Yes it’s January and tradition, well wishers, do-gooders and your general Media Services are encouraging change. Not everyone loves change, particularly the kind of change that is an effort and quite possibly involves removing something from your life that you enjoy. Time now then for vomitous juice cleanses, binge exercise injuries and the suicidal tendencies of trying to exist without any carbohydrates. Nonsense. NONSENSE!!!!!!!
Now I’m not one of those people who thinks that healthy eating can just piss off because I like cake and that’s never going to change. I do like cake, and that is unlikely to ever change, but extremity in eating, like so many other areas of life, is not sustainable for your average joe and it’s also massively depressing. It is literally depressing you know- many kinds of food including the wrongly labelled baddie of complex carbs actually cause happy chemicals to release in the brain. Yes, this does explain how you can develop an apparent addiction to bread or chocolate, but it’s also how you make it through the afternoon in the office without turning into a hell bitch after lunch and how you have the drive and energy to drag yourself to the gym or for that run round the field. That’s not to say I’m an advocate of living exclusively on items you might find on the Domino’s menu either. Absolutely not- because constant deep fried, over processed monster foods with added MSG and cheese on top is just another form of extremity, and it’s bad for you.
And I know this first hand.
Almost ten years ago I go to sit with a (horrid, patronising and frankly rude) Doctor who told me that I was going to be in serious trouble if I didn’t lose some weight. This wasn’t news- I dragged my fat arse out of bed every day, could barely move more than 100m without breaking a sweat and had a small fit of stress induced tears every time I had to dress for a special occasion because clothes hated me. Blood tests had confirmed that my innards were under a massive strain and I was developing type two diabetes along with a seriously unpleasant skin condition. I was mortified, and embarrassed. I knew I was too big. I’d seen bigger but that was no excuse. The excuse, was that I didn’t know why. I would hold my hands up to the odd Chinese takeaway binge and a ton of JD and Cokes every third friday night when I wasn’t at work but I had half fat milk, half fat cheese, wholegrain bread and plenty of fish. How had this happened to me? There are a bunch of emotionally related answers here but that’s not for these pages. What is for these pages, is that I simply didn’t know what to do. All praise to the NHS- I was sent from that horrid little doctor man to a marvellous little eastern european nutritionist. I took a food diary with me and from there we went.
I probably owe a good part of my life and a better part of my happiness to that stern little woman. We didn’t cry or hug and she didn’t have any ground breaking insights into my emotional state or eating issues, it was not the stuff of an Oscar winner starring Sandra Bullock. It was simple, educated observation. Having studied science by choice for much of my life at that point, she spoke a language I understood and set me five simple rules.
One meal, one carb.
Nothing that is more than 5% sugar
Avoid anything that is more than 4% fat
Absolutely no white, processed carbs (so white rice, white bread, white pasta)
Have one day a week off and eat what the hell you like.
I lost three stone in a year doing this and, I’m sorry to say, very little exercise. I didn’t lose my joy of eating or cooking, I had a takeaway when I felt like it, and I started to feel and look better quite quickly. Simple education. Because I didn’t know that even low fat sausages have some kind of cereal in them usually, so if you put them with potatoes- double carbs. I didn’t know that a weight watchers yoghurt in those days had a significantly higher sugar content than a standard bio yoghurt. I didn’t know that I was pretty seriously protein deficient due to an ongoing, misguided cholesterol fear. I didn’t know. I do now.
I’m not going to pimp myself as any kind of lifestyle coach, I can’t tell you how to lose weight forever or eat perfectly or be a clean and exemplary person. I don’t bloody know, so you should seek full advice from someone who does- trust me it could change your life. However this person does not exist in a three page bikini diet supplement or on a painfully intense work out DVD. Nor do they exist in some ridiculous fat club that charges you a fiver a week to stand on some scales and suffer their judgement. Ever notice how many people say oh I have to go ‘back’ on weight watchers or I’m going to try Slimming World ‘again’? I really don’t believe that they work long term. I do believe that you need balance, and you need enjoyment, and any regime that does not incorporate these two things will not work for more than a few months. And I know I’m not perfect, I slip from the golden five rules up there sometimes- at this time of year it’s a lot of the time. I’m certainly not catwalk material and I could do with dropping another stone and doing more sit ups but I’ve kicked out the diabetic tendency and have a healthy, functional pancreas again. I’m now fit enough to actually enjoy rather than dread exercise. My blood pressure is that of a sleeping teenager and I like to wear frocks these days without crying before I leave the house. I have learned to eat smarter, and I am better for it. And I still have cake. As I said before, if you need to lose a lot of weight you should see your GP or a nutritionist, but below are some simple ways I have found to make healthier choices without destroying the simple joy of a good dinner.
Pizza is my favourite food I think. I love it, and I probably have it about once a week. Try skipping the Domino’s order though and buying a plain base from your supermarket, add tomato puree, thinly sliced chestnut mushrooms, courgette and maybe some ham and mozzarella. Less fat, less salt and less money. Hurrah.
Chips n Dips– again a favourite, especially when I have company. Add some cucumber or carrot sticks to your crisp selection for extra fibre and to slow down the blood sugar rush. Dip in salsa or tzaziki rather than heavy, creamier or cheese based dips.
Frozen Yoghurt– it really can be as good as icecream and is much lower in fat and calories.
Sweeteners– don’t use them. No, really, they are full of potentially health threatening chemicals and do nothing to ease your sugar cravings or tendencies towards sugar heavy foods. Just cut out the fizzy drinks and gradually drop how many sugars you have in your tea/coffee to start. You wont miss it after a short time, I promise.
Cereals– I avoid breakfast cereals where possible to be honest but if you must, go for no added sugar varieties and avoid anything with added dried fruit as the sugar content is huge- add your own fresh fruit if you like it.
Cheese– mmmm, cheese 🙂 Mozzarella is generally lower in fat than other cheese types so whenever melting, opt for this rather than standard full fat hard cheeses. It also goes a little further when melted so you don’t need as much. Experiment too with stronger flavoured cheeses like stilton or goats or sheeps cheeses which you tend to eat less of due to the more intense hit on the palate.
Salad– a salad can be a fantastic and filling meal. A salad does not have to be a bowl of iceberg lettuce and vinegar. Take some time at the green grocers and really look, try something new and brightly coloured, you will find something you like. Tomatoes, a million kinds of mushrooms, beetroots, bell peppers. It doesn’t all have to be fresh, throw in some pickles or marinated artichokes, maybe some walnuts or pine nuts for crunch. If it makes you more likely to eat all your vegetables put in a little bit of naughty too- a slice of garlic bread or some bacon bits or a decadent dressing- just don’t drown it.
Oranges are not the only fruit you know. I don’t really like a lot of fruit, it’s so hard to get it tasty and naturally ripe in this country a lot of the year. Go with seasonal produce where you can and again, try something new where you can. Clementines, japanese pears, mango, papaya, quince, grapefruit, lychees. Don’t be scared of canned fruit either, just make sure it is in juice rather than syrup.
Bread can be the enemy to some, it is to me because I love it and eat too much of it but if you go wholegrain it’s not as evil to the diet as it’s whiter relations. It’s also filling and satisfying and a big ham salad sandwich for lunch is less likely to have you reaching for a naughty afternoon snack than a miserable plate of withered salad leaves covered in no fat fake Caesar dressing is.
I could go on, but I suspect I have gone on enough. To make a long story short (too late) yes, I am going to eat healthily as often as possible. I’m also still going to have cake once in a while. And so should you.