About this blog

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Wales, United Kingdom
In autumn 2010, my husband Ian and I both quit our jobs, sold our house and left the flatlands of the east for the mountains of Wales. Our goal is to create a more self-sufficient lifestyle in a place we actually like living. Whilst Ian will continue to earn some money as a freelancer, my part of the project is to reduce how much we spend by growing and making as much of what we need as possible. The purpose of this blog is to keep friends updated with how the grand project is progressing, but all are welcome here. If you're not a friend already, well perhaps you might become one.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Poor diet

You'd think, what with foraging and growing vegetables, that my diet would be pretty healthy, wouldn't you? Well, I kind of assumed that. The thing is, foraging takes a lot of time and the garden isn't at its most productive in the spring.

Over the last six months or so, I've had the nagging awareness that my health is not at its best. That period started in the middle of winter, when I usually have SAD, so I expected to get better with spring, but it didn't really happen. I'm not ill as such, but my energy and motivation are low. The clearest sign that's something's not quite right is in my skin: It's in generally poor condition and it's not healing quickly after cuts and, currently, insect bites.

The other day, I looked up what counts as a portion of vegetables and was shocked to realise that I'm not even getting the government recommended five portions of fruit and veg a day. That's really not very good. There are several reasons for this. One is that Ian does not have a good relationship with food.

Ian's a supertaster, which means that many flavours that are unremarkable or pleasant to me, are seriously unpleasant to him. I persuaded him to try a slice of cucumber the other day - surely a food so bland that it couldn't be offensive. It was a distressing experience for him... How can you eat this? In spite of his attempts to wash it away with a cup of tea, the nasty taste stayed with him for a good fifteen minutes. A lifetime of this, combined with lack of understanding from others (imagine being branded a fussy eater for rejecting something so bitter that you can't imagine anyone wanting to eat it), has left him with a very restricted diet and a reluctance to try new foods. Basically, he doesn't like vegetables.

During the hungry gap - that period in late spring when there's not much in the garden - I would usually treat myself to expensive, shop-bought vegetables, particularly asparagus. One day... one day... I shall harvest asparagus from my garden, and this will fill the gap between the end of the purple sprouting broccoli and the start of the broad beans and peas. In the meantime, asparagus costs money, and money has been in short supply lately. It is the lot of a freelancer to have periods of feast and famine, and the last six months have been a famine, almost literally. The likes of asparagus have been classified as expensive luxury and hence off the menu.

I can cook cheaply, I really can. I can even cook cheaply for someone who can't contemplate a main meal that doesn't include meat, and whose acceptable side vegetables are peas, carrots, and baked beans. What I struggle to do is cook cheap, healthy food, with those restrictions, during the hungry gap. As I discovered when I looked into the £1 a day challenge, refined carbohydrates are cheap. When I examine our recent diet, I find that it does contain a lot of wheat.

At the same time as I was having these thoughts about diet, we watched a documentary about the effects of fasting on health. I've never been a fan of dieting, but we were both very impressed by the health benefits reported, so alongside looking for alternatives to bread and pasta, we've decided to give the 5/2 diet a go. This is five days a week of eating what you like, and two days of eating no more than 600 calories. If nothing else, the simple observation that we did not evolve in an environment that offered a steady supply of food makes it plausible that the human body would be well adapted to a feast and fast pattern of eating.

For me, the main appeal is the health benefit, not weight loss. As a bonus, this saves the cost of two main meals a week. With the money we save, perhaps we can afford healthier food the rest of the time.


  1. CatMan is also in the supertaster category... further complicated by the fact that I'm in the "non-taster" category (meaning I have far fewer than the normal amount of taste buds.) I also tend to be chronically dehydrated and suffer from chronic low blood pressure so I tend to crave salt. But CatMan HATES the stuff. So finding foods that we both like is... um... a challenge!

    Anyhow, I've been trying extra hard to not fall into the refined carbs trap this year... with moderate success. I've been treating myself to frozen veggies from the grocery store, which really aren't very expensive... it just feels somehow "wrong" to me. But, it has done wonders for my health as it makes it really easy to get more veggies into my diet.

    I'll be curious to hear the results of your fasting experiment. Not sure I could do it! :-)

    1. After my first 'fast day' I'm not sure I can do it, either! I will persevere, though, as I've heard it gets easier.

      Frozen veggies feel wrong to me too, apart from peas, for which I make an exception. I don't know why. There are veg in the garden now, so hopefully I won't have to think about that question for a good few months yet.

  2. I don't eat anywhere like as much fruit and veg as I should either. And as I do most of my food shopping at Lidl I really don't have the money excuse, even though my income has dropped to below the point where the taxman bothers with me.
    Fruit isn't cheap even at Lidl, besides which I'm not a huge fan. For one thing it makes me hungry (like I need an appetite stimulant!!), for another most fruit is sold very under-ripe, so you're not buying it for consumption this week but next, and as often as not I either don't fancy it next week or I don't notice it's ripened until it's start to go mouldy. All in all fruit is something I tend to regard as a luxury item more than a foodstuff. Which is dreadful, because it's pretty much the best food for humans.
    Vegetables are less problematic, but not all that attractive on average. They aren't filling apart from the starchy veggies, and feeling well full at the end of a meal is my number one priority. So I tend to favour meals such as pasta with tomato and soya mince sauce, at the end of which you really know you've had your dinner! Actually I realise that's a lie - mainly what I eat these days is bread, often toasted, usually with peanut butter.
    I've been thinking for months, years, that I really ought to do something about my diet, and I do make the odd effort in that direction. I bought a pointy cabbage last weekend for example, but at no point in the intervening week did I look in the fridge and think, yum, I'll have some of that cabbage with my dinner tonight, so it's still there, minus by now most of the nutrients that are the only reason to eat it.
    I'm not being smug, and I fully expect my appalling diet to catch up with me at some point, but at the moment I'm ok. I feel well and nothing's dropped off. I'm overweight, but then I have been since I was about 30 and gave up smoking for the first time. I walk regularly now with my dogs, but until I got them a year ago I took pretty much no exercise, either. I was a healthcare worker's nightmare.
    On the plus side, while I don't eat the things I should, I don't eat a lot of the things that I shouldn't, either. No meat, eggs, dairy or fish, no lard or butter or dripping. I've not eaten meat for over 30 years now, and the rest has been gone from my life for 15 years. Without those harmful items presumably I don't need to eat as many of the things that help to repair the damage they do. Otherwise I have no explanation for my continuing good health when I often barely manage 5 a week.
    Good luck with the new regime. I used to follow a diet that rotated your permitted calories in an effort to fool your metabolism into not thinking you were starving, and have done quite a few 600 calorie days. I didn't find them fun as I have a pathological horror of hunger. I hope you get what you want from this plan, and that you start to feel better soon.

    1. Well, I'm not entirely convinced by your nutritional theories, but one thing I have learnt is that there's a huge amount of variation in human metabolism. For example, some people get ill on a meat-free diet, whereas others seem to thrive on nothing but salad. If you can keep healthy on bread and peanut butter, good for you!

  3. I know what you mean - prime example this morning, we were rushing around getting ready for work and OH says to me 'what shall I pack for lunch'? In theory, I have abundant supplies of lettuce in the garden which could have gone in a salad, but because I had nanoseconds to get dressed, the dog to the dogsitter and out the door, I didn't have time to pick the damn lettuce and we have 18p instant noodles instead. Madness!!

    I think at times like these (i.e. pre-summer crops) we have to accept frozen veg without shame!

    1. Getting veg from the garden - and even more so from the wild - does take a lot more time and planning than something from the cupboard or fridge. I'm glad I don't (often) have to rush about getting somewhere on time.


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