By Lorraine Weightman

Mardi Gras, roughly translated as Fat Tuesday is historically known as the day before Ash Wednesday, and this year it falls on February 21st.

Traditionally, it’s the day we use up all the ingredients in the home, like butter, eggs, sugar, meat and alcohol in preparation for the fasting and reflection of the 40 lean days of Lent.

Over the years Mardi Gras has developed, and it’s now a time for carnivals, that include music, parades, singing, dancing, and of course some over indulgence! Almost uniquely the UK celebrates it as Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day.

Reflecting on these traditions made me think about our human traits, and how, when we are about to be denied something, we naturally can’t stop thinking about it, craving it, or treating ourselves to more of it, before it is taken away!

This in turn took me back to a time when I attended WeightWatchers in Consett during the mid 1980’s.
I had just had my first baby and couldn’t believe how my body shape had changed. This might have had something to do with the chocolate craving I developed, and the amount of Kit Kat’s I consumed over a nine month period; when my hormones were adjusting themselves to Motherhood.

So, when Michael was 3 months old, I decided to try and shed the extra pounds and follow the WeightWatchers diet plan.

I have to say, it was brutal!

It was certainly not a culinary pleasure to weigh out 2 ounces of cottage cheese in the tiny portable customised scales onto two cracker breads – while saving up two more to enjoy in the evening – with half a can of drained tuna fish in brine, a cherry tomato and a slice of cucumber, lovingly spread to the edges to try and make it go further.

Alcohol was a complete no no, with it’s unforgiving empty calories, and even a glass of soda water was denied a splash of lime, as too much of that could pile on the weight!

The class took place on a Tuesday, upstairs, in The Carlton, and was packed with rows of chairs, all facing the front.

The growing queue snaked down the carpeted stairs, as individuals awaited the dreaded ‘weigh in’ before they could take their place on one of the seats. The majority of us slipped into The Ladies to empty our bladders, just in case that would make a difference!
Wearing the lightest clothing possible and kicking off our shoes, myself and the other participants held little white cards in clenched white knuckled fingers, all ready to be marked up or down!

The deep exhalation was audible as the the tutor looked over her glasses, and reading the numbers on the scales before her, exclaimed what she saw in the voice of a town crier. ‘Two pounds off, have you had a good week?’

Ecstatic I hadn’t faced the public humiliation of gaining weight, I skipped back to my seat and inwardly congratulated myself; as now, I had no interest in the recipe of the week – how to make crustless, pastry free quiche with one egg and a spoonful of skimmed milk – as I was already anticipating the fish and a bag I was going to buy on the way home; lovingly washed down with half a lager and lime, followed by watching my favourite Billy Connolly DVD; and looking forward to enjoying a cheddar cheese sandwich on white bread with crisps, before bedtime!

After all, along with my fellow WeightWatchers, I had the following seven days to eat Ryvita, lettuce and a smattering of protein from the rigid exchange plan. The obligatory once a week serving of liver was hard to stomach, but as our tutor used to say,

‘You’re not here to enjoy yourself!’

And she was dead right!

However, as the weeks went by I reached my goal, and was made a ‘ life member’,which meant if I stayed within 2lbs of my stipulated weight then I could attend the meeting free!


Some people I know are still going to these classes as lifetime members. And for this they deserve a medal the size of a dustbin lid.

Over the years the rules changed and instead of calorie counting, a points system was introduced. While other weight loss programmes brought in the idea of red days and green days, then ‘free food’, proclaiming that you can eat as much of this as you like and still lose weight. I can’t comment as I haven’t tried it, but it seems much more appealing than the rigid regime I followed. Not sure if it’s a good one to in Lent!

Now in my middle sixties, and almost 2 stones heavier than I was 30 years ago, I’ve found that my dodgy gallbladder keeps my weight in check, and walking around Consett two or three times daily is the best medicine.

In fact, in the early evening, when my Fitbit congratulates me on my 10,000 steps, I’m delighted to pour a lovely cold glass of white wine, put on my pyjamas and slippers, then settle down with Billy Connolly!

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Lorraine Weightman who regularly writes a monthly memoir telling of her days growing up in Consett has just published 2 books in conjunction with Firefly New Media Uk, which share 24 stories that were originally seen in Consett Magazine over the past few years.


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