Sunday 18 February 2018

Nutritionist Esther Blum: Eat, drink & be gorgeous

Nutritionist Esther Blum tells Paula Collins that all you need is common sense and moderation -- then, you can have your cake and eat it too ...

Paula Collins

There are no two ways about it: anyone who is looking to shape up is obsessed with the idea of extremes.

Gorging on an endless stream of headlines about fad diets and freaky celebrity habits, civilians find the concept of moderation an almost alien one.

We're living in an age where 'no pain, no gain' is the adage heard loudest, yet, paradoxically, people are hoping that a week or two of suffering will provide a shortcut, of sorts, to success.

New York-based nutritionist and writer Esther Blum is all too aware of the headlines that promise results, but only after an extended period of hardship.

"The thing about extremes is that they're sexy and alluring to people," she admits. "They want to try them to test themselves."

Faced with this barrage of fad diets, instant gratification and cleanses, and knowing too well that they yield few results in the long run, Blum decided that she needed a change of tack.

And so her book 'Eat, Drink & Be Gorgeous' was born; a palate cleanser that flies in the face of the received modern wisdom that encourages extremes and hardship in the quest for a beautiful body.

In fact, Blum is passionate about precisely the opposite, noting that it's possible to live well while also living it up. There is no need whatsoever, she says, to miss out on all of the fun.

"I did an interview over here about Kate Middleton and the pressure put on celebrities recently," she notes. "Celebrities can sustain that lifestyle or commitment because they make lots of money to look good and keep working out, and they can afford a personal chef and have time to go to the gym. The rest of us have to be more pragmatic and realistic, and do our best.

"Most people follow programmes, like cleanses, that just aren't sustainable," she adds.

"If you've had 30 or 40 years of toxin exposure, it won't go away in a week. We need to treat toxins on a daily basis instead. I had a patient who wanted to go on a fad diet, but it's not necessary. Often on a cleanse, you're much worse off," she continues.

"What's more important is taking in green drinks, and getting enough proteins, fruits and vegetables. I attribute my good skin and healthy glow to a clean diet that I follow about 80pc of the time; for the other 20pc -- I nourish my wild side."

Written in an affable, informal style, Blum's book taps into basic common sense that has been clouded in the rush to sell magazines and diet books: instead, moderation and balance on a day-to-day basis is key.

If you fall off the proverbial wagon, it needn't spell disaster for your well-being efforts.

"Have a Martini, for instance, and then follow it with wheatgrass the following morning," she suggests.

"If you slip up and have a bad meal, life is not over, nor is the regime over. We drive ourselves to be so perfectionist and to think of wild extremes as being okay, but it simply won't work in the long term."

Given that Blum's motto is the rather endearing 'Your body may be a temple, but who says it can't be a nightclub?', chief among her teachings is how to enjoy a sociable drink without falling foul of your health efforts altogether.

Leading her readers down the path of alcoholic enlightenment, in a chapter entitled 'Drink Gorgeous', Blum suggests ways in which we can have our cocktail and drink it, such as swapping tonic for diet soft drinks or foregoing dark ales for light beer.

"Just because I'm a nutritionist, doesn't mean that I'm immune to the perils of living it up too much" Blum says.

"But I'm afraid I don't have good news. Although alcohol itself doesn't contain any fat, it is metabolised as a fat. The reason is that alcohol is not an efficient fuel, so it actually halts your body's fat-burning process.

"If you drink, use a clean alcohol like a vodka or scotch on the rocks," she suggests. "A glass of red wine is very good, but it's always a good idea to stick to organic or Spanish wines, which are high in antioxidants. Sometimes it can even help with hormonal issues," she explains.

"I rarely recommend beer as it's pretty much liquid bread. Build it into a week of healthy eating and that way you don't have to circumvent your drinking. The best way to drink is to feel as though you've earned it during the week.

"Mentally, you have to plan how many drinks you'll have. Say, 'two is my limit tonight', and don't go past that, no matter what."

If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, Blum notes that there are plenty of other pit-stops along the way that will threaten your dieting efforts. For instance, comfort eating has become the scourge of many an Irish woman, and again, this can become part of a healthy regime.

Far from prescribing bulgur and seaweed to cure a broken heart, Blum suggests ways of getting out of heartbreak, PMS and eating alone with minimal blowback.

When it comes to comfort eating, for instance, switch ice cream for sorbet, use soba noodles instead of spaghetti, try mashed cauliflower instead of mashed potatoes, and stick to air-popped popcorn instead of crisps.

"With comfort eating, you plan ahead, and that's the key," she says.

"If you have a night where you have a drink or two or eat anything, it resets the clock and gets you back on track. A 'cheat meal' resets your hormones for the week.

"If you are in crisis mode, I say let go for three days, then resolve to get back on the wagon. That way you can get through your crisis without incurring too much damage. You can't look back; just look forward.

"Also," she continues, "the gym is the best anti-depressant there is, as you get such a dopamine high from running. Exercising outdoors can be very spiritual, and it's a component of being a human being."

As to the best post-gym snacks, Esther notes: "Anything you eat within an hour of working out should be easy to digest -- fresh fruit, diluted pomegranate juice or a cup of plain low-fat yogurt with honey are simple carbohydrates that will be absorbed quickly into the bloodstream to fuel your muscles during your workouts.

"Within one hour of finishing your workout, eat a combination of protein, fat and carbohydrates to refuel your glycogen stores."

Of course, anyone looking to undergo a lifestyle overhaul will find that time is rarely on their side. We can fly planes and put a man on the moon, but as a species we still seem to be waiting for a convenience meal that is actually good for us.

"Just because something is organic doesn't mean it's good for you," warns Esther.

"Most of them are overly processed and loaded with carbs, cheese and tofu, and really don't offer enough protein or nutritional balance. The good news is that they can be a healthy choice as long as you supplement the frozen meal with fresh side dishes.

"For instance, if you're going to eat a frozen chicken main meal, make sure you enjoy it with steamed veggies and salad to boost the antioxidant component of the meal. Or if your frozen meal consists of pasta, then beef it up with minced turkey in tomato sauce or sautéed spinach with garlic."

Among Blum's biggest commandments is the keeping of a food log.

"If you've never really believed that food can affect your energy levels and mental acuity, try keeping a food log in which you record how you feel before and after each meal. For instance, how do you feel after eating two slices of pizza?" she writes.

"Writing it down will help you eat mindfully and make the connections among food, mood and energy levels. Be as honest as you can; remember, it's just good information for yourself to give you a perspective on how certain foods help or hinder your energy levels."

Logging also helps us from thinking that food is the enemy, says Blum: "Take a step back and objectify your relationship with food. Keep a food log to see when you gained weight, or when you lost it, and what you might have eaten to cause that," she says.

"Take control, but don't let it own you. If I want to get healthier, I don't talk to anyone about it, I set up and just get on with it. Nothing else comes first when you're setting a goal for yourself for the right reasons."

And when it comes to achieving results -- all while getting to enjoy the fringe benefits of the good life -- this sounds like an excellent place to start.

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