As a child I was always hungry – and it’s not like my parents didn’t feed me! My dad was a butcher and would bring home amazing cuts of meat, and he’d do a swap with the fishmongers so he’d get terrific fish, too. But I used to be able to eat what was on my plate, and half of what was left on everyone else’s, and still I’d feel hungry. Maybe there was an emotional factor: my mum sometimes worked, so often I’d come home to an empty house and make myself a bowl of Bird’s custard. Total comfort food. My mum would get home and say, ‘where’s that pint of milk I bought?’ – and I’d have to tell her I’d made it into custard…! Glasgow, of course, is famously the homeland of the deep-fried Mars Bar. Now, I’ve never had one of those – we were a Blue Riband house, actually – but I am a sugar addict, with a fairly typical Scottish hunger for sweets. So let me tell you how I’ve worked to conquer that, over the years.
The food I eat now is quite different to what I was raised on, you see. But I’ve learned, over the years, what works best for me and my metabolism. I was never overweight when I was young (despite all that custard!), because I was so naturally active (some would say hyperactive!) and physical. Then I got into the music business and started spending my life in the back of a van, belting from venue to venue and eating mostly at motorway caffs and roadside diners. I could have written a guide to the service stations of the M1, or got a degree in Little Chefs! There I was, surrounded by six men – all Glaswegians – except the roadie – stopping off for stir-fries and curries and eggs and bacon after the show, with steak and kidney pie for breakfast and chocolate virtually round-the-clock, just to keep us going. I even took up smoking because I thought it would help me lose weight – but it didn’t!
I really wanted to be skinny, because I was friendly with all those great beauties like Patti Boyd and Jean Shrimpton, Britt Ekland and Julie Christie, who were basically stick insects with lollipop legs. I was WAY shorter than anyone else, but I made more noise, to make up for it, which is how come I started to do just about every diet known to woman. Unlike some girls I knew I could never reel off the calorific value of everything from a Twix to an apple or a knob of cheese, but I’ve F-Planned. I’ve food-combined. (Actually, what I eat now still incorporates some food combining, so that definitely works for me.) I was a vegetarian for a while. I even invented my very own patented ‘Coffee Diet’, which was exclusive to me: I lived on coffee and I’d be shaking and almost insane by teatime and have to have chocolate in my mouth… Because of of course, the minute you start to deprive yourself… ALL YOU CAN THINK ABOUT IS FOOD! So that’s how I learned that there had to be a better way. And what I realised is that dieting doesn’t work. What you’ve got to do – and it takes time – is to change your eating habits.
When I first arrived in London, I used to hang out in health food shops, because I was interested in learning about healthy eating and I figured that was the best way to learn. And I picked up some books by a famous American nutritionist called Gayelord Hauser, who was dead set against sugar. (And in favour of foods like wholegrains). I bought books like Look Younger; Live Longer, Be Happier, Be Healthier and Diet Does It, and they inspired me to start to eat more healthily and learn to beat my sugar addiction. Gayelord Hauser was this so-glamorous Hollywood diet guru whose devotees included movie stars like Paulette Goddard, Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich – and later, Grace Kelly and the Duchess of Windsor. Gloria Swanson – the fabulous movie star of films like Sunset Boulevard – was another HUGE heroine of mine, whose autobiography I just devoured; she insisted she’d cured herself of cancer by sunbathing (not sure about that, but it was a great read), and she was big on detoxing when nobody even knew what the word meant. In her book, glamorous Gloria talks a lot about diet – and in fact, her sixth (yes, sixth!) husband was the bestselling author of Sugar Blues, which also ranted against sugar. Through those books, I learned that I was a sugar addict. And not, at that stage, a recovering one…!
So I’ve learned that the main thing, for me, has been to stabilise my blood sugar – and I think that’s true for so many people. Of course, there’s virtually an epidemic of diabetes now, but many, many non-diabetics have blood sugar issues. If I don’t eat regularly, I get wobbly and faint – and then I hit the chocolate, which is a disaster. So I know I have a tendency to hypoglycaemia, and I need to listen to my body when it’s telling me it needs fuel to bring it back into balance. Because I understand that about my body, in my fridge and my store cupboard I keep a supply of healthy snacks which aren’t going to pile on the pounds, but will keep my blood sugar steady and my appetite in check. And that really is the key. If I ignore that shakiness, first of all I stop being able to think clearly. And then I literally start to wobble, both physically and emotionally a wee bit too. Before I know it, I’m completely ravenous and I’ll eat everything in sight.
Far better, then, to nip that tendency in the bud by having the right foods around me – on standby. It’s a simple philosophy: if I eat something good, it’ll stop me eating something bad. Because if you fill your fridge and cupboards with good food – rather than junk – then it’s so much easier to stay on the straight and narrow. If you’re surrounded by sweet things, and you grab those when you’ve got the low blood sugar blues, the sweeties will send your blood sugar skyrocketing again – and dump you right down once more. Instead of being on a roller-coaster, think of it as being on a see-saw – and trying to stay near the middle, keeping your balance. For me, being stocked up with the right food helps that.
I start the day religiously with hot water and lemon juice. And then I have a slice of wholemeal sourdough toast, with a scraping – and I mean a scraping – of butter, and hummus on top. If it’s cold outside, then it’s porridge season – like the good wee Scots lass I still am! On the weekends it’s definitely eggs – but during the week, too, I might have a boiled egg or two: hot and with a runny yolk, or hard-boiled and cold. Not every day, but once you tune into your body by starting to get off that sugar rollercoaster, it’s so much easier to listen to what your body actually needs. My guilty secret? I have one nice big cup of espresso. I know I shouldn’t, but it’s part of my wake up ritual – and it’s the first and the last cup of coffee I’ll have all day.
A portion of grilled or steamed fish or grilled/roast chicken – and I also love turkey burgers! Then on the side, plenty of steamed vegetables – and probably a spoonful of salsa on the side, to spice it all up. Or I might have some baked sweet potato, mashed with the skin on (the skin’s packed with goodness.) There’s always a salad – although I’m Little Miss Fussy when it comes to salad: maybe some roquette and a mixture of lettuces, perhaps a few spinach leaves and some chicory or radicchio – but no tomatoes in the salad. (It’s different if I’m going to a good Italian restaurant, where I LOVE a crunchy, fresh tomato-only salad, because they know where to source the best and most tomato-y tasting tomatoes.)
This is basically similar to lunch – the same but different, of course, because to be satisfied you’ve got to have variety. It’s a fact: if you eat the same thing all the time out of habit, the appetite centre in the brain just doesn’t register that you’ve eaten – so it’s important to keep your palate excited. Supper’s got to be really tasty, so I have a stash of cookbooks that tend to be the inspiration for my dinner – like River Café Easy by Rose Grey and Ruth Rogers, or Jamie Oliver’s cookbooks. I love his Malaysian salad, or green beans and mustard, or the River Café’s swiss chard with chilli and parsley, or roast courgettes. I’ve trained my palate and my body to expect veg at every meal, and if I haven’t, then I start craving them. So I often start with a bowl of my green soup, and then I’m really in heaven.
This is what you’ll find in my pantry and my fridge. I absolutely try not to eat between meals. But for instance I never eat immediately before I go on stage, so when I get home I really need something.
• A jar of almonds
• A jar of walnuts.
• Clearspring Teriyake crackers
• Thin-sliced ham (my favourite is from Wholefoods Market, and it’s paper-thin)
• Wholemeal sourdough bread (Judges Bakery)
• A jar of pesto
• A home-made jar of Jamie Oliver’s Salsa Rosso
• A home-made jar of Jamie Oliver’s Salsa Verde
• Chopped fresh vegetable crudités (carrot sticks, cauliflower, broccoli etc.) Marks & Spencer sell these (and I pick up quite a few snacks there)
• Avocados – honestly, to me they have all the comfort factor of custard: that wonderful delicious, soft texture. They’re a great snack with a splash of balsaic vinegar – or slice them onto bread and scatter some very finely sliced spring onions over the top
So: if I’m hungry I might have a piece of toast and hummus, or a cracker and hummus, or an avocado. (If you keep the bread in the freezer, sliced, you can defrost a slice at a time – which means that reaching for another slice becomes a concious decision, rather than something you do on automatic pilot.) Or I might go for a handful of nuts: what I know now about nuts is that they are full of Essential Fatty Acids (which are also brilliant for keeping skin lubricated from within). Or a couple of wafer-thin slices of ham with mustard to give it a kick. But NOT a biscuit! NOT a chocolate bar! Otherwise I’d be back on that rollercoaster before you can say ‘Alton Towers’…