When I left home to move to London for a career in journalism (I had two weeks of work experience booked in at a 'lads mag'. Nothing more), I’d never cooked a meal in my life. No, actually I had cooked a meal – I’d over-boiled filled pasta on many occasions and pierced the film of more ready meals than you’ve had hot dinners. But as far as actually creating a meal from scratch, an egg sandwich with a side of T-Bone Steak Roysters crisps was as close as I’d come.
Not once did I think that maybe I ought to get Mum to teach me how to make some of her signature dishes before I got on the train to Liverpool Street (‘Tuna Fish And Noodles’ – aka tinned tuna, cream, tagliatelle and frozen peas – and Panhaggerty were what she was known for around our way). I guessed I’d just muddle through on Super Noodles or toast or Super Noodles on toast.
But a diet of lager and Super Noodles on toast, plus meeting a rather nice boy with whom I’d sit on the sofa; stuffing my face, soon took its toll on my waistline, and before I knew it, I’d put on 3st. Not quite the plan.
I realised something would have to change, and after speaking to a friend whose mum had been doing it for years, I decided popping along to a Slimming World group was a good shout.
When I got there, I was welcomed with open arms by a room full of men and women who were in the same boat as me, and I felt safe.
But I soon realised that if I wanted to do this properly, I was going to have to learn how to cook.
Don’t get me wrong – you can most definitely follow Slimming World’s healthy eating plan without having to cook meals from scratch, but knowing exactly what is going into your food from the get-go certainly helps you keep track of exactly what you’re eating.
And, personally for me, this seemed like a good excuse to kill two birds with one stone. which seemed weird considering one bird was my weight-loss, while the other was me learning to cook. It seemed counter-intuitive, but boy did it work!
I can’t remember exactly what the first meal I would have cooked from scratch – starting with writing a shopping list, which included pots, pans and utensils seeing as basically all I had in my kitchen cupboards was a tin opener and some mis-matched plates – but it would have been something like Spaghetti Bolognese - a meal I still make weekly.
The feeling of accomplishment I felt as I tucked into the first mouthful was enough to make me want to do it all again tomorrow, which was lucky seeing as, despite the fact I thought I’d made enough for two nights, we scoffed the lot. I was proud of myself, okay? Plus, all that peeling carrots and dicing celery can really work up an appetite.
As the days went on and my weight went down, I found myself trying more daring recipes. The types of recipes that have more than five ingredients, which up until now, I’d have automatically sacked off thinking, “ain’t nobody got time for that”. Except, now I did have time for that, because I’d made time for that seeing as I was enjoying it so much.
Burmese chicken curries were being whipped up on weeknights, comforting cottage pies lovingly slow-cooked for hours at the weekend, and, when time was in fact an issue, stir-fries were getting thrown together; but still with a sense of pride and curiosity into how to make something go from a simple dish to food worthy of a post on Instagram.
On many occasions – if I do say so myself – I’ve wowed friends with my shakshuka when they’ve come over for brunch, and better than that, I’ve stunned my family into silence when I’ve not only offered to cook for them, but also served up a dinner that smells, looks, and – most importantly – tastes great.
They’ve not been around to watch me go from soggy, supposedly fool-proof ready-made tortellini to three-course dinners, that are so tasty you’d never guess they were made from recipes I’ve adapted to fit Slimming World’s healthy eating plan. That might only be that I’m not cooking with oil, but using Frylight instead (that’s right – food can still be delicious even when it’s not dripping in oil). It still blows my family’s minds what I’ve achieved because they’ve not seen me cooking practically every day for the last nine years and become confident with flavour combinations and cooking techniques.
Again, the thing I’ve found with Slimming World is, if you know exactly what’s going into your dinner, you’re able to make sure it fits with the healthy eating plan aka there are no hidden ingredients that will jeopardise your weight-loss journey. And it is a journey – it’s just up to you if you choose to take the route that gets you there fast, but is a little more restricting, or the route where there’s more freedom to still have treats.
I joined Slimming World nine years ago. At one point I’d lost over 4st, but in the spirit of transparency, I’m probably teetering more towards being 2st lighter than the first day I stepped on those SW scales. And seeing as we can blame everything on lockdown these days, I blame being stuck at home with access to my fridge for that. But that’s fine.
Before setting foot into that community centre and deciding to make a lifestyle change, I’d never have guessed I’d ever be such an accomplished cook and so passionate about food that I could have a job cooking and writing about food for a living, but here I am: News Editor of Delish UK.
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