My Favourite Online Health Courses

If you have an interest in healthy living, food, and wellbeing,  it can often be intimidating to try and find the best resources to help you learn more, especially with the constantly changing and faddy ways health is often presented in the media.

When I first realised that blindly going to the doctor and guzzling down whatever medications they gave me wasn’t the only thing I should be doing, I went on a several month long internet binge, reading and watching everything I could to try and educate myself about all the different health and dietary theories out there in order to try and start making sense of what things I could try out.

At the same time, I collected a small library of books across a wide variety of subjects, although at the beginning when I was trying to brainwash myself into becoming a vegan, there was definitely a theme to many of the books that I purchased!

Today I thought that I’d share my top online resources for those looking to either gain a more professional grounding in health and wellbeing or those just looking to learn more for free!

For me, having to spend a huge amount of time resting and in bed means that I’m often cut off from traditional educational routes, but with these courses you can learn at your own pace, anywhere. Even in your super comfy robot bed.

Institute for Integrative Nutrition

I have almost completed my year long course at IIN and it has been a great experience. A huge number of dietary theories are covered, but there are two things that really made the school stand out for me. Firstly, while there is a large focus on diet and nutrition, they work on the basis of “bio-individuality” – the idea that everyone is different. So we learn all these different, often conflicting ideas, in order to help ourselves and others figure out how to make the best choices for themselves. And if you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know how important I believe this to be.

But, as I mention time and time again, diet isn’t the be all and end all. The main focus is actually on what IIN calls “primary foods” – the aspects of our lives like our social networks, family, friends, work, exercise – all those things that make us happy and the role that this plays in our health.

The course is not just a dietary course. I’m taking the specific Health Coach Training programme, so once I graduate I will be a qualified Health Coach, and I really hope to work with people suffering from chronic illnesses to support and help them figure out what works best for them in managing their conditions. If you’d be interested in working with me, please do send me an email!

Because of this, we learn a lot of coaching and business skills, and I really feel that it has impacted the way I think about my own health, and hope that I can relay this onto others in the future.

One thing I would say about IIN is it’s a very wide-reaching programme. I don’t really feel like it’s ‘school’ or a training programme in the sense of a degree or an academic course I would take. It has mainly satiated a general curiosity and opened me up to other ideas as a starting point for further research.

Rouxbe

If you’re interested in learning more about plant-based cooking, the best place to learn this online is with Rouxbe’s Online Video Cooking School. The plant-based programme is set up by the incredible chef Chad Sarno and teaches you everything you need to know from basic knife skills to advanced recipe development. I love the simple details of the in-depth look at different ways to prepare different vegetables and really understanding plant-based cooking.

This is a professional qualification, and the programme is recognised by the American Culinary Federation Education Foundation (phew long name!)

I started this course last year but have unfortunately been too unwell to continue with it. I really hope to be able to pick it up soon, as it’s a way to learn cooking skills from trained chefs without having to leave my own flat.

The Free Stuff!

If you’re not interested in gaining a professional qualification online at the moment, there are still a tonne of free ways to learn more – including from some of the best universities in the world. Here is my first roundup of my favourite courses and playlists that you can find!

Science & Cooking: From Haute Cuisine to Soft Matter Science – via Harvard University on edX

Nutrition and Health Part 1: Macronutrients and Overnutrition – via Wagenigen University on edX

The Ethics of Eating – via Cornell University on edX

Gut Check: Exploring Your Microbiome – via University of Colorado at Boulder on Coursera

What’s Wrong With What We Eat – Playlist via TED

What are your favourite online resources? Have you tried out any of these?

Be Kind To Yourself

For years I had doctors, therapists, family and friends tell me that I needed to “be kind” to myself. It was something I poo-pooed and waved off as some kind of hippy dippy bullshit that didn’t mean anything.

As I got more unwell (and older) I started to realise that there was something in taking a step back, taking a moment and realising that it’s ok to take time and be gentle with myself*.

We all have different ways of doing this, and just recognising that it’s ok and not selfish or lazy is a wonderful first step.

This infographic from Happify gives a wonderful introduction to those of you who are interested in practicing more self kindness. What are your favourite ways of being kind to yourself? Please do share them in the comments.

*That being said, it still feels weird for me to say it in those terms. I think it’s more just about treating myself the way I would treat anyone that I loved!

Food Revolution Day 2015

Happy Food Revolution Day, y’all!

As most of you know, I’m really passionate about food (mainly eating it), but since starting my personal experiments with how the right food can help me feel a bit better, I’ve also become really passionate about people learning and understanding food a lot more.

It was almost shocking how ill-informed I was about what I ate and the food industry. I may have gone a bit too far in my obsession to “brainwash” myself into wanting to eat a certain way (hello, orthorexia). From a young age, and because of my inability to exercise, I became overweight and often turned to restriction and low-fat, low calorie diets like weight watchers to try and help.

As I became older, developed more illnesses (non-diet related) and started on my own food experiments with whole foods, I became saddened at even how in the wellness industry, among people who were supposedly more enlightened about food, fads are still everywhere, with misinformation spreading like wildfire across social media channels.

This is why I’m a proud supporter of Jamie Oliver’s #FoodRevolutionDay.

Based the basic premise that diet-related diseases are rising at an alarming rate, and that around the world over 42 million children under the age of five are overweight or obese, it has never been more important to educate children about food, where it comes from and how it affects their bodies.

Jamie believes that “by educating children about food in a practical, fun and engaging way, we can provide them with the knowledge and skills they so urgently need to lead healthier, happier lives. We need to make practical food education a compulsory part of every school curriculum across the world”

I Think It’s Time For A Reality Check

I’ve realised it has been roughly a year since I started talking publicly about my whole food journey, chronic illnesses, and the whole wellness malarky – and boy, a lot has changed.

I think it’s really important to respect where each of us are at any given point in time, but I feel like in the last year I have learned a huge amount about myself, social media, health and wellness and other people.

As I’m sure many of you know by now, when my health reached its lowest point, I turned in desperation towards using food as medicine. Overnight (and with a lot of self-sabotage along the way) I cut out meat, dairy, gluten, refined sugar, high histamine food and mainly consumed green juices and soups.

It took about three months, but my digestion started to improve, I had enough energy to get out of bed, and my histamine issues started to slowly start fizzing a little bit less. Within six months I felt so much better (not “well”, but well enough to think that my life may have a future outside of bed) and had started to gain a following on Instagram, the tool I had been using as a diary when I first started making all these changes.

The improvements felt so wonderful, so dramatic, so shocking, that I couldn’t stop myself from shouting about it. Who knew that food could help where all the medications had failed? I became obsessed with the “best” foods, micronutrient contents, the latest superfood fads that I read about. I was determined that everything that didn’t fit in was somehow damaging me.

Part of me judged friends and family members for not joining me in realising that my way was “right”. My mum insists that I turned into the most boring person in the world because all I could talk about was food and how awful absolutely everything they ate was.

The problem with blogs and social media is that it can become all-encompassing. Of course, without them I would not have been able to really start thinking about experimenting with things on my own, but even as a (somewhat) rational, grounded and science-focussed person, I often found myself getting drawn into things in a way that surprised me.

Related: Why I’m Over The Whole “Wellness Thing”

We get a lot of our information from other people going through similar things, and while the inspiration and support is certainly valuable and important, we also have to take it for what it is. The wellness backlash that is happening at the moment against people like Belle Gibson and The Food Babe shows just how far some of this is all going, and how easy it is to get drawn into a web of inaccurate and possibly dangerous information.

I love sharing my story with everyone, whether it be daily on my Instagram or in longer pieces here on my blog. But I think it’s important for people to remember that I’m not a doctor, a nutritionist or a trained anything. I share my experiences and mine alone. If lessons that I have learned and my struggles help other people not feel so alone, that is great, but I’m always worried that people will try things that I have tried and end up hurting themselves because we are different people. Blogs and articles written about me last year focussed on the fact that I gave up medication in favour of natural solutions. But often left out that it’s because they didn’t work for me. I didn’t have a choice, I’m super sensitive to meds, and my choice had nothing to do with a fear or scorn of the medical field (which, yes, has many problems), and was not, as often portrayed a miracle cure all.

There has also been a pressure to conform to certain ways of eating. This is definitely unhealthy, as we all need different diets, different ways of exercise and different ways of relaxing. Eating vegan, high carb low fat, paleo, whatever, and being judgemental, and cult-like about it (which unfortunately social media is prone to) can be dangerous, especially for the large number of young teens that I see. I have spoken to many fellow Instagrammers about this and know I’m not the only one that feels this way, and I’m hoping that more and more people do start speaking up.

I think we all need to remember that aspirational lifestyle sells. Gorgeous girls in gorgeous clothes, looking happy and loving life sells. This is a lifestyle that most people want to achieve, but the reality is most of us won’t. Drinking that green juice may be great for you, but bets are it’s not going to be life changing. It was for me for a bit, but it ran its course. I dabbled with raw veganism for a few days (until my gut started screaming at me to stop) because (I’m ashamed to say) I bought into the shiny, happy lifestyle and the pseudoscience touted by certain bloggers. It’s so easy to get caught up in this world, especially when you’re unwell and just want to feel better. We do not share our whole lives on social media, so the image that we get of anyone is always going to be skewed towards the positive (especially if their personal brand is their livelihood).

So, yes. I’ve learned a lot in the last year. And while part of me is frustrated at how much I bought into certain aspects of the wellness industry and wanted to shout from the rooftops about how much diet was changing my life, I also recognise that’s where I was at the time and that’s what was right for me. Now, I’m more aware of myself, of my body, and the industry. I’m not denying that what we eat plays a huge role in how we feel and without constant attention to my diet, I do believe I’d be a lot more unwell than I am. I just think things have got a bit out of hand.

I suppose I’ll end this post with some things that you can now expect from me in the coming months and years. Firstly, I’ll continue to always be honest about my health, the food I eat and what works for me and what doesn’t. If something makes me feel rubbish, I won’t eat it, but it doesn’t mean that it should be demonised and everyone else should stop. I won’t feel guilty for eating animal products, and will call out people when I get abuse for it. I won’t label myself. And if I want some pizza, you’ll better bloody know that I’ll have it.

I won’t promote fad diets and clickbait, but instead share my personal experiences and interesting and well backed up scientific studies. I will recognise that what works for me changes sometimes from hour to hour let alone month to month and will endeavour to find a balance to help me live my life.

I will continue to raise awareness for Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, Histamine Intolerance and depression. Partly, this is selfish. The more people are aware of issues that I face, the more understanding and acceptance I can get and therefore more support in my attempts to try and live a normal life.

I will focus on trying to have fun, be happy and do things that I enjoy and share them with you. I will continue to read, connect with, and be inspired by the amazing people that I have met over the past year, and hope to meet many of you soon.

Flareups, Finding Balance & Shakshuka

Wow, I can’t believe it’s already February and this is my first post of 2015. Sorry for not being around, I needed to take a bit of a break from my cyber life to focus on my real life!

Unfortunately, this year didn’t start so well for me…relapse, flare-ups, whatever you want to call them, my body has been beating me up (like the bastard it is) and I’ve been trying not to let it win. Although sometimes it feels like it would just be easier if I did.

In January I went into a bit of a tailspin and was majorly self-sabotaging. I had lived such a restrictive life for so long because I thought it was helping me keep my conditions under control, so when I started to get really unwell again it was like a slap in the face and really difficult to handle.

I know I’ve said it before, but diet works up to a point and eating ‘well’ (whatever that means is so individual to each person) is only part of the solution. And, unfortunately, the nature of the chronic illness is that there are times when you just don’t have control over your body and you end up being dragged kicking and screaming half a mile backward. It sucks, but it is what it is.

When I self-sabotage I do it because it’s a time when I can at least understand why I feel crap. Eating rubbish food makes me feel rubbish. I get that. Waking up, trying to move, and every joint in my body falling out? Not so much. And I do love me some pizza. Shh.

But hey, I survived Marrakech with Hannah over New Year!

Trying to get back on track is difficult, especially when you’re constantly having to experiment with what works for your body and will help you get some semblance of control over your life. Sometimes I wish I knew that there was a set of meds that I could take that would make me better, or at least there would be a process that, almost unfailingly would work. Doing all of this by yourself can be very difficult and demoralizing at times, but when things start working and go well it can be so empowering. Trying to remember those feelings and that things do eventually can get better (not great, but better) is something that I always try to hang on to. I get frustrated that I ‘don’t look sick’ and the people around me don’t always understand or appreciate how unwell I am. It’s not that I want sympathy – just a little understanding would be nice. I’m still expected to do everything, and just keep going. But there is a point where you just have to say no, and stop, and try and figure out (once again) what you can do.

There are two big changes that have already happened this year, and I’m trying to take them as positives.

The first is that I’m officially on sick leave for the first time in my life. It’s weird.

I went back to work at the beginning of January, excited to be going in twice a week. Being able to go to work is something that I’ve always struggled with. Both physically in the sense that there are times when I actually just can’t handle doing stuff, and emotionally in the sense that not being able to do stuff really bloody sucks, especially when you’re as motivated and ambitious as I am.

I thought I was prepared and ready, but I felt so unwell that physically and mentally going in (even for two days) was just way way too much. It was more of a struggle than anything had ever been, and that really scared me. I had a massive breakdown and didn’t know what to do. My instinct was to hand in my notice, but (as I’ve said many times before) I’m so lucky that I work for such a supportive and amazing company and I didn’t have to do that. I’m now on sick leave and am taking some time to try and get better so I can go back to work and be a productive human being.

I’ve never allowed myself to truly rest and heal. I’d stop working or studying and get into bed, but I’d be working constantly while propped up. I’d go to work, and have a million other projects on the side to keep myself busy and to not think about how unwell I feel. This, I’ve recently discovered, is not resting. This is still working, you’re just a lot cozier. And it just feeds into my ‘boom or bust’ personality. I go for things whole hog, and instead of taking the time I need to rest and recover, I keep pushing and pushing myself to prevent the inevitable crash. But, inevitably, that crash only gets worse the more I push on.

It was such a weight off my shoulders when I got signed off and knowing that I don’t have to think about work for a bit. Not physically or mentally feeling up to it was one thing, but feeling like I was letting my team down was more of a pressure than anything else. I hate being a burden on other people, but I’m learning that in order not to be, I have to make sure I do the things to look after myself first. I also stopped working on all my side projects, tried to read, started doing yoga and bought a Wii U so I can crush Mario Kart when my wrists allow! I get shouty. It’s fun.

The second thing is that I am no longer vegan. I’ve written about this before on my Instagram, but while it worked up to a point, my body started feeling even weaker than usual, and I’m now experimenting more with my diet to find what helps. I’m still predominantly plant-based: green juices, smoothies, and soups play a huge role in what I eat on a daily basis, but limiting my grains, getting local eggs and meat and making sure I eat things that make me happy is working for me at the moment. As I said to my friend Natasha over an incredibly delicious meal at Incanto last week, I have so little control over my body, I might as well do what I can to make my mind happy so I can fight better. I feel stronger when I eat some high-quality meat (something I realized while eating tagine every day in Morocco), and I feel happier when I go out for an occasional pizza or burger with friends.

Honestly, I’m so over the judgmental bullshit that I see all over Instagram. What I choose to eat, my (lack of) spirituality and the way I’m going about trying to get well is, ultimately, my business. I get that by writing publicly about it, people are always going to share their opinions, but at the end of the day, behind pictures of food, I’m a real person, and all I’m trying to do is be healthy and live as normal a life as I possibly can while letting other people know who are going through similar things that they’re not alone. I’m not hurting anyone, and I try to be kind to others. I think more people need to think more about that than concerning themselves with ‘fixing’, diagnosing or judging other people. Just saying.

Shakshuka

I tend to start trying new things on a Monday. It’s just that mental thing of starting a new week in a positive way. After crying my way through yoga, but ultimately figuring out a plan for the next few weeks, I decided I’d get back in the kitchen and properly cook something for the first time in ages. I’m kind of proud of myself because cooking has been a huge mental block for me since I had my relapse. I’ve been thinking about shakshuka for a month, and finally just thought I’d just go for it! And it was certainly delicious.

This can be a large meal for one or two smaller meals. I had half for lunch and it was perfectly filling. Just a quick note to anyone with histamine intolerance, this is a high histamine dish but as I mentioned above, right now I’m all about trying to balance the restrictive nature of what my body needs with being happy. And today, this made me happy.

flareup

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • Half large onion (diced)
  • 1 large clove garlic (chopped)
  • 1/2 Tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp chili flakes
  • 1/2 large red bell pepper (diced)
  • 3 picked sprigs of thyme
  • Large pinch of both coriander & parsley (chopped)
  • 1 400g tin of tomatoes
  • 2 eggs
  • Salt (to taste)

Method:

  • Pour the olive oil in a large frying pan and bring to a medium heat. When warmed up, add the chopped onions, garlic, cumin and chili flakes and sauté for a couple of minutes.
  • Add the peppers and the herbs and sauté until the peppers are soft.
  • Throw in the tin tomatoes and salt, mix everything together and simmer for about 20 minutes.
  • Check the seasoning (you may wish to add more salt at this point)
  • Make a couple of gaps in the sauce and carefully crack an egg in each one. Cover the pan with a lit and let the eggs cook for 4-6 minutes until the whites have set.
  • Garnish with fresh parsley or coriander (or both!) and enjoy!

Flareups, Finding Balance & Shakshuka

Wow, I can’t believe it’s already February and this is my first post of 2015. Sorry for not being around, I needed to take a bit of a break from my cyber life to focus on my real life!

Unfortunately, this year didn’t start so well for me…relapse, flare-ups, whatever you want to call them, my body has been beating me up (like the bastard it is) and I’ve been trying not to let it win. Although sometimes it feels like it would just be easier if I did.

In January I went into a bit of a tailspin and was majorly self-sabotaging. I had lived such a restrictive life for so long because I thought it was helping me keep my conditions under control, so when I started to get really unwell again it was like a slap in the face and really difficult to handle.

I know I’ve said it before, but diet works up to a point and eating ‘well’ (whatever that means is so individual to each person) is only part of the solution. And, unfortunately, the nature of the chronic illness is that there are times when you just don’t have control over your body and you end up being dragged kicking and screaming half a mile backward. It sucks, but it is what it is.

When I self-sabotage I do it because it’s a time when I can at least understand why I feel crap. Eating rubbish food makes me feel rubbish. I get that. Waking up, trying to move, and every joint in my body falling out? Not so much. And I do love me some pizza. Shh.

But hey, I survived Marrakech with Hannah over New Year!

Trying to get back on track is difficult, especially when you’re constantly having to experiment with what works for your body and will help you get some semblance of control over your life. Sometimes I wish I knew that there was a set of meds that I could take that would make me better, or at least there would be a process that, almost unfailingly would work. Doing all of this by yourself can be very difficult and demoralizing at times, but when things start working and go well it can be so empowering. Trying to remember those feelings and that things do eventually can get better (not great, but better) is something that I always try to hang on to. I get frustrated that I ‘don’t look sick’ and the people around me don’t always understand or appreciate how unwell I am. It’s not that I want sympathy – just a little understanding would be nice. I’m still expected to do everything, and just keep going. But there is a point where you just have to say no, and stop, and try and figure out (once again) what you can do.

There are two big changes that have already happened this year, and I’m trying to take them as positives.

The first is that I’m officially on sick leave for the first time in my life. It’s weird.

I went back to work at the beginning of January, excited to be going in twice a week. Being able to go to work is something that I’ve always struggled with. Both physically in the sense that there are times when I actually just can’t handle doing stuff, and emotionally in the sense that not being able to do stuff really bloody sucks, especially when you’re as motivated and ambitious as I am.

I thought I was prepared and ready, but I felt so unwell that physically and mentally going in (even for two days) was just way way too much. It was more of a struggle than anything had ever been, and that really scared me. I had a massive breakdown and didn’t know what to do. My instinct was to hand in my notice, but (as I’ve said many times before) I’m so lucky that I work for such a supportive and amazing company and I didn’t have to do that. I’m now on sick leave and am taking some time to try and get better so I can go back to work and be a productive human being.

I’ve never allowed myself to truly rest and heal. I’d stop working or studying and get into bed, but I’d be working constantly while propped up. I’d go to work, and have a million other projects on the side to keep myself busy and to not think about how unwell I feel. This, I’ve recently discovered, is not resting. This is still working, you’re just a lot cozier. And it just feeds into my ‘boom or bust’ personality. I go for things whole hog, and instead of taking the time I need to rest and recover, I keep pushing and pushing myself to prevent the inevitable crash. But, inevitably, that crash only gets worse the more I push on.

It was such a weight off my shoulders when I got signed off and knowing that I don’t have to think about work for a bit. Not physically or mentally feeling up to it was one thing, but feeling like I was letting my team down was more of a pressure than anything else. I hate being a burden on other people, but I’m learning that in order not to be, I have to make sure I do the things to look after myself first. I also stopped working on all my side projects, tried to read, started doing yoga and bought a Wii U so I can crush Mario Kart when my wrists allow! I get shouty. It’s fun.

The second thing is that I am no longer vegan. I’ve written about this before on my Instagram, but while it worked up to a point, my body started feeling even weaker than usual, and I’m now experimenting more with my diet to find what helps. I’m still predominantly plant-based: green juices, smoothies, and soups play a huge role in what I eat on a daily basis, but limiting my grains, getting local eggs and meat and making sure I eat things that make me happy is working for me at the moment. As I said to my friend Natasha over an incredibly delicious meal at Incanto last week, I have so little control over my body, I might as well do what I can to make my mind happy so I can fight better. I feel stronger when I eat some high-quality meat (something I realized while eating tagine every day in Morocco), and I feel happier when I go out for an occasional pizza or burger with friends.

Honestly, I’m so over the judgmental bullshit that I see all over Instagram. What I choose to eat, my (lack of) spirituality and the way I’m going about trying to get well is, ultimately, my business. I get that by writing publicly about it, people are always going to share their opinions, but at the end of the day, behind pictures of food, I’m a real person, and all I’m trying to do is be healthy and live as normal a life as I possibly can while letting other people know who are going through similar things that they’re not alone. I’m not hurting anyone, and I try to be kind to others. I think more people need to think more about that than concerning themselves with ‘fixing’, diagnosing or judging other people. Just saying.

Spicy Shakshuka with Zaatar Flatbread

Shakshuka

I tend to start trying new things on a Monday. It’s just that mental thing of starting a new week in a positive way. After crying my way through yoga, but ultimately figuring out a plan for the next few weeks, I decided I’d get back in the kitchen and properly cook something for the first time in ages. I’m kind of proud of myself, because cooking has been a huge mental block for me since I had my relapse. I’ve been thinking about shakshuka for a month, and finally just thought I’d just go for it! And it was certainly delicious.

This can be a large meal for one or two smaller meals. I had half for lunch and it was perfectly filling. Just a quick note to anyone with histamine intolerance, this is a high histamine dish but as I mentioned above, right now I’m all about trying to balance the restrictive nature of what my body needs with being happy. And today, this made me happy.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • Half large onion (diced)
  • 1 large clove garlic (chopped)
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp chili flakes
  • 1/2 large red bell pepper (diced)
  • 3 picked sprigs of thyme
  • Large pinch of both coriander & parsley (chopped)
  • 1 400g tin of tomatoes
  • 2 eggs
  • Salt (to taste)

Method:

  • Pour the olive oil in a large frying pan and bring to a medium heat. When warmed up, add the chopped onions, garlic, cumin and chili flakes and sauté for a couple of minutes.
  • Add the peppers and the herbs and sauté until the peppers are soft.
  • Throw in the tin tomatoes and salt, mix everything together and simmer for about 20 minutes.
  • Check the seasoning (you may wish to add more salt at this point)
  • Make a couple of gaps in the sauce and carefully crack an egg in each one. Cover the pan with a bit and let the eggs cook for 4-6 minutes until the whites have set.
  • Garnish with fresh parsley or coriander (or both!) and enjoy!

Single-Serve GF Vegan Brownie

I just wanted to say a massive thank you to everyone for your amazingly lovely messages yesterday. They definitely helped make my birthday special.

Although I did do far more than I probably should have (and am paying for it today with a total wipeout in bed), I have realized just how far I have come in the last year. As I mentioned on Instagram, I have gone from being so ill I wanted to die and feeling like I’d never be able to work or have any semblance of a life again, drugged up to my eyeballs on medications that were making me sicker, to being med free, having a job at Virgin Unite, becoming an Instagrammer and blogger, running the plant-based picnics, co-goddess the wellness world at the Health Bloggers Community, and training to become a health coach with the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.

While things are a daily struggle, and I’m still trying to find a balance with food and lifestyle and pacing, I needed to stop for a minute and just consider how far things have come since I started this ‘journey’ in May.

Honestly, it’s weird sharing intimate details about your health with the world, but I’m doing it with the hope that I can inspire and provide some comfort to others who are going through a really difficult time to know that they’re not the only ones experiencing tough times. And, because I’m not always the most unselfish and shiny person, it’s also a strangely cathartic experience.

I feel like over the last seven months I have gained more control over my health and over my life than I ever thought I would again. I just want to let you know that with dedication and hard work things are possible if you step out of your comfort zone a little bit and try something new. Like cake. The cake is always good.

Be honest, be genuine and try to be kind to yourself. But also be realistic. I’m not under any impression that I can be entirely cured or healthy. I’m still extremely unwell. But hey, if one day I’ve totally ‘fixed’ myself that would be amazing. Right now all I can do is try to feel as well as I can. It’s a long, slow, difficult, mind-numbingly frustrating process, but I do believe (most of the time!) that it’s one worth going through.

And as I say every week, we all need to find what works for us and do things that are going to help us – not what other people think is going to be right. Get inspired by doctors, writers, bloggers, coaches, family, and friends, but remember, what works for one does not work for all. Take the best of everything you find and experiment as much as you possibly can until you have found what works for you!

One of the biggest things I have learned this year is that people will be more accepting and understanding than you think. Being open and honest about my health for the first time has meant that I’m finally able to get the support I need to be able to be on the same level as everyone else – it’s meant that my somewhat odd situation is taken into account and allowed me to work and pursue all kinds of things from the comfort of my amazing robot bed.

At the end of October, I was really suffering from depression linked to my declining health (gotta love the change of seasons), and my boss told me to take some time off work. I kept refusing because I’ve had to leave so many jobs before because of my health. He said to me that they knew exactly what they were getting when they hired me (I’d been freelancing since January before they offered me the full-time role in August) and that they were going to do everything they can to support me.

I told them they didn’t know I was quite as mental as I was (I didn’t know either!) but hey ho! They’d rather I take the time I need and not make myself ill so that I can continue to work for them longer. I constantly need to be reminded of that, because it’s hard to accept that I’m being supportive even though I can’t do as much work as everyone else.

But I’m realizing more and more that if you have skills and something to offer, people will recognize that first and foremost and do everything they can to help you out – because after all – you’re giving them something in return.

That’s my little rant over for the day, and now onto what you really want to read about – gluten free, vegan, refined sugar-free chocolate brownies!

This recipe comes from the wonderful Heather over at Fresh Heather and will be sure to be a hit. The problem I ALWAYS have is that I have a stupidly ridiculous sweet tooth (which is odd, because it only developed when I changed my diet – I think I was so scared that I was losing anything good, that I started eating raw desserts every day!) and will happily eat the entire batch of brownies out of the oven as soon as they’ve been made. So a single serving is a perfect solution for when those cravings hit.

Rich-chocolatey-studded-with-dark-chocolate-and-pecans-vegan-glutenfree-recipe-brownies

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp coconut flour1 tbsp nut butter (I use almond butter, but could imagine pistachio would be amazing!)
  • 1 tbsp nut butter (I use almond butter, but could imagine pistachio would be amazing!)1 tbsp sweetener (My sweetener of choice is brown rice syrup)
  • 1 tbsp sweetener (My sweetener of choice is brown rice syrup)1 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil1-2 tbsp almond milk
  • 1-2 tbsp almond milk1 tbsp cacao powder
  • 1 tbsp cacao powder pinch salt
  • pinch salt

Method:

  • Gently melt the coconut oil and nut butter in a small pan.
  • Mix in your sweetener and milk followed by cacao, coconut flour, and salt.
  • Pour into a ramekin and microwave for 1-2 mins.If you don’t use a microwave, bake in a preheated oven for 10-15 mins at 350F | 175C.
  • If you don’t use a microwave, bake in a preheated oven for 10-15 mins at 350F | 175C.Top with homemade chocolate sauce/melted nut butter and banana slices.
  • Top with homemade chocolate sauce/melted nut butter and banana slices.

This was my version of it this morning!

Carrot & Coriander Falafel + A Giveaway

I have realised that it has been quite a while since I have shared a recipe with you all. As you’ve probably figured out, things have been super busy and peculiar here!

I officially moved into my new flat on Monday night and I am still putting the finishing touches to my kitchen. Once that’s all sorted I’m going to share with you a post about my healing kitchen (seriously, I had the most epic fruit and veg delivery yesterday!) including the foods and the gadgets that  I can’t live without. Then I can finally get onto some recipe testing for you all!

In the meantime, I’m going to be sharing some recipes from some of my favourite healthy bloggers. Today is a super delicious carrot and coriander falafel from Naturally Meghan that I know you’re just going to adore. I made this last night with some added nigella seeds and it was so delicious.

But before I get to that, I just wanted to let you know that I’m doing a little giveaway on my Facebook page. Foodies Festival (London) is having their first ever Christmas event at the end of November, and they’ve very kindly given me three pairs of tickets to share with some of my lovely followers. All you need to is head on over to my Facebook page and follow the instructions on the post! Good luck!

Read My New Article on Best Baking Schools in Delhi.

And now for the good stuff. Over to Meghan:

Ingredients

Makes 20 falafel
  • 1 large carrot, finely grated (yields about 1 cup of grated carrot)
  • 2 x 400g cans/cartons of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup fresh coriander
  • 2 tsp ground cumin

Method

  • Preheat your oven to 180°c then finely grate your carrot – the easiest way to do this is by using the grating attachment on your food processor, then change it to the knife blade and pulse a few times to make sure the carrot strands are small enough.
  • Add the rest of the ingredients to your food processor and process them for about 10 seconds, until everything is mixed together well.
  • Be careful not to over-process them though, otherwise you might end up making hummus!Scoop about 1 tbsp of the falafel mixture out of the food processor and mould it into a ball shape – you may want to wet your hands before doing this to ensure that the falafel stick together properly and don’t fall apart.
  • Place the falafel on a baking tray, then repeat with the rest of the mixture (you should get about 20 balls, depending on how big you make them).
  • Once done, pop them into your oven and bake them for 20 – 25 minutes, until they’re golden brown (bake them for 20 minutes initially then check on them every minute or so afterwards).
  • When the falafel are ready remove them from the oven and either leave them to cool or serve them straight away – you can store them in an airtight container in the fridge for 3 – 4 days.

Food as Medicine 101: Alcohol

Although I was never what could be described as a heavy drinker, I was partial to a good red wine and a good gin and tonic. Being short, I never had the highest tolerance for alcohol, but after the med-induced brain weirdness, I stopped wanting to drink entirely.

Then, when I started getting massive digestive issues last year, I thought alcohol would help move things along a little bit. So I would have wine with meals. However, once I finally decided to change my diet, I cut out alcohol, and haven’t had any this year. And it’s strange, unlike many foods (read: bread), I have no desire to drink anymore.

Most people are (or at the very least should be) aware of the he negative social consequences of alcohol, so today I’m going to be focussing on the direct health effects. Additionally, I’m going to make the assumption that most of my readers aren’t alcoholics and are therefore able to choose their ‘dose’ and take appropriate measures to negate any of the known indirect dangers (impaired driving, missing work, exposure to violence, etc.) associated with alcohol consumption.

Short Term Effects

Sleep

A typical sleep study administers alcohol 30–60 minutes before bedtime, so that peak blood alcohol concentration is reached at the moment of falling asleep. In general, studies tell us that the tolerance level to the effects of alcohol on sleep occurs within three nights. But, as we all know, alcohol decreases sleep latency. In other words, it made the subjects fall asleep faster.

Once alcohol has been completely metabolised, multiple studies have found a ‘rebound effect’ of disruption of the second half of sleep, and it also suppresses REM sleep in the first half of sleep.

Dehydration

Did you know that drinking 50g of alcohol in 250mL of water causes elimination of 600-1000mL of water over several hours? That’s why you can spend so much time running to and from the loo when you drink. This is caused by the inhibition of the release of vasopressin (anti-diuretic hormone), and vasopressin signals for the kidneys to reabsorb water. I need to guzzle water like a fish (wait, do fish guzzle water?!) and often find that I don’t retain water anyway, so I know that alcohol exacerbates the situation. If I don’t drink enough before going to bed (a fine line between hydration and several trips to the loo) I often wake up feeling hungover. It’s not the most pleasant experience!

Read My New Article on Best Baking Schools in Delhi.

Digestion

As someone with a particularly sensitive gut, I found this of real interest, and it definitely has cemented my decision that alcohol probably isn’t the best thing for my body.

Gastritis

Alcohol consumption can damage mucous membranes of the GI tract, which can lead to inflammation of the stomach lining (gastritis). 

Mucous membrane lesions

Mucous membranes of the GI tract from the mouth to the stomach are especially affected because the alcohol is undiluted when it touches these membranes.

The dose at which mucosal lesions appear varies, but risk seems to increase above 2oz/d (approx. 57g/d). In the stomach and small intestines, hemorrhagic (bleeding) lesions and mucosal inflammation can occur after a single episode of heavy drinking

Luckily, this is rapidly reversible, but with chronic exposure (aka lotsa drinkin’) the damage becomes progressive and can cause long term problems.

Dysmotility

Alcohol interferes with gastric motility, causing delayed gastric emptying at concentrations above 15% ABV. As a result, food may begin to be digested by bacteria while still in the stomach (think about that ‘drunk night food’ we often have while drinking), and the gaseous byproducts of this process can cause bloating and discomfort.

Additionally, alcohol consumption decreases ‘impeding wave motility’ in the small intestine. This means that the muscle movements which keep food in the small intestine while it is being digested are less active. At the same time, ‘propulsive wave motility’ (the movements which keep the food moving through the small intestine) is undisturbed. And this combination leads to diarrhoea. Sexy.

Heartburn

Alcohol increases the production of stomach acid (but only from drinks with low alcohol content, such as wine and beer)and a single episode of consumption is enough to weaken the lower oesophageal sphincter, causing heartburn.

Malabsorption

Alcohol impairs the digestion of other nutrients in the intestines (such as sodium), as well as the functioning of enzymes such as lactase.

Susceptibility to bacterial toxins

According to Alcohol’s Role in Gastrointestinal Tract Disorders: “alcohol induces the release of noxious signalling molecules, such as cytokines, histamine, and leukotrienes.”

These substances can set off a chain reaction that leads to the destruction of the tips of the villi (the finger-like bodies that line the intestinal wall), and the lesions that result allow bacterial toxins to enter the bloodstream.

It’s also worth noting the histamine release here, as it can play a role in reactions for those of us with histamine sensitivity.

Long-term effects

The links between the short-term effects (where we can measure the mechanisms of effect more easily) and long-term effects (where we can often only measure the outcome) are often a matter of debate.

Just so you can get an idea of what we’re talking about when doses are referenced:

  • light: <2.5 g/day (<0.5 drink)
  • moderate: 2.5–14.9 g/day (about 0.5–1 drink)
  • heavy: 15–29.9 g/day (about 1–2.5 drinks)
  • extremely heavy: 30–60 g/day (about 2.5–5 drinks), and >60 g/day (≥5 drinks)
Cancer

A meta-analysis of risk of alcohol consumption (25g/d, 50g/d, 100g/d) on various cancers shows that no cancer risk is reduced by alcohol consumption, even at 25g/d. In fact, many increased, even at 25g/d:

  • oral cavity and pharynx (relative risk 1.75 ± 0.06)
  • oesophagus (1.51 ± 0.04)
  • liver (1.17 ± 0.06)
  • larynx (1.38 ± 0.06)
  • breast (1.31 ± 0.04)

That being said, there is no threshold effect for these cancers: in general, the more alcohol consumed, the more risk there is.

Heart disease

We’ve all heard the saying that alongside an apple, a glass of red wine a day keeps the doctor away, right? Well, let’s look into that a bit further!

In a meta-analysis of the effect of alcohol consumption on cardiovascular outcomes, it was shown that consumption is associated with a lower risk of mortality, by all causes (0.87 ± 0.04).

Alcohol consumption was associated with lower risk of cardiovascular disease mortality (relative risk 0.75 ± 0.05), and consumption associated with lower risk of coronary heart disease incidence (relative risk 0.71 ± 0.06), mortality (relative risk 0.75 ± 0.065).

Consumption associated with same risk of stroke incidence (relative risk 0.98 ± 0.08), mortality (1.06 ± 0.16).

Again, this is all dependent on the dose. According to the analysis, 2.5–14.9g/d is protective against cardiovascular disease mortality, coronary heart disease incidence and mortality, and stroke incidence and mortality.

All doses protective against coronary heart disease incidence and mortality. However, higher doses can be harmful for stroke incidence and mortality, cardiovascular disease mortality (U/J curve).

Interestingly, the same group did a meta-analysis of effect of alcohol on biological markers of heart disease. The findings are consistent with the outcome-based study: light to moderate alcohol consumption is associated with reduction in biological markers of heart disease.

Light/moderate consumption increased high density lipoprotein (‘good cholesterol’), apolipoprotein A1adinopectin levels; reduced fibrinogen levels.

These higher levels of high density lipoprotein associated with lower risk of atherosclerosis (artery hardening). Apolipoprotein A1 “is considered to be the ‘active ingredient’ in HDL-C”, and higher levels of adinopectin associated with a lower risk of diabetes and coronary heart disease.

However, high fibrinogen levels considered risk factor for cardiovascular disease. That being said, light/moderate consumption does not appear to increase triglyceride levels, as was previously suspected. High levels of triglycerides in bloodstream are associated with atherosclerosis (a disease of the arteries), but all the evidence points towards low-to-moderate consumption of alcohol as protecting against heart disease.

Bam!

Liver disease

Alcoholic liver disease is a spectrum.

Fatty liver (steatosis) usually presents no symptoms and resolves itself with 4–6 week abstinence from alcohol. It can appear after only a few days of heavy drinking, increasing the risk of cirrhosis.

With alcoholic hepatitis, fatty liver changes can cause inflammation of the liver, which can range from mild to life-threatening. This is typically only noticed after decades of heavy consumption; and by this point it often leads to death as the damage has been going on unnoticed. Luckily, this can be reversible with abstinence.

With cirrhosis, the replacement of liver cells with scar tissue leads to a lessening of the liver’s ability to detoxify. Unlike steatosis and alcoholic hepatitis, this is irreversible, and can be fatal without abstinence.

  • evidence of threshold effect:13
    • for women, >24 g/d
    • for men, >36 g/d

Risk factors for alcoholic liver disease to consider are:

  • women are twice as sensitive to alcohol-mediated liver toxicity16
  • in one large study conducted in China, it was found that drinking outside of mealtimes carries higher risk (2.71) of alcoholic liver disease compared to drinking only at mealtimes5
  • one study found that excess body weight (BMI >25 for women, >27 for men) over the past 10 years is an independent risk factor for the development of fatty liver, cirrhosis, and alcoholic hepatitis10

The bottom line?

As with everything, I advocate for balance. I have personally realised that the short term side effects can be too acute for me to drink for pleasure anymore. That’s not to say if I’m out I’ll never perhaps fancy a glass as a treat one day in the future. Those with gastric issues may consider cutting out alcohol and seeing how it makes them feel. I’ve always found that I notice sensitivities a lot more after cutting out and reintroducing…so those always make for interesting food diary entries!

I’d like to thank the awesome Colin Gorrie of Not That Kind of Dr for the wonderful research. If you haven’t checked out his blog, please make sure you do. He covers the science behind health in more detail and is an invaluable resource for those of us trying to dig deeper into how our bodies work…especially when dealing with chronic illness.

We’d both love to hear if there are any foods that you’d be interested in being featured in this series. Do leave a comment below and we’ll see what we can dig up for you!

Zoodles in a Nut-Free Mint Pesto

Zoodles are quite heavenly. As much as I adore pasta, I know that I shouldn’t be eating as often as I do because my body doesn’t love grains all that much. Pasta is usually my ‘lazy meal’, but actually, noodles are so much quicker. Seriously, although they’re definitely not the pasta you grew up with, they’re a fantastic way of bulking up a simple dish with plant goodness. For example, they’re an excellent source of potassium, full of fiber, antioxidants, as well as a whole range of vital vitamins and minerals.

This entire recipe takes about three minutes total to put together and is one of my ‘detox’ staples. For this recipe, you will need a spiralizer (they’re about £30 on Amazon) to create your noodles. However, if you don’t have one, you can enjoy the pesto with pasta or create your own zoodles using a julienne peeler, a cheese grater laying flat on its side and grating lengthwise or cut them very thinly into ‘tagliatelle’

Simple+Pesto+with+Zoodles+or+Noodles+

Want pasta? Go for it, yo!

Ingredients:

  • 1 large courgette
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas
  • 1/2 large avocado
  • 1 very large handful fresh mint leaves
  • Juice of about 1/4 lemon (or to taste)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Large handful of watercress

Method:

  • Blanch frozen peas for about 1 minute and strain
  • Add peas, avocado, mint, lemon juice, salt and pepper to a food processor and buzz until a pesto forms. I like to do seasoning to taste, so I often just throw in the avo, peas, and herbs and then add the salt/pepper and lemon juice as I go along so I can get as much as I fancy!
  • Create your zoodles and stir in the pesto. It’s often easier to do it in a separate bowl because it can get a bit messy. Plate up, and top with watercress or your favorite greens.

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