primal

Whole 30 – the end

I’m sure you’ve all been wondering how I got on with my first attempt at Whole 30. No? Well I’m going to tell you anyway. I’ll be honest, I did very, very well for three weeks, and then I hit my third weekend and cracked. I had a glass of red wine. So, I guess that counts as a failed Whole 30 but a reasonable Whole 21.

In any case, I don’t feel too bad about it. The thing is, once I cracked the door open with the wine I never really got it shut again. So the wine led to the odd dark chocolate that I got with my Butlers coffee. And then I might have thrown some honey onto my coconut pancakes (although I did leave the honey out of the recipe, it still works). But in general I’ve still been eating really well and I’m very happy I did it.

Here’s what I learnt:
– If you’re trying to control your sugar cravings then you’ve got to go easy on the fruit. Better yet, avoid it altogether because, for me anyway, it tends to set me off on a sugar spiral where I just want more sweet things. That said, sometimes a bowl of berries as dessert does the job and you feel like you’ve had a treat. Just don’t do what I did and put balsamic vinegar on them. Yeugh.

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Oh sure, it looks pretty…

– To eat really well (and be paleo compatible) it’s almost impossible to eat out at restaurants. This is great for saving money but sometimes it’s unavoidable and you’re never sure what’s hidden in things. As a rule you might as well suspect that sugar and flour are in everything, because they tend to be. But it can make you feel like a bit of a killjoy, always ordering the salad or the omelette. Anyway, life goes on. What I did for the last few weeks was meet people at non-meal times and just ordered black coffees.

– I’m totally over dairy. In the last few days I’ve started including a bit of grated cheese in my omelette again and the odd splash of double cream in my coffee, but frankly I could take it or leave it. I still make huge batches of ghee once a month, not because it’s technically non-dairy, but because it’s a great fat to cook with. It has a high smoking point and it goes well with everything. Some things just don’t go well with coconut oil, plus it’s expensive, so it’s nice to have an alternative.

– I’m pretty impressed with myself that I didn’t drink for three weeks, and it’s no particular surprise that it’s the wine that got me in the end. I’m no heavy drinker by any standards, but when it gets to Friday night and I’ve made an awesome dinner like burgers in portobello mushroom “buns”, it just feels more festive to wash it down with some wine. I’m going on holiday next week and can only imagine the damage I’m going to inflict on my liver, so I’m feeling rather virtuous that I gave it a break for the guts of a month.

So that’s it. I reckon I’ll probably attempt Whole 30 again at some stage. While I was doing it I felt very smug indeed, and isn’t that what life’s about? No? Anyway. Next time I’ll try and steer clear of the wine. It’s all my husband’s fault for buying it anyway. Let’s blame him.

Stuff I eat – in pictures

Ever wondered what us paleo cave-lurkers actually eat on a daily basis? Fear not, I have it in picture form, so, you know, not too much reading. You’re welcome.

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Lunch: Chicken salad with broccoli and Newman’s Own Italian dressing. I used to banjax myself trying (and failing) to make decent dressings but I just don’t seem to possess the skill, so why make when you can buy? This one has no hidden nasties and you know, charity and stuff.

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Lunch: Panfried salmon with zoodles, red pepper, chilli and garlic. Zoodles are awesome. If you’re Irish and balk at Americanisms, then please, feel free to call them coodles (courgette noodles). But whatever. They’re basically just grated courgettes that are stir fried for a minute or two. They’re super quick, delicious, and my toddler can’t tell the difference between them and the ones made from wheat. Then again, she’s only two. Here’s a recipe from one of my favourite paleo food sites.

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Lunch: Chicken soup made from bone broth. I added leftover roast chicken, red pepper, carrots, celery, onion and a sprinkling of chilli flakes. Yum.

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Dinner: Stuffed aubergine with pork mince, garlic, chilli, tomato and spices, served with rocket salad. I made this up as I went along and it was astoundingly tasty. If only I’d written down the recipe. Ho hum.

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Dinner: Homemade bolognese on cabbage “pasta”, which is thinly sliced white cabbage, boiled for about 5 minutes and then seasoned. It’s great for bulking out saucy (oooh, saucy) dishes without adding any weird flavours. I first came across it on this site

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Dinner: Slow cooked beef rogan josh served with pak choi and cauliflower rice. Cauliflower rice is so easy to make – just finely grate some cauliflower, fry it in ghee for a few minutes and then add seasoning. Simples. 

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Dinner: Thai green chicken curry with red pepper, green beans and cabbage pasta.

So there you have it. If you think you might require a near-ish daily visual of the food going into my belly, be sure to follow me on Instagram. It’s food for the eyes and eyes for the food. Wow, that was almost profound without being remotely profound. If only it was profane.

Paleo Chocolate Cake

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My husband has a thing about chocolate desserts. He considers anything that’s not chocolate strange and unnecessary. So when he turned 33 during the week I knew I had to make him a cake. A chocolate cake. And because we’re deep in paleo mode at the moment, well, you get the idea.

The only other paleo dessert I’ve ever dabbled in is chocolate brownies. They’re good, but they use up an entire jar of almond butter which, at almost €4 a jar, is pretty expensive. Plus, you know, it’s not cake. So, being the dutiful wife that I am, I searched the interweb and found this recipe and decided to give it a shot. I had to source a few weird ingredients (coconut palm sugar, I’m looking at you), but I eventually managed to scrounge everything together from a few different health food shops.

It took three hours of hardcore baking, but I’ve got to tell you, it was completely worth it. This is a rich, chocolatey, decadent cake. It is moist and delicious and I can honestly say that it’s one of the best chocolate cakes I’ve ever eaten. And I’m not just saying that because it’s relatively healthy. Yes, it’s gluten free, dairy free and uses naturally-derived sugars, but it is goddamn tasty and I’d definitely recommend giving it a go. So do it and eat it and delight in your own amazingness. You’ll find the recipe here.

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Getting off the White Stuff

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I gave up dairy two weeks ago. That may not sound like a big deal to you, but I’ve been a total dairy fiend my entire life. I used to like my cappuccinos large and frothy and my yoghurt in epic proportions. Now the thought of it makes me feel sick – isn’t it funny how things change?

Since I began eating primally a year ago, I’ve managed to whittle my love affair with the white stuff down to the high-fat essentials – cheese, greek yoghurt and double cream. The thing is, I’ve always had a sneaky suspicion that I’m intolerant to dairy, so I finally decided to give it up and see what happens when I re-introduce it in a month’s time.

So two weeks ago, I stopped cold turkey, and then WHAM, I got major withdrawal symptoms. Seriously! Nobody talks about this. I thought I was coming down with the flu. I felt like absolute shit for eight long days. I suffered from fatigue, headaches, brain fog, blocked sinuses, ear pain, a sore throat, not to mention the frequent and rather bizarre toilet trips. Mucous was coming out EVERYWHERE, and I mean that. I thought I was going mad until I googled it and found a few sites that described similar reactions. I can’t believe how extreme it’s been. I wonder if that’s a sign that I am actually intolerant, or am I just being a pathetic whining baby who wants her bottle back? I guess we’ll find out in a month.

So in the last few days the symptoms have finally cleared up, and to be honest, I was expecting to feel bloody amazing. I’m not. I mean, I feel fine. Normal. I haven’t had any mad cravings for it (which others have described), and likewise, I haven’t noticed any particular benefits. I have dropped a few pounds, but I’d attribute that to eating clean rather than the lack of dairy. Maybe I need to be off it longer to get the full effect? Either way, I’m happy enough to keep going as I’ve found it relatively easy to live without. The only thing I really miss is a splash of cream in my morning coffee, but that’s about it. I don’t need cheese in my omelette and I certainly don’t need to eat half a carton of Greek yoghurt in one sitting and then wonder why my stomach bloats and I feel like shit all day.

So that’s it for now, I’ll keep you updated. If you’ve had similar reactions please tell me because I’d love to know that I’m not a total freak.

My dieting history

Like most women, I’ve spent a huge proportion of my adult life obsessing over my weight. I have been at war with the same 10-15 lbs (which sit on my thighs and arse) for at least ten years. I guess that’s the sad reality of being a woman these days.

I’ve read a tonne of diet books. I used to buy them, devour them, then conclude that they were flawed in some way (which they generally were), and put them in my secret cupboard with the other tomes of disappointment. Eventually my frenzied reading led me to paleo and, for the first time in my life, I changed my focus to health instead of weight. Sound the bells of triumph! But we’ll get to that in a bit. First I want to tell you about a few moments in my dieting history.

No diet
In university I drank beer, ate toast for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, and pasta (the only thing I could “cook”) for dinner. In the evenings I would binge on wham bars and chocolate. I didn’t do vegetables, except for stir-in tomato pasta sauce. At the time I was fairly active at the gym, plus I was in my early 20s, so my body forgave me and I was able to keep my (above normal) weight reasonably stable. I wasn’t massive, but I was definitely carrying more than I should on my small frame, plus my cravings for chocolate donuts were legendary. The first thing I did when I finished college was give up beer and without changing anything else I dropped half a stone.

Dukan
My first “proper” diet was The Dukan Diet. The book was getting attention in the media and I decided to give it a go. I committed 100% to it and got down to the lowest I’ve ever weighed as an adult. Even less than when I got married. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s basically low carb AND low fat (read pure torture), and you’re allowed as much aspartame (sweet, sweet cancerous chemicals) as you like. The food was relentlessly monotonous and the protein-only days made me damn near suicidal. It was impossible to eat out or leave the house for any amount of time unless I brought a packet of ham with me. Somehow, I managed to stick to it for about a month, but it came to a head when I was away with some friends and someone offered me a sausage. That was it. That was literally all it took. A sausage. Cue binge eating for weeks to regain the weight I’d so painstakingly lost. Oh, and then I got pregnant.

Unislim
After my daughter was born I decided to join Unislim online to lose the excess baby weight. I’d enjoyed eating for two and I was carrying at least 30 lbs more than I should have. I was a new mother and wanted to take the “sensible” route, so I followed this typical low fat, calorie-controlled diet. The food was fine but the portions were small. I thought about eating constantly, and the “treats” (like having one Jaffa cake – WHO EATS ONE JAFFA CAKE?!) drove me berserk and, in the end, whilst I got the weight off by eating substantially less, it didn’t really teach me anything or improve my relationship with food.

Atkins
Over the years I’ve had a few goes at Atkins, with varying degrees of success. At the beginning I made the mistake of not counting carbs accurately and overeating dairy. I also fell into the trap of buying their own-brand chocolate bars which always stalled me. No wonder – have you looked at the chemicals ingredients in those things? Anyway, I found that I was able to get my weight down quickly by following the “induction” allowance for carbs (two small green salads a day – the rest was meat and high fat dairy). So if I needed to fit into a dress I would follow this incredibly low-carb regime (usually scrimping on the vegetables) and I would drop about 10lbs in two weeks. But when you do something so extreme there’s always a fall back and when you suddenly consume more carbs you just bloat.

I did try to stick to the low-carb principles in general, but I really missed fruit. I also became obsessed with the net carb values in everything. When you’re agonising over whether you’re “allowed” to add an extra clove of garlic (1 gram net carbs) to your stir fry, something’s not right. Plus, whenever I didn’t have an impending event to diet for, I’d eat low carb all day and then splurge on biscuits and chocolate in the evening. I was stuck in a vicious cycle of being on or off the diet and would frequently overeat on a Sunday because I was going to get strict on a Monday. It was a crap way to live. But then along came paleo.

Primal/Paleo
One evening, about a year ago, I was looking at my account on Amazon and scrolling through its recommendations for me. They were all diet books, go figure. I came across Mark Sisson’s The Primal Blueprint, and read through hundreds of positive reviews. I was cynical as always, but nonetheless I couldn’t resist it. When it arrived a few days later I read it in one sitting. It made so much sense. It changed everything. I started following Mark’s Daily Apple and giving out to my parents for eating low fat butter. I managed to deal with my dirty Splenda habit and found a love of cooking I never thought I’d possess. I stopped seeing fruit as evil and mushrooms as excessive. I now have a staple set of paleo meals that taste better than anything I used to cook, and my husband recently said that my portobello mushroom burger “buns” are better than bread. Insert stunned silence here.

I genuinely believe that I’ve found a way to eat for the rest of my life. Yes, there are wobbles and spectacular fall-outs (a week in Berlin drinking beer and eating kebabs, ahem), but I find myself coming back to it every time I fall off the wagon. Which means I’m not on a wagon at all. This is just the way I eat. It’s my new normal.