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Saturday, 19 November 2011

Healthy vs. Light

I refer to myself as being 'health aware'. Slightly under-qualified for the term 'health conscious', I genuinely enjoy a wide range of foods and frequently give in to cravings for chocolate, fizzy drinks, fast food and Monster Munch.

 “So, what? You’re 5 foot 7 inches, weighing barely 8 stone.”

For those acquaintances of mine who have often tried to berate some of my healthy lifestyle choices with such words, I’m hoping you’ll gain some insight from reading this . . .

Due to my lifelong ability to consume junk without any tell-tale signs on my figure, I often find myself having to justify the fact that I go to the gym. People naturally assume I’m trying to lose weight. Whilst I appreciate the responsibility of those who are just concerned that I might be seeing a fun-house version of myself when looking into a mirror, I can reassure you that this is not the case. If I wanted to disappear, I would become a magician. If I didn’t go the gym (which I haven’t, for most of my life), I wouldn’t be now gaining weight through muscle tone, as well as experiencing the countless benefits to regular exercise such as improved circulation, stamina, alertness, sex-drive, release of ‘happy hormones’, and boost of immunity against health problems; to name a few. Or course, I could always take up a competitive sport – if it wasn’t for lack of interest, and let’s face it, skill.

In a bid to improve my way of eating for 71% of the time (5 days a week, out of 7) and ensuring that I maintain a good consumption of nutrition throughout my daily grind at the office, I once browsed the internet for inspiration. On Googling the term ‘healthy lunch’, I was hit by website after website that suggested that ‘healthy lunches’ came in the form of low-fat microwaveable dinners. Of course, that’s the problem with trusting the internet as a reliable source of information – people can publish any old shit (myself included) and unfortunately there’s too many digital-age chumps who take it as gospel. And this brings me to the common misconception - that low fat and healthy are the same thing. Without being a nutritional expert, I can confirm with the utmost confidence that they are NOT.

Food commercials that boast about the low-calorie content of their products (often featuring a catalogue cut-out style female parading around in a red swimsuit) would have us believe that ‘fat’ and ‘calories’ are dirty words. Fat, believe it or not, is vital for maintaining healthy skin and hair. It also plays a part in health cell function and insulates organs against shock. Plus, it keeps us warm (but you knew that already, didn’t you?). A calorie is a unit of energy in food consumption, some of which are nutritional. The opposite of a nutritional calorie is known as ‘empty calorie’ – of which provides little function in the human body other than weight gain. 

So, what’s the problem with eating reduced fat foods? In short, when fats have been artificially removed from food during processing, they are generally replaced with something else. Read the label, and you’ll see all those funny words that you’d otherwise only see directly in front of you when you’re losing at Scrabble. Chemicals are not nutrition. As a general rule of thumb, the more natural your food is, the better it is for you (though I’d talk to a real expert before you go and start eating grass and rocks). 

Recently I watched a newsmag-style television broadcast about the growing availability of junk food on our high streets over healthier options. Initially, I got all excited about the fact that the media were showing a responsible attitude – that was, until they went into detail about the impact this has on obesity without a single mention of the other negative repercussions on our health. Its no wonder, as a naturally slender person, people always say to me “You don’t have to think about health. You can eat whatever you want”. Sure, I can – as long as the prospect of hair loss, skin disease, a rotten smile and clogged arteries doesn’t bother me. In reality, I should be just as conscious as the next person about what I eat, and believe me when I say that I don’t find it easy. Lately, whenever I get the urge to reach for my third sugary treat of the day, I have to remind myself that I’m dating a dental hygienist.

So, who is to blame over society’s body-image obsession? Before I go pointing my skinny finger at the media, I would just like to show my appreciation for programmes like Supersize Vs. Superskinny. Not as vacuous as the title makes out, it focuses heavily (no pun intended) on the importance of nutrition. However, would the title ‘Two Extreme Examples of Malnutrition’ gain the same level of ratings? Probably not. Sadly, outer beauty seems to prevail its importance to us over actual health, so the media is just giving us what we expect.

If you want to really love and respect your body, then pay attention to how it feels, rather than what it looks like. Health is an inside job. 

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Pamela's Hen-Party-That-Didn't-Quite-Happen

Foreword: I actually wrote this piece a year following from the event itself, after a well-known UK magazine publication did a small feature on it. I felt compelled to create a more fitting tribute, not only to capture the drama of the incident as it actually happened, but as an acknowledgement to my friend Pamela for organising one corker-of-a-hen-party for herself and her lovely guests. For good measure, I've tried to imitate the style of a women's magazine. 

Saturday May 15th, 2009

"Alright, Sexy?” I grinned at my mate Kerren as I walked into Pamela’s kitchen. Kerren and Pamela, like me, were dressed from head-to-toe in Moulin Rouge style costumes. It was only six in the evening, on a Saturday in mid-May, and I’d felt a bit of a wally walking from the car to the house in broad daylight with that amount of leg on display. Still, the effort felt worth it. It was Pamela’s hen party, and we were going to be picked up by a Hummer limousine to be taken to a casino in Bristol and then onto some nightclubs. I’d never been to a casino before, or dressed-up quite like that, but drunken gambling in the company of scantily-clad ladies seemed like a great way to spend an evening. There were only 11 of us invited, plus the bride-to-be, and I felt privileged to be one of the selected few. 

One-by-one the other hens arrived – some familiar faces, others who I’d never met – everyone looked fantastic. Pamela had gone to a tremendous effort to make it a special evening. She’d laid on a tasty buffet and drinks at the house, and provided us all with little gift bags of sweets, glow-sticks and personalised badges. “I’m gonna make sure I’m drunk before the limo gets here!” I chuckled, pinning on my ‘Miss Saucy’ badge. 

The limo arrived before I’d even had time to get tipsy. We were all so excited as we clambered in, though I felt sorry for Rhea-Jean, Pamela’s daughter, who was in tears as Pamela waved her goodbye. I guess it’s hard to explain to a five-year-old that ‘mummy’s off to Bristol in this weird, oversized car to exchange money for plastic chips; in order to celebrate her last night of freedom’. 

As soon as the limo pulled away I was handed a glass of champagne. “Why not?” I said, “Champagne isn’t supposed to give you a hangover”. Though, as I took my first gulp, I did wonder how well it would mix with the peach schnapps I’d already had. Pamela was leaning across the mini bar, flicking through the music selection. ‘Breathe Slow’ by Alesha Dixon was blaring out of the sound system - Kerren and my other mate Kay were singing along. “How depressing!” I playfully scolded them. “Pamela, have we got anything more up-beat?” 

She replied: “I’m working on it!” Then, suddenly we heard a BANG, and we were all shunted across our seats as the vehicle jolted forward . . . . . 

Then, we stopped moving. Champagne was spilled everywhere. Pamela asked if everyone was okay. We all looked at each other – there were no obvious signs of anyone being hurt. Then, the back door of the car opened – it was Steve, our driver: “There’s petrol all over the road, and I can smell burning – everyone, out!” 

There were shrieks of panic as we all clambered out. I was second-to-last, with Kay behind me. The evidence of the impact was obvious – the back of the limo was completely crushed, with both wheels hanging off. Further up the road was the car which had smacked into us – another write-off. Pamela was distraught at her special night being ruined, and she couldn’t help but make her feelings known to the other driver. Had we not been there to calm her down, I think there would have been another casualty. 

We walked up the road to make sure we were out of danger. It was cold outside, and I’m sure we were a real sight in our costumes for the other drivers who were trying to steer around the wreckage. Once the shock had worn off, the effect of the crash on some of the hens became apparent: Pamela had whacked her head on the mini-bar, Kay had whiplash, Katie had severe pains in her collar bone; and Kerren - who was later to find out that she was in the early stages of pregnancy - was feeling nauseous from fume inhalation. It felt like a long wait for the ambulance, and we had to huddle together to keep warm. Whilst the limo company summoned another vehicle to take the rest of us home, the four injured girls were taken to hospital. 

Pamela’s wedding in Cyprus two weeks later went ahead as planned, and we got to do ‘take two’ of our night out in Bristol some months later. All credit due to Pamela – she knows how to kick off a party with a bang!