Monday 15 June 2015

Food, glorious food!

Food has never been more high profile. What with Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution Day, the rise of the Insta-foodies, worries over school dinners and the obesity scare, food has become the latest Holy Grail. To some extent, we are all defined by our diet. Over the years, I have evolved from eating pasta sauce in a jar during my student days, to posh ready meals, Annabel Karmel - when the kids came along - and then onto buckwheat, avocado and brown rice. In the course of that journey, I have become increasingly interested in how diet affects our health... and learnt of course how to pronounce quinoa! 

Alex, working mum, and Emma Wildgoose, owner of Eat Real Food
On a food journey: Alex and Emma
Following my previous post about the dangers of processed sugar, I spent a few hours last week talking to Alex, a working mum who has spent several months overhauling her diet with help from Emma Wildgoose, a nutritional advisor and owner of Eat Real Food. Six months ago, at the start of their collaboration, Alex was feeling overweight, plagued by irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and concerned about various health issues. "I was very aware that my whole diet and eating habits were totally messed up," she says candidly. 

During an interview with both of them, Emma recalls how Alex initially felt quite defensive about trying to lose weight. "She kept saying, 'If it doesn't happen, it doesn't matter.'" Nodding her head, Alex admits that she didn't really believe it would work. Six months later, such scepticism has turned to excitement after she lost nearly two stone (11 kilos). "What I love best about losing weight is that I've got my neck back," Alex says gleefully, running her hands over her throat. "No more double chin!"

Goodbye Heston!

In the early days, however, Alex was not so concerned about how she looked, but more about dealing with the debilitating effects of IBS, which she has suffered from since she was about 13 years old. Sometimes she would get diarrhoea three or four times a week and it would often disrupt her life, preventing her from enjoying a family meal in a restaurant or a trip to the playground with her kids. In her own way, Alex had adapted her diet by cutting out grains and various vegetables, but this meant she was eating white bread and avoiding sources of fibre.

A healthy salad from Eat Real Food
Emma taught Alex to cook from scratch

The biggest eye-opener for Alex under the new regimen was when Emma asked her to keep a food diary. The exercise quickly showed her that she was eating too much processed food. "I also claimed that I didn't eat a lot of sweet things, but it was definitely more than I was telling Emma [in the initial consultation]." Emma's analysis of the diary, via nutritional software, also showed that Alex was consuming too much fat, which is often a culprit for sending the bowel into spasm.

As Emma points out, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to IBS. Together they experimented with different whole foods to discover how Alex could eat more healthily without upsetting her bowel. As a result, Alex has given up white bread for a more grain-based loaf that is heavily milled. She has also swapped her Heston Blumenthal ready meals for fresh ingredients and recipes cooked from scratch. Cutting out processed food was the biggest step to soothing the IBS - miraculously she hasn't had an attack in months. 

'No bone-brothing superwoman'

Sugar-free chocolate by Eat Real Food
Alex's alternative sweet treat!

Most of all, Emma's input has given Alex the confidence to cook for herself. "The best thing about Emma is that she is not a sporty, skinny, bone-brothing superwoman!" Alex exclaims. "She has taught me to keep enjoying food and the whole cooking process - that is the most inspiring thing... I have a whole cupboard of spices that I wouldn't have dared to touch before!"

To Emma's amusement, Alex's guilty pleasure is now buying cookery books. "Alex's become almost as obsessed as me," she says. "She now has the second biggest library of cookery books that I know of!" Alex has also decided to cut out processed sugar and has learnt to make Emma's signature chocolate recipe. "To soothe my cravings - I make my own chocolate - I go to the fridge and suck it with joy," Alex says, smiling.

Watching them laughing and chatting together, I feel like I am witnessing a quiet 'food revolution' that even Jamie Oliver would be proud of. Over six months, Alex has found a svelter, healthier and happier version of herself, simply by eating a better diet. By her own account, this food journey has been inspirational. "Before you felt food was the enemy," Emma reminds her as they reflect on the whole experience. Alex, for her part, is adamant there is no way back.
 "I absolutely adore food," continues Emma. "The whole process is about getting people to fall in love with the right food."

To read my earlier post about avoiding processed sugar and Emma's cookery lessons, click here. Some of Emma's recipes are available on her Eat Real Food Facebook page. Please note that both Emma and Alex are friends of mine.


River Cottage Light & Easy by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
This cookery book is all about healthy recipes for everyday eating. Alex used one of the recipes to make her own rye breadsticks (pictured below).

Rye breadsticks from 'River Cottage Light & Easy'

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