Tuesday, 17 January 2012

New Zealand Travel Blog #1 "Sweet As Bro!"

My friend Anna and I embarked on our little adventure last week, and MAN are we loving it! We flew from London to Hong Kong for two nights, only losing one phone and lots of sleep on the way! Hong Kong was great- incredibly clean and excellent transport, really cheap noodles (stay away from the vegetable dumplings if you're a veggie, we found lumps of something  suspiciously like pork in ours!) and tasty BBQ beef rice rolls. We got the Star Ferry over to Hong Kong Island from Kowloon and stepped from a mish-mash of shanty-town and hotels to sweeping boulevards and business lunch restaurants. Other things we learnt: the rice wine is strong and insanely cheap but does not taste good, haggling on the markets will get you a good deal and they will escort you to a cash point if you need one, and the 'light show' that takes place every night at 8pm is kind of over-rated, though we had some lovely wine and nibbles on the harbour side that made it seem much better!

Next we flew to Auckland, New Zealand's sprawling but uncharismatic northern city, and were picked up by my friend from summer camp; Brooke. Brooke was a STAR- the time we spend with her and her lovely family was amazing (I am still going on about her Mum's beef and the pool) and we had a hoot with her friends on a night out in Whangarei. We also had a corker of a night in Paihia at the Base Hostel bar, then drove up to the northernmost point of New Zealand; Cape Reinga, the next day. Momma Cat purred along nicely during the scenic looooong drive, Tracy Chapman was belted out and we still enjoyed the swirling Pacific/Tasman meet and views despite the weather being foggy!

Brooke drove us back to Auckland after a 'sweet' beach day ready to start our Kiwi Experience on the notorious buses. We've found the bus trip great so far- it's so easy and convenient, plus a great way to make new friends, it's just the journeys are long and the driver's ipod can be... well... interesting! Our first bus stop was Mercury Bay where we went on an awesome glass-bottomed boat trip around Cathedral Cove, learning about the different marine life and geographical features of the rocks there, exploring caves and doing some ace snorkling- we even touched sea urchins and saw an octopus!

Next stop was Hot Water Beach where geothermal activity beneath the sand means you can dig your own hot pool when the tide is out and have a nice long soak, but be warned- parts of it are BOILING and toes can get toasted! We stayed in a brand new block of cabins on a cool campsite where we made teriyaki chicken on the BBQ with mugs of wine and our new friends :D good times! The following day was a beach day with only minor sunburn acquired, but we missed the last shuttle so had to hitchhike with a French family back to our campsite! First time for everything, right?

We stopped off at Karangahake while on the bus the next day to walk through the old pitch-black railway tunnels and along the gorge swing bridges which was a cool way to bond with our group. That afternoon in Waitomo we went on the incredible 'Black Abyss'- an exhilarating combination of caving, tubing, zip-lining, abseiling and climbing through the pitch-black but stunning Ruakuri Cave, mesmerised by the glow worms on the cave ceilings and amazed at our seemingly endless energy supplies! I think the hot drinks and sugary snack provided en route during the 5 hour caving expedition helped, plus the adrenaline! It was one of the best (if not THE best) things I've ever done!

Now we're in Rototua which smells a little funky because of the thermal activity and sulphur geysers around, but that does not affect our sunbathing as you can't smell it from our pool! We had a wonderful night in a Mauri village or Marae where we learnt about their customs, beliefs and way of life, enjoyed an awesome traditional dance, song, weaponry and poi show, then had a huge feast of delicious foods cooked in a hangi beneath the ground (with vino of course!) before many amusing sing-songs on our waka (bus) on the way back! SUCH a fantastic night, followed by an entertaining bungy-run competition in the hostel bar (which I didn't enter, not in a maxi dress!)

Tomorrow we go to Taupo and we're going to do a Skydive- wish us luck!

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Review: The Jenny Craig Diet Plan

My two weeks spent testing out the Jenny Craig Meal Plan diet are over, and it's time for me to share my experiences with you, my fabulous readers :)

Although I was approached by a lovely Jenny Craig affiliate (via this blog- woo!) and asked to test out the program, I will aim to be unbiased and honest, but hopefully still informative and kind of useful to anyone considering trying it out too. Here goes!

I've already outlined the three main tenets of the program HERE, but in my experience I found that the 'Food' part of the program far outweighed the significance of the 'Body' or 'Mind' sections in my daily thoughts. For me, considering how much exercise I was doing, how my body shape was changing and how I was feeling at regular intervals in the day didn't feature in my thoughts as much as what my next meal would be (though those of you who know me and my foodie ways will not be surprised by this!)

I started the program on a Friday, just before I went to stay with friends for 10 days in Birmingham. The inconvenience of having half my suitcase filled with food was cancelled out by the incredible convenience of having all my meals practically ready to eat! As I was staying away from home, I was also away from the temptations usually found in my house (my biscuit barrel and I were all too closely acquainted) though my friend did tempt me into baking chocolate cake with her... twice. Having said that, the odd indulgences I had didn't totally throw me off track, because I was mindful of quantity, occasionally had my treat instead of the recommended Jenny Craig snack and also had the added pressure of feeling that I'd need to confess my sins to my consultant if I took it too far, so tried not to.

My consultant Alison was great (she even sent me a Xmas card); we'd arrange a convenient time for a quick chat, when she asked how I'd been getting on and we'd discuss any challenges I had faced or any problems I needed help to overcome. She would remind me to follow the plan as best as I could, to drink plenty of water and to get in the recommended exercise, but I think I found having a consultant most helpful because I felt it made me accountable to someone other than myself. I'm naturally quite a teacher's pet, so I just wanted to be a top student!

The pack you are sent with the plan is very thorough, easy to read and informative, plus it's filled with motivational advice like "Break The Cycle" and "Affirm Yourself". You can fill in certain sections and analyse your eating styles (I'm somewhere between a social eater and an emotional eater) and activity levels (I was in the 'Action' stage before my gym membership expired) and then follow the steps to progress to healthy levels of eating and activity, with the help of your consultant, and the support of the Jenny Craig online community.

You're supposed to take your measurements before and after starting the plan (I didn't- shoot me), but I did notice my waist seemed smaller after the two weeks, and the scales said I'd lost 3 whole pounds- result! I've even decided to keep this vintage pair of shorts I was selling because NOW I can zip them up! Wahooo!

If I hadn't have had at least one Big Night Out, and more than one episode with share pouches and the aforementioned cake, then I know I'd have lost more, because I do believe the plan definitely causes weight-loss if you stick to it. How can it not- calories are controlled, exercise is encouraged and you have a support network, it's the three-pronged attack that does it!

I found the whole program incredibly easy to follow, it was like paint-by-numbers, you cannot get it wrong, you can only not do it properly! Portion sizes are not a problem at all, as you can supplement meals with as much fresh salad and vegetables as you like (there's a handy list of 'Free Foods' you can peruse HERE along with a sample menu). I never went hungry, and even had a few meals out but tried to make healthy choices (not sure Pizza Express goats cheese and chicken salad is super healthy, but MY GOD is it tasty!)

I did end up occasionally switching the meal I was supposed to have with one I preferred from the menu (I'm not big on instant noodles) so didn't exactly follow it to the letter, but I'm still pleased with the results, and enjoyed pretty much all of the food I had! I did a little bit of exercise most days, which I only sometimes filled in on my trusty sheet, and I usually forgot to tick off each item of food I ate, but as it was just for my benefit I wasn't too fussed. Noting my huger level before and after eating made me more responsive to my body, and having a plan to follow where you can see what will be going into your body makes you less likely to add in 'baddies', because you would have to admit it on your lovely neat little chart, and I didn't want to mess it up with too many scribbles of 'vodka x lots' and 'cake'. I did find it hard to get in all the dairy and fruit snacks I was supposed to have, which surprised me as usually I have no problem with regular eating, but I think my tea addiction helped on the dairy front!

Tuna Ratatouille with Durum Wheat and salad

Some of the food on the plan was divine, like the roast chicken meal, the tuna ratatouille and the lasagne, but sometimes I found the texture of the chicken a little strange, and having to squeeze the food out of a packet both off-putting and a little tricky to get it all out! I gave my friend Anna the extra day's pack of food I was sent but her feedback was rather less positive. Anna thinks all muesli tastes like cardboard so she wasn't overjoyed with her breakfast, though I love cereal so I actually enjoyed the muesli when I had it during the two weeks (though the chocolate and yogurt coated flakes are definitely better!). She noted that she felt 'peckish' at around 10am, and so had her Jenny Craig chocolate biscuit (yes, chocolate biscuits, on a diet plan, wahoo!) which she loved, obviously :)

For lunch she said the rosemary potato pot was quick and tasty, but she was not keen on the added croutons (I'm a Team Crouton player myself). Anna supplemented her day's diet with fruit and veg, so she wasn't hungry again later in the day. Dinner was supposed to be a Thai vegetable curry which I had tried before and enjoyed, but my chum was so turned off by how it looked when she squeezed it out of the packet ("like grey dog food") that she didn't eat it! I must admit that some of the foodstuffs on the program are far from being aesthetically pleasing when you first see them, but the flavours are really tasty and with a little stir or fluff up and the addition of fresh and colourful salad and vegetables, they end up looking much better and tasting great!

As you can see from my experiences vs. Anna's, opinion on the program's menu is largely based on personal preferences. I'll try anything going, but for people who know what they like and like what they know, this diet plan might not be the one for them. A more flexible plan that requires you to make you own decisions about what you eat would be better for people who are confident in doing so, for example the Dukan diet or Weight Watchers, which allow more flexibility than meal plan diets. Having said that, the principles I have learnt from the program can be applied to your own diet, if you eat 6 times a day and ensure you get 5 portions of protein, 2 fats, 2 fruits, 3 dairy, 5 starches and minimum 3 portions of veg or salad. Though this sounds like math, once you are familiar with portion sizes, it might start to be part of your regular thought cycle so you can eat a healthy balanced diet without being on the meal plan. Myself? I'll be too busy worrying about bikinis and beaches for the next four months, but I'll try!

I think the plan is great for anyone who needs the extra guidance, enjoys the convenience and wants to kick-start a diet or re-educate themselves about having a healthy balanced diet. Personally, I wouldn't be able to do the plan for a long period of time, because for people who love cooking their own food and want to eat what they fancy, not what's on the menu, it's hard to follow a set menu. In the future, I'd be happy to try out other diets and meal plans, but as I'm going travelling in a couple of days, I think I'll be surviving on what I can get! I will try and remember what I've learnt from this experience though, namely about portion size, regular eating, balanced diet and of course, not eating half of a whole chocolate cake... twice...