Stand back, I am about to open a can of worms…… Brace yourselves!
I am a total convert to this healthy, nutritious way of eating, right? I’ve cut right back on the amount of meat, refined sugar, alcohol, simple carbs and other processed crap that I put into my body, so therefore it goes without saying that I’m doing exactly the same for my kids right? Wellllllll…….. not quite!!
On week one of my current course I watched a lecture given by Alicia Silverstone where she talked with great excitement and animation about her macrobiotic diet. She is a staunch believer in it’s many health benefits and maintains that her young son has also been brought up following the same strict regime. She said that he sees blueberries as a huge treat. Now, don’t get me wrong, my kids love blueberries, but I’m 100% sure they don’t see them as “ a huge treat”!
So all of this got me thinking about my diet and if, how or whether it should it impact on the kids? I think its safe to say that if as I mentioned in this post , I am now eating to get my body healthy (as opposed to just skinny!) then obviously it should follow suit that I should be working towards the same aim for my nearest and dearest.
But the truth of the matter is that with a 7 and 4-year-old, its not always that easy. Now maybe if, like Alicia Silverstone, I had fully embraced this way of living and eating BEFORE getting pregnant, then my children would have been weaned knowing nothing different from quinoa and kale, but that wasn’t the case. When I got pregnant (on both occasions) I was still locked in a full scale conflict with my body and although I breastfed both of them for the first 4 months or so, this undoubtedly coloured the the way I weaned them onto solids. With my first, I tried really hard with the Annabel Karmel school of puree-ing your own veg and making your own baby mush. But I can tell you, that as a sleep deprived, first time mum there are only so many point blank refusals you can take before thinking “bugger this….. pass me the jars!” With my second, partly because of the experience I’d had with my first and partly because she was my second and I was even more knackered, I bypassed the home pureeing altogether and headed straight for the shop bought stuff!
And I suppose that set the score. For a long while (and yes, even today) I have chosen the path of least resistance when it comes to my children and their food. Mum guilt definitely kicks in when admitting that, as far as picking my battles goes, I don’t always opt to fight with them over meal choices. Sometimes I’ll have the bit between my teeth and argue it out, but on other occasions, I figure that fighting about food is not the right way to encourage and embed healthy choices.
I’d like to point out here, that I have always been so worried about either of my children inheriting my food and body issues that right from the start, I’ve made a conscious effort not to mention diets or overtly criticise my own body in front of them. Now, I’m sure that some of my negativity over the last few years must have permeated through to them on some level, but I really hope that the positive messages that I’m pedalling at the minute will cancel out any subconscious negativity as they continue to grow.
So what do I feed them? Well, to start at the very beginning as it were, we have really tried to improve their breakfast choices. They currently have a choice between porridge, homemade granola, and cornflakes, rice crispies or weetabix. Now I know that the last three aren’t ideal, but in comparison to the myriad of other sugar laden boxes that are on offer in the supermarket, I think that they probably rank as the best options. After their cereal and milk, they regularly ask for a share of my green smoothie which I think is great and I’ve even bought them special little glass bottles to drink them from. I love the idea that a) they are getting a great hit of nutrients before school and b) they see drinking green smoothies as something normal and good. They also love to know what’s gone into their smoothies and they seem to get extra excited about the ones that contain the widest variety of fruit and veg!
When in school, they’re able to choose a piece of fruit or veg at snack time and then they both have………. a school dinner. Arghhhh, mum guilt strikes again!! I know that this in itself might be controversial coming from a budding health coach, but let me talk you through my reasoning. First and foremost is the fact that due to a current government initiative, they both get a free school lunch, and as my mother taught me, never look a gift horse in the mouth! Added to this, as an ex-primary school teacher, I also know that there has been a huge push over the last few years to improve the quality and nutritional value of the meals provided in our schools (thanks Jamie Oliver!) My other reason is that I feel that it is much better for them to have their main, hot meal in the middle of the day because with so many after school clubs, homework, and various other activities to fit in the 3-6pm window, it is often difficult to shoe-horn in time to prepare and feed them a hot, nutritious home-cooked meal. More often that not, dinner is often something light, simple and quick like eggs on toast or a cheese and cucumber sandwich.
When they’re at home during school holidays or on weekends, I try, wherever possible, to feed them same meals that Ben and I eat (I had a particular triumph this weekend with a lentil bake!) However, its not always easy as the meals that I cook are often quite spicy and to be honest, Ben and I sometimes like waiting to eat our meal after the kids have gone to bed, so that we can enjoy time and good food together without the pressure of child-tussling! If this is the case and I’m preparing them a separate child-friendly meal, I work on the premise of crowding out rather than cutting out. So for example, while I might bow to pressure and shove a shop bought pizza in the oven, I also make sure that I load up their plates with some lovely side salad that I know they will both go for. Likewise, their snacking habits have improved massively and while they don’t always immediately jump at the plain old fruit option, they are always really keen to munch on an almond butter stuffed date or some apple slices served with chunks of cheese or spread (again!) with almond butter.
I know that my children don’t eat an Alicia Silverstone- style perfect diet, but it terms of where we’ve come from and where (I hope) we’re heading to, I think we’re doing ok. I don’t want them to feel restricted or hugely different from their peers when it comes to the food that they eat, but I do want them to understand that the food choices they make, can have a huge impact on their health. I want them to make the links between eating to provide their bodies with fabulous energy, and not just because they’re bored (boy this is a tough one!) And I want them to be able to search for and spot REAL food in amongst all of the fake crap that they are bombarded with every single day.
It is undoubtedly, a tough old road to walk, but I hope that if we continue to take small steps then one day, those blueberries might just end up looking extra special!
Evening! I wasn’t planning on writing this post this evening but my mind has been whirring for the last few days, so please humour me.
For a whole host of reasons which I won’t bore you with, in the last year I have sort of accidentally decided to quit teaching, and am now focussing all of my attention on retraining to be a health coach (just in case I hadn’t mentioned it!) As a result of this, instead of teaching, I’m now able to spend my days writing, studying, food shopping and cooking, logging Fitbit steps and getting down and bendy with Jessamyn Stanley. Oh and maybe sneaking in the odd coffee with friends! I really, honestly do appreciate how lucky I am and try really hard to never take it for granted.
But every now and then, the routine has to change, and the last week has been one of those times. To start with, the kids have broken up from school. Now while I love getting the chance to spend extra time with them, it definitely means I have less time to dedicate to my usual pursuits. This has been a particular bummer this week, as it happened to coincide with the grand kick off of my long awaited IIN course. So far I have managed to fit study in after bed time, and at one point I even sat listening to a lecture on my iphone while they had their swimming lesson (Go me!) I’ve managed to complete the first module, buuuuuut I definitely haven’t been able to immerse myself as fully in it as I’d hoped.
Slightly more unsettling has been this weekend’s disruption to my food routine. As it’s been Easter weekend, we left Cornwall to visit my family in Wales and my green eating, meat dodging, reduced sugar menu had to be totally abandoned for a few days. Instead, what I’ve eaten this weekend, has been a pretty standard version of my former, non-diet-plan menu……Cheese and potato pie and sausages, Chinese takeaway and of course, the obligatory chocolate egg (or two). Now, the old me would have had a “slip” like this and it would have sent me over the edge into complete lack of self controls-ville. My fuck it switch would have been well and truly flipped. And while I must admit that my gremlin is still sitting on my shoulder screaming “Hahaha, its all gone to shit!” I know deep down that its all going to be ok.
So what’s changed? Well for starters, I’m not sticking to a plan that the rebellious part of me feels duty bound to buck against, and as a result I’m actually really looking forward to getting back to the food that I know makes me feel good. Because, when I really listen to my body I know that the food I’ve been eating this weekend hasn’t made me feel great. There have been no dramatic tummy issues or skin breakouts, but I’ve definitely been feeling more sluggish, and my positivity and general demeanour has taken a bit of a kicking and I’m utterly convinced that its mainly down to my change in diet.
But the crux of the matter is that for me, its no longer a case of having to cut out the “treats” and get “back on track”. Instead, I have finally come to realise that crap food is absolutely NOT a treat. The treat is the good stuff that I can fill up on and which makes me feel ace. This has been a monumental eye opener and is a huge part of the dramatic shift that’s occurred following a lot of soul searching and self reflection over the last few months.
I honestly believe that if we really want to get to grips with body love, then we desperately need to work on our mental connection to food, rather than just pinning our hopes on the old, outdated restricted calories in/calories out model which aids short term weight loss but has been proven to have a pretty abysmal long term success rate.
I have also come to realise that it’s really important to appreciate that there’s no point beating myself up about a blip in the the road, because ultimately I’m just doing the best I can do at this particular moment in time. We’re so quick to criticise ourselves for not being perfect all of the time. If you’re anything like the old me (ok, and maybe still occasionally, the new me!) the language I use(d) when talking to myself is just hideous. I would never, ever dream of talking to a friend, or God forbid, one of my children the way in which I regularly used to talk to my own reflection. I mean, how can you possibly hope to feel positive, confident and happy when your internal monologue is so downright abusive?? When you really stop and think about it, it’s heart breaking.
It is so, so easy to get stuck in a negative loop of self hate where we attack ourselves for not being “good enough”, but its high time we gave ourselves a break. Sometimes life is bloody hard and doesn’t always go according to plan. And at those times, we muddle on doing the best we can within the given set of circumstances. And they are the times when its even more important to be kind, gentle and loving to ourselves. It’s really not as difficult as you might think. It takes a bit of practice but it’s well worth it, I promise!
So what is it that I DO with my food to make me feel so damn good?
Ok. Well the first thing I’d like to reiterate is that I haven’t suddenly flicked a switch and arrived at this point where everything regarding my food and body is rosy and glitter filled. No sirree bob! As I mentioned in my earlier posts, my battle with my food and body has been long and hard fought and I am undoubtedly still working on it today. But I am working on it ON MY OWN TERMS. And that feels gooooooooood! I am, in the words of Jack Black in School of Rock, sticking it to the man!!!
I have spent the last year or so really thinking about the foods I eat. Not thinking about them in a controlling manner, but instead thinking about them in terms of how they make my body and mind feel. Now this is not an easy thing to do. It takes practice. And I think that a lot of the problem stems from the fact that for the previous X number of years, we have accepted the RULES that other people have given to us about what we should and shouldn’t be eating. I know I was guilty of this. Low fat you say? Oh but I can eat as many sugar laden Muller lights as I want every single day?? Well ok then. If that’s what you’re saying I should do then it must be right. Right? Wrong!!! When I really stopped and thought about what I was doing, you know, for myself, I realised that: a) I bloody hate the taste of Muller lights. That sort of chemically faux sweetness. Urghh!!! B) Eating those very sweet yoghurts did not satisfy my sweet craving. In fact, they made it worse. Often setting me off on a rollercoaster which would see me hiding in the larder cupboard cramming ginger nuts or Jaffa cakes into my mouth at break neck speed so I wouldn’t have to think about the number of them that I was inhaling – or the equivalent value in syns! And C) they made me feel a bit headachy, nauseous and left a really vile taste in my mouth that not even toothpaste could get rid of. When I write it down in black and white like this, it seems ludicrous that I continued to do this to myself for so many years. I mean, seriously, you have NO idea just how many muller lights I have hoofed during the course of my life time. And all because Mr Diet told me that they were the RIGHT THING TO EAT! Obviously Muller-gate is just one example, I could keep banging on about others for days but I’m sure you get the general gist.
So as I was saying, I’ve thought long and hard, and experimented often, and I’ve no doubt, will continue to experiment for many years to come with a whole heap of foods. Which ones work for me? Which ones do I LOVE? Which ones do I crave? (and not in an emotional way …….. this is a whole other can of worms that I’ll come back to at later date) Which ones make me feel zingy and light after eating them? Which ones give me tummy ache and make me bloated and windy?! So attractive I know, but this something I’m still working on!!! I haven’t, as yet eliminated all of the possible culprits…….
What I have discovered, and please don’t think for a minute that I’m suggesting that exactly the same list would apply to you, is that I feel infinitely better when I scale back the amount of meat that I eat. I was always quite a big meat eater. I came from a sausage and roast dinner heavy family and married a man who used to quake if I attempted to present him with a meat free meal. For a long while, I have struggled with the meat thing from a moral point of view. I couldn’t ever watch those programmes where they would happily show someone wringing the neck of a chicken and I once inadvertently Facebook clicked on one of those Peta type CCTV videos that was taken from inside a pig slaughterhouse. BIG, BIG mistake. So I started to phase out meat, not in a radical way, just in a couple of meat free meals a week kinda way….. and I discovered that my body was very happy with that.
Now this has sort of escalated because my husband has recently been diagnosed with high cholesterol and a heart problem and so he is also keen to look at ways of making sure his diet works better for his health. So I basically got the green light to really experiment with the meat free thing and currently we are eating meat free meals on at least 6 out of every 7 days. However, I wouldn’t label either of us vegetarian! In fact, when we went out for a posh meal a few weeks back I fell upon a particularly amazing fillet steak and thoroughly enjoyed every last mouthful. But this is definitely a rare rather than a regular occurrence. I suppose that as a result of this, as a family we are inevitably eating far more plants and that feels and tastes great. Due to the aforementioned cholesterol issues, I have tried to stay away from the veggie trap of relying on cheese heavy sauces (one that I definitely fell into during my teenage veggie phase).
I am also still working on dramatically reducing my refined sugar intake. I know that its not such a big thing now, because everybody has jumped on the sugar free bandwagon, but I really needed to sort myself out on this front because I was a serious sugar monster. I’m slightly embarrassed to admit it now but for quite some time, I was eating only sugary crap all day until dinner time when I’d whip up a fabulously healthy looking thang and everyone would think I was wonderful! No wonder I felt like crap and had a hideous relationship with my poor old body. I was filling it full of rubbish and then lying to myself and everyone else that everything was hunky dory and that I was taking really good care of myself.
I did try to go complete cold turkey on the sugar front, but if I’m totally honest with you, I have actually found that, for me, the best way to go about things is by a) crowding out the sugar cravings by filling myself full of the good stuff and b) not setting myself hard and fast rules that my rebellious child brain immediately wants to argue with. I’m now at a point where my cravings have reduced massively and I am able to have a handful of mini eggs every now and then without spiralling into a relapse which puts the cookie monster to shame!
I am cooking loads. And loving it. In fact that is one thing that I would suggest is a non-negotiable part of my regime (for want of a better word). The need to get in the kitchen and get involved with the preparation of the food that I am putting into my body. As you can see, I have A LOT of recipe books………
But I usually work from two or three at any one time, and these are the ones that are currently on my newly erected, easy-to-reach shelf (thanks Ben!) I have looked at a number of veggie cook books and, I’m almost loathed to say it for fear of a backlash, but my current favourite is Deliciously Ella Every Day. I have found it to be far more accessible that her first one, with quick and easy recipe ideas that on the whole, taste bloody gorgeous. I am also loving my newly acquired Grains as Mains by Laura Agar Wilson, which is getting me excited about grains I’ve never used before (Freekeh anyone??)
So usually on a Friday, I sit down and map out the week ahead and then I start to fit meals into the slots. I think about what we’ve all got on in the evenings and how busy I’m going to be on each day, as this has an inevitable impact on the amount of time (and energy) I’m going to have left to do the cooking. For this reason, I also like to batch cook and freeze wherever possible so that there are always at least one or two meal options hiding in the freezer for the nights when I just can’t be arsed!
I use the (hastily scribbled) weekly meal planner to write my shopping list from and, Bob’s your uncle, off to Sainsburys I trot. I tend to keep the weekends free from planning, just because this gives us a little more flexibility if we want to go out or get a takeaway and it also means, that if for some reason one of the weekday meals hasn’t happened because life got in the way, then we can roll it over to a Saturday or Sunday instead. I try to make each week a nice mix of old favourites and new recipes that I’d like to experiment with and I also like to make things where I know that leftovers can be boxed up and used as packed lunches for the following day.
I hope that has given you a little bit of insight into how I feel my meal planning is currently helping me to stay happy and healthy. As I said earlier I am by no means suggesting that this is also a plan that you REALLY SHOULD FOLLOW (shudder!) but likewise, if you would like to adapt any of it to suit you, then go ahead and fill your boots…. Oh and let me know how you get on.