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How to give up chocolate

August 9, 2011

You may find this hard to believe but I’ve drastically cut down my consumption of chocolate since last Tuesday.

I know I’ve said in the past that chocolate is the one thing I just wouldn’t be able to give up for good.

But this just goes to show … never say never!

So how did I do it?

Well it’s definitely not willpower, because I have none of that when it comes to those lovely 100g slabs of Green & Blacks Milk Chocolate & Almond that my husband is still buying (I stopped but he snuck off to the local newsagent to replenish supplies).

I also haven’t been to see a hypnotherapist or started smoking or signed up for one of these “bootcamp” fitness programmes.

What happened is that I was given a voucher for a free “snack box” from a company called Graze, that I reckon could become to healthy snacking what Innocent is to smoothies.

The way it works is you set up an account and the company delivers a box of healthy treats to you by post each week.

The food in your box is chosen according to what you tell the company you want –  for each of their foods, you tell them whether you like, love, or would like to try them and they put together your weekly boxes based on these ratings.

And there’s loads to choose from – nuts, seeds, dried fruit, crackers, olives, focaccia, flapjacks and even a little fudge or chocolate thrown in every now and then.

Each box contains four little punnets of healthy treats, costs £3.49 and has been designed to fit through the letterbox, so no need to be home to sign for it.

I know that the naysayers will argue “oh but you can probably make your own healthy treats boxes for much cheaper each week.”

But I’m afraid that just doesn’t quite have the same “feelgood” factor – getting my box every Tuesday is like getting a special surprise in the post each week. It’s lovely!

The variety is fabulous – Graze have more than 100 different healthy treats to choose from and there’s no way I have that kind of storage space, even though I have a really large kitchen. If I tried to do something similar myself, I’d just end up snacking on the same old boring sunflower seeds and nuts each week … and then within a few weeks I’d be back on the chocolate (which somehow never gets boring).

The other thing that really makes it work is you only get a small amount of each treat. My problem is that if I buy a packet of Japanese rice crackers or some Bombay mix, I’ll just end up dipping into the packet a few times each day and within a few days it’ll all be gone. Really not good for the waistline.

I’ve been wanting to get into healthy snacking for quite some time as I know it’s important for energy and to keep my blood sugar levels stable during the day. Graze do a great explanation of the health benefits of “grazing” on their website – please click this link to read more.

I also think that denying yourself treats just doesn’t work, you only end up feeling deprived and depressed and then going on a binge.

So go on … do something nice for yourself and try a free Graze box – please go to the website and enter the code 27CV1C73.

You won’t regret it.

Oh yes, and if someone from Graze is reading this … please can we have biltong on the menu!

Introvert or extrovert? How to exercise right for your type

July 17, 2011

I follow the blog of a brilliant yoga teacher called Lucas Rockwood and he recently wrote something that really struck a chord with me.

What he said is that when people get frustrated with yoga, it’s usually because they’re trying to do something that just doesn’t fit in with who they are.

Extroverts often struggle with trying to maintain their self-practice, while introverts can get bored or anxious in group classes but will quite happily “blow half a Saturday experimenting with new yoga poses and stretching.”

Wow, I’ve never really thought about it like that. I definitely fall into the extrovert camp and yes, I do struggle with regularly practising yoga at home. Maybe it’s time to consider doing three classes a week rather than just one.

So how do you know whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert?

The general rule of thumb is that extroverts get their energy from being with others, while introverts get their energy from spending time alone. This doesn’t mean that extroverts don’t need any time to themselves, or that introverts don’t need other people.

There are also varying degrees of extroversion vs introversion – a few years ago I did a test called the Highlands Ability Battery which indicated that I was about 70% extrovert.

Lucas says: “One way is not better than the other, but if you understand your tendencies better, you can save yourself a lot of grief and enjoy your yoga more. For the right person, self practice is such a wonderful gift. For another person, the best option is to become a lifelong member at a local studio.”

It goes without saying that this applies to all types of exercise . Maybe the reason you’re hating the gym is not because you’re “lazy” but because working out by yourself just doesn’t suit you and you’re better off doing something like zumba or bootcamp?

And by the way, if you’re struggling with flexibility (yoga student or not) I can highly recommend Lucas’s website www.yogabodynaturals.com. You can sign up for a free e-course titled “Discover the 7 Secrets of Nutrition and Flexibility.”

I struggled for ages with tight hamstrings until I read what Lucas had to say, which is essentially that yoga classes demonstrate rather than develop flexibility, and that to make progress, you need to stretch every day and hold the poses for between 2 and 5 minutes. Also that nutrition can affect your flexibility.

I used to be so tight that if I went into a forward bend I could only get my hands to just under my knees. I did the stretching every day and in the beginning it was agony – I was in so much pain I felt like throwing up. But I gritted my teeth, got through it, and now when I go into a forward bend my hands are almost touching the floor. Once I’ve warmed up, I can comfortably touch the floor.

I can really recommend the YOGABODY Handbook, which gives you a 5-day per week stretching schedule. You can buy it as an e-Book or a printed book from the Yogabodynaturals.com website.

I’ve just started trying out the supplement, will post about that at a later stage.

*If you’re not sure about whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert I can recommend the Highlands Ability Battery. I did the test a few years ago with a fantastic career coach called Denise Taylor, her website is www.amazingpeople.co.uk

Fancy learning to make your own raw chocolate?

June 8, 2011

Cacao beans

I don’t know about you, but there’s one thing I just can’t give up in my quest for a healthy diet – CHOCOLATE!

Earlier this year, I found out that there may be a reason for this. Chocolate is actually very high in magnesium, many women are deficient in magnesium and that’s why we crave the stuff.

I also found out that it’s not the chocolate that’s bad for you, it’s the dairy and the sugar they add to it, and that raw chocolate is actually a superfood and one of the richest sources of antioxidants on the planet.

The person that delivered this amazing news was Lucy Pook, a nutritionist who has started up a raw chocolate making business called Lucy’s Luscious Raw Chocolate.

Lucy sells her delicious raw chocolate bars and truffles from home and in local shops in Brighton and Lewes – but she also runs raw chocolate making workshops and I’m attending one next Saturday (June 18th).

The workshop will teach me how to make my own chocolate – all raw, gluten-free, dairy-free and sugar-free.

Lucy has told me to attend the workshop on an empty stomach as there will be plenty of delicious tasters with recipes for raw truffles, chocolate torte, peppermint hearts, orange zest segments, raw mousse, smoothies and more.

Yum I can’t wait!

If you fancy joining me, there are still places available. Tickets are £40 or £60 for two persons.

Date: Saturday, June 18th

Time: 12pm – 2pm

Address: 6 Selbourne House, 19-21 Chatham Place, Brighton BN1 3TN

For more information, contact Lucy Pook on 01272 232 862, or email lucy.pook@ntlworld.com

Spice up your breakfast!

May 25, 2011

Fried rice

We’ve all been told a million times that breakfast is the most important meal of the day but even so, many people skip breakfast because they feel too rushed, too tired, or a bit queasy eating that early in the morning.

That used to be me in my former life as a journalist in London. I had to leave the house at 7.15am to be at work by 8.30am, which meant breakfast had to be eaten at around 6.45am or for it not to be rushed. However, attempting to eat a bowl of muesli or porridge at that time of the morning made me feel like throwing up. Particularly on those days when I’d only had about six hours sleep and skipped dinner the night before in favour of a couple of glasses of chardonnay.

By the time I got to work my stomach would be a bit rumbly, so I’d quickly pop into Cafe Nero, order myself a large latte and sometimes also a croissant or pain au chocolat. That would last me until noon, when I’d pop into Marksies and buy myself a sandwich and a fizzy drink (orange, because it’s healthier!). Then I’d wonder why I was so exhausted by 3pm that I couldn’t focus on my work and just wanted to curl up into a ball on the floor and go to sleep. It never even occured to me that the problem was that I  hadn’t exactly had the best start nutritionally to my day.

Things have changed a lot since then – thanks to meeting my DH, who introduced me to the concept of a low carb diet and taught me how to eat properly and look after myself.

Not only do I always have breakfast, but I always aim to have protein at breakfast. In the past I felt sick when I tried to eat breakfast – now I feel sick if I don’t.

One thing that really didn’t help me in the past was forcing myself to try and eat cereals, muesli and porridge for breakfast. These foods somehow just don’t seem to agree with me at all. Muesli looks like bird food and the concept of the stuff swimming in milk somehow just isn’t very appetizing. My DH refuses to eat porridge because it looks like “baby sick”.

The alternative is a cooked English breakfast – but this really isn’t an option for people who have to be out of the house by 7am and while it’s lovely for a treat on a Saturday or Sunday morning, can get a bit boring if that’s your staple fare.

So what are your options then for a bit of variety?

Well I can totally recommend looking to Asia for breakfast inspiration – we’ve recently been having fried rice and noodles in the mornings and I can’t recommend it enough. These dishes are also perfect for busy people because you can prepare them in advance and heat them up in the microwave – or just have them cold in the summer. We keep the leftovers in a plastic container in the fridge and have them as a snack.

I know it may seem a bit weird at first – but please give me the benefit of the doubt and try it out for a week or two and see if you like it. You also don’t need to have a massive dinner sized portion – just a small bowl will do. I find the lovely spices really wake up my tastebuds – and they’re excellent hangover fare (rather than anything with milk, which just makes me run to the loo to throw up).

In Asia, there’s no such thing as specific “breakfast food” like there is in the West. People eat similar things for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

  • In Japan, people generally eat rice, small amounts of cooked or grilled fish, small omelettes, pickled vegetables and pieces of nori, which you use to pinch up bites of rice.
  • Many Chinese begin their day with a warm bowl of congee, a watery rice gruel that can be sweet or savoury and seasoned with anything from chicken to mushrooms.
  • In Singapore, people have roti prata, a fried flour-based pancake that is cooked over a grill and served with a vegetable or meat-based curry.
  • In India, foods vary from region to region. Popular meals can include eggs with spices, potatoes, and onions, coffee, fruits and yogurt, appam (thin rice pancakes filled with spiced meat or potatoes and vegetables), idi-appam (rice noodles with sweet coconut milk or a meat curry), idli (small steamed cakes made with rice and split peas) and puttu (crushed rice and coconut steamed and served with bananas and milk). The Hindi breakfast dish khichri is made with rice, lentils, and spices.
  • Most Indonesians eat rice as the main dish for breakfast, lunch and dinner. In fact, some Indonesians feel that they haven’t had a meal unless it includes rice!
  • A traditional breakfast dish in Thailand is johk, a thick rice soup with pork.

Here are some Asian-inspired dishes we’ve been eating for breakfast.

  • Egg fried rice – Fry some curry paste in a pan, add a little meat (chicken, duck, crab, fish or prawns) and vegetables (peas, grated carrot, spring onions, peppers) and then some cooked rice. Make a well in the centre and add two beaten eggs, which are then scrambled into the mixture. Some fresh coriander from the garden to garnish and Bob’s your uncle.
  • Japanese noodles – Make a dressing from 1 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tbsp sunflower oil, 1 tbsp sesame oil, 1 tbsp lemon juice. Cook some soba or udon noodles, pop some prawns in the microwave, and thinly slice some cucumber and spring onions and finely shred some cabbage. Having a food processor really speeds things up here. Mix everything together … and breakfast is served. It’s absolutely delicious and really refreshing.
  • Paratha bread – I bought some from my local Indian grocer, popped it under the grill for about a minute each side and served it with pureed curried sweet potato.
  • Thai omelette – fry some curry paste with a little minced chicken or pork, add some peas or whatever veg you prefer, and then fold up inside an omelette that’s been seasoned with fish sauce. You could also have the mince with noodles or rice.

Basically, there are no rules here and you can improvise and adapt recipes as much as you want, and to suit your taste.

Let me know how you get on!


How to grow your own pea shoots

May 2, 2011

My first attempt at growing pea shoots

Snobbish restaurants and pretentious chefs have for quite some time been using pea shoots and tendrils to make their dishes look exotic and sophisticated.

Supermarkets are now following the trend by supplying them in bags, but did you know it’s actually dead easy to grow them yourself at a fraction of the cost?

The photo on the left is my first attempt – I reckon they’ll be ready to eat in about a week or so.

So how did I do it?

Well I got an absolutely fantastic tip from a friend that’s into gardening – she told me it’s much cheaper to use a large bag of dried peas from the supermarket vs. buying seed packets at Dyas or Homebase or at a gardening centre.

I bought some seed trays and seedling compost, bunged in my dried peas, watered them and left them in my greenhouse (making sure the soil was kept nicely moist).

About a week later, much to my surprise, I saw some tiny green shoots starting to peek through the soil. Each and every one had come up and the photo on the left is what they look like right now – about two weeks after I planted them.

What I’m really pleased about is that they don’t seem to mind shade and I’ve now found some use for my greenhouse and for the shady part of my garden.

I have to point out that when I say greenhouse, I mean one of those cheap £14.99 three-tiered ones from Dyas. I initially had it in the sunniest part of my garden but the heat burned my tender young plants to a crisp – as they say, gardening is very much a process of trial and error.

I’ve just read on the internet that I can expect about three harvests from each plant. When the shoots are around 20 cm tall, snip off (and eat) the tips just below the top two sets of leaves, which will encourage the plant to produce side shoots. Every three or four weeks, you can then harvest the top 10 cm to 12 cm or so until you get to a stage when the pea shoots begin to taste a little bitter – that’s when you know they’re finished.

I also read the best time to grow peas  for harvesting the shoots is in early spring or late summer since they will grow best in cooler temperatures. That explains why they like the shade!

Pea shoots are rich in vitamin C, vitamin A and folic acid and can be used raw in salads or lightly cooked in stir-frys. You can also try them lightly tossed in butter, served with fish or added to new potatoes just before serving.

A quick search on the internet will reveal a variety of  recipes using pea shoots (click here for an article and some recipes by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall).

I’m going to be posting regularly about my adventures in the garden, so if you’re also trying to grow your own or would like to learn how, please subscibe to my blog – go to the top right on my page where it says “EMAIL SUBSCRIPTION.”

Forget sit-ups … get hooping!

April 19, 2011

Jo Mondy glow hooping

So at the ripe old age of 40, I’ve taken up a new hobby … hula hooping!

Last night was lesson two of a six-week course with Jo Mondy, a Brighton-based hula hooping teacher and performer. Originally from Sydney, Australia, Jo got hooked on hula hooping about four years ago when a friend invited her to join a class.

She hasn’t looked back since and I can totally see why. Hula hooping is just a fantastic way of building core strength and cardio fitness while having fun at the same time.

Although I’m still dropping my hoop quite a lot at this stage, I can see myself being able to master the basic moves in a few weeks time – unlike pole dancing, where I thought being able to lift my own bodyweight and hang upside down on a pole will probably end up with me falling on my head.

So why hula hooping?

I’ve been thinking about ways to get more cardio training into my fitness regime, which currently consists mostly of yoga. Although I love yoga, it just doesn’t seem to be helping me lose weight.

I really don’t know how you get a “yogabody” – I suspect it involves about two hours of yoga a day, which I just don’t have time for. I was really looking for something I could do that didn’t take up a lot of time and that I could have fun with outdoors when the weather is good.

I spotted Jo’s course in the Evolution brochure and thought hula hooping could be the answer.

I also recently read an interview in Grazia magazine with Jennifer Hudson, the American actress who went from a size 20 to a size 8. When asked for her secret, she replied eating five small meals a day and doing five 25-minute workouts a week.

Hudson was trained by Harley Pasternak, whose ethos is “eat more, exercise less.” Although this really sounds too good to be true, Pasternak says that eating three meals a day and exercising an hour or more at the gym just doesn’t work.

He says that what you really need is a daily workout that includes 5 minutes cardio training, 10 minutes strength training, 5 minutes core work and 5 more minutes of cardio. His dietary recommendations are eating quality protein, reducing your fat intake, being aware of the glycemic index, drinking only sugar-free beverages, no calorie counting and one “cheat day” per week so you don’t feel deprived.

I don’t know what Pasternak would think about hula hooping, but I really can’t think of a better way to work your core. My abs have tightened up considerably in a very short space of time and I was notably more stable when I was doing my balance poses at yoga on Saturday morning.

I think once I can keep the hoop up for as long as I want, I’ll be able to build up quite a sweat, and I’ll include ten minutes of yoga poses aimed at building strength into my workout to mimic what Pasternak does with his clients.

I really think you’ve got to see exercise as enjoyable and a way to relax to get results, rather than seeing it as just another chore, which is what oftens happens when people sign up for a gym membership.

Off to practice now!

* If you’d like to get Harley Pasternak’s book, please buy it from my Bookshop on my website www.naturalfaceliftbrighton.com

Ladies have you got enough testosterone?

March 21, 2011

Did you know that a woman with low testosterone is more likely to get hit by a bus than be diagnosed by a British GP?

Let me explain.

Testosterone is a steroid hormone that is secreted in the ovaries of women and the testes of men, and in the adrenal glands of both genders.

Although it has traditionally been seen as a “masculine” hormone and/or a hormone that powers the libido, it is vitally important to the overall health and wellbeing of women, to the extent that a deficiency will actually affect a woman worse than it will a man.

Testosterone in women generally declines as part of the ageing process – by age 40, the testosterone in women is half of what it was at age 20. Lifestyle also plays a role in testosterone decline – for example, poor nutrition and not getting enough exercise.

Symptoms of deficiency can include:

  • sexual problems like anorgasmia and low libido
  • lack of ability to cope with stress
  • lack of confidence and assertiveness
  • flabbiness and weight gain that doesn’t go away with exercising
  • low stamina, strength and endurance
  • weak bones and a higher risk for developing osteoporosis
  • high cholesterol

Testosterone levels are measured by a blood test. According to my information (i.e. the test I had) the “normal range” for women is 0.20 to 2.90 nmol/L.

But here’s where it gets interesting. A woman scoring near the bottom end of the range will still most likely be told she’s “normal” by a GP,  even if she’s complaining about symptoms. It seems that the only way they’ll take you seriously is if you’re producing hardly any testosterone at all – in other words, if your score is 0.0 or 0.1 nmol/L.

Is is possible to be in the minuses?

I really don’t know for sure, but it seems unlikely as the test is measuring something you’ve got. You can have 50g of sugar in a cake but you can’t have -50g.

So how do I know all this? Well, because it happened to me. I asked my GP for the test, scored 0.5 nmol/L and was told “you’re fine, everything’s normal”.

But last week, I saw Dr Jan Toledano, who is the practice partner of Dr Marion Gluck, a world expert in bioidentical hormone replacement therapy.

She told me: “Your testosterone isn’t just low … it’s very low.”

Dr Toledano also said that she and Dr Gluck take the view that if a woman is complaining about symptoms that is enough to indicate there’s a problem.They look at the blood test but what the patient is saying is what really counts. A doctor that listens? And takes patients seriously? Wow, I thought the species had died out.

Dr Toledano also told me that some women function perfectly well with testosterone levels of 0.5 nmol/L. But some women don’t function well on those levels and need supplementation, which is generally given in the form of a creams and gels. Drs Gluck and Toledano use a compounding pharmacy that makes up precriptions for their patients.

My friend Nicci Talbot also recently wrote an article about a new product called Libigel that’s currently undergoing Phase III clinical trials in the US. You can read the article here.

Nicci is a journalist and author specialising in sexual health (see her blog In Rude Health). She told me recently that the posts that get the most hits are the ones about low libido – which indicates the scale of the problem. And how many other women are  going to their GPs, complaining about symptoms and being told “it’s all in your head”?

So what are the causes of low testosterone?

You can of course find loads of theories and information by surfing the internet, but apart from ageing, it seems that lifestyle is the other culprit  – particularly not exercising enough, or focusing just on cardiovascular exercise, which doesn’t build muscle. Women really need to think about doing weight bearing exercise as this is also crucial to strengthening your bones as you get older.

If pumping weights at the gym doesn’t appeal, the other options are yoga or something like the TRX suspension trainer, which uses the weight of the body to provide the resistance. I’ve also recently started doing “yoga with weights” – in other words, attaching special weighted cuffs to my wrists and ankles when I do my home practice.

My recommendation if you suspect you have low testosterone is to ask your GP for the test, and if it comes in at the low end of the range I’ve indicated above, make an appointment to see either Dr Gluck or Dr Toledano. They will take you seriously … and I’m pretty certain your GP won’t.

*There is a South American “superfood” called Maca that’s supposed to be good for boosting testosterone – I wrote an article about it for my friend Nicci’s blog (read it here).

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