A weighty challenge

Do you always feel like you’re on a diet? Lose weight then put it all back on again, lured back into you’re old way, getting stuck in a dieting yoyo?  I’ve tried most of them during my lifetime, – Atkins (lasted 48 hours – it made me so ill!), weight watchers, Rosemary Connolly’s fat free, food combining to name a few. Most of the time, I had some success and would lose some weight, but always managed to put it back on again.

Whilst never being massively overweight, I’ve also never been particularly small and never felt comfortable. Looking back, I realise not feeling right was more to do with not eating the right foods for me, rather than being too heavy and needing to ‘diet’. But it was being on a particular diet – Carol Vorderman’s 28 day detox plan – that made me realise there was more to this eating malarky that meets the eye. This plan is plant based, cutting out any food source that can cause inflammation in the body (including wheat, alcohol and caffeine). Lacking the understanding I have now, it was hard, but I felt so good. More energy, less headaches and generally lighter in body and spirit. But I didn’t continue with it long term, so slowly the weight started creeping back on.

It was however, the start of my journey to wellness through a plant based whole food diet. And once I applied the principles properly, I lost weight without even trying. But not so much that I’m an unhealthy size. I’ve plateaued at a healthy 57kg and eat loads more now than I used to, it’s just all whole and plant. I’ve seen this in others too (my daughter lost 10kg over 6 months, a colleague at work must have lost half his body weight over the last year or so), and it’s backed up by research; at the Annal Meeting of the Obesity Society in America last week, research comparing different diets revealed that a fully plant based diet lead to the greatest weight loss without having to restrict calories* and The Permanente Journal states that current research is so strong that a plant based diet should be recommended to improve overall health and well being, including weight loss**

clogger burger
A Clogger Burger!

Although he enjoys the food I cook for him, my husband has been reluctant to go fully plant based; he does enjoy his meat and cheese! But a month away living in a hotel in Mexico eating too much meat and dairy not only expanded his waist line a bit too much, it made him feel pretty unwell in general. This was followed by our family holiday in the US, with large portions and gut-busting burgers. So much food! So much so, that on the way home, he declared his intention to eat a plant based diet for a month to kick start some weight loss (96kg at the mo) and a training plan to cycle up Ventoux (mountain in France) next year (see his blog http://cyclingseagull.wordpress.com/2014/08/12/the-next-challenge). Four days in and he’s doing really well, commenting on how he’s eating so much more than he would normally. The weekend is going to be his first challenge though – a day trip to watch football in Birmingham with the boys, which usually means many beers, burgers and pies. Beer is the first challenge, as like wine, many brands use animal products for fining (see my blog post http://foodiesensitive.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/milk-in-wine-surely-not.html). Luckily, the Barnivore website has come to the rescue, and even has an app which he rapidly downloaded.

I’m really looking forward to seeing how he gets on with eating this way over the next month – I know it works, but social situations make it challenging at times. Hopefully more and more people will get on board and reap the health benefits of eating plant based; once mainstream, and easily accessible, eating out and socialising will become less challenging. And my man will be more streamlined!* http://www.obesity.org/news-center/plant-based-diets-show-more-weight-loss-without-emphasizing-caloric-restriction.htm

Food allergy research – will it help?

Manchester University have announced the launch of a massive research project about food allergies. They state that food allergy detection and management is thwarted by lack of evidence regarding prevention of or protection against food allergies – http://www.manchester.ac.uk/aboutus/news/display/?id=9743

On the face of it, this is great, particularly their focus on food manufacturing processes to prevent cross contamination and to promote clearer food labelling. For those with severe, life threatening allergies this will definitely make life easier, and safer.

It can take so long to examine the small print on packaging – some of it so tiny it’s almost impossible to read! And then there are the warning labels that just seem to be having a laugh – the tuna tin that warns it contains fish. Or peanut butter – contains peanuts!! Mind you, I watched Hungry for Change recently, a film about the food and diet industry (http://www.hungryforchange.tv), where it talked about a blueberry and pomegranate breakfast cereal which contained neither blueberries or pomegranate, so I guess you can never be too sure!

Will this study really tackle the issues surrounding food allergy? There is a list of well known food products that are allergens – milk, eggs, wheat, peanuts, shellfish to name a few. For those with food intolerance the list is seemingly endless; in an inflamed state, it would seem that the body can develop issues with any food stuff (my latest one seems to be lentils – how can that be???.) Manufacturers seem to add elements of many of these products into their food products. Milk or one of it’s derivatives appears in the most unexpected places (sweet chilli crisps?).

For me, the underlying issue comes back down to food processing and how we prepare and eat our daily intake. Processed food, which is really what this project is about, is generally devoid of nourishment and full on sugar, fat and profit. Whilst we continue to fill our bodies with poor quality fuel, underlying sensitivities and intolerances will continue as the body battles to keep clearing out toxins, constantly playing catch up to promote wellness.

Maybe Manchester University should focus their research on the benefits and healing properties of a wholefood, plant based diet rather than continuing the status quo with food manufacturers. Not sure where the funding would come from then, though – carrots just don’t bring in the big bucks!! It will be interesting to see what “safe allergen threshold” are, what conclusions are made in three years time. In the meantime I’m going to minimise my processed food and keep to the fresh stuff – don’t need my reading glasses for that!

Busy, busy,busy!!

I can’t believe it’s over a month since my last post. I knew that life would be busy settling back in to the UK, but it really has been non-stop. Finally moved in to the new family home but still surrounded by boxes, things are beginning to settle down a bit. Even better, the internet man came today! So I’m back on line properly and can give the poor much-in-demand dongle and my old and rather temperamental netbook a rest!Despite being busy with the move and work, I have still been cooking and experimenting, so there’s lots to come!

Recently, I have noticed how the benefits of a wholefood, plant based diet are becoming more mainstream – it seems to be a bit of a Hollywood fad too. But not only does this way of eating help keep chronic diseases at bay, it’s great for helping you look young. In fact, since I’ve been eating this way, I’ve had comments about how I look  younger now than when I left for India 3 years ago, had I had botox (!!??) and someone thought I was 11 years younger than I actually am. This of course made my day, year and possibly lifetime!

Research published in the last month highlights the negative aspect of eating processed foods such as sausages, pies and bacon http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-21682779.  Another one has found that full fat dairy reduces the chance of recovery from breast cancer http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-21803580. And of course there is the wonderful horse meat scandal that has affected most of Europe in some way. The good side of this is that people seem to have started to think about their eating habits and buying less processed food, plus the larger super markets say they are changing how they source their food. This may or may not last. Ultimately, though, it’s down to each one of us to chose how we eat – and in an expensive economy, a plant based diet helps the finances as well as the waistline!

My daughter and I went to Vegefest in Brighton at the weekend, an exhibition about vegetarian and vegan lifestyles. It was heaving, which was great, and had a huge range of stalls offering various veg and vegan friendly products with lots of lovely free samples. Stalls with lunch options to buy wafted gloriously mouthwatering smells throughout the hall; we indulged in some vegan tapas, but to be honest I could have just stuffed myself with chocolate all day and not need anything else! Being a cake fiend, fabulous vegan cupcakes were a must, and we did buy a box to bring home, reluctantly sharing them with the boys! Gorgeous.After we left, I got to thinking about the products available. Yummy, yes. Healthy, maybe not.

One of the Vegefest tag lines is about promoting a healthy plant based, wholefood diet. Out of all the stalls there, only one sold vegetables (apart from the grow your own mushroom bag stall which I thought looked great but freaked my daughter out – are mushrooms weird?).  There were supplements, replacements and alternatives to dairy and meat (including some gorgeous coconut based milk – Kara. Definitely worth a try!), but eating to heal and for health is not about eating yet more, if different processed food. No matter how gorgeous a vegan cupcake may be, it’s still full of sugar and fat.

So what’s the answer?  Man (and woman of course) cannot eat cake alone. I’ve realised the 80/20 rule is pretty good guide to go by. Eating properly for 80% of the time, and enjoy the not so healthy and sometimes indulgently gorgeous 20% of the time. Dairy free indulgence, of course. So, where are those cupcakes then…….?

Junking our health?

There are an increasing number of studies being published that relate health to diet. Recently, one suggests there is evidence showing that fast food caused asthma and other allergic conditions http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-21009654.

This study is related to an ongoing international research programme into asthma and allergies in childhood. It concludes that those children who eat fast food more than three times a week have up to a 39% increase in allergic conditions. Those who ate fresh fruit 3 times a week or more cut the risk of asthma and allergies by 11% or more.

For me, this study is interesting as it points to a causal relationship between the food we put in our bodies and our health – chronic conditions that require medication and can be life threatening are being created by poor diets. And the fact that such a small amount of fruit a week can make a positive difference is staggering – how much more if fresh produce was consumed in abundance?

The problem with research studies such as these, or any medical research really, is they never give firm ‘proof’, it’s all incidental. There will always be those few who eat junk food all their lives and never suffer any ill effects, same as those who can smoke 20 cigarettes a day and not suffer from lung cancer or other respiratory disease. But this study is big – 500,000 children in 50 countries, so it’s pretty persuasive.

In todays Western diet, many children and adults eat junk food a lot more than 3 times a week. And chronic health problems including obesity, diabetes, asthma, heart disease to name a few continue to increase. So will this information change anything? Sadly, probably not. Whilst there are medicines to ‘manage’ these diseases, there’s not much incentive to really get to the root of the problem. And fast food is such big business is it really going to harm them? Probably not.

Hopefully, though, some will listen up and make a change. Asthma and allergies can be debilitating at any age, but in children it always seems so much worse. The medications and treatments can be unpleasant in themselves with their own potential side effects, and it’s pretty scary rushing a child to hospital with an asthma attack in the middle of the night.

For us, we’ve realised that dairy has a definite causal link to my son’s asthma, something we’ve only just discovered (but that’s another posting). Fortunately, he’s of an age where he can make his own conclusions and is willing to try alternatives. So hopefully now we can keep him off dairy, off the meds and wheeze free. Lots more fruit and veg for him!