The Paleo Adventure

Over the years, for health and weight reasons I’ve tried almost every diet there is, except the Cabbage Soup Diet, and for some reason that escapes me, Slimming World, although I know people who’ve had great results with Slimming World.

My holy grail of the eating plan is the one where I can eat healthy food so I feel virtuous, never feel hungry or deprived, and still lose weight until I’m at the same weight I was at 16 and then maintain it, again without feeling hungry or deprived. A plan that fits with my chaotic, disorganised lifestyle and will do so for the rest of my life without me getting bored and binging on the bad stuff. So far, strangely, that magical diet, and let’s face it, it would have to be Harry Potter/Gandalf levels of magic, has eluded me.

However, I’m always a sucker for a new idea and a success story, so for many reasons, I’ve decided to start following a Paleo-based diet, as described beautifully by the people at Mark’s Daily Apple and PaleoPlan.com. I’ve subscribed to the menu service from PaleoPlan, which provides a complete menu plan (three meals a day plus a snack), plus complete shopping list, every week, for a very reasonable price. Frankly, it was the realisation that it will cost me substantially less than my Netflix subscription that persuaded me to give it a go. That and the lack of having to make the decisions that lead me to freeze in panic whenever I have to do a food shop.

I’m now a week and half in, and so far I’ve lost half a stone, eaten a huge amount of very lovely food, rediscovered my love of cooking and baking, and my colitis symptoms have not gone, but noticeably eased off. So far, so good. I say this now because I am impressed, I am grateful to the people at PaleoPlan for the hard work they put in, and I will stick to it (I’m just eating a Paleo friendly, low sugar vanilla loaf and it’s gorgeous). But it hasn’t been an easy path so far…

Ingredients:

  • Lots and lots of organic vegetables, some of them rather obscure, some of them straight from dinner parties of the late eighties/early nineties (haven’t seen sun-dried tomatoes yet though)
  • Lots of organic fruit, mostly berries
  • Lots of organic meat, some of which is impossible to get at Asda. Or Sainsburys. Or without taking out a second mortgage
  • A coconut plantation. Seriously, most of the recipes involve coconut oil, coconut flour, coconut milk, coconut cream or dessicated coconut
  • Some willpower, although given the large variety of delicious cakes I can now make that are entirely Paleo, and the fact that Green and Black’s 85% chocolate appears to be fairly Paleo from the wrapper, not as much willpower as you’d imagine.
  • The ability to use every bowl and utensil in the kitchen while cooking (people say that about men, but I’m far worse than The Husband)

Method

  1. (Tuesday) Receive shopping list. Attempt to buy ingredients online at Asda. Manage to get about 2/3 of the ingredients.
  2. Find an online supplier of coconut and all associated products (healthysupplies.co.uk, very fast delivery, quite good value for money, certainly compared to Waitrose).
  3. (Sunday) Realise I still haven’t got some of the ingredients and I’m supposed to start the plan today. Rush around Sainsburys in a panic. Can’t find chicken wings, can’t find canned pumpkin, can’t find fresh pumpkin. Decide to substitute bramley apples instead (for the pumpkin, not the chicken wings).
  4. During the course of the week, realise I have somehow got confused, and bought 24 pork chops. Also realise that no matter how beautifully cooked they are, I don’t like pork chops. Luckily, The Husband and all three children do like pork chops.
  5. Realise that all of the recipes are in cups. I have no idea what a cup converts to in UK measurements. Assume a cup is 4 oz of dry goods or 4 tablespoons liquid. Do all cooking on this basis – get some rather odd results, but nothing inedible. A week and a half later, find a measuring jug with cups down the side. Suddenly understand odd results, cooking and baking now much more successful.
  6. Attempt to stick exactly to meal plan lasts 1 day, after which meal plan is determined by what is going out of date next. Just like life before Paleo, but with healthier and more delicious ingredients.

Next week, I’m planning to try some of the cake recipes using lard or beef dripping instead of coconut oil, which is ferociously expensive. I’m not planning to tell the rest of the family though, at least not until after they’ve tasted it…

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Emergency Desserts

Mayim Bialik, one of my heroines, Jewish Neuroscientist and Actress, has posted up to an application I’ve never heard of (snapp? I feel old) an easy and relatively quick to make dessert:

http://app.snapapp.com/MothersDayRecipeDownload

that is taken from her new vegan cookbook which I am saving up for. Even though I will probably never cook a vegan recipe. Although if I had the book I might…

However, this did get me thinking about emergency desserts. There are times in everyone’s life where nothing but a dessert will lift the spirits, and often, those are the times when energy levels are low and life is, frankly, disorganised. Mayim’s dessert looks easy and delicious, but you have to wait two whole hours for it to set in the fridge! Also, I’m not sure how often I’ll have peanut butter and coconut milk in my cupboard at the same time as I’m having a crisis, and popping into the local village shop is not likely to help. However, in our family we do have a couple of desserts that are suitable for dire emergencies, and require very little planning or preparation.

I think this is my favourite for speed, likelihood of having the ingredients in my house, ease of getting them in the local shop/garage if I haven’t, and general feeling of wellbeing after consumption. I also want to mention that although I have not intentionally copied this recipes out of any cookery books, and as far as I’m aware I completely made it up, it’s possible that it was once invented by someone else – in which case I apologise.

Chocolate Cream
Note – if you use very dark chocolate, which has low sugar levels, and since they’ve decided that saturated fat is no longer bad for us, this is a pretty virtuous dessert. It is however, extremely rich – use with caution.

Ingredients: Dark chocolate, clotted cream. Or double cream. Or single cream. (I’ve tried it with marscapone cheese – that really was an emergency – and it was a disaster, feel free to try it if you want to take the risk, but I won’t join you).

Method: melt the chocolate in the microwave, or in a bowl over a pan of simmering water (the microwave is quicker). 10-15 seconds at a time, and then stir and then wait a minute if you’re using the microwave – that way you won’t burn it.

When the chocolate is all liquid, or when it’s mostly liquid with some lumps in it, depending on how desperate you’re feeling, stir it into the clotted cream. Or double cream. Or single cream.

Put into the fridge until set. Or just wait until the mixture’s cooled down enough to not burn your mouth.

Eat.

Feel better.

Decision Fatigue

It’s exactly what it says on the tin. And it really does exist! Apparently there’s a raft of scientific evidence that there’s only a fixed amount of energy everyone has to deal with decision making. This energy is also the kind of energy you use up when you have to exert self-control.

The Husband has told me about this. He’s reading a book called ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’, and I’m planning to read it once he’s finished it, but he’s giving me little extracts and summaries as he goes. (Luckily for him, he has learned not to do this with fiction books and films:-)

As far as I can tell, there are various practical outcomes of this theory. For instance, Barack Obama only has two suits – or at least, two styles of suits, so that he only ever has to choose the light one or the dark one. He also never chooses what to eat, and every memo that crosses his desk is a multiple choice memo – yes, no, or let’s discuss. The rationale behind this is that he has to make the most important decisions in the world a lot of the time, so he can’t afford to let the trivial decisions take up any of his decision making energy.

Another outcome of this is that if you spend a lot of energy exerting self-control, so for instance, not shouting at the children (well, not unless it’s necessary!), not telling your colleagues at work that they are complete numpties, not swearing at the traffic warden, your ability to exert self-control in other areas will be severely affected – that is, you will not be able to stop yourself from eating that piece of chocolate cake, or drinking another glass of wine.

Now I’m not in charge of a large country. Or a small country. Or my family, or my home apparently. But because we have children, The Husband and I are making many many decisions, all of the time. Decisions which could affect not just our futures, but our children’s futures. What schools they go to. How exactly to explain the subtleties of our moral code and spiritual stance to a six year old. How to discipline the children without damaging their self-esteem. Whether we really are bad parents for feeding them chicken nuggets and fish fingers on alternate nights all week instead of home-made lentil stew with home grown salad – that kind of thing. I’m sure being President of the USA is harder, but sometimes it doesn’t feel like it.

So all of this makes perfect sense to me. That’s why every parent in the world reaches for their vice of choice after a long hard day parenting – in my case, chocolate, often wine, in The Husband’s case, 2.8% stubbies. That’s why diets rarely work, especially if you’re constantly confronted with temptation. If you use up all your energy denying yourself the goodies in the cupboard, you’ll run out of energy before the goodies run out. (By they way, does anyone else have an official Goodies Cupboard in their house??) So if you feel you need to lose a bit of weight, make the children suffer as well by removing all the diet-breaking temptations from your house. A few months without Mars Bars and fizzy orange won’t do them any harm! Although it might do your ears some harm…

It also explains why parents are always tired. Especially parents of ‘spirited’ children. Especially parents with more than one ‘spirited’ child. Especially parents with three spirited children.

After thinking about these theories for some time, I have decided on a few coping tactics. Firstly, I will be insisting that in future, I will only ever have to answer questions with ‘yes’, ‘no’, or ‘ask your Dad’. I will never again choose what to have for dinner. That’s The Husband’s job, and he does it extremely well. From now on I will have a ‘work’ look (black suit, coloured shirt) and a ‘casual’ look (jeans, tshirt), and enough clothes to last me a week at work and a weekend – and that’s it. I will use up my perfumes sequentially so I never have to choose which perfume to wear. I have one necklace, one pair of earrings and my wedding ring, so I’ll never have to choose what jewellery to wear. Already I can feel my life becoming more relaxing…

So remember, if you are a parent, and you’re always exhausted/unable to stick to a healthy diet and exercise plan/reaching for the wine the second the children are in bed, give yourself a break. It’s actually because you’re doing the right thing by your children all day long.