Six in Scotland

Six years ago today I left Australia for sunny Scotland!

Leading up to our depature I grumbled, "If one more person tells me how they gained so much weight while living overseas, I will punch them in the face. If I'm to believe what I'm told, it rains pure beer in Edinburgh and the streets are paved with lard."

Well I can now say with certainty that you can lose and gain weight on any side of the world you fancy; lard is not discriminating! I've stacked it on Scotland and taken it back off. I've lost weight in Oz then gained 6 kilos on my three week visit in 2005. You can do it anywhere if you put your mind to it!

For all the horror stories and sterotypes about the Scottish diet and lifestyle, in many ways I'm a healthier person than when I left Oz six years ago. I've not had a car for six years so walking everywhere has boosted my fitness. The weather has made me more adventurous too. I'd never have tried hill walking or canoeing back home since I fry to a crisp at the first hint of sunshine. I used to slather myself with SPF50 just to peg my washing on the line! So I'd never have attempted anything like the Moonwalk marathon walk – I bitched up a storm during the five hour 20-mile training walk on a Scottish spring day so can you imagine the bag of WHINE I would have been in Australia? I'm a wimp with a wan complexion so the Scottish climate suits me well.

The downsides are mostly dietary. I didn't drink tea before I met Gareth. There's nothing wrong with tea in itself – just all the goodies that go with it! Six years ago biscuits (cookies) were barely on my radar but now I know the pleasures of a good custard cream or Digestive and I am in recovery for my HobNob addiction.

I also was not a cheese person back in Oz, then Gareth got me hooked on delicious bitey mature cheddar. I also would have run screaming from a hot bag of shrivelled chips after a boozy night out or the carb-on-carb wickedness of a chip butty but that is normal to me now.

Hmmm. Hopefully the good and bad points balance each other alright :)

Right now I'm at the airport about to fly to the grand kingdom of Australia to visit the family after 3.5 long years away, woohoo! I am determined not to stack on the lard like the last visit. Oh dear. My mantra is: Violent Crumble bars are not a breakfast food! By the way, there's no cut and paste on this weird terminal so I can't link to anything in the entry so sorry it's all linkless and a wee bit random!

Better scoot. Hope to update while in Oz. Take care, dear comrades! Hope you are well!

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Eating Disorder Pigeon and Friends

There are two bird feeders Yard  in our back yard. Not long after we moved in, Gareth appointed himself chief caretaker. He treats the birds very well, tut-tutting when they spill the seed boxes or crap in their water dish.

We first got addicted to bird watching during the lazy days between Christmas and New Year. Much of the scant daylight hours were spent by the windows with a cup of tea and a running commentary on the feathered soap opera.

I tend to view the world through my stomach so I was worried about the consequences of feeding the birds. Were they being fed elsewhere? Did they need any more food? Would our abundant bird buffet tempt them to eat more than they needed? Were birds in tune with their hunger signals? Did they have the power to eat to the point of satiety then fly away? Can you tell I was reading a lot of intuitive eating books last year?

Anyway, as it turned out, "eat like a bird" means different things to different kinds of birds.

This little robin is called Benito. He is the undisputed boss of the garden.

Benny

Benito is not a big eater; he seems quite indifferent to the food. But he objects to anyone else getting their beaks on "his" stash. He likes to sit on a fence post and survey his domain with his shrewd little eyes, daring other birds to come mess with him. He doesn't care how big or small they are; he'll take 'em on. The other day an innocent green finch hopped onto a feeder and Benito swooped right down and shoulder-barged him off the perch! I know birds don't really have shoulders but it's the best way of describing the violence of the manoeuvre. I can relate to this kind of territorial behaviour, especially if roast potatoes or chocolate rations are involved.

Benny again

This teeny guy is a blue tit. He's a bit of a grazer. He starts with a nibble of Fat Snax – crusty balls of lard, seeds and insects. Then he'll have a go of the peanuts and finish with a few seeds. He's very brief and dainty about it.

Upside-down

The blackbird is quite similar in eating style except he stays at ground level and adds worms to the mix.

Blackbird

This pheasant is a weirdo. Pheasants are like Scotland's small answer to kangaroos. If you go for a nice Sunday drive, they will wait for the precise moment you drive past to hurl themselves onto the road.

Our backyard specimen hangs around the table like a dog, hoping for scraps. Every now and then he'll gaze longingly up at the feeders and give his wings a half-hearted flap, but then decides he's better off just waiting for someone else to drop something.

Pheasant

Then there are the rooks. They are the teenage boys of the garden – noisy, unwieldy and hanging about in gangs.

They do a lot of skulking.

Bird on a wire

And a mega load of eating. They batter the feeders until they topple to the ground, then scoff scoff scoff 'til every last seed is gone. Teenage boys in cheesy commercials for bread or crumpets or whatnot, clattering into the kitchen after school. I'm staaaaarving Mum, what's to eat? Except here the rooks don't bother to ask and I'm shouting out the window, "Slow down and leave some for everyone else, you greedy glossy bastards!"

Nom nom

Would you cop a load of the beak on this fella?

Chop chop

My favourite bird is the wood pigeon. One pigeon in particular. His name is Eating Disorder Pigeon.

EDP

EDP has a hunger that can never be satisfied. He visits multiple times a day and doesn't graze or nibble. He just eats and eats and eats. One day I watched him while eating too many Caramel Digestive biscuits and, perhaps longing for a kindred spirit, I thought there might be a touch of the compulsive about him.

EDP at work

When he perches on the water dish on his tiptoes (tipclaws?), sticks his head into the little window, the rest of the world ceases to exist. Benito pesters and the rooks squark but EDP does not budge. Once I timed him and he munched for 40 minutes straight.

EDP on ground level

I shouldn't project my own issues onto an innocent wee bird, but just say he does have food issues, are we enabling him with this constant seedy smorgasbord?

Or perhaps it's perfectly normal consumption for a bird of his size. Maybe he just really loves his food. In that case, what will he do when we move house in May? It's not like he can take up kickboxing to fill the food-shaped void in his life. Then again we're not the only middle class saddos with bird feeders in this village, so I'm sure he won't go hungry…

Now look at this blue tit watching EDP tuck into the lard ball. One might say the angle of that little blue head is totally judgmental, but that would be paranoid!

Watching, watching

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His Simple Proven Treatment

Getting on the internet is like ducking into the supermarket with the intention of simply buying the milk then getting on with your life, but always ending up in a random aisle with a trolley full of nonsense. Today I wandered from a Times article about the passing of Nicholas Hughes to an archived review of his mother Sylvia Plath's new book The Bell Jar, from January 1963.

On the same page was this review of an amazing new diet book! For what would January be without an Amazing New Diet Book, even way back in 1963?

Strong Medicine book review

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Housekeeping

One day in the first weeks of Year Seven, or the Seventh Grade as you say in America, my English teacher said, "Today we're going to start with housekeeping."

I remember slamming down my pen and thinking, WHAT!? I'd finally made it to the big high school and now we were just going to clean the freaking classroom? My mother was a teacher (still is) so I'd spent many afternoons sharpening her pencils, filling up glue pots, tidying cupboards, pinning student drawings to notice boards and other acts of child slavery. I was very annoyed that this sort of shit was to go down at high school too.

But turned out housekeeping just meant administrative minutiae, like telling us when our assignments were due or when parent/teacher night was on. Fair enough then.

This is my lengthy way of saying that it's time for some blog housekeeping!

  • Long time visitors may recall in 2006 I started a food blog in order to procrastinate from book writing. It died in the arse a few months later, but I've now incorporated all those entries into this blog. I like chucking in a recipe now and then without the pressure of having an actual food blog. So check out the Recipes category! Note: Some are not entirely diet friendly.
  • I accidentally deleted a Reader Gallery email! I saw it in my Spam folder and meant to move it right away but got distracted so apologies… if you're out there Gallery Person, could you please resend?
  • I wanted to say a huge thanks to everyone who has taken the time to write or comment. Again I'm sorry for not always being able to respond in a timely manner. Replying to lovely emails could be a full time job in itself but peskily I already have one of those. However, please know that I devour every message and to help with your questions, I'm adding new bits to the Frequently Asked Questions all the time. I renamed the "Resources" link at the top of the page to the more obvious "Diet & Fitness Resources" as that page cover so many things I'm asked about.
  • Speaking of FAQ, I have more Dietgirl By Request posts in the pipeline for the most frequent of FAQs, including the inevitable How do you stay motivated? I like to be helpful for the question-askers (?!) but it's also helpful for me to ponder these things, like the Cravings entry last week – it reminds me that I have come a long way and if I just listened to my own advice it's really not all entirely hopeless as it has felt lately. If you've got a burning question that's not been covered, feel free to leave it in the FAQ comments.
  • If you fancy a slightly diluted Aussie accent squawking in your ears I was on the Livin' La Vida Low Carb Show last week, which was very kind of Jimmy Moore considering I'm not one to shy away from a loaf of bread. We had a great chat that covered faking a positive attitude, deciding on a goal weight and the joys and pitfalls of baring your soul online.

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Welcome

I'm Shauna Reid, an Australian writer living in Scotland. You can find out about my projects on this site:

  • Book – My memoir The Amazing Adventures of Dietgirl, published by Harper Collins, was named one of Marie Claire's Top 10 Diet Books and received a four-star review in People magazine.

  • Up & Running – providing kickass running e-coures for women, co-founded with professional running coach Julia Jones. Registration for our 5K Beginners Course is now open!
  • Writing – I'm a freelance writer, specialising in inspiring health and fitness features. My writing has appeared in ELLE, Cosmopolitan, Grazia and The Mail on Sunday (UK).
  • Podcast – I produce and co-host Two Fit Chicks and a Microphone, a healthy living podcast for the people.

  • Blogs – I've blogged since 2000 at What's New Pussycat (travel tales and everyday adventures) and Dietgirl (life before and after losing half my body weight). My blogs have been featured in O Magazine, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and The Sydney Morning Herald to name a few.

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Chattin on the Livin La Vida Low-Carb Show

I was pleasantly surprised when Jimmy Moore invited me on to his Livin La Vida Low-Carb Show, as I've never been one to shy away from carbs! But no matter what means you use to bust the lard, the experience is always similar in many ways so we had lots to talk about. Jimmy has lost over 180 pounds himself and I thoroughly enjoyed our chat! Topics included – faking a positive attitude, deciding on a goal weight and the joys and pitfalls of baring your soul online.

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How do you fight cravings?

Cravings are best fought off with a stick. Preferably a big one, with metal spikes all over it.

The dictionary says a craving is, "an intense, urgent, or abnormal desire or longing."

That doesn't necessarily sound like a bad thing. I like intensity; I love to long. But your questions have been about the food-related cravings – the ones that possess your brain and make you want to eat way more than you need to.

Personally I've found that prevention is the best cure. As with many things, the key is to know thyself and be prepared…

(You know I really squirm writing this stuff sometimes. I mean what a lucky western world dilemma to have; the struggle not to eat too much food. Crikey.)

… It's much easier if I don't give the cravings a chance to start. This takes a lot of planning and forethought.

My appetite is a demanding toddler; it's first words were I want. It likes to throw itself down on a supermarket floor and make a scene. My brain is the appetite's weary mother. She carries a Handbag of Anticipation, bulging with tricks and treats and distractions. She tries to be ready for any stunt the little monkey might pull.

It all starts with breakfast. If I don't get that right I screw up the whole day. During the week I don't eat until I feel the first rumbles of hunger; between 10-11 AM. If I eat first thing as convention dictates, I'm munchy again by 10. So I figured I may as well wait until I'm properly hungry in the first place. A nice bonus is that this is the time when colleagues tend to make tea and open the biscuit tin. If I'm tucking into my breakfast then that's one Biscuit Battle that I don't have to worry about.

The breakfast itself must be good and satisfying. Right now I'm running on porridge/oatmeal. I zap it in the microwave before I leave the house and put it in a wee Thermos flask, so it's still hot when I eat it a couple of hours later. I pour it into the lid/cup with some tinned pears then sprinkle it with 10g muscovado sugar and 20g of almond butter, then stir it all up so it's nice and melty and dessert-y.

I could be sensible and just have the porridge and pears, but the extra 160 calories for the sugar and almond butter are well spent. That "hit" of caramelly sweetness and crunchy saltiness, is enough to keep me happy. I can get on with my work and ignore those chocolates sitting three feet from my desk that someone bought back from vacation.

I generally eat a late lunch, around 2 – 2.30PM, that way I've only got 2.5 – 3 hours to get through until home time (how bloody sad does that sound!?). If I make it a good one – last nights leftovers, a really interesting salad, or a baked potato with yummy toppings – then I'll cruise through with no urge to visit the biscuit tin or vending machine.

But as another layer of prevention I've always got snacks if I need them in a range of tastes and textures – savoury (a Babybel cheese), sweet (fruit or a cereal bar), crunchy/sweet (oatcakes with banana) and so on. So if I do start hankering for something I have all these levels of negotiation at my fingertips.

Dinner requires just as much thought. It works best if I plan a week in advance – what's happening this week? What evenings will I be out or working late? How energetic will I feel?

If I know I'm going to be tired and crabbit (which is 95% of the time at present) then I pick the easiest yet most satisfying meals. For example, tonight we are having these lovely huevos rancheros a la Smitten Kitchen. Easy to make, healthy enough with sufficient Delicious Factor to be looked forward to throughout the day.

If you don't have Food Issues that must sound so pathetic, but today sometime between 3 and 5PM I know I will think, "I can't be arsed going to Spinning, maybe I'll go straight home and stop into the shop for a wee bag of Kettle Chips". But since I am organised for once, I will be able to talk to myself: "Whoa there! You have huevos rancheros coming up! Melty cheesy goodness awaits. Go forth and spin!"

Evenings are another tough cookie; the post-dinner wilderness hours. Again, planning a satisfying dinner helps kill that off. If I make a "Communist dinner" as Gareth calls them – you know the more diet-y kind of dinners like stir fries that are very light and vegetabley – I try to make sure I've got something ready for when the kitchen-roaming feeling kicks in – a small chocolate bar, an individual portion of Nutella, etc etc. Anticipate, anticipate, anticipate.

If I think about it honestly, aside from when I'm pre-menstrual, most of my "cravings" are because I've let myself go too long between meals; or I'm stressed or cranky and convinced that food will make it better. It's when I've pulled back too far on calories and/or flavour in my general everyday eating, so it feels like I'm missing out on something. When I take the time to plan meals that soothe and satisfy my many teeth (sweet tooth, savoury tooth, sour tooth etc etc etc) and plan yummy things into my calories, then I don't feel so obsessed by food. The cravings don't have a chance to build.

So in summary this is what I find helpful:

  • Know your moods and vulnerable times and try to anticipate/plan around them
  • Plan meals that focus on satisfaction just as much as nutrition
  • When a craving hits, try to listen to your body and figure out what's really going on
  • Talk to yourself like a loony, all day long
  • Accept that some days none of the above will work and you'll scoff everything…

(Like last week there were Viscount biscuits at work [the UK's noble attempt at a Mint Slice]. I did the talking to myself thing and chose the Healthy Option oatcakes on my desk. But then I ate three sodding Viscounts as well. Why oh why. Reboot computer, try again tomorrow. Pfft.)

… but that's cool as long as you move on as soon as possible.

As always the key is getting to know yourself and finding out what works for you. A spoonful of sugar in the morning might prevent my cravings, but it might trigger you to eat rubbish all day. It's taken me eight years to realise what works for me, with lots of failure along the way. And now that I reckon I've figured it out, I struggle every single day to actually put it into practice.

But it's worth the effort and almost fun putting yourself under the microscope, studying your habits and patterns. Once you know the beast you're dealing with, it's easier to work out how to tame it.

See also: Tricks and Treats – Guest post on Limes & Lycopene from last year

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Almond Butter Hunt

Does anyone know of good purveyors of almond butter in the UK?

I bought three jars of Trader Joe's Crunchy Unsalted back in my suitcase from NYC and I'm onto the second jar already! I'm rationing it carefully but dreading the day when it's gone.

I could grind my own again but the little food processor would probably explode from the strain. The UK brands I've tried (Meridian, Biona) have a grainy, uninspired texture but the Trader Joes has fantastic stabby chunks of almond in it. God bless America. Sniff sniff.

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Scared is a feeling, not a mandate

Here's a most excellent quote to ponder while I finish off the next entry and paddle in this bottomless pit of corporate ToDo and overwhelmedness while trying to remember that panicking gets you nowhere, tra la la la!

"Everyone gets scared before they try something new. By everyone I mean me, and I’m certain you are all exactly like me. But I do hear this from other people: They are scared to come to a class, scared to try a new activity, scared of me and my crazy talk, but odds are only one of those is really going to do lasting damage. Scared is a feeling, not a mandate. Be scared, try it anyway, yeah yeah. No one wants to look like a fool or take a risk, but odds are, most people are so absorbed in what they are doing, they won’t even see you, and besides, they probably feel the same way, so let’s all get huggy and be done with it."

Five things I learned as a trainer – the always brilliant Kelly, FitnessFixation.com [via Marla]

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Scones, tea and AOL

Good morning AOL.com visitors – thank you for dropping by!

If you're not sure where to click first, you could peek inside my book The Amazing Adventures of Dietgirl right here, watch me yabbering on about my lard-busting efforts on CBS The Early Show or check out some of my alleged best entries.

I've been in London this weekend, visiting my sister for her birthday. She had a gift voucher for afternoon tea at the very posh Dorchester Hotel. Unlike the snotty lady at the table beside us, I did not sigh and say airily, "I really just don't get hungry in the afternoons" when presented with French pastries and fresh scones with jam and clotted cream.

Why spend £40 on AFTERNOON TEA if you don't like to bloody eat in the afternoon? Sure I should probably walk home to Scotland to burn off the calories but life is for living! Nothing wrong with a little of what you fancy. Mmmm, macaron.

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