My anti-diet move to healthy happy eating.

Something in the Reed household this weekend has been the source of fascination, delight, wonder and raptures. The latest Xbox download? No. A small box of raw honeycomb! My kids have marvelled at it, plunged teaspoons into it and begged to have some with Greek yogurt. It glowed like a gold ingot in the kitchen and it was revered. This is an example of what fitnat has brought into our lives; an appreciation and a delight in wholesome natural food and a restored sense of intuitive eating.

From glutinous slops of shame to the discovery of fitnaturally

The existence of fitnat was brought to my attention at, ironically, a dinner party where a glowing friend was extolling its virtues after losing a dress size whilst eating delicious food set down in a menu plan. Bish, bash, bosh! There was something very appealing in its simplicity.

Throughout a substantial chunk of my life I had been like the ball bearing in the pinball machine, hurtling around randomly from one diet regime to another. After my first term at University, where breakfast was bread pudding, where alcohol was social currency and where intense midnight chats happened over cheesecake and Baileys, my parents put me on Slimfast over the holidays. I imbibed the glutinous, sweet slop out of shame. Have you ever tried to drink a ‘milkshake’ really slowly? Impossible. All threads of intuitive happy eating were broken.

From shakes I went to Points via a brief detour to ‘Slim-a-Soups’ and the odd ‘healthy’ muffin for lunch from the café across from my London office.

Points became the bane of my life. I clutched my Points calculator like a talisman, prayed at the altar of Points scales and totalled everything up in my Points notebook. The panic of realising you only have five points left for dinner, therefore eating four pots of watery WeightWatchers fat free fromage frais hurls you to a new low. My eyes became accustomed to speed scanning for the words ‘fat free’ or ‘sugar free’, not caring to wonder what cocktail of chemicals replaced the fat and the sugar.

Points also made prizes (thank you Brucey). Oh yes! A lovely little key nestled in a box to reward you for losing 7lbs and so on.  I wanted more than a bloody key for the pain of shuffling in a queue clad in linen trousers in winter (lighter than jeans) to be weighed. I became suspicious of the amount of ‘Returners’. Did they miss the social aspect of the meetings, or what? Equally, I tired of the conspiratorial atmosphere of the meetings as people exchanged top tips on how many Polos you could inhale for few Points. There was a disturbing emphasis on pots of jelly as a snack. Jelly is an abomination, invented by unseen dark forces.

Valuable headspace was swamped with Points values. I kept acquiring and losing silver keys, and WW-induced flatulence from too many tubes of sugar-flavoured-gas-producing-sweets meant something had to change. No wonder my ears pricked at that dinner party and the talk of fitnaturally. There was nothing intuitive about the WeightWatchers style of eating whatsoever.

How fitnat has shaped me

So, here I am. Feet well and truly underneath the fitnat table.  I’ve been here for several wonderful years and I’ve watched it grow and evolve, the website getting more whizzy and the blog getting more bloggy, as I have evolved with it.  To put it into context, I am effectively a single married parent and PA to three busy offspring (14, 10 and 8). I am expected to be omniscient and omnipresent and field a squillion emails of little personal interest whilst trying to get my own projects off the ground. I need help in the food department, it just makes life that bit easier.

The food, oh God the FOOD!

I defy anyone to find anything on the eatnaturally plans that they can’t eat, whatever their food foibles. The beauty of this is options. There’s rarely a day that I cast my eye on the plan and see nothing I like. The food is amazing, and easy, and quick; it’s a revelation.

Spaghetti with chilli, prawns and garlic

Many of us who have followed other diet plans in the past may have been more used to food commandments i.e. on Monday you shall eat this and only this and you shall not be permitted to deviate in any way shape or form. Well, I’m an only one and I don’t like to be railroaded, so this brings out my inner rebel big stylee. I am more likely to make a rude gesture and mumble, ‘We’ll see about that shall we.’

The options with fitnat give me some autonomy and freedom (within reason) to choose how I want the edible elements of my day to look. It’s cunning as well, as it subtly teaches you how to choose well and the level of variety you can build into your day. Eggs for breakfast? Ooooh, I better not have the egg sarnie for lunch then, even if I may quite like that. I am still thinking, even if I have a plan in front of me. I have not become glassy eyed waiting for someone to tell me how many rice krispies to count out.

fitnat even provides special plans for families that give options for packed lunches, children’s teas, fast fixes for club nights, family dinners and ‘date-night’ specials amongst other useful headings. No more scratching your head wondering ‘What to cook them tonight!’

Planning the food

I have tried to wing it in the past, but have learned that, unless you want to be attached by an umbilical cord to your supermarket, it pays to plan and order your shop in good time. I’m prone to OSR (Online Shopping Rage); they’re always out of sourdough (rolls eyes, first world problems) and broccoli had gone completely AWOL the other month! If I’ve ordered my shop, I’m set up for the week and freefall is off the agenda.

Shopping list game changer? Frozen chopped onions as advised by The Boss (more on her later too). Not glamorous, not sexy, not trending, but given a lot of recipes require an onion this is an utter time saver and a tear saver!

Cooking and eating the gorgeous food

I am lucky in that I love cooking and fitnat has certainly ‘uplevelled’ it, to use the latest hideous buzzword, but you don’t have to mince about suggestively crushing garlic bulbs à la Nigella to get the benefit of the variety of food. Sally writes and chooses recipes that are full of taste yet quick and easy to make.

It’s been interesting for me. Sometimes, I’ll huff at the prospect of making, for example, soup from scratch for lunch and then I’ll find that it’s actually only taken 20 minutes (those frozen chopped onions again) and I’ve got lunch for the next day or something to quickly feed the hungry hoards.

Thanks to fitnat, I am now free of the tyranny of fearing anything containing a trace of double cream and life is just that little bit better for a velvety creamy mushroom sauce with a plump juicy steak (apologies, vegetarians). Talking of vegetarians though, I recently realised that I eat a lot less meat than I did and I will often choose a vegetarian option. The plans have provided me with a greater veggie range rather than defaulting to roast veg. If you asked me to choose between a straight up lasagne and the creamy courgette lasagne, the green stuff is a hands down winner.

I like the fact that, as someone who likes to try new foods, my own tastebuds are also being educated and I am still pleasantly surprised. Slivers of mango in a chicken salad would have had me dry heaving years ago, but now I see why it works. A seasonal version of porridge that actually tastes like Christmas! I’ve made lifelong friends with new ingredients I never knew existed!

Peanut butter overnight oats
fitnaturally and my family

Whilst my kids aren’t shouting, “Mummy, my halloumi slices are simply crying out for a drizzle of pomegranate molasses. Please will you pass the bottle over”, they do now have hugely extended palates and a will-try attitude to food, I see it as investing in their future food life as well as feeding the family and keeping us all well nourished.

However, as much as it can be about exposing them to new ingredients, it is also as simple as them enjoying homemade chips and eggs. I can modifiy the recipes to accommodate tastes for slightly less spicy food if need be and give them carbs for energy where I don’t need them.

Sometimes, it can just be a nice wrap for them and I’ll cook one of the more involved options for me and my husband later (or rather leave his portion in the oven for him for when he comes home). If I need to really pare things back I have the ‘even easier options’ that are there for me on my plan or use the meal essence as a guide, each lunch and dinner has a descriptor so if you don’t want to use the recipes you can freestyle within the guidelines or ‘essence’. It’s fantastically versatile.

Seeing the family interested in food, enjoying it and benefitting from it makes it all the more worthwhile.

Why I stay with fitnaturally

I get so much from fitnaturally, not just great food but so much learning and support. I’m still here because I love it, and essentially because the plan works. Food is not just fuel for me, it has an emotional import which is something that’s talked about loads at fitnaturally and is a work in progress for so many of us, the diet mentality can be tough to shake but fitnat carries on supporting until finally people are simply eating intuitively and food is a joy rather than a form of self destruction. Sally provides lifestyle coaching too, encouraging regular activity, good sleep and relaxation. The four simple and essential lifestyle strands that fitnat’s work is based on are:

  • Nourish
  • Move
  • Restore
  • Connect

Eating good food, being naturally active, sleeping and relaxing, connecting with others and community.

Part of the connect strand is the members’ support group where you get daily guidance and mentoring and which provides a wonderful community of fitnatters with whom to share your health and lifestyle changes. Elite athletes mingle in with the very many of us whose last bike ride was on a Raleigh chopper. Life’s curveballs are shared along with its triumphs and unlike so many groups it’s always funny and friendly – a safe and educational place.

By the way, I’ve had my periods of rebellion but 12 hours in I have been found staring blankly into the fridge realising how much I love the inspiration of fitnat, which brings me on to…

The boss lady and her crew

Without Sally at the helm, I think I may have been sucked into the avocado and chia seed cult without any hope of redemption or have been kidnapped by those watery fat free fromage frais.

Unlike the Marjorie Dawes clones at WW or the goji berry trustafarians, Sally genuinely cares.  She challenges where others wouldn’t dare (we’ve all experienced a virtual Sally stare right? Followed by a cheerleader dance when you make a change), she gently pokes you when you have gone into hiding and has the incredible capability of responding to every single comment (of which there are gazillions) on the support group.

Sally has been capable of reading me in a way that many of my close friends have been unable to. I think she hails from Narnia.

Is it healthy to be vegetarian
From here to blissful intuitive eating eternity

One of fitnaturally’s principles is to guide people towards intuitive eating, to listen to their hunger and fullness signals and to use all the knowledge they gained at fitnat without even thinking about it. I have learned so much along the way, and continue to do so. Intrinsically, it is a way of life and a damned good one at that.

Emma Reed
Freelance writer and fitnaturally columnist.
In a previous life Emma was a lawyer in the City but it killed her soul. In an ideal world she would have been the love child of Caitlin Moran and AA Gill. Her spiritual home is France.
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