Why I don’t say I’m ‘better’

Anorexia recovery

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Most people in the public eye who discuss past/previous difficulties like to paint themselves as ‘great now’. Gurus (especially those who release self-help videos and books) tend to portray themselves as ‘the solution’ in a fairly patronising way, talking about the ‘past’ and discussing their rosy life as it is now, and telling you how you can be like them (for a fee). The problem with this is that NOBODY’s life is perfect – and many of these people run the risk of being ‘outed’ when it turns out they shouted at a parking warden, or had a momentary lapse in their ‘strict vegan diet’ as they’re snapped tucking into a McDonald’s. This of course is all pretty embarrassing and undermining – but the main reason I tell the truth about who I am and how I feel is because that’s the only way I feel I can help people – by being honest, and by sharing my journey as I go.

I overcame Anorexia – but my root beliefs were never addressed

I was lucky enough to be able to recover fully from Anorexia without relapse. But that doesn’t mean that since that time I’ve been issue-free. Unfortunately I didn’t have psychological support before, during or after my eating disorder – so the core beliefs which caused it were never addressed or treated. If I’d had that support then I honestly believe I may have been able to get away with a life without mental illness – as I was still young. However those beliefs were left to exacerbate silently over the course of a few years, and I developed several difficult mental health conditions in the years that followed. Each time I never had adequate support, so the thoughts and feelings I have about myself deep down have been allowed to compact and strengthen to a point where they’re hard to just ‘undo’. The complicated belief system behind it all has never changed – instead it has manifested itself in different ways over the years that have followed since my recovery. I think it’s important to be honest about this, not to scaremonger people who are embarking on their own recovery, but to emphasise the importance of proper therapy and psychological care for people going through an eating disorder. I also want to be clear that I am not an idol and I still deal with my own struggles each and every day – as all of us do.

I share what I learn as I go, or I discuss my previous experiences in a positive and open way

I do what I do because I want to use my own experiences to help people. So I can talk about previous experiences and how I overcame them, but I can also discuss the things I still struggle with now and the things I do which help me to live with myself day to day and more than that to live my life to the full. I’m different because I never make out as though this isn’t the case, and I always make sure I’m positive and helpful rather than just being ‘doom and gloom’ or sensationalistic.

For more on eating disorders, body image or nutrition, take a look at my books or related blogs here.

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How does nutrition feel after an eating disorder?

Nutrition eating disorder

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Maintaining a healthy relationship with food is hardly easy in today’s society. We’re constantly bombarded with ‘eat this, don’t eat that’ articles, advertisements featuring ‘perfect’ bodies and dubious celebrity endorsements for diets and fitness regimes. This makes loving your body (and treating it well) really difficult – and it complicates basic nutrition beyond comprehension.

Eating disorders aren’t about food (you can read my article on this here), and they’re not strictly about how we look (another article on that here!). But food is undoubtedly a large element of an eating disorder, and body image can be an issue for many sufferers.

I developed Anorexia primarily because I was in a very bad place. I was being bullied relentlessly (mostly for how I looked, but for pretty much everything else too) but I’d also had a family bereavement which had been pretty traumatic for all of us. Because I’d been bullied for over three years at that point I’d developed severe OCD and had become incredibly depressed – but I also had massively low self-esteem. It’s fair to say I hated myself – inside and out. Whilst I tried desperately to fit in I didn’t feel I could change my personality – but I did start to feel that it could be possible to change my appearance as I became more exposed and aware of advertisements and articles largely aimed at young adults.

I was overweight before I developed Anorexia and had an incredibly poor diet – so I had absolutely no knowledge of how my body worked and how I should eat. This was a dangerous combination – as my ignorance meant I absorbed the false information I read and heard and saw like a sponge. I went on various diets before settling on one (a diet which is still prominent and popular today) and combined it with various other well-known ‘weight loss’ methods. I became obsessed with counting ‘points’ and ‘calories’, good and bad. Soon I was incredibly poorly with organ failure and seemingly no way out.

My perspective on food has been shaped by this experience – but I only developed it recently. My relationship with food continued to be poor (and confused) for nearly ten years following my recovery from Anorexia. And this is why I’m so passionate about denouncing diets and talking about nutrition in a positive, truthful way now – as well as discussing how important and precious our bodies are.

Diets are the worst thing you can do to your body

If human beings needed diets to function, we’d have died out a long time ago. We naturally instinctively know how and what to eat – just like many species of animal. But unfortunately as we’ve evolved the choice of food we have to eat has widened. And in recent years the natural foods we called staples for years have been replaced with second-grade, inferior alternatives – made in factories from chemicals and harmful preservatives. Our busy lifestyles make it increasingly difficult to accommodate food as it should be accommodated – and these things in turn have caused an obesity crisis.

Diet companies might appear to be the ‘solution’ to the crisis, the saviours here to ‘fix’ us and get us fighting fit again. But they’re actually exploitative (and lucrative) business, making money out of the bad choices we make and the poor habits we’ve developed. They’re not interested in emphasising the responsibility of the individual, caring for our self-esteem or ensuring our bodies (and minds) aren’t harmed as we desperately try to be ‘slim’. They don’t address the questionable motives many people have behind a diet – mostly to be aesthetically acceptable to others, not to be happy and healthy from the inside out. They’re temporary, rather than promoting balanced, healthy eating for life. And studies have shown that aside from the physical and psychological damage many diets cause, they often result in participants getting bigger (and unhappier) as a result.

For all of these reasons I believe diets are toxic. They emphasise our weight and appearance and nothing else – even the supposedly ‘holistic’ and ‘responsible’ ones. They promote disordered eating and make many people much more unhealthy as a result when they’re trying to achieve the complete opposite! But more than that I think they contribute to a climate of self-loathing that makes body image issues and eating disorders much easier to develop. And they make money from all of that – lots of it.

I believe that nutrition and self-esteem are linked

Good nutrition goes hand in hand with positive self-esteem. I believe that when we improve one, we improve the other naturally. Since I developed a healthy relationship with food, my relationship with myself as a whole person has improved. I know my mind better than I ever have done. I appreciate now that starving myself, living off crappy expensive diet foods and depriving my body of nutrients like fat is abusive and makes me weaker mentally and physically. And most of all I understand that I only have one body, and I need to look after it if I want to live my life and do the things I want to do.

If you’re on a diet or are considering one, I hope this article has stopped to make you think about the consequences of that – and the alternatives. Although we’ve not all been through something as perspective-shifting as an eating disorder, we can all learn to understand our bodies and love food so that we can treat ourselves better.

For more on my perspective, diets and body image you can take a look at my books and related blogs here.

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My first Youtube vlog!

diets bad for you

So I finally bit the bullet and moved (just a little bit) into the 21st Century today. I posted a video on my Youtube channel!

diets bad for you

It’s a bit rough around the edges and my editing technique definitely needs work (as does my Google profile) but hey – it’s my first go! You can take a look at the video here:

 

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Why these diet bars are some of the WORST things you could eat (especially if you want to lose weight)

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Despite having a daughter who constantly nags her and continually informs her of the evils of dieting and the truths of nutrition and good general health and wellbeing, my mum still struggles with her weight and self-esteem. She’s held negative beliefs about herself (and well-developed bad habits) for many years now, so it’s understandably difficult for her to change, but I’m making progress. She’s now only eating wholesome, healthy foods, consumes full-fat everything and is slowly but surely starting not to worry about calories and fat content.

Imagine my horror then when I return home to find a box of diet ‘treat bars’ on the coffee table – open.

Although for obvious reasons I can’t name the manufacturer, these were chocolatey sweet bars made by a popular diet company and only available via their regular meetings. The photograph on the box depicted an artificial-looking slab of cocoa and bright pink marshmallows with a creamy drizzle on top. It certainly didn’t look anything like healthy. Although I’m an advocate of real food, I don’t condone people cutting out conventionally ‘unhealthy’ things from their diets completely – food is all about balance. But what I totally disagree with is diet companies flogging expensive crap filled with additives and sugars which people trying to be healthy then buy, thinking they’re making a positive choice.

Here are just a few reasons why you should never buy these types of diet bars – and what you can eat instead to nourish your body and take care of your mind, too.

 

1 – The FIRST ingredient was sugar

As you may have gathered, I am very strongly against diets and diet foods for a number of reasons (some of which I’ll discuss in this blog). So I grabbed the box and studied the ingredients list, and straight away I confiscated them. The very first ingredient was a type of sugar. And the second, and the third. Then there were chocolate chips – predominantly made of sugar. And mini-marshmallows – predominantly made of sugar. As I went down the list it became clear that these bars had absolutely NO nutritional value whatsoever. And yet they were being marketed as a sensible choice for people who wanted or needed to lose weight or get healthy.

2 – The rest of the ingredients were largely unrecognisable

The ingredients I could make out all involved lots of sugar and little substance. But more frighteningly there were plenty of things on that list that sounded like the type of thing you’d clean your toilet with – totally unrecognisable chemical names which didn’t belong on a list of things contained within something a human being is going to digest. Again these chemical substances will never contribute to weight loss, and are more likely to contribute to weight gain. What’s more they won’t nourish your body in any way.

3 – There was zero nutritional info on the packet

Surprisingly given the nature of the brand there was no clear information explaining the nutritional value of the bars (laughable, since that’s about zero in reality!) Checking packets for nutritional content is not something I agree with at all (all the best foods don’t come in packets and we should eat without anxiety or over-thinking) but I thought it was telling that the actual contents of the bars were omitted, as if they had something to hide. I imagine that’s because one look at the calorie content would probably send serial dieters running for the hills.

You’ll know if you’ve read my books that I don’t believe calories are very helpful, and that they shouldn’t be counted or rationed. However most foods should display nutritional info, and if they don’t I think that’s pretty suspect.

What’s the alternative?

It wouldn’t be fair for me to talk about diet bars and what people ‘shouldn’t’ be doing then not discuss the better alternative. I go into more detail in my books, but after battling an eating disorder then spending years eating crappy diet foods and abusing my body I suffered the consequences and developed IBS. After that I made sure I mostly ate foods with good nutritional value – things which tasted lovely but benefitted my body, too.

I often make quick, easy and cheap cookies, cakes and bars which would perfectly substitute sweet rubbish like the bars my mum brought home this week. These are high in protein, low GI and full of good fats – great all-rounders if you’re peckish or fancy a snack. They’re real food, and you’ll recognise all the ingredients as most of them are in their raw state! If you fancy reading more about how I eat you can take a look at Nutrition in a Nutshell, or pre-order my recipe book here.

If you’re not into making your own food then there are other alternatives. How about mixing almond butter with cocoa and palm sugar and refrigerating for a Nutella-style snack? Boiled eggs with spinach? A slice of wholemeal toast with peanut butter? A little fruit with some cream or yoghurt and pumpkin seeds?

Nutrition doesn’t have to be complicated – in fact I believe getting in right involves keeping it simple.

You can read more about diets and my view on nutrition here.

 

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Why I stopped counting calories – and why you should, too

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Although lots of popular diets now shy away from counting calories (dressing up the obsession they cause us to have with food in the form of points, sins and other bullshit), calories are still an issue for lots of men and women. Subconsciously I hear lots of people saying they assess the food they’re eating based on how many calories they think are in it – or worse, they look it up and check. But a calorie is not a measure of how healthy a food is – or how nourishing it is. And an obsession with calories could cause you to become very unhealthy – in more ways than one.  

What counting calories looks like

If you think counting calories keeps you slim, you’re wrong. What it does do however is cause you to obsess over food and be fearful of it, seeing it only as numbers which will make you ‘fat’ or ‘thin’ depending on whether they’re high or low. Do any of these sound familiar?

       Worrying about what you’re eating in case it’s ‘high calorie’

       Checking the back of packets without realising it

       Grouping foods into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ based on the calorie content

       Believing that if you limit your calorie intake you’ll be ‘healthy’ and ‘slim’

 

What not counting calories looks like

You probably already knew what counting calories was like. I did too – even after recovering from Anorexia I still had a vice grip on my daily calorie intake and believed that this was the key to being ‘healthy’. I associated ‘healthy’ with ‘thin’ – and worse than that I believed that the only way to be ‘thin’ was to limit my calorie intake as much as possible.

But three years ago I stopped counting calories. I started to read about nutrition and realised that the way I’d thought about food was all wrong. So what is it like not to count calories?

 

       I eat what I want without worrying about it

       I concentrate on the quality of my food, not the quantity

       I have no idea how many calories are in my food

       I don’t care how many calories I consume per day

       I’m healthy and happy

 

 Why are you counting calories?

I know a lot of people who are obsessed with calories know that it’s wrong – but I also know from personal experience that it can feel impossible to stop counting them!

The first thing to do once you decide to get healthy and start loving your body is to realise why you’re counting calories in the first place. Perhaps like me you were introduced to ‘nutrition’ by irresponsible diet companies and magazine articles – maybe you’ve been on yo-yo diets for years and have adopted their mentality. Whatever the reason, it’s definitely possible to stop – I did after a decade of thinking about food and my body in completely the wrong way. I did this because I knew why I thought the things I did – and eventually I understood why that way of thinking was wrong.

 

How can you stop counting calories?

Knowledge is power – and learning about nutrition (and crushing the false information I’d learnt over the years with fact) was the number one thing which helped me not to count calories or bother about the content of my food anymore. Reading blogs and articles written by qualified nutritionists (not irresponsible salespeople), I slowly learnt about how my body worked and how food was important if I wanted to live life to the full. I started to realise that the health issues I had were related to my poor diet and the damage I’d done over the years through unintentional abuse.  

It took me a year or so to formulate the more balanced, factual view of food and nutrition I have today – and that’s why I wrote my book Nutrition in a Nutshell to share the things I’ve learnt and offer my unique perspective on food and diets as someone who suffered from an eating disorder and various body image issues, but also to offer all the advice I gathered in one place.

 Start with knowledge and you’ll finally get there. It may take a week, it might take 6 months – but slowly you’ll undo the unhelpful, harmful things you’ve learnt and replace them with the good. And then you’ll be able to enjoy what you eat and be healthy without counting calories.

 

Have you got your own nutrition story to tell? I’d love to hear about it!

 

Want to learn more about nutrition and health? Take a look at Nutrition in a Nutshell here.

 

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Why I am against diets and dieting

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It’s a bold step to come out and denounce the diet industry like I do – partly because they are huge and very popular, with lots of money and a hell of a lot of influence. But I genuinely believe that they are damaging us mentally and physically – almost as much as junk food, which has been shown recently to be contributing to early deaths in human beings more than smoking.  

In all of my books, I talk about my hatred of diets. So for the benefit of anybody who hasn’t read them yet, I wanted to write a short post to explain why it is never a good idea to tell me you are on a diet!

Why do I disagree with diets?

When I was at secondary school, I was carrying a lot of ‘puppy fat’ (and some extra fat, too). I was small and round and podgy with greasy mousy brown hair, a blazer that was too big for me and a skirt hoisted up to my chest. It’s hardly surprising that I was bullied relentlessly – because even though it wasn’t deserved, I was undoubtedly an easy target.  So I started to think of ways to be liked. I tried everything. Eventually, I came to the conclusion (forgivably) that I was mainly disliked because I was fat – after all, this was one of the bullies’ favourite jibes. So I started to consume dieting advice like a sponge – absorbing information rapidly and soaking up every last little nugget of crappy information until I thought I had it right. Of course, I didn’t.

I went on a popular diet which involves counting points. I calculated my ‘daily allowance’ and vowed to undercut it consistently so that I would lose weight more quickly. I combined this with all the ‘useful’ information I’d gathered from celeb magazines, and my OCD 12 year old self soon became obsessed with counting points and calories – and more to the point, reducing them. It became addictive – feeling hungry, seeing the numbers reduced. I’d never liked maths, and I’d never been good at it – but suddenly adding and subtracting wasn’t a problem for me if it involved points and food. It wasn’t long before I developed anorexia – which nearly killed me. So you see, I have a very good reason for loathing diets – and a unique perspective when I talk to others about diets and their concerning motives.

A ruined relationship with food

As human beings, we’re not programmed to calculate our food intake to the nth degree. In actual fact, our bodies are designed to live in the wild, to hunt, gather and eat as and when we were able to. They are complex and intricate machines hosting a great number of processes every millisecond. And when you go on a diet, you fuck that up.

Diet companies encourage us to have a poor relationship with food by nature. It is the enemy to be controlled, monitored and reduced – with an end goal of being ‘slim’, ‘beautiful’ and ‘happy’. Of course we all know that this rarely follows – but we are so compelled by clever marketing (brainwashed, almost) to believe that by dieting, we are doing the right thing.

Healthy eating should be for life

Diets are not sustainable. Your body is not designed to live on sugary skimmed milk shake food replacements. Your body is not designed to be starved for hours on end. Your body is not designed to live on paltry offerings of dry toast and crackers to then be doused in alcohol at the weekend. Dieting for a short period of time damages your body in the long-term – especially if you go to the extreme. Adopting a healthy lifestyle for life however is different. And by healthy, I don’t mean eating diet food and living off low-calorie meals! I mean eating proper, wholesome food regularly when your body requires it. Plenty of fruit and veg, plenty of water, carbs, fat, the works.

It’s often too late that we realise we have forsaken what’s on the inside for how we look on the outside. I will always live with the consequences of anorexia – and whilst I don’t lay the blame solely at the door of diet companies and magazines, they played a huge part. I don’t want to see anybody else develop an eating disorder as a consequence of this misinformation – because I know I am lucky to have survived.

So please if you are unhappy with your weight, on a constant diet, have children or family members who care about you and depend on you – please take this post seriously and don’t diet. If you need any more convincing or would like to learn more about my story and how I eat now, you can read more about diets in my books, Tough Cookie, Tough Love, Nutrition in a Nutshell and Recipes for Recovery. 

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Guest blog post – Good Mood Food

I was so pleased and honoured when Good Mood Food initiative asked me to write a blog for their brand new website recently!

Social enterprise Good Mood Food is all about reaching people through tasty, nutritious food. Food is social – it brings us together – and I know that whilst obviously Anorexia ruins that by nature, there are other mental illnesses which can prevent us from being able to eat properly (depression and anxiety disorder from experience for starters). They cater for everybody (excuse the pun!), providing buffets and meals for corporate and commercial clients in addition to events – all whilst supporting fantastic local charity work. Any profits made are re-invested into Manchester Mind – a charity incredibly close to my heart who do lots of incredible work here in the North West.

I’m so pleased to be part of it and to have been featured on the website in this way! The blog includes a couple of recipes from my upcoming book – you can read it here: http://goodmoodfood.org/blog

Whilst you’re over there, why not take a closer look at what Good Mood Food do?

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Choosing the perfect coconut water

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Everyone who knows me knows I love all things coconut. From the dried flesh to the sweet oil, I’m all over the stuff.

Since coconut became a ‘superfood’ last year, products have been springing onto the market left right and centre which whilst driving the price down of what were previously ‘artisan’ items can make it difficult when selecting your daily coconut fix.

I’ve always been a fan of coconut water, and had a couple of ‘go-to’ favourite brands which I reached for every time I was in need of refreshment from something other than plain old water. Why were these my favourite brands? Flavour. Assuming (wrongly) that all coconut waters were made equal (at least the relatively expensive ones which didn’t contain added sugar or preservatives) I chose my coconut water based on its taste.

One of these brands is Unoco. I love the refreshing, crisp, mildly sweet flavour – the closest I could find to my treasured ‘on the beach’ fresh coconut water experiences. I really disliked the characteristic cardboard-taste of some other brands, coupled with a tangy sweetness and a lingering coating on my tongue like I’d just eaten a packet of sweets.

I was sold on Unoco already. So when I recently discovered the astonishing truth behind commercial coconut water, I was shocked (and actually rather relieved).

As I had mistakenly failed to consider, not all coconut waters are created equal. Some are processed differently (as is sadly the case with a lot of ‘healthy’ foods) rendering it less nutritiously beneficial than others brands (which thankfully includes Unoco).

In fact, Unoco coconut water is one of the healthiest choices you can make when you’re thirsty for a tasty product with lots of added goodness. In comparison to its rather crafty counterparts, it is 100% raw. That means that it is ‘unpasteurised, unrefined and untreated’ as the company divulge themselves on their website – so basically it hasn’t been tampered with and is as pure as the day it trickled out of that young green coconut. Testament to this saintly method is the water’s slightly pink hue (caused by oxidisation of the fresh product in the bottle) – often not present in coconut waters which have been processed.

What does this mean? Coconut water which retains its wonderful natural flavour, but also holds onto its intricate, complex mix of minerals, vitamins, enzymes and the unique hydrating qualities which caused it to make headlines a couple of years ago as the health food in vogue at the time.

I use Unoco in my upcoming recipe book (updates on that coming soon!) for a few of my drinks recipes – but here’s one you can try in the meantime!

 

Coconut ‘lemonade’

2 bottles Unoco (fresh from the fridge – as it is pure without added preservatives it has a shorter shelf life)

Juice of one lemon

3 tbsp Sweet Freedom syrup

Sparkling mineral water

  1. Pop the juice and syrup into the blender and blend until the syrup has completely dissolved. Add the coconut water and blitz once again.
  2. Pour this mixture into glasses or a jug half way up – then top up with the sparkling mineral water. Perfect for a hot summer’s day!

 

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Please note: This article isn’t a paid endorsement or false testimonial – I do actually love this brand and use all of the brands I discuss here on the blog or in the book myself on a regular basis. I’m simply passionate about good, wholesome, honest food and unprocessed, unrefined natural brands whose products have no harmful side effects in the body. I’m here to save lives, not to promote products!

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Foods For Recovery: Oats

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Oats. A pretty unremarkable, boring-looking superfood. Without the snazzy bright colours which blueberries and beetroot boast, they are admittedly a little bit beige! Not the most exciting colour. But there’s nothing boring about the benefits that oats boast for your body!

I love oats. I love porridge, flapjacks and I often use oats in my cakes and cookies. They’re really versatile as a food and because they aren’t overpoweringly flavoured, they’re a great base to add whatever toppings you fancy to.

I love plain oats or chocolate oats made with whole milk to make them creamy, but it’s not just the taste I love. I have lots of oat recipes in the book purely because not only are they incredibly yummy, they’re also very good for you – especially for recovering bodies.

Oats are high in fibre and protein, so they’re good for energy and digestion. They also contain good amounts of Manganese, a mineral which supports skin, hair and bone health – as well as iron and a host of other vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Because you’re unlikely to consume oats dry(!), you’re also getting the added benefit of yoghurt or milk and the toppings you choose – like berries and nuts. If you buy them in their raw state they’re also 100% natural – so what’s not to like??

Have you tried oats? If so, what’s your favourite way to eat them?

 

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Foods For Recovery: Avocado

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I have to admit I don’t eat lots of fruit – but avocado is one of my favourite fruits. Embarrassingly I thought it was a vegetable until not that long ago (oops!) I often have avocado with smoked salmon or in salads – it’s really versatile and some people even make desserts with avocado!

For me it’s a great recovery food because it’s really nutritious and dense in good things for the body. Even a small serving provides good amounts of vitamins K, C, B5, B6 and E – PLUS Magnesium, Iron, Potassium Zinc, Thiamin, Riboflavin and Niacin. Phew! That’s without mentioning that avocadoes are full of healthy fats which are good for the body as a whole but especially the heart, in addition to high amounts of fibre which make it easily digestible.

You can make a really easy guacamole simply by mashing an avocado with chopped tomatoes and paprika – or simply slice it up and enjoy it with cheese, steak or fish. If you’re not a fan (it is a little slimy which isn’t to everyone’s taste!) then how about popping it in a smoothie?

Are you trying avocado?

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Tough Cookie is a blog for support and inspiration during recovery from Anorexia. Eating disorder recovery can be tough – but so are you!

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