Prepare yourself for a long post. Why? It’s about my dieting experience, the latest scientific research about fasting and a quick recipe for a traditional lentil soup, I can’t help it.
Thankfully, I’ve never been overweight, don’t have any food allergies or intolerances and never restricted myself from anything in particular. I’ve even been tested for caeliac disease due to my ongoing struggle with anaemia, tiredness and sometimes bloatedness. As you age, weight slowly and devilishly starts creeping up, then you realise you are no longer the teenager who ate whatever they wanted. In the quest to shed a few kilos I have put my body through the following:
- The Atkins diet which I tried about 10 years ago. I was bloated not to mention the offending halitosis, due to excess ketone production! After 3 weeks of losing 5 kilos (about 10 pounds), I attacked bread like a vicious animal, so I guess that was the end of it.
- I went on Scottish Slimmers (similar to Weight Watchers) after the birth of my second child, and surprisingly managed to stay on it for six months. It’s based on counting calories. I discovered I don’t like restricting myself with calories.
- Then I tried Herbalife, which is based on a protein shake replacing two meals a day. I had never experienced such extreme stomach pains, despite taking fibre tablets.
- Lastly, I tried The Thirty Day Method, created by Tracy Anderson. I did it to the letter (alongside the exercises) and never looked better physically. However the major drawbacks was severe starvation and ‘carbohydrate malnutrition’. I almost collapsed one day, and a piece of bread seemed to perk me up again. The diet wasn’t sustainable, however I still try to fit her exercises to my busy life-style as much as I can. They are brilliant.
Why did I try these diets?
Well, because like many people, I am impatient and want quick results; never once stopping and reflecting about the bigger picture. The bigger picture that is myself, my body, and me being the only person who knows it so well. Quick fixes don’t work for me. I need to be much more patient, take things slowly and really listen to what my body is telling me. As a female, I am aware my body goes through many hormonal changes and this has huge effects on my mood, food and what I crave. One often hears of many women experiencing sweet cravings before their menstrual cycle, similar to the sweet craving that is often associated after a heavy meal. After a meal, the blood supply is mainly concentrated on digestion and similarly the heavy circulation demands associated with the monthly hormonal changes may have similar effects.
There may be days that I have a very full appetite, and some days hardly any. I’ve learnt not to eat much on the days when I don’t feel like it, and on the hungry days, I increase my consumption of vegetables, alongside the main meal.
I like my carbohydrate intake and I’ll put up a fight if someone told me I won’t be allowed croissants, baguette, ice-creams and cakes ever again. The difference now is that I really do enjoy them to the full when eaten as a treat, and for the first time in my life I actually don’t crave them as much. I’ve been through many ‘diet’ style substitutions, which frankly taste horrible. I’d rather have a proper slice of chocolate fudge cake with all its frosting once every few months, than a piece of plastic made of aspartame, regularly.
I call the diet that works for me: “Listen to My Body Diet”.
I don’t know why it has taken me so long to discover the following about my digestion:
- Raw mushrooms give me the worst stomach pain I have ever experienced.
- I can’t tolerate whole grain kernels such pearl barley, wheat and spelt too well, unless turned into porridge.
- Raw apples, cucumbers, bananas, and grapes make me bloated, especially if eaten after a meal. I now eat fruit on an empty stomach well before a meal.
- I know that drinking cold milk with certain foods gives me indigestion, however not so much when drank alone.
- Eating excess sweet food particularly after a meal, makes me bloated too, so I try to either have only one spoonful to satisfy my sweet craving, or have it by itself as a meal.
- I’ve stopped eating at night, not for weight loss, but for the fact that if I did, I’d wake up with a sore stomach the next day.
- I can tolerate nuts a lot better if soaked in water overnight.
- Due to my slow and sluggish digestion, I need the natural roughage (insoluble fibre) found in wheat, kamut, spelt, rye and wholegrain rice and so on.
- I have discovered that commercial bread (including wholemeal) creates bloatedness, not because of its high gluten content, but due to the high levels of yeast added and the lack of rising and fermentation involved in making it. Real bread should be made with love and patience and not be rushed.
- Lastly, I know eating quickly does not suit me. Yes I admit I find it to be the hardest to stick to. Once someone said: ‘count to 50 with each mouthful,’ which to be honest I’d be glad If I managed 10. So as I half-way point I try 25!
Our body is a super organism that we take for granted. No one knows it better than yourself. Respect it, listen to it, treat it well and it will keep you happy.
My Fasting Experience
Different forms of fasting are practiced in many cultures and religions. It has been no stranger to me, since I have been practicing it faithfully every year in the month of Ramadan. It’s a religious tradition practiced by Muslims, abstaining from food and drink from dawn until dusk, for the duration of that month. The first few days of fasting may seem tiring, you may develop a headache and if Ramadan happens to be in the summer then I have to admit it’s extremely hard work. However, on a personal level, I find fasting tames my urge to over- binge in food, develop a strong willpower and surprisingly give me much more energy than I ever thought possible. Try exercising while fasting, you’ll be amazed.
Funnily enough many people I know actually gain weight in Ramadan, because they eat like there’s no tomorrow. WRONG! That, goes against the whole purpose of practicing your willpower and desire. You see for Arabs it’s a sign of hospitality and generosity to feed their guests endless amount of food; the more elaborate the better. Being the slight rebel that I am, I’m on a mission to slowly change that; using the ‘Health Logan’, ‘Reducing Waste’ and ‘Caring for the Less Fortunate’ as a good excuse.
Phew, rant over.
If you’re not into religion, then you might be interested in the latest scientific research about intermittent fasting done in the US. I would strongly recommend you read this or this article written by Dr Michael Mosley, which in a way summarizes his latest book (alongside Mimi Spencer), called ‘The Fast Diet‘, now one of the best-sellers in the UK. Fasting seems to reduce the 1GF-1 hormone (high 1GF-1 is linked to cancer), reduce LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol, reduce the risk of heart disease and reduce fasting glucose levels. (High fasting glucose is linked to diabetes.) The scientific findings about fasting are a fascinating read, and Dr Mosley himself mentions a 1400 year old recommendation by Prophet Mohammed about fasting twice a week, Mondays and Thursdays precisely. To be honest, I have only practised fasting in Ramadan, slightly ignoring the recommendation of fasting twice a week for the rest of the year. However, after reading this book I now have a much stronger incentive to stick to it.
If you feel fasting twice a week is extreme or a bit too much for you, you can always try once a week; or do it for shorter hours during the day.
My Golden rules are lots of water, mindful eating and chewing slowly. If I feel I’ve got extra unwanted energy, I go for a walk. If that’s not possible I play with the kids for a good half hour, and trust me that’s one of the hardest workouts you’ll ever do. You rarely see children sitting still. If I know I’m physically exhausted, I have a rest. You know what works best for you 🙂
If you ask me what’s the hardest thing that I face now, besides chewing slowly; I’d say saying ‘no’ at the right time, politely and diplomatically. That, will take time.
Lentil soup with vermicelli and lemon – Serves 6-8
Traditionally, in many Arabic countries, lentil soup is served for breaking the fast and here is my version of the famous Iraqi one.
If you are allergic to wheat or gluten, you can substitute vermicelli with rice noodles or even leave it without.
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon oil of your choice, I use ghee (coconut oil makes it taste sweet)
- 250 g, approximately 1 1/2 cups, red split lentils washed and rinsed
- 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- salt to taste
- 1-2 litres stock or water of your choice, depending on how thick or thin you like your soup
- 2 bundles of vermicelli
- Juice of 1 whole lemon, possibly more depending on size
- 1 onion, sliced and caramelized, optional
Heat the oil in a large pan, add the onions and sauté until slightly brown, about 6-8 minutes. Add the lentils, turmeric, salt and black pepper, and mix for a further 5 minutes until the lentils start changing colour to a lighter orange. Keep stirring at this stage as lentils like sticking to the pot!
Add the warm stock or water, bring to a boil, and leave to simmer gently for about 20-30 minutes until the lentils are mushy and almost liquid. You can either leave it like that, or blend it with a hand-held blender to get an extra smooth consistency. Crush the vermicelli with your hands and add to the soup. Do the crushing over the pot so you don’t get a mess.
Gently simmer for another 5-10 minutes, stirring twice or so, as the vermicelli has a tendency to stick to the bottom of the pot. Add the lemon, check the thickness of the soup, you may need to add more water. Taste to check seasoning and serve with caramelised onions, or some rice perhaps. Anything you fancy, there are no strict rules.
Note: Any leftover soup stores well in the fridge for a few days, however bear in mind it goes a lot thicker after a while. Just simply add a tiny splash of water, and adjust seasoning accordingly.