Sunday, 29 September 2013

Experimenting with Quitting Sugar: Week 4

Here we are, only a couple more weeks to go in the sugar quitting experiment. Which also means it is only a couple of weeks until my holiday to Tunisia!

So how was week 4?

This week has been horrible. Mainly because I've been ill. That cold I had last week went to my chest and when colds go to my chest I know I'm in for a rough ride. I blame having big lungs, it makes it harder to cough up the gunk. Even today I'm still coughing and spluttering in the mornings when I wake up.

The not eating sugar thing has been fine. I have eaten some fruit and some sugary desserts, but not huge ones and it hasn't had me craving for more. Thursday night I had Powidltascherl at Schweizerhaus - a bit like a slightly thicker ravioli with a plum jam filling. Super yummy and not super sweet as powidl are kind of sour plums. Then Friday night out to dinner we couldn't decide on which dessert to have each so the restaurant did us a taster plate and I had a little of everything - chocolate torte, coffee panna cotta, nut mousse, canoli... lovely and not a huge amount. Yesterday I succumbed to a slice of homemade apple strudel with vanilla sauce. If you've ever been to Austria and eaten good apple strudel with vanilla sauce you will know why it just has to be done once in a while!

A friend has invited me to contribute to a Pinterest board for sugar and dairy free food ideas, which is great to get some new ones, and help her out a little! 

We even went out for cocktails on Friday night and I managed to find at least 2 cocktails on the menu that were relatively sugar free (Benzin and Danish Dynamite if you're interested).

So, I've started eating a little sugar now and then, but not a lot. I'm not properly counting but I would guess I'm keeping to around 10-15g as a maximum.

On the reducing dairy front I've been doing ok - I've cut out my morning yoghurt and replaced it with eggs and ham for breakfast, and stuck to full fat milk. I'm still having the odd bit of cheese but not going over board (I'm still not convinced that I have a major problem with dairy based on the pattern of my acne)

Have you seen any benefits this week?

Skin: Much like last week my skin has been a bit crap but it has slowly been getting better. I blame the cold virus that has been hanging round my system distracting my immune system from doing its job properly but as the week has gone on and my cold has almost gone, my skin has got better. Evidently my immune system cannot multi task!

Weight: I stepped on the scales earlier this week and was quite pleased to find I was down a whole KG since I started this! It isn't as much as I'd hoped, but I'm definitely down cms and this week I've been wearing my black jeans which have been a little tight for a loooooong time. So that is good!

Looking forward to next week.... 

I'm away this week on business so food is slightly out of my control, but hopefully it will be ok. I'll take my own lunch and snacks for the train, and I have a plan for dinner on Tuesday when I do have a bit more of a choice on dinner. We're out on Saturday night but that shouldn't be a problem as we're going to a beer place. I could murder some grilled cheese though!

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

My heart swells and my feet start to twitch

Music does that to me sometimes. That's how I know a good song from an ok one. For me anyway, these things are so subjective!

Certain bands manage time and time again to make music that makes my heart swell and my feet twitch. Mostly its rock and metal stuff, but not always. This is the kind of music that when I spend all day listening to it I leave the office with a smile on my face and a spring in my step. And who doesn't love that feeling?

I made a playlist on Youtube, so you can share my joy! 


Stone Sour
Lindsey Stomp
Within Temptation
Ill Nino
Macklemore x Ryan Lewis
Dizzee Rascal
and more.....

Experimenting with Reducing Dairy Consumption

 My pursuit of clear, calm skin feels never ending. But it is becoming more and more clear that my persistent cystic acne is very much related to my diet, and the impact that it has on my endocrine system.

This week, in addition to keeping up the no sugar, I am going to cap my dairy intake and make what I do eat full fat, to what impact these changes have on my skin.

Whether milk impacts on acne is still considered contentious, but in the same way as in the sugar debate, the milk lobby is pretty strong.  Several studies published over the last 5 years have shown a correlation between higher levels of milk consumption and high levels of acne, and there is some evidence to suggest an even greater correlation between skim milk and acne.

 If you want to read some of the studies, check here, here, here, and here (abstracts and executive summaries).

Recent reviews of all the evidence from the last 50 years of diet/acne studies have also shown a tangible link between the consumption of dairy and suffering from acne, mainly due to the growth hormones that are naturally present in milk, which are called Insulin-like Growth Factor, which stimulates insulin production and helps baby cows grow. According one of the studies listed above, IGF-1 in cows can bind to the same protein chain in humans, so its effects on us become more potent.

The other thing that really interested me is the whole milk vs skim milk thing. There is some suggestion that skim milk is worse for acne prone skin as the process of removing the fat also removes some of the hormones that help balance the effect. The idea is that if you must drink milk, at least make it whole milk (this could be said to be true about all foods, the closer we get to unprocessed food the better).

I'm not going to pretend to understand all the science. I don't. I understand enough to be able to make an informed decision, and do what is right for me.

Right now that means limiting my dairy intake as far as possible. For me, that means I am not quitting altogether. Like with the sugar, I am not going to sweat it if I am out one day and really want a cake with lashings of cream, or a strudel with custard, I am not going to say no. Lets face it, I do not have a life or death thing with milk, just a skin thing. So I'm thinking just a splash of full fat milk in my 3-4 cups of tea a day (probably works out to about 40ml milk per day) and see how it goes. This is only because I don't think there is a good substitute for milk in tea, otherwise I'd probably avoid it altogether. I'm not that worried about my skin enough to give up my morning tea (or the afternoon tea, or the pre bed tea...), and I'm British, so tea without milk just isn't going to cut it! Nor will an alternative tea. Trust me, I'm a much better human being when I have had a cup of strong black tea with a splash of milk in the morning.

So, lets see if this is the final piece of the jigsaw. I suspect this is just the beginning of a switch to as whole a diet as I can manage (within reason, dinners out notwithstanding!). I'll add my thoughts about reducing milk to my weekly sugar update.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Experimenting with Quitting Sugar: Week 3

Sorry for the late round up, familial visits and sickness has put me on a bit of a delay (more on that in a moment).

So, week 3. How did it go?

Well... We got back from Paris, I had a minor run in with the snacks on the plane (a bit of sugar in them but the bag was so tiny it won't have pushed me over my mental limit), but so far so good, until bam, Tuesday I came down with some horrible sickness bug. Both The Beard and I weren't feeling great, and I also got a horrible cold on top of that, which is still lingering around.

While this didn't present much of a problem in terms of food (although my usual tactic of drinking a glass of OJ wasn't an option), medicines were also off limits, which has meant I've had to deal with this cold virtually unmedicated. No big deal you might think, but I get colds like nothing else. I won't go into gory details but suffice to say, hot drinks with decongestant are a big help, but they are also loaded with sugar.

What were the biggest challenges?

Having to take some cough medicine that was suspended in a sugar syrup at the weekend. By Sunday my chest was so tight and I couldn't breathe properly so I had to take something. Incidentally I read something a while back about how these cough medicines don't really do much, but they always seem to help me. I figured a temporary solution was to take what I had (no pharmacies open on Sunday) until Monday morning when I could go get something else that was sugar free.

Thankfully the pharmacist was able to help and while the medicine I have is not completely sugar free (it has raspberry juice to sweeten it), it is not as full of sugar as the one I was taking previously. I also have something else to help it work, and both seem to be helping enormously. I feel almost human again!

What benefits have you seen this week?

Well my skin has been pretty crappy this week, but not as bad as the last time I was ill, when I suddenly got a whole slew of cystic spots under my jaw. While I still have a couple of spots there they are not so deeply cystic as the ones before, and the spots on my cheek are probably down to PMS/my period, which I also had this weekend (always the way....). I've introduced grape seed oil into my skin care regime and simplified it further, and that seems to have had an impact as well.

Not much noticeable change in my weight/size either, but I haven't stepped on the scales to look. I do get a little bloating around my period so I expect I would have registed a gain if I had, but that will come off by the end of week 4. I've been eating out all weekend, so a gain wouldn't surprise me!

How does the next week look?

My family are here again this weekend, so there will be meals out again, but I managed this weekend just gone, so I can manage again! So on the sugar front I think I'm cool. But, not to be too complacent, I have decided to reduce my dairy consumption in the pursuit of skin. More on that to follow in a separate post!

Monday, 23 September 2013

Music I'm Loving: Macklemore and Ryan Lewis

The Beard and I sometimes sit down and share things we've been listening to while we're at work. Today he shared Macklemore and Ryan Lewis and I think I'm hooked.

I already knew "Thrift Shop", it has had a fair bit of radio play even here in Austria, but "Can't Hold Us" is another outstanding tune that just makes me want to pick up and dance. Go listen and let your ears be filled with joy.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Weekend Away: Graduation in Versailles

After 3.5 years and 2.5 years of study time (I took a break of a year before starting my dissertation), this weekend just gone saw me formally graduate from university with a Master of Science in Development Management.

When I was choosing where to graduate I had the option of going to various ceremonies in the UK, or Versailles, Paris. There wasn't really a decision to make really!

So after a bit of a dramatic journey from Vienna to Paris, which was slightly delayed due to a bird strike on the aeroplane literally just as we were taking off (it is a little unnerving when that happens, but the captain's explanation that the engine had ingested some birds made us chuckle), Saturday was the day of the graduation.

Open University ceremonies are kind of relaxed yet prestigious affairs - it is the nature of the university and it's students that there are people from all walks of life, at all stages in their lives in attendance. Gowns are optional for the ceremony, and mortar boards are not worn at all (although you can choose to wear one in your official photograph, I declined).

Furthermore, the graduation gowns, if you choose to wear them, are pretty distinctive, reflecting the University's colours of blue and yellow. Have to say, not my favourite colours, but at least brighter and more cheerful than my undergraduate gowns at Exeter!

As a Master of Science I got to wear a light blue gown with a navy and gold full hood. Undergraduates wore navy gowns with lighter blue hoods. Masters gowns are also a bit fancier than Bachelors ones!

Unfortunately the weather wasn't great on Saturday, but the rain did let up enough to get some photos posed in front of the Chateau. I'm also grateful that my skin decided to play nice for that day, just so I could feel confident!

My parents and me in front of le château de Versailles

The ceremony itself was fantastic - the Presiding Officer was Vice-Chancellor of the Open University Martin Bean, and his opening and closing speeches were uplifting and full of the positivity and optimism that the OU instills in it's students. One thing that he said was that we are special, because we are Open University graduates, who have done our degrees whilst working, juggling family and study in order to achieve more. For many of us in the room it was the first time we'd ever come into contact face to face with another student from our course, and that in itself made it a special occasion.

As every student walked across the stage to shake his hand, he greeted them as if an old friend, pausing to give a few words of encouragement and praise to each person, which is no mean feat when there are over 100 people walking up to shake your hand over the course of the afternoon!

Vice-Chancellor Martin Bean and me, you can see the full glory of the robes!

Now that I'm at the end of it all, I have to give special thanks to my parents, without whom none of it would have been possible, and an extra special thanks to my wonderful boyfriend who supported me, proof read my essays, brought me tea and talked me off ledges in the middle of the night.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Shopping Haul: Paris

Just 6 bottle of this:

When in Rome eh?

(I cleared out 3 pharmacies doing so - I like to think Caroline Hirons would be proud)

Experimenting with Quitting Sugar: Week 2

Or Week 4 of Sarah Wilson's 8 week plan, as I'd skipped ahead a couple of weeks!

So how was it?

Pretty much ok. I did a bit of reflecting on how easy things seem to have been and remembered that when I quit smoking (both times), I had no problems going cold turkey with that either. I don't seem to have an addictive personality; whether that is something that I have learned, or that it is something that I have a genetic predisposition to, I don't know, but it is quite interesting. I wouldn't say I'm a particularly disciplined person when it comes to self restraint, so I must just have some ability to not get properly hooked on stuff.

So week 2/4 was good. I kept up the increased healthy fats (more nuts and avocadoes), and didn't berate myself for eating butter, and fat on meat etc, but in moderation. The challenge came in the form of our trip to Paris - while it has been totally easy to control my food when I'm presented with a huge amount of options (and Austria is a good place to be sugar free), a trip to France meant that the options became a little more limited. But I think I coped as well as I could.

Were there any particular challenges?

Breakfast in Paris. Saturday morning was ok (and thankfully a friend had reminded me that French croissants don't contain sugar, which was a relief!), with eggs, bacon and croissants being the chosen petit dejeuner, but avoiding white bread (which has a small amount of sugar added for the yeast) is not something you can do as the French seem to eat baguette with every single meal. But it is only a small amount and I didn't seem to suffer any ill effects.

Desserts were my next biggest challenge. Initially I had though it would be ok, but after having a cheese plate one night, the following night I realised that I didn't want a repeat of the same cheeses. And the dessert menu looked amazing. I settled for a brioche french toast thing with caramel icecream, reasoning that I hadn't eaten any sugar for at least 2 weeks, so just this little bit was going to be ok. Which is was, and it didn't set me off on a sugar binge, so I guess any feint addiction I may have had is no longer there. It wasn't overly sweet anyway; the caramel icecream was that almost burnt caramel that I love so much, and the brioche and vanilla custard was not of the birds variety and derived much of its sweetness from milk and vanilla. Not the worst thing I could deviate for, by any means.

Have you seen any positive changes this week?

My skin is still clearing, and has done more so this week. This is in part due to eliminating some parts of my skin care routine that appear to have been causing some of the problems, but the number of cystic spots (caused by hormonal imbalances) has dropped right down. This week is my week of PMS, so we shall see whether the quitting sugar has an impact on that as well.

In terms of my weight, I don't think I've actually lost any KG, but I do feel (and my clothes echo that feeling) like I have lost CM. I think my face and neck look slimmer and my bones more defined, and I feel like I have lost some bloat all over. Most significant for me is that the cellulite on my legs seems to have diminished.

How does the next week look?

There will undoubtedly be more challenges this week, but I think they can be navigated successfully.My Mum and Aunt come to visit this weekend which will mean lots of food out and therefore not much control on what I eat. However it should be ok - one thing I have noticed here in Vienna is that there is usually an option for the sugar free diet - even sandwiches in the bakeries have options using topfen (quark) instead of mayonnaise or salad cream. I think I will be able to resist desserts and things, and when eating out will think about using one of Sarah Wilson's tips to order starters as desserts.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Three things I have learnt this week

My skin hates salicylic acid. A bit like its total aversion to lactic acid, my skin just becomes horribly sore and reactive when I use SA. Thankfully a couple of days away and things feel normal again.
Walking calms me down. I had a stressful afternoon on Friday at the end of a stressful week. I decided to enjoy the warm sun and walk home from the office, which is a pleasant 30 min stroll. By the end of it my stress had greatly subsided. I definitely need to do this more!
Rum isn't great when you've quit sugar! I hate to say it but it made my teeth feel fuzzy. I had one, then no more. I hope that dark rum doesn't elicit the same response, or light rum in a mojito! It was the first real 'evidence' that my palate is changing, and it was a little weird! I guess I'm more likely to stick to wine or beer except for special occasions when a cocktail might be in order (I'm not a great spirit drinker you see... this may have to change mind you).

Sunday, 8 September 2013

My Superfood: Avocados

There was a time when I didn't like avocados. Slimy, tasteless... I think that is how I described them the first time I ate them! For some reason, at some point, my tastes change and now I can't get enough of the green creamy flesh.

Avocados have numerous benefits when eaten, and of course taste fantastic. The fats in avocado are very good for health, and contain no cholesterol, which is good news!

One of the preparations for quitting sugar is increasing your fat consumption, something I did by eating more avocados and nuts. I love avocados sliced in a salad, drizzled with olive oil, or mashed on bread (wholemeal sourdough) instead of butter and mayonnaise, or with prawns or salmon in sushi.

But by far one of my favourite ways to eat avocado is with eggs - soft scrambled eggs served with fresh cherry tomatoes and avocado, sprinkled with chilli seasoning or walnut/pumpkin seed oil.

How do you like your avocados?

Experimenting With Quitting Sugar: Week 1

So, one week into my six week no sugar experiment. How am I finding it?


Actually it has been pretty easy. I mentioned in my last post about this that I've never been a fruit lover, and as I've been following (roughly) the Slimming World plan for 2 years now, I've been on a fairly low sugar diet for that time anyway. 

So, no horrendous withdrawal, big plus. Aside from checking labels carefully to make sure that the sugar content is low, it really hasn't taken much effort to make the change. My colleagues have been really supportive and have taken care not to offer me cookies with our afternoon coffee, and have been interested in learning why I'm making this choice. Which is great, because I spent a fair bit of time a week at work, and it would be awful to have to fight against a torrent of cookies, cake and criticism. I am on my own in my office at the moment though, as my roommates are all away, so this may change once they reappear. They are both cookie fiends as well.... I've resolved that I can handle it as long as I'm making the cookies.... looks like I'll be doing  a lot of baking once I've decided to reintroduce sweet things into my diet!

Any benefits to show so far?

Weight: I'm not sure I've lost much weight, maybe half a kilo. But.... I do feel like I've lost some cms: my face to me looks slightly leaner, my cheekbones seem more obvious. And I think my stomach is getting flatter. 

Skin: My primary motivator. Well, this week has been incredibly stressful, and my skin reacts really badly to stress. So, no improvement there so far. I think I need to be patient though (this is difficult considering next weekend is my graduation and I'd like to look good for the pictures!), and hopefully I'll see some results. 

What challenges have arisen?

I went out for dinner and drinks with my colleagues on Wednesday night, and sat through all of them eating dessert without any problem. Having a nice glass of wine instead probably helped... 

The biggest challenge has been this weekend. I've been making Christmas puddings and mincemeat in preparation for Christmas, and the smell of sweet fruity pudding steaming is so amazing. That and I've been using a lot of muscovado sugar, which I love. I could eat that stuff out of the jar, it is amazing. I did sneak a little taste of the pudding mixture to taste, and licked my finger after I'd scooped all the treacle off the spoon, but it was only a little taste.... 

Any other observations?

I also drank the last mouthful of Guinness that was left in the can after I'd made all the puddings and I actually liked it! I'm not sure whether that is because I've been drinking Czech dark beer a lot or I'm so used to drinking Austrian beer that Guinness now tastes better, or whether cutting out sugar has had that much of an impact on my taste buds that quickly.

Saturday lunchtime we went to the market to buy fruit and veg, and meat for dinner (its a much better and more economical way of shopping than the supermarkets here, and so much fun), and decided to stop and have a beer/spritzer in the sunshine. I hadn't eaten anything so decided a plate of something would be a good idea, and picked a falafel and hummous plate as it looked to be the thing with the least sugary things on it. The bread that accompanied it probably had a smidge of sugar, and the tomato/aubergine thing was also quite sweet, but there wasn't much of it. For probably the first time ever, I couldn't finish a plate of food! I was absolutely stuffed. Once you take the sugar out of your diet, the difference to the way your body processes food becomes very very apparent. Still full 5 hours later, I was quite grateful to be making something quite light for dinner!

How is the next week looking?

Week 2 of quitting sugar completely will probably be ok during the week, when I have all the control over my eating, but at the end of the week we go to Paris for my graduation. I haven't been to France for a long time, but I think it will be ok - as far as I remember a cheese board is usually a dessert option, so that will do nicely, but breakfasts might be fun what with me trying to avoid white bread because of the sugar content, and croissants being firmly off the menu! The reception following my graduation ceremony will also be interesting - hopefully the canapés will have some no sugar options!

Whatever happens I'm not going to get stressed about it. That would kind of defeat the whole point of it all! 

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Rediscovering my recipe books

We've started going to the market on Saturdays to do our grocery shopping. Its a nice change of pace, and fortunately we live really near one of the best markets in Vienna, Karmelitermarkt. The market is the oldest in Vienna, and is a small yet bustling place, that is brought to life on Fridays and Saturdays by a farmers market. At the market is a great fruit and veg shop, that sells better and cheaper produce than the supermarkets do.

Karmelitermarkt - via
The market square is also home to a variety of cafés and stores, including a kosher butcher, a fabric store, a horse butcher and a plant store. The cafés and bars offer a nice place to sit and watch the world go by after you've done your shopping.

One of the side effects of coming home with a big bag of fresh produce is getting more creative in my meal making, and doing more meal planning. As autumn sets in I find it easier to plan what I want to eat during the week, and it is so much nicer coming home to ingredients waiting in the fridge rather than having to think about it on the way home.

To that end, I've started using my collection of recipe books as inspiration, and my favourite at the moment is the ever brilliant Nigella Lawson's Nigella Express which my parents bought me for Christmas a few years back. My Mum loves this book and so do I - easy, simple recipes that are big on flavour and low on effort, but not nutrition and quality. This week just gone I made coq au Riesling, using the slow cooker rather than do it in the oven in the evening, and mirin glazed salmon (although as I only had mirin seasoning which is full of sugar it ended up being just soy marinaded salmon).

Tonight (Saturday) we're having Chowder with Asian flavours, but with a few adjustments, like using sweet potatoes rather than regular ones (because I have them) and just ordinary fish instead of smoked (because smoked white fish is expensive).

I'm really enjoying just looking through all of my recipe books and thinking about what I can do with the contents, and how I can adapt them. I go for long periods of time when I rely on my own cooking knowledge to inspire me but then I have phases where I need much more inspiration. I have a good selection of recipe books ranging from my vintage copy of Marguerite Patten's Cookery in Colour (my grandmother gave it to me) to Alicia Silverstone's The Kind Diet, and everything in between, so plenty to choose from!

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Currently listening to: Team Rock Radio

I finally got round to installing some listening software on my phone so I can listen to Team Rock Radio.

If you haven't heard of it, its a commercial radio station broadcasting online and on DAB, playing a selection of rock music over a range of shows.

What is really great about it is the diversity, and the lack of adverts! The mix I've heard so far has ranged from quite full on metal to blues.
Space is also given over to specific genres, and they have band takeovers. I'm particularly intrigued by the Saturday night "Party Rock" show I've just heard advertised!

I've only been listening since this morning, but I'm already hooked. Go to for more info on shows etc, and how to listen. Then let them destroy your eardrums!

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Preparing for the beach: Swimwear

One thing I wanted to do before I went on holiday was buy some new bikinis. As we're going in October I had to think fast, as it won't be long before the shops are overwhelmed with winter clothing. In fact here in Austria it proved almost impossible for me to find a bikini that I liked, in my size!

So I turned to trusty ASOS, who do free international delivery, for a solution.

And found these unusual bikinis!

I've never needed instructions for a bikini before....
Minimal tan lines!
They all fit well (which is good, because I had to guess the sizes based on their size chart) and will do nicely for a week on the beach! I feel quite glamorous wearing them!

The only slight problem I have is with the complicated one, the strap isn't stitched on very well at one point, but it isn't worth sending it back over, when all it requires is a couple of stitches, which is something I can do myself. 


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