Saturday, 16 June 2012

Late Friday quickie and a rant

I know it's not Friday anymore, but yesterday evening when I was writing this up, I managed to fall asleep on my sofa. At 9.30pm on a Friday night. Yes, my life is thoroughly exciting. 

So, this lentil stew is the ultimate Friday comfort food, the one that started my obsession of cooking something quick and easy (and sometimes even healthy) on a Friday night. About a year ago, I realised I need to lose some weight. Well, I had actually realised it long ago (like 10 years ago or so...) but last September I finally reached the point where I decided I have to do something about this disaster *now*. And it wasn't enough to lose *some* weight, but actually quite a lot. By coincidence I happened to stumble upon an advert for bootcamp on the for-sale email list at work. I emailed the personal trainer, who offered me a free trial month of bootcamp. Which is probably the only reason I went, I certainly did not believe the promises they made on the website. "Lose a stone the first month or your money back". To me that screams hoax from the start. However, I thought I might as well do the free month, and then figure out what to do next. 

Well, here I am, ten months later, and over five stone lighter. Actually, I got there in about six months, so I did lose about a stone a month. I still can't believe that has actually happened. And yes, it has involved blood, sweat and tears. Well at least sweat and tears, can't remember any blood along the way. The bootcamp involved a total diet change for me, and workouts three mornings a week (at 6.30 am!!). Well, getting up was really hard. Until the weight just started falling off in big chunks. After the first two weeks I had already lost several pounds. That is all the motivation you need. 

So that was a bit of a detour, but I did have a point. In addition to the early morning workout sessions, the bootcamp included a diet plan. I always thought I was pretty tuned in to healthy food. I knew sugar was bad, and fats were bad. Back home the nutritional guidelines are presented as a "plate model" where you will half your plate with veggies and greens, a quarter with meat, fish or some other protein and a quarter with potato, rice, pasta or some other carb. In addition you should eat low fat dairy products and bread, preferably rye bread with "healthy" fats such as margarine (yuck). I had been trying to eat like that, but I just couldn't seem to shift any weight. Sometimes I would lose weight if I just dropped calories to absolute minimum, but it would all come back, and I would feel hungry and horrible. And of course I'm not denying that I love my sugar and chocolate, I'm a carboholic and baby I was born that way, so stuffing my face with doughnuts did play a role at times. An important thing the bootcamp made me accept (not realise, as I have realised it years ago, but to accept that it's the only way forward) was that I'm not on a diet. This is not something that will end. This is a total, and (hopefully) long lasting change.

The bootcamp nutrition plan pretty much was based on two ideas, detox and the idea that "fats don't make you fat, sugar makes you fat". And it's not one of those things where you can just replace carbs with lard, bacon, butter, cheese and cream. It's basically built around the idea that you should prepare your food from fresh, high quality ingredients which don't include things that are bad for your body, such as sugars, alcohol, caffeine and additives. You can have pretty much unlimited greens and veggies and reasonable amounts of lean protein. No refined carbs, no dairy (apart from full fat yoghurt), no starch carbs except post workout (in the form of quinoa or sweet potato). Obviously no sugar or alcohol. And nothing that comes in a jar or tin which contain ingredients you cannot pronounce, or know what they are. Basically just plain good home-cooked food, made from fresh (and preferably organic) ingredients, with all the bad stuff left out. I was a bit worried about some aspects of the nutrition plan, such as the high amount of eggs and the types of fat that were used. We have all learned eggs are bad and increase your cholesterol levels, and coconut oil is the most horrible fat possible. Well, after six months on the bootcamp nutrition plan, I did a health check which included things like blood cholesterol levels, blood glucose levels, enzyme tests for liver function etc. And while I've never had problems with high cholesterol, my LDL (the "bad cholesterol") was even lower than it used to be, my HDL (the "good cholesterol") was also in a very good range, as were all the rest of the tests. So while I will probably redo the blood tests in another six months or so just to keep an eye on the situation, I think I'm genuinely healthier than I have ever been. And I certainly wasn't able to run 20k ten years ago! (Not that running distance necessarily is the best measure for fitness, and in the end 20k is not that much, but for me it's better than I've ever done!). 

While I do believe people have different metabolisms and what works for someone doesn't work for someone else, this was exactly what my body needed. Everyone needs to find the nutrition plan that works for them. But for me, the excess weight just fell off, and I have felt amazing ever since. I do have my bad days, weeks, and lately even two bad months where I have been stuffing myself with sugar, and I can feel it. I got my first flu in ages after being sloppy with my diet, and my workout performance has gone downhill. So it was time to get myself back into gear, and that is what this soup represents. I'm back on the strict bootcamp nutrition plan, and this is my favourite recipe from the bootcamp recipe book. I used to cook it almost every Friday last winter, my ritual after coming home from my weekly grocery shopping trip. I would let the stew cook while I put away my groceries, and then snuggle down on the sofa with my stew and enjoy the feeling of hot comfort food and the joy of not having to go to work for two days. 

I know I won't keep to the super-strict diet for the rest of my life. Once I get my few extra pounds off, I will add a bit of luxury here and there, a weekend brekkie of decadence, some cheese once or twice a week, and some rye bread. And chocolate, of course (although hopefully in smaller servings than before). I am being positive about being able to eat pretty much according the the nutrition plan for the rest of my life, I have once again become passionate about cooking, and love the food I'm eating. Of course there will be some cheats thrown in, but if you are good 90% of the time, being a bit bad every once in a while won't destroy the balance.

Well, I've kept rambling on for way too long, and will now finally get to the good part. Sorry about the soapbox type of attitude, it's just I'm really passionate about this, as I never ever in my whole life thought I would be able to lose that extra weight. I thought I would be carrying around my extra stones of lard for the rest of my life. So all the rambling is just about being relieved that wasn't true, and there are things out there that actually work. Of course they need determination, willpower, sweat and tears. Oh, and about the recipe. I know this looks very simple and unassuming, but be assured, it's yummy. 

Curried lentil stew (serves 4):
1 onion
a few cm of fresh ginger root (or 1 tbsp ground ginger if you don't have any fresh around)
1 garlic clove
15g (about one tablespoon) virgin coconut oil (or your favourite oil)
1-2tbsp of your favourite curry powder (I like to use a mix of Tandoori and mild curry)
2 cups (5dl) lentils (I like to use red ones as they cook the quickest)
4 cups (1l) veggie stock
5 tomatoes (or a tin of chopped tomatoes if you don't happen to have fresh ones)
100g yoghurt (I use full fat organic Greek yoghurt)

The howto:
Chop the onion, ginger and garlic, and fry in the oil until onion turns translucent. Add the curry powder and let cook for a few more minutes. Add stock and lentils, and cook until lentils are done, about 25 minutes for red ones, longer for green lentils. Add chopped tomatoes, yoghurt and chopped coriander and serve.

One serving contains 300kcal (11g fat, 50g cabs of which 4.5g sugars, 17g protein).

The verdict:
Like I said, I cooked this almost weekly last winter, and haven't since, until yesterday. And I was again reminded why this is my favourite recipe from the bootcamp cookbook. I love lentils in any form, and the combination of lentils and curry just works. I guess you could use a stronger curry mix to spice it up if you like, but I think you need to have some of the mild curry in there to get the right flavour. The yoghurt adds a lovely creaminess, while the tomatoes and coriander add freshness. I admit, this isn't the prettiest food, so probably not something to serve if you have guests, but if you need something healthy and soothing for a lunch or dinner, this is definitely your choice. Also, it is brilliant because all the ingredients are things I always have in stock at home, so this is perfect to cook if it's towards the end of the week, and you don't have time to go grocery shopping. In that case, I often replace the fresh tomatoes with tinned ones. The soup also freezes well, so if you are lucky enough to have a big freezer, just double up the recipe and freeze in individual servings. If you have a shortage of containers for freezing, a brilliant tip I saw somewhere is to line a container with a freezer bag, pour in the stew, let freeze in the container so it keeps a nice square shape, and after overnight freezing, just remove the container and use for something else. This way you get nice, stackable, single servings of food without having to own loads of freezing containers.

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