Not just eating healthily, but eating well is always at the forefront of my mind. Whether it's the way I look or the way I feel, most of it can be attributed to what I am or aren't eating and it has to be said, I feel much better when I'm being 'healthy'. But eating healthily means so many different things to different people - gluten-free and plant-based seem to be buzzwords for 2015, and I'm glad that a healthy approach to food and what's on trend don't have to be mutually exclusive, but that doesn't mean that the Dukan diet, juice fasts and so on aren't still on the menu.
I think I already have a pretty healthy attitude to food - I eat a lot of fruit and vegetables and healthy fats, I cook mostly from scratch and don't rely heavily on processed foods, and I'm pretty good at not snacking between meals or succumbing to cravings and food binges. That being said, since going off the pill I'm still lethargic and really low on energy, my skin has been a bit temperamental and I've put on a little bit of extra squidge around the middle. I actually lost nearly 2 stone a few years ago, using a calorie counter, and while I found it a really useful method to really understand portion sizes, I find I can easily become obsessed with it; a habit I don't want to develop any further.
I decided to sit down with a couple of recent cookbooks to discover their attitude to what we should and shouldn't be eating, what they have in common, and how they differ, to see if I can come up with a healthy food philosophy that's easy (enough) to stick to and makes me feel good. Grab a cuppa, it's going to be a long one!
Philosophy: A plant-based diet, free from gluten, dairy, meat, sugar, processed foods, chemicals and additives.
What I like: Ella appreciates that the way she eats is restricted by her illness, and that if you want to supplement the recipes in the book with organic meat and dairy, then that is completely fine. It's easy to eat salads when the weather's cold, but there are some really hearty recipes in the book that are perfect for when you just want a bowl of carbs and cheese. I've already tried the lentil bolognese and it was amazing.
How to eat like Ella: Prepare in advance and cook big batches of quinoa or brown rice at the weekend that you can add to roasted vegetables for an easy packed lunch or quick week-night supper.
Recipes to try: Gnocchi with pea pesto, homemade hummus, sweet potato brownies
Philosophy: Whole, unprocessed foods. Embrace healthy fats, dairy, organic meat and fermented foods; cut out gluten and sugar.
What I like: Everything! I feel like I already think about food in the same was as the Hemsley sisters. I'm a big fan of cooking with butter, and not trimming all the fat off meat, as it tastes good and keeps you fuller for longer. They also recommend eating full-fat dairy - low-fat alternatives are usually loaded with sugar and they don't recommend soy as it is heavily processed and usually genetically modified. Unless you have a dairy or lactose allergy, there's no need to swap milk for soy milk.
How to eat like the Hemsleys: split your plate into thirds - fill two thirds with low-starch vegetables, leafy greens, seeds, dairy and fats and fill the other third with either pulses and starchy vegetables or protein (I usually take a meat or carbs approach to meals too). Don't see fat as a bad thing - it is more satisfying and, if you are cutting out unprocessed foods, then you are unlikely to be eating any trans-fats. Introduce fermented foods - like miso or sauerkraut - to balance good gut bacteria and drink bone broth (essentially stock), which is rich in collagen to repair and soothe the stomach's lining and aid digestion.
Recipes to try: Pablo's chicken (pictured), whole roasted cauliflower, Sri Lankan lamb curry, green goddess dressing.
Philosophy: Whether it comes from fruit or from cake, sugar is sugar. Sarah was eating around 25 teaspoons of sugar on a conservative day - from honey, three pieces of fruit, dried fruit and dark chocolate, not even taking into account hidden sources of sugar like sliced bread - which was making her feel tired and lethargic and aggravating an auto-immune disease that she had developed. Quitting sugar takes time, but her approach follows an eight-week plan to ease into.
What I like: Wilson has the same ideas as the Hemsleys - good quality meat and dairy are integral to her recipes - and the plan is easy to follow, with instructional tables and lots of ideas for substitutions.
How to eat like Sarah: Give yourself realistic goals, but also be strict. Cut back gradually, but have lots of variation to keep things exciting. The book is mostly sweet recipes - which I don't find as appealing because I don't have much of a sweet tooth - but it's perfect for if you are really struggling with cutting down on sugar as there are plenty of tasty things to make.
Recipes to try: courgette breakfast cheesecake, coconut curry meatballs, rooibos chai
I'm pleased to see that most of my food ideals align with Hemsley + Hemsley, and it's more a matter of willpower for me. The main thing that I've taken away from reading all of those books is that I should be eating less sugar, so I'm going to embark on Sarah Wilson's 8-week plan after I get back from Italy and my birthday (it only makes sense!). I don't have a sweet tooth, but I do find that I want to eat something sweet in the afternoon when I'm at work (never at the weekend) or after dinner, which is definitely more of a habit than a craving.
I'm really looking forward to trying some of the recipes in the book and finding a healthier food philosophy that works in the long term. I'll definitely get back into my Cookbook Challenge and share some of the recipes I cook on here. Do you have any favourite food blogs you think I'd like? No cakes, obviously!