Picnics

One of the joys of summer is eating al fresco. A picnic is an essential part of a summer outing.

Have you noticed that food tastes better when we eat it outside? Psychologists have found that our physical sensations and emotional responses are greatly improved by the power of our perception of our environment. Restaurants have applied this science to their décor, choosing colour, patterns and music to set the mood. The same food actually tastes different depending on the wallpaper!

We also connect enjoyment of food with family memories: a favourite outdoor spot, the smell of grass and wild flowers, the sound of trees rustling in the breeze, the feel of warm sand on bare feet. Taking Jack LaLanne’s idea from July’s quote of the month, we need to be nearer to nature to be happy.    And when our brains are stimulated, our taste buds step up a notch.

So, what food to take on your picnic? On TV you’ll see images of unhealthy fizzy drinks, crisps, cheese processed almost to the point of being plastic and all manner of factory-made nibbles. When you’re getting back to the great outdoors, nature and all things real I’m sure you’ll want better than fake food.

Sandwiches are common but often dry, dull and too heavy on bread to be a good choice for lunch. Instead try boiled eggs, cheeses, salami, lettuce, tomatoes, sticks of crunchy carrot and celery, cooling cucumber, creamy avocado, peppery radishes, spicy spring onions, ham rolled round cream cheese, small bread rolls with butter. My grandmother’s special was fried chicken in herby breadcrumbs – so tasty!

Fruit is nice and juicy although it can attract wasps and invite the biting midge to suck your sweet blood. Use it to make a refreshing infusion by adding a few slices of apple, lemon and strawberry to a big bottle of water. Chill it well before you set off.

June’s post had ideas for drinks.

Share the pleasure by eating all together sitting at a picnic table or on a rug. Here’s how they do it in France where people are still healthy and slim.

Top tip – enjoy a real food picnic.

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Exercise, Health and a Bit of Balance

May was National Walking Month so hopefully you’ve enjoyed taking the occasional stroll in the lovely weather.

Moving your body every day is a good thing. It’s only a minor factor for weight loss but crucial when it comes to health. For many conditions it’s better than any medicine, even having value in preventing and treating cancer. However, in common with many other good things, more is not always better and too much can hurt you.

I’ll just back up and do a detour to deal with the weight loss thing in case you fell straight off your chair. Food is the main factor for weight loss – not exercise. Weight training and high intensity interval training are best. If you’re one of the 1000s pounding the treadmill every day watching the calories tick, you need to know that aerobic exercise is the worst for weight loss. It generally burns very little and makes you quite a bit hungrier. Even if energy balance worked at all (which it doesn’t), the way diet clubs teach it is very misleading as Zoe Harcombe explains here. The energy you burn, above what you always burn at rest, does not cancel out that bun and a latte in the gym cafe. As Dr Aseem Malhotra says, you can’t outrun a bad diet. What matters for weight is the type of food. Some you’ll burn, some you’ll store. Different foods affect different hormones. But I write about that most of the time so I’ll get off my soapbox and end my diversion. Oh, but while I still have one foot on my soapbox, energy drinks are terrible, especially for children, and no one should drink them. More on drinks next month.

 

OK, where were we? Exercise and Health.

I always ask people on my courses to listen to their bodies. It isn’t something we’re used to doing. Life is all one mad charge forwards regardless of how we feel. We’re driven by external expectations, work, family, social norms. If our bodies complain, the usual reaction is to take over-the-counter drugs to silence the messages.

Most of us recognise that too much work is a bad thing but surely any amount of exercise is good.

If you feel generally snoozy and sluggish, it could be a sign that you need to move more.

France 2009

If you are very tired and exercise doesn’t energise you, it could be a sign that your body needs some recovery. We often underestimate the importance of rest. It can seem a bit soft to take a nap or a day off. When I was on the Great Britain Field Archery team I remember hearing that the commitment to rest is as important as the commitment to train hard.

Shame I didn’t take more notice at the time!

I used to have a stressful job and I used exercise as an antidote. The more stressed I got, the more desperately I exercised. Adding to the burden, I didn’t know then about eating right for your metabolic type. My diet was full of sugar but lacking the fat that I needed. And there were toxins in the low-fat products I ate. I believed the adverts saying they were better for me; how wrong can you be? I got more and more run down and relied too much on cortisol and adrenalin to keep me going. I dragged myself out of bed each day feeling like death and forced myself onwards. You can scrape the bottom of the barrel of your resources for so long but the end result for me was a hole in the barrel. I suffered total exhaustion and chronic fatigue. I was incapacitated for a year and half.

I’m not the only one to fall into the excess exercise trap. Sometimes the consequences are more severe than I suffered and can appear suddenly. I was saddened by the death of a Cumbrian chef at this year’s London Marathon. Here’s a piece about the dangers of over-doing it and how extreme sport scars your heart.

Nowadays I prefer a bit of balance and self care to punishing my body with gruelling regimes.

What do you think counts as exercise? Have you realised it doesn’t have to be done in a special place (eg a gym) or for a certain period of time (eg an hour)? Actually your body is designed for continuous movement and you can include lots of things you might not have counted before. Vacuuming, washing the car, playing with the kids, digging the garden, dancing, walking the dog, doing a few squats while the kettle boils, reaching up to hang out the washing.

I’m a fan of Dr Mercola’s NO dump (developed by Zach Bush). I love Michael Mosely’s book on Fast Exercise – here’s a little HIIT video. And have a listen to this podcast on primal play Dr Chatterjee and Darryl.

Dr Chaterjee’s book The Four Pillar Plan talks about movement snacking and Dr Joan Vernikos explains the need for non-exercise movement throughout the day regardless of whether you do ‘exercise sessions’. Just standing up from your chair every 20 minutes lets your body engage with gravity and brings many health, strength and weight benefits.

Do you take your health for granted? I used to but not any more. Having experienced life without it, health is really important to me now and that’s why I don’t compromise on food, exercise and rest. I don’t want to ever go back to that misery.

Good health is a lot about self care. It’s about getting some exercise every day, but not so much that you burn yourself out. It’s about nourishing your body with good food, but not sticking so rigidly to a dietary regime that it prevents you from living a rich, happy life. It’s about deep sleep, rest and fun. It’s about balance.

Top tips: Real food is good. Exercise is good. Rest is good. Balance is good.

The Calorie Fallacy

How do you decide what to eat?

Since the introduction of calories as a measure of food energy content, we’ve become obsessed with them. The government’s official messages at the moment mention nothing else.  However in spite of its popularity, calorific content is a poor basis for making food choices.

A huge and powerful industry makes and aggressively markets low-calorie food products. The BBC showed some years ago in ‘The Big Fat Truth about Low Fat Food’, that these products are not good for your health.

Instead of thinking primarily about calories, I ask the people on my Nutrition Coaching courses to focus on the goodness in foods. Some foods provide nutrients and improve your health. These include fresh meat, fish, eggs, cheese, fruit, veg and natural fats. Good food gives you essential amino acids, essential fatty acids, vitamins, minerals and enzymes.

Other foods are bad for you and your body has to work really hard to deal with them by using up lots of your vitamins, minerals and enzymes and most of your energy too. They leave you with compromised health and feeling exhausted. These include processed foods, biscuits, crisps, donuts, snack bars, fizzy pop, flavoured water and ready meals.

Bad food contains refined sugar, salt, damaged fats, artificial sweeteners and additives. Often processed foods are chemically altered to increase the appeal to your taste buds. They override your body’s ways of knowing when you’ve had enough and you can just carry on eating more and more.

So stop worrying about calories and think about goodness. Ignore the marketing hype which results in low-fat and low-calorie foods being labelled as healthy even if they’re not. Think instead how food can build your health or harm you.

Top tip – eat real food!

Make 2018 a Good Year

However 2017 turned out for you, we’re all hoping 2018 will be a good year. And you can make that more likely!

Did you know that the more you think about, talk about and write about something, the more likely it is to happen.

Jim Rohn said, You are the sum of the five people with whom you spend the most time

Who are those five people for you? Do they inspire you or drag you down? Since you’re going to end up like the people you spend time with it makes sense to keep company with the sort of people you’d like to be.

Jim Rohn also said you’re the average of “the five things around you, the ideas of the five books you read, the feelings from the five films or TV programmes you watch.” So it really matters what you choose to surround yourself with habitually.

I’ll continue with the theme:

  • the five websites you read
  • the five people you follow on social media

  • the five activities you do
  • the five items you use
  • the five songs you listen to
  • the five foods you eat!

Thinking of food, I’ve spent January consoling people who over-indulged at Christmas and New Year by reminding them that our regular habits matter more than what we eat or drink occasionally. So what is it that we eat most of in Britain? Chicken perhaps, or potatoes? No, apparently, it’s white flour – hardly a health food. Why so much? Think bread, wraps, pasta, pizza base, pies and pastry, Yorkshire pudding, cakes, biscuits, pancakes…need I go on? No wonder much of the population is over-fed but undernourished. What can you do?  (spoiler alert – top 5 at the end!)

Think of less processed alternatives to the floury things you eat.

  • A cabbage leaf makes a good wrap (blanch it first to make it more flexible).
  • Combine whatever filling you usually put in a sandwich with some salad. Top it with olive oil to make a superior lunch.

    Winter Salad

  • Too cold for salad?  Soups are a great way to get loads of different types of vegetables into your diet. You can put a bit of chopped up meat in for protein. (Use leftovers from dinner.) Have it with a hunk of cheese and there’s no need for any bread.
  • You can make pizza base from cauliflower chopped up in a food processor. Mix with egg, cheese and seasoning and shape into a circle. Bake for 20 minutes before adding toppings.
  • And there’s a wonderful Jon Gabriel recipe on YouTube for pizza that uses omelette as a base. It’s very satisfying; delicious hot when you make it or cold later on. Jon uses 3 eggs to make his but that’s too many for me so scale the recipe to match your appetite.
  • Instead of pasta, you can make courgetti using a spiralizer or simply making strips using a potato peeler. Have some meat with it to make up for the bit of protein you lose from the wheat. Wider strips can replace pasta sheets for lasagna.
  • Nuts (natural) and fresh coconut make great snacks.
  • Sticks of carrot, celery and cheese with apple slices makes an easy, portable lunch.
  • Instead of biscuits, have a square or 2 of the chocolate/nut/seed mix I showed you last issue.
  • You can make buns using ground almonds as a base – just mix a large egg, a tablespoon of melted butter, 3 oz ground almonds, a sprinkling of raisins, ¼ teaspoon of baking powder, a pinch of salt. Bake in paper cases in a bun tin at Gas Mark 3, 160o C for about 25 minutes
  • You can even make cake in a cup in the microwave. Use a mix of ground almonds, raisins and egg.
  • Microwave ‘bread’ made in a mug is similar. Beat an egg with 2 desert spoonfuls of ground flax seeds, 1 teaspoon baking powder, pinch of salt. Cook of full power for 1min 20 seconds.

As you improve your habits, you’ll feel the benefits. Fill your diet with good nutrition by resolving to regularly include more good things in your diet.

Try these 5:

  • vegetables – have some with every meal (potatoes don’t count)
  • meat/fish – good quality, home cooked
  • healthy fats – olive oil, butter, avocado, nuts
  • fruit – have a piece or two each day (but skip the fruit juice)
  • water – as your number 1 drink

Top tip: Make your main 5 foods/drinks good ones.

What with all the confusing messages in the press and TV programmes about diets most nights throughout January it isn’t easy to know what’s good. If you’re not sure, get in touch and Learn to Eat Well.

Eat for Better Business coming to Kendal

On 12th April (10am to 4pm), I’m bringing Eat for Better Business to the Mintworks, Kendal for a Cumbria Chamber of Commerce event.

It’s an interactive day focused on busting many currently fashionable food myths to help you feel great and work at the top of your game.
For quality work you need to be at your best without suffering any afternoon slump or fuzzy concentration. That means putting the right things in your body. You wouldn’t try to run your computer on gas or your car on jet fuel, but with confusing messages everywhere it’s hard to know what to eat for the best.
By the end of the workshop, delegates will:

  • recognise the importance of diet
  • have identified the impact on work
  • discover better breakfasts and lunches
  • understand why we eat and what we need
  • explore what’s hidden in food
  • know what to eat for brain power
  • appreciate the importance of meal breaks
  • have defined a personal goal.

The delegate rate for this full day workshop is £65 +VAT Chamber and Made in Cumbria members / £120 +VAT non-members – to book your place(s) please – BOOK HERE

Should you have any questions regarding the above training event, please do not hesitate to contact me or Catherynn Dunstan from Cumbria Chamber catherynn@cumbriachamber.co.uk.

 

Nourish your body

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.

Food on TV

Perhaps it’s because of my professional interest, perhaps it’s because I love food, but I tend to notice the things (good and bad) that people eat on TV. I’m not thinking of cookery programmes which, curiously, I don’t watch. I’m thinking of people eating food incidental to the main theme. Take Gogglebox where families sit in front the TV scoffing biscuits, crisps and other processed, health-robbing snacks and drinks.

Then there’s The Big Bang Theory where an American guy with a brain the size of a planet tucks into takeaways most nights and whose standard order when eating out is a burger washed down with a famous fizzy beverage. He claims to know everything; doesn’t he realise how bad for him all this is?

My favourite in Inspector Montalbano. This Italian detective series is full of grand buildings, fast cars, beautiful scenery and fabulous food. We see the hero relishing dishes at restaurants, enjoying what his housekeeper makes and cooking for himself. He loves to eat and won’t hold a conversation when there’s food on the table. His eyes roll with frustration if the telephone rings when he’s just sat down. He totally celebrates the delights of good food.

Between the programmes come adverts. Of the edible products being promoted, I would advise against eating all but a tiny percentage. The pictures look wonderful – they know we eat with our eyes. To convince you of their natural goodness, they conveniently skip over the gulf between the healthy delicious dish you would enjoy if you made it yourself using fresh ingredients, and their finished product.

Dr Mercola has done a handy table of the characteristics of real food vs processed food products.  If you want to be shocked to your core by what happens to processed food, read Joanna Blythman’s Swallow This.

Top tip – eat like Montalbano

Holiday Food

I recently went to Norway on holiday, brilliantly arranged by the lovely people at Cockermouth Travel. As well as the breathtaking beauty of the place, I was struck by the slim, healthy build of the population and the fabulous food! Game stew was a highlight plus lots of fresh fish (they love their herrings) and vegetables. (OK there were fast food places for tourists in the town centre; you’ll find that everywhere in the world nowadays.)

Breakfasts were a feast of cold meats, cheeses, fish, eggs, fruits, vegetables and yoghurt. That’s a high nutrient breakfast to fuel the national pastime of walking up mountains, come rain or shine. Over here continental breakfast has been diminished to coffee and a croissant – not satisfying, not healthy and not continental.

Breakfast

Breakfast

More breakfast

More breakfast

And more breakfast!

And more breakfast!

 

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Going on holiday is a great opportunity to reconnect with real food. You might go to more exotic places that I do. Perhaps you’ve sampled the delights of young coconuts or fresh bananas which I’m told are divine.

It’s a shame we emulate the Americans more than Europeans. We eat more processed food than any other European country. We also have the fattest population plus the resultant deteriorating health. The French and Italians love their food and you can enjoy locally grown produce, artisan breads, grass-fed meat and amazing cheeses. Food is a high priority for them. They spend money on good ingredients and take time cooking and eating. Meals are not rushed or gulped down alone in front of a TV or computer. There’s a strong social element with lots of talk and laughter round the table. Enjoy it while you’re away and keep it up when you come back.

Top tip – make good food culture a holiday souvenir to bring back home.