6 Food Lessons from 6 Weeks in Dubai

I just spent six weeks in Dubai – a city I never desired to visit nor had any hope of loving. 

Yet when my husband was put on a work project here for 6 weeks, we thought it would be a unique experience to share together and I took time away from my sessions to join him.

Healthy living is a collection of small choices you make every day. Out of my normal home context, these decisions became much harder to make. And yet – sometimes letting go of good habits reminds us of why they are important to us in the first place.

So h
ere are some learnings from six weeks of eating away from home.

1. Sometimes, all you can do is your best

My eating was definitely not at the 80% is perfection I usually aim for – perhaps more 60% healthier options and 40% less healthy options. I ate a lot more dairy, white bread and sugar than I would at home and cooked a lot less than I usually do.

Rather than obsess over my less than stellar way of eating, I tried making more effort where I had more control: Home food preparation and by choosing the healthier option at restaurants – because as I have written before, there is always a healthier option. I also tried upgrading on food quality whenever possible, eating mindfully and listening to my body. These are choices that are almost always within our grasp, regardless of where or what we are eating.

Most importantly, I realized I was doing my best in the circumstances and that it was also important for me to be nourished by other aspects of life than just food – especially when being surrounded by so much newness.

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2. Sugar is a slippery slope

I have written my story of being addicted to sugar and I realized in Dubai how easy it is to go back down this path. Because our stay in Dubai had a holiday feel to it and sugar is very much linked to celebration and pleasure for me, I found myself ordering a cupcake or ice-cream as a ‘treat’ a few times. After all, it felt like a special occasion every day! And while this was in no way as extreme as when I was really addicted to sugar, it made me realize how quickly bad habits can creep up on healthy ones. It also reminded me of how addictive sugar can be and that the less I eat of it, the less I crave it.

After the second cupcake two days in a row, I realized I needed to find alternative ways of doing something nice for myself so I started becoming a little more creative and found other ways of bringing pleasure to my days – since pleasure is very much linked to sugar (sugar = pleasure for the body). These included discovering a new coffee shop, taking my laptop to the beach and working from there, getting a manicure or pedicure, going to a yoga or pilates class, going swimming, simply noticing the beauty around me, watching the sunset or journaling.

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3. Vegetables are the greatest losers

I find that the hardest food group to get enough of when eating out a lot is vegetables. My solution to this was to try and eat as many vegetables as possible at home and to have a fresh vegetable juice whenever I could find one or even a fresh coconut juice. I also ate more fruits than I normally would as it was an easy way to get more nutrients and it felt very natural in such a hot climate.

Still, I very much missed my almost-daily smoothie as an easy way of adding more vegetables, especially green ones, to my diet!

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4. Intuitive eating is more important than just eating healthy

I tried viewing my not always so healthy eating experience as an experiment and an opportunity to be in tune with my body through intuitive eating rather than as a failure in healthy eating.

When I paid attention, I noticed that there really is a difference between living food and ‘dead’ food. My body felt more alive and vibrant after eating zucchini noodles at a raw food restaurant than it did after eating regular pasta – even though the regular pasta tasted delicious. Being attentive to how my body felt after eating something as opposed to whether it simply tasted good in the moment helped me make healthier choices, even in the face of temptation.

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5. Food FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) is very real

When you are on holiday or somewhere for a limited time and there is a lot of food you want to taste, there is definite FOMO or Fear Of Missing Out.

I found FOMO to be especially strong in a buffet setting where you have unlimited choice. Buffets are quite popular in Dubai and we ended up going to three of them. I ate too much at the first one and ended up feeling bad the rest of the day, so the following times, I made it a point to really listen to my body. Here are some guidelines I found helpful:

♥ Eat only what you REALLY REALLY want – not food that might be interesting but that doesn’t light you up.

♥ Have very small portions – realize you can always have more if you want.

♥ Slow down and eat mindfully – take your time and really taste the food.

♥ Listen to your body and honour your hunger signals over finishing your plate or trying everything out.

♥ Don’t fill up on things like bread or rice (unless they really light you up).

♥ Don’t eat food you can have anytime or somewhere else – eat only what feels unique and special to this buffet.

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6. Eating alone can be enjoyable

I had never ordered a meal and eaten out alone and often find it more difficult to eat mindfully when I am alone. I decided to take this on as an experiment, asking myself: I wonder what it will be like to take myself out for lunch and really enjoy my food without distractions?

Even though it was uncomfortable in the beginning and difficult to keep my phone away, eating alone has now become a source of pleasure for me. I started to appreciate it as a way of connecting to myself and my food without distractions – and it also made me appreciate eating with others even more at other occasions.

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PS – While I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Dubai, it was also a productive time for Healthwise. I finished the first draft of an Online Mindful Eating program to launch in January and updated the Healthier Christmas Cookies eBook which will be out next week – make sure you are signed-up for my newsletter to receive it. I also started blogging for the Huffington Post – read my articles here.

 

Confessions of an Ex-Sugar Addict + Healthy Nutella Recipe

Confessions of a sugar addictI used to be a sugar addict. I needed something sweet after almost every meal and often in the middle of the afternoon.When I was eating alone in the evening, I would have what I called a dessert meal: a big bowl of ice-cream, a pack of M&M’s or Nutella straight out of the jar instead of a real meal.

M&M’s were my favourites- as shown in this photomontage taken at the advertising agency I was working at back then. We had to pose with our favorite brand and sadly, this was mine!

The worst part is, I thought this was OK because I was ‘saving’ the calories from a normal dinner and replacing them with the sweet food of choice that evening.

When I discovered I had a genetic kidney disease and decided to change my diet, I went through phases where I completely banned sugar.

And I realised by doing this how addicted I was and how addictive sugar is.

But I couldn’t keep it up for more than a few weeks.

I realized that radically banning any form of sugar from my life wasn’t the answer for me.

It was about understanding and accepting my relationship to sugar in order to change it instead of trying to fight against it.

I realized how complex our relationship to sugar is because:

♥ Sugar is addictive – 8 times more addictive than cocaine according to Dr Mark Hyman…yet the sweet taste is an integral part of our diet and trying to deny this is like banging your head against a wall.

♥ Sugar cravings are often a sign that something is out of balance with what and how we are eating the rest of the day…yet they also have nothing to do with food and have a very strong emotional component as well.

 

Healthy Nutella

Healthy Nutella

This recipe is for anyone who loves Nutella and is looking to replace the store-bought kind with a much healthier version that uses only whole foods like hazelnuts and cacao powder and sweetened with a little maple syrup – an unrefined sweetener.

Hazelnuts are supposedly the main ingredient in the real Nutella but they actually account for only about 13% of the ingredients – the number 1 ingredient being sugar, followed by palm oil. I won’t go into how unhealthy store-bought Nutella is – suffice it to say that they have been sued for falsely advertising health claims when in fact, Nutella is more like a candy bar than a nutritious spread.

Meet Healthtella!

The main ingredient in Healthtella is hazelnuts. Hazelnuts are a good source of Vitamin E as well as iron, zinc, calcium and potassium. And because they are made up of 60 – 70% oil, when you whizz them in a food processor for just a minute or two, they quickly turn into a beautiful, creamy spread. To this, we add the cacao powder, melted cacao butter or coconut oil plus a little maple syrup – and voilà – you have Healthtella!

Method:

Heat your oven to 135 degrees Celsius.

Measure 1 cup or 200g hazelnuts and place on a tray in the oven for about 20 minutes or until they are evenly roasted.
Remove from the oven and rub the hazelnuts between your hands to remove any loose skin.

Once they are completely cool, place them in food processor and grind them until they are liquid. This should take about 1-2 minutes and you may need to stop and scrape down the sides a few times.

Once your hazelnut spread is ready, add the following:

25g melted cacao butter read more about cacao butter and where to buy it here OR melted extra virgin coconut oil

2-3 tbsp maple syrup + 3-4 tbsp water

OR

4 tbsp coconut sugar

2-3 tbsp cacao

Mix everything until it is well combined and you have achieved the right taste and consistency. Store in the fridge but take it out a little before you eat it so it becomes less solid.

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I would love to hear from you – what’s your relationship to sugar like? Are you a fan of Nutella?

When We Love Food Too Much

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Many people tell me that they can’t help overeating because they love food too much.

I completely relate to food as one of my great pleasures in life.

Yet is it possible to love food too much?

I know from my own experience that this is possible.

We can love food too much when what we are eating is not just the food but the idea we build the food up to be.

Emotional eating author, Geneen Roth writes “We don’t want to EAT hot fudge sundaes as much as we want our lives to BE hot fudge sundaes.” 

When we eat those hot fudge sundaes, we are seeking excitement from it because we don’t have the courage to live in a way that brings real excitement into our lives.

Loving the idea of food happens when meal or snack times are the only excitement in our days. When we bury our emotional pain in a box of cookies. When we think we lack control around chocolate when in reality, it’s the only pleasure we allow ourselves after a tough day.

We start loving food too much when we become dependent on it as a substitute for something we are denying ourselves such as true pleasure, connection, adventure, self-care, a fulfilling career.

When we start looking at our true hunger for life, we realize that we no longer love food too much. We still love food but not in a desperate “I am expecting you to give me what I can’t give myself” sort of way.

When we honor our hunger for life, our love for food takes its rightful place and becomes just one of the many ways we nourish ourselves.

The evils of soda

I think sodas must be one of mankind’s worst inventions ever. They are chemically engineered and full of sugar and caffeine.

Diet sodas are just as bad if not worse due to the artificial sweeteners. The sweet taste actually tricks the body into thinking it is getting sugar and it reacts by secreting insulin as it would with real sugar, despite the absence of calories and real sugar. This is one of the reasons studies are starting to link consumption of diet sodas to obesity.

A trick to reducing soda consumption could be to try drinking 1 glass of water BEFORE the soda and see if this removes the craving.

And if you still need convincing, take a look at this visual – pretty scary!

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Click image to enlarge