A couple of months ago, I shared with VH readers some of the tips I’ve gleaned over the years for not piling on the pounds: what I eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. (Click here to read it). But I’ve also picked up many other tips for resisting temptation and ensuring I eat healthily, even when I’m touring or away on business. I hope – as the bikini season approaches rather scarily fast, and we all start to think about our bodies! – that you might find these useful, too…
• I always keep plenty of bottled (or filtered) water in bottles, at room temperature – not cold because I don’t like it chilled. I have trained myself to drink water; it’s not the most delicious thing in the world, but I know it’s good for me, so I make myself drink it. It helps keep me filled up between meals, but I don’t drink it with food.
• I like a curry as much as the next person – no, maybe more! But I’ve eaten a lot of Indian food in India, when I’ve been on meditation retreats, and I’ve learned that it’s very different to what you’ll find in most Indian restaurants in the UK – which is very high in fat (usually hydrogenated), and often straight from the freezer and microwaved. I have an Indian friend in London and she has helped me to seek out the kind of Indian restaurant where they use fresh ingredients, fresh spices, and cook from scratch. There is a world of difference: ‘fresh’ Indian food is very clean, not a glutinous sloppy mess. When I eat curry, though, I tend to go for chapatis, naan and popadums. I used to be terribly brown-rice-and-Woodstock in the 60s, but I’m not big on rice now.
• If I’ve been over-indulging, I know now that it’s likely to be because I’m stressed, travelling or not getting enough sleep. My clothes tell me soon enough – and it’s less stressful to find out that you’ve put on a few pounds from a waistband being a bit tight than staring at figures on a scale. (Besides, women’s weight naturally fluctuates by a few pounds over the course of a month, so the scales don’t tell you much. I gave up mine years ago.) It’s hard to eat regular meals when I’m touring – and pretty fatal when I’ve been touring with Jools Holland, because he LOVES his food! – but I do the best I can. I try to stay positive by reminding that when the tour is over, then I can get back to normal and get back into good habits.
• I try not to eat pasta often. Like most carbohydrate foods, I’ve found that it makes me feel sluggish and isn’t great for my blood sugar. But again, I never say never. If I’m going out with my sister for a special occasion lunch – like my birthday – then a big bowl of steaming pasta is a huge, comfort food treat. But I’ve trained myself to like vegetables and protein, because I know that’s what my body really responds to best.
• In the same way, I try to pass up the bread basket. If I have a little mid-afternoon snack before going out to dinner – maybe a slice of chicken with some mustard or salsa on top - then I found it’s so much easier to ‘Just Say No’ because I’m not ravenous when the bread comes around. Because if I’m really hungry and the first course takes ages, I’m going to want to fill up on bread.
• Actually, on holiday I let myself off the hook completely. That’s not to say I pig out, but I do let my hair down a little – no matter how good my intentions are when I leave home. I was in Greece on vacation not long ago and I ate a LOT of Greek salads, and I certainly didn’t tell the waiters to hold the feta cheese! And in France, where I stay with Elton (John) and David (Furnish) the food is so fabulous that I definitely have three meals a day. But the key is to realise that it’s a holiday from your real life, and from normality – that’s what a holiday should be! But then you just pick up where you left off, when you get home. If you’ve put on a little weight, it’ll come off again once you’re back to normal, so long as you don’t try and starve yourself. Then you’re back on the rollercoaster, and it’s all about chocolate and biscuits, before you know it…
• The rule: one dessert, lots of spoons! You don’t need dessert after a meal. But you do usually crave a teeny little sweet palate-cleansing something… So: order one between you, and share!
MY GREEN SOUP RECIPE
This green soup is great for using up veg that you’ve got in the fridge, so there’s no waste My son Jordan is a fantastic cook (he now has his own restaurant, Trullo, in Islington), and he makes me up bags of chicken stock to use as a base for this – although Marigold Bouillon powder is also a great standby. (Delia Smith swears by it…)
Basically, you add whatever is to hand to the soup: cabbage, cauliflower, spring onions, courgettes, peas, even lettuce – so long as it’s green. Add to the stock, and boil till the vegetables are soft, and season to taste (lots of black pepper is FABULOUS!) You can then whizz it through the blender. If you prefer bigger chunks of vegetable, chop them to your preferred size before you put them into the stock.
Invest in some small flasks for taking food-to-go out with you. If you’ve got some hot, healthy soup in a flask, it helps you to resist the endless fast food options – which are almost invariably high in fat and loaded with sugar.