Is What You Eat Making You Ill?

Food

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To say I have always had a complicated relationship with food would be an understatement. Me and food have been in a volatile, long-term relationship since I can remember, while various phases of my life have come and gone, good old food has been my ever loyal companion. It has certainly not been a relationship lacking in passion, it has destroyed me and then it has helped to heal me – we have both hated and loved one another, sometimes to dangerous extremes and often at the same time. It’s been rocky, but food has never given up on me.

There’s nothing quite like being diagnosed with a chronic illness to make you re-evaluate some stuff and for me, a huge part of this stuff was my diet. While there is little scientific evidence to show that diet has any direct impact on the disease, there is no question that food affects the symptoms. The problem is that these are different for every sufferer, for every individual it is a case of trial and error and painstaking food diaries until you eventually figure out what works for you – and even then this is subject to change. So my life became centred around food once again, only this time for entirely different reasons. After years of counting calories, shunning food groups and dreading meal times, now all I wanted was to be able to eat a what I considered to be a ‘normal’ meal. It’s kind of ironic really – in that cruel way life likes to laugh at you from time to time – eating was literally making me ill.

Knowing as you do by now my affiliation with food, it won’t surprise you that when I heard about a food intolerance test a local health food shop was offering, you couldn’t sign me up fast enough. Admittedly, people are sceptical of such things and rightly so, I’m not entirely sure how it works myself, although I’m led to believe it has something to do with the pulse. These tests aren’t cheap (decent ones, anyway) and they’re not as reliable as a medical diagnosis, but they don’t pretend to be either. They are aimed at people who suffer from a range of medical conditions, from IBS to Eczema and are there to help you figure out if what you’re eating is worsening your symptoms or making you ill. Although my nurse may be inclined to disagree, food does have an impact on the body – it can improve symptoms just as it can worsen them – sure a gluten-free diet may not be as affective as a heavy course of steroids but looking to the long-term it’s a more realistic approach (plus, its side-effects don’t include leaving you looking like you’ve shoved too many Maltesers in your cheeks.)

I left the test feeling fantastic, brimming with information and advice – given to me by a very helpful dietician – about how to manage my illness, what supplements I should be taking and the actual effect that food could have if I played by the rules. It was the best decision I ever made, until I sat down, studied my results properly and realised that I could no longer eat anything. When I say anything, I mean gluten, dairy and sugar, which to someone who loves bread, pasta and cheese as much as I do, is basically everything. As well as the main culprits, it also turns out I am “sensitive” – the correct non-medical term, as they are not diagnosed allergies – to sweet potatoes, mushrooms, beef, grapes and strawberries to name just a few.

A few weeks down the line, I wish I could say I have embraced this new lifestyle with open arms and now exist on a completely free-from diet filled with plants and beans, but I am only human. It’s tough and it’s a work-in-progress that I will no doubt share with you if you care enough to follow. However, whilst I regularly rue the day I ever took the food intolerance test – particularly as the boyfriend devours his double cheeseburger with sweet potato fries – it was certainly an eye-opener. As mere human beings food is a huge part of our lives but we really have no idea what we are putting into our bodies or what the hell is going on inside there. More and more people are announcing their intolerances and cutting out certain foods, even if their reasoning is as simple as it makes them feel better, we’re starting to realise that food isn’t just fuel, it is medicine.

In an ideal world, I would have everyone take a food intolerance test, but then in an ideal world I would be able to eat pasta for every meal without consequence. I believe we could all benefit from knowing if what we eat is making us ill. In the meantime, my love-hate saga with food continues, but the relationship is blossoming – I’ve purchased recipe books and even started to bake. I’m slowly learning to love the food that loves me back, it’s not easy but I’m in it for the long-haul this time.

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Why NOT to detox this January

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It’s a new year, that must mean a new you, right? And when I say a new you, I mean a skinnier, healthier, fitter, less toxin filled version of last year you, of course. Which newest, craziest celebrity fad diet are you using to attempt to achieve this “new you”? Well if you’ve been reading the tabloids of late it’s probably Gwyneth Paltrow’s Red Carpet Detox Diet, but don’t panic if this isn’t the detox you’ve opted for, the Red Carpet Detox adheres almost exactly to every single other detox cliche around, it just happens to be this one which has the media’s attention at present.

Alongside articles related to said diet, I keep coming across the question, can celebrities make you fitter? “No. No they can’t” I want to scream. They’re not nutritionists or personal trainers, they are simply people in the public eye, who for whatever reason society has chosen to idolise, and therefore will believe anything they say.

What I’m getting at is, this January don’t fall for the detox diet. A diet which recommends excluding almost entire food groups and advocates obsessive, unrealistic eating is not just unhealthy but nutritionally ignorant and encourages weight obsession. Although thankfully most people will never suffer with an eating disorder, many at some point in their lives, will experience phases of disordered eating, of which detoxes such as this are a prime example. While it is disgusting that the media promotes this disordered eating, by forcing these diets and detoxes upon us, it shouldn’t surprise anyone – the western world is obsessed with food, with eating it and not eating it. So much so, that what we eat has almost become a statement about our life and who we are. At the end of the day detoxes are fashionable, just as being skinny is, and who doesn’t want to be fashionable and skinny? Even if they do come at an ever-increasing price, that price being your health.

What we should be aware of is that these diets are concocted on the belief that women are so shallow and silly, they will follow anything they’re told to, just because a celebrity has been name-dropped in there. Yeah its offensive, but sadly its true, and even more worryingly, quite often the theory works.

Celebrities can’t make you fit or help you lose weight, only you can do that and the only sensible, effective way is to eat well and exercise often. Don’t detox, its unnecessary, unhelpful and unhealthy.

Have Yourself a Healthy Little Christmas…

Food

It may be the season to eat, drink and be merry, but that doesn’t mean you have to lose sight of the healthy body and mind you work hard for the other 364 days of the year. The meaning of Christmas isn’t ‘eat yourself into a coma’ or ‘calories don’t count today’. Christmas is about family and tradition, though for some reason, Britain can’t help but turn it into an excessive eating and drinking binge, packed to the brim with parties, buffets and leftover turkey sandwiches.

At the same time, you don’t have to be sat in the corner with ‘humbug’ on your Santa hat if you decide to go for the healthier options this year. By making just a few simple swaps and altercations to your Christmas menu, you could save yourself from a sack load of calories, fats and guilt.

Satsumas

The days of getting one in the bottom of your stocking on Christmas morning might long be gone, but the satsuma is the fruit of the season. They are great for adding to desserts, such as trifles (soak in 15ml of Brandy) or a simple fruit salad and the peel can be soaked in chocolate for that cocoa fix. They’re full of vitamin C too to keep the winter colds at bay!

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Pretzels

At parties and buffets, swapping a bowl of crisps or salted nuts for a bowl of pretzels reduces the amount of fat and calories but is still a great snack. In 30g of pretzels there is 0.8g fat, a much healthier (and more original) option!

Less Pastry

The less pastry, the better! Cutting back on the pastry means you can still enjoy the same Christmas pleasures, but they don’t have to be guilty ones. For example, make mince pies without tops on, choose cocktail sausages rather than sausage rolls, and nibble on breadsticks instead of cheese straws!

Vegetables

This is obvious. On Christmas Day, load your plate with vegetables, they are fat free and full of vitamins and though it is tempting to give those sprouts the wide birth, they are probably the best veg on the table. To keep your vegetables clean, flavour with herbs rather than butter.

Copyright of theguardian.com

Copyright of theguardian.com

Potatoes

Although potatoes have a bad rep, there is actually barely any fat in them, and it’s okay to allow for a little extra carbs at Christmas. Boiling or baking, rather than roasting the potatoes for your Christmas dinner, is a much healthier way to enjoy them and still just as tasty and traditional.

Dates

Granted, dates aren’t for everyone, but they are a great alternative to snacking on chocolate and sweets on Christmas afternoon. If you can’t be persuaded try other dried fruits instead.

Mulled Wine

Mulled wine is THE festive drink, it has the ability to make  even the grinch feel christmassy instantaneously, and the best part? If made with 50% orange juice, it is much healthier than a glass of regular red wine, so you can enjoy a guilt free tipple – or five!

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Most importantly, my final tip for having the healthiest Christmas you can is to enjoy yourself. Don’t get too bogged down worrying about what is passing your lips and how long you’ll have to spend on the treadmill come January. ’Tis the season to be jolly, after all.