Wednesday, 18 November 2009


There is something very therapeutic about scrubbing the bathtub, especially while listening to the Goo Goo Dolls (very random CD I spied while cleaning and just had to hear for the first time in, oh, about seven years).

I Will Fix You

OK, I admit it. From time to time I Google the Fig, as I Google all exes, former roommates, people who wronged me, old colleagues who failed upwards… you get the idea. It is a fantastic form of procrastination, and every once in a while has led to an actual story idea (some of the people in the categories above are journalists, which means lots of articles to read…)

The Fig is one of the most invisible thirtysomethings I’ve ever met, at least in 21st century terms – no Facebook, no Linked In, no social media. (And he’s a writer, too!) Hits for his name on Google have been the same for as long as I’ve been searching: reviews of a play he wrote more than a decade ago; a quote in an article he gave as a favor to a friend. (The author was a she; I never asked if he’d dated her.)

The other day I popped his name into Google and found a new hit: a photo of him at a work-type party in January 2008. The photo makes me wonder a lot of things about him, and realize I’ll never be able to ask him. (Well, I could ask, but I’d never get a reply.)

The act of Googling the Fig, and of spending so much time (or really, any time) thinking about him and what he’s doing and why the hell I care so much has given me a lot to think about. Basically, why it is I get so hung up on people, and can't, to carry on (or mix) the metaphor, put the phone down. There are very few men I get particularly excited about, but when I do, watch out. I can be a lunatic.

Why is this? I wondered, as I stared at the photo of the Fig (taken, I might add, from an unflattering angle -- even if you account for my rose-tinted glasses, objectively he is a whole lot more attractive than the photo). I think it's because I think whoever it is I've set my sights on is going to fix me and my life. I think he is going to be The Answer – the golden ticket that makes me happy -- maybe in the way I looked at losing weight as The Answer.

Of course I knew – and thought I believed -- that losing weight would not solve all of my problems. I hated it when people would say things to me like – and this is an actual quote – “If you just lost weight your life would be perfect.” But deep down I must have believed, or wanted to believe, what they said, because this morning I woke up and saw 9 stone 13 (139 lbs) on the scale and felt… nothing. Not glee – just nothing. (I guess weight really is just a number, or so I’ve been reading for years.) And then huge disappointment. I don’t know what I thought would happen – that the sky would explode into fireworks that spelled my name like something out of the movie Annie?

I guess losing weight has always been something I could focus on – something productive I could do (or, as the case was for years, not do and despair about). And for the past couple of years, whenever any part of my life has been spectacularly crummy (work, romance, etc), I’ve been able to focus on an area – weight – where I was making great progress. And now, it seems, the easy high I can get off that particular success is over.

Yesterday I met up (separately) with two friends I haven’t seen in months. I had very little to answer to the “So what have you been up to lately?” question and I didn’t like it. (Losing a couple more pounds and otherwise maintaining my weight loss is not, in my mind, a satisfactory answer, even if it is one specific and positive thing I’ve done. I suppose I should be kinder to myself – I really could have let things go awry with all the upheaval I’ve had this year.) Where has the whole year gone? For the most part, watching other people get on with their lives (see “Googling the Fig,” as above) – and not doing things that I love.

“You don’t seem very happy,” my friend T. said gently, just as I was thinking the same thing. Time to do something about that.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Dinner on the Run

“You look done in,” said my friend as I turned up to the bar at about 10:30 pm.

I was – not that I’d tell him why.

About 8 pm I’d met up for drinks – translation: cranberry juice for him and diet Coke for me – at a pub in Bloomsbury with my friend O. We nearly always meet for dinner, and it’s always at 8, so I assumed we’d be eating. But it was never mentioned, and something in me couldn’t bring myself to bring it up. (For the record, O knows a little bit about my eating history, and he’s certainly seen me along the entire 90-lb.-plus weight loss journey.) Despite a day of ridiculously poor eating (carbs for breakfast, chocolate for snack, carbs for lunch, chocolate for snack) I wasn’t starving. I kept asking myself: Am I hungry, as if probing a sore spot in my mouth with my tongue to see if it hurts.

It was distracting, frankly. If I’d just said I needed to eat and then ordered some dinner, I could stop thinking about it. But because I hadn’t I kept almost checking out of the conversation, assessing my hunger level and wondering if maybe I could skip the meal entirely.

O set off to meet up with his girlfriend just before 10, and as he kissed me on the cheek I was already thinking about where I was going to get food. I wasn’t starving the way I usually might be at that hour, but still I had the can’t-think-can’t-breathe-must-have-food-now feeling. I headed toward the Holborn tube, remembering that there was a Sainsburys central right by it. There was – but it closed at 10 pm, and I’d missed it by minutes.

Just as I was crossing the road to the (closed) supermarket, I got a phone call from two friends inviting me to join them at a restaurant/bar in Covent Garden. Perfect.

I knew I could eat there – I have before – but for some reason the idea of getting there, doing the obligatory few minutes of polite chit-chat before announcing I was starving and had to eat, getting a menu, ordering and waiting for food made me want to lay down in the road and cry. I wanted to eat, and I wanted to eat right then.

I went into three different newsagents, all of whom appeared to sell the same grim-looking sandwiches on white bread with far too much mayonnaise, not to mention chemicals I couldn’t pronounce. My local newsagent at least sells bread and other bread products – why couldn’t these, I fumed. I felt resentful at the thought of eating any of them. I went into a fourth newsagent and made the executive decision that I’d just have to deal with what was there. I looked at biscuits and nuts and crisps and felt the familiar tidal wave of wanting it all threatening to crush me. What could I eat that would be remotely satisfying? I couldn’t think. That’s when I knew I had to stop thinking and just choose. It’s one meal, I told myself. It isn’t your last meal. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Just eat it and move on.

I picked up an oat and honey flapjack, a 45g package of m&ms (protein! Ha!), and – to balance things out (ha again!) – a Granny Smith apple. Six hundred calories – about my usual amount if I’m eating at home. But oh the drama. Note to self: Wouldn’t it be easier and less painful just to ask about dinner earlier?

Friday, 13 November 2009

The Joy of Soy

Forget the free bikinis and gives-you-a-wedgie-the-moment-you-put-it-on-underwear: I knew I was moving up in the world when a PR insisted on having organic feminine hygiene products – developed by two guys in Australia, no less! – couriered to my door.

But that’s for my day job. Or my all-hours-of-the-day job, if you are a certain editor in New York who has been making my life hell for a month. (Would it be so difficult to throw in a please or a thank you before you ask for eleventeen million impossible things in the next hour? And, um, can I remind you that this story is just 1500 words?)

I’ve kept the blog a PR-free zone, mostly because it’s been my private space and because – both on and offline – I’ve always prided myself in my inability to be bought. All of this is a very long way of saying: I’ve decided I will accept and sometimes write about products that interest me. I’ll be clear about how I got whatever it is (for free) and hopefully the reviews won’t make for boring reading (from experience, it’s much easier to write a witty negative review than an even remotely witty positive one) and/or blog pollution. So… an experiment, of sorts.

I’m not sure I would have jumped at the chance to try soya milk, except buying some had already been in my head. I tried some Alpro soya yogurt samples when I was at Hay-on-Wye earlier this year (they were handing out a flavor I didn’t particularly like, so I’m not sure it’s fair to judge), and I kept coming across soya milk as an option when I hunt, as I do occasionally, for ways to add a bit of protein to my otherwise carb-tastic breakfast (porridge with raisins). I’d also tried a splash of soya milk in my tea when I went windsurfing this summer and remembered thinking there was a touch of sweetness that might be nice in porridge.

So… So Good Soya Milk sent me a sample of the regular kind (as opposed to vanilla flavored, light, or any other permutations), and I tried it in my porridge every day for a week. Honestly, I don’t think I felt any more full than usual (but I use only about 1/3 cup of milk in my porridge), but I did like the bit of sweetness it imparted. For me it honestly hit the, erm, sweet spot of sweeteners, which is that it tasted nice but wasn’t quite sweet enough to kick off the woo-hoo-it’s-sugar-effect, which then makes me want to overeat. And as a bonus for all the single ladies (can you tell I’ve been listening to Beyonce?), soya milk has a much longer shelf life than the cow variety. If I traveled in anywhere near the amounts I used to, I’d definitely keep a carton of soya milk on hand to prevent the first-day-back-at-work-but-there-‘s-nothing-to-eat-for-breakfast-so-I’ll-just-have-to-buy-something-at-Starbucks (or somewhere else unhealthy) syndrome – which then makes it that much more difficult to get back into any kind of healthy eating routine at all.

Hmmm. Was that painful?

Fevered Visions

Lying in bed cold and feverish on Tuesday, I wanted to get up for only two things. One was food. The other was to try on my jeans.

I knew better than to start negotiating cuts in my usual daily calorie intake with myself. But I wanted to – I really wanted to. I couldn’t help thinking: Surely I need fewer calories when I’ve barely moved two feet all day?

I knew, though, that cutbacks – particularly if they’re draconian – lead to binges for me. So I ate every calorie I’d normally eat. And then wanted to get out of bed and try my jeans on. In my defense, it was partially because of the overeating/binge at the weekend, which normally I’d be able to handle (mentally) by getting back into my running/gym routine, but couldn’t this time around because I was ill. The jeans freak-out is also a vestige of my diet history. In my 20s I had a handful of diets end with a weekend-long binge that just never stopped. I’d take my jeans off to make myself comfortable on a Sunday night and then hide out in looser clothes for a few days. Each day I’d wake up with a food hangover, vowing to start my diet again, and each afternoon or evening I’d binge. By the next weekend, I wouldn’t be able to face putting the jeans on, knowing they wouldn’t fit. My wardrobe would shrink as I expanded, and the self-loathing and dread and frustration I felt every morning hunting for something – anything -- to wear would set the tone for my days. When I think about it, it’s hardly a surprise I kept bingeing when I felt like a failure before the day even started, my too-tight trousers/skirt (and often of the wrong season, so desperate were my attempts to unearth something to wear) digging in to my stomach like a panic button, or, at least in my head, a shrieking car alarm that can’t be turned off. Every time I breathed – as my waistband extracted its pound of flesh (or so I wished it would) -- I practically could hear the sirens.

But that was then, I reminded myself. This is now. I did allow myself to try on my jeans, and then started wondering if perhaps they’d stretched a good bit as they hadn’t been washed in a few days. Perhaps I should wash them and try them on?

I shook my head, rolled my eyes at myself, took off the jeans, and crawled back into bed.

* * *

Today’s goody bag haul included two bikinis (to be delivered to me in January – will believe it when I see it), a pair of flip flops, a pair of ballet pumps, and a seriously uncomfortable pair of lacy black underwear.

I’m bemused by this whole press day extravaganza. When I was working for my former employer, I barely had time to sneak out to one or two. Now I could spend entire days twice a year (November for spring/summer, and April/May for autumn/winter) trotting around London collecting swag. I swear, it’s a racket-waiting-to-happen. Just follow the (well-dressed) women with this season’s It handbag and an armload of carrier bags. Hint: You can distinguish the journalists from the Ladies Who Lunch because the journalists’ carrier bags will have some bits of paper and books in them – these would be PR contacts and lookbooks. (For the record, I am neither well-dressed nor have this season’s It handbag, but luckily it’s winter and I can hide it all with a decent coat, thanks to eBay.)

Of course all of this comes with a price, which is that I’ve spent hours of my life I am never going to get back shrieking and cooing over products I would never want to own. (Who knew my sorority-girl training would have actual career applications? I’m not sure I’ve squealed with such over-the-top glee since I last saw a large but very unimaginative engagement ring of the sort in vogue in the late ‘90s.) It also means I will be receiving dozens of emails weekly for the foreseeable future, asking me if and when I’m going to run a story on X product that is so totally new and different and fabulous (but appears to differ from last season’s only in color, if that).

In case anyone’s curious, it appears gladiator sandals are here to stay. Also, so is bridal lingerie in cream, trimmed with lace.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Keeping Abreast

I haven’t had a cold for at least a year, I think, and now I’ve got one along with a nasty cough and a bit of a fever. And to top it off, the boiler is broken – so no heat or hot water.

I felt marginally better today, and one can’t sit in Starbucks taking advantage of free heating and wifi all day, so I dragged myself around to a handful of press days. What is a press day, you ask? It’s when a fashion/jewelry/makeup brand parades its wares before journalists, usually with free food and a goody bag to sweeten the package. I used to use them as an excuse to get out of the office – now, it seems, I’m using them for their heating. (And oh, OK, it’s not a bad idea to get some facetime with the PRs.)

The unfortunate thing about the goody bags is that they very rarely have anything I myself want, and nor is the stuff either eBayable (I’ve seen it there, though) or even, dare I say it, re-giftable. It is often just random, random, random. Today, however, a swimsuit brand PR sized me up and asked me if I’d like my free bikini in a UK size 8 or 10. When I paused – frankly, quite startled at the prospect of myself in a bikini at any size – she pressed the 8 on me. “You’re tiny,” she said. Um, thanks. I guess today’s goody bag haul, minimal though it was (hey, we’re in a recession), came with an ego boost, and for that, I should be grateful.

I also picked up quite possibly the most useful piece of information I’ve ever picked up at a press day (this alone should tell you how generally useful I find these meet-and-greet fests). A lingerie brand was offering a bra fitting, and who was I to refuse? Anyway, most of my friends like to tease me about being evangelical about Rigby & Peller (aka the Queen of England’s corsetiers) – a properly fitting bra really has changed my life. But today I learned that it’s not just the fit – it’s the shape, and apparently I’ve been wearing the wrong kind. (I saw for myself in the mirror – it was fairly startling.) Basically, it boils down to this: If you’ve lost weight and your chest is saggy (or it’s saggy for any reason), you want a balconette bra, not a pushup one. A pushup just shoves the loose skin and sag upward.

Right. Taking my coughing, germ-bomb self back to bed. Tomorrow’s topic: How being ill messes with my head (foodwise) more than any fever dream.

Monday, 9 November 2009

I. Am. Okay.

Ah, London. It’s a huge city and you can go for months without seeing certain friends because of its sprawling-ness – and then of course you end up seeing people you definitely do not want to see in the Hampstead tube lift.

After a couple of days spent marinating in shame about my HP dinner party behavior, I sent a handwritten thank you note-cum-apology to the hosts. Thanks to the Royal Mail strike, I spend a few days wondering if they got it. And then Thursday – late for an appointment – I dive into the Hampstead lift just as the doors are about to shut, and there they are.

“We got your thank you,” said L., the female half. “It was so sweet. You didn’t have anything to apologize for. We’ve all done a boozy exit.”

I smiled and made a joke about my forehead being black and blue from walking around smacking it with my palm.

C., the male half, said: “We just wondered at a certain point where you were.”

Chimed in L: “And if you were OK.”

Someone please remind me of this the next time I go off on what is clearly a the-whole-world-is-Beth-centric fear and self-loathing episode? (Then again, C. and L. could just be extremely gracious, hmmm?)

* * *

I scale-hopped Friday morning to find a number I have never ever seen before and frankly probably will never see again: 9 stone 11 (137 pounds). I confess I found that slightly shocking, as (a) there was Harry Potter overeating episode, and (b) my weight has hovered between 144-146 lbs for a couple of months now. It may in fact have been a scale error – I moved it before I stood on it, and I also was much more dehydrated than usual.

I (almost) wish I hadn’t weighed myself, only because I felt like seeing that number made me feel like I had license to eat whatever I wanted over the weekend, when Peridot, her boyfriend and I went up to the Peak District for Lesley’s birthday.

And eat I did (apologies in advance for the food porn): Peridot’s gorgeous sausage casserole plus mash and red cabbage followed by apple crumble with custard and cream on Friday (and P’s boyfriend and I then proceeded to finish the entire container of custard), plus double helpings (and double carbs: rice and potatoes) of a yummy dish that involved chicken, cream, and apples at Lesley’s birthday Saturday. Then when we got back that night I dove into a package of marshmallows and some ice cream. Best Scrambled Eggs Ever (they were custard-creamy) on Sunday morning (note to P's readers: I can tell you that if this weekend was any guide, every single thing she writes about cooking is as delicious as it sounds) followed by tea shop stop: 2 scones (one cheese, one plain) and lemon cake with icing.


In the car ride home I was silently congratulating myself for overeating like a (vaguely) normal person – I ate because everything was delicious and because it was sociable and fun, not because I was filling some psychological hole. (On Saturday night I'd actually thought vaguely of a chocolate bar I had in my backpack, but dismissed the idea actually of eating it.) If I hadn’t had a crummy cold, I might well have cartwheeled out of the cottage Sunday morning, full up of good food and friends and the self-satisfied feeling that I. Am. Okay.

And then.

I think the cracks started appearing at tea. In the car ride back to London I had the post-Christmas feeling – that nothing nice is going to happen again for a long time, and yes, that normal service must resume on the eating front. I felt OK about second part actually, but not so OK about the first.

At the tea shop I could feel my binge-head taking over. I coveted P’s boyfriend’s cheese on toast. (Now that I think about it, melted cheese used to figure heavily in my teenage pigouts.) I felt I could have eaten at least another two scones in addition to the two I’d already had. Or maybe I wanted more cake? Maybe I was just a bit ill and tired and not wanting to deal with the return to reality? Who knows, really. I don’t. It was 4:30 pm when P and her boyfriend dropped me off at the Tube, and all I could think was that it was a dark and cold Sunday evening and I just wanted to eat to fill it.

I started off small, with what might have been an afternoon snack: a Dorset Cereal bar. On the train I ate 2 small bars of chocolate (one Montezuma, one Green & Black’s Butterscotch). And then I remembered a snack-size packet of chocolate-filled pretzels I still had in my backpack. Off the tube I had a (crappy) piece of cake (can’t even remember what kind – banana? It tasted fake and awful but the icing was sweet) and scones from Tesco. I bought a packet of four and ate one and then another, nearly choking crumbs down my coat. With every bite I thought how inferior these were to the ones I’d had earlier, but still I didn’t stop eating them. With some effort I made myself throw the last one out. I didn’t want to feel sick. (Hear that? I didn't want to feel sick.)

I’m not pleased with myself, but I actually haven’t beaten myself up too much about this one. I did binge on top of a weekend of eating, but it was (fairly) minor and I stopped it before I made myself ill. Instead of thinking all gloom and doom, I’ve decided to think that maybe there is hope: That maybe next time I’ll stop just that bit earlier, and the time after that a bit earlier still. As Peridot commented about my overeating at the Halloween party: “That’s not you anymore.” You know what? For the most part, it isn’t.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Shame

So I dove face first into the Harry Potter-themed chocolate cupcakes Saturday night.

I'm not sure how much I ate. I'm not sure how much I drank. It was one of those nights where I ended up more than slightly embarrassed about both.

Why the f@:k do I do this? Why do I heap shame upon myself like this?

The backdrop for this has been some serious BN2 drama. Which is a totally separate post, if not a book. But which I just cannot write about right now. Because of said drama and what seems like eons of emotional strain, I slept fitfully Saturday morning and woke up anxious and exhausted. Never a good thing when you're planning a big night out.

I ran to Pilates and did my usual class. "Skinny," said my favorite instructor (no, that's now why he's my favorite!), patting my midsection affectionately at one point. Then on to a meeting and then to lunch. I was hungry almost as soon as I'd had my lunch. Also never a good thing when you're planning a big night out.

I felt like I was counting down waiting for my snack, and was hungry again almost immediately. Why oh why at this point did I not just have another snack? Because I chose to believe the hunger was just anxiety and tiredness talking. Cocktails were at 7:30 and dinner – a Harry Potter-themed dinner party – was called for 8:30 pm, and these are not exactly my most punctual friends.

Got there about 8 pm and eyed the canapés: pumpkin pasties, "stoat" sandwiches (actually steak on toast rounds) – and cupcakes. Lots and lots of little cupcakes and chocolates. And let me remind you those were just the canapés.

I started off easy. I had a teeny glass of champagne and a then a pumpkin martini, plus a pumpkin pasty and a steak sandwich. Or maybe two. Then I tried some of their butterbeer, a fantastically delicious mixture that involved butterscotch schnapps. I kept eyeing the cupcakes. I also kept eyeing the front door and the kitchen, alternately wishing that the last guests would turn up and wondering when food was being served. By this point it was 9 pm. I was also anxious because I was supposed to be meeting BN2 at midnight, and he's so ungracious and unforgiving about being kept waiting for even a few minutes that it is enough to ruin the whole evening. I calmed myself with a mini cupcake or four.

Sometime north of 9 pm the starter was served – a salad I remember practically inhaling. Also soup. And white wine. Lots of white wine. (Oh clever girl, thinking you're being wise by stopping mixing drinks and moving to white wine. You _know_ you are a disaster on white wine. What on earth were you thinking?)

The main course was pork, which I think I also inhaled. I also think I insisted on helping clear some of the plates, all in the name of stealing some leftovers.
Somewhere in there there were also a few more mini cupcakes involved. I remember also having at least one proper-size one. Plus some candy from the trick or treat bowl. (Among the choices: the very same fun-size Twix bars I purchased the other week and never got round to posting about eating. Um, they weren't all that good. Except of course I saw one in the bowl mid-binge and pounced on it like it was the most amazing treat imaginable.)

I seem to remember dessert was some kind of chocolate cake that I don't think I could finish. I'd love to say it was so impossibly rich, but I think it was that I was ridiculously full. Not that that stopped me from eating the mini cupcakes and – I think – the jellybeans from my little goody bag as I waited for my cab.


So, um, that happened.

I hate public binges. Especially because these were a mixture of new-ish friends and people I'd never met before, including the health editor of a major newspaper. (He was dressed as Cedric Diggory, for the record. Not that he knew who Cedric Diggory actually was. He was not pleased to hear he died.)

When I want to self destruct, there's really nothing stopping me, is there?


Let's move on, shall we? I'm trying to myself, which is part of why I'm writing it all out. Not to do so would make me feel like a fraud – which could very well lead to another binge. The good news, I guess, is that I don't much feel like bingeing. I craved some awfully strange things Sunday and Monday, but only briefly (in the depths of depression on Sunday night) did it even occur to carry on self-destructing, perhaps in the form of a takeaway. The urge was mercifully brief and actually more of an idea that made a cameo in my head than an actual craving, if you know what I mean. I guess if I'm going to find the bright spot, that would be it.

So what did I wear to a Harry Potter-themed dinner party, you ask? Originally I'd thought about going as Rita Skeeter, but at the 11th hour heard the party hostess was, so I decided to do so myself would be a bit like turning up in a white gown at a wedding. I wore my school disco outfit and carried a twig I found on my run and an old book -- just call me Hermione (and a bona fide recessionista). I must say I felt like wearing a sign that both covered my legs a bit and told everyone that I hadn't bought a skirt this short just for this occasion. I made a handful of jokes about the skirt myself, kind of in the way I used to poke fun at my own bulk before anyone else did. A friend's husband (barely able to eat because his Hagrid beard and pillows were getting in the way -- I do appreciate a man who isn't afraid to look a bit silly) glanced at me and said: "If I weren't married, I'd ask you out." (He then offered to set me up with a nice Jew in New York. Hmmm....)


I haven't been in a clothing shop for months, but I confess I've been slightly curious about the Stella McCartney for Gap Kids line. I don't go mad for Stella's clothes and nor am I mad to have a kid I can dress like a designer doll, but I've heard quite a lot of good things about the line. One, that there's a very Balmain-like military jacket. (Not sure why a child under the age of 12 needs such a thing, but never mind.) And two, which I read in a recent interview with Stella, that she herself is planning on snagging one of each of her designs in the 12-year-old size (it goes from babies up to age 12).

My first thought was: I bet this will be some kind of sick competition among yummy mummies – not just whether they've snagged some of the line for their kids, but whether they themselves can borrow it from their daughters. My second thought was: Just how small is a Gap Kids age 12? I realized I had no idea – when I was 12, I was already knee-deep in women's sizes (assuming I could get my chunky legs into them at all).

Reader, I am ashamed to admit I had to go and try for myself.

The Balmain-ish jacket won't arrive in shops until Nov. 16, and I'm told there's already a waiting list. Plus it's £80 and no doubt won't fit over my definitely-not-12-year-old-sized-chest. So I bought a £17.50 dusky rose long-sleeve Stella t-shirt imprinted with what would probably be called a statement necklace. Please don't let me know if the size tag is hanging out.