Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Eating Well Now I Am in My 40s #OneYou

I was a healthy ladies size 12 from a young age, since my early teens. I don't have a size 6 or 8 or even a 10 frame (it worries me that some young people chase those dress sizes regardless of their frame). Even at my absolute slimmest I am a 12. But ironically even when large - my largest being an 18 - I have very slim wrists, feet and ankles, so I think even though I have spent nearly a decade as a size 16/18, the extra weight isn't what my frame is designed to carry. I think it's just diet and lifestyle choices rather than anything hereditary that see me this size. Eating well is therefore a priority for me, not only for health, for disease prevention* but also for energy levels. Even more so now that I am 43 years of age. I need to be able to run around and keep up with two young children and be around to see my Grandchildren.
*Becoming overweight or obese increases your risk of getting type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. Read more at

When I was about 15 I went through a phase where I put on about half a stone and everything felt tight. I actually went out and bought a Rosemary Conley book and video and learned all about fats, daily allowances and recommended daily intakes. Our house consumed full fat milk back then until I educated them and it's been semi skimmed ever since. I didn't eat a Pot Noodle for about a decade after that as they blew my daily fat allowance straight out of the water in one meal, if you can call it that. That was the decade when fats were demonised. A month of corrective healthy eating and the adoption of some lifetime good habits and that was me sorted. Except I remember within a couple of months of starting University and the lifetsyle that went along with it from fresher week onwards, I went from 32 inch jeans to 34. But I quickly made a few changes to get myself in check and then I retained my usual size for my remaining years in Canterbury. In fact it was at Uni that I learned how to cook as my Mum had done all of the cooking at home. 

Roll on adult life and alcohol laden nights out after work along with long hours/junk food sometimes saw me putting on weight. My first graduate job was so physically demanding and intense (DIY Manager) that despite the long hours and far from ideal diet, the activity of working hard on my feet all day kept my weight in check - not at its lowest but healthy enough. We had great morale and often whistled while we worked, literally. My diet wasn't so bad as I did quite often cook from scratch back then. 

My second graduate job was physically demanding at first, until I decided to go down the Office Manager route, which saw my butt get bigger as my mobility reduced. What then kept me in check was taking up yoga in 2001 as it included a whole lifestyle approach to health and saw me eating better. Yoga saw me healthy from 2001 to 2006, at which point I started a great new job at a size 12. This was my 4th by now, having worked my 3rd retail management job from 2002 to 2006 (which resulted in my getting into HR).

Although... I was actually already slim and healthy in 2001 before I embarked on yoga as I had that year been diagnosed with candida (a parasitic fungus in the digestive system that can feed off sugar and yeast) and had given up all processed sugars as a result. I actually fully gave up alcohol too for 8 months (due to its sugar content), only reintroducing it just before my hen night. Between February 2001 and June 2001 I lost 3.5 stone (which had mainly been in my tummy area - the worst place to carry weight) purely as a result of eliminating processed foods, eating healthily (cooked from scratch meals) and swapping sugary fizzy drinks/sugary coffees for water. The increased water intake, reduced sugar intake and healthy food saw my PCOS, IBS and candida all simultaneously disappear. Whenever I felt like snacking on crisps I had healthy nuts instead and chocolate, cakes and biscuits were a thing of the past.

My dietary changes were fuelled and implemented by the desire to be pain free (I used to be doubled over with the IBS and sugar used to give me back pain too) and the weight loss was merely a side effect, but given that I got married October 2001 it was a necessary and very welcomed side effect. The weight loss and the resulting increase in energy meant I was absolutely glowing the day I got married. A fog lifts and you get a spring in your step, with the sluggishness gone when you give up processed sugars in all their forms. The year before we got married, my swollen bloated tummy actually made me look about 7 months pregnant. Thank God he was prepared to marry me anyway LOL! Well we have been together since 1988 after all :-)

The office I was working in prior to my candida diagnosis literally had a sweetie box, so when we were working long hours or late to go on lunch we'd raid the box and dine on boiled sweets. Not something I'd ever eat now. Just by chance I noticed that days when I maxed out on sweets then my IBS symptoms were worse, so I decided to quit the (processed) sugar.

The thing about sugar is not only does it provide empty calories that provide no nutritional value, but also the fact that it acts as a stimulant means it messes with your natural sleep cycle, which creates tiredness which again sees you reaching for the sugar, so reducing it really does help take you off this sugar fueled merry-go-round. That's even before you start thinking about organs like the pancreas etc... I've written about my feelings on sugar in the past. With diabetes on the increase monitoring sugar intake can only be a good thing. 
Unfortunately by the time 2009 came I was a size 16 once again because although I was teaching yoga, it was only once a week and I was working very long hours by then which always saw me grabbing an unhealthy takeaway on the way home. I used to have really healthy lunches, but too many lattes and dinners late at night were my downfall, as well as being inactive at a desk all day, or on the train there or back. Writing this post I am seeing a yo yo pattern to my weight history, which is a shame as I actually adore healthy food. I could quite happily watch a film chomping on celery, cucumber and carrot sticks. I think my problem is being too much of a workaholic and not planning my food. A lack of self discipline and organisation was definitely part of the problem, along with a tendency to always put the needs of others before mine.

I was burning the candle at both ends literally and reaching for convenience food all of the time. January 2009 I told myself I would not get pregnant till I lost the weight, but September rolled around (forgive the pun) and there I was pregnant; me and my size 16 self.

But the single most successful thing in getting me to eat really healthily has been being pregnant. There's something about creating and sustaining a new life that focuses the mind. My first trimester I had a large fruit salad for breakfast every morning. With my most recent pregnancy in 2015 I craved salad in the first trimester.

So it is no surprise I got healthier and healthier whilst being pregnant with Aaron. So much so, I was able to teach yoga every Friday till 38 weeks' pregnant, even sitting cross legged on the floor and being able to get up without holding onto anything. I was healthy and very flexible/mobile, although carrying a few extra pounds. 
6 months after he was born, the Xmas binge and his weaning onto solids (and the resulting reduced breastfeeding) collided, which saw me piling on weight for the beginning of 2011. Here he is walking yet I look like I have *just* had a baby!!! You'd think the picture here, with the maxi dress was a different person to the one "baby-wearing" above but that's the same baby; the same Mum. I blogged about my "Mum Tum" back then. It was a similar physique to the one I'd had a year before getting married.

Fast forward to our efforts to have a second baby and THIS time I DID try and lose some weight before getting pregnant and I proudly recorded this video when something FITS. Ironically that was recorded the same month we got pregnant.

Again, as with Aaron, this pregnancy with Lottie saw me adopting "eating well" habits, but this time they are here to stay. After all I have adopted these habits since February 2015, whilst I was seriously thinking about trying to conceive, and good habits are easier to sustain once you've been at them quite some time.

My current good habits are that I eat a balanced and varied diet. I eat when I am hungry and stop when I am full. That means I give myself the right portion size when serving food and even then if it is too much I'll ask Daddy to finish it. Gone are the days of me doing crash diets/fasts as it is not practical with a five year old so I have to eat what he does and vice versa, which means I'll have carbs if he is and he'll have cucumber and broccoli if I am. So if I want him to eat fish twice a week, I'll perhaps have salmon with a hot meal and tuna with mayo and sweetcorn in a cold meal. My good habits rub off on him and my ensuring he has a varied and balance diet makes sure I do too. 
A speedy healthy lunch on a school day.

My current motivation for eating healthily is breastfeeding and I am doing everything in my power to ensure that my diet is good. It's demanding though, as sometimes caring for her means it'll be later than I like when I start dinner. So I am now often online less as there is a certain window after school in which she is in a good enough mood for me to cook. Social media nowadays is often limited to me scrolling through my phone with one hand, eating with the other, all whilst Lottie is on the breast.

A great routine to have I've found, is for her to breastfeed when I eat, so I'll breastfeed her as I eat breakfast, lunch and dinner. She'll often feed outside of these times as well, especially when cluster feeding in the evening, but at least structuring her feeds around mine means we are in synch and it means I minimise the amount of time that I am stationary on the sofa. Stationary means lethargy so I grab every moment I can when there's scope for me to be mobile. I cluster feed her during the evening soaps (mine are Coronation Street and Eastenders) so again, I would have been sat there anyway.

Breastfeeding means I ensure I am never hungry/thirsty and I have to drink LOTS of water, including taking a bottle with me to bed to drink each time I wake for her feeds. These are good habits I didn't adopt with Aaron so no wonder I had low milk supply. My routine normally involves having breakfast before the school run and then porridge immediately after the school run (with really nutritious fruit and seeds on top). Then I'll have lunch by midday and a snack with Aaron after school. We then have dinner anytime between 6 and 8 p.m. Eating with him does wonders for me as it means I am no longer eating dinner at 10 p.m. at night which would have been a frequent affair pre-kids. I do find eating five a day can be a challenge, but my approach is to spread them throughout the day. So for example take Aaron. He'll have a piece of fruit as a snack at school. He'll have one after school. He has 1-2 vegetables with his school dinner (never ever packed lunch) and then he'll have approximately 3 vegetables with his dinner, so that's him covered. If you have a fussy eater who doesn't like to see vegetables on the side, I find a great way to include veg is to hide them in a stew. This can be blatant, like this:

However if they don't even want to see the veg at all, spaghetti bolognese can have chunky courgettes, onions, mushrooms and bell peppers in that you hide by blending them all once cooked. Aaron would be picking all of those out (especially the onions), so I simply put the bolognese in my Vitamix once cooked and then it comes out a smooth consistency. I don't blend it for long as I like to ensure that the chunkiness of the mince is still visible, but this technique works for me as I don't have the patience to cut the onions small enough to make them disappear. I initially got this idea, years ago, from Multiple Mummy - Kerry. However upon Googling it just now I have found the same idea on BBC, so it must be just the thing to hide veg and then blend it, in spag bol.

Luckily he does eat his veg, so we can have traditional meals too:
One great thing about Aaron's childhood is we have never fallen into a habit of saying "eat all of your dinner and you can have pudding". At a guess I'd say we actually only have pudding perhaps once or twice a week. So my job is rather to ensure that he is hungry at meal times so this is where I have to be clever with his snacks, the timing of meals and his levels of activity. Also, when he doesn't finish his dinner I don't throw it away. I either cover it or put it in the fridge as the next time he is hungry - literally 45 minutes later usually - he is offered his dinner again and normally finishes it. 
I'm proud to see that our plates above do not look too dissimilar to the Eating Well plate guide from Public Health England:

The Eatwell Guide from Public Health England shows the proportions in which different types of foods are needed to have a well-balanced and healthy diet. Eating well and having a healthy lifestyle can help us to feel our best and make a big difference to long-term health. Because Aaron's always had a healthy relationship with food, when he is hungry, if you try to give him sweets or an unhealthy snack, he'll say "no I want something proper" as he can feel when something fills him, or whether alternatively it just gives him a false sugar high that doesn't last long.  He doesn't really like sweets, but does have a weakness for chocolate, biscuits and cake, so I just keep these as treats. A couple of weeks ago he had far too much chocolate and got sinusitus soon after as I believe there is a link between an increase in sugar intake and a lowered immune system, so we're back to monioring his sugar intake again after that blip. The same thing happened about a year ago, so that tells me what I need to know.

Below is a typical meal for us, so we're not always good at ensuring we have vegetables on the side (unless it is a roast dinner), but having worked with Public Health England I now know that a moderate amount of carbohydrates, especially the wholewheat variety are necessary. The fact that it's combined with lean white meat is healthy and although there looks like there is no veg on the side there are some blended in the sauce AND tinned tomatoes themselves count towards your five-a-day!!!
One piece of advice that struck me in The Eatwell Guide was the tip to eat potato skins. Quite often I am in such a rush to make dinner that my potatoes of choice are new/Charlotte potatoes, which I cook (steam) in their skins. Even Aaron doesn't mind eating them like that. I cut them in half so that they cook quickly and it's a real speedy solution for the starch base for your meal. Healthier than chips and just as fast to cook.

I’m supporting One You*, Public Health England's new health campaign which provides free and personalised support, advice and tools to help adults make small changes to improve their health now and in the future. Take the online ‘How Are You’ quiz!. One You is here to help you get back to a healthier you. Get free advice and support to improve your health by taking the How Are You online health quiz. I completed the quiz and got a score of 7. I was green for smoking and alcohol as they are both not part of my life but I received tips for eating and moving:

You've told us a bit about your eating habits, some good, some bad! An easy way to make a difference is to swap your favourite meals for healthier versions.
You should be doing at least 30 minutes' moderate activity, 5-days-a-week and two 30-minute strengthening sessions. You're doing okay, but you're not hitting both targets.

To get the information regarding swapping your favourite meals for healthier versions, Public Health England provides a free One You Easy Meals "app" with lots of tips and tricks for healthy eating. For moving, there is a free Couch to 5k app.

I love One You's easy to understand 8 tips for eating well

  1. Base your meals on starchy foods
  2. Eat lots of fruit and veg
  3. Eat more fish – including a portion of oily fish each week
  4. Cut down on saturated fat and sugar
  5. Eat less salt – no more than 6g a day for adults
  6. Get active and be a healthy weight
  7. Don’t get thirsty
  8. Don’t skip breakfast
The advice above (on the traffic lights) that I got as a result of completing the quiz is fine for me, as I walk to school 15 minutes which is a mile and a half. I do that there and back twice a day which means I walk for an hour a day which is 6 miles a day. That's 30 miles a week and doesn't include my walks to the shop and the longer walk we have for football club. Granted, sometimes Daddy's shifts mean we sometimes get a lift but I definitely walk those lengths 80% of the time. I'd say it is the strengthening exercise that I now need to adopt and I will certainly consider this. Especially at my age of 43 as the elasticity in my skin isn't what it was and my muscles haven't looked firm in years although this recent pregnancy has done wonders for my arms and legs.

I know my walking, eating well and breastfeeding is all combining for a healthier me. The signs are there. I'm now a size 16 as opposed to my pre-pregnancy size 18 AND I actually this month fitted into boots that I have had for over 5 years that have never ever fitted me on the calves. I can definitely say that small changes are very sustainable and I am enjoying including more vegetables in my diet. Plus, eating well ensured I had a healthy pregnancy. Something, aged 43, I don't take for granted.

* One You is a ground-breaking new campaign from PHE which was launched on 7 March to help the nation’s adults, especially those between the ages of 40-60 years old, reduce their risk of getting diseases caused by modern day lifestyles in the future. Everyday habits and behaviours - such as having too many foods and drinks high in saturated fat, salt and sugar, drinking more alcohol than is recommended, continuing to smoke and not being active enough – are responsible for around 40% of all deaths in England, and cost the NHS more than £11 billion a year.

One You aims to encourage adults, particular those in middle age, to take control of their health to enjoy significant benefits now, and in later life. One You will invite adults to take ‘How Are You’, an online health quiz that assesses people’s current behaviours and shows them which areas they should look to change. ‘How Are You’ will ask people how they are feeling and get them to think about their levels of activity, their diet, alcohol intake and whether they smoke. It will then direct people to free online tools designed to help them make changes in the areas where they most need to take action.


  1. It's interesting to read your journey and see the pattern that you refer to a yo-yoing. I think we all do a bit of this to some degree, as leaving home for uni and learning to be self sufficient often has an impact, but I also found that I eat better as a result of my children now - to set a positive example and keep them from having any issues around food. Great tips on eating well there - I also think drinking water as you say is key too!

  2. I got an 8, just short on the eating side, which isn't a surprise as my IBS annoyingly is affected by wheat, meat, and raw veggies so I often struggle to get protein and carbs, as well as healthy snacks (I'd love your cucumber and carrot sticks whilst watching a film but my stomach would hate it... I used to love salads and really miss them!) I'm making a real effort not to skip meals or go for the easy processed option when I'm run down or feeling sick and like I don't want to eat because I've started to learn that not eating or choosing porridge or toast as my main meal does not give me anywhere near the energy I need! How much dietary advice has come on over the years... I've always been slim (even underweight as a preteen, I had a negative relationship with food, a fear of it making me sick and such an uncomfortable feeling when full which I am only just starting to realise is probably related to my Hypermobility!) and the asthma nurse who first picked up on my weight issues in the 90s told me to eat chocolate to try and gain weight!! Saying that, a student midwife told me to try hot chocolate when at my 20 week scan I expressed concern that I weighed less than my prepregnancy weight due to the Hyperemesis and that was in 2011!!

    I must admit that whilst I know some things make me feel ill (like chocolate) I still can't stop myself eating them (never much but even a little affects my system!) I do need to start listening to my gut! I love the fact that Aaron asks for "proper food" rather than sugary snacks, what a great start in life! O would happily eat all the sweets if he could!! We have difficulty getting him to eat cooked veggies but give him them raw and he'll eat the lot (in fact his favourite lunch is a rainbow lunch - red tomatoes, orange carrot, yellow cheese, green cucumber, blue plate, and purple grapes!)

    I love the fact you have gone back through your history to see how your relationship with food at each stage has been deeply affected by your circumstances and also how your overall wellbeing has been changed by your eating habits - what a great guide to what has and hasn't worked for you! Thanks for sharing xx

  3. Good luck with our healthy eating. It looks like you've got it licked ( pun intended :~) ). I had to laugh about the boots - I have stuff like that just waiting for their day. I'm juicing atm. Half heartedly but Im getting more and more into it. I look forward to more updates from you on your progress. xxx

  4. Getting portion sizes right is my biggest downfall. I've spent all my life piling my plate as high it will go and being able to eat more than the average person without feeling full that it's hard to serve myself smaller portions.
    To combat this I've bought a much smaller plate that I still pile high but I'm only getting half the portion that I normally would :)

  5. Some great tips there I agree as you hit your 40s your metabolism grinds to a halt and I know I have piled on the pounds. Healthy eating is the way forwards though I still think you can have the odd treat! You look gorgeous btw! x

  6. I feel I have encouraged better eating for my son than I always manage myself (although I am fairly good). My son eats fruit for breakfast and for a evening snack. He'll have 2 portions of fruit and veg with his packed lunch (hopefully similar on the 2 days he has school dinners). Then I try to provide another couple of portions in an evening meal.

  7. Some fab tips and information here. I am 43 next week and while I make sure my kids eat healthily, I am rubbish at applying the same to my own diet, and am too quick to reach for a sugar boost from the biscuit tin when I am feeling a bit tired (as in all the time!) Like you though, the school run at least means I m getting plenty of fresh air and exercise, I average 18,000 steps a day between school runs, work and everything else in between!

  8. Some great information here. I have put on some weight recently and know I am unhealthy. Need to watch what I eat and stop snacking

  9. Due to the medication I take I am at the heaviest I have ever been even though we at really well. All from scratch, no processed at all and lots of fruit, veg, seeds and nuts.


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