Lent starts today. For any of you who don’t know, Lent is a period in the Christian calendar which runs from Ash Wednesday (the day after Shrove Tuesday, or “pancake day”) until Easter Sunday. Lent has always been about penance and self-denial, and many people choose to give things up during this period. It is also supposed to be about prayer and charity.
Well, I’m already doing my bit for charity during this period, by volunteering for an event for Japan on March 11th and, although I won’t exactly be praying, the event is being held in a church.
I’m not a Christian, but I’ve often found that giving stuff up for Lent is a good way of imposing a rule on myself and forcing myself to do something. I can be very strong-willed, but I do need rules, and rules imposed by others are much easier to stick to. I could easily give something up for, say, a month, but when challenged by other people I find it hard to stick to my guns. However, if I can say, “well, I’ve given it up for Lent”, no one can really argue with that.
So, I have decided to give up chocolate from today until Easter Sunday (April 8th). From today, I will not be eating any chocolate in any form. No chocolate bars, no chocolate biscuits or cake, no mocha from Starbucks. No Options hot chocolate, Shape chocolate puddings, or chocolate coated raisins. Not even a Chocolate Button will pass my lips.
If you know me in the real world, please be kind and don’t try to break me!
I hate Valentine’s Day. Besides my personal reasons and the ghosts of Valentines past, the main reason I hate Valentine’s Day is because it’s just SO commercial.
I know, every holiday and special occasion is commercial these days, but if I see one more fluffy pink heart I might scream. Who actually buys that rubbish? What kind of girl is actually happy to receive a giant stuffed bear on Valentine’s Day? And don’t even get me started on the chocolates. It must be a minefield for the guys – buying chocolates is traditional, but what if she says she’s on a diet? If you buy the chocolates you’re not being very supportive of the diet, if you don’t, you’re berated for not celebrating Valentine’s Day properly and not caring enough. Dammed if you do, damned if you don’t.
As a singleton on Valentine’s Day it’s easy to come across as cynical and bitter. I’ve decided to focus on the positives: money saving and dieting!
Let’s start with money saving:
Participating in Valentine’s Day is expensive. Not only are you supposed to buy a card and present for your loved one, you’re supposed to go out somewhere special, and you’re supposed to look nice. It’s the looking nice that can get really expensive, can’t it ladies? New shoes, dress, frilly undies… Easily £100 or more spent on an outfit for one night. Of course, you might let him pay for the meal, but when you’ve spent so much on looking nice, it’s hardly a saving.
And then there’s the diet:
You go to a nice, fancy Italian restaurant… Imagine all that pasta dripping with creamy sauce, a dessert oozing with chocolate, a few glasses of vino… There are easily 1500 calories or more in the average restaurant meal. Then there’s the box of chocolates he gave you, which you start eating as soon as he’s gone. Diet fail.
As a singleton this Valentine’s Day, I feel quite satisfied in knowing that I haven’t had to shed out all that cash for one night of “romance”, and I can enjoy a nice healthy meal which I’ve cooked myself. I know what some people will say though – why not have the healthy, home-cooked meal with your loved one and save on the new dress too? Of course – but the rules of commercial society say that most people will feel obliged to go out on Valentine’s Day.
Next time I celebrate Valentine’s Day, I hope I can remain mindful of the meaning of the day rather than allowing myself to get caught up in the commercial aspects. Surely a handmade card and a cupcake baked at home says “I love you” just as well, if not better, than anything you could buy in a shop.
It’s one thing to repeatedly tell yourself year after year that you need to lose a bit of weight, but it’s something else entirely to be told by a doctor.
I’m not obese. In fact, most people I know genuinely don’t think I need to lose much weight. I ‘m tall and I carry it pretty well, plus I know how to dress for my size. Most people would probably call me curvy or, shudder, cuddly.
But today I sat up and faced facts. I need to lose three stone, so I will. It’s not going to be as easy as that though, I know. Take today for example: my lovely colleague offered to make me tea (which I drink with sugar) a number of times. I politely declined, made myself a chamomile tea and drank loads of water. I was feeling very peckish in the afternoon, and I was offered some amazing smelling Fortnum and Mason biscuits which we had in the office. I wanted one, I really wanted one, so in the end I let myself have a tiny broken corner of one, smaller than a 5p piece. It was really good.
Serious willpower is what I need to accomplish my goal. I’m not going to sit here and say I won’t eat any more chocolate, biscuits or cake this year. We all know that’s not going to happen. I’ve abandoned my Marshmallow Experiment because it was simply too tempting to have chocolate sitting there in the fridge. So, I’m going to try not to buy any calorific food, and allow myself a few treats when I’m out. Let’s see how I do…
Incidentally, the phrase “to take the biscuit” (used in a situation where something is particularly bad or objectionable) is British English and our friends across the pond actually say “to take the cake”. Well, language differences aside, I won’t be taking any cakes or biscuits for quite a while, I think! 😉
Despite all the baking programmes I’ve been watching of late, and the picture below, this is not actually a post about cooking. There will, perhaps, be cake related posts on this blog in the future though.
Today I’m thinking about an interesting article I read on the way home in London’s free weekly magazine, Stylist. The article, “Just. One. More. Bite.” was encouraging readers to try investing in willpower instead of making New Year’s resolutions that will be abandoned before the end of January.
Personally, I’ve tried not to make specific resolutions this year. To be honest, they’re always the same anyway:
- Lose weight
- Save money
- Write more
The third, writing more, seems to be in hand. The other two seem to be horribly intertwined and unapproachable, like a drawer full of old necklaces that you’d like to wear but abandoned long ago because the effort of untangling them will just be too much.
But just think, if you did untangle all those old necklaces, you’d have loads more jewellery you could wear. Pretty, shiny jewellery. (Guys, if you’re reading this, think cables. Pretty, shiny cables that you keep in a drawer, even though you have no idea what they’re for.)
But what’s all this got to do with marshmallows? Well, according to the article, in 1972 (Stylist says ’68, but Wiki says ’72) a bloke called Walter Mischel of Stanford University conducted a test which is known as the Marshmallow Experiment. The test subjects were children (aged 4-6), and each child was taken into a room in which there was a plate with a single marshmallow on it. They were told that they could eat the marshmallow if they wanted to, but that if they waited 15 minutes they could have two. The child was then left alone to decide what to do. Some children simply ate the one marshmallow they were given, but some waited patiently (perhaps covering their eyes so they weren’t tempted or, according to Wiki, “stroking the marshmallow as if it were a tiny stuffed animal“).
The kids who waited got two marshmallows and learnt the lesson of delayed gratification. Follow-up research showed that those who had learnt the lesson went on to have higher academic achievement, and those who didn’t were more likely to have behavioural problems and trouble paying attention in class.
The Stylist article emphasised the importance of willpower; that rather than just denying ourselves the things we want (which will only make us want them more), we should learn to exercise our willpower a bit more, and resist the temptation of instant gratification. That doesn’t mean you can’t have your cake and eat it too, it just means you ought to wait a while between the buying and eating (if you’re baking, I’m not sure where “licking the bowl” fits in to this test, but I’m pretty sure it’s ok).
I need to give myself a marshmallow test. As I mentioned in a previous post, this is my year of being frugal and learning to save up for the things that I want. It’s the first time I’ve ever really tried to save up, and I’m finding it hard already.
Losing weight and saving money may seem like two separate goals, but when I start trying to untangle that twisted mess of chains it becomes quite clear that they have huge impacts on each other. I tend to run in viscous circles: I try to go on a diet, but then I get hungry or something else stresses me out, so I ignore the fact that I have a whole bunch of tasty (not cheap!) fruit and other snacks at home and go on a Sainsbury’s rampage for chocolate and other naughties. I have a night of over-indulgence, spend too much and eat too much, and feel bad about it all in the morning.
If I planned out delicious, nutritious meals with a light sprinkling of yummy but healthy snacks, I could save money and, most likely, lose weight too.
So, how’s my marshmallow test going to work? Right now there is no chocolate in my house (except Options hot chocolate, which really doesn’t count). Next time I go to the supermarket for groceries (not mid-week in a crazy fit of hunger, but for a weekly shop with a sensibly prepared list), I shall buy one, reasonably priced bar of chocolate. The chocolate will sit in my fridge, where I will occasionally stroke it as if it were a tiny, hard, cold animal. Eventually, I will eat it – when I really, really want it.
I won’t cheat by buying extra chocolate along the way. That would bust my diet and budget in one swift punch.
Let’s see if this experiment works…
A bunch of pink, sweaty women, writhing around in a school gym on a Tuesday night – what must we look like? Every week (well, almost every week – you know, unless there’s an offer of something better to do) we gather to shake our booty to the Latin-inspired beats of what is known as “Zumba“.
We wiggle, we shake… we even try to shimmy. The toned and tanned instructor smoothly moves from dance step to dance step, encouraging us to be sexy. Sexy? In an exercise class? Yes. We’re supposed to be sexy women, proud of our bodies, shaking our butts and sticking out our boobs. Calling out to imaginary men to come and dance with us.
We try. In our minds, we all aspire to look something like this:
In reality, we actually look more like this:
The class is entirely female, although men are welcome. Men do do Zumba, but not here. Our class is made up largely of middle-aged women – some younger, some older. There are certain stereotypes you will find in every exercise class. There’s the ever-so-keen one who always arrives first and stakes her place at the front, chatting with the instructor. Self-tan woman, who is an interesting shade of orange. Awkward girl, whose body is really stiff and robotic. The older lady, whose boobs occasionally brush the floor. And me – the hopelessly uncoordinated yet still enthusiastic one.
I generally stand somewhere around the middle, but to the side so I can dash out for water when I start choking on my own sweat. I try to watch the instructor and ignore everyone else around me. I try to “dance”, rather than “exercise”. I try to forget aerobics classes and think salsa, merengue, hip hop. I try to “zuumbaaaah” but, being British, I do find all the shouting and “yee hah”s a bit much.
Still, at least I earn my dinner on a Tuesday night.
I may have finally had enough sugar.
It was hot yesterday, and I decided to treat myself to a cool, vanilla, creamy drink from a high street cafe chain (not the one with a mermaid logo, but another popular one here in England). I often go there, and I often order the same drink, made with skimmed milk.
I didn’t taste the drink until I had left the store. The first sip wasn’t bad, but on the second sip I got a mouthful of sugary grit. My teeth soon became filled with the sugary stuff and I began to wonder what was up with my drink. I gave it a good stir, but to no avail. It definitely had more than its fair share of sugar/syrup/something.
I had been greedy and ordered a “medium” where I usually order a “small”, and it took me the whole 25 minute walk home to attempt to drink the plastic cup of liquified sugar. I ended up dumping the last inch or so in a bin before I reached my house.
I felt sick.
For the rest of the day yesterday I couldn’t face anything sweet. Even dinner (a spicy jambalaya) was a little hard to stomach. This morning I tried a yogurt and some fruit, and my taste buds said “ok, but that’s enough sugar now, thanks“.
So perhaps my sweet-tooth has finally been satisfied. This is certainly good news for my dieting and money-saving attempts, so perhaps I should stop by the cafe and say “thanks“. I won’t be buying a drink though.
When I was a kid, I used to go to church. I remember trying to give things up for Lent (the period from Ash Wednesday to Easter in Western Christianity). The most successful time I remember was when I gave up some of my pocket money and then sent it to Shelter, a homeless charity. I remember feeling very proud of myself for doing something good.
These days I’m not religious at all, but last night I was reminded (on Facebook, of all places) that it was Pancake Day (or, Shrove Tuesday) and that therefore Lent was next. I had spent most of the day fretting about my weight and trying to figure out new dieting plans, without much success. Suddenly, Lent seemed like the perfect chance, and just the excuse I had been looking for.
You see, I just don’t seem to have enough will-power at the moment to simply say “I’ll be good, I’ll diet”. I need more of a reason. And what better reason than “I can’t eat that – I gave it up for Lent”?
So, why am I boring you with this post about dieting? Well, as one of my friends pointed out to me on Facebook “how will we know if you cheat?”. You won’t, of course. You have to take my word for it. But, how will I know if I cheat? I figured I needed some rules to stick to, and sharing the rules with you might help me stick to them more, so here goes…
- These rules apply from today, Wednesday 17th February until Easter, Sunday 4th April.
- No Kit Kats – I can buy them and photograph them, but I can’t eat them!
- No chocolate, biscuits, cakes, puddings, pastries. (Exception – a co-worker’s birthday is coming up and we always have cake. I’m allowed a very small bit, just to be sociable.)
- No omiyage! It’s a Japanese custom to share edible souvenirs whenever you go somewhere. As a result, my school is teeming with this ‘omiyage’, and we always have so much available to snack on.
- I am allowed a maximum of one tall size Starbucks a week, so long as I ask for non-fat milk and no cream.
- I am allowed to eat out with my friends as planned, but avoid dessert and try not to drink too much alcohol.
- Eat lots of fruit.
- Don’t buy ready-to-drink coffee from the convenience store – it’s loaded with calories!
- Do my Davina McCall workout at least once a week.
- Don’t go crazy when Easter comes…
- Confess on this blog and on Facebook if I break any of these rules.
In theory, Lent could not only help me lose weight, it could help me save money, too. My weight is not something I’m willing to share online, but I’ll record it for myself at the beginning and check it again at the end. Actually, I don’t much care what I weigh – it’s more about which clothes fit me. I own two pairs of jeans right now. One pair is really tight and can give me a stomach ache if I wear them for too long. My aim is to be able to wear them comfortably by Easter. So, watch this space…! 😉