Friday 18 March 2016

Food for thought: Eating right.

I have a lot of thoughts about food, and sometimes, when I see the eyes of my poor boyfriend glaze over as I rant for the 307th time about why I don't want to give up sugar, I think 'Maybe I should spare the poor soul and put this on my blog?' At least you guys can opt out if I get boring.

I'm thinking a lot about eating well at the moment. I am a Dieter, and I say that with a little bit of embarrassment, because it's not something I like about myself. I hate how quickly I can turn the conversation to diets. I hate how obsessed I am with my weight. I wish I could accept myself as a larger woman. I was raised with a binge/starve mentality – not an eating disorder, but not a healthy approach to food, either. My mentality is usually 'Be really good until this point and then GO CRAZY.' And that, my friends, is how I gained a stone in December. I know, you're all thinking 'You went to NYC! We saw the food pics!' True, true. But I gained about 2lbs in NYC. The real damage was when I came back. Christmas food was in abundance and I denied myself nothing.

Over the years I've lost weight successfully and gained it back. It's a constant cycle of up/down and it's frustrating, because I feel so great when I've been eating well and have lost some weight, and then I slip straight back to where I've started. And that, in itself, isn't healthy. I'd be better off staying this weight for the rest of my life than losing it again and then gaining it back. I wish I could accept that.

I've learned some things over the years though and it's helping me get back into the right mindset at the moment, because March is already nearly over and I still have most of that December stone to lose, and a bridesmaid dress to fit into in July. And I'm going to talk about the things I've learned, but this time I am really trying to make it a change for good. I'm not promising myself that I'm going to get to a size 10, because I haven't been a size 10 since I was 17 and it's probably not going to happen when I'm 33. And I'm trying to accept that I can be healthy with an overweight BMI. In this post, for example, I'm wearing a size 12 and my BMI was still saying I'm 1.5 stone overweight (and I'm about 2 stone up from that now). I would love to get back to that point. I'd take half a stone up from there, to be honest.

I'm trying to focus on eating well, being balanced and thinking of it as a way I can live my life forever – not as a diet craze that I'll eventually be able to stop. I DO want to lose weight. I can't deny that, and I'm not going to hide it. But I want it to be a side effect of putting brilliant things into my body as a habit, rather than the obsession it's been my whole life. I don't know if I can do that. But I'm trying.

So. That's the key phrase. Lifestyle change. How do you do that? Well, for me it's looking ahead and asking myself 'Could I stand this being the way I live now?' And I did that to myself last week and realised that yes. Yes, I can. It's not a revolutionary diet. In fact, it's what I've done most of my life – just a little more structured. Breakfast is a homemade smoothie, cereal, porridge or Belvitas. Lunch is soup or a salad, maybe a wrap. And dinner is something around the 500-600 calorie mark, which actually opens up a whole wealth of possibilities. Most of the dinner recipes I've posted here, for example. The majority of Jamie Oliver's recipes (I bloody love his new book). I can push the boat out and experiment and eat deliciously, but what I need to do is think about what I CAN have, not what I CAN'T. Because actually, the CAN list is a lot longer than the CAN'T list.

It's also not about deprivation. It IS about saying no sometimes – that's a big thing for me, I've realised, saying no to the cake that's passed around the office, or realising that if I'm going out for dinner three times in a week, maybe I'm going to have to choose a healthy option at one of them and not have wine every time. But I've never seen the point in cutting out a food group. Carbs are GREAT. And likewise, if you love chocolate, I don't think it'll do much good in the long run to cut it out - you're setting yourself up for a big fall off the wagon in the future. Cut down, sure. Maybe replace your 250cal Snickers bar with a 106cal Kitkat. There are things you can do to satisfy those cravings that aren't all 'When you fancy crisps, eat some celery for the crunch!' (No one would say the crunch is their favourite part of eating crisps. It's the salt and fat, obvs.)

And it's also not about eating healthily with no signs of a break, because then when there eventually is a break, I eat all the things and find it really hard to stop. Officially, I am 'off plan' one day a week (usually a Saturday). I might still eat my usual breakfast or lunch, but then I might have a burger and a bottle of wine for dinner. I know everyone's into 5:2, but this is more 1:6. And it's worked for me before, it will again. Doing that helps me not beat myself up for having a calorific day, but it also forces me to promise myself that one bad Saturday doesn't turn into a bad Sunday, and that my weekend doesn't start with wine and a takeaway on Friday night and not stop until Monday morning. There will be weeks when it all goes to pot – that's what holidays are for – but if I'm living well most of the time, it should be ok.

I keep mentioning balance, and I haven't really touched on what I mean by that. So, what I've been thinking about a lot is what I put into my body and if it's the right thing. I'm a little nervous of artificial sweeteners – I will tackle that Diet Coke addiction eventually – and I can't help but look at my Granny, who's 100 in October, and think that this is a woman who's never eaten the diet version of anything. She eats fat, she eats carbs, she eats sugar, she drinks four bottles of wine a week... you know, this is a health guru I can get behind! But in all seriousness (not that the wine comment wasn't serious, she can put it away for such a tiny lady), she has always had a balanced diet. Everything in moderation. So now, if I buy cheese, I buy the real stuff, not the fake diet tasteless kind. I'm more likely to use real butter in a recipe than the lightened, spreadable kind. I still go semi-skimmed with my milk, and I do buy the lighter versions of some things, but I'm trying to steer away from loads of additives. It can't be bad, right?

I am also not quitting sugar, or even consciously cutting back. I have never felt the need to give up sugar, and when all the books and blogs and articles started coming out saying that it was the devil a year or so ago, I dug my heels in and ignored them. I've lost weight successfully and felt amazingly healthy by eating chocolate every day, and cutting it out just makes me feel deprived and miserable. That's not sustainable. And that's why I cancelled my Weight Watchers subscription this year. The new plan is much more focused on upping your protein and cutting down on your sugar, and I resented being dictated to in that way. At the moment, I still feel like I need to track my food intake to stay focused, so I'm using the free MyFitnessPal app instead and am enjoying the freedom of calorie-counting, after being used to points – it's actually a lot easier. No calculators. I'm sticking to the WW way of not counting most fruit and veg, but I like knowing that I can make the choice about my food, rather than feeling guilty about having a Kitkat (bloody love Kitkats).

Getting active is also the one good change that everyone mentions, and it's the one that makes me sigh, because I'm not a big fan of exercise and never have been. But when I talk about my Granny and how well she's aged, I can't deny that she has always stayed active. Even now, with a zimmerframe and a mostly-useless hip, she's on her feet whenever the family visits, making food and tea and, well, moving. I've been trying to walk more, and it has made a big difference. But I know I need to schedule in some exercise classes, and making walking more a habit, rather than that 'Thing I do for a bit and then stop as soon as it gets cold'. It's hard, as it's so dark in the evenings. But not for much longer!

I did a post a lot like this about this time last year and if you read it, you may be wondering what's changed or thinking 'All these empty promises!' But actually, a lot's changed. I wasn't in a great place then. I was in a job that was all wrong for me, and it was really affecting my confidence. I was eating terribly, so I was ill all the time. I didn't care what I looked like. And that's all changed now. I'm happier, and my mindset has changed. I do care what I look like. I love my job. And I am a lot fitter and healthier. That kind of happiness is about feeling ok with everything in your life, and I'm getting there – it's just taken a while.

Congratulations if you've got this far – this post is far too long. But I've always found it helpful to get my thoughts down on the page, and publishing them here makes me feel accountable. I'm going to do a follow up post soon focusing on my new mantra – it's not what you can't have, it's what you can have – with a peek at some of the recipes that are inspiring me at the moment. I'd love your recommendations, too!



  1. FINALLY - a sensible post on eating. I've found everywhere has been so full of 'no carb' 'low fat' 'no sugar' this past couple of months - denying yourself anything isn't healthy!

    I'm on a restricted (medically) diet whereby carbs should be non-refined (and ideally not in every meal) and I should eat more fat than most, but even so - if I want a pizza everything couple of months, or a pie every now and then, I'll damn well eat one!

    It's all about moderation! x

    NINEGRANDSTUDENT: A Student Lifestyle Blog

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  3. I really love this post, Sarah. I'm really anti- so much of the chat about healthy eating that we see everywhere at the moment. Sugar is not the devil. Carbs are not evil. Sure, it's probably best not to binge on fizzy drinks and loaves of bread but by themselves there's nothing wrong with them. I read a really good article about how no food is really 'healthy' - some are more nutritious, but even a diet of only kale, avocado & chia seeds isn't actually healthy as you're bound to be missing something. So much disordered eating is tied up with the idea of 'healthy' being 'good' and 'unhealthy' being 'bad', when, like you say, balance and moderation is all we really need. You sound you like you're in a good place - and focusing on the 'can eat' is so much more fun than on the 'can't eat'. I have some weeks where I'm out more and I don't eat a lot of vegetables, or drink too much wine, but being aware of it and trying to sneak in a smoothie or the like is all you really need. Good luck!

  4. This is a great and sensible approach. It's basically what I've been doing for the last few weeks myself after coming back from a holiday and finding myself heavier than I've ever been. I, too, eat chocolate every day and try to focus on fuelling myself with good stuff, moving more and not using one calorific day as an excuse to have another and another calorific day. It unfortunately really is as simple as calories in, calories out so I've never signed up for weight watchers or given up an entire food group. Best of luck, Sarah!

  5. Hi Sarah - love this post it's really honest. It is exactly where I was a few months ago I have always been an all or nothing dieter and was desperate to have a healthy relationship with food, to give up Diet Coke and to lose weight. have a look at Mel Wells and her Green Goodess academy. It's all about loving your body and having a great relationship with food - it has made a massive difference for me. Sign up to her free emails and see what you think - good luck xx

  6. Sarah, I love this post! I too have resisted the current 'Give Up Sugar' fad - I don't bloody want to, I love it! And I don't think giving anything up completely can be good for you. I'm doing Slimming World at the moment to lose my Teacher Stress Weight and I love it because basically it's just a way of structuring your diet to ensure you're getting the right balance of everything. It means a lot of scratch cooking and some weeks I feel as though all I do is cook and wash up, but the weight is shifting steadily and I do feel good (and nothing is off-limits). Best of luck and I look forward to reading your updates x

  7. I'm so with you on this. I can be a real all or nothing sort, and not good at cutting out things entirely. I need little treats to keep me going. As for exercise, maybe go and try lots of things to get moving, rather thinking about gyms or workouts. Dance classes, different fitness classes, walks and hikes, roller derby, a netball team...if it's fun, you won't mind doing it!

  8. This is a really honest post and totally fits in with my own frame of mind at the moment after a recent bout of ill health x


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