Writer Leesa Harker: ‘I love cake and hate the word diet'

Gail Bell asks experts and people in the public eye what keeps them going. This week: author of Fifty Shades of Red, White and Blue and creator of Maggie Muff, Leesa Harker

Author Leesa Harker answers our health and fitness questions. Picture by Bill Smyth 
Gail Bell

1: Up and at it – what is your morning routine?

I'm not a morning person, so I usually take an extra 10 minutes in bed and then rush about like a mad woman. My alarm goes off at 7.30am, I wake the kids about 7.45am and help them get washed and dressed for school. Then it's everyone downstairs for breakfast and getting the kids – and the dog – fed.

2: What might you eat in a typical working day for...

Breakfast? Coffee usually, sometimes with toast or a pancake. A banana is my favourite light breakfast and I love banana on toast.

Lunch? If I've had a light breakfast, I have eggs for lunch – boiled, scrambled or poached. Otherwise, I have a sandwich or pasta or beans on toast. My favourite pasta dish is spaghetti with mushrooms, bacon, tarragon and Philadelphia sauce that I make myself.

Evening meal? I love home-cooked meals, cooked fresh, but I have two very fussy children to cater for. That means choosing the things we all like which are are roast dinners (chicken or beef), spaghetti Bolognese, cottage pie or sausages and mash.

3: Is nutrition important to you?

Yes but I find there are so many mixed messages. I love butter and am now reading that butter is classed as 'good' fat, but there are diets I've been on that say butter is the devil, so, it's hard to know.

4: Are you a calorie counter?

Not really. I have been on Slimming World on and off for the last year and I find that is a great way to limit calories without actually counting them.

5: Best meal ever?

Probably my mum's roast beef dinner. She makes home-made Yorkshire puddings (recipe by my granny in Yorkshire) with roast potatoes, vegetable and gravy made with the beef juices. She also makes home-made apple pie that she serves warm with evaporated milk on it. I've been having that since I was a child and it's so comforting and lovely.

6: Do you have a guilty pleasure?

One word – cake. I love baking and sometimes at 10 o'clock at night, I'll go into the kitchen and make a sticky toffee pudding or a Pavlova.

7: Have you ever been on a diet? If so, how did it go?

Yes, although I hate the word 'diet'. I do need to lose a bit of weight – I don't want to be skinny, but slimmer for health reasons. I've had a busy few months with writing and producing Maggie's Feg Run so my diet has consisted of snatched sandwiches and takeaways.

8: Do you take health supplements?

No, I think you get all the vitamins you need from eating a healthy diet and that's the best way for your body to absorb them. I do have the odd Berrocca Boost drink which is a vitamin C supplement, if I am feeling tired or have a busy day ahead.

9: Teetotal or tipple?

Tipple for sure. I don't drink that often now – only when I go out with friends, which isn't all the time. If you have a healthy diet most of the time, then a few glasses of wine isn't going to do you any harm.

10: Fruit or fry-up?

This is a hard one because I love both. I'm going to say bacon (grilled) with scrambled eggs, grilled tomatoes, fried mushrooms and an orange after. I couldn't have a fry-up every day, but once or twice a week is fine.

11: Stairs or lift? Lift.

I have fallen arches on my feet and the pain is awful, so stairs are currently avoided.

12: Do you have a daily exercise regime?

The only daily exercise I do is walk the dog in the mornings. Because of my fallen arches, even walking has been a struggle. My favourite exercise is swimming – I have always been good at that.

13: On a scale of one to 10, how fit do you think you are; how fit would you like to be?

I think I am probably a three and that's being generous. I had breast cancer recently and with the medication I had and am still on, I get tired easily and have some joint pain, so exercise is tricky. I do want to get fitter so I am going to build myself up slowly.

14: Best tip for everyday fitness?

Do something you enjoy. I could never go to the gym – it wouldn't interest me at all. A hike up the Cavehill is a great workout as I like the fresh air.

15: Do you have a memory from school sport / PE days you would rather forget?

Plenty – I hated PE. I had double PE first thing on a Monday and it was hellish. I liked netball and hockey – anything else was a chore.

16: Did you ever have a health epiphany which made you change your lifestyle?

I wouldn't call it an epiphany, but I think having a cancer diagnosis at a relatively young age has made me think more about my lifestyle and more so, about my children's lifestyle. I try to avoid processed food and artificial sweeteners – I rarely buy frozen food and my kids rarely get fizzy drinks. It worries me that so many young people are getting cancer and I do think lifestyles have a part to play.

17: Best health advice you were ever given and would pass on to others?

Avoid processed food and eat fresh home cooked foods. 'A little bit of everything' is my motto.

18: Who would you try to emulate in terms of fitness / attitude to life?

I love Davina McCall – I have a couple of her fitness DVDs – she has a real vigour for life and she also is a big advocate for eating fresh.

19: What time do you get to bed normally and do you think you get enough sleep?

I don't usually get to sleep until after midnight as being a single parent is busy, so those few hours after the kids go to bed are mine to enjoy.

20: Would you say you have a healthy attitude towards your own mortality?

The only thing I feared in life was death. After having cancer, I had to really think about mortality. Some people survive and some don't – that's the awful fact that anyone with a cancer diagnosis has to face. I have had great life and done some amazing things and I am thankful for that. I think, when you die, either there is a heaven and all good people go there and that's great, or you just go to sleep – and I love sleeping. So, I'm not afraid for myself, just for my family that are left behind.

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