Hello friends! I have been meaning to post a review of my last round of the IQS 8-Week Program for a couple of weeks now, so before this truly becomes “old news”, let’s get right down to the nuts and bolts of it, shall we?
WHAT I ATE
Week 3 kicked off and, despite being at the tail end of recovery from a strange virus, I was excited to present Chilli Lime Kebabs with Herb Quinoa to hubby for his birthday dinner (his plate featured sunflower seeds and avocado to replace the feta). The Root Vegetable Rosti with Pea Salsa were a hit (not just with me; reports from other 8WP participants were positively glowing!). I experimented with making my own Salt & Vinegar Sweet Potato Chips (which I should get around to posting here, in case anyone is interested). Nutty Broccoli Pasta became an instant family favourite. The children helped prepare this easy dish, taking turns to measure out the pasta, pour the olive oil and juice the lemon. I don’t know who was more proud, them or me! The IQS take on Shakshuka was a perfect post-yoga, weekend brunch dish. Vegetarian Pad Thai was a true surprise, though I should know by now that IQS dishes are delicious. My husband loved this dish. The kids, who I encourage to at least try a little of everything I cook, did too (although they weren’t completely sold on the tofu). Once again the week wrapped up with one of my new favourite activities; Sunday Cook-up time.
Week 4 began with a touch of trepidation putting a slight dampener on my enthusiasm for “Clean Week”; a complete detox off of sweet things of all kinds (berries included), gluten AND caffeine. Breakfast #1, the Make-Me-Over Mojito Smoothie was my very first IQS-style green smoothie experience! I must admit, I have always been a green-smoothie-sans-fruit sceptic. No longer. I genuinely loved this and could easily have one every day! Of all the meals I have tried during 2 rounds of the 8WP so far, I was possibly most surprised by this one, having been so sceptical about the flavour profile before trying it. I spent the week still revelling in the fact that kale is now stocked in the supermarket across the road, and I added loads of it to my Super Green Paleo Fried Rice. I finished the week in gluten-free style. I was bound to love the Grilled Vegetable Wrap (because I am not a complete basket case) and, indeed, I did!
Week 5 arrived and I became acquainted with the Grilled Vegetable and Ricotta Stack with Pesto. Just. Yum. I made the mistake of saving a portion of the Stuffed Field Mushroom with Cauliflower Mash for 2 days instead of 1. *Sad face*. It really should be eaten within 24 hours (the texture became unpalatable after too much time in the fridge + reheating… but, made fresh, this dish was yummy). On the upside, the leftover cauliflower mash was a hit with my son, who demanded cauliflower mash for the rest of the week! I’ll freely admit that I went a little astray around this time and started including non-program IQS treats in my cook-up (IQS-style Caramel Slice and Vegan Chocolate Mousse). I blame Halloween.
Week 6 highlights definitely included the Mushroom, Chilli + Spinach Pasta. What can I say? Simple, easy, family friendly yumminess! Cooked up a double batch of the delicious Quick Moroccan Chickpea Stew, which is a perfect freeze and reheat kind of meal. The Apple Cookies were amazing. I can’t say enough good things about them; crunch factor, sweetness (not too much), kid friendly, peanut butter… you can’t go wrong!
Week 7 and Roasted Cauliflower + Chickpeas with Dukkah Kale came into my life. Hello, one of my new favourite dishes! Making my own Dukkah was a delicious revelation, and an activity I plan to repeat. My husband has been converted to cauliflower now, thank you IQS. Green Mac + Cheese was the inevitable success it was destined to be. The gorgeous Blueberry Paleo Pancakes, likewise!
Week 8 saw the return of some tried and true 8WP favourites, including the Sesame Carrot + Pecan Salad and Breakfast Bruschetta (which was a hit during the last round). I was very surprised to find that I actually preferred the berry-free Make-Me-Over Mojito Smoothie (of Clean Week) to the stunning Strawberry Daiquiri that was raved about by IQSers at the start of this week. I never thought I’d prefer fruit-free over berry anything! The Coconut + Lemon Powerballs were a success; easy to make and moreish. I got around to making the amazing Zucchini Cheesecake + Summery Quinoa Tabbouleh. The tabbouleh alone is fabulous (fresh, light and vibrant), but combined, these dishes are a formidable duo. The Vegetable Free-Form Pie was a suitably festive and yummy way to celebrate the program’s completion! The Chocolate Brownie Biscuits with Ganache, created from a recipe sent via email to participants as an extra gift, were every bit the delectable treat you would expect them to be!
HOW I FELT
Overall, during weeks 3-8 I felt pretty good! I didn’t have traveling to contend with during this round of the program. I did, however, have adjustments to make to my routine upon returning to work after maternity leave. My energy levels were fairly evenly maintained throughout the course of the program (barring the very end of Week 8) which, in itself, is pretty amazing.
Week 4 *drum roll*… Clean Week! If you read my post detailing my experiences during this stage of the program last time around, you will have noted that it was basically a total write-off! In fact, my last “clean week” was rather quite the opposite. So this was my chance to give it a real go. I am amazed that I managed the caffeine detox during a working week. Despite normally drinking less than the equivalent of a standard cup of coffee per day, during Clean Week I had a particularly busy work schedule, plus very early starts at the office coupled with stupidly late nights working on personal projects. I survived being completely caffeine-free, nevertheless.
And the most amazing thing? Clean Week threw some challenges my way in the ol’ detox symptoms department, but I trusted the process and it was totally manageable when I did the things that were suggested. Detox headaches started on the first afternoon of Clean Week (I very rarely get headaches at all) and became progressively worse as the day went on. Walking helped. Drinking water helped. Green smoothies helped (I made a small one as an after work snack). Then I did hot yoga, sweated it out and killed that headache completely! Amazing! The detox headaches never returned after that hot yoga session. It must have been THE shortest caffeine detox I have ever been through (from start to finish, it lasted a matter of hours!). I still experienced a touch of “brain fog” at work for a couple of days, but I stuck with herbal infusions and water. I was still snacking… healthily, but snacking nonetheless.
By Week 8 I was taking on too much and “compensating” by seemingly putting sleep/rest/myself last on the list of my priorities. This wasn’t how I had hoped to end the IQS 8-week program; more sleep-deprived than I’d been since I-don’t-know-when after literally zero hours (or even minutes) of sleep on the last Saturday night of the program! After 6 hours of repeated attempts at meditation, breathing exercises and good old-fashioned sleep, I found myself in tears, my body physically shaking. I surrendered eventually and, taking myself out of bed, feeling like absolute rubbish, I started to organise my bedroom.
It was then, whilst sitting on my bed amidst a pile of personal papers and newly folded clothes, that I had one of many a-ha moments that have come to me recently. The realisation was that, despite the many issues I encountered during both of my pregnancies, when I was pregnant I approached matters concerning my wellbeing in the most loving, gentle and nurturing of ways. Recently I have been doing rather well in the food department and with training too. But some basic needs (such as sleep!) and gentle self-nurture have been demoted on my list of priorities. It is fitting, then, that on the last day of the 8WP I had a spiritual (read rude) awakening regarding the sustainability of any kind of healthy lifestyle.
I need to switch off. I need to simplify. I need to say “no” more often to the things that cause me undue stress. And “yes” more often to the things that bring me joy and contentment.
How does this fit in with my IQS-related journey/experiences?
I have always felt that one of the major benefits of IQS is the increased level of self-awareness it brings. This process is not always “comfortable”, but it certainly helps to shed light on aspects my life (not necessarily food-related at all) that need a bit of a shape-up!
On the upside, during Week 8 I ran my last race for the year; the greatly anticipated Stockholm Tunnel Run. I was joined by over 42,500 other participants, all crazy enough to brave the cold for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to race through the newly constructed Stockholm Northern Link Tunnel before its official opening. Miraculously, despite the cold, the often crowded conditions inside the tunnel, my layers of winter clothes creating the effect of a personal sauna, and not keeping track of the pace I was running at, I managed to beat my personal best time for a 10 km race by 44 seconds.
This was a fitting way to end the program and a suitable metaphor for my IQS8WP experience; not trying or striving for a particular result, just giving it a go… and coming out on the other side feeling good, surprised that reward was gained with relative ease!
WHAT I LOVED
- The inspiration I have gained from working with new cooking techniques and ingredients
- Connecting with inspiring, kind and motivated people via the IQS forums, Instagram and other channels ❤
- The heightened level of taste/body/self-awareness
- Being organised. I can’t stress enough how amazing getting into the practice of a doing a weekly/ Sunday Cook-Up has been. It has changed our lives.
- The increasing consciousness around our consumer behaviour that is being nurtured in both myself and my husband (and as result, our children)… not just when it comes to food, but across the board.
- That somehow moving outside of my comfort zones with food seems to have inspired me to do the same with training, so I am trying new gym classes with new instructors, keen to change things up a bit (though CrossFit still terrifies me!)
WHAT I DIDN’T LOVE SO MUCH
- That I remained (and still remain) an after work/pre-dinner “snacker” despite being snack-free and satisfied from my IQS-style breakfasts and lunches everyday.
- That chocolate (even in its healthiest forms) never left me during this process, or rather, I never left it! 😛
As much as I loved IQS from the moment I was introduced to it, I never pledged it would be something I’d embrace “forever”. In recent years, I have been one of those yo-yo detox types; generally fairly health-conscious, but doing the occasional “hardcore health” lifestyle experiment here and there when seized by moments of incredible motivation (usually after a binge of some kind; work, food, etc.). When I read that Sarah Wilson suggests approaching quitting sugar as an experiment, I thought “Yep, that resonates. I can deal with that…”, but I was quick to place conditions on my decision!
It is now, after using I Quit Sugar for Life, recipes and tips from Sarah’s blog and iquitsugar.com, doing two rounds of the IQS8WP and experimenting in my own kitchen that I can see how sustainable this really is. Not a fad. Not a diet. IQS is a common sense lifestyle approach .
It’s all about living consciously and fully.
It’s certainly not about denial or deprivation.
Many years ago, someone told me that the Latin root of the word “addiction” comes from a word meaning “to enslave”*. The things that are familiar crutches (hi sugar!)- things that we may falsely perceive as treats/freedoms/friends/momentary comforts- can actually be the very things can are keeping us chained to unhealthy patterns and preventing us from finding true and lasting happiness. IQS is about “true” food freedom.
In this way, I find it easy to pay no mind to the naysayers. I would feel confronted too if I was in their shoes. In fact, I did when this whole quitting sugar thing was first raised with me by a friend! If we are hooked on something, if we are desperately clinging to denial (because we know that once it’s gone, it’s gone) in order to avoid accountability, we will fight for our right to be right, right?
I still find myself hesitant to shout “I quit sugar for life!” from the rooftops (and, having studied pastry, I am sure to bake the odd cake or two in the future!), however it is evident to me and everyone who knows me, that I am a BIG fan of this program. And, to be honest, I can see myself continuing to largely embrace the IQS philosophy moving forward, despite the fact that my husband and I are both heading in a plant-based direction**.
I am so happy to have given IQS a go… not perfectly at all times, perhaps, but I have tried it. Moreover, I have seen the benefits. I have become part of a community of like-minded people, I have become more confident in the kitchen, cooked/eaten new things, I have run my first half marathon (a year and a bit before doing so, I honestly couldn’t run 3 minutes without feeling like I would die), I have seen my hormones start to balance out (after many, many struggles in this area), I have seen my kids get excited about food in a whole new way, I have seen my vegan husband adore the meals I have shared with him from the veg 8WP meal plan, and I have been hugely inspired in all areas of my life.
I have become more “me” than I have ever been.
And that, for me, is the greatest success.
I’d like to extend my best wishes and warm regards to the IQS team, my fellow 8WP participants and all those IQS-curious folks who have been sweet enough to follow along. Many thanks for the support, inspiration and encouragement!
I promise to play catch-up with everyone soon and see what exciting things you’ve been up to! I am so happy to be counting down to Christmas, celebrating each day of advent in simple, delightful and cosy ways with my children. Living in pitch blackness and freezing cold is kind of ok right now. 😉
❤ MM xx
*In case you’re interested:
“Addict, v. < Addict, adj. < classical Latin addīctus assigned by decree, made over, bound, devoted, past participle of addīcere to assign, to make over by sale or auction, to award, to appoint, to ascribe, to hand over, surrender, to enslave, to devote, to sentence, condemn < ad ad- prefix + dīcere to speak, say”
**IQS was originally designed to suit to omnivores, but is very accommodating to those adopting a standard ovo-lacto vegetarian approach to eating and the veggie version of the plan is excellent, with many IQS vegetarian recipes also offering vegan alternatives. I seem to find myself in a strange little boat of my own, embracing many of the IQS principles (which have much in common with those of the Paleo and LCHF movements) and, simultaneously, an increasingly plant-based approach to eating (which, popularly, has a high-carb, high-fructose, low-fat leaning). It is an interesting place to be, with lots of room for experimentation.