Are you ready for your dream body?

As we are approaching the second quarter of 2019 the diet industry is preparing their second launch of the year: get ready for your bikini body! Incidentally, my body is as ready as it will ever be for a bikini as it wobbles and blobs along, doing its thing that a 46-years-old female body does.

Nevertheless, the diet industry has good reason to launch their beach body campaign: it is expected that this year in Western Europe alone we will spend €140 billion keeping the weight loss industry afloat. (

Wow! That’s is a lot of money!

A quick look online and I could compile a list of 33 diets that promises you a beach ready body; from the Atkins diet to the ominous cotton ball diet. My personal craziest diet I have ever done was a juicing plan. I juiced myself to an irritable human being in two to three weeks, then launched straight into any kebab, cake and ice cream place while being on holiday. I cannot recommend you’d do the same, but I’d love to hear about any crazy diet you have attempted in the past or are on now, so feel free to leave a comment.

From the 1970s onward, we have become heavier, lazier and sicker. The WHO reckons that the global obesity rate has nearly tripled between 1975 and 2016.

The 1970s is also the decade that the supermarket made real inroads in our lives and while we were trying out those canned soups, sachets of mashed potatoes and ready available ice creams, those independent high street shops – that we long for nowadays – declined steadily and have overtime been replaced by take away /fast-food outlets and off licences for our alcohol consumption. We bought into the belief that a tin of tomato soup was the same thing as what we could make at home ourselves, but within a fraction of the time and price.

On top of that, women started working outside the house while men did not decrease their working hours, resulting in all of us working longer hours with less time to spend at home to look after ourselves. This has led to a booming convenience food industry of ready meals, ‘prepare it yourself meal kits’ and take-ways.

We have had a naive trust in food producing companies supplying us’ healthy’ produce. After all, they take the fat out for us and put the vitamins in, while making it super easy to dish up dinner after a hard day at work. Isn’t it? The label even promises us that it is now healthier than ever! Regrettably, an unforeseen side effect for many of us is significant weight gain.

So now we are spending billions of pounds, euros and dollars trying to get thin again and to be told what we can and cannot eat.

We are buying cookery books, but are cooking less. We are attending local weight loss groups, buy low fat margarine, skimmed milk and artificial sweeteners for in our coffee, but are heavier than a decade ago. We starve ourselves on juicing diets, water fasting diets and calorie counting apps and to top it all some of us eat indigestible cotton balls in order to loose some pounds.

Do you realise that when we are talking about diet, we usually talk about what we should not eat? Let’s look at two popular diet trends of today: the ketogenic diet and the wholefood plant-based diet (WFPB).

The ketogenic diet is one of the most popular diets doing the rounds. On a keto diet plan you get 70-75% of your calories from fat, 20-25% of your calories from protein and 5-10% from carbohydrates. In other words, you should eat a lot of fat (butter, olive oil, nuts, coconut oil), a lot of meat for protein (but not milk), propped up with vegetables and hardly any carbohydrates (pasta, rice, bread, fruit, legumes, refined sugars).

The WFPB diet is perpendicular to the keto diet. You should not eat any animal protein (no meat/eggs/diary) and processed fats (including vegetable oil) and you should eat lots of unrefined carbohydrates (brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, millet) and lots of vegetables, legumes and fruit. Refined sugars like white flour and sugar are frowned upon.

At first glance the two diets seem to be polar opposites of each other,
but they have more in common than initially meets the eye.

At first glance the two diets seem to be polar opposites of each other, but funny enough they have more in common than initially meets the eye: they send you back into the kitchen to prepare your own food from scratch.

Out goes anything processed, in comes home prepared and cooked meals. Does it come in a packet with more than five ingredients than you cannot eat it. Do you have to forest it, clean it, cut it and cook it than it will be fine. Fruit juice, sugar, additives and fast food are shunned and banned. In comes the container for your home-made lunch and out goes your bought BLT sandwich or the ‘healthy’ fajitas meal kit you make for dinner and the ‘super’ noodles you prepare as a snack for your kids after school. Any snack you wish to have is going to be either fruit, nuts or crunchy vegetables washed, cut and shelled by yourself at home.

Et voilá, we may just have found the solution to our woes. Ditch the processed food and choose to prepare your meals from scratch. EVERY SINGLE MEAL! Yes, breakfast too. Opening a packet of cornflakes, pouring it in a bowl and drowning it in milk, is not preparing your meal from scratch.

Unfortunately, many of us don’t really know what is healthy anymore and instead of using our common sense we get taken away by marketing tactics and diet trends. Although I do hope not many of us will take the cotton ball diet seriously.

Yet, should we learn to slow down, prepare nutritious food, take time to eat together to enjoy our home cooked food and generally take care of our time and ourselves, weight loss might just be the positive by-product that we are looking for. It is for me.

And what should you do when you fancy a biscuit? You’d better get the flour, butter and sugar out of the cupboard and start baking.

Neighbours at no 17

My lovely neighbours have moved away. In fact, they moved away two years ago, but nobody has moved in and somehow this has enabled me to imagine that they are still living at number 17.

When we moved into this 1930s terraced house, the first thing my two toddlers did was knocking next door. When the door opened, they shouted excitedly: ‘’Hi! We live there!’’ pointing to our house and looking daringly into their eyes.  Thankfully, the neighbours met our children with open arms albeit slightly amused by their fearless enthusiasm and I am proud to say it was the start of a successful neighbourly relationship. They became my children’s British grandparents. Robert hid Easter eggs for us, while my children found them with lightening speed. When their grandchildren came to visit, Robert and Mary would take my children along to the zoo, the cinema or the park. Occasionally, they had our children over for sleepovers, often they told them stories of the olden days and sporadically they reminded our children to stay on the straight and narrow. Nothing was too much, and we felt always welcome.

My children’s first job was looking after the neighbours’ cats when they went away. They got paid handsomely for sitting in their house, watching TV, eating chocolate and stroking the cats. If you can give this job to your neighbours’ kids, I think it is your duty to allow them to experience this: it is a gentle introduction to the world of responsibilities, work and earning some money at an early age while secretly eating sweets in quantities they would not be allowed at home.

Mary taught my kids how to sew on a button and how to knit. She made Yasemin’s school kilt shorter if she promised never to roll up her skirt. Surprisingly, most days Yasemin obliged happily and we had fewer arguments about the length of her school skirt than many other parents. One of my best presents was a birthday cake made by the children in Mary’s kitchen. And so, over the many years we lived next to them they became a huge part of our life. Although we knew that sooner or later, they would move nearer to their daughter, it still came as a shock when they told us the house was on the market ready to be sold. When such good neighbours move away a bit of yourself moves with them and a block of fear sits in your stomach: fear of the unknown.

When such good neighbours move away a bit of yourself moves with them and a block of fear sits in your stomach: fear of the unknown.

It is more than two years later now and their house is still empty, so a little bit of that fear is still sitting in a silent corner of my stomach ready to jump out when needed.

Suddenly, there will be a flurry of activity next door: walls are being knocked down, floors and ceilings are being lifted and one day the staircase collapsed with a thundering noise. The latest activity has been cutting down all trees and bushes from the lovely overgrown garden. Birds, cats and foxes are all equally confused about what is happening to their little garden of Eden. On such days that little bundle of fear is stirring itself in my stomach and with genuine curiosity as well as dread I peep through the window to see whether I can make any sense of what is going on. Nevertheless, after a few days it will always return to a silent house again and I can keep on pretending that my neighbours might still be living there.

A lot of us in our terrace are speculating what is happening at number 17. People are whispering that the new owners are property developers or that they surely will be renting it out to students or even worse to foreigners! Foreigners in this part of town are anyone who speak with a different accent, so if you’d move down from Scotland or move up from Kent, you’d still be an alien in our road. Fear of the unknown is a debilitating illness.

And so, we hobble along dreading of what may come yet at the same time looking for any sign that new life may establish itself in ‘the house at number 17’. It feels like we have lost two valuable years to guessing what is going on and alienation is kicking in. A nagging feeling that we are starting to care a little bit less and becoming a little bit more insolate because of it. Nonetheless, one day someone will move in again and I hope it will be someone as fearless as my two children were fifteen years ago, because whichever alien decides to make it their home, they are always welcome to knock on the door to tell us with much anticipation that they have moved in. 

Failure to launch

In the beginning there was imagination: when I grow up I will be a writer, an intellectual that knows about everything and writes about everything and lives happily ever after in writing land. (I read a lot of French female authors while going through puberty.)

Then came the angst of late adolescence and the distinct failure to launch at anything. I just about managed to move to another city to start my student career, but I failed to become a successful student as I changed course after one year, dropped out after the second year to run off abroad for ten months to learn another language. When I came back, I started yet another course, which I managed to stick to and finish in order for me to fail the following promotion: launch myself into working life…. Instead I became pregnant. That has definitely been my best career so far: three children later and with the youngest firmly in her own adolescence stage, I have yet to launch myself in the dream world of success and independence.

I am unquestionably a disappointment to my generation as I could not manage to have it all. I have a husband, three children, friends, a house with a garden, a dog (that farts) and no career nor money.

Is there anyone out there who has it all….at all? Telling anyone that they can have it all is just a blatant lie, a stop cock to their moaning. A way of saying that it is their own fault if they have not got it. ‘You could have it all as long as you try’ is a barrier to looking at society and saying out loud and clear: some people can have it more than others, but no one has it all. Although we all have imagination and we may imagine that we or someone else (nearly) have it all.

Looking at other people and judging their life is a favourite past time of mine. Who does not know an example of a have-it-all-family? Little jealous thoughts floating in my head of she’s got it made: two rather well behaved children, the house, the extension to the house, a garden, a dog (that does not fart), a new car, the expensive holiday, the weekend away, an attentive husband …who is on his phone all the time. Turns out the husband is texting his latest fling and BOOM, CRASH, BANG my having-it-all-family is going through an acrimonious, angry and devastating divorce…..the grass seems greener until it dries up and turns yellow.

A lot of us must have this nagging feeling that what we are now is not what we had imagined ourselves to be when we started making our first tentative steps on the path to adulthood.

A lot of us must have this nagging feeling that what we are now is not what we had imagined ourselves to be when we started making our first tentative steps on the path to adulthood. I never imagined to be financially insecure at this age. Growing up and choosing what to do was always about what I’d liked to do. It was never about how will I take care of myself in the most possible secure way financially and emotionally. All that was held up to me was, ‘the world is your oyster and you can have what you want’. Yeah right! It seems that is not how society works.

Perhaps my generation is the first generation that has grown up with constant wealth, resulting in us being inherently selfish and greedy with a strong entitlement of having it all, but without the skills to be confident and content. There is a lot of noise about the difficulty Millenniums have launching themselves into the world of independence and self-reliance, but I think this has been a long time coming. My generation of 40 somethings (many of my friends have passed the 50 mark) are not as secure as my parents. Hooked on consumerism and seemingly having it made, we stay vulnerable until our off spring is secure and independent. How many of us 40+ are joyously looking forward to the day that our child is coming back from university, ready to move back into their old (box) room? Security for my parents meant that by the time they saw Abraham and Sarah the financial burden of looking after their children had subsided and it was time to start thinking of leisure time, perhaps reducing their working hours and renewing their furniture. My mum went to university when she was 48 and started working part-time again when she finished her degree. My dad reduced his hours soon after he turned 50 and retired when he was 60 years old. He was quickly replaced by a young teacher who was eternally grateful for allowing him to take up full-time hours and enabling him to move out of his parents’s house. Fast forward to today and my friend increased his working hours after he became 50 to pay off his debt and support his children through further education. Another friend felt pressurised into increasing her hours as she had been warned by her manager that part-time workers were at a greater risk to be made redundant in the next round of reorganisation than full-time workers. Is this even legal?

So yes, I clearly feel I have not reached my potential in this career driven society. My contribution to the world is dismal. There is a nagging feeling I could have – should have – done more to reach a goal – any goal. But then isn’t that my imagination again? Instead of imagining myself as a writer, now I am imagining myself as not having done anything in the last 30 years. The fact that I am guiding three children into launching themselves into this chaotic world as independent beings – financially and emotionally, sturdy enough to stand on their own two feet – that I have a part-time job and a house with a garden, a farting dog and a loving husband, is perhaps more than I ever imagined a fully launched human being could be.