Day 14 of my sugar free challenge

It’s been 14 days now since I began my sugar free journey. You can read about why I started it here, and find out how my first week went here. As I stated previously this is not a ‘this is what you should do’ blog but more a ‘this what I’m doing and what works for me’ post. 

Last week I raved about the Sarah Flower’s Sugar Free cookbook which I’m still using. This week I bought her slow cooker book as there’s nothing quite as simple as throwing things in a pot but I was disappointed to find a large proportion of the recipes are in the other book, although admittedly this one is beautifully laid out with photos of the food. 

Speaking of food this experiment has really reignited my passion for cooking. Since landing a book deal meals have been hurriedly thrown together, too often courtesy of M & S. It’s been, while perhaps not a joy to cook from scratch every night, it’s certainly be a joy to eat different meals. The colours are vibrant. The flavours pop. 

Day eight – Yesterday, I thought I was over the withdrawal effects but today I have an incessant, raging thirst that just won’t go. I down bottle after bottle of water. By the evening I’ve drunk so much I’m worried. I turn to Dr. Google (as you do) thoughts of diabetes flashing through my mind and am relieved to find it’s a common side effect from quitting sugar. Phew. I get up about six million times in the night needing a wee. Roll on tomorrow. I have a chuck fridge contents in a pan for lunch (vague recipe below) and roasted chicken, cauliflower and chorizo for dinner. 

 

Day nine – STILL thirsty. Still drinking. Chicken and lentil bake with broccoli rice. Drink more water.

Day ten – This is my lowest day. My what on earth I am doing this when sugar tastes SO good day. I’m tired (barely slept from all the weeing) and I just want someone to cook me dinner. My husband is quite scared to get in the kitchen at the moment, even though he could just bung a chicken in the oven and some veg on. I’m so close to the end and can’t wait until it’s over. I make sausages and cauliflower and butterbean mash. Covered in lashings of onion gravy nobody even realised it wasn’t potato.

 

Day eleven – Today I was feeling marginally more human. I found out my newly published fourth psychological thriller, The Date, had reached No.1 in the charts on both Apple’s iBookstore and Kobo. I decided to celebrate. The wine didn’t quite slip down the way it used and I admit it was a bit of a slog to finish my second glass but I persevered. Once the alcohol haze hit, a LOT quicker than it used to – I wanted to eat. Somehow, and I’m not quite sure how. I managed to refrain from my usual favoured cheese balls and dairy milk and I blitzed some Parmesan in the microwave to make crisps instead. Went to bed feeling very smug.

Day twelve – Woke up feeling like I was going to die! Honestly, it was as though I’d been poisoned. Those two glasses of wine I wouldn’t have given a second thought to drinking two weeks ago have ruined me! I spend the day under a blanket nursing the worst hangover I’ve had since I was a teenager. Not quite so smug now Jensen! I vow NEVER to drink again. I need comforting so whip up a chicken and lentil curry.

Day thirteen – Still, there’s a lingering headache but I feel so much better than yesterday. The Date has now reached the Top 10 on Amazon UK and the Top 20 in the US and although I put a bottle in the fridge I can’t face opening it later. I’m craving something sweet so I adapt a recipe I use for blueberry muffins, using coconut and almond flour and xylitol instead of sugar and I add some lemon zest and juice. We eat them warm with fresh, extra thick cream. 

 

Day fourteen – I’m at the end of my experiment and find that this week I’ve lost 3lbs. This was never about weight, always about health but still…. I do a happy little weight loss dance all the same. I thought I’d be devouring the bar of fruit and nut in the bottom of the fridge for breakfast. Instead I find myself planing a sugar free dinner. My energy levels are higher today than they have been in a long time and I want to sustain, if not improve on that. I think there’s a balance to be found. Eating out has proved tricky, undressed salad and mainly steak. Food should be enjoyed. Life should be enjoyed. Nevertheless I think somewhere along the past two weeks this has morphed from experiment to lifestyle choice. I’m excited to see the continued health benefits. 

Recipes I’ve loved this week

This made a quick and filling lunch and I creatively call it ‘using the festering (ok not quite) veg in the bottom of the fridge.’

I blitzed broccoli in my Magimix until it resembled the size and shape of rice and stir fried it in coconut oil with half a red onion, peppers, diced courgette, and garlic. I topped with tuna and sushi ginger. It took less than 10 minutes and that was with the prep. The same time it would take to make a sandwich but far more nutritious.

Another lunch was feta hash which took the same amount of time as above but I found more filling.

Heat coconut oil and fry half a red onion for a couple of minutes. 

Throw in feta cubes, a tsp of oregano and some cherry tomatoes (Halved).

After a minute or two add three seasoned, beaten eggs and keep stirring until they are at your preferred consistency. Serve on a bed of spinach (which will wilt).

Granted, this doesn’t look hugely (or even marginally) appetising but I promise you it’s good. 

 

 

 

 

 

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Flash Fiction – The Longing

Image courtesy of J Hardy Carroll

 

Sleep evades me. The longing for you is fierce and painful. I tell myself you’re no good for me, that I’m better off without you but there’s a void deep inside me that can’t be filled.

Again, I check the time. Not quite midnight. The night stretches before me long and slow. There’s a sinking, dawning realisation that I just can’t live without you.

I slip my feet into slippers, pad downstairs and there you are.

On the table.

Chocolate frosting glistening. Sponge light and soft.

Grabbing a knife and a plate I take you back to bed.

The diet can start next week.

 

The prompt made me smile, something you need, and very apt for me this week for those who have read about my 14 day sugar free challenge which you can read about here.

I’m absolutely delighted that my newly published 4th psychological thriller, The Date, has already hit No.1 on Apple’s iBookstore as well as the Amazon top 20 in both the UK & US. For the next dew days only it’s on special offer across all digital platforms for £0.99/$0.99. You can find it on your local amazon here.

The Longing was written for Friday Fictioneers. A weekly 100 word photo challenge inspired by a prompt. Read the other entries and/or join in over at host Rochelle’s blog here

 

 

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.

My 14 day sugar free challenge

A couple of weeks ago I met an old friend in our usual coffee shop and was very much looking forward to our obligatory huge slabs of cake.

‘I’m sugar free now,’ she said.

‘Why?’ I tried to ignore the stabbing pain of betrayal as I gazed longingly at the desserts behind the counter.

‘You know why.’ She gave me the look. Pretty much the same one our tutor gave us when we first met on a nutritional therapy course fifteen years ago.

Sugar is bad. We all know that and yet we continue to eat it.

‘But sugar tastes so good!’ I said.

‘I’ve just read Sweet Poison by David Gillespie and it explains everything so well.  All that stuff we were taught but we choose to ignore nowadays. Buy the book.’ She said

‘I don’t want to.’

‘Honestly, Louise. You have so much pain and inflammation it could really help you. Plus you don’t sleep well. Buy the book.’

‘It’s too big a lifestyle change.’ I protested.

‘You can still drink wine, she said.

I bought the book.

The next day Amazon delivered the book, along with some sugar free recipe ones I’d also ordered and as I unpacked them I realised I didn’t really want to go sugar free but I’d been swept away by my friend’s passion and enthusiasm. Nevertheless that evening found me curled on the sofa with a large glass of wine and a big bar of fruit and nut flicking through the pages.  As I read, everything I’d previously learned came flooding back. How our body’s can’t recognise fructose and never realise we are full when we eat it. The massive part sugar plays in inflammation. The way the sugar spikes can affect our mental health. Interfere with our sleep patterns. Suddenly the mouthful of chocolate I’d been chewing didn’t taste quite so good.

My diet has gradually deteriorated since signing a book deal. Long hours spent at my computer has seen our meals, once lovingly prepared from scratch, now frantically purchased from M&S. And I felt sick. Sick of feeling sick. Sick of feeling tired. In pain. Falling into bed exhausted at the end of each day knowing I’d spend half the night lying awake. What was I doing to my poor body which has already been through so much?

I’ve spent the last few days reading. There’s so much information out there and much of it conflicting. I’ve planned meals, shopped, mentally prepared and today is the first day of my 14 day sugar free experiment. I’m not expecting miracles and I’m not expecting it to be easy but I’m feeling excited about what lies ahead. I’ll let you know how it goes!

 

UPDATE – You can read how I found the first 7 days sugar free here.The second week is here

 

 

 

Photo by Viktor Forgacs on Unsplash

NHS Cuts, Disability Benefits & Me

 

A drastic change in my health around ten years ago sent me spiralling along a path of limited mobility and chronic pain. Raw and reeling, my mental health plummeted and subsequently I plunged into clinical depression. It was a dark time which left me feeling unable to care for myself, or my three children.

My local hospital didn’t know how best to help me and so came a frustrating and emotionally draining year of researching treatments that might help me (I found one) and then trying to get my local authority to fund it as it was outside of my local town (eventually they did).

For around the past eight years, every now and then,  I’ve undergone this quick, simple but life-changing procedure and I am so thankful for the NHS for the time and care I have been privileged enough to receive so far. Alongside this I have paid for my own physio (I didn’t get long on the NHS lists) and I’ve done everything I can possibly do to take responsibility for, and improve my health. Today, I can potter around the house, drive, nip into shops, go for short walks, my pain levels have drastically reduced and my quality of life has greatly improved. I feel like a real hands-on mum again. I no longer need to take daily medication which had been causing me horrendous side effects. Although I still use crutches sometimes and my wheelchair for days out, when I think back to ten years ago when I was unable to stand unaided or get myself in and out of the bath, my life is unrecognisable. For that I am very grateful.

Returning to the hospital last Thursday I was shocked and dismayed to be told, through no fault of the team, that due to NHS funding cuts the hospital would no longer be offering this treatment.

This post isn’t a self-pitying one – government cuts have affected most of us in one shape or form- but rather a way to unpick the tangle of emotions I am feeling right now.

Today, thanks to the improvements to my health I can work full-time. I don’t claim disability benefits, there isn’t enough to go around and there are people worse off than me, that I know. I am in the fortunate position where I work from home, make my own hours. I can change positions if my pain gets overwhelming, I can go for a lie-down when I’m feeling exhausted, I can even skip the odd day and stay in bed during bad flare ups. This I could not do in an office but I worry now, that without this relatively simple treatment, my mobility will likely decline again, my pain increase, my mental health suffer and the thought of losing my financial independence if I am no longer capable of working is a frightening thought indeed.

Slashing funding and impacting upon people’s health will surely cost more in long run; potentially driving people out of work, onto benefits, increasing the need for medication, pain killers, anti-depressants, the already flooded waiting lists for counselling will creak under the strain, and then of course there is the need to treat the often horrific side-effects these drugs can cause.

And this is what I am struggling to make sense of. The logic behind it all.

I really don’t know what the answer is. I don’t feel I am more entitled than anyone else. All I do know is at the moment, my world, the world, seems a scary and uncertain place.

Getting naked and vulnerable

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I was determined that I would be Enid Blyton when I grew up. My earliest memories involve me straining my eyes by torchlight under my covers, too captivated by the world I was transported to and the characters I met there, to contemplate going to sleep.

I had a nurturing primary school teacher who encouraged me to read as many different genres as I could and to write, write and then write some more. (Thank you Mr Townsend).

As I grew older, while I never lost my love of reading, writing fell by the wayside. Much to my disappointment I just grew bigger and never turned into my favourite author and It seemed ludicrous to ever conceive I would be in print one day. Anyway, I had a job, a family and many hobbies to keep me occupied.

In my 30s I had a car accident which caused some spinal damage and exacerbated a pre-existing medical condition and I was left with very limited mobility. The advice of my spinal consultant to take up knitting was quickly disregarded but what could I do? Never one normally to sit still, my new enforced lifestyle left me with little choice, I needed something to occupy my mind, a purpose, some joy.

I toyed with the idea of writing but who, I thought, would want to read my stories? I don’t know the answer to that one yet but it turned out that many people wanted to read my personal story. Being a (former) kinesiologist and nutritional therapist and a (current) mindfulness coach I found I had a lot of knowledge and experience on how to live happily, healthily and peacefully internally, regardless of external circumstances. I was soon writing for many disability and health magazines and sites.

I started a professional blog celebrating health, happiness and peaceful living and share much of myself with my readers. However I always have a valid (in my mind) reason why I haven’t started writing fiction yet. I am too busy, too tired, too uninspired, too, well, you get the picture.

Over the past few weeks I have been reading many of your blogs and WOW. I have been blown away by the talent and pure energy that shines through the posts. I have been in tears one minute and laughing the next as your carefully constructed sentences convey so much raw emotion. The subject matters have been nothing short of genius and I am more than a little bit in awe of you all.

Today I was asked to write a piece for a magazine I contribute to on living fearlessly because, said the editor, I know all about that with my health challenges. Hearing these words the inner me hung her head in shame. I may have overcome many difficulties but the thought of writing and putting any fiction out there makes me feel vulnerable and exposed. If I don’t though how can I possibly be an advocate for fearless living?

So I have set up this blog with no plan, no posts written and no idea where to proceed from here. I feel naked and vulnerable but determined to at least try and post something (if my nervously sweaty fingers don’t slip off the publish button).

Here goes.