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!

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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!

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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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Starting out snacking

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If you’re at the point where you are feeling able to introduce new things into your diet, then I know you might feel both excited and daunted at the same time (I know I did!). Because I didn’t have the proper medical support I needed as I was getting better, I decided that the best way to recover and heal my body physically was simply to put weight on. I was purely focused on weight, and still didn’t love myself enough to want to look after my body. So I stuffed my face with junk food and slowly I watched the number on the scale rise until I was at a ‘safe weight’.

Aside from the obvious negatives for my mental wellbeing through all this, it was also harmful for my damaged body. My body had been through something incredibly distressing – yet at the time I was too young (and too poorly) to comprehend that. Looking back now with the knowledge I have of the human body and how it works, I am astonished that I didn’t do more damage not only due to the Anorexia, but also due to the way I recovered.

I know that from a professional perspective recovery of all types should be encouraged and I would never tell you to ‘eat this’ or ‘not to eat that’. As long as you are repairing your body, improving your relationship with yourself and food and rebuilding your life, then that is all that matters. However I do like to think that if we have a choice in what we eat, we could make some nutrient-rich choices which will nourish our desperate bodies and give us the helping hand we need as we recover. It’s only in recent years long after recovery that I have become especially interested in nutrition – and without that knowledge, I genuinely believe I wouldn’t have the energy to run my business, write this blog or finish my books.

I always found the concept of snacking really difficult whilst I was unwell and so I had a think about snacks you could introduce into your diet which aren’t too frightening for you mentally, but physically have plenty of fantastic benefits for your body and brain. Here’s my list below of my top 3 snacks you could try – as always if you have your own to add, please contact me!

Whole Milk: I love milk. It really has been a saviour for me in recent years when I have been unable to eat because of my IBS – because it contains lots of vitamins and minerals in addition to healthy fat and energy. No, it is not ideal to substitute food for milk – however I think milk really does have its place as a snack. I love throwing mine in a blender with cocoa powder, protein powder and collagen powder.

Wholesome Bars: Recently I discovered Fossil Fuel bars – and fell in love. I thought they’d be perfect for this post because I love ‘fast food’ which is delicious, easy to eat and 100% nutritious. They are similar to current offerings on the market but what I like about them is they are larger in size and pack a real flavour punch. They have no nasty ingredients in them but they do offer plenty of energy – so this means that if you are panicked or don’t feel able to tackle food on a given day or at a given mealtime, you can snack on one of these knowing it’s MUCH better than nothing.

Cheese: I often snack on cheese if I’m pushed for time and starving hungry. I know some of you might be HORRIFIED that I have suggested cheese because of its fat content but as you will know if you have read Recipes for Recovery, fat don’t make you fat. You don’t have to have lots of cheese to get a decent hit of energy and taste – so I think this is an especially good one for anyone who is frightened of quantity rather than the actual content of what they eat.

Do you have any snacks you are rediscovering currently (or have you tried any of the above?) If so, please get in touch!

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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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Foods for Recovery – Coconut

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I am an official coconut mega-fan. I have coconut every day – that’s how much I love it!

My love for coconut started when I started with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) a few years ago, because I can digest it with no problems. I started using desiccated coconut in my food and then began to use coconut oil and coconut flour in my baking.

Fast forward a few years, and coconut has recently been hailed a superfood (something I was delighted about!). With that, many products have seen increased popularity. Coconut oil and coconut flour are now widely used and much more readily available.

So why is coconut so good for you?

Coconut has such a wide range of benefits for the body in all its forms. Coconut oil in particular is a good all-rounder for the body because it is rich in fatty acids and is a good source of energy as well as containing Lauric Acid, which has lots of different uses in the body but notably helps maintain healthy skin and hair. It also helps to look after your digestive tract as it has anti-microbial pro-biotic properties which keep stomach nasties and yeast at bay.

What coconut products can I try?

Coconut is really versatile – meaning there’s lots of different by-products. Here are a few I use below, what they are and how you can use them.

Coconut Water

Coconut water is what you can hear sloshing around inside a coconut – but the type you drink comes from a young coconut which is softer and green – not the matured brown hairy variety. It’s rich in electrolytes (which aid hydration) and naturally sweet, yet fairly low in sugar. The best way to enjoy coconut water is straight out of a fresh young green coconut – but unfortunately we don’t have that luxury here in the UK! There are lots of different varieties of coconut water now, some with added fruit pulps which are very nice. I like Zico and Unoco – and Vita Coco do lovely ‘lemonade’ and ‘mango’ varieties.

Coconut Oil

I use coconut oil a lot in my baking and also have a spoonful every morning with my breakfast. It has a distinctive sweet coconut flavour – some people use it in savoury dishes but I only like it for sweets! Along with coconut water, coconut oil was arguably the first coconut product to receive renowned nutritional status. Tesco now sell cold-pressed, organic coconut oil for around £6 but Coconoil, Lucy Bee, Biona and Tiana are all good quality brands which can be found online.

Coconut Butter

Coconut butter is similar to coconut oil but is less greasy and has the same relationship to coconut oil as olive oil spread might have to olive oil. I use coconut butter in baking and for making raw chocolate – it has a less strong coconut flavour than the oil but is rich and creamy. I like Biona Coconut Bliss – but Tiana also do lots of different types of oils and butters some with added Omega 3.

Coconut Flour         

Coconut flour is basically dried milled coconut meat which takes a powdery flour-like form. It’s higher in protein than its counterparts and is also rich in fibre as well as having some of the other antioxidant and nutritional benefits of coconut. It’s really versatile and great for baking; it has a sweet slightly coconutty taste so if I don’t want to make a coconut dish I usually mix it with almond or rice flour. You can get coconut flour from lots of online health stores or on eBay.

Coconut Palm Sugar

Coconut palm sugar or ‘palm sugar’ comes from the sap of flowers from the coconut palm tree. It looks like brown sugar and similarly has a rich caramel flavour which I just love and which makes it perfect for toffee and caramel dishes – but for that reason it’s not always suitable for lighter desserts. I use organic coconut sugar which can be sourced quite easily online from Biona or eBay.

Flaked/Desiccated Coconut

The most familiar form of coconut in western diets until its emergence as a popular health food, the older generations of our families will be familiar with coconut from ice buns and coconut ice sweets! It is made from dried coconut meat which is then flaked either into tiny pieces or larger shavings. You can find unsweetened desiccated coconut in most supermarkets.

Fancy trying coconut for yourself? There’s plenty of coconut recipes in my book – take a look here.

Coconut is also one of my favourite beauty products!

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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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