Monday, 14 March 2016

bodycoach: cycle two review

The second cycle arrived and I'm filled with joy. I can pick and choose ingredients and make up my own recipes! Carbs three meals a day on training days! Pasta, tortillas, bread, rice, and potatoes! But...wait...carb day also means low fat day. So it's kedgeree without the egg and tortilla pizza without the cheese. And low carb/rest day is now Super Mega Low Carb Day filled with Excessive Vegetables. Huge, huge portions of the same dozen vegetables three meals a day, on both rest and training days. Soups. I will have lots of soups.

So yes, a change in diet and training this cycle. Weightlifting is introduced, which is great. I do like lifting heavy things. Calories are up by about 300 or so on both training and rest days. Training days aren't as carby as people fret about. For me, it's roughly 200g/day which is the equivalent of about a handful of potatoes, one bagel, and two bananas. An amount easily knocked back in every meal on most diets.

As for the food, well...let's just say I opened up my ten millionth package of chicken and thought I was going to hurl. Weirdly, things I was really looking forward to on this cycle are making me feel sick - like smoked salmon. Two packages of smoked salmon in one sitting? And you can only have it with eggs and/or vegetables? No, no, no, I want my rye bread, smoked salmon, and avocado breakkie back, please. Also, let's talk about the side sauce concept. Why do we have to eat a blob of yoghurt, sour cream, and/or cottage cheese with EVERY MEAL, SEVEN DAYS A WEEK? Seriously, why? Is it to meet macros or is there some magical property in some dairy products that burns fat? And then when you look up swaps, you can trade these for low fat mayo, barbecue sauce, or any other non-dairy substitute...which will give you a completely different macro count. It makes no sense.

It's clear (from social media groups) that people don't really understand how macros work and why we eat how we do. You see people say things like "macros are calculated over the week, so it's fine to go over one day" or "you lose fat because you're in ketosis." (You're not. Really, you're not.) The plan doesn't explain much about how the food is calculated, so it stands to reason why many people don't understand how it works and ask questions like "Can I eat basil, or will it mess up my macros?"

So, cycle 2 in summary:

  • The food still makes no sense. Well, okay. I'm being harsh. Some of it makes sense but the ingredients are still incredibly random.
  • The MASSIVE change in carbs from day to day is awful.
  • I still miss bacon and sausages. And bananas. And who has stolen my cheese?!

My Cycle Two Diary

Day 7: I feel almost as rotten as I did on cycle one, so I guess having carbs back again isn't helping. I've had cramping and diarrhoea off and on since I started this plan in January, so I suspect I'm possibly allergic to something I'm now eating regularly (or whatever it is in large quantities is bothering my digestive system.) I'm not taking any of the supplements and the protein powder is the same one I've been using for about a year, so I think it must be down to one of the foods I'm eating. In terms of the change in training and rest day meals, the higher carb days are fairly high (for me), but the low carb days are at Atkins level. I get that this helps balance things out overall, but the constant change is making me feel ill. At least I'm not hungry so far. In fact, I am not managing to eat all of my food and I'm certainly not eating the hundreds and hundreds of grams of vegetables each day. This isn't really a good thing.

Day 21: I am feeling much better, but I still feel like I'm allergic to something I've been having a lot on this diet. My eczema is awful and it hadn't flared up for about a year before this.
Otherwise, I feel fine. No "bloat", enjoying lifting heavy things, and I'm pretty sure I'm still losing inches.

Day 28: Final tally: I've gained 3lbs and I've lost one inch in total (from my waist.) Oh dear. Let's just say that cycle two was not for me. A friend of mine said this was her best cycle, in terms of results. I think because I carry all of my weight around my middle, higher carb/low fat was never going to work well for me. On to cycle three...

Thursday, 18 February 2016

bodycoach: cycle 1 review

I'm no stranger to diets. Short of meal replacement shakes, I think I've tried them all. The only thing that has worked for me has been guilt. I have a personal trainer (which sounds very pretentious and uppity, but it's really not) and I feel so, so guilty if I don't give everything my all. Being held accountable to someone has been hugely motivating, which leads to actually sticking to it, which then leads to finally seeing big changes in my body and general health. Hooray! I've been with my PT since April 2015 and have lost 28 lbs/two stone and several inches.

So why look for something new to try, especially when I have 1:1 coaching at my disposal? Curiosity, mostly. I came across The Body Coach (AKA Joe Wicks) through a friend of mine. He's quite fun to follow on Instagram, seemed to follow the same principles that I've been following, and my friend had some pretty amazing results. I'd done well with the PT sessions and macro counting, but still had (have) a lot of fat to shift. I thought I'd give the 90 Day SSS Plan a go.

The Body Coach plan is in three cycles (months), and the food and training changes each cycle. Cycle 1 is mostly low carb, with the exception of one "refuel meal" post workout that is slightly higher in carbs and lower in fat. You are given specific exercise, food quantities, and recipes to follow.

First impressions
The marketing blurb makes it sound like you are getting a tailored, personalised plan with your own coach. You fill out a lengthy questionnaire that's riddled with typos and errors (e.g. repeated options), but does seem to cover a lot of ground about your food diary and general health. What you get when you submit your questionnaire and starting photos is a form letter from Joe/your coach. My email said that he could see I've been on a "traditional low calorie diet", which if someone did actually go through my food diary, they would clearly see this hasn't been the case. I don't think this is really tailored as such, which is disappointing. I filled out a very detailed questionnaire about diet, lifestyle, and health and I was hoping to get specific advice and information. It must be based on the usual factors: age, current weight, height, activity level. It doesn't feel personalised.
On the plus side, there's lots of good information in the plan for those new to HIIT (high intensity interval training) and for (like my email said) those who are used to low fat/low calorie diets. I will be continuing with my current training, which are HIIT sessions, and running. Also, my coach has been good at answering questions although it's a 24 hour+ delay to get an answer.

The recipes
RANDOM ingredients. I really can't sum it up any other way. You get a sense that someone was trying to make up the numbers, even if it meant doing things like adding 6 onions to a recipe. The 15g of pasta with a couple of the recipes is a great example of this. Or 150g of salad leaves, which is about two average bags of prepackaged salad. What I only later found out is that you can swap quite a few of the ingredients, which makes a massive difference. They did introduce a specific swaps page on the site (that has quite a few bugs in it), which is better than having to dig through the FAQs.
There are some peculiar spice and flavour combinations that you can just omit or swap for other spices. There's a "Mediterranean" stuffed pepper recipe that has cumin in it that I've swapped for basil. I've changed the spices in a (sort of Thai) turkey mince recipe so that I can use it as taco filling. In general, the recipes are simple, most of them taste good, but almost everything needs some minor tweak. They need to sort out the recipes and make it clear that you can substitute certain ingredients. And hire an editor. I'm not being a grammar snob, the spelling mistakes make this plan look incredibly unprofessional. Also, the cashew chicken curry meal makes no sense to me as a low carb option. It's got more carbs than the refuel meals I've been having.

The way of eating
My total calorie count isn't hugely different to before. I have maybe 200-300 more calories but it varies depending on what meals and snacks I opt to eat. Some meals and snacks are far more filling (and calorie dense) than others. The other difference is the source of macros compared to before. I've been eating well, but doing IIFYM - basically if you can fit your numbers, you can have it (within reason.) This plan focusses on lean proteins, so certain meats I was eating regularly are temporarily off the menu for this cycle. Also, my carb sources are now almost entirely vegetables and a very small amount of low sugar fruit.
I like that I can choose and swap meals and not have to calculate all the macros. I also like that you're encouraged to do the exercise by getting a starchy reward - not an unhealthy treat, and that's important. The reward is something like a bagel, potatoes, or rice. It helps you understand that foods like this are to be eaten sparingly, and only when you're training. It's a good change from traditional low fat, high carbohydrate, low calorie diets.

Overall
I think for those who eat a high carb diet and don't cook, this plan will be a big shock. I've also noticed that this plan seems to make people terrified of carbs. There's lots of talk on the Facebook group of needing to be in ketosis to burn fat (an old Atkins fallacy) and being "afraid" of cycle two carbs. I'm not convinced this plan teaches anyone about food and what your body needs. You're encouraged NOT to log your food (e.g. in MyFitnessPal) and just follow the plan. The problem with this is, you have no sense of what you're eating and why. People need to be taught about macros (what they are, why we might need to change them, etc.) and not just blindly follow a plan. I suspect the low carb diet in cycle 1 is to a) get fast results (you dump a lot of water weight when you first do low carb) and b) get people used to eating "clean", then gradually bring back the starch.

My Cycle One Diary

Day three: Freezing cold outside. What's for lunch? Oh. Salad. Right, I'll grill the chicken and eat it warm on my salad leaves. God, I'm sick of eating chicken. Turkey mince is bringing back bad memories of my days I transitioned from being a vegetarian to pescetarian to chicken and fish eater. Turkey bacon, chicken sausages, turkey burgers...the Dry Days. I just want some bacon.

Day five: Have just discovered that there is a wealth of information on the Bodycoach site members area, but you need to type in a specific question or words. So for example, you can substitute avocado or nuts for the endless (and I mean fucking endless) eggs on the plan. Ditto subbing other (non-starchy) veg for Spinach Mountain. And butter can be swapped gram for gram for the coconut oil! Fish or prawns for chicken! Nuts for olives! Sour cream, cottage cheese, and yoghurt can be interchanged gram for gram! Why is this not in the plan, even as an appendix or a table of some sort? I'm grumpy. Nauseous and exhausted, too.

Day seven: I finally feel normal again! Still hungry. Still miss bacon.

Day ten: Went to a friend's house for supper. Ate fried things. Had a lot of gin. I have no regrets.

Day thirteen: I feel like I've been on this diet for six months. On the plus side, I've taken a "Ready, Steady, Cook" approach to this and have come up with some meal variations that are more appealing. I dropped almost 4 pounds in the first week (typical low carb water dump), but 3 pounds have come back on. I'm weirdly bloated today, but maybe that's hormonal. I don't normally pay much attention to the scale, so I'm not bothered about the gain. Another positive is that I've been out to eat three times and stuck to the plan every time. (Chicken cashew salad at Gourmet Burger Kitchen, a chicken and vegetable stir fry at a local Thai place, and chicken, grilled veg, and salad at Nando's.) Still hungry.

Day fifteen: It's only day 15. Didn't I write that last entry a week ago? Still bloated. Still hungry. Really pleased with myself that I figured out how to make a beanless chilli and cottage pie with cauliflower mash that's "on plan."

Day twenty one: I'm still constantly hungry but feeling a bit better about what I'm eating and a little less bloated. It's been interesting to get my macros from slightly different sources and I do think it's making a difference. I am not happy with low carbing, though. Even the "carbohydrate refuel" meals aren't particularly high carb. You're being asked to do a lot of training on very few carbs. Not that I believe in carb loading, but I feel that for me, it's too low. I'm in constant brain fog grump mode. I never was eating a lot of carbs (about 20% of my daily macros, or less than 100g per day) so it isn't a drastic change. Just enough to keep me feeling cranky. I'm curious to see what cycle two will bring,

Submission day: I am so glad that I have photos from the beginning of this cycle; they clearly show that I've lost several inches all over. My weight has dropped by 1.5kg, but it's the measurements that have shown the most progress. Two inches off my chest (which is actually a reduction in back fat, of all things), 1 inch off my thighs, another off my waist, and one off my hips. I can't say I've felt great or been terribly happy for the past month, but changing the kind of food I eat, even slightly, is making a difference. I am so, so sick of chicken, eggs, and green vegetables, though.

Cycle two began on February 11. Summary coming next month!

Saturday, 2 January 2016

*bong!* another new year's here

The good news is, this year I don't have the plague. I had a little bit of a chesty thing a couple of weeks ago, but nothing a couple of extra pillows and a Sudafed couldn't fix. We had a brilliant time at Disneyland Paris and I thoroughly enjoyed letting someone else do the Christmas day catering for a change. Christmas was go this year, and I'm feeling very happy about that.

In keeping with annual tradition, it's time for my List of Stuff. I'm always astounded when I actually do something that was on my last List of Stuff, mostly because I promptly forget all about it as soon as I hit "Publish."

Here's last year's bulleted list:
  • Getting stuck in a bit of a rut again and I'm starting to get bored. I need to find something new to do - take a course, go somewhere new, find a new hobby, take on a bit of extra work, etc.
Finishing my last contract and starting a new one definitely took away from the boredom. I also entered the exciting world of crochet. I went to a crochet class in April to learn how to do a granny square and ended up finishing two blankets and a doll by year end. We went to Lanzarote during May half term, which was a new destination for us. We absolutely loved it and are planning on going back this year. Disney for Christmas was a new adventure, too. I don't think I've ever gone away for Christmas before.
  • Totally and completely stop worrying about people who are not worth the energy, and focus a lot more on those who are. No matter how unjust, hurtful, or ridiculous some opinions are of me, they simply shouldn't matter. This is the only kind of detox that actually has any sort of purpose. 
Amazingly, I have done this. No longer do I agonise over party invites, Facebook posts, and other things that shouldn't need a second thought. Of course I still hate it when people get pissed off at me or when someone's decided to stop being friendly to me for no reason, but on the most part, I accept the fact that some people simply don't like me. And that some people are assholes.
  • See more dance/theatre. I've been gradually doing this more over the years and I absolutely love it. There is nothing like seeing a live performance. I was spoiled for choice back in Montreal and it's a bit more of a trek to see shows now, but it's only a short trip to London from here.
I didn't see any more shows than usual last year and I'd still like to make more of an effort to to do.
  • Get back into running. Weirdly, I enjoyed running - it was good to get outdoors, just me and my brain. There is a 24 hour running marathon happening here in the summer (each person does a 4 mile circuit, I think) and I'd like to take part. 
I did! But I kept getting injured, so I had to stop for a bit. But now I'm back to it! But then I pulled something in my hip and I have to decrease my distance until it's sorted. Anyhoo, my running has improved hugely over the past year, thanks to strength training and encouragement from the Godmanchester Running Club. I've run 5k three times now and have signed up for Wings for Life in May. I hope to do 10k for that one.

I came across this article via a friend and I love what she says about doing all the stuff you never got round to when you were younger. That's why I took up tap at age 44 and why I still want to learn how to play the cello one day. Give this a read.

Right so, this year:
  • Keep the training/healthy eating going. I've managed to do this since April and I'm both shocked and pleased. This is the first time in many, many years that I haven't started out the year fatter than ever and full of regret. I want to be stronger and healthier.
  • Run 10k in under an hour. Or maybe in an hour. I haven't decided yet.
  • Go to Canada for a visit this summer. I miss home. Lots.
  • I really need to finish that wrap thingy I started knitting ages ago. On a similar note, I'd like to get more into the yarny stuff and try out new things. Maybe I'll finally make a pair of socks.
Muscles, running, home, socks. Bring it on.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Preview: Cambridge Gin Laboratory

In addition to my husband, children, and a really good steak, there are two other ways into my heart: gin and Labrador Retrievers. You know those Saint Bernard dogs in cartoons that rescue people stranded in mountains with a small barrel of spirits attached to their collars? If someone could send me a Labrador bearing a G&T, that would be awesome.

I was watching "Great British Menu" the other night and Rich Bainbridge (a Norwich-based chef) wanted to make a Victoria sponge cocktail to go with his dessert course. For this, he created a bespoke vanilla gin. The next thing we know, we're in Will and Lucy Lowe's house in Cambridge where they distill their own gin. (Side note: when people ask about the benefits of working from home, this is the sort of thing I have in mind.) Their Cambridge Distillery works with restaurants such as Alimentum and Morston Hall, businesses, and (if you're very lucky) individuals to create tailored gins. On a busy week, Will says, they can produce up to 60 bottles of gin. They are award-winning, world renowned distillers and I had no idea that this was happening a few miles from my house.

Lucy and Will are in the process of opening the Cambridge Gin Laboratory in central Cambridge, offering gin lovers a lesson in gin history, a behind the scenes look at how it is produced, and the opportunity to blend their own gin. There will be various experiences available, which you will be able to view and book on their site.

DSC_0978 DSC_0982

DSC_0971 Will is not only a Master Distiller, he is also studying to become a Master of Wine - a combination that is a rare breed. I asked him how wine tasting compares to gin tasting and he said that it all comes down to detecting flavours. "I even eat foods I don't like just to experience different flavours," he said. I learned more about gin in the few minutes I spoke to Will than I have in the many years I've been drinking it.

One of the gins they produce is a seasonal gin that changes annually depending on what's been growing in their garden or available to forage that particular year. It is, without wanting to sound horribly cliche, Cambridge in bottle. Each vintage's report is a story about what was happening in Cambridge that season. We had the pleasure of tasting three drinks yesterday evening at the Gin Lab: a Cambridge Dry gin and tonic, a Japanese Gin martini, and a summery Basil Smash. You're probably supposed delicately sip and savour it, but I took great mouthfuls and said things like "OHMYGOD THIS IS SO GOOD."

DSC_0967

How do Labradors fit into all of this? I have an unapologetic, extremely biased love for Labs and Lucy and Will have a very lovely one called Darcy. She graces the labels and if you visit the distillery, you'll get to meet this gorgeous lady yourself. Darcy is key to Lucy and Will's foraging, as they find botanicals to use in their gin during their walks. Also, it's rather lovely to sip a remarkable gin and tonic while giving her ears a little scratch.

Gin seems to have evolved from your grandmother's tipple to a spirit we are starting to care much more about. My heart sinks a little when I walk into a pub and all they have is Gordon's and tonic out of a nozzle. It's not snobbery, it's the knowledge that there is something so much better out there. To know that there is exceptional gin being produced right here in Cambridge is cause for celebration indeed.

DSC_0981

The Cambridge Gin Laboratory aims to open at the end of October. We were invited to visit before the opening, and other than the really amazing G&T, the only compensation I received for my visit was the extreme joy in having gin on a school night. This is not a sponsored post because I don't do that sort of nonsense.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

eight

Mia bambina. You're eight now! You helped bake your own cake and decorated it all yourself. You had your rollerskating birthday party today and supper at Jamie's Italian afterwards. The fact that you picked out your outfit last night and were very specific about how you wanted to wear your beanie hat today tells me that you're growing up fast. Lip gloss and chewing gum were big highlights of your day. 

I love that you are pretty easy going about most things, especially about your friendships. You simply like most people and if you're not that keen on someone you still like them, but you just don't hang out with them all that much. Long may that last. You can be so stubborn and can turn angry at the blink of an eye, but you'll offer to forego something so someone else can have it without hesitation. 

You are strong. You are funny. You are kind. You are clever. You have a giant heart. You make me very, very proud to be your mama. Happy birthday, dear Mimi.

Monday, 15 June 2015

school daze

How I miss the days of nursery. Drop children off whenever, pick them up whenever(ish), no term breaks or summer holidays to fill up, no lunches to pack, no homework, and no letters home asking for random things.

These days, this is what every week is like for me:

  • Child 1: Homework given out Mondays and is due on Fridays. Every Wednesday she needs a change of clothing for outdoor learning.
  • Child 2: Literacy homework given out on Mondays and is due on Wednesdays, maths homework given out on Fridays and is due on Mondays.  Class swimming one term a year on Wednesdays. Costumes required for class assemblies, details of which will not be available until 8:00pm the night before via ParentMail. 
  • Child 3: Literacy and maths homework given out on Mondays or maybe Fridays or possibly Wednesdays depending on the phases of the moon. Child must wear one orange sock, but only on alternate Tuesdays on the third week of each month with the exception of the week before term break. All home project assignments must sit in a tray, completely forgotten until the day before the assignment is due. 
In addition:
  • Monthly requests will be sent to parents for specific and obscure objects that must be purchased if you don't want to look like a bad parent. Objects must be placed in a blue bag and left at the office by 8:59am on the fourth Friday of the month. 
  • All important meetings pertaining to your child and his/her school will only occur during office hours. 
  • Awkward small talk with people you don't really know/like is mandatory during all school runs.
I love my kids' school. I really do. But I am not mentally equipped to deal with all of the information required to have three children in primary school. Thank the gods for phone reminders and kitchen wall calendars, I say.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Penang soup

I have a cold, but just a little cold. Not enough to knock me right out, but enough to be really annoying. I can't cough with much vigour because my abdominal muscles (who knew I even had any?) still hurt from my Wednesday workout. I'm doing tiny little lady coughs that aren't actually accomplishing anything, and I sound like an idiot. It's a good thing that I'm working from home today.

My lovely friend Georgia posted a recipe yesterday for a Thai-inspired soup, and it sounded like the perfect remedy for a cold. One of the benefits of having a terrible short term memory is being pleasantly surprised by things I find in my cupboard that I forgot I bought - like a tub of Penang curry paste. I'd just made some chicken stock to help knock out Jack's cold, the weather turned cold and rainy today, so soup was the sensible lunchtime conclusion. I made this recipe up based on what I'd usually add to my standard Thai curry, with a little nod to laksa.

I only needed to feed me today, so I made the full batch of soup but didn't add the noodles, prawns, or lime juice to the pot. I added these to my bowl and ladled the hot stock on top, and put the rest of the soup in the fridge for another day. The paste I used was pretty hot, so not only are my sinuses clearer, I can see through time. (Thank you for that reference, Lisa Simpson.) If you've got leftover chicken or some other form of animal protein, by all means use that instead of prawns.

This isn't even remotely authentic. It's like a thinned out Thai curry on rice noodles instead of rice. I'm not really selling this, am I? It's good. Trust me.

Where are the prawns?

Oh look, there they are.




















Thai Penang Curry Soup
(Serves 4)
50g/3 heaped tablespoons Penang curry paste
1 tbsp oil
400 ml/1 tin coconut milk
1 litre/4 cups of chicken or fish stock (unsalted, because you're adding fish sauce for seasoning)
4 "nests" of rice vermicelli (I used the Mama Noodles brand at 45g for each portion)
2 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp palm sugar (You can also use dark brown sugar or raw cane sugar)
200g/about 20 king prawns
Juice of 1 lime, or more to taste
Garnishes: bean sprouts, coriander/cilantro, spring onions/green onions, or whatever else strikes your fancy.

Fry the curry paste in the oil over medium heat for about 2-3 minutes. Add the coconut milk and stock, and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down and simmer for 15 minutes or so. 

While the soup is simmering, add boiling water to the vermicelli and let stand according to package instructions. Mine only took three minutes, so you can do this near the end. Drain and set aside.

Add the fish sauce and palm sugar to the soup and stir until the sugar dissolves. Add the prawns* and noodles, stir and heat the soup through for a minute or two. Squeeze the lime juice on top.

Ladle/pour/slop the soup into bowls and top with your garnishes. Say goodbye to your cold.

*If you're using raw prawns, throw them in at the end for about two minutes, and cook until they're thoroughly pink.

Per serving: 499 calories, 23g fat, 24g protein, 48g carbs.