Wednesday, October 13
Keep on Running
Sorry, folks. I’ve been awol again. Much has been happening in Truffle Land, and I don’t know where the last two weeks have gone! The above photograph is just to say: how fat is this asparagus?!
Our younger sister (for today, I’ll call her Rice Krispie) ran her first ever half-marathon over the weekend. The Royal Parks Half-Marathon took runners from the south side of Hyde Park, through Green Park, along the Thames, and finally back to Hyde Park to loop it a few times. Meanwhile, supporters like us were ourselves racing through the park to see our runners at pre-arranged mile markers, or hanging out in the festival area. Someone had said something about there being a climbing wall, but all we could see was one food stand after another. One of our friends pointed out that all the organic food shops were empty, while the sausage and bacon butty stands had at least 30 people queuing outside each one. I shook my head sadly as I bit into my deep-fried churros sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon.
But seriously, the topic of fitness and healthy eating is one that’s close to my heart. After I quit the unhealthy lifestyle of corporate law last year, I started taking fitness pretty seriously. I set aside more time to work out, but I also started reversing the damage done on the nutrition front. I’m sure many of you are familiar with what most people eat in the corporate world: basically, whatever’s available when you’ve been released from your desk to feed! Now, London is many things, but I wouldn’t describe it as the health food capital of the world. (Remember that queue for sausages and bacon I was telling you about?) So, when you’re hungry and you can’t face yet another refrigerated sandwich or limp salad, most of the options you’re left with consist of fried saturated fats and a carb fest (with vegetables, if any, drowned in a roasting tin). By the end of my time as a lawyer, my suits were getting so tight I was finding it hard to breathe! (To be fair, my suits weren’t the only reason I was feeling suffocated…)
In the process of my search for health and fitness, I came across an excellent book that I’d like to share with you. The great thing about this book is that it’s not pushing another one of those faddy diets (which I’ve never trusted). It’s written by a couple of doctors, and it tells you straight up how your body works on the food, metabolism and weight management fronts. The key premise is that your body is your ally, and (if treated right) it will naturally head towards its healthiest playing weight and shape. If, however, you get in its way by putting a lot of artificial, processed and unhealthy foods into your system, you upset its chemical/hormonal balance and unhappiness ensues.
The first part of the book takes you through a body 101: e.g., how the liver processes fats, which hormones tell your brain that you’re full, which ones tell you to keep eating, what chemicals trigger these hormones, why certain foods (e.g., refined carbs and high-fructose corn syrup) are so bad for you (and, crucially, how eating some of it makes your body crave more). It was only after reading this book that I realised how dependent on our chemicals we are. (It makes sense, really, given that we’re biological organisms. So often, I forget that and think of myself as some kind of walking cardboard box inhabited by a mind.) Two really interesting things I learned from the book: (1) it’s not completely accurate to think of healthy eating as being just about willpower. What you want to eat is determined by the cocktail of chemicals and hormones in your body (which is, in turn, determined by what you put into it). If we’ve been off-track for a long time, then pitting your willpower against your body’s impulses (i.e., millions of years of evolution) is like holding your breath under water – you can do it for a while, but at some point you need air. (2) Eating healthy fats is actually an important part of weight loss and maintenance, because the presence of fats in the intestine triggers the “I’m full” signal in your brain. This is why people on fat-free diets are always hungry (and at breaking point).
In the next section, the doctors give you a meal plan (with recipes) which aims to ‘reset your factory settings’, so that your body craves healthy foods and heads towards its ideal weight. Now you understand why I was craving vegetables in that London restaurant! My personal experience of this meal plan has been great. The recipes are pretty quick to make and they taste really good. After about a month, I felt the plan needed some supplementing, because I’m a pretty active person and I wasn’t getting enough energy. But I kept to the principles of lots of veg, wholegrains and sufficient Omega fats.
The book’s called You On a Diet: The Owner’s Manual for Waist Management, and it’s by Dr Mehmet Oz (of Oprah fame) and Dr Michael Roizen. Even if you're not looking to work on your physical fitness, I think the book's a good place to equip yourself with information on how your body works.
As usual, please don’t do anything without your doctor’s advice, blah, blah, blah. If in any doubt, please see my disclaimer at the end of this post.