Wednesday, 27 December 2006

Calling Miss Manners

What do you say the friend who buys you chocolate for Christmas when she knows you're on a diet?

I am seething mad about this one. When I first told her -- my petite UK-size-8 friend -- about my diet, I was testing the waters. I never tell people when I'm starting a diet -- too much of a, er, belly flop waiting to happen -- but decided I'm getting a little old to lie to friends about why I don't want to eat/drink certain things.

Her response: "I hope you're not going to do that at Christmas." (I was invited to spend the holiday at her parents' house in Scotland.)

Later that afternoon, she ordered a mug of hot chocolate with whipped cream and a huge slice of cake at Starbucks. I sipped my peppermint tea, thinking: "Well, I never want people to make a fuss or feel like they can't eat what they want in front of me, but really, this is a bit much."

Then on Christmas Day I opened the box of Orla Kiely chocolates. It was one of a few presents from her family as a group, so I thought: "Oh, OK, I bet her mom bought it" -- chocolate being one of the standard Christmas gifts for people you don't know well. Still, I doubted it -- my friend had warned me not to buy her parents a posh brand of cognac (a spirit they love) because "they won't recognize it, so it's a waste." Orla Kiely, however, is trendy and London.

Then my friend said cheerfully, nodding at the box: "I picked that one out."

I didn't let it ruin Christmas, but this morning -- when I picked it up while packing to come back to London -- I got angry all over again. My sister suggested that maybe she'd bought it before I announced -- about a month ago -- that I was going on a diet. Maybe, but since chocolate is such an all-purpose gift, why not give it to someone else and give me stationery or something (she knows I'm a big thank-you-note writer)?

I'm trying to let it go, but it's not easy.

Tuesday, 12 December 2006

The Joy of December in London

Dear London Tourist:

I realize our city is full of ye olde English things like, um, pubs and oh-aren’t-they-cute policemen on horses and even cars driving on the wrong side of the road that you simply must photograph, but please, please, please, do not stand two and three abreast in the middle of the narrow sidewalks showing each other your photos on your digital cameras and deciding if you should take another. Some of us would like to be able to run one lone errand on our lunch hours (difficult enough with the Tube as rubbish as it is), or get to work/the film/a dinner on time. And please do not tut and cluck when those of us who live here run through your photo because we can’t stand there all day waiting for you to take a picture of – I am not making this up – a hedge in the shape of a vodka bottle in the Selfridges window.

Also, if you absolutely must snog your partner in the middle of the escalator when the Tube is packed during morning rush hour, please do not stand on the left side of the escalator or someone is going to push you down it.

Yours gratefully,

* * *

I lost another pound and a half this week. Though I don’t trust my scale. How could I weigh a quarter pound more after I went to the bathroom?

Tuesday, 5 December 2006

Only [Number Too Depressing to Think About] More Pounds to Go

I’ve spent a good five minutes trying to think of a way to end the following sentence without a “but” followed by something negative: “I lost seven and a half pounds this week.”

OK. Did it.

But. Yes, but. But I’m already despairing of losing any more in the great sea of champagne and chocolate that is the holiday season in London. I tell myself I am looking at December not in terms of what I lose but in terms of what I might have gained, but to be honest, I don’t know what I might have gained. When I’m on the up and up I never weigh myself.

Besides, it is hard to put forth the sort of effort I’m putting forth – cooking, worrying, planning – without any results, let alone with a gain. What exhausts me is the (mental) weighing and balancing – if I have this extra for lunch then I can’t have a drink at the party tonight. Or: If I overdo it, say, on Wednesday I’d better be careful on Thursday. Which is almost impossible this time of year.

But enough whinging. Except for the first three days, when I was constantly hungry, I have had no cravings of any kind. Not even at the office birthday party I attended today, where my colleagues attacked a French chocolate cake.

* * *

This morning at the Mulberry sample sale – as I tried and failed to reclaim my rightful place in line amid a seething mass in the pouring rain – a guy heard my accent and said loudly: “This is Britain. We know how to queue here.” If you did, I wouldn’t have had to struggle to hold on to my place, you tosser.

I later saw he worked for the Express, quite possibly the most useless collection of newsprint in the UK. It’s the only one I never bother going to another newsagent for if my local is out of it when I’m on weekend duty, buying all the papers.

The sale, incidentally, was a wash. “Sample sale” to me implies deep, deep discount, whereas these prices were less than £100 off the originals. And wallets were still £89. I’ve never been one of those Americans who lives my life mentally calculating the dollars I’m spending, but now that the current exchange rate is nearly two to one, it’s hard not to. I was pleased with my restraint, only buying a £20 belt – but then I took an £11 taxi back to the office. What can I say? It was pouring.

Sunday, 3 December 2006

The Cult of the Diet

Multiple times this week I have tried – and failed – to write about This Thing That I Am Doing.

I’m not doing the same thing as Wendy, from whom I have borrowed the above phrase. But I feel similarly about it – that Weight Watchers drives me crazy, and that I’m tired of pretending that I can have it all when I know that I can’t.

So what is this thing that I am doing? I’m loath to describe it. Not because it’s a crazy fad diet, but because it’s something I never thought I’d do. Let’s just say it is a diet I have long associated with people who – if this diet had an online message forum, which it does not – definitely would spell losing “loosing.” This diet has made me consider whether diets can (and are) class-based, because no one in the magazine about said diet is anyone I know, or would know. Even the clothes in the photo shoots of the success stories are tacky styles from deep discount stores.

I guess I’ve been loath to discuss this particular diet because the people in the before pictures represent my deepest fears of what I think people think when they look at me. They are the women in the tent dresses, with the towel wrapped around the bucket of ice cream (for the record, something I have never done). But at different points in my life I have sat at Overeaters Anonymous meetings and Weight Watchers meetings and thought unkind, uncharitable thoughts about the people around me -- and of course, about myself, for having to be there along with them. And here I am, still unhappy with the way I look. So I'm giving a new cult -- and all these diets are cults, aren't they? -- a try.

If I carry on with This Thing That I'm Doing -- if you're counting, which of course I am, my third diet of the year -- probably I’ll post later about what exactly I’m, uh, doing. But let’s just say I am cooking and eating loads of fruit and even vegetables, though I draw the line at baby carrots! Unrelated to the diet, I’ve given up diet Coke – for now, anyway. (I’m not sure if it’s the diet or the lack of diet Coke – or both – that account for the surprising lack of sugar cravings after the initial few days of withdrawal.) A friend today – unprompted – said she thought I looked slimmer. Unlikely when today is Day 7, but nice to hear.

Why start a diet in the middle of the holiday season? Because I didn’t want to wait until January 1. Well, January 2. I didn’t want another month of feeling and knowing that I need to do something, of last chance eating, and of feeling unhappy with all of it.

I’m the queen of black-and-white thinking, but I’ve been working hard to convince myself – to really make myself believe – that I should look at this month not in terms of what I’ve lost but in terms of what I might have gained had I not made these changes now. I know I’m not going to be able to stick to this way of eating at Christmas, where I’ll be a houseguest in Scotland, Land of All Things Fried (including, I am told, pizza). It will just have to be some early practice in running like hell to catch the wagon I’ve fallen off of.

* * *

Today would have been my mother's 63rd birthday. On the way home from Selfridges, I tried to buy some orange roses -- her favorite color -- but they were wilted.