May 26, 2014

Return of the Mack

Hello, lovely followers! Hard to believe it’s been almost a year since I posted here; life has well and truly got in the way, and with such a busy year, filled with both massive ups and substantial downs, this blog has fallen by the wayside. It’s good to be back! Since I last blogged, I’ve been promoted at work, travelled to New Zealand, subsequently applied for a work visa for New Zealand because I loved it so much, and now I’m making plans to move there next year. So exciting!

 

However, my blog isn’t the only thing that’s been sidelined of late; my eating habits have become atrocious, due to a combination of illness, busyness and laziness, and I’ve been considerably unhealthy of late. I’m growing concerned that my unhealthy lifestyle is affecting my immune system, my skin, my sleep pattern, and other aspects of my health, so I’m taking action! And I’m hoping that blogging about all of this will make me more accountable :)

 

I’ve decided to jump on the green smoothie bandwagon, so for this week, I’ll be having a green smoothie for dinner every day, along with a healthy breakfast and lunch. If all goes well, and I start to feel better, I’ll most likely continue with it until healthiness once again becomes a habit. I’ll be blogging and Instagramming my way through the green smoothie fest, and I hope you enjoy reading about my exploits!

July 21, 2013

Fruit-picking in the sunshine

Today my friend and I went fruit-picking, which is one of my very favourite ways to spend a sunny summer’s day. We’re fortunate enough to live just a short drive away from an incredible pick-your-own farm, and it’s one of my favourite places to visit. We had so much fun! The recent extreme weather in the UK seems to have seriously affected fruit production at the farm, and sadly the raspberries and blackberries we’d hoped to pick weren’t ready yet. Undeterred, we picked some beautiful, tangy redcurrants, and some deliciously sweet tayberries, which are a cross between blackberries and raspberries, which fitted our needs perfectly! Want to see my fruit haul?

 

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We also visited the little farm shop, which sells a range of organic, seasonal fruit and veggies grown on the land. I was able to buy a butternut squash, potatoes, carrots, onions, root ginger and green beans for £3.50! Added to the £6 I paid for the 1.5 kilos of fruit I picked, I think it’s safe to say I got a bargain! Here are the beautiful veggies I bought:

 

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So yummy! I’ll definitely be cooking up a batch of my favourite porotos granados this week!

 

 

 

July 18, 2013

New Challenge: Sixty Days of Starchy Goodness!

Hello, lovely readers!

 

As some of you may have read, I recently completed the Happy Herbivore 28 Day Whole Foods Challenge. I was feeling fantastic as a result of adopting a whole foods, plant-based diet – I had more energy, I was sleeping better, I’d lost weight – but in spite of all that, I have managed to fall off the wagon. So frustrating! I’ve gradually tiptoed back into the land of vegan junk food, and I’ve noticed an immediate deterioration in my energy levels, appearance, and overall well-being. I’m really rather unhappy with myself for being so weak-willed, and I wanted to find a way to make the whole foods, plant-based lifestyle sustainable for me, because I love the way I feel when I fully commit to it, and I want it to be my chosen lifestyle forever!

 

With that in mind, I started reading The Starch Solution by John McDougall, and immediately experienced a ‘Eureka!’ moment. It all made so much sense to me! During HH28, I’d mostly been eating salads and fruit, with nowhere near sufficient amounts of carbohydrates, so it’s no wonder I ended up burnt out and regressing back to junk food. It’s entirely my own fault, but thanks to this book, I feel prepared to make sure it never happens again. And because we all know how much I adore a challenge, I’ve decided to create my own Starch Solution challenge. For 60 days, I’m going to stick to the plan, using recipes from the book in addition to other sources and my own creative mind, and I’ll post regular blog updates detailing my progress. I’ve always loved my starches – I’m Irish, after all, I was built by potatoes! – and I really think that this approach is the key to maintaining a healthy, plant-based diet. I was particularly inspired by one of the Star McDougallers on the McDougall Program website, who cured her endometriosis by following Dr McDougall’s plan. I hope I can achieve the same!

 

I’m investing a lot of time into planning my weekly menu and shopping list, in order to ensure that I always have plenty in stock. My cupboards are already overflowing with organic grains and tinned pulses, so for a while at least, I’ll only need to shop for vegetables, which will make my bank account very happy! Here’s my menu for week 1:

 

Breakfast: Overnight oats with Koko coconut milk

Lunch: Carrot, red lentil and ginger soup with rye bread

Dinner Monday – Wednesday: Tunisian Sweet Potato Stew

Dinner Thursday – Friday: Cheater Pad Thai

Snacks: Fruit, raw veggies, cooked grains

 

I’m so excited to get started on my starchy adventure! I hope you all enjoy reading about it, and that some of you will join me!

July 2, 2013

Recipe: Three-Ingredient Plant Strong Flapjacks

Now that the Happy Herbivore 28 Day Challenge is over, I’m determined to continue with a whole foods, plant-based diet in style! I’ve been experiencing the odd craving for various pre-plant based favourites, and today I fancied a flapjack. Ordinarily, flapjacks, even vegan ones, are filled with sugar and fat and contain around 400 calories a serving, so I decided to experiment and create my own plant strong version. Three ingredients later, I’d created a scrummy new treat, and it could not have been easier to make!

 

Three-Ingredient Plant Strong Flapjacks

Makes 6-8 flapjacks

 

2 cups rolled oats

2 tbsp peanut butter. Crunchy and smooth will both work; I used crunchy to give the flapjacks a nutty texture

6-8 dates, pitted and chopped

 

*Preheat oven to 375/190/Gas mark 5, and line a small oven dish with baking paper

* Gently heat peanut butter in a pan, stirring continuously. Add 1-2 tbsp warm water if desired, to create a runnier consistency

* When peanut butter has slightly liquidised, add oats and dates, and stir until ingredients are fully combined in a ball. Add a small amount of warm water to bind, if necessary

* Transfer mixture to oven dish, and pat down mixture to approximately 3/4 inch thickness

* Bake on middle shelf of oven for 25 minutes, until golden brown

* Leave to cool, and dig in!

 

These flapjacks are plant-strong, vegan, sugar-free, low fat, and delicious! I hope you all enjoy!

 

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June 30, 2013

Happy Herbivore 28 Day Whole Foods Challenge: The End of the Beginning

Today is the last day of the HH28 challenge! *sob* This has been such a fun, educational, formative experience, and I’m oddly sad to see the end of the challenge. It is not, however, the end of my whole foods, plant-based diet; I’ve put the ‘veg’ back in vegan, and I’m never going back! As someone who’s been vegan for over 15 years, I really didn’t expect to experience the same mind-blowing benefits as, say, someone who’s transitioned from an omnivorous diet to a plant-based lifestyle, but the positive outcomes I’ve experienced are incredible. Some of the most noticeable benefits have included:

 

* 10lbs lost in four weeks

* 3 inches lost from waist, 2 inches from chest, 2 inches from hips, 1 inch from upper thighs

* Sleeping pattern drastically improved; I’ve been going to bed and waking up at reasonable times, and I’ve only had two nightmares all month!

* Endometriosis pain and other symptoms significantly reduced, and no cyst ruptures in the second/third week of my cycle, for the first time in six months! *pain-free happy dance* I’ve also hugely reduced the amount of pain medication I take for endometriosis symptoms, and haven’t experienced any of the withdrawal symptoms usually associated with a reduction in pain medication

* Teeth much whiter and healthier

* General improvement in energy and overall attitude

*Greatly reduced food bills

 

Overall, I feel incredible. I won’t pretend that a plant-based diet is a miracle cure for every ailment, but it’s massively reduced the impact of my endometriosis and associated fatigue, and pretty much completely remedied my insomnia. In addition to the health benefits, I’ve become so much more creative in the kitchen, and on that note, I’d like to introduce you to my new boyfriend, Cheater Pad Thai:

 

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I must have eaten this dish five times in the past two weeks. I’m obsessed! I love that it’s so versatile; each time I’ve made it, I’ve used different veggies to vary the flavours, and it’s unfailingly delicious. Trust me, it’s all you’ll ever want to eat again for the rest of your life!

 

The most important thing I wanted to share is how much I’ve loved every moment of this challenge. I imagine that a lot of people think that making the transition to a plant-based diet would be the hardest thing they’d ever have to do, but I’ve found it so easy, and so enjoyable. In fact, I recently tweeted that the challenge hasn’t felt remotely challenging to me; it just feels like something I should have been doing all along! This way of eating comes so naturally to me, and with a little creative thinking, it hasn’t interfered with my routine, my time management, or my social interactions. My friends and family have commented on how great I’ve been doing this month; not just in terms of weight loss and health, but in my overall outlook, and the fact that I seem to be enjoying life so much more. I think that’s the greatest gift that the HH28 challenge gave me: joy!

 

I definitely recommend this challenge to everyone. The official HH28 challenge may be coming to an end, but you can still take part at home. Involve your family, friends, or colleagues, and make it a fun experiment. I promise you, you’ll have such an incredible time, and your mind, body and soul will be infinitely grateful to you!

 

 

June 24, 2013

Happy Herbivore 28 Day Whole Food Challenge: Weeks 2 and 3 in Review

Hello, lovely readers!

Apologies for the lack of HH28 update last week- I suppose I didn’t update because I didn’t feel I had anything to report. Not in a negative sense; in fact, quite the opposite! The challenge has felt so natural and easy to me that it doesn’t even feel challenging anymore. It’s just the way I live my life now, and I couldn’t be happier about it!

 

I’ve lost a further 4lb during the challenge (2lb in week 2, and a further 2lb in week 3) and, because the scales can be unreliable at times, I took my measurements, too, and I’ve lost a total of 5.5 inches from my chest, waist, hips, and thighs. Not bad going, really! Weight loss wasn’t my primary motivator for undertaking the challenge- I just wanted to be generally healthier, and stimulate my immune system after a prolonged illness- but I did gain some weight following the big break-up of 2012, and I’m very pleased to find that going plant-based has helped to address that issue. If I were to be completely honest, I don’t think I expected much from the challenge in terms of weight loss, since most of the people who experience substantial weight loss from going plant-based are former omnivores, and I’ve already been vegan for over 15 years. It’s been quite a pleasant surprise!

 

I’ve noticed other, more random benefits, too: my teeth are much whiter and in better condition, my nails appear to be stronger, and I’ve been able to substantially reduce the pain medication I take for endometriosis without the side-effects which usually accompany a reduction in my medication. Last week, I had a little bit of an endometriosis flare-up, which usually happens in week 3 of my cycle (sorry if that’s TMI!), but the pain I experienced was massively reduced, and I’m pretty sure it only occured at all because I ate so much wheat last week, and wheat, along with caffeine, has always been a dietary trigger for my endometriosis pain. I’ve eliminated caffeine almost completely- since day 1 of the challenge, I’ve allowed myself one cup of green tea every day, as green tea has many health properties and relatively little caffeine compared to coffee or normal tea, but other than my daily cup of green tea, no caffeine passes my lips these days, and I’ve definitely noticed a huge positive impact upon my endometriosis symptoms as a result.

 

Today marks the beginning of week 4 of the challenge, and I intend to go out with a bang! I’m going to minimise my wheat intake this week, to determine how easily I can manage a plant-based diet without week, and based on my food intake over the past few weeks, I’ve developed a rough formula for my meals to provide what seems to be the optimal diet for my health, and my weight loss. I’ll be following this formula after the challenge is over, as I can’t imagine ever returning to a non plant-based diet. The formula is as follows:

 

Breakfast: Fruit

Lunch: Protein (eg beans) + starch + veggies

Dinner: Starch + veggies

Snacks: Fruit, raw veggies

 

This seems to be the pattern I’ve naturally fallen into, and I’m really enjoying it, so long may it continue! I think that the only non ‘whole’ food I might adopt into my diet following the end of the challenge is wheat-free pasta, as I want to continue to eat pasta without fuelling my endometriosis pain. Wheat-free bread is full of ingredients I can’t pronounce, and tastes awful to boot, so I think I’ll skip bread altogether, and have the occasional corn tortilla instead.

 

I’ll be posting a review of the challenge in its entirety when I finish week 4, and I’m really excited to share my plant-based life beyond the HH28 challenge. Watch this space!

June 9, 2013

Happy Herbivore 28 Day Whole Food Challenge: Week 1 in Review

Today is Day 7 of the Happy Herbivore challenge, and it seemed a good time to check in and let you all know how I’m doing so far. I feel completely fantastic! I struggled a little during the first few days because I was suffering some detox symptoms such as headaches and achiness, but those symptoms had cleared by Wednesday evening, and I’ve been feeling great ever since. I’ve never considered my diet to be particularly unhealthy- I’m a longtime vegan, and I love my fruits and veggies- but after the pressures of the past few months, I have noticed myself slipping into less-than-ideal eating habits. A surprising amount of processed rubbish began to sneak back into my diet, and I developed a love-hate relationship with coffee, drinking 4-6 cups per day just to stay awake, then cursing my caffeine habit for keeping me awake at night and making my insomnia even worse than usual! Since starting the challenge, my sleep pattern has improved infinitely; I’ve been asleep by 11pm most nights, and sleeping all the way through the night, which, I can assure you, is a big deal! Here are the positive effects I’ve noticed so far:

 

  • Improved sleeping pattern
  • More energy during the day
  • Drastically increased alertness
  • Feeling happier, and more optimistic
  • 4lb lost in one week!

I’m really enjoying the food I’ve been eating this week, and I think that the challenge has helped me to get excited about food again. I was stuck in quite a rut before HH28, and now I feel spoilt for choice with all the food I’ve been eating! I’ve become a bit camera-happy at mealtimes, so here’s a selection of photos from week 1 of the challenge:

 

 

I really can’t get enough of this challenge, and I’m so excited for week 2! Feel free to share your experiences of HH28 below!

June 7, 2013

A triumphant return, and a new challenge!

Hello, lovely readers!

 

Huge apologies for my prolonged absence from the blogosphere; as I mentioned in a previous post, my year got off to quite a spectacularly bad start, and, incredibly, things somehow spiralled even further downward, with the unexpected death of my dog, almost losing my dad to illness, and facing a serious illness myself which left me bedridden for almost a month. I won’t pretend it hasn’t been a difficult time, but I am beginning to find my way out of the black hole in which I found myself, and, fingers and toes crossed, things can only go up from here. Thank you for the lovely messages I’ve received during my blog break, it’s so sweet to know that people care so much.

 

Anyway, back to business! The regular readers among you will know how much I love a challenge, and I’ve been on a quest to pursue a more whole foods, plant-based diet for a long time, so when I read about the Happy Herbivore 28 Day Whole Food Challenge, it seemed a perfect opportunity for me to improve my eating habits, boost my immune system after a long illness, and put the ‘veg’ back in vegan, as they say! The challenge involves eating only whole foods, such as fruit, vegetables, whole grains and pulses, for 28 days, in order to develop cleaner, healthier eating habits. One of the things I like about the challenge is that it’s not remotely dictatorial or absolute; it’s about progress, not perfection, and if the notion of eating only whole foods for a month is too daunting to comprehend, participants are still encouraged to incorporate as many whole foods into their diet as possible, and simply make healthier choices whenever they can. Amidst all the noise of the online Vegan Police, it’s refreshing to see a vegan blogger advocating a gentle approach to making healthier, more informed decisions.

 

I’ve just completed day 5 of the challenge, and I’m feeling great! I’ve given up caffeine as part of my interpretation of the challenge, and for the first few days, I experienced a mammoth caffeine withdrawal headache, but now I’m out of the woods and feeling bright, bouncy and really optimistic, which is great! I’ll post a recap of Week 1 at the end of this week, but as an illustration of my daily food choices, I thought I’d share a list of what I ate today:

 

Breakfast: A bowl of fresh blackberries

Lunch: Quinoa, edamame, red pepper, red onion, tomato and grated carrot, with balsamic vinegar

Dinner: Grilled portobello mushroom, tomato and mashed avocado on 2 slices toasted wholemeal bread, with a side salad of seasonal mixed leaves, cucumber, tomato, red onion and balsamic vinegar

Snacks: Banana, Pink Lady apple, strawberries, small handful of pumpkin seeds

 

I really do feel fantastic after several days of eating such clean, fresh food. My body and brain are already starting to thank me for it, and I’m so excited to continue! I’ll post regular progress reports throughout the challenge, and if you’re taking the challenge too, I’d love to hear about your experiences. Happy plant-munching!

 

February 2, 2013

A lesson to live by…

A lesson to live by...

 

Saw this and had to share with all of you!

January 17, 2013

Minimise Me: Letting Go

Today’s Minimise Me post is very personal in nature, possibly more personal than I intended to be on this blog, but I think it’s important to explain my recent absence, and to share what has been a very formative and life-altering experience, one which has enabled me to learn some important lessons about attachment and appreciation for the present.

 

Over the summer, my long-term partner and I purchased a house together. A lovely little house, with a perfect garden for growing vegetables, and a wonderful homely feel. It wasn’t much, but it was exactly what we were looking for. We made an offer, and began planning to move in. In the months that we waited while the various legal boxes were ticked, we began looking at second-hand furniture and garden supplies, downsizing our possessions in preparation for moving, and looking excitedly towards the future. I completed a graduate placement with a wonderful environmental organisation, and began to develop a sense of my future path, and together, my partner and I began to plan for our life together, envisioning marriage, babies, and many more cats. In the five years we were together, we never once exchanged an angry word or felt hostility towards one another. Our friends openly commented on our obvious adoration for one another, and expected us to last forever. And then, on our moving day, as we piled the car high with our belongings ready to begin our new life together, my partner ended our relationship. No expectation, no warning, no explanation. Whether because of fear, sadness, detachment or a myriad of other reasons, the future we had planned was snatched away in an instant, and, rather than spending our first night together in our new home, I found myself lying awake on my mother’s sofa, with no possessions other than a bag of clothes and my laptop, no partner, no house, no money, no plans, no future. The loneliness, fear, panic and sheer heartbreak I experienced was overwhelming; I had never in my life experienced such sadness, and I felt myself grieving for the loss of a person I loved more than I could ever have anticipated, and mourning the loss of the future I thought we had both wanted.

 

Weeks later, the confusion, shock and mental self-flagellation continues to overhang like a persistent Manchester raincloud. I lost all interest in anything that made me feel like myself, and I remain unconvinced that I will ever really recover. But I have, at last, begun to appreciate the lessons I have learnt, and continue to learn, from this experience. Throughout my many painful contemplations of the events of the past few weeks, I’ve found myself haunted by the second Noble Truth of Buddhism:

 

“The origin of suffering is attachment.”

 

This Noble Truth refers not only to attachment to material possessions, but to concepts, hopes, and a general lack of acknowledgement of the transient nature of things. As evidenced by my description of the events of recent weeks, I had placed so much emphasis on the future, and everything I wanted and expected it to bring, that I struggled to cope when that future was taken away from me. Perhaps, had I focused my energy upon being more present and embracing each moment as it happened, rather than ignoring the present in favour of the future, I may have recognised whatever drove my partner to his ultimate decision, and been able to help and support him through his uncertainty. I became so attached to the idea of our fruitful and exciting future together that I neglected our present, and became so certain of our future together that I was ignorant to the possibility of its impermanence. Through this realisation, I have acknowledged a wider inability to simply enjoy the present without constantly worrying or working towards the future. In order to learn and grow from this experience, I have become aware that I need to find a greater balance between living in the past, present and future, to trust that where I currently am is exactly where I need to be, and to acknowledge that nothing is permanent or certain. These lessons, I hope, will help me to learn to embrace and be grateful for the good in my life while I have it, and not to become so focused upon the future path of my endeavours that I become blind to the beauty of the present.

 

In addition, I have learnt a great deal about my actual needs as a result of this experience. Separated from almost all of my belongings, with not even so much as a bed to call my own, and with no financial security as my savings had been consumed by my unpaid graduate placement and costs associated with moving, I began to feel as though I had nothing. Gradually, though, I realised that I, in fact, had everything. From the best friend who abandoned a night’s sleep to console me when I phoned her at 1am to tearfully recount the events of that horrible evening, and has been a constant source of love and guidance, to the family who took me in when I had nowhere to go and knew me sufficiently well to offer support and space in equal measures as needed, to the network of friends who have offered hugs, support, shelter and whisky, to the new acquaintances from my work placement who heard the news and were almost as heartbroken as me, to the strangers who offered kindness and understanding when I explained my circumstances whilst handling practicalities such as bill payments and employment, I learnt that everything I could ever need during such an awful time was there waiting for me, in both expected and not-so-expected places. I was plunged headfirst into an extreme minimalist lifestyle, and I felt richer than ever. I felt overwhelmed by a desire to show the same kindness to others in need, and arranged events such as a Christmas clothing and food drive for my city’s large population of homeless people, in order to repay a debt of gratitude that can never really be fulfilled.

 

Perhaps most crucially, I learnt to let go of the person I thought I was, and to become the person I needed to be. I found, and still find, it difficult to establish my identity outside of my relationship with my partner, which I imagine must be common following a long-term relationship, and I learnt to try to see the good in myself. I had reached such a seemingly irrevocable low as a result of the end of my relationship. I blamed myself, I punished myself by refusing to eat and take care of myself, and I found myself developing thoughts so sinister that they became terrifying. I meditated upon the concept of ahimsa, meaning compassion and non-violence of thoughts, words and actions towards all living things, including oneself, and eventually I began to understand the futility and the damaging effect of inflicting such punishing, self-deprecating and aggressive thoughts and feelings upon myself. I made a substantial effort to focus on the positive and acknowledge the good in myself, and to be proud of the progress I had made towards normality after everything that had occured. I began to realise that I had acted with maturity, patience and care in the wake of recent events, and that it was ok to embrace these positive realisations. I began to work to rid myself of the negative thoughts with which I had tortured myself for so long, and to embrace every step towards happiness. I am learning to follow my instincts, exercise patience, and accept my situation as it is, not as it was, or ‘should’ be. Little by little, I am beginning to let go of the person I was, and the life I expected to have, in order to become the person I am in this moment. It isn’t easy; it often feels as though I’m learning to walk again, and I have found myself backsliding on more than one occasion. But gradually, I’m learning to detach myself from a past I cannot change, and to let go of a future that can never really be certain. If there is a silver lining on the cloud of sadness that’s been my constant companion since November, it’s my determination to let go and embrace the present, because really, it’s all we’ll ever have.

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