Eating with Agency – Part 2

Today I wanted to share with you a little tweak I’ve made to my food diary. (You can find out about my current food diary in Eating with Agency – Part 1.) Since I set up my food diary, I watched another TV show about health and fitness: 21 Day Body Turn Around with Michael Mosley on Channel 4. I always watch this type of show with a big dollop of healthy skepticism, as that’s just who I am, but what was said chimed with everything I know about health, fitness and biology, plus Michael Mosley is an actual doctor, so I’m predisposed to trust him!

Anyhoo … at one point in the programme, Dr Mosley said that the participants should aim to eat at least 30 different fruits and vegetables a week. That struck me as an awful lot, so I thought I’d see how many different fruits and vegetables I was eating and if it was anywhere near that amount. In the empty space next to Sunday in my food diary, I wrote the numbers 1 to 30 down the page, and, as the week progressed, I listed each different fruit or vegetable I ate. It’s only Friday and I’m already at 32! So it’s not really that hard for me after all. Going forward, I’ll keep listing them and see what other fruits and vegetables I can find to add to the mix.

The other thing I’ve done to my food diary is to split the bottom box into PFs (processed foods) and UPFs (Ultra Processed Foods) because, although I don’t want to eliminate PFs and UPFs from my diet completely, I’d like the bulk of my food to come from non or minimally processed foods. Imagine, if you will, a pyramid with non and minimally processed foods on the bottom, PFs on top of that and UPFs on top of that. In fact, now I think about it, I might actually draw myself a pyramid-shaped food diary in which to write everything down. Just to remind myself what proportion of my diet should be coming from what type of food.

Helping me with all this is the Open Food Facts app. Open Food Facts is a global community with volunteers all over the world. It is supported by a registered non-profit organization headquartered in Paris. Its vision states:

Everyone can improve the food system and reduce the impact of food on our health, environment and society.

and it’s mission is to:

Provide open data, knowledge, tools and support for everyone to empower them to have the greatest positive impact on the food system.

  • For consumers to make better informed food choices.

  • For food producers to identify ways to improve the quality of their products and to be encouraged to improve it.

  • For scientists to improve the collective knowledge of the long term impacts on what we eat on our health, the environment and society.

  • For states to decide on the best public health policies and to help foster their adoption.

  • For individuals, academics, non-profits, startups and companies to efficiently address issues with the food system and quickly deploy them worldwide.

On the app, you can scan the barcode of any item of food to find out more about it. If the item is not on the app, you can submit photos of it and the relevant information from the packaging. What I’m most interested in at the moment is the NOVA score. Nova is a system of grades from 1 to 4 to allow people to simply compare the degree of processing of products. Here are the groups:

  • Group 1 – Unprocessed or minimally processed foods

  • Group 2 – Processed culinary ingredients

  • Group 3 – Processed foods

  • Group 4 – Ultra-processed food and drink products

My aim is to eat mainly from Groups 1 and 2, eat a little from Group 3 and very little from Group 4, and the app makes it very easy to do that. Now, whenever I eat something I haven’t eaten since starting this healthy eating thing, I check it on the app so I know how processed it is.

Next up – I’m going to have to look at portion sizes. I need to eat enough not to be hungry, but not so much that I hinder my health.

One Book July 2021 Plan With Me – Monthly Setup

It almost July, so it must be time to set up my rings for One Book July. I feel a bit of a cheat, as I’m doing my own One Year One Journal project, so I’ve grown used to doing all my planning, memory-keeping and journaling in one place, but I’m going to participate anyway because I love it! Looking forward to seeing how everyone else approaches the month. x

When the Sofa Is the Sanctuary

A few days ago, I came across a Facebook post that, in all honesty, made my blood boil. This doesn’t happen very often, mostly because I don’t spend all that much time on Facebook anymore, but nevertheless, I happened across it, and it’s nagged at me ever since, so much so that I feel compelled to share my response. The post consisted of the photo to the right – which states that ‘church on the sofa will never be the same as church in the sanctuary – alongside the following text:

As church attendance numbers fade across the nation and online services become very convenient (who doesn’t love not getting ready in the morning or leaving the home?!), it’s important to remember why church attendance for you and your family matters so much.
You can’t serve from your sofa.
You can’t have community of faith on your sofa.
You can’t experience the power of a room full of believers worshipping together on your sofa.
Christians aren’t consumers either. We are contributors. We don’t watch. We engage. We give. We sacrifice. We encourage. We do life together.
The church needs you.
And you need the church.
Wherever you are, find a local church where you and your family can be part of community and use your talents to advance the kingdom and reach others. To come alongside one another physically, not just through a screen. While I’m grateful for technology to keep people connected that can’t physically come to a facility or need to be away, it’s absolutely not like being in the building. Never will be.
Yes, church on the sofa is nice.
But it’ll never be the same as church in the sanctuary.

Wait? What? Yes, to finding a local church where you can be part of a community and use your talents etc. Yes to contributing, yes to engaging, yes to giving, yes to sacrificing, yes to encouraging, yes to doing life together. But a big fat NO to not being able to serve from the sofa, or not being able to have a community of faith on your sofa, or not being able to experience worship (whatever that means!) from your sofa. The whole post struck me as a very narrow, blinkered way of understanding church, not to mention how ableist and exclusionary it is.

So to those who may have been discouraged or felt excluded and insulted by the above-mentioned post, I want to say this: you absolutely CAN serve from your sofa. You absolutely CAN have a community of faith on your sofa. You absolutely CAN experience the power of a room-full of believers worshipping together on your sofa – or wherever else you might be!

This last year has given everyone a taste of what it’s like to not be able to attend church services, which is what it’s like for a lot of people ALL THE TIME, people with physical or mental health problems, those with disabilities, additional needs, vulnerabilities, caring or work responsibilities, those who are persecuted for any reason etc. Posts like the one above can make those who already feel as though they are on the fringe, feel even more excluded, unwanted and burdensome.

I believe it’s important not to conflate ‘attending church services’ with ‘being church’. It’s an old chestnut, but it’s true: the church is not a building, it’s a body, a body of believers, a family of faith, and there is no one right way of being family. The early church didn’t meet in church buildings, or in special sanctuaries; they met in homes, sitting on whatever the first century equivalent of a sofa was! Getting together is important; sharing, supporting, loving, laughing, crying, serving, caring, praying, learning, growing together is important, but it’s not the space that it’s done in or the day of the week that its’ done on that matters. It’s the heart that it’s done with.

One last thing, before I lay this to rest: I think it’s important that the church doesn’t become divided into those who can attend church services and those who can’t. We, as a whole church family, need to make BEING CHURCH meaningfully accessible to all, no matter our individual circumstances, or whether that happens on the sofa or in the sanctuary, or the village hall, or a room above a pub, or the local cafe, or on a zoom call. When you’re church, you’re church – all the time, everywhere.

Eating with Agency – Part 1

I’ve been following my new eating plan for a couple of weeks now, and it’s going great. I feel that I have a sense of agency that I didn’t have before. I’m not mindlessly eating junk food because I’m hungry or bored or upset. Instead, I’m keeping the fridge stocked with unprocessed and minimally processed foods, so that I can make a healthy choice when I am hungry. I’m also planning my meals more thoroughly. My day goes like this:

Breakfast (Sunday – Monday): Porridge (oats and milk) topped with fresh raspberries and blueberries. Homemade Americano.

Breakfast (Saturday): Wholemeal toast, butter and marmalade with a Flat White at Costa Coffee.

Lunch: some kind of salad with some kind of unprocessed fish or meat or minimally processed cheese, with a small serving of salad dressing or balsamic vinegar. Followed by nuts, seeds and dried fruit.

Dinner: one of several dozen meals that form our evening meal menu, tweaked to reduce the amount of ultra-processed ingredients.

Dessert: fresh fruit with or without some fat-free Greek yogurt (with or without a serving of Options Hot Chocolate powder). Maybe a square of Green & Blacks 85% Cocoa Dark Chocolate.

I haven’t been snacking much, as I’ve not been hungry between meals. If I snack it’s on fresh fruit or a homemade smoothie. For drinks, I’ve ditched Diet Coke (Never thought that would happen!) and have been drinking water with a slice of lemon or lime. At breakfast, I have one cup of coffee that I make using my coffee machine, and, if it’s not too hot, I’ll have a cup of decaf tea in the evening.

That’s a big change from what I was eating and drinking before: toast, Flora Buttery, jam, biscuits, cake, crisps, snack bars, ice cream etc etc. And I feel better for it. I have more energy in the day, and I’m sleeping well at night. I don’t know if I’ve lost any weight, but that will come.

Keeping a food diary has helped me make these changes. For the first couple of weeks (see above pic), I wrote down all the foods I was eating under the following headings: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, beige and other. This was in an attempt to eat the whole rainbow and was before I watched the ‘What Are We Feeding Our Kids?’ documentary about ultra-processed foods. After I’d watched the show, I went back through my food diary and drew a box around all the UPFs, just to see how I was doing on that front. Not too bad! This week, though, I’ve modified my food diary (see left pic) and am recording my food under the following headings red, orange & yellow, green, blue & purple, white & beige and UPFs. I don’t think I need to differentiate between orange and yellow or blue and purple. When it comes to nutrients, I think they’re the same. I wanted to create a separate box for UPFs though, just so I could spot them more easily.

So what’s next for me? I’m going to follow this plan and keep my food diary, tweaking as needed, but I’m also going to put our evening meals under the microscope and look at the herb and spice packs I use to see if I can substitute them with less processed ingredients. I do have to keep reminding myself though, I don’t need to eradicate UPFs entirely from my diet; it’s okay for them to make up a small part!

Working Toward Wellness

Hello, stickerators! It’s me, Natalie, back on the blog with a tour through another set of trackers. Last month, I shared some of the ways I’ve recorded gratitude over the last four years because recording gratitude has played a big part in my recovery from mental illness. This month, I thought I’d do the same but with my wellness habit trackers. One of the lightbulb moments in my recovery was realising that recovery is not curing illness; it’s discovering wellness. To cut a long story short, I have developed habits that help me live a satisfying, contributory life even though I am technically not ‘cured’ of my illnesses.

One of the things that’s helped me develop my wellness habits is habit tracking. When you decide that you need to turn an activity into a habit, it helps to track whether you’ve done that activity as regularly as you need to. Say, for example, you want to brush your teeth after every meal, you can create a habit tracker and check off a box every time you brush your teeth. At the end of the day, week or month you can look back and see how many times you did (or didn’t!) brush your teeth and decide on a way forward. Maybe you always forget after lunch, so you set an alarm on your phone to remind you. Or maybe you notice that you don’t brush your teeth after dinner, because you want to enjoy a cup of tea or a glass of wine in the evening, so you decide to move your evening brush to just before bedtime. Whatever the habit you want to get into, tracking helps.

A note of warning though, don’t use your habit trackers as a stick to beat yourself with. Analyse them with curiosity instead of criticism. Ask questions such as: what stopped me from making this activity a habit? Is this habit too big for me right now? Can I break it down into smaller steps? Is this habit even relevant to me right now? Do I really need to do this habit every day, or would every other day be sufficient? Or once a week? Twice a month? I have several habits that have remained constant over the last few years – waking up at the same time, going to bed at the same time – but I also have habits that come and go as and when they’re needed. Habit trackers should work for you, not the other way around.

With all that said, here are a few of the habit trackers I’ve used this year.

In January, I used the large sticker from the ‘Hello 2021’ Goals Kit sheet. I love these tracker stickers because it makes the process so quick and easy. You just peel it off, stick it down and write your habits in the space provided. Job done! I always add a ‘wellness’ sticker and some washi to the top of my tracker page for decoration. For this particular page, I also added some full boxes to fill up some space.

In February, I drew out my own habit tracker in a traditional bullet journal log style, with the days and dates going down the page and my habits written at the top. For decoration, I added washi and deco from the ‘Follow Your Heart’ collection. Obviously, drawing out a table is more work that just using a sticker, but it can be quite satisfying!

In April and May, I created pastel rainbows using Rainbow Monthly Habit Tracker Planner Stickers (Sheet R244), assigning one habit to each sticker. I loved tracking my habits this way for a change – the colours were so pretty, and it felt very neat and tidy.

For June, I’m using Rainbow Monthly Habit Tracker Planner Stickers (Sheet R235) to create another rainbow, this time in long thin strips across the page. I love how bright and bold it looks. I think this one might be my favourite.

Are you a tracker of habits? Which stickers are your favourites to use for forming habits? Do let me know in the comments.

Thanks for reading!

Natalie x

For 10% off planner stickers at EllieBeth Designs UK, you can use my code NATALIE10 or follow this link. This is an affiliate code, which means I will earn a few Rainbow Rewards each time you use it, but this is at no additional cost to you. Thank you for your support! x

What Are We Feeding Ourselves?!

A couple of days ago, I was pootling around BBC iPlayer looking for a drama to watch, when I stumbled across a documentary about food and what we’re feeding our kids. I was drawn to it for two reasons: one, because I’ve recently made a fairly radical change to my own diet and have been thinking about food A LOT, and two, becuase it was presented by the twin doctors from Operation Ouch, a programme I used to watch with my kids when they were little.

Anyhoo, as I watched the programme, I had one of those lightbulb moments. Over the last thirty years, I’ve tried all sorts of weightloss and fitness programmes: Slimming World, Weight Watchers, Rosemary Connely, Special K, The Weigh Ahead, gym memberships etc, etc, etc, and, while I’ve lost weight on all of them, nothing has stuck. I’ve always fallen off the wagon and back into old habits. The lightbulb moment came when, after eating a diet that consisted of 80% ultra processed foods (UPFs), Dr. Chris had his brain scanned, and it showed that new connections had formed that were very similar to those seen in people with addiction. Not only that, but after 30 days of going back to eating a diet low in UPFs, those connections remained intact. EEK! Why was this a lightbulb moment? Well, over the course of my recovery from severe mental illness, I’ve been regularly practicing mindfulness and meditation because I learned that doing so for ten minutes a day for at least six months can actually rewire the brain. It shrinks the amygdala (the fear centre) and reduces the number of connections between the amygdala and the higher brain (where we do all our thinking and worrying). This made me wonder whether I could rewire my brain again, not to reduce my anxiety levels, but to decouple the reward part of my brain from the ‘eat all the yummy food with no regard for your health’ part of my brain. I’m not a neuroscientist (although my background is in biochemistry), so I have no idea if that is actually a thing, but I reckon if I can train my brain and body to be less anxious, I can train my brain and body to eat more healthily, and maybe even do it for the rest of my life.

Recently, I’ve been trying to ‘eat a rainbow’ every day and cut back on processed food, but this programme and the realisations and questions it prompted, has made me want to go further. I want to significantly reduce the amount of UPFs in my diet while increasing the amount of un-processed and minimally processed foods. No calorie counting, no Syns, no points, very little weighing and measuring – I’m simply moving to a less processed, more ‘food in its natural state’ diet and trying to pay attention to how hungry or how satisfied I am. There’s no official programme for this; I’m researching and experimenting as I go, but I’ll share this journey here in the hopes that you, dear reader, might find it helpful.

Thanks for stopping by! xxx

Happiness in a Half Box

Hello, stickerators! It’s lovely to be back on the blog today, sharing my love of stickerating with you. I’m sure we all know how important gratitude is and how gratitude is strongly associated with our sense of wellbeing and happiness. I’ve certainly come to value having an attitude of gratitude over the course of my recovery from mental illness. During the last four-and-a-half years, I’ve made a point of using my bullet journal to record the things I’m grateful for. At the end of every day, I jot down one or two things that have brought me happiness, joy, satisfaction, or that have just made my day a little less difficult. Sometimes, I look back through my bullet journals to remind me of these things, but often it’s simply the act of reviewing my day and looking for the good in it that does me good.

I’ve used many methods for recording gratitude over the years, but one of my favourites is to use EBDUK half-boxes. For me, they are the perfect size. Big enough to write one or two things, but not too big that I feel I have to write an essay! And, of course, they’re pretty and colourful so they brighten-up the whole process.

Here are a few ways I’ve used half-boxes:

For months that have 30 days in them, I stick 30 half boxes on a double page spread, 15 on each side. At the end of each day, I flick to this page and add my gratitude. I love watching the boxes fill up as the month progresses, and it’s easy to see a whole month’s gratitude at a glance.

Another way I often use half boxes is to add one to each of my daily logs, so when I’m reviewing my task list at the end of the day, it’s right there to remind me to record my gratitude.

Over the years, I’ve set out my daily logs in different ways. Sometimes, I set them out in columns across two pages. When I do this, I often place my gratitude half boxes at the bottoms of the columns. Again, their placement reminds me to fill them in. I’ve also been known to place half boxes at the bottoms of the daily columns on my weekly schedules instead of my daily logs. It’s just another way to do it – I do like to switch things up every now and then to keep things fresh and fun!

So that’s how I use half boxes to record my gratitude. How do you record yours? Do let me know.

Until next time … happy stickerating!