health

It’s the saddest month of the year and here’s how you’re gonna get through it

clueless

It’s the middle of January, which means that either you a) Have given up  Zenuary/Dranuary/Veganuary after a particularly crap day that required Galaxy and Merlot or b) are seriously considering throwing your spiraliser at someone you loved in December. No wonder this month has been touted as the most depressing of the year by various publications – it’s the month we set unrealistic, miserable goals for ourselves and when we fail to reach the standards we set, we crumple into a ball of self-defeat.

No more. Life is not something you just have to “get through”, it’s something to be lived as well as you possibly can, whatever your circumstances. I’ve seen homeless people in a better mood than my mate who’s given up sugar for a month. It’s time to give yourself a break.

January is hard enough without piling on hoards of expectations to make it even more difficult. So instead of goals like “lose 10 pounds” or “save £100”, think about what’s stopping you from getting fit and saving money. Personally, I haven’t been inside a gym since July 2016, so I’ve renewed my membership and planned out regular classes that work in line with my other commitments. My biggest weakness is chocolate, so I’ve made a promise to cut down – but not cut it out. I like a glass of wine in the middle of the week, but I’m not going to polish off the bottle. I waste a lot of money getting coffee on the go from the posh cafe near uni, so I’ve restricted myself to buying coffee once a week, making it at home the rest of the time. This is so that I can save money for more important things, like summer plans and a proper pair of jeans. You know the kind. The kind that don’t rip at the crotchal area nine months into the relationship, fat-shaming you into buying a new pair that will inevitably do the exact same.

I hate to get all generation-snowflake on you, but you should put self-care before the pursuit of self-improvement. If your pursuit of a fitter body makes you feel weak and causes you to feel unwell, give yourself a break and eat some carbs. It will not kill you. It will not send your body back to where it was at the beginning. Food is fuel, you need it to survive. Equally, if you break your promises to not eat that or not buy this, don’t descend into a dearth of depression. It doesn’t make anything better. Just learn from it and move on to better things.

Self-improvement is an admirable endeavour and it can teach determination and resolve as well as making us more mature and more developed individuals. Giving up smoking or alcohol can be life-changing. But this unhealthy cycle of resolution and relapse is not sustainable and is ultimately damaging to any sort of self-improvement for the future. The media doesn’t help, either, with January features centring around how to achieve a certain body shape or skin clarity, with the tone of the articles shaming rather than helping us to change.

With all this plus you’re back at work/uni plus you’ve got a cold coming on and your hair looks shite these days, January feel like a very long fog to get through. But there are ways to find the sun. I’m no life coach or wellness guru, but I know a thing or two about getting through hell in high heels (or ballet pumps, or indeed, Adidas).

  1. Buy an old-fashioned diary. One of those blue leather ones with gold lettering that you used to watch your mum write in. It’s more expensive than your average notebook, but consider it an investment for the rest of the year. Believe me, writing things down makes them far easier to deal with.
  2. Drink more water. It doesn’t matter if you’re detoxing or not this month, drinking as much water as you can will make you feel lighter and give you more energy to do the things you’ve put off.
  3. Do something touristy at least every fortnight. I recently went to the National Museum after living in this city for over three years and never having been. It was a revelation and a great place to get away from the Saturday hustle and bustle in the street.
  4. Call someone you haven’t spoken to in a while. If you’ve ever got the feeling you’ve forgotten to do something but can”t remember what, it’s usually this. Friend or family, giving someone a ring is effective in making you feel like a weight has come off your shoulders.
  5. Give yourself a foot massage. Or give someone else a foot massage. Or get someone else to give you a foot massage.
  6. Get up an hour earlier one morning and go for a walk before you start your day. Listen to a podcast or playlist or nothing at all. It will clear your head and make you feel more prepared for your day.
  7. Buy an electric blanket. This is another great investment that I have never looked back on. Winter is not going away anytime soon and heating is expensive, so an electric blanket will get you through many a chilly night. Alternatively, acquire a tall person for your bed, as these people can act as a cosy cage for your cold little cockles to warm up in. Usually cheaper than electric blanket, but be warned : may become attached.

If all else fails, here’s a fantastic recipe for banana bread cookies. Happy 2017!

howard

Calling All Health Food Gurus: Please leave my party – and take your avocado brownies with you

Why the “wellness” craze is just as bad as the next fad diet – and probably that thing you smell.

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Recently, when Googling “brownie recipe”, one of the first recipes I was met with was one for “gluten-free avocado brownies.” A frown, step back and sigh. What fresh hell?

It’s not that I hate avocado. I actually quite like spreading some on a slice of Brennan’s brown with a squeeze of lemon and a perfectly poached egg. It appeals to my inner koala bear. The point it becomes an issue is when it tries to worm its way into my brownies.

Look: if I wanted green brownies, I’d ask my friend’s pothead boyfriend to make some for me. But avocado brownies don’t send me to heaven with a smile, they make me feel like I’ve made one of those terrible snack combinations you make when you’re just in from a massive bender and raiding the fridge for literally anything edible that you can smush in between two slices of wheaten.

When it comes to “bad food”, I’m a serious purist. I won’t tolerate alternatives to my food-related mischief. But today’s wellness brigade is telling me different. It’s an inescapable movement hellbent on making you spiralise courgettes like a madman, detract gluten from muffins and use almond milk (which is actually almond water), instead of regular milk in your bowl of Golden Nuggets, as if that’s going to make any difference. I’m eating Golden Nuggets, for God’s sake. I’m a lost cause.

These impossibly lively-looking, peppy, flicky-haired health gurus remind me of the Hare Krishnas that parade around the city centre once in a while, wearing dresses and deranged smiles, dancing around you and insisting that you will lead a better life just by reading their leaflet, listening to their CD and allowing God to come into your life. But whereas most of secular society know that having God in your life is more cumbersome than not having him in it, like a distant cousin crashing on your sofa for a month as they try to “catch a break”, modern society has grasped onto the Wellness Brigade’s parables like the second coming, with Deliciously Ella standing on the pedestal in her Free People off-white peasant dress and wicker sandals, telling of greener pastures and greener smoothies, healing the sick with gluten-free banana bread and putting the sinners on the better path with blueberry-quinoa puddings. It’s as if the entire Western world have turned into rabid wellness zombies, bingeing on kale chips like it’s going to turn them into Gwyneth bloody Paltrow, when in fact the kale probably lost all nutritional value through the cooking process and has been glazed with enough oil to make the chips taste semi-normal, so that they are probably just as fattening as a packet of good old fashioned cheese ‘n’ onion Kettle Chips. God, I’d love a Kettle Chip right about now.

You can’t enter the cookery section of a bookshop these days without a thousand titles screaming at you to just slice up some beetroot, glaze with Albanian linseed oil, season with rosemary plucked from the garden of a rich Mongolian widow, cook in an antique clay oven resurrected from the Roman Empire for forty days and forty nights, sprinkle with green Slovakian sea salt and it will be a hit for brunch with friends. Every single smiling maniac is telling you that you can eat pasta every day and still fit into those size eights, as long as you eat the pasta uncooked with no sauce, just a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Purple pepper, only available from Thai monks. Price upon request, so good luck contacting the monastery.

I tried spiralising once with a “Kitchenmate” and was left, predictably, hungry and dissatisfied. Food should not make you feel like that. We deserve better. Kitchenmates are not your real mates. Or they’re the kind of mates that take picture of you while you throw up a veggie kebab on the street, or tell you that you can’t pull off high-waisted shorts because your bum’s too big. Kitchenmates are jealous of your jelly, they ain’t ready for it. They wish to make you weak as a courgette, so they may spiralise you into an anaemic wreck of curly vegetable slices.

Alright look, I might be exaggerating slightly. I’m sure there are some “health gurus” who actually believe the jargon they peddle relentlessly and want others to benefit from their life of enlightenment and permanent meditative state. But it seems that the wellness wagon is creaking under the weight of so many tagalongs, so many tourists looking to hop on while the going’s good (and the profits are high). It’s become a carnival of herbivorian insanity. It’s infiltrated our cookbook section, our supermarkets, our lunch spots. Where once there was the option of sausage in a bap or veggie sausage in a bap, there is now halloumi and courgette on rye and chickpea and cousous salad, served with artisanal brown bread (okay, admittedly, artisanal bread is actually rather tasty, if overpriced). Your ice creams are now frozen yoghurt, because the movement dictates that it tastes the same with half the fat, which is as ludicrous as suggesting you get one bowl of side chips instead of two. It’s shaving the layer of fat off the top of your life, leaving you with a watery liquid resembling what Oliver Twist wanted another bowl of in the orphanage.

I like sugar. I like gluten. I like carbohydrates and refined flour and all the beautiful preservatives that preside in my chocolate. Additionally, I’m not one of those mad addicts you see late at night on ITV2. I don’t casually eat massive blocks of cheese on the bus at every hour of the day.  I’m under no apprehensions that eating these foods in excess is good for me. But I know that eating it in moderation won’t do much harm either. There’s nothing wrong with eating gluten unless you really are intolerant of it and as long as you keep it within reason, which everyone was probably doing anyway, before they even knew what it was. Common sense dictates that you shouldn’t eat bad stuff all the time. Not the whole bottle of wine every day. Not the whole box of chocolates. Choke down a couple of salads now and again. Fruits and vegetables are good for you and your body. Cigarettes and cocaine, unfortunately, are not. But one or two full-fat, high-sugar brownies on the weekend won’t kill you.

Furthermore, adding avocado instead of eggs doesn’t mean you can eat more of them. It’s just that eating the avocado brownie won’t be as much fat, but will also taste worse. So my view is – if you’re going to be bad, be bad. Follow it through. Do it right. Life’s too short to mess around with one lovely sweet artificial-sugar-filled brownie, which is much more satisfying than three of Deliciously Ella’s no-gluten no-sugar high-fibre low-calorie avocado brownies. Doing an extra lap in the swimming pool is a small price to pay for having the thing that you like, the thing that puts a spring in your step during a hard day.

So I await in my chocolate palace for the inevitable backlash that usually follows trends like these. Once the wellness cookbooks disappear from the Bestsellers table, I anticipate the replacement to be titles such as Just Be Bad, Eat Sugar Be Happier, Fat’s okay in Moderation, Who Wants Abs Anyway?, et cetera. Look out for my own cookbook, out soon, called “Just Eat The Damn Brownie.”

23 Things To Do Instead of “Getting Beach Body-Ready” This Summer

summer

Summer is approaching, which means it’s time to be bombarded with an onslaught of body-negative media disguised as health and fitness commercials, They will tell you that your current body is not “beach-ready”, that your bowels are slow and you’ve been eating too much. They will show you what you should be looking like. They will try and convince you that anything other than what this nameless model looks like is unacceptable, and it’s time for you to spend your hard-earned money on their product which will make you acceptable to the public.

Do not listen. They are the embodiment of that crappy ex-friend who tells you that you can’t “pull off” those shorts.

So sit back, relax. Eat the feckin’ digestive biscuit. You look fine. Do not buy into the body-shaming commercials. here are some far more productive things to do instead:

  1. Take a hike up a hill and watch the sun set after a sunny day. Nature is more satisfying than a “chocolate flavoured protein meal shake”.
  2. Take up flossing (YOUR TEETH. God).
  3. Make a “Getting Sh*t Done” motivational playlist to motivate you into getting sh*t done. Song suggestions: “Someday” by The Strokes, “Tighten Up” by The Black Keys and “Strict Machine” by Goldfrapp.
  4. Plan a festival weekend – Alt-J and The Libertines are playing at Reading, Paolo Nutini and First Aid Kit are playing at Isle of Wight and Charli XCX is doing Bestival. Rent or borrow a tent, buy some barbecue food and get gritty for a couple of days.
  5. Make a list of reasons why you’re awesome and deserve better from yourself. Do it seriously-sure you’ve got great hips and great hair, but you’re also a loyal friend and have a thoughtful mind. You just need a reminder.
  6. Take the dog for a walk and accidentally bump into another cute dog walker. Set up a date. Get freaky.
  7. Stop putting off the things you always meant to do or try.
  8. Take up a new sport.
  9. Do you really know your own city? Investigate events going on near you and get involved in some culture.
  10. Learn a recipe and make dinner for your parents one night. They raised you, dude.
  11. Go into a second-hand bookshop and ask the owner for a recommendation. Buy that book.
  12. Ring your best friend.
  13. It sounds really trite and overtly twee, but start a dream journal, Every morning, write down what you can remember from your dream. Look back at it a month later. What you find can actually be really interesting.
  14. Think about a public figure you admire and read their autobiography or a book about them.
  15. Find a free night and clean the bathroom from top to toe. Then run yourself a bath with all the candles, bath bombs and smelly soaps you can find and clean yourself from top to toe. Hair masks, face masks, body scrubs and massage oils aplenty.
  16. Stop Facebook-stalking him. You know exactly what I’m talking about, girl.
  17. Same goes for guys.
  18. When a friend starts putting themselves down, lift them back up and tell them to be kinder to themselves. Giving someone a compliment doesn’t mean you become any more or less powerful or beautiful. It makes you kinder.
  19. Start a blog. If you’re looking for inspiration, click here.
  20. Next time you go to a birthday party, bring a small gift. It could be anything. Just don’t come empty-handed.
  21. Buy a world map poster, put it up in your room, stick red pins in the places where you’ve been and yellow in the places you want to go
  22. When you start to feel overwhelmed or stressed, close your eyes,and take a deep breath. Remind yourself that you’ve been in stressful situations before and have survived them. Nothing will ever be as bad as you think it will be, but even if it is, you can handle it.
  23. Listen to “A Little Respect” by Erasure. Trust me.