Vegan FODMAP

When, a couple of weeks back, my husband announced that he was going on the low FODMAP diet to help with his digestive health, I have to admit that my initial reaction was panic. Although I was supportive of his decision and pleased that he was taking positive action to improve his wellbeing, I was also aware of how restrictive the diet could be, especially when approached from a vegan perspective. In fact, when it had been recommended to me by my GP a year or so ago it had been my husband who had said that he wasn’t happy with me pursuing it if it meant cutting anything further from my diet. To be honest, once I looked at the list of foods that I’d need to cut out – avocados, cashews, apples, dates, falafel, beans, mango, mange tout, rye bread, crumpets, garlic, hummus, basically all of my favourite things – I didn’t take much convincing that going low FODMAP wasn’t for me. And in fact, with some moderation and a bit more thought into how and when I was eating these particular foods (i.e. not wolfing down an apple after a falafel wrap with oodles of hummus while sitting, hunched over at my desk feeling stressed), I actually found that my digestive issues calmed down a little. So it was that I put the idea on the back burner.

Twelve months down the line I have found myself researching the low FODMAP diet once more and reminding myself what is ‘in’ and what’s ‘out’. A bit of online searching certainly seems to validate the efficacy of this diet in improving gut heath and symptoms of IBS. While it originated in Australia, it is now promoted in the UK by the NHS and supported by research from King’s College, London. But what exactly are FODMAPs and what is the theory behind this diet?

FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols, which are essentially a collection of poorly absorbed carbohydrates found in a variety of fruits, vegetables, wheat and milk (i.e. high FODMAP foods). Some of us are more susceptible to issues with absorbing the sugars from these foods and if they are not absorbed they tend to pass through the small intestine and enter the colon where they are fermented by bacteria. This in turn produces gas, which stretches the bowel causing bloating, wind and pain. It may also cause water to move into and out of the colon, resulting diarrhoea, constipation or a combination of the two (nice!). Cutting out all of these high FODMAP foods for a limited time can reduce these symptoms and then controlled reintroduction can help you to ascertain which foods in particular are causing you issues.

While my husband’s decision to go low FODMAP doesn’t necessarily have to impact on my eating habits, I do love to cook delicious food for us to enjoy together in the evenings, and the idea of me chomping away on a garlicy, oniony, mixed bean chilli while he eats plain brown rice with steamed carrots is just too sad. Moreover, when he did try few days of ‘fending for himself’ (read: eating plain lentils and rice cakes) he lost interest in food and a lot of weight, which worried me more than his stomach upsets. And, while I do love many of the high FODMAP veggies, such as mushrooms, asparagus, leeks and sugar snap peas, I know that I only need to cut these out of our evening meals for a short period, while for me, my husband has given up eating meat indefinitely, which is a much greater sacrifice.

So with all of this in mind I got Googling ‘vegan FODMAP recipes’ and discovered some great dishes that I’d love to share (whether you are going low  FODMAP or not!). We’ve found quinoa, brown rice and lentils to be great staples, as well as baked sweet potatoes with salad and sun dried tomatoes. My favourite discovery was the website The Wild Gut Project, which is where the below two recipes are taken from, with a few slight adjustments from me. I hope you enjoy them as much as we did.

Speedy satay and coconut noodles
(adapted from www.thewildgutproject.com)

Serves 2

Ingredients 

1 tsp coconut oil
1 inch cube of fresh ginger, finely chopped
50g tofu, pressed and cubed
1 carrot, chopped into thin sticks
1/2 courgette, cut into rounds
2 tbsp peanut butter
6 tbsp coconut cream
1-2 tsp miso paste (adjust for your own taste)
1 onion and garlic free stock cube
1 packet of rice noodles
1 big handful of choi sum, chopped (use the leaves and the top part of the stalks)
1/2 red pepper, chopped
1 tbsp soy sauce (more to taste if required after serving)
1 tsp garlic-infused olive oil
Small bunch fresh coriander
1/2 lime 

Method

  1. Sauté the ginger and tofu with some coconut oil in a wok until the tofu is slightly browned all over  
  2. Add the carrots and courgette and cook for a further 5-7 minutes, stirring so the tofu doesn’t stick
  3. Pour in 200ml of boiling water and add the peanut butter, coconut cream, miso paste and stock and stir until the sauce is combined 
  4. Add the rice noodles
  5. Once the noodles have loosened up, add the choi sum and red pepper and stir for 3-5 minutes 
  6. Add the soy sauce and garlic oil  
  7. Serve with fresh coriander and lime juice

Tasty tofu and spinach curry
(adapted from www.thewildgutproject.com)

Serves 2

Ingredients 

200g firm tofu, pressed and cubed
1/2 aubergine cubed
2 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp turmeric powder
2 tsp garam masala
1 tsp asafoetida
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 tbsp nut or vegetable oil
4 tbsp worth spring onion, dark green section only
2 inch cube root ginger, grated
3 salad tomatoes sliced
1 bag spinach
5 big leaves of chard
1 tsp cumin powder
2 tsp sesame seed oil
2 tsp garlic-infused olive oil
4 tbsp coconut cream
Cayenne pepper and salt to taste
Small bunch fresh coriander
Brown rice

Method

  1. Put the rice in saucepan, add water and bring to the boil. Allow the rice to simmer while you cook the curry
  2. In a bowl, mix the cubed tofu with the soy sauce and turmeric before setting aside and prepping the ginger, spring onions and tomatoes
  3. In a hot frying pan toast the garam masala, asafoetida and cumin seeds until they start to smell fragrant. Then add the oil and fry them for 1 minute before adding the spring onion greens and ginger
  4. Once the spring onions are a little crispy, transfer to a food processor/blender (I added a little water and popped them into the NutriBullet). Then use the same frying pan to fry the tofu and transfer back the bowl once it’s a little golden on each side
  5. Using the same pan and a dash of oil fry the aubergine until soft. Once cooked through add to the bowl with the tofu
  6. Add the tomatoes, 3-4 handfuls of spinach and chard to the processor and blend until it is like a bright green smoothie
  7. Gently heat the green smoothie liquid in a large saucepan for approximately 10 minutes until it no longer tastes grassy. Add water if needed
  8. Stir in the cumin powder, sesame seed oil, garlic oil, coconut cream, cayenne pepper and salt. Add the tofu, aubergine and 4-5 handfuls of spinach to the curry and heat for another couple minutes until the spinach has wilted 
  9. Serve topped with fresh coriander and brown rice
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A Rude Awakening

Last week I found myself taken aback, angry and confused to see an Instagram post from the company Rude Health declaring their support of the dairy industry. For those of you unfamiliar with the Rude Health brand, they produce an array of high-end, dairy free nut, oat and rice milks, and I have to admit their products are, well were, among my favourites. Like many of the other people who saw this post, my initial assumption was that either their account had been hacked or someone on work experience had made a massive PR error. However, a quick search on their website revealed neither of these scenarios to be the case. In fact, what I discovered was a ‘rant’ blog post from their Co-founder and Brand Director, Camilla Barnard, in which she categorised vegetarianism and veganism as fad diets.

While I don’t often get angry about many things, the messaging from Rude Health really wound me up, not least because it shows such a total lack of understanding on so many levels. It’s a lack of understanding of the motivations behind a plant based lifestyle (which Barnard describes as a fad diet ‘to save you from cancer and early death’ and a means by which to ‘claim the health and moral-high ground’), a complete misreading of who the people are who actually buy their products, and from a brand and marketing perspective, an apparent ignorance about how and why people align themselves to particular brands and brand identities.

Since seeing the Instagram image and reading the blog post, I have found myself morbidly fascinated in following the backlash of these postings, reading the thousands of comments that have resulted – many from people like me, who really don’t understand why any company in its right mind would seek to alienate one of its core audiences – and watching and waiting for some kind of explanation, apology or rationality from Rude Health. None has come.

I have also decided, along with many other vegans, to boycott Rude Health products. Reiterating the points above, my decision to buy Rude Health’s dairy-free milks was not just based on the fact that they were tasty; just as my decision not to eat animals and animal products is not just part of a fad to ‘save me from cancer’.

The fact is, that many vegans, myself included, made this lifestyle choice because we are fundamentally opposed to the meat and dairy industries and the impact they have on the well-being of animals and on the environment. We have seen the dark side of these industries and have come to our own conclusions not to play a part in the perpetuation of them. I didn’t become a vegan on the back of a ‘celebrity exclusion diet’ or to claim ‘the moral high-ground’. I became a vegan because I find the idea of killing another sentient being and consuming its corpse for pleasure totally barbaric and abhorrent. If my decision not to eat meat at the age of 8 was a fad, then it has been a bloody long one. Likewise, I don’t see that I have any business in drinking the breast milk of another species, not least when getting that milk involves cows being raped, having their calves taken away from them, being pumped full of hormones and steroids, being forced to express milk to the point of suffering from severe mastitis and then being culled when they are no longer of any use to the industry. No Camilla I am not ‘forced by an allergy’ to follow this diet, but I am compelled to, by the facts of an industry which I find to be inhumane. Eating may be a social activity and you may want ‘positivity and fun around food’, but this is equally possible while following a wholly plant-based diet and the fact is when I eat what I eat, no one has to die in the process.

Moreover, I’d be really interested to see who are actually buying Rude Health milk-alternative products. In insulting the vegan community, Rude Health clearly believe that there is a large enough market of non-vegans who are prepared to pay a minimum of £3.50 on a weekly basis for a carton of cashew milk and I just can’t believe that to be the case (although I’d love to be wrong on this). Even living in the lefty, middle-class bubble of North London, I don’t know any non-vegans who would be prepared to splurge on three different types of dairy-free milks on a weekly basis in the way that my vegan friends and I do. I know a few people who might buy almond or soya milk as a one off, but even then it is usually a cheaper brand, not Rude Health.

Finally, you don’t have to be a marketing expert to see that people buy into brands not just products. Whether it is in fashion or food, we like to align ourselves to the brands that we feel either reflect our personalities and our values, or that we aspire to imitate. In pledging their support for the dairy industry, Rude Health have isolated themselves from a massive vegan community who are fundamentally opposed to that industry.

And the big question for me is, why say anything at all? Why kick up this storm so unnecessarily? Is it just a case of massively misjudging and underestimating your audience, or is there something more sinister like a cash injection from an interested party behind it?

I’d be really interested to hear both your and Rude Health’s thoughts around this. I’ll also be keeping a keen eye on the Companies House site for their next accounts statement. 

5 Veggie restaurants that even meat eaters will love

As a vegan I love having the opportunity to eat at veggie restaurants. It’s so nice to not have to make a fuss when choosing a meal: not having to ask for one thing or another to be removed or added to a generic salad, or being faced by yet another stuffed pepper. It’s also nice to know that the chef empathises with my views and that the food I’m being served is 100% animal product free.

However, with lots of omnivorous friends I’m anxious not to push a veggie-only meal on them unwillingly. What does help to mitigate this is the number of amazing vegetarian restaurants in London, which serve the most delicious meat-free food. So, with the help of my omnivorous pals, I’ve created this shortlist of vegetarian havens in the city. If I go to any of the following restaurants I am pretty confident that whether I’m accompanied by fellow vegans, meat eaters or by a mixture of the two everyone will enjoy their meal.

The Gate

IMG_4296.JPGThe Gate is one of R’s favourite vegetarian restaurants and the place we take our parents when they are in town. With beautifully presented dishes inspired by Italian, French, Indian and South American cuisine, there is always plenty to choose from, plus they have great wines and a good cocktail menu.

This is a restaurant to push the boat out at and on our last visit I went all in with three courses: for starters I had the three lentil pate terrine – red lentil with smoked paprika and sun dried tomato; green lentil with fresh sweet basil; beluga lentil and olive served with our homemade red onion marmalade and crispy bread. For the main glazed and grilled teriyaki aubergine, stuffed with horseradish, coriander pesto, roasted pepper, shiitake and ginger, with crispy noodle salad with peppers, flat beans and carrots, and mango and coriander salsa. And for pudding a vegan coconut ice cream.

Rasa N16

vegan dosa rasaTucked away in beautiful Stoke Newington there are two versions of this restaurant, one of which is totally veggie. Rasa serves the best vegetarian Indian food I’ve ever eaten; the food is mouth-wateringly good and we always over-order! The street snack starters with an array of chutneys are delish, as are the starters, which include plantain with a peanut and ginger sauce and black bean cakes served with a coconut chutney. For the main we usually order two dishes and one rice to share – normally one of the dosas and then a curry. The prices are rock-bottom too, so you can over-indulge without stretching your purse strings too much!

Bonnington Café

bonnington-cafeDon’t be fooled by the website, this super cosy cafe is a veggie collective serving the most delicious dishes.

You need to book in advance by emailing the chef for the relevant night and Thursday is vegan night. The menu is different every time you go, which makes coming to a decision on what to order all the more tricky!  It’s BYO booze, and meals, despite being hearty and really tasty, come in at less than £15 for three courses. A delicious bargain!

The Black Cat Cafe

IMG_4930A new discovery in Hackney following on from a recommendation from the Fat Gay Vegan. Like the Bonnington this is a veggie collective, BYO restaurant with hearty delicious food and next-to-nothing prices. The menu changes daily, depending on what is available and seasonal, but on our trip I had an amazing savoury mixed vegetable pancake, topped with cashew cheese and served with quinoa, beetroot and mixed leaf salads, while R had a smoky vegan burger with chips. It was so tasty that we are definitely planning a return visit.

Ethos Restaurant

IMG_1553A relatively new find, I stumbled upon the Ethos Restaurant when looking for a brunch venue with my pals the Twins in Trainers. We ate from the breakfast/brunch menu – enjoying a delicious kale and sweet potato hash, sautéed in coconut oil with scrambled tofu and turmeric and a superfood smoothie – but we lingered so long that we ran over into lunchtime and discovered an amazing array of hot and cold salads, which you pay for by weight, as well as delicious sounding cakes such as the vegan chocolate peanut butter bomb and the vegan ‘healthy’ black bean brownie.

We didn’t get to sample any of the lunchtime menus so we will be going back!

For more of my favourite vegan-friendly restaurants in and out of London visit the Eat page on my blog and if you have any recommendations to pass on do let me know.

6 Non-dairy milks that will have you leaving the cows behind

You don’t have to be a vegan or sworn-off dairy to enjoy the wide variety of milk alternatives now available in most supermarkets and health food stores. From almond milk to Oatly the range is not inconsiderable, and with each type and brand providing its own unique flavour and nutritional profile you could be forgiven for being overwhelmed by the offering.

Having sampled my fair share of milk alternatives, both good and bad, I wanted to provide a quick rundown of my favourites so you too can be enjoying soya in your coffee, oat milk in your porridge and hazelnut milk in your hot chocolate, while avoiding some of the cardboardy, flavourless or over-sweet options on the market.

1. Oat milk

Best for breakfast

OatlyOatly is my go-to breakfast milk. Rich and creamy it’s perfect in porridge but it’s also tasty in cereal, as well as in tea (although a word of warning , while still delicious, it does tend to separate in tea leaving you with a cloudy brew). Naturally sweet it requires no additional sugary nasties and Oatly have recently brought out a ‘barista’ version, which means you can now enjoy it in you flat white or frothed in your cappuccino.

Nutrition information per 100g:
Energy 45 kcal
Fat 1.5g
of which saturated 0.2g
Carbohydrates 6.5g, of which sugars 4g
Protein 1g
Fibre 0.8g
Salt 0.1g

Added extras:
Vitamin D 1.5 µg (30%*)
Riboflavin 0.21 mg (15%*)
Vitamin B12 0.38 µg (15%*)
Calcium 120 mg (15%*)

As an sneaky treat Oatly also do a chocolate oat milk and this is my absolute favourite chocolate milk alternative. Although there are added sugars in this version (carbohydrates 9.5g, of which sugars 7g), it’s not super-high calorie (55 kcals per 100ml) and still has added vitamin D, riboflavin, B12 and calcium, good for those wintery evenings when you need a hot chocolaty pick-me-up!

2. Coconut milk

Best for smoothies

alpro-coconut-milk.jpgIf you’re looking for something to whizz up with your cucumber and kale, or to set off a pineapple and mango smoothie then look no further than Alpro Coconut Drink. Although quite sweet and ‘thin’ (i.e. it will take half a carton to change the colour of your tea), coconut milk is a delicious addition when whizzed up with a variety of ingredients and served over ice.

Nutrition information per 100ml:
Energy 20 kcal
Fat 0.9g, of which saturates 0.9g
Carbohydrate 2.7g, of which sugars 1.9g
Protein 0.1g
Fibre 0.0g
Salt 0.13g

Added extras:
Vitamin D 0.75µg (15%*)
Vitamin B12 0.38µg (15%*)

3. Soya milk

Best in coffee

bonsoyYou know a coffee shop takes itself seriously when you see Bonsoy behind the counter. It’s not cheap but it’s so creamy and delicious and it doesn’t curdle in coffee or separate like other options. I try to limit my soya intake and this is a bit of an indulgence to buy for home use, but I’d recommend it if you are going out for coffee or brunch or if you have a good coffee machine and want a lazy weekend treat.

Nutrition information per 100ml:
Energy 61 kcal
Fat  2.2g, of which saturates  0.3g
Carbohydrates 5.5g, of which sugars  2.2g
Protein  4.1g
Fibre  1.4g
Salt  0.13g

4. Rice milk

rude health rice (2)Rude Health have transformed rice milk for me. Their brown rice milk is totally tasty and doesn’t have the watery or oily taste of other rice milk alternatives. It is naturally sweet (but not as sickly sweet as other rice milk options) and makes a great addition to a rice pudding or porridge oats.

It is also great if you are on an elimination or low soya or dairy, or a gluten free diet.

Provamel also offer a tasty rice milk option with added calcium and it comes in slightly cheaper than the Rude Health version. It’s not quite as creamy, and you need to add quite a lot to tea and coffee, but it is yummy in porridge and does offer an additional calcium hit.

Nutrition information per 100ml:
Rude Health
Energy 59 kcal
Fat 1.3g, of which saturates 0.4g
Carbohydrates 11g, of which sugars 5g
Protein 0.3g
Fibre 0.7g
Salt 0.1g

Provamel
Energy 54 kcal
Fat 1.1g, of which saturates 0.2 g
Carbohydrates 11g, of which sugars 6.5 g
Protein 0.1g
Fibre 0g
Salt 0.1g

Added extras:
Calcium 120 mg

5. Almond milk

For Almond milk, for me it’s between Rude Health and The Pressery.

I like Rude Health’s Ultimate Almond consists of just natural spring water, organic Italian almonds and that’s it! It actually tastes like almonds and not like sugar, like many other almond alternatives.

Similarly, The Pressery are committed to simple ingredients and a delicate taste. What also wins me over is that for every carton sold they donate 5p to the Bumblebee Conservation Trust.

the presseryThey also produce almond-based drinks, available in 250ml bottles and including cacao sweetened with maple syrup and vanilla, turmeric with cayenne and honey, strawberry, and matcha.

Nutrition per 100ml:

Rude Health
Energy 38 kcal
Fat 3.2g, of which saturates 0.3g
Carbohydrates 0.8g, of which sugars 0g
Protein 1.5g
Fibre 0.8g
Salt 0g

The Pressery
Energy 42 kcal
Fat 4 g, of which saturates 0g
Carbohydrates 0g, of which sugars 0g
Protein  0g
Fibre 0g
Salt 0mg

6. Hazelnut milk

Best for hot chocolate

alpro hazelnut.jpgAnother nutty option, Alpro hazelnut milk, is almost chocolately in flavour. It can be enjoyed on its own, or, if you are feeling very indulgent, in hot chocolate. Think Nutella and you will have an ideas of how delicious this option is!

While it is quite sweet, Alpro do always throw in additional vitamins and minerals, making sure that you get you calcium and b vitamins in this – great for vegans!

Nutrition per 100ml:
Energy 29 kcal
Fat 1.6 g, of which saturates 0.2 g
Carbohydrate 3.1 g, of which sugars 3.1 g
Fibre 0.3 g
Protein 0.4 g
Salt 0.13 g

Added extras:
Vitamin D 0.75 µg 15%*
Vitamin B2 0.21 mg 15%*
Vitamin B12 0.38 µg 15%*
Vitamin E 1.80 mg 15%*
Calcium 120 mg 15%*

Do you have a favourite non-dairy milk that you would recommend? Or some great dairy-free recipes to try? 
*% of DRI

Movers and Shakers – delicious vegan breakfast smoothies

Anyone who follows me on Instagram will know that my Nutribullet has revolutionised my morning routine. From bright green cucumber, spinach and spirulina shakes to vibrant orange mango, carrot and turmeric smoothies, breakfast has never been so colourful or so jam-packed with nutritional goodness.

Prior to the Nutribullet I wouldn’t have considered foods such as cucumbers, carrots and courgettes to be breakfast fare, or turmeric and cayenne pepper come to that, and I don’t think I even knew what chlorella and spirulina were – but now all of these are among my breakfast staples.

While packing a vitamin-rich punch, I also find my morning juices give me the hydration hit I needs first thing and they don’t leave me feeling heavy or acidic as oats or muesli sometimes do.

So what do I put in these magical morning mixes?

smoothie

I usually start with a veggie base, either half a carrot, a generous chunk of cucumber or a similar sized chunk of courgette, this gives substance without the sugar overload.

Next I’ll add either half an avocado or half a frozen banana to give a delicious ‘creamy’ texture.

Then comes something fruity – some frozen berries, cherries or mango, or even some fresh apple, kiwi or pear.

This is topped with a handful of greens – spinach or kale – and a couple of dates for sweetness.

After this come my ‘boosters’, a teaspoon of spirulina, rich in b vitamins and protein, and chlorella, which is soothing to the digestive system, turmeric for it’s anti inflammatory properties and cinnamon to balance my blood sugar (and because it’s delish!).

I may also add a nut element too – some ground Brazil nuts, flaxseed and coenzyme q 10, a couple of cashews, almonds, or a teaspoon of nut butter.

Gingembre et piments rougesI really like my smoothies to have an extra kick so usually include half a teaspoon of cayenne pepper or a chunk of ginger. All of this is whizzed up with a glug of water and a glug of soya, nut, rice, coconut or oat milk or coconut water depending on what I have in the fridge.

Finally I’ll stir in some chia seeds and leave them to soak overnight so they go all glutinous and yummy.

So lots of potential ingredients and combinations to try.

  • A recent favourite is cucumber, spinach, banana, spirulina, cinnamon, dates, ground flaxseed and chia.
  • Mango, carrot, turmeric, cinnamon, cayenne, banana, dates and Brazil nuts is also a delish combination.
  • As is ginger, pear, avo, spinach, chlorella, cashew and dates.
  • Or if I’m really indulging I may have banana, avo, cinnamon, dates and almond butter.

I’d recommend experimenting with flavours and combinations you perhaps might not immediately think would work, and making juices up the night before and leaving in the fridge to chill over night. If you don’t have time to make a breakfast shake the night before, frozen banana and a few ice cubes whizzed in works well and if I’m making a juice first thing I’ll pop it into the freezer while I do 20 minutes of yoga so it’s nice and chilled by the time I come to drink it.

Hopefully this has given you some inspiration to start your own morning shake routine.

Until my next, happy mixing!

IMG_3633

A good influence?

Like many health and wellness bloggers I try to surround myself with positive and inspirational people and media, not only to stay abreast of the latest fitness and diet trends to report back on here, but also to keep me motivated, optimistic and to try to help mould me into the best version of myself (or a slightly better version at least!).

Occasionally I find that something I read, hear in a podcast, or glimpse on social media resonates with me in a much more profound way than the usual interesting, but less effecting, information. While so often the latter type of nuggets will have an instant impact, their effects are, more often than not, only short-lived – a magazine article that pushes me out of the door do a workout, or an Instagram picture that drives me to make a healthier meal choice. However, on the occasions that I read or hear something which has a deeper influence, I find it seeps into my subconscious in a way that goes on to shape the way I think, behave and interact with others well beyond the initial point of impact.

This was of course the case when I switched from a vegetarian to a vegan lifestyle some ten years ago now after learning more about the dairy industry and realising the effects that dairy products had on my body. Once I was equipped with this knowledge the fact of veganism seemed an obvious conclusion.

In recent weeks I had my eyes opened again in this regard as I listened to an interview with Kip Anderson and Keegan Kuhn, makers of the documentary film Cowspiracy. While this documentary had been on my radar, I hadn’t prioritised watching it as I had thought it would just be a case of preaching to the converted. However, what the interview revealed was how little I actually knew about the detrimental effects of animal agriculture on the environment and why grass-fed meat is not the often vaunted ‘sustainable’ solution that many meat eaters claim. Again, equipped with the knowledge that the animal agriculture industry is responsible for more of the ‘human-produced’ greenhouse gasses than all means of transport combined, or that whole ecosystems are disrupted by the land requirements for grazing cattle, and that this is the leading cause of species extinction, habitat destruction and wildlife culling, reaffirmed in my mind my lifestyle choices and made me want to share the message with others (with almost evangelical zeal!).

My attitude to exercise has also taken a positive turn in recent months and this was further solidified by a excerpt in Adharanand Finn’s new book,The Way of the Runner, which I read this week.

After a series of hip issues and my decision not to run the marathon this year I had felt my relationship with running sour somewhat. However, once the pressure of training for an event was removed, and I was able to let my body recover without the anxiety of missed training sessions, I found that I was able to reconnect with the real reason I go out running: just because.

Finn voiced these sentiments perfectly in his book:

I know some people run to loose weight, to get fit, or maybe they’re running to raise money for a charity. But for me…these are just by-products. Running itself has its own raison d’être…[W]e run to connect with something in ourselves, something buried deep down beneath all the worldly layers of identity and responsibility. Running, in its simplicity, its pure brutality, peels away these layers, revealing the raw human underneath…[I]f we push on, running harder, further deeper into the wildness of it all, away from the world and the structure of our lives…we begin to float…Our minds begin to clear and we begin to feel strangely detached, and yet at the same time connected, connected to ourselves…

In this modern world we need excuses…The world is set up to cater for the rational, logical mind, which needs to see tangible reasons and benefits behind any effort. We need to dangle the carrot of marathons and best times in front of ourselves to justify this strange habit of getting up, running around outside, coming back having not actually gone anywhere…And this, on some superficial level motivates me to run. But really, deep down, I know it’s just a front. What I really want to do is get away from all of the structure, the complexity and chaos of my constructed life, and to connect with the simple human that lies buried under everything else.

I don’t doubt that this is a message that will resonate with many other runners.

Finally, with my daily practice of yoga and discovery of the wider mindfulness and meditation movement, I can feel another shift taking place. Partly responsible for this greater sense of connectedness and peace with myself is my recent discovery of Rich Roll. Roll’s podcast is full of interviews with inspirational ‘paradigm breakers’ in different fields from business, music, fitness, meditation, sleep and nutrition, and his unapologetic approach to health, wellness and veganism (the tagline to his bio is ‘a life transformed by plants’), have all served to motivate me to feel more at peace and proud of my lifestyle choices, while also compelling me to strive for more in work, exercise, wellness and diet.

You need only to listen to his interviews with Ariana Huffington, John Joseph, Light Watkins, Jedidiah Jenkins, Mishka Shubaly, or indeed any of the other motivational interviewees he has had on the show to realise what an incredible resource this is.

There are some really powerful lessons to be learned: Roll is a recovering alcoholic turned ultra-athlete and he is pretty frank that to make a change in any element of your life you already know what to do:

There is no secret bullet or life-hack that is going to help you to accomplish what you want to do, it’s simply a case of stopping what you doing and switching to take the actions that will move you closer to your goal. It’s tough to hear because people want to hear that there is an easier, softer way. The short-cut is to make that goal your absolute one priority and do anything you can to achieve it.

The podcast makes me think about life in a holistic sense: in an interview with Jason Garner, Garner highlighted the problem of compartmentalising different aspects of our lives and how ‘we talk about work life balance as if work isn’t part of our life’, something which really struck a chord with me. In another episode our engagement with social media was brought into question and the focus was placed on the importance of ‘being’ rather than ‘appearing to be’, a shift that would serve many of us.

At it’s essence is the message that life, success and happiness is all about perspective – two people can have the same experience and perceive it totally differently, so what you have to ask is how much responsibility are you prepared to take for your mindset and approach to life?

I will finish with a Viktor Frankl quote that I particularly like, which Roll cited in an episode I was listening to this week:

Between stillness and response there is a space and in that space is our power to choose our response and in our response lies our growth and our freedom.

Happy inspiring.

 

 

Train your mind, fuel your body and start getting stronger

Last week the flu epidemic that seems to have been sweeping our office finally caught up with me. From feeling unusually achy and slightly sub-par while doing my yoga on Wednesday morning, I found myself a shivering, sweating, aching, snotty mess by Wednesday evening.

While my training dwindled into non-existence and I had to miss a race on Sunday, what I lacked in movement I made up for in sleep. Unable to get out of bed for a couple of days I also had plenty of time to listen to lots of health and fitness podcasts and I used the time to listen, learn and be inspired.

Rich Roll PodcastI began with a good dose of the Ben Greenfield Fitness podcast and it was through him that I discovered the Rich Roll podcast, a new revelation in my wellness listening (Greenfield’s interview with Rich Roll can be found here and is well worth a listen).

Roll is a vegan ultra-endurance athlete and health and wellness advocate, and his wife, Julie Piatt, is a vegan chef and a mindfulness and meditation guru. Roll leads on the podcast, but he and Julie have written a book together – The Plantpower Way – a cookbook-come-lifestyle guide, and in the initial edition of the podcast I listened to, they discussed the book together.

This episode also looked at the emotional drivers behind diet and behaviour. In particular it focused on the importance of taking a holistic approach to your health and well being, as well as on the value of meditation in nurturing your emotional and spiritual sides. Roll described it as ‘going beyond the kale‘, emphasising the point that diet alone is not enough for complete wellness. While you may choose to adopt a plant-based diet, rather than simply letting that be an end it itself, you should go beyond the green juices and lentils and take the increased vitality afforded by your diet to fuel other elements of your life.

9781583335871_The-Plantpower-Way-1024x943Similarly, while exercise has its place and values, alone is not enough for total health. As Roll points out, you can be out running, which is ostensibly a positive act, but in that space you might also find that you are being very hard on yourself and running becomes ‘its own repression machine’. Of course running can also be incredibly liberating, it all comes down to the perspective that you bring to it, but if you are using running as an escape or ‘if you’re stuck in running and you get super compulsive about it, ask yourself, is that any better than any other addictive behaviour pattern?’

I found this perspective particularly helpful, as I know from my own experience that while sometimes I find running very calming and restorative, at others, (particularly at the moment when pain and injury are combining with the feeling that I need oomph up my fitness), running becomes its own source of stress and anxiety. Having someone else verbalise this has helped me to think about the role that running plays in my life and has allowed me to take a step back to reflect on where it is bringing me positive energy and where it is becoming an emotional and energy drain.

Piatt also stressed that running does not offer enough of a meditative space to allow you to fully enjoy all of the positive benefits of meditation. While it can offer a transformative and very positive space, it is no substitute for seated meditation, which provides a more complete opportunity for self-enquiry and self-discovery. It allows you to quieten the mind and create a reflective space between the goings on of the world and your responses to them. It also opens up a healing space for you to reflect on your character and priorities, as well as to re-balance the energetic mind and body.

HeadspaceWhile Piatt directed listeners to a guided meditation on her website, Roll promoted the Headspace meditation app. I have to admit to having the app but, at the time of listening to this podcast, to only being a few sessions in to the Take 10 series. So, with all of this positive talk of meditation, I used my bed-bound time to re-engage with the app and feel like I’ve really started to make some progress.

I have been trying to get into meditation since the yoga retreat in January, and have toyed with sessions on and off, but I know that to really ‘crack it’ I need to make meditating as much of a habit as my morning yoga sessions or lunchtime runs.

In a later podcast episode, but still on the theme of meditation, Roll interviewed meditation guru Light Watkins. Here the discussion touched on this idea of making meditation a habit. Watkins noted that the difficult thing is to break your bad habits, in this case, the habit of not meditating, rather than to adopt positive new ones. He used the example of a man who had re-engineered his bike so that the handlebars were backwards, meaning that when he turned left he would go right and when he turned right he would go left. It took him eight months of practising for five minutes every morning before he finally cracked being able to ride the bike down his drive. In this instance, as with meditating, it is not about the knowledge of how something is done or why it works, or even the processes that you need to go through to get the desired end result, rather it is about consistent behaviour and being consistent enough that your body eventually habituates towards meditating (or riding a backwards bicycle).

In Roll’s conversation with Light, again there was an emphasis on holistic health, giving the example of a Rubik’s cube, where every side of the cube has to be balanced. In this example meditation offers the tool to unlock the problem of the Rubik’s cube and restore overall balance.

I found this a really useful way of thinking about meditation and the body as a whole and it certainly gave me food for thought with regard to how I treat my mind and body.

My other valuable takeaway from Watkins and Piatt was the idea that we shouldn’t regard events or circumstances as wholly good or bad. Rather than polarising our experiences we should try to see the nuances and reflect on what can be learned from them. Piatt noted that ‘there is no human life that does not have any darkness in it…in order to be a fully integrated human being you have to have embraced both the light and the dark, it is what has made you what you are today. You can’t cut off a part of your existence and pretend it never happened’.

While this is a sentiment we may have heard many times before, I found it incredibly comforting and reassuring, particularly during a week of illness, which I had been regarding as entirely negative.

As this post has perhaps shown, taking time out, even when unable to get out of bed, can be positive and constructive. For me, it was a chance to listen to podcasts and to my body, to encounter new inspirational speakers, to meditate (unhampered by the feeling I should be doing something more ‘active’) and to reflect on the health of my body as a whole unit.

Here is where we start getting stronger.