Seven days sugar free & this is how I feel…

It’s been seven days now since I decided to overhaul my diet and attempt to eliminate sugar and you can read my post on why here.

During this time almost everyone I’ve mentioned it to, on-line and off, has an opinion on the right approach so let’s get that bit out of the way first. There is no right approach. Instead, there’s the approach that seems achievable for you and your family, whether that’s cutting out sugary snacks, processed food or eliminating the white stuff entirely. I’m not an expert. This isn’t a post with ‘rules’ but rather a sharing of what I’ve found helpful, the challenges I’ve faced and how I overcame them (or not).

By day one I was raring to go. After much research (there’s an awful lot of information out there and a lot of it contradictory) I decided to base my experiment on David Gillespie’s method. His Sweet Poison book explained the science simply and clearly. I bought this book along with The Sweet Poison Quit plan but to be honest you could get away with only reading The Quit Plan because it explains the science (although not quite as in-depth) and also has recipes and pointers.

In his plan carbs are not banned – hurrah – (although white pasta, bread and rice are) and the occasional glass of wine is allowed. The odd potato will not send you straight to hell which was very good news for my husband when it came to our Sunday roast. And fruit is allowed (although no more than 2 pieces and berries are favoured).

Planning is the key to such a dramatic lifestyle change. Often, I’m working on ‘one more chapter’ and I lose track of time only to hare around to M & S to buy something I can shove in the oven. There is literally nothing without sugar you can just shove in the oven so meals were carefully thought out, and the fridge stocked.

Much of my meal plan was based around Sarah Flower’s The Sugar Free Family Cookbook. Many of the sugar free cookbooks I looked at (and I spent an hour in the bookshop) contain huge amounts of honey, or dried fruit, date paste. These are not sugar free and the huge spikes in fructose WILL leave you hungry.

The first day kicked off with porridge with a small amount of blueberries. Lunch was a smoked salmon and avocado salad. I’d already checked the sugar content on my usual low fat salad dressing and was shocked to find out it was 17g per 100ml. This is a LOT of sugar. Instead I drizzled chilli infused garlic oil. I often have salads for lunch and they only generally fill me up for a couple of hours. Without the spike in sugar from salad dressing I wasn’t hungry all afternoon. I’ve found that although sugars are hidden in almost everything dressings and condiments are amongst the worst.

Cooking dinner was, if I’m honest, a little frightening. I made moussaka which is one of my husband’s favourites. For years I’ve followed the Weight Watcher’s recipe. Low fat yoghurt and cheese. The Sarah Flower’s method was alien to me. Frying the aubergine in oil. Using full fat cheese and cream. I reminded myself as I sat down to eat that this isn’t a weight loss mission. It’s not about getting slimmer (although it is a bit…) but more about my health. My family loved the food. I couldn’t finish my portion and for the first time, I think ever, I didn’t have the urge to snack in the evening. I was too full. This was a trend that carried on all week – I’ve not once snacked in the evenings. It’s been hard to let go of the emotional comfort my ‘the kids are in bed let’s eat’ ritual brings, I’ve been doing it for years and that’s been one of the hardest things to change.

On day two I took my son for a pub lunch. The salads on the menu didn’t look too inspiring and it’s what I usually eat at home so I went with a steak and a handful of chips. (If you’re rolling your eyes at chips please refer to above about making changes that are realistic and feasible and hey there’s no added sugar). It was hard resisting the ketchup and vinegar but again I struggled to finish. We always have desserts and even though I thought I’d opt for cheese I just wasn’t hungry. It was 7 o’ clock before I realised I had skipped dinner. I was still full but I thought I’d better eat. I cut some crudités, cheese and spooned a small amount of homous onto a plate. Homous is something I eat regularly, again usually low fat. It was shocking comparing the labels and realising how much sugar is in low fat foods. No wonder dieters always feel ravenous with the fructose spikes making it impossible to know when they’ve eaten enough.

Day three brought with it a weird stabbing pain in my forehead that just wouldn’t go. Again, I ate out with friends but there was nothing suitable on the menu. I asked the kitchen to grill me some chicken and serve with an undressed salad (don’t be afraid to ask for what you want). Uninspired, but my head hurt too much to eat.  For dinner I wanted to try Sarah Flower’s ‘hot head’ pizza but discovered although I’d bought all the ingredients the base sauce took 8 hours to cook. I chucked everything in a slow cooker and left overnight to have tomorrow. Instead we had ratatouille with halloumi but even my favourite squeaky cheese didn’t make me feel any better.

Day four my head still hurt and I barely had the energy to get out of bed. Usually I’d go for a swim but it was exhausting just getting dressed. The sauce for the pizza was ready so I made the bases, almost entirely of cheese. If I’m not the size of a house by the end of this experiment I’ll be amazed. (It’s not about weight. It’s not about weight). I told the kids over and over again that they wouldn’t taste like real pizza’s until they said I was ruining it for them before they’d even tried them. Unanimously we all agreed we liked them better than regular pizza’s and even though I’d made one each they were so filling we could easily have shared.

Day five and the weird stabbing pain was still in my head. I’d been longing to write book 5 but my focus was non-existent. I was so tired I could cry. I had to run some errands and outside of the house I felt increasingly anxious until I had a panic attack. Panic attacks, I’d hoped were part of my dim and distant path and I drove home wondering whether this was all worth it. For dinner I made a curry. Again, I’d been making weight watchers curry recipes for years but this one had oils and creams and my family said it was the best curry they’d ever tasted.

Day six and I woke to find my hands didn’t hurt quite as much as they normally did. The point of this dietary change for me is to try and reduce my inflammation, as well as boost my energy (ha! No change there yet). I tried to write but although I couldn’t concentrate my fingers moved freely.  My 4th psychological thriller, The Date, is newly published & I’ve spent more time than usual on social media, on my phone. This is usually agonising for my poor hands. Hearteningly, already less so. My kids wanted burgers for dinner and so I made them from scratch. They’d never go without ketchup and so I found a recipe here and made some. It only took half an hour and we all agreed was nicer than Heinz. Cheeringly, I think it would make a fabulous base for the pizzas so no more 8 hour prep – hurrah. It’s Saturday and we generally eat desserts at the weekend so I made a raspberry mousse from Sarah Flowers and it was delicious.

Day seven. My headache had gone, my pain less and today I felt more energetic than I had for ages (probably because it was the first time I’d slept properly all week). I nervously weighed myself (I’d eaten so much fat this week) and was surprised and relieved to see I’d remained the same. Somehow I’ve lost an inch from my waist and my stomach is noticeably flatter, my clothes looser.

My husband’s had been missing sweet snacks and so I baked a sugar free lemon drizzle cake, again from Sarah’s recipes. Again, I kept telling my family it wouldn’t taste like cake but surprisingly it did. It was light, moist and disappeared VERY quickly.

It’s been tough, I think the exhaustion has been the worst, but it’s encouraging to see a reduction in my pain already. I’m looking forward to the week ahead. I’ll keep you posted!

Below are my two favourite recipes from this week.

From Sarah Flower’s Sugar Free Family Cookbook – available on Amazon here.

Lemon Drizzle Cake.

100g butter

100g full fat cheese

75g erythritol blend (I bought mine from Amazon. Expensive but you don’t need much at one time)

90g almond flour (I found cheaper to buy supermarket ground almonds)

40g coconut flour (I sourced mine at Asda)

1 tsp baking powder

Zest 2-3 lemons (squeeze juice to drizzle over cake)

5 eggs

Sarah shares a method but I just chucked everything in my Magimix and blitzed for 30/60 seconds. I used a silicone loaf tin and baked on gas mark 3 (170) for 50 minutes. Drizzle over the lemon juice once out the oven (I didn’t quite use all my juice). Let it cool before you turn it out or it will crumble.

Ketchup

This invaluable recipe for ketchup (also a pizza base – hurrah) is from Sugar Free Londoner fabulous blog which you can find here.

400g tin chopped tomatoes

3 tbsp red wine vinegar

1 garlic clove (I used lazy garlic)

¼ tsp Dijon mustard

¼ tsp onion powder (I used dried onion flakes)

I pinch ground allspice

1 pinch cinnamon (cinnamon helps reduce sugar cravings btw)

Salt & pepper

Throw everything in a pan on a low heat for 30 minutes, stirring frequently until it thickens. It keeps in the fridge for about a week.

You can check out how I get on during my second week here.

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Life with a Sprockerpoo – the first 12 months

A year and a half ago we lost our beloved cocker spaniel, Molly. Our house and hearts felt colder. Emptier. After much discussion we decided not to get another dog. The children were growing, one already left home, and suddenly the time when it would become just the two of us didn’t seem quite so distant. We’d travel. Have spontaneous weekends away. The tie of another dog would be too much. We were approaching the time we’d be able to focus solely on us. We absolutely didn’t want another dog.

Until one day we did.

It was my husband who tentatively brought it up as he sipped his tea. ‘Life just doesn’t feel the same without a dog,’ he began. ‘I think…’.

I’d googled puppies before he’d finished his sentence and by the time he’d drained his mug I’d arranged for us to see a litter. At 4 o’clock.

We didn’t tell the children as we didn’t want to get their hopes up but I desperately wanted a labradoodle and was already picking out names as we drove to the appointment.

The litter were adorable, as all litters are. I climbed into the pen and waited to see which puppy came to me. They all did. Delighted, I looked up at my husband but as I saw his face my heart sank.

‘What’s wrong?’ I asked.

‘The mother’s the size of an average sheep.’ He said. 

And she was. 

I’ve always loved big breeds but he didn’t. 

‘Some are small and some grow so tall.’ The breeder told us. ‘You can’t predict with a mixed breed but they’re likely to be huge. She doesn’t even fit in my car.’

And so the pattern was set. Endless weekends spent visiting puppies from boxers to cockerpoos and everything in-between. I fell in love with them all. My husband didn’t. And yet I didn’t feel the urge to fight to bring them home. They were all gorgeous, and fluffy and cute but none of them felt like mine.

Last June we had one more appointment booked. We almost didn’t go. We’d decided to wait until after the school holidays but we’d never met a Sprockerpoo before (Springer/Cocker/Poodle) and we were curious. After losing two pure-breds to genetic health conditions we didn’t know entirely what we were searching for, but it wasn’t a pedigree.

Instantly, we fell in love and the feeling was mutual. Granger padded over, scrambled onto my lap, licked my hand and fell asleep and I knew I’d found him. The puppy who was meant to be ours.

‘Let’s think about it overnight.’ My husband said. ‘We don’t want to make s snap decision’ but I knew from the longing looks he was giving Granger he felt the same way I did. It became apparent when 10 minutes into our journey home he pulled into a lay-by. ‘I’d be devastated if someone else came and took him.’

I didn’t reply. I was too busy calling the breeder and saying yes.

A year ago today we brought him home.

The house felt different once more. He wasn’t a replacement for Molly and personality wise they are world’s apart, but each day he makes us laugh. We quickly found out he loves the garden, most days he spends hours chasing leaves, watching grass blow in the wind and it’s really made us appreciate the small things.  How to find joy in the world around us. He loathes being alone, luckily my husband and I both work from home and my elder son works shifts so our house is never empty. He lies under my desk as I write my books, sometimes making me jump if he suddenly moves while I’m writing a scary scene and sometimes inspiring me. Branwell the dog, in my latest psychological thriller, The Date, is based on Granger.

If anyone goes out he seeks solace in their shoes, putting them in his basket until they return, not to chew, although initially there was a LOT of chewing, but for comfort. He’s gentle, placid, affectionate, adores racing around the park with other dogs but equally content curled up on the sofa. He doesn’t molt and doesn’t smell. Oh and he’s patient. So very patient, standing waiting his turn when the cat decides he wants to feast on dog food. 

He’s ours and I can’t remember a time when he wasn’t.

Parenting – Swapping Calpol for Vodka

 

It was my birthday over the weekend. I woke to a still house. Silent. First light filtered through a crack in the curtains and shone a spotlight on the empty space at the bottom of the bed where once small children would bounce, clutching handmade cards decorated with indistinguishable drawings.

“Wake up Mummy.”

My heart would be filled with love as I’d eat a breakfast they’d lovingly prepared – “of course smarties taste good with cornflakes”- before unwrapping gifts fashioned from empty yoghurt pots and cardboard toilet roll tubes.

Two of my three children have grown. One has already left home, another due to go to uni in September. 

As I lay there I felt such a fierce longing for simpler times. For sticky marmalade kisses and time that seemed to stretch endlessly. 

Where had their childhood gone?

The day was lovely. I had a fabulous lunch with my whole family and yet still I felt oddly unsettled.

Sometime. Somehow. There’s been a shift in the fabric of my relationship with my older kids and as I watched them leave after dessert, going back to the grown up part of their lives I was not included in, I was inexplicably scared it was all going to unravel. The invisible thread of love that binds me to them might stretch and stretch until one day… would it snap altogether?

And then I got a text – dinner, Mum?

Saturday found us crowded around a table sharing tapas, before heading to a bar and there was another shift in dynamics. A Saturday night drinking cocktails with the people I love most in the world. 

It’s a different stage of parenting, swapping Calpol for vodka. Baby rice for bar snacks, and it wasn’t better, or worse. Just different. And I realised as we hugged at the end of the evening and went our separate ways that the invisible thread is strong enough to span years and miles and oceans and it will always, always remain unbreakable. 

My heart will forever be filled with love.

“Introverts can’t succeed.” (Says who?)

Last night, we had the first parent’s evening at my son’s new secondary school. My son is hardworking, conscientious and worries needlessly about getting into trouble. As with his primary, I was expecting glowing reports praising good grades and excellent behaviour.

I was right. To an extent.

The first teacher we saw reaffirmed how bright he was. How he’s working at a higher level. How well mannered and good natured he is. Kind to his fellow classmates and always considerate of others.

So far so good.

‘But.’ His teacher frowned, and sadly shook his head. ‘There is a big problem.’

My son’s eyes met mine and I saw panic slide across his face.

‘What’s the problem?’ I asked.

A lengthy sigh. ‘He’s quiet.’

‘And?’

‘That’s an issue.’

‘That’s his nature.’

‘We have some big personalities and frankly some disruptive students. He needs to speak up and make himself heard.’

‘Why?’

‘Because you never get anywhere in life being an introvert, do you? If you want to succeed you have to learn to shout loudly.’

Umm. I’m an introvert and seem to have done quite well thank you, as has his father.

This set the pattern for the rest of the evening. Out of 11 teachers, 5 told him he had to be louder. More confident. Be something that he isn’t, because of course when you’re shy and insular someone telling you to be loud and confident is exactly what you (don’t) need.

Outside, in the car, I told my rather forlorn twelve year old that I was immensely proud of him. He has been predicted A’ grades in almost every subject and his behaviour is exemplary. But more important than all of that, I told him that I loved him completely exactly the way he is and that he should never, ever feel that being quiet and introverted is a character flaw. Indeed if he follows his dream career path of becoming an author being insular will serve him well. After all, who’s ever heard of an extroverted writer?

50 Happy Things 2018: Bloggers Unite to Flood the Internet with Gratitude

 

Hurrah! It’s one of my favourite times of year again – the annual ‘Bloggers flood the internet with gratitude’ co-ordinated by the fabulous Dawn from Tales from the Motherland. If you haven’t joined in before it’s super easy. Set a timer and write a list of things that you have felt grateful for this past year. Full instructions are below. Here’s mine!

 

  1. My children – I made humans – actual humans! They always make me laugh/smile/my heart swell with pride.
  2. My sister – she’s my hero for many reasons.
  3. My husband – often the one who holds everything together while I write ‘just one more page…’. 
  4. My mum – I wouldn’t be here without her. 
  5. My family – It may be getting smaller but they take up a large space in my heart.
  6. My friends – I value them dearly. 
  7. My puppy – he may currently be chewing his way through EVERYTHING but he lifts my day – always. 
  8. My cat – whoever said cats don’t love has never met our affectionate ball of fur. 
  9. The NHS – it’s helped me literally get back on my feet.
  10. A mattress – a sufferer of chronic pain I value a soft place to lay.
  11. A home – a place I can just be.
  12. My garden – I love the outdoors.
  13. Nature – The world is so beautiful if we just stop and pause.
  14. Mindfulness – my practice enables me to appreciate the here and now.
  15. Food – a luxury I never take for granted.
  16. Words – I adore the English language.
  17. Stories – I’m making a career making stuff up – a dream come true.
  18. Water – we turn on taps and voila – we’re incredibly lucky.
  19. Fresh air – I live near the countryside and it’s lovely to just breathe.
  20. Bloggers – such a supportive community.
  21. Charity – we can all do something.
  22. The animal kingdom – It’s humbling observing them in their natural habitat.
  23. Education – my son is off to uni this year & I’m so excited for his future.
  24. Chocolate – Heavenly.
  25. Readers – I love meeting and hearing from those who read my novels.
  26. My publishers who reach an audience with my books. 
  27. My literary agent who has guided me this past year.
  28. Music – I play piano (badly) and love going to gigs.
  29. Creativity – Art, music, writing – it’s all so inspiring.
  30. A dining table. Nothing makes me happier than sharing a good meal with my family.
  31. My gratitude journal – the last thing I write before I go to sleep.
  32. Kindness – no act is too small.
  33. A smile from a stranger often makes my day.
  34. Literary festivals – a chance to hang out with other writers and readers & I spoke at my first events this year. 
  35. Books – my favourite pastime – always.
  36. Wine – a luxury at the end of the day.
  37. Flowers – Watching bees buzz lazily around the borders.
  38. Colour – makes everything seem a little brighter.
  39. Photos – I still print mine out and stick in an album.
  40. A car – not being too mobile I’d be lost without mine.
  41. Stationery – Nothing cheers me up like a notebook.
  42. Cake – baking is therapeutic.
  43. A hug – human contact has the power to heal.
  44. Medicine – I’m incredibly grateful for the advances we have made.
  45. Random acts of kindness.
  46. Memories – Making new ones every day.
  47. Laughter
  48. Time – the greatest gift of all.
  49. Electricity
  50. Mistakes – I’ve learned & grown & I’ll make them again!

Gratitude is so important. Here you can read how and why I keep a gratitude journal every day.

To join in with ’50 things’ set a timer for 15 minutes. Once you start the timer, start your list. The goal is to write things that make you happy, or things you feel grateful for. Don’t think too hard; just write what comes to mind in the time allotted. If you use the numbered mode and just type what comes to mind, it’s easy. When the timer’s done stop writing; finish whatever sentence you’re on. If you haven’t written 50 things, don’t worry. If you have more than 50 things great; you can’t feel too happy or too grateful! Add the photos, links, instructions, etc after you finish the list––the timer doesn’t matter for getting these details down; it applies to the list only. Add your link here.

 

The one thing I loathe about Christmas has taught me this…

There are rolls of sparkly wrapping paper stacked in the corner of my bedroom, a bag of silver bows, shiny red tags. Today, the first of the gifts I ordered from Amazon arrived and I had a fleeting thought I should wrap up the presents as I buy them, before dismissing it instantly. It’s my least favourite job. There’s never enough room cramped around the table and my back screams with pain if I’m hunched on the floor. No matter how careful I am, I can never, ever, locate the end of the Sellotape and making anything beyond a square shape look enticing is far outside my very limited capabilities.

With a sinking feeling, I totted up the amount of presents I’ve yet to buy, calculating the amount I’ll have to wrap, until a slow and sickening dawning crept over me.

Yet again, there will be less under the tree than last year.

The children are older, two of them adults now, and the enormous pile of plastic, noisy, toys we used to accumulate are long gone. Instead, a sleek gift-wrapped gadget or two will replace all the smaller, cheaper presents, they’d shake and sniff, hazarding wild guesses before excitedly tearing off the paper to see if they were right.

It’s not only my growing family responsible for diminishing the pile of presents under our tree, there’s the inevitable, heart-wrenching loss we’ve experienced. One less person to buy for. One empty space at our dining table. One less cracker to pull. And suddenly having lots to wrap doesn’t feel like the worst thing, having nothing to wrap does.

Tonight I shall pour a glass of red wine before sliding off the plastic coating from my rolls of paper and think how grateful I am to still have people I love to buy gifts for, and the money to buy them, and you never know, my most loathed job, might just become my favourite.

THIS is what inspired my new novel… Guest post by Rebecca Stonehill

 

I’m a huge fan of Rebecca Stonehill’s beautiful writing so when she contacted me to tell me she was releasing a new novel I was super excited. Today I welcome Rebecca onto my blog where she’ll share the inspiration behind her new release, the fabulously titled ‘The Secret Life of Alfred Nightingale’. Over to you, Rebecca!

 

The setting often comes first for me: with my first novel, The Poet’s Wife, I was inspired by my time spent in Granada, southern Spain; The Girl and the Sunbird I knew would be my ‘Nairobi’ novel as this is where I live and I wanted to wind back the clock to find out what it was like in its beginnings as a town.

As for my third novel, The Secret Life of Alfred Nightingale (to be published 11 November 2017), the setting was again integral, but this time, not because I’d ever been there. As a child, one of my favourite pastimes was to heave down one of the heavy albums from my mother’s bookshelf in her bedroom, filled to bursting with photographs. I loved the photos of past family holidays, and my aunts and uncles when they were younger. But, more than any other, there was an album I returned to again and again.

It was from my mother’s travels from around 1967-1968, a period when she hitchhiked from England down to Greece, worked as an au pair in Athens and then travelled on to a tiny village set in a bay in Southern Crete named Matala, a place she found hard to leave. As a child, I was captivated by these sepia-toned photographs. A handful of scantily clad travellers clustered around a series of sandstone caves they slept in. The odd flag flapped outside a cave opening in the breeze and travellers squint into the camera against the fierce Cretan sunlight above a beautiful, deserted beach.

I desperately wanted to go there but, even more importantly, the seed was planted: one day I would set a story there. I had no idea what form this journey would take, but it didn’t matter; this would come in time.

Matala and those photographs from the late 1960’s have never left me. It is only in the past couple of years though that I’ve had the opportunity to develop and mould the story into what it has become. My protagonist is Jim, a handsome, arrogant but troubled eighteen year old from Twickenham who hitchhikes to Matala in 1967 in search of fun, and to escape his repressed parents. What I didn’t want, though, was for this to be simply a 1960’s coming of age story. I knew very little about what happened in Crete during WW2 but, researching it more, a story of how to link the two periods slowly emerged.

I finally made it to Matala during the late summer of 2016, with my mother as well as her sister and friends who also spent time in the caves. It is now a resort and much has changed from those days of long ago. Tourists pay money to visit the caves where the ‘hippies’ once stayed and, going much further back, where people from the Neolithic period buried their dead. But the spirit of Matala remains: a place of freedom, of gently lapping waves and, if you take the time to sit with a coffee and piece of backlava with one of the locals, of numerous stories.

The one I have chosen to tell follows Jim through Europe down to Matala. At first, it’s the paradise he dreamt it would be. But as things start to go wrong and his very notion of self unravels, the last thing Jim expects is for this journey of hundreds of miles to set in motion a passage of healing which will lead him back to the person he hates most in the world: his father.

Taking in the counter-culture of the 1960’s, the clash of relationships between the WW2 generation and their children, the baby boomers, this is a novel about secrets from the past finally surfacing, the healing of trauma and the power of forgiveness.

I’m looking forward to seeing this book out in the world after brewing for more than thirty years!

In Matala, Crete, September 2016 with my mother, cousin, auntie and their friend who they were in Matala with in the Sixties.

 

 

 The caves in Matala in which travellers once slept in, the inspiration for my novel.

 

That sounds wonderful, Rebecca. Thanks so much for sharing the story behind the story. Wishing you the best of luck. 

 

Rebecca can be contacted through her website, on Twitter, or via Facebook. You can sign up to Rebcca’s mailing list here.

You can buy The Secret Life of Alfred Nightingale via Amazon US or Amazon UK. Here’s the blurb: –

A compelling page turner of a buried past resurfacing, set against a backdrop of the 1960’s youth culture and war torn Crete.

1967. Handsome but troubled, Jim is almost 18 and he lives and breathes girls, trad jazz, Eel Pie Island and his best friend, Charles. One night, he hears rumours of a community of young people living in caves in Matala, Crete. Determined to escape his odious, bully of a father and repressed mother, Jim hitchhikes through Europe down to Matala. At first, it’s the paradise he dreamt it would be. But as things start to go wrong and his very notion of self unravels, the last thing Jim expects is for this journey of hundreds of miles to set in motion a passage of healing which will lead him back to the person he hates most in the world: his father.

Taking in the counter-culture of the 1960’s, the clash of relationships between the WW2 generation and their children, the baby boomers, this is a novel about secrets from the past finally surfacing, the healing of trauma and the power of forgiveness.