Tag Archives: Healthy Eating

Confused

Every so often someone will ask me what I’ve done to lose weight, or what should be included as part of a Healthy Heart diet?

Over the past 9 months I have managed to get myself into reasonable shape, partly through exercise and partly through watching what I eat and drink.  I’ve taken a fairly hard line in determining what I should be consuming:  low saturated fat, lots of fruit and vegetables, no alcohol, no caffeine, low salt.  I have not dieted as such, when I’ve been hungry I’ve eaten.  However I have generally avoided processed food and stuck fairly religiously to the “good” stuff.

The problem is, having made these changes to my diet, I’m confused myself… what is the “good” stuff?

There’s so much contradictory information out there, new research is released on an all too frequent basis.  It’s difficult to know what to do for the best.  Since my Heart Attack I’ve been paying fairly close attention, and I’m confused.  What is it like if you just catch a newspaper or radio headline?  How is anyone supposed to follow a simple, healthy diet based on the “noise” that’s thrown at us?!

Here are some snippets from recent articles:

More research needed into fat guidelines  (The British Heart Foundation 17/03/14):

A study suggests there’s not enough evidence to back the current UK guidelines on the types of fat we eat.  But we think more research is needed before suggesting any major changes.

At the moment guidelines generally encourage us to swap out saturated fats – found in foods like dairy products – for unsaturated fats found in products such as margarine or sunflower oil.

But this analysis, by researchers including BHF Professor John Danesh from the University of Cambridge, of 72 separate studies suggests this change does not impact on our risk of developing heart disease.

So that’s clear then!  Bad fat might not be as bad for us as we thought!  Excellent!

Living and working near takeaways linked to obesity(The British Heart Foundation 13/03/14)

People who live and work near a high number of takeaways are more likely to be obese than people less exposed to these outlets, according to new research we helped to fund.

The researchers found that those who live or work near to takeaway outlets were almost twice as likely to be obese than those who encountered the fewest outlets.

Being obese isn’t good for you, I get that.  I’m assuming, although the article doesn’t mention it, that you need to eat the Take Away food in order to put on weight.

Apparently, giving people information to make healthy choices will reduce the risks of living in this sort of environment… assuming they know what a healthy choice is after they’ve absorbed the information!

Are we too sweet on sugar?  (The British Heart Foundation  04/02/14)

Added sugar is associated with increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease (CVD), researchers have claimed.

A US study used national health survey data to examine added sugar consumption as a percentage of daily calorie intake. Higher levels of added sugar were then linked to an increased risk of death from CVD.

And so it goes on… sugar, salt, carbohydrates, this fat, that fat, vegetarian diets, Mediterranean diets.  There is even news that chocolate might be the answer (or part of it, at least).  What to do?

For me, there are some basic guidelines that seem to make sense:

    1. You have to eat.  Not eating is not a great idea… not very sustainable.
    2. Things that look like they did in their natural state are generally better for you.
    3. It’s good to eat a variety of different things.
    4. Processed foods can contain a multitude of evils, beware!
    5. Don’t over-eat, manage portions sizes.
    6. Practice moderation and balance.
    7. Try to avoid obsessing over food, it’ll take a lot of fun out of life!

From my perspective, if you’re aware of what you’re consuming it’s a big step towards doing the right things.  I don’t feel like I’m in a position to suggest what to eat, or not.

As I’ve already said, there’s plenty of advice out there.  Good luck in deciding which advice to follow!

Christmas preparations

Christmas Dinner is going to be a bit different in our house this year…

The centre-piece of Christmas Day, in the past it has been the focus of weeks of preparation.  We gather tips, tricks and recipes from all the major TV Chefs through religious dedication to each of their “Christmas Specials”.  Over time, layer upon layer, a luxurious feast is conjured up in our minds.

For some, the Christmas preparations take a little longer to complete!

A “gravy” day and a “stuffing” day preceded the main event.  Christmas Eve was spent in preparation, the first of the bottles of Christmas wine were cracked open to raise the spirits and foster the creative juices.

Lists were written and re-written; trying to make sure that nothing was forgotten in the dark recesses of the fridge and that it all arrived, cooked to perfection, in precise synchronisation.

Not so much so far for me this year…

This time around it’s taken a while for my excitement and enthusiasm to build, I think largely because a healthy diet and abstinence are incompatible with Christmas “highlights” (habits or traditions?) of old.

My contribution to preparations started yesterday with a trip to M&S to collect the Christmas order… not an insignificant task as it turned out.  I heroically stood in line for 90 minutes, holding my nerve as our allotted “window” came and went.  The relaxation techniques I learned at Cardiac Rehab came in handy as I “patiently” waited my turn.  Others didn’t fare so well… losers!  How can the Christmas rush come as a surprise to large stores?

Having safely commandeered the supplies, today marks the start of the preparations proper.  I’m not going to worry so much about what I eat on Christmas Day, but I’ll still going to err on the side of healthiness and restraint.

Slabs of extra butter have been removed from the ingredients list and no geese will be harmed in the making of our Roast Potatoes this year.  I love Roast Potatoes… crispy on the outside and fluffy in the centre.  Goose fat used to be the Christmas “treat” that made them extra-indulgent and tasty.  As I haven’t enjoyed a Roast Potato since June, I think even an ordinary one will do the trick!

Are you feeling peckish yet?

Fortunately Turkey is good, I can pile into that, and of course the Vegetables are generally OK (although look at the packets on prepared veg, you never know what they’ll add!).  I’m even going to have a little gravy… very exciting!

Right… that little monologue has got me right in the mood, and it’s just started snowing outside!  Brussels Sprouts, here I come!

Merry Christmas everyone!

I might even allow myself a tasty dessert!

Dinner suit disaster!

Yesterday we discovered that my wife used to be married to a fat man.  It might sound strange, but it was as much a shock for her as it was for me.

It all happened quite innocently…  a work Dinner Dance offered a rare opportunity to wear my Dinner Suit or, more correctly, one of my Dinner Suits (as I have accumulated several “emergency” suits over the years).

I’ve always thought I looked good in a Dinner Suit too!

I’ve always felt good in a Dinner Suit.  I’ve enjoyed getting dressed up ever since I bought my first one from a Charity Shop to attend my first “Ball” when I was at school.  Yes, it is easy for men; we always get to wear the same outfit, no particular thought is required, and we can accumulate accessories over time.

Generally the key pre-requisites have been to (1) remember to get the suit cleaned after particularly heavy / boisterous nights out and (2) make sure the Dinner Suit is in the right location for the Bash (this has been the primary contributor to me owning multiple suits).  On top of this, there is the concern of whether the suit will still fit – the irregularity that the Dinner Suit is usually donned means it provides a good commentary on the (usually expanding) waistline.

My latest Dinner Suit was my favourite.  A simple, single breasted Ted Baker Suit with a light grey lining.  Nothing special, but it was a good fit and I always felt very comfortable in it.  I looked after it, and it looked after me.

Organised as always, at around midday on the day of the Dinner Dance, I got out my favourite suit for a last minute readiness check.  I knew I had lost some weight but I anticipated a belt or, in the worst case some braces, would be all that was required to make it “fit”.

This used to be a snug fit!

When I tried it on I was shocked!  Louise was shocked!  The suit was HUGE!  How could it ever have fitted me?  It looked absolutely ridiculous!

With growing desperation, I tried on the other suits in the wardrobe… they were all way too big!  Even a made-to-measure suit I had made about 5 years ago, when I thought I was fit was way too big.  A disaster!

It takes a lot to get me to visit a shop, particularly a clothes shop, but even I had to (reluctantly) admit that an emergency visit to the Menswear Shop was required.  Fortunately, thanks to the help of a very understanding Assistant Manager, I found a suit that would meet my immediate need.  It’s not quite my old favourite, but I think he’s history.

Now all that’s left is for me to do is to pluck up the courage to go through the rest of my wardrobe and get rid of the clothes that in all probability I’ll never be able to wear again.  Even packing some of the clothes away “just in case” is too depressing a thought… that would mean all my hard work has been in vain, and wouldn’t augur well for my future health.

Fat and Bald

I turned 43 this week.  I definitely consider myself middle aged despite the fact people try to convince me that I’ve got a long way to go… middle age starts at 60 apparently (mostly according to people too young to really care, or old enough to be horribly biased!).

images (13)Like many men of my age, I had been losing the battle to maintain the physical attributes of my youth… although, to be fair, I wasn’t fighting very hard.  I was drifting towards the stereo-typical look of a middle aged man who’s slightly let himself go… “Fat and Bald”.

My personal journey into middle age took an “interesting” twist with the Heart Attack in the summer.  I am quite proud of what I’ve managed to achieve since in relation to getting myself into decent shape…

It’s been 150 days since my first post-Heart Attack visit to the Doctor.  At that stage, I had been out of hospital for about 10 days, and I was able to walk for about 15 mins, twice a day.  My Body Mass Index was about 29 (Overweight, borderline Obese) and the amount of superfluous weight I was carrying seemed ridiculous (See:  It all smells a bit fishy – 28th June 2013).

Since then I’ve lost about 40lbs and really started to build some strength and fitness.  For the first time in a very long time, my weight is officially in the “normal” range:

Body Mass Index

To achieve this. I wouldn’t say I’ve dieted as such.  If I’m hungry I eat.  I just tend to eat much more healthily.  I have significantly reduced the amount of fat and sugar I consume.  I haven’t drunk any alcohol.  I eat lots of fruit and vegetables.  I also make sure I have Breakfast every day, which I think makes a big difference.  Regular exercise has also made a huge impact.

In summary, as far as the “Fat and Bald” equation is concerned, I am fighting back (and winning) on the “Fat” front… which brings me to hair loss!

I visited the Barber’s today.  A not particularly frequent or regular trip to get my hair cut.  I have to say, I look forward to these visits less and less as time goes on.  In particular, I don’t look forward to the end of the visit when a mirror is produced to check that I’m happy with the back of my head… actually, “No, I’m not!“.

Bald Patch

My poor baldy heid!

My hair is quite fair.  Technically I could argue I still have a reasonable covering of hair however it isn’t very effective at making itself seen!  In short, I have a bald patch that has been increasing in significance in recent years.

In the great scheme of things this really isn’t a big deal (although it causes much amusement to some members of my immediate family!) and I’m looking forward to the day when I get all my hair cut short so the patch becomes irrelevant.

In the meantime, I guess it acts as a good reminder that time only moves in one direction, and I should spend my energy on things that I can directly influence.

Let middle age roll on… I’ll fight it where it matters!

An ice cold beer

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Officially my most craved after meal. I eat lots of fish, but not like this!

Since I’ve been “being good”, people have asked me on a regular basis whether I enjoy my new regime.  The best way I can describe it is that it is like moving overseas to live in a new country… it is new and exciting but there are aspects of my old life that I miss.  This can take various forms but often revolves around food and drink; the passing smell of some fine, forbidden food, the craving for something salty, an indulgent dessert, a hit of caffeine, the crispy surface and fluffy centre of a well-cooked chip, or an ice cold beer on a hot sunny day.

untitled (47)The physical environment obviously has a major influence on my cravings, as do associations with the “old life”.  Ice cold beer has tended to be a major feature of most of my foreign holidays; a pool-side treat to help pass the day, a pre-dinner tipple to start the evening off, or a refreshing late night pick-me-up.  In fact, ice cold beer seems to feature quite highly in many of my holiday memories!  Not this one!

I have now gone 122 days without alcohol passing my lips (not that I’m counting!).  I suspect I had enough in the preceding 122 days for my average still to be on the high side of the healthy limit.  My abstinence has definitely helped me to lose weight and get fit.  While I appreciate there is medical evidence that supports the fact that drinking some alcohol is better for you than drinking none, I still don’t feel like I’m quite ready for moderation… yet.  I’m still an “all or nothing” kind of guy, even in my new life.

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The destination for today’s ride… a chapel famed for its fertility assistance. Enter at your peril!

I’ve been cycling regularly since we’ve been in Rhodes.  There is a small group that gathers every morning for an organised Mountain Bike ride.  The typical ride tends to head into the mountains to visit places of “interest”.  We ride on a combination of road (tarmac) and off-road (dirt / rocks), and the terrain is generally flat with the occasional steep incline (tough on the way up, treacherous on the way down).  It’s a bit different to the road biking back home!

Depending on the difficulty and duration of the route, the main group may splinter, creating a break-away group as we look for some more continuous cycling.  Given it’s my main source of exercise each day, I’m keen to make the most of it so a longer, steady ride is just the ticket for me.  There have been a couple of really good sessions that have been physically challenging (mostly within the limits my Heart Monitor allows!) and enjoyable.

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Nothing fancy… just ice cold!

Refreshment is a key feature of these break-aways.  Identifying a target destination with an appropriate watering hole is an essential part of each ride.  For most of the party an ice cold beer is the beverage of choice.  For me, I’ve been adventurous enough to have a Fanta Limon.  I have to admit, the beers do look incredibly tempting.

I know there’s nothing really stopping me from having one (other than the distinct possibility that I wouldn’t be able to cycle any further!), but I really am trying to be good.  Yes, I may be being too hard on myself, but I’m determined to stick to the regime.

I will however set myself a goal… when I cross the line having completed my London – Amsterdam – Brussels cycle next May I will have a beer.  I will make sure it is ice cold, served in a glass straight from the freezer, and I will enjoy it.  A lot!

Your life in their hands

Some jobs are more important than others.  In some roles, the occupants are expected to keep up with continual innovation.  They are often presented with new concepts, need to learn new words to describe bleeding-edge ideas and stay abreast of technological developments. If they snooze, they lose.  The consequences are almost unthinkable.

I came face to face with some such professionals this morning.

We place important parts of our lives in their hands on a regular basis.  We rely on their discipline and professionalism to prepare precise combinations of chemical ingredients to meet our exacting requirements.  The result of their work plays a critical role in the day to day well-being of so many people. One mistake can have disastrous consequences, wreaking chaos on our carefully planned lives.

Yes, the role of Barista is a critical one!

Precision is everything!

I have to admit that I’ve struggled to stay up to date with developments on the coffee front.  Before my Heart Attack I used to enjoy a Black Americano, or the occasional Skinny Latte (if I needed some extra sustenance), but that’s as far as my not-so adventurous coffee tastes took me. I’ve subsequently been off the caffeine, and as a result, the attraction of Coffee Shops has diminished considerably.

I do enjoy the taste of coffee, and my penchant for a sprinkling of Brown Sugar makes for a warm, comforting, occasional sweet treat, but the other benefits are a thing of the past. I think my body is still fooled into the idea of receiving a caffeine “hit” when I drink coffee but disappointingly it never arrives. It has become more of a comforting bedtime drink for me now rather than the shot in the arm, pick me up it used to reliably be.  It used to get my day started, and get it back on track when I started to flag. I think coffee may actually have negative implications nowadays, with the net effect of making me more rather than less tired.

Having had an early start this morning (early morning airport check-in), we headed for a coffee to perk us up. Perhaps it was because we were at an airport, but the array of exotic coffee orders from the eclectic clientele seemed even wider than usual. I have to admit, I have no idea what pumpkin has to do with coffee, and I thought I had always been drinking “wet” coffee, I had no idea that I would need specifically request it!  I’m still coming to terms with the various syrups on offer.  It’s amazing what you can get nowadays!

Adventurously, I ordered my new “usual”, a Decaf Americano.

I have to be careful not to stand up too fast!

Shortly afterwards, I had a dizzy spell. This happens to me on a fairly regular basis. It’s one of the side effects of the medication I’m on – low blood pressure reduces the strain on my heart, but also means I need to be careful not to stand up too fast. The dizzy spell I had this morning was the worst one I’ve had for a long while. I was trying to focus on the Departure Board, but just felt myself wobbling.  Hopefully no one was looking or saw me rocking backwards and forwards. Fortunately I managed to stay upright. Falling over would have been embarrassing to say the least!

Having recovered, I started to wonder why I was feeling particularly dizzy today… Was it the early morning? The result of a broken nights sleep? Or perhaps something I’d eaten.

What would the impact of a slug of caffeine be after so long without it? Had the Barista unintentionally spiked my coffee by confusing my order?

Given I recovered fairly quickly, I suspect it was entirely my fault.  The event has, however, made me realise what an important role the various people that work in Restaurants, Cafes, Coffee Shops and Bars have in our lives.  They have my utmost respect… but I will be watching to make sure my Virgin Mary doesn’t become a bit more Bloody than I’m expecting while I’m away!

I’d like a “Man Salad”

I’ve found eating out tricky since I’ve been watching what I eat.  I want to eat healthily.  I want to eat a varied diet.  I want to eat well.  However, one of the big challenges is that despite this, I still have a man’s appetite.

Deep Fried Cheese & Chips. Tasty, but not the healthiest option!

My menu options are extremely limited in many of the places we go out to eat.  I guess people offer what sells. For example, it’s surprisingly common to find deep fried cheese and chips as the (what I would expect to be “healthy”) vegetarian option!

I realise I’m overly strict on myself with my menu selections (some might argue I’m getting close to the point of obsession).  I am definitely being more strict than I need to be (technically I can eat anything, just not loads of the wrong stuff).  In my defence, I feel like I’m on a roll and I’d like to stick to it.  It seems to be doing me good, so why change it?

Since the Heart Attack, I’ve generally favoured Sushi joints for socialising as I get a good selection of food that I know hasn’t got lots of hidden bad stuff in it.  This does however result in tricky stand-off when I eat with someone who’s allergic to seafood!  I have also discovered that teenage kids can only take so much fish!  So going out starts to become an issue.

Not what I had in mind!

The menu restrictions often result in me ordering some sort of salad (dressing on the side).  The good thing is that I like salad ingredients, some of them a lot.  The bad thing is that my hunger is rarely fully satisfied.  Why?  Just because you order salad doesn’t mean you have the appetite of a tortoise.

I think the logic must go along the lines of:

  • People who order salads are watching what they eat …
  • People who watch what they eat want to lose weight…
  • People who want to lose weight need to eat less…
  • To help them eat less we’ll give them a smaller portion…
  • Therefore, people who order salads get smaller portions!!!

No!!!  What I really want is a “Man Salad”.

Some places “get it” (see last night’s example below), most don’t.

Man's Salad

That’s what I call a salad. Nicely loaded on a large plate.
Substantially more than a nibble!

How nice would it be for an order to go along the lines of:

Waiter / Waitress:  “… and for you sir?”
Me:  “I’d like a Salmon Salad please.  Can you bring the dressing on the side.”
Waiter / Waitress:  “Certainly sir.  And, how hungry are you?”
Me:  “Oh, I’m hungry.”
Waiter / Waitress:  “Then we shall prepare you a proper salad sir.  A man’s salad.  Would you like a larger table?”