Thai-infused haddock
Fitness, Lifestyle

New year, new diet. Is the Harcombe Diet ‘the one’?

Guess what. It is the start of the year and like so many others I have decided to go on a diet. This is not as daring as you may think, over a decade ago I did the Atkins diet and lost a couple of stone. This gives me prior experience into the rigours of a high protein, low carbohydrate regime and this year’s diet du jour seems to be the Harcombe Diet.

After half a bag of Haribo, a bottle of treacle toffee stout and a hot chocolate to keep me awake on Sunday night for the Superbowl, my diet started in earnest on Tuesday. A mere five days in and I have already experienced a few positive changes from Phase 1. Increased energy levels, few hunger pangs, few cravings and, more importantly, looser clothes. That is the main reason we diet, isn’t it? To simply lose weight. Whether it is to lose those Christmas pounds or fit into a wedding dress, it seems pretty endemic of society to wish you looked better than you do. But what if you wanted to lose the weight and feel better as part of a healthier lifestyle. You know, keep the weight off and function better, that is what I am hoping for with the Harcombe Diet.

At the start of every year it is hard to ignore the fad diets; the soup, milkshake or cabbage plans. The quick fix diets that shed the weight yet leave you starving. In short, they seem like a one night stand when you really want a marriage. Thanks to my Auntie I have been made aware of the benefits of keeping food simple; of adopting wholegrains and avoiding processed foods. Anyone that knows me would likely say I’m a food snob, I’m not, I simply enjoy making my meals from scratch knowing full well what goes in. In this sense, the diet isn’t that drastic a change, it is simply a case of buying different foods and putting others to the back of the cupboard. I have always tried to watch what I eat, now I am really paying attention.

That is what makes the Harcombe Diet so simple. Instead of calorie counting you work out what you are allowed and eradicate what you are forbidden. Every human body needs energy and the genius lies in knowing what the body requires to function, primarily in this case protein from meat and eggs. Also, instead of largely drawing your calories (arguably as much as 70%) from carbohydrates and vegetables you demand that your body extracts the energy from fats. Let it be known, ‘five a day’ is propaganda. While it remains important to eat your greens, the body can function on less than what many would want you to believe.

Aside from the weight loss one of the bonuses I have noticed is an improved brain function and this is no coincidence. The brain is composed of 60% fat yet it still needs energy. This can come from two sources; glucose from sugar and carbohydrates (BAD) or glycogen from fats broken down by the liver (GOOD). You can argue that a diet mainly composed of meat and vegetables is how a caveman would get his fill yet maybe, just maybe, this is ultimately how our bodies have been designed.

It is only in the last couple of centuries or so that we have adopted more extravagant means of cooking which, in turn, has introduced processed foods and a higher intake of sugar. Incidentally, today’s society is not only nutrient starved but time starved. Without distractions we could find the time to cook a meal from scratch yet we now grab ready meals and cereal bars. These may fill us up but soon enough we get hungry again and snack away, riding the emotional highs and lows of a sugar rollercoaster.

It may just be the pleasing glow that looser clothes gives anyone yet I feel calmer, more emotionally in control. I doubt that this is a coincidence either as only so much quickfix joy can come from a pack of Haribo before your mood turns as the sugar hit fades away. During the past five days I have strolled past open packets of biscuits in the office, added Stevia to my brew with no real qualms and decided against a bag of popcorn to accompany a Friday night film. Even my beloved weekend beers and spirits haven’t really been missed, even if it did mean turning an invite down on Friday evening. One thing I have noticed is that falling asleep has been harder yet with lesser kip I am yet to notice a drop in alertness.

The last few days have been difficult but not as tough as I imagined. Once you have got through the first day you know you can do it again. Once you have dismissed the easy option of a chocolate bar you know it is doing you good. I even managed a boxing class on Wednesday night and could have gone longer. Yet it has not been plain sailing; I have noted that the black coffee from the vending machine at work is barely fit for human consumption and I have really missed fruit and dairy. Apart from that, it is relatively simpler to follow. Just remember, stick to eggs, meat, vegetables (apart from white potatoes and mushrooms), natural live yogurt and a portion of oats or rice. I know what you are wondering so here is what I have had during Phase 1.

Green salad with salami and honey mustard dressing

Green salad with salami and honey mustard dressing

Day 1.
Breakfast – Porridge with water and cinnamon
Lunch – Salad of little gem lettuce, baby tomatoes, red onion, red pepper and salami coated with a honey mustard dressing (yogurt, honey, wholegrain mustard and lemon juice). Half a carrot, cut into strips, and a pepperami
Dinner – Gammon steak with brown rice and steamed red cabbage. Six tbsp. yogurt

Lamb chops with rice and wilted spinach

Lamb chops with rice and wilted spinach

Day 2.
Breakfast – Two rashers of smoked bacon with a fried egg
Lunch – Same as Day 1
Dinner – Two lamb chops with brown rice and steamed spinach

Scrambled Eggs

Scrambled Eggs

Day 3.
Breakfast – Two scrambled eggs (oil instead of butter)
Lunch – Same as Days 1 and 2
Dinner – Chicken breast with steamed spinach, red cabbage and roasted sweet potato. Six tbsp. yogurt

Chicken breast with steamed red cabbage, wilted spinach and roasted sweet potatoes

Chicken breast with steamed red cabbage, wilted spinach and roasted sweet potatoes

Day 4.
Breakfast – Porridge with water and cinnamon
Lunch – Salad nicoise (green salad with a tin of tuna and olives). Half a carrot, cut into strips, and a pepperami
Dinner – Chicken breast with steamed spinach, red cabbage and roasted sweet potato. Six tbsp. yogurt.

Thai-infused haddock

Thai-infused haddock

Day 5.
Breakfast – Two rashers of bacon and two fried eggs
Lunch – Small green salad with a balsamic vinaigrette and a pepperami
Dinner – Thai-infused haddock, steamed with lemongrass, chilli flakes, soy sauce, ginger powder and lime juice.
A glass of red wine

And on the sixth day, Lord Harcombe said let there be fruit and low fat dairy and there was. Hallelujah.

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Travel

The Grass Really Can Be Greener On The Other Side Of The World

Well, this was always going to happen, all it needed was a few inches of snow to make me realise. I really miss Australia.

Just over a year ago I landed at Birmingham Airport, hardly the most glamorous of venues to make my return to Blighty. As I walked into the chill of a British winter I thought I was ready to return home, clearly I was not.

January was always going to be a tough month. Seasonal Affective Disorder can be at its most disruptive, no matter how much light therapy you undertake or vitamin D tablets you gulp down. To top it off there is the hideous return to work in the new year and I find myself enduring the month. This isn’t just the winter blues, this is the sting of the travel bug.

Times like these I really wish I had not made as many friends who still remain down under. Just one quick scan on Facebook informs me that a few of them are attending the Australian Open in Melbourne. There are the inevitable beach selfies and Foursquare check-ins at a rooftop cinema. Seemingly every meal is served from a barbecue yet grilled meat not only entices people outside but rewards them in voting booths. We offer biscuits, over there they get a sausage in bread.

Thanks to social media it is almost impossible to miss what is going on in Australia, like continually seeing the best ex-girlfriend you ever let go.

Australians simply do certain things better. Take adverse weather conditions for instance. For a bushfire they pull together, neighbours are checked even if it takes half an hour to reach them and citizens genuinely heed good advice. Here it takes a few inches of snow to cause havoc. Motorists decide that their journey REALLY IS THAT IMPORTANT and they justify that ludicrous drive up the hill despite the ice. Over the past two days the footpath to my house has been an icy deathtrap, forcing me to walk up the road and judging by the steely glares of passing drivers the road is for their Land Rover, not a mere pedestrian. Just take a glance out of your window and have some consideration.

Australians like to let you know what they are thinking. It sounds simple enough but it makes a big difference. If they disagree with something sooner rather than later you will be told. For the record, I have just been called a ‘camel jockey’ by an Australian on Twitter for disagreeing on a geographical point (Australia does lie in Oceania, not Asia which can be confirmed by Wikipedia). At least he told me his view.

Back in Blighty it does not take long for me to realise that us Poms really do simmering disdain remarkably well. You would have thought that January was never-ending judging by the looks of resentment on the streets. It is the little things I notice, the smug grin on a man who just beats me to the supermarket check-out. The foolhardiness of the runner who simply will not allow patches of ice to disrupt his Saturday morning routine. The arrogance of a reveller on Saturday night who decides that the only way he is going to get served is to wave a £10 note at a barman. The simple act of saying please and thank-you going forgotten.

I miss being in a country with no discernible class system in effect, where a blue collar worker can be king. Where wages leave you wanting to stay behind and you can actually enjoy your time in an office without feeling the pressure of job cuts and an economy still in recovery. Life just seemed far more affordable over there. Sure, an $8 pint was ridiculous yet there was the impression that companies were happy to give a little back. Like, getting off your final stop using your myki card (the Melbourne equivalent of an Oyster card) before 7am being free, yes, free. Can you even imagine that in London? The extra public transport put on for sports events, while anyone wanting to attend a match at Wembley better check they can still catch the last train home.

This morning I watched the final of the Australian Open. Pretty much every time the camera panned over the Rod Laver Arena my heart ached due to remembering my time in Melbourne and Australia in general. Put simply, the grass really can be greener on the other side of the world.

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