Tag Archives: healthy eating

Food sensitivity and weight loss

Picture of Fran Benson
Fran Benson

If you’ve been following these last few blog posts then you’ll know that I started a food sensitivity test a little while ago.  If you haven’t read about that then click on this link and work your way forward).

For a while I’ve felt that not all foods agree with me but I couldn’t work out which ones.  Also, bombarded with all the different messages from the media and research it’s so confusing to know what constitutes a healthy diet: no carb, low carb, low fat, high protein, vegetarian, paleo, avoid fruit and so on?

The list is endless and there is always a group of people to advocate each position.  I aim to eat a “clean” diet which means eating food as naturally as possible and avoiding refined carbohydrates, and even though I think this is healthy there is still this question in my mind – is this right for me? And is there anything I could be doing to eat better?

So I started this test with four objectives:

  1. To identify any foods that provoke a food sensitivity reaction
  2. To become more aware of how different foods make me feel
  3. To try some new foods and recipes & finally
  4. To lose the three or four pounds I’d put on during my summer of cream teas and pasties

Although I haven’t finished the test yet  I have already achieved all of the above.  But for today I’m going to talk about the fourth point: weight loss.

Weight Loss

I didn’t have high expectations in this area.  As I’ve mentioned I had put on just a few pounds during the summer months which was a combination of taking on a lot of writing work (which means sitting on my bottom a lot and not moving very much) and eating indulgently on holiday.

But my expectations were also low because since having children my weight settled for a long time around the ten and a half stone mark.  When I worked  out at an intense level with Julia Buckley’s Fat Burn Revolution programme I took off half a stone over 12 weeks to take me to 9 stone 13 lbs and when I did it the second time I went down to 9 stone 8 lbs.

However when I stopped working out so hard my weight crept back up to settle at 9 stone 12 lbs rising again during my summer of excess.

Now it’s important to understand that Julia’s programme changed my body shape (for the better) so actually I was happy at 9 stone 12lbs and that’s where I was aiming for, particularly as I was not going to be exercising at the same rate and I’d resigned myself to believing that my body gives up every ounce of weight grudgingly when I drop below ten stone – believe me it’s hard work.

So, I have now completed four weeks of testing and I have steadily been losing 2lbs a week.  I can’t say it’s been effortless because the first week was hellish.  However since then it’s been pretty easy – although I must admit that as I’ve tested and added in each new food it’s taken me closer to how I was eating before I started – with the exception of milk and those foods that I have yet to test.

I used to find that I could lose a couple of pounds and then overnight three pounds would appear out of nowhere.  I could never understand why that would happen.  Now I’m beginning to believe that maybe it was down to a food sensitivity – in this case milk and possibly other foods that I haven’t identified yet.

I started the test at 10 stone 2lbs and at the end of week 4 had dropped to 9 stone 6lbs – a weight I haven’t seen since my early twenties.

I’m shocked at how those pounds seem to have melted away without me undertaking lots of exercise (I have been running twice a week and doing a little yoga each morning).

I’ve still got a few weeks to go before I’ve tested all of the foods on the list in the book and can’t believe that I will lose any more weight – I certainly have no desire to but equally if I do, as long as it isn’t drastic, I don’t mind.  Well who would?

I’d be really interested to hear of anyone else’s experience in food sensitivity testing.  Have you tried it? Did you find that you were sensitive to any particular foods? Did you lose weight by eliminating them?

Leave me a comment below and let me know about your experience.  Or if you’re interested to find out more ask me a question.





Where I uncover a culprit in food sensitivity testing

Glass of milk and piece of broccoli
Two food stuffs tested this week

So this was an exciting week where I started to test different food stuffs to see if I had a reaction to them.

If you remember I spent the previous week on a very limited diet of just those foods that are considered not to cause sensitivities.  This was very dull but once the testing process started, even though you only get to add in two foods a day it’s amazing how much difference it made to how I felt about what I could cook for my dinner.

I was insanely excited to add broccoli back in on that first evening and not surprisingly I showed no reaction to it at all and have been eating it ever since.

Food Sensitivity Reactions

So how do I know if I’m having a reaction to a type of food or not?  Well, one of the things that I’ve had to do each day is weigh myself morning and evening (before breakfast and dinner respectively).

This was a bit of a chore and twice I forgot to do it in the evening.  However I still did enough to see a pattern; every day I gained between 0.5 and 1.5lbs and every night I lost between 1 and 1.75 lbs.

So the key thing to look out for is an increase during the day or night outside of that normal range.  On top of that there might be some other symptoms such as fatigue or headache.

So I kept on testing.  Here’s a breakdown of a couple of days to show you how it plays out:

Red pepper with my breakfast – gained 1lb 2oz during the day

Chicken with my dinner – lost 1lb 8oz over night

Tap water (yes I spent a week drinking only bottled water!) with my breakfast – gained 1lb during the day

Peppermint tea with my dinner – lost 1lb over night

The objective at this point is to introduce/test as many foods as possible.  If you discover a food that causes a reaction then you have to wait until the reaction is passed before you can test any more foods.

Finding the guilty culprit

So midway through the week I tested milk.  Dairy was on my hit list from the beginning – more from the perspective of greek yoghurt which I consume in large quantities.  However I have never liked milk.  I was the kid in school crying when they bought the bottles of milk in to be drunk.  I can’t tolerate it in porridge or smoothies and substitute water or oat milk in its place.  If I don’t it will leave me nauseous and with stomach cramps for a day. Having said that I can manage it in smaller quantities on cereal or in Yorkshire puddings.

I faced this test with some trepidation.  I poured a small amount into a cup and, holding my breath, knocked it back.

I thought I’d avoid the feelings of nausea with such a small amount but they kicked in within 20 minutes. By lunchtime I was feeling fuzzy headed, had stomach cramps and an upset stomach and I felt overwhelmed with tiredness.  Later in the day I noticed an acute pain in my knees as I came down the stairs and my lower back went as well – for no apparent reason.

I dragged myself through the afternoon and remembering to weigh myself was shocked to see my weight had increased by 2lbs 4ozs.  I know the book had said that there would be a weight increase (due to inflammation) but I was still surprised by this.

I didn’t feel bigger or bloated or anything that would indicate that I had gained weight. Just tired, nauseous and generally out of sorts.

The other thing I noticed was that I developed cravings to randomly eat during the afternoon.  It wasn’t hunger. It was just the desire to pick at carby foods.  If I ate biscuits and cakes I would gladly have tucked into them then.

What’s potentially really interesting about that is the fact that I get that craving feeling after I eat greek yoghurt.  I’ve always put it down to the fruit I mix into the yoghurt creating a spike in my blood sugar, but perhaps it’s the dairy element that’s to blame?

I’ll find out when I test greek yoghurt next week.

It took a couple of days for it all to settle down and then I carried on testing more foods.

So it looks like I’ll be looking to eliminate milk from my diet.  John Mansfield (the author) suggests that if you have a weight gain to a certain food that you can retest it a week or so later.  However he says that if you have a weight gain and other symptoms such as headache etc then it is almost certainly a food sensitivity for you so I am confident that this is the case for me.

I’ll wrap up there. I purposefully haven’t talked about weight loss…but I’m going to cover that one next week because that’s where it gets even more interesting.

1st week of food testing completed

Well I’ve made it to the end of the “setting up” week and I’ve eliminated everything from my diet that is most likely to cause a food sensitivity issue.

So how’s it been?

Well, it’s certainly been a long week.  I started off very enthusiastically but by mid-morning on the first day I wanted a cup of tea more than Alex Salmond wants independence for Scotland.

I felt mean and nasty and by lunch time I had a headache.  This progressed rapidly into a migraine and although I served up dinner for the children I couldn’t face eating and went straight to bed.

Fortunately the migraine was gone by morning and I was able to eat.  But I sorely missed those cups of tea.  They kick start my day and propel me through the morning jobs and as much as I love water it becomes dull when it’s the only choice.

The menu for the week was limited and I mostly ate fruit (apples or pears) for breakfast with cashew or macademia nuts for some extra energy.

Lunch quickly settled into a pattern of fish (haddock, cod or plaice) or turkey steak with roast sweet potato and green vegetables.

I’ve never bought turkey steaks before and they’ve been quite a revelation: lovely drizzled in olive oil and roasted.

I really didn’t fancy salad at all so alternated between courgette and green beans.  I’m not normally a fan of courgettes but a recent trip to one of Rick Stein’s eateries in Cornwall has converted me to them sautéed in olive oil (preferably with lots of garlic but I can’t try that until I’ve tested garlic which is coming up soon).

The biggest problems I encountered during the week were:

  • boredom – there really isn’t a huge lot of choice of things to eat (particularly if like me you have selective taste-buds)
  • feeling grotty and miserable during the first three or four days
  • adjusting to a lack of appetite – I just wasn’t hungry and at times felt like I couldn’t be bothered to eat and literally had to make myself as I was worried I wasn’t eating enough otherwise.

I was tired during the first few days but towards the end of the week felt a renewed surge of energy. I was sleeping really well and was waking up around 6am raring to go.

I feel lighter, actually I am lighter by around 2-3 lbs and am looking forward to adding back all the foods that I’ve taken out.  I get to test two foods a day.  One at breakfast and one in the evening.

Tonight I’m testing broccoli.  I can’t tell you how excited I am to be eating a different vegetable.  Then tomorrow pepper and chicken.

After I try each new food I need to monitor whether I experience any reaction to it eg. headache, fatigue, weight gain.  If there is no reaction I can carry on eating it, but if there is then I am best to avoid it, or retest at a later date.

I’m excited about the week ahead and very curious to see whether any of the foodstuffs I’m most concerned about show any form of reaction.

There’s a part of me that is wondering whether I’ll go through this whole process with no form of response.  But we’ll see.

Next update will be next week.

Exploring food sensitivity

Apple and Pear
Fruit from the core list

It’s no secret that I strive to eat healthily.  Not all the time – let’s face it what would a week in Cornwall be without pasties and cream teas? Or a blow-out birthday meal? Or an eat-until-you-pop Christmas dinner?

But the rest of the time, the 80-90% part of normal life then I try to make sensible choices.  And one of the things that I’ve noticed is that certain foods affect me in different ways.

The difficulty is knowing exactly what it was that caused the problem.  And that’s what I’m trying to find out – what are the foods that fill me with energy and zest and what are the foods that make me feel lethargic, tired, dull, bloated, and low in mood?

I’ve got a good idea which the guilty culprits are but I want to find out in a scientific way rather than by guess work.  For example is bread ok or not?  And if my body doesn’t particularly like me to eat it, is it the wheat, the yeast or the sugar?

So I did some research and found a book that could help me on my quest:  The Six Secrets of Successful Weight Loss by Dr John Mansfield – a doctor who trained at Guy’s Hospital, London and has worked in the field of food sensitivity for nearly 40 years.

His book talks a lot about weight loss but it was the chapter on food sensitivity that really interested me.

The two key concepts that he explains are that food sensitivities stem from foods (generally newer ones to the human diet, eg. grain and dairy) that we tend to rely on too much in our diet and over time may create an adverse reaction within our body.  Secondly, if we become sensitive to a food we may not notice because in general, we will be eating that food regularly which creates a “masking” effect within the body.  This means that we feel better after we have eaten something we are sensitive to rather than worse (confusing huh?), unless we haven’t eaten that food for five days in which case the body will react to it.

He then outlines a plan which involves stripping the diet right back to a core list of foods that are generally accepted not to cause problems for anyone. After one week of this then you start to introduce one food at a time at breakfast and dinner and monitor the effects.

Perfect – a scientific approach to what I want to do.

Not so perfect is that the core list is only 40 foods – of which I like about 27 of them (turkey, cod, green beans, lentils, apples and pears to name a few).  So the first week is going to be tough – but I am going to do it.

After the first week I move into phase one, introducing foods that shouldn’t cause any problems but are slightly more prone to causing sensitivities than the core list so that includes broccoli, chicken, peppers and more.

I’m not expecting any problems with phase one, but phase two I think will be interesting.

The foods I’m really keen to see if I react to are:

Caffeine (coffee historically causes migraines so I tend to drink tea – strong and black)

Sugar – this has caused me so many problems in the past I would be surprised if I don’t react negatively



Dairy – particularly cream (which I love and crave) and greek yoghurt which I eat a lot of in the belief it is good for me (I hope I’m right)

Alcohol (wine)

How will I know if I’m having a negative reaction?

Well I’m going to have to get used to weighing myself on a regular basis: twice a day to see how my body reacts to the “safe” foods. In the first week I can expect to lose a little weight and although I might feel a bit rubbish for a few days, if I am sensitive to food, then I should feel amazing by the end of the week.

Then when I introduce each new food I have to see if my weight increases (probably due to an immediate inflammatory response in my body which should happen within a few hours) and/or I suddenly feel lethargic or experience some other negative response.

It’s a bit technical and I’m going to have to think hard to keep my menu as varied as I can given the constraints but I’m really keen to identify the best foods that work, or don’t work, for me.

I’ll be updating daily on twitter…you can follow me on @mumontherum and I’ll be using a hashtag of #foodsensitivity.

I’ll also be blogging again at the end of week one to let you know how I’m getting on.

The World’s Best Diet

Healthy Lunch
Healthy lunch

I settled down to watch this documentary on Channel 4 last night about which country had the best diet.

I was hoping that it was going to explore in depth some of the identified healthy diets from around the world.

Instead it was a top 50 rundown from The Marshall Islands (in the north Pacific Ocean) taking the 50th position with a pretty unhealthy diet of processed and tinned products shipped in from America.

Their diet took a turn for the worse after the American nuclear tests took place on the Bikini Atoll during the 1940s and 50s – up until that point they relied on home grown goods and they were pretty healthy.  Now they have one of the highest rates of diabetes and the most common operation in their hospitals is for amputation from diabetes.

Fast forwarding we discovered that the UK didn’t fare too well – not a big surprise really – with Scotland at 37, Northern Ireland at 36, Wales at 35 (with the most obese children in the UK) and the UK at 34.

Not surprisingly we were ahead of America (43) but very surprisingly (for me anyway) ahead of Mexico and Australia. In Mexico, 1/3 of children are obese and this is put down to imported processed goods from America along with an average consumption of 1/2 litre a day of soda and fizzy drinks.  On top of their obesity problems they also appear to have a high incidence of dental problems/decay too.

Australia was a bit of a shocker.  I really thought they lived on a healthy diet of meat. fruit and veg but it seems they too have succumbed to the fast food revolution.

Ethiopia came in at a mid point at 24.  Western food only appears in the cities and it was interesting to see that for most people the standard diet was made up of the teff seed.  A small seed which they grind to a flour to make pancakes which they serve with lentils or vegetables.

The South Koreans (13) have some of the lowest obesity rates in the world which is attributed to a diet of fresh fish, vegetables and fermented cabbage.

And the French, who love their cheeses and high fat foods but have lower rates of heart disease show that it’s not all fresh fish and veg.  But instead they like to eat three meals per day (as we did in the UK 50 years ago), some wine and no snacks between meals.

Not surprisingly the Mediterranean diet made it into the top 3 with Greece and Italy taking 3rd and 2nd place respectively. So, yay for legumes, wholegrains, fruit, vegetables, fish and lots and lots of olive oil.

I wasn’t expecting Iceland to be no. 1 but they have low rates of strokes, heart disease and diabetes and they eat lots of fish, high quality meat and dairy and lots of natural whole foods.

There wasn’t much time spent on any one diet.  But the overwhelming message was that the healthiest diets were the ones that hadn’t changed much in the last 60 years and were reliant on natural foods rather than processed ones.

It didn’t seem to matter too much if you were an Innuit living on an all fat and protein diet of meat, a member of the Masai Tribe living on milk, meat and cow’s blood or a resident of Campodimele in Italy growing your own vegetables and killing your own chicken – the secret seems to be that as we progress and develop in all areas of our life, perhaps our diets should be best left alone to how they once were.

If you didn’t catch the programme, it is well worth a view – if only to see presenter Kate Quilton eat raw octopus which wriggles around as she eats it and attaches itself to her lip…I’m really not sure I could have done that – and can be seen again tonight on 4seven at 9pm or on the internet here.

Healthy lunch

A year without alcohol

Glass of red wine
My glass of red wine on Easter Sunday

Friends who’ve known me a long time would say that I was the least likely person to stop drinking for an evening, never mind the best part of a year.

In fact I can hardly believe that 12 months have gone by since I decided to not drink alcohol.

Last Easter we spent a lovely day lunching with friends and along with that lunch there was plenty of wine.  I felt happy as we headed for home and bed.  But by 4am I was wide awake, my senses alert, heart racing and feeling like adrenaline was whizzing around my system.

Aside from the health cost of drinking a bottle (and often more than that) of wine, the immediate and noticeable cost for me was the broken sleep.  I spent Easter Monday so tired.  I wasted the whole day stuffing rounds of toast down my neck and generally not achieving anything.

So I decided then on the spur of the moment to see what it would be like to not drink for a bit.  I didn’t commit to not drinking for 12 months, but instead to take it a day at a time. And I didn’t tell anyone either.  I just quietly decided to see where it would take me.

My birthday was the following day – so that was the first test.  I faltered as I ordered an apple juice.  A glistening glass of Pinot Grigio seems a far more fitting drink to celebrate my birthday.  It’s not just the taste or the mellowing effect as the alcohol hits my senses, but the way the light cuts through the yellow hues casting golden lights on the table top, the tiny drops of condensation on the glass and the coolness and weight of that glass in my hand .

I missed that first glass of unordered wine and probably the second and third too.  But I enjoyed the feeling of clarity and wakefulness later on that evening and the next day.

It was weird going to parties and social occasions.  Without alcohol I felt like I was only partly engaged, like a spectator rather than a particapator and I felt an overwhelming need to apologise for my sobriety.

But after a while the not drinking becomes the norm and I successfully navigated my way around my parents’ golden wedding celebrations, holidays to Center Parcs and France along with other events.

I sleep better without alcohol. There’s none of that remorse either: “I said what?”, those sinking moments when you remember that tact and sense don’t usually go hand in hand with a few drinks.  And I don’t get hangovers.  Hangovers just get in the way of life.  I never want to exercise if I’ve got one so not drinking has helped my fitness increase.

And best of all I wake up raring to go, wanting to pack as much as I can into every 24 hours.

It wasn’t a year without alcohol though.  I decided that Christmas was a good time to make an exception to the rule and drank Baileys and the occasional glass of wine to help the festivities along.

But along with a few other glasses of wine for Mother’s Day and a couple of other occasions this year I’ve had, over the course of a year, less alcohol than I previously drank in a fortnight.

So it’s been a success but now I’m wondering where to go from here. I had a few drinks over this Easter – nothing wild, just a glass or two with dinner.  And that’s how I’d like to keep it.  The occasional drink.

It seems like the healthy way to go.

I’m hoping the habits I’ve developed over the last year will stay firmly etched into my way of life. I don’t day-dream about that first glass of wine in the evening as a marker between the stresses of the day and that moment of relaxation as the day comes to its close – for me a peppermint tea does that – hard to believe, but true.

I’ve learned some lessons too that will help me…

1. No one else really cares whether I drink or not.  They did at first: “What, not drinking? Are you feeling all right?” but that was only because it was a change from the norm.  Once the new norm was established it became: “I guess you don’t want a drink?” or just “Fancy a tea?”

2. Drinking or not drinking doesn’t really change an evening out.  Ok so I probably won’t be dancing on the table tops at 2am if I’ve been sipping mineral water but I will still enjoy myself.

3. If I drink on an empty stomach ie. as I’m preparing dinner it affects me very quickly and I will end up not caring how much I drink – and I will almost certainly drink too much.

4. Whereas if I only drink once I’ve eaten some dinner I will probably stop at one drink.

5. A little alcohol doesn’t seem to affect my sleep as long as I have a) drunk plenty of water during the day, b) drunk water alongside any alcohol and c) drank the alcohol early in the evening rather than shortly before bedtime.

Whereas I used to find drinking addictive I now find feeling healthy and full of vitality is equally addictive.

If a doctor told me I had to give up alcohol completely tomorrow I would. But on the other hand I think its nice to have an occasional glass once in a while.

So I will.


Super 7 fruit and veg for kids

Jacket potato with chilli and saladIt’s impossible to pick up a newspaper without the latest advice on what we should or shouldn’t be eating and sometimes the research and advice is so contradictory it can be hard to know what to eat.

However I don’t think there’s any doubt that eating fruit and vegetables are a good thing to do to be healthy.

Just this week we’ve seen that we need to be eating more than the government recommended five a day.  Some research suggests eating seven portions can reduce the chance of an early death and some experts are even suggesting up to ten portions a day.

I must admit I was pleased to see these figures – my own personal experience tells me that the more “plant-based” food I eat, the healthier I feel.

And so it’s not surprising that I encourage my children to eat healthily too.  That’s not to say that they don’t eat cake and sweets but I try to keep them to a minimum and encourage them to fill up at meal times with fruit, salad and vegetables.

Back in January, in a bid to eat more of the green (red, yellow, orange and blue) stuff and less of the refined products (for that read sugar) we launched an initiative called Super 7 days.

This was two days a week where the children had to find seven different fruit and vegetables to eat during the course of the day.

The rules were simple – and discussed and agreed with them before hand so they bought into it from the concept:

1. Juice didn’t count

2. Dried fruit could only be counted once

3. Portion size wasn’t crucial but they couldn’t for example count just one blueberry it had to be a handful

4. There were no cakes, biscuits etc on Super 7 days.

The children were quite excited about this – they love a competition and they wanted to outdo each other – and I threw in a chart and stickers for the younger two which always seems to produce results.  So we were off to a good start.

I discovered some interesting things in this experiment.

1. The children didn’t moan or whine if they forgot the no sugar rule on these days.  If they asked for a biscuit I just said “no, it’s a super 7 day today,” and they were like “ok,” rather than the usual begging, pleading, cajoling routine.

2. They were keen to get more fruit or veg so they asked me to give them more.

3. Because their focus was on achieving the goal I was able to give them meals they hadn’t tried before without the usual: “What’s this? Do I like it?” instead if they could see that it had vegetables in they were more interested about how many vegetables it would give them towards their daily count and guess what – they just ate it.

4. It made me raise my game a bit.  Some times in the morning when I’m making the lunches it’s easy to throw in a bag of dried fruit and think that’ll do.  But because I wanted them to succeed I was chopping up cucumber, carrot sticks, washing blueberries, slicing apples etc

They didn’t always hit the magic seven.  sometimes they only got to five, but sometimes they got to eight.  However we celebrated them all, because at 5, 6 and 11 years old I think that looking for ways to eat more fruit and veg is something to be celebrated.

Unfortunately Super 7 took a bit of a hit over the last half term and never got properly reinstated.  Although habits certainly got changed and we are at five portions of fruit and veg a day on a regular basis.

However reading those newspaper articles this week has reminded me that we really do need to ensure we get more fruit and vegetables into our daily diet.  So with the Easter holidays upon us, the season of chocolate, it seems like a good time to start again.

The format may get changed a little, I’ll be consulting with the children later how they’d like to see it implemented and then we’ll get on it again.