James Whelan Butchers: At Last a Proper New Year


Online Butcher Pat Whelan writes on meat and food in general and this week he talks about his plans to loose weight through exercise and healthy eating.

I really felt that the Chinese New Year falling on the 3rd of February was so appropriate.  I’ve always maintained, and even mentioned it here once or twice, that the western way of declaring all things new in the deep winter of January 1st is folly in the extreme.  We make impossible resolutions just after a mammoth Christmas blowout.  Instead of taking the time to savour the memories of December and complete the hibernation period of winter, humans throw themselves into new regimes that just go against nature. Generally we start off with great gusto and by the middle of January the ‘f’ word is rearing its ugly head. (I was thinking ‘failure’ but I have no doubt that the other ‘f’ word will be uttered many times also.)

For the purposes of this I am going to concentrate on those that made New Year’s diet resolutions.  If your diet and exercise plan has already been abandoned, don’t worry, you are not alone.  The problem is you started too early.  January should be about gearing up gently towards the beginning of something new that will start in the spring, which technically was February 1st.  The first month should be used to clear the house of all the tempting Christmas leftovers and think about the year ahead, slowly.  It is also a month where dark, cold days and nights are not helpful to outdoor exercise.  By February all that is changing.  There is a noticeable stretch in daylight hours and a natural feeling of rebirth and ‘newness’ in the air.  This natural sense of energy will influence appetite and activity if you allow yourself to sync with it.

I’m unusually conscious of diets and weight loss this week because I have declared to the world, via Twitter, that I am determined to lose one pound a week until the end of the year.  Maybe you could join me?  While Twitter is a fun way to communicate, having made the statement I suddenly realised that I had just told several hundred people about my plan so I’d better stick to it.  The other factor that has spurred me to action is the frankness of some of our elderly customers at the shop.   From personal experience I am convinced that the older you get the part of your brain that says, “Don’t say that”, diminishes in effectiveness and after the age of about 75 it stops working completely and you are free to say what you like.  I know this because the only people that comment on my weight are elderly customers.  One kind soul recently enquired if I was having trouble with an overactive thyroid.  No, no, just an overactive fork I’m afraid!

And that’s really the nub of it isn’t it?  Eat less and exercise more; it is a simple philosophy but, for some reason we just don’t get it.  I probably don’t get enough proper exercise these days.  Like everyone else I’ll play the ‘time’ card and cite all the other commitments in my life.  However, we all get the same 24 hours in a day and there are plenty of very happy and successful people that haven’t lost a family or let their businesses go by spending time exercising.  On the other hand the thought of exercising is often much worse than the actual activity itself.  As someone once said, “Why punish your legs for something your lips have done.”

The other common pitfall with diets is that we set silly goals and then look at the mountain of work ahead of us and the ultimate goal weight that seems impossible.  I’ve tried all that and it hasn’t worked.  This time I’m aiming for a one pound weight loss and concentrating on this week only.   I am ‘chunking it’ down as they say in the self help world; chopping it up into tiny bite size pieces and I think I might just get there.

This first week is going to be all about awareness of portion size and rebalancing my plate.  In my case it is probably the amount of food I am consuming rather than the type of food that is to blame.  I love good nutritious, wholesome food that is health giving, but even too much of that can cause problems.  I love meat but I’m going to watch the gravy and the sauces for both content and quantity.  I did a great chicken and spinach curry over the weekend and, just as a little experiment, I used a low fat coconut milk in the recipe rather than the normal full fat one.  No one noticed the difference!  That’s my strategy this time; no big, grandiose gestures, but small, manageable changes.  I am a butter lover and have no desire to move some chemically created butter like substance into my fridge because I find that I can really believe it’s not butter, but I am going to monitor and reduce my use of the real stuff a tad.

I also intend to try and do it nature’s way this time.  Isn’t it interesting that as the animals wake after the heavy sleep of winter the foods available naturally are all light, crisp and refreshing?  Baby vegetables, like little leeks, scallions, small tender carrots young spinach and rhubarb abound with lovely fresh mint and chives from the herb gardens.  Spring lamb will be springing back into focus any day now and some juicy lamb chops and tender vegetables can make a delicious and relatively light meal.  Indeed a rack of lamb is a great succulent roast with, of course, some fresh mint sauce.  Actually mint also works well with duck and when accompanied by baby new potatoes and a few freshly cooked asparagus tips the result is sublime and healthful.

How you cook can also have an impact so for the next week I am going to include at least one stir fry, some steamed vegetables and maybe a light casserole.  And on that I leave you with my other substitution tip for the week; instead of enriching your casseroles with full fat cream at the end, try a little reduced fat crème fraiche or, better still, low fat Greek yoghurt; again a small change that won’t compromise taste.  Here’s to this time next week when I will be one pound lighter than I am today. There is definitely a slim and healthy person on the inside of me screaming to get out but up to now I’ve been trying to kill him with fine Swiss chocolate.  Next time he calls I’ll encourage him with a mange tout and who knows, maybe one day we might actually get to meet. I’ll let you know from time to time how I’m getting on and if you are taking up the challenge of one pound a week with me let me know by email, facebook or twitter or drop by the shop at the Oakville Shopping Centre. I welcome your comments to pat@jwb.ie

We hope you enjoyed reading this post by Pat Whelan of James Whelan Butchers. Pat is a 5th generation butcher, cook book author and the director of  James Whelan Butchers with shops in Clonmel, the Avoca Handweavers Rathcoole and Kilmacanogue, Dunnes Stores Cornelscourt, Rathmines and Swords in Dublin. Sign up to our newsletter for more updates from James Whelan Butchers

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