January 31, 2015

#smalladventures: a happy, healthy way of eating and the notion of treats

A treat is defined in the OED as, "an event or item that is out of the ordinary and gives great pleasure".

I think, somewhere along the line, we, who live in societies where all sorts of food can be bought with ease, have almost entirely lost the sense of a treat being something, "out of the ordinary"? The price of a packet of chocolate biscuits or tub of icecream has put these things that used to be a treat for most of the population, into an affordable daily habit for the majority. Treats are so easy, so accessible and so cheap, they really don't seem very special at all and little thought or anticipation goes into their consumption most of the time. Does that ring true with you?

I am currently undertaking a #smalladventure in the way I eat, and it is being very illuminating! I am spending a few months examining, tweaking and changing the way I eat and exercise with the help of an organisation called Rebelfit. This fitness organisation aims to crush dieting out of the way we think and replace it with the idea of eating as close to nature as possible most of the time, drastically reducing the amount of processed food we eat, (that includes all sugar, alcohol, most grains), and exercising more, with the goal of giving ourselves a lifetime of nourishment, fitness, strength, health and leaness. No calorie counting, no weighing, no banned foods but instead the notion that all food is on a spectrum from completely natural to highly processed and, for me at the moment, achieving around 80% at the natural end of the spectrum, (has it been picked or killed basically), allowing for treats and indulgences only now and again. When I get to the level of fitness and leaness I want, perhaps I will be able to have them a little more often, who knows, that is part of the unkown adventure! One key thing this way of eating achieves is putting treats back where they belong, as lovely, onceinawhile things that bring great pleasure because they are looked forward to and relished mindfully.

What this has resulted in for me, is that during the working week I now eat meals and snacks that are mainly veg, fruit, pulses, beans, meat and fish, nuts and seeds, and reserve my glass or two of wine, (good wine, I drink so little now I can afford it!), and say, a delicious pudding or slice of cake at the weekend or when I go out and I have the time to really enjoy and appreciate it. No guilt, no sense of failure, no quick fixes and quicker rebounds. I can see my bodyshape changing after only a month of eating like this, and with the increased exercise, my strength and leaness is slowly improving. I'm sleeping better and my skin is really noticably clearer which is probably the lack of sugar?

I am loving filling my plate with really colourful fruit and vegetables, fish, lean meat and less often  a few pieces of feta, halloumi or goat's cheese, (which is a bit more processed so slightly further away from the most natural end of the spectrum). I have become oddly enamoured of the winter comfort food of a red split-lentil dahl made with coconut milk, ginger, turmuric and chili, and also Mexican chicken soup with avocado. Yum! My eating habits weren't that different before, but the endless grain based carbs, particularly bread and pasta are a habit my waistline can't really afford anymore and I am enjoying them as very occasional treats not staples. Perhaps it is the post-Christmas thing, but in January I actually often crave fresh, citrussy, clean tasting food, perhaps it will feel harder in February!

I don't miss the toast too much at breakfast, when my bowlful of grub looks this lovely!

However, I do find it really helpful to know, psychologically, that when I am eating so healthily for the vast majority of the time, the odd treat is perfectly allowable and guilt free - really it is all about finding balance and that makes eating healthily so much more achievable. I have never been the out and out, 100% or nothing type, I just give up, so this way of eating feels much more about nourishing myself and eating in a way that makes me feel more well and energetic. Instead of buying industrialised goodies from the supermarket for my treats, I am now making my own - it takes time, effort and planning, but that in itself generates a sense of anticipation and pleasure, (and is keeping the rest of the family onside at the same time!). Today, I made some clementine and dark chocolate shortbread, a favourite of our youngest. There is very little healthy in them apart from some clementine juice and zest and dark chocolate, but a little of what you fancy not only does you good but it keeps me far away from that ghastly imprisoned feeling that diets generate. I posted a photo of them on instagram, (join me there,  Belinda@wildacre), and several people have asked for the recipe, so here it is:

Clementine and chocolate shortbread (based on recipe for plain shortbread by Tamasin Day-Lewis)

For 12 biscuits

110g/4os unsalted butter, softened (please not marg, yukyukyuk!)
55g/2oz caster sugar
6oz plain flour (or 4oz flour and 2 oz rice flour)
large handful of good quality dark chocolate, bashed to rubble - pestle and mortar does the job
zest and most of the juice of a clementine

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas4

Put butter, sugar and flour into a bowl and knead quickly to a soft dough, add the zest, juice and chocolate and mix gently by hand until incorporated.

On a floured surface, roll out into a sausage shape and cut into circles about 1.5cm thick. Or roll flat and cut out with cutters. You can even cook as a whole plate shape.

Place onto a baking sheet lined with nonstick parchment paper. Prick with a fork or mark edges with the fork tines if you feel fancyshmancy.

Bake for about 15-20 minutes until pale golden. Cool on a rack and dredge with caster sugar.

An indulgent, onceinawhile treat, that, as the definition requires, 'brings great pleasure', especially with a cup of Earl Grey. Delish.


  1. I've been doing this for a couple of years now too ( with occasional slips - Christmas and summer holidays!) - it makes such a difference to skin, health, sleeping, energy, everything! Good luck with it - and if you want any hints for recipes, I have loads 😉

  2. How inspiring- I need to do this as I have been slipping into bad habits and cannot slip into some of my tighter clothes now.... Please keep writing and photographing your delicious food. Jane xx

  3. Am working in the same direction, tho i miss good crusty bread a LOT. Wonder if you could sneak in an oz or two of whole wheat flour without hurting the taste too much? May give that a try. thanks.

  4. I'm very inspired by your clean eating. I've been trying to be good, but some gluten free chocolate brownies just called my name.......