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Thursday 19 May 2016

Sonia O'Sullivan: The Real Meal Revolution

Visit to see Ger Hartmann while in Ireland has changed my shopping list

As an athlete, I’ve always been very conscious of diet. I love food too, and so am always open to new ideas about good nutrition, not just for the body but the mind too.

While at home, last month, I called in to visit my good friend and physical therapist Ger Hartmann for a few days, just before I got back on that plane to Australia. Ger has always been on the cutting edge of what’s new and what’s good in nutrition and health, and loves to share his ideas too.

We went for a hike up Moylussa, the highest point in Co Clare. Starting out it looked like it might be more like a short walk: hailstones were cutting across our faces, although you could see the weather was moving fast, so we trudged on, hoods up, shielding our faces with gloved hands.

It wasn’t long before we could look around and feel the sun beating down. Four seasons in less than an hour.
Once freed of the elements, the conversation flowed. I stopped to point out some wild garlic, which I only recently discovered, and with that Ger started to tell me about this new book he was reading, The Real Meal Revolution, and how it was affecting the way he was choosing what foods to eat.

So, loving my food and loving reading, I couldn’t wait to get back and check out this book, which he said was turning the food pyramid as we know it completely on its head. The essential message is low carbohydrate, which actually resonated with me. When I was running at my best, in the 1990s, I never ate very much carbohydrate. Pasta, rice, potatoes were all kept to a minimum – the opposite of what most people would associate with an elite athlete’s diet.

Hunger threshold

I remember the night before the World Cross Country in Marrakech (before winning double gold) eating a very simple meal of white fish, green vegetables and a little sweet potato. This is the perfect meal, according to The Real Meal Revolution, although with a little extra fat thrown in. That’s the big difference for me, as I was more low-carb/low fat, when the guideline now is more low-carb/high fat; that way you reach your hunger threshold quicker, and with that be better able to reduce the amount of food you eat.

Just like I sometimes change my exercise routes to keeps things interesting, I also like to change my eating habits, rather than stick to the same foods all the time.

So you can imagine how I was feeling in that supermarket last week, straight off the plane, having just printed off the traffic light breakdown of foods according to the book: Green – eat plenty; Orange – eat moderately; Red – avoid.
With this fuzzy head of tangled indecision, it was almost impossible to see all these foods on the green list; instead, I was being bombarded with cereals and breads and packaged foods – all “red” foods, staring me in the face, looking to be picked off the shelf. So I picked up a few essentials, and left.

It’s amazing how something that only last week I knew nothing about is now bobbing up all around me, reinforcing the message that it’s always good to make some changes, see what it brings to your life. One thing is clear: I’ll be going to the shops with a list of what to buy until the green foods are all jumping out at me, while all the rest become a distant blur.

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