Category Archives: Nutrition opinions

Christmas, balance and health

As ever, in the run up to Christmas as a fit bod on Twitter following a range of bloggers, fitness professionals and athletes, my timeline was filled with a bit of a battle. From some bloggers and fitness professionals came the constant tweets about how to ‘eat clean’ through Christmas. How to avoid eating all the indulgent Christmas food your family offered you. Even, weirdly, how to lose weight over Christmas. Then, from the pro athletes, excited tweets about heading home to eat ALL of the food!

image-5B6-5D

Now, I have fairly strong opinions (no surprise there, I’m sure) about all of this. I don’t think Christmas itself, and the indulgences along with it are the problem, and it would seem that a lot of the pro athletes I follow agree. I think the issue comes if your Christmas starts in mid-November and ends in mid-January. However, if it starts on Christmas Eve and ends on New Years’ Day, is it really such a problem?

As ever, I strongly believe it all comes down to balance. If you spend the rest of the year apart from that short period eating well, training consistently and taking care of yourself, you can probably afford to indulge. Rather than be the miserable spoilsport who refuses all the delicious food and insists on a tiny portion of steamed turkey and vegetables, I say go for it. Eat what you fancy. Spend time with your loved ones and let your hair down. Eat your veggies too, and try and move a little each day, but if one day, you eat most of your bodyweight in fancy cheese and only take a short walk with your family, relax. You have 350+ days a year to be healthy and strict with yourself. Maintaining an obsessive training regime and calorie-controlled diet over Christmas out of fear you might gain a couple of pounds is a bit sad, to me!

Don’t forget, whilst the fitness industry may tweet constant ‘healthy’ advice for you over Christmas, they actually make their money from you having that mid-November onwards Christmas I mentioned and gaining a lot of weight, until you arrive in January bloated, miserable and feeling guilty about your eating. Just remember that…

Me? I have no such feelings of guilt. I finished a run of nights on the morning of December 21st, and enjoyed the odd festive treat in the days leading up to Christmas Eve. on the 23rd, I headed home with James to my parents’ house in Lancashire, and have since enjoyed a lovely, quiet family Christmas. I’ve indulged in a smorgasbord of delicious cheeses, oodles of pigs in blankets, buttery mince pies and put Baileys on everything. BUT, I’ve also been out for the odd ride or run to enjoy some fresh air and movement, and it won’t go on for ever; I go back to work on the 29th, and whilst I’m sure there’ll be Christmas eats lurking around (hospital wards attract tins of Quality Street!), I’ll also be busy at work, and getting back into my usual routine of training and meal planning. I’ll probably arrive back at my house a little heavier, but not so much so I feel the need to start January miserable on a diet, and not so much I’ve damaged my health. I start marathon training properly on January 28th so I’ve got no issues with having had a laid back Christmas- my legs will be working hard enough soon!

Balance. Useful to all aspects of life.

Home truths about health & fitness

I don’t know about you, but the more time I spend on social media, the more disheartened I can sometimes become, when it comes to health and fitness. It’s really easy to run away with the idea that everyone is fitter, stronger, healthier and just generally all-round better at being an adult than you. So, in the spirit of honesty, I’ve made a list of what I think are ten important truths we should all try and remember about health and fitness.

  1. It’s okay not to be eating a diet that requires use of a hashtag.
    In fact, it’s okay to eat whatever you actually want to. If #paleo #eatclean #vegan #glutenfree #whole30 is your bag, then great, congratulations on finding something that works for you- enjoy. However, if you eat a sensible, balanced diet that involves a variety of foods and the odd treat but isn’t a named diet, then you know what? You’re doing just fine.
  2. Not everybody is going to like all forms of sport.
    There are an almost infinite number of ways to keep active out there, and there absolutely is something to suit everybody. If spinning isn’t your thing, that’s fine. CrossFit isn’t for everyone. Some people will absolutely loathe running. But if you value your body enough that you get it moving regularly outside in the fresh air, that’s the important bottom line. Not how many workouts you can ‘smash’, not whether or not you’re doing the latest HIIT class, and certainly not how bendy you can be in a yoga studio.home truths
  3. Your body deserves kindness and love, not punishment and cruelty.
    Picture a scenario for me. You’re a parent of a 5 year old child, and you notice that they’re looking a little chubby around the edges. Now, do you immediately put them on a highly restrictive diet, cutting out entire food groups and severely restricting their intake, whilst forcing them through a rigorous schedule of demanding exercise, and making sure they felt guilty about taking a day off or eating anything remotely indulgent? Of course you wouldn’t. You’d gently tweak their diet, replacing some of the more indulgent food with healthier alternatives, ensuring there were plenty of fresh, unprocessed foods there. You’d encourage them to enjoy spending time outside, having fun and naturally incorporating some more movement that they enjoyed into their day. So if the latter is what we’re more likely to do for a child, why is the former what is considered more normal in the world of health and fitness on social media?
  4. There are days when you cannot be bothered to be healthy, and that is 100% normal.
    If you treat your body well the majority of the time, you can afford the odd slip-up without damaging your health or well-being, and I’d wager that sometimes, it’s just what you need. If you’ve had a tough day or are going through a stressful time, sometimes the best thing to do is throw the training regime out of the window, and do something else. Spend time with loved ones. Lose yourself in your favourite book. Laugh your head off at a cheesy film. Eat your favourite comfort food. Retreat to the sofa in your PJs. I promise, exercise and healthy eating will still be there tomorrow, and a day off won’t kill you.White Rose Ultra training
  5. If you’re training for something big, you will have bad days.
    Contrary to how some bloggers’ portrayal of their marathon buildups appear, if you’re training for something that’s important to you, and you’ve set yourself an ambitious goal, you absolutely WILL have a wobble along the way. Whether that’s a hiccup of an injury, a day where you’re just too exhausted to get out and complete what you’d planned to, or a session that just doesn’t go to plan, something will go wrong. Of course it will. What matters is how you deal with it, and how you adapt- those days and how you overcome them are the experiences that render you stronger.
  6. It won’t all happen overnight.
    Hanging out with inspiring people like my friend Cat, it’s easy to get caught up in thinking I want to do all of the amazing races, NOW! I want to run marathons and ultras, to do long bike races and triathlons that are thus far only in my wildest dreams. I want to run quickly but I want to run far too, and I want it all to happen quickly. Sometimes, I have to take a step back and remind myself that Cat is a brilliant runner because thousands of miles have made her so; they’ve forged strong legs and a wilful mind that have deservedly carried her across many finish lines. She didn’t become a great runner overnight or by accident, and chances are I won’t either- it takes patience and work. Most things worth having do.
  7. Fancy gear won’t make you as successful as hard work will.
    It’s easy to get caught up in the mentality that more money spent on kit for sport will equal better results, and in some circumstances it’s true, like spending more on a bike usually means it’s lighter in weight and thus takes less energy to propel at the same speed. Most of the time though, consistent, appropriate training for a sport, combined with optimal body composition and nutrition, will make a bigger difference to your performance than the latest shiny offering from Nike or similar. Investing that money in improving your diet or getting some coaching or guidance is likely to make far better results- Dame Chrissie once said to think less about the kit and more about the engine that drives it, and if that works for her, it’s good enough for me.
  8. Ordinary foods can be pretty super too.
    Sure, superfoods contain vitamins and minterals that are undoubtedly fantastic for you, but often at vastly inflated price tags, purely because they have a buzz around them. Take quinoa, chia seeds and coconut oil, for example. They all contain excellent things, but are hugely expensive, and they are not nutrients that you cannot obtain from elsewhere. Fresh, locally grown and produced seasonal produce really will contain all you need to stay healthy. It doesn’t have to be expensive, difficult or unhealthy, as anyone who tries a fitnaturally plan will attest to- I gained loads of fresh ideas and saw that healthy really can be simple during my 6 weeks under Sal’s guidance.Chicken satay stir fry
  9. You don’t have to do everything. Choose wisely and do it well.
    If you truly want to participate in races every weekend of the year, then obviously go ahead and have a brilliant time. But, if you’re training for a big A race and want to perform well in it, you could probably do with getting over your FOMO and spending your time knuckling down in some key, focused, specific training sessions at home instead, with perhaps just one or two tune-up races to test your progress. Autumn wrote a great post about this recently, and I think race fatigue is something people should be very wary of if they’re trying to perform at their best.
  10. You’re almost never going to feel properly ready. Do it anyway.
    Chances are, the bigger your plans and dreams, the scarier they are: after all, a good target should make you feel a little bit queasy and a whole lot excited, shouldn’t it? The thing is, it’s almost completely impossible to feel entirely prepared for such events. You can never take care of absolutely everything that might happen, so the best you can really do is take care of the controllables and then take the leap of faith. You’d be amazed what you can achieve with a bit of courage and a positive outlook.

The Sunday Summary – Part 6

Whether it’s been freezing and icy or just blustery, I hope you’ve managed to fit something fun into your weekend, whether that’s donning the trail shoes for a snowy run, or setting up the pain cave for a long turbo session! Either way, you’ve earned some time on the sofa to recover, so settle in and have a little read of this list of awesome things I’ve been reading lately (bring snacks. You could be here a while.)

  • Unusually for me, this link is a free PDF to download and read rather than a blog post, but it’s 100% worth the effort. It’s called Fuck Calories and it’s truly brilliant. Go onnnnnn. (Cheers Fiona for the heads up on this one!)
  • For many people, running long distances is about escaping from the stresses of everyday life and enjoying being ‘in the moment’ outdoors, and Jez Bragg (ultra runner extraordinaire) wrote a great piece on this
  • If like me, you believe in gender equality in sport, then this post from pro cyclocross badass Helen Wyman might just make your blood boil a little….
  • I’ve done a Q&A with her before, but superstar triathlete & potentially hardest grafter in Yorkshire, Suzie Richards, has done a great post crammed with common sense and some great ideas for winter training, as well as some very exciting news about her 2015 race calendar…
  • Autumn has once again been squeezing in some cracking writing between her speedy marathon training, and has this time written an ace post about the pitfalls of Strava and the like, and how it’s more important just to follow your own path with training.
  • Personally, I am absolutely awful at downhill running, so these tips from one of the Team inov-8 athletes are going straight into my training for the Snowdonia Marathon in October.
  • I’ve said it all along, but it’s interesting to read an article from Vulpine founder Nick Hussey about why the ‘shrink it and pink it’ model is a really bad way to sell things to women in sport.

The Sunday Summary – Part 5

After a brief festive break to get busy putting Baileys in every beverage and testing the limits of stollen consumption, as well as doing rather a lot of cycling, my Sunday Summary is back, where I round up some excellent things for you to read after your long run or ride. So settle down at the back, put on those recovery pants and fetch your snacks…

I always wonder how the world’s top athletes develop their mental approach towards pain and suffering during races, so I found this article interesting, especially reading about the contrast in approaches between two top triathletes.

I wrote my post about my word for 2015, but another little lady with some epic plans for 2015 is the lovely Autumn, who is planning to fly like a bird right over the London Marathon finish line in a very speedy time and wrote an excellent post about her word for the year.

Speaking of mental strength, there’s nobody stronger than Dame Chrissie in that regard, so this article of hers makes pretty good reading too (and you really ought to read her book, you know!)

And whilst we’re on the topic of triathlon, I really enjoyed this post about some unconventional essentials for the budding triathlete, and why spending zillions of pounds on aero kit might not actually be the way forward.

To end on a more frivolous note, I am personally very bored of sandwiches for lunch, and with the whole reining self in after 3895 helpings of Brie over Christmas comes the desire for something fresh and healthy- step in The Londoner’s yummy-sounding Travelling Noodles recipe- I’m all over this one!

The Sunday Summary – Part 3

Welcome to this week’s slightly belated edition of the Sunday Summary, where I round up the week’s goings on on the internet for you to enjoy post-ride or post-run (it’s Monday this week because yesterday I was out cycling and then it was my Christmas Day with my housemates. Pigs in blankets before blogging!). So without further ado, feet up and enjoy that Monday rest day with a mince pie or two and these things to read:

  • Steph’s baking never fails to be absolutely lush, so if you’re looking to put down the Christmas cake and enjoy something else yummy, her peanut, oat & fig slices might be just up your street.
  • I read this absolutely beautiful piece about authenticity and being yourself in this world and it really resonated with me, so I thought you’d like to read it as well; ‘take your messy, beautiful self everywhere you go.’
  • Kate, the wonderful @ginanting on Twitter, wrote a short, simple but frankly ace post about how if you want to achieve your dreams, you actually have to make a sacrifice and set the wheels in motion. A beautifully worded kick up the backside.
  • Having recently been sidelined for a week with an annoying injury, and managed after much whinging to reframe it into something positive (more on that here), so Carys’ post was great to read, about finding healthier ways to fill your newfound free time than obsessing over your injury.
  • Vulpine founder Nick wrote a cracking post this week, about forgoing comfort and ease in life and searching for more, something more difficult, more challenging and ultimately more satisfying.
  • I recently went to a nutrition talk by Leeds based former doctor turned triathlon coach and nutrition buff Tom of Trimechanics, and whilst I won’t necessarily be adopting everything he talked about (ketogenesis sounds like a process demanding dedication few humans are ever likely to have), he wrote a great article recently amongst the sugar vs fat hysteria, about how if we all apply some common sense, we probably know the answers to a healthy diet and body.

Enjoy!

If you enjoyed this edition you can read Part 2 here and Part 1 here.

 

Hitting reset with food

Ever since exam season last year at uni, I’ve not been in my usual groove with diet. During exam season, I gained weight through a combination of the usual bored snacking when revising (we all do it) and some health concerns that stopped me training for a while. Then I went off to work in different hospitals over summer, and the lack of my usual kitchen and usual routine meant my nutrition was a long way off kilter.

I assumed when I came back to Leeds for my last year of uni in September that things would settle down and I’d get back into my usual pattern of eating, but that just hasn’t happened, one way or another. Whether it’s that the ultra training was making me hungry and I was over-replacing the calories, or I’ve just lost control over food, I don’t know, but there’s one thing I do know: it’s got to change.

The added weight doesn’t particularly bother me in terms of looks, but it does for performance- I wouldn’t want to put a 5kg bag on and go for a run, so it makes no sense to lug that extra amount around when the answer is in my hands!

So what am I going to do about it?

Not a detox, that’s for sure! Or a Whole30 (but I’ll leave those comments there, lest I receive any more tirades of abuse from big fans of these diets).

I think it’s all about relearning how to eat, and varying my diet, but using simple principles. The more colours on my plate, the better; I’m talking big salads, with bright, colourful veg, and iron-rich leafy greens. Learning to build my meals differently, that they don’t have to be based around carbs (if you’re based in Leeds, Tom of Trimechanics did some very thought-provoking nutrition talks recently)- I should build them from the veg and the protein, perhaps adding carbs if I need them, but not thinking they’re a ‘must’ at every meal.

To kick-start myself, and get some fresh ideas for healthy food, and relearn some sense when it comes to portion sizes (my downfall, I eat like a horse), I’m following a fitnaturally plan for 6 weeks. Not a diet; just a sensible way of eating that will teach me some new ideas, and give me a better understanding of how to eat properly for my body. I also like that the emphasis is on fresh, whole, unprocessed foods- full fat milk and butter, lean meats and LOADS of fresh veg. Yum!

When you’ve let things slide a little and got some extra pounds on board, how do you hit reset?

Going #allin24 at Thunder Run: a guide

If you caught my race report from the recent Adidas Thunder Run, you’ll know what a great time I had. There were a load of reasons that I had such a great time, so I thought I’d share them in a sort of how-to in case anyone is tempted to sign up for 2015 (DO ITTTTTT!)

Get the right team around you

Thunder Run 2014

Photo courtesy of lifelauralondon.com

There’s no question about it, running continuously as a team for 24 hours is tough, so make sure you’re in the right team. You need to set out with the right intentions and make sure you’re all on board; if some members want to win but others don’t, it’ll only cause friction. Our team? We just wanted to be awesome, and support each other in running as far as we wanted to, and that’s why it worked.

 

 

Take the leap of faith

leap of faith

Like I said, running for 24 hours is tough. You’re fighting the urge to be asleep. You’re heading out for your third, fourth or even fifth run, when you’ve only ever run maybe twice a day maximum before. You might be running a total distance of further than ever before. It all takes a leap of faith. My advice? Take that leap- it’s great fun, and once you’ve committed, all that remains to be done is get on and run.

 

Get the right kit on the go

Sockmine socks

SockMine socks

Run several 10K laps in the space of 24 hours and any kit problems will come out to play. Chafing and blisters are the enemy, and whilst Vaseline is helpful, so is picking the right kit to avoid them. I took spares of absolutely everything, because there’s nothing nicer than soft, clean socks and running clothes when you’re heading out at 3am to run your fourth 10K.  My particular favourite was the SockMine socks I’ve been testing lately. They were soft & comfortable, kept me blister-free and are made in the UK. Thanks for the samples SockMine!

Fuel up properly

the hole 30

Photo courtesy of thehole30.tumblr.com

Running repeated laps means you have to eat lots. Yay! Our team took advice from speedy ultra Cat and packed savoury things as well as sweet, and by the early hours of the morning, salty pretzels and crisps tasted like a gift directly from heaven. We also stayed faithful to #hole30 compliant foods and packed plenty of trusty bagels, to be enjoyed with Nutella, banana and in my case some ready salted crisps (don’t knock the Nutella/salt combo until you’ve tried it). Pack plenty of snacks, and remember to actually eat them, even when all you want to do is sleep.

So these are my nuggets of wisdom about how to run for 24 hours- what would you add to the list?

Healthy eating on a budget & tight schedule

Healthy eating on a budget and a tight schedule can be tricky, and it can end up all too easy to just whack a frozen pizza in the oven yet again because it’s the quickest option that doesn’t involve a takeaway menu. It doesn’t have to be that way though- with a bit of forward planning and a few hours spare, perhaps at the weekend, it’s possible to eat tasty, nutritious meals all week, without breaking the bank.

The Sunday cook up is a firmly established part of my weekly routine, for good reason. Post long run, I’m useless for anything except popping the radio on and spending a while in the kitchen, and it’s an enjoyable routine. You don’t need masses of fridge or freezer space to make it work either; at uni I have one food cupboard, one drawer in the freezer and a third of a fridge-freezer size fridge to go at. You just need a fairly large Tupperware collection and some lateral thinking.

  • At any given time in my freezer, I’ll usually have some chicken breasts, salmon fillets or tuna steaks, individually frozen in ziploc bags (always available cheaply from your local market!). These can make the easy basis of a meal- the night before I want to have them for dinner, I get one out of the freezer to defrost, pop some marinade ingredients in, like a drizzle of oil, some herbs and spices and some crushed garlic, and leave it to defrost and marinade in one go. Cook these under the grill or in a non-stick pan, combine with salad or some frozen peas or broccoli (super quick and easy to cook) and a jacket potato, and for a couple of the week’s dinners, you’ve got a healthy, easy meal ready in about 20 minutes. You can jazz this up really easily by checking out Pinterest for some easy marinade ideas.
  • Each week, I make a big batch of a main ‘meal’ for the week, that I can divide up into Tupperware and freeze, like my own ‘ready meals’. Curry, chilli, bolognese sauce, meatballs in tomato sauce , stew and lasagne are all easy to make in a big batch, and freeze/defrost well. You can even go as far as cooking pasta to go in the box with bolognese, and voila- a healthy, cheap ready meal that you can throw in the microwave. By the time any of these have defrosted in the microwave, you can have some pasta/rice/couscous/a jacket potato ready, and with some veg on the side, have a quick, balanced meal. This can account for two or three of your other weekly dinners, and once you have a ‘stock’ built up in the freezer, you have a variety to choose from.

    Healthy eating on a budget

    Chicken dopiaza, rice and runner beans

  • Eggs eggs eggs! Whether scrambled, poached, boiled or made into an omelette or frittata, eggs are a great speedy, healthy meal. I always make sure I have some peppers, spinach, mushrooms and usually some cheese in, so I can always throw together an omelette with a healthy filling, or whip up a frittata, one night when I need protein after a training session and really can’t be bothered (always post cross country or track!).
  • Whilst not sustainable all week, why not have one day a week where you treat yourself? One night a week, usually a Friday, I’ll either treat myself to a nice cook at home pizza from Waitrose, get a takeaway with my housemates or go out for dinner with friends or my OH. It’s not healthy to do this all the time, but it makes a nice weekly treat, and if you plan ahead which day it’ll be, you can plan around it; I have a healthy breakfast and lunch that day, because I know I have a treat coming up. It’s well worth checking when your local restaurants do discounts as well- I could tell you off the top of my head when all of my favourite places in Headingley are 50% off food!
  • Lunches are easily included in the Sunday cook up as well. Instead of buying lunch every day, think ahead and include it in the weekly shop. When you’re cooking chicken or fish the night before for dinner, cook an extra portion, cook some pasta or couscous or rice, and throw this together with some salad, and you’ve got a yummy sandwich alternative and no extra cooking time! I sometimes cook a huge batch of roasted veg on a Sunday, and make half into a roasted veg lasagne, and have the other half during the week as part of lunch. Don’t overlook sandwiches either; think laterally by adding things like a tasty sauce, or spread pesto or hummus on the bread, and the boring sandwich has a whole new lease of life!

This is how I manage to feed myself with minimum expense and effort during the week, but maximum taste and balance to my meals. How do you do it? Any great tips that I’ve missed?

Detoxes, diets and doubts.

I’m no stranger to a ranty post or two about detoxes, but recently, I’ve found myself frequently biting my tongue as the whole of Twitter seems to be on a detox or special diet of some description. I’m not knocking those who follow them and find they work; different strokes for different folks, and all that.

What I cannot fathom is the 30 day detoxes, particularly the Whole30 detox. For those unfamiliar, the rules (and make no mistake, it is a long and prescriptive list) can be found here. In principle, what the writers of this cult-like diet are saying seems sound; cut out the crap from your diet, and focus more on natural, unprocessed foods, and you’ll reap the rewards.

What seems odd to me, like with the paleo cult, is the choices of foods that are strictly off limits. I understand why processed ‘white’ carbs are foregone, but to ban a white potato yet allow a sweet potato? Seems a little odd to me. Surely both are ‘natural’ sources of carbohydrates, and I kinda believe a calorie of starch is the same regardless of what kind of potato it comes from. No legumes- oh, unless they’re green beans, sugar snap peas or snow peas, because, I shit you not, the rules say these are ‘more “pod” than “bean”‘. Glad they’ve cleared up that nonsensical segregation of legumes then. I could go on with the list, but I won’t.

I’ve read with interest blogs from people following the Whole30 plan, and hats off to them- because I don’t think I could be arsed to completely overhaul my diet, make life inconvenient and expensive for myself, and go through feeling like shit whilst my body gets used to such a weirdly spartan way of eating. Then- and this is the good bit- after for 30 days teaching your body not to tolerate things like sugar, which are kinda necessary if you’re going to use sports nutrition as a runner, you reintroduce the foods you cut out, only to find you can’t stomach them and things like gels and sports drinks are now a problem for you. Great! 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not in any way against cleaning up our diets, and god knows I could do to after the biscuit, cake and crisp-laden rampage that is revision season. But I kinda think there are easier, more sustainable ways to go about it; that it doesn’t have to be so all-or-nothing. Following the 80/20 rule (eating well 80% of the time and not worrying so much about the other 20%). Slowly replacing some of the cakes, biscuits and crisps with fruit and vegetables. Making sure each meal I eat has some protein and some vegetables on the plate as well as *whispers* carbs. Sometimes even potatoes. Reaching for water more often than reaching for tea or coffee. Swapping a couple of dinners a week to being veggie or based on fish, rather than meat. Thinking whether I genuinely want that slice of cake or if I’m just mindlessly eating it because it’s there and I’m bored.

To me, diet and health don’t have to be so black and white. Most of us that write running blogs are not elite athletes, and are unlikely to ever be, so why not cut ourselves some slack? Eating healthily and treating your body well is one thing, but taking most of the joy out of eating by going on a detox seems like a step too far. Even Chrissie Wellington (uber hero of mine) acknowledges in her book A Life Without Limits (a top read!) that diet isn’t everything. A former eating disorder sufferer, she has since completed 13 Ironman triathlons, remaining unbeaten over the distance, including winning the World Championships 4 times, and holds several of the fastest times ever recorded by a woman over the distance.

‘I don’t deprive myself of any foods. Nothing is ‘naughty’- it is just eaten in moderation. A few pieces of chocolate a day definitely doesn’t do me any harm, and as for pizza- well, I can always squeeze one of those in.’

If Chrissie doesn’t beat herself up over eating pizza and chocolate- and here is the key- in moderation, then neither should we. So let’s regain some perspective, think for ourselves and get back to making healthier choices as routine, not because the writer of some diet tells us to.

This is an opinion piece, and as ever, I welcome comments and opinions from others about it!

The Great Sugar Debate

The fitness side of Twitter has always been full of extremes: the people who aren’t satisfied with merely running marathons and instead test themselves with ultras, the ones who like to lift things heavier than themselves and, more recently, those adopting extreme diets.

‘They’re not diets,’ they argue. ‘They’re ways of eating that reintroduce us to how we ate when we were cavemen, back when we were healthy and things like diabetes and high blood pressure didn’t exist.’ This is an argument so beloved of followers of the Paleo diet, that I could recite it in my sleep. The thing is though, when you think about it, cavemen didn’t actually have very long life expectancies. Mid-30s to be precise. And conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes did exist- but they weren’t known about, and there were no treatments, so when the diabetic peoples’ kidneys failed and they died, or their blood pressure caused them to have a fatal heart attack, blame wasn’t apportioned, so suddenly, cavemen must have had the best diet, so we should all follow their lead. There are principles of the Paleo diet that make sense, such as choosing fresh, unprocessed foods to base the diet around, which are the cornerstone of any healthy lifestyle. But banning potatoes and not sweet potatoes? Seems like an odd segregation to make, to me.
The point I’m making, I suppose, is that the Paleo movement is in full swing, whether I like it or not, and alongside it, an uglier fitness trend that I’m frankly sick of hearing about has reared its head: the sugar detox. There are, I accept, groups of people in the population that need to be careful with their sugar intake: diabetics. They are either completely deficient of insulin, as their pancreas doesn’t produce it, or they produce very insufficient amounts of it, so they can’t metabolise sugar effectively and it can reach dangerously high or low levels without a careful diet and medications. The rest of the population though? We have no problem handling sugar. In moderation.
I’m not for one minute suggesting sugar-laden foods are great for everybody who isn’t a diabetic, but does the world need to completely lose their s**t about sugar? No. Whilst a sugar detox might seem like a good idea, I take a few issues with it.
The first is that the body has a preferred fuel source for all its daily activities. Yeah, you guessed it: glucose, otherwise known as sugar. I’m not suggesting for one moment that this is carte blanche to live on a diet of Jelly Babies (shame!), but it’s clearly an indication that the presence of sugar in our diet isn’t perhaps the monstrous evil it’s being made out to be. Like every substance we can put in our bodies, it’s bad in excess. Red wine is good for the heart and packed with antioxidants, but drink a bottle each night and the health benefits soon wane. Red meat is full of iron, but eat too much of it and the saturated fat content starts to become an issue. Sugar is no different- why have we lost our sense of moderation? We don’t need to drastically cut out sugar, spending a fortune on special foods and creating hassle for ourselves. We just need to reach for fresh, unprocessed foods more often than we reach for processed stuff, and we will find balance. To completely cut something out, unless it’s for medical reasons like patients with coeliac disease and gluten, is a massive change to make, and probably unlikely to be a sustainable one.
My other main issue is, I suppose, around the word ‘detox’. Start reading a few magazine articles or fitness sites and it’s not long before the words ‘toxins’ ‘acid’ and ‘detoxifying’ start to crop up. Now, last time I learned any medicine, which was only a few hours before I sit here writing this, we have organs that are perfectly capable of doing a necessary amount of ‘detoxifying’ and preventing our bodies becoming an ‘acidic’ environment. One of the main functions of the liver and kidneys is to act as a filtration system for the body, saving what is useful and excreting what is not, as well as maintaining an incredibly delicate pH balance. This system is wonderfully efficient- it’s what keeps most of the population functioning on a daily basis, and trust me, I’ve yet to see a consultant frown at the results of a blood gas sample from an ill patient and say ‘Ah yes, the patient’s blood has become acidic. It can’t be kidney disease- it must be that they need to eliminate all sugar. I prescribe a sugar detox and possibly a juice fast.’ (As a sidenote, I have also never seen an obese patient walk into clinic and describe how they got in that state by eating fruit, so if all the tweets condemning fruit as bad for you could also f*** off, that would be excellent, thanks.)
It’s human nature to seek a quick fix, the wondrous diet that will help the pounds to fall off us whilst we eat foods that we enjoy, but none of these diets have a ‘secret’, whatever they say to sell their books and diet foods. The only way they create weight loss, however they go about it, is by creating a calorie deficit, so the body starts to break down fat stores to provide energy. I don’t know why the world has lost sight of the fact that in moderation, everything can be enjoyed- yes, even alcohol, sugar and all the carbs you fancy. But they should be balanced with fresh, unprocessed food, water and regular exercise. Contrary to what diet and detox peddlers would have you believe, it ain’t rocket science. Let the body do what it’s good at.
I’m aware that this is a very forthright opinion piece, and welcome comments on it!