Food for thought

Hi there!

I hope you’re all having a good week.

I’ve been doing a lot of research into food lately. For all the research I’ve done, I believe Michael Pollan said it best when talking about what we as humans should eat to be healthy:

‘Eat food.

Not too much.

Mostly plants.’

This summary of the human diet sums up what we should be thinking to ourselves whenever we put something into our mouths – Is it food? Is it a lot of food? Does it contain plants or is plant-based?

The first question may seem a little strange – Is it food? For a lot of people, food has come to mean something that is far removed from what actually qualifies as food. A ready meal made in a plant and bought in a supermarket that is microwaved and ready in four or so minutes isn’t really food at all. Corporations have taken away this generation’s ability to truly understand what food is and how simple it is to cook a wholesome meal. Your meal shouldn’t be processed or packaged. Rather, it should be what food was to our grandparents – a combination of fresh ingredients combined to produce a dish with delightful taste and nutritional value.

The next question we should ask – is it a lot of food? – I will admit that I struggle with this. Portion control is my weakest area where healthy eating is concerned.

Even the right food in huge quantities is the wrong choice.

I was raised by my Nan in a household where you ate everything on your plate before you could leave the table. Of course, my Nan’s portions were measured and controlled. Mine, not so much. I remember when I cooked spaghetti bolognese for my husband and I years ago. I dished up a huge mountain of spaghetti which, of course, I ate without leaving a single morsel. In my defence, we’d only just moved in together and cooking was somewhat of a novelty to me. However, ten years later I still struggle with portion control, though not in the same league as the spaghetti.

Mostly plants – I’m trying to incorporate a lot more veggies into my meals rather than meat being the main focus. When my meals are pre-planned and prepped, this is easy. When the day doesn’t go according to plan, the following day always tends to suffer as a result of improper planning. This is when I would dash to the supermarket as most people do and pick up a ready meal. Not any more.

So, here is a recipe of my own for when this happens, when planning goes out of the window and all you have are a few essential ingredients. I’ve tried to ensure there are lots of plants in this recipe for full nutritional value. Having your pantry or store cupboard stocked for times like these goes a long way. The following recipe is for a single portion so adjust accordingly if you’re feeding your family too.

Ingredients

  • 50g spaghetti
  • passata or tinned tomatoes
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • handful of black olives
  • handful of broccoli florets, pre-cooked (any leftover cooked veggies will work)
  • 1 tin chickpeas
  • olive oil
  • dried basil or oregano

 

Method

  1. In a large saucepan, cook the spaghetti according to packet instructions.
  2. While your spaghetti is cooking, drizzle some olive oil into a pan and place over a medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes until softened.
  3. Add passata, broccoli, chickpeas, olives and dried basil to the pan and stir to combine.
  4. When spaghetti has cooked, drain, then stir and combine with the other ingredients.
  5. Eat and enjoy!

It’s amazing the meals you can put together just by combining store cupboard ingredients. Everything in the ingredients list can be adjusted too so if you don’t have spaghetti but have pasta, cook the pasta. Only rice? Cook the rice. If you don’t have passata or tinned tomatoes but have a jar of pesto, use pesto. You don’t have to use chickpeas either – chicken, fish or turkey will all taste good and for an extra hit of heat, add some dried chilli flakes to the mix. There are so many options so don’t rely on store bought meals full of salt and sugar when you can cook up something much tastier for a fraction of the price and a much better return nutritionally.

Let the food experimenting begin!

Back to training

Hi everyone!

The Easter break is over and it’s back to my usual routine of training after dropping my daughter off at school. My body didn’t feel ready for the 5.30am wake up call and it took a while for me to come around. A thirty minute dog walk followed by a yoga session and I was ready to start my day. With porridge and a homemade green juice (see previous post for recipe) fuelling me, I took my daughter to school then hit the gym.

Goodness me…I was exhausted! I didn’t think I’d be that worn out from my early start but boy was I. My lungs were burning! I thought I’d written a steady workout but my body sure didn’t think so. Here’s this morning’s session:

5 minute warm up on the treadmill – steady-paced walking

  • 20 wall balls (8kg slam ball)
  • 500m row
  • 20 push ups
  • 500m row
  • 20 sit ups
  • 500m row
  • 20 lunges
  • 500m row
  • 20 squats

It’s the first time I’ve done this session and, once I got onto the push ups, my lungs couldn’t get enough oxygen. Rather than doing a straight 2000 metre row, breaking it up into 4 x 500 metre rows with 20 rep exercises gives your body something extra. It was tough but super fun to do. Next:

21-15-9 reps of the following –

  • squats
  • push press (I used a 16kg Vipr)
  • deadlift (20kg bar)
  • calorie x-trainer

I was suprised at how much this took out of me. Mixing up the aerobic work of the x-trainer with weights really taxed my body.

21-15-9 reps again only this time I used a 12kg kettle bell to do thrusters, KB swings and KB high pull.

Finished off the session with 30-20-10 reps of glute bridges while holding 10kg plate, sit ups and Russian twists, then some stretching.

It felt sooooo good to be back at the gym. I hadn’t been there for two weeks and, although I’d done some exercises at home, I don’t seem to push myself as hard as I do when I’m surrounded by others trying to improve their fitness too. With my muscles satisfied and my lungs just starting to repair themselves, it’s time to go to work.

Have a great day everyone!

Easter hangover

Hi there!

I hope you all enjoyed the Easter weekend. I can’t believe it’s Easter Monday already.

I gorged my way through Easter Sunday, eating more sugar and calories than necessary and all in the name of tradition. Did I say tradition, I meant gluttony. I pigged out and used Easter as an excuse to eat to excess. I think we all tend to eat far too much of those cone-shaped chocolate treats, especially kids.

When browsing through the paper, I saw this picture highlighting the amount of calories and sugar found in a Cadbury’s creme egg:

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7 teaspoons of sugar! How many of us polished off one of those eggs over the weekend? I know I did. And that’s just a little creme egg. I don’t even want to think about how many teaspoons of sugar were in the bigger ones I ate.

When I started this blog in January, I did so to help me become a better version of myself.  I was determined to improve my body and my mind. Things went really well at the start. When I took up the lent challenge of giving up sugar, I was full of positivity and determination. But as soon as I gave in to cravings and fell off the sugar wagon, it seemed I couldn’t motivate myself to get back on track again. I still trained hard but my diet just wasn’t on point since. When I looked back at my diary entries and blog posts when I wasn’t eating sugar, I seemed…better. I had more energy and felt more focused. I was certainly less negative than I feel right now. Sugary choices seemed to take over and I always found something or someone else to blame other than myself. My husband and daughter were still eating sugar when I gave it up and yet, when I started eating sugar again, it was their fault! I gave up personal responsibility and relied on excuses.

So today I’m going back to day 1. No more excuses – no added sugar, no processed foods, just clean wholesome food. Despite trying and failing last time, I’m going to keep on trying and I will succeed eventually – how could I not with all of you guys to help me!

That’s it for now but I’ll update you on my progress later this week.

The Mediterranean Diet

Hi there!

There’s always a lot of talk about certain diets at this time of year. Everyone is looking for a quick way to get into shape for the summer. One diet in particular has been getting a lot of attention lately, not for it’s weight loss potential, though it certainly has that effect, but for its health benefits.

Bob Harper, designer of the Black Fire workout, avid Cross-Fitter, author and well-known personal trainer, despite being an incredibly fit individual, suffered a heart attack at only 51 years old. Thankfully, he is recovering well, at least according to his Instagram and Twitter feeds, and this is partly because of the diet his doctors prescribed him. Yep, you guessed it, it’s the Mediterranean diet.

So what is it? First, it’s not a diet in the way we’ve come to think of a diet. It’s more of a dietary tradition, with fewer dietary restrictions than modern diet plans. It focuses on eating vegetables, fruits, olive oil, legumes, nuts and seeds, fish and seafood, herbs and spices, water and the occasional glass of red wine. Yippee!

Second, the Mediterranean diet isn’t only about the food you consume. It’s also about making a lifestyle change and adapting your eating habits to those of the Mediterranean region. The Italians or Greeks didn’t devour their meals watching TV or while they’re busy on their phones. Eating your meals on time is important and skipping meals isn’t an option. Meals should be enjoyed, whether it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner. They are social occasions, an opportunity to pause and enjoy every bite of your food while spending time with family or friends, as opposed to ramming it in your mouth while doing two or more things at the same time.

There are certain foods on the Mediterranean diet that, while still consumed, are done so in moderation. These are cereals and grains, meat and eggs, milk and dairy.

Cereals and grains can be part of every meal as long as they are whole grains such as wheat, oats, rice, rye and barley. It is recommended that portions are moderated for this particular food. The main focus at any meal should be on fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds, as well as fish and seafood. Cereals and grains are only served as an accompaniment.

Meat is eaten once a week at most on a Mediterranean diet. When it is eaten, it is served in small portions and always as a side dish, not the main focus of the meal.

Eggs are used for baking, making omelettes or frittatas, or eaten boiled or poached but, again, moderation is key.

Milk and dairy products aren’t part of the Mediterranean diet, with the exception of yogurt and cheese. Greek yogurt, feta cheese and parmesan feature in the Mediterranean diet, but in small portions.

You all know my love of pancakes so it seems appropriate to share with you a Mediterranean-style recipe for Greek pancakes with fruits and nuts. This recipe comes from the book ‘The Complete Mediterranean Diet for Beginners’ by Susan Williams and these pancakes offer up the benefit of whole grains combined with fresh fruit, toasted nuts and Greek yogurt. While this recipe uses some of the ingredients in the moderation group of foods, the focus should be on the fruit served with the pancakes, not the other way around.

The following recipe serves 4:

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup old fashioned oats
  • 2 tablespoons flax seeds
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 cups Greek yogurt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Fresh fruit such as bananas and berries for topping
  • Handful of toasted walnuts, hazelnuts and almonds, chopped for garnish

Method

  1. Add the flour, oats, flax seeds, baking soda and salt in a blender and process for a minute.
  2. Add yogurt, eggs, oil and honey, and blend until smooth. Allow batter to stand for about 20 minutes until it thickens.
  3. Heat a large non-stick pan over a medium heat and brush with oil. Pour some of the batter into the pan and cook until golden brown and bubbles form on the top. Turn over and cook other side until golden brown.
  4. Serve with fresh fruit (bananas and berries), toasted nuts and Greek yogurt.

My family and I loved these pancakes and did so embracing the Mediterranean way of enjoying breakfast, eating slowly and talking, really talking to each other, switching off from the world to enjoy our meal together. I recommend you all try this.

Have a great week everyone.

Teriyaki Grilled Tuna

Hi there!

This week I’ve managed to do 2 swim sessions and 2 gym sessions so I’m feeling great. Today is my daughter’s last day of school before she’s off for two weeks. I can’t wait to have her home and yet I always think to myself, “Oh no, how am I going to fit in training?”

I always do my training, whether it’s swimming or in the gym, after I’ve done the school run. It’s lovely and quiet so I can get my head down and get my sessions done before starting my work. It also means I have the weekend with my family as training’s already done for the week. With my daughter home, I can never seem to sort out a schedule where I fit in all of my training. I’m not complaining at all as I love having my daughter home and we have loads of fun. She’s a training session in herself, really. The thing is, when she’s off I tend to opt for unhealthy food choices and end up putting on a few pounds, then spend the next term trying to shift them before the cycle starts all over again.

I know what I should do – I should get my lazy behind out of bed early enough to do my sessions before she wakes up in the morning. But at 5.00am when the alarm goes off, it’s the last thing I feel like doing. Any suggestions? Any help you can give would be much appreciated.

Last night, we had this awesome tuna dish that I just had to share with you today. It’s from the Insanity booklet and is great when you’ve had a hard session and need to refuel. Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients

  • 4 oz tuna steak
  • 2 tbsp Teriyaki sauce
  • 1 cup of fresh spinach leaves (washed)
  • 1/2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup cooked brown rice

Method

  1. Place tuna in a shallow dish; pour teriyaki sauce over the tuna and marinate for roughly 20 minutes, turning a few times so the marinade soaks the entire tuna steak.
  2. Place frying or grill pan on medium heat. Cook tuna for about five minutes on each side, or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork.
  3. Combine spinach, oil and lemon juice in a medium bowl; toss gently to blend.
  4. Serve tuna with salad and warm rice.

This is one of the best recipes in the Insanity booklet. I love cooking this dish as it’s quick to prepare and so easy to cook. The tuna soaks up the sweet teriyaki sauce and the tuna and spinach give you a great kick of protein when you really need it. I’ve also substituted the rice for a jacket potato as both work well. Hope you get chance to try this recipe – your taste buds won’t regret it.

Have a great weekend everyone!

 

Breathing technique and healthy snack recipe

Hi there!

It’s Monday, the start of a new week and a new beginning. Life can be stressful sometimes, it certainly was for me last week. When stressful things happen, I always tend to reach for my crutch – sugar. Because I’m trying to give up this bad habit, I needed to have something else to help me cope. While yoga and meditation are great for relieving stress and anxiety, I needed something I could do on the go, wherever I was. What I discovered helped me enormously last week and it’s called circle breathing.

Circle breathing when done correctly is a simple, quick and effective way to relieve stress in a hurry. You can do it anywhere and at any time. Whenever you’re feeling anxious or stressed out, a round of circle breathing should help to focus your mind and calm you right down. This practice can also help to prevent glucose spikes when performed after meals – another bonus. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Inhale and stretch your arms over your head. Exhale and lower your arms back down to your sides. Relax and keep your arms lowered for the rest of the exercise.
  2. Now imagine your inhaling a stream of peaceful energy into a spot about a few inches below your navel.
  3. Continue inhaling, imagining the energy travelling to the base of your spine, then imagine it travelling up your back to the top of your head.
  4. Exhale, and mentally follow that breath back down the front of your body to the point below your navel where you’ll begin the next inhale. Your breath has now made a full circle – up the back of your body, down the front and back to the starting place below your navel.

I try to do between five and ten circle breaths to help when I’m stressed. I also like performing step 1 on repeat for five or six times before and after my workouts. The simple act of inhaling and exhaling calms your mind and helps it focus on the task ahead.

I also wanted to share with you a healthy snack recipe I found last week. I had this on the weekend when my family and I were watching a movie and it really helped the cravings:

In a pot with a lid, air-pop 10g of popcorn kernels according to the packet instructions. Once they’ve all popped, sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of pumpkin or sunflower seeds, 1 teaspoon of unsweetened coconut and a dash of ground cinnamon. Or you can simply air-pop and eat.

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The above serves one person, is ready in about ten minutes and is so yummy when you’re struggling with sweet cravings – you’ll think you’re in the cinema!

Enjoy and have a great week.