Last year I wasn’t well, which made keeping up with the garden, among other things, difficult. I’ve reached that age when we are supposed to present ourselves to the medical establishment for testing and dosing with statins/HRT/antidepressants/pain medication, whatever, and to accept the end of robust good health.
Well I won’t. I don’t trust Western drug-based medicine (long story – in my shoes you probably wouldn’t either) and I fear overtreatment more than I fear illness. If I have an accident or a heart attack, please take me to hospital, but chronic illness I’ll handle without drugs, thank you very much.
So 2016 was a year of experiments in testing the effects of sugar, caffeine, gluten and all the usual culprits, as well as various supplements and herbal medicine, with varying degrees of success.
If you follow me on Twitter you can’t have failed to notice that I went to Italy in October, on a 200-mile cycle ride. I had been very worried about doing this, that I wouldn’t be well enough to train, or to complete the ride, but by the second day I was feeling bloody fantastic. I was still going strong at the end of each day, and at the end of the week I could have turned around and gone back again! Not only this, but the feeling and the energy stayed with me for 2 months afterwards, despite catching a cold on the flight home.
Then I relapsed though, and have had trouble just getting out of bed in the morning again. The question is, can I isolate what was so damned good for me on holiday and reproduce it at home? As much as I’m all for going on an adventure holiday every 3 months, it’s not the most practical solution!
My husband asked me about my diet on holiday: ‘Well, I had pastries, cake and espresso for breakfast, cake and more coffee for elevensies, pizza or pasta for lunch, and risotto, pasta or gnocchi for dinner (on one glorious occasion all three!), usually with gelato on the way back to the hotel. Basically, it was a total carb-fest with added cheese and caffeine’.
‘I guess we can rule out diet then’, said he.
It was hardly a fair representation of the ‘Mediterranean diet’ since it was all restaurant food – although it was all fresh cooked, proper food, and Italians do genuinely eat cake for breakfast – and I would hesitate to try to reproduce this in my daily life, but where does that leave all that careful rationing of sugar, gluten and caffeine?
We are well schooled to turn to diet as an obvious contributor to, well, everything, no doubt because there are handsome profits from doing so, but is there really any gain to obsessing over food groups beyond eating natural, home-cooked food?
There are a couple of other factors of course. Sunshine is an obvious one. At our northern latitude, there just isn’t enough of it to generate adequate vitamin D to keep us healthy. This was October though, and I had been outdoors a great deal all summer.
There’s the time away from my PC and the deadline stress, and the exercise too. With twice daily dog walks and gardening, I’ve never been inactive, and the standard medical advice is only 30 minutes per day. I read recently though, that this is one of those targets set because the experts think people might actually attain it, rather than because it is effective, and the amount of exercise needed to combat the harm caused by a desk job is actually 2 hours of quite vigorous exercise. It could be an inconvenient truth that 4 to 6 hours of exercise a day is what it takes for me to stay well!
For now I’m trying to get 2 hours on my bike as often as possible, yes, even in a UK February, and not analyse my diet too much. The Michael Pollen diet is for me – as long as you made it yourself, it’s fine.
And there’s another cycle trip to Italy on the horizon.