What to do when you have a bad week

Sometimes you just have a bad week. As much as I want to eat freekeh and quinoa and kefir and fruit and veg, sometimes I just have a bloody bad week. I always wonder if I will be the kind of lifestyle hippie that doesn’t have bad weeks, because my health and diet regime isn’t a regime – it’s just my life. But I’m not a lifestyle guru. And I’m not a twenty-something hipster with the metabolism of an Olympiad. I’m a 46 year old late adopter trying to be healthy and happy. And sometimes that means I just have a bad week.

“Bad week” means when things are just a bit rubbish on a lot of fronts. I’m tired, it’s cold and dark at this time of year, I get bills I wasn’t expecting, I’m reading too much into things people say and do, I over think things I’ve said and done or not said and done. And before you know it I want a thousand hash browns and five bottles of wine.

Well last week was just that kind of week. I managed pretty well considering. I stayed away from chocolate and wine (mostly) and kept to some simple eating habits. But all I felt was deprived and miserable.

Then My Mate Laura messaged on Saturday morning to say that she and My Other Mate Alice we’re going for a grown up coffee date and did I want to come. Frankly I wanted to stay in bed and binge watch Suits, but I asked her to tell me when she was leaving so I could put a bra on and get myself over there.

Best. Decision. Ever.

We drank coffee and ate carbs. We laughed a lot and cried a little bit. And then we had more coffee. There were lots of things I was supposed to be doing, there were other places I was supposed to be, I had a list of chores as long as my arm. There were things I wasn’t supposed to eat and drink and things I was. But you know? Sometimes you have to give yourself permission to let that go. Sometimes letting go is more important than all the woulds and shoulds and supposed-tos.

Life is to be enjoyed. We should delight in the world and each other. And when we’re having a bad day or a bad week, we can just go with it. It’s not about trying to make the bad feelings go away. It’s about letting the bad feelings happen, acknowledging them and then riding them out. And to do that, we need to get ourselves out of bed, put our bras on and go and meet our friends for a grown up coffee date.

Tomorrow will be better. Next week will be better. I can eat vegetable lasagna and stir fried tempeh next week. This week I need coffee and hugs. And that is in no way a bad thing.

The hunt for easy breakfasts continues

I’m a late adopter. Generally by the time I have jumped on board it’s about 5 years after something first appeared. When I was in uni, we hand wrote essays and used the library. When we had a special seminar on “the internet” (which did not look like it does now) we all fell about laughing. Why would we need this “internet”? We have a library sitting right next door! We shook our heads. It’ll never catch on.

Same with this “overnight oats” phenomena. It seemed like hippy stuff to me. But then in the hunt for an easy breakfast to avoid bingeing at lunchtime, I was forced to try them out.

Yum yum!

I’m a savoury person by taste, but a couple of times a week when I have to commute a million miles to get into the office, this is perfect. I grab and go and then have at the office. I can even eat it on the train if I can’t wait. So here’s a really easy basic recipe that then you can add stuff to for variety.

Overnight oats basic recipe

  • 1/2 cup oats
  • 1/2 cup – I use almond milk
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup

This makes one portion. Add all the ingredients to a jar, mix ’em up and stick it in the fridge.

I add 2 scoops of chocolate flavoured protein powder to the ingredients above (you could also add some organic cocoa or cacao). Then in the morning I add half a banana and some pecans.

For variety, you can add any fruit and any nuts. This also makes a great base for Bircher muesli (add some nuts to the mixture and grated apple).

I have a glut of cherries in the freezer so I plan on making some cherry compote that I can add to this in the morning with some toasted almonds.

You can also make it slightly different by using coconut milk instead of milk and then go crazy with your toppings – toasted shredded coconut and kiwi perhaps? Or mango and pineapple?

Its easy. It’s unprocessed. It’s healthy.

What could be better?

Mental health is influenced by gut health. Here’s how we can improve it

I’m a big fan of talking about things in the light and removing the stigma of things we don’t normally talk about. Mental health and medication is a real thing. Lots of people I know struggle with these issues and many are on either anti-depressants or meds for anxiety.

I’ve been on anti-depressants since the birth of my second child. I found that talking about it made it easier, especially when then I found out how many people were also taking them.

Let me just say this if this is not something you are familiar with – meds help with coping. You can be totally fine but then something triggers a downturn and you can become overwhelmed with sadness. The meds help balance that out so when the triggers come, you have more capacity to absorb the stress and carry on. You can manage yourself of course and mindfulness, meditation, avoiding as many triggers as you can (where that is possible) are all good. But sometimes it’s not enough. It’s like having asthma – the condition is always there and sometimes it just needs to be managed with medication to keep it under control.

Having said that, I am hoping to be medication free by the end of the year so I went to see my GP. He asked me if I knew about the gut-brain-axis.

What he told me was earth shattering.

He said that we’ve focussed on medication to boost serotonin in the brain, a deficiency of which is linked to depression. But recently they (smart scientist people) have discovered that only about 10% of serotonin is produced in the brain. The other 90% or so is produced in the gut, which our meds don’t do anything about at all. So the meds can only do so much! If we increase our gut health, we can help our bodies to increase the serotonin by a far greater proportion, and so then improve our mental health and acuity.

By gut health, I mean enteric microbiota, which is the millions of microorganisms living in our intestines that help with everything from synthesising key vitamins, to communicating with the central nervous system.

My doctor gave me a list of things to start adding to my diet to increase and improve the health of my gut flora – and please don’t take my word for it, this is what my doctor told me, you should go see your own GP and seek your own advice! The list he gave me though, seems to be generally accepted as the lists of good fermented foods to eat (from what I’ve seen on publicly available articles).

He told me if I wasn’t used to eating this kind of food to add it to my diet gradually so my system could get used to it. Thankfully, I had already started eating this kind of thing for general health reasons. But if you’re not used to it, please go slow (and seek your own advice).

The foods he gave me, he said, were to be eaten in small amounts, and switching between foods so it fed the gut flora with variety. It’s like watering a plant basically. You need to water and feed it so it grows and then keep feeding and watering to maintain it.

The foods he gave me were:

  • Kombucha (I have been drinking Remedy which is available at my local shops and is really nice. It’s a fermented tea and slightly fizzy)
  • Tempeh (Also easily available. I have stir fried this and it was ok. It’s not bad, it’s just a bit boring so I’m searching out recipes to make this fermented soy bean “cake” a bit more tasty)
  • Kefir (Not madly available but there is one brand at my local shops. It’s a yoghurt that can be drunk or added to normal yoghurt)
  • Pickles (This isn’t just veg in vinegar, this is properly pickled veg that’s fermented in brine. I have dill pickles and pickled cabbage that I add to sandwiches and wraps)

There are other fermented foods too, you can easily search around on the interwebs. The main thing is, if I start adding these things to my diet, I’m going to be in a much better position over the coming months to be off anti-depressants for good, with my doctors help.

The main thing is though – it doesn’t matter if you are on pills or not. Adding these things to our diet seems to be, from what my doctor said, generally A Good Thing. So much of our health seems to be driven by this gut-brain axis and so strengthening it and improving it can be such a good thing for our physical and mental health.

Happy days 😃

Apple cinnamon muffins: for a healthy breakfast, lunch or snack

Getting my kids to eat breakfast is a constant battle. They don’t sit still, they don’t like anything and they don’t feel hungry are the usual arguments. Added to that is the fact that they usually wake up at 6am and I want them to be able to get themselves breakfast that isn’t dragging a chair to the cupboard and trying to reach biscuits on their tippy-toes.

They go nuts for my homemade lunchbox muffins so thought I’d start trialling muffins that are good for breakfast but aren’t chockers full of sugar and things. AND when I’m on the run trying to get them dressed and find their shoes (again), I need something I can grab to take on the way to work.

The first recipe I tried is from Love & Lemons for Healthy Apple Cinnamon Muffins. You can access the recipe at this link, or I’ve added it below with some notes.

Love & Lemons Healthy Apple Cinnamon Muffins

  • 3/4 cup almond milk
  • 2 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup sunflower or canola oil
  • 3/4 cup cane sugar (although I only had caster sugar so used that instead)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup spelt or whole-wheat flour (I used whole-wheat)
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 large apple (cored, peeled and small diced)

Pre-heat the oven to 400f (that’s just over 200c) and line or spoil spray a 12 cup muffin pan.

Whisk together the almond milk and apple cider vinegar and set aside.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flours, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.

Add the oil, sugar, eggs, apples sauce and vanilla extract to the almond milk bowl and whisk until well combined.

Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture and stir til just combined.

Add 2/3 of the chopped apples (although my youngest didn’t like the “chunky bits” so I’ll leave that out next time. You could also add sultanas or chopped walnuts as well)

Mix 1 tablespoon of additional sugar and 1/2 tsp of extra cinnamon. Add the muffin mixture to your muffin pan and then sprinkle a little of the cinnamon sugar over each one. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes.

I had one refusal and one acceptance as long as the chunky bits were taken out so that’s a win in my house. One of these with a glass of milk has filled his tummy nicely. They can be frozen and then 35 seconds in the microwave to defrost/warm through. They have also been brilliant to grab and go for me when I’m heading to the train.

I’ve got a few more breaky muffins that I’m going to trial so I’ll keep you posted!

Zoodles with home made pesto (and pesto pizza)

I mentioned the other day that despite my coriander failure (repeated), my mint and basil plants have been going crazy. The mint I made jelly with to have in the fridge as condiment (do love that word) to have with sweet or savoury stuff. You can read about it here if you wanna see the recipe.

But basil – oh basil! How I love basil! It was with great excitement that I harvested the basil so I could make up a big batch of pesto. Pesto I love. Store bought pesto from a jar, I do not love. It tastes somehow insipid or synthetic.

Not surprising really. Most pesto sauces in a jar do have real basil and Parmesan in them, but they also have “flavourings” (whatever that means) and potato flakes, lactic acid and yeast extract and other fillers and preservatives.

Homemade pesto is so simple and clean and wonderful. It just tastes like healthy. Of course you can have it with any pasta, but I have it with zoodles (spiralised zucchini noodles) to be extra righteous.

For the pesto, it’s a pretty basic, tried and tested recipe:

  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
  • 1/3 cup Parmesan
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Whack all the ingredients in a whizzer and….er….whizz it all up. Serve with pasta or zoodles. Done.

Here’s something else I love though. Use pesto instead of a tomato base on a homemade pizza. Add bacon bits, pine nuts, red onion and feta. Stick in the oven as normal. When it comes out, squeeze a bit of lemon over it and add some rocket leaves. It makes a different kind of pizza that is just ah-MAZ-ing. It has all those sweet, sour, salty elements that just makes you want to eat more, drink wine and hit the couch to binge watch The Good Place…..or is that just me…..?