The first thing to mention is that I’m not worthy. Please believe me when I tell you that I’m a Big Mac and chips girl at heart; the kind of person who used to think that crisps and beer counted as supper. And who used to drink only coffee and diet coke because I thought water was for wusses. And who used to think a meal was not really a meal unless it was 89% carbohydrate based. I was also the kind of person who got a bit annoyed when vegetarians came for dinner (fancy expecting someone to make a special meal just for you, I’d think). Oh, and I didn’t really believe in food intolerances and allergies.
But then everything changed when I was diagnosed with colitis (a form of inflammatory bowel disease; could you devise a less glamorous condition for a 20-something single gal?). A few years after that, in a bid to stop taking medication, I started following the Specific Carbohydrate Diet which is, actually, more exclusive than the Groucho club.
Since following the diet, this is what I have to avoid: sugar; all grains (so: no bread, pasta, couscous, polenta, rice or even quinoa); yoghurt (unless I make it myself, over 24 hours), cream, milk, soft cheese, chick peas, sweet potatoes and potatoes, soya, broad beans and butter beans. Help! No wonder I didn’t eat out for two years. Quite apart from the diet being so punishingly restrictive (and, at first, it really did feel like I was being punished), I couldn’t bear the idea of being so high maintenance – you know, being that person; Oh I’d love to come for supper – but I can’t eat pretty much anything you are probably thinking of cooking and you’ll have to spend half a day getting your head around the things that I can eat, muttering all the while under your breath about what a fusspot I am and how much you wish you’d never invited me in the first place.
It was unbelievably hard at first to stick to the diet. I had to scrutinise food labels before buying anything, and subject waiters to ten minutes of interrogation before so much as ordering a side of spinach. It took me two or three years to properly get my head around the rules of the diet and I kept on relapsing as a result (who knew how many foods contained sugar, gluten and soya?). For a while, it felt like my diet had become the focal point of my life.
Slowly though, instead of looking at what I CAN’T eat, I learned to focus on the things that I CAN eat. That’s pretty much all fruit and vegetables, fish, meat, spices and herbs, oil and butter – and cheese (as long as it’s hard). I still drink coffee and wine. And I have even worked out how to make delicious cakes (it turns out that greed, not necessity, is the mother of invention).
I do have to cook pretty much everything I eat from scratch. At first I was dismayed (I really did used to eat a lot of pasta). But slowly I started to experiment and really got into the challenge of finding a way to eat that didn’t leave me feeling deprived. And now I eat more interesting and varied food than I ever did before (although eating out is still a bit tricky).
Gradually, I began to feel significantly better. About six months in I came off medication completely. That was about six years ago.
People often ask me what I miss most on my diet. The honest answer is that I miss being ‘normal’ and just being able to spontaneously go out for Indian food or go to someone’s house without giving two hoots about what they might be cooking.
But learning to cook really delicious food that doesn’t taste compromised has helped make my life so much better.
Most of these recipes are pretty quick and easy to prepare. Some of them are as much ideas as recipes, because when I started the diet I was looking for inspiration about how to eat (when it felt like I couldn’t eat anything at all). But there are also some suggestions for food you can cook from scratch that doesn’t take all day.
Two really important things to mention: I am not a chef and I’m also not a food stylist OR a photographer so please don’t judge me on the pics!