Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Thought for Food

Reading the papers on my iPad in bed yesterday morning, I noticed a proliferation of articles about food and health......horsemeat DNA found in Ikea's famous meatballs (the same ones Iain and Issy rush to order at the cafe as soon as we make a visit to the Toulon branch of flat pack heaven.) I bought two 1kg packs the last time we were there a couple of months ago, and just half a pack remains. The whole house, apart from me, fights over who gets the most and when I'm stuck for a menu choice, the suggestion of spaghetti with meatballs and ragu sauce goes down a storm. I read the report out to Handyman, who without missing a beat, retorted 'Don't throw them out....I will eat them, even if Issy won't.' Personally I prefer my horses to look like the ones above, and frankly horsemeat is the least of the problems in so-called minced beef but that's another argument altogether.... A different report talked of Overeaters Anonymous and the food obsessions of the clinically obese (one woman used to dream of a spare room filled with Smarties.) A third report talked of the well known value and magic of a Mediterranean diet and why a food intake rich in nuts, olive oil, fresh fruit and vegetables is better for you than medicine in lowering statins and cholesterol, minimising the risk of serious illness. So far, so old hat and certainly not rocket science. And yet.... When I started my four month course of chemotherapy, 18 months ago. I consulted a Harley Street nutritionist. I was urged to eliminate fats, apart from olive oil and a couple of other good oils, meat, alcohol, gluten, refined sugar and dairy. Sounds harsh doesn't it? All the goodies we look forward to. It wasn't easy but faced with the stark choice of being sick all the way through chemo or fine tuning my already fairly healthy diet, it was a no brainer. I had substitutes (dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate, xylitol and agave syrup instead of sugar and two glasses of champagne a week when I didn't cheat and sneak a few more.) The treatment could also have made an impact but I went from my lifelong weight of 54 kg down to a mere and very scrawny 47 kg. Too thin for me and yet I felt as good as it's possible to feel while undergoing major drug therapy, was able to run, play tennis and ski occasionally during treatment and was not sick once. I came out the other side and relaxed my food plan a little (while continuing with the general principles) and went back up to a healthy 52kg, which is my current fighting weight. What I'm saying is that a lean, clean food plan (but not branded low fat or low sugar, which are usually stacked exhorbitantly high in other areas) can help you lose weight permanently, look great and feel energised without resorting to quick fixes, fads or starvation. I certainly don't recommend the chemo diet to anyone, but it was a valuable lesson in how to get through a life threatening illness and treatment feeling as good as it's possible to feel whilst retaining some element of control. I'm writing a book about it, but the concept works outside of illness and treatment. What's more, when Handyman embraced some of the same principles after a particularly rich and indulgent Christmas, he lost 6 kg without even really trying. Of course, one week long trip to Blighty and the 15 takeaways/roasts/liquid lunches proved an annoying blip. And the Ikea horseballs probably aren't helping.... Without doubt, it helps to live in the Med. My local market is bursting at the seams with small producers selling fresh seasonal produce. Certain things are much harder to source here....gluten free is expensive and rare.....but I have found a couple of boulangeries that sell pain au seigle and pain de petit epeautre (gluten free bread) although sometimes a Provencal or baguette finds its way under my arm. In the land of bread, cheese and fantastic wine, I regularly go off piste. Whether you make the changes because of illness, weight loss, lack of energy or a desire to get fit, one thing I can promise is you will never look back.