Thursday, 13 February 2014

Dollops, hunks and smidges

It may seem surprising, but in the past week I have been able to curb any tendency to wander over the speed limit when out driving. Part of it is fear of the dire consequences if I get caught again so soon after last week's incident. That really would be awful, and I feel I mustn't tempt fate. So I've been a very, very good girl indeed.

Oddly enough, this restraint has made driving both more relaxed and more interesting. More relaxing, because I am going a bit slower, and there is more time to assess what is going on around me, and how to best carry out the next manoeuvre. Plus of course I know that I am not breaking the law, so I've got peace of mind as well. More interesting, because it's a real challenge to keep ahead of the pack (or ahead of 90% of it, anyway) when you stick strictly to the limits. It makes for increased alertness, looking out for a safe overtaking opportunity, and skilful timing.

But this close attention to the rules of the road chimes in well with another kind of self-restraint.

My diet is producing results: four pounds lost in the last three weeks. I've refined my method. The target daily calorie intake is now 1,800 calories, while I'm reducing my weight and gaining a better shape. That's generous enough to avoid persistent hunger; and I avoid it also by having five eating occasions through the day: breakfast, lunch. afternoon snack, evening meal, and supper late in the evening. No snacking in between, of course.

But how to count the calories, without it becoming a chore? Well, I still have a mass of written data for the early part of 2011, when I was trying to lose 10kg (22 pounds) in the run-up to my surgery, and was following a traditional calorie-controlled diet. That entailed noting down the precise weight and calorie-value of everything I ate and drank. With practice I devised some very tasty evening meals that averaged around 600 calories, with an apple for dessert, and coffee to follow. (See my post Deceptive meals on 28 January 2011) I can therefore now reckon 600 calories as a ballpark figure for a 'sensible' evening meal cooked with fresh ingredients at home - meaning lean meat or fish, and a lot of vegetables. That's my main meal for the day, leaving a balance of 1,200 calories for the other four eating occasions.

The trick to the current diet is to manage those 1,200 calories. I use a 'fuel tank' approach. I dip into the 1,200 calories as my activities for the day demand. So a light breakfast of 200 calories would do amply for a morning sat down at the computer. But it might be 400 calories if I were going to sweep up leaves in the garden. Supposing it was a 400 calorie breakfast, I'd tell myself that I had 800 of them left in my tank for lunch, afternoon snack, and supper. You get the idea. The object is to get to the end of the day with 50 or 100 unused calories in hand, or at worst a completely empty tank.

So how do I know how many calories I've consumed? Weighing things is so boring! My carefully-preserved 2011 data comes to the rescue. Using it, I have put together a list of all the things I might eat or drink away from the main evening meal, with the calorific value. Here it is:

Possible items for breakfast, lunch,                         
afternoon snack or supper

2 eggs, scrambled    225
2 slices of Spam    170
2 black puddings    150
2 rashers of lean bacon    140
Mushrooms    20
Large knob of butter in a pan (absorbed into the food)  150
Small knob of butter in a pan (absorbed into the food)    100
Small tin of baked beans    170
Small tin of spaghetti    125
Soup    200
1 slice of toast, buttered    150
1 slice of toast, not buttered    90

Not cooked
Small bowl of Alpen muesli with milk    300
4 dried apricots    50
2 dried apricots    25
Supermarket sandwich    300
Cold chicken breast    200
2 slices of ham    150
2 slices of tongue    130
2 slices of corned beef    110
2 slices of salami    90
5 olives    15
Tin of red salmon    220
Tin of sardines    200
1 slice of bread, buttered    150
1 slice of bread, not buttered    90
1 slice of Ryvita, buttered    70
Dollop of marmalade or conserve for spreading    20
A smidge of Marmite for spreading    5
Small hunk of cheese    90
1 Babybel Lite    40
1 apple    100

Milk    130
Diluted elderflower cordial    70
Tea with milk, no sugar     25
Coffee, black, no sugar    5
Water    0

Remember these are the portions that satisfy me.  Your slices might be thicker than mine; your dollops and smidges might be larger. And I'm sure that my idea of a hunk is not the same as yours!

Remember too that this is my calorie menu for any of the four minor meals. Such things as sirloin steaks, sea bass fillets and avocado pears are a matter for the main evening meal, and so do not feature on this list.

Note that I drink no alcohol at home. And that there isn't a biscuit or bar of chocolate in the house. It helps immeasurably that I haven't got a sweet tooth.

Ah, you will say: you eat out at least once a week, don't you? You're always posting about restaurant meals, or meals at friends'. Doesn't that spoil the scheme? Well, it doesn't. I simply reckon 1,000 calories for any meal out, and restrict the calorie intake for the four other meals to just 800 calories, spread how I want. So it's always around 1,800 calories a day.

And to record my intake as the day progresses, I use the ordinary built-in Calculator app on my phone. It was sitting there unused. I simply keep a running total, and ensure that this total never exceeds 1,200 on a day when I am cooking my evening meal at home, or 800 if I'm eating out. I don't bother recording what the total actually was. I wipe it next morning anyway, and start again at zero. Minimum fuss.

I'd like to say that the self-restraint has extended to impulse-buying. Unfortunately that wouldn't be true. This morning I blew £17 on 20 mp3 music tracks bought on Amazon. And this afternoon another £17 on a secondhand book (the 1982 reprint of The Penguin Book of Card Games) and a dozen old Ordnance Survey maps of Scotland at the 1:25,000 and One-Inch scales, dating from the 1950s. Weak, weak!

I wonder why I didn't look for a book on Wartime Cookery? An opportunity missed. Corned beef and cabbage, that sort of thing...


  1. Just seeing the words black pudding and corned beef makes me hungry... Corned beef comes from that post war austerity time and we like it so much we had it tonight.

    My partners uncle was a wartime military medic from Bahamas to India and lived on the stuff as what he saw as the safest food available and was still eating it at ninety. Didn't expect to see it on a gourmet's list...

  2. I love corned beef and eat it quite often, in fact I ate a whole tin of it over the last two days! It has to be lean, which is difficult with corned beef. Much of its fat content remains on the outside of the meat so is easily scraped off which, I do. Lately the tins I have opened have been very lean and I put that down to a different label. It is nice in a sandwich with some pickled beetroot and this is the way I mostly eat it. Sometimes I will have it with lettuce and tomato. I have even mixed it in with left over cabbage that I have fried! It is the fat content of food that I take more interest in rather than the calorific value. That is to keep my cholesterol levels down but I do eat food that is active in reducing cholesterol too, namely porridge for one. Calories I can burn off. I think it is better to eat more calories and exercise than have to watch my calorie intake. If I couldn't exercise in some way I would be more careful with my calorie intake but I wouldn't be fit and healthy by simply reducing the calories.

    Shirley Anne x

  3. I do have regard to fat intake, too, but as a person who isn't keen on a lot of exercise, limiting the calories is more important.


  4. I thought you were into walking Lucy. Surely you do that and especially whilst on holiday? Does your house have a stairway? Just going up and down the stairs a few times gobbles up calories and strengthens the heart. Maybe that is why I feel so fit, we have four flights!
    Shirley Anne x

  5. Walking: I have the kit, but walking around shops is more my line. And I live in a bungalow. No stairs.



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