t was the spring of 2012 and I was crying. Not the elegant kind you see in films, no quiet single tears rolling down a cheek: it was full on snotty, heaving, gasping crying. There was cold wood under my feet – the piece of wood between kitchen and living room where, if we got up early enough, we’d see slugs on their morning commute back to the garden – and a scrunched up Freddo packet on the counter of our pokey student kitchen.
I wasn’t crying about the slug wood.
For what felt like weeks – but was actually only about ten days – I’d been following the Dukan diet. You know, the one where you basically only eat chicken and yoghurt. There are photos of me tucking into, and, amazingly, finishing, an entire roast chicken, with a face of utter dejection. I lost weight, but also nearly lost both some friends and all of my marbles.
When I finally cracked and reached for the sugar, it was a Freddo I went for. It was just the feet of the frog left. I’d bitten the head off, still in some way convinced, after being read the story of the gingerbread man too many times in my formative years, that it was the least cruel way. Savoured the taste. Wrapped those little froggy feet up in the foil and placed the package in my almost-bare cupboard. Saving that second nibble for later. Oh god, how delicious it would be. All melty and sweet. Mmmm.
It had probably been a long day. I’d probably just walked up a big hill to get home. I don’t remember those details, though. All I remember was the absolute horror when I realised that my boyfriend of the time had eaten those Freddo feet while I was out, the thing I was looking forward to after a thoroughly miserable day of eating next to nothing. I shouted, and I cried, and I hid in my room in pure fury.
Over half a small piece of chocolate.
I came off the diet the next day.
After that utterly ridiculous tantrum, I vowed never to follow an extreme diet again. The point of this story is that I’ve been AWOL because Christmas happened and since then I’ve been trying to lose weight. A brownie-less existence is a struggle for A) me, and B) my close friends who have to put up with my swearing about all the sugary delights I’m depriving myself of. Hell hath no fury like a dieter in the bakery aisle.
It’s a learning curve, but I’m slowly coming round to the idea that “healthy” doesn’t have to mean mind-numbingly dull meals, day in, day out. Everyone else on the internet knew this already. Everyone else on the internet is smart (apart from 99% of those who comment on articles on newspaper websites, of course). Pinterest thrives on meal prep and sneaking vegetables into otherwise indulgent-looking food.
But for me, this salad has sort of been my saviour, the beginning of all things good and varied. Sweet potato and feta, because I need carbs and cheese, always, even when losing weight. Baby plum tomatoes – they’re the only ones that don’t feel super gooey in your mouth. (It’s taken my dad 23 years to learn that I don’t like tomatoes, and now I’ve changed my mind. Sorry, dad.) For the leaves, I like a mix of spinach, rocket, chard, and red leaves, like rosso. And the dressing? Man, that dressing. Altered from this one, it’s sweet and sharp and warm, all at once. If this is part of weight loss, I think I can do it.
Ingredients (per person!)
1/2 sweet potato, cut into chunks
1 tbsp good quality olive oil