Playing with my food

I have found that there are wonderful lessons to be learned anywhere you look, if you have the time and inclination.  Two friends of mine have a lot to teach me about the universe, both through the medium of food, so I thought I’d stop and listen.  Zoe Harcombe is a nutritionist and author who is spectacularly turning the subject of eating on its head, and Tara Wood is a biologist stuntwoman who set up an amazing holiday company 10 years ago called Wildfitness, where you learn priceless lessons in the benefits of eating, moving and living in the way that evolution designed us to.

Recently I read Zoe’s latest book on how the human body (and mind) really interact with food (Why Do You Overeat?) and a blog post by Tara proposing an intriguing one-month eating-and-exercise challenge.  Having also watched a Horizon documentary on fasting, I thought I’d have a play with my food and see what happened.

The experiments

Here’s what my version of their suggestions involved:

1. Horizon’s fasting experiment: 2 consecutive 24 hour fasts per week for 5 weeks (basically just dinner on Monday and Tuesday, and normal eating the rest of the week)

2. Tara’s eating experiment: No gluten, dairy, sugar or alcohol (I threw in caffeine for 2 weeks too).  Exercise intensely at least twice a week (this brought me nicely out of winter hibernation.  I generally did 5 mile barefoot runs with chin ups back at home)

3. Zoe’s eating experiment: Meat, fish, eggs and veggies (plus a bit of brown rice) only for 5 days.  From then, no mixing of carb food (grains and potatoes) with fat food (meat).  And no processed food, only real, whole food

Number 1 can’t of course be combined with the others; I did it at the end of last year.  But I thought I could supercharge 2 and 3 by doing them both together, and did so during March.

What I learned…

…about the world

– Wheat and dairy and processed sugar are EVERYWHERE.  Seemingly in everything in Tesco apart from raw onions.  Probably even in car batteries these days.  No wonder we’re so highly strung (especially when driving).  I was regularly caught out until I became vigilant

food_priest– Wheat and sugar are like crack, and so ‘impulse aisles’ are like crack dens, designed by the devil himself (who works in the sales & marketing department).  It’s food porn!  I shuffled through these aisles clutching my wholefoods like a priest through Amsterdam fumbling his rosary

– Anything that ends up in any sort of packet and still claims to have nutrition, would appear to be brazenly lying.  I only appreciated last month how shocking this truth is

– Pubs are a total write off if you’re avoiding fake stuff.  Until you discover icy soda water with squished lime quarters in it, which taste like mojitos

food_butcher– People in local health food shops are really nice and ought to be knighted.  So are local butchers, except they hold meat cleavers which is a bit menacing

…about myself

– I used to think hunger was an intolerable feeling and that I had to eat every 4 hours.  A 24 hour fast is a real myth-buster in this regard.  It’s easy really; so eating snacks is purely compulsive.  That’s a lot of mindless eating I’ve done

– Not having to eat eliminates the need for hundreds of food-related decisions in any given day.  You basically gain an extra 3 hours to use as you please

– Fasting does not make me obsess about food, except for just before dinner.  But controlling my diet does; it can take over my life and there’s the danger of becoming a real bore

– Ruling out ingrained recipe habits makes me try cooking new stuff.  Chicken and vegetable stew, so delicious it made me dance around the kitchen.  Tofu scramble?  Hey, that’s really nice

– I supposedly ate healthily before; I now see this in a new perspective.  Since wheat and sugar are like crack, cutting them out made me weak and pathetic for the whole first week.  And rampantly hungry.  Who is that crazy person in my head, who makes me want to lunge for croissants or do an armed hold-up in Ben’s Cookies?  Well, he’s always been there, I just never introduced myself to him before.  The glucose monster is still lurking, but at least he has lost his hiding place

food_trinity– Eggs are magic.  So is bacon.  I ate 60 eggs in March.  Probably not to be repeated, but eggs were definitely my saviour

– Willpower is finite.  I tried at first to fight and prevail with unassailable willpower.  But forcing myself is quite exhausting and not much fun.  Especially when the experiment is scheduled during my daughter’s birthday party (parties)… lots of home baking of cake and brownies, and the crunching of Pickled Onion Monster Munch.  There’s only so much willpower available to me, so something would have given way unless an outlet was provided.  Luckily, roasted macadamia nuts tasted like millionaire shortbread.  And I never knew that brown rice crackers could get me so wantonly excited.  It goes to show what becomes possible when my settings go back to zero.  (But is Booja Booja ice-cream really too good to be true?)

My healthy take-aways

1. It’s OK to start something as a curious experiment with no particular aim (this was certainly never an exercise in weight loss), but if it doesn’t quickly find a compelling connection to some bigger ideal, it will – and should – quickly fall away

2. This quickly turned out to be a big exercise of my willpower muscle.  It was pretty tough at times, saying no to urges so much.  But I was driven by the vital awareness and self-discipline it was bringing, realising how it applies equally in other areas of life, such as overcoming fear (of failure and the unknown) and desire (for the trap of familiar normality, and the comfort of consuming)

3. Perhaps the biggest thing from all this was to see once again, that when my world gets turned upside down, I experience creative destruction.  Old beliefs and habits get destroyed, and I discover valuable new possibilities.  These experiments always leave me miles better off.  More aware of myself, more conscious of the world around me.

food_nausea It just so happened that this experiment ended on Easter Sunday.

Did I use my beefier willpower muscle to come down slowly?

Of course I didn’t (must have been the egg thing).


2 comments on “Playing with my food
  1. Alex says:

    Congrats Chris, am going to do a bit of fasting myself in May so this is good encouragement. Look forward to seeing you at Schumacher this weekend!

  2. Ruth E Jones says:

    I totally agree that fasting means that not having to make food related decisions – which in turn leads to viewing your eating, and, more importantly snacking, habits in an entirely different light.

    I have lost around 3/4 stone on fasting, but am still a bit of slave to wheat and sugar – so the beginning of your article made me re-examine my larder. (I did this whilst eating a piece of toast though…!)

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