A deadline + a blank screen = a packet of Digestives

Adrian Mourby has been discovering why fiction makes him fat

Earlier this year I had three months in which to write a book, and I found that it wasn't too difficult, providing I was at my word processor by nine every morning with a packet of biscuits at the ready.

The biscuits were essential. At the time, I didn't understand why but I do know quite a lot of people who write for a living and the biscuit, or the cigarette, is an essential tool.

Three months later, the book was finished and I went happily back to my normal routine of producing programmes and writing articles - except that I returned one novel and three-quarters of a stone heavier. Next year, I'm scheduled to write another book and, unable to face the prospect of putting on yet more weight, I consulted Ruth, a dietician friend of mine, last weekend about losing some pounds beforehand. She looked at me gravely.

"It's not a diet you want. You've got Mouth Hunger."

At first I thought it was a joke. It does sound a touch tautological - who, after all, is going to have Nose or Ear Hunger? - but my friend referred me to the Manual of Dietetic Practice. "It is important to help the patient regain the knowledge of true hunger, showing them the difference between stomach and mouth hunger."

In my case, what clinched the diagnosis is that when working on any other kind of project I could get through the day with a cup of coffee and lashings of adrenaline, but faced with an empty screen and 110,000 words to think up, I reached for the digestives. I didn't even like them after a while but I had to keep shovelling them in.

And this is odd. On location or travelling round between interviews, I seem to lose all sense of wanting to eat, but give me the challenge of pure fiction and my hand goes to my mouth with immediate and monotonous regularity.

According to Ruth, Mouth Hunger is a reaction to stress, and this is something that affects everyone, not just first-time novelists. When children fall over we give them sweets, when we have a shock we drink tea or reach for the whisky. Sticking something nice in the collective mouth is associated with comfort from an early age. Ruth thinks that from childhood we believe that certain foods can overcome pain and illness: "Maybe we come to believe that food can also help with the psychological pain of stress."

But what is the solution? Smoking is, of course, one answer. It certainly answers the oral need and actually keeps the weight down. But it also kills you. Besides which, smoking or chewing pencils or sucking your thumb is only treating the symptoms and not the problem. Ruth recommends a bit of self-analysis to start off with.

If, like me, you find yourself suddenly eating too much for no good reason, write down what's going on and what's going in. Pretty soon a pattern of what is bothering you should emerge: sales conference = chocolate biscuits, deadline = Liquorice Allsorts, etc.

The second thing is not to diet. Dieting is stressful, and adding stress to stress may result in binge eating, guilt and low self-esteem. Make sure you have regular, substantial meals. It's better to start stressed on a full stomach (as long as you don't throw up).

I'm also advised to establish a regular pattern of breakfast, lunch and evening meal. Also to stop work, yes, really stop work, when breaking for a meal. I must admit my tendency to glory in the narcissistic pleasure of rereading what I've written. But if I want my body to get food back in proportion, it seems I've got to concentrate on the pure munchiness of what's going into my mouth, rather than absent-mindedly dropping it between the keys.

It's also important to try to be hungry, says Ruth. Reassert the primacy of stomach hunger. Finding time for exercise followed by a good square meal is sensible advice for anyone to follow, but we mouth merchants need it more than most.

Next January, I shall be stocking the house with food and sitting down slightly later at my laptop after a hearty breakfast of porridge, toast and marmalade. Providing I don't fall asleep, I hope to get up again three months and 110,000 words later, roughly the same shape.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Joe Cocker performing on the Stravinski hall stage during the Montreux Jazz Festival, in Montreux, Switzerland in 2002
musicHe 'turned my song into an anthem', says former Beatle
News
Clarke Carlisle
sport
Sport
footballStoke City vs Chelsea match report
Arts and Entertainment
theatreThe US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
News
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
News
Coca-Cola has become one of the largest companies in the world to push staff towards switching off their voicemails, in a move intended to streamline operations and boost productivity
peopleCoca-Cola staff urged to switch it off to boost productivity
Environment
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Austen Lloyd: Regulatory / Compliance / Exeter

    Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: Exeter - An excellent opportunity for a Solici...

    Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

    £17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

    The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

    £28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

    The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

    £30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

    Day In a Page

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there