So I’m 1 week, 4 days, 5 hours and 3 mins in to the Dukan diet, not that I’m counting…its easy not having carbs and fat, I don’t miss fruit one bit. Not my precious pink lady apples and the amazing papaya that I buy from my man down on Portobello...sigh. Instead I’m filling up on the good stuff like artificial sweeteners, colours, preservatives and whatever else is in the foods on the ‘allowed list’. I didn’t think I’d go down that route as my diet is pretty clean of all that stuff but when it’s your only alternative to proteins, its easy to slip into. I find myself having things like diet cokes, fat free processed cheese, sugar-free jelly and fat free fruit yoghurts (that have never seen an actual piece of fruit). Caught myself having 3 of the above all at once yesterday and thinking who are you!? Worryingly these things are all quite addictive (chemical sweeteners!) and I’m worried I’m developing a diet coke habit now.  Oh its quite distressing sometimes down here on Dukan row – I want my vital energy back and my mouth to stop feeling so dry! I’ve been having moody tendencies too – hell hath no fury like a woman without carbs and fats! Someone got it in Sainsbury’s the other day after claiming I pushed in the queue (I didn’t). The only saving grace is that the lack of energy is disabling me from lashing out every time I feel the heat rising! I feel like one of those angry blokes you see down the gym with huge biceps and suspicious looking needle marks only without the Lycra and mis-placed confidence…see I’m even writing angrily! Flicking through Natural Health today, whilst waiting for my full body massage, facial and pedi (I really needed it) I came across an article about how carbs make us happy and almost launched it at the crispy and fresh looking bowl of apples on the reception counter. Bring on stage three Dr Dukan. I think I’m over the cruise, unless its the kind that comes with a balcony, butler and dinner at the captain’s table.

Poor Mackerel. He looks like the humble relative on the fish counter family gathering next to its other oily relatives; the wildly popular, pretty cousin salmon and the high flying and smug brother tuna steak.  Yes, this oily fish has been long underappreciated in the oily fish family.  He's from good stock and full of the good stuff like the rest of the gang including omega 3, iodine, selenium, potassium, zinc, phosphorus and magnesium as well as B12 and lots of Vitamin D - he just doesn't shout about it as much as the rest.  He's a good fish you know, never been in trouble, not one to party which is why he is low in environmental contaminants like dioxins, PCB's and Mercury. He was never in it for the money; always more concerned with saving the planet, making him one of the most environmentally friendly fish who is safe to eat more than once a week and very agreeable on the purse. 

Try my lovely Japanese inspired Mackerel salad. Perfect for a quick lunch or light supper and super healthy!

1 de-boned smoked mackerel fillet
1 grated carrot
1 chopped stick of celery
4 sliced radish
2 sliced spring onions
handful of bean sprouts

The salad dressing (makes 20 servings)
3 cloves garlic, minced
10 g minced fresh ginger root
180 ml olive oil
80 ml rice vinegar
120 ml soy sauce
45 ml honey
60 ml water

Arrange fish and salad in a bowl. Either blend or shake all salad dressing ingredients together until properly blended and serve. Simple!

Dukan's Pancakes
What a difference a day makes...24 little hours!  I know yesterday I was moaning on about sweeteners and processed foods which I've been eating more of whilst test driving the Dukan Diet but this morning I made these bad boys to your left and all is right in the world! Not only that, but today I started phase two which means I can add non-starchy vegetables back in on alternative days.  So I just had a rocket and balsamic salad with salmon and mackerel. I'm happy and I have my energy back. We're not meant to be without the green stuff! Oh its an emotional roller-coaster! 

Even if you're not on the Dukan diet, these pancakes are a good breakfast option. High protein, low carb, low fat, very quick and easy to make and really filling! See recipe below:

Recipe for Dukan Pancakes.(this makes the quantity you see above - enough for 1 person)
1.5 tablespoons of oat bran
1 whole egg and 1 egg white only
1 tablespoon of fat free natural yoghurt/fromage frais or quark
1 teaspoon of Xylitol or Stevia (both natural sweeteners)

Mix all ingredients together and then spoon small circles  of the batter on to a non-stick frying pan to create small (American style) pancakes (I don't use any oil or butter and they don't stick). If you don't have a good non-stick pan then add a couple of drops of oil and rub around the pan with kitchen paper or use an oil spray. Cook for around 2 minutes, flip 'em and do 2 minutes on the other side until cooked through. I like to top mine with natural yoghurt or cottage cheese with a sprinkle of cinnamon.

Pure torture!
Today is the last day on the attack phase and oh I am pleased as I am missing my veggies! Up until today I was fine but 4 days in and I need something green! I caught myself staring longingly today, not at the bread and wine which is what you'd expect, but at the rocket salad and watercress in Sainsbury's. Those crunchy green leaves were talking dirty to me and its only been 4 days! I didn't even dare to look in the direction of the Pink Ladies!  I'm surprised that my cravings are only for fruits and vegetables considering that I love chocolate, wine and all starchy carbs.  I do question how healthy this first phase is especially as my energy levels have plummeted and I feel quite lazy which is worrying! Not only am I missing out on my big daily hit of vitamins, minerals and phyto-nutrients from fruits and vegetables but my diet is no where near as clean as it usually is. I find myself buying items on the allowed list, just because they are allowed and I'm game for anything that isn't animal based (I don't usually eat much meat and what I do eat is only ever 2 legs, never 4!). In my basket today I find myself buying sugar free jelly, Diet Pepsi, Muller Lights, Babybell light and laughing cow light! Might get a call from Nectar later on asking if my card has been stolen as these items all fit into my category of fake foods. They're all over-processed, stripped of natural fats and full of chemical sweeteners but yet here I am looking forward to my sugar free jelly and worrying that I'm developing a diet Pepsi habit. Its a far cry from my usual organic, wholefoods diet and I question whether I should be doing it but in the spirit of scientific experimentation I soldier on! Bring on tomorrow for the rocket salad...I'm easily pleased!

It’s the diet that everyone’s been talking about since Kate Middleton swooned down the aisle looking lovely and svelte after her Dukan experience and Giselle and JLo admitted to be fans. I had to see what all the fuss was about and it seemed like the perfect antidote to a carby weekend of baby showers and meals out. I’m three days in now and the going is good.  This diet has actually been around for 10 years and 1.5 million French women swear by it (move over Mireille Guiliano!...I don’t mean that, I still love you!) because of its long lasting slimming results. Don’t be fooled by the critics – Atkins it is not. Although its high protein and low carb, this diet does not allow fats and won't leave you stranded after the initial weight loss phase so you can put it all back on again when your body is hell bent on recouping some of its precious stores that you have stripped it of. Dr Dukan holds the promise of the elixir of weight loss - permanent slimness and the freedom to eat what you want! Hooray!

The Diet is split into 4 stages:

1.     Attack phase. This can last anywhere between 1 and 10 days depending on how much weight you have to lose. During this time you can only eat protein – meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, eggs and low fat dairy. Oh and the secret ingredient which will keep you regular and flush out fat molecules (who needs Alli!) which is oat bran. Only 1.5 tablespoons a day of the magic stuff though. During this phase t you are expected to flush out a lot of water and dull the appetite.  Due to the amount of protein consumed you have to drink at least 1.5 liters of water.

2.     Cruise phase. Alternating days of protein only followed by protein and non-starchy veggies. You do this until you reach your target weight.

3.     Consolidation. Re-introduce fruit, bread, cheese and starches plus two celebration meals per week. The celebration meals can be whatever you like and  include all courses, fats and even alcohol. This phase lasts 5 days for every pound you’ve lost during the first two stages and allows your body to reset to your new weight with boundaries but without the strictness of the attack and cruise phases.

4.     Protein Thursdays. This is the clincher for me. Dr Dukan insists that you can maintain your ideal weight for the rest of your life and eat what you want. Just one rule – Thursdays are protein only days. No fats or carbs (including veggies) allowed.

So I’m currently in attack mode. I am on day three and I’ve lost about 2lbs so far. More importantly for me - I’ve not lost any muscle, I feel leaner and there is a definite improvement in the texture and firmness of my skin. Also I feel that this is a good way to break out of any bad food habits for good as it is quite restrictive in the beginning. A typical day looks like this:

Breakfast: Oat bran pancakes (made with 1.5 tbsp oat bran, 1 egg and natural yoghurt) with natural low fat yoghurt
Lunch: Smoked salmon and scrambled eggs (one yolk and two egg whites)
Dinner: Tandoori chicken
My snacks have included: Natural yoghurt, lime and coriander prawns, cold cuts of cooked lean meats, cottage cheese, boiled egg.

So far so good. I’ll keep you posted on my progress. In the meantime if you have any thoughts or questions please post them here.

I made some cup cakes for a baby shower that I went to at the weekend. Knowing how much I love a cup cake, I try to minimize damage by bringing in healthier ingredients to the mix.  The high sugar content in cake causes spikes in blood glucose levels, this is what makes your body produce more of the fat storing hormone insulin. So I replace sugar with Xylitol. (You’ve heard me talk about Xylitol chocolate before in a previous post.) Xylitol is completely natural (I hate chemical sweetners), has a GI of 7 (sugar is 68!) and it is not a carbohydrate so your body doesn’t even need insulin to metabolise it. Xylitol can even be used by diabetics, its an amazing product.  Also into the cake mix went some pistachio nut butter to increase the healthy fats and bring down the GL even further and a big spoon of protein powder. Finally I made the cakes in petit four cases for a smaller portion treat. 

This makes a ton of mini cup cakes (more than I show on the picture)
45g pistachio nut butter (make your own by grinding/blending 45g of pistachio nuts)
1 heaped tbsp of protein powder
115g of xylitol
100g self raising flour (use wholemeal if you’re going the whole hog…but this might raise a few eyebrows from the ‘hate all healthier versions’ patrol.
2 eggs
115g butter
2 tbsp milk
petit four cases

2 heaped tbsp Icing sugar
1 egg white
A squeeze of lemon juice
 A drop of food colouring (colour of your choice)

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
Beat the butter and Xylitol together until pale and fluffy, beat in the eggs, one at a time, stir in the nuts and then sift in the flour and fold in. Stir in the milk and spoon into the cases.
Bake for about 15-16 minutes until risen and golden
Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Put the egg white in a bowl and sift in the icing sugar gradually. Beating until thick and glossy, then stir in the lemon juice. Add a couple of drops of food colouring and spoon a little on top of each cake. Add a jelly bean (or any other decoration) and leave to set.

This was the other cake I made - out of nappies!
How many exercise opportunities pass you by every day?  Don’t underestimate what a few minutes, several times throughout the day can do for you.  Try incorporating a few of these into your day. 

Waiting for the bathroom to become free
Good time to do some morning stretches. Maybe even a couple of sun salutations to start your day well.

Waiting for the kettle to boil
15-20 push ups off the kitchen counter. If you have 3 cups of tea throughout the day then that’s 3 sets of 15-20 push-ups without even getting into your gym gear. Keep track and challenge your last set, aim to beat your last set by a couple of reps every time you have a cuppa!

Waiting for the bus or tube
Abdominal clench. Stand up tall and take a breath in, as you exhale out through your nose pull your tummy muscles up and in as tight as you can. It should feel like you're pulling a corset tight around your ribs. Hold for 5 seconds, release and repeat. Just as good as a crunch!

Driving to work/on the bus or tube/sat in a boring meeting
Ladies only- Time to tone your pelvic floor! A much under-rated muscle. Tightening your pelvic floor will improve your sex life, keep you from wetting yourself in later life (or when something is really funny!) and speed up recovery after child birth. Best part is no-one around you will suspect a thing. For instruction on how to exercise your pelvic floor click here
Ladies and Gentlemen – butt clench. Squeeze, release, squeeze, release…you’ve got it.   

Sat behind your desk
Leg extensions.  Sit up nice and tall in your chair. Knees bent and feet on the floor. Extent one leg out straight, release and bend. Do 15-20 on each leg.

Spending a penny 
Ladies - squat rather than sit for strong toned thighs. If you’re properly hydrated then you’re going to be doing this every 2 hours, that is a lot of squatting throughout the day!

Bath before bed
Whilst running a bath, take the opportunity to do 20 alternate lunges followed by a 30-60 second plank. Earn that bath relaxation time!

If you have any other good ones, please do share in the comments section!

Music is the best training partner you can have – the right tracks can motivate, stimulate and energise. Harness the power of an effective track list and you will push yourself harder and work out more intensely for the full session. Whether it’s early in the morning and your feeling groggy or after work and you feel your energy has been zapped…the right music works better than any high-energy drink to re-charge you and contains absolutely no calories! Supercharge your workouts with your own personal track list. Here are some tracks that work for me. Many a time have I been caught out in the zone singing Lady GaGa out loud on the treadmill, no shame in that…I don’t think? Anyway, Lady GaGa or The Chemical Brothers – whatever works to get your blood pumping and motivation peaking. Just no singing on the treadmill please.

Lady GaGa – Edge of Glory
Nicole Scherzinger – Poison,
Rihanna- S&M
Kelis – Blindfold me
Kelly Rowland – Work
Edward Maya and Vika Jigulina- Stereo Love
Jennifer Lopez – On the floor
The Pretty Wreckless – Make me wanna die
Eminem – Lose Yourself
Gwen Stefani – Hollabackgirl
Ciara – 1-2 Step
Red Hot Chilli Peppers – Dani California
DEV – Base Down Low
Inna – Hot
Tiesto vs. Diplo (feat Busta Ryhmes) - C’mon Catch em by Surprise
Jeremih and 50 Cent – Put it down on me
Agnes – Release Me
David Guetta – Where them girls at
Maria Carey - Obsessed

Please share your own favourite training tracks in the comments section.

Ghrelin is known as the hunger hormone. When we’re out of balance, this little tinker can trick us in to thinking we’re starving hungry…even after a meal. Mean. Remember in one of my last posts I talked about Leptin? Well as leptin switches off the appetite simulators, ghrelin turns them on and slows down the metabolism at the same time. Little sod. Well to be fair – when everything is tip top and in balance ghrelin just wants to make sure that we are feeding ourselves at regular intervals throughout the day and not going to starve. Fair enough. It’s only when things get out of whack that it starts behaving badly. You’ve probably heard the advice to eat slowly as it takes your body 20 minutes to recognise fullness…its ghrelin they’re talking about and it will stay raised until your body receives sufficient nutrition.  Once it has it takes a little while for the signals to be processed, so it’s advise definitely worth listening to. If you continue to eat whilst full and ignore these messages then the hormone response system becomes redundant and after a while we’re no longer sensitive enough to receive its signals... meaning that the satiety hormone leptin won’t step in to save us from the ‘get in my belly’ ghrelin.

There is also a theory that you won’t have the sensation of fullness until you receive the nutrition your body needs, which is why it’s important to fill up on nutritious proteins, fats and plant based foods which haven’t been overly processed. These foods your body recognises and knows what to do with. It’s the refined, sugary, nutrient baron junk that will confuse the system. You body’s response is to keep asking for more until the right levels of nutrition have been met. However, we are all different and knowing how to breakdown your macronutrients in order to get the right balance is often confusing. Doing a metabolic typing questionnaire is useful in figuring out what food your body needs in order to be satisfied and I’ll come back to this soon in another post but for now its a good exercise to start noticing how you feel after eating a meal and noting it down. You'll soon start to see what foods your body likes and makes you feel satisfied and what makes you feel tired and craving more.

Yo yo dieting and calorie restriction will also cause your body to produce more of this appetite stimulating hormone in the long term as well as when you’re on the diet, which by all accounts can be turned on by the mere thought of eating and will actually make food look and taste better! Its true that when you’re really hungry, everything tastes good. How very conniving, ghrelin!  Also studies have shown that ghrelin levels increase when we're stressed - which will explain the need for comfort eating in stressful times.

The take home message is eat nutritious and balanced food, don't skip meals and listen to your body's signals of fullness. If you can also get 8 hours sleep a night, drink plenty of good quality water and dedicate some time to unwinding every day by doing something that you find relaxing that doesn't involve food or drink then you'll keep your ghrelin levels in check and hunger in its rightful place.

We’ve known about the medicinal properties of garlic since it was mentioned in the Egyptian Ebers Papyrus  in 1550BC ( a while back) but new research is now telling us that garlic also prevents weight gain! One particular test is really interesting. Some unfortunate rats were fed a high fructose diet in order to be made fat. These rats were then split into two groups; both groups continued on the high fructose diet but one was also given allicin, which is the active ingredient in garlic. Amazingly the garlic rats lowered their blood pressure, insulin and triglycerides and stopped gaining weight while the other group continued to get fatter! Incredible no? The key compound is the allicin. This is not actually in the garlic but is released as a result of an amino acid and enzyme reaction when the garlic clove is crushed or chopped (the finer the better). So swallowing the garlic clove whole won’t work (some people actually do that!). Over-cooking will diminish its effectiveness and microwaving will destroy it completely. The experts say that for maximal exposure to the allicin add your crushed, raw garlic to cooked food before serving. Go get garlicky…if we all do it surely we won’t smell a thing and we'll be hot to trot.

As always your questions and comments are welcome.