When I’m out in the woods doing field archery, I’m usually picking something to eat, much to the surprise of my companions. If they pluck up courage to accept a taste, they marvel at the citrus freshness of young wood-sorrel leaves and the sweet nectar you can suck from the base of red clover flowers. I can often be seen chewing on the stems of sorrel or wild grasses. Later in the summer, some woods will have wild strawberries and raspberries too.
Bilberry picking, 2016
Come the autumn, it’s time for blackberries and bilberries (which put blue berries in the shade, both as a super food and for intensity of flavour). These deserve a dedicated collecting trip. A couple of bags in the freezer lasts for months as a topping for Greek yoghurt at breakfast or the magic ingredient in a lilac smoothie.
With 75 % of the world’s food provided by just 12 plants and 5 animal species, it’s no wonder that food allergies, intolerances and digestive difficulties are increasing. Your body thrives on variety.
Urban lifestyles and screen addiction mean that few children can name trees and flowers and don’t know what can be eaten and, most importantly, what’s poisonous and shouldn’t be touched. Richard Louv (author of Last Child in the Woods) called these kids ‘nature-deficient’ and links this to the worrying trends in childhood obesity, ADHD and depression.
Although I’ve read more about foraging in recent years, I learned most of what I know as a child out with my parents and grandparents. And we were always picking something for wine making including sticky dandelions, delicate gorse petals (ouch!) and foamy white heads of elderflower. In the war our grandparents put dandelion leaves in salad – perhaps with the resurgence of stronger tasting leaves like rocket, today’s generation would again find them appealing.
Top tip – teach your children and grandchildren what you know.
In the last 10 years, a theory that had somehow held up unsupported for nearly half a century has been rejected by several comprehensive evidence reviews, even as it staggers on, zombie-like, in our dietary guidelines and medical advice.
Ian Leslie in The Guardian
On the diet-heart hypothesis and the sugar conspiracy
April was a chilly old month but now the days are longer, the leaves are out and you might notice your energy levels rising and the urge to get moving. Combined with good diet, regular exercise is one of the best things you can do for your health. It boosts your metabolism and your mood, keeps everything flowing round your body, makes you strong and supple and keeps your heart healthy. However, it’s a minor player for weight loss (20%) compared to how you eat and drink (80%).
Energy balance (calories in vs calories out) has been heavily promoted by the food industry to keep the spotlight off their products. Coca-cola even funded a ‘science’ website (rumbled and disbanded) to falsely blame obesity on consumers’ sloth when it was their drinks’ fault all along. It’s a concept that’s resulted in thousands of people pounding treadmills week after
Pexels creative commons
week hoping to get slim. Aerobic exercise tends to increase appetite and people reach for the quick hit of a sweet snack/drink. “I’ve run so I’ll eat cake!” The truth is you can’t outrun a bad diet.
Simply reckoning calories doesn’t work because they don’t all have the same effect. What matters is the type of food you eat and the hormones your body makes in response. Every time you eat something sweet, you produce insulin. Insulin makes you store fat. And it stops your stored fat being released. This is the opposite of what you want.
Try strength training (sadly discouraged by some slimming clubs) followed by protein based snacks like cheese or a whey shake. You’ll increase muscle which burns calories even at rest, you’ll lose fat and you’ll gain the more svelte figure you want. HIIT (High intensity interval training) is great too. Check with your doctor that it’s OK for you to do something this strenuous and remember to take rest days if you do these types of exercise. With plenty of variety you’ll gain strength, stamina and flexibility.
So eat well to manage your weight and do some sort of movement every day for your health.
Top tip: Move and eat well.
I went to see the fabulous Dr Phil at the weekend when he brought his Health Revolution show to Keswick. I’ll write more in my next post but here are a couple of fab quotes:
I want to be free-range elderly, not battery elderly.
Dr Phil’s auntie Queenie.
Health care begins with self-care.
There are more dates still on the tour..
As a child I loved those ‘Dot to Dot’ puzzles and recently noticed books for grown-ups too.
It’s a bit like that interpreting the messages your body sends you about food and drink. The most blatant, like indigestion, demand your attention. You can easily join the dots and avoid trigger foods. When I twigged that white wine = headache, I stopped drinking it. Other messages are more subtle, like aches in your joints or bad skin if you eat too little fat or the wrong type of fat. You might miss them when you’re busy getting on with your life.
Sometimes it’s easy to see that diet and lifestyle go together with other people’s health and well-being but not to make any connection between what you eat and how you feel yourself. I suffered unnecessarily for years feeling tired and miserable and carrying excess weight without any inkling that the diet I thought healthy was actually doing me harm.
Breakfast and lunch have a big impact on your day so it’s useful to learn what your body thinks of them. Experiment a bit – porridge, protein smoothies, full English. What time of the morning do you start thinking about having a snack? Ideally it’s better not to be snacking. Is your breakfast so good you don’t need to eat again for 4 or 5 hours? My favourite green smoothie lasts me for 6h.
Try different lunches to find out how alert you are in the afternoon. Do you feel better after a salad than a sandwich? If you have a hot lunch, are you sharper when you leave out potatoes and pastry? Once you join the dots you can adapt your routine, feel better and enjoy life more.
Top tip – Start noticing how food affects you.
Doing the same thing and expecting different results is the definition of insanity.
When you discover that you’re riding a dead horse, the sensible strategy is to dismount.
Attempting another post-Christmas diet? Failure statistics next time (spoiler alert, they’re huge). Give it up as a bad job and learn to eat well.
Do the best you can, with what you have, where you are.
Some foods build your health, others cause you harm. We’re entering a season when bad eating has become de rigueur. I doubt anyone will eat and drink only good things between now and the New Year – and we don’t have to. If your basic habits are sound, a little bit of Christmas cake won’t kill you. Pick the best of what’s on offer and enjoy good company. Merry Christmas.
Advertisers have dispensed with the idea of promoting a product’s attributes in favour of marketing the product’s image. This image is conceived by marketing psychologists quite independently of the product itself, and usually has more to do with a target market than the item being sold.
The result of this is that sweets and fizzy drinks are sold as fun for kids and adults. Even though we know they’ll rot our teeth, make us fat and wreck our health, we still keep buying them, eating them – and even giving them to those we love. Tragic but admittedly clever.
As one of my Eat Well Gang said,
“I suppose the Victorians had opium dens
– we have McDonalds and CocaCola.”
I’d like to add Haribo, Maoam, Rowntree’s etc to that.
While talking about breakfast cereals aimed at children, Dr Christiane Northrup said,
“Think of these massive doses of sugar as no different to drugs and alcohol. Premature death is coming from alcohol and sugar.”
If you want to weigh less, you’ll notice that encouragement to go on a diet can be found everywhere – TV, magazines, banners, endless adverts for food products. Here’s a reminder of why dieting is only a good idea if you’re intent on eventually weighing more after a short-term loss.
The people who say, “Eat less, exercise more” will tell you diets must work because of the law of thermodynamics. Energy in equals energy out. As a scientist I know the law is true and very useful for engines in a stable state. As a nutrition coach I know that it’s not useful as an approach to weight loss. Your body is not an engine in a stable state, it’s wonderfully responsive and designed to keep you alive in times of food shortage. It will hang onto all the fat it can, but break down lean tissue and shut down your metabolism to eke out the little food it’s getting. Have you ever heard that a pound of fat contains about 3500kCal, so you can lose a pound of fat a week by reducing your calorie intake by 500 kCal a day? No. When you restrict your energy intake you end up with less energy. That doesn’t feel good.
Way back in 1917, an experiment showed that calorie controlled diets have this weight loss / weight gain effect. It isn’t your fault – the diet does it. Later experiments confirmed the result and the diet industry has been cashing in on the cycle ever since. Deprivation will almost always (98%) lead to you weighing more in the long term. Jon Gabriel was on the dieting roller coaster gaining more each time until he reached almost 30st and realised he had try something different. He decided to concentrate on nourishing his body and lost nearly 16st without dieting. You can read his story here. Now he’s one of the world’s nutrition heros. Check out this delicious ‘pizza’.
My next Eat for a Better Life course will start on 22nd June in Cockermouth. If you’ve done with yo-yo dieting, come and join us.
Top tip: Don’t deprive your body, nourish it.
If you want to read more about the way diets affect your metabolism, here’s a piece by Dr Jason Fung.