Dan Morris: It was pasta joke with my pizza diet
This may come as a shock to many of you, but the fried-chicken guzzling totem of gluttonous magnificence that is me hasn't always been the ambassador for a healthy lifestyle that he is today.
During my heady university years, I indulged – as many students do – in enough cheap booze to sink several ships, and had a regular food regimen consisting only of penne pasta, cheese toasties, and penne pasta cheese toasties (the latter were for date nights only).
Times have improved in the 13 years since I graduated. I am now something of a beast in the kitchen, I'll have you know, with a repertoire that restaurants across the land are no doubt itching to court. Yet before things got better, they certainly got worse.
It was my final year at uni. Dissertation season was in full swing and final exams were about to come knocking on the door. In can be a stressful time in a young person's life, and while I was managing it reasonably well, I certainly didn't make enough time for superfluous activities such eating and sleeping. An encyclopaedic knowledge of the Roman Republic was what I needed to live at this point, not base-level distractions such as rest or nourishment.
With this though, my belly still came to ache three times a day, and I was forced to concede that it needed to be filled. This, however, did not need to be taxing on my precious time.
As the Romans had given us roads, sanitation, wine and public order (thank you, Monty Python; who said revision needed to be dull?), a well-known frozen pizza manufacturer had given me the perfect form of sustenance for those busy days and nights ploughing through the books.
Three minutes in a microwave and, hey presto, these slices of molten-cheese gold were ready to tend to my dipping blood sugar. And they were ready every mealtime, everyday, for nearly three months.
I'm sure I don't have to spell out to the parents (or, broader still, the humans) reading this that this was a truly bad idea. Indulging in TV ping-ping dinners more than a couple of times a week is not, I believe, highly recommended. And this was exactly the same microwavable meal, morning, noon and night for the best part of a quarter of a year. Still, when you're a 22-year-old lad with a 28" waist and the fastest metabolism in the west, the 'nutritional values' box on the side of your tucker doesn't get much of a look-in. Indeed, even less of one when you're trying to remember every military engagement from the Punic Wars, and how Hannibal's elephants were beaten at Zama (gold stars for anyone who can answer this by the way – it was ingenious! Email email@example.com).
Still, though I didn't realise it at the time, my health was taking a wee bit of a hit. My diet was just not varied enough, I wasn't getting all of the good stuff I needed, and by the time exam season ended and the adrenaline wore off, I crashed. Monstrously.
Luckily I had a summer of relaxation to look forward to, however this was largely spent under the guiding hands of my mother and my girlfriend at the time as they helped me to expand my culinary horizons. I say that, but thinking about it, it was pretty much just my mum doing the guiding. Girlfriend of the day was much more fun and was more interested in guiding me to the pub for World Cup games and cider. Salut!
Under my mother's watchful gaze I built up a good repertoire of dishes and actually developed a genuine enjoyment of cooking – one that I maintain to this day. And while, naturally, there is sometimes nothing I like better to do than crack open the menu for my local kebab house, I'm pleased to say that treats of this nature are enjoyed pretty sparingly these days, and TV dinners are reserved exclusively for nights at the Dungeons & Dragons table. After all, you can't be sautéing or flambéing when the fate of the Forgotten Realms is at stake, can you?
It can be easy to get lost in your work, but always make sure to put the time into your health. And regardless of what wise academics and purveyors of delicious junk food might both tell you, remember that pepperoni pizza is not always the answer. If only the Romans had taught us that...