Nut Free Florentines – Great British Bake Off Week 2 – Biscuit Week

GBBO week 2 this year was biscuit week. Now, while most biscuits are easily convertible to gluten & dairy free, I wanted to set myself a challenge.

One of Britain’s most loved biscuits (believed to originate from France), the Florentine. A family favourite, especially at Christmas, makes the perfect gift and is loved by most of the family… of course with a hot cuppa!

So, being one to not make things easy I decided that I would make a Florentine and convert it to suit my dietary requirements – free from wheat, gluten, nuts, dairy and refined sugar… Da, Da daaaa! Yep… what a challenge. Baking a Florentine gluten free, wheat free, dairy free, nut free and free from refind sugar is certainly a different kind of bake!

Traditionally they are combined using sliced almonds, saltanas, caramel and a dark chocolate coating, so I wanted to stick to as close to the original as possible. You can of course change the ingredients as you want to. Mango cheeks, apricots and any other dried fruit make superb additions. The thing to consider when removing the nuts is that you need to create a crunch, which I was able to replicate using the selection of ingredients.

If you want a uniform look, you can use a silicone tray or cupcake/muffin pan. Line it with strips of parchment paper you can lift the biscuit out once it has cooled.

Shaping your Florentine: If you want a uniform look, you can use a silicone tray or cupcake/muffin pan. If you grease it and line it with strips of parchment paper you can lift the biscuit out once it has cooled. If you would like a thinner (and crispier), more rustic and traditional Florentine, line 2 trays with parchment paper and plop spoonfuls of your mix onto your tray, leaving a 2″ (5cm) gap between each one as they will spread.

I think this goes without saying but hot sugar is like molten lava! Do NOT touch these when they come out of the oven!! They will be piping hot and will burn you. Leave them to cool and harden.

Nut Free Florentines! GBBO Week 2, Biscuit Week.

  • Servings: 10-12
  • Time: 10 mins prep time, 20-22 mins cook time. TOTAL = 30-32 MINUTES
  • Difficulty: Easy peazy lemon squeezy

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 1/2 cup Maple & Banana Granola (or for a little less crunch you can use 1 cup granola with 1/2 cup porridge oats)
  • 1/4 cup glace cherries, chopped
  • 2 tbsp organic sultanas
  • 1tsp orange zest
  • 3tbsp vegan butter (I used Stork block as it sets harder)
  • 1/4 cup Algarve Nectar (for a more traditional bake use golden syrup or honey)
  • 1tbsp gluten free plain flour
  • 70g dark, unsweetened chocolate (I used Like No Udder Orange to enhance the Christmassy taste)
Who would have thought you could make allergy friendly Florentines?!

METHOD

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C/160C fan/350F/Gas Mark
  2. Grease the 12 hole muffin pan with butter and place a strip of parchment about 1″ thick across each hole or by lining 2 baking trays with parchment paper.
  3. In one bowl, mix the dry ingredients together: oats and/or granola, glace cherries, sour cherries, organic sultanas and orange zest.
  4. Separately in a medium saucepan add the coating ingredients: butter, sugar, flour, and Algarve Nectar (or honey or golden syrup). Melt them together over low heat until all the densities have dissolved together creating one mixture.
  5. Pour the caramel coating over the dry mixture and stir it well to combine. You will find the more you mix, the more the lumps of wetness combine with the remaining dry mix.
  6. Take two spoons, drop spoonsful of the mix into your prepared tray.
  7. Bake for 18-20 minutes until golden in amber gold in colour. Here’s the catch… you need to catch them before they are so crispy you could use them as frisbees, and after they are still soft and flapjacky. It does that a little bit of trial and error to know when this point is, so, if you are a beginner, bake one at a time until you get the timing perfect, at this point cook the whole batch together.
  8. Allow them to cool completely in the trays (remember HOT MOLTEN LAVA), use the ends of the tabs and gently pull them out. You may need to smooth of any stuck edge bits gently with a knife.
  9. Melt the chocolate (I melted mine for 30 seconds, stirred and then in intervals of 10 seconds stirring in between). Gently holding the top edges of your biscuit, dip the base of the biscuit into the melted chocolate, turn them upside down and place them back on a try a or cooling rack to harden.

As always, I love to see what you bake at home and to hear your feedback. Please do share your homebake photos with me by tagging me in @ecofootprintsuk

Happy baking! Jojo xXx

Gluten, wheat, dairy free Yorkshire Puddings.

The Best Ever Gluten Free Yorkshire Puddings!

Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Low FODMAP Yorkshire Puddings

12 Pops of Yummy Gluten Free Yorkshires

If you think of a Great British dinner, your going to think of one of 3 things. Fish & Chips, Pie & Mash or Roast Dinner. And of course, no roast is complete without Yorkshire puddings.

Trying to cook gluten free yorkies is a challenge, until of course you know how. Simply converting a standard recipe to gluten free doesn’t work, they of course do not rise properly, and you miss the crisp texture of traditional Yorkshires. This is where my flour mix comes in… you get light, fluffy, crispy Yorkshires with soft bottoms. #perfect!

It took me a while to perfect the recipe, since then we have been using this recipe for years.

TIP: Do ensure your oil is piping hot. If the oil is not hot enough it will result in thick cakey like bakes, still edible of course, but they will be heavy.

I hope that you and your families enjoy it too! Please tag us in or share your photos with us, we love to see what you have made.

Jojo xXx

The Best Ever Gluten Free Yorkshire Puddings!

  • Servings: Hmm, depends on how many you eat! If you have 1 each then 12, 2 each then 6 servings.
  • Time: 10 mins prep time, 20 mins cook time. TOTAL = 30 MINUTES
  • Difficulty: Easy peazy lemon squeezy

INGREDIENTS

  • 6 organic eggs – mixed weight is fine
  • 300ml dairy free milk (I have used many types of soya and coconut over the years, all work equally well)
  • 150g cornflour
  • 50g gluten free plain flour
  • 50ml extra virgin olive oil (vegetable oil will suffice, but won’t be as creamy)
Phoebe, thoroughly enjoying her gluten & dairy free yorkshire puddings.

METHOD

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 220C/200C fan/400F/gas mark 6.
  2. Add a small dash (just under 1tbsp) of olive oil in each of the cupcake pan holes.
  3. Place the pan in the centre of the pre-heated oven for about 10-15 minutes. The oil needs to be super hot and bubbling!
  4. While you are waiting for the oil to heat, crack the 6 eggs into a mixing jug (if you do it in a bowl then you will need to transfer to a jug or something easy to pour with once the mixture is complete), whisk, add the flours and whisk to combine.
  5. Gradually add the milk, a little dash at a time until fully combined. Doing it gradually ensures that you minimise the risk of lumps and ensure it is all combined well.
  6. If you need to, pour the batter into a jug or something easy to pour with.
  7. Right, now here is the bit to watch for. When you pull the cupcake pan out of the oven you need to be QUICK! The oil needs to be as hot as possible while pouring the mixture in. You want to fill each pan about 3/4 of the way and get it back into the oven ASAP. You should see the mixture beginning to sizzle as you are pouring.
  8. Put the tray back into the oven and cook for about 15-20 minutes, until golden brown and risen. They should rise to over double their size so make sure you don’t put it in the oven immediately below another shelf. Do NOT open the oven during the bake as they will flop, the heat needs to be consistent, so make sure your oven door is clean and you can see through it.
  9. Once cooked, remove from the oven and serve with your yummy roast.
Is a Sunday complete without the addition of a roast and yorkshire puds?!

4 Ingredient Naan – Great British Bake Off Week 3 – Bread Week

Week 3 of GBBO 2020 was bread week. Whilst bread can be a fun challenge for some, for me… I could not think of much worse. I am working on perfecting my gluten free bread baking, plus with Fibromyalgia and ME even the thought of doing something so labour intensive can be a turn off.

So, this week the challenge for me was twofold. 1 – create something bread based and yummy (gluten free, wheat free, dairy free, yeast free & vegan) , 2 – make it as least labour intensive as possible! I give you Naan bread baked with 2 core ingredients, and 2 additions (these can be purely be at your own discretion, I fancied something reminiscent of the Peshawari Naan I used to buy from my favourite Indian growing up.

Now, my husband is what we would call a ‘normal eater’, he still indulges in normal food when we are out, and he is fussy. If he doesn’t like it, he won’t eat it, simple. Well… what a surprise this was…. I got 1 naan… yep… 1 lonely naan to enjoy with my veggie tacos… he ate 2 on the first night and the remaining 3 with a lamb Rogan Josh the next night. I didn’t get a look in.

Flour: of course you can use any but.. if you want soft and squidgy naans then you MUST use self-raising flour… using a plain or non-raising flour will result in flat and hard breads.

Yogurt: Greek yogurt is the secret ingredient to not using yeast. It must be Greek and should not be a look-a-like. It doesn’t matter if you use vegan, full fat, reduced fat or low fat. If you need to you can use a standard plain yogurt, but, be aware the end result will be subpar.

2 Ingredient – Yeast Free, Wheat Free, Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Vegan Naan

Yeast Free Naan Bread! GBBO Week 3, Bread Week.

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Time: 5 mins prep time, 5 mins cook time per naan. TOTAL = 20-30 MINUTES
  • Difficulty: Easy peazy lemon squeezy

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 3/4 gluten free self raising flour
  • 1 cup vegan Greek yogurt (non-fat, reduced fat or full fat is ok)
  • 1/2tsp salt
  • 1tbsp vegan butter of your choice (I choose salted to brush the naans afterwards to make them all buttery and yummy)
  • 1/4 cup organic dried apricots
  • 1/4 cup organic sultanas

METHOD

  1. Using a large mixing bowl, combine your ingredients: flour, salt (if using it), apricots & sultanas, add the Greek yogurt last, mixing until combined. You will start to feel the ingredients forming a ball, when this happens use your hands to form a large ball of dough.
  2. Lightly dust your kitchen side or a chopping board with flour. Place your dough ball on the floured surface and sprinkle a little extra flour on top. Flatten the ball into a circular shape with a rolling pin and divide into 6-8 even portions. Take each portion and flatten into a rectangular shape (replicating a classic Naan bread).
  3. Heat a non-stick saucepan on medium heat. When hot, put a couple of pieces of flattened dough in at a time and cook for 3 minutes, before flipping and cooking for a further 2 minutes. Repeat until all the naan bread is cooked all the way through. Repeat until the batch has been made.
  4. OPTIONAL: I made my naans in advance of dinner, I reheated them in the oven on a medium heat for 5 minutes, after dusting with a sprinkle of water.
  5. Once cooked, if desired, lightly brush the tops of each naan bread with melted butter.

These will keep for a few days in the fridge and are suitable for freezing. To reheat sprinkle some water onto the naan and heat in a warm oven (on medium heat) for 5 minutes. This is gives your naan a crispy exterior and squidgy inner, just like the real thing. ;o)

As always, please feel free to share your bakes with me, I love to see your versions. Enjoy Jojo xXx

I added the organic apricots and sultanas to the gluten free Peshawari Naan to add a little bit of extra flavour and healthy goodness.

Dairy Free, Gluten Free and Nut Free Battenburg!

Free-From Battenburg

It’s that time of year again, GBBO is upon us. Yay!

Not only does it mean we get to mercilessly watch our screens each Tuesday evening, with our mouths watering and an endless trail of thoughts in our minds “I wish there would be a gluten free baker”, “that wouldn’t look like that if it was gluten free”, “you think that tastes bad… you haven’t tried the gluten free version”. 😂

I’m going to come out and say it…. it also means 12 weeks until Christmas!!! I mean, come on, I am certainly not the only one to think it, I just might be the only one crazy enough to say it out loud.

Week 1 of The Great British Bake-off started off differently this year… straight in with my favourite week, cake week and you wouldn’t believe it… There is a gluten free baker, Peter! I hope he continues to make the gluten free bakes, in honour of all of us non-wheat eaters! It was great to see him out and proud with his free-from bakes.

Cake week is often my favourite week. I enjoy the challenges, successes and failures. Baking has changed significantly for me over the years. Now I am allergic to wheat, gluten, nuts and intolerant to dairy, I have to miss out on some of my favourite foods. Battenburg being one of my favourites, has been hard to let go… so I thought, lets make a version I can eat!

It not be perfect, but it’s the level of imperfectly perfect cake that we enjoy

Okay… so let confess…. I’m not sure it technically is a battenburg as it doesn’t contain nuts. But, what it is, is an equivalent bar of yumminess to tantalise all the senses. 😉

YUMMIEST NUT FREE BATTENBURG
FREE FROM WHEAT, GLUTEN AND DAIRY!

  • Servings: 10/12
  • Time: 10 mins prep time, 40 mins cook time, 15 mis decorating. TOTAL = 65 MINUTES
  • Difficulty: medium

INGREDIENTS:

  • 250g Self Raising Flour
  • 230g Caster Sugar
  • 250g Stork (block butter, cooled in the microwave for 10-15 seconds)
  • 4 Large Organic Eggs
  • 1tsp Organic Vanilla
  • 1/2tsp Baking Powder
  • 1/2tsp Xanthan gum (this is down to preferences, personally I find when you make bakes that are GF & DF your batter binds better)

ADDITIONS:

  • 2tbsp Organic Cocoa
  • 2tsp Natural Mint Flavouring or alternative.
  • If you wish to colour your mint or coloured side to match the flavour then a dash of coloured food paste

COVERING:

  • 500g Ivory Sugarpaste (I use Sattina as I love the quality and flavour)

BUTTERCREAM:

For this bake, I admit I cheated and purchased a Betty Crocker Chocolate Fudge Frosting as my daughter requested a fudge buttercream and I didn’t have the energy to whisk buttercream by hand. It used about 1/2 a tub. If you are making buttercream by hand then about 125g butter, 200g icing sugar, 50g organic cocoa, 2tbsp milk alternative and a dash of organic vanilla.

METHOD

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/gas mark 4/330F. Grease or line a 7” square tin. I use If You Care recycled baking parchment sheets. Grab yourself a mixing bowl and a spare bowl for when you split the mix.

2. Take the slightly softened and cooled butter and beat the sugar into it until it is lighter in colour, creamy and the sugar has started to dissipate into the batter.

3. Combining 2 eggs at a time, beat the eggs into the mix until it is all combined, add the vanilla in with the last 2 eggs.

4. Sift the flour, baking powder and xanthan into the batter, gently whisking at a steady pace. There is a fine line with gluten free batter between whisking it to add air and beating every ounce of air out of it and leaving yourself with something that resembles a cardboard box once baked! You want to ensure all of the ingredients are combined and then just a few flicks of the wrist to double check and that will be enough mixing.

5. Split half of the batter into a separate bowl.

6. In one bowl sift the cocoa and combine. In the other bowl add the flavouring and colouring.

7. Take your pre-lined tin. You’ll want to separate half off the tin to each flavour so you are effectively making 2 rectangles at this stage. In and ideal world you would use a separate piece of parchment to separate the two. I didn’t want to waste the paper so poured each side of the batter in at a time, all in one tin with no barrier, focussing on pouring along the edge walls. I put the cocoa side in first as that was the slightly denser of the two and I knew that it would hold its placement better, then added the vanilla side in to the other half of the tin once I had created the first rectangle.

8. LETS BAKE! Place the tin in the centre of the oven to bake. Mine took about 40 minutes to cook. Start checking the cake from 25 mins, every 5 minutes. Put a skewer into the centre of the cake, if it comes out with no wet mixture on it then the cake is ready. Make sure there is still some spring in the cake otherwise you run the risk of over baking. Leave the cake to cool for an hour or so.

9. While the cake is cooking mix up your buttercream. Whisk the butter until it changes colour and becomes soft, sift in the icing sugar and organic cocoa, add in your 2tbsp of milk alternative and a dash of organic vanilla and mix it all in one go. Around 3 minutes in a mixer, or 5 minutes by hand. You’ll know it is done when its light and fluffy and has almost doubled in size.

Mid roll! Treat the Battenburg as if your wrapping a delicate present, fold it gently!

DECORATING:

  1. Now we get to the fun part, creating and decorating your masterpiece. Firstly your going to want to trim the top of the cake. You should find that the top of the cake tin is a good guide for cutting in a straight line if you do not have a cake slicer. Trim off all of the outside edges to remove any hard edging. Then, cut each rectangle into 2 pieces. I cut around an inch(2.5cm) section out of the middle where the cakes had overlapped and then cut the remaining on each side into 2 long strips. Effectively making 5 strips but discarding the middle section.
  2. As you can see in the picture I placed all 4 pieces together to create a checkerboard pattern. At this stage you can make sure everything sits square. Trim off any edges if you have anything poking out of your rectangle.
  3. Dust some cornflour onto a clean & dry surface, soften and roll out the fondant icing into a rectangle, aim for a thickness of about 3 or 4mm.
  4. For this bake I didn’t worry about crumb coating so went straight into it. I pasted a thin layer of buttercream directly onto the fondant the same length as the cake pieces, then placed my first pirece of cake on. You then want to coat the side that is going to touch the next side going onto the cake, creating your first layer.
  5. Looking at the picture above, you can see I created the 2nd layer on top of the first, repeating the same process, after spreading a thin layer of buttercream between the two layers of sponge. Spread some buttercream on the rolled out fondant ready to make your first roll.
  6. Using the excess fondant as a rolling Matt, fold the your cake over so the next side rolls onto the fondant. Then repeat this process for the next 2 sides., until you have something that resembles the rectangle cube you see in the picture below.
  7. Last but not least you need to trim the edges. Smooth the cake sides down to where the 2 sides meet and trim the excess off to create your rectangle.
  8. Lastly, cut the excess off both ends to create your square. You will see the edge of the cake line through the icing, use this as your guide and cut straight down. Because I used chocolate buttercream your never going to get perfectly clean edges, but if you used apricot jam like the original you wouldn’t see the excess.
Is it a giant lego piece, a snow cube or is there actually cake hiding under there??

Were done!

Whilst you may thank mine for the chance to make your own version of this at home, I am going to thank Channel 4 and the GBBO in advance for expanding my waistline over the next 12 weeks! It’s going to be a fun adventure!

Right – I’m off to make another cup of tea.

Enjoy JoJo xXx

A Free From Battenburg created by Ecological Footprints.

Self Care – Natasha Albright Owner and Founder at Natasha Essentials Wellness

Natasha and I connected a while ago through MIB International, our love of all things natural and chemical free living. I was interested in her use of essential oils to improve wellbeing and she was interested my use of organic foods and clean living improve health and chronic illness. Immediately we connected and knew there would be a chance to collaborate at some point soon. I wanted selfcare August to incorporate some of the business connections to help improve my customers knowledge but also to give other business owners the chance to showcase their wonderful talent. Without no further ado I will hand you over. Take care, Jojo xXx.

doTERRA Nature’s Essentials with Natasha Albright

Do you ever get asked a question that just makes you want to run and away and hide?  Well I have had such a question for a big part of this year and that is ’what can I do to relax and sleep better?’

It would seem that as well as throwing us in all sorts of obvious ways; 2020 has also had an adverse effect on our ability to relax, de-stress and actually get the sleep we need.

When lockdown first happened it did wonders for our sleep as a family. We no longer were slaves to the alarm clock; instead allowing our bodies to wake up naturally. There is something special about that feeling that you have had just the right amount of sleep and weren’t forced out of bed.

That was short lived however. Soon the lack of set routine coupled with the new found stresses got the better of me and my sleep routine. Trying to juggle home schooling whilst working and worrying about how safe my business and my husband’s job really were.

Why am I telling you this? I actually have a health and wellness business where I help people take a holistic approach to their wellbeing. My business is centered on essential oils and using them to support a healthy lifestyle.  Despite what many might assume, I too know what it’s like to struggle both with sleep and with my emotions at times. We all struggle with these things in our own way which is why I can have a hard time answering this question; there is no one quick fix.

Being busy and overwhelmed has almost become a badge of honour. We end up stressed, sleep deprived and overwhelmed yet we are too busy to really do anything about it. The very idea of taking time out to practice basic self-care ends up feeling indulgent when in fact it is a necessity.

Stress is not all bad; it can be a great motivator. Admit it; you have left things till the last minute giving you the adrenaline rush needed to complete whatever it is.  If however our bodies are under constant stress we start producing too much cortisol which leads to issues such as weight gain, negative emotions, joint issues, lowered immunity, digestive issues and so on.

So here are my top tips to help you keep your stress levels within a healthy range as much as possible:

Breathe. Before you roll your eyes; bear with me here. There is a reason this gets mentioned so often, it works! Breathe in deeply and slowly through your nose, hold for a couple of seconds then breathe out just as gently back out through your nose. Then repeat a couple of times. This will help calm both your body and you mind while giving you a chance to process what it is that might be causing you to feel stressed. This is where I love to add a favourite essential oil. This could be something uplifting like orange or peppermint; something grounding such as frankincense or simply calming like lavender or vetiver.

Enjoy a hot drink. This will always work better with herbal tea or warm water with lemon as caffeine can have a negative effect on stress. Take the time to really enjoy it, wrap your fingers around your cup and savour the warm cosy feeling. This is the perfect time to focus on lowering your shoulders and relaxing your jaw muscles.

Natasha Albright - doTERRA consultant.
Natasha Albright – doTERRA consultant.

Go outside. We have been incredibly lucky with the weather recently which always makes this one that bit easier. Even when the weather is less than ideal, a few minutes of fresh air can do wonders.

If you can, take your shoes off for a moment and feel the ground with your bare feet. Whether it’s sand or grass, it will help you feel grounded.

Although I am a beach person at heart; if I am feeling overwhelmed or a little lost nothing helps me find calm and peace like walking through a forest and reconnecting with nature.

Get moving. Even if you find you can only squeeze in a few minutes a day, doing regular exercise not only releases stress it actually prepares your body to handle it in the first place. How incredible is that? If you really don’t feel like exercising, try playing your favourite song and have a little dance or at least sing along.

Ask for help. This might be one of the hardest things to do on this list but sometimes you simply need some support. Even if you feel it’s all down to you and you cannot share the burden; a hug or someone to talk to can make a real difference.

Sleep. Reducing stress will in turn improve your quality of sleep in of itself. A lack of sleep however can leave you feeling stressed. They are intricately linked. The best advice I ever received when it comes to sleep is to not over complicate it. Ever felt exhausted then pushed past it to the point where you then feel wide awake? This is exactly what happens if you have an elaborate and rigid bedtime routine; you end up missing your body’s own signals.

Here are my favourite things to bear in mind if you need a little help getting enough sleep:

Just as we do with children; adults also need routine. If you keep going to bed at the same time or close to, your body will not only expect it; it will also know what to do.

Create the perfect setting for a restful sleep. Having a tidy, quiet and relaxing environment will allow your mind to shut off. Even with the lights off your mind will know if your bedroom is untidy or showing signs of unfinished tasks. If you cannot put everything away, try moving them out of your room instead. Out of sight is out of mind. The same applies to do lists. Next time you cannot sleep due to thoughts swirling around in your head try noting them down. It really works! I always have a notebook by my bed just in case.

Choose your evening meal carefully.  Foods high in carbohydrates take a long time to digest and are energising, neither of which is helpful when trying to sleep. Look to healthy fats instead to stay fuller longer and you will be able to resist that late night snack too!

Wind down. Whether it’s reading a good book, taking a relaxing bath or doing a few stretches there will be something that you enjoy and helps signal to your body that it’s time.

Once again this is where essential oils come into their own. A drop or two of a calming oil in your bath, on your pillow or in a cold mist diffuser; you will not only sleep like never before, you will also wake feeling refreshed. 

So there you have it. As I like to say it is simple however it isn’t easy. Each step takes very little time yet we struggle to make them a priority in our lives.

My invitation to you is this; if you are struggling to relax or sleep choose one or two things from here and do them until it becomes second nature. It is at that point that you will be able to add more. Your wellness journey is not a sprint so do not rush it!

***

You can link with Natasha via the below channels: http://www.mydoterra.com/natashaalbright
Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/1750244618585701/
Instagram https://www.instagram.com/natasha_albright_wellness/

Owner and Founder at Natasha Essentials Wellness. Natasha lives to help women on their journey to health. She is an avid essential oil lover and lives to empower Mums. She has a heart of gold and loves nothing more than helping one of her lovely customers find their empowerment to a new you. When Natasha isn’t working she is actively helping women business owners in her networking group and loves nothing more than a day in the great outdoors with her family.

Exercise and Weight Management – Alex Conboys Story

Alex and I met a few months ago in the Hampshire Womens Business Group immediately we connected through our love of clean living and our mutual need to help others see the health benefits from making simple life adjustments. Not only did our business values correlate but so did our personal values. As soon as I made the decision to run wellness August, I knew this was the chance to talk about Alex’s journey and the wonderful work she does. It is MY sincerest pleasure to bring you Alex’s personal story and her perspective on exercise and weight management. Jo xXx

***

13 years ago, I weighed nearly 15 stone (93 kg). I’m 5’7” (1.7m) tall – this meant that at my heaviest my body mass index (BMI) was 32 which firmly put me in the obese category. I’d put on 4 stone in a couple of years – I used to be very active in my job as a professional sailor, and needed to consume a large number of calories every day just to give myself enough energy to do my job. At times in my sailing career we’d lose weight on a diet of 5,000 calories a day.

I’d always had to be careful of my weight, and the weight gain started for me when I stopped sailing for a living and my lifestyle became far less active. I ballooned. I didn’t really adapt my food intake to take the change in activity levels into account, and I’d just met my future husband. Like many people in a new relationship we ate out a lot with frequent trips to the pub, and before I knew it, I was 4 stone heavier. Because I was tall I carried the weight well, but it took a comment from one of my husband’s young nieces to make me realise just how much weight I’d actually put on and spur me into action.

Fast forward 13 years and so much has changed. At just under 11 stone (69kg) I am a healthy weight for my height. My husband and I married in 2009, by which time I’d lost nearly 3 stone through healthy eating and exercise (no diets) and whilst still overweight I was much healthier and happier with how I looked. I had more energy and life was great! And then in 2015 something happened which was to completely change my life – I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was able to keep running throughout my treatment (surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy) which helped so much in so many different ways.

Alex Conboy running Farnborough Half Marathon January 2020.

As a result of this experience, I became fascinated with health and fitness, and to cut a long story short once my year of treatment was over, I qualified as a personal trainer. I now hold a specialist qualification in cancer and exercise rehabilitation and work with people affected by cancer to help them get fitter and feel better.

I also became fascinated by weight gain and metabolic conditions such as type 2 diabetes. I’ve always believed that there is far more to it than the simple “eat less and move more” theory. If it was that simple, why are over 60% of adults in the UK overweight or obese?

When lockdown happened earlier this year and I could no longer work with my clients I took advantage of the time available by studying for another specialist qualification in working with obese and diabetic clients. I learned so much on this fascinating course.

Diets don’t work for longterm weight loss! When we restrict calories, our bodies think we are going into starvation mode which leads to several things. Firstly, our metabolic rate reduces so our bodies expends less energy in normal functions. When we come off a calorie – restricted diet, because our metabolic rate is now lower, we put on all the weight we lost and more.

Secondly because our bodies believe that a famine is approaching, we preserve fat and burn muscle, which is exactly the opposite of what we are trying to achieve. In particular, under these conditions we tend to store fat around our middles. As a result, we can enter the classic yo-yo dieting pattern in which many people end up heavier than they started.

In addition, when we become overweight significant hormonal changes take place which make it harder for us to lose the weight. Our bodies work on a principle called homeostasis – which means that our systems are constantly trying to maintain what has become normal. When we lose weight, especially quickly, the principle of homeostasis kicks in so that our bodies try to regain “normal”, meaning that our systems make whatever changes are necessary to try to put the weight back on.

The best way to become a healthy weight – and stay there – is to make long-term, sustainable changes to diet and lifestyle. Change will happen gradually – long-term weight loss tends to be slow and gradual, to allow our bodies to adjust properly to the new way of being and the new “normal”. We need to be patient. It took me 2 years to lose 3 stone. I’m not going to go into detail about healthy eating here – there is no one-size-fits-all approach and I’m not qualified to give specialist nutritional advice. Just remember – diets don’t work for most people!

I’d like to explore in a bit more detail how and why exercise and physical activity are so important.

As I’ve briefly described, whilst there is a lot more to it than “eat less and move more”, one fundamental truth is the more we move, the more energy we expend. In addition, when our period of activity is over, we burn more calories while our body recovers from the exercise. All of which help!

Another great thing about exercise is how it helps to regulate blood sugar levels. This is of particular benefit to anyone who is insulin-resistant or has type-2 diabetes. Glucose travels from our blood stream into our cells through transporters, which are activated by either insulin or exercise. With insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes, these transporters become resistant to insulin, and don’t work effectively so glucose cannot travel easily into our cells. Muscle contractions also stimulate these transporters – independent of insulin – allowing glucose into our cells where it is needed for energy, hence lowering our blood sugar levels. This is why movement and physical activity is such an essential part of managing insulin resistance and diabetes – in particular type-2.

Lots of other changes take place when we exercise -too many to list here – but one more of note is that during and immediately after a period of aerobic activity the release of our hunger hormones ghrelin and peptide-YY is reduced, leading to a suppression of appetite.

The most important thing is to enjoy what you do – otherwise it will become a chore. Government guidelines are 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each week spread over 5 days at least – and this can even be done in 10-minute blocks. Be kind to yourself – regular exercises consider physical activity as part of their self-care!

If you haven’t exercised for a while, or are new to exercise, it could be worthwhile asking advice from a suitably qualified personal trainer, or your GP, about what would be safe for you to do. It’s very important to pace yourself – if you push yourself too hard to begin with you run the risk of injury – and it’s unlikely that you will enjoy what you are doing. Start with manageable goals – like going for a brisk 10 minute walk at lunchtime every day, building up to 30 minutes a day, and as your fitness levels improve you’ll be able to gradually increase your activity levels even more.

Many people still have a horror of “exercise” – with bad experiences of PT lessons at school. It can help to re-think what exercise is. Any form of physical activity will help, such as walking up the stairs rather than taking the lift, or parking further from the entrance to the shops so you have to walk a bit further. Try dancing round the house from time to time! The gym is not for everyone – doing the gardening or the housework will help. If you have a desk job, make a point of getting up and walking round the office for a few minutes every hour or so if you can.

The most important things to remember – are be kind to yourself, and keep moving as much as you can. Pay attention to what you eat too, it is not possible to out-exercise a bad diet.

If you would like any help, or would like to chat anything through then please get in touch!   I am happy to offer a free introductory session to anyone who would like to explore further how physical activity can help, would like some nutritional advice or would like some help with setting goals or coming up  with a plan that is right for them.              

Fit for Life – https://www.fitforlifept.co.uk/
Find Alex and fit for life on Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/AlexConboyPT/

Alex Conboy owns Alex Conboy Personal Training.   She is a mobile1:1  personal trainer specialising in cancer and exercise rehabilitation, She also holds a specialist qualification in working with obese and diabetic clients, and has nearly completed an additional qualification in exercise and physical activity for people with mental health conditions.    Alex trains her clients outdoors – in public parks or in or in her client’s gardens in the Alton and Basingstoke areas.    

In addition to her personal training, Alex set up the Basingstoke group of 5k Your Way, which is a support group with a difference for anyone affected by cancer. When Alex isn’t helping others appreciate the many benefits that exercise and physical activity bring, she flies gliders, both as an instructor at Lasham and also flying her own glider cross-country. She also loves running and walking her dogs in the stunning countryside where she lives.