Rosa Jackson's Edible Adventures

Wednesday, 18 March, 2009

A week on the Elle diet

Thai salad

I'm a big fan of the irreverent tone of French Elle magazine. What started as a guilty pleasure turned into a subscription when I realized that it actually makes quite intelligent reading (well, intelligent enough for the long train ride to and from Paris). Despite the occasional irritating article - this week's issue claims that anti-cellulite creams really will get rid of our lumpy flesh - I have come to see it as a sort of bible, one that keeps me well-informed enough to hold a conversation with any French person. 

So, when I decided it was time to shed a couple of extra kilos before spring, it was natural to turn to my extensive collection of Elles. I am not normally one to follow diets, but my eating habits had been getting out of hand lately with all the temptation I face in my daily life: I could hardly write a feature on new Paris patisseries without testing each one more than once, could I? I remembered seeing a one-week detox diet in an early January issue of Elle, which was designed to get the body back on track after the excesses of the holiday season. With three hearty meals and an afternoon snack every day involving plenty of vegetables, fruits and grains, it sounded just right for me.

I started by going shopping for the first two "purifying" days of the diet. After two hours of ticking off my list at the market and three specialty shops, I had spent triple my weekly food budget and filled my shopping caddy to the brim. Then the cooking started. For lunch, there was a salad of (bottled) artichoke hearts, spinach and chick peas with brown rice, followed by an organic banana and a mandarin orange. Half a pound of spinach seemed a huge quantity even after I had wilted it in the frying pan, but I gamely munched my way through the heaped plate. I had the strange impression that I was eating more than usual, but thought there must be some logic to it. By 4pm I was hungry enough for the snack of a sheep's milk yogurt with defrosted blueberries and an infusion of fresh lemon and thyme honey. So far I could not say that I was feeling deprived - in fact, my whole day had involved shopping for food and cooking.

Dinner was more of a challenge: a soup made of a zucchini and half a pound of arugula tasted inedibly bitter to me, though I forced down a bowl of it, leaving the rest for the very cooperative Philippe. Root vegetables sautéed in a little olive oil with curry powder tasted more monotonous than they sounded, and again there was far too much for one person. The day's cooking also left me with half-used vegetables that never appeared again in the week-long diet. By now I was grumbling about the recipes, but I decided to continue because I had gone to the considerable trouble of buying the ingredients and liked the sound of the next day's dahl.

The dahl again involved cooking at lunchtime - do none of the Elle's readers work, or are they all food writers? - but its deliciousness completely redeemed the diet. The serving size was generous enough for both me and Philippe, though I was enjoying it so much that I could probably have eaten it all (see below for the recipe). This meal had no dessert, but there was a snack of prunes, dried apricots and a freshly squeezed orange and carrot juice in the afternoon. At some point during day 2, I realized that I was starting to enjoy the feeling of following instructions rather than deciding for myself what to eat. Dinner was spiced squash soup, stir-fried cabbage and broccoli with soy sauce and lime, and tropical fruit salad - exactly the sort of food I like to eat anyway, even if at €7 for a pineapple flown in from Africa I don't often indulge in tropical fruits.

Each day started with the juice of a freshly-squeezed lemon in warm water followed by a pot of green tea, a ritual I enjoyed so much that I have kept it up after the end of the diet. Breakfast was either two pieces of whole wheat toast with honey, a bowl of yogurt and muesli with berries or a fruit salad - on the fruit salad days, I cheated and also had a piece of toast to get me through the morning.

After the near-disastrous first day I was happy with all the recipes, though I soon decided that it was fine to take liberties here and there and even to switch things around for convenience. The diet gradually introduced small quantities of fish and white meat, which I sometimes left out if they didn't seem to add much to the dish. There was far too much shopping and cooking for anyone who isn't used to spending most of her time in the kitchen, but the experience did teach me a few things:

- Lemon juice in warm water followed by a pot of green tea is a great way to start the day.

- Whole wheat bread with an intense-tasting honey (I used forest honey instead of thyme) makes a surprisingly satisfying breakfast.

- If your diet is based on grains, pulses, vegetables and fruit, it's OK to eat quite a lot of all these foods.

- If you eat good quantities of healthy foods at regular intervals, you are unlikely to feel deprived.

- You don't need to follow a "diet" to eat this way most of the time.

- Life is better without alcohol, at least periodically.

Of all the recipes I tried that week, three are likely to stay with me even as I re-introduce meat, the occasional glass of wine and - hooray! - cakes back into my diet.

Thai salad

Soak 50 g (2 oz) rice vermicelli in a large bowl of warm water until soft. In a bowl, mix 150 g (6 oz) slivered white cabbage, 2 grated carrots and 1 thinly sliced red onion. Marinate for 30 mins with 1 tbsp fish sauce (I used a little more) and 1 tbsp rice vinegar. Drain the vermicelli and cut into shorter lengths with scissors. Toss with the vegetables. Add chopped coriander, 1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds and 100 g (4 oz) steamed chicken breast.
Note: To me this salad was crying out for crushed roasted peanuts, diet or no diet.

Red lentil dahl with vegetables

Sauté 1 sliced onion, a chopped garlic clove and 1 cm fresh ginger root, chopped, in 1 tbsp olive oil. Add 200 g (7 1/2 oz) red lentils, 1 sliced carrot, 1 pattypan squash cut into chunks (I substituted 1/2 red pepper) and some diced eggplant. Cover with water and cook at a simmer for about 15 mins, until the lentils have collapsed into a purée. Add 1/2 tsp turmeric, some chopped coriander and the juice of a lime.

Orange and ginger salad

Peel an orange and cut into slices or segments. Top with a little grated fresh ginger.

Tags: Healthy eating, Recipes


13 comment(s) on this page. Add your own comment below.

Wednesday, 18 March, 2009 10:01pm [ 1 ]

Thank you so much, I am in month 7 of a planned looong re-make of my eating habits. I've sort of run out of ideas and had started getting bored. The dahl and the Thai salad will make excellent additions to my meal plans.

Wednesday, 18 March, 2009 11:07pm [ 2 ]

Glad I could help, Martha! The key to this way of eating is to think grains or pulses + vegetables + fruit, and to make portions big enough so that you don't feel the urge to snack. Enjoy the recipes!

Thursday, 19 March, 2009 8:16am [ 3 ]

It is a little scary, isn't it, when you entrust yourself to a new way of eating? We get into habits because certain foods make us happy, but sometimes breaking out of the routine leads to great discoveries! A purist foodie friend who was a houseguest of mine a few years ago, paid a visit to the local farmers market and then made me a batch of her "Energy Soup", which at first tasted really strange to my palate. Now it's the staple of my periodic diet "cleanups". Here's the recipe: Throw into a blender: A large handful of kale A large handful of swiss chard (de-veined) 1 teaspoon of dulce (or other available, finely minced) seaweed About 2 ounces of fresh sprouts, such as sunflower One small apple (for sweetness), skinned, cored and sliced Enough water added while blender is on, to emulsify the ingredients into a soup-like consistency, creamy and thick

Garnish With: almonds and sunflower seeds one avocado, cubed Note: Energy soup must be eaten immediately after blending, when it is at its freshest. Don't let it sit for even a minute, as it starts to break down. Also, learn to play with the ingredients to achieve a consistency that suits you. This bright green gorp grows on you!

Thursday, 19 March, 2009 2:57pm [ 4 ]

I've been contemplating cutting down my meat consumption, sticking to more seafood and fish. I know my diet could use a makeover and I love to cook! Here in the U.S. we are so bombarded with processed foods, fast foods, canned foods, it's unbelievable. It feels like a marketing scam, the cheaper food is geared toward making us fat, which makes no sense to me. One day at a time. :)

Thursday, 19 March, 2009 10:48pm [ 5 ]

Beth, you're so right. I discovered on this diet that bread, cheese and chocolate (or any other sweets or cakes) are my "happy" foods, and that surprisingly I can live quite well without them, at least for a short time. Your green gloop sounds scary but also good in a strange kind of way - I will definitely try it!

Teryll, it's been so long since I've lived in North America that I can't quite imagine being bombarded with so much processed stuff. Of course some of it exists here, but it's still fairly easy to eat fresh foods, thankfully. Good luck with the changes in your diet, I'm sure it will be worth the effort!

Friday, 20 March, 2009 10:23am [ 6 ]

Rosa, I loved reading this, because I'm just about to start the Spring Diet in this week's Elle myself!! Not so much the food part (I noticed too, there is a lot of cooking for lunch time menus - totally impractical for office workers) but there is a really great section on working in more physical activity to your week with really easy suggestions and a day by day plan - I like the fact that I don't have to think about it! Very easy things like Day 1: don't take any elevators or escalators, Day 2: get off one stop earlier (from the tram/train/metro) than you normally would, etc. Sounds reasonable enough, and hopefully certain things will stick. I'm really geared up to get started! Tell you more about it later, see you tonight!

Sunday, 22 March, 2009 9:27am [ 7 ]

Kristy, I liked the look of that fitness plan too - more than the latest diet, which includes things like artificial sweeteners and 0 per cent fat yogurt (yuck!). I'm surprised, considering that they say the recipes are from chef Joël Robuchon.

Wednesday, 25 March, 2009 12:54am [ 8 ]

An excessive focus on food sure can put the kilos on. Despite cooking/baking anything I choose for my blog (and sending much of it to my husband's office), our everyday eating plan has changed over the last month, with significant cuts in fats and sugars of all kinds and heavy focus on produce, whole grains and plant protein. As long as there is creativity, you don't feel quite so deprived.

Reading this post really cheers me, Rosa. I've been MIA for a while. You are making a success of it with some great recipes. I look forward to reading more along your path. Good luck!

Friday, 27 March, 2009 2:28am [ 9 ]

We had a slightly irreverent local version of Elle here which, sadly, shut down a few years ago. Must say, I miss it.

I reckon that's the problem with many 'diets' - who has time to cook at lunchtime? Even people who work from home have some work to do! The Thai salad sounds doable though. Lovely flavours.

I cannot tell you how much I agree re 'Life is better without alcohol, at least periodically.' Amen to that.

Mama JJ
Saturday, 28 March, 2009 2:33pm [ 10 ]

So, did you lose weight on the diet???

Saturday, 28 March, 2009 8:14pm [ 11 ]

Thanks Susan, it's great to hear from you again! Yes, it seems we can only get away with eating delicious home-baked treats for so many years before we notice our bodies start to change. But healthy eating has its pleasures too, fortunately!

Lucy: Life without Elle? That must be tough. A diet with easy suggestions for lunch would be great, as long as it does involve some real food and not some sort of diet milkshake. Glad you agree about the alcohol, I was worried that people might think I was going crazy!

Mama JJ: I don't have a scale and the one at my yoga class has gone missing so I'm not entirely sure, but I would guess that I lost 1 kilo (about 2 lbs) during the diet. I put my slim jeans on for the first time since winter the other day, but had to take them off after I ate a giant chocolate chip cookie!

Monday, 20 April, 2009 10:59am [ 12 ]

I am just going through the same mental dilemma - love to cook and eat (for my blog, too) but feel like I am starting to get a bit mushy. Need to get back to my cleansing diet. The first day or two is always the killer, so thanks for the words of encouragement! 1 or 2 little kilos would be enough!

Sunday, 25 October, 2009 11:44pm [ 13 ]

It's alluring.Thanks for sharing your experience.Diet an dexercise ere the best friends.

Add a Comment

Don't be shy.

(Use Markdown for formatting.)

This question helps prevent spam: