Sweet and Spicy Quinoa

“If you can't taste it, what's the point in eating it?”

In my post 5 Tips To Help You Quit Sugar I mentioned throwing together a tasty meal using quinoa, curry paste and dried fruit.

I wasn't very detailed so I've provided the details here.

Ingredients (serves 2-3)

  • 2 cups of quinoa - I like to mix the unhulled three-colour with a cup of the 'normal'
  • 2 tablespoons of mild curry paste (adjust to taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 8 dried apricots, chopped into small pieces (mine are unsulphured which is why they're so dark)
  • 1 handful mixed raisins and sultanas
  • Salt, pepper and anything else that floats your boat

Making it

  1. Throw all the ingredients in a pan
  2. Cover with water (about 3 cups) and stir well
  3. Bring to the boil and then reduce heat to simmer
  4. Leave to simmer until the water has been absorbed. Stir occasionally to stop it burning.

Experiment to suit

I threw this together from ingredients I found in my stock cupboard so don't be afraid to experiment to make it suit your own tastes. I'm not saying nobody somewhere has ever created this, just that I discovered it by accident - so try adding different things to suit your own tastes.

I'd imagine it would taste great with some plain chocolate stirred in at the end, after the water had been absorbed. As I created this to help me quit sugar, that's an experimental tweak that I'll just have to imagine. :)

Any thoughts?

If you've got any thoughts about this recipe or suggestions to make it better (that don't involve sugar) then please leave a comment below!

Read more »

5 tips to help you quit sugar

Hi, I'm Phil, I'm a recovering sugarholic.

In my last blog post I talked my plan to quit my diet of chocolate, biscuits and cakes for the next 30 days because I was concerned that I was addicted to sugar.

It turns out that I was right. Based on the withdrawal symptoms (headaches, lathergy, mood swings etc) and the cravings I've experienced this week, it's pretty clear that I have a sugar problem.

The good news is that I haven't caved. I'm still on the programme and I'm actually starting to feel better for it.

Here's some tips that I've used to help me get over the worst of it this week.

1 - Change your tastes

This week I've been experimenting with lemon water. I used to drink a lot of Pepsi - way more than water. I mean, water is sooooo bland, why would anyone want to drink it?

Lemon water is literally half a lemon squeezed into a glass of water (I use a big glass with about 330ml of water in it)

The first day I tried it I thought it was awful - bitter and unpleasant but I decided to stick with it as I was trying to reprogramme my taste preferences.

There are supposed to be health benefits to starting the day with a glass of lemony water but I have to be honest, I take anything a celebrity pushes as health fact with a pinch of salt until real science verifies it. At the very least I'll be getting a vitamin C boost.

Over the course of the week, cutting out all the sugary things that I used to eat and drinking my lemon water has caused my tastes to change - I actually enjoy the taste of it now. It's pretty refreshing and it doesn't taste anywhere near as bitter as I remember it being on day one.

Funny thing is that my lovely wife made me a cup of coffee earlier today. I asked her to only put half a sugar in it (I decided to give myself that guilty pleasure at the start but I'm trying to phase it out). It tasted like there was a full sugar in it.

Yeah, I'm pretty excited about that.

2 - Find other ways to satisfy your sweet tooth

I've eaten more fruit this week than I've eaten in months.

No matter what the sugar nazis out there might tell you, eating more fruit when you're giving up sugar is a good thing.

Yes, it's a fact that fruit is high in a natural sugar called fructose. The food police in the media will tell you that eating fruit is just as bad as eating a chocolate bar because of that natural sugar and to that I say, "Bobbins".

Look at it this way - which is better for you - a natural package of fibre, vitamins, minerals and bio-flavanoids that keeps orangutans in tip-top condition or a nutritionally devoid bar of chocolate?

If eating a bit of fruit helps you to keep you on track to give up chocolate bars, I'd say the fruit is the better option. Just don't go mad and keep an eye on how much you're eating. I'm using MyFitnessPal for that.

3 - Experiment with food

If you open your cupboard at home, you'll often find the shelves full of mysterious packets that you might have bought with good intentions and never opened. Obviously, if you're a student whose cupboard represents a supermarket after an apocalyptic looting, this might now apply to you.

Yesterday, out of desperation for something tasty to eat I tried throwing some quinoa in a pan with a teaspoon of mild curry paste, a handful of raisins and four dried apricots cut into small cubes. I covered it with water and boiled it for twenty minutes. I drained it and left it until later to eat. It was pretty awesome.

By not having comfort foods easily to hand, it's much easier to try new things that you might not have previously made the effort to make.

4 - Make short achievable goals

There's been so many times this week when I've been tempted to just have a chocolate bar, to just get a packet of chocolate biscuits or to just treat myself to a cream cake.

This has been my brain desperate to get the sugar-fix it's been accustomed to and I didn't do anything fancy to counter its argument other than to just tell myself, "It's just for thirty days. You can handle that, right?"

If I'd just decided that I'm never eating sugar again, I'd probably have caved by now. The very thought of never eating a tasty victoria sponge (jammy and creamy) or a Double Decker (chewy and so chocolatey) again just seems too much to bear to someone hopelessly addicted to such things.

But... thirty days. That's just over four weeks. I can do that.

Along the way, I'll change my tastebuds thanks to my lemon water, I'll eat more fruit, salad, nuts and vegetables and by the end of the thirty days I'm hoping that the way I feel will be way better than how I felt a week ago.

5 - It's your diet. Ignore the diet-dictators

If you choose to change how you eat to live a better life, that's your choice.

If you choose to eat fruit to help you to stop eating far more damaging sources of sugar, that's your choice.

If you choose to eat grain and fruit bars that have 9g sugars per 100g to help you to avoid the chocolate bars you used to eat that had 57g sugars per 100g then that's your choice. Oh, it's also a choice for bonus vitamin E, fibre, omega-3 oils and other good stuff too.

The point I'm making is that you'll always have people that will be telling you that if you "cut out sugar" then you can't possibly eat fruit and you mustn't eat grain bars and you must avoid sugar in even the tiniest amounts in the foods you eat.

The simple fact is: yes you can. You can eat what you like and you don't need their permission to do so. If you're making positive change to the way you live, that's great. If you're replacing large amounts of sugar with much smaller amounts of sugar, that's awesome.

You'll still be quitting your dependancy on sugar because the amount you're eating will be far outweighed by the fibre and other good stuff that you're eating it with and if you're sensible you'll probably lose weight too.

I've lost a pound this week, by the way.

Any thoughts?

If you've got any helpful tips you've found helpful when cutting out the sweet stuff, why not leave a comment below? I could do with all the help I can get and it might help others too. :)

Further Information

Read more »

So long sugar and thanks for all the fix

“Sugar gave rise to the slave trade; now sugar has enslaved us.”
Jeff O'Connell, Sugar Nation: The Hidden Truth Behind America's Deadliest Habit and the Simple Way to Beat It

Body stats (Day 0)
Weight:182 pounds
Waist:40 inches

Today is my first sugar-free day. I suspect the next 30 days are going to be hard.

There's been a lot of bad press for sugar in the media recently.

So much so that it got me thinking that maybe I should cut down.

As soon as I thought that, my brain subconsciously panicked and I had the sudden urge to go to our local convenience store and stock up on biscuits. Oh, that was not a good sign.

I eat a lot of sugar. Chocolate biscuits are my favourites but I also love chocolate bars, gummy sweets, ice cream, cake and probably a whole bunch of other things packed with the sweet stuff.

Today is the first day of my sugar-detox.

I don't like the idea of something controlling me and the more I thought about it, the more I realised, I've been riding the sugar roller-coaster for most of my adult life.

There were days that I can easily recall where, due to lack of time or effort on my part, I ate little else but crisps, biscuits, chocolate bars and drank nothing but coffee and Pepsi. No vegetables, nuts, fruit or anything else of nutritional value. It's no surprise that I don't feel great.

Possible scary consequences of my sugar addiction

As I've got older, I've become more aware of my state of being and as a direct consequence, my state of health. I didn't have to look too hard to see that my diet was not only addictive but it was potentially devastating to my health.

In his book, "Sugar Nation", Jeff O'Connell talks about the risks of Type-2 diabetes from a poor diet and little exercise but he also talks about other scary consequences of eating a sugar-rich diet. The book is largely about his journey as he discovered he had Type-2 diabetes and how he discovered he could live a life without it.

He writes of some Italian research that shows a distinct correlation between high sugar-consumption and the hardening of arterial walls (atherosclerosis). This condition could lead to me having a heart attack or stroke. My dad had two strokes. I don't want that for my family.

Other risks include:

I'm amazed I'm not morbidly obese or seriously ill. The trouble is, you don't have to be fat to be in danger.

The decision

I decided that from today, I'm cutting processed sugar out of my diet.

I'm replacing carbonated drinks with water, chocolate and crisps with nuts, vegetables and fruit and I'm going to make an effort to actually have a proper breakfast each day too. The only exception is the single teaspoon of demerara sugar I have in coffee. I'm going to let myself have that as long as I limit myself to two cups a day.

I started the day with a breakfast wrap (fried pork mince, onion, mushrooms, egg and paprika) and a large glass of lemon water (half a lemon in water). I enjoyed eating it. It was tasty. My brain kept asking me when I was going to have a chocolate-biscuit chaser. That was over two hours ago. It's still asking.

I really admire people like Joe Cross. He lost 300 pounds by drinking nothing but fruit and vegetable juices for six months. I couldn't do that. I like solid food but I can't deny his story is amazing.

Getting in shape

I used to go to the gym pretty regularly and at one point I was in pretty good shape. Not any more. I'm not surprised. I've been eating crap for a while and I stopped exercising for about the same length of time.

I'm going to start exercising every day too - but the rule is that I can't use a gym - I want to create an exercise programme that's sustainable even without going somewhere I have to pay for.

If I'm feeling particularly brave, I'll post a picture of my saggy bod and my starting weight here for me to compare my progress against.

I'm determined to stop being a slave to sugar but the question is... will determination be enough?

Today's Food & Drink

Breakfast Lunch Dinner Snacks
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon in water
  • Minced pork breakfast wrap
    80g pork mince, 1/4 large onion, 1 egg, paprika, 1 wholemeal wrap
  • Ham sandwich on Burgen Soya & Linseed bread.
  • Large latte (1% milk, no sugar)
  • Chilli chicken wrap
    50g chicken breast, small sweet pepper, 1/2 large sweet potato, 1 wholemeal wrap, tbspn sunflower oil, smoked paprika & other herbs/spices
    • One cup of instant coffee (1 tspn demerara sugar)
    • One cup of instant coffee (1 tspn honey)
    • 50g lightly salted tortilla chips
    • 2 carrots + natural greek yoghurt
    Yeah... today's diet wasn't particularly healthy. Work pressure left me with very little time and with two young children, we weren't left with much time to cook. Still, I didn't each much sugar, no biscuits and no chocolate so that's a plus.

    Further information

    Read more »

    Letting go of anger

    A man chained to anger will never be free to pursue happiness.

    Our brains are hard-wired to react before thinking - and knowing that is half the battle in overcoming our anger.

    This post is about how to become a calmer person by letting go of your anger.

    I used to get angry about the silliest things.

    Sometimes I got really angry.

    It didn't take much to get me wound up.

    Sadly it was quite a while before I realised I was in control all along.

    I think I made excuses for myself - that life's circumstances had ground me down and it wasn't fair that I'd been treated the way I had but that's all they were - excuses. Self-serving lies to absolve myself of the need for self-control.

    Silly things would rile me up; being stuck behind a particularly slow motorist, receiving an unexpected bill or just using Microsoft Windows from time to time.

    I'm even sorry to say that I can remember at least one special occasion that I ruined by being unable to contain my anger and others suffered because of it.

    Although I never allowed my anger to rise to the level of physical violence, the simple truth is that for a long period in my life, I was poisoning myself with rage.

    The science of anger

    The amygdala is located in the temporal lobe of your brain and controls emotion - it triggers the fight or flight response to various external factors and is designed by evolution to help you cope instantly to potential threats or dangers. Unfortunately once your amygdala has taken the driving seat, the frontal lobe's rational decision making takes a temporary back-seat because the amygdala is hogging the blood-flow.

    Your adrenal glands flood your system with the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisone to give you a boost, glucose and fatty acids are released to fuel the anticipated response and your blood pressure and heart-rate spike as your muscles are flooded with blood to prepare you to run (or punch something).

    In the meantime blood is rushing to your frontal lobe to trigger rational decision making but that's a few seconds behind the chemical response triggered by the amygdala...

    It doesn't take a medical expert to guess that flooding your arteries with fatty acids and ramping up your heart rate isn't particularly good for you. Bear in mind - raising your heart rate as part of an exercise programme is good - raising it due to a stress hormonal response... not so good.

    Regular uncontrolled anger has been medically linked to heart-disease, liver and kidney damage, anxiety and depression.

    Learning to control your anger


    Take a slow deep breath

    One of the first keys to controlling your anger is understanding that delay between the amygdala releasing all those crazy hormones into your system and your frontal lobe getting the blood flow back so it can suggest a more rational course of action.

    If you take a slow deep breath before reacting, you give your brain chance to shift back into thinking mode. If necessary, take another one. :)

    Ask yourself, 'why am I angry?'

    This might not seem very useful until you consider that the reason you're angry might actually be ridiculously trivial.

    If somebody is driving slowly in front of you, will screaming at them make them go any faster?

    No. They can't even hear you.

    If you start honking your horn they'll just think you're a crazy person - it will never occur to them that it's because they're driving too slowly. Crawlers gonna crawl.

    Leave

    All the slow, controlled breathing in the world isn't going to help if the situation that made you angry is still there.

    Walk away.

    If you're in the middle of an argument, tell the person that you need to leave the situation so that you can calm down. In my experience, women are much better than men at this.

    Guys - if a woman says she needs some space to calm down, that is exactly what she means. If you're smart, you'll give her the space. If you're not (and I speak from experience here) you'll follow her and keep pushing your point trying to reach an immediate resolution that will never come because you're not letting her calm down.

    Learn to Mediate

    Meditation is awesome. It helps you really understand what you're actually feeling, why you might be feeling that way and over time, give you more control over how you respond to emotional situations.

    You don't have to be a buddhist monk in an isolated temple of Tibet to meditate. It can be done anywhere quiet and has nothing to do with religion (although it's an important component of many religions with good reason).

    Summing Up

    Uncontrolled anger ruins peoples' lives.

    In many cases it leads to violence and destroys relationships - yet it can be so easily controlled.

    Sometimes the inability to control ones' anger can be a sign of a medical issue but more often than not it's just a sign of poor self-control.

    The good news is that with practice, anger can be controlled and life can become a much happier, smoother experience.

    Disclaimer

    I still get irritated at things. Sometimes I still get angry (particularly if I haven't meditated for some time).

    I'm not a buddha, I have to live in the real world and I'm much better at managing my anger than I used to be. These days I'm more irritated than irrationally angry. :)

    Further information

    Read more »

    Boosting your creativity by walking

    You can't force creativity but you can give it a cup of tea and a biscuit.

    I was really stuck on a project I was working on earlier. I had an idea of how to get it done but the solution just wouldn't quite blossom into fruition.

    To help clear my mind, I decided to take a walk in the rain.

    I'd already been walking for fifteen minutes listening to music before I realised that wasn't going to help.

    The idea of taking the walk was to switch my brain off - to enjoy hearing the wind in the trees, the birdsong, the feel of the stones under my feet and in essence, be mindful of the walking experience to give my brain chance to work things out.

    I removed my headphones and put them in my pocket.

    About ten minutes later, something strange happened as I walked through the rain.

    The rain wasn't strange. In Scotland walking in the rain is pretty normal.

    The strange thing was that I found myself wondering why I never saw wasps in the pouring rain. Five minutes after that, I noticed a wasp, out of the corner of my eye, sheltering under some Cow Parsley. I'm not sure if that's standard wasp practice in the pouring rain but it was a fun encounter I might otherwise have missed.

    By the end of the walk I'd come up with a few ideas to solve my problem - and I hadn't even been thinking about it.

    You can't force creativity.

    I originally got the idea of taking a walk to encourage my creative process from an eBook I'm reading - Blog Post Ideas: 21 Proven Ways to Create Compelling Content and Kiss Writer's Block Goodbye by Danny Inny and Jim Hopkinson but there are other sources that encourage walking outside to give your inspiration a boost.

    Apparently many great writers have extolled the value of a good walk as part of their creative process. Charles Dickens spent many hours wandering the streets of London when writing his visions of Victorian England. The BBC website published an interesting article about how we rarely use purposeless walks to create thinking spaces in western society.

    Stanford University discussed the benefits of walking for the creative process in an article on their site but they focused more on the benefits of aerobic exercise to the creative process than actually being outside. This study is discussed further in an article on the Psychology Today website.

    Psychologists at the University of Utah published a study in 2012 showing that backpackers that had been hiking for four days without access to technology scored 50% better at creative tests - but very few of us have the luxury of disappearing for four days when we encounter a creative roadblock. I've found an hour is usually sufficient for me.

    Eliminate distractions

    Our lives are full of distractions - smartphones are constantly pinging with new notifications in addition to the more traditional workplace distractions of checking emails and taking telephone calls. If you're trying to focus on bringing that amazing idea out of your subconscious, you really need to get away from them for a moment or two.

    It may seem counter-productive to leave your desk to be more productive - you're busy, you've got deadlines and you can't afford to leave what you're doing - especially as you might get an important telephone call or email when you're away from your desk but that's exactly why you need to get away. You're not going to hit a deadline with a blank page or by being continually distracted.

    Do what you can

    Not all of us live or work in an area that we'd want to walk around. According to the Stanford study, just the act of aerobic exercise is enough to stimulate a creative response. Going for a swim or just walking up and down the corridors of your workplace would probably be better than continuing to sit in frustration.

    At the very least, you'll be reducing the threat of deep-vein thrombosis from sitting too long.

    Sources

    Read more »