February 15, 2013

This whole horsemeat scandal has been a bit of a PR disaster for horses. They used to be lovely animals you’d see in a field and think ‘Ah, lovely animal, let me stroke you and feed you some grass.’ You might imagine throwing a saddle on that horse and riding off into the sunset – or at least as far as the gate at the back of the field. You might even idly start thinking about riding holidays in the Lake District or Wadi Rum (no relation to Red Rum – it’s a stunning desert landscape in Jordan, so I’m told).

Now you stand there making a mental note to check your freezer for lurking burgers. Or silently retching over what was in that pub chilli last week.

And horses are getting a rum deal (again, if we could move on from Red Rum, it’s not good to dwell) at the races as well. All those tic-tac signals are getting confusing. Is that bloke signing out the odds or giving the inside track on a 3-for-2 on frozen lasagne? And what poor horse wants to win the race now? Get to the finish line and heaven knows where they’ll be going from there. I can imagine them at the start line: ‘So, Windy Stallion, hi, how you doing? Yeah, I know, bad times, bad times. So, I’m thinking, I’m not in a rush, why don’t you gallop off without me? No, honestly, I’m really over those photo finishes. What? You say Supernova Stan’s on a winning streak. Hasn’t he heard? Hey, Supernova Stan, break a hoof, buddy.’

Personally, I’ve never been much of a horse person. I’ve got up on the back of a horse about twice in my life – and come off again pretty quickly. It’s not like the horses said anything, but they made it fairly clear I wasn’t welcome. I didn’t take it personally, but still, it’s kind of satisfying to level the playing field. Horses used to look at me and smell my fear. Now their fear is coming to a supermarket near you.


October 13, 2011

Inexplicably, I was driving home from Milton Keynes on Tuesday evening and had a sudden urge for fish and chips. Just to be clear, it wasn’t inexplicable that I was driving home from Milton Keynes – I’d gone to the shopping centre for some retail therapy and was on my way back.  No, it was inexplicable that I had a craving for battered cod. Somewhere on the A421, possibly while I was negotiating one of the many roundabouts, the thought suddenly popped into my head: ‘I want fish and chips.’ And then I couldn’t get that fishy thought out of my head. God knows I tried. I quite sternly reminded myself several times that I had a nice piece of salmon waiting for me at home, ready to be baked with a bit of lemon and served on a bed of wilted spinach.  But for once in my life I just couldn’t get excited about wilted spinach.

And so, instead of heading home, I took a detour to the nearest fish and chip shop. Bad news, the shop was closed. Well, I say it was closed, it actually burnt down a few months ago, but when I’d last driven past there’d been a temporary mobile van parked outside. Not tonight, though. I smiled to myself and thought: ‘Helen, this is the universe telling you to go home to your salmon.’ And then I thought: ‘Fuck the universe, I want batter!’

And so I took another detour to another chippy. Which was open. And packed. I’m now hungry and tired and having to sodding queue for my dinner. I can feel an anxiety attack coming on. A man in front of me is ordering everything. He wants four kiddie meals. My friend hates the term ‘kiddie’ meals, she thinks there’s a smack of paedophilia about it. I hate kiddie meals because it takes so bloody long to assemble the boxes and stack the food in them – just shove it in paper like the grown-ups, for cod’s sake. And breathe. I am calm. I am centred. What the???? Now he’s forgotten the mushy peas for the wife, and, hang on, he’d like three battered sausages and a pickled egg.

Just one woman in front of me now. She orders a salad kebab. Like, what is the fricking point? If you want pitta and lettuce, lady, go home.

I’m now eyeing up the cod. There are two massive pieces in the holding area. They’re so big, they’ve probably won awards. So huge, I bet they’ve had their own double-page spread in Fishing Weekly. I have visions of a triumphant angler holding up the battered cod. The one that didn’t get away.

Thing is, I only want a small cod and chips. I’m in a dilemma. I don’t want the over-sized fish, but I’m too hungry to wait for a new batch to be fried up. The woman serving doesn’t mess around. She harpoons the cod and wrestles it into paper. To be honest, I didn’t notice the portion size of the chips because I was too busy arranging a loan to pay (since when did fish and chips get so expensive?).

Back home at last, I fall upon my fish and chips. Actually, I almost literally do – I’m in such a rush to eat I trip over the doorstep and fall on my knees. For a millisecond, I consider eating from that position but I have to get up to fetch the vinegar and ketchup.

So was it worth it? Yes and no. The cod was delicious – soft fleshy fish encased in crunchy golden batter – and the chips were hot and chunky. But it was a ridiculous portion size. And I mean, ridiculous. The fish would have done for two and there were enough chips for a family of four. Seriously, portion sizes are out of control. I ate way more than I needed to just because it was there (willpower and me aren’t the best of friends) and I still threw half of my dinner in the bin, which is sickeningly wasteful.  

I don’t regret having my fish and chips, but I wish I’d been more picky about the portion size. I should have asked for a smaller piece of cod and kept my eye on the chip situation – and I should have asked for a reduced price for a reduced portion. Alternatively, maybe next time I’ll have the kiddie meal – there’s only so much you can stuff in those damn boxes.

* Do you think portion sizes are too big? I’d love to know your thoughts.



September 15, 2011

This morning I had the misfortune of eating a breakfast biscuit. I know it was a breakfast biscuit because it said it was a breakfast biscuit on the box. I also know it was a breakfast biscuit because there is a very annoying television advert that keeps telling me it’s a breakfast biscuit with, in case I didn’t understand the concept, a lot of emphasis on the word breakfast.

There are other clues. Like the fact that the woman who’s eating the breakfast biscuit is presenting a breakfast show on the radio. Cleverly, this woman actually presents a breakfast show in real life. Do you understand? Because this is a breakfast biscuit. I’m not sure it’s relevant but this woman went out with George Clooney for about five minutes once. I only mention this because everybody else does. It’s unclear, however, whether Mr Clooney eats breakfast biscuits.

What’s clear is that this woman’s co-presenter (in real life and in this really annoying ad) doesn’t eat breakfast biscuits. He, poor fellow, is having a terrible time with his tomato ketchup, getting into all sorts of a mess squeezing it onto his egg bap. Silly man! If he had gone for the breakfast biscuit he wouldn’t have got into such a state. If he’d had the breakfast biscuit it might even have put hairs on his chest – or head – although perhaps that’s another marketing opportunity for Johnny.

Anyway, this morning I bit into my breakfast biscuit and my teeth nearly fell out in protest. Sweeeeet Jesus! With that kind of sugar rush, I could have gone from Bedfordshire to Bangladesh in 0.5 seconds. The manufacturers of this breakfast biscuit would be highly disappointed by my low tolerance to sugar.  For a healthy, nutritious start to the day they recommend four of their lovely breakfast biscuits along with a low-fat yoghurt (low fat usually means high sugar), a piece of fruit (which contains, well I’ll be blowed, sugar) and a cup of tea or coffee (one lump or two?).

Sadly, the message about the breakfast biscuit seems to have got through (although not to my mum, who has hers with an afternoon cuppa… For the love of God, how many times, mum? It’s a breakfast biscuit!) The sugar-filled snack has joined the supermarket shelves as yet another example of time-saving, quick-fix convenience crap for people who don’t have the sense to neck a few nuts and an apple when they’re in hurry. Or – radical idea – actually make time to eat proper food.

Tomorrow, I’m going back to my melon, parma ham and pumpkin seeds. Because – call me old-fashioned – it’s breakfast.






June 19, 2011

I have a favourite memory of my dad. As a kid, whenever we had treacle sponge pudding, he’d load up his spoon with Tate & Lyle’s golden syrup and hold it high in the air above his dish. Then, as me and my two sisters watched with baited breath, he’d turn the spoon and as the syrup dripped downwards he’d move his dish backwards and forwards. Sometimes the syrup hit its target, often it missed the sponge and splattered onto the table. It didn’t matter. We thought my dad was the funniest man in the world.

Recently, I had some hypnotherapy sessions to try to get to the bottom of my emotional eating and my dad came up a lot. I remembered the summer holidays eating doughnuts on the sand (I never did get the jam off my Bay City Rollers t-shirt). Sunday high tea with Fondant Fancies and Battenberg cake. Birthday celebrations at Chinese restaurants. My dad was in every memory, goofing around with chopsticks, fashioning hats out of napkins, making me laugh so much tea dribbled out of my mouth.

I cried buckets thinking about my dad, who died eleven years ago, but through the tears came a powerful realisation. I eat to make myself happy.

Weirdly (or stupidly) I’d never made this link. I struggled to believe I actually was an emotional eater because, as far as I could tell, I pigged out pretty much all the time. Had a bad day? Eat. Had a good day? Eat. Bored. Restless. Nervous. Eat. Eat. Eat. That’s not emotional eating, I thought. That’s just greed.

Now I’ve figured it out. Food, for me, equals joy, laughter, silliness, fun, childlike abandon. And who wouldn’t want more of that in their life? When I’m having a tough time, I turn to food to elevate my spirits. When life’s good, I binge on food because I don’t want those happy feelings to end. Food is my happy place, and I want to stay there.

I can’t, of course. Not if I don’t want to be airlifted off my chocolate-stained sofa. Instead, I need to seek non-edible alternatives to happiness. I’ve made a start. I’ve replaced Cadbury’s bars with back-to-back comedy show. Swapped stuffing my face with salsa classes. And I’m volunteering at the local school. With no kids of my own, it’s one step closer to that childlike freedom I’m craving.

So thanks, dad. You’re no longer here but in your own crazy way you’ve helped me find my way again. As it’s  Father’s Day, I’d like to make a toast, so everyone, please, raise a spoon to my lovely, funny dad.


February 4, 2011

I was wondering when I could bring up my story about being knocked out by a pork belly. It involved a pork belly, obviously, a ride in an ambulance and an overnight stay in Bedford A&E. All because of a pork belly. It was all a bit silly really. One of those Helen episodes – like the one where I nearly got run over by my own car – that has friends rolling their eyes and laughing hysterically. At me. Not with me.

Anyway, now that ambulances are in the news, what with them being kitted out with pricey gear to shuttle the obese to hospital, I thought it was as good a time as any to tell you the pork belly story.

It was last summer and I was enjoying a lovely meal at the local gastro pub with my friend Louise. We both started with the salmon blinis. Delicious but enormous – like fish-covered UFOs. The pork belly arrived soon after. A bit too soon really, as I was still sort of digesting, but I don’t hang around where crackling’s concerned so I got stuck in. Half way in, I surreptitiously undid my jeans to free one of my belly rolls. And after that the evening went a bit pear-shaped.

I suddenly felt a bit light-headed, sweaty and sick so I stepped outside to get some air. One minute I was sitting at one of the al fresco tables, the next I was aware of some stupid bitch screaming hysterically – I later learned it was Louise, who’d seen me slump to the concrete floor. She thought I’d had a heart attack. She’s a trained nurse so I don’t think she was being unnecessarily dramatic.

It took me a while to realise what was going on, but the paramedic was very patient. ‘Do you know where you are, Helen?’ I nodded. ‘Don’t move your head, Helen. Does your head hurt?’ I nodded. ‘Don’t move your head, Helen. I’m just going to check your neck, ok?’ I nodded. She asked more questions. I nodded, and shook my head and nodded again. I just really wasn’t in the mood for being chatty.

By this time a small gathering had formed. To be fair, not much happens in my village so this sort of Saturday night floorshow was quite a talking point. A man placed his jacket on top of me. I think he did it out of kindness to the audience, who may have been put off their desserts by the sight of my exposed belly rolls. I tried to do up my jeans – not so easy when you’re flat out on the floor surrounded by gawpers. One of them noticed someone she knew and proceeded to have a chat about her holiday in the Seychelles. She was within ankle-biting distance. But I thought I better not move my head.

I was now rather desperate to pay the bill and get home. I had a banging headache and was one head nod away from throwing up. I also suddenly realised I was bleeding (nothing major, my face had smashed into the table on my descent and my nose had taken a bit of a battering). So I was mortified when I was picked up and popped in the ambulance.

I’d never ridden in an ambulance before and, let me tell you, it’s not a lot of laughs. Not when you’re strapped into a stretcher with a neck brace and can’t move and want to puke. Not when you’re starting to have a panic attack because you’re strapped into a stretcher with a neck brace and can’t move and want to puke. And not when you’re tilted to a forty-five degree angle so if you do puke you don’t choke to death. Laughs? There were none.

Spending Saturday night in hospital wasn’t such a hoot either. I passed out again mid-vomit (Louise’s hysterical screaming brought me back round). I thought I was having a stroke when I couldn’t get my words out to flirt with the porter who was wheeling me off for a scan. And I was repeatedly interrogated by a humourless medic. ‘How much did you drink? Have you taken any drugs?’ he asked. ‘No drugs,’ I told him, ‘and just one glass of prosecco.’ About an hour later he returned and asked the same question. I gave him the same answer. Another hour, another white-coated man, another similar Q&A. I looked down at my New Look sandals. Earlier that evening, I thought they’d signalled ‘sexy and sophisticated’, but obviously they just screamed binge-drinking old slapper. One of the paramedics popped his head round the curtain. ‘Cheer up, love. You’ll feel much better when you’ve sobered up.’

Anyway, back to the ambulance. At the time, I did think there was room for improvement. It was a bit cramped in the back what with me on the stretcher and Louise and the two paramedics on vomit watch. A bit of extra room would’ve been lovely. Maybe a cosy armchair in the corner for non-emergency passengers. A telly, perhaps? A food trolley if you were feeling peckish. And the lighting needs to be sorted. When you feel like death the last thing you need is those overhead strip lights making you look like it too.  

I’m wondering if the NHS would oblige. New obesity ambulances are reportedly set to cost up to £90,000 each. They’ll be kitted out with double-width trolleys stretchers, heavy-duty hoists and inflatable lifting cushions. If they could throw in some bean bags and a couple of IKEA lamps, I reckon they’re onto a winner.


February 1, 2011

Last week I went to see The King’s Speech. It was a b-b-b-b-b-brilliant movie. What wasn’t so g-g-g-g-g-great was the queue of people waiting to fill up with pre-film snacks. I’m sorry but I just don’t get why Colin Firth has to come with a mega-bucket of popcorn and so-big-you-can-barely-carry-it-coke. Granted Firth doesn’t emerge in a wet white shirt but surely that’s no reason to drown your sorrows in a vat of fizzy sugar.

It’s a real bugbear of mine that cinemas serve up such high-salt, high-sugar, high-fat crap. I’m there to be entertained, not primed for an early heart attack. Yet mention that to people and I get short shrift and hard stares. Junk food, it would seem, is part of the cinema experience. As a popcorn refusenik I’m labelled difficult, boring, a spoilsport. I once had to buy a packet of Revels (the size of a shopping bag, obviously) just to appease the friends I was with. Chocolate addict, dark room, limitless supply – just like the movie, it didn’t end well.

What riles me most, though, is the popcorn pushers. They’re like used car salesmen with extra sugar. They’ve got the smiles and the spiel and they want to sell you popcorn like their life depends on it. Which it probably does. A friend of mine’s daughter works at the multiplex near her uni and she recently won thirty quid’s worth of vouchers – enough for a new outfit at Primark and a couple of cheap vodkas – for her super-selling skills. She says it’s all in the eye contact. Someone comes up to the counter to buy popcorn, you look them in the eye and suggest they up-size for, ooh, about fifty pence more. Who can resist a pair of pleading student eyes and the economic reality that you can get more, so much more, for your money?

Well me, for one. But resisting temptation isn’t easy. It’s making me argumentative. Cinemas, shops, restaurants – everywhere I go I’ve started kicking off. The rows usually go something like this one that happened in a takeaway cafe recently:-

‘Would you like bread with your soup?’

‘No thanks.’

‘It’s free.’

‘I know. But I don’t want it, thanks.’

‘But it’s free.’ (Friendly voice now getting insistent)

‘I know. Thanks. But I’m good without it. Thanks.’ (Friendly voice now getting pissed off)

‘It’s this bread here. It’s free.’

‘OK. Can I have a granary roll instead of the white bread?’

‘No. You have to pay for the granary roll. The white bread is free.’ (Voice now sounding confused)

‘Don’t worry. I’ll just take the soup.’

‘You know you can have a free coke with that too, don’t you?’

‘Can I have a bottle of water instead?’

‘No. You have to pay for the water, but the coke is free.’

‘Can I just have the fucking soup?’

If you’re out and happen to see a red-faced, arm-waving, mouth-twitching lunatic who’s NOT carrying bread or coke, that’s me.


January 29, 2011

God, you look haggard, are you on a diet? Why aren’t you having wine, are you on a diet? What happened to you, you used to be fun, are you a on a diet?

It’s funny how as soon as you start making healthy choices about food people make negative comments. Over the years it’s happened to me regularly and it annoys the hell out of me. Just because I’m not having the chocolate cheesecake doesn’t mean I’m on a diet. Maybe I’m too full for a dessert or maybe I’m thinking that as my mum has Type 2 diabetes I should skip the sugar once in a while. So I’m looking haggard – and, hey, thanks for not only noticing but telling me too – but wondered if that might be to do with my chronic insomnia? And did I used to be fun? Gosh, I can’t remember, so many people have been telling me how old and knackered and boring I am that lately I just feel old and knackered and boring.

Many years ago I went on a major health kick – nothing to do with weight, I simply wanted clearer skin, a clearer head and more energy. I swapped chardonnay for hot water and lemon, went from veggie to near-vegan and followed Leslie Kenton’s raw food eating regime. Two months in, I’d never looked and felt better – and, yes, slimmer – but were friends and family as happy with the fabulous new me as I was? Absolutely not. Even though I was radiant and energised they were concerned that I was taking the carrot-sucking too far. There was an air of suspicion and mistrust (who was this new, in-control paragon of health who had spirited away their carb-troughing friend?). And, no doubt, there was jealousy too because I’d achieved what maybe they too wanted but couldn’t be arsed getting.

What happened? I went back to the all-you-can-eat buffets and happy-hour drinking. It wasn’t that I didn’t like what I had become – cleaner, leaner, revitalised – but I didn’t like what people thought I had become. They made me feel like I’d had a personality transplant. They equated my controlled eating with being dull, boring and serious so that’s how they labelled me. In the end I became so ground down with the fun-free persona that had been foisted upon me that I ditched my healthy regime and returned to the doughnut-juggling, booze-swilling person they all knew and loved.  

And everyone was happy again. Everyone except me.


January 11, 2011

I’m in a chicken or egg dilemma. No, I’m not wondering whether I should poach my eggs or fry ’em with bacon and sausages. Poach the chicken or roast it with potatoes and bread sauce. No, I’m wondering what comes first. The exercise or the eating.

I exercise so I can eat (as opposed to eating less so I don’t have to exercise). Post-workout, the first thing I do is eat. It might be a handful of peanuts. It might be a handful of Maltesers. Hey, it might only be half an hour until lunch. But I eat. And up until now my brain has okayed this with me. My brain tells me that I deserve it. That I’ve sweated for it. That I might even faint from hunger without it. At least that’s what I think my brain’s telling me. My brain is actually probably telling me to stop being a greedy guzzler but my head’s too far into the biscuit barrel to hear.

The way I’ve always looked at it, if I exercised I could afford to eat. I’d burnt off some calories so I had some leeway with food. What were a couple of Hob-Nobs between me and the treadmill? Quite a lot, as it happened, but maths was never my strong point. So there was me thinking that if I exercised I had carte blanche to eat.  That the yin and yang of calories would balance out. That I could eat without putting on weight. That sweating meant stuffing my face. Well calorie karma, my arse!

Turns out, I’m doing what a lot of other poor deluded people are doing. I’m burning off the calories then bingeing on an iced bun. I see food as a reward for my hard work on the rowing machine. What I don’t see is that I’m over-compensating for exercising – and overeating as a result.

And apparently exercise can derail you in other ways too. Terry Wilkin, professor of endocrinology and metabolism at the Peninsula Medical School in Plymouth, has conducted a long-term study on children with obesity. He found that kids who did a lot of PE at their school went home and blobbed out, while the kids who did less PE at their school were generally more physically active outside of the school gates. It makes sense. As much as I usually enjoy it once I get there, I still view a trip to the gym as a bit of a chore, so when I’m done I don’t have any inclination to do any other physical activity. The rest of the time I practically get bed sores from lying on the sofa. My dog-walking friends, meanwhile, seamlessly incorporate exercise into their daily lives – and don’t expect a medal for doing it.

The answer isn’t to stop exercising (and actually I don’t want to). I just need to embrace exercise as part of a daily routine, whether it’s a gym session or using my legs instead of my car (walking’s probably quicker than my old Corsa anyway).

And I need to quit thinking I can exercise then eat with abandon and a side order of fries. It’s not about obsessively counting calories or having an anxiety attack every time I put food to my lips. But I’ve got to get out of the habit of using food as a reward when I’ve been to the gym. And miscalculating just how much I’m eating when I have (it’s high time I figured out that 10 minutes on the treadmill doesn’t equal a chicken korma).

And I’ve got to start thinking about poaching those eggs.


January 8, 2011

Are you on a diet? Are you over 28? Well stop right now!

You’re wasting your time, apparently.

A new survey has concluded that 28 is the optimum age to diet. It seems when you’re coming up to your thirties, you’ve got the time and determination to keep on top of your weight.  From 29 onwards, it’s all downhill. Your willpower’s shot to bits. You’re too busy to bother. Basically, you can’t be arsed.

Well that’s unhelpful. And ridiculous. And as well as being ridiculously unhelpful, it’s obviously not true.

Well, the 3,000 thirty-something women who were surveyed believe it. As do the people at Lambrini Light who commissioned the survey. Personally I couldn’t see the link between cars and calories until I realised it wasn’t Lamborghini at all. Silly me. Labrini Light is a low-cal lightly sparkling perry, whatever that is, aimed at, yes, you’ve guessed it, younger women. Or, as it’s marketed on one website ‘Lambrini is all about a celebration of being female, carefree, and up for some fun.’ And presumably up for some post-kebab calorie restricting.

Am I the only one who’s infuriated by food and drinks companies that push their products with a dieting message? Or commission surveys that blatantly link to their target audience.

Hovis is another recent offender. Their research found the average woman will scoff 1,092 unhealthy snacks over the coming year, with nearly half of those surveyed blaming mid-morning hunger pangs for their snack attacks. Cue Hovis’s ‘Stop Snacking’ campaign to get the nation filling up on bread for breakfast. Now there’s nowt wrong with a couple of toasted wholemeal slices – in fact fibre’s all good – but I don’t want it shoved down my throat as a diet option. (If you do, and want to be rewarded with hard cash for your troubles, check out

Whether you’re 28 or 58, forget the dieting. The most effective way I’ve found to lose weight is to get off my lardy arse and move. Preferably away from the fridge and onto the gym or the badminton court or the salsa club. And if you’re bored of your spinning class? ’appen you could try cycling oop’t a cobbled hill instead. Loaf of Hovis optional.


January 5, 2011

I’ve just got back from the gym and had a shower to get rid of the sweat. Not my sweat. Other people’s. Mainly the sweat of big blokes in little shorts.

The treadmill was okay if you didn’t mind the whiff, but the seated equipment was hazardous (notice I don’t know the names of the equipment… I usually point and say things like “that thingy over there that does your flabby thigh bits”). Today, I couldn’t even sit on the thingies. I had to sort of squat to avoid the sweaty pools beneath me. I’m not one for exchanging bottom sweat at the best of times but we hadn’t even been introduced.

There was one particularly sweaty specimen on the exercise bike. Totally bald and going like the clappers. I wondered if he’d shaved off his hair for aesthetics or aerodynamics. He was going bloody fast. And his face was the colour of tomato soup. There was something Germanic about baldie’s cycling – pity he hadn’t put a towel on his seat – so I’ve named him Herr Heinz. He’d probably call me a bitch.

I got home, showered and sprayed myself with ‘Eau de Smug’. Yep, I was pretty chuffed that I wasn’t one of the turkey tummy brigade who’d joined the gym while the stuffing was still repeating and who’d be cancelling their membership in, oooh, six weeks. Pah! Don’t these people ever learn?

And I’m even smugger that I’m not on some god-awful post-Christmas diet. Don’t get me wrong, I could do with it. Despite my best intentions, I look like I’m about to give birth to a giant mince pie, but you don’t get to my advanced age without learning that it’s wise to take these things slow and steady.

 I’ll keep an eye on calories and keep at it at the gym. But blood, sweat and tears? Forget it!