All posts by Priya

Which diet is the best?

Huge thanks to Naomi Leppitt, RD for her input in this post.

  • There are so many diets out there and a comparison study of Atkins, Slim-Fast, Weight Watchers and Rosemary Conley showed they all result in weight loss of a similar amount (Truby, 2006). 
  • Very low-calorie shake diets (eg Lighter Life, Cambridge, Herbalife etc) result in greater immediate weight loss than standard low-calorie diets and may even induce the remission of diabetes, but over a year, they’re shown to be just as effective as each other (Tsai and Wadden, 2006).
  • What about  low-carb/low-fat diets? Well, in theory- a low carb diet should help with fat loss. When you eat carbs your body releases insulin  part of insulin’s job is to enable cells , to use the energy from carbs or store it. Eating less carbs can mean less insulin = less fat storage. Studies show in the short term, low-carb dieters lose more weight than low-fat dieters, over the longer term, they have similar results (Hession, 2008). 
  • Intermittent fasting diets, like the 5:2 work because on the days you  eat normally, most people will not fully compensate for their fasting days,  they eat less overall; and the fasting period has all sorts of positive effects on how your body processes energy.
  • What about exercise? When comparing dieting alone versus just an exercise regime, a comparison of multiple studies found that more people lose weight with dieting than exercise (Shaw, 2006), and that’s likely because it’s easier to reduce the amount of energy taken in, than try to burn that much more through activity. For example, cutting down a couple of biscuits will save 160kcals but it would take a 30 minute work to expend that amount of energy. However, those that diet and exercise, lose more weight than just dieting alone (Wu, 2009). 
  • So there is not one diet that is necessarily better than another. They can all work IN THE SHORT TERM. This is the key. In fact the research tells us that 80% of weight lost by dieting is regained after 5 yrs.
  • Instead of sticking strictly to one type of diet for the short term, think about what will work for your lifestyle long term. Diets are about changing the balance of your macronutrients and reducing your calories or burning more through movement. So how can you make swaps you can stick to? If you love carbs, do you need to check your portion sizes are not too large? What can you add into your diet to boost the quality? More fruit and veggies can mean less sugary snacks and eating protein at each meal can keep you fuller. Can you build more walking into your day? Quality of life is so important, so any changes need to be sustainable and not make you feel restricted or miserable. 

So how do I achieve healthy weight loss?

When someone wants to lose weight, there is often the desire to lose it quickly. We all want change NOW! However, it’s worth being mindful of the other effects of rapid weight loss and crash diets on your body. When you lose weight fast:

  • That initial fast weight loss is satisfying but it is due to fluid losses. It won’t all be fat.
  • Muscle is lost too as well as fat, which can slow metabolism. This means you use less calories in daily life.  It can be particularly detrimental when you’re older, as it can lead to frailty.
  • By eating minimally you just probably won’t be getting enough nutrients, especially if you are cutting out whole food groups ie no carbs, or no dairy. This can be ok short term but if these changes are for the long term you need to replace those nutrients.

A healthier weight loss approach is:

  1. To make small changes over time that you can keep to for the long term. 
  2. Find a dietary approach that works for your lifestyle and food preferences.
  3. Don’t pick fad diets that cut out whole food groups and promise unrealistic results.
  4. Think about what you can add in rather than what you need to take out. Do you need more fruit and veg, more water, can you have yoghurt as a pudding to prevent that mid afternoon choccie biscuit?
  5. Avoid weigh yourself every day or even each week or even at all… because your body weight is affected by so many things other than what you eat. It can be demoralising and demotivating when the scales don’t change as quickly as you want them to. Think about how your clothes fit and other signs that your weight is changing.
  6. Partner your food changes with some gentle increases in daily activity. You don’t have to sign up to a marathon, but there are some great couch-to-5k programs and at home videos to follow. In fact you can buy my Pilates DVD here.
  7. Be kind to yourself. Allow yourself the foods that you love but eat them in sensible amounts and frequencies.

References:

Hession M et al. Systematic review of randomized controlled trials of low-carbohydrate vs. low-fat/low-calorie diets in the management of obesity and its comorbidities. Obes Rev 2009, 10(1):36-50. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-789X.2008.00518.x.

Truby H, et al, Randomised controlled trial of four commercial weight loss programmes in the UK: initial findings from the BBC “diet trials”. BMJ 2006, 17;332(7555):1418

Tsai AG and Wadden TA The evolution of very-low-calorie diets: an update and meta-analysis. Obesity 2006 14(8):1283-93.

Shaw  KA, et al. Exercise for overweight or obesity. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2006, Issue 4. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD003817.pub3.

Wu T et al Long-term effectiveness of diet-plus-exercise interventions vs. diet-only interventions for weight loss: a meta-analysis. Obes Rev 2009, 10(3):313-23. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-789X.2008.00547.x. 

Hall D.H and K.Scott. Maintenance of lost weight and long term management of obesity. doi: 10.1016/j.mcna.2017.08.012

Vitamin D – do I need to take it?

Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin that we make in our skin when it is exposed to sunshine. Sounds simple right? So why then do we have a growing level of people with vitamin D deficiency? Vitamin D deficiency is said to affect around 50% of the worldwide population.

Why is is important:

It helps us regulate calcium and phosphate levels in the body so it is therefore important for bone health. A deficiency can cause weakened bones leading to osteoporosis and ostepenia or rickets in children.

It is also involved in regulating the number of new cells that grow and the types of cells.

There is some evidence to show it can reduce inflammation in the body.

There is also research linking vitamin D to all total mortality and it could be linked to several chronic diseases including heart disease and cancers.

How do I know I am lacking it?

You can ask your GP for a blood test if you think you are deficient. Symptoms include fatigue, muscle weakness, poor wound healing and bone pain.

A deficiency is <0.8 IU of 25 (OH)D and an insufficiency is 21-29 mg/mL.

However the basic message is that in the UK, we ALL need to be taking a supplement, at least just over the winter months. If you are someone who does not go outside for long with uncovered skin and without sunscreen then taking it all year round is a good plan.

But can’t my body make it?

Your body can cleverly make vitamin D but only when your bare skin is exposed to the right type of sun rays, with no sunscreen on.

Now in the UK we just don’t get enough of the right type of sunshine through the whole year. The closer to the equator that you live the easier it is to make your vitamin D! A top tip is when your shadow is shorter than you then you are able to make vitamin D. So this is often the midday sun when many people will be inside at work, or have sunscreen on to prevent burning.

The more skin you have exposed the more vitamin D you can make. Paler skin will make it faster (and burn faster so beware, usually no more than 15 minutes in the sun is recommended without sunscreen). the melanin in darker skin slows down vitamin D production.

What about foods?

These foods are great as an additional vitamin D source but it is hard to meet all your needs from food only. So see these as a top up only.

Oily fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines) – wild fish contains higher levels.
Free range meat
Liver
Free range egg yolks
Mushrooms left in the sun
Fortified foods (margarine, plant milks, breakfast cereals)

How much should I take?

A review by SACN in 2016 led to the recommendations:

  • All adults should take a vitamin D supplement of 10 mcg/day.
  • Children 0-1 are advised to take 8.5-10mcg.
  • Children over 1 yrs to take 10mcg/day.

You can buy supplements or a spray over the counter. Look for D3 and not D2.

There are some supplements that contain mega doses of vitamin D. These can be used when people have very low levels, chat to your GP before starting to take one of these as vitamin D is fat soluble and so levels can build up in the body.

References:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3356951/

https://www.vitamindcouncil.org/about-vitamin-d/how-do-i-get-the-vitamin-d-my-body-needs/#.Xbalpi2cZQI

Which Oil should I choose?

We all need fats and oils in our diet for our bodies to function properly and for our food to taste food and cook properly. The question I was asked recently was which oil is the best choice? So here is a run down for you:

When choosing an oil the top things to consider are:

1. Smoke point – the temperature at which oils start to break down and release free radicals that can cause damage to the body (see my previous post on this).

2. The type of fats – Monounsaturated fats have heart health benefits and can help improve cholesterol levels. These are a better choice over saturated fats. However we always need balance so some saturated fat in the diet is also fine.

3. Flavour – an obvious essential to consider. How does the flavour suit the food you are preparing? 

4. Cost and sustainability – whilst is it not always true the most expensive oils are the healthiest, they can have a better flavour and could be more sustainable.

Extra virgin olive oil

(EVOO) well known as a healthy oil due to having the highest monounsaturated fat content of all the oils making it super heart healthy. Plus, it contains Polyphenols (antioxidants) that can fight the free radicals in the body. Its smoke point is low which means it is not suitable for using at high temperatures. Better kept for salad dressings and drizzling on bread.

Light olive oil is a better choice for general purpose cooking as it has a high smoke point. A great general purpose oil for roasting, grilling and a stir fry. 

Coconut Oil

Has a high smoke point, so can be used in all forms of cooking, however it’s solid nature at room temperature makes it unsuitable for a salad dressing.  It has a lot of health claims but these are controversial and lacking in evidence. Whilst it is totally fine to use in normal quantities, large amounts are not going to give extra health benefits. Great for Asian dishes where you want that coconut flavour.

Rapeseed oil

Rapseed has a medium-high smoke point and a neutral taste making it a good multipurpose oil. With the lowest saturated fats and a blend of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats is can help with cholesterol levels. Plus it contains vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant good for skin health.

Sesame oil

This is one of my top favourites for a stir fry due to it’s nutty taste and mid-range smoke point. It contains monounsaturated fats and antioxidants too, making it healthy for the heart. 

Avocado oil

Contains monounsaturated fats which are good for heart health. It has the highest smoke point of all plant oils so can be used for all forms of cooking plus dressings and cold foods. However it comes with a price tag and is not a sustainable crop.

So the verdict. For general purpose cooking choose a rapeseed or light olive oil. The other oils can be nice to have for different flavours and styles of cuisine, but aren’t essential!

Fruit Crumble Bars

My boy adores crumble so when he wanted to bake we decided to adapt the berry crumble bars in the eatwellforless “Quick and Easy Meals” book. I’ve lowered the sugar, upped the oat and fibre and made these wheatfree (for me!). Verdict. Very crumbly but very good!

These bars were made on Sunday and kept in an airtight tin. I finished the last bits on Friday (sssshhh don’t tell my kids!).

Print

Fruit Crumble Bars

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Servings 16

Ingredients

  • 425 g oats
  • 125 g self raising flour (I used gluten free)
  • 150 g brown sugar
  • 200 g margarine
  • 500 g frozen berries/fruit
  • 2 tbsp linseeds

Instructions

  1. Mix oats with flour, sugar, cinnamon and margarine until it is a crumble consistency.

  2. Grease a baking tray (20x20cm) or line with a silicone liner.

  3. Spread a thick layer (1.5cm) on the base of the tray.

  4. Cover with layer of frozen berries (no need to defrost).

  5. Top with a thinner layer of the crumble mix and press down with a fork.

  6. Sprinkle with the linseeds.

  7. Bake at 180C/Gas mark 4 for 45 mins.

SHOULD I GO LOW FODMAP?

Currently, many people are being sent straight to the low FODMAP diet and it is being suggested they start on this diet by themselves. This diet has a big health halo about it and is being seen as a miracle cure. Now whilst this is an evidenced based approach and totally can work for many people, there is more to this than meets the eye. In reality there is never a miracle cure and this is a complex diet that really needs dietetic support or a lot of support from a health care professional who understands it. This diet is very restrictive leading to large changes in the foods you eat, many people follow the first elimination stage and do not progress to the reintroduction stage leaving them with limited food options. The Fodmap diet can be suggested too early on, as there are a number of simpler strategies to try first, which may make all the difference.

Firstly, what is the this Fodmap thing? FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols. This essentially creates a diet low in allergens and common triggers, with foods being introduced back to the diet slowly to assess their role in triggering a flare up. People often report these foods as common triggers:

  • Dairy
  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Caffeine 
  • Fatty foods
  • Certain fruit and vegetables
  • Lentils, beans and pulses

So cutting out all these foods gives your digestive system a rest, but it also leaves you with large gaps in your nutrition. Being on this diet also affects your gut bacteria and could after your fibre intake. So it’s key not to stay on it for longer than you need to. This is why working with a specialist is important, someone to help you plan what you can eat, find a balanced way of eating and ensure you only stay on the elimination stage for as less a time as possible.

You know how sometimes in life we have the tendency to jump into the deep end before seeing what other options there are?Whilst these strategies may not help everyone they are worth trying first.

  1. CHEW WELL – Slow down your eating and chew thoroughly. It helps your body digest.
  2. SMALLER MEALS – Having smaller meals means there is less for the body to digest. Do make sure you eat more frequently so you still meet your nutritional needs.
  3. REDUCE YOUR STRESS – Easier said than done but find things that help you destress. Reading, mindfulness, colouring, a bath. Whatever works for you!
  4. FIBRE – Try reducing your fibre or increasing it! It depends on your symptoms. If you have bloating and pain then decreasing insoluble fibre (beans, pulses, seeds, root veggies and brassicas) can help and slowly increasing soluble fibre (certain fruit and veggies, pats, pectin) can help. This has to be balanced with your fluid intake.
  5. MOVE MORE – Moderate exercise can also help symptoms.
  6. WATCH YOUR DRINKS – Reduce caffeine and alcohol.
  7. BREATHE BETTER – deep breathing can make a world of difference to our bodies and minds. 10 minutes a day can really help.

Whilst I appreciate it is not always easy to get access to a dietitian who is trained in the low Fodmap method it is worth trying these initial strategies first

Priya is trained in the low Fodmap diet and can work with you on a 1-1 private basis in person or via video call. This requires a minimum of 2 consultations.

Courgette Recipes

If you have a glut of courgette recipes like me, then here are some top ways to be using them. Love to hear your courgette recipes too!

Courgette Cake

This is a delicious recipe but beware it doesn’t keep for long. Best eaten in 2 days, which is no hardship in our house! It also freezes well. I like to keep slices of it handy for lunchboxes and snacks.

Courgette Frittata

Print

Courgette Frittata

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Servings 4

Ingredients

  • 12 tsp olive oil
  • 2 medium potatoes chopped chunkily (no need to peel)
  • 350 g courgette chopped chunkily
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 handful fresh herbs
  • black pepper
  • 4 tbsp Greek yoghurt

Instructions

  1. Saute the potatoes in a large frying pan with the oil, until they start to soften.

  2. Add in the courgettes and continue to cook.

  3. Beat the eggs, add in the herbs, black pepper and yoghurt

  4. Pour the eggs over the vegetables so they are covered. You may have to swirl the pan or move some of the veggies around.

  5. Cook on a medium heat until the top starts to set.

  6. Transfer under the grill and continue to cook until the top is set.

  7. Cut into wedges and serve with a salad to make this give you 2 of your vegetable portions.

Courgette Fritters

A tasty way to snack on courgettes, you can serve these with a whole variety of dips, or just as part of dinner! My boy totally suprised me with this as he says “courgettes are yucky” and would normally refuse to eat a chunk of one but tried these and ate a whole pile of them!

Cut the courgettes into strips, dip into egg and roll in a mixture of cornmeal with paprika, dried herbs and a sprinkle of grated cheese.

Approx amounts:

1 medium courgette

100g cornmeal

30g cheddar

1 tsp paprika

1 tsp mixed herbs

1 egg

Bake in the oven at 220C/200 fan/Gas 7 for 20 minutes turning halfway through cooking.

Ways to keep youR gut happy

Huge thanks to student dietitian, Kristi Brown for this guest post.

“Gut health” is a term that you will have heard if you are remotely interested in nutrition, health and/or science. But what does it mean and why is everyone talking about it?

The gut microbiome refers to the trillions of bacteria that reside in the GI tract, particularly, the large intestine. These good bacteria influence the health of the gut and play a role in helping to regulate the body’s systems, such as the digestive and immune system. There is also very interesting emerging research being done surrounding the role of the microbiome in mental health conditions and the “gut-brain axis” – a bidirectional communication between the microbiome and the brain.

So, (hopefully!), it is a bit clearer why good gut health is being promoted but what might not be as clear is – how do we achieve it?

One such way is fibre. Fibre cannot be completely broken down by digestive enzymes in the stomach and so, passes through to the large intestine where it acts as food for the bacteria there.

The current fibre recommendation is 30g, however, it has been noted that people in the UK do not usually consume that much. Below are some ideas on how to easily increase your fibre intake. Please remember to consume to tolerance and to build up over time, as too much fibre too quickly can have effects such as bloating. Try adding in one extra fibre rich food a week and see how you go. (Yes I know, pun intended, fibre makes you go to the toilet too ;))

Practical tips to keep your gut happy

  • Variety is key – different bacteria enjoy different foods, so varying what you eat is a good way to keep them all healthy. Think of the colours you eat and the types of vegetables and fruit. Rotate what you eat, so if you usually enjoy broccoli, try asparagus. This way, you increase the chances of feeding all the bacteria in the gut and most importantly, you don’t get bored.
  • Buy frozen – I still hear people say that frozen isn’t as good for you as fresh. This is a myth – in fact, the nutrients are locked in the food when frozen and it’s cheaper than fresh (double yay!) 
  • Reduce waste, eat the stalks and skin – we generally throw the stalks from broccoli/cauliflowers and leave the skin when eatin a baked potatoes, when this is where the most fibre is. Leave the skin on (but wash and scrub veggies first). You can add to things like – soups, stir fries, curries, chilli’s – you name it!
  • Beans, beans good for your heart – again, go for variety. Baked beans are good but try kidney, butter and borlotti beans for a change. High in fibre, inexpensive and they bulk out your meal. Add to fajitas, chilli’s, make into burgers, add to a pasta dish, soups – the list goes on…
  • Add seeds and nuts to your snacks, cereal, yoghurt and main meals. Cashew nuts on a stir fry, sesame seeds on bolognaise, linseeds in your porridge, pumpkin seeds on yoghurt. It all helps, plus seeds provide a whole host of nutrients.
  • Go wholegrain when you can – switching to brown and wholegrain versions of foods can make a big change to your fibre intake. You could use 50/50 bread, wholemeal seeded wraps or brown rice.

I hope that has given you some ideas on how to up your fibre intake; keeping your gut healthy and providing a range of benefits from the other nutrients in the food (win-win!)

CAFFEINATED VS DECAF

Many thanks to Naomi Leppitt, dietitian, for this blog post. You can find her blog here.

☕️ What is caffeine and what does it do?

Caffeine is a natural stimulant, meaning it temporarily activates your brain and central nervous system. The effects of caffeine depend on how much you have, how sensitive you are, what medications you take and even time of day. For example, someone might be kept up all night with one cup of decaf coffee, whereas someone else might sleep soundly after a double espresso!

☕️ What contains caffeine?

  • Coffee 
  • Tea (more depending on how long you leave the teabag in!)
  • Green Tea and Oolong
  • Cocoa and chocolate 🍫 

Caffeine is also added to:

  • Soft drinks like cola 
  • Energy drinks
  • Smedicines (read the label!)

Caffeine can:

☕️ make you feel more awake and alert

☕️ improve learning, memory and mood

☕️ increase heart rate and blood pressure

☕️ cause intestinal discomfort 

☕️ increase rate of urine production 

☕️ be addictive 

Feeling more awake sounds great, but some of those other effects might outweigh the positive effects for you. You don’t have to quit your morning coffee entirely, but you may find it helps to switch to decaf coffee.

☕️ How is coffee decaffeinated?

Either the beans are directly soaked in a solvent (methylene chloride or ethyl acetate), which keeps the flavour in, while removing most of the caffeine. (Don’t worry: they rinse the beans so none of the chemical remains in what you’re drinking!) Or the beans are soaked first, and that water is treated with the solvent to take out the caffeine, so the solvent never touches the beans. Sometimes solvent isn’t used at all, just water or carbon dioxide. Whichever way is chosen, there’s no evidence to say one method is safer than the other.

☕️ What about tea?

Both green and black tea come from the plant Camellia sinensis 🌿, and the difference is that black tea is fermented. Black tea contains more caffeine than green tea, unless you’re more of an Earl Grey drinker. Matcha tea contains more caffeine than regular green tea (because it’s ground, so you consume the whole leaf). Overall tea has less caffeine than coffee, so it won’t stimulate your heart as much.

Green teas contain a substance (L-theanine) that has been shown to reduce anxiety and have a relaxing effect without any drowsiness, so people often find they get the benefit of the pick-me-up without the jitters. Not only that, but green tea contains anti-inflammatory catechins, which are being shown in research to have anti-cancer properties. 

Tea can be decaffeinated with carbon dioxide or just hot water (for green tea), and these processes keep in most of the catechins, so you won’t lose out on the positive effects. Tea also can be decaffeinated with solvents, but again, there won’t be any solvents in what you’re drinking. 

☕️ Are decaffeinated drinks caffeine-free?

Even after decaffeination small amounts of caffeine remain (usually 1-2%, but sometimes up to 20%!). Even though it’s a small amount, it’s still enough that some people may still feel the effects.

And, even if you’re having decaffeinated drinks, be mindful that over the day, those small amounts of caffeine add up to the equivalent of a caffeinated drink.

☕️ So should I switch to decaf?

You may benefit from switching if you suffer with IBS, incontinence or anxiety. And if you’re pregnant, 🤰🏼 you should limit caffeinated drinks to 2-3 cups per day (as lots of caffeine has health risks to the baby or could result in miscarriage), so switching to decaf means you get the flavour without the risk!

Note that if you tend to drink a lot of coffee or tea, and decide to switch to decaf, you may feel withdrawal symptoms such as headaches 🤕, feeling drowsy 😴 or not being able to concentrate as well 🧠. 

If you have an anxiety disorder, high blood pressure, an irregular heartbeat, or kidney disease, you may have been advised to cut out caffeine, but, be aware that switching to decaf drinks won’t mean you’re entirely caffeine-free! Alternatively, you could substitute with a non-caffeinated drink such as herbal or fruit tea, hot sugar-free squash or malted drinks.

References:

Butt, M. S. et al. (2015) ‘Green Tea and Anticancer Perspectives: Updates from Last Decade’, Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 55(6), pp. 792–805. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2012.680205.

Decaffeination 101: Four Ways to Decaffeinate Coffee. Available at: http://coffeeconfidential.org/health/decaffeination/.

Green Tea vs. Black Tea: Which One is Healthier? Available at: https://www.cupandleaf.com/blog/green-tea-vs-black-tea (Accessed: 20 June 2019).

Kimura, K. et al. (2007) ‘l-Theanine reduces psychological and physiological stress responses’, Biological Psychology. Elsevier, 74(1), pp. 39–45. doi: 10.1016/J.BIOPSYCHO.2006.06.006.

Liang, H. et al. (2007) ‘Decaffeination of fresh green tea leaf (Camellia sinensis) by hot water treatment’, Food Chemistry. Elsevier, 101(4), pp. 1451–1456. doi: 10.1016/J.FOODCHEM.2006.03.054.

Lieberman, H. R. et al. (2002) ‘Effects of caffeine, sleep loss, and stress on cognitive performance and mood during U.S. Navy SEAL training’, Psychopharmacology, 164(3), pp. 250–261. doi: 10.1007/s00213-002-1217-9.

McCusker, R. R. et al. (2006) ‘Caffeine content of decaffeinated coffee’, Journal of Analytical Toxicology, 30(8), pp. 611–613. doi: 10.1093/jat/30.8.611.

NHS. Water, drinks and your health. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/water-drinks-nutrition/.

Ohishi, T. et al. (2016) ‘Anti-inflammatory Action of Green Tea’, Anti-Inflammatory & Anti-Allergy Agents in Medicinal Chemistry, 15(2), pp. 74–90. doi: 10.2174/1871523015666160915154443.

Ramalakshmi, K. and Raghavan, B. (2005) ‘Caffeine in Coffee: Its Removal. Why and How?’, Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 39(5), pp. 441–456. doi: 10.1080/10408699991279231.

What recovery looks like – Part 2: food and exercise

Huge thanks to Sophie Richmond (find her on instagram @balancing_bambi) for this amazing series of posts on Recovery from an Eating Disorder. Sophie is not currently a nutritional professsional or therapist but is going to be studying an MSc in Clinical Nutrition and Eating Disorders at UCL from September. I am sharing these posts as inspiration and because I think it is important to show that recovery is possible and happens.

Check out the first RECOVERY STORY POST.

FOOD

There is the common (and incorrect) assumption that people with anorexia ‘don’t get hungry’ or ‘don’t like food.’ In my case neither were true; of course I got hungry and I had, until I became ill with anorexia, really enjoyed food. In ‘recovery’ it is always important to be aware of who is in control of your preferences in relation to food. When you say you don’t ‘like’ a dish –  is that true or does your eating disorder dislike it. For me, I had always detested butter and creme fraiche so it was normal for me not to want those foods. However, from a very young age I had always loved really good quality cheeses such as ‘Stinking Bishop’ and ‘Epoisses’. When I told people ‘I don’t like cheese’ it was actually my eating disorder.

You may find it helpful to delve into your childhood memories of food and consider what you enjoyed before your eating disorder – before you knew about calories or diet culture. I always loved fruits and vegetables but anorexia made me obsessive about weighing quantities and avoiding fruits (and some vegetables) that were deemed too high in carbs. I grew up in the countryside and had idyllic memories of eating countless apples, pears and plums in the orchards with my Grandpa with a freedom I could only dream of in the midst of anorexia. Our fingers would be stained with purple juices as we picked blackberries for jam whilst devouring our fair share – not thinking of snacks or allocated portions (I don’t think much jam ever got made!). Was I happy during these times? Yes. Did I want that enjoyment and pleasure back? Yes. I had to make that choice and  challenge the rules I had made for myself in order to recapture that freedom. These countless happy food memories would all be impossible to revisit whilst I clung to my ‘comfort blanket.’

I remember sharing ‘Dip Dip Eggs’ with so much pleasure with my Grandpa,  loving the molten yolk oozing out over the ‘soldiers’. Anorexia made me hard boil the egg in order to carve out the yolk and only eat the white. During my recovery I found topping my meals with poached eggs (like a shakshuka) helped me capture that happiness and love from someone who cared about be so deeply – someone who bought every colour of Joules bed socks to keep my feet warm when my starved body could not warm itself, someone who wanted me to be happy and healthy, not sad and starving.

Anorexia makes you associate food with calories, diets and weight; confining it purely to ‘fuel’. But it is so much more than that. You WILL need to eat more too nourish and repair your body – but you are allowed to like food and enjoy tasting and cooking as you slowly overcome your fears. I love Moroccan and Indian cuisine for the bursts of flavour in the spiced sauces. I love tomato dishes, vegetables, fish, quinoa, lentils – all foods deemed ‘healthy’ – equally I love baked Camembert with red onion chutney or a homemade apple crumble with custard (although I cannot stand bread and butter pudding). The key is I am in charge of these choices.

I cannot stress the importance of articulating how you feel about food. Externalising and discussing your thoughts allows you to ‘rationalise’ your fears (a registered nutritionist or dietitian is ideal). My mother sat through every meal with me, listening to my worries and showing me that a potato was nothing to fear. She, like my Grandpa, helped me see that food would help repair my thinning hair, my chipped nails, keep me warm and let me think clearly. She wanted me to live, she needed me in her life. The only way I would still be here for her is if I ate.

EXERCISE

Many people will find that their eating disorder spiralled into obsessive exercising and therefore, in recovery, it can be daunting to learn how to enjoy exercise and value the movement of your body – rather than seeing it as a punishment for what you have eaten. I would suggest that you get rid of all trackers and calorie counters (this is really difficult but I promise that you will feel better) and look to gentle activities that you do not do on your own.

Yoga is a relaxing, calming form of movement which encourages you to develop a healthy, respectful relationship with your body. I also found walking my dog with my mother (or a friend) was a good way of getting outside, connecting with nature and doing an activity that was focused on helping my boxer not burning calories.

For me, spending time outside in the garden really helped with the mental challenges of recovery. Planting and nurturing our flowerbeds, watching them regrow with enough care and nourishment, was like an analogy of my journey to recovery. Sometimes the roses took a battering from too much rain, or withered slightly with too much sun, but with with a bit of love they would always bloom again.

Be aware of the amount of exercise you are doing – and the reason you are doing it. If you find yourself making excuses to walk a bit further or do a bit more try to find the strength to be honest with yourself and see that your eating disorder is slowly taking over again. Speak to someone you trust about your concerns. Your eating disorder will convince you that you are being ‘healthy’ and that there is nothing to worry about but I cannot stress enough that battling an eating disorder requires support – in the short term giving into the urges to over exercise or restrict your food intake will seem like an ‘easy’ solution. I promise you, the more you listen to the eating disorder, the more trapped you become.

No one will be angry if you ask for help. If you have started exercising on your own then ask someone to come with you. If this is not possible, try to set a time limit (perhaps listen to a podcast and promise you will stop when it finishes) or make an unmovable arrangement afterwards. Gentle exercise should be a pleasure not a punishment. If you do feel the ‘voice’ of the eating disorder becomes too overwhelming, try to find activities to absorb your attention. We set up a 1,000 piece jigsaw which I could go and do when I need to completely to distract myself and become absorbed in a stimulating activity that would silence my eating disorder. Equally you could play music, read a book, go outside, do some mindful colouring or drawing. These may seem simplistic, but it is about altering your focus and not slipping into the vortex of self-loathing created by your eating disorder.

Carrot Cake Energy Balls

I’m on a personal mission to reduce my biscuit intake. Now there is totally nothing wrong with a biscuit or 2, but these carrot cake energy balls add in variety and nutrition. I find they really hit the spot by giving me something to munch quickly when I’m running from job to job and they are more filling than my usual biccie.

These last for 3 days in the fridge and they also freeze well so why not make a batch and get them out the freezer in the morning, ready for when you need them.

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Carrot Cake Energy Balls

Easy to make, with a hidden centre of yumminess!

Servings 12

Ingredients

  • 150 g dates
  • 150 g apricots
  • 150 g oats
  • 75 g almonds
  • 75 g walnuts
  • 1 medium carrot, finely grated
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 12 tsp peanut butter

Instructions

  1. Place the dates, apricots, oats into a food processor. Process adding a splash of water if needed.

  2. Add the nuts plus oats and food process these too, alternatively these can be done seperately.

  3. Add to a bowl and mix in the grated carrot and spices.

  4. Take 1 tsp of mix, roll into a ball, make an indentation and add the peanut butter in.

  5. Now take another section of the dough to cover and roll into a ball.