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LAST week was the start of Lent, 40 days of self-denial to atone for all that sinfulness, all those pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, all those Valentine's Day chocolates. (Actually, I wasn't given any chocolates, but I ate a lot of cake at a birthday party.)

But the thing is, most women I know don't need Lent: they punish themselves regularly for the sins of the day before. Chips and sticky buns one day, salad and lemon juice the next. They don't need to be ordered to repent: they're racked with continual guilt.

I shouldn't be saying 'they'; since I've been pregnant, it's 'we'. Women used to be given the comforting advice that they could eat for two. Not any more. Now you have to watch your weight and avoid all manner of evil substances. I've had eight months of sin and anxiety and expectation of punishment. First of all there was the large quantity of alcohol I drank in those early weeks before I knew that I was pregnant: bad, bad, bad. Then there was the Brie consumed in a fit of greed - soft cheese is bad, too: it might give you, and your unborn child, listeria, which is worse than clogged arteries. And I haven't forgotten the numerous cans of Coca-Cola last summer: they stopped me vomiting when I had morning sickness, but think of the sugar, think of the caffeine] I'll have a speed freak for a baby. I tried, I really have tried to be good: I know I should be eating salad and steamed vegetables and brown rice. But I want doughnuts and custard tarts. I can't help it. I am a wicked lump (and then I start thinking about the starving millions, and I know I'm really revolting).

At least I am not alone. I have a number of friends who can list exactly what they have eaten on any given day; and what they have not eaten. 'I really wanted a Kit-Kat at tea time, but I stopped myself. I thought, I'll save myself for dinner. But then I finished the children's left-over fishfingers, and I ate those After Eights that we were given last week. I know I must look awful. I'll probably have spots by tomorrow.'

Do men attach the same morality to food? Do they eat six helpings of curry washed down with 10 pints of lager, and then feel racked with guilt? I think not, although this may be changing. My husband cycled many, many miles in bitterly cold weather last week, possibly to make up for the fact that he was eating pizza for dinner every night.

After I wrote that last sentence I stopped for a moment, and ate a large eclair. That's what it says on the packet: large. To be more precise, it says 2 large chocolate eclairs. So that means there's one left. The one I ate was supposed to be for tea, but I had it at lunchtime. I was going to give the other one to a friend, but I think I might eat it myself. I have, in fact, just eaten it. Chocolatey vice today; virtuous spinach tomorrow . . . Perhaps.-