Thursday, 13 June 2013

How I Am Not The Size Of A House: My Food & Eating Philosophy

The most common question asked by my readers is how I am not the size of a house. I do understand where the people who ask are coming from. You only have to take a peek at all of the meals and treats I regularly digest on my Instagram feed, or check out my recipes page with my instructions for how to make things like Salted Caramel Double Chocolate Rolo Cookies, Smoked Salmon Potato Latkers, (which after everything that is in them in the first place are fried) and Hot King Prawns in Garlic Butter to get the point. I love butter, and chocolate, and eating. From my social media feeds it also seems like I never deprive myself of something I want to eat no matter how much fat or calories it may contain, and that would be a true assumption. 
There are questions about what diet I use, how much time I spend at the gym to be able to stay a dress size that suits my petite frame and still ingest so much butter. Well, as we have established I can't remember a time I ever stopped myself eating something because it was fattening and while I can manage some time on a rowing or spin machine, I don't really enjoy it and I have not been in a gym in 8 months. The only set exercise I do is swimming each day when I have access to a pool; but this is also a relaxing habit for me. Mostly, I just try to walk everywhere I can, and I enjoy taking long country walks. I cook loads of things by scratch, most importantly chocolate cakes and cookies. I make my own knowing what types of fats and sugars in them (I am a snob about what butter I buy) instead of buying them pre-made.

The most important thing to anyone trying to develop healthy eating habits, is to know what you are eating. I mean, really know what is in the food you are eating. I get to be all smug now people are being horrified that they may be eating microwave cottage pie that has actually been made with 100% horse meat, because I'm pretty sure I've never gone near a microwave cottage pie in my life. I was brought up with the importance of knowing what I'm eating instilled into me, and it is something I am very grateful for. Okay, yes I do sometimes indulge myself in McDonalds nuggets at Liverpool Street Station after an evening of buy one, get a free shot of sambuca (which I push off onto friends) drinks at Exit on Brick Lane, or a box of KFC popcorn chicken walking home in the rain, but we all deserve to treat ourselves sometimes. Also, now I come to think of it I'm pretty sure they are the only two fast food indulgences I can remember the whole time I was living in the East End of London last year; and I was there for 10 months. Yes, I love the classic Californian In-N-Out burger, but I only have one once a quarter; I will probably only have about 6 of them my entire year in America and with the exception of the Five Guys burger I tried once, no other fast food. Watching Jamie Oliver's documentary on American school dinners frankly made me feel physically sick. The idea of not knowing what I am eating terrifies me, and even if I did not enjoy cooking things from scratch as much as I do I'm pretty sure I would still want to know what was on my plate each evening. And also, when you sit and actually taste the greasy burgers and the unidentified white stuff in most fast food and think about what you are tasting, you'll understand it is not snobbishness that turns me away from most fast foods, but genuine fear for what I am ingesting.
Infographic I put together using the ingredient information for the Big Mac on the McDonalds UK website, and recipes from my own collection.

I went grocery shopping this morning, so what is in my fridge right now is a pretty good assumption of the foods I usually eat. (I won't go into my kitchen cupboard now, because listing everything in there will just take hours!) This is what you can currently find in there at the time of writing: 5 courgettes, a couple of handfuls of baby heirloom tomatoes, a packet of mixed salad greens, a carton of pineapple juice, with no added anything. I can't stand the taste of anything artificial in my juices, and while I find them hard to track down in the USA, in England I drink almost exclusively Innocent's juices and smoothies. Three peppers, one of each colour. 2 cucumbers, 3 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (free range, and they would have been organic too if I had been able to buy them), half a pack of parma ham, a punnet of strawberries, two lumps of unsalted Irish, not American butter, fresh oregano, thyme and dill, a large tub of Total 0% Greek yogurt, a tub of 0% Soured Cream, Thai fish sauce, half a jar of Oyster sauce, half a bottle of Sweet Chilli sauce, 12 eggs, both types of French mustard, half a jar of mayonnaise  the scrapings left in a jar of Bonne Maman Raspberry Jam and about two portions of my homemade tomato pasta sauce. So, most of what I eat every week is fresh and I mostly know what is in it. The only grey areas are the Asian sauces, which I honestly don't know how I could possibly make myself and I usually use sparingly in a pan with a very large quantity of vegetables, and the mayo, which I have already promised myself I will start making myself once I have found a viable recipe. I am not tempted to eat 'bad' and process foods because I know what is in them so I am not inclined to buy them, so they are not in my fridge. Okay, so while I do buy 0% creams (I get them as I like the lighter flavour; when I buy milk for recipes and cream I always get full fat) this is hardly a fridge on a diet kick. Parma Ham, I use a families worth of butter in a week (about 1 block) and the amount of sugar in the jam would be surprising to anyone who has never made a jar of jam themselves.

I am conditioned to dislike the taste of fat or additives because I was brought up on fresh food that my mother had always cooked herself and everyone sitting around the table always knew exactly what was in it. (Okay, well my grandfather will never know how much garlic, which he says he can't stand is in the food he eats at our house, because that is just him being fussy!) This is why American bread upsets me so much; the taste of the added fats, sugars and additives simply turns my stomach and I'd rather just go without. That is why on the sideboard, as well as what is in my fridge is half a fresh bloomer loaf I baked myself yesterday when I had the day off; I did my university reading while the dough was proofing each time. 

I have lost a whole dress size and probably a half since transitioning from boarding school to university and adult life. Logically, I should have gained more weight. I drink a hell of a lot more wine, I don't play on a hockey team and I am eating so much richer foods than I was before. But actually, the food I was eating while made to certain 'healthy eating' quotas I did not eat in balanced ways because I was wary of foods I did not like or I did not know what was in them, as I did not have the facilites to make my own cakes and biscuits I bought sweet treats full of refined sugars and saturated fats. While I enjoyed hockey and sometimes lacrosse, I did not enjoy the other sports I was made to do outside hockey season so I was not really getting into them; especially with team sports you are not going to benefit from exercise you are not throwing yourself fully into. My discovery of the Graze Box service getting 4 healthy snack portions delivered to me at school each week and allowing me to cut out Cadbury's bars in my final year was a godsend. After leaving school I was cooking my own meals and baking treats I knew the entire ingredient list for. Exercise wise, while I was at my parents house I did swim every day and walk in the countryside with my mother, but living in London all I did was walk when I could to avoid my Oyster Card eating all of my money. The same in Los Angeles; I try to walk most places and I know exactly what I am eating. 

So, now I've talked a lot about what I eat and why, how can you apply this to yourself?

  • Make your treats such as cakes, biscuits and cookies from scratch so you can use things like brown sugar instead of refined white, and avoid all the added fats and other nasties most shop bought cakes and cookies are packed with.
  • Also try to cook basic, fresh food at home and don't use things that are pre-packed. A lot of what makes you gain weight, as well as being bad for your other things like your skin, are all the additives and preservatives in ready meals.
  • Try to find a type of exercise that you enjoy, like swimming for me. I don't believe in spending an hour on a treadmill if you are making yourself miserable by doing so.  
  • Walk whenever possible. Also, as I know the majority of my blog readers are Londoners, I guarantee you that you will save on average £7 a month on topping up your Oyster card by trying to walk more. That is about £84 a year.
  • Drink lots of water. I could notice the weight difference after only a month when I switched out a couple of glasses of juice and smoothies a day to one at breakfast then Twinings tea (hot or iced) or glasses of ice water for the rest of the day. Fruit may be all natural, but it contains lots of sugar.
  • Don't over eat. Stop eating when you are not hungry. 

It is not about fad diets or special workouts. It is all about having a healthy attitude to food. I hope this post has cleared up some questions for some of you, and that you've all found it helpful. To sign off, I'll leave you with some recipes from this blog that are great and easy substitues for things that you would otherwise be buying pre-made from the supermarket: An Easy White Bread Loaf Anyone Can Bake, Super Simple 3-Step Chocolate Brownies, Homemade Chicken Fajitas, A Warming Carrot Soup, The Perfect Tomato Pasta Sauce, Freshly Popped Parsley Butter Popcorn, Boozy Innocent Smoothie Ice Lollies, A Basic Chicken Soup, The Ultimate Pizza Express Style Fresh Topped Pizza and Easy Summer Iced Tea With Twinings


  1. I'm right there with you - I am so much healthier now I live on my own and get to cook all my own meals from scratch. I haven't had a ready meal in years - the only thing I ever really indulge in is a Waitrose lasagne for one every now and again because it takes yonks to make and my other half doesn't like it! I do feel lucky that I have the time, know-how and resources to do that, and I wish more was done to help everyone get to that stage - we never learnt cooking at school, for example, so if your parents weren't big cooks or didn't take the time to teach you, then you were sort of on your own. I was totally shocked when my friends in halls didn't know how to cook rice or pasta!

    I also could never go on a diet - I have no willpower when it comes to food at all, so it pays off making healthy, delicious meals most of the time so I can indulge in wine and puddings the rest of the time! The thought of the 5:2 diet makes me want to cry.

  2. You are so, so right. I can't get over the amount of crap in a MacD burger. I understand that the meat and whatever might have rubbish in it but cheese?! Why does cheese need colouring?!

  3. Rachel this is one of the best posts I've ever seen you write - and you write really well all the time!!

    I'm the same as you - until I moved out of home at 17, I had no idea you could buy pasta sauce in a jar (I was a sheltered boarding school child!!). We have always made it from scratch. I never actually learnt to cook, but I've picked it up as I go along, and am now quite competent in the kitchen.

    It makes me sad when I see people picking up packets of 'lite crisps or low-cal chocolate', without paying attention to anything on them except for the Slimming Club / WW / Lite N Easy logo. I'd much prefer to make my own, know exactly what's in it and enjoy it properly, not just because it's 'only 85 calories per bite-sized morsel'.

  4. Well... All I can say is that I think you well and truly nailed it Rachel!!!

    It is so true now, I cut out all pre packaged and unhealthy foods, and you do instantly feel so much better for it. After a while, you don't even have any cravings any more.

    One thing is for sure, it is no over night cure! It takes a while to cut everything out, but by George is it worth it!

    Emily xx

  5. Thanks Emily, I'm glad you enjoyed and agreed with the post!

  6. Thanks Totty!

    I think I may have had one or two as an afternoon or evening activity, but they really should have made sure us boarding school kids had more cooking lessons! In other news though, I try not to think back to school food these days even if I did quite like it. How familiar so many en bulk foodstuffs were to me the first time I ever visited the local to me and my boarding school Bookers Wholesalers worried me.

  7. My roommate here in California snacks on bright orange cheese sticks with no scent whatsoever. I don't think she understands why I keep looking at them with narrowed eyes!

  8. What on earth is the 5:2 diet? It sounds like there is a lack of wine and sweet things, so it sounds horrible!

    And I never did get how people could not cook pasta, especially at uni where there are no gas hobs in halls where there is perhaps the potential to scorch the lengths of spaghetti overhanging the pan. (I admit to a few mishaps, as this year is the fist time ever I had to cook on gas, and it took some adjustment!) but seriously, how can you go wrong with pasta and how is it not obvious? I *might* give them rice, because even my roommates and I argue about rice cooking techniques and processes.

  9. Honey and garlic roast chicken legs? This is something I've actually been looking for a recipe for; care to share? x

  10. It's not really a recipe as such, just prep the chicken legs (rinse etc) place in the tray, drizzle with olive oil, drip a generous amount honey over them and sprinkle with minced garlic and cook at around 220Celcius for around 35 mins ish :) x

  11. UGH the additives in BIG MAC!

  12. I think the basic premise is you have two days a week where you only have 500 calories and then you eat normally the rest of the time. Either way, I keep seeing people moaning about it, and I just want to shake them! Not a healthy way to lose weight!

  13. Great post! This is exactly how I live my life, and I'm also not the size of a house haha (did someone actually ask you that question?!) the amount of crap in the Big Mac is terrifying... That orange thing, is NOT cheese I'm sorry... EWWWW X

  14. I love this about you Rachel. I have written several articles this year for QMessenger about anorexia and eating disorders in the UK and worldwide and sadly a lot of it comes from society and the believed image a woman has to portray. Bloggers have a lot of power and can help with this. So many bloggers put forward an unhealthy and restrictive diet or take excessive amounts of pictures of themselves and their petite figure trying to indoctrinate young women that this is what they are meant to look like. I find your blog refreshing and it's a pleasure to read it. You look stunning and I look forward to having you back in London. xx

  15. I can't remember who, but yes, someone did!

  16. This post has inspired me in so many ways!
    I've just graduated from high school which is why the past few months have been super busy for me. To be honest, eating properly has therefore not been my #1 priority, but I am now looking forward to taking better care of what I eat again and this post has me really excited.

    Nathalie xx

  17. I have to admit, I do go for junk food occasionally but I much prefer cooking for myself. I just wish I used more recipes regularly than I do at the moment!

    Maria xxx

  18. that sounds delicious and easy! im putting that on my weekday menu for next week! what are your favorite veggies to mix with it?
    i ended up just doing a fresh caprese salad with some of my favorite rosemary bread. super simple & not exactly cooking.. but at least i put it together with my own two hands. a good start!

  19. Cherry tomatoes, red, yellow and orange peppers, red onions and courgettes/ zucchini. And sounds delicious! x

  20. This is one of my favourite posts of yours. It is such a healthy attitude towards food since I cannot understand and appreciate the fear of food and eating. Nothing to be afraid of as long as you know what you're doing. This is a habit I am trying to adopt more dedicatedly (is that even a word?) and reading about it here from someone I appreciate and quite like was encouraging. Your recipes are always amazing! x

  21. I'm glad you enjoyed the post, and look out for new recipes; now I am back staying with my parents until I move to London in September, I have the run of my mothers amazing, professionally equipped kitchen!