Monday 18 June 2012

Weekend Wobbles

Kate feeling good (but probably
a bit peckish) about being skinny.
If there is one thing I excel at, it is eating. I can happily polish off fish, chips, mushy peas, bread and butter and still find room for a bar of chocolate (I am a great believer that you always need something sweet to finish off a meal no matter how full you are!). My huge appetite and a love of food didn't really pose any problems when I was an active, skinny teenager but 14 years of marriage to a man with a similar devotion to food, and giving birth to three children have all taken their toll on my body. It’s not rocket science – I eat too much and exercise too little. I am not someone who obsesses about their weight, I know I look better when I am slimmer, but the pure unadulterated, bloated joy of a delicious meal and a glass or two of wine has always won the day. Kate Moss is famously quoted as saying "Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels." Kate obviously hasn’t tried my slow roast shoulder of lamb with dauphinoise potatoes and green beans. Food is one of life’s greatest pleasures, something to be celebrated and savoured. I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say that a good spaghetti bolognaise (or spag bol as we like to call it) is the glue that holds our family together. Well perhaps I am exaggerating a bit, but I don’t think you can underestimate the restorative power of a well-cooked family meal eaten round a table.

Imagine then my horror when I first started researching the diets which are recommended for people suffering from MS and the words “vegetarian”, “wholefood” and “low fat” kept cropping up.  It is a reflection of how scared I was by my last MS relapse that I was suddenly considering giving up cheese and butter. But the reality was I was scared stiff.  One minute I was fine, the next I found myself at my mother-in-law’s birthday party sitting in a wheelchair, unable to go to the toilet by myself.  I felt unattractive and invisible. I was the subject of people’s pity. I hated it. Two high doses of steroids helped me back on the path to recovery but the whole experience left me shell-shocked.  I realise now that prior to that last relapse I had largely been in denial about my MS.  It had been years since my last major attack and being a “glass half full person” I had begun to assume that I was going to be one of the lucky ones who have very few relapses and little long term disability.  The relapse last summer shattered the foundations of that assumption and the peace of mind that went with it. 

I spent the next couple of months looking at all the evidence gathered by experts such as Dr Swank .The research suggested that a balanced diet low in saturated fat could halt, and in some cases reverse, the progression of the disease. Ironically, I did most of this research whilst eating my way through the Christmas tin of Miniature Heroes (you see - I was a lost cause). Nonetheless fear is a great motivator and in the New Year I finally got my act together.

I started the diet full of determination – the novelty of keeping a food diary and logging every gram of saturated fat kept me motivated. I became a bit of a food nazi – audibly tutting if my husband helped himself to a kitkat. I was in danger becoming a food bore with the zealous rectitude of a reformed ex-binger.  Thankfully this period of my life lasted approximately two weeks.  I buckled under the pressure of my Dad’s roast rib of beef with all the trimmings. It quickly became apparent that I needed to find a way of incorporating the main principles of this diet into meals which the whole family would want to eat.  The aforementioned spag bol was the first dish to get an MS makeover. I bought one of those choppers, which as the name suggests, chop vegetables into microscopic, undetectable pieces.  This was an essential piece of kit if I was going to con my children into eating less meat and more vegetables. My theory goes that by adding bulk with veg I need less meat which in turn makes the whole thing both cheaper and healthier. I served the new improved version of this family classic and the kids didn’t even notice the veg- they lapped it up.  I even “made over” the accompanying garlic bread replacing butter with a drizzle of olive oil. Again they loved it. I felt like I was eating a meal that we could all enjoy guilt-free.

Before this all gets a bit smug and self-righteous, I need to make a confession.  For all my healthy spag bols, vegan stir fries and chocolate abstinence there have been plenty of lapses especially at weekends.  There is something about a weekend that makes you want to eat bad things – Chinese takeaways (salt and pepper chips mmmmmm), the odd Cadbury’s binge, a McDonalds double cheeseburger!!! What has changed is that these lapses are now the exception rather than the rule.  My appetite and tastes have changed over the past few months.  It feels like the diet isn’t a diet at all – it’s just the way I eat now. If I want a bag of chips or a portion of sticky toffee pudding I won’t deprive myself.  I have adopted the “a little of what you fancy does you good” approach. As long as I eat healthily for the majority of the time keeping my daily levels of saturated fat to less than 15g , then I am allowed the luxury of the odd weekend binge every now and then.

The net result of this approach is that I have lost weight but most importantly I feel much better – my MS symptoms have almost completely disappeared. Time will tell if this approach has any long term effect on the progression of my disease.  I know deep down I should be super-healthy all of the time but I also have come to realise that as a person who lives to eat rather than eats to live there is a balance to be struck between eating for health and eating for pure hedonistic pleasure.
Spag Bol 

My healthier Spag Bol, garlic bread and green salad (Serves 6)
2 x cloves of garlic crushed, 1 x onion, 1 x carrot, 1 red pepper, 1 small courgette, ½ small aubergine all chopped finely
300 g lean steak mince (or quorn if I am being really good)
1 tin of chopped tomatoes and 2 big splodges (heaped tbsps) of tomato puree
Small glass of red wine
Beef stock cube
Salt, pepper, dried mixed herbs
Fry all the chopped veggies along with the crushed garlic in a little olive oil till softened.  Add the mince or quorn and cook until brown.  Add the wine, tomatoes, tomato puree, salt, pepper, herbs and stock cube.  Bring to boil and simmer gently for as long as you have got.  Add a little water if it gets too dry. If you want to be a bit Jamie Oliver about it you can add some freshly torn basil.  I serve with some extra mature grated cheddar (not much for me – as I need to watch the saturated fat).
Serve with the pasta of your choice
Garlic bread
Baguette or ciabatta sliced lengthways and cut into 3 inch pieces. Mix a crushed clove of garlic with a couple of glugs of olive oil and a pinch of sea salt in a bowl and briefly dip the bread into the mixture.  Bake for 6 mins at 190c
Fresh green salad leaves (we get ours from the garden – smug, smug, smug). Little drizzle of olive oil, squeeze of lemon juice and a pinch of sea salt.