Tuesday, 30 January 2007

The Big Bonanza of Yum

As of this morning, I have lost 21 pounds – or, in the British terms that so amuse me, a stone and a half.

This afternoon I celebrated with a treat from Ben’s Cookies.

Well, not exactly celebrated.

But in diets past I have gone hell for leather (well, hell for cotton or wool or premium brand denim, I guess, because no matter how thin I get, you won’t catch this body in leather) toward my goal, desperate to lose as much weight as quickly as possible. I like to get unpleasant things – life without cheese, chocolate, and frosting – over with fast.

The life without foods I love has been my undoing in the past, though. I deny and deny and deny – and then suddenly, I’m eating all of it and I can’t stop. I know it seems Like, So Totally Obvious that this would happen – don’t think I don’t know better. But the fear of being unable to eat any of these things in limited quantities takes over, and I become convinced that eating one cookie equals eating ten equals waking up the next day and being unable to face my oatmeal (British: porridge) and fruit equals not going to the gym equals the end of my diet.

Things have been a little different this time. I was able to eat what I wanted over Christmas, gain a pound even, and still keep going – something I have never managed to do. I lost or stayed the same with every previous diet – and when I didn’t, the diet was over. I’m cooking, which means not eating the same seven things until I want to scream. I don’t sit around checking my watch to see if it’s time to eat again because I’m not hungry constantly – in fact, I’m eating enough to fear that the numbers on the scale won’t continue their downward trend.

And I promised myself that if I wanted something – really craved it – I could have it. I don’t know if it’s giving up diet Coke or the regular eating or what, but I don’t crave sugar much these days. For the past few days, though, I’ve found myself thinking of Ben’s Cookies – something I binged on frequently last year.

The first day I thought of their milk chocolate chunk cookies – aka “a big bonanza of yum,” as a friend calls them -- it was Saturday and I was at home, a half hour away from the shop. I told myself if I still wanted a cookie on Monday I’d have one. I thought about them briefly yesterday and then forgot. Today, as I was heading out to pick up some lunch, the shop called to me.

The line (British: queue) frightened me. I feared impatiently waiting in the line, gazing over the cookies and suddenly wanting every variety, which is what used to happen all the time last year. I waited for a few minutes, got to the front of the line, and then walked away. I tried to convince myself I was just hungry and needed lunch – that the craving would go away once I’d eaten proper food. And yet.

And yet. And yet I knew that I couldn’t keep avoiding many of the things I used to overeat.

So I bought one cookie and ate it in the Covent Garden piazza. It was slightly overcooked, but still good.

For the moment, anyway, so am I.

Friday, 26 January 2007

Ferrets, Are You Ready for Your Close-up?

Despite the amount of time I spend writing about film stars, I’ve been on only one film set: Harry Potter. Wednesday I went to Shepperton Studios, way out past Heathrow Airport, where Helen Mirren, Paul Bettany, and Brendan Fraser are filming. (It was the day after the Oscar nominations were announced, and Helen Mirren was dressed, for her great aunt role, in a high-necked blouse, a flowered dress, and a turban – and not one from Prada spring/summer. When I joked to her about whether the outfit would provide inspiration for her Oscars gown, she laughed and said: “Darling, don’t you just love my outfit? Most of it’s from H&M.”)

The highlight of the day was not the treacle tart served for lunch, which the crew was raving about (I didn’t have any), or the three (count ‘em, three) hours I spent killing time waiting for the cast to finish shooting and come talk with me. (Factette of the day: The producer told me they shoot what amounts to a minute of film per day.)

The highlight – for me – was talking with the animal trainers. Even if an animal, say, bites one of the stars (or “talent,” as they’re called – which in this case might be apt but I can think of many others where it isn’t. Yes, I’m looking at you, Lindsay Lohan.), I’ll never use any of the information I acquired. But I love knowing it.

For example: To play the one ferret in the film, there are 12 ferrets, all trained in different, very specific tasks. One is trained just to sit on Paul Bettany’s shoulder, another is trained only to fetch, another is trained to leap. To make all the ferrets look the same, they paint them with brown mascara. I love it. I also find it endlessly amusing that we have a society that has created a need as specific as this – that this is someone’s job. I think I might be speechless if I met someone at a cocktail party and she said, “Oh, I train ferrets for the movies.” It sure beats: “I’m a journalist.”

Other factette of the day: MGM owns the rights to use cairn terriers as Toto from The Wizard of Oz – so no one else can. This production, which needs a Toto, has had to use Westies and dye them black with hair dye. (Despite – or perhaps because of – the amount of time I spend asking similar questions of celebs, I did not ask which brand.)

Sunday, 21 January 2007

The Joy of Cooking

My friend A. greeted me today with: "So, are you still doing your diet thing?"

I was hoping it might be in my head that the 17 pounds I have lost make not one whit of difference in my appearance. Obviously not.

* * *

It's been a brutal week, but a lovely weekend. I hit two markets (Borough Market and the Columbia Flower Market), saw a friend's statue unveiled in Trafalgar Square, watched three films -- and rediscovered the joy of cooking.

In years past, whenever I've tried to lose weight, I eat the same things again and again. (One of my diets seemed to consist almost exclusively of eggbeaters omelets, Boca burgers, cereal and cantaloupe.) Usually I choose foods that are safe and easy -- and besides, I've always been too hungry to spend even an extra minute around food.

Not this time around. One of my New Year's Resolutions was to cook at least one new recipe a month -- fairly ambitious when you consider I probably didn't cook even one last year. (It doesn't help that I don't have a freezer.) Last week I made a macaroni and cheese bake (relax, it had cauliflower and lowfat yogurt). I felt so smugly healthy eating my homemade lunch at work that today I tried a bean stew, which turned out to be not nearly as much of a production as I expected. And it was delicious.

Monday, 15 January 2007

Whine and Chocolate

Today marks 50 days of This Thing That I'm Doing. That's 50 days I've been without diet Coke -- which, for anyone who knows me (and has bought a couple of two-liter bottles when I come to visit) is perhaps more of an achievement than the 14.5 pounds I've lost. (Weigh Day tomorrow, though.)

I don't think about the diet Coke much anymore, except in bars, where it feels impossibly lame (even lamer than diet Coke) to order water or sparkling water if I'm having a night where I don't want to drink my own body weight in wine, the way the rest of this country does. But the diet is a struggle. Not because of the hunger -- that's subsided, as well -- but because of my incredible impatience. It's been seven weeks, so why can't I see results?

My friend A., who would be Victoria Beckham if she lost 15 pounds, said last Friday that I had to hang on for two months.

"And then what if I don't see any difference?"

She paused. "Then you have a big drink."

Um, OK.

* * *

I'm judgmental by nature -- it's how I frame my world, and I'm not proud of it. It doesn't exactly make for a nice collection of 3 by 5s on the mantelpiece. So I've been surprised by the defenses mounted for the Friend Bearing Chocolate. It would never even have occurred to me that said friend might have done it, as another friend suggested, because she didn't think I needed to lose weight. (Sorry, but no way. There is no measure by which I'm not overweight, and medically unacceptably so -- especially by FBC's relatively exacting standards.)

Another friend suggested that perhaps FBC just plain didn't think -- that since food is not a big deal for her, she heard my diet comments and they went in one ear and out the other. (If I stretch hard, maybe maybe I can see this one -- except that she made a comment to me about my diet right before we headed to her parents'. Anyway, not listening to something that is a big deal to me -- and I told her that it was -- is still crappy friend behavior.)

That said, I've decided not to say anything to FBC -- partly because it was three weeks ago, partly because it was a present, and partly because I hate confrontation. But I may not eat my words next time... though hopefully there won't be a next time.

Burning Question

Have you ever seen Condoleeza Rice carrying a handbag?


Sunday, 14 January 2007

You Say Flasher, I Say...

Besides waking up early, my biggest problem with going to the gym in the morning is the clothing issue. I hate getting dressed just to take it all off again a half hour later when I get to the gym.

Clearly I'm not the only person with this issue: Yesterday a woman walked into the locker room wearing a long camel-colored winter coat with only underwear an a sports bra underneath it.

Novel solution -- not that I think I'd try it.

Friday, 12 January 2007

How to Make Millions (or At Least, Thousands) By Lying

A few words for you: Go into celebrity PR.

Yesterday marked two weeks of my trying to get a couple minutes on the phone with a certain celebrity who will have to remain nameless. She’s a superskinny one, not that that’s much of a clue.

It was for a very friendly story – our fashion stories always are – but said celeb’s PR kept insisting her client was “traveling,” and wouldn’t be able to come to the phone. Could I send an e-mail instead?

Well, OK.

I sent an e-mail and nudged gently. Then more persistently. “She’s traveling,” her PR kept insisting.

Um, OK.

Yesterday a colleague happened to speak to said celeb’s mother – don’t ask. When he mentioned something about her daughter traveling, she said: “What are you talking about? She’s at home watching TV with her husband.”

So I phoned the PR, who repeated that her client was traveling.

“Where’s she traveling?” I asked innocently.

“I can’t tell you that,” the woman answered.

I paused. A huge chunk of celebrity journalism involves this ridiculous “please sir, can I have some more?” in terms of just letting the most massive whoppers go by for the sake of maintaining a relationship.

But enough.

“Is that because she’s traveling from the kitchen to the living room?” I asked.

Dead silence.

I got my quotes.

Tuesday, 9 January 2007

Strike a Pose

Yesterday, while I was fighting off (and losing a battle with) the rampant insecurity that strikes when I have to interview insanely trendy fashion designers in Paris, an email with a link arrived on my blackberry. Click the link and there’s a photo of me on the Vogue web site – a hideously unflattering photo. I stand in all my double-chinned glory, gawping at the fashionistas in front of me. Our bureau assistant spotted it yesterday and apparently the whole office had a good laugh.


In British terms, as of today I’ve lost a stone – 14 pounds – but not one single item of clothing appears to be any looser. Where is this weight coming off from? My eyelids?

Thursday, 4 January 2007

Brain Trust, Part Two

Yesterday I spied Zadie Smith's On Beauty on our bureau assistant's desk.

"Is it any good?" I asked her. "I've been resisting reading it because I had such a hard time getting through White Teeth."

"I'm not sure," she said. "I never read. I'm sort of enjoying the novelty of reading a book."

Stunned silence from me. This is a woman who works in the media.

* * *

Also yesterday, after having spent the whole of December with absolutely no cash, awaiting payment of the World's Largest Expense Report (definitely the biggest of any correspondent in recent memory), I discovered my multinational, multibillion dollar company had paid it to another employee.

Did said employee not notice his Christmas windfall?

"I filed a similar sized one, so I thought it was mine," was his answer. Wonder if he is cancelling delivery of his Aga and designer sofa as we speak...

Tuesday, 2 January 2007

iPod, Therefore iAm

Walk down the street with a portable CD player and watch everyone stare. First I fried my iPod with water (long story) and then had it stolen (hope the thief is enjoying the dead iPod). Until I can replace it, I have a camouflage green portable CD player I bought a couple of years ago at Woolworth’s, when I was having my old iPod repaired. (The guy at Woolworths had to do a huge hunt in the back to even find me a portable CD player – he didn’t even think they sold them any more.)

At I’m-too-cool boutiques in London, everyone comments on the CD player – very rare for London, where no one speaks to you out of turn. I suppose it looks particularly ludicrous because I have my iPod headphones plugged into it – I have a spare pair. When I popped out of the office to get lunch today, two guys at the sushi place flat out stared at me. I felt like winking.

Ipods have their faults, but wow, the CD player is clunky, skips, and has bad sound quality. And I have to lug around CDs. And it doesn’t fit in my pocket. And…

I ordered my new iPod today, and – courtesy of a friend who works at iTunes – got free engraving. I struggled to think of something clever before finally giving up because I was in a hurry – the sooner I order it, the sooner it will come. So my snazzy black iPod, when it arrives, will say “Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before.” Of course the engraving is on the back, covered by the case I am also purchasing (see “first I fried my iPod," above), so no one but me will know just how lame I am.

* * *

I got through the holidays having only gained a pound. (Net loss for five weeks: 13 pounds.) Considering the mince pie, champagne, chocolate and general free-for-all that is England in December, and considering that the second half of the month included a week in Italy, Christmas in Scotland at a friend’s, and New Year’s in Spain, I’m feeling pretty good. Not great, of course, because of course I wish I was about 20 pounds thinner already and could actually see some difference – especially for a bunch of scary fashion-related things I have to do in the next two weeks -- but let’s not go there.

Italy was not nearly as hard as I thought it would be. It helped that I had been in Rome in November, unconstrained by diet, and so had recently eaten most of the things I might have wanted to stuff my face with. It also helped that I was with a very supportive and incredibly patient friend who occasionally pointed out that of course I was hungry, I hadn’t eaten enough. And someday I’m going to write the Towers of Italy Diet, which consists of eating pasta and climbing to the top of every church, bell tower, fortress and castle – which is pretty much what I did. (The climbing, not the eating. If we weren’t stair-climbing, we were trekking to the top of hilly small towns a good six hours a day.) I actually lost three pounds the week I was there.

Christmas was harder. I was going to a friend’s house and knew I’d have no control over what was served – only about how much I ate of it. I decided that Quality Street chocolates are pretty rubbish and had little trouble resisting them when the tin was passed around again and again and again. And then again. I don’t even want to calculate how many of them I might have eaten had I not been paying attention.

New Year’s: With same unsupportive friend (see Chocolates, Gave Box Of to Dieting Friend for Present) as at Christmas. But I bought fruit from the market (as opposed to pastry-laden hotel breakfasts) and tried to watch portions in restaurants.

Here’s to 2007.