My kitchen wouldn’t run without this…

When you think about the “must have” ingredients in your kitchen, you maybe think of onions, or chillis or rice. Maybe it’s garlic, or stock, or spices. But there has become one ingredient above all others, that our lives would feel desolate and empty without. What is this wonder ingredient? Meridian crunchy peanut butter!

There is always a 1kg tub open on our counter top, and when it’s gets to half way down we promptly order the next one (luckily we have an awesome farm shop that delivers to our door, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of it, Radmore Farm Shop)😉

Our whole family love it, and it’s rare to have something that pleases everyone. So we have the standard peanut butter toast and sandwiches, but it’s sooo much more than that. We have it in our overnight oats, we add a little to porridge, we use it for sauces, we bake with it, we top pancakes with it. It’s a little indulgence that gets you through the day when you need a quick snack, and it’s a great ingredient in no sugar/low sugar bakery. We particularly love to use it in banana & oat cookies and in Quinoa bars. We have made some cracking peanut butter muffins too. It’s the wonder food in our house. What’s the wonder food in your house? Do you love peanut butter too?

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Buy it here!

Cooking to Lose Weight: my 10 tips!

Anyone that reads the blog may have heard me mention that I’ve lost a life changing amount of weight in the past 12 months, almost 4.5 stone. This has involved getting fit, being more active, and balancing the amount of food that goes in according to the amount of energy I burn. This sounds blatantly obvious, but it’s hard to put into practice isn’t it?!

The getting fit and more active has been, I won’t say the “easy” part, but the easiest to alter my mind to. It’s proactive, I’ve very quickly felt results that have spurred me on throughout the year and reinforced why I should do it, and it’s nestled itself into my daily routine.

But the food? Can I live restricting myself? I run a food business, I live to eat! Will I be miserable? Will it affect my work? Will it affect my happiness? This was quite a cause of anxiety when making this life change. I decided I couldn’t live being miserable and feeling deprived, it just wouldn’t work. So I had to change my tack, make my relationship with food healthy and positive and throw myself into cooking new and exciting foods.

So here are the rules I have set myself to change my relationship with food, not feel like I’m watching the clock until the next meal, and keep food exciting.

1. Cook it yourself.

This is really the cornerstone of eating balanced, healthily and in a way that’s tailored to your specific tastes. You can control everything about your meal if you’ve made it at home; how much salt is in it, how spicy it is, how big the portion of veg is, how much protein is in it, how much oil is in it, how much it costs, and how much you value what you feed your body! Not to mention pride in your work! Cooking, for me, is the holy grail of well being. The downside…washing up. BUT think of those calories it burns.

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2. Make it colourful. Especially Green.

Colour is so important to make a meal exciting, and healthy. Pile as many different types of veg as you can into a meal, especially the greenery! It will fill you up, has loads of fibre and will make you feel satisfied.

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3. Variety is the spice of life.

I love having something different all the time, I don’t like to feel stuck in a rut or bored with what I’m eating. So I try to create new things all the time. And if I had chicken a few days ago, and I’m having chicken again today, try a different cut of chicken, try it cooked differently, try it with different accompaniments. There’s loads of ways the same ingredients can be arranged different to make a new completely new meal! Get creative.

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4. Try new things.

I try to buy one new ingredient that I’ve never used before every week, and then challenge myself to see what I can make with it. It sounds a hard task but once you think about it, it’s not. So it could be a different type of veg, the other week I make a curry with okra, which I’d never used before. Or it could be a new herb, maybe a different sauce, or a different type of fish, or cut of meat. It could be a different type of bean, or pasta, or variety of potato. It doesn’t need to be a huge change, just little new things to keep in interesting.

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5. Follow healthy food sites on your social media.

I follow healthy food sites on Facebook, I also have a lot of friends and a good supportive group around me that share recipes and tips and inspiration. Our Radmore farm shop Facebook recipe exchange group is really good too. I think it’s really helpful to have positive images of healthy, and home cooked food popping up to keep your creative juices flowing.

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6. Watch the “hiddens”.

Cooking a lot more at home has really opened my eyes to portion control with the high calorie hiddens, like oil and cheese. Don’t get me wrong, I love these things, but I like to be aware that I’m having them so I can appreciate them! When they are hidden in a sauce or dressing, they add loads of calories and I don’t even get the benefit of knowing I’m having them!

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7. Prepare yourself.

Be prepared to eat healthily. This doesn’t necessarily mean prepare every meal. Apart from my overnight oats for breakfast which I have prepared in advance, I don’t prepare much ahead of time, but I’m lucky enough to be at home to cook a lot. So if you can prepare your meals, especially for taking with you when you’re out of the house, that’s great. But more importantly than than, prepare YOURSELF. Do this by always making sure you have the tools you need. Vegetables in the house, lean protein, a good non stick pan, recipes you can go to (especially quick ones). I ALWAYS have loads of veg in the house, and I ALWAYS have eggs (obviously) and I ALWAYS have beans. Then if I’ve short on time and don’t have a meal planned- veggie bean omelette! You need to be prepared with these quick “go to” options to avoid the takeaway or the packed of biscuits being “gone to”!

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8. Don’t think about “what can I eat?”, think about “what did I eat?”

This is a great tip I have picked up from a weekend away that I went on with the company that I work out with (Team Body Project). Alex, the lady that owns the business, was talking about food and saying that if you feel hungry, think back to the meal you had and think what it might have been missing that’s left a hole. It might have been too low in protein, it might have needed more carbs. Then next time you have this meal you can rectify it. This was a massive eureka moment. Because my whole life when I’ve felt hungry, I have considered what I could eat to solve the hunger. And that solves a short term problem. Thinking about making the meal more satisfying in future solves the long term problem!

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9. Eat things you enjoy!

Just that. Don’t eat kale because it’s healthy if you hate it! That’s making food miserable again. Eat what you enjoy! Chose the veg you like! It doesn’t matter if you never eat kale again! Don’t force yourself to like things, appreciate the things you do like!

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10. Make sure you eat those treats and enjoy them!

This is key! Factor in small and regular treats. Learn the self control to have a little of something you love, enjoy it to the max, and then put it away! I know, seemed impossible to me too…but this discipline has been the key to my personal success, both to help me feel mentally strong and in control and so I didn’t feel deprived, because I still have my treats! Also make sure you enjoy special occasions without guilt, these events will not ruin your long term plan at all!

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And most importantly, share you recipes with others to help inspire them!

 

 

Easy Braised Top Blade Of Beef

This is probably our favourite way to eat beef. We love how tender and flavoursome it is, how easy it is to prepare, and how budget friendly it is.

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Top blade is one of those “butchers secrets  cuts”. When Ben was learning butchery from a retired master butcher, and great friend, Brian, who is sadly no longer with us, he learnt all about the true “best bits”. This was priceless information! Brian would tell him, with a twinkle in his eye “we used to keep this bit for ourselves”! So that speaks volumes!

Top blade is from the shoulder blade, and being one of the “cheaper cuts”, you would typically pot roast or slow cook it like you would a brisket, but because it’s from the shoulder it’s leaner, yet definitely not lacking in flavour and juiciness. Because it’s very rich, I don’t think it needs a heavy accompaniment like potatoes. We prefer to serve it with a selection of roasted root veg and boiled or steamed greens, making it a big plate full of healthy and hearty deliciousness, but one that doesn’t need to be confined to winter. This recipe is incredibly simple, and really lets the flavour of the beef shine through.

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Ingredients:

1 kg Top Blade of Beef  (serves 4)

Rapeseed oil (1tbsp)

3 cloves garlic

sea salt & pepper

water

A deep oven or casserole dish & a large frying pan

 

How to make it delicious:

1. Pre heat the oven to 140oc

2.  Sear the beef. Heat the rapeseed oil in the frying pan over a high heat. Rub a little sea salt and pepper into the beef. Squash the garlic cloves and put in the pan. Add the beef to the pan, fat side down and sizzle and keep turning in the pan, with the garlic, until it’s browned all over.

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3. Transfer the the beef and garlic to the oven dish. Pour in cold water until the water level is about a third of the way up the side of the beef. Cover with foil or a lid. Put in the over for 5 hours. Check from time to time that the water hasn’t evaporated, top up with a little more of so.

4. For the final 20 minutes, remove the foil/lid and turn the heat in the oven up to 190oc.

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5. Revove carefully from the oven dish, it might be so tender it falls apart a little. I served this with roasted butternut and carrots and boiled broccoli and spring greens, and of course gravy. Any leftover meat can be used for multiple things; to add to sandwiches or salads, to make a Chilli, to add to vegetable rice, put in fajitas, the list is endless.

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This recipe might sound simple. That’s because it is. It’s all about letting the quality of the beef come through and not get crowded out. Good ingredients don’t need a lot of dressing up!

Buy blade of beef from Radmore here

Chicken, Pepper & Spinch Loaded Omelette

I ran a little poll yesterday about the types of meals people were interested in seeing recipes of. The 3 categories with the most interest were; healthy and balanced meals, followed by meat and fish based recipes and meals on a budget.

So today’s recipe ticks all the boxes, with the added bonus that it’s quick to make and uses one pan. You do need a good quality non stick pan though, or you might end up with an eggy mess!

We are often at home at lunchtime, so omelette is always in our lunch meal rotation (let’s face it, we are never short of eggs), but the great thing with omelettes is they work equally as well for breakfast or dinner. We love them because they are a good source of protein, you can load them up with loads of veg and they fill you up!

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Ingredients (per person):

Good non stick pan

Drizzle rapeseed oil (or spray oil for lower fat)

150-200g chicken breast (you can replace this with left over roast chicken to be extra budget friendly)

Half a large red pepper

2 loaded handfuls spinach

2 free range eggs

50ml milk

Sea salt and pepper

How to make it tasty:

1. Heat the pan with the oil over a high heat, cut the chicken into thin strips and season and add to the hot pan, stir fry until browned all over (if using left over roast chicken, add with the peppers).

2. Add the pepper, cut into thin strips, and continue to stir until softened and the chicken is cooked through (or thoroughly reheated if using roast chicken).

3. Add the spinach (washed) and turn through the mixture until just starting to wilt. Empty all of the mixture out of the pan into a separate bowl and put to one side. Put the pan back on the heat, and add a drop more oil if needed.

4. Reduce the heat to medium, and whisk the egg and milk together with a good pinch of sea salt and pepper. Tip into the bottom of the pan  and shake gently to level. When the mixture looks like it’s starting to set at the edges, run a fish slice around to lift it slightly. When it’s starting to look like it’s setting all over, with just a slight ‘wobble’, scatter over the cooked chicken, pepper and spinach mix. Leave for a few seconds until the egg is cooked and the chicken mixture has warmed with the egg.

5. Serve immediately. We love it with a leafy side salad and a dollop of smoked hummus!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The wonder of the food factory

Recently I’ve seen a lot of videos floating around the internet of food being made, familiar foods that we have known for years. The story behind the fish finger, how Krispy Kreme donuts start their life, and how are frozen pizzas made to name a few.

It’s very interesting to see such giant sized business at work. It’s amazing to wonder just how much money was invested in monster machines that roll out 1000’s of pizza based a minute. It’s mind boggling to think that every one of that sea of packets of chicken nuggets has a consumer demand that drives its mass production.

But what it doesn’t do? It doesn’t make me hungry. Seeing the bandsaw cutting huge breeze blocks of frozen cod doesn’t make me fancy a fish finger. Seeing the sea of needles that pump liquid solution into chicken breast doesn’t make me fancy a chicken Kiev. Seeing a wave of uniform donut batter rings plummeting into a reservoir sized vat of oil doesn’t make me fancy a donut. It reinforces just how far removed mass production has become from a product that is created with pride. It shows me how little love and care there is that goes into the churning out process. It shows me how wasteful the ‘uniformity’ process is, when every pizza has its picture taken and any ‘defect’ detected, like uneven topping or non uniform base thickness leads to a jet of air blasting it off the production line and into a waste bin!

Seeing food made this way makes me sad, makes me feel a bit sick and ashamed for ever buying a cheap frozen pizza in the past. I like food to be real. I like it to have more well done bits, that show me the oven was hotter at the edge. I like the icing to be spread on with an experienced hand and not a pre set machine. I like vegetables that have bumps and curves and I like every batch of something tasting slightly different. I like to know my food was made by people, and they care what it tastes like and not how many can be produced in 30 seconds with a little human involvement as possible.

Thinking of this, I wondered if perhaps seeing the production process gave me a bad impression of these foods. After all, seeing something mid way through its life is probably the worst time to see it, and I could be forming an unfair perception. So I took some snaps in the bakery- mid production, with mess around me, and without tidying anything up or positioning it nicely for the picture. And…I still fancy a home made cake!

Maybe I’m a dinosaur and if it tastes good and it’s cheap then I shouldn’t read more into it? Or maybe there’s other people with me here? People that long to see things go back to days before food was made in factories, and it was made in kitchens?Maybe you make most of your food from scratch now to avoid factory foods? Let me know what you think!

Simply Delicious Dexter Burgers with Chunky Chips

I love the Dexter beef we sell. It’s delicious  and it’s hung for 21 days, but you can say that for a lot of beef can’t you? Well this is also free range, grass fed and fully traceable Pedigree, and that makes it pretty special. For more information on the smallest breed native to the British isles, look up the dexter Cattle society on http://www.dextercattle.co.uk, but for now let’s talk burgers!

So I’ve mentioned before that one of my children doesn’t eat a big range of foods. I refuse to call it fussy and tar him with the ‘fussy eater’ brush. He’s just a child that like to try things under his own steam and his own control. At the moment he’s very interested in ‘hamburgers’, which is what he calls a cheese roll. So while he’s in a mood to be quite receptive to new things at the moment I thought I’d give beef burgers a go. Sausages are on his safe list, so I thought seeing the burgers made would reassure him they are similar to sausages.

The result was better than I hoped for. He tried some of everything in his plate (never happens), including several bites of hamburger which included meat and not just bread roll! And he even tried eating his leaves on his side salad…this is of course because ‘the highway rat’ steals a leaf from some ants and eats it! But that’s amazing progress in our book, and our book is apparently authored by Julia Donaldson!

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Dexter Burgers with Chunky Chips

Makes enough for 8 burgers & 8 portions of chips

Ingredients:

For the Chips:

3 medium sweet potatoes

3 medium potatoes (chip variety if possible)

1 tbsp coconut oil

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 tsp smoked paprika

Salt and pepper

For the Burgers:

1kg Dexter minced beef

1 small onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1.5 tbsp tomato puree

1 large egg

2 slices bread, grated into breadcrumbs (I used crusts)

2 tbsp chopped chives

salt and pepper

1 tbsp rapeseed oil

smoked cheddar (optional)

Method:

1. Make the Chips.

Pre heat oven to 190oC. Wash all the potatoes and keep the skins on. Chop into chip shapes, all about the same thickness. In a large pan or wok heat the coconut oil and garlic until the oil is completely liquid and the garlic is starting to brown. Remove from the heat and stir through the chips (I added the chips to the pan to mix), also add in the paprika and season and mix until they are evenly coated. Tip into an oven tray and put in the oven until they are browning and crisping on the outside and soft on the inside. This will take around 45 mins and they will need turning/shaking half way.

2. Make the burgers.

While the chips cook, make the burgers. In a large mixing bowl, put all the burger ingredients (not the cheese or oil) and season well. Mix well until completely combined. Press out into 8 equal sized burgers.

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3. Cook the burgers.

Heat a large frying pan (med-high heat), with the rapeseed oil. When it’s hot, add the burgers (don’t overfill the pan, do them in batches) and cook for 2 minutes on each side until well browned and sealed. Transfer to an ovenproof dish and put in the oven with the chips. Leave in the oven until cooked through, and piping hot throughout (or to your specification). Ours took about 15 minutes.

4. If you’re having cheese, remove the burgers from the oven 2-3 minutes before they are done, top with a slice of cheese and return to the oven for the final minutes. It should look like a perfect union; the cheese and burger were meant to be together, when it’s done!

Serve with your faves. We had wholemeal rolls and mixed leaf salad. And ketchup, there’s always ketchup!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ginger Nut Granola Rhubarb Crumble with ‘Vicky’s Old Favourite’ Custard

It’s always really exciting when we get the first forced Yorkshire rhubarb in. It’s like a little glimmer of light that the spring will be next! And on a year when winter has hung around longer than it’s welcome and everything is going to be arriving late onto our shelves, we have really welcomed something sweet and new to tide us over! Although this uses the forced rhubarb this recipe can be used all through the season, with the outdoor spring and summer grown rhubarb also.

I made a nutty ginger granola to top the crumble, because I like the texture contrast of the crunchy nuts, the chewy Granola and the soft rhubarb, all drenched in creamy custard. And who doesn’t like ginger and rhubarb together. This recipe contains a bit of sour, a lot of sweet and a nice warmth from the ginger, it’s like a great big hug in a bowl!

I’m also giving away here my fresh custard recipe. This recipe has been with me for YEARS, without changing. I used to make it in our pub kitchen, and it has wowed many a dinner party ever since. And definitely pleased the husband! He’s a big fan!

Ingredients

For the crumble: (serves 4-5)

4-5 thin sticks rhubarb

2 tbsp soft brown sugar

Drop of water

1.5 cups oats

1 cup mixed roughly chopped nuts (I used pecans, walnuts and flaked almonds)

3 tsp ground ginger

1 tbsp coconut oil

2 tbsp honey

For the custard:

200ml double cream

200ml milk

2 tsp vanilla essence

60g caster sugar

3 egg yolks

1 tbsp cornflour

How to make it into an amazing dessert:

1. Stew the Rhubarb.

Firstly in a large pan place the rhubarb stalks cut into pieces around 1-2 inches long. Add a drop of water (2-3 tbsp) and the brown sugar. Put the pan to a medium heat and cover. Leave to stew, shake the pan occasionally until the rhubarb is soft and some of the stalks have just started to break up and go stringy. Set to one side.

2. Make the Granola.

Preheat the oven to 180oc. In a large bowl mix the oats, chopped nuts and ground ginger, and give it a good stir. In a saucepan over a high heat add the coconut oil and honey and heat until completely liquid. Tip over the oats and nuts and stir to combine it all together. Press the mixture into an oven tin, lined with baking paper (I use a brownie pan), and put in the oven for 10 minutes or until golden brown on top and firm to touch. Set the Granola aside to cool slightly.

3. Put it altogether.

In an oven proof dish, put the cooked rhubarb in the bottom. If a lot of liquid has cooked out, and it looks like it will make the crumble soggy, some of this juice can be reserved and used as a nice ice cream sauce for another day. If it’s not too liquid, add it all to the crumble bowl. Loosely break up the Granola and cover the rhubarb. Put back into the oven for a few minutes so it can all combine.

4. Make the custard.

While the crumble has been returned to the oven, make the custard. In a large pan, put the milk, cream and vanilla and heat (medium heat) until warm and steaming but not boiling. In a separate heat proof bowl whisk together the egg yolk, cornflour and sugar until creamy. Tip the hot milk mixture slowly over the egg yolk mixture, whisking to incorporate as you tip. When it’s all combined, tip it all back into the pan and continue to heat. Stir continuously so it doesn’t stick. The custard need to be heated until it thickens, is steaming well but take it off the heat before it starts to boil. If it boils it may curdle. When it’s steaming well and thick, tip into a cool clean bowl.

5. The art of devouring.

Remove the crumble from the oven and serve hot with lashings of fresh custard. Stumble barrel like away from the table and decide you need to sit in a comfy chair to fully get the benefit! Next decide you probably don’t need to eat again for another week.

Ben’s Balsamic Pigeon Breast & Smoky Bacon

Ben is really brave at just winging it, based on an idea, with no recipe whatsoever… and then having a really delicious meal turn out on the other end. He did just that with this dish, back when we used to work in the pub kitchen. He rustled this one up on an idea he had in his head and it was a special on the menu.

So the other day we happened upon some pigeon breasts and I said ‘let’s have that meal that you used to make at the pub for dinner tonight’. And just like that he conjured it up out of his memory from 4 years ago! It’s great having a Ben around!

Ingredients: serves 2-3

6 pigeon breasts

1 pack (6 rashers) rind on smoked streaky bacon

Salt and Pepper

6 tbsp Balsamic vinegar

We served it with:

Basmati brown & Wild Rice Blend & Mixed leaf salad. But it could also be served with crushed potatoes and green veg or Quinoa and roasted vegetables or why not be creative and tell me what yours accompanied?

Method

1. Lay the pigeon breasts out and season well on all sides.

2. Cut the rind from the bacon rashers. Put the rind into a dry frying pan over a medium heat and render, until nearly back and most of the juice and fat have cooked out. It doesn’t matter if they burn a little, we won’t be eating the rind, just getting the flavour out of it. Remove the rind pieces from the pan once it’s rendered. If you have managed to avoid burning them you can eat these as crispy bacon bits! Otherwise discard. Pre heat oven to 180oC.

3. Add the pigeon breasts to the bacon fat/juice and seal for a minute on each side.

4. Add into the pan the balsamic vinegar. It will reduce very rapidly so constantly turn the pigeon and shake the pan so it doesn’t stick. When the balsamic is at the point of sticking and ‘treacle like’ remove from the heat. Roll the pigeon in the sauce so it’s well covered and remove from the pan. Wrap each balsamic pigeon breast in a rasher of smoked bacon, and lay on an oven proof tray.

5. Once the pigeon is out, return the pan to the heat with a little water to deglaze. Pour the resulting liquid oven the top of the bacon parcels and then put the tray in the oven for 10- 15 minutes, or until the bacon looks cooked.

6. Slice and serve with your favourite side!

The medicine of the past

Fresh air is magic. When I was really little I remember my great aunts that also lived on the farm telling me that ‘you need fresh air in your lungs’! They used to walk around the fields everyday to get their dose, come rain or shine!

I also remember my Dad telling us if we were a bit under the weather to get outside because it always makes you feel better. None of this ‘wrap up warm and go back to bed’, oh no! And however much I didn’t want to go outside on a day I felt rubbish, it always did make me feel better.

Well now science has caught up, as it very often does, and has proved in numerous ways how we benefit from the outdoors; with vitamin D exposure, with exercise and movement benefits and it can even ease the symptoms of depression, to name a few.

So today, when I had 2 grotty children who both have snuffles, coughs, aren’t sleeping and are generally in bad moods…what should I do? Well let’s just say there was no moaning and groaning or mention of a cough and cold when we got to Salcey Forest! Smiles all round and lungs full of fresh air!

Ps- if you’re wondering about Paddington, he is on holiday with us from Arthur’s pre school and he loves the tree tops and fresh air!

How I had my cake and ate it, avoided the gym, and lost 4 stone!

Sounds like click bait doesn’t it? But I 100% believe it to be true. So ‘What’s your secret?’ It’s a question I hear a lot these days. Well here it is! But I can only tell you the secret by letting you in on the journey of my transformation first. The transformation that lead this once obese and unfit, sugar junkie, exercise dodger to become a fit and healthy, disciplined, food loving, good example to my family. And as with everything in my life, it starts with food…lots of food!

‘I’ll never be thin, I love food too much’ This was my favourite phrase. And I believed it. And I liked it, because it excused the fact that I had a BMI that was over 35, and was touching 17 stone. So I hid behind the fact that I work in a food shop, ran a bakery, and had always been over weight, so I was never gonna change was I?!

But then once your eyes are opened to the fact that your size puts you in danger, there’s no option left but to change is there? So this is the story of a girl that learnt discipline and control, and in the process replaced obsession with a genuine love of food.

It started with exercise. I’ve never really exercised. I’d tell myself I didn’t really need to because I worked on a my feet a lot so that’s enough. But now I was at the point of needing to lose weight for my health and the health of my family, I needed to properly exercise. The thing is it’s very hard to start the process when you are very unfit, very over weight and basically a gym-o-phobe! I tell myself that I don’t go to the gym because it’s hard to get child care. But really I was scared to death of exercising in front of strangers, with machines that I didn’t know how to work, and wearing tight fitting exercise clothes. It’s my vision of hell. So I decided I’d see what the home workout scene had to offer. I’m lucky to have quickly found an excellent company, and really the cornerstone to my success. You know I love those business’ that are personal, where you deal with real people and not automated responses. Well I found this in the world of fitness. Team body project. Run by a husband and wife team, who are, via a bank of multi level workouts and plans they have made, your very own personal trainers in your living room. They may be over the waves of the internet, but they are there in your living room, by your side, kicking your bum onwards. They are also available to answer you questions, and there is a great community that provide unlimited support and loveliness!! So it took me a little while to get into exercising everyday, but I really took well to doing it at home, and followed plans to gradually build myself up. Whereas in the beginning I relied on motivation to get me doing it, now I’ve got to a place where I don’t rely on motivation. I’ve learnt the discipline to do it everyday, because it matters to me and it’s ultimately rewarding. Daniel, our trainer, says it’s like brushing your teeth. It’s not always fun but you just gotta do it everyday because you care about the outcome, and he’s right isn’t he?! So I’ve avoided the gym, and found the thing that suits me, and fits in with my day. It wasn’t easy in the beginning, heck some days it still isn’t. But the way it makes me feel and contributes positively to every aspect of my life is worth it. They say exercise only accounts for a small percentage of your weight loss, but it’s accounted for 100% of my focus.

So the diet? I’m actually really good at dieting. I’m even better at putting it all back on again. But this is a change for life, it’s not a ‘diet’. And here are the things that have helped me…

1. It’s about maths

It’s calorie in versus calories out. That sounds miserable on the face of it, but actually it has set me free. Because once it sinks in that it’s about eating overall less calories than you burn, it’s opened up the playing field. I’d always heard about magic diets that cut out one food group or another, and I’ve tried them. And I’ve had success until I couldn’t take cutting that thing out anymore and then gorged on it. But the realisation that all these diets do is attempt to control your calories within a framework that suits your lifestyle has lead me to a place where I can control my calories myself, without the rules of that diet. And in doing that, no food is off the table. But instead my table doesn’t have ALL the food on it at once! It’s lead me to really think about what foods I enjoy, and the ‘value for money’ you get out of things. This means I have cooked more, and I’ve been more creative about what I cook. It means I’ve enjoyed the process of cooking more. It means I’ve cut things that I’ve realised aren’t that important to me. For example I love poached eggs on toast for breakfast. Just skipping the spread on my bread (which I don’t even notice with a beautifully runny egg anyway) buys me a whole strip of my favourite dark chocolate to enjoy before bed. A whole strip! And if I want to go out for a meal and have a pudding? That’s fine! Just track the calories and eat less calories another day to compensate. Or do an extra workout. And what about the fact I love cake? Just fit it in to the plan, and don’t eat the whole cake! Nothing is out of bounds. The problem before is that I had no limits. So I was probably overeating by 1000 odd calories a day. I had no perception of that fact I wasn’t burning anywhere near that amount off. But the knowledge that you just need to balance it against what you burn has really set me free to choose the foods that take me to my calorie limit as I want. And with that I have had a sigh of relief and it’s lead me to the next revelation…

2. I love healthy food

Although I’ve just been banging on about not restricting any food group, when I first changed to this new way of life I did have a spell of restriction. For a few weeks I cut out sugar altogether. And then reintroduced it under my own steam. I also started to cook more. I’ve always loved cooking anyway, but I’d got a bit in a rut. Cutting the sugar and getting fit really helped give me the clarity and enthusiasm to throw myself into food again. And it’s amazing how much I found my love for cooking again! Cooking and loving food are as essential as exercise to a healthy lifestyle, for me anyway. Because I’m never ever going to stick to something that equates food to misery. But when all day I’m thinking up things I can cook tonight, I’m in happy land. And then there is no reason to leave! I’ve learnt that I’m happier dreaming of a new type of curry I can make with loads of vegetables and maybe trying a coconut rice to go on the side, than I ever was just eating the same old thing with no thought and then sitting down with a cup of tea and demolishing a whole packet of biscuits. Variety is the spice of life after all, and the habits I had got into did not promote variety. But cooking a new thing everyday opens the door to a world of variety, balance and most importantly, sticking to it!

3. There’s no time pressure

Once I decided this was a transformation for life, then it didn’t matter how long it took. When I have been on miserable restrictive diets before, it was a race to get to the goal so I could end the misery and get back to ‘normal’. Which in turn meant the weight went back on. But this is about life long habit change and not a race to the finish line. So if it’s not a race, you can actually eat a bit more! Where I had basically starved in the past, which was unsustainable and unhealthy, but fast. I found I could keep a steady 1lb a week coming off by still eating 1800 calories a day. For me that’s 3 good meals and a decent snack. Well that’s no problem I can live like that. On a diet before I’d have been gutted with just 1lb a week. But when I feel like I’ve eaten pretty happily and comfortably and a pound comes off…well that to me is a major win.

4. There’s no place for guilt

Guilt is the killer of joy isn’t it. So get rid of it. Why feel guilty because you’ve had a piece of cake. Tell yourself ‘I’m going to have a piece of cake, and I’m going to enjoy it’. Then afterward think ‘I really enjoyed that, I’m going to eat my dinner without the roast potatoes to balance the calories’! Or ‘I’m going to switch my lattes to a cups of tea’. Or a million other ways you can swap things for the cake. Guilt has no place. This one thing has made me enjoy my food. Decide you are going to have it. Fit it into the plan. Enjoy it. The end!

5. There is no wagon

This is the best lesson I have taken from Team Body Project. You see it’s not just a home workout plan. Everything that I’ve passed on in this post as messages relating to my success, have actually originated from them. I might sound like a person that’s been brainwashed by a cult, but really I’m just over the moon that I’ve had my eyes opened. I found a company unlike any other in the fitness industry. A company that tell it like it is, that get rid of the myths and bizarre diet rules that I have blindly followed my entire adult life. And this is the best one. I said to Daniel, our trainer, that I’m good at diets until I fall off the wagon. And his reply of ‘Vicky, there is no wagon’ is like the bullet that smashed everything I thought I knew about eating and dieting, and blew it wide open. Of course there is no wagon. Eureka. In a healthy life, following a balanced diet, there is no wagon to fall off. There’s just life, and a path that you keep walking. If you have a day where you eat more than you intended, oh well! Get up the next day and get back onto that healthy path. And walk it. It’s better for you to walk anyway!

So that there is my secret. I didn’t suddenly have a wand waved and fall in love with only eating raw vegetables. And I didn’t grow to feel like the very idea of cake was now repulsive! I didn’t take a mystery shake. Or only eat carbs on a Sunday during a thunderstorm. I did learn the value of moving, and the benefits of exercise. And that could be done without ever crossing the threshold of a gym (or lining their palm with silver!). And I did learn that balance in my calorie intake was crucial. Not everything I could balance on my plate like before. I learnt that there’s no place for food guilt, and also no place for restriction. I did however have to be honest with myself and not “forget” things I’d eaten! And that my friends, is how I had my cake and ate it, avoided the gym and have lost 4 stone!

Last but definitely not least, I must pay tribute to my wonderful husband, who has not only helped me, but had hopped on the journey right by my side and had now also lost a whopping 4 stone (at least, I’m sure it’s more), well done Ben!

Check out http://www.teambodyproject.com if you are interested in health and fitness at home, as well as support and advice!