Belfast: Eating Clean in the City

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When travelling to a new city it can be difficult to find the best places for keeping one’s healthy-eating on track. If you’re traveling to Belfast, the following eateries are my favourites!

Belfast: Clean Eats

 

  • Slim’s Healthy Kitchen

Location: Belfast; Three restaurants; Lisburn Road, Belmont Road and Dundonald.

Website: www.slimskitchen.com 

Info: Great restaurant for lean meals, clean treats and protein shakes or juices! Lots of gluten-free options too. There are a wide range of options on their menu and they list the calories and macros for most of the items on their online menu! Calories and macros for a lot of their meals can also be found pre-entered on the My Fitness Pal app. Take-away option too.

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Slim’s Healthy Kitchen “Healthy Breakfast”
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Slim’s Healthy Kitchen Chicken Burger on an aubergine slider, with guacamole and sweet potato fries.

 

  • Raw Food Rebellion

Location: BelfastLisburn Road

Website: www.facebook.com/rawfoodrebellion

Info: This little cafe/restaurant serves amazing food and absolutely everything on the menu is vegan, gluten-free and refined sugar free! They have a few breakfast and lunch options, and you can sit-in or take-away. The have amazing peanut butter cups and a range of different cakes including the gorgeous snickers cake, ferrero rocher cake and blueberry “cheese” cake!

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Take away goodies from Raw For Rebellion
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Raw Food Rebellion Gluten Free, Vegan, Cinnamon and Raisin Toast with Nut Butter
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Raw Food Rebellion Vegan Shakes
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Raw Food Rebellion Vegan and Refined-Sugar-Free Snickers Cake and a Shake
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Raw Food Rebellion Asian Slaw and Guacamole on Vegan and Gluten-Free Bread.
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Raw Food Rebellion Caramel Slice Vegan and Gluten-Free Cake

 

  • Tony and Jen’s

Location: BelfastLisburn Road

Website: www.facebook.com/tonyandjens

Info: This healthy-eating restaurant is a great place to get super clean meals and treats! Everything is gluten and dairy free too.

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Tony and Jen’s Egg O’Muffin with organic, grass-fed sausage on a gluten-free coconut-flour muffin
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Chicken Salad from Tony & Jen’s
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Some take-away Peanut Butter and Chocolate Orange Balls from Tony and Jen’s with a glass of my homemade milk kefir.
  • 5a Coffee

Location: BelfastStranmillis

Website: www.facebook.com/5Acoffee

Info: A small café full of character with great coffee and delicious vegan peanut butter balls as well as other healthy and gluten-free treats. Small selection of healthy salads and lunch options too.

 

  • Soul Food Cafe

Location: Belfast; Ormeau Road

Website: www.facebook.com/soulfoodcafe 

Info: Great café serving some juice options such as carrot and ginger juice and beet juice. Great Spanish omelette and a yummy goats cheese salad are some of the best healthy lunch options available! Caters to gluten-free diet.

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Soul Food Cafe; Carrot and Ginger Juice
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Soul Food Cafe; Goats Cheese and Beet Salad
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Soul Food Cafe; Spanish Omelette
  • General Merchants Cafe

Location: Belfast; Upper Newtownsards Road and Ormeau Road.

Website: www.facebook.com/generalmerchantsbelfast 

Info: A relatively new Belfast gem! Great restaurant with lots of healthy options. Gorgeous brunch options and amazing sourdough bread! Locally sourced, high quality ingredients.

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The Brisbane Breakfast

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  • Yogland

Location: Belfast; Lisburn Road

Website: www.facebook.com/yoglandni

Info: Frozen yogurt bar! High protein options and all sugar free with all natural flavours and sweeteners. Dairy free BCAA sorbets available also. Fat-free, GMO free and gluten-free too.

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Yogland Froyo
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Yogland Froyo
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Yogland Froyo Toppings

 

  • Sawers:

Location: Belfast; Fountain Centre, College Street.

Website: www.sawersbelfast.com

Info: Dine Al Fresco or take-away from this lovely Delicatessen close to Belfast’s City Hall. A foodie’s dream come true!

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Sawers; sun-blushed tomatoes, cheese-stuffed dates, garlic olives and chilli goats cheese from the delicatessen.

 

  • Avoca

Location: Belfast; Arthur Street (City Centre)

Website: avoca.com

Info: You can choose to eat-clean or not here but they have some great healthy salads and superfood treats if you choose wisely! I particularly love their broccoli salad and their raw caramel slices. The shop downstairs also stocks lots of healthy treats like The Happy Pear bars and Natasha’s range of raw super foods.

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Avoca Salad Plate
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Avoca Salad Plate
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Avoca Clean Treat
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Avoca Salad Plate
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Avoca grilled Halloumi

 

  • St. George’s Market

Location: Belfast; St. George’s Market

Website: 

Info: Lots of great food stalls here on a Saturday! Look out for the Check Out My Buns stall – an amazing coeliac and vegan bakery. You can also find some of this lady’s treats in some other venues across the city – such as the aforementioned 5a Coffee and General Merchants! Finn McVeg is another great vegan and pescitarian stall at St. George’s market. I’ll do a full post dedicated to the best stalls to check out at St. George’s market soon!

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Delicious vegetable curry from Finn McVeg at St. George’s Market

 

  • Boojum:

Locations: Belfast; Botanic Avenue and Chichester Street. New store opening on Great Victoria Street.

Website: www.boojummex.com

Info: Great mexican burrito bar. Sit-in or take-away. I usually get the burrito bowl or salad bowl to keep it clean! When I’m not in Belfast, I dream of Boojum!

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A Boojum burrito bowl

 

  • Nandos

Locations: Belfast; Boucher Road, Ormeau Avenue and Victoria Square.

Website: www.nandos.co.uk

Info: Some lovely salad options on the menu – it is definitely possible to eat clean in Nandos if you make the right choices! All of the calories are on their website which makes it really easy to make informed decisions. Sit-in or take-away.

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Nandos Avocado Salad

And Finally…

If you’re staying in Belfast and want to stock up on some healthy treats from the health-food store, check out Eatwell Wholefoods or Framar Health on the Lisburn road, or The Nutmeg near Victoria Square shopping centre. You can also pick up the greatest artisan sourdough bread from Kiln and Loom on Ormeau courtesy of Zac’s Bakehouse as well as some yummy water kefir courtesy of Panacea Drinks.

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Zac’s Bakehouse traditional artisan sourdough – there are no words for how good this is!
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Panacea Drinks: Water Kefir

I hope this has given you a few options for places to eat-clean in Belfast! If I’ve left your favourite venue off the list please let me know.

The Clean Coconut x

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Curry: My Clean Recipe

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Friday night take-away eat your heart out!

Here is my version of a clean curry – one of my go-to comfort foods. This curry is gluten/dairy/egg free and made with whole-food ingredients.

The recipe serves three people with a generous portion. Based upon the ingredients I used, the approximate macros per serving are as follows; 400 calories, 9g fat, 26g carbs, 55g protein and 7g fibre. This does not include the added rice or cauliflower rice that you may choose to serve your curry with.

Ingredients: 

  • Coconut Oil (to cook – I use about 3grams)
  • 6 garlic cloves – minced
  • Thumb of fresh ginger – grated or finely chopped
  • Thumb of fresh turmeric – grated or finely chopped
  • One stalk of lemon-grass
  • One large onion
  • 450g chicken (about 4-5 chicken breasts)
  • 1.5 tablespoons curry powder (I use Schwartz Hot Curry Powder)
  • 1 teaspoon dried turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes
  • Tin of chopped tomato
  • One and half cups of petite-pois
  • One cup (250ml) of stock (I use homemade chicken stock)
  • Generous handful spinach (optional)
  • One tablespoon Bragg’s liquid aminos

To Serve:

  • 1 Head of cauliflower – to make cauliflower ‘rice’ or serve with brown basmati.

Method:

  1. Melt some coconut oil on a medium-heat and add the garlic, ginger, fresh turmeric and chopped onion to the pan. Break the lemon grass stalk in half and add it too (this will be removed before serving). Allow to cook until soft, stirring occasionally – about 8-10 minutes.
  2. Add the thinly sliced chicken to the pan and mix.
  3. Next add the dried spices – turmeric, paprika, garam masala, chilli flakes and curry powder and mix for about two minutes.
  4. Reduce heat to medium-low and place a lid on the pan while the chicken cooks. Stir occasionally to make sure chicken doesn’t stick to the pan.
  5. After about ten minutes remove lid from pan and add the tinned tomato, stock, liquid aminos and petit-pois and spinach.
  6. Bring to the boil before reducing to a simmer without the lid on a medium heat for about 30 minutes. Remove lemon grass stalk before serving.
  7. To make cauliflower rice simply wash and roughly chop a head of cauliflower, add it to your food processor and pulse until you get the consistency of rice. I usually cook this by spreading it on a baking tray and roasting for about 15 minutes at 180 degrees. Otherwise serve with brown basmati rice.
  8. Enjoy!

The Clean Coconut x

curry

Fitness Diary #2: Week One

Training

Last week I shared my very first Fitness Diary in which I opened up a little more about how I changed my lifestyle. Now I’m taking things back to the present and blogging my progress as it happens (fingers crossed!).

I confess; this is a mutually beneficial blog series. Tracking my progress on my blog is sure to motivate me while simultaneously ensuring accountability and consistency. I also hope that sharing my journey might motivate you to join me in achieving your goals too – we can do this!

New Programme

Its July 2016 and I am starting a brand new training programme. The programme will last four weeks and focuses on strength. At the same time I’m loosely tracking what I’m eating using the My Fitness Pal app. I tried counting macros before and its safe to say I learned a lot from doing so! I’m ready to give it another shot now for the duration of my four week programme and then regroup.

I fully intend to share my progress, warts and all. If I mess up you will know about it! I’m not perfect and I break the rules the same as everyone else. However, I do feel very determined to get myself into my best shape yet and that journey starts now.

Training

Goals:

I should state at this point that my goal is not to get super “shredded” or to have a six-pack. I simply want to tone up and lean out a bit while getting stronger. As clichéd as it sounds my only competition is myself and my real goal is to push the boundaries and get myself fitter. When I’m at a body-fat that I’m happy with I will then be upping my calories and attempting to put on a little more muscle! One step at a time…

Training

My Starting Point

I weighed in on Monday 18th July at 63.6kg. This marked my starting point. I do not base my progress not the scales, rather I prefer to go by how I look and feel, how my clothes fit and by progress pictures. That gives a far more accurate account of how I’m doing. I intend to do a weekly weigh-in just to keep track of things.

Back in the spring I had my body fat measured and my weight checked. I came back six weeks later weighing more on the scales but I was in fact down 4% body fat. For this reason I do not allow myself to get dismayed by the scales. I do not weigh myself daily to get an accurate weekly average as some people advise. There is certainly nothing wrong with doing so but I personally can’t help but find the fluctuation disheartening. I know this would probably frustrate me if I used it as a sole marker of success and it wouldn’t necessarily portray my level of progress towards my goals.

Week One: Training

My current strength programme involves three weight-training days per week. I completed these on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. These sessions are all full body workouts and take between 60 and 90 minutes (including warm-up/activation and stretching etc).

I also planned to do 2 days of cardio on Tuesday and Thursday on top of my weight training. Tuesday was the hottest day of the year so I decided to skip the gym in the end and stay out enjoying the sunshine. I did fit in a tough HIIT session on Thursday though. High intensity interval training (HIIT) is usually my cardio of choice; if I’m doing cardio! I definitely prefer weight training to cardio but needs must!

Training
On Tuesday I went for a Walk in the Sunshine and a Picnic in the Park

Week One: Diet

I’m not following a rigid nutritional plan but I am roughly tracking my macros for the duration of this programme. I’ve been keeping an eye on my protein intake to make sure its sufficient. I’ve also been staying within the calories set out by my macros (More on macros here).

Because I am trying to cut fat I have calculated my macros/calories with a 15% calorie deficit. I stayed within my calories for 6 days out of 7. On Saturday night, having gone out for dinner, I was probably up around maintenance calories rather than at a deficit.

Training

Intermittent Fasting

This week I have also been trying out intermittent fasting, or put more simply; eating all my calories in a smaller window of time rather than across the entire day. I find in the morning I’m not as hungry and at the moment I’m just having a black coffee until I feel hungry. If I’m training in the morning however, I definitely eat beforehand. Again this is not something I’m rigidly sticking to, it is more so something I’m experimenting with for a few weeks. When I counted macros before I mentioned that I began to feel really hungry after a few weeks. I suppose by trying out intermittent fasting I’m hoping to feel fuller while still remaining in a calorie deficit. So far I haven’t felt hungry or deprived at all on the calories I’ve been working off. It is obviously early days though so I’ll keep you up to date on how this is going for me as my Fitness Diary series continues.

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My ‘Clean’ Seafood Chowder with Sourdough Bread

Fitness Diary #2: Conclusion

It is now Tuesday 26th of July and one week on I’ve weighed in at 63.5kg. That’s 0.1kg lighter than last my starting point. I’m not going to make any drastic changes to my plan yet though. My body and my metabolism are still adjusting to the new programme and the calories I have set for myself so I will continue following the same plan of action for another week and see how it goes.

For me, this is not a quick fix or a race to lose weight. I’m taking my time and gradually making changes that I can maintain in the long run. I’m probably looking to get to 60kg as a rough goal weight but again I’m more interested in how I look and feel than in the number on the scale so this is a very fluid goal at the moment.

Let’s see what the next week will bring! You can keep up to date on Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

The Clean Coconut x

training

Fitness Diary #1: Let’s Start at the Very Beginning

Fitness

 

Evolution: The gradual development of something.

-Oxford English Dictionary

Once Upon a Time…

Rewind to Spring 2012. You would have found me out partying every weekend, sometimes both nights of the weekend. Hungover. Eating rubbish. Take-aways multiple times a week. My version of ‘healthy’ was getting veggie toppings on my pizza or ordering salad on my burger. In fairness I did make the odd stir-fry or healthy meal but for the most part food was about convenience for me.  I was lucky that I didn’t gain weight despite the lifestyle I was leading. I was definitely not nourishing my body.

I went to the gym the odd time but I didn’t really know what I was doing. I never dared venture into the weights section, preferring instead to do monotonous steady-state cardio on the treadmill, bike or cross-trainer. Half an hour max and I definitely didn’t push myself. I was skinny, so I didn’t need to, right? I wasn’t trying to lose weight, I was just trying to maintain, and that wasn’t a problem, despite my diet. The main reason for even going to the gym was likely to fit into some new dress for a night out. If I wanted to slim down for said dress I probably just ate a bit less rather than actually eating better. More than anything, I focused on the calories I was burning on the machine – for me, that was the only important gauge in terms of how I was doing. In this sense I never really challenged myself and probably didn’t have a good level of fitness overall. I was slim but had zero muscle definition.

 

When You Know better,

You do Better

 

I love the quote from Maya Angelou; “When you know better, you do better”. I certainly didn’t know any better, most of my friends lived the same lifestyle, it wasn’t something I gave any thought to. Its not like I sit and regret it either. I made great memories and had lots of fun on all those weekends filled with nights out! At the same time, I can’t really relate to that lifestyle anymore. I much prefer the lifestyle I lead now.

Fitness

Whilst I had gotten into a cycle of going out every weekend, surviving largely on junk food and not really thinking twice about it, I had actually always thought I was relatively “good”. As a child I loved vegetables and even went through a phase of going vegetarian for a couple of years when I was about ten! I didn’t eat red meat for many years after that either. I took my multivitamins, drank lots of water, avoided tea and coffee, ate plenty of vegetables. There was always a granola bar and some popcorn in my lunch box (along with a packet of instant noodles, cuppa-soup or a deli sandwich…). I loved natural yogurt with grapes or berries as a snack. If I was only going out drinking one or two days out of seven or having one or two take-aways a week I was grand! I was essentially living some strange hybrid, culminating in what I thought was balance. Now I definitely know better.

A New Approach

Fitness

In Autumn 2012 my boyfriend began working in the same gym I “trained” in while he began his Masters in Sports Performance. I was no longer going to get away with doing fifteen minutes on the treadmill followed by fifteen minutes on the bike day-in, day-out. I took the plunge and asked him to make me my first training programme. I recall now that many exercises on that first programme didn’t even involve me lifting weights. The ones that did included very low weight dumbbells. As a complete newbie the focus was on getting my form right. I think my “plank” lasted about 8 seconds and I honestly couldn’t walk for about a week after the first time I did bodyweight squats. I had clearly never used those muscles before! I probably looked ridiculous to most other people in the weights section, but everyone has to start somewhere!

Fitness

Aside from weight-training, steady-state cardio became a thing of the past and looking at the calorie count on the machine was no longer my focus. Now I was doing HIIT (high intensity interval training) on the treadmill a couple of times a week. My fitness improved drastically. In just two six minute sets I was pushing myself way harder than I ever had on those lazy days on the bike!

Fitness

Before long I was finding the bodyweight squats easy. I was delighted with myself! This whole fitness thing wasn’t going to be that hard after all. What I didn’t realise then was that it was never supposed to get easier, because once its easy you have to add more weight or more reps. Of course, that’s the only way to keep progressing and getting stronger. Seeing gradual improvements in strength and physique kept me committed to my training. I was actually enjoying going to the gym and I haven’t really looked back. I’ve worked through countless programmes in the (almost!) four years since that first one and I have continued to see gradual improvements that spur me on 🙂

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Now a strength and conditioning coach, Ciarán keeps my training programmes targeted towards my goals. I can’t emphasise enough how much of a difference it makes going into the gym with specific goals and a purposeful programme. I know now that much of my time at the gym was wasted before I began following a professional training programme in 2012.

Fitness

Transformation

I never realised how much weight training would totally change my body shape. I went from being skinny to looking strong – without going up a dress size. In fact, I now weigh more than a stone heavier than I did before I began weight training, despite being the exact same dress size. I filled out more as I toned my muscles and by continuing to push myself I found gratification and gained motivation from the changes I was seeing.

Fitness

Fitness

Fitness

Fitness

Fitness: Food as Fuel

Alongside my new training routine, I also became far more conscious of what I was eating. Food was now fuel, it was important to nourish my body so that I could continue to push myself in the gym. I began to avoid processed food and empty calories which were void of nutrition. I stopped eating take-aways and I stopped going out every single weekend. I enjoyed teaching myself about nutrition through various books, websites, documentaries, articles and through my own trial and error. It became one of my favourite pastimes, along with cooking fresh and healthy food. I had always loved cooking and baking but now my focus was on creating recipes that were wholesome and full of goodness. Cravings ceased and eating “clean” became second nature. It was never a chore and I never felt deprived – from the get-go I absolutely loved it. I wasn’t counting calories either. Living a holistic, healthy lifestyle was motivation in and of itself.

Fitness

Fitness

In spring 2015 I set up my Clean Coconut Instagram account, followed by my Facebook and www.thecleancoconut.com in the autumn of 2015 (read my 2015 Year in Review here). The Clean Coconut has also been on Twitter since March 2016 and my Snapchat handle is @thecleancoconut.

My website has become an avenue through which I can share my recipes, my progress and what I have learned along the way. I find this lifestyle hugely rewarding in a myriad of ways. It is so wonderful that the whole area of health and fitness has become much more mainstream since I began back in 2012. Walk into the weights section of the gym nowadays and you are bound to find a couple of girls lifting! Yes we might still be outnumbered, but its a step in the right direction 🙂

Fitness

Fitness

Having shared a little bit about how I started out, I hope to continue posting regular ‘Fitness Diaries’ to track my progress and continue to share what I’m doing and what I’m learning. Please don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy the odd night out here and there and I definitely indulge in the odd cheat meal. As they say, its a lifestyle choice – not a diet, and I am 100% still a work in progress! I suppose I have just come to find what feels like a true kind of balance now.

The Clean Coconut x

P.S. Find My Fitness Diary #2 here!

Fitness

Symprove: The Supplement that Changed Everything

A couple of months back, I was kindly sent a twelve week trial of Symprove. Symprove is a probiotic supplement which you may have heard me talking about before! I first tried the twelve week Symprove challenge when I was going through my elimination diet. Having experienced great success with it, I was absolutely delighted to have the opportunity to take another twelve week course. This would be my third twelve week course of Symprove, so its safe to say that I have great faith in this probiotic supplement! I jumped at the chance to complete another twelve weeks and I looked forward to experiencing all the health benefits that I already knew would come with it.

When I first received my bottles for my current course of Symprove I wrote an introductory post all about it. The post which now follows details how I got on over my latest twelve week maintenance course of Symprove.

Probiotic

Probiotic: A Brief Recap

The main reason I took Symprove in the first place was for bloating and sluggish digestion. It was recommended to me by my dietician who supported me through my elimination diet. I was eliminating foods like gluten, dairy, eggs and yeast to try and find the cause of my constant bloating and digestive discomfort. Symprove is gluten and dairy free so it suited the diet I was following at the time.

The very first time I tried Symprove it took five solid weeks before I began to notice any changes or benefits. I almost didn’t even purchase the second four-week pack as I wasn’t noticing any difference. My dietician urged me to continue with it. She was right. Five weeks in, everything changed. It was as simple as this; one day I woke up and I no longer had any of the digestive discomfort or bloating that I had been experiencing daily for a number of years. It felt like a miracle. I had tried cleanses, elimination diets, until that point it seemed like I had tried everything! Nothing truly worked until I found Symprove. That is why I am so happy to be able to share my experience with you! I finished out my first twelve week course last June and continued to reap the benefits, experiencing absolutely no digestive discomfort or bloating. In October/November when I felt I would benefit from it, I decided to take another course of Symprove. This was a maintenance course.

Symprove: My Caveat

I have one important piece of advice with regard to Symprove; I experienced the greatest results when I took it in conjunction with a healthy diet. When I was being especially good with my diet; eating clean, nourishing, whole-foods, Symprove really shone. Let me be very clear; I had previously spent months eating such a diet without Symprove and while there is no doubt my symptoms were better on a clean-eating diet, I did not have real relief until I was five weeks into my first course of Symprove. This probiotic was the key to my realising my digestive health.

Probiotic
Eating clean and including lots of plant-based fibre and nutrition in my diet helped Symprove to work best for me

This Time

Fast forward to Spring 2016 and I’m taking my third course of Symprove. This time the benefits began from day one. My system loves Symprove and reacts so well to it. My gut is now completely used to the daily probiotics I get from my Symprove supplement as well as all the probiotic foods I now eat and drink. Probiotics are an integral part of my diet now.

This time I took the original flavour of Symprove, the one I had been unsure of ordering because of all the bad reports I had heard about the taste. I have to say I really had no problem with the taste of the original flavour, it didn’t taste bad to me at all! I’m so glad because I really didn’t like taking the mango flavour due to the added artificial sweetener it contains.

From day one of the twelve week course I can feel it working. Let me list some of the benefits I experienced;

  • Greatly improved digestion
  • No more bloating and discomfort
  • My skin is clearer and brighter
  • I have increased energy
  • I have a general feeling of wellness; I feel my system is working at ease

Again I would remind you of my caveat; Symprove works best for me in conjunction with a clean-eating lifestyle. If I was to eat processed foods day-in-day-out I don’t know that I would get the full spectrum of benefits from it to the same extent. Don’t expect it to be a magic pill that will completely heal your gut unless you support it in doing so by eating well.

I also find it is important to remember to take your shot of Symprove every single morning without missing a dose. Sometimes I took a little more than the 60ml daily shot, this seemed to suit me best. I’ve heard of other people who halve the dose to begin with until they get used to it. Its important to find your own individual dose that your body best reacts to.

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Clean eating helped Symprove to work its magic best

 

I’d like to add here that my mother also took the twelve week Symprove challenge, twice. She knew how well I had done on it and thus was really keen to try it. She too experienced great results from it and has nothing but good things to say about it.

As soon as I began taking Symprove I felt lighter in my whole being, that was the most amazing thing. It made me feel so good I knew I had to ensure I took it every day. It really seems to me to eliminate bad bacteria and the good ones take over so you feel energised and definitely much lighter. I intend to begin another course of Symprove in August .

– Mother Coconut 🙂

I totally agree with her! Symprove really does seem to support and balance the gut bacteria, allowing for optimum digestion.

Probiotic

What I love about Symprove is the very promising independent research that is behind it. Check out this quick video which Simon Gaisford PhD compares Symprove with some of the leading probiotic brands on the market now.

Symprove is not cheap, it is a big commitment and one that you would likely only pay for if you felt you really need it. For me the investment has been 100% worth it. It worked so well for me and I am beyond grateful to have found it.

Experiencing the benefits of Symprove opened me up to a world of powerful fermented and probiotic foods. To me they are like the lost food group. Fermentation is a tradition that has been replaced with quick and easy, processed, fast-food. Ancient fermented and probiotic foods like kefir, kombucha and fermented vegetables are all part of my daily diet now. Probiotics have absolutely changed my life and it all began with Symprove.

The Clean Coconut x

Read more about Symprove on their website.

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Ten Things I’ve Learned From Counting Macros

macros

I started tracking macros, or macronutrients a while ago with the goal of cutting some body-fat and getting a bit leaner. This essentially means that I calculated the specific amounts of daily calories from protein, carbohydrates and fats that I should be eating in order to achieve my body-composition goals. A more complicated but also more useful version of standard calorie counting if you will. I used the My Fitness Pal app to track what I was eating.

Counting macros has been such an eye-opener in so many ways! Here are ten things I’ve learned…

1. Calories Matter

There is no doubt, calories count. Notwithstanding certain medical conditions, if you eat an excess of calories that are not being burned off daily, you will put on weight and likewise if you eat calories in a deficit to what you burn daily you will lose weight. Simple. Prior to trying out macro-counting, I was eating ‘intuitively’ and, I suppose, hoping for the best. Yes, I was eating a totally ‘clean’ diet full of whole-foods, and no I was not overweight in the slightest. So, it worked; to a point.

None of the items on my shopping list have changed since I started counting macros, but the amount I’m consuming has changed. Counting macros taught me how to get leaner quicker by taking all the guess-work out of my nutrition and allowing me to get very exact about what I’m eating. Simply eating clean will get you so far, likely very far, but getting down to the nitty gritty of your nutrition by carefully tracking what you’re eating could get you there faster.

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My Protein Bread – this was really useful when trying to hit my macros.

2. Fat has a Lot of Calories

When you’re counting macros, it is important to keep in mind that fat has 9 calories per gram. This is a lot more than carbohydrates or protein, which have 4 calories per gram. Good fats are really important for our health but they still need to be consumed in moderation.

Before I started counting macros I would have happily cooked my morning eggs in lots of coconut oil, taken my fish oil supplements, put an avocado in my salad, drizzled it in olive oil, had a tablespoon or two or nut butter as a snack, put full fat milk in my tea and coffee throughout the day, and maybe had some full fat natural yoghurt and a square of dark chocolate as a snack at night. I know now that this would absolutely not fit my fat macros. I can still eat all of the above – just not all in one sitting day. I have to be a lot stricter on myself when it comes to fats  – even the good ones! Step away from the peanut butter!

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A lower fat, low carb high protein lasagne that I created when counting macros.

3. Carbs are not the Enemy 

I probably didn’t put on a huge amount of weight on from eating so much fat because I didn’t eat very many carbs, and as such, my calories were probably not in an excess. I never did believe that carbs were the enemy; I know that they are essential to my training and there is no way I could complete a decent gym session without a substantial amount of carbohydrates to fuel me. However, until I counted my macros, I didn’t realise how low-carb I was actually eating.

I still struggle to get carbs in because I’m so used to eating a low-carb diet. At first I often found myself getting to the end of the day having met the bulk of my fat and protein macros but with a whole load of carbs left. Sometimes I will have proats in the evening after weight-training to finish off what carbs I have left in my macros. Essentially I’ve learned that I can include a lot more carbohydrates in my diet.

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More carbs means more sweet potatoes – yay!

4. Weighing Your Food Makes a BIG Difference

When it comes to counting macros, estimating does not cut it – literally! For the first few days that I was counting macros I didn’t have an electronic scale, so for a lot of things I was just estimating the amount used. Turned out what I guessed to be about a tablespoon of nut butter was closer to two tablespoons and what I thought was about a teaspoon of coconut oil was more like a tablespoon! I was also really underestimating the amount of milk in my tea and coffee and that made a huge difference to my calories when I calculated it correctly. I can’t emphasise enough how important it is to actually use the scales to weigh your food, otherwise you are likely miscalculating, and thus; wasting your time.

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I picked up a digital kitchen scales in Argos

5. Timing is Essential

When you only have a set amount of carbohydrates, protein and fats for the day you really need to use them wisely. Timing your nutrition correctly can really optimise your caloric intake. If you have a high-carb breakfast but don’t usually train until evening then you are really going to be selling yourself short when it comes to your pre-workout fuel and your post workout recovery. I try to keep the bulk of my carbs for the hours before and after training so that I have adequate energy for my workout and recovery.

6. Macros Love Black Coffee 

Prior to counting macros I loved heaps of milk and a solid teaspoon of sugar (albeit coconut palm…) in every cup of coffee. However, I soon learned that this was not going to suit my macros and realistically I couldn’t be wasting so many calories on a drink when I could be using them on food. As soon as I started counting macros I cut the sugar from my coffee completely and bit by bit I reduced the amount of milk I was adding. The funny thing is I still love my coffee as much as I did before, if not more! I have recently made it to 100% black coffee…macros must be making me bitter!

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7. Water, Water and More Water

Okay this is something I definitely already knew before I started counting macros but it became really important for sticking to my calories. Often when we think we are hungry we just need to drink a litre of water. Making sure that I’m drinking loads of water means that when I’m hungry I know its actual hunger and not just thirst.

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8. Junk Food and Empty Calories Aren’t Always Worth It 

When you are trying to cut fat and you have a limited number of calories to nourish yourself with, there really isn’t a lot of room for junk food and empty calories. I like eating clean so I’m not really one for eating much processed food anyway but even clean treats like dark chocolate can take up a lot of your calories so you have to be careful with your portions! If I wasn’t trying to cut fat through my calories at the moment I would obviously have more calories to play around with.

 Counting macros has become famous for its flexibility, because you can have treats once they fit your macros. However, if you have to choose between eating a dinner or a donut, you’re obviously much better off making the choice that best meets your nutritional needs and satiates you most, rather than just simply looking at the calories. I prefer eating food that gives me the most nutrition, both macro and micro, for the calories involved, or the most bang for my buck so to speak.

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Whole-food nutrient dense treats like my Proats were the best option

9. You Can Let it Go… Occasionally 

I was at a wedding a while back and of course macros were the last thing on my mind – sometimes its okay to forget about them! Of course, doing so more than occasionally will likely hamper your progress. Ordinarily, when you eat out you have to resort to estimating your macros. Personally, I don’t mind doing this once a week but I think I would find it pretty hard to count my macros properly if I was eating out more than a couple of times a week. The great thing is that there are so many more healthy restaurants popping up all over the place. Many of these restaurants are even providing nutritional information with their meals. This makes counting the macros oh so easy!

I’m currently running a project to discover the best healthy-eating restaurants around Ireland so get in touch via my contact page if you want me to add your favourite healthy-eating spot to the list!

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My Protein Pancakes – another treat that also helped me hit my macros!

10. If  you can Work it, it Works!

For me, correctly counting macros worked. I spent the first week learning what combinations of foods suited my macros before getting my electronic scales to make sure my measurements were accurate. I now know how to hit my daily macros.

I only have one real issue with counting macros; after a while I became too fixated on food. Whilst macro-counting has been hailed as an all-inclusive, flexible way to eat, I found that being in a calorie deficit and monitoring every single thing I was eating made me feel very restricted sometimes. I hear you say; “Well that’s the point of a diet isn’t it? You’ve got to restrict what you’re eating!”. I suppose when I was cutting fat by eating clean and eating intuitively I wasn’t constantly thinking how much I had left to eat, and I certainly wasn’t as hungry, because I wasn’t actively calculating everything. I did begin to wonder if macro-counting was actually making me hungrier because I was so aware of what was allowed and what wasn’t.

The above attitude crept in after about 4-5 weeks of solid and specific macro-counting. I was getting hungrier and hungrier and I didn’t feel like that was good for my metabolism. I wasn’t even in a severe calorie deficit at all. I upped my calories so that I was only in a very slight deficit and then after a while I just decided to take a break from macro counting.

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Filling up on loads of veg is useful for staying within calories and preventing the dreaded hunger pangs.

For now, I foresee myself using macro-counting for short blocks of time, to hit a specific goal. The really great thing about the time I spent counting macros is that I can now transfer everything I learned from it into my day-to-day clean eating and experience greater results.

When utilised, predominantly through healthy, nutrient-dense foods, counting macros can be a balanced and inclusive way to meet your own personal health and fitness objectives. For me, macro-counting won’t be a lifestyle choice, at least not for now. Instead it will be a useful tool to utilise when I have targets and goals to meet over a specific and measured time-frame. For now, I’m much happier simply eating-clean 🙂

The Clean Coconut x

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P.S. There are lots of ways to calculate what macros are right for you, there are various formulae that can be used and there are also some perhaps slightly less accurate but very handy online tools such as this one. If you would like me to do a more detailed post on how to calculate your macros please let me know 🙂