Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Comfort Food Doesn't Have to be Bad and Treats can be Good

I want to look at comfort-eating habits, how and where they begin and why.  
I've said in previous posts that food can often induce the reward centres in our brains to deliver the feel-good chemical, dopamine and that even thinking about and preparing food can release endorphins to promote this.

These feelings about food can stem from childhood memories of comfort and safety and the foods associated with these times.  Some of our comfort foods are fine: soft boiled egg, marmite on toast, soup.  Others are less good: biscuits, cakes, ice cream.  

Childhood can also shape our attitudes towards incentives and rewards.  How often do you reward yourself with an edible treat?  How often is that edible reward 'naughty but nice'?  Is it ever healthy and nutritious?  Do you ever reward yourself with a walk on the beach or a tramp through the woods?

Rewarding children with anything edible is not a great habit to get into as when they reach adulthood and feel they have done a good day's work, they are going to reach for what they have observed and learnt from us to be a reward.  

It may be difficult to change what we, as adults, see as comfort food and ways of rewarding ourselves (though not, I suggest, impossible) but it isn't too late for our children.

The point I'm trying to make is that we are in a position to shape the future comfort foods of our children.  Do we want our children, when they are older, reaching for the ice cream, cakes and biscuits when they are feeling a little low or would we rather they munched their way through a bowl of fresh fruit or veggies?  Would we rather they treated themselves with a family sized bar of chocolate or a tramp through the woods?

There is another way.  We need to practise what we preach, lead by example and show that healthy, nutritious treats are just as rewarding, if not more rewarding than empty calories.

I'm going to be taking more notice from now on, of the way I give treats to my children. If my husband and I are making an effort to eat clean for health reasons, then why would we want to feed nutrition-free junk to our kids, especially in order to treat and reward them?  It seems bizarre that the very foods we know to be bad for us, we voluntarily give to our children to say, 'Well done!' or, 'there, there.'

I'm not saying my kids never get cakes.  Sometimes they eat sweets and they have even been known to have pizza and Coke (never diet, of course!)  
But they are equally happy to accept sardines on granary toast as comfort food and a new book and a box of raw veggies as a dopamine-inducing treat.

Krish x

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Oat Banana Pancakes

Following my own advice, I needed to find an alternative recipe for my kids so they could still enjoy banana pancakes and chocolate sauce on a Sunday morning without using flour or sugar.

This recipe works really well and the kids love it!

You can substitute bananas with blueberries or raisins.  (If you use raisins, its nice to add grated lemon rind and squeeze lemon and honey over them once they're cooked.)

Im a bit of a haphazard cook so ingredients are in approximate amounts.

Banana Pancakes

200g of oats, whizzed in the food processor until finely ground
1 tsp bicarbonate soda
1 tsp baking powder
2 eggs
enough milk to make a dropping consistency (not too thick and not too thin)
2 mashed bananas
2 chopped bananas

Chocolate Sauce

Good quality dark chocolate (I use Callebaut because I used to be head chocolatier at BlueBottom Chocolates so I'm a chocolate snob) melted over a pan of hot (not boiling) water.
A couple of teaspoons of butter and enough semi-skimmed milk (start with a very little) to make into a thick sauce.


Mix dry ingredients and add egg and milk
Mix to form a smooth paste
Add banana

Drop spoonfuls onto a griddle pan (you don't need fat if you have one of these)
or into a frying pan with a little olive oil or butter

Cook until golden and serve with chocolate sauce, honey, maple syrup or agave nectar.

A great start to any Sunday morning!

Krish x

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Release the Dolphins!

My youngest son used to like to tell people all about the dolphins that lived in his brain.  It wasn't until he fell and hurt himself and instructed me to cuddle him so his brain would release the dolphins from the hippopotamus, to swim to his hurt knee, to eat the pain that I realised what he was on about.  


Endorphins, not dolphins, produced by the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus, not the hippopotamus! 

Endorphins are a morphine-like substance, produced by our own bodies during times of stress or pain or during sex and physical activity and they disinhibit dopamine pathways in the brain.  Dopamine is the reward system used by our brains.  It makes us feel not only content and happy but also powerful and in control.

As dopamine is a reward doled out to us by our brains, it can also be used as motivation.  Therefore, thinking about dopamine triggers can in fact release dopamine as an incentive to go and get said trigger.

If you are addicted to heroin, for example, dopamine is released in your brain when you think about it, in order to motivate you to go and get it and when you look at it in anticipation of taking it, which releases the most.  Your body becomes used to a new level of dopamine that it cannot get naturally and so it relies on regular doses of heroin to remain feeling normal.

If you have had a deep relationship with food for a number of years, in a similar way to a heroin addict, your brain relies heavily on thinking about food, planning what to cook and prepare, looking at food and eating food in order to deliver enough dopamine to remain feeling normal.

In order to break this reliance on food to remain feeling normal, you need to replace your source of dopamine and gradually reduce the amount you need to feel normal.

Sounds simple?  It is!

Lots of things trigger a release of dopamine.

A release of endorphins through pain, for example.  I'm not suggesting you replace food with self flagellation.  But stretching exercises, where you stretch your muscles to a point of mild discomfort can be enough to trigger endorphins and release dopamine. Clearly a more positive way to get a mild high that hitting yourself with a thorny twig.

Social interaction (gossip, to us girls) can release dopamine.

Exercise, lifting weights, going for a walk or a run can also release endorphins and dopamine.  Clearly healthier than a cream bun.

Heroin we have covered...not so healthy.  A cup of coffee, better!

The more you can take control of your body by replacing negative highs with positive highs, the easier it will become to live a fit and healthy life.

So take control of that hippopotamus and feel the power of your inner dolphins!

Krish x

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

The truth about sweeteners

Its interesting to me that many people who want to lose weight often consume a lot of diet and slimline drinks and foods with artificial sweeteners and that conversely, many slimmer people, who have never been on a diet in their lives, rarely consume diet or slimline anything. 

I also notice that many of my slimmer friends seem to know innately which foods are highly calorific and find it easier to push away from the table when they are full whereas many of my more overweight friends find it much harder to gauge accurately which foods are higher in calories and find it more difficult to identify when they have eaten enough.

The devils in this scenario are the artificial sweeteners.  They not only mess with you physiologically but psychologically too, scuppering your chances of weight loss.

Artificial sweeteners tell your brain, via your sweet-sensing taste buds, that what you are consuming is high in calories and to expect a corresponding energy rush from it.  As the sweetening agents are calorie free, your body never receives this energy and three things happen. 

       Firstly, your brain begins to become confused by what it is sensing (it tastes sweet and calorific but delivers nothing) so your body loses its ability to trust the messages it receives from your brain.  Your body is no longer able to accurately distinguish between low and high calorie foods and drinks. 
       Secondly, tests on rats have shown that artificial sweeteners increase insulin output, which in turn increases appetite and eventually weight.  The brain expects sugar to be dumped into the system so it releases insulin to deal with it.  As the insulin has no sugar to mop up, the temptation is to consume more sugary foods. 
       And thirdly, psychologically, you think you have been good.  You therefore overcompensate as a result and make more unhealthy choices later on as a result.  Statistically, people who consume diet and slimline foods and drinks also consume more calories per day than people who do not.

There are many alternatives to sugar on the market, from saccharine, sucralose and aspartame to new products like Truvia.  The trouble with these is that they are all processed.  Anecdotal evidence (which isn't really evidence at all, granted) suggests that these sweeteners can produce unpleasant side effects ranging from headaches and migraines to bad breath.  Whilst they have been passed by the FSA, they are still controversial.

The recipes I have included in this blog use agave nectar as a sweetening agent instead of sugar or artificial sweeteners.  My reasoning behind this is that part of the K-Loss ethos is to consume foods that have had the least possible done to them.  So which sweeteners are acceptable?

Having looked into them for this blog, I have come to the conclusion that agave nectar (so long as it isn't treated with chemicals and ultra highly heated) is a good alternative.  (I am still awaiting confirmation emails from different manufacturers of agave nectar to get back to me on their manufacturing processes and will keep you posted on the results.)

Even though I have never used Stevia myself and have never come across it before, it seems to be an acceptable sugar substitute as it is basically a herb, so long as you are using the powdered form of the leaf and not a processed granular form that looks like sugar.

And let's not forget honey.  Unprocessed, straight from the hive (some have been heat treated, so check the label) it's been used safely for centuries.  It is, like the other sweeteners, sweeter than sugar and so you need less and it also purports to have other health properties.

So I will continue to replace sugar with either agave nectar or honey.  But, and it is a big but, these sweeteners are not calorie free.  You need less honey and agave nectar than sugar but they still contain calories.  They are just better calories that give you fewer sharp sugar spikes and dips, keeping your insulin levels,  your metabolism and appetite more stable.

Its worth remembering that the more you avoid sugary foods the more you will find natural foods sweet enough and the less you will need to add any sweeteners to your food.

So do yourself a favour, ditch the diet coke, bin the slimline tonic and give up the artificial sweeteners, ignore the new products on the market and allow your body to recognise the natural sweetness in unprocessed, unrefined foods.  

Krish x