The Fast 800 Diet – One Year On

It was a year ago this month I was due to go to a party.

Fast 800 Diet one year on - A Free from Life

The dress code was ‘glamourous’, so I pulled out my old frocks from the wardrobe in the spare room.

None of them fit.

I was absolutely gutted.

I knew I’d been putting on weight, but had been in denial about how much.

The only thing to do was buy a new dress, of course! Which I did. But it didn’t stop me feeling bad about myself.

It was in conversation about this at the party that I was introduced to the Fast 800 Diet. I bought the book the next day, read through the science, was suitably convinced and cracked on with it.

A few weeks later I had not only hit my goal, I’d surpassed it.

And I’m happy to say I stayed that way. That is….

Up until the lockdown!!

Yes I, along with millions of others, will blame the lockdown on my diet and good habits going out of the window.

As ashamed as I am to admit it, it’s true though. The start of the lockdown was such a stressful time, I found myself taking comfort in a glass of wine or three, in an effort, I suppose, to calm my anxiety and block out what was going on in the world.

It’s not ideal to turn to alcohol, I know. And I’m not saying it was a bottle a night or anything, but my previous habit of not drinking at all during the week was completely out of the window and very quickly at that.

So too was my no snack rule. You know what I’m talking about – the afternoon lull where it’s near-on impossible not to reach for the biscuit tin. Again, another comfort I wasn’t prepared to deny myself from any longer.

So, to counter balance all this, I upped the exercise, which at least I can give myself a pat on the back for.

But it wasn’t quite enough. Inevtibably, some of the weight went back on.

Thankfully, though, nowhere near as much as I lost. It was just a few extra pounds that I lost again when I re-did the Fast 800 a couple of weeks ago. I just needed a few days of being good to re-set. And now, I’m keeping off the booze during the week.

As for the snacking, well…. I’ve just had a coffee and some biscuits!

I’m trying, I really am, but some days you just need that extra boost, don’t you?


How do you look after your mental health during a lockdown?

With the announcement that the current lockdown due to the Coronavirus pandemic will continue for at least another three weeks, looking after your mental health is a priority.

How do you look after your mental health during the coronavirus lockdown - A Free From Life

Not that your mental health hasn’t been a priority since the start, or before all this even. However, now, more than ever, we need to ensure we are doing all we can to stay calm. I have already written about how to stay healthy and sane during this time, but I felt the subject needed revisiting.

Is it hard to make your mental health a priority? I think so. My emotions are all over the place. I’ve had meltdowns just from going out to the supermarket, felt bereft at the loss of ‘normal’ life as we know it, despaired for the future.

I know people who admit they feel guilty for actually enjoying this time.

They’re not affected by Corona, feel safe in their homes, are enjoying being together with their families, loving not have to rush around and live life in the rat-race. That, in itself, is a difficult emotion to deal with – guilt.

“We must allow ourselves to grieve for all we’ve lost,” says Renee, writer at Mummytries.

And that’s true, not only of those who have lost loved ones to this dreadful virus, but to those who are separated from family members due to the lockdown, those who have lost their jobs and in a wider sense, it applies to the loss of the life we once knew.

Children are due to return to school next week. Some have started back this week. How will that change things?

Before the lockdown, some schools managed to provide online lessons for their pupils. Others left the home schooling in the hands of the parents, which caused an enormous amount of stress, strain and worry for many.

Hopefully, the majority of people have come to realise it is near on impossible for a parent to replicate the education received in a school setting.

The problem is, parents up and down the country are trying to juggle jobs as well as supervising their children’s education. What working parents need more than anything at this time, is to not have to sit and watch over their children while they do their school work.

In Denmark, all the schools in the country had access to Microsoft Teams in order to provide virtual classrooms for their pupils.

Sadly, that’s not the case in the UK and although some schools are providing this level of teaching for the coming term, not all will be. For these parents, staying calm will be about finding balance and some semblance of a routine that can aid all those concerned.

How I’m finding balance and focus during this exceptional time.

I appreciate every situation is different, which is why, for this article, I have called upon the expertise of many in the field of wellbeing to offer their advice. Before I get to that, I’d just like to offer what I am doing in order to keep focused on the here and now:

1. Sticking to a routine.
Without a routine, I am lost. I found this out during the Easter weekend, when I wasn’t working, had no idea what day it was and didn’t know what to do with myself. That may come across as though I don’t know how to relax, but that’s not the case. I love to lounge around and read a book as much as the next man, especially when on holiday, but I find I have so much on my mind right now, it doesn’t seem to want to rest.

2. Exercising.
I’m not a runner. I don’t have a PT. Instead, I do half-hour, sometimes 40-minute, YouTube videos from PopSugar. I tend to do them once I’ve put the dinner on, so that by the time I’m done, the dinner is too!

I like the fact they are short, but at the same time, I feel like I’ve worked out after doing them. I also like the fact I can choose from yoga, Pilates, kickboxing, dance, barre – you name it, they have a workout for it. There are probably other YouTube channels out there that do the same thing, but I found this one and I like it. My kids are enjoying Joe Wickes’ workouts and do them every day, so it really is about finding something you enjoy.

One thing we all agree on is that we feel so much better for doing some exercise. It works for both mind and body.

3. Eating healthily.
Now is not the time to beat yourself up for reaching for the biscuit tin. I’m struggling with that myself. Despite keeping to my routine of being at my desk for 9 a.m. and working a normal day, it’s boring and dull being at home all the time isn’t it?

I’m doing my best to stick to a healthy diet though and the reason for this is that it makes me feel better and that’s important for me.

At the beginning of this lockdown, my husband and I were drinking wine every night, where we normally try not to drink during the week. We’re trying to curb that now, as we both admit to feeling sluggish the next day and we really don’t need to feel any more sluggish than we already do.

“Take time for reflection on what’s important and how you live your life. It’s an opportunity to press a reset button,” Karen Martin, Hypnotherapist.

I wish I could say I am taking this time to write more, read more, do all those jobs in the house that never seem to get done, but sadly that’s not the case. The writing I am doing, is reflecting what is affecting me right now during this crazy time, the reading comes in short bursts and the house jobs…

What will help you get through this time?

Naomi, at Lifecare Counselling, shares some tips on how to work with your anxious mind. As does, homeopath, Tracey Campbell.

If you think your worries are getting the better of you, these tips from Blossom Hypnotherapy may help.

Mind West Kent are continuing to offer their mental health groups, but online, as well as the Solace Café, using Zoom. Just because you are stuck at home doesn’t mean you can’t reach out for help. Councellors like Katie Chuckley, at Beautiful You Counselling, are offering their services online too.

You can also get sleep therapy from places like The Good Sleep Clinic.

If doing your own exercise sessions are not your thing, there are a number of personal trainers offering guided sessions. SLJ, are one such organisation, as are Kate Munden and Carin Soderberg (Boxing).

“Try meditation to ground and bring yourself back to the now instead of focusing on the what ifs for the future,” says Sarah Cook, of Faebles online.

For mindfulness and wellbeing guidance, see Soulstar Sanctuary and Sonya Black.

And finally, here are ten tips for looking after your mental health during this time, from Anne Morgan at Bijou Concierge.

Whatever happens during these next weeks will be your new normal. It won’t last forever though. Let’s hang on to that thought as we ride out the storm.


How to stay healthy (and sane) during a lockdown

This idea of a lockdown is a whole new experience to us all and it is important to look after both mind and body during this time.

Here are five ways to help you stay healthy in both mind and body during this trying time.

How to stay healthy and sane during the lockdown - A Free From Life

1. Stick to regular mealtimes.

Whenever my family is at home, such as the kids are off for school holidays, the shopping bill goes through the roof. We never seem to have enough food in. Now we can’t and shouldn’t be going out unless it’s absolutely necessary, it’s important to curb that urge to snack just because you’re at home and you’re bored during this lockdown period.

You might not do a cooked lunch during the middle of the day, but stick to the same times. Make it part of your daily routine. To avoid snacking, set limits on what’s allowed. Have a hot drink instead of a snack, or a glass of water to curb your hunger. Do an activity or task to take your mind off the urge to eat something.

2. Make mealtimes filling.

Oats, protein, eggs, yoghurt, wholemeal carbs and wholegrains, avocados, lentils, pulses and beans and nuts.

These are some of the foods that you can include in your meals if you want to stay fuller for longer. There are some breakfast ideas on this blog, as well as some savoury dishes you might like to try. If you’re short on supplies, make a soup, add lentils or pulses if you have some.

3. Get some fresh air.

Even if it’s out in the garden, it’s important that you get out of the house for at least some of the day. It would be tempting to stay in front of the computer, watch television or read and generally not move about much at all, but it’s most definitely not recommended.

4. Do something active.

This doesn’t have to link with going outdoors, but combining the two would be an excellent idea. Whether it’s trampolining with the kids or kicking a football around the garden, playing swingball or passing a tennis ball between two of you, any activity is good for you. If you can’t go outside, there are thousands of YouTube videos to choose from, where you’ll find workouts for every level, from 10 minutes to an hour, full-on HIIT, or yoga.

5. Find some space.

Cabin fever is bad enough, but when the whole family is stuck in for an extended period of time, it’s bound to lead to arguments at some point. It’s important that everybody understands that you need timeout and space and that each person respects that. Depending on how much space you have in your house, it’s easier said than done, but even if you can have at least some time away from each other, or on your own, at some point in the day, it’s important that you take it. This may mean you need a rota for the television and one for the computer, XBox, etc. but this will help everyone know where they stand and hopefully avoid any unnecessary arguments.

Spending extensive time confined to one space is not easy. The word ‘lockdown’ doesn’t help either, as it depicts something more akin to prison. Trying to keep calm is easier said than done, but hopefully, with a few ground rules, you can make it work for you.


How To Find Time For Fitness As A Busy Mum

Mums don’t tend to get breaks. They’re usually going non-stop until they crash on the couch at the end of the day. But, looking after yourself, physically, is important, not just from a health point of view, but for your mental wellbeing too. Here are some ideas to help incorporate a workout into your daily routine.

How to find time for fitness as a busy mum - a Free from Life

Be realistic

Start with the mindset that you might miss a day or two and don’t beat yourself up if you don’t manage to do anything at all. Your job is hard enough as it is without any any extra pressures.

Pick an Activity You Like

This is a no-brainer. If you start a workout routine you do not enjoy, there is a high probability you will not stick to it. Something you enjoy – biking riding, yoga, Pilates, kickboxing (really, anything YOU like!) – on the other hand, won’t seem like a chore. Instead, it will be a great way to relieve stress, by getting the blood flowing round the body, oxygen to the brain and endorphins galore for that feel-good factor.

Take Advantage of Family Time

When it’s nice enough to go outside, especially on the weekend when everyone’s at home, pack up your car (or even better, get on your bikes) and head to the park. Getting outside for some fresh air and exercise is something you can all benefit from, plus it’s fun too. Running around the park, chasing your toddler, or playing catch and kicking a ball, all count as exercise. You could also go swimming, hire a tennis court for an hour, or even play crazy golf. It’s a great way to bond with your family whilst getting into a healthy fitness habit that everyone can benefit from.

Motivate Your Peers

Once you start feeling good about your progress, ask a mum friend to join you in a new fitness activity (hot yoga, anyone?). You can motivate each other to stay on track. And now you have someone to try out new workouts with.

Make It Easy

Easier said than done, right? Actually, it’s pretty easy! There are so many ways to incorporate simple exercises into your every day routine. Park your car a bit further away from where you would normally park it and walk the rest of the way. Take the stairs at work, enjoy a walk outside during your lunch break, or do simple stretches at your desk.

Take “Me” Time in the Morning

Busy mums – like you! – often struggle to summon the energy to exercise, but find a time that works for you. Could you get up a few minutes early, before the kids are awake, and make it “me” time? There are lots of workout routines on YouTube, ranging from 10 minutes upwards. Do some stretches for 15 minutes, or relax alone in a quiet space and meditate. If you have the energy (and the time), go for a run but always make sure you wear the right gear, particularly footwear, as you don’t want to risk an injury.


Making a conscious decision to eat less red meat

New data shows that one in four of us Brits (24%) plan on reducing the amount of red meat we consume as we strive to get healthier and help the environment.

Reduced meat consumption - A Free From Life

Is this you?

Apparently, according to YouGov, just 1% of the nation are Vegan, but 14% of us are, what has been termed as, Flexitarian—someone who has a mainly plant-based diet, but who consumes meat occasionally. Don’t you just love it when the media makes up these new terms with which to label people?!

Women are more likely than men to have made the conscious decision to eat less meat.

A quarter (27%) of women intend to cut back, versus 20% of men and the reasons for this change? For most, this is a health-related change, for others, it comes down to economics. Then, of course, there are environmental concerns.

A widely circulated study released last year in the Science Journal looked at the environmental impact of 40,000 farms in 119 countries which produce 90% of all food consumed in the world. It posited that avoiding meat and dairy products is the single biggest way to reduce your carbon footprint.

Past YouGov data shows the proportion of Britons who believe we should eat less meat to help the environment is increasing, from 28% in 2015, to 34% in 2018. Among 18 to 24-year-olds, the so-called Gen Z’s, it now rises to 50%.

While sales of meat are falling, meat free food consumption is up.

This is good news for Vegans, with more choice than ever. It also allows for those who want to have a ‘flexitarian’ lifestyle, without making that full leap into a plant-based only diet.

Where do you fit in on all this?

Interestingly, the teenagers of our house have definitely voiced their concerns about our meat consumption. They are particularly focused on beef and the impact of cows on the environment (we’re talking waste gases here). From a health point of view, we don’t eat meat every day anyway and we make a conscious effort to have meat-free Monday, as part of our weekly meal plans.

With three out of the five of us being dairy free, we’re thriving on the Vegan choices that you can now buy when out and about.

For me, that’s likely to be my choice when I eat at a restaurant, but not so much for my eleven-year-old boy. As he’s been dairy free for as long as he can remember, the choices for him, when we’ve eaten out at a restaurant, often amounted to something grilled, usually meat, with potatoes (this kind of became the default choice). As a result, he is an out and out carnivore, who will eat a steak running blood (not for me, personally). I think, also, that he has given up enough in his life already, having been both dairy and gluten free up until recently. For him, swapping steak for lentils would be a step too far!

For now, we are sticking to this flexitarian lifestyle. I would say that it is both an environmental AND health choice for us, that for a family of five, works well.

I’m making sure I buy what little meat we do consume from the local butchers, so that at least we know it’s not mass produced and is reared both locally and ethically. I would like to see the Government take steps to tackle this industry of cheap, mass-produced everything that comes in plastic packaging and does nothing to encourage reduced consumption. As I’ve said before, there is only so much we can do on our own that will make an impact.


Living a life that is free from plastic – is it possible?

To be completely plastic free seems virtually impossible, but we have to try, right?

Is it possible to go completely plastic free - A Free From Life

I blame the supermarkets. So much of the produce they sell comes in plastic packaging and unless they start making changes, I can’t honestly see how we can affect a change on a large scale.

As a family, we have taken steps to reduce our plastice waste. Having young people and teens in the house, who care about their future and are who are genuinely concerned about the poor state the world is in, really helps.

Here are some of the things we’ve been able to do:

1. Buying fresh produce from Riverford, an organic box-delivery company that has, for me, all the right attitudes and beliefs behind it – Most, if not all, of the produce comes in paper bags, but anything that isn’t, you can give back to Riverford for re-use or recycling. With Riverford, I’m buying from local producers and seasonally. It’s changed the way I cook and buy, but without a negative impact, more of a conscious one.

2. Dried fruit and nuts from Real Plastic Free, as it promises their produce is packaged in compostable packaging – I buy a lot of these products for snacks and also to make breakfasts that keep us all going throughout our busy mornings. I make a larger version of my Birsher Muesli using cooked apple and pear and topped with walnuts or flaked almonds. I also add prunes to mine.

3. Home composting – We have two large compost bins in our garden, which we’ve had for over ten years. Most of our food waste goes in here and I’ve recently discovered home-compostable coffee pods that I’ve switched to in order to reduce the waste caused by using the Nespresso machine. Up to now, I’d been taking them to my local Costa, as they offer a recycling scheme.

4. Meat from the local butcher – This is one thing that really gets my goat. You can’t buy meat in plactic free packaging from the supermarket, even if you go to the butcher section. My local butcher, on the other hand, has switched to a bees wax-lined paper that can be recycled along with other paper products. I’m now buying locally produced meat too and supporting a local business, which is all to the good.

5. Conscious toilet paper – Okay, so now we’re getting down to the nitty gritty, I had heard so much talk of this, I had to give it a go – Who Gives a Crap. Heard of it? The name itself is one you’re not likely to forget, but if you want recycled, tree-conscious loo roll, these are your people. I ordered a box to see what it’s like. We now have enough toilet roll to keep us going for the foreseeable future!

Right, so can you see how many different places I went to in order to get my weekly shopping? I’m talking virtually, by the way, so it wasn’t as though I had to trail around, collecting all these different things and polluting the environment with fuel (all except the butcher, but they do offer a delivery service). No, I did all this from the comfort of my own home, as I tend to do with food shopping.

The difference is, I would normally do the whole lot in one go from a well-known supermarket chain. That’s the convenience isn’t it? That is the whole reason why the large supermarkets have done so well and killed off our high streets and small businesses.

The trouble is, apart from buying loose vegetables and offering cleaning and washing products that are environmentally friendly and come in recycled plastic bottles, I can’t see much else that the supermarkets are doing to help people consume less plastic. Everything, from meat, to bread, to cheese, to crisps and snacks. EVERYTHING comes in some form of plastic packaging.

We can recycle some things now, such as yoghurt pots, milk and juice cartons. Not all councils offer this service though. It’s dependent on where you live. But realistically, that’s not the point is it? We need to use less, not just rely on recycling because personally, I believe the recycling industry is under tremendous pressure and is unable to fulfil its duty.

There are a lot of people like me, who are shopping around to find alternatives to their usuals. You can’t beat the convenience of a supermarket though, can you?

I was telling my kids the other day that supermarkets only started to become ‘a thing’ when I was a young girl. Back then, the supermarket was the size of what are now known as the ‘Express’ or ‘Metro’ versions. We thought they were huge at the time, but at least they were situated in the towns.

Moving supermarkets out of towns, making them superstores, not only killed off small businesses and even high streets, it allowed the supermarket chains to have the monopoly on food and farming as a whole. We now live on mass-produced foods that are cheap and convenient.

This is great for the consumer, in theory, but what about the environment? It comes at the expense of everything else and I don’t think that people really appreciated this up until recently. We’re most of us fully on-board with the idea of using less plastics, so supermarkets – HELP US. DO YOUR BIT TOO.

It really shouldn’t be too much to ask, should it?

Travelling with 5

Family holiday in Riva del Garda

Reclined on a sun lounger in the shade of pine trees, surrounded by lush gardens and listening to the sound of trickling water from the fountain in the middle of the pond, interspersed with birdsong and the constant thrum of cicadas, this is how a holiday should be. A few ducks waddle on by, looking for scraps of food that is no doubt plentiful despite the large population of mallards and moorhens across the tranquil lakes in the stunning grounds of this hotel.

This was me, most days, on holiday at the Hotel du Lac in Riva, Lake Garda.

The hotel resides on the busy road leading into the bustling town of Riva, on the northern-most tip of Lake Garda. It doesn’t look much from the roadside – a modern, contemporary building, not really to my taste when you compare it to the colourful renaissance buildings that are so typical of the area. That said, the hotel is immaculate, well-staffed and in an excellent location, just a stone’s throw from the lake itself.

Hotel du Lac front entrance - A Free From Life

We chose the hotel on the basis of its accommodation.

This is usually at the top of the list of criteria when you have a big family. There were six of us, so it was important to find somewhere that would give us enough space and above all else, privacy. The Hotel du Lac offered us three rooms together, two of which were interconnecting. This meant the two teenagers had the benefit of their own room whilst being close by and we had our own space, but could keep an eye on our two younger children.

Our rooms overlooked the gardens to the rear of the hotel. From there, you could hear the gentle sounds of nature, along with the occasional rally coming from the nearby tennis courts and the odd argument among the ducks!

Garden view from hotel du lac family room - A Free From Life

A walk through the gardens took you past the ponds, two swimming pools and a poolside bar/restaurant before reaching the exit gates. Upon carefully stepping out, avoiding oncoming cyclists, you were greeted by the most stunning, breath-taking view looking out across Lake Garda itself and surrounded by mountains.

Outdoor pool at the Hotel du Lac, Lake Garda - A Free From Life

Riva lies just on the edge of the Dolomite mountain region.

This area is popular with rock climbers, mountain bikers and hikers, although we barely moved a muscle during our week’s stay, so it’s not restricted to sporty or active people only!

Riva del Garda lake view - A Free From Life

From the hotel, you can take a slow twenty-five-minute walk into the centre of Riva, where you’ll find charming squares, quirky little side streets, gelaterias, restaurants and shops. The lakeside is heaving all day. There are areas cordoned off for safe bathing, manned by life guards. You can dive from lidos, take out a pedalo-come-slide contraption, canoe or paddle board or for the more adventurous, go sailing or wind surfing. The even more adventurous (or crazy) can jump into the lake from a high point (a bridge) a little further down the road towards the nearby town of Torbole.

Main square of Riva del Garda - A Free From Life

There are excellent cycle paths around the area that run alongside the lake, although they do get busy.

We booked bed and breakfast only at the hotel, as we enjoy eating out and making the most of the wide variety of places to eat. Directly across from our hotel was a mall and an excellent supermarket. There, you could find fresh baked goods, cakes deli, meat and fish, as well as a huge selection of fresh fruit and vegetables and for the gluten and dairy-free contingent among us, lots of products to keep them happily snacked-up.

The area, both within the hotel grounds, and out and about, is exceptionally clean. This, despite there being hundreds of ducks, is nothing short of remarkable!

Mountain backdrop at Riva del Garda - A Free From Life

People like to bring their dogs to the hotel too and there is even a special dog park within the hotel’s grounds. There are recycling bins everywhere. Most places we went to used paper bags and, in the restaurants, they served water in glass bottles, rather than plastic ones.

Riva is a beautiful, charming place that combined with all the fresh mountain air, made for one of the most relaxing holidays we’ve ever had. That, considering we had four children in tow, is something short of remarkable.

We had an amazing week and wouldn’t hesitate to go back.


How the vegan movement is benefiting those with dairy intolerance

I’ve been writing about our issues with gluten and dairy intolerance for years now.

How veganism is helping those with dairy intolerance

Having one child with dietary needs and two others who don’t comes with its own issues and we have always done our best to work around this. However, things have changed in a number of ways over the years I have been writing this blog and I thought it was about time I wrote an update.

My youngest is now almost eleven and within the last year, has started eating gluten occasionally and without any ill effects. When he was diagnosed with his intolerances at aged four, the Paediatrician told me there was a possiblilty the gluten intolerance would be permanent, but that depended on how much damage had been done by the undigested lactose affecting his system.

Fast forward to now and he still doesn’t eat dairy, but will have lactose free products now and then. If he has any dairy by accident, the effect isn’t immediate and doesn’t cause too much of an issue.

This means, we’re now in a much better place, particularly when we go on holiday or out to eat. We don’t have to worry about cross contamination as much as we used to, but we do have to monitor his intake, as the effect is cumulative and after a few days, will begin to show itself.

During this time, I’ve given up eating dairy, due to my IBS and so has my eldest daughter. Neither of us have gluten either, but like my son, will have it on occasion. My husband doesn’t eat dairy either, so it’s only my middle daughter who will still eat a dessert when we go out to eat. How the tables have turned!

We used to find the emphasis was on gluten free, but now it seems to be all about veganism.

If we go to a coffee shop, for example, I often used to find there would be something gluten free, but which contained dairy. There was rarely anything that catered for both. Now, it seems the tables have turned and we’re more likely to get something dairy free because it’s vegan. It’s not often that it will be gluten free though, so again, we don’t get catered for both, but at least we have more choice.

Thanks to the vegan movement, we can now get sandwiches, or savoury food that doesn’t contain dairy. A few years back, this wouldn’t have been possible. Have you noticed how most sandwiches seem to contain cheese?!

When it comes to being out and about and having to buy something to eat, I can now find more options to cater for dairy intolerance, and thanks to the way things have moved on for us, if it’s gluten free, we can make the choice whether to eat it without the worries we previously faced.

Having a dairy intolerance used to be a hindrance, but not anymore. It used to be all about gluten free, but I guess the industry responds to what it sees are the latest demands or trends. Right now, it’s veganism. We’re not vegan though. We like meat, and eggs are a staple in our diet. However, we can’t have everything can we?