Killing Bad Habits, Creating New Ones

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Part of achieving a lifestyle change and making it stick is killing old habits and creating new ones. When I began my weight loss journey a few years ago, I had to break some bad habits and adopt some new healthy ones. Everyone made it sound easy, like I could just flip a switch, but it was really hard. Along the way, I found some tricks and short-cuts that really helped me reinforce my behaviour changes. For anyone who has just started their weight-loss journey or is struggling to break bad habits, this post is for you.

Stop Snacking.

A lot of people who are overweight struggle to lose the weight because they are constantly eating, snacking, picking, grazing and consuming a few hundred extra calories on top of their regular meals. Food is a drug, it releases feel-good chemicals in our brain and our senses are heightened. Snacking is a bad habit when it is preventing you from losing weight or causing you to gain weight. But there are a few habits you can introduce that will help you stop your snacking habit. The most effective for me is chewing gum. I go through about 50 pieces of gum every 1-2 weeks. Yes, that’s a lot of gum. I also have very healthy teeth, according to my dentist, so maybe this gum-chewing habit is doing more good than I even realise. The second best habit to introduce is drinking more water. Every time you feel like a snack, drink a bottle of water. You will pee a lot more often so prepare for that, but your body will thank you for an increased intake of H2O. The third best habit to combat a bad snacking habit is introduce more physical activity. Change your routine. Are you snacking while watching Netflix in bed? Go to a class at the gym instead. Go for a walk and listen to a Podcast. Go walk to Starbuck’s and grab a decaf Americano. Replace your snacking with a different activity that will make you feel just as good, if not better, than that shitty kit-kat.

Drink less alcohol. 

Alcohol messes your body up. It sends your blood sugar levels sky-rocketing, only for them to crash and burn the next day. It is a depressant. It can change the composition of your gut bacteria. It increases your heart rate. So yes, it’s fun and it can make for a fantastic night out with friends, but it does not do the body good. If you struggle with your weight, alcohol may have an even greater impact on you than someone who doesn’t struggle with their weight. But there are a few new habits you can introduce to help kick the alcohol habit. Sign up for early morning gym classes on the weekend to avoid the temptation to go out boozing on a Friday night. Or sign up for a Friday evening gym class for the same effect. Alternate between champagne or red wine and water, so you consume half the amount of booze you normally would on a night out. If you’re going out for dinner, order a Diet Coke or sparkling water instead of boozing. You’ll still get a mental kick from the caffeine in the Diet Coke but without all the calories. Sounds boring, I know, but it will help you shed the pounds. Don’t stop socialising altogether, this isn’t good for your happiness, but find a way to cut down on booze while still being social.

Cut down (or out) refined sugar. 

When I was younger, I loved sugar. It was my drug. I drank it, in the form of Dr Pepper or Mountain Dew. I ate it, in the form of candy. I snacked on it, in the form of brownies, cookies and cakes. I had a terrible sugar habit and when my weight peaked at 210 lbs. in 2009, I knew I had to do something about it. It took years before I got to a place where I was consistently eating a low-sugar diet. I gradually cut down. Then I pretty much cut it out altogether. Then I got stuck in a restrict and binge cycle (e.g. no sugar for a week, followed by a big bag of Pic n’ Mix at the cinema on the weekend). Then I got to a place where I was having it semi-regularly but in extremely low amounts (e.g. a few squares of chocolate a couple of times a week). Refined sugar is the reason that most overweight people are overweight. So, how do you kick this habit when sugar is on pretty much every list of ingredients in the supermarket? Again, I go back to chewing gum (bubblegum flavour to be precise). Drink flavoured sparkling water (not too regularly though, it’s full of artificial sweeteners). Eat more berries or any other low-sugar fruit. Drink black coffee after large meals to help re-balance your blood sugar levels. Exercise more, to help maintain level blood-sugar levels. Eat complex carbohydrates like porridge or rye bread with breakfast for slow-release sugars and energy. Learn to think with your stomach and not your mind. Your stomach doesn’t want refined sugar, it will completely destroy the good bacteria in your gut. Your brain wants it because it’s a drug. My biggest piece of advice here is to not replace all sugar with artificial sweetener, because that’s not good for your body either. Also, don’t replace it with honey, agave nectar, maple syrup, etc. because those are all just different forms of sugar.

There is so much more I could write here. Instead, I’m giving you my perspective on the top three bad habits of overweight people and some top tips for creating and sustaining new healthy ones. I’ll save the rest of my thoughts for a future post! For now, you can check out fitness and food tips on my Instagram and Facebook page. Thanks for reading and have a happy Sunday!

When Food Becomes Dangerous to Your Health

Watermelon

Did you know that there are 90 calories and 6g of sugar in 300g of watermelon, but there are 1500 calories and god-only-knows how many g of sugar in the same amount of chocolate!

During my weight loss journey, I have realised that my relationship with food is far more complex than any other relationship in my life. Periodically, I go from loving food to hating food and I have even found myself wishing that I could numb my taste buds. In previous posts, I have opened up about my crackhead-like cravings for chocolate, my prior dependence on mountain dew, my at-times distorted perception of myself and my eating, and my overall struggle with my weight and food. There have been times when I have felt completely alone and have felt like I am fighting a losing battle. Then there have been days when I have felt powerful, unstoppable, and have nailed my goals. All in all, it feels like a bit of a roller-coaster. But one thing I have learned is that I am not alone. There are so many people who have struggled with food-related issues of their own, and if the internet and social media has given us one gift, it is that sense of community for people like myself who at times, have felt very isolated. If you are reading this and you have struggled with food or your weight or your health, know that you are NEVER alone! There are people like me who have been through some tough times and are here to give you as much support and advice as we can. If I can help just one person make a positive change, then everything I have invested in this blog has been worth it.

One thing I have discovered is that food can become pretty dangerous when a ‘treat’ or a ‘cheat meal’ turns into a binge. Eating a diet that is too restrictive leads to ‘binge-ing’, which is essentially when a treat gets completely out of control, and someone over-consumes foods that they would not typically eat. This could be an entire tub of ice-cream, a family-size packet of cookies, candy, or a large pizza. A binge is different for every person. It is important to recognise that the term ‘binge’ should not be used loosely. Eating a packet of M&Ms is not a ‘binge’ in my opinion. Eating four or five packets of M&Ms could be classified as a binge. Why do these slip-ups happen? Why do we attack ‘naughty’ foods like a bear that has just come out of hibernation? Or a lion attacking it’s prey? There is something missing from our diet. Not eating enough calories, or carbs, or sleep, or lacking certain nutrients, can cause the body to crave what it is not getting. Stress, lack of sleep, and under-eating can all wreak havoc on our body and for those of us who live a fairly active lifestyle, the cravings can be pretty intense. There have been afternoons where I have wandered up and down the candy aisle at Tesco, staring and drooling over all the sweets like some insane drug addict that just escaped from rehab. Honestly, I have spent far too many minutes, and possibly even hours, of my life in that damn candy aisle.

It is scientifically proven that if you do not get enough sleep, your body craves ‘energy foods’ to keep it fuelled for a day of activity. People who have under-slept gravitate towards foods that are high in fat and sugar because their body needs extra energy to get through the day. It is also proven that hormonal imbalance, caused by poor diet or stress, can result in over-eating or eating high-sugar, high-fat foods. Now, I am not an expert, but I do have experience in the struggles of weight loss. It is so important to recognise WHY your body is craving, and try to figure out what it needs to get back to normal. Sometimes, a cup of tea will do the trick, or a tall glass of water, or even some raw nuts or berries. Know when your body is hungry, and when it is just suffering the dreaded ‘cravings’. Tonight, for example, I began craving chocolate and started day-dreaming about Cadbury’s. Now, I am convinced that it is largely psychological and that my brain is playing tricks on me. But I thought to myself, “hmm… I must be craving sugar” so I ate about 300g of watermelon and it did the trick. Watermelon has naturally occurring sugars in it but in 300g of this delicious fruit, there are only 90 calories and 6g of sugar, as opposed to the 1500 calories and god-only-knows-how-many grams of sugar in 300g of chocolate.

For people who are conscious of their weight or their body fat, binge eating can lead to distress, guilt, shame, and anxiety. If the cycle continues of restricting and bingeing, it can then lead to a fear of food or major food anxiety. And if it gets completely out of hand, it can lead to purging and sadly, eating disorders. Before it gets past that first stage, make a conscious decision to keep it under control. Step 1: Make sure you are eating enough (please- STOP restricting your calories; find out what is recommended for your weight and your activity level, and get your calories from heaps of vegetables, healthy starches, eggs, meat, and high-protein dairy). Step 2: Make sure you are getting enough sleep (minimum 7 hours per night, or 8 if you can manage it). Step 3: Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate (at least one tall glass of water in the morning, mid-morning, lunch, mid-afternoon, and dinner; dehydration leads to false feelings of hunger). Step 4: Manage your treats (decide if you are going to have one small treat a day or a big treat at the end of the week and stick to it; don’t restrict yourself to the point where you are clawing at the doors of Krispy Kreme, and make sure you don’t go into your cheat meal or weekly treat hungry or you will overdo it).

Keep yourself busy. The times when we snack the most are when we are sat in front of the TV or on the sofa. The hit TV show ‘Gogglebox’ illustrates just how much we Brits love our sofa time. I mean, seriously, a nation of people sitting on the sofa watching a TV show about people sitting on their sofas watching TV shows? That is insane. Instead of watching TV every evening, pick activities to do a couple of nights a week. This could be a hill walk or a hike, a trip to the park, a pole-dancing class (I have tried it!), yoga, a swim, an art class (still life anyone?), or a trip to the adventure golf course. When you are active and busy, you aren’t thinking about food, and the temptation to snack or binge won’t even cross your mind. Recognise that binge eating never makes you feel good and that you are undoing all the hard work you put in at the gym; all that sweat and all those blisters are worth more than some junk food. One quote I saw on Instagram that really stuck with me was: “Love yourself more than you love food.” To you the reader, you are beautiful, inside and out, and you do not deserve to treat yourself or your body with harm. Treat yourself and your body with the love and care that you deserve, and please know and believe that you DO deserve it.

8 Things in Your Refrigerator that are Making You Fat

Coca-cola

Soda and fizzy drinks are one of the main causes of obesity and the ‘diet’ options do not make them ‘healthy’ or any less addictive.

  1. Margarine: Do you know what ingredients are in your margarine? Here is a list of ingredients in a margarine spread from a popular UK grocery store: water, rapeseed oil, palm oil, reconstituted buttermilk, salt, emulsifier, stabiliser, preservative, lactic acid, vitamin E, colour flavouring, vitamin A, vitamin D. There is nothing ‘healthy’ or ‘natural’ about margarine spread so throw it in the trash and go buy some real butter! Would you like to know the ingredients of butter? There is one ingredient: butter. Butter is naturally rich in vitamin A,  D and E, which is why it doesn’t need to be fortified with vitamins like the margarine. Yes, it has about double the fat content, but fat will leave you feeling more satiated and it is better to get your fat (we all need fat in our diets; it’s all about the type of fat and the source of fat) in natural forms rather than synthetic, processed ‘food-like products’ such as margarine. If you cringe at the idea of spreading butter onto your rice cakes, oat cakes, or toast, then try spreading them with some avocado and a pinch of salt instead. You will be surprised at how delicious and creamy it is!
  2. Low-fat or Light Yoghurt: Would you like to know how they make low-fat yoghurt taste so delicious? They add a ton of extra sugar. What happens when you consume sugar? Your body stores it as fat. Also, your body burns through sugars pretty quickly as it uses them for quick-access energy, leaving you craving more and probably as a result, eating more than you should as well. Swap out the low-fat stuff for some 0% Fat Greek Yoghurt, which is very high in protein but has almost zero sugars, or some full-fat natural or greek-style yoghurt. If you want to sweeten it, use some berries, which are lower in sugar than most other fruits, or add a tablespoon of your favourite protein powder. You could even add a drizzle of honey and some cocoa powder to make it like chocolate pudding! You could also top it with some crumbled dark chocolate and shredded coconut. Get creative and just make your own versions of your favourite flavoured yoghurts.
  3. Salad Dressing: Salad Dressings are a complete con. There was a brand of salad dressing that I used to eat in the states called ‘Ken’s Steakhouse Dressings.’ I will now shock you with the nutrition information of their honey-mustard salad dressing; ingredients: soybean oil, high fructose corn syrup, distilled vinegar, water, dijon mustard, honey, egg yolk, sugar, spices, xanthan gum, salt, natural flavour, paprika, yellow #5. Did you read all of that? High fructose corn syrup AND sugar. There are 130 calories in just two tablespoons of this stuff, and that teeny tiny serving size contains 11g of fat and 6g of sugar. Is there anything ‘healthy’ about this stuff, which many Americans are pouring over their salad? Not really. Salad cream, in the UK, isn’t any better. Two tablespoons of this stuff contains 100 calories, 8g of fat and 6g of sugar. The ingredients include rapeseed oil and sugar. To put it simply, salad dressings contain refined sugar so stop putting them on your  salad as you are defeating your objective of eating healthy! Instead, why not make your own?
  4. Mayonnaise: The only reason you even have mayonnaise in your refrigerator is for making sandwiches. What nutritional value is mayonnaise adding to your diet? Nothing! The ingredients of mayonnaise sold in a popular UK retailer include: water, rapeseed oil (75%), and sugar. Again, more refined sugar that you are adding to your diet and more dodgy oil that probably isn’t doing your body any good. There are traditional British foods such as egg mayonnaise and tuna mayonnaise that you can make using your own ingredients. In fact, I recently made egg mayonnaise by combining plain greek yoghurt, dijon mustard, extra-virgin olive oil, and salt. It totally worked and completely satisfied my cravings but without any of the “bad stuff” in mayonnaise.
  5. Cheese: Why are you eating cheese? Are you putting it in your sandwiches, on your baked potato, in your eggs, or just eating it by the slice? Cheese is OK to enjoy occasionally as a treat, perhaps with some crackers or chutney at Christmas time (my dad’s favourite), but it shouldn’t be added to foods that don’t need it (except salads, which you could also add nuts to so that it’s a proper meal and not just half a chicken breast with some leaves). Trade in the brie and camembert for some feta or goat’s cheese. It’s much better for you. Make sure that you check the protein content and choose the brand with the highest protein. Also, don’t be fooled by some of the supermarket own brands; if you can find the more authentic Greek feta or French goats cheese, it is likely that the ingredients will also be more authentic and the nutritional content will be far superior too. My favourite Greek brand of feta is ‘Tranos’; it is so delicious!
  6. Jams and Marmalades: As a nation, we love our PBJ sandwiches, marmalade on toast, Nutella and other spreads and condiments. Trust me when I say that I still occasionally have wild cravings for Nutella and refuse to buy it because my self-control just isn’t that strong! Food manufacturers know that we are addicted to sugar and they design foods like spread and condiments for us to add to our food so that we essentially become addicted to it. No, this isn’t a conspiracy theory. Think about people who can’t have french fries without ketchup, can’t have eggs without HP sauce, can’t have chicken without Hot Sauce, can’t have salad without dressing, and the list goes on. One of my best friends lost weight just by eating her food plain! This doesn’t mean that you need to eat all of your food dry and bland; just think of creative ways to make your own versions of these things or find alternative snacks. The other day, I had a craving for PBJ so I spread some Meridian peanut butter on a wholegrain rice cake and put some thawed frozen raspberries on top. Craving sorted, and it was delicious. You can also make your own Nutella using ingredients such as hazelnut butter and cacao powder, but I haven’t tried that one yet!
  7. Fruit Juice: Fruit juice is like liquid sugar. In fact, you may as well eat a whole packet of sweets or candy because the sugar content will be the same. A serving size of 200ml of orange juice contains approximately 20g of sugar, and if you are drinking a pint glass of the stuff, you are consuming a whopping 40-60g of sugar in one beverage. You could eat 10 Lifesavers (for my US readers) or a fifth of a 190g bag of Wine Gums (one of the UK’s favourite sweets) and consume the same amount of sugar. If you are drinking it for the Vitamin C content, why not take a multivitamin? Or put lemon wedges in your water? Or eat 1/4 of a grapefruit with your breakfast (6g of sugar, 33mg of vitamin C)?
  8. Soda/Fizzy drinks: Soda, pop, and fizzy drinks are one of the main causes of obesity in my opinion. They are often referred to as ‘liquid calories’ and are just pure sugar. In fact, for one summer when I was 21, I was completely addicted to soda. I was working in a fast-food restaurant, and wasn’t eating real food but just running on the fuel of Mountain Dew and Dr Pepper. The effect it had on my body was that I lost a little bit of weight but my blood pressure absolutely shot up. How crazy is that? Age 21 with high blood pressure, and all because I was drinking about 1-2 liters of soda a day. In one individual-sized (intended for one person) bottle of sprite, there are 64g of high fructose corn syrup. In one can of 7-Up, there are 36g of sugar. These drinks are highly addictive and I would seriously encourage you to quit drinking them! Swap them out for sparkling water if you crave the carbonation, and swap them out for diluting juice if you crave the flavour. Aim to cut them out completely and just drink more H20. Water is what your body needs; drinks that are high in sugar actually dehydrate you so just replace them with water.

If you are an overweight person and can cut out a lot of the rubbish, and sugar, from the majority of your diet for at least 2-3 weeks, you will more than likely shed weight pretty quickly. Much of it will be water weight since your body actually retains more water through consumption of sugar than salt (it is true). However, a lot of it will be because your body will start burning fat for energy rather than the sugar and carbs you were feeding it to keep it going. If you are a non-overweight person, you will probably start to sleep better, have more energy throughout then day rather than peaks and crashes, and you may find that your overall mood improves as well. Finally, when you cut sugar out of the majority of your diet, you can treat yourself occasionally without feeling guilty. Say goodbye to all the foods that are disguised as ‘healthy’ and start re-thinking the way that you eat.

Peanut Butter Oreos

Obesity: Who is to Blame?

A trip to Five Guys

Fast food is hard to give up, even for the fit community! When I was overweight, like many Americans and Brits, I ate fast food at least once a week. Now, I save it for the extremely occasional cheat meal and there are things, such as soda, that I will simply never again eat or drink.

On Tuesday evening, I decided to watch the documentary ‘Supersize Me’ by Morgan Spurlock as I drank my cup of fennel tea and munched on some chocolate, which is most certainly not in my diet plan. This is a documentary I had seen before back in 2007 or some time around then, a couple of years after it was released. If you have not seen it, I highly recommend it, especially if you are a fast food lover. To summarise it in a sentence or two for those of you who have not seen it, Morgan decides to eat only McDonald’s for thirty days and the effects that this fast food binge has on his body are shocking. The documentary brings to light not only the dangers of consuming fast food on a regular basis, but also the obesity epidemic in the United States amongst adults, adolescents, and most terrifyingly of all, children. There are a couple of scenes which really stand out to me after re-watching this almost a decade later. The first scene is of a group of children depicted in a middle school setting, who are choosing french fries, potato chips, cakes, and extremely sugary beverages for their lunches. The second scene is of several individuals, both adults and children, who cannot explain what a calorie is and what it measures. Furthermore, the schools in the documentary are stocked with vending machines which make sodas, potato chips, candy bars, and other unhealthy snacks, readily available for children who are in an environment where their food and beverage consumption is not as strictly monitored as perhaps it should be. What do these three scenes highlight as a real issue in today’s education system? There is a genuine lack of good quality nutrition education in our schools, and children are not being empowered to make good decisions when it comes to their own dietary needs and food consumption. However, there is another stand-out scene in which a mother is being depicted with her extremely-overweight daughter as they sob over the fact that they can’t afford to buy two Subway sandwiches a day and be slim like Jared the Subway Guy. What does this tell us? The ownership is on the parents, as well as the education system, to make sure they are informed about nutrition so that they can feed their children healthy, nutritious foods and raise a family free from health problems.

When I was nineteen years old and toppling the scale at almost 210 lbs (95kg), my mother looked at me with a sadness in her eyes and said, “I don’t want you to have a weight problem when you are still so young.” This memory will stick with me for the rest of my life, because at the time, I didn’t think I had a “weight issue” but looking back, I was putting my health at serious risk. Public Health England predicts that by 2050, 1 in 4 children in the UK will be classified as obese. In the United States, currently, more than one third of adults are considered obese. When are we going to wake up and start thinking about what we are eating, rather than consuming, and not questioning, what is put on our plate? We are trimming years off our life span and putting ourselves at risk for heart disease, diabetes, and ultimately, death. There is one thing that really stands out for me as a primary cause of this obesity epidemic; we have become a culture of convenience and we rate convenience, speed, and efficiency, more highly than our own health. Fast food has become predominantly drive-thru, supermarket aisles are stacked with more tinned and boxed meals than fresh ingredients, vending machines more accessible than ever in shopping malls, parking lots, and even inside actual supermarket stores, so that we can get a ‘quick fix’ whenever we need it. We are more pressed for time than ever before and we need to cram more and more into our busy day, getting less down-time and less sleep, so that we can ultimately be more productive. Americans eat out an average of 4-5 times a week. In 2013, research showed that the UK population is consuming more take-a-way meals than ever before, with Chinese (and lets face it, most of this “food” is not Chinese at all) being the nation’s favourite, probably because it is packed with more sugar than any other meal choice. When we don’t cook our meals, how can we know what is in them? Do you know what oils were used in the process of cooking your egg-fried rice? Do you know what ingredients are in the frozen chicken wings you ate at KFC? Do you know how many types of meat were used in the manufacturing process of the hot dog you ate at the movie theatre last week?

After chatting with one of my Scandinavian friends recently, she remarked on how ridiculous it is that some people actually believe that potato chips are one of your five a day. I retorted with a joke about how the FDA have classified pizza as a vegetable. Then I realised that, I used to be one of those people; the ones who are completely misinformed. Why was I misinformed? I believed most of what I was told by parents, friends and TV, and I never questioned it. I was the girl that sat and gobbled up a plate of Fettucine Alfredo with lobster thinking that because it was lobster, which was a seafood, it must be healthy. I was the girl that dipped her bread in olive oil and parmesan cheese and thought, “this must be a much healthier option than french fries.” I was that person who thought that having a side salad, which was basically iceberg lettuce smothered in a ranch dressing, before my main course meant that I was being “healthy.” Let’s think about what “healthy” really means for a second. If you are to classify something as being “healthy,” you are essentially maintaining that it will somehow benefit your health. If you are to classify something as being “unhealthy,” you are essentially saying it will have a harmful effect on your health. If you apply this concept to everything you eat, you will completely re-evaluate your nutrition and food consumption. But for this to work, you have to start learning about food and nutrition, and you MUST be honest with yourself. Stop eating, and living, in denial. Start asking questions and start doing your research*. (*Also, follow me on Instagram and Facebook as I am constantly posting articles, tips, advice, and sharing the things that I am learning!)

The internet, and mobile internet, has put the power in our hands as consumers to start educating ourselves about what we eat. Apps such as MyFitnessPal allow us to measure the amount of fat, sugar, protein, nutrients, and calories in most of the foods we consume. There are a wealth of doctors, nutritionists, and scientists who write blogs about food, diet, fitness and weight loss. Fitness gurus have shared some of their best tips for staying fit, getting stronger, and shedding fat. There is literally no excuse to be overweight or obese. You can choose to sit back, be angry, and believe what you are told, or you can choose to question everything, read the ingredients, research what you are eating and start taking better care of your body. I am not advocating ‘obsession’ and calorie-counting; I am recommending that you start educating yourself about nutrition like I started doing when I realised that nobody else was going to teach me. Take control of your health and you will thank yourself for it. It is never too late to change and no matter where your starting point is, 150, 250 or 350 lbs, you WILL achieve your goals if you genuinely want to lead a healthier lifestyle. Don’t compare yourself to other people and build your own online, and offline, support network. Never stop learning, never stop caring and never stop trying!

Treats

Homemade chocolate brownies made with almond flour. The recipe is on my Instagram!

Homemade chocolate brownies made with almond flour. The recipe is on my Instagram!

Recently, I have seen a lot of negativity concerning the word ‘treats,’ and some bloggers have lashed out at this terminology, claiming that it makes us comparable to dogs, it’s unhealthy and that we should abolish treats for good. I completely disagree. If you enjoy food (who doesn’t?), then it is perfectly OK to have a treat every now and then. In fact, I would argue that calling it a ‘cheat’ is possibly more harmful, because of its very negative and dishonest connotation. Eating super healthy can be pretty hard, especially when there are temptation foods all around us. If you eat clean or low-carb like I do, or are on a diet, then treats can actually help you stick to your healthy eating regime and help you retain your sanity. I meal prep and pre-cook large amounts of green vegetables, as often as I possibly can, because otherwise, I would struggle with temptations on almost a daily basis! I have a sweet tooth and I constantly have to try and control it! Preparation and organisation is the key to success when it comes to clean eating. If you cook your meals all week, stick to your diet, avoid all temptations, and at the weekend, for just one meal or one snack, you fancy not being so strict with yourself, don’t worry, this is totally normal! If you have military-style self-control and can stick to a 100% clean diet then I commend you, but most of us are not blessed with such extreme self-restraint. If I didn’t have a treat once a week or once every two weeks, I think I would go insane. To quote a sign that I saw recently, “there is food which is good for the body, and there is food which is good for the soul.”

Let me clarify, in my opinion, what a ‘treat’ actually is. A treat is all about staying healthy and sticking to your eating plan all week, then enjoying something that is not part of your normal eating routine. It could be a chocolate smothered protein bar, banana ice-cream, some sweet potato fries, candy, red wine, sushi, or maybe some waffles. Just don’t go too overboard, and I speak from personal experience here. A treat becomes dangerous when you completely obliterate your diet and undo all the hard work you’ve done during the week. In fact, when I was just getting started with my weight loss, I was having an entire ‘cheat day’ when I would completely default back to my old eating habits for breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner. This resulted in my calorie, fat, and sugar consumption sky-rocketing for one day, and I felt like crap afterwards, which affected my training for the next couple of days. So, this ‘cheat day’ was actually undo-ing at least three days of hard work. A treat can also become a ‘binge’, where you over-consume foods that are not good for you, resulting in guilt and shame. This is something I still struggle with occasionally, because of the ‘sugar monster’ (as my boyfriend has so kindly named it) who lives inside of me! Sometimes, I tend to have two or three candy bars instead of just one, and then I feel mad at myself afterwards. A treat is also not so great if you’re having one every single day. If you are trying to lose weight or give up foods that are bad for your health, then I find it is best to cut them out completely for at least three weeks to help curb your cravings. Then reintroduce them into your diet if you wish, but do so very sparingly.

What about alcohol? Well, the reason that many gym-goers skip the booze is because it actually impairs something called protein synthesis, which is necessary for muscle development and maintenance. However, alcohol is also a diuretic so it causes the body to lose the fluids and electrolytes that it needs for exercise, leaving you dehydrated and weakened. Right now, I am enjoying alcohol in small amounts and only when I truly want it, which is once every fortnight or maybe less. This is a very personal thing though. Some of you may not want to drink at all, and some of you may enjoy a couple of social drinks with your friends at the weekend. All I can tell you is be careful not to binge, because not only is it bad for your health but it can seriously weaken your immune system, which can leave you more susceptible to getting ill. I haven’t been ‘drunk’ since December 2014 and I feel so much better for it.

So, my advice is to have the occasional ‘treat’ and if you can make it yourself, then even better! Don’t go overboard and turn it into a binge, and make sure it’s really worth it so that you will find it easier to stick to your eating regime for the rest of the week. I will share a recipe for some incredible Chocolate Peanut Butter Protein Muffins on my Instagram, which was my treat this week, and you can try making them yourself. Have a great weekend, enjoy yourself, and happy springtime!

Top 6 Natural Sources of Protein

Fish

You don’t have to take a protein powder or supplement to get enough protein in your diet. There are many foods which are naturally high in protein and will help you build muscle, recover after a workout, and stay full in-between meals. Personally, I use a protein powder after I’ve been lifting because my muscles are like ‘FEED ME’ but I never take it after cardio. My approach to protein is to try and squeeze as much in my meals as possible so that I don’t get hungry in-between meals, and so that I don’t eat as many carbs. As a result, my muscles are reaping the benefits. According to the National Health Service in the UK, women are recommended to eat 45g of protein a day and men are recommended to eat 55g. However, some nutritional scientists are questioning this and considering that it may not be enough! So, download the app ‘My Fitness Pal’, take a food diary and see how close your protein intake is to the RDA.

Now, I will share with you my top six sources of protein, in my diet at the moment, and obviously this could change as I am always experimenting, but for now, here you go:

  1. Meat and Fish. Let’s start with the obvious source; meat and fish. There are between 18-25g in one roasted chicken breast, depending on the size and brand. The same goes for Turkey. These are also not high in fat like lamb, pork and beef. Fish is an incredible super-food but can be quite high in fat. What’s the best approach? Balance and variety, of course! If you are a meat-lover and need meat in most of your meals, go for the poultry.
  2. Eggs. When I was younger, I thought eggs were unhealthy and I avoided them. Instead, I ate fruit (aka sugar), cereal (aka sugar), toast (aka sugary grains) and low-fat yoghurts (aka sugar). If only someone had educated me and told me that eggs are pretty much a super-food! Eggs are packed with nutrients, I’m not going to list them all here because the list is long, but look it up! One boiled egg contains roughly 6-7g of protein. On my low-carb days, I eat up to 5 eggs. Either I eat 30g oats with 1 boiled egg for breakfast and then eat 2 boiled eggs with lunch (vegetables and a piece of lean meat), or if I’m hungry in the morning, I would have a 4 or 5 egg scramble (no milk) and a green smoothie. If your office is stocked with cookies, cakes and other naughty foods, take boiled eggs in with you. They are so filling and completely satisfy those hunger pangs or cravings.
  3. Greek Yoghurt. The only Greek Yoghurt I buy is the official Fage Total 0% Greek Yoghurt, because it is actually made in Greece, and has 10.3g of protein in a 100g serving. Do not buy the knock-off ‘Greek-style yoghurt’. If it has the word ‘style’ in the title, it’s just a very clever marketing tactic and the nutritional qualities are not going to be on par with the authentic Greek stuff. So, how do you eat this without being bored? Well, if you love yoghurt, eat it plan or throw a couple of chopped strawberries in there. Personally, I eat this several ways: (a) in a smoothie, (b) stirred into some oatmeal, (c) with a tablespoon of my favourite protein powder, and (d) with a teaspoon of coconut and some chia seeds or flaxseed. However, I am constantly coming up with new ideas so I will share them on my Instagram or Facebook as I invent them.
  4. Peanut Butter. This is also a fat source so be careful! Peanut butter is calorific and that’s mainly because, being a nut butter, it is very high in fat. My choice of peanut butter is Meridian because it has only two ingredients: peanuts and salt. There are no added oils or sugars, which is awesome! In a heaped teaspoon of Meridian peanut butter (approx 18g), there are 5.3g of protein and 8.3g of fat. If you trying a low-carb eating regime like me, then a little extra fat is necessary to make up for the carbs you aren’t eating, so a teaspoon of this in your oatmeal or on a rice cake is totally OK. Just don’t eat it with a spoon, because before you know it, you will have consumed 500+ extra calories! I speak from experience here!
  5. Chickpeas. These little beige peas are actually high in protein and fibre, with about 15g of protein in one serving (1 cup or 164g) and 12g of fibre. However, they are not a low-carb food and have about 45g total carbohydrates in one serving. Chickpeas are so versatile. They can be added to a salad or thrown in a soup or stew. You can also season them with salt and pepper and roast them until they are nice and chewy or crispy. You can also do the latest Instagram craze and make them into a cookie dough-like consistency by adding maple syrup, almond milk, protein powder and chocolate chips, or cacao nibs. Check out ‘CoconutVanillaSugar’ on Instagram for the original recipe.
  6. Quinoa. This is something that I am experimenting with at the moment. There are 8g of protein in a 1 cup serving (cooked). Grains don’t usually sit well in my tummy and the first time I tried this, I felt super bloated. However, my trainer has encouraged me to try it again through making fishcakes with it and mixing it with veg. I boiled a whole bunch of quinoa last night with one stock cube to add a tiny bit of flavour. I will keep you posted on how it goes!

Don’t be scared of the nut butters. I know that many of you will look at ‘peanut butter’ and think, “Yeah right! That’s what people eat to gain weight!” You are correct, and I guarantee you that they are eating the stuff that is packed with palm oil, vegetable oil, sugar, and high fructose corn syrup. If you are from the UK, you may have seen those bucket-size tubs of peanut butter in Holland and Barrett. Well, I consumed an entire tub in about 2 or 3 weeks and guess what, I’ve actually lost weight. Nut butters are awesome. Secondly, eggs do not raise your cholesterol, unless you have issues of hyper-sensitivity. In fact, they can actually have the opposite effect, lowering your ‘bad’ cholesterol and raising your ‘good’ cholesterol. Go and read about eggs instead of believing what your doctor tells you, and then try having a couple of eggs for breakfast instead of cereal or breads. Finally, find the form of protein that works for you. If you are vegan or lactose-intolerant or gluten-intolerant, there are other forms of protein out there. This is just my top list. Experiment, make it fun, add it to your other kitchen creations and find out what suits your diet best. 

Food-a-holics Anonymous

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This is an amazing chocolatey cake that my mother baked last Easter. It would take every ounce of strength in my body to stop me from eating this right now if it were here in front of me.

Have you ever watched the show ‘Intervention’ where the family and friends of an addict intervene to help the addict put a stop to their addiction? These addicts are addicted to various drugs including alcohol, heroin, prescription painkillers, and various methamphetamines. They will do pretty much anything to get their next fix. They lie, cheat, steal, sneak around, and spend a huge amount of their income, or in some cases, their family’s income on feeding their addiction. Some of them even go so far as to manipulating and coercing parents and other family members into buying drugs for them. In my opinion, and my personal experience, a food addict has similar qualities.

Apologies to my freshman year college housemates, if you are reading this, but I used to steal your food. That chocolate cereal you bought for breakfast? I ate it whilst my green grapes rotted in the refrigerator. In my second year of university, when I was my heaviest, I used to go to the 24-hour store to get a late-night fix, which was sometimes chips and dip or other times a large candy or chocolate bar. There was a Chinese restaurant next door which I suspected had rats, but I still ate there if I was viciously hungover and too lazy to go elsewhere for dinner. I used to buy a baked “treat” from the library nearly every day, until I could no longer call it a “treat”.

With an addiction comes embarrassment, shame, and withdrawal from many social situations. Even up until my final year of university, I avoided many situations that involved eating what I refer to as ‘danger foods’ with my skinnier friends or people I didn’t know. “Danger” foods included pizza, chocolate and any fast foods. Looking back to when I was in high school, I was the girl who sat there and devoured almost an entire stuffed crust extra-cheese pepperoni pizza whilst my skinny friends sat there and pressed a napkin into their slice of vegetable pizza to soak up all the grease. This memory has always haunted me. What would I do now? I would make my own cauliflower-base pizza and eat until I was full. In fact, I did exactly that last Friday night and the recipe is on my Instagram if you want to try it yourself.

Most addicts hate themselves. They aren’t proud of their addiction, they are deeply ashamed and feel like everyone they know is judging them. For food addicts, especially those who are extremely overweight or obese, their addiction is visible in their size so they can’t truly hide. They know, and their friends know, that they didn’t just have salad for lunch. They had the full chicken bacon caesar with heaps of parmesan, croutons, extra dressing, and some bread and butter on the side, washed down with a big cup of diet Dr. Pepper. They know, and their family knows, that their “diet” isn’t going very well. The weight watchers meals are never enough to fill them so they secretly eat Nutella out of the jar with a spoon after dinner at night and treat themselves to lunch at the Cheesecake Factory every Friday afternoon. I can put my hand on my heart and say that I never did this; I lasted all of one day on Weight Watchers and then gave up. But I still eat peanut butter out of the jar sometimes. The worst thing about food addiction, or any addiction, is that you feel like you are fighting a losing battle. You feel like you are your own worst enemy. You feel like you are a weak person.

Portion sizes are an issue. Restaurants in particular do not measure their portions by serving size and meals have gradually expanded as we, the hungry consumers, ask for more more MORE. Our plates are often piled with enough food to feed two or three people, which results in us over-eating and having to eat more food to feel satisfied. This spirals out of control and before we know it, we are roughly the size of a small car. Snacks are also an issue. When I was fat, I was angry. I used to eat the same meals as my friends but yet I was twice their size. Why? In-between those meals, I was consuming about 1000 calories in snacks, which were usually not very healthy, and the pounds were just piling on bit by bit. Beware of snacks; especially the ones that don’t come in portion control or resealable bags.

So, what about now? In all honesty, I still struggle. My portion sizes have been vastly reduced. Fast food no longer appeals to me. Bread, ice cream, pasta- not even interested. Crisps and crackers- no thanks. Popcorn- only if I am at the movie theatre. Sugar- a HUGE BIG MASSIVE problem. For a while, I was limiting the treats to once or twice a week. Then I started making healthy versions of “treats” like chickpea brownies or almond flour cookies, but then I would devour the entire batch and it sort of defeated the purpose of baking healthy. Then I tried supplements and stopped adding honey or maple syrup to my oats and even gave up caffeine. Then I started substituting fruit as treats but again, I would eat too much and I was consuming so much fructose that I might as well have just had a slice of cake since the sugar content would have been pretty much the same. Then I cut out almost all grains, fruits, and dairy products, and started limiting my consumption of nuts and tried going cold-turkey but the cravings got more intense and I felt like I was going through genuine withdrawal. So then, I was pretty much back at square one. Phew. So, what is the answer? Honestly, I don’t have the answer just yet. Hell, I just ate three chocolate chip cookies and now I am begging my boyfriend to eat the rest so I don’t end up polishing them off. Sugar is the only thing I am still struggling with. In fact, I would dare to say that giving up sugar is a hundred times more difficult than when I gave up cigarettes. But, I have asked my trainer for help and I continue to share my woes with my nutritionist friend, Karen (@GoodCleanChow), whose head I have surely melted, and hopefully I will soon have the answer for you. In the meantime, I’m trying to stick to peanut butter, blueberries, and herbal teas. Tonight’s tea menu: fennel and orange. See you next week.

Being My Own Nutritionist

A work in progress, with emphasis on the word 'progress'.

A work in progress, with emphasis on the word ‘progress’.

What is a nutrient? A nutrient is defined as: a substance that provides nourishment essential for the maintenance of life and growth. So, nutrition is therefore the process of obtaining or providing the food necessary for life or growth. But how do you distinguish between what is ‘essential’ or ‘necessary’ and what is not? Are Peanut Butter Oreos essential for life and growth? I wish they were but they are not! Is water essential for life and growth? Definitely. Something I feel passionately about is nutrition education; I think that doctors or nutritionists should partner with educators to introduce nutrition education into mainstream schooling. However, until that happens, it is our duty to educate ourselves.

Nutrition is scientific. There is a guideline on the back of your food containers that tells you your ‘Recommended Daily Amount’ of each vitamin and mineral as well as your recommended intake of calories, carbohydrates, fat, sugars, fiber, protein, etc. This guide can be altered based on whether you are looking to gain weight, maintain your weight, or lose weight. There may be some readers shaking their heads, and trust me, I know it is more complicated than this, but for now, let’s keep it simple. Foods have different compositions of each nutrient so you can customise your diet to ensure you are getting appropriate amounts of all of them. This is why fad diets don’t work. You are restricting yourself and maybe even eating something that your body isn’t used to, which can have all sorts of crazy effects on your body.

Have you ever heard of “Freelee: The Banana Girl?” This is a Youtube star who tells her followers to eat a diet solely consisting of bananas (and a limited selection of raw vegan foods). This girl is a fruitarian so she only eats fruit. She even puts bananas in a blender with water and calls it “banana milk.” Personally, I think she should be sectioned. If you are only eating fruit and working out a lot, you might look fantastic but your body will literally be surviving on a constant sugar rush. Fruit contains Fructose, which is a form of sugar that is absorbed directly into the bloodstream. I won’t bore you with the science but if you ask a nutritionist what they think of a diet solely consisting of bananas, they will probably laugh in your face.

So, let me be clear, I am not a nutritionist. There is so much I don’t know, but what I do know is that fad diets, restrictive diets, diets where you only eat bananas, are not maintainable. So, what do I eat as part of my ‘diet’? Right now, I’m eating lots of kale, spinach, green apples, cucumber, celery, oats, almond milk, grass-fed butter, coconut oil, coconut milk, lean meats, sweet potatoes, lemons, eggs, fish, rice and greek yoghurt. These are some of the foods that I buy and consume on a regular basis. But this changes all the time. Get the picture? It’s all about balance and variety. You can probably find something from every single food group in my kitchen. The paleo and primal lifestyles are the ones that have appealed to me the most because they are all about eating clean, non-processed foods. This just makes sense to me. When I first started making “clean” meals, I thought to myself, “this tastes and feels really healthy.”

Where do I learn about food? Honestly, I follow nutritionists, dieticians, personal trainers, and other professionals on Instagram and I look at photos of what they are eating. There are a couple of blogs I follow as well, for recipes and to see other people’s stories. It also helps that one of my good friends and colleagues, Karen from ‘Good Clean Chow,’ is a nutritionist and she is kind enough to share tips and info with me every now and then. I am constantly seeking information on the internet and Google-ing ingredients or foods I haven’t heard of before. As we all know, the internet is full of rubbish, so I try to get my information from responsible and credible sources. I am a young professional who doesn’t have the kind of budget to afford a nutritionist, a dietician, or a personal chef, so I spend a lot of time educating myself. My friends might tell you that I am obsessed with food and I am sure it can come across that way sometimes because I do talk about it a lot. But I want to make sure that I am feeding myself things that will benefit my body rather than harm it. As I mentioned in my previous post, there is the constant worry that I will get fat or unhealthy again, and I will do everything I possibly can to make sure that doesn’t happen, starting with what I eat. I am still a work in progress, and lately I feel I may have hit a wall, but as Karen reminded me the other day, sometimes you need to congratulate yourself on the progress you have made rather than beating yourself up about how far you still have to go.

Doctors Can’t Lie to You

Before and After

I know what you are thinking. Is that the same person? In accordance with the theme of this blog, I will be completely honest and tell you that I did have a minor surgical procedure on my nose due to sinus issues. But as you know, if you have read my previous posts, all the weight loss was done solely by me and my motivation.

Have you ever stared at your body in the mirror and wondered if you are just a bit fat or if you might actually qualify as being clinically obese? There is a very simple way to find out: ask your doctor. A medical professional is not allowed to lie to you. My doctor certainly didn’t! Her response to my excited exclamation of, “I lost 25 lbs!” was: “Great, but you really need to keep going.” Your friends are too nice to say anything and your family love you too much to risk hurting your feelings. Doctors do not care if they hurt your feelings. They can assess your weight in relation to your height to determine if you are underweight, just right, overweight, obese, or morbidly obese. This may not be entirely accurate so in addition to this system, they have a wealth of medical equipment with which they can run actual tests on your body and your blood. Next time you are at the doctor, take a deep breath, put your fears aside and just ask. I am so glad that I did.

My doctor suggested I have a full physical when she discovered how overweight I was. She tested my heart rate, blood pressure, and did a full blood test. She found that I was anaemic, had a vitamin D deficiency, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Reality check. She then suggested that I start taking cholesterol medication. My stomach turned. Did she mean the same medication that my fifty-something year old father was taking? Yes. I was only nineteen years old. I begged her not to make me take it and we came to a compromise; I start taking fish oil twice a day and change my diet, and I wouldn’t have to take this scary cholesterol-lowering medication. My doctor gave me a list of Low GI, Medium GI and High GI foods and I stuck this next to my calendar so I looked at it every day. I panicked after my physical examination and bought Special K cereal, Activia yoghurt and any food I could find that was advertised as being ‘cholesterol-lowering’. In hindsight, this was not the right approach because these foods are neither clean nor natural and they are actually pretty high in sugars. However, I was young and had very minimal knowledge of nutrition. I was simply following my doctor’s orders and trying my best to undo all the damage I had done to my system.

The scales don’t lie. Stop making excuses. I have used every excuse under the sun, “I’m just bloated”, “it’s genetic, my grandmother was big-boned”, “I’m just curvy”, “It’s my body type”, and so many more. Everyone has a different shape; we aren’t all perfectly proportionate supermodels (I have a Kardashian-esque ass and I am damn proud of it). But being overweight or obese is most certainly something that you can control. Ask for advice from someone who has knowledge and experience. Enlist the help of a doctor who is educated in nutrition, a professional nutritionist, a dietician or even a personal trainer (many of them are educated in nutrition). Stop taking advice from your friends who tell you to just skip breakfast, try only eating weight watchers ready-meals or do a juice cleanse (I have tried all of the above and they don’t work). Don’t starve yourself. Don’t skip meals. Don’t do that stupid 5:2 diet where you becoming a complete asshole for two days of the week because you are so hungry. Just eat healthy, balanced meals in appropriate portion sizes and stay physically active. Take the stairs. Walk the long way home. Don’t go grocery shopping when you are hungry. Oh, and if you’re in doubt about whether you are fat or not, ask your doctor’s opinion; remember, they can’t lie.

Breaking Up With Food

Mac n Cheese

This photo was taken at a Target store in my hometown of Cary, North Carolina. There was almost an entire aisle dedicated to boxed mac n’ cheese. Although I wouldn’t touch this stuff now, I ate plenty of it when I was fat.

Most people who are overweight or obese have an unhealthy relationship with food. I believe that my unhealthiness and “fatness” were due to three fundamental issues: (1) lacking knowledge in basic nutrition, (2) lack of exercise and physical activity, and (3) a lack of respect for myself, leading to the consumption of food for pleasure rather than nutrition. I didn’t become fat overnight; I got a little bit fatter each and every day until I tipped the scale at just under 210 lbs.

A close friend of mine underwent weight loss surgery about a year or two ago and has lost a lot of weight since. I remember speaking to her not long after the procedure and she shared with me that the most striking side-effect of the surgery was the emotional toll it had on her. She could not eat a lot of the foods she enjoyed before and she had to eat very, very small portions. I can only describe this emotional side-effect as a break-up with food.

Chocolate is like the crystal meth of the food world. This may seem a bit extreme but there is a reason that the total value of chocolate confectionary sales in the UK was £2.5bn in 2014, and this doesn’t even include sugar confectionary. Discovering this statistic made me feel like a member of a national group of chocolate addicts. Chocolate doesn’t just taste good; for a lot of people, it feels good. In brief, chocolate contains an amino acid from which dopamine is derived and dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is a source of feelings of pleasure and happiness in the brain. In addition to feeding your brain more dopamine, chocolate also contains phenylethylamine; a mood elevator that causes a slight increase in pulse and raised blood-glucose levels. If there is such a thing as a ‘food drug’, chocolate is it.

Imagine trying to break up with an ex-girlfriend or boyfriend and seeing them literally everywhere you go; the grocery store, the gas station, the shopping mall, the pharmacy, the workplace, the train station, the television, and the list goes on. For someone who has an emotional relationship with food or who is addicted to food, it is like a break-up but without the Ben and Jerry’s. One side of your brain is telling you that you will enjoy consuming the chocolate bar (or whichever junk food you are addicted to) due to the enjoyment of the taste but the other side of your brain is telling you it has zero nutritional content and will not contribute positively to your body in any way, shape or form. You experience this perpetual internal conflict, and making the right decision may seem easy to people who have never struggled with their weight, but for someone who has, it is damn hard.

To those individuals who criticise overweight people for having a lack of self-control or a lack of willpower; to some degree, you are correct. When I was heavily overweight, my self-control was virtually non-existent. The answer was always ‘yes please’; I ignored the consequences and a lot of the time I was in denial. However, people who commit to actually losing weight pretty much commit to undergoing their own self-lead rehab and cognitive behavioural therapy, where they change the entire way they think about food and exercise. This requires a huge amount of self-control and willpower. Food is not for pleasure; it’s for nutrition. Exercise is not punishment for that food you ate; it’s a way to keep your body fit and healthy.

Go to Youtube and type in ‘Jillian Michaels’ and a video of this energetic, feisty, slightly-insane personal trainer will come up in your search results. I watched this video over and over and when I was in the gym, I actually closed my eyes and pretended that Jillian Michaels was right there next to me, screaming at me to keep going. I used to have a chart from a health magazine which showed me how long I would have to run or exercise for in order to burn off a chocolate bar or a packet of pretzels or a slice of pizza. After I quit smoking and started working out, I began to walk everywhere and took the stairs whenever I could. Making small changes like this can make a big difference in the long run. Remember, it’s not a phase; you are changing your lifestyle and making adjustments to your daily routine. Walk the long way home. Don’t walk down the candy aisle when you are grocery shopping. Go and volunteer at a homeless shelter on a Friday night instead of going clubbing. These are just some examples of things I did and I will give you many more in future posts. To this day I am thankful and grateful for all the people who helped me during my transformation. If you’re trying to change, don’t wait until tomorrow; start now. “People underestimate their capacity for change; there is never a right time to do a difficult thing.” -John Porter

Next Week… “Doctors Can’t Lie to You”