On the 2nd April, I began a new way of eating. I’m deliberately not using the word diet. It comes with negative associations and is usually about weight loss. I’m not trying to lose anything. I’m trying to change my mindset, my habits and achieve a healthier body that’s more resilient to stress and the effects of stress, like eczema.
Because I’m serious about making a change, I told plenty of people (lesson #1 in how to follow through – tell everyone and make failure public and embarrassing!). So I figured I’d explain myself by answering the questions I’ve been asked. That way you can skip to the bit you’re most interested in…
You’re doing what now?
For two months, I’m cutting out all refined sugar. And I’m going to switch some of my old favourites for alternatives to achieve a more varied diet and some new ways of thinking. I eat a lot of bread and wheat-based carbs like pasta. Even if you go wholegrain, it’s still mostly sugar in a different form. So I’m going to try other grains like spelt, buckwheat, rye and quinoa instead, as well as eating a few more pulses like lentils and beans. I also drink a lot of cow’s milk, which I’m going to switch for goat, almond, oat or rice milk. I’m going to ENSURE that I’m eating 5+ portions of fruit and veg every day, with an emphasis on the veg. And I’m going to make sure I eat a homemade breakfast and lunch EVERY DAY.
I’m using two books as inspiration – James Duigan’s Clean and Lean Diet and Dale Pinnock (The Medicinal Chef)’s Clear Skin Cookbook as inspiration. They’re worth reading. Links below if you’re interested in finding out more.
Because I’m toxically stressed and it’s time to start dealing with it positively. If you’ve been reading for a while, you’ll know I’ve spent the last 18 months retraining, holding down a full-time job with hellish commute and trying to buy and sell a house in a recession. These are not stress-free experiences. Nor are they over. That sustained stress has had a pretty negative impact on my body. It’s made my eczema and seborrheic dermatitis the worst it’s ever been. It’s made me feel depressed and angry for sustained periods. It’s taken away my ability to rationalise my problems. I mean, who cries because they got stuck at a temporary traffic light?? Unstable, stressed people, that’s who. That stress isn’t going away any time soon and even moving house (please, please, please, please) and getting my new career plan back on track isn’t going to cure me of stress. It’s going to introduce a whole new range of stressful experiences that I haven’t anticipated yet. So I need to be more resilient to stress. I need to take better care of myself.
I’m also one of those ‘healthy’ people that because they know a lot about being healthy kid themselves that they manage it a lot more than they actually do. What I know and what I do are NOT THE SAME, no matter how much I kid myself. So it’s time to walk the walk.
And I need to give thanks to two people who were my catalysts for change.
First, Gemma at Buff Beauty. I’d been thinking about making a bigger commitment to being healthy for ages. Then I read her post on the 14th March about breaking the habit. I love those moments when you’re feeling a certain way and someone comes along and puts your thoughts into words. Her post helped me realise that I’d been embedding some really bad habits, like rewarding myself for having battled another difficult day with sugar or a nice ‘easy’ – i.e. unhealthy – dinner. And I bought the James Duigan book she mentioned and discovered a way of thinking about food that really resonated with me.
http://buff-beauty.com/breaking-the-habit/ So thanks Gemma. I always get something positive from your lovely blog!
Secondly, my husband. The Man with the Camera. Because he’s agreed to do all of this with me. This is HUGE. There’s really little point changing my mindset if we end up with different ideas of normal and keep conflicting. It also means there won’t be sugary food in the house tempting me when I’m at my weakest. And it’s worth noting that he agreed to do all of this even after me pointing out that this would mean GIVING UP SUGAR IN HIS TEA. I nearly fell off my chair. I knew he was one of the good ones.
Why James Duigan and Dale Pinnock?
Because it’s not about faddy exclusions or the kind of menu planning that requires a university degree. With the exception of sugar, which I already know to be the food-devil in appealing packaging, nothing’s really out of bounds. It’s about sensible choices and appreciating the impact of the food you put in your body. I should point out, I’m not actually following the 14-day diet programme in James Duigan’s book – just the principles behind how you should eat.
Do you think you have food intolerances?
In a word, no. If I was intolerant to things like dairy (lactose) or wheat (gluten), I’d be seeing some hard-core digestive symptoms like bloating, indigestion, nausea or cramps. I believe my skin problems are stress-related; cortisol is the most harmful thing I (involuntarily) subject my body to on a daily basis.
But I do think I have the wrong attitude to ‘staple’ foods like cow’s milk or wheat-based products. According to James D, wheat contains a substance called phytates, which binds to minerals preventing them from being efficiently absorbed in the gut. If that’s happening, the amount of wheat I’m eating will definitely be stripping some of the vital minerals from my body and I need those minerals to keep my skin healthy. If I make the food I eat a bit purer, a bit more balanced, and a bit more varied then I expect to feel a bit healthier. That’s just common sense.
I have no intention of cutting out anything in the longer term. No, ‘I’m never eating wheat ever again’ because I don’t need to be that extreme and it makes me feel sad, which is a TERRIBLE way to start building a new mindset. Some people, including those suffering from the autoimmune condition coeliac disease, really do need to cut out gluten in all its forms. I don’t and I’m grateful for it. I think – to quote Elmo, who could probably tell me to do just about anything and I’d consider it – it’s about revisiting what I regard as my “sometimes foods”. If I eat wheat a couple of times a day, then it might start to have an effect on my overall health, particularly if it strips away some of my essential minerals. If I eat it occasionally, then it’s really not going to do any harm at all.
What are you hoping to get out of this?
Healthy habits. That’s it. That’s the reason for the two month window. I reckon that’s long enough to find some new foods, develop a new mindset when shopping and learn how to cook some new things. After that, I won’t need to reach for the pasta after a long day because it’s the only easy option available to my frazzled brain. It will no longer BE the only option. I’ll have a new repertoire of healthier options that are just as easy.
Shouldn’t you try yoga (or similar) for the stress?
Yes absolutely. Yoga and meditation will certainly help and I intend to do both those things. But because I’m not eating properly, I can never find the energy. If I get the food bit right, I’m hoping to have the oomph and motivation to focus on all the other things that will help reduce the stress.
What happens after the two months are up?
Not much. In fact, the less significant that milestone is, the better. I don’t want to get to the ‘finish line’ gagging to go back to normal. I want to be able to easily maintain a healthier balanced diet because the way we’re shopping and eating by then will have BECOME the new normal.
We’ll bring back everything in moderation, including a bit of sugar every now and then I’m sure. We’ll just be starting from a totally new place and thinking in a new way.
Will you be writing about it?
Yes. I’ll try to check in weekly to update on how it’s going and foodie discoveries I make along the way. But if you’d be particularly interested in hearing about anything in particular, let me know.
If anyone out there has had experience of eating the James Duigan way or just mixing it up a bit in the kitchen, I’d love to hear from you. There’s strength in solidarity!
For now, I’m off to eat an apple. Instead of a bar of chocolate. It’s one choice at a time people…
Photos © Natural Beauty Cabinet. Please do not reproduce without permission.