I’m not a cook, never have been (that’s what mums are for!). Aside from a chicken stir fry, lasagne, chilli con carne and my masterful Primula toasted sandwiches, I can just about boil a kettle and that’s it, so I was dreading the start of this thing, because anything in a packet is out of bounds and even Gregg’s is banned until March. This means I have to learn to cook. I was also vastly underprepared for such a momentous undertaking, having spent most of the previous 7 days getting drunk and eating pizzas – kind of squeezing the last bit of enjoyment out of my life, convinced that this diet (or ‘food torture’, as I’m thinking of calling it) is going to send me wappy. But, if it helps to zap the HS, then this 60 days will be a mere blink of a hungry eye.
I began Tuesday, instead of Monday, and was starving by Tuesday night, but that’s not because the ‘safe foods’ are all rubbish, far from it. It’s because a) see above, b) my kitchen is the smallest, most cooking-unfriendly kitchen in the world and c) I’m incredibly impatient. Also, my hob is one of those crap hotplates you get in Australian motels, and my workspace is the size of a postage stamp. Oh, and my fridge door doesn’t close properly, so all in all it’s not exactly Masterchef in here.
My first proper meal was an attempt at a tuna & avocado salad. Dead easy, even I could do it. Er… My schoolgirl error was using an unripe avocado, which was not only a bugger to ‘scoop’, but also foul to eat. I mean, how am I supposed to know when the damn thing is ripe? I expect to buy it, then use it. Immediately. Tsk.
Later, I attempted a salmon stir fry, only I couldn’t afford proper salmon fillets so went for the tinned stuff instead. But because I was on autopilot in Lidl (I’d been seduced by a gold-coloured mini-chopper in the hard goods aisle), I ended up getting the simple salmon chunks instead of the salmon steak. Big mistake. Have you ever opened up a tin of John West Wild Pink Salmon? Sounds OK but, honestly, there’s nothing more unappetising. I could only bear to throw a spoonful into the wok, on top of the ginger, garlic, lime juice, pak choi, spinach and red onion (all of which I managed to burn)….and it wasn’t very nice at all. I was rushing, because I was hungry, and I ended up ruining everything. Bah.
And hotplates suck, they don’t cook anything properly at all, especially not in a wok. The bottom of the pan heats fine, but the heat doesn’t spread around the wok like it does with gas. I’d overdone the coconut oil too, so all in all my first day was a bit of a disaster. I went to bed hungry, dreaming of Bernard Mathews Mini Kievs and a barrel of Rioja.
Try, try again
Things did improve later in the week, though. I played safe during the day with a couple of bananas for breakfast, and salads for lunch. A favourite was the melon, raspberry, avocado (ripe this time) and cucumber salad, which satisfied on sweetness as well as general taste. I made a big bowl of that so I could dip into it whenever I was peckish. For dinner, it’s been fish week, because the proper meat will have to wait until I get paid (I have never gone so long without chicken – five whole days). I also made a decent attempt at cod & sweet potato chips, although it’s hard to make sweet potatoes crispy, for some reason. I also overdid the coconut oil again, so they were a bit sickly overall. The leftover sweet potato was a welcome addition to the next day’s tuna salad, though.
The next experiment was cauliflower rice. Normal rice is out, so I needed a substitute that could go with a stir fry. So I stuck some salmon fillets into the oven with a brush of lemon juice and basil, prepared some pak choi, onions, garlic, ginger and spinach, then got to work on the cauli rice.
Simply grate half a head of cauliflower, heat a tablespoon of coconut oil (or EV olive oil) in a frying pan, then chuck in the ‘rice’ and saute for about 5 minutes. Warning: grating cauliflower is a messy business. By the time I’d finished, my worktop looked like it had been blasted with a snow machine. Moral of the story – use a box grater, not a flat one. Then, I added the garlic and ginger, sauteed another minute, then threw in the chopped veg, added lemon juice, then tossed in the baked salmon until it was all flaked up, with salt and pepper to taste. It might not look the most appetising dish, but it was damn tasty. Or maybe it was because I was so hungry by that time, I’d have eaten a dead dog (as my mother often says).
From little acorns…
Next, was soup. From scratch. To most people, this is the easiest thing in the world to make. I mean, it’s soup, how easy is that? But this is me we’re talking about, so I was terrified about messing it up, because that’s what I do.
My flavour of choice was Sweet Potato & Parsnip, and I was all raring to go until I realised I didn’t have the most basic of soup-making ingredients – a blender. An hour and a quick march to Argos later, and I was all blendered-up and ready to be let loose with multiple appliances.
Following an online AIP recipe, I sweated (yes, I had to Google that) some onions and garlic in olive oil, then added 500g each of cubed sweet potatoes and parsnips, covered over with water and left it to boil, after which it simmered for 20 minutes. Then it was time to blend. The cheap handheld Cookworks blender I’d grabbed from Argos did the job perfectly, and I think it’s my new favourite toy. I ended up walking around the flat looking for things to blend. Then, I added a bit more water, brought back to the boil and began to season. Because AIP recipes do not allow stock because of the numerous banned ingredients contained within (unless it’s homemade stock, which is way too technical for me to attempt just yet), I needed to use quite a bit of salt, plus pepper and, finally, some fresh basil. I was pretty pleased with the results, although next time I’ll definitely add an extra onion and double the garlic. For a novice cook, I felt pretty smug, the bonus being that I’d made enough for 4 servings, each bowl coming in at just 280 calories. And it was filling, very filling.
Next up to be attacked by the blender is Broccoli & Spinach Soup, and a classic Beetroot Soup. Small steps!
Overall, in this first week, it’s felt a lot longer than it’s been, but not in a bad way. I used to eschew things like routine and schedules, I don’t like predictability, but now I can see the benefits, especially when it comes to something as important as diet. I’m looking forward to the week ahead, especially trying some new recipes, although I know I’m going to have to emerge from the cave at some point for that ultimate test of willpower – the ‘social situation’. Not just yet, though. Give me another week…or three.
Things I’ve Learned This Week
1. Planning is everything
I didn’t plan anything at all this week and, as a result, I’ve woken up every day thinking “what the chuff am I going to eat today?” Next week, I hope to have at least one day free to just cook, cook, cook, then freeze, freeze, freeze. Knowing that all I have to do is get something out to defrost, will save so much time and remove the temptation to snack.
2. It is possible to overdose on peppermint tea
I’ve drunk an average of 7 large tankards a day of this stuff. I drink it anyway, but because I can’t have milk, squash, coffee or normal tea, and also have to limit fruit juice, I’ve been drinking more peppermint tea than usual. I’ve found that, on about cup 5.5, a dreamy kind of mild euphoria sweeps through my body, similar to the sensation I also get when over-drinking Moroccan Mint Tea. I don’t know if there have been scientific studies done on the opiate qualities of mint teas, but there’s something in them which is filling the alcohol/coffee void right now. And boxes of 20 bags are 3-for-1 in Home Bargains at the moment, so that’s an addiction I’ll be embracing with open arms. It’s really trippy.
3. Hunger pangs don’t last forever
Trying to sleep on Tuesday night with a rumbling belly was not pleasant at all. I was afraid that this was how it would be for 59 more days. Gladly, by Friday, though, the hunger has subsided somewhat. I’d still kill for a McChicken Sandwich or huge bowl of cheesy pasta right about now, but I think my body is adjusting quickly to the vastly reduced calorie intake (which isn’t deliberate, it’s just a by-product of the food options available) and absence of bad carbohydrates, dairy and general junk. Or maybe I feel better because I haven’t eaten any meat? No, I’m not even going there…
4. My energy levels are significantly higher
Even after a mere 6 days, I am noticeably more alert and focused, and my procrastination level has dropped dangerously low. I’ve motored through work without really getting bored, and I have managed to schedule my days to a level that might even be called ‘productive’. OK, I still play Pet Rescue Saga for at least one hour a day, but Candy Crush has kind of fallen by the wayside. What’s going on!?
5. I am becoming more interested in food
Because I now have to prepare and cook everything myself, I have no choice but to learn about what I’m eating and how I’m eating it. This time last week I didn’t even know how to prepare fresh ginger, never mind infuse a salmon fillet with it. I didn’t know what basil looked like (as opposed to all the other green herbs), and my ‘utensil drawer’ consisted of a rusty cheese grater, a metal grill thing I ‘think’ was supposed to sit on top of my wok, and a corkscrew. Well, four corkscrews, to be precise. Now, I have a box grater, a proper set of kitchen knives (thanks, Father Christmas!), a hand blender, a mini-chopper (gold) and some actual food containers that didn’t come from a Chinese takeaway. I don’t even know where to put half of this stuff.
6. Lemon juice is a magic ingredient
I’ve added it to practically everything I’ve eaten this week. For instant zing and much needed wetness (most standard sauces and dressings are off the agenda), lemon juice is brilliant. It doesn’t necessarily make everything taste lemony, either, which sounds bizarre. But it adds valuable va-va-voom to foods which otherwise, on their own, would be bland.
So I go into the sophomore week knowing a little more than I did last week, but still afraid that I’m going to struggle with small stuff like hunger and messing things up. I am yet to face a ‘social situation’, too. I’ve been deliberately holed up in my turret, away from temptation, until I feel confident enough to go out and not drink or eat pizza. I don’t think I’ll reach that stage until about October.
On the plus side, though, the weight began dropping off almost immediately, and my HS symptoms have remained pretty much the same as they were pre-diet. Pain is moderate, depends which position I’m sitting/lying in, but manageable. This is what I’m doing this for, after all, so as long as I don’t develop any further nastiness, then so far so good.
Average daily calorie intake: 1009
Energy level: 7/10
HS severity: 6/10
Weight loss: 4.5lbs (2kg)