Thursday, 29 March 2012

Spring cleaning

At the beginning of the year I blogged about detoxing and mentioned that January was not a good time for a detox, particularly because the cold weather.

Well this evening was so lovely and warm that it reminded me that we're just getting to the ideal time to start a detox.

As the weather warms up our bodies happily let go of our spare winter pounds that were keeping our vital organs nice and cosy and we naturally gravitate towards raw foods such as salads and fruits.

One of the reasons I like detoxes as a means of weight loss is that they are focussed on the quality of the food you eat and not the quantity - wholegrains, pulses, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds are all so fibre rich that they fill you up quickly, which means you can eat plenty and feel satisfied without worrying about over-eating.

But even if you're happy with your weight it's always good to have an internal spring clean once a year. A detox can help clear out your colon, flush out toxins from your fat stores, refresh your skin and give you bags of energy by reducing the energy your body has to put into detoxing and processing the hard to digest foods we all enjoy.

The key to success is to make sure your fridge, freezer and cupboard are stocked with detox suitable foods that you enjoy eating - these will keep your fingers out the cookie jar. A fridge full of salad and a fruit bowl full of fresh food is key. I also like to have frozen wheat free bread for toast, dried figs, apricots or dates, raw nut and seed mixes all make quick and satisfying snacks.

To be fair just before lent isn't necessarily the best time to start ... but maybe it's a good thing to plan or think about it for once you've enjoyed your easter eggs and hot cross buns!

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Please can I have some calories with that?

Either my appetite has suddenly increased massively or city takeaway lunch portions have shrunk - the other day I bought a Leon picnic box for £6 and still felt hungry afterwards!

Whilst in revision mode I've been picking up lunches at the usual city lunch spots .. Pret, EAT, Leon, Pod and to be honest some of their portions would just about satisfy me as a snack.

I suspect this has a lot to do with absorbing inflation - rather than increase their prices these outlets have chosen to shrink their portions to maintain their profits. Some of this is also appearing under the guise of helping us stay slim - with labels proudly announcing that a £5 salad only contains 350 calories when any normal persons lunch should be double that.

In the end I found only two lunches under five pounds that left me feeling full. One was a salmon sushi set from Itsu and the other was from the salad deli bar at work, a bargainous 3.50. I haven't made it to chop'd yet but if their salads are pretty substantial and reasonably priced if they're still available for £5.50.

Of course it's worth paying more for healthier, fresher food, but that shouldn't mean buying bird size portions. Not only should your lunch leave you feeling satisfied but it also should be at least as many calories as your dinner - having a small lunch and a big dinner is indisputably bad for you. The old adage of breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and eat supper like a pauper isn't nonsense - it will help keep your metabolism high, reduce fat storage, aid restful sleep and effective detoxification and reduce indigestion.

Suffice to say now my head is out the books I'll be bringing my lunch in from home!

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Time to get out of the kitchen

Apologies for my blog flakiness the last couple of months - I was in revision mode and everything else had to take a back burner, but exams are out the way thank goodness and I'm back!!

Whilst I had my head in the books I became alot more aware of how I spent my time and realised that despite not being a great cook I do spend a hell of a lot of time cooking (and eating!!). In the main this is because I like to be able to eat really healthily and the best way to do this is to cook your food from scratch rather than using pre-prepared sauces or ready meals. However if you're doing this for three meals a day it does take up a fair portion of your evening.

So whilst in study mode a few things had to change, firstly I did end up buying a few more lunches than I would usually do, for sheer convenience. Secondly I limited myself to dinners I could cook in 10 minutes and finally I initiated some batch cooking.

Batch cooking may sound like something from a 1950s housewife's manual, but infact it's a strategy that anyone who doesn't have lots of time on their hands (and who does!) should adopt. I'm very late to the game, but always happy to learn new tricks. This one requires some discipline (I have a tendency to cook a double portion and then eat it all) but in the long-run can save you alot of time and money

The principal is that you make up larger amounts of whatever you want to eat and then freeze individual portions what you don't need so that you can defrost and reheat for a dinner another day. This can be anything from homemade soups, stews, curries or even breakfast foods. This generally works best for meals with proteins and veggies but without starchy carbs, so bean stews, chicken or seafood curries, ratatouille, tomato based pasta sauces - all freeze well and you can quickly cook some rice or new potatoes to go with them whilst you defrost them.

Here are a few recipe ideas for healthy dinners you can freeze:

But I have to admit I didn't much use my freezer - partly because I only have one small drawer that's pretty full already! For me batch cooking mainly involved making a double portion of dinner and taking it to work the next day as lunch - which did get a bit repetitive and I generally like to eat different foods everyday.

One meal I did really enjoy though was breakfast for which I made up a big quantity of muesli in advance to keep at work as an easy breakfast. I also started making batches of breakfast breads (pumpkin bread, banana bread, carrot bread), cutting them into generous slices, freezing them and then leaving them out to defrost overnight to take to work for my breakfast. These were delicious and filling (fyi I have a protein shake at home before I leave for work to make sure I'm also having some protein with my breakfast).

This is the kind diet pumpkin breakfast bread I made, I halve the recipe, which then uses one can of pumpkin, and used agave syrup instead of maple sugar as I didn't have any, and gluten-free flour:

I also made up and froze the Leon vegan carrot cake from their brilliant Leon: Baking & Puddings. Book 3 but added some extra nuts to the recipe.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Taking the natural route

I was talking to a friend recently about the use of supplements in addressing health problems versus the use of medications and thought this was a subject worth blogging on.

The drugs that we have available to us these days are amazingly powerful and improve quality of life for millions of people. However, as I've talked about before, the downsides in terms of side effects and toxic load can be significant and they also don't always address the underlying cause of the illness.

That's why I think it's important not to jump straight to the drug solution but consider if there are any more natural treatments to try first. Whilst many a doctor might poo poo this suggestion, in countries such as Germany and Hungary it is common for Doctors to suggest herbal and homeopathic remedies along with lifestyle recommendations before prescribing medication.

For those sceptics out there I ask 'Where is the downside'? Obviously for someone who is critically ill the quickest treatment should be the first port of call, but if someone turns up at their doctors with mild fatigue, non-red flag digestive symptoms or slightly elevated cholesterol and blood pressure then why not prescribe the relevant vitamins and minerals and a course of exercise or stress counselling?

The point is that if you can get someone on a natural solution first then they won't have the downsides of drug side effects, their treatment will be cheaper, it will most likely have other positive effects on their health and they won't end up tied to a drug prescription for life.

Sadly most individuals turn to a nutritionist or other alternative therapy when they've spent many months, even years, trying various drug treatments that haven't worked for them. I'm hopeful that overtime the public will become more aware of the alternatives and consider the natural options before starting a course of medication.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Mad for muesli

On my way home tonight I stopped off at Spitalfield Organics for some supplies and came home with more goodies than I could fit in my cupboards!!

In particular I was stocking up on lots of dried goodies to make myself some gluten free muesli.
In my basket was dessicated coconut, goji berries, dried cranberries, almonds, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and brown rice flakes.
Mixed together and topped with some cinnamon, rice milk and fresh berries this will make a delicious breakfast that will keep me full til lunchtime.

Infact muesli is one of my favourite breakfasts for several reasons, firstly it's got lots of different tastes and flavours in it so way more tasty than your standard breakfast cereal, secondly as long as you avoid the high sugar versions it's a super healthy breakfast and thirdly it's super filling so good for the waistline and the energy levels.

The reason muesli is so filling is because it's full of fibre and healthy fats - wholegrains, seeds, nuts and dried fruit are all foods rich in fibre which digest slowly, whilst the seeds and nuts also give you plenty of essential fats which also slow digestion and make you feel more satiated (which is why low fat food is so unsatisfying).

So when choosing your muesli look for higher fruit and nut contents and minimal or no added sugar and if you're making it yourself aim for 50% wholegrains and 50% added extras (nuts, seeds, dried fruit, spices) by volume.

Sadly avoiding oats means I can't eat most muesli's out there but hot doc is a fan of Dorset's Cereals really nutty muesli which has a very healthy ingredient list and plenty of added extras. And for any readers in Canada my sister has found Holy Cr@p a super healthy healthy gluten free muesli with an amusing name to match!!

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

How to get my vote

It seemed that half of tonight's evening standard was dedicated to the mayoral race kicking off this week in London and it got me thinking about what the mayor could do for London from a health perspective.

Interestingly my brother in law also sent me this link on how some scientists have theorized that air pollution could cause obesity by increasing appetite.

It's an interesting article and worth a read, but it's not the only reason why pollution can make you overweight - the body stores toxins in fat cells when it can't process them so if you are exposed to a lot of pollutants it may encourage your body to store more fat. This can also be why someone can hit a weight loss plateau where they can't shift the last six pounds because the body doesn't want to release the toxins stored in the fat cells.

Now I'm not suggesting the mayoral candidates encourage us all to do a detox to shift our spare pounds, but there is lots within their power that they could do to reduce exposure.

- encourage individuals onto public transport by cutting fares

- add new cycle lanes and walking routes that aren't alongside roads to reduce toxin inhalation and encourage the less confident cyclists who don't want to risk it with lorries

- plant more trees across the capital and add mini gardens throughout the city for localised CO2 uptake

- encourage the city's businesses to explore environmentally friendly working practices such as letting employees work from home two days a week, using video conferencing for internal meetings rather than flying in colleagues from other offices and running bike to work schemes to buy discounted bicycles

- have regular green days where sections of London are temporarily pedestrianised/made car free zones

- introduce trams to replace some bus routes and have some of these routes restricted to electric vehicles only

- start active monitoring of pollutants and pedestrian traffic by area focussing measures on the most polluted routes with the most pedestrian/bicycle traffic on it

- introduce tougher New York Style smoking laws banning smoking from public outdoor spaces such as parks and squares

Monday, 19 March 2012

Herby habits

Whilst vegetables are, in my opinion, the healthiest food group out there, herbs are surely the healthiest flavour enhancer you can get your hands on.

Forget MSG or the commercial sugar loaded spice mixes you can buy in the supermarkets, fresh herbs add flavour and valuable to nutrients to any dish with a fraction of the calories of a seasoning mix.

Herbs have also been used for centuries for their medicinal qualities, and as with anything in nature there they probably have a wealth of health benefits that we just don't know of.

Adding herbs to your food is so easy - I'm a bit of a creature of habit and like to play it safe in the kitchen, but the following rules always work:

Coriander - goes with anything asian or vegetarian
Basil - goes with anything tomato based
Parsley - goes with all native english vegetables and soups made with them
Rosemary - goes with re meat
Thyme - goes with white meat
Mint - makes a lovely garnish for most cold desserts

Fortunately hot doc is a bit more adventurous in the kitchen than I am and this weekend taught me to cook with lemon grass. This green twig had baffled me in the past, but the secret is to cut it lengthways down one side and take out the tender white insides and cook with those. It adds a wonderfully fresh taste to stir fries.

Here's the lovely recipe he cooked up for me to get you started:

Seerves 2
2 tablespoons fish sauce

3 garlic cloves - crushed

1 tablespoon curry powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 tablespoons runny honey (or agave)

500g fresh prawns (deveined) or chicken (cut into cubes) or firm tofu (cubed)

2 fresh lemongrass stalks - tender inner white bulbs only, minced

2 shallots - thinly sliced

1 large red chilli (or 2 small ones) - diced 

1 red pepper - thinly sliced

1 bunch coriander for garnish

250g rice noodles (dry weight) or rice

In a bowl, combine the fish sauce, garlic, curry powder, salt, and 1 1/2 runny honey. Add the prawns / chicken to marinade.

Heat a wok over high heat. Add the oil and heat until shimmering.
Add the lemongrass, shallot, and chillies and stir-fry until fragrant. 
Add the chicken / prawns and stir-fry until the prawns are pink or the chicken is cooked through. 
Add the red pepper half-way through cooking the prawns / chicken.
Season with pepper. 
If using rice noodles, add to the stir-fry (having cooked them as per the instructions on the packet) & warm through.
Alternatively, serve with steamed rice.
Garnish with coriander.


Sunday, 18 March 2012

Vegetable discipline

Last night Ms Haribo was preparing swede fajitas, courtesy of her Abel & Cole box. Each week they send her organic in season vegetables and then she bases her meals around them that week ... hence the swede fajitas!!

Personally I find that a British only vegetable box over the winter months can get a bit repetitive so I don't get one, but the plus side is it does get you to eat vegetables that you might not ordinarily try.

The fact is that vegetables are the most health giving food available to us (in my opinion refined sugar is the most harmful) so we should be trying to eat as many vegetables as possible.

However it's also important to remember that they all have different health properties .. the brassica family (cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts) has super cancer fighting properties, the capsaicin family (chillies, peppers) have anti-inflammatory properties, the allium family (garlic & onions) have blood thinning properties, cabbages have restorative properties for the gut, red and orange vegetables are excellent for the skin ... the list goes on.

And as with so much in nature there is just so much we don't know when it comes to the health benefits of vegetables, so maybe next year the latest thing will be to eat as much swede as we can get our hands on!!

The point is that one of the simplest and most important investments you can make in your health is to eat five portions of vegetables a day (add your fruit on top) and to choose different vegetables whenever possible. It's actually not that difficult to put in practice:
- when you're doing your weekly shop, buy a vegetable you didn't buy last time and learn a new recipe to prepare it with
- once you've grasped that, try not buying any of the same vegetables as last time
- over winter when there isn't much in season explore the freezer section and pick up a different bag of veg each time, the range of frozen veg available has really increased
- incorporate vegetables into snacks - carrots and hummous are a favourite of mine, but there are plenty of options - mashed avocado on toast, different vegetable crudites (carrot, celery, pepper, baby corn, mange tout), home made salsa with tomatoes and onions, sweet potato wedges
- always order a side order of vegetables or salad when you eat out and rotate what you order, you might be surprised what you enjoy if it's prepared properly

Thursday, 15 March 2012

HIT me baby one more time!

So, spring is on the doorstep and how are our fitness resolutions fairing, two and half months into the year? Personally I know that mine has been a mixed bag of good weeks and not so good weeks due to work and study deadlines.

One thing I have realised over the last year or so is that I am not good at motivating nor maintaining long periods of lengthy gym sessions. I like my visit to the gym to be short so stepped up the intensity instead. I have trained for a half marathon in the past but know that it just doesn't please my body to run miles and miles each week. I first started to realise short and intense workouts suited me when I embarked on Emilie's interval training plan that she has shared with you in earlier blogs. I lost weight, toned up and stayed fit without spending hours in the gym.

So where am I heading with this, I hear you say!? Well, then I watched the program 'the truth about exercise', and it made me realise that I wasn't imagining that I was still getting benefits even I was spending a 3rd less time in the gym. Three main things stood out for me from that programme; 1) the chair is a killer, 2) you can gain scientifically proven benefits from exercising for just 3 minutes a week and 3) 20% of the population are non-responders to exercise (with actually only 15% responding well to exercise and the rest somewhere in-between)!

So we all know sitting for long periods is bad for us, slowing everything down and making us less inclined to get up again! This information is not new. Now the 3 minutes of exercise a week, even though I am jubilant that this may be all I have to do, it takes double that time to get my gym kit on, so I would prefer slightly longer making use of it! The responder and non-responder statistics helped me breath a sigh of relief as I had always wondered why, during times in my life when I have committed to a high volume of exercise, that it was never particularly reflected in my weight or body shape and I would also lose the benefits very quickly if the level was not maintained.

The 3 minutes a week is called High Intensity Training (HIT) and even though still in it's research phase is having very good results with improved effectiveness of your body similar to doing a handful of hours a week of moderate exercises. The 3 minutes is 3 x 20 seconds of flat out, crazy, to exhaustion cycling - so the nod from the doctor before embarking on anything similar would be advisable if you have any concerns!

Personally I don't do as short a session as this but rarely spend more than 15-20 minutes doing cardio intervals, but work very hard so I am out of breath and close to muscle exhaustion.

I am no personal trainer, or sports scientist but I believe this TV program has opened the door for us to re-evaluate what is working and listen to our body - as everyone is different. This new research is now leading to a more individually tailored approach to exercise. This is fantastic and helps us understand why we can't achieve what the person on the next treadmill can but also that this is OK. So if you feel that you New Years exercise plan isn't quite hitting the mark, perhaps have a rethink, do some research and don't rule out trying a different approach.

'The truth about exercise' is on BBC iplayer and there are numerous research pieces out there on High Intensity Training (HIT).

Zen dog


Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Bug beaters

Well thank goodness it's warming up a bit. I'm thoroughly bored of my winter wardrobe and feel desperately in need of some sunshine.

The warmer weather should hopefully kill off the plethora of colds, sore throats and flu that have been circulating in the city - there's hardly a person I know who hasn't been off with something in the last month.

On that basis I thought it was worth sharing a few tips to get yourself better. It's also worth noting that if you're finding you're picking up more bugs or taking longer to get better than your colleagues it's a strong sign that you're generally run down and need some rest and nutritional support. Take the hint and clean up your diet, clear the social schedule and get some serious zzzz.

Whatever you have vitamin C is still the original super supplement to get you well again. You can take much higher doses than you may realise, 3-4g a day for a few days is usually fine.
But it's no substitute for fruit and veg so eat as much of these as you can - raw, steamed, smoothied, made into soups - just pile your plate high! Also worth noting that sugar and vitamin C share the same carrier into cells so to maximize vitamin C absorption you need to avoid sugar as much as possible.

Water is also essential, and when you have a temperature you will sweat out quite a lot of liquid so aim for 2 litres of plain water daily.

Sore throats:
Sore throats are usually the first sign you're getting ill, they can also occur without an actual infection in individuals with an impaired stress response - so if you get these a lot it's worth getting your adrenal glands tested.

Either way take a sore throat as a sign that you need to take it easy - skip the gym, have a healthy dinner and get an early night.

Vitamin C can be absorbed directly though the endothelial cells lining your mouth so freshly squeezed fruit juices can be beneficial as can the juice of half a lemon or a whole lime added to some warm water (sweeten with manuka honey if desired).

If it's gotten to the point of swollen tonsils and pain on swallowing then it can be tempting to reach for the ice cream, but sugar and dairy are the immune systems enemies so steer clear. Instead keep berries and frozen chopped up banana or mango in the freezer - blend up with a bit of water to create a tasty, soothing and vitamin C rich soothing slush puppy. Blending up frozen bananas on their own makes a yummy banana ice cream.

No one likes to walk round the office with a bright red runny nose! Fortunately nature provides a few natural decongestants.

Firstly take the opportunity to have a hotter curry than you'd usually be able to tolerate, but do this at home as it'll cause a good nasal clear out! The spices in curry are also antimicrobial so great for killing bugs.

Horseradish is also a natural decongestant that dries up mucus so add some to your sandwiches. If you don't like the taste you can get a great horseradish supplement from Biocare (Muccolyte plus) to use to dry up a cold rather than turning to Sudofed.
Don't forget you'll be losing lots of fluid through your nose so don't let yourself get dehydrated.

A genuine flu will leave you feeling like you've been run over by a truck and unable to get out of bed which is exactly where you should stay. Dragging yourself back to work when you're not fully recovered can lead to lingering or secondary infections so don't run the risk.

Listen to your appetite and if you don't feel like eating then stick to fresh fruit juices, clear soups like Miso or chickenbroth, and lots of water and herbal tea.

Keep warm as your immune system operates better at a higher temperature and use the colour of your urine as a gauge for dehydration, anything darker than a pale straw.
Hopefully you have a flatmate or partner who can look after you, but otherwise phone a friend to bring you supplies.

Also don't hold back from calling your GP or NHS direct if you're feeling particularly poorly, flu symptoms can be similar to those for more serious conditions and flu can be pretty serious in itself, unless of course it's man flu ;-)

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

The biology of the boardroom

It's a bit off topic but there's been a lot in the press this week about women in business and the failure of british companies to have proper female representation on their boards.

There is of course the usual talk of quotas to address the, but the fact it hasn't happened naturally does highlight the fact that there are very particular reasons why women don't get ahead in business in the same way that men do and I wanted to blog on why this might be.

Robert Peston has actually written a pretty sensible article on the topic:  which cites recent research showing that only 5.7% of the executive, board-level directors of FTSE 150 companies are women and that 21% do not have a woman on the board.

Women are of course fundamentally biologically different to men leading to inevitable issues when it comes to balancing a career and having a family. But this isn't where the differences end.

The way women and men react under stress also differs - men typically have a "fight or flight" response whilst women try to defuse difficult situations, or "tend and befriend", which can translate in the workplace to men becoming more aggressive under stress whilst women will become more concerned/anxious.

Scientists think they may have actually identified a "macho'"gene that causes this aggression under stress which is only found on the Y chromosome so isn't present in women.

Sadly the city is not the pure meritocracy we'd like it to be and the environment tends to favour the aggressive and the pushy so naturally will favour men when it comes to promotions and getting ahead. It's also not uncommon for women to decide to switch out of stressful city jobs mid career again possibly because they don't thrive on the environment the way their male colleagues might.

Whatever the reason, recognising the differences between the sexes, rather than ignoring them, has got to be part of the strategy to get women into boardrooms.


Sunday, 11 March 2012

Keeping it clean

Eating well isn't just about making sure your diet is nutrient rich, but also about minimizing your intake of substances that can do you harm. Whilst there are endless debates and studies as to how dangerous pesticides, additives and other chemicals are to the body, I tend to follow the philosophy that if something is artificial, i.e. wouldn't be something our ancestors were exposed to in nature, then it will be foreign to the body and therefore at the least confuse it and at the worst harm it.

Consequently I like to buy organic groceries whenever possible but it makes for an expensive shopping bill! Something I always prioritize is buying organic fruit and veg to avoid the harmful pesticides that are sprayed onto them as they grow. Still these aren't always available so it's worth knowing which are the most harmful when you're doing your weekly shop.

Fortunately the Environmental Working Group has done the hard work and worked out which these are - it's data for US produce but will still likely hold true in Europe. Also if you register on their site you'll get other useful info on other ways to minimized your pesticide exposure.

Their top 12 fruit and veg to buy organically are listed below so next time these items are on your shopping list look for them in the organic section:
apples, celery, strawberries, peaches, spinach, nectarines, grapes, sweet bell peppers, potatoes, blueberries. lettuce, kale

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Satisfying the cookie monster

In our office we have a sweet corner where people bring in sweets and biscuits for the team to enjoy and with a readily available source of unhealthy snacks it can be hard not to indulge a bit too frequently.

This afternoon I had a real sweet craving and the chocolates were definitely tempting me but fortunately I had a bag of dried figs in my desk so had a few of these instead to satisfy my sweet tooth without breaking my lent resolutions.

Sugar has an addictive quality, so the more biscuits and chocolate you eat the more you're going to crave them. But the fact is that even the healthiest of us will have sweet cravings every now and then.

The key to dealing with them is to have a healthy sweet option to hand so you've no excuse to eat the sugary option.

For work, unsulphured unsweetened dried fruit are a durable sweet desk snack. Go for the lower GI options - figs, apricots, apples and pears, for a high fibre treat, but don't go crazy and eat a whole packet. Make sure you store them in a lock and lock container to keep the mice away.

Fresh fruit is obviously a better option, but not something you want to leave in your desk for a long time.

Fruitus muesli bars or Nak'd fruit and nut bars are also good at satisfying a sweet tooth without sending you on a blood sugar rollercoaster and are nice with a cup of rooibos tea.

At home I have more options:

I always have some flavour of St Dalfour jam and non-sweetened nut butter at home, plus gluten free bread in the freezer (either dietary specials or warburtons wholegrain rolls), for a healthy peanut butter + jam toast combo!

I keep frozen berries in the freezer and have some ground almonds and agave in the cupboard to make a mini raspberry crumble for a sweet pudding.

In winter I also love stewed apples or tinned pears with cinammon and rice milk custard (make with custard powder and rice milk, no sugar necessary).

Rice pudding can also be made with rice milk and some vanilla essence and served with a dollop of raspberry St Dalfour for a comforting school dinners style pudding.

For those days when you need to eat out of a tub get some Booja Booja ice cream for your freezer. It's non dairy and sweetened with agave - there are lots of flavours (vanilla, coconut and maple pecan are my favourites), you can order these from or get them from your local health food store.

If you can't resist the cookie jar and have to keep biscuits in the house for your partner or family, then get yourself some gluten and dairy free biscuits. These are usually still made with sugar but are less moreish and unhealthy than regular biscuits.

If only chocolate will do it for you then get yourself some dark chocolate bars with 75 per cent minimum cocoa, a couple of squares will hit the spot.

For days when I've got a bit more time I'll make a chocolate mousse with cocoa powder, silken tofu and agave, or some vegan pecan chocolate brownies with gluten free flour.
Recipes are on my recipe page:

None of these puddings are perfectly virtuous so you shouldn't be having them every day, but they are so much healthier and balancing than eating properly sugary treats so it's worth making the switch and you'll still feel like you've had a treat.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

The pursuit of happiness

Following on from Emilie's blog yesterday, she asked me to share what drove me to make the changes and the take risks I have in the past and planning for the future.....

It is simple, the question I ask is 'am I happy?' Happy in the true sense. Not the happy you get from buying a new dress or having dinner with friends (though they are beautiful moments). It's the happiness deep inside that you know will hold you up when things around aren't going the way you would like.

I wasn't happy and this quote sums up the catalyst to my changes, 'big changes come from chaos'. It is my personality to be 'all or nothing' and it certainly has it's pros and cons! I didn't want to go to Africa for a holiday, I wanted to travel from north to south and take 8 months about it. I didn't want to go to a yoga class once a week, I wanted to challenge myself and understand what I was made of and go to India for 6 months. All my travels have been born out of a fascination of this awesome world and to understand others and how we all mesh together. Looking out at the horizon and knowing I am part of that and my happiness (along with everyone else's) matters!

'Chaos' doesn't have to be that you feel crazy or out of control. It merely means it is a bump in the road, a moment to stop and assess. Your landlord may give you notice to move out of your amazing flat, you may get made redundant or get an exercise injury. Notice life's challenges and then life tends to also highlight alternatives for you.

So my drive is my innate right to happiness and I find that is a difficult concept for some people. There is a road of 'education, job, marriage, children, work, holidays, money issues, work, retire....' that a lot of people walk down without thinking 'am I happy?' If you are then fabulous! Project that happiness into the world and you will get it back ten fold. But if you are not happy then never feel you don't have the right to change things.

In Chinese medicine many illnesses start at the emotional level, subtle changes and stuck energy from prolonged periods of stress, anxiety, suppressed emotions or sadness. If this stuck energy is not moved it can slowly manifest into more physical symptoms. In Chinese medicine your emotional health is of utmost importance. Just think how long it takes to recover from a cold if you are stressed and unhappy. I am sure we have all felt the effects of a stressful day - the feelings of being drained and miserable. We might notice we can't process food we normally would, think as quickly or get the energy for the gym. Over a prolonged period, these can be your signposts and whatever decision you take at these signposts will alter the direction of your happiness and your health.

I chose to value my happiness and my health above anything else and have challenged myself, made sacrifices and am always evaluating my thinking patterns. I know too well how life can get complicated and choices seem out of reach but really life is meant to be simple and enjoyed. I constantly have to take myself back to this thought as its not easy to keep on top of it when life is happening around you. Time is a precious commodity and highly underestimated. Some quiet time alone, even a few minutes, can help you make and cement any decision.

We are a complex, amazing and one-off feat of engineering living on a round rock with a soft centre that is being held up in the middle of infinite space. We have huge learning capacity and a sense of awareness that no other species have. We should celebrate this and defy what you think you 'should' be doing and change to what will fulfil you and make you happy to your core.

Zen dog

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Time for some day dreaming

Today I want to talk about making some big changes, not the little lifestyle tweaks I'm often talking about, but the big life changing ones.

It's so easy to set off on a particular course in life and get carried along with it without periodically stopping to question what you're doing and why you're doing it. In particular once you're on the city treadmill it can be hard to get off.

Guest editor Zen dog is an inspiration to me in terms of taking action and making big bold changes and I have seen the rewards she's gotten both emotionally and physically. Her journey started out with extensive travels (many a farewell party and welcome back drinks!) and more recently has manifested as throwing herself back into education to start a new career in acupuncture.

The days of a job for life and settling down in the town, or even country, you grew up in are long gone and the possibilities in life are endless, but if we keep our blinkers on we could end up missing out on great opportunities.
Partly I think this is down to not letting our imaginations run wild in the same way we did as children. We don't do enough day dreaming and fantasizing (of the innocent kind!) as we get older, everything just gets too realistic.

So why not do a little day dreaming and think about what you really want in life. Here are a few questions to get you thinking:

- what would you do if you only had 12months to live?
- what would you do if you only had 12months to live and had already visited all the places in the world you wanted to?
- what would you study if you had your time again at school/university
- if every job was paid the same wage what job would you do?
- how would you spend the rest of your life if you won the euromillions?
- what one thing would you do if you knew you could not fail?
- who would you like to be if you could be anyone who's ever lived?

Then look at your answers and think about how you could actually achieve them.

OK so maybe you can't become a top gun pilot now you're 40, but you could get your pilots license, perhaps you don't have time for an Eat Pray Love style year out but you could take a month out to travel or live somewhere you've always wanted to experience fully or if you really wanted to study history maybe you could do an open university course.

Broadening your horizons and following your dreams should happen at any stage in life, so make time to day dream and who knows where it will take you!

Monday, 5 March 2012

How are you doing?

It's funny how our lives go through similar phases, when I'm having a relaxed easy time often so are my friends, and then when things are hectic my pals are also running around a lot maniacs.

Well right now it's maniac time and life seems to be on fast forward. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it can be easy to start neglecting yourself health wise when your mind is full of distractions.

This is why it's important to periodically check in with yourself - just as if you were going to the GP for a checkup ask yourself some standard questions, it can be pretty revealing:

How are you feeling (today and over the last few weeks)?
Do you have any symptoms (headaches, allergies, digestive symptoms, skin changes)?
Anything new since your last checkup?
How are you sleeping?
Do you feel refreshed and alert when you wake up?
Have you gained or lost weight?
Has your appetite changed?
Any changes in your appearance (skin palor, breakouts/dry patches, hair condition, dry nails)?
How do you feel emotionally?
How has this changed since your last checkup?

Just taking five minutes to answer these questions is worthwhile even if everything is fine, but if something does come up then make sure you give it some attention.

I, for example, have had a cold (not a surprise as everyone at work is ill) but have recovered quickly so that's a good sign that my immune system is working well. My skin and hair are good but I'm looking a bit pale so need to make sure I supplement with some vitamin D (to make up for the lack of sun exposure) and eat some iron rich food. I'm having occasional headaches which is rare for me but most likely a result of rushing around and forgetting to drink enough water and also being a bit more stressed than usual so I need to make a conscious effort to drink more and have at least ten minutes proper downtime every day. I'm sleeping well but feel I need more sleep than usual (totally normal during periods of stress) so I need to make sure I go to bed early.

Remember your body is constantly trying to tell you what it needs whether that's nutrients, rest, relaxation or something else. So even when things are on over-drive make sure you make some time to listen.


Thursday, 1 March 2012

Ms Haribo on Haribo

Great minds must think alike because, having written my blog on willpower, Ms Haribo sent me this blog on the same topic but with some other ways to avoid temptation which some of you may find helpful to get you through lent! Enjoy!

While I love haribo I'm not really a fan of the adverts as I really hate over-acting children, but the latest one I saw piqued my interest (apologies if it is outdated). In the advert the children are allowed two sweets if they are able to resist eating the haribo in front of them. Of course they can't resist the haribo!

But the reason it made me interested is it actually, consciously or not, recreates a very famous experiment in the world of economics and personality research called "the marshmallow experiment" Back in the 60s a scientist called Walter Mischel offered children one marshmallow with the promise of two if the child could hold on and not eat it until the scientist returned in a few minutes. There's lots of video footage of children struggling not to eat the marshmallow.

What is more interesting about the experiment is the follow up. About 15 years later he followed up on his subjects and found that those who were able to delay gratification were more successful on a number of outcomes (e.g. test scores, drug use, body mass index and social competence).

Unfortunately some of our ability to delay gratification is hard-wired into our neural circuitry, and learning not to succumb to instant gratification certainly has its rewards.  But that doesn't mean that we can't do anything about it. One thing you can see from the videos is that the people who are more successful at resisting temptation invent distractions such as physically restraining themselves or looking away.  I've talked about commitment devices before but these can be difficult to find  and truly commit to (even Stephen Levitt can't come up with good ones in Freakonomics) but distraction can be just as good. These can be simple things such as going to talk to someone, going for a walk, listening to some music (to drown out the thoughts of those singing tangfastics)

Miss Haribo