pan (no water) for two to three minutes, or a microwave for one minute. Then you “throw it into the sauce or stir-fry of your choice”.
Slim pasta is produced by a company called Eat Water, and it is made from 97% water with Moyu (konjac), a natural vegetable fibre that the body doesn't absorb. Konjac is an Asian root and the rice and pasta produced with it have what the manufacturers call a chewier texture than normal rice or pasta.
Already cynical, I had planned to disguise any unpleasantness with several cloves of garlic and quite a bit of chilli. This I added to an oil-less tomato sauce which I stirred some broccoli into – and then the “pasta”.
I don’t know what I was expecting when I took my first mouthful – but what I got was a flashback to my recent visit to Archipelago. For that is the only place I can imagine serving anything quite like this – and it would be a plate of worms if they did.
I have never eaten earthworms, and don’t plan to, but if I have ever imagined what they would taste like, this spaghetti was it. Slightly crunchy (quite different from al dente, note), and jelly-ish inside, though mercilessly pretty flavourless, they slipped down quite easily – the garlic, tomato and chilli successfully helping me to get through the whole 200g.
Steve was too grossed out by the thought of this fake food to try it – and stoically plodded on with another tomato salad, and several boiled eggs. He is wondering why he ever agreed to join me in this regime, and moans about it every fast day. But I bet it will not be him who gives up first.
I was hoping the pasta would be the answer to my twice a week dilemma about what to eat. But, while it was certainly filling – I wasn’t hungry after it – I rather thought the sauce and broccoli would have been nicer on their own.
Some nutritionists claim that vegetable extract konjac – also known as Moyu – can stabilise blood-sugar levels and prevent hunger pangs and over-eating. But according to the Daily Mail, Tam Fry of the National Obesity Forum, warns: Konjac is an appetite suppressant and people will eat it thinking they will get slim but might not be aware they could be starving themselves of nutrients.’ On balance, I think that is not a great worry on two 500 fast days a week when I am loading up with fruit and vegetables at other meals. But I can see this would be a big risk for anyone who gets sucked into trying to live off Konjac to lose weight.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013


My daughter Bella is always on the lookout for new skincare treats. She loves Healthspan’s Skin Nutrition and last night I was able to give her Nelson’s Pure&Clear to try. The promise is that it will give her radiant spot-free skin like Carey Mulligan’s in her role as Daisy in The Great Gatsby – it may seem a tenuous link but it was a good enough one for Nelson’s to treat health and beauty journos to a private viewing of the movie last night, and nobody’s going to complain about that.
What a movie! Pure Baz Luhrmann – wonderful effects though, sorry to say, not such a wonderful script. But we all loved it anyway. And I am sure all the beauty girls went home talking about Carey’s beautiful complexion...!
A lovely night out – thank you Nelson’s. 

The 5:2 bore...

OK, I promise I will stop posting about my 5:2 efforts soon – honest! My last post bored me to tears so I doubt anyone else ever read to the end of it. 
But, before I stop reporting back from 500 cal hell, let me share a story from today.
I have been on the hunt for Slim Pasta. No sign of it in our lovely independent health store, so I asked the assistant if she’d ever heard of it. Her ears pricked up when I said it is supposed to have just 7 calories per 100g – and she did a quick search, found that her supplier holds it, and my first package will now be with the store in the next couple of days.
When I explained (in a whisper) why I wanted it – “I’m doing the 5:2..." – she brightened even more.
“I’ve just lost a stone on that diet, in two months!” she said. Her target, like mine, was tummy fat – in her case post-natal fat around the middle. In my case it is an entirely different set of mischief making hormones.  
“But it’s so hard...!” I wailed.
“No – it gets easier, I promise!” she said. “The key is to find your meals and stick with the same things every fast day – instead of thinking too much about what to eat.”
This is an interesting idea, and I am hoping the slim spaghetti arrives tomorrow – in which case it will be supper with whatever really low cal sauce I can muster from the depths of my imagination.
Steve meanwhile is determined to stick to his regime of fruit and tomatoes. Though he was miserable on this on Monday, moaning that he hadn’t eaten for days (true, he’d been very busy) and had eaten nothing during the fast day either (although I unkindly pointed out that the 5 bananas nearly reached 500 calories on their own – and then there were the apples, grapefruit, tomatoes and two boiled eggs).
“But you said men can eat 600 calories,” he pointed out...
OK then.
I woke up hungry again after the Monday fast – and I swear I had exceeded my limits too.
So, bring on the skinny pasta and my new 500 menu. I will report on that, and then I will try to leave the subject alone for a while and give us all a break.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

5:2 – what do YOU eat?

It was rather disconcerting to wake up on Friday – post-fast – not feeling at all hungry, empty or weak. Either I had eaten too much – or I had struck it lucky with my fasting food choices. I desperately want it to be the latter, but I fear it was the former.
On our first fast (6th May), we stuck to raw fruit and raw and blanched vegetables, and I was awake in the night feeling very hungry – and pathetically faint when I eventually got up.
Since then we have been desperate to find foods that will keep us sated for longer. On Thursday I ate one apple for breakfast, plus two cups of coffee with skimmed milk. Then a small banana at 11.0 am before my aquarobics class. For lunch I had ClearSpring Miso soup (28 calories for a bowl!) with a handful of prawns and two small slices of chicken breast, followed by another apple when I went back to my desk. 

Dinner was a salad of rocket and tomatoes with about eight king prawns and six or seven griddled scallops. I had qualms about the tomatoes with the seafood, and just had one, but Steve pointed out that they are a key ingredient in a Marie-Rose dressing, and piled about three onto his plate. I made up for it with a couple of teaspoons of his oriental dressing which I know for a fact contains sugar, though I chose not to hear how much went into it.   It took a long time to eat this big protein rich salad. And I was satisfied all evening – though I ate a kiwi before bed “just in case”. I do not wish to repeat the experience of waking up hungry at 4.0aam.
Well, I have done a quick calorie check – and of course calorie calculators are controversial and confusing, many of them saying quite opposite things to each other (a lot like the experts I interview), but, using the most generous (to me) calculations, my day’s food did seem to add up to only just over 500 calories. (Although it felt like - and I secretly suspect that it was -- up to150 calories more).
During the evening we visited a friend who is also doing the 5:2 – who isn’t? – and she fills up on chia seeds in smoothies of cucumber, celery and spinach...
Another friend eats no breakfast, then just Miso for lunch, and a "light" supper. While another also skips lunch in order to enjoy a "decent" supper. What is one person's "light", and another's "decent", I want to know.
Over the years I have interviewed many people who’ve lost weight using Lighter Life’s regime of replacement meal powders. They survive on 500 calories a day, every day, for months – and most say they never get hungry. Is there a secret ingredient in these powders that stops people feeling hungry? Or is it, as Lighter Life says, that when the body starts using its fat for fuel our appetite becomes suppressed? 
This has not happened to my hairdresser who has been doing WeightWatchers’ online diet. He has resigned himself to always feeling hungry, saying: “If you want to remain lean in mid-life, hunger is the price you have to pay.”
Well, for me, that is the number one reason why any diet fails. So I really want to know: what are you eating on the 5:2? 
Angela Dowden's fab 5:2 recipe book, above, is packed with ideas, and there is now also a 5:2 app to go with it. 

Monday, 13 May 2013

Oh yes you can (and oh yes I did!)

Fast day 3 in the Evennett-Watts house, and I have been doing my homework. First, I am glad to report that berries are low in calories, as is Yeo 0% fat yoghurt. So breakfast this morning was a bowl of raspberries (27 cals), blueberries (57 cals) and strawberries (32 cals) with a small amount of yoghurt (59 cals) and a sprinkling of granulated xylitol. 

After HealtheHelen reminded me that eggs are a satisfying low calorie option, lunch was a plate of asparagus (50 cals) and two egg yolks (100 cals) - I don't eat whole egg whites. Steve had three poached eggs with his asperges (about 284 cals): I think he will remain fuller for longer.

I don't know if supper will be more eggs, or some prawns with a salad - but, half an hour after lunch, I am already thinking about it. 

As one disapproving medic friend warned me: "this regime could encourage disordered eating in some people." I know exactly what she means.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

In praise of lazy

The Clarins counter in John Lewis was recently “on gift”– with travel sizes of some of my favourite products if I bought two full size items. If I bought a third, I qualified for a free 40 minute facial. Being a sucker for that kind of thing, I quickly picked out an extra shower gel and counted down the days to my appointment. I was imagining falling asleep during a relaxing facial massage – more fool me. It was, of course, just another marketing ploy to lure the unsuspecting Clarins customer into buying new skincare products that were not so far on their radar.  That said, it proved a very useful exercise.  After I’d confessed that I am a bit forgetful about exfoliating, and therapist/saleswoman Elaine introduced me to what she called a ‘lazy exfoliator’ – the Gentle Exfoliator Brightening Toner, a lotion that you only have to apply to your face and leave on all night, once a week at bedtime -- I started thinking about other opportunities for a bit of healthy laziness.
Here are some of my favourites:
1.   Floss – only once a week.
A top dentist recently told me that instead of guilting out when we forget to floss twice a day, we should be proud to do it once a week. ‘It’s just about enough to keep the plaque at bay,’ she said. And another periodontologist pointed out that we may even be doing ourselves a favour when we forget to do it more often. ‘Many people get the technique wrong, leading to more damage from plaque than if they didn’t floss at all,’ he explained.
2.   Use spray vitamins.
I like BetterYou DLux 3000, providing 3000iu of D3 in each minty squirt, and carrying a Jan de Vries recommendation.

3.   Make a lazy smoothie.
Naturopath Enid Taylor says that when she’s too tight for time to juice apples for a base, she uses 300ml Innocent Smoothie to which she adds a massive handful of fresh spinach leaves, a chopped mango or banana, and 250mls water to make enough for two to three servings. Thoroughly blitzed, it is bright green and not too spinachy-tasting for breakfast.
4.   Wear clothes that do the work for you.
I like Fit Flop and MBT shoes, and Zaggora Hotwear capris – said to raise core body temperature to increase energy expenditure, with testers burning 9% more calories than the control group wearing normal fitness clothing.
5.   Sleep.
A good night’s sleep helps dieters shift more fat (56% of their weight loss), while sleep deprivation leads to more muscle loss, although the overall weight loss is the same, according to research at the University of Chicago. Other studies have shown that getting at least six and half hours a night adds years to your life, with more deaths in women aged 50-79 who have less than five hours sleep. Sleep also curbs inflammation leading to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, arthritis and premature ageing according to a 2010 study.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Try this salad...

There's nothing like a fast to focus the mind on food - and this week I found myself dreaming up the best way to use a red cabbage that was languishing in the fridge, leftover from last week's Abel & Cole fruit and veg box. I came up with a Spicy Feta and Orange Slaw. Today I put it into practice, and it was just as I hoped it would be: not too sweet, not too spicy, and just the right amount of crunchy. It would almost pass muster for one of the fasting days, too - although the seeds, oil and feta would make it a challenge to eat anything else.

Spicy Feta and Orange Slaw...


1/2 red cabbage, shredded finely.
2 medium carrots, grated.
Chunk of fresh ginger, grated. (I used quite a big chunk - about 2-3", but then I like spicy food).
Handful of Good 4 U chilli seed mix.
1 small orange, cut into tiny chunks.
50g Feta, crumbled.
Juice of 1 lime.
2 cloves of garlic, crushed.
Splash of walnut oil.

Method: Mix and eat. Makes 2 large portions of a main course salad, but it would also be nice on the side with some chicken or a quiche.

Do spices really go off date?

Yesterday was my friend Kate’s 70th birthday and I visited for a slice of cake and a cup of tea. Her main celebration is today, when she is cooking her family a Moroccan feast: beef stew for the carnivores and a chickpea and aubergine version for the vegetarians. I don’t know what went into the meat dish, but Kate confessed yesterday that the harissa she put in her vegetable stew was “a bit out of date”.

“I asked Johnny not to tell me how old it was,” she said. But, of course, I was all ears now – I really wanted to know, even if Kate didn’t.
John lent forward and whispered: “2005”.
I have to confess that my first thought was that, being the right side of the millennium, this didn’t sound too bad. My mother has spices dating back to the 1970s (“it seems a shame to throw them away and buy more when I use so little each time,” she reasons) – and one of my nephew’s favourite activities on visits is to rummage through her food cupboards and tweet about the ancient treasures he has found.
But then I did the maths – would eight year old Harissa be safe to eat?
“She wanted me to call you and get you to ask Steve,” John said. “But then we thought it must be fine – it’s only been open a year...!”
I imagine the harissa was already in the stew when Kate thought of consulting us - and John was wise to dissuade her, no doubt remembering the time Kate sought my counsel on reheating rice for a party. Her plan was to make the risotto a day in advance and then pop it in the microwave for her guests. My cautions about rice and bacillus cereus, a bacterium that can cause food poisoning (especially when rice is poorly reheated) did not go down well. Kate had, it turned out already made the risotto before calling me. 
I remembered the upset this caused, and decided to keep quiet this time. After all, I'd just seen the lovely vegetable stew in Kate's fridge - and I knew she was not going to change anything now. But, while dried spices just seem to fade in colour and flavour, I wasn’t sure what would happen to harissa – which is, unless Kate found something I don’t know about, a wet paste.
“Well, it’s a mild one!” Kate said as if that justified using it.
I fear it may be very much milder now –I've been Googling and  Wisegeek says harissa loses flavour and intensity with age – but since he says nothing about it turning toxic, I very much doubt anyone will suffer as a result.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Pet peeves

I’ve always said that small pets are a great way to introduce children to the concept of death. Hamsters do not live very long, and our youngest daughter got through three of them before the age of 10.
I was prepared for the demise of Stanley, hamster number 1, and had saved a pretty box that Bella could use as a coffin. The day after he died a new garden help, Nancy, came to our house for the first time – and no doubt thought us even more eccentric than we thought her (she pushed her tools in a corduroy pram) when I said her first job was to dig a hamster grave.
After school - sitting at the burial site with Bella, then seven, who, for effect, held a pink umbrella over her while she read a poem about hamsters, tears pouring down her cheeks – I found that, to my shame, I could barely contain my giggles.
When she was 10 we gave up on hamsters and got Bella a rabbit – Benny – who has lived in her bedroom ever since. Now nearly seven years old and looking quite ancient, with cataracts, we are all on edge.
So it was with some anxiety that I read the following text late last Friday night, when Steve and I had just driven three hours to Devon...
“I was just checking Benny’s bottom - I think he has worms or maggots... I looked up the symptoms yesterday and it looks like something is eating away at him and there were things inside – also his tummy keeps making noises and I’ve noticed a lot of little flies in my room...”
On the phone she added that she has spotted a hole or two into Benny, with things coming out of them. She was sure Benny had fly strike - and her friend Ellen’s rabbit died of it.
Why didn’t you tell us all this before we set off to Devon?!
I was puzzled by the news, though, thinking that he was fine – with no signs of flies – when I was looking after him a few days before.
Steve and I tried to imagine how Bella would cope taking Benny to the vet without us to comfort her if it was very bad news. We hatched a plan that involved calling on Granny for a taxi service. Which brought another disturbing scene into my mind – one of Granny telling the vet she never liked Benny anyway and it wouldn’t be worth saving him at this late stage of his life. “It’ll be much kinder to let him die,” I imagined her telling a sobbing, shaking Bella.
Overnight I woke a few times, worrying about this scenario, and the end of Benny.
Then, first thing, I checked my phone and saw a text that had come in after we’d gone to bed:
“I don’t need to go to the vet’s after all – I was looking it up and the worms are really just waxy stuff clogging up his sensory glands either side of his willy – those are the things that I thought were holes. Haha. I’ve cleaned him up and he’s fine now...”
Haha indeed.
Vive Benny!

A lesson in lentils

The second fasting day of our new 5:2 regime was indeed rounded off with a dish of lentils and broccoli – and it honestly wasn’t as bad as it sounds.
It also kept us unhungry through to our post dog walk breakfast this morning.
But there was a very good reason for this...
I had decided to cook a brown lentil dahl, just like the very delicious one Steve cooked on Tuesday. Now I am not used to brown lentils – and have only ever cooked dahl using the red type. So I didn’t realise they would take longer to cook than I expected...
Ten minutes into cooking time, they were still so solid that I wondered if I had in fact used something other than brown lentils. And casting around the kitchen, I saw, to my horror, a bag of black peppercorns the same size as the lentil bag. It was one of those heart stopping, cheek flushing, blasphemy squealing moments – but when I scrutinized the saucepan’s contents there was no doubt: these were just very slow cooking lentils.
I called up to Steve – always useful having a chef in the house – who confirmed that brown lentils take a long time to cook, and I should just be patient.
Meanwhile, Steve ate a banana to keep him going. And then an apple.
I resisted the fruit, but as soon as the lentils looked half way cooked, I started tasting them – and they were so nice that I tasted them again, and again...
Half an hour later and they were still at the same stage – tender, but showing no signs of mushing into dahl.
Steve helped himself to another banana... The water that I’d boiled for the broccoli started to run dry...
After an hour I said, “Right, in 10 minutes I’m cooking the broccoli, and we’re having the lentils as they are... I’m sure yours didn’t take this long on Tuesday.”
And that’s when Steve asked: “You didn’t put salt in them, did you?”
“Yes – at the beginning, with the ginger, garlic, chilli and spices. And I’ve added more along the way... Why?”
Who knew salt stops lentils from cooking?! 
Well Steve, of course... And now you and I do too. So we will never make that mistake again...
The lentils weren’t inedible, but they weren’t dahl either.
I served up a small spoonful each, as a sauce for the broccoli. And wondered how many days it would take us to finish the huge amount left in the pan.
But we were so late eating that, on top of all Steve’s banana snacks, and my copious lentil tastings, we ate the whole lot.  
As I said to Steve this morning: “Maybe we should just make those fasting days ‘lighter eating days’ instead...” 

Thursday, 9 May 2013

5-2-go again...

After two days of normal eating, we are on our second fasting day – and I have to say it’s a struggle. The first problem is the schedule – finding a day we can both fit eating very little into our diaries. It’s not as easy as you may think.
The second, and far bigger, problem is HUNGER.
If the schedule doesn’t bring our diet plans down, then hunger surely will.
Hunger has a cumulative effect, and although I got all the way through the morning and a midday Aqua class without feeling too hungry after my fruit salad breakfast, I am now – at 4.30pm – feeling weak and grumpy, despite fuelling up at lunchtime.
This is what I’ve had so far today:
. 9.0 am:  ½ grapefruit, ½ kiwi, ½ pear, ½ small orange + 1 small banana. Coffee with skimmed milk.
. 1.0 pm: gazpacho.
. 3.0 pm: small salad of cherry tomatoes, cucumber, red pepper, spring onion and olives.
. 4.0 pm: caving in, and had a small banana.
We are wondering if we can get away with some spicy lentils for supper – I have suggested turning them into a sauce to relieve the tedium of a plate of broccoli...
OK, if you’re a human calorie counter, I am sure you will have worked out that we are probably already exceeding the 500 calorie allowance on these fast days... But I have decided not to count and to remember that if this was WeightWatchers, I could eat as much fruit and veg as I like with impunity (at least that is what my hairdresser told me, and he is usually a reliable source).
Steve wondered if the 5:2 method would fail by dint of encouraging binges on our normal food days. So far, I would say not –  I just love the fact that I can happily eat 500 calories PER MEAL on a normal day and still have some to spare if I go by the health guidelines of 2000 per day for women. And, as on Tuesday, I found that yesterday I was also more mindful in my eating – and can tell you exactly what I had: small 0% yogurt with banana for breakfast; gazpacho, greek salad with feta and one slice of sour dough bread with butter for lunch; and, for supper, lamb curry, rice and a little leftover dahl from Tuesday plus a small glass of Viognier. Then I entertained the Franglais group and had a glass of prosecco to celebrate two birthdays (one of them our dog who turned 10 yesterday) plus a few strawberries and one square of my current favourite chocolate: Lindt 60% with salted caramel crispy bits.
Am I sounding a bit food obsessed?! 
Bring on tomorrow!

* Wonderful bit of news if you want to do the 5:2 and still eat at Pizza Express - see HealtheHelen's lovely blog, and her link to Juliet Kellow's nutritional advice for people trying to do just this. 

Tuesday, 7 May 2013


Everyone’s been talking about intermittent fasting, especially the 5:2 version, so, after noticing that my stomach was getting in the way when I bent to put on my shoes, I decided I had to give it a go.
I persuaded Steve to join me – even though he will lose his extra kilos by whizzing round Richmond Park a few times on his racing bike.
The first problem was choosing a day when we could have our first fast. We ended up plumping for bank holiday Monday. So, yesterday, this is what we ate:
. Breakfast: apple, pear, ½ kiwi, ¼ grapefruit.
. Lunch: big salad of grated carrot, tomatoes (3 between us), onions, red pepper (1/2 between us), cucumber, watercress, rocket, and spinach with grated ginger, lime juice and crushed garlic.
. Dinner: a salad of blanched leeks, carrots, beans, broccoli and courgettes with more spinach, watercress and rocket, onion and ginger.
. Snacks: one banana and one apple each.
This may have added up to slightly more than our permitted 500 calories (I didn’t tell Steve that men can have 600), but it was hard enough. Half way through supper I had to down my cutlery and give up, suffering with vegetable fatigue. And the thought – as we watched Arne Dahl on catch up – that if I felt hungry I could return to the leftovers was quite enough to put me off doing so.
I was worried I would wake up hungry in the night, and I did. At 4.30am I felt hollow with hunger, not the kind of hunger that would propel me out of bed for an early breakfast, but the type that made me will myself to sleep, thinking “only two hours to go”.
I felt pathetically weak when I got up to make the tea – but wonderfully cleansed.
Today has been a joy though – a small bowl of yogurt and banana and then coffee and sour dough toast and salty butter for breakfast; a ciabatta roll with humous and salad for lunch at the ICA. And now we’re about to tuck into some meatballs, rice and dahl (and not the Danish type tonight).
Our next fast is scheduled for Thursday. Watch this space to see if we go through with it...