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Powering Up For 2019

As the start of my second week in my new job dawned, I was determined to hit the ground running.  I went to bed reasonably early (not something I am usually very good at) and awoke refreshed and ready to face the day.  I battled the traffic and managed to arrive at my desk in good time.  Yay me!  No sooner had I made my morning coffee, than the lights went out.  Power cut.

It came back after about an hour, so at least we weren’t sitting in the dark (a tiny bit awkward with virtual strangers.)  However, there was a further delay before our IT systems recovered.  I started to become irritated by the interruption.  I had a to do list as long as the M50.  Besides, even though we were all in the same boat, I didn’t want to seem like I was wasting time.

The frustration quickly melted into amusement as I couldn’t help smile at the irony.  It served as a timely reminder that try as we might, we cannot control everything.  There will always be times that despite the best laid plans, everything goes tits up.

As the year draws to a close, I always like to reflect on the past 12 months.  This morning’s outage pretty much sums up the entire year for me.  2018 has been one false start after another.  It has been tempting at times to throw my hands up and shout “what’s the bloody point?”  It has taken no small amount of effort to pick myself and dust myself off.

In the words Kipling, of one of my favourite poets,

“If you can make one heap of all your winnings, and risk it on one turn of pitch and toss, and lose, and start again at your beginnings, and never breathe a word about your loss.”

When you think about it, that is exactly what happens when you look for a new job.  You accumulate all your experience and skills, your winnings, and risk it in the hopes of obtaining something better.  You sacrifice your security, and your comfort and take a giant leap into the unknown.  Sometimes you win, and sometimes you learn.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, my career hasn’t been the only tumultuous part of my life in recent months.  I am very much the type of person who needs stability and routine.  If one area of my life is in discord, the rest of it will inevitably follow suit.

I am loath to admit the amount of weight I have put on since this time last year.  My fitness levels have also taken a huge back slide.  In all honesty, I am very much looking forward to January and the natural reset point it always brings.

As I write this, I have a plan in place to get myself back to a level of fitness that I can be happy with.  Tomorrow evening, I am joining a Crossfit gym.  I know it probably sounds crazy to start a health kick Christmas week, but I have been putting this off long enough.  Plus, I know if I delay it any further, chances are I will talk myself out of it.

It can be difficult when not only have you failed to make progress, but you have actually gone backwards, not to feel like a failure.  It is hard not to look back with rose tinted glasses, to a time when you were slimmer, fitter or just generally had it more together.  However, if there is one thing I have learned, it is that there are peaks and valleys in life.  Progress is definitely non-linear.

With a shiny New Year on the horizon, I take comfort in the fact that I have a plan in place, and that I have walked this road before.  I know that following in old footsteps is always easier than trying to forge a new path.

Another lesson that is beginning to take root is that I am not my weight.  I am not my dress size or my body fat percentage.  Neither am I the job title I hold or my bank account balance.  Of course, it is easy to “know” these things on a rational level.  It is another thing entirely to actually feel it.

I spent more than three decades allowing these things to define me.  So much so that when I was unemployed, albeit briefly, I was surprised that people still wanted to be around me.  They sought me out and looked to me for my opinion.  They asked me for help and tasked me with projects.  The value they placed in me wasn’t tied up in my employment status.  Why then did I allow a temporary career set back to impact my confidence levels so profoundly?

I know it’s hackneyed, but I firmly believe that things to happen for a reason.  Events of the recent past are not far enough behind me yet, for me to have perspective in my rear-view mirror.  Their lessons will only begin to take shape in time.  In the meantime, I am very hopeful about the future.  I eagerly anticipate a few months of relative calm in which to get to work on myself.

In truth, we never know what is around the corner.  As prepared and ready as we think we are, there is always something which could potentially upset our little apple cart on the horizon.  All we can do is keep going.  Keep putting one foot in front of the other in the general direction of our goals.  Keep hoping the lights don’t go out.  Be well xxx

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How Getting Sick Was The Best Thing For My Health!

I first embarked on my weight loss journey back in 2010.  My first stop en route was Weight Watchers.  Since then, I have tried lots of different diets and plans, adopting a kind of trial and error philosophy.  I have spent a number of years experimenting with Paleo and other whole food approaches and I considered my diet to be fairly “healthy.”  I had eliminated or reduced a lot of different foods throughout the years.  Refined grains and sugars predominantly.  Don’t get me wrong, I still ate bagels and birthday cake, but they were definitely what I called “sometimes foods!”

I have had a long history of stomach problems.  I was originally diagnosed with IBS in my early 20s, but in truth, I had never had an easy time with my gut.  I would frequently experience abdominal cramping, bloating and other symptoms I will spare you the details of!  I could probably write an entire post on IBS, and perhaps some day I will, but for now, let’s me just say it isn’t pleasant.  Having gone through a battery of tests, I was eventually advised by the hospital to try the FODMAP diet, late last year.

This diet is essentially an elimination diet.  It not only calls for the exclusion of know gut irritants such as gluten and lactose, but also lots of fruits and veggies (garlic, onions, apples, butternut squash to name just a few.)  It was a tough diet to adhere to, but anyone who has experience of IBS will understand that I was happy to try just about anything if it meant no pain.  So off I went with my list of banned foods, determined to stick to it rigidly and looking forward to feeling better!

For the first week or so that was exactly what happened.  I had no stomach pain and I really felt like my insides were working properly for once.  However, towards the end of the second week on the diet, I got sick, and pretty much stayed sick for 3 months.  As discussed in The Winter of My Discontent!

I am not a good patient and I was getting really fed up with feeling crappy.  I was also quite indignant!  I look after myself, I eat well, I exercise, drink water etc.  How can my body be doing this to me when I am so “healthy?”  Except, wait a minute.  Surely if I am sick all the bloody time, that means I am NOT healthy?  As the days in pajamas passed, I had a lot of time to think about what might be going on.  Could it be that I had eliminated too many foods from my diet for it to be providing adequate nutrition?  Could it be that in my quest for health and wellness, I had pushed my body in the opposite direction?

By the beginning of January I had had enough.  I had a wretched cough which had been driving me and everyone else nuts for weeks.  I was on an antibiotic, which I knew was going to run me down even further.  Something had to be done.  I spoke to my sister and mother at length and came up with a strategy.  Firstly, I was going to start on a strong Probiotic (I take BioKult) to try to restore the balance in my gut.  Secondly, I was to start taking a “tonic” as we we have called it growing up (I was advised by my mother to try Revive Active, and mother knows best)  Thirdly, and perhaps, most importantly, I was going to reintroduce most of the foods I had eliminated.

This didn’t mean going gangbusters in the bakery aisle.  Instead it meant bringing back foods which I know to be nutritious, and which don’t seem to cause problems for my stomach.  So for example, apples are still out because I have identified them as triggers.  But all the vegetables I had been avoiding came back.  That very day, I got the recipe from my sister for a chicken stew.  Packed to the brim with veggies, and chicken cooked on the bone, it not only tasted amazing, but I could actually feel it doing me good.

At the risk of sounding dramatic, I think that stew may have saved me, or at least sped up my recovery.  Since then I have been experimenting with more stews and casseroles.  Good healthy, whole foods, just like mom used to make.  It has been a couple of months since I finished my antibiotics and I am happy to report that I feel great.  Like my old self again.  Furthermore, I feel fortified and resilient.  Confident that I can fight off any little nasties that come my way.  Even the Beast from the East doesn’t scare me, with a pot of stew on the go!

I have always said that healthy lifestyle is about trial and error.  What works for someone else, might not work for you.  What worked for you in the past might not be what your body needs now.  If something is not working for you, change it.  I clung to my ideas of what a healthy diet looks like, long after it was clear that it wasn’t working, and it was to my detriment.  My illness forced me to reexamine everything and I am so glad that I did.  As the saying goes “Don’t hang on to a mistake, just because you spent a long time making it.”  Be well xxx

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Roman Holiday!

Donning my over-sized sunglasses and channeling my inner Audrey, I set off on my “Roman Holiday.”  It has been a little over a week since my return.  I wanted to get this post out much sooner but, I can honestly say it has taken me this long to even begin to process everything.  If I had to describe the city and our trip in general in one word, it would be overwhelming.  I don’t mean this in any way negatively, just that there was so much to see and do and eat, that it was impossible to absorb it all as fully as I would have liked.

So, what did we do?  I think it’s fair to say we made a good attempt at doing as much sight seeing as we could.  We took the sight seeing bus as soon as we arrived.  I like to do this whenever I land in a new city.  I think it’s a great way to get orientated, with as little chance as possible of getting lost!  (We did manage to get lost later that evening, but that is definitely a story for another day.)

Historical Rome was next on the agenda.  On our second day we took a tour of the Colosseum, before rambling around the Roman Forum and Palentine Hill.  It was amazing.  The guided tour was great and I would definitely recommend it, especially if, like me, you’re not an expert on the history.  It was difficult not to feel like I was in an Episode of Spartacus as I looked down on what would have been the arena.

We attempted to take the bus back to our hotel after the Colosseum, however it actually deposited us in the middle of the biggest, loudest and most colourful Gay Pride Parade you can imagine.  We were awed and disoriented in equal measure.  There may have been another navigational issue or two before we reached home.

Day three, armed with a map, and on foot, we went to see the Trevi Fountain, The Spanish Steps and the Pantheon.  The fountain is extremely beautiful and undoubtedly a Jewel in the crown of Rome.  The experience was only slightly marred by folks attempting to sell us selfie sticks and fidget spinners.  If I return to Rome, I will make an early morning pilgrimage back to the fountain to try to avoid the sense of claustrophobia caused by being surrounded by so many people.

The Spanish Steps were a joy to behold and a very up-market shopping district has grown up around them.  Definitely worth a look, if that is your thing.  I dared not go in, for fear of having my own Pretty Woman experience.  As for The Pantheon, it was breath taking, and inside it I found an oasis of tranquility, in an otherwise crazy city.  Even the McDonald’s we visited was like an assault on the senses!

Our last day, suitably covered up, we took ourselves off to see the religious sights.  In perhaps the most overwhelming day of all, we visited The Vatican, Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica.  The day did not get off to the most auspicious start.  The area around the Vatican screams tourist trap.  You literally cannot walk two feet without someone trying to sell you something.  When you enter the Vatican at first, the building very much resembles a tax office.  Complete with clinical white walls and disgruntled clerks behind counters.  It certainly doesn’t prepare you for the wonder and splendour, which you are about to behold.

In the Vatican we decided to take another guided tour, again I would recommend this, particularly for your first visit.  The tour took two hours and we saw so many beautiful things, paintings, sculptures, tapestries and maps.  It was quite incredible.  By the end of the tour, I almost felt as though my mind was incapable of appreciating any more beauty.  I felt completely saturated.  Luckily, the tour ended at the coffee shop, which could never be described as beautiful, so we had an opportunity to revive ourselves!

From there, we entered the Sistine Chapel.  It was every bit as awe inspiring as you might imagine.  Every where you look there is something else to be appreciated.  Again, my mind struggled with the task of taking it all in.

The last thing on the agenda for the day, and the trip, was St. Peter’s.  Before we went inside, I had the opportunity to climb the 551 steps up to the Cupola.  I was able to walk around the outside of the Dome and get the most incredible 360 degree view of the Roman skyline.  This was undoubtedly the highlight of the holiday for me.

Not only were the views spectacular, but whenever I get to do something like climb up all those steps, I am presented with a rare opportunity.  I get the chance to appreciate my body and all it can do.  I am reminded to be thankful for my health and fitness, and granted perspective about the reason why I try to keep fit in general.  It is a wonderful and liberating thing that when I encounter such a physical challenge, I don’t have to ask myself “will I be able for this?”  That alone is worth all the effort in the gym!

Okay, okay, so I am sure many of you are wondering about the food, and the diet and the damage.  Food first.  We ate everything!  Or at least we tried to.  It turns out four days is not enough time to eat all the Italian food we wanted to.  However, we made a good attempt at covering all the bases.  Dinner was the only proper meal of the day, as breakfasts and lunches were quickly dispatched so as not to interfere with our adventures.  Breakfast was the typical continental affair and lunch was mostly sandwiches.  Luckily we still managed to get through a reasonable amount of pasta and gelato!

As for the damage, I weighed myself on the morning of departure and again on the morning after I got back.  Although I did put on about a kilo,  I wasn’t overly worried.  I am not a great traveler and usually retain fluid after I fly.  As of today I am back to my pre-holiday weight.

So what did I do to limit the holiday damage?  I walked!  We did in excess of 60,000 steps over the course of the four days.  I drank gallons of water.  In temperatures over 30 degrees it was needed, and I normally drink a few litres a day anyway.  I ate when I wanted and what I wanted for the most part.

I did try to be somewhat sensible though.  For example when we had the gelato, I would get at least half of it as yogurt.  It is an easy swap and I didn’t feel like I was missing out.   We stuck to just having main courses at all dinners except the last one.  (On the last night we shared a starter and a dessert.)  This wasn’t a conscious calorie counting decision particularly.  Dinner was usually late and we were too exhausted by that stage to sit through three courses.  A big thing which probably helped, is I didn’t drink as much alcohol as I usually would on vacation.  I typically had one drink with dinner and maybe one or two more back in the hotel.  Again this wasn’t really a decision.  My travel companion is pregnant, so she wasn’t drinking.

Overall, I am very happy with how it all went.  Every time I take a few days away from my routine, I tend to get a little panicked, thinking the wheels are going to come off completely.  However, each time I do it, and they don’t, I gain a little more confidence.  Of course, I would be more “comfortable” keeping to my routine, but what would be the fun in that?  After all, if we can’t go away or even take time out to enjoy ourselves, what is the point in any of it?  As Audrey herself says

“THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IS TO ENJOY YOUR LIFE
– TO BE HAPPY – IT’S ALL THAT MATTERS.”

Be well xxx

 

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The Goldilocks Effect

A few weeks ago, my husband and I decided to buy a new mattress.   We had had our existing one since we moved in and it was long overdue for replacement.  It was flat as a pancake and I was tired of feeling like I was sleeping on springs.  It goes without saying that I am no mattress expert.  There was a million choices and it seemed impossible to differentiate between them.  But, I figured anything I chose would be a marked improvement on what we had.  So, just pick one, right?  Instead of getting overwhelmed (which I usually would) I did what people normally do in a situation like this like this.  I didn’t go for the cheapest, and didn’t go for the most expensive.  I went for something in the middle.

This is fairly standard in decision making.  It has been well documented by behavioural experts.   If you don’t believe me, just notice what you do the next time you are choosing a bottle of wine in a restaurant!  This all got me thinking, if this Goldilocks effect is so standard in decision making, that it is essentially the default, how come it doesn’t translate into the rest of our lives?  How come so much of our behaviour is one extreme or the other.

I have talked a lot on the blog about the idea of balance.  I want to have a healthy diet, but I don’t want to feel restricted.  I want to get enough exercise, but I don’t want to run myself into the ground.  I love to keep busy and active, but want to avoid feeling stressed and overwhelmed.  Why is it that in these areas of my life, I find it difficult to determine what it “just right?”

I mean, wouldn’t it be ideal if our bodies were programmed to give us immediate feedback?  Like, “OK Arwen, that’s enough cake now.”  How perfect would it be if we were given accurate indications on how much actually is enough?  Of course, there are plenty of devices we can plug data into.  We can track our food intake, our energy expenditure, our sleep and just about any other metric you can think of.  However, is our reliance on these tools only further damaging our ability to make good decisions by ourselves?

Any regular readers will know that I have experimented with just about every diet protocol that there is.  I have gone from elimination type diets, where I ate as much as I wanted, but only from certain food groups, to diets that involved weighing and tracking every bite.  No matter how diverse these diets appear, they all have one common drawback.  They don’t feel like a “normal” or “natural” way to eat.  I am at the stage now, where I really want to be able to eat intuitively.  The only problem with this, is that I don’t trust my intuition.  Do you blame me?  It hasn’t got an awesome track record of keeping me in line!

It is a very similar situation with training.  I always wonder if I could or should be doing more.  I am constantly on the look out for new things to incorporate into my routine.  New ways to get more out of my training sessions.  Again, it would be lovely to feel in tune enough with my body to be able to relax about it.  I don’t want to spend any less time in the gym, but it would be nice if it took up less head space.  Surely the only time I need to be actively thinking about training, is when I am actually doing it?

In short, I have reached a point now where I want my training and nutrition to just tick along in the background.  I don’t want them to be a source of stress or anxiety.  I would love to be able to just rock up to the gym and do whatever workout I felt like, without worrying about how it will impact the rest of my week.  I would love to blow off meal prep if I am tired or busy, without it giving me a panic attack (not literally, but you get the point!)  As it is, I am over thinking and creating problems for myself, using up time and energy which could better serve me elsewhere.

Having given all of this a lot of thought, I think the only way I can learn to trust my inner Goldilocks is if I let her take control.  This isn’t going to be an easy transition for me.  I am a complete control freak and I always have a nagging worry in the back of my mind that if I take my foot off the gas, even for a second, I will wake up 20kg heavier.  I know how irrational this is, but you try telling that to the voices in my head.

I have a trip to Rome coming up in 3 weeks, and I think this will be the perfect time to experiment.  For the four days I am there, I will not even attempt to track a single calorie or macro.  I won’t be eating at my desk or with other distractions.  I will try to use eating in a more relaxed setting, to help me to better recognise and trust my hunger and satiety ques.  My travel companion has never struggled with her weight or food in general, so she will be a good guide.  I also won’t have access to a scale, kitchen or bathroom, so I will need to trust myself to do without the former, and not worry what is happening with the later.  (I will post my meals and snacks on my Instagram story, so you guys can see how it’s going.)

Any of you who may be reading this, thinking it all sounds crazy, let me tell you how much I envy you.  I have battled for a long time with very disordered thoughts and behaviour around diet and exercise.  At the moment I feel like I am controlling it, as opposed to it controlling me, but I am acutely aware of how quickly the scales can tip in the other direction.  Enough is enough.  Be well xxx

Ps.  Any of you who have come up against similar issues, I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences.

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Life’s a Peach!

I prefaced my last post by saying that it was not a rant, so I suppose it’s only fair to warn you that this one probably is.  Some of what I am about to say will no doubt be unpopular, but I am willing to take that risk.  I simply must get this off my chest, but I promise I will try to keep it short!

It is no secret that I am mildly obsessed with all things health and fitness related.  I am also extremely active on social media.  I have accounts on all of the platforms ( I think) and I follow lots of people, such as, athletes, nutritionists, trainers, fitness experts and other bloggers.  Lately though, I find myself noticing, and being irritated by, a weird trend.  Some of the trainers I follow have been posting photos and videos of their clients drawing attention to their “peach.”

I am sorry, but I don’t care what you call it, I don’t think it is right to be showcasing your clients’ asses!  People go to trainers because they want to improve their fitness.  For some people, especially women, by they time they get to you they can have pretty serious body image issues.  One of your main roles as a trainer is to provide a safe environment for healing and rehabilitation.  It is not your job to objectify and sexualise your clients on social media in order to gain more likes, follows, etc.  Not only does this exploit them and abuse their trust, but you also risk exposing them to all kinds of negative feedback at the hands of trolls.

Another thing which is bothering me lately (while I am on a roll, I may as well let loose) is how certain female “Fitspos” are choosing to peddle their wares.  As a woman, trying to establish herself in this world, trust me, I understand how difficult it can be to be taken seriously.  But, believe me when I tell you, posing in your underwear, is not the way to do it.

Don’t get me wrong, I fully appreciate the beauty of the female form, and I think it should be celebrated.  I would love to live in a world, where everyone was accepting of their body and felt no shame in revealing as much of it as they wish to.  One of the most empowering things I did when I lost weight was to get an underwear photo shoot done.  I am all for women feeling sexy and beautiful.

The problem I have is with women feeling the need to strip off in order to essentially, sell their product.  You are a fitness professional.  You have studied and worked hard in order to achieve your qualifications.  Please don’t cheapen yourself and the industry in general by making it a peep show.  All of the social media attention might feel good now, but like any dopamine hit, it will be short lived.  Ask yourself is that really how your want to grow your business?  Call me old fashioned, but I just don’t see what boobs and bums have got to do with fitness.  Be well xxx

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Food, Fallacy and Foolishness!

As a society we have become completely spoiled when it comes to food.  We consume it with hedonistic abandon, and treat it with very little respect.  During the last couple of decades, our attitude towards food and eating has become completely skewed.  In short, we take it utterly for granted.

Growing up in Ireland in the 80’s, money was short and people learned to make do with what they had.  A pot of stew supplied four meals (two dinners and two lunches.)  Sunday’s roast was refashioned into casseroles, curries and sandwiches.  Nothing was wasted and nobody ever complained about eating the same meal two nights running.

I am now in the second week of a Lifestyle Coaching program I am running with a company in Dublin.  When we launched the program, I decided I would take part along side them, and “walk the walk,” as it were.  It came to the first weekend, and I was about to set off for my grocery shopping.  In readiness for this, I was standing at the fridge, with a thrash bag in my hand, preparing to throw away all of the uneaten food from the previous week.  To my astonishment, there wasn’t any!   We had eaten pretty much everything.  This is probably the first time EVER that this has happened.

My initial reaction was “oh my God, we nearly ran out of food, I better buy more this week.”  But then it dawned on me, this was the first time I had actually gotten it spot on.  If your fridge resembles Old Mother Hubbard’s cupboard come shopping day, you’re doing it right.  If, like me, you end up having to throw away a black bag of food, just so you can fit the new food, you are getting it terribly wrong!  When the realisation of this sank in, I felt both shame and stupidity in equal measure.

So where does this wanton wastefulness stem from?  I certainly wasn’t brought up with it, that is for sure.  I am beginning to think our generation is plagued by the paradox of choice.  So many available options causing us to devalue what we already have.  It is the classic thing of going and buying €200 worth of groceries and then hitting up the McDonald’s drive thru on the way home.  All of the food which was too tempting to leave of the supermarket shelves, instantly obsolete once a “better,” more convenient option has been presented.

Perhaps it is the remnants of our Celtic Tiger hangover, which has completely inverted our value system when it comes to food.  At its most fundamental level, food is fuel.  It powers every function in the human body from respiration to reproduction.  Should it be enjoyable, yes of course it should.  But pleasure is not its only function.  We, as a collective, to have managed to completely separate food from its utility.  We increasingly seem to want to eat purely for pleasure.

Clever corporations have cottoned on to this.  It is impossible to turn on your TV, scroll through your phone or even walk down the street without a barrage of advertising messages assaulting you.  Never before has overly processed, highly palatable, nutrient deficient “food” been so cheap or so readily available.  Fast food outlets churn out obscene amounts of food to us, while we let our fresh produce rot in our fridges.  It is not uncommon for typical families to be eating take out 2-3 nights a week.

We are being fooled into thinking that outsourcing our nutrition is the easy option.  Believe me when I tell you, it ain’t.  I brown bag my lunch every day, and have done for a good few years now.  I have a few tried and tested menu options, which I know will fill me up and fuel my training.  It does not bother me to eat the same few things all the time.  I know what I need to buy each week, I prepare it quickly and I don’t have to think about it.  It’s easy.  If I didn’t bring lunch with me, I would spend the morning wondering what I was going to eat.  I would have to go out to get it, which can be a pain in the ass.  I would create stress worrying if what I was eating was supporting my goals, and I would be spending a fortune.  The complete opposite of easy, if you ask me!

You might ask “do you not get bored eating the same thing?” and truthfully the answer is not really.  Breakfast and lunch, for me, are utility meals.  High quality food, in well constructed meals, designed to get me through the day.  I know only too well that I a have limited supply of both decision making ability and creativity, so I prefer to use these for pleasure meals.  Dinners with my husband and meals out with friends.  Not every morsel we consume needs to be worthy of a death row dinner.

The last few weeks has given me a real opportunity to evaluate my own food behaviours.  I have had some exposure to the homeless crisis in our Capital and wasted food really bothers me.  However, I honestly believe that unless we revert to the old ways, we will keep on filling up those black bags.  Unless we begin again to appreciate food and all that it does for our health and well being, we will keep allowing ourselves to be sold to.  Big corporations do not care about our goals.  It is up to us to be the gatekeepers of our own refrigerators.  Be well xxx

 

 

 

 

 

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Seasonal Sabotage!

The time to Eat, Drink and be Merry is just about upon us.  This is the time of year when we get to relax and enjoy spending time with family and friends.  A time when the diet relaxes and the training tends to wind down.  I think it is important to have this time as a psychological break.  A season of feast and plenty, before getting right back on it in the New Year.  But, how can we manage to avoid ruining an entire year’s hard work, while still having fun?  How can we avoid feeling like we are missing out, without ending up with a stocking full of regret?  This is probably the tenth Christmas I have spent in  “weight management” mode, so I have learned a few things to help me over the years.

Firstly, be realistic:  There is very little point in promising yourself that this year you absolutely WILL NOT over indulge.  Swearing to yourself that not one Quality Street will cross your lips and the Christmas Dinner will consist only of meat and veg.  In my experience, trying to be overly restrictive in the run up to Christmas only leads to me end up diving head first into a trifle and reaching for the stretchy pants.  I have found that a far better strategy is to decide, ahead of time, which of the Christmas treats I absolutely must have.  I then allow myself to have these and actively avoid the rest.  For me, this is the turkey and ham sandwich on Christmas night, made by my super sister, I look forward to it all year.  You can keep the dessert, but if I don’t get my sandwich, did Christmas even happen?

Beware of the Bargains:  Growing up, the tin of sweets at Christmas was a really big deal.  It was the only time of year you could get them.  They would be bought ahead of time, but on pain of death, we were never allowed to open them until Christmas Eve.  Since I have moved out, I never bother buying them.  Between work and our family homes, there is more than enough junk floating around to satisfy even the sweetest tooth.  This year, however, I began to wonder if this was a little churlish.  Was I a complete Grinch to not even have a single sweet in the house.  I thought to myself I will pick up one tin, sure what harm?  I went to the supermarket and saw they were 3 for €15!  Wow, what a bargain!!  In the space of about 4 seconds, I had gone from not buying any, to buying 3 whole tins.  Luckily, I came to my senses and abandoned my purchase.

I will never forget a leader in Weight Watchers talking about buy one get one free tins of Pringles.  She said when she looked at it all she saw was “44 points for the price of 22.”  It really isn’t a good deal if you end up eating more than you intended to and feeling bad about it.  Don’t let the marketers draw you in to ruining your progress.

Let work days be “normal” days:  I will admit that routine is an absolute saviour of mine.  Automating as many decisions about food as I can has made maintaining my weight so much easier than relying on will power alone.  Every work day I have the same breakfast, and one of 2-3 different homemade lunches.  I don’t deviate from this just because it is December.  It helps me a lot to feel like at least some parts of my diet can be consistent regardless of the season.  If I were to abandon this for the month, I know I would feel completely out of control.

Offices are a minefield for the diet conscious at the best of times, and Christmas is the worst.  Across the country mince pies and selection boxes are being passed around with abandon.  My advice, and something I have always had to do, is just give it a wide berth.  I would always prefer to indulge in sweets and treats consciously.  Sitting at home relaxing with a nice cuppa and the fur babies.  Not while on a conference call and trying to get a balance sheet worked out.

Practice the one bite rule:  If you take a bite of something, (especially if it’s calorie laden) and you don’t really love it, stop eating it.  If you take a slice of grannies fruit cake and it’s as dry as the Mojave desert, proclaim it delicious and yourself still full from dinner, and leave it alone.  Calories are too precious to be wasted on things which don’t make you make yummy noises.

Remember that Christmas is ONE DAY:  I have lost count of the number of times I have heard people saying that there is “no point trying to be good in December!”  This simply is not true.  When you think about it, it is one day, one dinner and maybe a party or two.  When you consider that on average in December, we will eat over 100 meals, it puts the big one into a little perspective.  There is only so much damage you can do in a day (even if you do my trifle dive) a whole month ,on the other hand, is a completely different story.  If you make a decision to abandon all your good habits in December, you can expect to have a significant backslide with your results.  If you make this decision, accept that it is a decision and own it.  Christmas did not do it to you!

Move on:  Whatever happens over Christmas, it’s not the end of the world.  Even if you eat and drink far more than you had intended and if the scales calls you out on it, it’s not terminal.  Win, lose or draw this silly season, allow yourself to move on.  The worst thing we can do is fall into the familiar negative feedback loop of self loathing.  When 2017 comes in, be mentally ready to attack it, not wasting energy worrying about what you ate last year.

Lastly, enjoy:  I for one am so ready for the break at Christmas.  Having a few days away from work, watching old movies in my pj’s sounds like just what the doctor ordered.  This is the time of year to catch up with friends and family and relax.  Reflect on the year just gone and get ready for the one to come.  However you will be spending this holiday season, enjoy it, for it comes but once a year.  Be well xxx

 

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The After Taste!

I remember the first time I went to Taste of Dublin.  I was with my sister.  At the time she was working in the restaurant industry and was far more knowledgeable about Dublin’s culinary scene than I was.  I got such a kick out of having the opportunity to sample the creations from restaurants that I otherwise could never have afforded to go to.  It was truly a gastronomic adventure, and I loved every minute of it.  Almost ten years after my first Taste experience, last Friday evening, I again made my annual pilgrimage to Dublin’s Iveagh Gardens.

I would love to say that the experience has remained unchanged, but sadly this is not the case.  Over the years Taste has become less about the food, and more about Dublin’s glitterati having a place to “be seen!”  In the past, Taste was a platform for Dublin’s top restaurants to showcase themselves, and they all seemed to take pride in doing exactly that.  Unfortunately, some seem now to have reduced themselves to serving up slop to the patrons, some of which have admittedly imbibed too much Taittinger to know any different!

At this year’s event, there were five in our party.  As always, we were quite strategic in our approach.  We sat and decided which of the restaurants we wanted to visit.  We then set about working our way through them.  Making sure to share the dishes, so that we could sample as much as possible without stretching our wallets and stomachs to breaking point.

The first spot on our hit list was Klaw and I have to say, we couldn’t have picked a more perfect starting point.  Klaw offered up a Trio of Achill Island Oysters, naked, dressed and blow torched.  They were truly amazing, like little bites of heaven.  I have always loved oysters, and had high expectations.  I certainly wasn’t disappointed.  My two aunts had never tried oysters before.  They sampled them with gusto and were delighted.  Klaw also offered us a Fish and Chips dish, which although well executed, was never going to offer the wow factor of the shellfish!

The next to be sampled was Farrier and Draper.  A restaurant none of us have tried before, so we had no expectations.  From here we again sampled two dishes.  We had Cannelloni, which we weren’t terribly impressed with.  The dish’s flavour was completely overpowered by the burnt butter.  The texture of the cannelloni also felt very soft.  We had bought two portions of this dish and one made its way into the bin uneaten.  When it came to Farrier and Drapers second offering, the result could not have been more different.  It was a Slow Brasied Lamb Neck.  This dish was an absolute triumph.  The lamb was extremely tasty and tender, cooked to perfect and overall one of the highlights of the day.

Up next was Pichet.  Three of our party have dined here before and were expecting good things.  None of us were disappointed, and over all, I think Pichet offered the best food I sampled all day.  We tried each of Pichet’s three dishes and each was equally outstanding. The Crispy Hen Egg, Black pudding, Pea Dressing and Tartare sauce was visually stunning.  It was very well executed, and I couldn’t help being impressed to discover the egg was still soft inside.  Their main course of Braised Shortrib, was an utter delight.  The meat was succulent and tasted amazing and the risotto was one of the nicest I have ever had.  Pichet’s Dessert offering was Peanut Butter Parfait, Chocolate Mousse, Honeycomb and it definitely did not dissappoint.  Even the non-dessert lovers had to admit it was sensational.  Overall, if I had been served these dishes in Pichet’s restaurant, I would have been delighted and happily paid full price.  Well done!

We sampled all three offerings from The Green Hen, and overall we found all three to be uninspiring.  The Surf and Turf consisted of an overdone scallop and a rather tasteless piece of pork belly.  Their Lamb Lollipop was deep fried and disappointing.  On paper the Duck Sausage Roll sounded extremely promising, but sadly failed to deliver.  The pastry was soggy and the meat itself was indistinguishable.  Overall, I felt it was a poor effort and would not entice me to make a booking.

Matt The Thresher was next on the agenda.  From here we tried the Dublin Bay Prawns and the Plaice Goujons.  The prawns were delectable, the meat so sweet it could have been mistaken for crab.  They were dressed to perfection in garlic butter and really were a treat.  The plaice goujons were equally impressive and I felt it was brave to showcase a perhaps unfashionable fish.  Seafood has always been a particular favourite of mine and I would have high standards, but I could not fault either dish.

Indian cuisine was next on the menu as we headed to Jaipur.  We sampled their Prawn Curry and their Tandoori Chicken Kebab.  Bother dishes were delicious.  I will admit, I was not expecting great things from the curry, but I was blown away.  The rice was light and fluffy and the curry was wonderfully spicy, yet allowed the delicate flavour of the prawns to come through.  The chicken was also very good, a lovely dose of heat and it definitely left an impression.  Even my mother, who by her own admission wouldn’t be a fan of Indian food, couldn’t fault Jaipur’s offerings, and it was their curry we all found ourselves craving on Saturday night!

After a brief respite, we sampled the offerings of The Port House.  We tried the Chicken Paella and the Croquettas.  I normally adore both of these items and was excited to sample them.  Unfortunately neither dish lived up to my expectations.  The paella was cold and gluppy.  The croquttas were just okay.  Neither dish was finished.

Chop House served us Steak and Chips and Lemon Curd Pavlova.  The steak was cooked beautifully and extremely tender, no easy feat to achieve under the conditions.  The pavlova was quite nice, but slightly overpowered by the lemon curd I felt.

Lastly we sampled the Calamari from Unicorn.  I could tell that the squid was very fresh and good quality, however, I think the oil needed to be changed. The greasy taste which came through rather spoiled the dish, which was a shame.

Between the five of us, our culinary expedition cost about €350, not including the price of the tickets.  I think that over the years the experience has become less value for money.  Perhaps this could be due to the law of diminishing returns.  When I have had a great time somewhere, I always want to try to recreate it, but sadly it usually doesn’t live up to expectations the second time around.  The sun failed to shine on Taste this year, so perhaps that also took some of the gloss off the event.

All in all, we had a nice time, but I would be hesitant about booking my tickets in 2017.  Some of Dublin’s “best restaurants” definitely need to up their game.  I want see Chaper One back serving their signature dishes and not trying to placate us with insipid desserts.  Some others seem to need to be reminded that Taste is an opportunity for them to wow potential diners.  Have they forgotten that they need us more than we need them?