How to Stay Sane in a World Gone MadI don’t know about you, but my head feels like it’s going to explode on a daily basis.

Brexit has truly divided the nation here in the UK, leaving many feeling uncertain and confused about what might lie ahead.  

Regardless of whether it ends up being a good thing or not, I’m sure most will agree that these are troubling times to live through.

Sh*t has got very real indeed my friends, which is why it’s more important than ever to have a plan.

Here’s how to stay sane in this world gone mad.

Hold on tight to your integrity

As far as I’m concerned, integrity is everything. Staying true to ourselves in all areas of life means that we can hold our heads high, and know our conscience is clear. You can’t really put a price on that. All too often we see people selling out, and losing their way. There’s nothing worse than a fake, so in a world full of Kardashian-wannabees why not strive to be an authentic, decent human being instead?

I find our celebrity obsessed, trash TV culture deeply disturbing. With so much emphasis on what we look like, and how much money we have, is it any wonder that teen depression rates are through the roof? I’ve always been a firm believer that beauty is skin deep, and I’m good at seeing through people. A pretty face means nothing if you don’t have a kind heart. Also, this shouldn’t need to be said, but we can’t eat money, or take it to the grave. It’s the most obvious thing, but is clearly lost on so many.  

Buy less, make more (or make do) 

Which leads me nicely to my next point. Getting out of the standard consumerist mindset before having children was one of the best things I did. Consumerism only exists because people place too much value on the wrong things, and find it difficult to distinguish between their wants and their needs. I like to do my bit for the planet whilst raising my family, and hope that leading by example will mean my children will continue doing their bit once they’re old enough. 

how to stay sane in a world gone madOne of the easiest wins as far as I’m concerned is buying things second hand. I buy almost all my clothes from charity shops, which has various levels of good karma attached. It means I’m being kind to the environment, not being complicit toward sweatshop exploitation, and I’m giving money to charity all in one fell swoop. Like it or not cheap clothes are bad for everyone.

The same rules apply to toys, accessories and home furnishings, but isn’t exclusive to this list. I’ve written many times before about food, and how satisfying it is to make food from scratch. If you know your diet could use a spring clean, you might enjoy my recent post on redefining what it means to be healthy.

Address your deep rooted issues, and get rid of them once and for all

Cards on the table, are you depressed? You’re certainly not alone, but if the root causes run deeper than the current political climate then you’ll need to be prepared to face them head on. Getting to grips with the root of our troubles will no doubt include dredging up painful memories, but it’s the only way to properly move forward. 

I’ve suffered from numerous bouts of depression over the years, and have had two full on mental breakdowns. If I’m honest, I spent most of 2016 feeling down. I was turning to the bottle far too often, and drowning my sorrows, which just perpetuated the cycle of doom and gloom. Now that I’m hardly drinking, as well as eating super clean, I’m feeling mentally well again. Getting on track is never easy, but the road to recovery always starts with me.

Take a break from social media when it all gets too much

If there is one thing I’ve learnt since joining Facebook in 2007, it’s that social media is not my friend through times of hardship. Yes it’s good to keep in touch with friends. Yes it’s good to stay connected. But there are other ways and means of doing these things if your feeds are becoming a source of misery. 

Keeping abreast through reputable news sources instead of relying on social media should ensure accuracy. Which is essential in our post-truth era. If you’re worried that you’ll miss out on your friends’ news, why not send them a text or go truly old-school and phone them?

how to stay sane in a world gone madFind time for the things and people you love

Whatever your passions are, find a way of fitting them into your daily life. Feeding our souls with the things that make us happy is probably the most beneficial thing we can do for our emotional wellbeing.

Whether it’s through diet and exercise, honing our skills or doing good for other people, do more of the things that make you smile and less of the things that make you miserable.

It’s also imperative to spend your time with people who lift you up, not knock you down. If you are engaged in toxic relationships, on any level, they will be zapping your chances of happiness. Take a break from those who make you sad, and see how the land lies after a little time apart.

Do you have any tips for staying sane in this world gone mad? 

 

Why My Autistic Daughter and I Are on the GAPS DietIn Spring 2014, shortly after my third child was born, I read a book which changed my life. Gut and Psychology Syndrome, written by doctor and mother Natasha Campbell McBride, details how central our gut bacteria is to our overall health, and outlines a gut healing diet. 

For more information on gut health check out this fascinating lecture by Professor Simon Carding at UEA’s Medical School.

The book touched on much of my own medical history, and the premise of gut and psychology syndrome (also known as GAPS) made complete sense to me. I knew instantly that I wanted to try the diet. 

Dr. Campbell McBride claims that you can reverse autism by following the GAPS diet, because an unhealthy gut can be a factor. I am hugely sceptical about this, and personally feel that it’s a fools errand to try and ‘cure’ autism. I do however, strongly believe, that eating the right foods can help alleviate symptoms that present challenging behaviour. Not just in an autistic child, but in any child.   

What is the GAPS Diet?

Eating the GAPS way means removing all processed food, starches, refined sugar, grains (not just gluten) and commercial dairy. There is plenty you can eat, provided that you make it yourself. 

The GAPS Diet has two parts. First comes a six stage introduction plan which sees you stripping away all food, then slowly, and systematically, reintroducing it. How long it takes to work through the six stages completely depends on individual symptoms. 

GAPS-bookAfter working through all six stages, you transition over to what is known as the Full GAPS Diet. This comprises of a wide variety of fruit, vegetables, meat and fish.  

My main motivation for trying GAPS in 2014 was food intolerance which wasn’t getting better through standard exclusion diets. I was also perpetually exhausted, but put that down to having three kids, one with a sleep problem.

When I went onto GAPS first time around, I had already been mostly refined sugar free for seven years, and Paleo for two. I say mostly, because none of us are saints are we? Trying to eat ‘perfectly’ 24/7/365 will probably do you more harm than good, as it would be so stressful.

Although GAPS was a massive challenge initially, I adapted quickly to my new way of life and was astounded by the results. After just a few weeks on GAPS, I was full of energy and felt properly clear headed for the first time in years. Gone was the brain fog, and wading through treacle. To top it off, my usually problematic skin was beautifully radiant. I looked and felt amazing! 

I documented the entire journey from the first day, to a one year update on this blog: Mummy Tries GAPS.

GAPS worked for me, but I didn’t stick to it for long enough. 

I tried to, of course I did, but life got in the way. 2015 was a ridiculously stressful year what with going back to work, and dealing with awful childcare challenges. Worse still, Polly was floundering at school, and absolutely miserable at home. This is where we faced up to the writing on the wall, and were led to her high functioning autism diagnosis

My redundancy was fortuitously timed, although career suicide in terms of going back to the City. At the end of the summer holidays I sent Polly into year two with a very heavy heart. By the October half term we had made the decision to home educate her.

This all took its toll on my well-being. Although I was still adhering mostly to a Full GAPS Diet, I was drinking far too much alcohol. This carried on into 2016, and I spent large chunks of it feeling depressed and incapable of meeting the varying needs of my children. Home education was a roller coaster I wasn’t mentally prepared for, and remains the steepest learning curve of my entire life.

The divide between my girls got bigger, to the point where they could hardly stand being in the same room together. Freddy’s sleep went from bad to horrendous. My husband and I were bickering far more than what I consider to be normal. The going got tough, so I took solace in my friends, which almost always involved excessive drinking. It was lots of fun at the time, but would come with a hefty price afterwards.

By the end of last year, I was at tipping point and knew that things needed to change. 

GAPS dietI was playing a dangerous game, which is ironic given the book I wrote a couple of years ago. Just goes to show that none of us are exempt from the dark clouds. What is more ironic, is that GAPS is wholeheartedly recommended for those who are suffering from depression. The last thing you want to hear when you’re feeling low is that your lifestyle is contributing to your mental health issues, but it’s often true. 

GAPS worked for me last time, and I am desperate to feel that good again. Yes it’s boring, in comparison to going out and getting smashed. Yes it’s hard work, in comparison to buying food ready to eat. There is no doubt that the first few weeks are super hard going, but starting anything is always hard. 

I wrote a post a few months back, about how sad Polly often is. How tough it is to watch her be so miserable. How helpless I’ve felt, when she’s taking her frustrations out on Clara and Freddy. It went way past standard sibling in-fighting long ago, and morphed into full-on bullying.

But I am done feeling helpless, because we always have options. We sometimes just need to open our eyes, take a big deep breath and put a little faith in ourselves and our abilities.

My view is this. If you and your children are healthy, don’t catch every bug going and are generally happy, then chances are all is hunky dory with your gut. You would never need to even entertain the idea of doing GAPS, or anything similar. Due to being in such optimum health, I’d hazard a guess that you’re also able to exercise the everything in moderation rule.

If you aren’t blessed with a spick and span immune system, because of whatever reason, you need to think outside the box a little.

Which is why myself and Polly are currently working our way through the GAPS Intro Diet.

GAPS diet - cashew and courgette pancakes

our breakfast this morning, delicious pancakes

I talked about GAPS a lot in the run up to new year, and Polly was adamant that she wouldn’t be joining me (even though I hoped she would). Then the day before I was due to begin, she told me she wanted to do it as well.

“I want to give it a go mama. Maybe it will stop me from being so mean to Clara and Freddy.”

I was seriously taken aback by her maturity, and have continued to be every single day. Polly is learning to listen to how food makes her feel, both physically and emotionally, which is the first step to self-regulation, and a lesson we could all use. She’s also eating tons of new food that she was previously refusing. 

Today was day ten, and the improvements in my girl so far have been immense. She is consistently calmer, kinder and happier than I’ve seen her since she was a toddler. We’ve had one full on difficult day, compared with one decent day out of ten, which had become our norm. I’m incredibly proud of how well she’s doing.

As for me, I’m getting back to myself again. I’m no longer engulfed with negative thoughts, and am not filled with doom about the future. I feel in control of what’s going on, and am not in a state of despair. No longer am I feeling the need to reach for the bottle in the evening, to ‘treat myself’ after yet another hard day. For the first time in over a year I feel like I can kick life’s butt, instead of it constantly kicking mine!

A few friends have voiced their concerns

They are worried that GAPS is too restrictive, and that it’s too much extra work for me. These comments come from a kind hearted place, but ultimately these people are looking at my situation through their own eyes. They know that GAPS would push them over the edge, and be a major cause of stress, so it’s not an option for their family.

I look at it completely differently though. I adore being in the kitchen, inventing recipes and making awesome food out of unlikely ingredients. It’s been my forte for a decade, and I don’t see it as a chore. It doesn’t cause me stress at all, but watching my kids tear each other apart, and all of us being miserable day in day out, most certainly does.

As for GAPS being too restrictive, no-one would bat an eyelid if we were following a strict exclusion diet because of allergies, or decided to become vegetarians would they? Cutting out the crap and eating natural food is never going to be a bad thing for any of us. 

We aren’t doing GAPS because we’re hoping it’ll ‘cure’ Polly’s autism. We’re doing it so she has a better chance to be a happy, healthy little girl. Surely that’s all any parent wants for their kids?

Redefining Healthy and Five Easy Wins for a Happier Healthier YouThere is much said at the moment about the echo chambers we live in, and how they’re making us too insular.

It’s a bit of a contradiction though, because we’re also told that in order to live a happy life we must surround ourselves with like-minded people. Ones who share our values and contribute to our joy, not steal it.

However, in order to grow and truly flourish, we must never stop educating ourselves. We mustn’t be afraid to go against the grain, and not follow the crowd.

This means stepping out of our comfort zone, and exposing ourselves to (sometimes) uncomfortable truths. We then have to be willing to take those truths on-board, and make them beneficial to ourselves and our families.

We need to talk about the elephant in the kitchen: Sugar

There is little more annoying than being given conflicting information on what constitutes healthy eating. For years we were told that fat was evil should be avoided at all cost. It was hugely advocated that we should buy ready made fat free products, even though we now know they are loaded with sugar and/or artificial sweeteners.

This might be a revelation to some, but it’s the fat that makes the food taste good, and natural fats are great for us. It has recently come to light that the sugar industry have been manipulating us for years.

After my PCOS diagnosis in 2007, I was told by two doctors that I’d need fertility treatment to conceive. Not happy to just resign myself to this information, I did a ton of independent research. I found that there is a strong link between PCOS women, who are insulin resistant as I am, and type two diabetes. Bottom line was, if I didn’t get a handle on my sugar intake, then I would likely not see an improvement in my symptoms. Worse still, I could end up with diabetes later down the line. This awesome Ted Talk goes into depth about insulin resistance.    

redefining healthy and five easy wins for a happier healthier youFiguring I had nothing to lose, and everything to gain, I set about changing the way I ate. The first step was completely cutting out refined sugar, and replacing it with natural alternatives. I also excluded all pre-prepared food, unless I was eating out.

I’d never felt as healthy, but the best thing was falling pregnant with Polly in October 2008. Even though it meant buying a new wedding dress, I was more than happy to get married with a bump. Two more naturally conceived pregnancies followed within four years, and I don’t for a second think it was coincidental.  

If we want to be truly healthy, it is up to us, as individuals, to take control of our own health  

If we want to live a healthy life, we have to nourish ourselves well, which means making our own food out of fresh ingredients. This might seem like a major inconvenience in the short term, but it quickly becomes the norm. A friend of mine has a great saying.

“If it’s important, you’ll find the time. If it’s not, you’ll find an excuse.”  

We also have to be prepared to take a long hard look at the way we ‘treat’ ourselves. You only have to walk into a coffee shop to see that most people think nothing of having a slice of cake with their latte. Everything in moderation is wonderful for those who are able to show restraint, but most people I know will openly admit that they eat far too much sweet stuff. The fact is, it’s highly addictive, and very difficult to break free from. 

I can safely say that I noticed a world of difference both mentally and physically once I started eating less sugar and processed carbs. Food is medicine, and the sooner this becomes common knowledge the better 💗

Five easy wins to reduce your sugar intake, leaving you feeling truly healthy

Get your body burning fat in the morning

According to this recent article, most children start their day by eating a sugar laden breakfast. I’m sure the same is true for many adults too, and I’m almost certain that they are getting hungry way before lunchtime. When we eat sugar for breakfast, because it’s so addictive, we will chase our next hit of sugar all day long.

Eating fat and protein instead will get our bodies burning fat as it’s fuel, which keeps our blood sugars level. It’ll also help us not have mood swings, and keep us fuller for longer. Check out my recent post with some ideas for truly kick ass breakfasts.

Redefining Healthy and Five Easy Wins for a Happier Healthier You

some of the food I eat on a regular basis


Stop drinking sugar

We’ve all seen the infographics, detailing the shocking amount of sugar contained in a can of fizzy drink. But what about the shop bought juice made from concentrate?

What about the flavoured coffees with tons of syrup in them? What about the milkshakes and energy drinks that I see older school children drinking every day? None of these drinks will hydrate us, but they will almost certainly see us riding the blood sugar roller coaster.

Diet drinks are just as bad, as they almost always contain harmful chemical based sweeteners. Even freshly pressed fruit juices and smoothies contain lots of natural sugar, so should be limited. Ultimately it’s best to drink water. Sorry if that’s boring, but it’s true.       

Avoid supermarket free from products like the plague 

Having allergies and intolerance mean that you can’t eat certain things, and always have to miss out on the exciting food. I rode the merry-go-round of misery, otherwise known as exclusion diets, for years. It started in 2002 when I cut out dairy, and over the course of the next decade, I became intolerant of many different foods.

I learnt very early on not to trust supermarket free from products. Not only do they usually cost a small fortune, they are more often than not poor quality from a nutritional point of view. It sickens me that desperate people on exclusion diets are being ripped off as much as they are. If you need to eat free from, it is, without doubt, best to make your own food. 

Check out the Free From Fairy’s gluten free, rice free flour blend. Which is super versatile, and makes free from baking as easy as if you were using a wheat based flour. Vicki also has a ton of information on her site about living gluten free, as her daughter is a coeliac.            

Scrutinise every single label of every single product you buy

I will never understand why so many people choose not to read the labels when they are buying their food. It literally astounds me. When Polly was diagnosed allergic to corn and all it’s derivatives, when she was two and a half, I had to learn a new language. Corn is cheap to produce, and high fructose corn syrup is sweeter than table sugar. Therefore, it is used a lot in processed food, because lets face it, sweet things taste great.

Here’s the thing though, it’s not just corn or maize that you have to be aware of, if you want to exclude it from your diet. Corn comes in many disguises, and is often sneaked into a product several times. Check this list out for all the ingredients they derive from corn – it’s exceptionally eye opening. A good rule of thumb is this: avoid ingredients that you can’t pronounce the name of, because chances are they aren’t going to be good for you.

Get in the kitchen

There are no quick fixes or massive shortcuts, but there are things you can do to save time. Batch cooking several meals and freezing them (if you have the space) is a great way to lower stress when you’re starting out. Soups, stews and curries are ridiculously easy to throw together in one pot. Keep it as simple as you can at first, then get adventurous once you have more time.

You really don’t need to have tons of money to be able to cook. In fact I save a fortune by making all our food from scratch. Check out my food archive, which has tons of recipes in it.

I’ll leave you with my fail safe beef stew. I defy you to cook this meal and tell me that (a) it didn’t taste great, and (b) wasn’t silly easy to make!

give up coffee blog titleI’ve read a ton of testimonials all over the internet claiming that giving up coffee was a game changer. I personally know several people who have gone through the process and say the same.

I myself had two failed attempts at giving up in 2014, but always came back to the same conclusion. I like it too much and need it too much given my sleep situation. I have hardly any vices these days, and it seems ludicrous to deny myself something that makes me as happy as coffee does.

Too much of a good thing

It was becoming increasingly obvious that I was drinking too much though, and needed to cut down. The trouble is that it’s addictive, and ‘just drinking less’ wasn’t going to happen naturally. On day four of our recent eleven day holiday, I had six double espressos throughout the course of the day. I fell asleep fine that night, but woke up with a pounding heart at 3am, and couldn’t get back to sleep. I made a decision in my crazy insomnia driven state that I was going cold turkey tomorrow. I figured that even if I suffered with a banging headache, and felt too tired to put one foot in front of the other, then at least I could do it in blazing sunshine sitting by the pool.

As it happened, my caffeine withdrawal symptoms didn’t seem as bad this time as they had previously, and I coped a lot better overall. I didn’t touch a drop for the rest of the holiday, and found myself feeling quite smug about kicking my habit. I had to check myself though, to ensure I didn’t turn into one of those annoying ex-smoker types, telling everyone else that they should stop polluting their bodies, blah blah blah. Hubby joked that I’d only found it easier this time because I was able to have a G&T whenever I felt like it to take the edge off. In fairness to me I was pretty restrained on that front too, given there were plenty of others on the beers at 10am. Each to their own and all that.

After a month of no coffee, and bearing in mind that I wasn’t substituting for copious amounts of other caffeine laden drinks either, I can honestly say that I didn’t see any of the dramatic (or less dramatic) life altering changes other people talk about. I didn’t lose weight (I gained it), my skin didn’t start glowing. I didn’t seen an improvement in mood, nor was I less emotional around crimson tide time. I guess the one thing I shouldn’t discount is that keeping away from coffee shops does save a few quid here and there.

So what’s this truly incredible thing that happened you might be wondering?

Here’s the thing that I learnt. A coffee free life makes me miserable. I really enjoy it, and should take my pleasures where I can. My world didn’t change in a positive way, and was not enhanced one iota by giving it up, it just made me sad.

There is no denying the fact that I was drinking too much, but completely excluding it was unnecessary. What I needed to do was learn a bit of self-control, and be happy to stop at two a day. So that’s where I’m at. I’ve broken the need to ‘have’ to have a coffee as soon as I wake up, which has been nice. From now on, if I fancy a coffee I’ll have one, and if I don’t then I won’t.

And that is absolutely okay. 

If I tell you again that I’m giving up, please give me a stern talking to!  

**Disclaimer: This is my personal experience, and should not be taken as prescriptive advice for others.**  

 

This breakthrough study could be life changing for many lactose intolerance sufferers.

What are your thoughts on this new research? Would you be willing to give a2 Milk a try? You can read about my experience by clicking here

About the study 

The extent of lactose intolerance could be a myth, and the symptoms most likely the result of an inflammatory response found in conventional cows’ milk, according to new clinical research conducted in China. Published in the UK based Nutrition Journal, the study led by Professor Sun Jianqin from Huadong Hospital, an affiliate of the prestigious Fudan University in Shanghai, compared the impact on those that drank conventional cows’ milk (milk with the A1 protein) with that of a2 Milk.

Originally, all domesticated cows produced milk containing only the A2 type of beta-casein protein. However over time, after domestication, another milk protein – the A1 protein – appeared in European herds. This spread with the migration of man, and is contained in most milk consumed in the UK today. a2 Milk is from cows specially selected because they produce milk that contains only the A2 protein type and naturally does not contain the A1 protein.

The results of the study mean that in the UK 1 in 5 Brits (approx 12 million people), who say they have issues digesting milk, could more than likely return to drinking natural cows’ milk rather than resorting to processed alternatives such as lactose-free milks or artificial plant-based drinks. This is the first human based research study testing the effects of the A1 versus A2 protein on participants – half of whom were clinically confirmed as having issues with lactose digestion. The trial found that a2 Milk caused no gastrointestinal disturbance in any study participants. Most tellingly, including those confirmed to have issues digesting lactose.

Those who drank conventional cows’ milk (containing the A1 protein) compared to a2 Milk experienced elevated gastrointestinal inflammation, stool transit delays and elevated markers for inflammation and immune response. The participants reported that a2 Milk was significantly gentler on their digestive system with less inflammation associated with bloating and abdominal pain.

Individuals in the trial who drank milk containing only the A2 protein type also had a faster response and lower error rate in cognitive function tests than those who drank regular milk containing the A1 type protein. This is consistent with emerging science demonstrating a clear link between digestive health and brain function.

Professor Sun Jianqin from Hua Dong Hospital commenting on the research says: 

“These are breakthrough findings for those who believe they suffer from lactose intolerance, and I am one of them. It suggests that milk that only contains the A2 type protein (A2 beta-casein) has a natural affinity with the human body and digestion. Gut inflammation caused by the A1 type protein can be avoided by consuming milk products with only the A2 type protein. With so many people believing they are lactose intolerant, both here in China and in the rest of the world, the findings are truly significant.”

Scott Wotherspoon, CEO of The a2 Milk Company in the UK, speaking about the new study says:

“Lactose is usually what takes the blame for the millions of people worldwide who have digestive issues with regular milk, leading to them giving up on milk altogether. This research is excellent news for all those people who have avoided milk for so long and we hope it will bring people back to milk and dairy as a whole. They can now most likely enjoy the nutritional benefits and great taste of a2 Milk with confidence and feel great afterwards.”

About The a2 Milk Company

The a2 Milk Company Limited was founded in New Zealand and is now head-quartered in Australia. It has around 10 percent value market share of the Australian fresh milk grocery market. In 2012, The a2 Milk Company launched into the UK. The a2 Milk Company works with farms in Cheshire, Staffordshire, Shropshire and North Wales to select cows producing fresh a2 Milk every day. The a2 Milk Company strongly believes in the benefits of milk and dairy both to individuals and the economy, and is a strong supporter of UK Dairy.

The a2 Milk Company’s mission is to bring the nation back to the pleasure and health benefits of drinking milk by educating consumers that not all cows’ milk is the same, and a2 Milk may be a great option for consumers who experience sensitivities when drinking conventional cows’ milk. The a2 Milk Company has thousands of testimonials from people who have switched to a2 Milk and enjoy real benefits.

a2 Milk farmers are paid a premium above the rate they would normally receive for producing milk. Many of the farmers are strong personal advocates of the benefits of a2 Milk.

For more details on this study, please visit a2 Milk