Learning About Me

Ejo #108 – The Happiness Project: Part 1

I hope you’re happy. I honestly and sincerely hope that each and every one of you is happy. Because happiness is awesome. And the reason I know this is because… wait for it; I am happy. And let me tell you, it has been an epic journey for me to get to a place where I can, unapologetically, write those words down. So, how did I get here? Do I suddenly like living in Dubai? Have I reached my goal weight? Has my job satisfaction magically improved? Did I win the lottery? The answer to all of those questions is no. And yet still, I’m happy?? How does that compute? The ancient Greek philosopher Socrates, wisely believed that happiness was not attained from physical or external conditions, like wealth or pleasure, but rather stemmed from within. And, modern science backs him up.

There are a shitload of studies showing that “stuff” and “success” are not the be-all and end-all of happiness. For instance imagine you just won $50 million bucks in the lottery. Woohoo!!! I reckon you’d be pretty happy, right? But how long would that happiness last? Forever? Ten years? Three months? Most lottery winners, after the initial thrill, go back to their previous happiness levels in a pretty short time. Sure, their improved “life satisfaction” may last much longer, but their happiness returns to exactly where it was before the windfall. The same thing happens when you go on that holiday of a lifetime, or have that kid you’ve always wanted, or move into that amazing new dream home. All of these things do make people happier. But only temporarily.

And that’s because happiness isn’t a place you ever get to. It’s not a destination. No-one actually lives happily ever after in some enchanted Happyland. Happiness is something you pick up on your way to somewhere else. And, sorry folks, unless you’re lucky enough to be born with a naturally happy disposition (I’m looking at you Svetlana), it is not just going to fall into your lap. Another old Greek guy, Aristotle, said that happiness depends upon ourselves. And what that means is that it’s your job to make yourself happy. And yeah, it is a job. That might seem contradictory, but if you can’t tell me that you are happy right now, with everything in your life exactly the way it is, then maybe it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get to work.

I recently completed a three month course called The Happiness Project run by my second favourite person in Dubai; my long suffering friend and therapist Zimmy Khan. I’ve known Zimmy for almost nine years. I first met her at a very low point in my life. I was gravely unhappy, bordering on depressed and absolutely desperate for help. It might sound like a cliché but she saved my life. Certainly, I owe her the life that I have today. Over the years she has transformed me into someone who can honestly say that regardless of what is happening around me, or even happening to me – I am happy. So when Zimmy announced that she was conducting a project specifically designed to make people happier I jumped at the chance to do it, even though I was already doing pretty good in that department. And I’m so glad that I did. My growth from misery to happiness occurred incrementally, over nine years. It happened so slowly that I can’t even really put my finger on how it occurred. It was a process. But doing this course gave me the chance to experience a distilled infusion of happiness training.

And before I go on, I just want to clarify that happiness (as I’m talking about it here) is not the same as joy. Or pleasure. Being happy doesn’t mean walking around with a demented smile plastered on your face. And it’s not the same as being chirpy all the time either. Happiness has been defined as living a life that fulfils your needs. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a bad day, or moments of sadness. It just means that those blips slide on by without sticking and without having the huge impact they used to. Yesterday afternoon I had an argument with my tower husband (you might know him better as Dangerous Doug) which made me feel really blue for a couple of hours afterwards. But (and I still haven’t quite figured out how this is possible), I could still say that I was happy. And you know what else? The temporary sadness was OK too. I didn’t try to ignore it, or try to squash it – because it was an appropriate, healthy response to something that had upset me. And this morning I woke up feeling amazing again. True happiness is not fleeting. It’s not fickle, or vulnerable to outside forces. It’s something that protects you from the storms.

So how does a happiness project even work? Essentially, it’s about rewiring your life, by rewiring your thoughts and actions. It’s about creating new habits that are scientifically geared towards increasing happiness. The project was conducted online, which means that you don’t need to live in Dubai to participate. And Zimmy was always available to answer questions or to have a chat via email or WhatsApp. Part of the deal was that she also made herself available in person (or Skype etc.) to do one-on-one sessions at the end of each of the three months of the project. To me, that was the most valuable part of the whole thing. Yes, we were learning how to rewire our lives to become happier, but Zimmy was there to make sure we were on the right track, guiding us the whole way. And for me, that personalised attention alone was worth the price of participating.

The crux of the course was centred around 24 action and thought rewirements, and the project was structured around introducing them, two per week, followed by consolidation in the form of daily homework, research, reading and discussion.  Like I said, you have to put in the work. Very generously, Zimmy has allowed me to share the rewirements here with you (as I have interpreted them), though I haven’t included any of the actual course content. Please feel free to take on board whatever resonates with you. You might already do some of them, or maybe you just need a reminder to get back to doing something that has worked for you in the past. For others this might present entirely new ideas. I just suggest that you give it all a go. Of course you only get the full thrust and benefit of the project by signing up to do it yourself (which is something that I would really highly recommend), but I’m hoping that you do get a little something from the info below. In this ejo we’ll tackle the first five rewirements. And then next month we’ll delve into the rest. I’m also working on Part 3, an exclusive interview with Zimmy herself. Watch this space.

SHIFT NEGATIVE THOUGHTS TO POSITIVE
We all have a voice in our heads, constantly babbling in the background (and if you don’t believe me, try thinking of absolutely nothing for two minutes – it’s impossible). Sadly, research has shown that nearly 60% of the time, the voice is saying negative things. The first rewirement is to become aware of these negative thoughts as they happen, and to then consciously change them from negative to something positive. Like all the rewirements, it was a bit difficult to do in the beginning, but now I find myself doing it automatically. When you make the effort to listen to the crap rolling around your head you’ll be astonished at how often negative thoughts pop up. It’s a relatively simple fix to turn that shit around.

FULLY SAVOUR A MUNDANE DAILY TASK
The premise of this one is to pay attention, to savour something that you do automatically, on auto-pilot. Why? Because when you aren’t actually conscious of what you’re physically doing, the negative voice gets carte blanche to just ramble on. This way, you take control of your mind. One of the mundane tasks I chose to savour was making the bed. Every day now, I focus on the feel and look of the linen, on my physical movements of shaking out the sheet, of getting the angles of the blanket just right and enjoying the end result of a beautifully made bed! It takes me all of about two or three minutes, but I’ve really come to see this time as a luxury, a time be mindful and to savour the present moment.

EVERY DAY SHARE FIVE THINGS WITH A GRATITUDE PARTNER
This is the big one for me. Gratitude has been proven over and over again to be the biggest predictor of happiness. The first part of this rewirement is to find five things to be grateful for, every single damn day. And actually, this is easier than it might sound. If you have all your limbs, you have something to be grateful for. If you have a car that runs, you have something to be grateful for. If you breathe fresh air, you should be grateful. Running water, grateful. Health, grateful. See what I mean? Gratitude is such a powerful tool in learning how to be happy. Anyone reading this ejo already has so much. We just need to train ourselves to see it. And if you focus on what you already do have, on a daily basis (rather than on what you don’t), you’ll find yourself becoming happier. The second part of this rewirement is actually sharing your gratitude with someone else. Yes, it is enough to be grateful. And it’s perfectly fine to just write it in a journal. But when you share your gratitude with someone else, the benefit multiplies exponentially.

This rewirement involved finding a partner, someone willing to exchange daily gratitudes for three months. And I was so lucky (and eternally grateful) that my sister Mari also chose to take part in this course. For three months we sent each other gratitude videos every single day, and I can’t tell you how much I loved that. Sharing my life with my sister, who lives so far away from me, hearing about her day, seeing her face and hearing her voice was extraordinary, and my life was so enriched by the experience. So much so that when the project finished, we both agreed to continue the daily gratitudes, in text form. This rewirement would be my number one recommendation if you were to choose just one. And hey, if you need someone to share your daily gratitudes with, then hit me up. I seriously mean that. I’m pretty confident I could represent Australia at the Gratitude Olympics, because I’ve been doing this for a while. Nearly four years ago my friend Melinda and I started emailing each other daily gratitudes. In that time I’ve seen both of us experience massive improvements in resilience, happiness and fortitude. It’s like a muscle – if you go to the gym regularly, you’ll get stronger. Practice daily gratitude and you will become happier. I promise.

GRATITUDE FOR THE DAY THAT JUST PASSED, AND FOR THE DAY AHEAD
Another gratitude rewirement. Seriously though, this shit works – too much gratitude is literally never enough. So, as well as sharing your five daily gratitudes with a partner, it’s great practice, right before you go to sleep, to review the day that you’ve just lived and take the time to savour every little thing you can think of that made a positive difference. The added bonus of doing this is that it can really help the transition into sleep. Your gratitudes can be as monumental as appreciating your partner, or as trivial as getting a great parking spot at work. As huge as giving birth to a healthy baby or as inconsequential as enjoying popping the cork out of a wine bottle (which, I’m sure you’ll agree is an extremely satisfying sound). When you start noticing all the little things you have to be grateful for, it will change your life. You’ll get into the habit of spending the day actually looking for things to be thankful about. And the shit things that do happen in the normal course of life will have a lot less power to ruin your day. In addition to looking back, it’s an awesome habit to express gratitude in advance. To basically set a positive intention for the day ahead. Be grateful in advance for waking up tomorrow morning feeling rested and refreshed, for a great cup of coffee in the morning, for a seat on a packed train, for the sun shining during your lunch break, for your favourite song playing on the radio, for a stranger’s smile. Expecting good things to happen is such a positive way to live your life and a surefire way to increase your happiness.

DO THINGS FROM YOUR HAPPY LISTS, EVERY DAY
So, what’s a happy list? Actually, it’s three lists. Grab a piece of paper and a pen – go ahead, I’ll wait. OK, so in the first list write down some things you like doing by yourself that make you happy (one of my examples was taking a bath). In the second list, write down a few things you like doing with other people that make you happy (for this one I chose having sex with my husband). And in the third list, write down some stuff that you think might make you happy if you did give them a go (gardening was one of mine). Now start doing things from all three lists. And I mean every day. Coz… why wouldn’t you do the things that you know (or hope could) make you happy? Make the time and create the space you need to do it. Because it won’t happen by itself. You have to make it happen. So go and do it, right now. Then come back and write to me and tell me how you feel.

The answer I’m hoping for? Happy.

Ejo #107 – My Diary: I’m Sweet Enough

DAY #1
Today was supposed to be Day 2 of giving up sugar but yesterday I caved in and ate all the chocolate in the house after dinner. It’s best to not have chocolate in the house if you’re trying to give up sugar and so it just seemed like a good idea to start today instead.

So why am I even giving up sugar in the first place? Listen guys, I’ve known for years that sugar is bad for me. Not just because of what I’ve read about it, but by the way my body responds when I eat it. That shit is pure poison!!! It creates so many health problems and the fact that it is so devilishly addictive should ring alarm bells for anyone who’s unable to resist it. It’s basically the legal version of cocaine. If you’re not sure about that, take a look at this PET scan of the brain after dosing up on both drugs. They stimulate the EXACT same regions of the brain, dumping dopamine galore into your system – that’s the reward neurotransmitter that makes you feel good. Only problem? You feel pretty shit, pretty soon afterwards with both substances. And… you always want more.

sugar coke

Is it just me or is sugar even MORE potent than cocaine in this picture?

But just like a coke addict that decides to go clean, if you make the choice to give it up then you can. I’m sure it’s not going to be super easy, but I know I’ll reap many benefits. Come along for the ride, why don’t you!

DAY #2
Not a bad day. My sugar weakness tends to rear it’s disgusting head mostly on my days off work. But I worked today so it just wasn’t a problem. I got home from work at 10.30pm and the sugar danger moments have usually passed by then. I’m glad I have another afternoon shift tomorrow because I think Day 3 is when the cravings start, if I remember correctly. Eek!

I have given up sugar before, a couple of times. The longest time, by far, was in the early 2000s when I went on a pretty strict Atkins diet. For a couple of years I didn’t indulge in much (if any) sugar at all. I remember not even eating birthday cake on my birthday. I mean, REALLY!!!! I would go to fancy restaurants and either have the cheese plate for dessert, or ask them for a bowl of strawberries or even go without (GASP!!!). This kind of behaviour seems a lifetime ago now, but I sure would love to get back to a place where it’s totally natural to not even crave sweets. That’s my end goal here. Wish me luck!

DAY #3
So, I’ve decided to give up booze at the same time as I give up sugar. Yay!! Life is fun.

I’m not sure if it’s because of the lack of booze, or the lack of sugar, but I am experiencing insane energy. It’s nearly 1am in the morning, after a long-ass day, and I’m writing this post bouncing around like an Energiser bunny listening to disco music. If I could harness this shit, I’d be fucking queen of the universe! It’s an amazing feeling. Especially as whenever I do drink alcohol and eat sugar regularly, I just feel like shit. And so lethargic. You’ll find me napping constantly. It’s such a drag. Why the hell do I put myself through that?

DAY #4
For the record, even though I am probably the chubbiest I’ve been in several years that’s not the reason I’m giving up sugar. Of course I am also working on losing those extra kilos, but the sugar thing is 100% to do with my health. Over the years I have become hyper aware of the effect it has on my body and my state of mind. When I eat sugar, my heart starts racing and I feel jittery. Shortly afterwards my mind invariably fogs over and I can’t think clearly. I become irritable and unmotivated. Things slide. I wake up puffy and achy every damn morning. And I just can’t say no to more.

Look, I know there are conflicting studies regarding what sugar does inside our bodies. And I know which ones I believe. I believe them because I’ve seen the undesirable effects of sugar on myself. And that’s good enough for me.

DAY #5
I am really tired today after working a night shift last night. Like REALLY tired, but I’m still up at 11pm and not feeling the brain tiredness that sugar gives me. I’m tired, but my brain is still switched on. The sugar tiredness is something that totally overwhelms me, like my body is shutting down. And why wouldn’t it? You realise when you give something like this up, how delicately balanced your internal systems are, and how much you can really fuck them up with what you put in your body. I really do hope that this challenge is paving the way for me to permanently give up sugar.

In case you’re interested, I’m avoiding all types of sugars. I’m not eating anything processed – no white flour, no white rice, no breads or cereals (all of which are converted into glucose in the body if not immediately used for energy). No chocolate, no lollies, no cakes or cookies. No fruit, even. And certainly no fruit juice. No soft drinks. Nuthin’!!!! As I mentioned earlier, I’m even avoiding alcohol right now. That’s how fucking dedicated I am to doing this. And I need to be. I simply can’t do moderation. I’m an all-or-nothing girl and I always have been. Nothing half-assed for me! I do plan to reintroduce alcohol at some point. Natch! But I don’t need to eat ice-creams or chocolate. Not ever again.

DAY #6
When I’ve given up sugar in the past, someone might offer me something sweet and when I politely decline, they’ll say something like:

“Go on, one won’t hurt you.”

“Honey is natural, it’s not like processed sugar.”

“But it’s fruit! Fruit is good for you.”

“Everything is OK in moderation.”

“But it’s Easter/Christmas/your birthday!!!”

But when you give up sugar that means ALL sugar. Including honey – once it’s down your gullet, your body can’t tell the difference between sugar and honey anyway. And including fruits, especially the high fructose ones like watermelons, bananas, cherries, apples and mangoes. Why do you think they’re so delicious!! Coz they’re packed full of evil sweetness is why! Just because something is natural doesn’t mean you have to eat it. Or that it’s good for you. Every single date has 4.5g sugar. That’s over a teaspoon. A medium banana has the equivalent of nearly four teaspoons of sugar. Mangoes? They come in at over 46 grams of sugar each. So every time you feel like eating a whole damn mango you might as well put down the fruit, shimmy on over to the sugar jar and dip your teaspoon into that about eleven times instead. ELEVEN!!! Isn’t that craziness?

Listen guys, I don’t expect you to listen to me – I’m doing this for me, not you. And I’m no expert on the matter either. Also, this is not a “wellness” blog. This is a Chryss blog. I’ve read a lot on the matter. I’ve experienced a lot on the matter. And I know that sugar is bad, for me (I also know it’s bad for you but I’m not here to kick any heads in – you’re old enough to make your own decisions).

DAY #7
OK, so it’s been a week now and – well, it ain’t no thang! I’m yet to experience any withdrawals or weird symptoms. Nary a craving to be seen. What’s going on? Is it yet to come? I’ve been reading other people’s accounts of giving up sugar and they talk about headaches and visual problems, light-headedness and irritability. I’ve had none of those things. Others complain of muscle aches and pains, cramping and nausea. Even confusion and fever. I mean, for fuck’s sake – how much sugar were these people eating???

I binge on sugar, when I do eat it. But I don’t eat it often. So maybe that’s why the symptoms haven’t come. When I indulge, I’ll usually slam down a three or four day free-for-all, feel like crap afterwards and then come off sugar for weeks at a time, if not months. Then I’ll do it again. So while the amounts of sugar I do in those binge periods is A LOT, perhaps the irregularity of it means that my body doesn’t physically become addicted to it?? Of course I’m speculating. Maybe I’ll be hit by a semi-trailer of muscle weakness and confusion tomorrow. Maybe I’ll get pounded by a meteor of diarrhoea, chills and depression. All common symptoms of sugar withdrawal, apparently. Doesn’t that sound fun kids?!!! Who says sugar’s bad for you.

DAY #8
Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

Guess what happened this morning??

Yep, grogginess, puffiness, muscle aches, fatigue, headache and light-headedness. Oh yeah, and irritability. Oh my god, the irritability. I was a fucking nightmare all day long. Poor David, I don’t know how he put up with me. Hey, I just experienced sugar withdrawals, folks. I guess I’m human after all.

DAY #9
Well, thank fuck that’s over!! Yesterday was not fun. I actually got a little depressed. But you know what? Being armed with the knowledge of what was going on with my body and my mind really helped me deal better with all of it. I am certain now (and no longer in denial) that in the past I have experienced these withdrawals and just not known what they were. Just figured I was having a shit day. Now, I know.

DAY #10
Well, I almost feel back to normal after that major slump a couple of days ago – though my energy levels, sadly, still aren’t as high as they were before I got pummelled by the withdrawals. I’m hoping they do get back there because I was totally flying high on the amount of energy I had. It was supernatural!!! Certainly not the normal level of energy I’m used to operating with. Does everyone walk around with such an insane amount of energy? I bet the answer is NO! Because most people eat sugar in one form or another. It’s an epidemic guys!

DAY #11
Not much to say today. I did think about what a colossal commitment it is to give up sugar forever, and to be honest, after delving deeply into my psyche, I’m not sure that I can give it up forever. But I know I should. I feel so much better for not having had any sugar for eleven days. Why wouldn’t I want to keep feeling this way? I guess this is the psychological addiction kicking in now. It feels sad to think about never having my Mum’s galaktoboureko ever again. Or my mother-in-law’s coconut ice! I can’t reconcile living the rest of my life never eating another dessert. It’s just a bit depressing having to say goodbye to that stuff. Less for the sugar part of it and more for the ritual, social, celebratory aspect of it. I know I’m going through a phase of mourning. I can’t wait until I get to the acceptance part.

DAY #12
I had a shocker of a headache today. A real motherfucker of a headache. And no, friends, it wasn’t a hangover. How do I know? Because I haven’t touched alcohol in thirteen days. So what caused it? I go to bed early, I get up early. I’m not eating sugar. I’m eating a varied and nutritious calorie controlled diet (and actually sticking to it). I am exercising three to four times a week. SO WHY DID MY HEAD HURT SO BAD?????

David has suggested that perhaps those sugar withdrawals are still at play and I guess that seems to be the most plausible answer. I suppose this is the price you pay for giving up an addiction. But it’s a small price when you think of the myriad of health problems I’ll potentially be dodging down the line – diabetes, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, dementia, tooth decay, inflammation, obesity and (according to some studies) increased risk of some cancers. I’ll take a headache any day of the week.

DAY #13
I am still avoiding sugar. BUT….. today I had a flat white made with coconut milk. Is that cheating? I dunno. You know what else I did? I had wine. Is that cheating? Again, I dunno. If you want to be all technical about it (which, incidentally, I don’t) then yes, I fucked up. If you want to look at it from the point of view that I didn’t eat any goddamn gummy bears or a whole tub of Häagen-Dazs ice-cream then no, everything is cool. Make up your own minds.

DAY #14
Here’s what I found out while researching sugar addiction. You know when you eat a lot of something, eventually you have enough and just don’t want anymore? That’s called satiety. In other words, you’re satisfied. Nature, in all of her wondrous glory, designed the human body that way. So that we eat only as much as we need. But guess what? Way back when nature was shaping us, sugar wasn’t really something that was in large supply. A berry here, a fruit there – and it was good for us to gorge on the stuff. Mostly because there wasn’t that much around. So in those quantities, it was beneficial to eat as much as we could. It gave us the energy to outrun those sabre-toothed lions on the prowl. But, as an evolutionary result of that, the human body never developed an off-switch when it comes to fructose. Your body simply does not tell you when you have had enough, because it doesn’t know. And the sneaky thing about fructose is, when you have it you actually crave more. And in today’s world of sugar, it means that most of us are having WAY more of it than is good for us.

I honestly think that one day we’ll look back on sugar the way we now look at cigarettes. A ridiculously dangerous and addictive product marketed as something harmless. And we will shake our heads in disbelief.

DAY #15
I generally eat a healthy diet. I don’t eat a lot of fast food or candy or sugary desserts. Good for me, right? Not really. There are shitload of hidden sugars in food generally considered “healthy”. We’ve already talked about the fruit myth. But I’m talking about other stuff that you might not even realise is packed full of sugar. Don’t believe me?

A small tub of flavoured Yoplait yoghurt packs a ridiculous seven teaspoons of sugar. How about we stick to plain Greek yoghurt.

Some muesli bars are sweetened with up to three TABLESPOONS of sugar. Let’s grab a handful of nuts instead.

Instant oatmeal contains up to 14 grams of sugar. Better make our own.

Fruit smoothies might sound like a healthy choice but may be loaded with up to 70g of sugar per serving.  I’ll have a glass of water, thanks!

What this means is that if you truly want to avoid all sugars, you need to check the label. In an ideal world none of us would be buying processed food anyway. Stick to the fresh veggie, meat and fish sections and it’s much easier to really eat healthily.

DAY #16
I have fallen off the no-booze wagon a couple of times since giving up sugar. I’m not super thrilled about it, but I am pretty happy that even though I’ve been tipsy I haven’t succumbed to the lure of sugary treats. That’s usually when I slip into those binges I mentioned earlier. And that makes sense because, let’s be honest, when you’re drunk you don’t really make the best decisions. Your inhibitions are out the window, and suddenly you can find very logical reasons for doing things that you know you probably shouldn’t. What I’m proud of this time is that even though I did drink alcohol I didn’t even think about having something sweet.

DAY #17
Fuck you sugar!!! Who’s the bitch now???

DAY #18
Big Sugar. That’s what the sugar industry is known as – part of the Big Food behemoth that influences governments, writes their own policy and publishes studies that are skewed towards showing their products in a good light. Whether you agree that sugar is bad for you or not, you should probably be aware of the role that the sugar industry plays in your life.

Thirty-one countries have implemented a tax on sugar drinks in the hope of reducing what is now a global obesity epidemic. Australia? Not so much. And I wonder why, because we are now amongst the fattest people on earth. Yep, I said it. Australians are fatties.

sugar graph
So, let’s look at the reason that Australia hasn’t even considered a tax on sugary drinks when experts project that a 20% hike in sugar drinks could net a $1.73 billion dollar saving in healthcare costs over the current population’s lifetime. That is an enormous benefit that seems relatively easy to achieve! So why is the government not jumping on board the potential $500 million dollar tax windfall (being the tax-hungry entity that it is). In Australia, the Beverages Council spends millions of dollars every year in political donations, lobbying and wooing politicians. What do you think they want in return for that investment? What’s in it for them? Guess! All those dollars are spent so that they can control the politicians who supposedly represent us, the people. And the people are getting more and more obese and sick as time goes on. Something is rotten in the state of Denmark (or Australia, as the case may be).

Sure, it’s a free world, and we can all stop eating sugar if we want – no-one is shoving the stuff in our gobs. But so many people don’t even know the health risks that sugar actually poses. Or how addictive it is.  What’s sickening is that the government does know.

DAY #19
So, I’ve avoided sugar almost completely for 19 whole days. But… I have started drinking wine again. Does this mean I’m consuming HIDDEN SUGARS????? Am I a big fat hypocrite? Who am I trying to fool? Am I fooling myself? What’s going on? I don’t know!

I decided to do a little research.

Turns out that wine, beer and most spirits are actually OK to drink if you are avoiding sugar because all the fructose they started off with when they were grapes is converted into alcohol during fermentation. Huzzah! That doesn’t mean they aren’t high in calories or carbs or whatever other thing you might be counting that day. But it’s good to know that it isn’t affecting your blood sugars. Or mine, anyway. Fortified wines, champagne and sparkling wines on the other hand – I need to stay away from those. It’s a small sacrifice to pay. I’m not saying I’ll never drink champagne again – we all know that would be a lie. But for now, I’ll steer clear.

Day #20
So tonight, David and I went on a walking food tour of Dubai (stand by for an ejo about it). Unbeknownst to me when I booked this tour, it was extremely dessert heavy. Which was a shame; but also awesome. Because I actually managed to say no to all the delicious sweeties that were offered throughout the tour. I am so proud of myself that I didn’t succumb. I’ll be honest – I almost did give in to temptation. I even rationalised that I could write about my transgression and kind of dissect the reasons why I succumbed. But then I thought about how the biggest test of giving something up is not when it’s easy to give it up, but when it’s hard. And I feel amazing for it. Yay, me!

DAY #21
Only three more days left of this challenge and I’m really feeling like it’s something that I will continue with. Unlike giving up alcohol, which never feels like it’s going to be a permanent thing for me, this one feels good to give up for good. And of the two evils, sugar is definitely the one that I think is the eviler.

The evilest??

The mostest evil!

DAY #22
I’m so excited to have broken (or gone some way towards breaking) the spell that sugar had on me. I don’t think it’ll be worth it to slide back into eating it. This is a better way of life. I have even (accidentally) lost a couple of kilos along the way.

DAY #23
Writing a blog about giving something up definitely helps keep me in check. I’m wondering if I’ll be as disciplined once this experiment is over. I intend to be. I’m at the age now where I really need to start thinking about what the quality of my life is going to be like over the next twenty or thirty years. And I know it will be a lot better for giving up sugar. It’s decision time.

Ejo #105 – Drunk In….. Rome

Roma!  You might be surprised to learn that even though I’ve been to Italy eight times in my life, I’ve never been to Rome before.  I figured it was time, so David and I booked a three night stay at the end of our Sicily sojourn.  And I’m SO glad we did.  The moment we hit the streets, eyes wide in wonder, I fell in love.  The vibe, the architecture, the people, the opera floating into my ears from an open window down a cobblestoned alleyway.  It was such a delight to discover that Rome wasn’t going to be a huge let-down.  That it really is as wonderful as everyone says it is.  Naturally, we hit the ground running, already slightly tipsy from our flight from Sicily.  Surely you’d be disappointed with anything less.

 

WELCOME PICK UP

Taxi rides from Fiumicino Airport into the centre of Rome cost a flat fee of €48.  So, check out this cool life hack – for the exact same price, you can get a chauffeur-driven Mercedes to whisk you into town instead.  All you have to do is book it in advance and the driver will meet you and escort you into a luxurious, air-conditioned vehicle.  No queueing in line, no smelly cab, no confusion about where your Airbnb is located.  None of that shit.  This one’s a must do if you’re travelling to Rome.

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Better than a taxi, any day of the week.

 

VICOLOFT APARTMENT

We normally stay in Airbnb accommodation when we travel.  This time was no different, but this particular apartment was also available on other sites, and I have to say that I’m getting a little peeved with Airbnb’s extortionate service charges – so if I can get the same place for €70 less why the hell wouldn’t I?  We stayed in Vicoloft, an awesome apartment managed by the very lovely Alessandro, located in wonderful Trastevere.  This beautiful, cobblestoned neighbourhood is situated across the Tiber River, offering the best of both worlds – it’s walking distance to most of Rome’s incredible attractions but also a nice escape from the tourist hoardes.  Even better, this part of town rocks a great vibe every single night of the week.  I tell you what, Romans sure do love to party!!!  Our apartment was located in a particularly lively part of town, with local revellers going strong into the wee hours.  Luckily the windows are double (maybe even triple) glazed, which means that when you’re ready for bed, the place is as quiet as a tomb, despite the masses downstairs partying like it’s 1999.

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Crisp, clean sheets.  And art.  Minimal perfection.

INFO:
Vicolo De’ Cinque 16, Rome
CLICK FOR MAP

 

PIMM’S GOOD

It’s a bit of an understatement to say that Aperol Spritzes are ubiquitous in Rome.  They are literally everywhere.  And you can bet your bottom dollar we guzzled plenty of them during our three day stay, eschewing the tradition of having them just before dinner.  Hey, traditions are made to be broken.

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There’s a charming tradition in Italy called aperitivo, during which you buy a pre-dinner drink and they bring you free snacks to whet your appetite.  How civilised.

 

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We had these Spritzes during a power outage in our ‘hood – this bar had a generator, and we were lucky to squeeze these in before they ran out of ice.

 

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What better way to celebrate success at the shops than with an enormous Aperol Spritz.

 

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Pimm’s Good Bar was my favourite.  First we ordered espressos (espressi??).  When they came out we ordered Spritzes and the waiter high fived us.  It was 11am.

 

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The waiter wanted to join us in a Spritz – you could see it in his eyes.

INFO:
Via di Santa Dorotea, 8, 00153
1000-0200
CLICK FOR MAP

 

 

MR. BROWN

We stumbled across this wonderful little bar, a couple of steps from our place, and decided to give it a go even though it had just opened and was totally empty.  The old dude smoking on the bench outside rushed in to take our orders and promptly made it very clear that he was only bar-sitting until his son, the owner, turned up.  But he was still more than happy to make us a drink.  How fucking cool is that.  We ordered negronis and then helped him to make them when he pretended he didn’t know how.  And you know what?  It was the best damn negroni I’ve ever had.  Listen kids, when I travel and when I drink, my absolute favourite experiences are in places like this.  I will go to five star hotel cocktail bars but they’re kinda same-same the world over.  When you want to go deep into a city or a neighbourhood, then these are the kinds of places where you’ll meet locals.  Where you talk to the owner, and watch them go about the day to day business of running a small bar.  I live for places like this.  This whole “Drunk In….” series exists because of places like this.  So, next time you travel why don’t you look for the seediest bar you can find, support a local business and have a fucking good time.

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This bar was literally five doors down from our apartment and ended up being our absolutely favourite haunt.  By the time we left three days later the owner was hugging us and giving us free shots.

 

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I know I might come across like a fancy girl, but I love nothing more than a dingy bar with a cool bartender making me tasty drinks.

 

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The Porno shot, in case you were wondering, is Mr. Brown’s home made concoction.  It’s a little sweet, a little spicy and designed to encourage more drinking.  Oh, and at €1 a pop, they’re very fucking dangerous!  Suffice to say that five Porno shots gave me the worst hangover of our holiday.

 

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The infamous Porno shot.  The picture’s a little fuzzy, because so was I.

 

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Dad was fucken awesome, chatting to us in broken English and free-pouring the tastiest damn Negroni’s we had on the whole trip.  Total highlight.

 

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During the day the bar was empty, and we had the owner, his feisty girlfriend, and his Dad to ourselves.  At night it was a totally different story.   The place was totally packed every night.

INFO:
Vicolo de’ Cinque, 29, 00153
1700-0200
CLICK FOR MAP

 

SUPPLIZIO

Suppli are the perfect snack.  So, what’s suppli, you ask?  Well, my friends, suppli are deep-fried balls of rice – kinda like arancini, but also kinda not.  Firstly arancini is Sicilian and suppli is Roman.  Secondly arancini are huge and suppli are bite size.  They’re also delicious and made in an assortment of flavours and fillings, which means they’re the perfect mid-afternoon snack to wash down with a cold beer.

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The Classic suppli – rice, chicken giblets, tomatoes, mozzarella and Parmesan.

 

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Cacio e pepe suppli – rice, Pecorino Romano, mozzarella and black pepper.  Mmmmm!

INFO:
Via dei Banchi Vecchi, 143, 00186
1130-1600, 1630-2130
Closed on Sundays
CLICK FOR MAP

 

EL MOJITARO BAR 

As you know, strong coffee is a stalwart companion to any drunken shenanigans.  And as you’d expect, Rome has some of the best, and some of the strongest coffee around.  We didn’t have a single bad cup of the stuff, but I do think that the reason for that was that we stuck to espressos rather than milkier concoctions.  My suggestion is to walk into any espresso joint, order an espresso while jauntily standing at the bar and chug it down for an instant jolt of caffeine.  Don’t linger – that’s not how the Italians do.  A couple of pointers: NEVER, not in a million years, order a cappuccino after 11am.  You’ll be laughed out of the shop.  And don’t order a latte unless you are in the mood for a glass of milk.

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My favourite espresso bar in Rome.  Mostly because it was roll-out-of-bed-and-lurch-down-the-street distance from our apartment.  But also for the friendly service and fantastic, strong coffee.  Apparently they also do amazing mojitos, but we were there just for the coffee (I can’t believe I just wrote that!)

 

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Check out the marbling on that crema.  That’s some coffee-porn right there.

INFO:
Vicolo del Cinque 5, 00153
Mon-Fri: 0630-0200
Closed on Saturdays & Sundays
CLICK FOR MAP

 

 

PASTA E VINO

I want to say that we ate well at every meal in Rome, but the sad fact is that we didn’t.  When an awesome hole-in-the-wall restaurant gets reviewed really well (or features on a TV show – Anthony Bourdain, I’m looking at you down there) it starts getting a lot of tourist traffic.  And the problem with that is that bloody tourists don’t actually like real Roman food.  They like their idea of Roman food.  So out go all the authentic recipes that made the place awesome in the first place, replaced by a bunch of dumbed down, standardised dishes which are shit.  I was disappointed at nearly every single restaurant we ate at.  But not this one.  Pasta e Vino exceeded all  my expectations and if you’re looking for a relaxed place to eat some outstanding pasta then you should come here.  Some wonderful friends (shout out to the Micheners) bought me a meal in Rome for my birthday and I chose this place as it had some pretty good Italian reviews on Tripadvisor.  The service started out a little aloof (as is the norm in Rome), but over the course of lunch warmed up significantly.  And the food?  Well, let’s just say I had the best plate of pasta I’ve eaten in my entire life here.  ‘Nuff said.

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All the pastas.

 

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David had the bucatini all’Amatriciana, a very traditional Roman dish made with tomatoes, olive oil, pecorino and the magic ingredient: guanciale (cured pork cheek).

 

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This is the dish I’ll be thinking about on my deathbed.  Bucatini alla Gricia – basically Amatriciana, minus the tomatoes.  Bloody amazing.

 

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All topped off with a beautiful Sardinian white wine.

INFO:
Vicolo de’ Cinque, 40, 00186
1200-0000
CLICK FOR MAP

 

 

GALLERIA BORGHESE

One very fine morning David and I got up super early and walked about an hour from our place to the Galleria Borghese.  I have a very close friend who sometimes wants to smack me in my face because when I travel I’m not very much into museums or sightseeing.  I’m just not.  I don’t need to see that shit.  But every now and again, I meet someone who is SO enthusiastic about a place, that it triggers something in me.  That’s when I go out of my way to seek a bit o’ culture.  And that’s exactly what happened with Galleria Borghese.  I met an older gentleman at a wedding last month and he was positively effusive about this museum.  His eyes just lit up when he mentioned the artwork inside.  He described it to us with such passion.  That kind of enthusiasm is kinda sexy, and definitely infectious.  I immediately booked tickets to go and check it out while we were in Rome.  This museum books out weeks in advance so we were very lucky to get in.  And it was totally worth it.  It really was an incredible experience to behold all that historical art set in such splendour and extravagance.

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The Borghese Museum.  It’s incredible how much art is contained behind these walls.  A mindblowing and enlightening experience.

 

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I’m getting this exact same picture painted on our bedroom ceiling at home.

 

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Hello, David.  😉

 

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Bernini’s fucking astonishing Ratto di Proserpina, which until today I didn’t realise translates as Rape of Proserpina.  Fucking intense.  Please, please, please look at Pluto’s muscular hands digging into Proserpina’s flesh as he drags her struggling ass down, into the Underworld, to be his queen.  This thing was carved out of marble, people!!  MARBLE!!!!

 

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When you’ve just spent two hours gazing upon the disturbing magnificence of Bernini and Caravaggio, it’s time to hit up the Museum cafe and get yo’self an espresso and an Aperol Spritz.  Stat!

INFO:
Piazzale Scipione Borghese, 5, 00197
0900-1900
Closed on Mondays
CLICK FOR MAP

 

TRATTORIA DA TEO

We didn’t have any dinner reservation on our last night in Rome and that nearly turned out to be a big mistake.  All the places we wanted to eat at were full and we started to get nervous that we’d be stuck eating a slice of pizza at the local kiosk (not that there’s anything wrong with that).  Trattoria da Teo was on my list of places to try, and our final chance at nabbing a table as it was getting pretty late.  Once again we lucked out and were given the last table for two.  This place was rocking with an awesome atmosphere, jovial and friendly service and very delicious food.  We were happy to let our fantastic waiter make recommendations from (and off) the menu and we weren’t disappointed with his choices.  By the time we ordered the limoncello dessert, we were on such good terms with him that he comped us two generous nips of limoncello to go with it.  Now that’s service.

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A beautiful restaurant, with street-side dining, that serves delicious and traditional Roman food that is as authentic as you’re going to get.

 

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Squid and artichoke for antipasto.  Bloody delicious.

 

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We were lucky enough to get the last serve of this special seasonal dish of stuffed zucchini flowers.  So yum!

 

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Another recommended dish of fettuccine with mushrooms

 

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Spaghettig with tuna, olives, capers and super fresh tomato.  Delish.

 

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Limoncello dessert and limoncello digestivo.  Coz you can never have too much limoncello!

INFO:
Piazza dei Ponziani, 7A, 00153
1230-1500, 1930-2330
Closed on Sundays
CLICK FOR MAP

 

 

MORDI E VAI

One of the food highlights of our trip to Rome was this amazing sandwich shop in a markethall, about a 45 minute walk from our place.  It was on our list of must-do’s, but we hadn’t really been able to find the time to make it here during our three days in Rome.  Luckily, on our final day we had to check out of our apartment at 10am and found ourselves with 2.5 terribly hungover hours to kill, so I made us walk to this place in the searing heat just to get one of these damn sandwiches.  Props to David, who loyally trudged behind me as we schlepped along the sweltering riverside to get some lunch.  And it was SO worth it.  This place is awesome because it serves proudly traditional Roman cuisine in a street-food style.  So you can get tripe, you can get offal, you can get oxtail – as well as less confronting fillings of meatballs and braised beef.  There may be a vegetarian option, but I’m gonna be honest, I did not notice.  I was too busy salivating!!!  We had done a bit of research and everyone was telling us (as I am now telling you) to get the allesso.  When you do, owner Sergio is gonna grab a panini bun and dip that baby right into a big vat of lardy, delicious gravy before stuffing it with the softest, tenderest damn slices of beef I have ever seen in my life.  This is topped with some delicious, bitter greens and the whole thing wrapped up in a plastic bag coz that baby is juicy as hell.  Best fucking hangover food EVER!!!

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Sergio Esposito making us our sandwich.

 

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Get the panino all’allesso.  You will thank me for it.

INFO:
Nuovo Mercato Comunale di Testaccio,
Via Beniamino Franklin, 12/E
0800-1500
Closed on Sundays
CLICK FOR MAP