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I am Louise O'Driscoll, founder of Natural Balance. I am a Certified Eating Psychology Coach, helping people find their way to a healthy and happy relationship with food and body.

By louiseodriscoll, Nov 10 2014 09:00AM

If you are a similar age to me you will probably remember adverts for cream cakes years ago, with the tagline 'naughty but nice'. The thought of this makes me cringe now - how on earth can a food be 'naughty'? How crazy! But as a result of our culture's fixation with dieting and healthy eating, most of us have perceptions of food falling into either the 'good' or 'bad' camp like this, and by association, we ourselves become 'good' or 'naughty' according to which type we choose to eat. This is a strange and scary amount of power to give to food - moral qualities! Of course no food is morally good or bad, how could it be? Nor is the person who eats certain foods morally superior or inferior to someone who eats differently. It's just food!


Whilst there is no question that some foods are nutritionally better for us than others, thinking of foods as good or bad leads to a thought process and relationship with food that can be damaging. I wrote in the 'change one thing' blog a few weeks back about relaxing when you eat, and how this is so beneficial when it comes to how our bodies digest and metabolise food. By mentally sticking a 'bad' or 'naughty' label on food you instantly create a sense of 'shouldn't' when you eat it, thereby putting your body in an anti-relaxation, mild stress response, which makes the food even less nutritionally valuable than it is in its basic state! It also sets up an idea that certain foods should be restricted and for many people this leads to a consistent willpower battle, invariably culminating in binges which are not only detrimental to health and weight but also our mental state. Typically a binge on 'bad' food is immediately followed by a sense of regret and self loathing which helps no one. Wouldn't it be better if we could all chill out a bit about food and when we really want a cream cake or burger, simply have one, enjoy it and move on? If you are someone who is on, or is constantly thinking they should be on a diet, or eating only certain foods, imagine how much headspace would be freed up if you could do this? No longer would you have to have the distraction of drawn out mental negotiation about it prior to consumption and the regret and vows to do better afterwards, imagine all the things that you could achieve!


Instead of 'shoulds' and 'shouldn'ts', how about thinking of food from the perspective of what you feel you need from it at any given moment. What are you craving and why? What will the food provide you with? Most of the time we hopefully want to nourish our bodies as best we can, with the most nutrient dense, high quality food we can get. A basic understanding of nutrition and what different foods do for our bodies will help us choose these. But occasionally, we want to nourish our soul too, with food that perhaps comforts us and reminds us of childhood, or gives us a sweet hit we feel in need of. This type of eating is as valid and valuable as any other, providing it is used in a relaxed and responsible way. When we tip over the edge into using food as our only source of comfort or pleasure, eating the nutritionally poor food on a more regular basis than nutrient dense, high quality foodstuff, then and only then does it become a 'bad' thing. Like wine, which can benefit our health but also damage it if we drink too much, the dose of any food makes the poison. If we are turning too often to food as comfort, we are likely to be lacking nourishment in the form of creativity, intellectual or physical stimulation, love and affection, or healthy self esteem and need to look at these areas of our lives. But - health conditions such as intolerances and allergies aside - there's no need to cut it out completely!

By louiseodriscoll, Nov 3 2014 02:01PM

This week's Change One Thing is pretty simple - it involves swapping rice or potato in one meal for cauliflower.


Cauliflower went out of fashion for a while, but with the increased popularity of low carb based diets, this brassica is enjoying something of a resurgence, and with good reason. It is versatile, delicious and packs an incredible nutritional punch. Whilst I'm not suggesting we should all turn to Atkins or Paleo diets, swapping simple white carbs such as rice or potato for cauliflower from time to time can be an easy way to make a healthy change.


▪ Cauliflower is a great source of dietary fibre and is packed with phyto-chemicals such as sulforaphane and plant sterols such as indole-3-carbinol. Together, these compounds have proven benefits against prostate, breast, cervical, colon and ovarian cancers.


▪ Di-indolyl-methane (DIM), a lipid soluble compound present in brassicas, has been found to be effective as an immune modulator, anti-bacterial and anti-viral agent.


▪ Fresh cauliflower is packed with vitamin C; 100 g provides about 48.2 mg or 80% of our daily recommended intake. This proven antioxidant helps fight against harmful free radicals, boosts immunity and prevents infections and cancers.


▪ Cauliflower contains B-complex groups of vitamins such as folates, Vitamins B5, B6, B1 and B3 as well as vitamin K. Our bodies require these vitamins to replenish itself and metabolise fat, protein and carbohydrate.


▪ It is also a good source of minerals such as manganese, copper, iron, calcium and potassium.


So this week, whatever meal you were thinking of preparing with rice, try cauliflower rice, it is quick, simple and delicious. Try roasted cauliflower with spices. Or very lightly steamed florets with a garlic and parmesan dressing.


If you were planning mashed potato, try this recipe (courtesy of Hemsley & Hemsley) below. Mashed cauliflower is as satisfying and comforting as potato mash yet will leave you feeling lighter and happy with the knowledge your health will benefit!


Cauliflower Mash (serves 2)


1 small garlic clove, peeled

1 large cauliflower, remove outer green leaves

1/2 tsp of English mustard

1/2 tbsp of butter to blend and 1 tsp of chopped up butter to top the mash

1 pinch sea salt

1 pinch black pepper

Optional 1 teaspoons of chopped chives or 1 finely sliced spring onion

Optional 30g of mature cheddar cheese, grated


In a saucepan steam the cauliflower and whole garlic cloves with just a few tablespoons of water, lid on, for 5 minutes or until the cauliflower is tender. Use a knife to check.


Remove the pan from the heat, drain any excess liquid and add the butter, grated cheese and mustard. Blend or mash until creamy and smooth. If it's too sloppy or wet allow the mash to evaporate on a low heat.


Season and add chives if using. Serve.

By louiseodriscoll, Oct 27 2014 09:00AM

The first 'change one thing' blog post suggested bringing more mindfulness to the process of eating. This week's is an extension of mindfulness when it comes to food and it focuses on the quality of what we eat.


Much is known about the benefits of a Mediterranean diet - the fact that these Europeans regularly enjoy such foods as cheese, bread, wine and chocolate yet stay slim and much less affected by heart disease and diabetes than other Western populations seems to contradict everything we have been told for years about how bad they are for us. Many aspects of the diet have been analysed to identify precisely what it is that brings such a result. The abundance of vegetables, of fish, olive oil and possibly the red wine...these no doubt play a large role. Another key part, for me, is the way people in more Southern areas of Europe always sit down together for meals, it is a ritualistic, celebratory custom to stop and take time to eat together, to relax and chat and appreciate good food, which is treated with great respect. All this is beneficial to levels of pleasure, satiety, efficient digestion and metabolism, as discussed in my previous 'change one thing' post on mindfulness. There is also another piece of the jigsaw though - quality. The food eaten in the Meditteranean is usually locally produced, in season and very fresh. Meals are made from scratch with delicious ingredients and care. And this is where we can look to make healthy changes in our way of eating.


This week, bring your attention to the quality of the food you eat, with the goal of always trying to choose the best you can get or afford. Is the fruit and veg you buy in season? How far has it travelled? What kind of life did the animal whose meat you are eating have? How processed is the food? Is it possible to choose an organic version? What ingredients are in it, are there preservatives and flavourings that you don't recognise as 'real' things you might have in your kitchen? How was the cake you eat made, in a factory, or with natural ingredients by hand? Even amongst the most 'unhealthy' foods there will be different levels of quality to choose from. If food budget is a concern, maybe rather than eating average quality meat or fish 4 times a week, make it twice with the best available and have two great vegetarian meals instead?


When we choose the best quality food we can, we gain multiple benefits. The obvious one, the food selected is likely to be the most nutrient dense version, so more benefits for your health. Also, it will probably taste better, so you gain more pleasure and satisfaction, typically resulting in less of an urge to overeat or to eat again soon afterwards. Finally, there is a huge psychological benefit; by selecting the best quality food you can, you are physically demonstrating your respect and care for yourself. An act that, repeated over time, can help convince your brain of how valuable your body (and soul) is, should it need it. This is a much healthier way of treating your body than depriving it of certain foods on the basis of calories, carbs or fat content, or punishing it with poor imitations of real food, such as low-fat or sugar free versions. It is an approach that, in conjunction with mindful eating, has a much better long term chance of being sustained so that our bodies can find their healthy, happy weight and state of wellbeing.


So this week, try and bring more awareness to the idea of quality when buying and cooking food. Try making one meal that you regularly prepare, but using the very best quality ingredients possible. Eat it mindfully, like the meal last week, without distractions and see what, if any difference it makes to your taste, enjoyment and satiety.

By louiseodriscoll, Oct 20 2014 07:00AM

When it comes to making healthy changes in our lives, in my experience it is much more manageable and sustainable to take baby steps rather than launch headlong into a dramatically new way of eating and living. This usually feels like too much of a shock and an effort for it to be maintained long term, so typically people give up and go right back to where they started. With this in mind, I have started a new series of blog posts, called 'change one thing this week' to help readers try and gradually incorporate practices and foods that will help improve their health and wellbeing.


This week - change your breakfast.


Studies show that people who eat a breakfast primarily composed of refined carbohydrates and sugar, that is, the typical British breakfast of cereal, pastries and/or toast and sweet spreads, are much more likely to crave and eat more of the same throughout the day. This means you will be consuming a higher proportion of nutrient poor, high sugar food in the day, increasing the likelihood of weight gain, mood swings, energy dips and other health complaints.


So this week, try and ensure at least two of your breakfasts feature protein and fat. Good options are eggs any way you like them, with buttered wholegrain toast, maybe a serving of mushrooms, spinach or tomatoes to boost your fruit and veg intake. Smoked salmon and cream cheese with toast and steamed asparagus (you can cook the asparagus the night before and serve cold if it feels llike too much hassle in the morning), or mashed avocado on sourdough with some fresh or dried chilli and a squeeze of lemon. Greek yoghurt with berries or banana, some raw nuts and a drizzle of honey. An overnight oat and chia seed pudding served with fruit. Good quality wholegrain toast with sliced banana and almond butter. All great options.


Don't forget to observe how you feel after a breakfast like this if it is diiferent from your usual one. How satisfied do you feel, how long until you get hungry again? What kind of foods do you want to eat the rest of the day? Hopefully you will notice a positive difference and from there, work on making this kind of breakfast a regular thing, rather than the exception to cereal or toast and jam!


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