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I’m not saying mums are fat or anything. Because lots of them clearly aren’t (take Kate Moss for example. Or Elle McPherson). But it is true that after the birth of your first baby (and certainly your second or third) it does become a little harder to keep those extra pounds off your bottom or thighs or tummy (that traditional mummy trouble spot).

Plus there’s the obvious fact that not only do you have your own food to finish three times a day, you also have the uneaten remains of your child’s dinner to pick at – and if my son’s unpredictable appetite is anything to by, that’s most of it. And being mums, we can’t bear to let anything go to waste. Plus there’s the fact that, like canapes at parties or biscuits in the office, those calories don’t count anyway – right?

There’s also the grinding boredom of regular childcare – I know we love our little ones desperately, but there are days when having a nice cake to look forward to at 4 o’clock is pretty much all that gets us through the day.

Of course, you could probably follow a new faddy diet for every week of the year and end up no thinner, or possibly fatter, than you were when you started. I am generally against diets on the principle that using too much brain power to add up calories or follow complicated plans seems like an awful waste of mental energy for busy women who don’t have a lot left anyway (I’d rather read the newspaper, or a good novel than The Atkins Diet thanks). Plus diets encourage you to think about food, and all the nice things you’re missing, all the bloomin’ time, and if you want to lose weight that’s probably not a great idea. It’s been said many times before, but ‘eat a bit less, move a bit more’ seem to sum up what the pages of most of those diet books have to say anyway.

However, going by my own limited experience of trying not to get too horrendously fat (a daily struggle I admit – in the last couple of days alone I have eaten most of a Green & Black’s selection pack, a chocolate cake, a huge Danish pastry, a giant packet of crips and a pack of teacakes and put on about three pounds) I give you my admittedly unscientific diet methods:

1) Weigh yourself every day, or every other day

Yeah, I know all those skinny diet experts say not to (though I bet they actually do). And it can get a bit OCD if you’re not too careful. But the sorry truth is you can put a surprising amount of weight on in a week or even a weekend, and be in complete denial about. So standing on the scales regularly does stop you sticking your head in the sand. If you’ve indulged too much, the numbers don’t lie to you sister – which makes it easier to stay on top of sneaky weight gains. Sorry diet expert guys. I’m right, you’re wrong.

2) Eat fruit and salad stuff

Ok this sounds kind of obvious. Fruit and veg fill you up without the calories, plus they’re good for you. But it’s not just about what you eat, it’s when you eat it. Research has shown, for example, that eating an apple before you have a meal can reduce your appetite and stop you eating too much. It probably won’t stop you craving a chocolate bar, but it might prevent you pigging too much out throughout the day. Plus once you get into a pattern of eating something healthy your body invariably starts to crave it – in the same way, it craves chocolate buttons and Pringles, the professional snacker’s version of crack.

3) Eat breakfast – just not too much of it
I’m not sure if it’s a curse or a blessing, but I’ve never been one of life’s big breakfast eaters. Eating too early on makes me feel a bit sick and slightly dirty (annoying on those rare occasions I stay in hotels or nice B&Bs as I never enjoy the big fat fry ups all that much).
In fact, for years I committed the ultimate dietary sin and didn’t have any breakfast at all. I know all those same skinny diet experts bang on about how breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and how it gives you energy for the day ahead, and I certainly wouldn’t dare to argue with them. That said, I think it’s easy to go too far the other way and eat too much at breakfast. And as we all know once you’ve set a pattern for the day, you tend to continue with it. You don’t need toast and cereal. And you don’t need too much orange juice either (full of sugar and calories). Just stick to normal portions, and ideally something that keeps you going like muesli with fruit, or porridge, and you’ll be OK.

4) Ditch the diet foods
Most low-fat foods are full of chemicals and sugar, or worse fake ‘no calorie’ sugars like aspartame, so have a weird sickly taste to them. The fact they taste horrible means you don’t really enjoy eating them. So you’re probably tempted to snack again later to reward your poor under-stimulated taste buds. I personally would rather have half a slice of a really lovely full-fat cake than a whole slice of something revolting, dry and artificial tasting, in the same way I’d choose half a tub of normal yogurt over horribly watery low-fat versions. But maybe that’s just me. I’m sure there are many women out there who drink an Options hot chocolate drink out of choice and think ‘yum’ rather than ‘yuck’.

5) Get incredibly stressed/fall in love with someone unsuitable/be so busy you don’t actually have time to eat/get a hideous stomach bug

Any or all of the above or surefire ways to drop a few pounds here and there, but I wouldn’t actively recommend any of them. Except maybe the hideous stomach bug.

There are two basic approaches to tidying up after a toddler or small child. The first one involves the ‘clearing up as we go’ technique. This means you spend most of your waking hours putting small plastic figures back into tubs, play-do back into pots, blocks back into containers, books back onto shelves, raisins back into boxes, packets back into cupboards, puzzles back into their holes, teddies back in the cot or bed… you get the general idea. The words ‘Forth Bridge’ and ‘painting the’ spring to mind. This technique also means your back is constantly stooped from bending over, making you look like a kind of female Hunchback of Notre Dame. It also means that your toddler will probably wind up chucking extra stuff onto the floor just because he or she gets a kick out of having the power to make you crawl around on all fours to look under the sofa for that last missing piece of Lego.

The other approach is tidying up at the end of the day (or possibly week). If you don’t mind living in general squalour, and inhabiting a home that has the ambience of a recently burgled charity shop then this is the technique for you. Rather than spending the entire day tidying up, instead you can have a marathon session at the end of the day – always something to look forward to. (There is a theoretical third technique of course – not tidying up at all. I haven’t tried that one yet, though sometimes after a particularly trying day of tantrums I am sorely tempted.)

Of course, while your child is still small enough to be fooled by such things, you can at least turn tidying up into a game – ‘that’s lovely tidying up, Joshua, you put those books back on the shelf/wine bottles back in the wine rack really well!’. I don’t think the appeal of this game lasts until they are teenagers unfortunately. Also there’s nothing worse than tidying up after someone else’s really bad tidying up (putting the knives in the spoons drawer, or stacking the dishwasher really badly).

Either way, whatever you do, tidying up now takes up a major part of your life in a way that you previously only dreamed of. (As does living with a load of mess at every turn.) Still at least you can listen to Radio 4 while you do it.

Photo by jonlk

Sometimes, in quieter moments, I dream of the perfect Sunday morning. I’m lying in a kingsize bed with perfectly pressed white linen sheets and plump feather pillows, in a pristine bedroom that’s strangely free of socks on the floor and crumpled clothes heaped on the ‘chairdrobe’.

As I stir from a blissful, uninterrupted nine hours of sleep, a soundtrack of gentle jazz-lite – possibly John Coltrane, possibly Miles Davis, possibly Ella Fitzgerald – slowly wafts me into the land of the living. Outside in the street, rather than the usual irritating cars revving and children screaming, I faintly hear the lyrical song of the blackbird. I look at the clock: it’s half-past nine! The following items have miraculously appeared at the foot of the bed: a cafetiere of piping hot coffee, a jug of warm milk, a glass of orange juice, a warm croissant and the full complement of Sunday papers, from high- to lowbrow…

While non-parents sometimes get the impression that, once you go forth and procreate, you never ever get a decent’s night sleep again – not entirely true for everybody, thank the lord – it is true that proper, restorative lie-ins, for the majority of us, are rarer than hen’s teeth.

As we grow up into adults, most of us eventually fall into either ‘owl’ or ‘lark’ camps. But babies, toddlers and young children are all, by some cruel twist of nature, pretty much down to a T, programmed to be larks. Once the clock strikes 6am (or, sadly, earlier in many unfortunate cases) most of them spring into life, raring to go and fizzing with energy like Duracell bunnies on speed. They need to have nappies changed, to be given bottles, to be fed, and dressed, and entertained, and all before the sun is even up. They don’t care that you’re mildly hungover from your night in with the latest episode of Glee and a cheap bottle of Pino Grigio. They don’t care that all you really want out of life at 6.15am is another blissful 15 minutes of slumber. They will shout and scream at the top of their lungs, so even your deepest sleep and most vivid dreams are penetrated. They will climb into your bed, pull off the covers and thrust a hardboard copy of the Gruffalo into your grey sleep-starved face, and beg to be read to before you have even gained consciousness. Honestly if the armed forces ever need to come up with a failsafe torture device for known terrorists, I suggest they stick them in a room with a toddler first thing every morning for the next six months or so.

After a lifetime as an owl, I have sadly come to the conclusion that the only way to create the illusion that you are, in fact, having a lie-in, rather than waking up at the same time as fishermen, is to go to bed before the 10 o’clock news comes on, and possibly before the 9pm ‘serious drama’ slot. But in the meantime, I can carry on dreaming…

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This blog is currently dedicated to stuff new mummies like. As opposed to stuff mummies of teenagers like. That's because we don't have teenagers yet. Give us a few years though. We're told it goes pretty quickly...

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