Category Archives: I Tried It

I Tried It: Whole30

springtime at kew gardens

I haven’t felt like writing much about food and nutrition recently. There’s been a lot going on, personally and professionally. New job, a heavier course load at school and loads of political distraction (every morning, I wake up and think, ‘what now?’. Don’t you?). It’s times like these when it’s tempting to throw everything to the wind and drink and eat whatever I want.

After some reflection, it truly feels like an act of subversion to take care of what you put in your body, to nourish yourself with intention. Small acts of subversion matter, more than ever.

To me, it feels subversive now to give a shit about the things I put in my body, to take care not to treat it like a garbage can. To eat organic, to be mindful about the type of meat and fish I buy, to really think about the amount of sugar my family consumes.

There are so many (things) trying to grab me away from eating well; from working long hours, cartoon branded food grabbing my son’s attention while shopping, my own yearnings and desires.

I have been doing the Whole 30 this month, in an attempt to get myself back on the right food path. Not that I was eating particularly badly. I just found that I was eating without thought or intention and letting my cravings drive my nourishment. And I tend to crave things like sourdough pizzas, greasy, salty fries and sharp, cold ice cream. All washed down with lots of red wine and gin and tonics.

So I embarked on a Whole 30 as a bit of a reset. 30 days, lots of vegetables, high quality meat, nuts, seeds, fish and fruit. This is my fifth time and it’s like riding a bike. I’ve internalised the rules and know what works and what doesn’t work for me.

And this time, I’ve really enjoyed it. My cooking has improved, so I’ve enjoyed being creative within the parameters of the regimen. And I’ve enjoyed having to be a bit more intentional with my food. The health benefits are there too: I can think more clearly, I don’t get as tired, my anxiety has improved.  Being alcohol-free has made my mornings easier too.

Have you tried a Whole 30? What was your experience?

I Tried It: Dry January

coffee-and-date-ball

Have you ever done a dry January?

After a heavy November and December, I decided that I needed to give my body a break and get on the wagon for a month. And what better month than January, when everyone’s skint, partied out and needing a bit more time at home.

I also needed to regulate my relationship with alcohol. It’s easy, especially with the UK drinking culture and in a hectic city like London, to use alcohol to relax and let a quick drink after work turn into 3 or 4. Knowing everything I know about the effects alcohol has on the body, it was time to put all of my knowledge into practice for myself.  Alcohol is a tricky one for the body – it depletes your B vitamins, which can lead to anxiety and depression, it puts stress on your liver and diverts it from other, more important functions and it can lead to weight gain, poor sleep, spotty skin and dehydration. I decided it was time to take the advice I give to clients in clinic and get a grip on my alcohol intake.

On New Year’s Eve, I drained my last glass of champagne and rang in the new year, ready to kick booze to the curb for a while.

The first few days were hard. No glass of wine at lunch, no cold and crisp G&T while watching TV on the sofa in the evenings. But this was where the foundations for all the hard work of the next month started – breaking the little habits that I had developed and putting better ones in place.

I replaced my red wine and G&Ts with lots of warming cinnamon tea in the evening and sparkling water at lunchtimes. I asked M not to offer me any drinks (except tea or water) in the evenings. I talked about my dry January with my mates, so they knew what I was doing and changed plans to lunch and coffee dates, rather than evening meals, so I wouldn’t be tempted.

By weeks 2 and 3, I started to get in the groove and was enjoying waking up without a hangover and fuzzy brain. My skin was clearer and my jeans a little looser. And the biggest plus? My anxiety levels rapidly decreased.

Last Tuesday 31st January felt great. 31 days without alcohol, a clearer head, deeper sleep at night, more money in my bank account and less anxiety. I decided to carry on through to the end of February, as I have a big nutrition exam at the beginning of March and need all the focus I can get.

What comes after that? I’m not sure. I’d love to be able to get to a place that where I can have one drink and have that be enough. Any advice?

I Tried It: Making Ghee

Have you ever used ghee? Ghee, a clarified butter, is known as ‘liquid gold’ in some South Asian cultures because it comes from the revered cow. The process of making ghee removes the milk solids and water and leaves you with lovely golden liquid that solidifies as it goes to room temperature.

I started using ghee a few years ago when I started eating paleo. It’s a very versatile fat with an exceptionally high smoke point, which means that it’s great for high temperature cooking – frying, grilling, searing, etc.

My bug bear with ghee is that organic, grass-fed versions can be very expensive. Last week, I was chatting with my mother and she mentioned that she wanted to try making it herself, and I thought, hmmm, why don’t I try it as well. And what do you know, it was so easy that I’ll be making my own from now on!

What you need:

2 blocks of unsalted grass-fed butter

A cast iron pan

A ladle

A ceramic bowl

Cheesecloth or fine mesh strainer

A large glass jar to store the ghee

How to make it:

1. Place your cast iron pan onto the stove and put the burner on medium heat.

2. Place the two blocks of unsalted butter into the pan.

3. As the blocks melt, the milk solids will rise to the top. When the blocks have completely melted and the liquid starts to bubble, turn the heat off. This should take about 5-7 minutes.

4. Use your ladle to pass the liquid through the strainer, with the ceramic bowl underneath to catch the ghee. If you end up using a fine mesh strainer rather than a cheesecloth, you may need to strain the mixture twice to completely remove all of the milk solids. Once this step is complete, you should be left with beautiful golden ghee.

5. Let the ghee cool for a few minutes before pouring into your glass container. Stored in the fridge, where the ghee will solidify, it should last for at least a month, if you use clean utensils when cooking with it.

freshly-made-ghee

P.S. When I was making this, I wondered what I should do with the leftover milk solids. I did some quick Googling and found that some people save them and crumble them onto their morning porridge, brown them to add a lovely buttery taste to stewed fruit, pancakes or anything else you would normally use butter in. Some people even spread the milk solids onto toast!

I Tried It: Replacing My Amalgam Fillings

When I was a child, I felt like I was always at the dentist. Back and forth, getting filling after filling. The end result was that by the time I entered adulthood, I had a mouth full of metal fillings (10 in total!).

The good news is that I haven’t needed a filling since I was 18. The bad news is that 95% of my fillings were amalgam – you know, metal with mercury.

As I’ve learned more about the body, its systems and the effects of what we put in through my naturopathy and nutrition studies, I decided to look into what I could do about my teeth. It had always bothered me that I had so much metal in my mouth and that I never knew exactly what effect it was having on me.

amalgam-fillings

Amalgam contains a combination of metals, including silver, mercury, tin and copper. And in some cases, zinc, indium or palladium are also used. I didn’t like the idea of having so much mercury in my body. Research has shown that very small amounts of mercury vapour can be released as the amalgam filling wears over time through chewing, biting and in my case, excessive grinding (yes, I grind my teeth at night – my worst habit!).

I booked a consultation with my local holistic dentist, Dr. Batavia, who took me step by step through the process of removing my amalgam fillings and replacing them with composite. Because I had so many fillings, I needed three appointments over three months, which gave me a chance to get my head around the whole process, not to mention, avoid excess jaw strain!

dental-mask

The process of removing the fillings is one that has been created by the International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology, using SMART (Safe Metal Amalgam Removal Technique).  In a nutshell, lots of protective layers on the areas of the mouth that aren’t being worked on, a strong air filtration system and an after care protocol that supports healing and detoxification.

I was given a supplement protocol that included Vitamin C, charcoal, vitamin E and selenium to aid healing and removal of the mercury from my systems.

It’s been three weeks since my last appointment and I’m very glad that I’ve had it done. Not only because the entire process is finished (!), but because I have the peace of mind of knowing that all of the metal is gone from my mouth!

Have you had your fillings replaced? What did you think?

I Tried It: Going To Bed Early

bed

I’ve been burning the candle at both ends for at least seven months now, trying to fit everything in. Being a good mother, being a good wife, cooking, studying for my nutrition degree, doing coursework, working four days a week and trying to fit in some form of regular exercise. I’m exhausted just typing this out.

I’ve been cutting corners on my sleep for too long. Going to bed at 11pm, but lying in bed until midnight, on my phone, then expecting to get up at 6:15 the next morning feeling refreshed. It really is no wonder that the past two weeks have seen me going to bed between 9:30 and 10:30pm most nights, absolutely exhausted. Like fast asleep as soon as I hit the pillow exhausted.

I’m a big advocate of listening to what my body tells me, but in the case of sleep, I’ve been completely disregarding it. I’ve been acting like I’m 25 again and trying to get by on little sleep, with no consequences. Well, there are consequences – dark circles under my eyes, spots and over reliance on coffee, to name a few.

There’s also the little fact that at nearly 3, my son still doesn’t consistently sleep through the night. So going to bed late just compounds the effect of a broken night’s sleep.

It’s hard to overstate the healing powers of sleep and how much the body uses the time to repair and heal itself. Looking at the Chinese medicine clock, your gallbladder (11pm – 1am), liver (1 – 3am), lungs (3 – 5am) and small intestine (5 – 7am) are all active at night and use this time to refresh and regenerate.

Sleep also has a huge effect on weight loss and maintenance, cognitive ability, body repair and regeneration and insulin sensitivity. It’s fascinating to see studies that show that interventions that reduce sleep time by as little as 2 hours daily can induce a state of insulin resistance in otherwise healthy persons within a week, and halving sleep time to 4 hours or less is able to induce insulin resistance after a single night!

So what were the benefits to me of getting some extra sleep? Unsurprisingly, I woke up feeling a little more refreshed than normal, my energy levels were higher, so I could just bounce out of bed, without my usual sluggishness and I was in a far better mood throughout the day.

I can’t say that I’m going to continue going to bed so early every night, because I truly need that time in the evening after my son goes to bed to relax and unwind, but I plan to go to bed earlier at least three nights every week. Here’s to positive habit forming!

Photo by Quin Stevenson

I Tried It: The Specific Carbohydrate Diet

stew

As I go further into my Nutrition degree, we’ve been learning more nutrition theory and practical elements, like clinical practice with patients and specific dietary models. The third assignment this year is to trial one of the dietary models we could potentially recommend to a patient. Anything from paleo to raw vegan to GAPS to 5:2. The idea is that we won’t truly understand how our clients feel until we walk a mile in their shoes.

What is the Specific Carbohydrate Diet?

With that in mind, I’ve just completed  a week and a half on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD). This aim of this dietary model is to help heal the intestinal wall and rebalance the good and bad bacteria within the gut. More specifically, it is aimed at those with severe intestinal difficulties, such as those with Celiac, Crohn’s disease or Ulcerative Colitis. To quote the definitive SCD book / website, Breaking The Vicious Cycle:

The allowed carbohydrates are monosaccharides and have a single molecule structure that allow them to be easily absorbed by the intestine wall. Complex carbohydrates which are disaccharides (double molecules) and polysaccharides (chain molecules) are not allowed. Complex carbohydrates that are not easily digested feed harmful bacteria in our intestines causing them to overgrow, producing by products and inflaming the intestine wall. The diet works by starving out these bacteria and restoring the balance of bacteria in our gut.

On the diet, only monosaccharide carbohydrates are allowed to be eaten as all others require extra digestion steps to break the chemical bonds down to monosaccharide carbohydrates. In a nutshell, ‘no food should be ingested that contains carbohydrates other than those found in fruits, honey, properly-prepared yogurt, and those vegetables and nuts listed here.’

There is quite a lot of evidence supporting the efficacy of this dietary model, however because it is so intense, it can be considered a ‘last resort’.

How It Works

The diet is split into two parts; a 2-5 day introductory period to reduce severe intestinal complaints, such as pain, cramping and diarrhoea and then a reintroductory period to slowly introduce foods back into the diet to see how the body reacts. The 2 – 5 day introductory period focuses on plain foods that are known to help heal the intestinal lining, reduce bloating, gas, diarrhoea and pain and rebalance gut flora. Quite frankly, it is the blandest food known to man – foodies look away now!- which is why this dietary model is described as a last resort. Sample foods include dry cottage cheese, eggs (boiled, poached or scrambled), apple cider, homemade gelatine, homemade chicken soup including broth, chicken and pureed carrots, broiled plain beef patty, broiled fish, homemade cheesecake. All food must be homemade so you know exactly what ingredients are in each meal.

Once the intestinal complaints subside, cooked fruit, banana and additional vegetables may be tried. After this, the rest of the food in the dietary model may be introduced.

My Experience on the Diet 

I did one day on the introductory diet, so I could experience what a client might feel on this  part of the dietary model. I intentionally chose a day where I was at work, so I wouldn’t be tempted by anything on offer in my local cafes and restaurants. I’ve laid out my food and drinks throughout the day below.

Breakfast

Lunch

Dinner

Drinks

Day 1

3 scrambled eggs, water

Two plain beef patties, water

Plain chicken legs and breast, nettle tea

2 cups of nettle tea

I am a coffee addict, so by 3pm, I was frantically Googling ‘herbal teas allowed on scd introductory diet’. Happily, nettle tea is allowed so I had a few cups to tide me through the rest of the afternoon. By the end of the day, I was utterly exhausted and went to bed at 8pm – no joke!

Day 2 – 9 were easier in some respects because I could have a wider variety of foods that weren’t too far off the paleo template that I normally choose.

Breakfast

Lunch

Dinner

Drinks

Day 1

3 scrambled eggs, water

Two plain beef patties, water

Plain chicken legs and breast, nettle tea

2 cups of nettle tea

Day 2

Smoothie (almond milk, almond butter, kale, 1 tbsp pumpkin seeds, 1 handful blueberries, 2 tbsp collagen hydrolysate, 1 banana, 1/2 avocado, 1 handful kale), rasher of bacon

Chicken salad with mixed leaves, flaked almonds, walnuts, olive oil, s&p to dress

Red lentil and beef curry

1 cup of coffee, 2 L water, 1 cup ginger tea

Day 3

Smoothie 

Mixed salad with crab, tuna, string beans, cherry tomatoes, cauliflower, rocket, 2 hard boiled eggs, 1 cashew & date Nakd bar

Courgetti bolognaise, 1 cashew & date Nakd bar

1 cup of coffee, 2.5L water, 1 cup ginger tea, 1 cup nettle tea

Day 4

Smoothie 

Leftover beef and red lentil curry, 1 cashew & date Nakd bar

Steak with sautéed mushrooms and kale, 3 strawberries

1 cup of coffee, 2.5L water, 1 cup nettle tea

Day 5

Smoothie, 1 rasher of bacon

n/a

Beef ragu with spiralised carrots

Lemon water, 1 cup of coffee, 1 L water

Day 6

Smoothie 

n/a

Red pepper, green pepper and double Gloucester frittata

Lemon water, 1 cup ginger tea, 1 cup of Dr. Stuart’s Skin Tonic, 1L water

Day 7

Smoothie 

Small wedge of double Gloucester cheese

Beef patty with mixed leaves

1L water, 1 cup of Dr Stuart’s Skin Tonic

Day 8

Smoothie, 1 rasher of bacon, small piece of leftover frittata, 1 scrambled egg

Chicken burrito bowl with guacamole

Apple, two pieces of blue cheese

2L water, 1 large glass of red wine, 1 nettle tea

Day 9

Smoothie, 1 rasher of bacon

Chicken salad with mixed leaves, flaked almonds, walnuts, olive oil, s&p to dress

Chicken cacciatore with spinach

2L water, 1 cup of Dr Stuart’s Skin Tonic

There were two slightly tricky points.

From days 5-7, I had terrible intestinal discomfort, including stomach pain, diarrhoea, bloating, gurgling, nausea and general fatigue and headaches. On the various SCD websites, there is much discussion of ‘bacterial die-off’ (also called herxheimer reactions), where the fuel for the harmful bacteria (polysaccharides and disaccharides) has been removed from the diet, leading to ‘die-off’ of the harmful bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine in large numbers and the release of too many toxins for the liver to be able to process and dispose of at one time.

To put it simply, I was in a bad place for three days, with no appetite, no energy and a lot of discomfort. Interestingly (from a scientific, not a personal perspective), both my husband and son became ill one after the other, with the same symptoms that I experienced, so what I originally thought was bacterial die-off, may have been stomach flu. I’m still not sure.

The other tricky point was eating enough to have enough energy for exercise. After I recovered from the bacterial ‘die-off’, I found that I had to be quite conscious of making sure I was eating enough food throughout the day and in particular, before any workouts. I struggled with a spin class towards the end of my time on SCD, getting through on sheer grit and endorphins.

Final Thoughts

After I recovered from the die-off, I felt great. Full of energy, with far less intestinal discomfort, bloating and gas. I’ve actually continued a modified version of this dietary model for the last two weeks, excluding potatoes and sweet potatoes from my meals.

I’ve lost 3 kgs, my skin is much clearer and I’m enjoying spending more time in the kitchen and taking time over the meals I prepare. The other benefit is the amount of money I’ve saved from eating out less – so many wins!

Photo by Yvonne Lee Harijanto

I Tried It: The Mooncup

blood moon

Have you ever tried a menstrual cup? I hadn’t, until recently.

This goop article got me thinking about the implications of the cotton, chemicals and bleach in mainstream tampons. How many tampons do you think the average woman uses in a lifetime? Apparently it’s almost 11,000! That’s nearly 22 every menstrual cycle.

And what are the implications of all that non-organic cotton going into one of the most absorbent parts of your body? Makes you think, doesn’t it?

There are also the effects on the environment to consider. Many women still flush their used tampons down the loo, which puts a lot of pressure on water treatment plants, as tampons do not break down very easily.

After a particularly painful period recently that included a few too many tampon mishaps, I decided to search for alternatives.

Enter the Mooncup.

This is a medical grade silicone cup that gets inserted into the vagina, instead of tampons and is meant to be much cleaner than using pads.

When my Mooncup arrived, I looked at it and I figured, I’ve had a baby come out of there, how hard can this little cup be to manoeuvre?

Well. It does take a bit of practice to get it in, just like it did when I first started using tampons, a long, long time ago. 🙂 And after a while, it becomes natural and effortless. Once you get the hang of inserting and removing it, the Mooncup can be kept in for up to 8 hours at a time, holding up to 15 mL of fluid at a time.

You absolutely need to be comfortable with blood and with emptying and cleaning the cup throughout the day. And that means that menstrual cups just may not be right for some women. Here’s a great primer on how to easily insert and remove menstrual cups (link totally safe for work!).

As for me, I love using the Mooncup and plan to continue using it indefinitely.

And it seems that I’m not the only one looking at alternatives to tampons and pads. The THINX ‘period underwear’ have been getting a lot of coverage recently.

Would you ever try an alternative to tampons and pads?

P.S. If you’re not convinced, here’s a great natural tampon alternative.

Photo by Anders Jilden