Is there anything more cosy than settling down in front of a log fire, candles lit, glass of something delicious in your hand? I don’t think there is. If the past few months have taught me anything, it’s been to slow down and enjoy the life I have. During lockdown this process was enforced and often resented, now for many, it’s selected.
I lost my grandmother at the beginning of September – she was 110 years old and lived an extremely ‘slow’ life. Time was taken for everything because she came from an era when nothing was on demand – food was slow, transport was slow….it was a time of ritual and habit – a time when knowing where somebody could be found at a certain time was the mobile phone of the era, a point of communication.
In recent months I’ve got into the habit of walking daily, every morning, and the day has become so much more productive as a result. Whatever the weather, the lane outside my house offers a seasonal glimpse of country life, the light in the morning is outstanding; some days it’s pink, others tinged with grey-blue, and a golden light sometimes descends over the hillside. If I don’t walk, I am not in the right mind for the rest of the day, it has become an addiction, a positive one, one without which I don’t think my mental health would survive.
I know that mindfulness is fashionable at the moment but, as I’ve said before, we are simply relearning a forgotten coping mechanism. Whether it was mending socks by candlelight (incandescent light is exceptionally good for relaxing the mind), buffing boots to a shine, reading a book, peeling onions for pickling, mending, playing an instrument…many of these mindful things are now forgotten skills, they weren’t merely habits, they were necessities, in which pride was taken – it boosted mental health. People say, “take up a hobby”, and many people choose hobbies which offer more stress, hiding under adrenaline-fuelled feats – hobbies should be an opportunity to wind down and to allow the circadian rhythms to do their thing, placing us in a good frame of mind, with plenty of sleep and energy for work.
I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes a little over 13 years ago and was told that after my son was born, things ‘should’ return to normal. They didn’t. This led to a long period in my life where I was in complete denial. I knew my sugars were high and made some concessions, however they weren’t nearly enough. Now, finally, after several false starts in recent years I have chosen my path and have been following it for just one week. The thoughts here are my own, based on very thorough research and I, personally, have seen outstanding results in just a few days. I am following a lower carb, higher fat approach, and, after years of constant hunger, I am finally finding contentment in good food and a general feeling of satiety, for body and soul…oh, and my symptoms are easing too.
My great-grandmother was diabetic. Her death at the age of 72 was due to gangrene from a foot wound which wouldn’t heal. By this time she was on insulin and very poorly indeed. Never particularly overweight, she enjoyed a varied diet of home cooked food and brought up her many children to cook for themselves and eat well.
I started researching ways of managing diabetes about ten years ago and many half-hearted attempts followed, which never really lasted more than a day or two. I exercised more, which seemed to put my sugars up further, ate whole grains, as recommended by the NHS, and saw rising figures annually. I’ve always considered medication to be a last resort, once all other options have been discounted, so I’ve never been prescribed the drugs which are commonly used to treat Type 2.
As of last Friday my blood sugars were between 15mols and 23 mols; today they are between 9mols and 14mols, often just half of last week’s results. What have I done? Reduced my carbohydrate consumption to under 60g of net carbs a day. I’m enjoying a full range of nutritious foods; meat, fish, dairy, vegetables, glasses of wine and even dark chocolate. I start the day with bacon and eggs fried in lard, add a small amount of obscenely buttered sourdough and power through. The first few days were difficult. I was tired and had headaches but then something changed, suddenly I was full of energy. I’ve been sleeping better, my vision is improving, the tiredness which would hit me in the mid-afternoon like a brick wall is gone and I’m feeling altogether, more together.
As a food writer, I spend my days immersed in glorious images and descriptions of fabulous foods. I’ve spent hours trying to work out how my experience in this industry can be used to help others in my position and concluded that a candid post and follow ups might well be the answer, so here we are.
Today I’ve had a lovely brunch, full of good fats; avocado, olive oil, bacon, eggs and lard, a late lunch of homemade Steak Hache made from locally, (moderately) fatty beef mince and garlic green beans. I finished with a small bowl of strawberries and a good dollop of mascarpone. Sound like a diet? It’s not, in fact I dislike the word. Let’s call it a lifestyle change. So, having followed this way of eating for a week, here are my tops tips on how to deal with the first few days.
Stock up on good fats and plenty of eggs: butter, dripping, olive oil, lard, coconut oil and remember ‘Fat is Flavour’
Seasonal veg – try and order a veg box or grow your own. Most above ground veg are suitable for this way of eating. Fibrous veg in particular because the body does not process the carbs from fibre, hence carbs (all carbs), and ‘net’ carbs (which are the carbs your body draw on).
Source some good mince from your local butcher (many are offering mail order or home delivery at the moment) – divide into 180g portions, season with herbs, salt and pepper and freeze in individual portions. When you need something quick for lunch, defrost, shape into a patty and fry, serving with a side of green veggies and maybe some garlic butter. This works with beef, pork, lamb, turkey, venison…any meat and is totally delicious and extremely satisfying.
Berries are your friends – keep a stash of berries in the fridge or freezer. A small bowlful topped with double cream, clotted cream or mascarpone feels very naughty, but really isn’t.
If you are going to include bread in your new lifestyle, choose a really good one…seek out your local artisan bakers and find a great sourdough, something really worth eating and tasty. A small 30g slice has only about 14g of carbs and is perfect for adding a little crunch to breakfast.
Invest in some coconut and almond flour. These are so versatile, and scouring the internet you can find recipes for everything from pizza and flatbread, to cookies and cakes.
Buy some Xanthan Gum – often used in gluten free baked goods, Xanthan Gum adds a certain integrity to low carb baking, helping improve texture as gluten normally does.
Eat cheese. Go mad with mail order, find local and regional cheeses. I find I tolerate dairy very well, some people don’t, and it can push up sugar levels but if it works for you, go for it.
Keep hydrated – drink at least two litres of water (in addition to tea, herbal tea and coffee) every day. When low carbing, hydration is extremely important. Buy a reusable bottle and fill and refill.
Relax – stress causes blood sugar to rise, so a little ‘me time’ will help reduce the levels of Cortisone, and remember this is not a sprint, it’s a gentle stroll. What took several years to create will not disappear in a few weeks, there will be ups and downs.
The official line is still to eat whole-grains and base your diet around starchy carbs. For me, this advice is clearly wrong but life’s a learning curve. Low carb diets have been successfully used to treat diabetes since the 18th century, so what’s changed?
This year has been a bit of a challenge for us, aside from current circumstances, as we were flooded in February and have had to move, temporarily into a new property. It’s very lovely with a large lawn but nowhere to grow vegetables….however, as luck would have it (although not considered so at the time) our brand new oak kitchen floor was languishing under a foot of flood water and had to be pulled up. So, we have created a little container garden, with (hopefully) enough veg to keep us going throughout the summer.
We have planted, and successfully germinated:
Green Beans (French and Runner)
and we are waiting for the first signs of
It’s very easy to grow a few veg, and extremely satisfying, there’s something so exciting about that first meal entirely grown at home. Vegetables have so many options; you can freeze them, preserve them, dry them…there are infinite salads to be created and recipes to devise, and it really does encourage children to eat more veg. Even the fussiest eater can usually be tempted by a homegrown carrot stick.
My grandmother, who is now 109 and lives with us, always grew her own tomatoes and strawberries. In her younger years she grew a lot more, and my husband’s father took to gardening as a young teenager, to such an extent that he was soon supplying the local pubs with vegetables. I would love a walled garden, full of herbs, packed with veg, netted patches of soft fruit and esplanade orchard fruits…one day, I promise myself. In the meantime we have to be clever and use what’s to hand. I’ll keep you posted as the season moves on and, hopefully there’ll be lots of delicious produce and recipes to share.
I find myself writing my first post in extraordinary times on a fine spring day, which Winnie the Pooh would undoubtedly declare ‘blustery’, but look at the trees…they have begun to unfurl their tiny leaves, the blossom is out and all is fighting against the elements…and winning. Just as we, the world, is fighting against a disease equally as unrelenting. We will hold out, just as the leaves, and it will not take our dignity or beauty away. We must adapt to a new normal and sometimes, forced adaption can be incredibly cathartic.
Just 8 weeks ago, if somebody had said that everybody in the UK would have to stay inside, not enjoy the freedoms and liberties our fore-fathers fought for, they would have been declared insane, and yet, here we are…so we must look to the good of this situation, the reconnecting with ourselves, reading books, playing games, getting out into the garden and growing our own food. All these things which were the ‘norm’ in our grandparents day, must soon be our ‘norm’ too. We have become teachers, councillors, gardeners, cleaners, caterers….time is standing still and allowing us to regress a little. Perhaps this regression is much needed in a world of relentless technology and busyness, from having to make time for things to having the time to enjoy things in a more leisurely way, to take pleasure in the little things like a pot of real tea or a home-cooked family meal. We have time to stop and think, and we are showing gratitude in a way not seen for decades.
In my little corner of the world, farming goes on, the milk tankers arrive morning and night to collect from the dairy herds, a few miles into Herefordshire the soft fruit is beginning to ripen, the fields are ploughed and sown and everything seems normal. However, these, often forgotten workers are now being thanked for keeping food supplies going, just as the NHS staff are for their life-saving work. Maybe new knowledge will come from this, perhaps children will began to know where milk comes from, people won’t take all supermarket produce for granted and maybe, just maybe, the world will began a quiet revolution. After all, it only takes two weeks to create a habit!