Marjorie Brennan talks to Mimi Spencer of the 5:2 Fast Diet about moving away from food fads towards the quality nutrition described in her new book ‘The Midlife Kitchen’.
The 5:2 Fast Diet was a phenomenon, with its focus on intermittent fasting a big hit with those who wanted to shed pounds while not denying themselves the pleasures of good food.
Now former fashion and lifestyle journalist Mimi Spencer, who co-wrote the original Fast Diet cookbooks with Michael Moseley, has turned her attention away from watching our weight to how nutrition can boost our health as we age.
The inspiration behind Midlife Kitchen: Health-Boosting Recipes for Midlife and Beyond, co-written with Sam Rice, was an urge to change the focus of her own life as she got older.
“The thing about the 5:2 diet is that it hit stratospheric proportions really quickly. It was my life for about three years,” she says.
“After that, I got to a stage in my life where I felt things had to change. Your diet tends to reflect the speed at which you live your life. It’s quite easy to roll along without really thinking about what you are eating.
"While I was fasting two days a week and my weight was great, I started to think about nutrition in a different way, about what food can do for you in terms of health benefits.
“Rather than thinking about keeping my calories down because I wanted to look great in a bikini, I started thinking about things like my bone density, or whether I might be pre-diabetic without knowing.”
Spencer, who is 49, also felt that the pressure of parenthood was easing off a bit and it was a good time to take better care of her health.
“There is a change that happens at about 45 or so, if you have children, they are starting to become more independent and for many, it’s a time when you think ‘I’m going to concentrate on myself a little bit more’.
“It just so happened that my good friend Sam was going through a similar process. What we really wanted was sensible, accessible, healthy and simple recipes; nothing that fell into the whole clean-eating, dictatorial approach to eating.”
Spencer was conscious of how in recent years, nutrition has become an area rife with fear-mongering and guilt.
“It’s odd, food is fuel but it is also joy, but lately it has become a reason to beat yourself up and make yourself feel ‘less than’. One of the things we tried to avoid is any kind of restriction, any kind of reference to detoxing or cleansing or cutting out a food group.
"We do say that if you are lactose or gluten intolerant, then you have to adapt your diet to accommodate your particular condition.
“We would suggest to start thinking about the nutrients and phyto-nutrients you are getting and trying to upgrade those as best you can, give yourself the best odds of a healthy future.
"Our motto is good carbs, less sugar and better fats. Sugar is the only food group we restrict a bit because so many studies have found that refined sugars are one of the leading causes of all sorts of age-related disease.”
While taking more care of ourselves as we get older is a laudable aim, does Spencer agree that as women approach the menopause, they may lack the energy required to modify their diet and lifestyle?
“Absolutely. One of the things we write about is the energy that is available to you at this age, coupled with your oestrogen levels and progesterone levels dipping. Often, that results in a feeling of lethargy, brain fog, a lack of confidence, maybe your skin and hair are not what they were.
"All of these things are happening at the same time. While the recipes in the book attempt to offer some advantages in those areas — we suggest phtyo-oestrogenic foods like fennel, and energy-boosting foods like chickpeas, beans and eggs — there is a clear case for saying that this age is difficult.
“Eating flaxseed will not be a cure. If you are suffering a lot from peri-menopausal or menopausal symptoms, you need to go to your doctor and perhaps discuss hormone replacement therapy. There is no magic wand.
"If you have the shakshuka from our cookbook, it’s not suddenly going to transform your life, but eating well is getting your diet on your side.”
Spencer says it is empowering that women are starting to become more vocal about the challenges, and benefits, of getting older.
“It is brilliant that these things are being talked about and as a cohort, we have a voice. I am emphatic about the book being pro-aging. I can’t bear all that ‘eat to stay young’ or ‘eat anti-ageing foods’.
"That’s ludicrous because no foods are anti-aging, in the same way as no beauty product is anti-aging. You are the age you are and my feeling is you should own it, enjoy it, be the best you can and future-proof your health.”
Comedian Jim Breuer’s poignant account of how humour helped him to care for his late father: https://goo.gl/rgPZt3
"Some guy said to me: ‘Don’t you think you’re too old to sing rock ’n’ roll?’ I said: ‘You’d better check with Mick Jagger.’ — Cher
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved