Articles

Diet Demystified

Zone, Paleo, Whole 30, 21DSD, 5:2, low fat, low carb…  It’s enough to give you an aneurysm!  It seems, these days that every time I go on line or open a magazine, there is a new diet plan promising to help me lose a stone in 7 days or drop a dress size in two weeks. It is hopelessly confusing and utterly agonizing.  But, it doesn’t have to be.

Greg Glassman, the founder of Crossfit gives the following advice when it comes to nutrition.  He says “Eat meat, vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, a little starch and no sugar.”  If it sounds simple, it’s because it is simple, but allow me to flesh it out a little.

  • Eat meat means just that.  All meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy if you tolerate it.  Meats are our primary source of protein and we should try to incorporate them into every meal.  Enjoy as many different varieties as your taste and budget allow.
  • Vegetables are easy.  Eat as many of them as you can.  Vegetables are a vital source of vitamins and without getting too hung up on it, the more different coloured  vegetables we eat, the more vitamins we will be including in our diet.
  • Nuts and seeds, brilliant for snacking on, again I would urge you to let your taste buds guide you.  Nuts and seeds are a great source of essential fats, however, as they are high in fat, I would tell you not to go overboard on them.
  • Some fruit.  This refers to the quantity not the type.  Just as with vegetables, fruits are an important source of vitamins.  Experiment with them and don’t just rely on the old reliable apples and bananas.  Fruit, however, does have a very high sugar content, so I would advise limiting it to 1-2 pieces a day, especially if weight loss is your goal.
  • A little starch.  Starches are your main source of carbohydrate, which we need for energy.  Starches include breads, rice, pasta, potatoes, sweet potatoes and oats.  In the Western diets we tend to over use them.  Try to consider them as a side dish rather than the main event.
  • No sugar, this means that with the exception of naturally occurring sugars, these guys are bad news and should be kept to an absolute minimum.

The secret is, there is no secret:  No magic pills or potions are required.  If we can put systems in place to help us eat good quality, whole food in as close to its naturally occurring state as possible, half the battle is won.  For some people this may represent a fundamental shift in how they eat, for others it may only require a few tweaks.  Either way, the battle begins in the grocery store.  If you fill your trolley with good food, you will eat good food.  I am a firm believer in shopping lists.  Have a rough idea of how you would like your week to go in terms of the meals you want to prepare and buy only what you need to accomplish this.

Good nutrition does not require will power:  Just like an alcoholic in recovery would not have a house full of alcohol, don’t bring the foods which may derail your progress into your home.  If they are not there, you won’t eat them.  Be selfish about this.  I don’t care if little Timmy loves ice-cream, if you know you’re likely to end up standing in front of the freezer at midnight devouring the whole pint, don’t put that temptation in your way.

All or nothing, often ends up meaning nothing:  I like to think about this in terms of my job.  If I turn up on Monday morning and give 100% maximum effort all day, but then limp through the rest of the week giving about 30%, I will not get a whole lot achieved, and I certainly am not going to be impressing anyone.  The same is true about nutrition.  Going all in until I can’t take it anymore and then going in reverse is not a good plan.  Better by far to give 80-90% effort consistently.  Not only is this far more sustainable, but by building a little slack into the plan, I avoid feeling like a complete failure when I am not 100% dialed in.

Car crash days happen:  Maybe you have been up all night with the baby, or maybe you have been working late all week with no time to shop for food.  Whatever the reason, these days happen.  No matter how organised and efficient you are, you will have times when you feel like it’s all coming down around you.  These days are just about survival.  Do the best you can to get through it and limit the damage as much as you can.  The most important advice I can give about days like these is that when you go to bed at night, do a mental ctrl+alt+delete.  Reset, forget about it and move on.  Remember you can’t make up for overeating by under eating!

Just as I told you there is no secret, there are also no quick fixes.  Eating well and optimizing your health requires a consistent effort.  Occasionally frustrating, but always worth it, you will need to employ trial and error to learn what works for your unique body. It is worth remembering that you have been eating a certain way for decades, and it may not be realistic to hope to be able to change it overnight.

In a  future post I will be delving into the world of Macros, so be sure to check back then.  In the mean time, send me your questions through my Facebook page and I will answer as best I can xxx

Recipes

Winner Winner, Chicken Dinner!

I always find that during the week my evenings consist of running around like a crazy woman trying to get everything done, so that I can eventually sit down!  No matter how organised I try to be, there is always a dishwasher to be unloaded or laundry to be done.  That’s why I love dinner like this one.  After just a few minutes of prep, I can just bung it all  in the oven and while it’s doing its thing, I can do mine.  If your weekday evenings sound like mine, then this recipe is definitely one to try.  Enjoy xxx

Serves 2

Ingredients:

Two large chicken fillets

About 10 baby potatoes

2 parsnips

4 carrots

A packet of Parma ham

A drizzle of olive oil

A shake of Italian seasoning (mixed herbs will do)

(Adjust the quantity of the veg depending on size, use the after photo as a guide to what the portion should end up looking like)

Cost per serving:  €4.05  (I buy my chicken in Nolan’s butchers, the rest came from Aldi)

Method:

  1. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees centigrade and put a full kettle on to boil
  2. Peel your carrots and parsnips and chop them into batons.  To do this, cut the vegetable into thirds and chop each third into quarters lengthwise.
  3. When the water is boiled, fill a large pot with the water and add the chopped veg and potatoes.  Put the pot on high heat to boil for about 5 minutes
  4. Trim any bits of fat or sinew off the chicken
  5. Wrap each fillet in 3 slices of Parma ham.  Start at one end of the fillet and work your way down.  They will be overlapping
  6. When the veg has been boiling for about 5 minutes, drain them and pop them into a large Pyrex dish.  Drizzle the olive oil over them, just enough to give them a light coating.  Shake some Italian seasoning over them and give them a good shake.
  7. Put your veg and your chicken in the oven for about 25-30 minutes
  8. Plate up and enjoy!

*Top tip, I always double up on the veg when I make this.  It keeps in the fridge for up to 5 days, and it is a life saver for really hectic nights.

Nutritional Information (per portion)

Calories – 617

Protein – 77g

Fat – 9g

Carbohydrate – 43g

DSC_0078

Articles

The Plate De-loaded

Let me tell you straight off, this post has nothing to do with diet, nutrition or food in any form.  It has occurred to me lately just how much all of us are taking on, how loaded our plates are becoming and how much stress and anxiety this causes.  It has challenged me to look at this critically to see if maybe there might be a better way.  People will tell you that Bill Gates has the same 24 hours in his day as you do, and while this is true, he probably has at least one person scheduling his time for him!

I am coming to the realisation that this over loading can all to often be entirely self inflicted.  The good news about this, is that it also means it is sometimes avoidable.  Let me give you an example.  My grandmother passed away about 18 months ago.  She was a great woman, who loved to see other people enjoying themselves.  Even if there were times when she couldn’t join in, she loved nothing better than to hear all about it afterwards.  Since she died, myself, my mother, sister and aunt have made an effort to plan regular outings together.  Partly in tribute to her and partly because her passing has highlighted how important these relationships are and how much they should be nurtured.

This month’s trip is to the ballet.  I have never been and I am really looking forward to it.  So much so that I have booked the day off so that I can make the early doors without being stressed.  The problem is that no sooner had I come to this decision, than I immediately started trying to fit things in to the newly available time.  Wouldn’t it be nice to get an early dinner before the show?  Perfect, let’s do that.  Oh, but I really should get my hair done.  Okay, fair enough, it does need to be done, and it makes sense to get it done when I am going out, right?  Maybe I could fit in a workout in the morning?  And sure, while I am in town, I could easily pop in and do my grocery shopping!  On and on it went in this vein until I got to the stage when just going to work seemed by far the easier option.

I found myself wondering if other people end up in the same predicaments.  Do we all keep on saying yes to everything, until we reach the point of being completely overwhelmed?  Do we try to have so much “fun” that we end up taking the good out of everything?  Should we be weighing up our choices about how we spend our free time just as carefully as we weigh out our food?

As I was pondering these questions, I was reminded of the advice given to slimmers when faced with bountiful buffet tables.  A good strategy, they are told, is to do a walk through of the buffet without a plate.  This gives them the opportunity to survey everything on offer and decide what they really want before they commit to selecting anything.  Otherwise they run the risk of overloading their plate with items that might be “just okay” and not having any room left for the utterly unmissable treats.

If every choice we make about how we spend our time creates an opportunity cost, then perhaps the buffet strategy of time management might not be a bad one to adopt?  This opportunity cost can seem insignificant, but it is its importance to you that needs to be weighed up.  Yes, breakfast with your sister on Saturday might sound lovely, but if it means sacrificing your one morning to wake up without an alarm, is it really worth it?  That night out with the girls does sound tempting, but you’ve only got two episodes of making a Murderer left to watch!  Your leisure time is just that, yours, so use it how you see fit and don’t feel the need to justify it.

In a world that encourages us to constantly do more and achieve more and be more, I am going to buck that trend.  When it comes to your down time, do less and only do the things you want to do.  Scan all the options and be sure of what you want before you commit.  When you are asked to do something, don’t be afraid to take a beat before you decide.  Be like Bill Gates, have your people call their people!

 

Articles

A Duty of Self Care

There was a time in my life when I was a fat, sick and unhappy girl.  Depressed and demoralised, I couldn’t see a way to turn things around.  When I look back on the point at which the wheels began to come off my wagon, there is a direct correlation between my weight increasing and the time I had to spend on myself decreasing.

At that point in my life, I was working full time, commuting and studying accountancy at night.  Time consuming as this was, I really didn’t help myself by still trying to be the best partner, daughter, sister and friend I could be.  This only ended up with me being over-committed and stressed.  How did I combat this?  By eating crap, because I had no time to cook, and not exercising, because there definitely wasn’t time for that!

Looking at this from the other side I have a clearer perspective on just how stupid this was.  Unfortunately, I don’t seem to be alone in this.  When life is busy and stressful, it seems that basic self care is all too often the first casualty.  The irony of this is that when you are under pressure and have a lot of demands being made of you, this is the time when you need to be investing more time and energy in looking after yourself.  The truth of it is, the less you feel like it, the more you need it.

Food is a good starting point to help me to explain this.  Healthy, nourishing food gives you energy to tackle whatever life is throwing at you.  It restores your immunity, which is important because lets face it, the last thing you need is to be sick.  A fully fed body is less likely to suffer mood swings and hormonal roller coaster rides.  All good news, right?  The problem is, that when life is hectic and out of control, we tend to reach for the easy options, fast food and processed rubbish.  These options may seem easier, but they will not fuel you or fortify you.

Sleep is next up on the list of victims.  We are all familiar with the cycle.  Busy schedules make it all to easy to justify staying up later than you should folding laundry, or getting up an hour early to get to the gym.  Before you know it, you’re struggling to fit in a solid 4 hours, and you’re wondering why your 3 o’clock slumps seem more vicious than before.  Sleep is a really hard thing to prioritize, but it is a must.  Not getting enough sleep will leave you tired, irritable and if you are anything like me, hungry.  Try setting a bed time alarm on your phone for about 30 minutes before you would ideally like to be going to bed.  When it goes off, finish up whatever you’re doing and start making your way to bed. Yes, that means you have to turn off Netflix!

Exercise is something that even at the best of times can be difficult to fit in.  The benefits are innumerable and well known.  I am not telling you that you need to join Crossfit or engage a personal trainer, but the benefits of even gentle exercise cannot be ignored.  not only does it have a profound impact on your health, but it makes such a huge difference to your head.  Even just getting out for a ten minute walk at lunch time can help clear your mind and make you better able to deal with whatever else is going on in your world.

Be more social.  Yes, I know this sounds counter intuitive!  Stress can be extremely isolating, and it’s important to try to maintain links to other people during these times.  It will remind you that you are not alone.  Again, it doesn’t have to be anything momentous.  Calling an old friend, or taking a coffee break with a colleague can be all it takes to lift your mood and give you some perspective.

We have all heard the old adage “you can’t pour from an empty vessel,” it may sound trite, but it is true.  When life takes you down a dark path, whether through illness, bereavement, work pressure etc. you may feel like it is going to take all your reserves to get you through it.  These are the times when you need to practice self care more than ever.

Recipes

Bunless Burgers & Sweet Potato Wedges

The classic burger is being given a new lease of life.  More and more gourmet burger joints are popping up everyday to feed our insatiable appetite for this old time favourite.   This is a recipe for a stay at home option.  All the delicious burger goodness, without the hefty price tag, and definitely no queue for a table.  It really is the perfect weekend fake-away, and with Valetine’s Day just around the corner, it’s a wonderful treat for your honey.  Enjoy!

Serves 3

Cost per serving – €3.89 (mince from Nolan’s of Kilcullen, rest of ingredients are from Aldi)

Ingredients:

450g of lean mince beef (the best quality you can afford)

6 streaky rashers

2 large sweet potatoes

2 tomatoes

1 red onion

Baby gem lettuce, 3 leaves per portion

6 cheese slices (whichever is your favourite, I use white cheddar here)

1 tablespoon of olive oil

Chili powder

Method:

  1. Heat your oven to 180 degrees centigrade
  2. Cut your sweet potatoes into quarters and then into wedges about 2cm thick.  No need to be too exact.
  3. Put your wedges into a large bowl, drizzle with olive oil and a shake of chili powder and toss them around until they are coated.
  4. Spread the wedges out on a baking tray and pop them into the oven.  They will take 25-30 minutes, give them a shake halfway through
  5. Fry your bacon on a dry pan and when cooked set aside
  6. Form three burgers of even size with your mince and put them on the pan on medium heat.  Cover the pan a lid or another pan.  This will help the burgers to cook through.  Your burgers will take about 15 minutes to cook.  Turn them every 3 minutes or so to make sure they aren’t burning, and don’t be afraid to cut one open to see if they are cooked through before serving.
  7. Slice up your tomatoes and onions.
  8. On each plate make a stack of lettuce leaves, tomatoes, onions and one slice of cheese (make sure the cheese is on top so the heat of the burger will melt it!)
  9. When your burgers are ready top each one with two slices of bacon and one slice of cheese.  Pop the second pan back over them for one minute or until the cheese is nice and melty.
  10. Plate up the burgers and wedges and you’re done!

Nutritional information per serving:

Kcal:  596

Protein:  48g

Fat:  21g

Carbs:  56g

_20160206_193651

 

Articles

Guilty as Sin

Let me know if this sounds familiar. You have just spent the weekend eating bad food, cheating on your diet and generally “being bold.”  You awaken on Monday morning, full of regret and recrimination, ready for a week of deprivation, self-flagellation and generally “being good.”  By the time Friday rolls around, you are half starved, emotionally exhausted and your will power reserves are utterly depleted, and so the cycle continues.

You are not alone in this.  The problem is systemic.  The food and diet industries have, for decades, been encouraging us to label foods as either good or bad.  So much so that it has become engrained in our culture and seriously impacts the way we relate to the foods we eat.  Tempting treats are labelled as “sinful” or “guilty pleasures.”  Slimming clubs give their members an allowance of sins or points to be used during the week.  Even healthy foods are often being tagged as “guilt free” or “be good.”  This idea that food is something to feel guilty about is deeply disordered and can be highly damaging.

Food is a part of life.  It fuels us and sustains us.  Depending on your personal goals, some foods may serve you better than others.  The ultra-marathon runner will have significantly different dietary requirements than the physique model, but both are equally valid.  Personally, at the moment I am trying to cut a little body fat.  I am currently sitting at around 20% and would like to get down to about 18%.  Through working with nutrition advisors in my gym and by getting to know my own body and how it works, I have a fairly good idea about what I will need to do in order to achieve that.  If I go off plan, I am ok with it.  Eating for pleasure is important both for my sanity and for the role it plays in sustaining a social life.  I do not feel guilty about it.

That wasn’t always the case.  Like many others when I first started trying to lose weight, I joined a slimming club.  The weekly weigh in was reminiscent of being to confession as a child.  I didn’t enjoy standing on the scales in front of a stranger and being asked to account for the week gone by.  I lost count of the number of times a disappointing result on the scales sent me straight to the local chipper!  Little by little I began to realise that I was using the numbers on the scales to validate my efforts.  It was then I decided to go in a different direction.

If you find yourself locked in the cycle I have described, I would like to remind you of a few things;

  1. You are only accountable to yourself – Despite how many likes the food photos you post get, nobody really cares what you eat.
  2. Decide what is important to you – Set your own goals, and put habits in place to help you to achieve them. Let these goals be what guides your eating behaviours, not a misplaced sense of shame or guilt.
  3. Do not try to make up for over eating by undereating – This is essentially binging and purging. It wreaks havoc on your physical and emotional wellbeing and apart from that, it doesn’t work.
  4. Most importantly, enjoy your food – Food is a wonderful source of pleasure, so cook, eat, enjoy. Try new things, play with your food and have fun with it.

I firmly believe that you cannot be a catalyst for positive change in your own life, with a head full of negative thoughts.  The guilt, self-loathing and shame that you cling to are not serving you, so let them go.  Use the energy instead to help you achieve your end game.  Let YOURSELF eat cake (sometimes!)