Category Archives: Eating

Chocolate Velvet Pie

Coming up with this recipe was a ‘Eureka’ moment for me! Sugar-free, dairy-free and gluten-free, yet utterly delicious and oh-so-creamy, it ticks all my boxes even when at the mercy of pre-menstrual cravings or a life-disaster-induced bout of emotional comfort eating. Let me know what you think.


Chocolate Velvet Pie (makes 9.5 inch pie)

For the base:

2 cups mixed nuts
1/4 cup chopped dates
1/4 teaspoon vanilla essence
pinch salt

For the chocolate velvet:

3 cups cashew nuts (raw – soaked overnight)
2 and a half cups non-dairy milk (e.g. rice or almond)
3/4 cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
good pinch salt
3oz good quality cocoa powder (or raw cacao powder)
3 tablespoons lecithin (can get this at most health food shops)
3/4 cup raw coconut oil


Pie base:

Blitz the nuts, vanilla and salt in a food processor until finely crumbled. Then add the dates bit by bit until the crust sticks together. Press firmly into a greased springform tin.

Chocolate topping:

Blend the cashew nuts, non-dairy milk, vanilla, salt, maple syrup and cocoa using a high-speed blender to ensure it is smooth and velvety in texture.
Then add the lecithin and coconut oil and blend well. Pour on top of the crust in the springform tin. Put in the fridge or freezer to set (about an hour).
Tip – you can add more or less cocoa depending on how dark you like your chocolate treats to be.



Cravings – the vital question

Social media creatives2Today I am diving deep into WHY we get cravings – why certain foods seem to call out to us, while others hold little interest. I also share a very personal story and explore the possibility that had I learned to listen to my body sooner (rather than battling to control it), I might have avoided a whole roller coaster of heart-break.

Quit the drama!

I recently surveyed a group of women about what their most common cravings were. Unsurprisingly, the winners were sweet things and chocolate with fizzy drinks, coffee and fatty foods (such as crisps) following close behind.

Most of my clients struggle to some extent with cravings, often blaming them for years of failed ‘diets’ and efforts to lose weight. Significant chunks of time spent each day fighting internal private battles – trying to suppress urges to eat certain foods that they have branded ‘naughty’ or ‘forbidden’. One of the most rewarding parts of my job is coaching them through the process of releasing this food drama to a place where they find that life is so much simpler!

My fat fighting began at 13

I was about 13 when I heard about Rosemary Conley’s “Hip and thigh diet”. The basic premise being that fat makes you fat … advocating a low fat diet if you want to lose weight. As an impressionable early-pubescent teen, I embraced this idea enthusiastically. I wasn’t overweight, but like many girls of a similar age I was feeling self conscious about the lumps and bumps and curvy curves I was developing and I was terrified that I might be regarded as overweight. I subsequently embarked on a mission to obliterate as much fat as possible from my diet. No butter, no cheese, no oils, …. I drove my poor mum insane by refusing to eat bacon unless every last tiny bit of fat and rind was removed and it had been thoroughly dried with kitchen roll to remove the grease. No peanut butter, no milk chocolate and I became expert in making fat-free cakes (I had a desperately sweet tooth remember?).

I craved crisps

It wasn’t until I reached my early 20s that my puppy-fat disappeared that I remember being plagued by cravings – particularly for salt and vinegar crisps and creamy things, but I kept up the denial – trying to be ‘good’. Refusing to listen to what my poor body was asking for. I had been vegetarian since age 17 and then lived with a vegan for a couple of years too so was still eating a very low fat diet.

Fertility problems

It was around this time that I was diagnosed with PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) as I rarely had periods and suffered from mood swings and skin outbreaks. If you’re not familiar with it, PCOS often walks hand in hand with fertility problems (not really surprising if you don’t have a regular menstrual cycle) and sure enough, a few years later, my husband and I found ourselves on a rollercoaster of unpleasant drugs and fertility treatments which culminated in my worst fear – IVF.

Learning to listen not fight

When I emerged from the blur of pregnancy and having a sleepless babe/toddler/pre-schooler I had a new respect for what my body was capable of creating and withstanding. I quit trying to control it and learned to listen. I cleaned up my diet and began to eat meat again (fat and all) and was astonished to find that after 20 years of mayhem (up to a year between periods), my cycle stabilised – regular as clockwork. It turns out that fat is an essential part of a balanced diet and very necessary for certain hormones to function properly.

So with hindsight, I guess those cravings were my body trying to tell me something. Something really very important. Something that maybe, just maybe, could have saved me from the emotionally and physically draining fertility treatments that eventually broke my marriage? Who knows.

Listen don’t suppress

My point is this: cravings are our body’s way of communicating to us when something is out of balance. Ignoring a craving is like ignoring a distressed baby. But by trying to connect with your craving and really understanding what triggers it and why, you can glean invaluable nuggets of information, helping you to understand what changes you need to make to improve our health.

It can take time and skill to really understand what underlies a craving, but some are simple to decode.

Try this simple exercise

Think about the last time you had a strong craving for something. Try to remember as much as you can about the circumstances: time of day, where you were, what you had been doing, what you were about to do etc.

Now look at the following list of common causes for cravings and see if any of them seem to ‘fit’ the circumstances:

1. Were you tired?

When we are tired our bodies look for quick sources of energy. Your body sees SUGAR as ideal as it requires very little processing (digestion) before it is useful. A caffeine craving is another common response to being low on energy.

2. Were you sad?

Learning to associate certain foods with comfort, is something that many of us do in childhood. This can lead to years of battles with comfort eating into adulthood. Learning to recognise comfort eating is the first step to finding different ways to manage your emotions that serve you better.

3. Were you bored?

Being bored, stressed, uninspired by a job, or lacking a spiritual practice can also prompt emotional eating. Many of us get into the habit of reaching for certain foods as a substitute for entertainment or to fill the void of insufficient ‘primary food’ (note – primary foods are things that nourish you, that aren’t food i.e. relationships, your work, exercise etc).

 4. Were you dehydrated?

Many of us are chronically dehydrated and it is sometimes easy to confuse our body’s requests for water with mild hunger. Next time you have a craving try drinking a full glass of water before you decide how to respond to it, wait 10 minutes and see if the craving subsides.

5. Could your hormones be the cause?

When women experience menstruation, pregnancy or menopause, fluctuating testosterone and oestrogen levels can cause cravings. Many women crave high carb foods around the middle and end of their menstrual cycles.

6. Is you diet properly balanced?

The essential parts of a balanced diet are protein, healthy fat and healthy carbs, plus a range of vitamins and minerals. If what you are eating does not meet your body’s requirements, you may find it will produce odd cravings. For example, inadequate mineral levels can lead to salt cravings.

What next?

Try journalling about your cravings and look for patterns. What do you think is behind your most common cravings? Leave a comment below – I promise to read them all.

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7 tips to conquer your sugar cravings

If you’ve already joined me in my ‘kicking sugar for Lent 2014 challenge’, then you’ll know that sugar has long been my nemesis! Today I wanted to share SEVEN food-related tips that I have recently found invaluable.

SWEET BEGINNINGS – In common most of my clients, my rocky relationship with sugar dates back to early childhood. I was a picky eater and my parents bribed me with promises of pudding to cajole me into eating sensible stuff. Reluctantly I would swallow down the minimum required mouthfuls to earn me my prized reward of chocolate Angel Delight (it was the 1970s!).

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DITCH the Diet!

UPDATE! If you missed last night’s programme on ITV – “To diet or not to diet” its well worth watching. Much of the thinking fits well with what I wrote last month in this blog post. You can find it here

Last year 27 million people in the UK went on a ‘diet’ to try to lose weight. Many started on January 1st (sound familiar?). Magazines and newspapers bulging with dieting and detoxing advice in January – all fighting to offer us the ‘best’ new fix. Well, I’d like to suggest that you do something different in 2014 – that you DITCH the idea of dieting to lose weight once and for all – and here’s why …

5 GOOD REASONS to NOT ‘diet’ in 2014

1. DIETS DON’T WORK – and there’s plenty of research evidence to back this up. In fact the first study dates back to just after the WW2. Ancel Keys documented how men who had been on severely restricted diet for 6 months gained back the weight they had lost and MORE  much quicker than expected. It seemed that their bodies were overcompensating for the period of partial starvation.

More recently, a review of over 100 clinical trials of different diets from the past 30 years found that the average amount of weight lost over a 2-5 year period of dieting was LESS than one kilogramme. Shocked (I was!)? Plus Professor Traci Mann and her team noted that between one and two thirds of dieters actually ended up weighing MORE than when they started. Overall their conclusion was that if you’re looking to reduce your body weight over the longer term, diets just don’t work.  (Mann et al (2007) “Medicare’s search for effective obesity Treatments – Diets are not the answer”, American Psychologist, the journal of the American Psychological Association p220-233).

2. DIETS SLOW DOWN YOUR METABOLISM. Your body needs a certain amount of energy each day to keep everything ticking over and in working order. Some people are naturally fast burners and others suffer from slow metabolisms and are inclined to gain weight. The amount of fuel (measured in calories) it needs to meet these requirements varies from person to person, typically slowing down after the age of 40. The message that weight loss is simply a matter of calories consumed versus calories expended just isn’t accurate enough. It is a much more complex equation.

Your body has evolved over millions of years to keep you alive in times when food is scarce. Overeating is a very recent issue, really only emerging towards the end of the last century. By depriving yourself of calories when you ‘diet’, you run the risk of slowing down your metabolism as your body enters survival mode, using up only the essential amount of energy required to keep you alive. A well adapted body is not going to shed your fat stores rapidly because it doesn’t know how long the food shortage is going to last. Plus, once the calorie shortage comes to an end, as Ancel Keys’ study demonstrated, your body is likely to start to store fat MORE rapidly, just in case there’s another famine coming.

3. ANY RESTRICTION WILL HELP YOU TO LOSE WEIGHT (at least for a while). In Jacques Peretti’s documentary “The men who made us thin (part 1)” (well worth watching if you haven’t seen it), Professor Jules Hirsch explains how ANY diet will lead to weight loss to start with, especially if it is novel and includes complex instructions to follow. Hence the popularity of all those special new diets in the media in January – they are ALL likely to work! Hirsch explains that it doesn’t really matter WHAT you do, if you think you’re on a diet and you stick to it, you are likely to lose weight for about 26 weeks …. but then it will creep back on again, and you’ll most likely end up heavier than you started (because diets don’t work! See 1 and 2 above!).

4. DIET DEPRIVATION LEADS TO GUILT – Dieting is all about deprivation and will-power. If you feel you are having to be ‘good’ or depriving yourself of what you really want to eat, no matter how cast iron your resolve, you are  bound to fall of the wagon and binge at some point (isn’t that what has always happened in the past?). If you feel like you’ve failed, you’re MUCH more likely to overeat … and then the whole guilt thing starts. Sound familiar?

Well instead I recommend that you embrace the 90:10 rule. Make good choices about food 90% of the time and relax for the other 10% (relax doesn’t mean binge!). If you start listening to what your body is asking for and try to work out what is driving those requests or cravings, food and weight will become much less of a drama. I encourage my clients to keep a cravings diary – once you understand WHY you crave something (is it for comfort? are you addicted to it? is it just a habit? are you tired and need a quick source of energy? etc) it is much easier to make an intelligent choice about whether or not you’re going to eat it or whether there is a better,  healthier alternative that will be just as satisfying. If you decide you ARE going to eat it then ENJOY it to the full. Slowly savouring every mouthful – eating should be about pleasure not guilt!

5. DIETING IMPACTS ON OUR CHILDREN – I have worked with numerous women who have spent 10, 20, even 40 years either ‘on a diet’ or about to start one (again), in a repetitive cycle of yoyo dieting – gaining and losing the same few stones over and over again. When asked how they started, the overwhelming message is that they learned how to relate to their bodies and food from their mothers (and other significant adults around them). Yes – daughters’ (and sons’) attitudes about dieting and body image form from an early age (and its getting younger and younger) through watching and listening to the adults around them (especially their mothers) talking about their weight, food and dieting plans. Author Kasey Edwards has written a moving account of her experiences with this in “When your mother says she’s fat”.

The most worrying thing is that most of us don’t even realise we’re doing it – the negative way we talk about ourselves is so deeply ingrained that it has become automatic. I had a client recently, who told me her computer log-in was “I am Fat” (but not until we’d already been working together for 6 months). Every day she had been typing and retyping that negative message to herself for years. Its a form of self-bullying. We wouldn’t stand for it if someone else talked to us in this way (see more in this video). So I’d like to suggest that instead of dieting (and any negative ‘fat talk’) in 2014, you resolve to  call a truce with your body and instead take the time to really listen to what it is asking you for. Trust your instincts. Your body knows what it needs.

Focusing on weight loss misses the point 

Weight loss does NOT automatically equate with being healthier. It is perfectly possible to lose weight in a really very unhealthy way. So in my opinion, focusing too much on weight loss as your health-goal somewhat misses the point. When you start eating what your body really needs (and no excess), and you are active, weight loss is a common side-effect (in the same way that weight gain is often a side-effect from an unhealthy lifestyle). You will find your ideal weight naturally. It might take a little longer than you’d ideally like, but it WILL happen.

So this January, I’d like to suggest taking a good look at the ‘bigger picture’. What changes can you make to your lifestyle as well as your food choices that will help to improve your overall physical and mental wellness? Factors such as exercise, stress management, sleep, how much water you drink, and how nutritious the food you eat is can have a huge impact on how you feel. Instead of asking yourself ‘how can i make the numbers on the scales go down?’, try asking what long-term habits you can create that will really work for you and you’ll be able to stick to. Indefinitely. As a way of life. By raising your game across the board, your body will perform better all round AND (as a side effect), it will find its ideal weight.

Baby steps in the right direction

Every mountain climb has to start with a few small steps. Changing your diet and lifestyle might seem like a huge feat, but if you start small and start realistic and keep moving in the right direction you will reap tremendous benefits. Find something tiny but totally do-able to change and then stick to it. Then once its a habit, you can find the next thing and the next thing. As you begin to notice the benefits you’ll start to actively WANT to make the better choices – not because you’re ‘being good’ or punishing yourself for prior indulgences, but because you want to. You like how it makes you feel. Make 2014 the year you start treating your body as an ‘adult’ that you respect and listen to rather than a wayward teenager that you are constantly battling with!