Tag Archives: healthy living

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?

What are adaptogens?

Have you heard of adaptogens? If you haven’t yet, you will soon. In fact, there are a few you probably already know, but didn’t realise they were called adaptogens – do you recognise maca, ginseng and licorice?

Why do we care so much about adaptogens? In a nutshell, they’re a powerful group of food and herbs that help your body adapt to stress. They also help to boost the immune system and support stamina & energy, two areas that can be significantly depleted by stress.

There are different kinds of stress – physical, emotional / psychological, environmental (noise, temperature, pollution). Hans Selye, a Canadian professor that specialised in stress research, defined stress as ‘the non-specific response of the body to any demand made upon it’. And to be clear, there is good stress and there is bad stress. Recent research discusses how some stress can be good for you, depending on how you perceive it. And this is a great TED talk on how to make stress your friend.

We can add in adaptogens when the ‘bad’ stress is too much.They help the body get back into homeostasis, or more simply, they help you get back to a status quo, where you can more easily manage whatever is causing the stress.  Adaptogens can help to stabilise the hypothalamus – pituitary – thyroid – adrenal (HPTA) axis, which then helps to regulate hormone production.

Each adaptogen has unique properties, and can help you deal with specific types of stressors. David Winston and Steven Maimes, two of the leading authorities in this area, classify adaptogens into four areas:

Stimulating: red ginseng, white asian ginseng and rhodiola

Calming: schisandra, ashwagandha (Indian ginseng), reishi, cordyceps

Moistening: american ginseng, codonopsis, shatavari

Drying: rhodiola, schisandra

What adaptogens should you consider adding in to your daily routine? It’s always best to get a tailored recommendation from a herbalist or naturopath, as adaptogens are powerful herbs. In clinic, I see these herbs recommended most frequently:

Ashwagandha for adrenal support and cortisol management

Licorice for liver support and as an anti-inflammatory

Maca for hormone balance and sexual function

Reishi, cordyceps and schisandra for immune support

Rhodiola for energy and mitochondrial ATP support

Have you ever used an adaptogen? What did you think?

Just eat more vegetables.

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People like shortcuts. Maybe it’s a symptom of our modern world, where we can get pretty much anything we want at the touch of a button.

Speaking of shortcuts, I’m often asked by friends, family and colleagues about the fastest ways to get healthy / fit / more energy (delete as appropriate).

There are two answers I always give, no matter what their underlying symptoms. Then I ask more questions and give a more detailed, tailored response.

The first answer is always – get more sleep or go to bed earlier.

I’ve talked about the benefits of sleep before – it regulates your metabolism, allows your various organs to repair and heal and allows your brain to process the events of the day. Don’t give into the current masochism around sleep – most people really need at least 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep at night to be fully functional.

And then my second answer is always – eat more fresh vegetables, especially green leafy ones.

I cannot overstate that vegetables are little nutrition powerhouses! Each vegetable has many individual benefits, with its own mix of macronutrients (protein, good fats and complex carbohydrates) and phytonutrients.

The greater the variety in your vegetable intake, the more benefit to you. When in doubt, just eat the rainbow!

Ideally, everyone would eat at least 5-7 servings of vegetables a day. I know that’s hard, so  you’ll often hear nutritionists,(including me!) say to prioritise cruciferous / brassica vegetables. You know them as broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, kale, brussels sprouts, savoy cabbage, radish, bok choy and watercress.

Not only are they high in antioxidants like vitamins A and C, they are also high in folic acid and vitamin K and have a huge amount of minerals such as magnesium and potassium.

Cruciferous vegetables are also high in phytonutrients like glucosinolates which support your liver in clearing excess hormones, alcohol, xenoestrogens and environmental chemicals.

So, adding a big handful of kale to your morning smoothie after a big night out will help your liver clear the alcohol from your system and make your feel better a bit faster!

In a nutshell, adding more cruciferous vegetables into your diet can help you boost your energy levels, support your liver, balance your hormones, support your immune system and feed the good bacteria in your gut!

There are lots of ways to add cruciferous vegetables to your diet:

Add a big handful of kale to your morning smoothie

Make a big pot of soup with broccoli, cabbage or cauliflower

Make a big a*s salad with loads of different veggies in it

Grate up some cabbage for a coleslaw

Make a big tray of roasted veg

Steam some asparagus and eat them with hummus as a snack

How do you eat your veggies?

The importance of self-care.

There’s been so much depressing, upsetting news recently that sometimes I feel like shutting off my phone and laptop and burying my head in my pillow until it all goes away.

But it’s not going away, is it? Between Brexit, the US election, even the abuse that Meghan Markle is getting, makes me feel really sad for the world. There’s so much hate bubbling under the surface, hate that’s now fully out in the open, tearing apart families, friends and communities.

Obviously, hiding away isn’t an option, which is why self-care is so important.

We all need to take time out of the relentless news cycles, the phone alert and screaming headlines to slow down and appreciate the small moments in life that bring us joy.

It feels more essential than ever, if we stand a chance to keep moving forward in our lives.

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What do you do for self-care?

I find myself drawn to beautiful bouquets of flowers, the vivid sunrises and sunsets we’ve been having recently, slow meditative cooking and long walks in nature, breathing in fresh air.

I’ve also talked before about how switching off and staying away from news sites & social media has become an essential part of my self-care. I don’t want to shut the world away, but sometimes I want a break from the bad news and bad behaviour. Is that selfish? Is it indulgent? It feels necessary to avoid emotional burnout.

Have you ever been health shamed?

Have you ever been health shamed?

I have, but at the time didn’t have a proper term to describe what was happening to me. It’s hard to pin point exactly what it is, but it’s generally those times where you’re talking about something new you’re trying (food / exercise / meditation – delete where appropriate) and you get a crazy look or a scoff in response.

In these moments, it never fails to amaze me how moralistic people can be about food and wellness, turning everything into a n=1, ‘it worked for me, therefore it will work for you’ non sequitur. And when you dare to think differently, especially when you eschew the false dogma of ‘moderation’ and ‘balance’, there will be questions.

I read this profile of Moon Juice founder Amanda Chantal Bacon recently and was struck by how often she gets health shamed.

What’s fascinating though, is her attitude to it. She says:

“The greatest thing to ever happen was the health-shaming that went down—you wouldn’t believe all the hits we got on our website. If even 2 percent of that traffic made a difference in someone’s life, if they learned just one thing, I’ll take it. Health shame me all day long!

I actually think it’s quite a good sign that it is happening. It means there are parts of the collective consciousness that are being triggered by this, and I think that’s actually a sign of massive change to come. There are going to be people who aren’t happy or healthy right now and [my lifestyle] is confronting for them. I don’t take anyone’s reactions to be anything other than great news that we’re reaching people who aren’t looking for us.”

“If they learned just one thing, I’ll take it.” I love this. She takes what could potentially be a negative, crushing experience and turning it into a positive.

And that’s the moral of the story, isn’t it? For those of us in the natural health community to remember that some people might react negatively, but you must keep going (lots of evidence and research helps too!) and your message will eventually breakthrough.

Have you ever been health shamed? What did you do?

How do you stay healthy when you drive everywhere?

62 miles to London

We’ve just spent a lovely three days in Rye, a small, whimsical city on the South Coast of England. We drove down from London for some sorely needed time to recharge our batteries and enjoy some family time in the dog days of summer.

It was nice to get out of London for a bit, explore a new area and be reminded that there is life outside the Big Smoke.

Having a car for our mini break gave me a different vision of what life might be like. We don’t have a car, so we walk or take public transport everywhere we need to get to in London.

There are positives, like the sheer convenience and ease of getting from one place to another.

And there are a lot of negatives. The environmental cost is a big one. Another big negative is the lack of exercise. When I compare my step count (yes, I do check this quite often in the Health app on my iPhone) for the last three days to the same time last week, the difference is breathtaking.  I try to get at least 10,000 steps / 5km a day – it’s arbitrary, but it works for me.

With a car, I’ve missed the latent exercise I seem to regularly fit in, from running for the bus, standing on the tube and walking up the stairs at work.

If you drive regularly, how do you fit in exercise? Is it something you have to schedule into your diary as a can’t miss appointment? A car might be in our future, as our lives get busier and I’m keen to make sure it doesn’t have a detrimental effect on our health.

I Tried It: Going To Bed Early

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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