January gets a bad write-up. It’s a time of year I love – a time to gather thoughts to let the holiday glow slowly dim. I let it run until about the 15th, when I gently lay down some intentions for the year ahead. This year, it’s wearing lipstick, chatting to one stranger a day, writing a new book and a promise to spend as much time with my new baby boy as possible. But, for others, it means very different things.
I feel lucky to have almost always had positive associations with food and my body; there have, of course, been days I would have liked to have been thinner, or scolded myself for eating that second KitKat, but in all I feel very lucky to have had a happy disposition when it comes to eating. For some people in my life, the road hasn’t always been so smooth, which has helped me understand how difficult and fraught some relationships with food can be, especially when the mania of sober, detox, health-kick January hits. I have been very close to a few people whose relationship with food is unhinged and, in January, it's them I think of. How do they navigate the world as Aztec-legginged keenos march past with their charcoal smoothies?
How we all end up with such varied attitudes and responses to food and our body fascinates me and is a huge topic that needs some serious attention.
The health and wellness industry has come a long way. The focus has shifted away from, let's face it, stupid diets and crazy exercise. But this more balanced approach requires it to be digested by a balanced individual, and that’s where we are missing the point. The clean-eating thing for many people is really just a new socially acceptable version of being on a diet; more than that – it's fodder for boasting in January.
For a lot of people, controlling what they eat masquerades as healthy but, in reality, for some, it can be an all-consuming problem.
The clean-eating thing for many people is really just a new socially acceptable version of being on a diet; more than that – it's fodder for boasting in January
People are evangelical, I have sat on panels with other healthy-food writers and seen the desperation in people's faces as they hang off every word that comes out of our mouths; desperate faces in the audience asking where to get maca powder, with a seriousness that seems to take all the pleasure out of eating.
There is such great responsibility on the shoulders of everyone who has a voice in the health and wellness world, as so many people who cook our recipes take what we say as gospel. As humans, cooks and nutritionists, all we can really do is tell you what works for us – all of our bodies are completely and utterly individual. Some do this better, and with more integrity, than others. This is the very real and fragile state I see in many who follow the clean-eating brigade – for whom veering from the clean path and eating a bar of chocolate would ruin their day. Sounds funny, but it isn’t.
The #FitNotThin hashtag that trails gym-mirror selfies seems a step forward, but again requires the individual to have some balance around fitness. Are the six-packs peppering Instagram not just the new before and after we saw on SlimFast ads?
For me, the conversation is about accepting a broader spectrum of sizes and not demonising the fat on our body as something that needs to be immediately removed. It’s our minds we need to gently look at – our individual psychology of eating that we need to get in shape. Not because we will suddenly become the illusive 8st, but because we gain perspective.
Far easier to say than to do, I know. It’s a minefield and, for people who really struggle with eating, there is no quick fix. There are people talking about psychology around eating, follow @eatingpsychology on Instagram and interesting inquiries into why we eat the way we do, like Bee Wilson's brilliant new book, First Bite.
These are the things that I try to keep mindful of around eating:
- Put joy and pleasure at the centre of everything we eat. Food should be about pleasure and deliciousness.
- Be aware of how your body feels after you have eaten – there may be a pattern. It doesn’t mean you need to avoid them; just know that you might feel different after and weigh that up against how much you enjoy them.
- Don’t believe the hype – you know your body, no one else does. No chef, no nutritionist, no health blogger. Only you know what does and doesn’t suit you, and what does and doesn’t make you smile when you eat it.
- Don’t follow the crowd – raw juice diet for January when it's two degrees? No thanks. Cold climate means hot food for me – use your own judgement to make sense of anyone's suggestions.
- Start the day right – yes, you have heard this before a million times, but it sets the tone for how you want your day to be. If you start off right, then the rest of the day often falls into place, even if it’s only something small eaten with intention. Here's my current favourite breakfast recipe to start you off.
Nordic Morning Bowls
- 200g rolled oats
- 300ml milk of your choice (I use unsweetened almond)
- 2 dates
- Pinch of ground cinnamon
- Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
- Pinch of ground cardamom
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- Honey (optional)
- 2 tbsp almond butter
- Handful of raisins or currants
- Scattering of hemp seeds
- Coconut yoghurt
- 1 apple
- Get all your ingredients and equipment together. Put the oats and milk into a saucepan with 125ml cold water and a pinch of salt, and start to warm it over a medium heat. Destone and roughly chop the dates and add to the pan with all the spices and the vanilla.
- Stir the porridge and cook until it is thick and creamy. Once you’ve got it to the consistency you like, take it off the heat and spoon it into deep bowls, adding a squeeze of honey if you like your porridge sweet. Top with a spoonful of almond butter, a scattering of raisins and hemp seeds, a spoonful of coconut yoghurt and a good grating of apple. Hand-warming bowls of good stuff.