Poptastic Fantastic

If you try one new product this week, make sure its this:

Tyrrell’s (of posh crisp fame) have released their own popcorn line. There are 3 flavours on offer: salted (blah), salt n’ sweet (good – I love the combination of savory and sugary, but really no better than your average supermarket mix) and Sour cream & Jalapeno Chilli. I am not exaggerating when I say that the Jalapeno Chilli version literally creates a party in your mouth. It is by far the most exciting snack-eating experience I’ve had in months. What’s more, as it packs less than 100 cals a bag, you can happily develop an addiction to it without piling on the pounds. Best of all, the bag is so big, that it can last a whole morning (if you eat at a normal pace, that is, which unfortunately I don’t). I can guarantee it will spice up the long stretch before lunch.

Zit Zapping

If I had to pick my beauty bête noir, it would be zits. I’ve had problems with my skin since I hit puberty (and, given that I hit it at 11 and am now nearly 25 that’s one hell of a long time to be spotty). In early adolescence, my zit-prone skin often made me really self-conscious. Probably my worst ever episode was when I was 14 years old and was hit by a horrible break out all over my cheeks, just in time for a family holiday to Venice. I purchased an expensive anti-acne cream which not only didn’t work, but made me break out in a horrible red rash too – there I was, in the middle of one of the world’s most beautify city, with my cheeks somehow managing to be red-raw, flaky, greasy and spotty all at once! Needless to say, I did not enjoy the holiday that much – perhaps that makes me vain and self-centred, but I guess that’s teenager’s for you. Now that I’m older and wiser (well, less hormonal) I don’t let bad skin ruin my day. But it still has a big impact on how I feel about my appearance. I have never, for example, let a boyfriend see me without make-up. I feel so frustrated that I still break-out regularly – surely that’s something that’s supposed to stop in adolescence? Sure, my break-outs aren’t as bad as they were in my teens, but they now come in tandem with other issues. I recently had a skin assessment at a skin clinic who told me I was beginning to show signs of early aging, including a few wrinkles and dark circles round my eyes. I also get dryness in some areas and oiliness others. Over the years, I’ve probably spent a small fortune on skin products, none of which have resulted in any long term change. But it’s only recently occurred to me that my diet could be contributing to the issue. So I asked the advice of Emily at anutritionisteats.com (check it out btw – its a great blog) . Here’s what she had to say:

There are many things that go into clear skin: rest, cleanliness and a varied and balanced diet. Then there are the things you can’t control like heredity, your body, etc. In terms of what goes into your body, there are a few things you can do to promote clear skin.

  • Whole Grains – full of fiber, zinc and Vitamin B6
  • Fruits & Veggies – full of antioxidants *focus on green, purple and deep red
  • Fish – specifically for omega 3s
  • Green Tea
  • Probiotics – all about balancing good bacteria
  • Low Glycemic eating is thought to help – high glycemic foods increase insulin secretion which increases sebum production, which can then block pores
  • Lay off the milk – many think that because milk is so full of hormones (even organic) that it is best to avoid

She also recommended a few products for damage control:  

Personally, I would add to this list:

  • REN’s Glycolactic Skin Renewal Peel Mask – great if you want renewed, glowy skin and also helps stave off break outs. Pricey but sooo worth it (hey, it’s cheaper than a facial).
  • Eve Lom Rescue Mask – if you need something to calm down your skin during a break out, then this is the thing.
  • Simple’s SPF 15 Sunscreen – when I need a proper sunscreen that won’t make me break out, I rely on this. It has minimal chemicals and additives and is oil-free.
  • Body Shop Vitamin E cream – moisturizes dry skin without causing breakouts or irritation.

And for when you need to bring out the big guns…….

  • md Formulations Facials and Products – a series of md facials will set you back financially and take up a lot of your time, but when my acne’s been really bad (see Venice trauma above), I’ve found they’re the only thing that works. 

I’d also recommend checking out Oh She Glows beauty routine for glowing skin. Let me know if you have any hints of your own!

Pumpkin porridge is soooo this season

Fancy making your porridge a little more interesting? A little more nutritious? A little more…. orange? Of course you do! So say hello to pumpkin porridge.

Orange was a key colour on the catwalks for spring/summer 2011, so although pumpkins may be technically a winter vegetable, this breakfast is definitely in season.  

Pumpkin ‘oatmeal’ has been a favourite among American food bloggers for a long time (I guess because they’re remaniscent of the Thanksgiving staple, pumpkin pie). So, when I discovered they stocked canned pumpkin in good ole Waitrose I thought I’d give them a try. I was inspired by Kath’s version but decided to make a warmer, mushier version, by cooking the pumpkin with the oats rather than stirring it in at the end.

Ingredients

Rolled oats (about 5 tablespoons)

240 ml milk

canned pumpkin (about 5 tablespoons)

pinch cinnemon

pinch ginger

grated coconut

maple syrup

raisins

Directions: Put all the ingredients – except the raisins and syrup – in a pan, bring to the boil, then simmer until it becomes thick and creamy. Then drizzle the syrup and add the raisins at the end. What could be simpler? 

Oh and PS. these oats are very special and therefore should only be eaten while wearing appropriate footware. I’ll be eating mine while tottering in these beauties from Miss Selfridge:

Sleep Your Way to Success

I just read a really great post in Tony Schwartz’s blog for the Harvard Business Review. Quoting up-to-date research, Schwartz confirms what I’ve always suspected: that sleep is MORE not LESS important than we typically assume. According to research, even mild sleep deprivation diminishes our ability to focus and perform well. What’s more, it looks like the converse is also true – when top performers are interviewed, they’re found to sleep more than average, exploding the myth that the most successful people tend to be the midnight-oil-burners.

As someone who regularly falls short of the 7-8 hour ideal, I can definitely confirm the truth of this. I know that I’m chirpier and more efficient when I’m well rested (not to mention less likely to scoff an entire box of Celebrations in the hopes of a sugar-pick-me-up). Nevertheless, I always manage to convince myself that it’s important that I just stay up that little bit later to complete that nagging report or to finish the washing up or to chat on the phone or just to watch Jersey Shore. But there’s nothing like cold, hard scientific facts to make you call into question your habits. So, if you’re like me and need some extra motivation to force yourself into bed before midnight, or if you’re just looking for a scientific justification for a lie-in, then check out Schwartz’s blog for the full details.

And if you’re one of those people who has trouble getting off to sleep or staying asleep, then I recommend you might want to check out Dr Frank Lipman’s advice for getting more shut-eye. Dr L’s top tips include:

  • Creating a ‘sleep routine’ – basically going to bed and getting up around the same time.
  • Taking time to wind down before bed – This is the thing I’m most guilty of not doing . Apparently we should instate an ‘electrical shut down’ after 10pm: that means no TV, no computers, nothing that could ‘overstimulate the brain’ too much. Dr L also recommends dimming the lights in the lead up to sleep and then having complete darkness when you want to get off to sleep, as darkness allows us to produce the vital ‘sleep hormone’ melatonin.
  • Calming the mind and body before bedhe recommends breathing exercises, meditation or yoga poses.
  • If you find you can’t fall asleep within 45 minutes, get up, get out of the bedroom and do something different.
  • Snacking on protein before bed, instead of carbs carbs effect blood sugar levels more drastically which can cause disrupted sleep.
  • Avoid sleeping pills I’m very much guilty of this one too – oh dear! Apparently they’re potentially highly addictive, potentially dangerous and often make insomnia worse in the long run. Eeek!
  • Avoiding alcohol before bed Alcohol does have an initial sleep inducing effect, but it usually goes on to disrupt sleep during the second half of the night. Dr L recommends drinks like camomile tea instead, or taking magnesium or melatonin.

Happy snoozing!

Style Icons of the Moment: Kate and Pippa Middleton

I have long been a huge fan of Kate Middleton’s style. I know I may alienate a few fashionistas by saying that . True, she’s hardly a boundary-pusher and she’s certainly never going to be at the cutting edge of the latest trends, but I don’t think that would be appropriate for a soon-to-be Royal. Personally, I think she’s managed to find a classic style that works for a future queen and is true to who she is, reflecting her middle-class-English-boarding-school-horse-riding roots. Better still, she’s worked out what suits her figure at an age when many of us are still trying to figure out whether we’re apples or hour-glasses. 

If you need more convincing, just think back to that Issa number that she announced her engagement in:

No wonder it sold out in days!

But I can claim to spotted her style-icon-potential, since she stepped out in this pink dress, way back in 2008:

Okay, admittedly the handbag would probably be more at home on one of the Jersey Shore girls than on the arm of the future queen, but  the dress is perfect for her figure and colouring. (By the way, it’s also by Issa- don’t you love the fact she’s already found her go-to designer?)

BUT, however much  I love Kate, I reckon it’s her baby sister who’s really going to be the one to watch when it comes to classic British style. She’s just a little more adverturous than her older sis, and it pays-off. Check her out:

See what I mean? Where Kate would have worn black kitten heels, Pippa baulks the safe option and goes for espadrilles.

And where Kate goes for high-necked and monochrome, Pippa opts for pink with just a hint of bra showing. Pippa Middleton may not be a household name yet, but I’m predicting big things for this fashionista.

Ex.Haust.Ed.

WHAT A DAY. I am totally wiped out. A had a very long job interview starting at 9am and going on until 3.

I set myself up for this long, long day with a big ole bowl of Nature’s Path Heritage Flakes.

This is the first time I’ve tried Heritage Flakes. I was won over by their fabulous nutritional profile:

8% of your daily iron, 0g of cholesterol and 20% of your fibre needs in just one serving! However, I wasn’t prepared for quite how bland they would taste. Even though they’re ‘lightly sweetened with honey’ they tasted like cardboard. I had to add chopped banana and raisins just to make them palatable. What with all the sugar in them, I probably negated the health value of the flakes anyway!

Fortunately, they gave us some good food at the interview. I had half a smoke salmon and half a cheese sandwich for lunch, along with some grapes. When I got home I really felt in need of a healthful pick-me-up, so I made myself a delicious carrot-and-apple smoothy. The recipe still needs perfecting slightly, so I won’t post it just yet.

Now I’m relaxing for the evening, reading ‘Eat Yourself Slim’ (yes, that is how I chose to relax – I really am that much of a nutrition geek). Eat Yourself Slim is a ‘non-diet’ diet book by the grandfather of the low-GI movement, Michael Montignac. For a reformed calorie-counter like me, its such great reading because it totally validates my decision to stop counting calories. In the first chapter, Montignac explodes the myth that weight is all down to the simplistic ‘calories-in-versus-calories-out’ formula, quoting research findings such as:

  • in a study sample of obese people, only 15% ate too many calories. 34% ate normally and 51% ate too little!
  • The calorie intake for a group of children was found to have no direct correlation with their weight.
  • In most cases, obestity can be shown to be associated with a succession of low calorie diets followed over a period of several years, with post-diet weight-gain increasing after every successive diet, so that a person who started out kinda-fat and eating 2,800 cals/day, is liable to end up obese and eating just 1,000 cals a day after long-term yo-yo dieting.
  • When lab rats are forced to yo-yo diet, they loose weight slower with each new diet, as their bodies adapt to try to retain fat to protect against anticipated future diets.

Phew! How’s that for convincing? Montignacs argument is that weight gain is actually to do with eating too many high-GI carbs, but I’ll save the details of that to thrill you with another day……

Think exercise will help you lose weight? Think again.

In October I joined a gym after a whole year of doing very little exercise (due to  job-plus-horrendous-commute that took over my life and that I’m thankfully now free of). Since joining, I’ve been going 3-5 times weekly, typically doing 30-45 mins cardio followed by some light weights and sit-ups etc.  But when I stepped on the scales this February, I was surpirsed to see that my efforts had had no effect on my weight. I hadn’t lost a single pound.  If anything, I’d gained a little! Now, I don’t need to lose weight, so I knew it wasn’t a big deal but I couldn’t help feeling disappointed and confused. 

On further investigation, however, I discovered that I shouldn’t have been surprised. It seems that, for some time now, the scientific research has suggested that exercise on its own (without any dietry change) has a very minial effect on weight.  

An analysis of 25 years worth of weight loss research by Dr Miller of George Washington University, found that weightloss programmes that involved dieting and exercising resulted in hardly any more weight loss than programmes that just involved dieting. In fact, adding exercise to dieting caused people to lose an  a mere 0.3kgs more than their diet-only counterparts, on average. As for exercise alone, that resulted in an average weightloss of just 2.9kg compared to almost 11kg for dieting!

A more recent study found similar results. This study involved putting obese people on either a high-intensity exercise regimen, a low intensity exercise regimen, or no exercise regimen at all, for 18 months. No one was put on a diet. At the end of the study,  the mean change in body weight from a exercise regimen involving that 150–300 min per week of exercise per week was less than 2 measly kgs! (And that’s a very small percentage if you’re obese!) Resrearchers found that some of the people in the study did lose a significant amount of weight, but, when the analysed these individuals eating habits, they found that these people had been voluntarily restricting their food intake.

Now, I’ll admit that when I read this I felt pretty demoralised. Actually, I felt kind of like I’d just found out my boyfriend had been cheating on me. All those times I’d been told that if I just ran faster on the treadmill, if I just worked harder on the elliptical, I’d be a skinny-minny by bikini season! Lies! At first I felt like giving up the gym altogether. Whats the point, afterall, if it doesn’t help you lose weight? But then I realised, there is still a point. Lot’s of points in fact. Since starting going to the gym I’ve felt more energetic, healthier and stronger. It’s improved my mood (gotta love those endorphines) and, from a vanity point of view, its also helped me tone up. And exercise is associated with a whole host of health benefits that have nothing to do with weightloss, like preventing osteoperosis, strengthening your immune system, boosting energy levels and helping you sleep better.

 So I’m definitely going to keep going to the gym, even thoughI now know it won’t make me thinner. And, in a funny way, I find that kind of liberating. Afterall, if I’m just going to the gym to feel healthy and happy, then it doesn’t matter if I skip a day to do something else that will also make me happier or healthier. If I feel like skipping the gym because I want to use the extra hour to cook myself a really healthy, delicious stew, I can! Or, if I want to skip the gym because meeting a friend for a drink will make me happier, I should! And I’m happy with that.