Helen Purves All you need to know about Helen Purves. And, indeed, much more.


Weight loss: not all peaches, and certainly no cream

Today is my first weight loss anniversary. In the past year I have lost six stones - that's 84 lbs, or 38 kilos, and an 11 point drop in terms of my BMI. I have gone down nearly five dress sizes.After and before photos

How my face has changed: me now, and me last February

How did I do it? Through Weight Watchers (specifically, the Weight Watchers iPhone app), and I don't need paying to evangelise about their plan. I would happily recommend them to anyone: I won't bother going into details as you can find out more about the Pro Points diet on their website, but it's been the easiest thing I've ever done.

I still have a couple of stones to lose, but I've already learned so many difficult lessons. All we're ever given is the positive spin on weight loss: TV programmes, adverts, books, and websites all give you this massive spiel about how you'll look and feel so much better. Well, you might: but there are down-sides too, and ones that you won't find many people being honest enough to talk about.

When I started experiencing the darker side of intense weight loss, I had nowhere to turn: nobody I know or even know of has ever lost so much weight as me. Celebrities, sure, and vlogging Americans who've had gastric bands fitted, but that's not the same as the experience of just finding a healthy diet and sticking to it. Even the brilliant Weight Watchers forum doesn't touch upon the darker side of things - on the whole, people just don't like to admit they have problems (although since asking for similar stories to mine on the forums there, I've been shown some very insightful blog posts from members).

Note: please don't let this put you off losing weight, if you're in the process of trying to do so or considering starting a new diet. Losing weight is awesome. I will live much, much longer now, and once everything's settled down I expect my quality of life to be amazing. Believe the hype: losing weight is the best thing you can possibly do. But I'm an incurably honest person, and I think somebody needs to at least touch on this subject. So, for people out there starting the same journey I've undertaken, here are some of the most difficult lessons I've learned along the way.

For the first few months, you'll feel really bad about yourself
I'd never dieted before, but I imagine this is the main reason people give up before they get very far. When you start a diet (although I'm not really sure I can think of Weight Watchers as a diet any more - more of a gradual lifestyle change) you have to immediately cut down on the amount of food you eat - and although it feels great to know you're making positive changes, you can often start to feel really guilty about the recent past.

I started obsessing about how much food I used to eat, and nearly ended up comfort-eating a few times - which would have been deadly, as it probably would have started a dreadfully upsetting downwards spiral. Luckily I didn't feel there was much hanging on my weight loss - I didn't pressure myself, and I'd never lost weight before so was delighted and almost overwhelmingly incredulous when it started to work. Also, Weight Watchers cuts your food intake very gradually, so at first I could eat quite a lot.

There isn't a deadline
Rather naively, I used to think that I'd lose all eight stone and THEN everything would be different. WRONG. It creeps up on you slowly: after six stones, my life is already very different. All those things you think will happen after your weight loss actually start happening much earlier, as you constantly change shape. You don't have to have a BMI of between 18-25 to notice changes to your life, or for things to get better for you. In fact, it's easier to deal with: can you imagine the shock of suddenly waking up looking perfect? It's been hard enough dealing with the stuff below over the course of a full year, never mind overnight!

None of your favourite clothes will fit you
I love clothes. Not fashion, but just clothes in general. I've always been fat, so during my life I've found ways of getting hold of the most amazing outfits to fit and flatter my shape. A special Calvin Klein dress from a sale at Bloomingdale's in New York, an amazing denim skirt from Pink Marzipan, great cocktail dresses I had tailored to fit me from Monsoon (it's amazing what tailors can do with dresses which have generous linings). I've had to throw all of these away, and it was actually quite emotional - not to mention expensive, because I've been through several wardrobes now. But it's better to get rid of clothes that are too large - if you're doing things right, you'll be certain that you'll never be able to wear them again.

Your body shape will completely change
On a related note: what flatters me now is completely different. I never used to be able to wear wrap tops because they drew attention to my podgy waist: I'm not entirely able to pull them off now, but my trusty old waterfall cardis just utterly swamp my increasingly hourglass figure. This wasn't a shape I expected to be, as I've never been even close to slim before. But now I have curves, I'm having to reassess how I think when I'm choosing clothes.

You will get cold
Very cold. And not just in cold weather - last summer my thinner, lighter friends boggled as I wore a coat and scarf even on the hottest days of the year. I miss my fat-blanket. I used to have an amazing personal thermostat: never too hot in the summer, and always warm enough in the winter. Now I'm almost constantly cold - especially my hands and feet. When you lose weight naturally, you do of course lose it from all over your body - the first new clothes you buy will probably be jumpers.

Weird skin
Without veering into TMI territory, things will be difficult with your skin for a while. Skin on my face has cleared up - way less spots, which is just awesome - but for a while, skin elsewhere was not looking so good. Moisturise as much as you can - I use Bio Oil (supposedly for pregnant women/stretch marks) which you can get on Amazon but it's expensive and actually I reckon just about any good moisturiser would do the trick.

Food won't be there to comfort you any more
Food used to be my emotional go-to. Bad day at work? Monster Munch. Fallen out with a mate? Kit Kats. Argument with mother? Massive takeaway pizza. The list goes on. However, I genuinely think about food differently now - it's there to taste nice, but comfort has to come from somewhere else. My very supportive best friend Ruth has been instrumental in this, but you can't rest your whole emotional being in one person's hands - that's not fair. What's more, weight loss is an emotional roller coaster: because this next one is a biggie.

People will treat you incredibly differently
Here's where I come off as arrogant, but I can take that because this is the single most difficult thing I've had to face, and it's not something I imagine people who haven't gone through this experience will understand. This continues to upset me greatly, but everyone - friends and family as well as complete strangers - has started acting differently towards me. The old cliché about thin people being popular is not without truth.

I get really angry about this, but I don't think people can help it. Mostly it's people I pass in the street - instead of looking past me, men will often look at me: down, and then up. I occasionally get chatted up by guys in bars now, and previously-lesser spotted female friends are far more likely to start inviting me to nights out, dance classes, yoga etc.

This is supposed to be good, right? Well, no. It's actually quite intimidating if you haven't faced it before. I find it very scary: when I used to attract anyone, it often would be slightly strange, quiet, shy men. Now I'm actually starting to get noticed by the type of guy I prefer - more assertive, manly men. It's awesome, but it's taking a while to get used to.

I was also unconsciously used to people assuming I'd be a shy, insular, rather dull individual and developed a buoyant, cynical personality to try and combat this effect - so I've noticed my personality has started to adapt ever so slightly. I feel way more relaxed and less stressed, and it's weird.

Last but not least: medication
As you may or may not know, I have non-convulsive temporal lobe epilepsy. For god's sake, before you lose weight, go and see your GP! As I lost more and more of my body weight, I started finding myself becoming sluggish, incoherent and forgetful. I didn't work it out for weeks, but then I realised that due to my weight loss I was effectively overdosing on anti-epileptic drugs. This is seriously not cool, but to be fair to myself I really did lose weight almost by accident.

As I said earlier, it's been great - but I really wish more people would speak out about the down sides, if only to help those who are having a tough time. If you have blogged, vlogged or podcasted about this or have more useful links then comment below.

Useful links:
Weight Watchers: http://www.weightwatchers.co.uk
BBC Health BMI Calculator: http://www.bbc.co.uk/health/tools/bmi_calculator/bmi.shtml
NHS Live Well: Lose weight: http://www.nhs.uk/livewell/loseweight/Pages/Loseweighthome.aspx

Filed under: stuff i did 6 Comments

#strangefortunes: A DIY fortune cookie experiment

Baked fortune cookies in a Tupperware box

I've always had a bit of a thing for fortune cookies, which are (in my opinion, at least) truly the Kinder Egg of biscuits. However, they're never terribly exciting. I bought and ate a wholesale bag of them once, and I didn't even get told I'd meet a tall/dark/handsome stranger (although to be fair, I haven't. Probably because I go around eating wholesale bags of fortune cookies).

Then, a month or so ago, it occurred to me: what are we doing? Why are we letting fortune cookie writers decide our futures? Why can't we decide our own futures? This is the modern age, after all: has our society entirely run out of optimism amidst all the bad news, bad money and bad politicians which daily surround us? Why can't humanity, in the form of popular social networking website Twitter (don't know if you've heard of it) decide its own fate?

Basically, I had a worryingly optimistic moment. I promise not to do it again.

So, after much research (read: no research) I found this recipe for fortune cookies over on allrecipes.com. And doubled it. Tip 1: don't do that. Fortune cookies have to be made one at a time and moulded when molten hot. So really, don't do that.

Meanwhile, I'd set up a hashtag on Twitter - #strangefortunes - and asked my followers to suggest fortunes. The response was overwhelming, which made me feel slightly better about doubling the recipe. However, I didn't want to waste the fun fortunes on the first few cookies, which I just knew I'd ruin, so I made some Lorem Ipsum ones:

Lorem Ipsum text on paper, being cut up into strips

...which turned out to be a rather good idea.

Soggy fortune cookie failure: flat soggy mess with fortune limping resting on top

Next, I mixed up some egg whites, which I will show because I'm rather proud of the snazzy whisk my friend Edward got for me.

Whisked egg whites in a bowl with an awesome squid-shaped whisk

I then added flour and blah blah blah, and (by putting them directly onto a greased baking tray and baking them ONE AT A TIME) started getting the cookies together. When they came out I have seconds to scrape them off the tray, put the fortune in, fold the cookie in half and bend it over the edge of a cup. I then put them into muffin trays ready for double baking (as they were still vaguely squidgy):

Fortune cookies in a muffin tray, waiting to be baked

And here's what they ended up looking like:

Baked fortune cookies

I don't have any pictures of them being eaten, because the moment I got to work and opened the lid, WHOOSH: instantly gone. Everyone loved them - even the poor sod who got Herm Baskerville's submission (something about blood and gristle and sweetmeats: I forget). Unfortunately my favourite ("I know I'm a fortune cookie, but I can't tell you anything without a tarot pack") didn't make it: ke sera sera, I suppose.

Broken fortune cookie

If you have any suggestions for fortunes, leave them in the comments section - or tweet me @isntit.


Jay-Z has 99 problems – but what are they?

Recently, I've been thinking about Jay-Z. Or, more accurately, his many problems.  I don't know why, but I just have.  If you're wondering what I'm talking about (i.e. are not Down With The Kids) here's his delightful tune accurately named "99 Problems" which begins to outline his difficulties.

Jay-Z: 99 Problems

In case you can't be bothered to listen to what amounts to the pinnacle of human musical achievement, Jay-Z repeatedly states that if you're having girl problems, he feels dreadfully awful about it - but not one of his 99 problems is caused by "bitches". Having consulted Urban Dictionary I have concluded that he's talking about women, not female dogs.

This upset me greatly. What are all these problems? I set out to find out. I guessed that Jay-Z himself is very busy, so I have instead written a letter to his UK agent. Here it is.

Jay-Z letter - page one of two (see blog entry for transcript)Jay-Z letter - page two of two (see blog entry for transcript)

Dear Sirs,

I write in regard to the well-known song "99 Problems" by your client Jay-Z. This track has deeply troubled me for some time, and I very much hope you might be able to clear things up (or forward my letter on, in the event that you are unable to do so).

In the song, Mr. Z quite clearly states that he has 99 problems, none of which are related to bitches. I cannot help but feel that this is a very large number of problems for anyone to bear, even someone so talented and adept at multitasking as Jay-Z.

In his song, Mr. Z lists several of these problems, including issues with local law enforcement agencies, his impoverished upbringing and the extortionate rate he was requested to pay in bail after an altercation with a contemporary. However, he makes no mention of the other problems he faces, leaving his audience to guess at the others.

My younger brother has suggested that Jay-Z might be referring to smaller, more everyday problems such as mosquito bites, paper cuts or possibly a slight headache, but I can hardly conceive that these would constitute problems significant enough to warrant the authorship of a song so successful that Rolling Stone Magazine conferred upon it the honour of the #2 spot in their list of the top 100 songs of the previous decade. The same applies to my initial thought that perhaps the song relates to some algebra homework: besides, I believe Mr. Z was around the age of 34 at the time, and would therefore have left formal education some time previously.

This leads me to conclude that Jay has a great many problems, and I would very much appreciate some clarification as to whether or not these have been resolved. It is possible that you have some kind of list of these which you can send me, hopefully in electronic form: my email address is [email address]. In addition to this I would be more than happy to try and alleviate some of his problems if I am able.

Yours sincerely,

Helen Nina Elizabeth Purves

I'll let you know when I hear back, dear readers. In the mean time, if you can think of what any of his many problems might be, do let me know. It really does concern me that one man can have so very many problems.

Get Adobe Flash player