Monday, October 6, 2008

Diet for Writers

I celebrated my birthday recently. The fun included visits with not one but two of my very favourite BBWs. (Big, Beautiful Women.) Imagine, if you will, my shock at discovering that neither was big! Hey! This is not the kind of surprise one wants on one’s birthday. If any fat were to be melted off, by rights it should’ve been mine.

The ex-BBW #1 told me she’d quit red meat and carbs for two months and lost 30 pounds. 30 pounds? OMG. This might put me off my birthday cake.

The ex-BBW #2 had just returned from a movie shoot in the Maritimes – First Assistant Director on a German production that took place on a big boat. She was weather-beaten, brown and skinny. She’d brought (along with the cake) some of her good Big Woman clothes for me. I reciprocated with a size 10 de la Renta I was saving for the day when I might be a 10 again. It looked terrific on her, especially when cinched with a red, bejewelled belt I’d saved in the hope that someday I might be able to hitch it closed around my waist again.

Here are some diets that might have once worked for me but won’t these days:

The big D diet – Death (of others, not your own, which would put a different slant on the term 'wasting away') and Disease and Divorce. Excellent for people who tend to stop eating when sad, but not recommended for those poor souls who eat for comfort. Plus, now that I no longer seek misery in order to be a writer (having deduced that misery will find me) I can’t depend on the Big D.

Heart Break – My sister’s favourite. Now that she’s post menopausal, though, she reckons she’ll need another approach to getting thin. She’s thinking cancer + miraculous recover = weight loss. Maybe, although it might depend on how much your hair weighs.

Felix’s Can Do diet - Caffeine, Alcohol and Nicotine. He once used this diet, supplemented with grilled steaks slapped between two pieces of bread, to write a novel in 11 days. This diet would kill him now.

I have dieted. Successfully, too. Once, I attained my goal weight at Weight Watchers. As a full-time writer, however, I am not able to go to Weight Watchers because of the unfortunate way in which they italicize the word ‘each’ in their cookbooks. I can’t stand it.
Example: add one tsp oregano and one tsp cayenne each to the broth…
Don’t they get that we must emphasize the word in our minds when we see italics? 6 ounces turkey and six ounces beef each…I can’t stand it!

Also, Weight Watchers usually has one sad sack ferret-faced female who has turned it into her cult, and who must diss her husband at each meeting, and must speak at each meeting, no matter what, always relaying TMI! I hate her. I would like to take a buzz saw and an ice pick, each, and … well, let’s face it. I’m a writer. I don’t want to go out, line up with my fellow fatties and weigh in, chat about fat and then come home. I want to stay right here and get thin.

Yes, that’s it. Obviously I’m not about to be hired to AD a movie, so I can’t whittle away any poundage the way my filmmaker friend did. I need a Diet for Writers.

A quick perusal of the world wide web tells me that nothing much has changed in the land of dieting.
There are still miracle pills to kill fat cells, boost metabolism or suppress the appetite. These are the female versions of ‘grow your penis bigger overnight’, I’ve decided, so they amount to nothing but more money wasted in the pursuit of a waist.

Wait! Here’s something new: As far as regular, pill-free dieting goes, the most amazing thing I discovered was the Gandhi Diet. Do you think I jest? I do not. On a website devoid of sarcasm or humour, I read the following: One girl decided to fast until the colours in her apt. building were changed. At first she wasn’t believed but after one week the colours were changed. She reports ‘It was very effective. Now I am anorexic and I am fasting to improve the social acceptance of anorexic people in my community.”

Perhaps I should turn to the books in my personal library. It's been awhile since I've leafed through the never-to-be-equalled women’s book of humour, Titters, edited by Deanne Stillman and Anne Beatts.

Here are a couple of the least offensive of Gilda Radner’s diet tips:

Gilda’s diet

- Stub out your cigarette in your food before you've finished eating.
- Use rusty silverware.
- Have a picnic near a car accident.

Let’s forget about organized diets for a moment and look, instead, at the kind of food writers tend to imbibe. In my case, it needs to be easy. I do not have time, when I’m writing, to prepare food. I have been known to reject a microwave dinner because I have to ‘peel back the cellophane’ after 2 minutes of microwaving and microwave for another 2. This strikes me as too much work. My favourite writing food? Peanut butter on a spoon.

My characters, on the other hand, dine on a lot of terrific food. So far all three of the heroines in my two published books and my latest WIP have sipped champagne, only the best, if you please. Sirloin tips and lobster meat show up on their plates. They eat as much as they like and never get fat, because they’re fictional characters in escapist fantasies. Strawberries with whipped cream and chocolate sauce is usually dessert.

In real life, we must ban whipped cream and chocolate sauce from the kitchen and the bedroom.

In search of healthy recipes, I peek inside my Weight Watcher’s cookbooks. Am I exaggerating the irritation their italics cause? WW- Dash each salt and pepper...
Dash each chilli powder, ground cumin and oregano leaves...
How stupid do they think we are? I hate you, WW.

Next I consult the Sylvia Plath Cookbook, which, I confess, is also to be found within the pages of Titters. Again, I will give you a sample of it, leaving the most offensive stuff to those who want to read the whole hilarious book:

From The Sylvia Plath Cookbook

Apple Pies:

To make crust, cut 1 cup shortening into 3 cups flour. Add 1 tsp. salt and ¼ cup cold water, a little at a time. Stir until dough has achieved correct consistency. Chill. Roll out on floured board.

To make filling, peel and core 6 or 7 apples (about 3 cups) Slice into uncooked pie shell. Add ½ cup sugar, ¼ tsp. salt, ½ tsp. cinnamon, ¼ tsp nutmeg and ¼ cup lemon juice. Dot with 1 tbsp. butter. Top with piecrust. Set oven at 450. Do not light gas.

It’s been awhile since I’ve cracked the pages of the CanLit Foodbook: compiled and illustrated by Margaret Atwood in aid of P.E.N. international and The Writers’ Development Trust.

Here is a poem which reminds me why I no longer cook:

Kitchen Murder

Everything here’s a weapon:
I pick up a meat fork,
plunging it in,
a heavy male thrust

In two hands
I heft a stone-
ware plate, heavy

Rummage the cupboards:
red pepper, rape-
seed oil, Drano

I’ll wire myself
into a circuit:
the automatic perc,
the dishwasher, the
socket above the sink

I’ll smile an electric
eel smile:
whoever touches me is dead

Pat Lowther

Here is a poem that reminds me why I no longer eat out. It was written by a colleague of mine, who worked in the student cafeteria of the Banff Centre while I was attending the Creative Writing Workshop, back, as they say, in the day. Her name is Erin Moure and she's brilliant.

Songs of the Permafrost Waitress

These days every room I step into
becomes a restaurant: people arrive in clusters,
sit down, begin to eat
and converse seriously, not noticing
the jaded décor, coffee stains
on the linoleum, the waitress with her frayed collar
and bandaids, against health regulations,
looking beat or beaten, fumbling
the used plates.
sometimes it's too much to tolerate, i want
to wave my arms, tell people to leave, they are
not my customers, i didn't ask them here,
what they are eating costs too much
takes years to prepare;
instead i say

eat slowly; you
are only served once, it is
dangerous food.

From Robert Kroetsch’s ‘Sketches of a Lemon’ to recipes like Graeme Gibson’s 'Pot roast with Chocolate', to the chapter called ‘Eating People is Wrong’ (Cannibalism Canadian Style) and the piece called ‘Del’s Funeral Attack’ from Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro, this book is a feast of words.

Now I’m getting somewhere! I could spend the day, even the week, reading this book, full off anecdotes, recipes and excerpts by Canadian authors.
Of which I am one! Why resist? We of the Great White North love our bacon, our maple syrup, our flapjacks and beef!

The upshot?
Felix, (the cook in our household) and I are one month into the ‘no red meat, no carb’ diet ex-BBW #1 invented. Yes, it’s basically the Atkins revisited, but cutting out carbs can only do one good. Since we are so hermetic, we are rarely tempted by the many faces of carbohydrates out there in the wild world. We live, instead, on the world wide web, which can be as peanut-free, carb-free or sugar-free as desired.

It seems to be working. We certainly haven’t lost 15 pounds, more like 6 each, but perhaps my friend assumed an amount of exercise would naturally go along with the zero carbs. Time to walk to the library, I guess, and take out ten books, divide equally into two piles of five books each and walk home. I’ll give my new heroine, Sarah, a fancy five star meal and then, perhaps, I’ll eat my words.

Diet disasters? Ponderings on poundage? Favourite feasts from fiction? Do share!

xoxo Madeline Moore


Kate Pearce said...

I'm not allowed to diet-no really, I'm not.
After my fourth kid I went on a no-carb diet and lost 22 pounds in 3 weeks-fabulous, right? For me, maybe, but for those around me apparently 3 weeks of having to live with a VERY ANGRY person.

So angry in fact that after 'The Halibut Incident' when I threw 2 pounds of raw halibut in my husbands face while jumping up and down and gibbering incoherently-the family got together and organized an intervention...

So now I just walk the dog, try not to eat too many Kettle chips and ration the chocolate.

Amanda said...

Erin Moure is one of my fav poets. great to see her mentioned here :)

magdalune said...

I actually really enjoy exercising - it's a time when I can do either one of two things: 1) Be outside and enjoy whatever weather comes my way while I brainstorm, and 2) Multitask by exercising and watching my favorite shows at the same time... makes the exercise fly by. Both of these allow me to be a writer in my own time. :)

I've been on - it's all about lifestyle changes in diet and exercise. You alter your diet - you have a diet, you don't go on one. I've managed to lose 15 lbs. I need 20-25 lbs more. I eat a lot of vegetables in one meal and I exercise for about forty-five minutes to an hour almost every day. Sure, you plateau, but it's a really healthy way to do it. The slow way, sadly, but the healthy way. I haven't given much up - I just have to be smart about what I do eat and how much.

It is really important that you exercise - it helps improve your metabolism and gives you more energy. You can lose weight without it, but I wouldn't recommend it.

magdalune said...

Btw, is a free site. It's just about intake and expenditure - nothing fancy, but very effective. I turned one of my livejournal friends onto it, and she's also lost 15 lbs, with only 5 more to go.

The whole place reminded me of my nutrition class rather than a scam weight-loss site, so I continue to recommend it to people.

Portia Da Costa said...

I lost a stone and a half by eating breakfast cereal for lunch, cutting out chocolate [ouch] and cake and eating more fruit, switching to skimmed milk on the cereal and no butter dressing on my vegetables.

As I was trying to slim down to attend RWA, that counts as a writers' diet, doesn't it? :)

Madeline Moore said...

So nice to see the comments from folks over the pond. How much is a stone and a half, Portia? And how come, kate, this no carb diet drops off double digit poundage in no time for everyone but me?

amanda, I'm thrilled you're a fan of erin moure. She's a real success story in my books.

magdalune, the site sounds useful.

I'm surprised no one is aghast at the whole Gandhi diet thing. Don't you think that's bizarre? Or is this old hat and I'm just tuning in now to something that happened years ago?

I remember the first time i entertained the idea of dieting, I ended up eating nothing because it seemed insane to spend a whole one hundred calories on something as insignificant as a little lettuce and tomato...then joined a friend in her dark room while she was developing prints and .... woooooo...that was the end of my first diet experience, when I was a slip of a girl.

Olivia Knight said...

I don't diet anymore. I used to have an ideal "goal-weight" (even the word makes me shudder in an unhealthy should-the-gym-teacher-be-looking-at-me-like-that way) which I thought was right, and which was actually a few kilograms below healthy for my weight. I reached it twice: once through a combination of heartache and illness; once from good old-fashioned starvation. True Ghandi style. I was doing my Masters and ran out of money when I was too busy finishing my thesis to get a part-time job. I'd put on a bit of weight in London & spent a year trying to get rid of it before I discovered that I didn't need to lose weight, just to lose my job. It's amazing how little one can eat. However: if that's what it takes to get to the weight that only I thought was a good idea anyway, shove it. So I...

* never diet
* am as polite to my own body as I would be to anyone else's
* walk everywhere
* have no sweet tooth (that's just fortunate, rather than an action)
* stop eating when I get bored
* cook everything from scratch
* drink about 20 litres of water a day
* drink too much red wine on an empty stomach and then get chips chilli & cheese from a van on the way home
* consider cheese its own essential food group, always keep at least 4 in the fridge, and have yet to find the dish it would not improve
* eat nothing with MSG in it (monosodium glutomate - so that's most crisps) and avoid saturated fats like the plague (so that's most crap food)
* have a fetish for Korean instant noodles with very hot sauce (so that's about 5kg of MSG and all the saturated fat you can eat) and sweet chilli sauce (equal quantities of MSG, sat fat, and sugar) that's what I do -- and who's to say which are the ones that work and which aren't?

Olivia Knight said...

P.S. That said... My actual "writer's diet" is a cup of coffee/tea/barleycup next to me all the time, and lunches of soup, or frittata (usually with plenty of baby spinach as it requires no prep), or salad.

Janine Ashbless said...

I have been known to reject a microwave dinner because I have to ‘peel back the cellophane’ after 2 minutes of microwaving and microwave for another 2. This strikes me as too much work.
The Gandhi diet made me laugh like a drain until I realised it wasn't supposed to be a joke.

I lost 18lb permanently by cutting out my evening meal. I figured that manual workers might need 3 solid meals a day but as a writer sat on my fat ass all day I didn't. That's not a diet, it's just a change of habit.

Other tips :
1) Don't keep biscuits, butter or chocolate in the house. If it's there I eat it, but the one thing I hate more than cooking is shopping so I'd rather be reduced to eating handfulls of flour than go out and buy more food.
2) Eat before heading to the supermarket.

This week I managed some serious exercise in the form of digging up
a flowerbed. It might have been good for me but I can hardly stand up straight now...

Madeline Moore said...

Hey O, good of you to weigh in on the topic! I'm just sittin' here licking peanut butter off a spoon and thinking about today's topic.
I like what you have to say about being 'polite' to your body. My goal weight at WW was impossible to maintain, so how can it be a proper weight for me?

Madeline Moore said...

handfulls of flower...Janine u make me laff! I too detest grocery shopping. In the movie 'Pushing Tin' Angelina Jolie plays Billie Bob Thornton's young wife. She's trying to grocery shop and she has a total psychotic breakdown in the aisle, leaning into her metal cart and sobbing...I was so impressed by the filmmakers for capturing that phenomenon on film.

Felix luvs to grocery shop! He takes his time, strolls up and down each aisle, considers the foodstuffs carefully...oh Gawd on the odd occasion, when for some reason I end up accompanying him on these excursions, I hang off the cart like a petulant child and whine for mercy. It's bad...but I can't help it. It reminds me of my housewifery daze and that ain't good.

Olivia Knight said...

I love cooking & I love shopping, though. I do really love & respect food. (Apart from my sordid abusive affair with Korean noodles.) An all-day cook-fest for a dinner party is my idea of bliss. BUT the ordinary regular grocery-shop is only bearable with my ipod blasting my ears. Otherwise you stare at the aisles from the entrance and think: I would rather EAT MY OWN HEAD than walk up those aisles one more time putting the same sodding stuff in the trolley! (Another advantage to eating seasonally: you don't go spiral-eyed from the roboticism of putting the same sodding ingredients in the trolley every sodding time. Ditto for markets. In fact, supermarkets just suck.)

Portia Da Costa said...

Stone and a half = 21 pounds.

Actually, checking my diary, it was closer to 25 pounds that I lost. :)

Madeline Moore said...

Portia that's impressive!
I read just the other day that Courtney Cox and David Arquette are on a diet where they've substituted yogourt for carbs. That's essentially what I've done. I'm making some seriously tasty smoothies these days. It's interesting, now that I eat more fruit, I crave it in a way I never have anymore. (Could it be the dearth of cookies?)

Olivia you sound like you might be a supporter of slow food. Are you? That's the name the 'movement' to take your sweet time preparing food from scratch has been given, here. Slow food parties sound like fun.

Olivia Knight said...

Inasmuch as I was taught by my mother who was taught by my grandmother, yes! I was brought up to look sceptically at all readymade foods, although allowances are made for tinned tomatos. (Though I do peel & deseed proper tomatoes for special dishes. It's an enormous pleasure.) I nearly fell over backwards the first time I saw white sauce in a jar. As for dried fried onions... WTF? I'm not always so good about sourcing my food, though, which is an important part of slow food. (Again, except for important occasions.) Basically: if you do what your grandmother & her mother did, you're bang-on for slow food and environmentalism.

But yes, I think the best trick with "dieting" is to pay a whole lot more loving attention to food.

Olivia Knight said...

(Sorry, I'm a complete and utter foodie & if you don't gag me I'll start explaining how to make yoghurt & waxing lyrical about my favourite ingredients & the joys of kneading dough. So I'll try shut up now.)

Janine Ashbless said...

Argh. Can't do slow food because that is the time I am most likely to eat snackfood - while I'm hanging out in the kitchen waiting for something to boil. Must eat fast and escape before the siren call of the evil ginger-curd sandwiches gets me.

Is that greed or impatience?

While I'm on the subject - people with kids should NEVER tell them to clear their plates in order to avoid wasting food. Guilt = cleared plates even in restaurants with giant-sized portions = neurotic fat adults. Not that I have a gripe with my parents, you understand. I just can't leave food unfinished on my plate.

Olivia Knight said...

Heh heh, Janine... I drive people stir-crazy with that one. I never saw why putting food I didn't want in my mouth was less wasteful than, say, putting it in a little bowl in the fridge for when I did want it. When I left home, I embraced the right to eat EXACTLY how much I wanted. So - if I have taken 2 forkfuls from a full plate and barely touched the rest and don't want anymore, so what. If half a teaspoonful remains and I don't want it, so be it. Everyone else around the table clutches their chests screaming "AARGUGGGHHHHARBARRRAW JUST EAT IT WOMAN! and I smile.

I also embrace the right to drink milk straight from the jug in the fridge. Anyone who doesn't like it can buy their own milk. :-)

Madeline Moore said...

Drinking straight from the container is an enormous pleasure. In one's own home, of course.

Eating over the sink is sorta fun too, just because - it's MY sink, doncha know.

On the other hand, my favourite sort of party is the dinner party. So elegant, so intelligent.

I think it's about being a grown up. Having the freedom to do things as you want to, without someone, for example, telling you to 'clean your plate.'

Madeline Moore said...

ps - is the Sylvia Plath cookbook entry so rude no one is going to acknowledge it? Or did everyone skip over it and miss the joke?

Olivia Knight said...

Read it, snorted my coffee up my nose. I also loved "Stub out your cigarette in your food before you've finished eating." Brilliant!

On the subject of helpful tips, if you open a bottle of wine and have a couple of glasses before you start cooking, you rapidly lose interest in the whole food-concept altogether and finish the bottle instead. Total evening's consumption: 1 bottle of wine, 1 oatcake with horseradish. ~ Olivia Knight, author of the bestselling books Smoke Yourself Thin, Drink Yourself Happy, and Emotional Repression: How To Do It.

Jeremy Edwards said...

One reason I love working at home is how easy it makes it to fully indulge my "eat only as much as I want, whenever I want, and shove the rest in the fridge for later" habits. I probably eat seventeen tiny meals a day. By contrast, when working in an office, I often found myself wolfing quick snacks an hour before and an hour after my structured lunch break—and staring without interest at my food at the time I was officially supposed to be eating it.

Marquesate said...

Exercise, Ecercise, Ecercise.

What, you don't think that's apt for writers? Oh yes, it is, depends on the genre, I guess. ;-)

I love excercise: cardio, running, cycling, rowing, the lot. Weight lifting, absolutely fantastic. I am as fit as a fiddle and strong, and can eat what I want (of course, I don't eat processed food anyway. Bleurgh).

Still not figured out what that has to do with writing? Well ... imagine writing M/M. Imagine writing military gay erotica. Imagine being in a gym where there is a ratio of 30 males to 1 female (myself). Imagine those males being predominantly students from all over the world.

Getting there?

Buff, sexy, good looking, sweaty, tight-clothed hunks grunting away while puming iron and helping each other lift to failure?

Oh yes, baybee. The perfect place for writing ideas, the perfect visuals. And plotting? Brilliant to be done while running or on a bike. I've had the best ideas while beasting myself.

So, I go for the Writing Visuals Exercise Diet any day.

Madeline Moore said...

Marquesate, you present a very compelling argument for exercise...
very compelling...a post for another day, I suspect.

jothemama said...

Great post Madeline. I'm late to it - when you said Ferret faced sad sack, I thought you were talking about the WW leader - she's one of the main things that puts me off going back, sucessful as it was. It's mostly the tawdriness of it all. And as you say, the condescending tone. And lack of any addressing of people's emotional reasons for overeating...