Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006


Awakening the Inner Cave-Dweller

We’re down to one car here at Fun Central. My 12-year-old Renault Scenic died unceremoniously a few weeks ago and we decided not to replace it, because we are good Germans and like to think about the environment. This does put some pressure on me and Germany’s Top Husband, though, in terms of negotiating who gets the car when. I was fondly imagining I’d go grocery shopping this morning until he pointed out that he had a suit day in Heidelberg and the car was his. Off  he went, leaving me staring into the empty fridge wondering what the hell I was going to have for breakfast.

Turns out, it was a peach. Not a peach that was lingering in the fruit-bowl, but a peach that I had to hunt down by foot and then drag home, skin and eat.

There is something intensely satisfying about bringing your food home on foot. Here’s what I managed to scavenge by going into the Burg’s thousand-year-old town centre and walking around the shops there, instead of driving to the supermarket outside town:

1. Butcher: Thuringer sausages, both plain and spicy; marinated lamb chops (got the fourth free just by chatting to the lovely lady – that wouldn’t have happened at the supermarket); free-range eggs.

2. Greengrocer: a butternut (never to be found in a German supermarket), peaches, apples, grapes, cucumber, red peppers, a tin of marinated giant beans, a lettuce.

3. Schlecker: muesli, cleaning cloths, bin bags, snacks for the kids.

4. Bakery: Brezeln, both plain and cheesy, and a free chat about Germany’s chances for Saturday.

Then I dragged the whole lot home and pounced on my peach.

I have become a fan of the caveman lifestyle idea. Those of you who have been with me a long time know that diets have come and gone. There was Shangri-La, there was low-carb and long, long ago in the mists of time, there was Weight-Watchers.

But the caveman diet, I’m telling you, is the way forward. It has various names and proponents (paleolithic, caveman, primal blueprint), but the basic idea is the same: eat the way our ancestors ate, move the way they moved, and rest the way they rested, thus becoming fitter, leaner and healthier. It makes a lot of sense to me. Without wanting to repeat what the experts say, I point you to the best blog I’ve found on the caveman lifestyle: Mark’s Daily Apple. Check out his About section for tons of useful background information.

I’ve been acting the cave-dweller for the month of June. I’ve lost kilograms and centimetres, which is always pleasing. I am also happier, better rested and far less grumpy. And right now, I’m off to the pool in my mammoth-skin bikini for some caveman-like romping.

Want to join me?


Musings from the Pool

In the last two weeks, I spent a lot of time here:

It gave me the chance to examine closely and at length other people’s bodies. Let me say this, there is almost no such thing as a perfect body. Flaws are everywhere. While looking at bodies large and slender, I was also able to examine my own weight madness. I think my attitude to weight is odd and skewed, coming as I do from a family who believe on seeing one another that it is acceptable to say things like, “You look like you’ve lost some weight! Last time I saw you you had buttocks like a zebra.” Or who like to fling an arm around a pregnant woman and announce to a group of 12 people that, “Charlotte will lose all this weight as soon as the baby is here.” Or who think it is helpful to say to a pubescent 12-year-old, “I see you have inherited the Von Mengershausen (read: Teutonic and large) thighs.”

As grown-ups we have to own our madness and not still blame our families for every single one of our failings, but having had such a fertile start, my twisted attitude to weight has grown apace like a feral and overactive vine. While I relaxed reading in a lounger stood in the shallow waters of the pool watching my small people cavort, there was a dialogue between my weight madness and my sane mind. It went something like this …

Weight madness: Fat people shouldn’t have tattoos.

Sane mind: Anyone can have tattoos. Even if I don’t like them much, it’s anyone’s right to decide how to decorate their bodies.

Weight madness: Oh God, look at the size of her. How can she bring herself to put on a bikini?

Sane mind: She is relaxing and enjoying her holiday with her family. Isn’t that lovely?

Weight madness: I’ve never seen so many fat teenagers. Look at that brazen one.

Sane mind: Yes, there are a lot of fat teenagers. Children nowadays have different pressures to face. It’s better that she’s out there having fun with her friends than cooped up at home feeling sorry for herself.

Weight madness: I wish my thighs were thinner.

Sane mind: I’ve had three children. My thighs are a badge of pride.

Weight madness: Yes, but look at my stomach. It’s gross.

Sane mind: My stomach could be a little trimmer.

Weight madness: I’d better lose all this weight before I go to Berlin in September. I don’t want (dear and accepting friend) to go back home to South Africa and tell everyone how fat I am.

Sane mind: She loves me for who I am not for the size of my thighs.

Weight madness: True, but she’ll still go home and tell everyone how fat I am.

Sane mind: South Africans are more weight-obsessed than anyone else I know. Look at all these happy fat Italians. They’re having a lovely time and no-one’s feeling self-conscious at all. I could let my stomach hang out a little more if I wanted to.

Weight madness: No I musn’t! I won’t be able to see my feet. I’m going sit down in the water so only my thin bits show.

That bit of internal insanity aside, here are the facts:

1. I am 10 kilograms heavier than I was when I left school in 1986.

2. When I left school in 1986 I had the beginnings of a food disorder, during which I ate an apple for breakfast, a Slim Slab for lunch and only the vegetables at supper. No-one noticed that I was not eating enough, and everyone congratulated me for looking so thin. The disorderette went away after about six months when my hunger thankfully returned.

3. There is a five-kilogram window in which my weight radiates up and down, depending on mood, season and hormones.

4. I wear the same size clothes as I did before I was pregnant. The clothes are sometimes a little tighter, sometimes a little looser.

5. My husband and my children think I am gorgeous.

6. I have never mentioned weight to my children. I tell them they are beautiful, and they are. My weight madness dialogue is completely internal.

Despite knowing all of the above, I still believe – when I am at wrong end of that five-kilogram window – that I am out of control and shameful. How mad is that? I sucked in all those weight messages my family sent my way like a thirsty camel hitting the oasis. The messages were thin = good, fat = bad; thin = good girl, fat = shameful girl; thin = stand up and be proud, fat = run away and hide and don’t come out until you’re thin again.

The sane part of me has completely accepted my Von Mengershausen thighs, but the weight madness stills scrapes away in the back of my head critiquing myself and those around me who dare to wear a bikini when they clearly shouldn’t. I need to send the weight madness for re-education, from whence it can come back a Beth Ditto fan, shouting “Love me, love my zebra buttocks”. Most importantly, it needs to look at other people and not run through an exhausting checklist of how they could look better. At best, it’s superficial, and at worst, it’s cruel.

Thin-propaganda free, I could relax a little more at the pool. It takes a lot of energy being mean.


My Favourite Drug

I have given up sugar for Lent. I think the goal for Lent is to give up the sin you love the most, so, as I am a dull, nearly middle-aged German Hausfrau and don’t have any sins apart from reading in the bath at 3am so I wake up the next day crabby and use my outside voice with my children (bad), nearly knocking over cycling German pensioners who I forget have right of way over me, my car, any pedestrians or passing ants (worse) or indulging in a high-octave gossip session with one of my South African girlfriends (about a two on the scale of nought to sinful), I’ve had to resort to giving up my favourite drug. Oh I love sugar, I just love, love, love sugar.

At the same time, I have taken up my favourite weight-loss regime, the Shangri-La Diet, in order to shed the avoirdupois which I have gained in the Season from October to now. (Avoirdupois sounds so elegant, rather like “Won’t you have some more peas?” or “Avril du Pois was a lovely girl”, so you can almost forget you’re talking about fat and imagine you’re talking about something glamorous and otherworldly and French. Germans call the extra kilograms that creep on in the Christmas months Winterspek (winter bacon) which is whole lot more basic and frank, and not quite as charming.)

So, in order to separate myself from my winter bacon, I am back on the Shangri-La, which involves drinking a tablespoon of sugar in a litre of water twice a day. Contradictory? At odds with my Lenten fast? No. Let me tell you how.

First of all, I always give up sugar for Lent. It’s tradition: my husband gives up alcohol, I give up sugar and we spend a few weeks staring soberly and sadly at each other. When the deprivation gets too bad, I have a glass of red wine for him and he snarfs a chocolate bar on my behalf. This is a chance for us to show our love for each other. We do it well.

Secondly, the Lenten fast is a test of my moral fibre. Can I resist chocolate, ice-cream, cake, biscuits, yogurt, cereal, random sweets, delicious German bakery products? Can I resist them for weeks on end? Can I bake for my kids and not eat one drop of the cookie mixture nor sample one crumb? Can I resist them without turning into Deprived Sugar Junkie, shouting for the finest cakes known to humanity and mugging little old ladies so I can ravage their handbags for their secret peppermint stash? You betcha.

Thirdly, at the end of every fast comes the inevitable reward. How apt that at the end of my sugar fast comes Easter, the festival of chocolate and hot-cross buns and marzipan and Simnel cake and tiny little adorable pastel sugar eggs that are so cute you want to kiss their dimpled little shells before you inhale them and Nusszopf and other delicacies. Easter Sunday is possibly my favourite day of the year. And if anyone feels the urge to send me some See’s chocolates with which to end my fast, then give in to that urge … you, and I, will feel so much better if you do.

It’s also a chance for me to reveal my backbone. I may be a dull, nearly middle-aged, German Hausfrau with three kids, a washing mountain, and a dangerously addictive blogging habit, but I am Made. Of. Steel. If you put me in the jungle with no rations and a bush tucker challenge consisting only of toad’s eyes, maggots and the roe of the deadly piranha fish, I would voluntarily starve to death. That’s how strong I am.

Tradition, love, moral fibre and backbone are all very well, but fade in consequence when compared to the state of my Winterspek. It has to go, and as a veteran of almost every diet known to humankind, from WeightWatchers to the colic diet to that weird one where you eat beetroot and cheese for three days, I can honestly say that the Shangri-La Diet is the easiest, most effective and sustainable diet I have ever attempted. Best of all, it removes nothing from your diet, only adds a couple of tablespoons of sugar. Yummy, delicious, pure, white, granulated sugar, which you add to water and sip slowly over a couple of hours, with the delightful after-effect that your appetite goes away. So I am drinking sugar in order to not eat sugar, and it is going very very well. Really I can recommend it. It’s the way forward. By the time Easter comes, I’ll have no appetite left and won’t be able to eat those chocolates you sent me.

P.S. I had some of my husband’s favourite drug tonight – can you tell?


Ooh la la it’s Shangri-La

I’m a member of a secret cult, even weirder than that of those blog. It’s a kind of social experiment. It’s stranger than fiction. It’s big in California, and in blogland, but no-one’s heard of it in London or Ladenburg. It’s gained currency through blogging, and one of those blogs has become a book. It’s called the Shangri-La diet.

It’s diet heaven. First of all, you remove no food sort. In fact, you have to eat MORE. I have been Shanging for four and a half weeks and have lost four kilograms (that’s nearly nine pounds). I am a Weight Watchers veteran, and still recommend it to anyone who needs the support of a weekly group and the threat of the weekly weigh-in, but it took me SIX MONTHS to lose four kilograms on WW. Shangri-La is also free, unless you buy the book, which you don’t actually need to since all the information you need is available on the web, as is the support group. So it’s free, it’s quick and it works.

Let me tell you a little more. First of all, there’s loads of science behind it, which I’m not going to explain here because I’m not a scientist and I still haven’t got my head around it yet. There are some links at the end where you can read more, and it’s worth doing because it’s fascinating. Anyway! Here’s the deal: in the morning, one full hour after you’ve eaten or had any flavour in your mouth (that goes for toothpaste and your morning coffee too) you have either:

  • one to three tablespoons of sugar diluted in 1.5 litres of water
  • a tablespoon of extra light olive oil

Then you wait another full hour before putting anything except water into your mouth. Repeat again after lunch.

I’m doing the sugar water, because I rather like sugar, the thought of schlucking oil grosses me out and also because extra light olive oil is kind of hard to find in downtown Ladenburg. The result is that you LOSE YOUR APPETITE. I have a life-long snack habit: I’m always hanging around the fridge wondering what to eat next or having a taste of whatever my kids are eating. While at mealtimes I always make healthy choices I can’t resist second helpings. In the last four and a half weeks I have stopped snacking and I eat three small to medium meals a day. In fact last night, I skipped supper because I just wasn’t hungry. Let me assure you: this has never happened in my life before – I am ALWAYS hungry.

The basic theory is that flavourless calories fill you up. Shangri-La is teaching us to eat like our ancestors, except that we don’t need to store fat against the lean years because – barring nuclear fallout or an early Ice Age – the lean years aren’t going to come. There are other theories: eating foods with a strong calorie-flavour association makes you fat (ie try to eat bland), foods that always taste the same (fast foods) make you fat because of the calorie-flavour association (so you try to vary the flavours of what you eat). It’s also recommended that you try to eat low GI foods and avoid alcohol. I’ve done all of the above, but with no concerted effort – I’ve enjoyed meals in restaurants (I was often too full for dessert – that’s a first), I often have an ice-cream with my kids, I’ve had the odd glass of wine. And it still works!

The diet was invented and tested – on himself – by a Berkeley psychology professor called Seth Roberts. His site is informative and useful. There are forums where you can register and ask questions, Seth’s blog, links to other Shanging blogs and the science in detail. There are loads of articles from converts and sceptics alike. My best is this one from the converted sceptics over at Diet Blog.

For those who’re interested in the power of blogging, the popularity of this diet has spread via online testimonials. One person has amazing success, posts about it, inspires someone else and so on. Seth talks a bit about viral marketing and how it’s worked for him. His experiment and his blog came first, and after the success of both, he got an agent and a book deal.

For me, Shangri-La is not really a diet but a tool. As a usually healthy eater and a mild exerciser, this is exactly what I need: something to stave off the hunger pangs, help me to enjoy my meals without over-eating and stop the snacking. If you’ve got two kilograms to lose or twenty, it could just work for you.


Weighty Issues

It’s pool season again. This means packing and schlepping the belongings of three small people, plus snacks and towels, off to the local pool (Mummy as Sherpa). It means covering four people – here include self – with suntan lotion. It means getting two aspirant swimmers togged up in their swim belts, equipped with their pool noodles and keeping a beady eye on them while introducing a third small person to the delights of really cold water. It means taking the whole family to the loo when one person needs a wee. On the plus side there’s fun in the sun for everyone.

Being poolside in Germany is refreshing, however, because Germans are extremely unselfconscious about their bodies. Big or small, heavy or slim, brown or pale, tatooed or not tatooed, they’re all there in the smallest of swimsuits, splashing about and having a fine time. I like this. I like a society where bodies are not judged and where everyone is having fun no matter their physical characteristics.

What I can’t quell is the judge in my own head. My background is this: I come from a family obsessed with weight and after a random comment from an adult (who should have known better) when I was twelve, I spent my teens, twenties and thirties believing I was fat. I now look back on photos of myself as a teenager and I was a sylph! All those wasted years thinking I was fat. I started dieting at 17, was sub-anorexic for a few months (an apple, a health-bar, and a few vegetables as my daily quota) but luckily liked food too much to really succumb. I have been food-obsessing, dieting, weighing myself and being depressed/delighted with the daily numbers ever since.

So while I watch happy Germans cavorting, there’s a sane side that wants to celebrate the variety of shapes on display and there’s a twisted side that’s comparing my thighs to someone else’s, thinking ‘you are too fat for a bikini’ or ‘can you really afford to eat those chips?’. It’s like weight’s my filter – I just can’t help it being important to me. I don’t want it to be, but it is.

I recently told a friend I was going to shake the hold that weight has over me and love where I am right now, because I don’t want to waste the rest of my life obsessing with the scales and what I’m eating or not eating. It made me feel good for a while. But since in the last few weeks, the scales have been telling me I’m carrying a couple of extra kilos, I’m back to food hyper-consciousness.

I have many positive experiences with food. I like to make food that makes people happy. I love cooking something my kids like. I like planning, preparing and serving food to my family and friends. I like finding a great recipe, sourcing the ingredients, making it and enjoying it. I like food books and TV programmes. I love going to my local market twice a week and selecting beautiful fresh fruit and vegetables to cook and eat. I like talking about food to my foodie friends. I love it when my husband has one of his creative moments in the kitchen and cooks us a great meal. 

I keep my weight madness internalised because I don’t want it to rub off on my children, especially my daughters. I never say anything negative about my own body or anyone else’s. I always tell them that they’re beautiful (and they are). I encourage them to eat healthily but don’t ban sweets either. I think I’m managing to raise them with a balanced attitude to food.

I just would like it if I could manage to go to the pool next time and not play ‘spot who’s fatter than me’. I would like it if being three kilograms over or under my ideal weight didn’t cause me such disproportionate misery or joy. And I would like it if, for once, I didn’t care whether there was chocolate in the house or not.