The Spike

Clothes, recipes, kids, interiors, London…

More on “treats”

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This is not your friend

I have had a lot of emails about my previous very sneering of the use of the word “treat” in accordance with food.

“Why,” some have said “should we not have a treat? Life is hard, you have to be kind to yourself.”

Okay, why shouldn’t you use the word “treat”? Because applying any sort of morality to food is not helpful. Children are not “good” eaters or “bad” eaters, they eat when they are hungry. This sort of food is not “good for you” or “bad for you” – it just does different things to your body and mind.

So if you are aiming to change the way you eat, categorising some food as a “treat” and therefore other kinds of food “not a treat” is to set yourself up for a fall somewhere along the line.

If you want to lose some weight, you have to spend most of your time eating a certain sort of food. Labelling some food a “treat” and therefore other food “not a treat” means that you are expecting to spend most of your life eating “non-treat” food. And how is anyone supposed to keep that up?

If you’re wondering, yes, this post is entirely about semantics – but it’s important, because eating has meaning to us, it is emotional; we are attached to and define ourselves by the sort of food we eat; the literal word label we apply to food, (both out loud and inside our heads), matters.

Changing your diet is not easy and you have to be your own coach, your own support boat. And life is hard, sometimes miserable. Even my life, which is mostly easy, is occasionally sad and stressful. Why would we not want to be kind to ourselves? Why would we not need a “treat”?

Picture the scene: it’s day 6 of trying to eat differently and you’ve had a long day and you’ve fought back through the shitty awful traffic and the slow-moving, smelly stupid general population and you’re at home.

You have been “good” all week. But now you are lonely and tired and unmotivated and there is a long evening at home stretching ahead of you. If you have continued in the last 6 days to see in your mind certain food as a treat, you immediately, in your vulnerable state, open the door to internal bargaining.

“Ugh that commute was awful/I’m so stressed about that thing that happened today…. I’ll just have one little treat...”

And weight gain is not immediate – you will “treat” yourself and the sky will not fall on your head. No-one will know. The diet police will not arrive at your door. So what’s to stop you doing it again, and more, and another one as a little perk because life is so awful? After all, it’s just a naughty little treat… and today was a bitch.

Most of the time, food that gets categorised as a treat is designed to do one thing and one thing only, which is to make you want more of it. That insidious combination of salt and fat and sugar and chemicals is what makes it basically impossible to eat only one Malteser.

Large food manufacturers and takeaway merchants do not want their food to be easy to resist. Some of them just come out and say it: “Irresistable”, says the lady on the voiceover. Some ice cream brands hide their many, many thousands of calories and sky high sodium content behind cute cartoons and wacky names. Brands also push hard and have pushed hard for years the notion that their food is a treat, that you are being “kind” to yourself by eating a bar of Galaxy in the bath or whatever.

(That, for me, is the biggest turn-off – that every time I eat a Toffee Crisp I am basically just dancing to the tune of a load of MNCs and marketing men. It stings the mindless contrarian in me. I consider every orange I eat instead of a Jaffa Cake to be a tiny dent in the share price of United Biscuits. Yes that is a real company.)

I’m using junk food as an example but “treating” yourself even with another bowlful of stew or another homemade roast potato is more or less the same thing.

My point is this: take it just because you want it. Understand that you JUST. WANT. IT  because it is a delicious, irresistible thing and you cannot say no. Not for any other reason.

I’m not saying don’t eat what you want – do whatever you like! – what I am saying is: don’t lie to yourself.

Don’t tell yourself that you are eating this thing because you are being kind to yourself, because it is a “treat”. Take the reward element out of it and just say “I want that potato”, “I am eating a Kit-Kat”, “I am going to have some of this delicious cheesecake.” You can even add a “because” if you like: “Because I am sad. Because I am happy. Because it is the only good thing about my day. Because I am bored.” That works, too.

If you can train yourself out of seeing any sort of food as a treat or ever rewarding yourself with food I promise that losing weight will be easier long-term. Find something else – a non-food, non-addictive item – to use as a reward or a comforter.

The fact that you’re sitting there now feeling angry and defensive and going “but WHAT am I supposed to reward myself with instead?” just shows how ingrained in our entire culture and imagination the idea of food as reward is. We can put men in space and get them home again but we are basically still as simple as pigeons pecking at a button for a snack.

My relationship with food is alright and always has been, but my relationship with alcohol is not, so I do know what I am talking about. Half a bottle of chilled white wine, I have had to learn, is not my friend. It isn’t a treat, I want it because I want to to anaesthetise myself against a bad bathtime, or a boring day, or because I’m feeling inadequate in some way.

I can’t explain why, but understanding that has helped me to drink less. And over-drinking and over-eating are really two sides of the same coin – so if it can help me, it must be able to help you, too.

***As a disclaimer to this – I am worried by any message I get from any mother with a baby who wants to lose weight: DON’T BOTHER. If you are at home with a baby you really just need to get to the end of the day with everyone still alive. You can go on a diet when they’re at nursery. Have a biscuit. Have ten! Just don’t call it a “treat”.***




Filorga Optim-Eyes

This is the eye cream that I was talking about on my Stories; I was sent the entire Filorga range recently and I tried it all faithfully for two weeks. It’s nice stuff but I didn’t see any massive change in my skin, except I do think that this eye cream makes a difference to dark circles.

AND it’s stocked in Marks and Spencer, which I always find reassuring.

It is £40, which is not funny, but if you are in the middle of a spending spree and/or are pre-menstrual, this is a better purchase than some cockatoo salt and pepper shakers from Anthropologie or an in-home exercise bike.

You can read more reviews about it and buy it if you want here:

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The Spike is on holiday

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Back next week! I will post on Instagram if it rains, which it inevitably will as I am there and everything goes wrong for me, always, every time.

Until then, talk amongst yourselves… though you usually do anyway.


Necktie 2018

And now for something completely different – neckties! And by that I just mean a handkerchief or pocket square fashioned jauntily around your neck. A lot of the shops right now are listing them as bandanas.

This is one of those “fashion” things you can do that takes seconds, looks great, is adaptable for absolutely everyone, works no matter what size or shape you are and, depending on what you have if you have a rummage around in your wardrobe, may cost you absolutely nothing.

The absolutely echt, on-point way to wear a necktie right now is with the knot to the front and with a trenchcoat. But obviously it’s all up for grabs. Have a go! And if you, like me, are a bit shy of doing this sort of thing, wear it on your own round the house for a bit while you get used to it before going outside.

It also doesn’t have to stay round your neck, you can tie it round a ponytail or a low bun or even triangle it and use it as a headscarf.

If you don’t already have a lovely necktie or handkerchief here are some of my favourites in the shops right now

This Anthropologie red one:

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This Tiger print one, also Anthropologie: \

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This burgundy one from Zara, which would look nice with navy:

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This from Uniqlo:

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This from Chan Luu via Net A Porter:

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If you want to go bonkers, there’s this one from Marni is gorgeous but £210:

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I also like the idea of literally wearing a man’s pocket square, like this one from Gieves and Hawkes via Selfridges:

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Or this one from Boss:

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And there are millions of others to choose from in Selfridges, have a poke about.

On my Instagram Stories I am wearing a Tippi sweater from J Crew in Heather Smoke (size up).

And the gold earrings are from Dinny Hall.

Gut health

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Okay you are all WAY ahead of me on the gut health thing – you all seem to be making your own kombucha and kefir. My friend Clare makes her own kefir by fermenting coconut water, which sounds totally nuts and I will definitely be trying it as… soon… as .. I… can… be ……. a r s e d.

So this post is purely admin really, a mustering point for a more specific chat, advice and anecdotes about gut health and particularly about fermented foods, which are really good for your “micro biome”, which is a loony word for the billowing bacteria and fuck knows what else that hangs out in your insides. It all in theory broadly contributes towards digestion, which slows down as you get older – like bloody everything else – and maybe needs some help.

(This is also where the chewing your food a lot comes into play. I have started doing that and have found that if you chew your food 15 times or more it basically disappears in your mouth as you chew. Without even swallowing. Magic disappearing food! I must confess here that I am historically one of the world’s fastest eaters. I have in the past got hiccups from trying to swallow fully half a cheeseburger at once and it sort of gets stuck in my gullet and stretched my oesophagus and gives me hiccups. Fact. So I kind of like the chewing your food a lot thing because it feels like you’ve eaten 20% less than you actually have.)

Anyway – slow digestion means that stuff just kind of hangs about in an unwelcome way in your large or small intestine or WTF it’s called, a bit like a guy who turned up already drunk to your lunch party and now it’s 9pm and he won’t leave.

There are books upon books and pages and pages on the internet about how to improve your gut health but a key thing seems to be introducing fermented food into your diet.

The main ones are:

Live yoghurt

Sourdough bread





Which are all reasonably available if you have a poke about your local supermarket or health food shop. I eat live yoghurt every day and a miso soup made from paste probably once or twice a week. I get a delicious kimchee from a whole foods store down the road but it absolutely stinks to high heaven and Giles won’t eat it and slightly objects to it being in the fridge, which is fair enough really, so I eat that when he’s not here.

I have ordered from Ocado something called “baked milk” kefir, which is arriving so that I can make my own judgments on this very divisive topic.

The key thing to take from this is that a working gut, (of which refined sugar is the main enemy, I’d just like to point out), and a swift digestive system *ought* to in theory reduce bloating. But bloating, if you ask me, is a bit of a vague and not mega helpful term that could mean “water retention” or “I’m getting my period”.

It’s true that I don’t find I get what I used to term “bloating” very much any more, but I have made so many other changes to my diet – more fibre, fewer calories, way less red meat – that it could be a combination of all of those and not necessarily the fermented food. Still, it’s all pretty delicious.

Except the kefir. Probably.


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I did not take this photo


Right, we’re going to move on now from the thorny topic of portion control to fibre.

I wrote a piece about 6 months ago for The Times about how carbohydrate is “back”, (yes I know, but that’s how newspapers talk), and in the course of my research talked to lots of totally delightful nutritionists about carbohydrate and the importance of fibre.

I was anyway casting about to make some changes to my boring diet and speaking to a few experts convinced me that not only was my Atkins-type diet really boring, it was bad for me and my whirling, clattering hormones as I head towards 40.

It lead me to re-read that 80s classic book, the F-Plan, which was all about a low-calorie, high fibre diet (notoriously nicknamed the Fart-Plan because of the side effects).

If you’re interested, read F2, which is the updated book – but all it seems to be as far as I can see is a bit of science that I didn’t totally understand, plus endless charts of exactly how much fibre is in everything.

I also think that the meal plan they advocate is a little extreme, followed to the letter I think you’d be a walking whoopee cushion and get the most terrible stomach cramps.

What I took away from it was that I was going to forget about Atkins, (except the low-sugar thing), and for my general health concentrate on a plant-and-fibre based diet. Red meat sometimes, fish sometimes and plenty of CHEESE. And wine.

So far, it’s working. I will be posting some good high fibre recipes in the coming weeks but the good thing about fibre is that because it includes wholewheat pasta, rye bread and grains like bulgar wheat and baked potatoes, making meals is far more straightforward than the meat-and-veg tedium of a high-protein approach.

This is particularly key at lunchtime, when you don’t want to do loads of elaborate cooking, you just want to bung a bit of (wholewheat) pasta on or eat crisp breads and cheese and miso soup and  then have an apple and be done with it. (I find lunch annoying, can you tell.) Someone did once tell me that highly baked foods like crisp breads give you bowel cancer, which is slightly bothering me. Can that be true?

And that’s all I have to say about it really. A few weeks ago, The Times ran a piece on the importance, specifically, of fibre in your diet and they had a handy cut-out box listing all the highest-fibre foods by category, which I re-post below for your general amusement.

The original article about fibre can be found HERE for any Times subscribers.


Just a quick note on the breads section… for anyone who was traumatised in the 80s by a rye cracker bread like Ryvita, there are now loads of others available that taste completely different; I like Finn Crisp, which is available on Ocado and I’m sure elsewhere.

Diet 2018

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It’s a rude shock, getting older. There you are, cruising along, thinking you know your body and then suddenly 30 comes along. And in the following years, the diet you followed to keep you on the straight an narrow, in the same clothes, feeling the same way, fails you.

Then if babies come along it all goes kablooie and you’re left with that fucking unshiftable bloody half stone that won’t go. And then you get to 35 and it’s just war to stay at the weight you know you ought to be.

At 27 you are a furnace, burning up calories merrily; after 35 you’re like an old rusty, slightly blocked log burner possibly with a couple of ravens nesting at the top of the flue.

You have a choice. You can either decide that life is too short for this, accept a new body shape and move on.

Or you have to adapt and change your approach to food. Not least because a) eating the same old things gets boring and b) as we get older, we need more of some things and less of others. Eating the same things in your 30s as you did in your teens or 20s is like wearing the same clothes or having the same opinions. It all has to change.

I think it’s safe to say we’re now in a post-Atkins world and Dr Robert Atkins left a few good legacies, and some bad ones.

The good thing about Atkins was that it taught the world that refined sugar is the fucking devil.

Sugary shit in bright packets, white pasta and white bread will set you off on a horrendous blood sugar spike/crash rollercoaster, damage your teeth, do nothing at all except make you want more, then make you fat then give you cancer then kill you. If you’re over 18 there is no excuse for eating any of it, ever, unless it’s a fucking emergency.

(And don’t start talking to me, please, about “treats”. Ugh. “It’s a treat”, “treat day” – both phrases make me want to set fire to things. Categorising some food as a “treat” and some food as not will make you feel like every time you’re not having a “treat” – like a dog being trained to ride a skateboard – then you’re somehow being punished.

Don’t think about food like that. Think about what you want to achieve – eating this kind of food and in this way will do these things to your body, eating that kind of food that way will do other things. And that’s all there is to it.)

The bad thing about Atkins was that we have broadly forgotten the central message about ketosis and just taken from it what we want, i.e. cream and cheese and meat is great, pasta and potatoes are bad.

I was following a “kind of” Atkins diet, scoffing stews and roasts and all kind of meat and cream in any quantity, while still eating fruit and sourdough toast for breakfast. Wrong! Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Unless you’re going to do Atkins properly, foul-breath and all, don’t bother. Even if you are doing it properly it’s miserable,  boring and if you’re a woman over 35 it’s really not good for you.

So what, then, you are screaming at me. What, what? What do I do?

In the next 18 months the buzzwords in the diet industry are going to be portion control, fibre and gut health. This basically means you need to eat less all round, more fibre and more fermented stuff. And that’s broadly it.

First let’s have a pep talk about portion control.

Every diet, everywhere ever written has some element of calorie restriction or calorie counting about it. There is simply no getting away from the fact that if you want to lose weight you have to eat less. And as you get older you need fewer calories anyway.

(For some people, that means 5:2. Personally, I can’t do that. I don’t eat much but I stop short of actual regular fasting.)

Exercise doesn’t even really come into it; unless you are really doing a shiteload of cardio, it’s diet that matters more. I read that somewhere! I’m not completely making this up.

There are two kinds of over-eaters – emotional overeaters and habitual overeaters. If you are an emotional overeater 6 weeks of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy will sort you out.  *** (For a note on this please see a comment from Laura on the subject in the comments section.)

If you are, like me, a habitual overeater, you just need to reassess your portions, even if you have a good diet. Do you really need to eat that much muesli? A bowl of stew doesn’t have to be brimful.

I feel like I’m ranting now but you get the picture…

Anyway homework today is to have a think about portion sizes because you could perhaps lose whatever weight you want to lose just by reducing what you eat by 1/4 without making any other immediate changes to your diet.

Next time, we’re going to go back to the 80s and talk about FIBRE.





A quick round-up of sweatpants available NOW based on DM recommendations off Instagram if yours are just too revolting and threadbare to leave the house in.

From H&M

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Lots of people recommended Hush but their cosy ones now out of stock for Spring.

Superdry via

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I also like the look of these, which I found on Sportsdirect – though isn’t Sports Direct very evil for some reason?

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And I’m *pretty* sure if you sized up on these from Jack Wills, they would be good. Unless Jack Wills is a bridge too far, in which case just forget everything I said.

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Please ignore how this girl is wearing hers, I OBVIOUSLY don’t expect you to wear yours with your tum tum out. Jesus.

These from Uniqlo

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These from GAP:

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Tinker, Tailor…

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It’s homework time!! Over the next month I want you to look in your wardrobe and identify all the items of clothing that you would wear more, if only they fit a little better.

I mean those items you can’t bear to throw out because they have sentimental value, or they were expensive or you loved them once but now you’re an entirely different shape because you had 3 kids, or you lost a stone or whatever.

So get those clothes together and then find a tailor. What do I mean by a tailor? I do not mean some gent on Savile Row with a tape measure round his neck and pince-nez. I mean a lovely lady, somewhere near you, who can do alterations. But for the purposes of speed, I’m going to call her a tailor.

I also, by the way, do not mean someone sitting with a sewing machine in a dry cleaning place. You need to be able to go somewhere, change fully and discreetly into the item you want altered and then have the lovely lady pin the item to you while you turn your head this way and that and say “and the sleeve a little shorter here, maybe?”

Ideally this lovely lady should not charge you £100 for doing this.

Anyway to aid you on this quest I am putting out a call to arms to all Spikers who already HAVE one of these lovely ladies – or gents I suppose: please put their names and roughly where they operate in the handy comment box below! Let’s start a sort of directory here.

If you don’t want to put their phone number or email or address here, then that’s fine as long as they can be found in a Google search.

I will start! I take everything to Resurrection Boutique in Archway and it’s changed my life. Their hours are a little wacky, but it’s worth it.

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