A diet of documentaries

These days there are plenty of food documentaries out there that are easy to consume thanks to the rise of streaming services like Amazon and Netflix. And I certainly have an appetite for them! I feel that there’s so much we don’t understand about the food we eat and its effect on our bodies (and the planet). So personally, I can’t get enough of food documentaries in my mission to educate myself a little better.

Here’s a few films (and a book) that I’ve devoured recently that have helped me…

That Sugar Film

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It came recommended to me from a trusted personal trainer and when I eventually got around to watching this, it changed the way I thought about calories. As many people will know I have been enthusiastic about low fat/low calorie snacks in the past and have eaten plenty of processed diet snacks to keep myself under a certain calorie limit. And no matter how much I heard about clean eating and healthy fats, I would often still choose a low calorie snack bar or fat free yogurt over something like a whole avocado or scrambled egg. ‘That Sugar Film’ taught me that sugar and sweeteners are the real enemy and that my low calorie snacks are packed full of it. I knew that they were, I just didn’t believe that sugar was actually that bad. Throughout the documentary, filmmaker Damon Gameau eats a high sugar diet without ever reaching for chocolate or sweet treats. He gets his sugar from supermarket cooking sauces, frozen yoghurt, fruit juices and breakfast cereals…all things we tend to think of as ‘not too bad’. It did shock me to realise the damage I could be doing to my body on what I kidded myself was a healthy-ish diet. If you’re looking to cut sugar (or just to understand a bit more about it), this film is enlightening, easy to understand and best of all, it’s actually pretty funny too.

Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret

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Okay, this film is not funny at all, and it is heavy going but it’s also eye-opening. It essentially concerns farming’s impact on the planet, which I really had no idea about. I thought as long as I was buying organic meat, eggs and fish that I was doing right by the earth and animals…but in short it seems no farming is sustainable. This is a much bigger story than animal welfare, it is about our future as a planet. It’s truly a staggering documentary. I have never wanted to give up dairy before, but I pretty much have now after seeing this. I would love to try and go veggie too but having recently adopted a paleo-approach to eating, it would be incredibly hard! I have to admit, the film has left me feeling really uncomfortable about eating meat and unsure of the way forward. I don’t regret watching it though, it’s better to be informed.

Book binge: It Starts with Food

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Whilst in America I read ‘It Starts with Food’ after being lent it by my friends at Studio Twenty3. It was a much needed read, building on what I’d learnt in That Sugar Film and really spelling out the ill effects of eating foods not found in nature. It also helps you to understand why we crave and love some of the things we do (cheese and crisps in my case!) and shows how little chance we have against some of the foods out there. They are specifically designed to be irresistible! The recommendations are pretty extreme…no dairy (except clarified butter), no grains (that’s no rice or wheat) and no legumes (like beans or chickpeas) and of course no added sugars or sweeteners. However, it does claim that a lot of the conditions and negative effects of eating a bad diet can be reversed, so it seems a fair price to pay.
The science is all there in the book, it makes a lot of sense really. I’ve been sticking strictly to this (it’s called the ‘Whole30’ if you’re interested) wherever possible and I’ve already felt better and lost a little weight too.

Bursting with food facts…
I’m trying my hardest not to be an annoying person quoting food facts but I do feel happier being a little better educated on everything. I’m always up for learning more though, so let me know if there are any food documentaries or books you recommend?

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Clean eating, fasting and fear

Maybe it’s just the January effect but I really have been making more of an effort to eat clean. By that I mean, real, whole food and ingredients and eating less processed products.

The scary headlines around sugar have contributed to me wanting to consume less processed goods too. I knew sugar was in everything but I hadn’t realised just how bad for me it was.

The right thing to do…eat clean

Ultimately, I know eating cleaner is the right thing to do. Of course it’s best for my body
and my health to be eating natural products rather than foods with crazy ingredients that have been through all kinds or processes to make them low fat or ‘healthy’. I actually quite enjoy clean eating too. Plus, working from home means it’s not too difficult for me to adopt either, as I don’t need to eat ‘on the go’ and always have a fridge full of fresh ingredients nearby. So, why I haven’t I fully embraced clean eating? Why do I struggle to do it when it should be so straightforward for me? Why am I still reaching for the diet snacks on a regular basis?

I’ll tell you why. It’s the calories – which I know is a ridiculous thing to say but I’ll try to explain how I feel. Many of you will know I’m a 5:2 diet convert (perhaps evangelist might be a better word!), it’s flexible, it fits my lifestyle and I have had great results with it.  5:2 is way of life rather than a diet, it’s something you stick to for life (where possible) and I certainly see it that way…My Fitness Pal is probably the most used app on my phone. This means that calorie counting is frequently at the forefront of my mind.

Calories, health and fear…

Essentially after doing 5:2 for more than a year, I equate being ‘healthy’ with not going over 500ww calories in a day. I feel positive, pleased and even proud when I do a 500 calorie day successfully – knowing I’m keeping my body balanced for when I go out at the weekend for dinner and wine. And the truth is, until recently, I haven’t much cared how I got my 500 calories – as long as I didn’t go over this number. So a typical fast day would involve foods such as Weight Watchers chocolate wafers, fat free yoghurt, sandwich thins, reduced fat cheese, Birds Eye vegetable fingers or fish fingers…and other processed foods that offer a low calorific value.

So imagine how disheartening and hard I find it when a homemade smoothie of fresh fruits and greens has 250+ calories in it! On a fast day that would be a massive indulgence and half my calorific food allowance. Likewise with snacking on nuts and seeds – they pack a whole load of calories. So often I end up opting for a diet cereal bar instead because it’s easy, it tastes good and has less calories – and what’s not to like about that?! You see my problem with clean eating now…for a calorie counter it’s hard to get your head around how eating more calories could be good for you. Quite frankly, it scares me and makes me feel like I’ll put weight on because I’m consuming more calories. Is this just me? I don’t think I can be alone in this fear can I?

Can I re-train myself?

Seeing those calories tot up on My Fitness Pal is very off-putting – even if the calories come from healthy, clean choices. For so long, weight loss and maintaining this was my goal, soMFP all I cared about was cutting calories, without a thinking about nutrition. I have ignored how much sugar or sweetner is in my diet snacks or what the effect on my mood or performance might be of eating processed foods. I really need to address this – but how do I re-train my mind and the way I think about food and health? Perhaps if I really gave clean eating ago and felt the health and wellbeing benefits of this, I’d be converted? It’s a good idea but the truth is, it’s a big step I’m too scared about putting weight on to embrace this wholeheartedly, which is awful to admit. It’s just hard to change when I know the low fat, processed, diet snacks route has worked for me from a weight loss point of view.

So for now, I’m trying to be a bit more balanced and go for a gradual approach. My fast days will still inevitably feature some diet snacks to help me stick to my target calorie allowance – but I will try to incorporate ‘cleaner’ snacks and on my more relaxed days I’ll try and fully embrace clean eating without thinking about the calories.

At least, that’s the plan. Does anyone share my thoughts and fears? I’d love to hear from anyone with an opinion on cleaning eating, fasting or any of the issues above!

6 Things no-one tells you about weight loss

I never had all that much weight to lose, just a stone or so…easily acquired when you’re eating out a lot and partial to cheese and wine! However, last year I did manage to shift it with a switch to the 5:2 diet, intensified for the first few months.

Sticking to this straightforward way of life and eating only 500 calories for two days of the week means I have kept my excess stone off for over a year. Where am I going with this rather uninteresting tale? Well, successfully losing weight does feel great but there are a few surprises no-one tells you about…

1) You miss your appetite

A large pizza at Pi Woodfired in Winchester!

The 5:2 way of life and eating a little less does rather seem to shrink your your stomach and your eating capabilities! Bizarrely, I miss being able to eats lots of food. I used to be a massive fan of grazing, I still am, but it really fills me up! When you know you’re going to get full pretty quickly you really have to pick your food carefully.

2) You can’t choose where you lose weight from

It’s true, you might just want to shift a little from around the middle but you end up losing it from everywhere, even places you didn’t want to slim down! If you’re a woman, you can expect to lose hips and bust, not something I was prepared for!

3) Some of your favourite outfits won’t look so good on any more

Partly due to point number 2 and a changing shape, dresses, favourite jeans and tops can all not fit as they once did. Some clothes will look better on but some you’ll have to say goodbye to. It is an excuse to go shopping though!

4) Your shopping habits increase!

shopping bags, clothes shopping

Yes point number 3 brings you every excuse you’ll ever need to go clothes shopping. Whether it’s buying old favourites in smaller sizes or embracing bold new trends now that you feel more confident. You may have lost weight but your credit card bills will be getting fatter!

5) The fear of re-gaining weight is ever present

weighing yourself on the bathroom scales

While it feels great to be slimmer, there’s always a faint glimmer of worry that you might gain the weight back. One too many takeaways and you could be back where you started, ruining all your hard work. If you’re being healthy it probably won’t happen (beyond a couple of easily shed-able pounds), but the fear lingers in a way you never expected. I guess maybe it’s the motivation to stay healthy?

6) You become a bit boring

calorie counting is a little boring

Yes, like people who give up drinking or get really serious about the gym, you’ll lose a little bit of your fun self. Maybe it’s not true for everyone but having to be sensible about what you eat does make you a little dull and even annoying, in my opinion. Loving food and being adventurous with it is part of who I am…I like farmers markets, day time drinking, brunch and cheese on everything! So to have to reign these elements of my character in, sometimes doesn’t feel quite right. Like everything though, I suppose it’s all about balance. It’s important to get the calorie counting Vs living life balance right and I guess I’m still adjusting…and slightly mourning those carefree, eat-anything days!

So there you have it – some of the unexpected results of weight loss! This isn’t intended to put anyone off their weight loss goals, it’s just a one year on reflection from me I suppose. Would love to hear your thoughts on losing weight too…

xXx

10 Things you’ll relate to if you’re on the Fast Diet

Many of you will know I’m an advocate of the fast diet, it works for me – I’ve lost weight and easily maintained this without much of a compromise on my lifestyle. I can still eat out a lot and eat what I fancy in restaurants but with two low-calorie days I keep the weight off. That said, there a few common feelings which I think anyone on a fast day can relate to…

1) Fast days = early nights

nap

On a fast day I do feel a little weary by 8pm and don’t want to risk an evening nibble or trip to the biscuit tin, so it usually means an early night! Luckily I love my bed and falling asleep isn’t usually a problem for me.

2) You plan/dream about things you’re going to eat on non-fast days!

Cupcake

I can usually stick to my fast days pretty well but I do definitely day dream about what I’ll eat the next day when I’m not fasting! A croissant, a full fat latte, even just a couple of slices of buttered toast are delicious treats to look forward to.

3) You’ll never look at certain high calorie foods the same way

pizzalarge2

I don’t mean you won’t eat them but you’re just more aware of what you’re putting into your body. 250 calories for just a slice of Dominoes! Half my daily fast day allowance in one little pizza slice – I still get a takeaway pizza on occasion but I do it knowing it’s really not good for me and a fast day needs to follow!

4) MyFitness Pal is everything

mfpiphone1

Where would I be without this calorie counting app? Almost all foods are already listed in there and there’s a handy barcode scanner to let me add anything I’ve just snacked on. It’s so satisfying to complete a fast day and feel saintly as you see your 500 calories on the display before bed time! I don’t use it much on my non fast days but I still find myself mentally trying to work out the calories.

5) Weighing yourself after a fast day is the best

weight

You’re never lighter than first thing in the morning after a fast day – so that’s the only time I ever weigh myself! It’s encouraging to see the slightly lighter weight (or that you’ve not gained despite a heavy weekend, which may have included the aforementioned takeaway pizza). I find it motivates me to keep up with the 5:2 lifestyle.

6) You REALLY look forward to meals out (and indulging guilt free!)

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Everyone loves dinner out but when you’re on the fast diet it’s especially exciting. You’re obviously not going to do a fast day when you’ve got dinner out so the possibilities of what you can eat seem extra delicious and exciting…chips, steak, cheese, dessert – I enjoy a meal out without feeling guilty at the indulgence.

7) You know the calorific content of almost everything (and it bothers you if there’s something you can’t instantly recall the calorie content of)

Apple with nutriton facts

That’s me, an encyclopaedia of calorie knowledge! I’m like the rain man of calories! Partly through My Fitness Pal, partly through my own obsessiveness – I know roughly how many calories most things have…I think most serious fast dieters do too.

8) You know which processed and on-shelf snacks are healthiest/have the least calories

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This one’s closely related to number seven – but if you’re on the move and not someone who’s batch cooked healthy fast day treats then you will reach for the convenient on-shelf snacks that are readily available and incorporate them into your daily allowance. A few of my favourites that don’t get me into too much trouble with calorie counting are Wotsits (90 calories), Weight Watchers Caramel Wafers (79 calories), Proper Corn Sea Salted Popcorn (84 calories) and very occasionally a Club chocolate biscuit (115 calories).  I know I should eliminate some of these things from my diet all together – but snacks are everywhere and realistically many fast dieters will reach for them like I sometimes do.

9) It’s easier to go meat free on a fast day

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Works well if you’re doing Meat Free Monday! It’s much easier to stay within 500/600 calories if you cut out the the meat and go veggie instead. There are some reasonable veggie sausages out there for as little as 64 calories each, much easier to make a meal out of! Bacon medallions are the only meat which does sometimes fit into a fast day.

10) You miss lattes and cappuccinos 

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I know I’m all about tea, I really am but I do love a good takeaway coffee during the working day. It’s a no-no on a fast day though, even a lovely skinny latte can still have going on for 100 calories in and they aren’t calories that will keep you full. So fast days are often coffee-free – lucky I love tea so much really!

11) It can be really hard to avoid alcohol

wine

Have you ever tried doing a fast day on a Friday? It’s really hard not to crack at the end of the working week, just for glass of wine while watching Graham Norton…but unless you’ve eaten nothing else that day – you cannot fit the wine-time calories in. And if you’ve eaten nothing, there’s not much point in having wine as one glass will go to your head! I generally avoid fasting around the weekends – what’s the point? Weekends are for wine and cocktails!

10) Soup is your friend!

soup

Filling, healthy and often low-calorie…soup is a faster’s best friend. Covent Garden’s Carrot and Butternut Squash at 80-something calories per bowl is a particular fast day dinner win for me.

Would you agree? If you’re a fast dieter too I’d love to hear your experiences!

xXx