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7 ways to maintain wellness during a pandemic

In Australia, we are in winter which means most of us are cocooned indoors and some are still working from home. We are going through some unprecedented times. This isolation period has left people feeling anxious and overwhelmed. A lot of us are now thinking about our health more than ever. We all know healthy eating is important for wellness. So, this presents us with a window of opportunity to set up healthier habits for better health. Here are 7 ways to prioritise your wellbeing in quarantine:

  1. Focus on whole foods

While there is no single food or nutrient that can boost your immunity or prevent you from contracting a virus, it’s still important to continue eating foods that are wholesome and rich in nutrients. However, research has shown that improving your diet can help with supporting optimal immune function as there is an array of nutrients which can support our immune systems. Some examples include protein, which helps with repair and recovery, vitamin A, C and E, and minerals such as zinc and iron.

To make our meals nutritious, we should be eating from the different food groups. This includes eating the rainbow (fruit and vegetables), wholegrains, proteins, healthy fats, gut friendly foods and staying hydrated. Fresh produce may be hard to source so make use of canned and frozen foods– look for no added or reduced salt options.

2. Cook meals at home

We all know that it’s a cheaper option. Research shows that cooking meals at home is associated with better diet quality. We can’t control the outside situation or circumstances we are in but we do have control of what goes on our plate. You can use this time to try a new ingredient or learn a new recipe. Stay curious and experiment a little. Allow yourself to feel empowered in the kitchen and focus on the things you can do.  This is an opportunity to improve your cooking skills.

Having said that, it’s totally okay to take a break from cooking if you need it. Ordering takeaway can also support your local business. If you are looking for healthier options, stick to stir-fried, grilled or baked options (rather than deep-fried) and order at least one veggie dish or salad to share.

3. Listen to your body

When you are feeling hungry, ask yourself if you are feeling physical hunger or emotional hunger. The latter is when we feel hungry as a result of feeling other emotions. For some of us, we tend to eat less when we are feeling stressed but some of us tend to eat more. We may be overeating due to boredom or sadness.  Snacking is an issue sometimes when we work from home – we snack because we are bored or in need of a break or simply because we have it near us.

We tend to resort to comfort foods during stressful times so it is important to be mindful of your actual hunger levels. If you are finding yourself getting hungry during the day, try to change up your tasks. Take a break or go out for a walk. Distract yourself for 20 mins with another activity. If you are still hungry after this period, have a wholesome snack. Some great options include a piece of fruit, yoghurt, cheese and crackers etc. It’s totally okay to eat those ‘sometimes’ food like chocolate, biscuits and cake but try to limit the purchase and don’t stockpile them in the pantry. Enjoy these foods mindfully and without guilt.

4. Set up a routine

Without a routine, your meals and snacks could merge into one and you could find yourself grazing all day. Having a routine will give you a sense of control and provide structure to your day.

Set aside some time on the weekends to do some meal prep. Try to plan at least one or two main meals so you are better organised on weekdays. Plan your groceries (write a shopping list which includes some pantry staples, frozen foods for convenience) and keep a few healthy snacks at hand so you have something to treat that afternoon slump. This is also a great time to take a break from work and get your steps up!

Most of us tend to work longer hours when working from home but try to clock off after a certain time. This will help you maintain work-life balance, boost productivity and also allow time for cooking, resting and exercising.

5. Stay hydrated

Make water your choice of drink. Hydration is important as it helps is to get rid of waste and toxins. Make sure to keep a bottle filled up at your work station. You can add flavour using mint, lemon, cucumber, citrus fruit etc.

It is quite common to mistake thirst for hunger. This is because some of the symptoms of mild dehydration (i.e. headache, fatigue, lightheadedness and difficulty concentrating) can resemble symptoms of hunger. A 2016 study showed that poor hydration was associated with higher body mass index (BMI) in adults which was the first study to show this relationship at a population level.

6. Try something new

As most of us are spending more time at home, it gives us an opportunity to ramp up or learn new skills. Pull out favourite your cookbooks or look up new recipes on the internet/ social media. It’s a great way to get the whole family involved and it’s a very affordable activity to do.

Cooking at home is more economical. A 2014 study has shown that cooking frequently was associated with healthier eating patterns and was found to have a positive influence (such as increased knowledge and confidence). We are more likely to eat higher amounts of fruits/veggies and meals with lower energy intake. Check out recipes from Australian Healthy Food Guide and Dietitians Australia if you need some inspo.

7. Incorporate movement

Aim to get around 30 mins of exercise on most days of the week. You can also set up a workout area at home by purchasing a yoga mat and dumbbells. Adding movement in your day will boost your endorphins (happy hormones) and help you get in some vitamin D if you are out during sunny hours (most Aussies don’t get enough in winter.) Go out for a walk during your breaks and call up a friend or listen to a podcast to make this activity more enjoyable.

Finally, remember to be kind to yourself and let go of the guilt for any recent slip ups. Don’t be too hard on yourself. If you are struggling or have gained weight recently, know that you are not alone in this. It’s okay to get support and ask for help. Reach out to your family and friends. You can also some help from a professional. See an Accredited Practising Dietitian – they can give you tailored dietary advice, help you with weight loss goals and manage or prevent chronic disease.

5 ways to reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes

It was National Diabetes Week in Australia earlier this month. This year’s campaign was focused on the mental and emotional health impact of living with diabetes. I shared an Instagram post on it and was asked the question- how can I reduce my risk of type 2 diabetes if I have a strong family history?

People from South Asian communities are up to 6 times more likely to have type 2 diabetes than the general population (compared to Europeans). This is for South Asians in their home countries and those living abroad.

Unfortunately, people from certain ethic groups have a much higher risk of diabetes. Some high risk groups include African American, Hispanic, Asian or Indian sub-continent backgrounds. The good news is you can do something about the risks – type 2 diabetes is largely preventable if you make the right sort of lifestyle modifications. The conditions that generally increase your risk of developing diabetes are being overweight, having a family history, being over 45 or older, having high blood pressure, high cholesterol and gestational diabetes. You can calculate your risk for type 2 diabetes by taking this quiz.

You may think your risks are low right now but it’s never too early to take action. Here are 5 ways you can reduce your risk:

1. Add some wholegrains
Wholegrain foods are a good source of fibre and having 2-3 serves in your diet everyday can reduce your risk of developing chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes by 20-30%. Some examples of wholegrain foods include brown rice, wholemeal flour, barley, buckwheat, quinoa, oats and corn. Check out Grains and Legumes Nutrition Council for recipes.

2. Add some nuts
Research has shown that a handful of nuts (30g) consumed regularly can reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes between 13% and 27%. This is due to the nuts being low GI and containing healthy (good) fats, fibre and magnesium. While people tend to associate nuts with weight gain, eating nuts regularly can reduce your chances of being overweight and reduce the risk of heart disease by about 30%. The other thing people want to know is what type of nuts are healthy are best: all nuts are good for you but it’s best to stick to unsalted varieties (raw and roasted are fine).

3. Watch your weight
Check your weight to see if you fall in the healthy weight range. Being overweight can increase your risk of developing diabetes. You can use this link to check your BMI if you know your height and weight. Please note that Asians have a lower cut off for BMI (18.5-22.9) as they have more body fat compared to Caucasians at any given BMI. If you are not within a healthy weight range, the next step would be to lose weight. This is something a dietitian can help you with.

4. Increase your movement
Regular physical activity has an important role in preventing and managing diabetes. Studies have shown that physical activity improves your blood glucose control and can prevent or delay type 2 diabetes. If you are not someone who is used to exercising regularly, the best way to start is to start small. Even a slight increase in activity will make a difference to your health and wellbeing. You can start with 5 or 10 minutes and build your way up.

The other factor to consider is your sitting period. The research on sedentary behaviour (too much sitting) is fairly new and it tells us prolonged sitting is associated with an increasing risk of type 2 diabetes. Break up your sitting periods and minimise the amount of time spent in prolonged sitting, where possible.

5. Do a regular check up
Check your blood pressure, cholesterol levels and blood glucose levels regularly. This is especially important if you have a strong family risk of type 2 diabetes. There’s a condition called pre-diabetes where blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes. People with pre-diabetes don’t show any signs or symptoms on the outside so the only way to find out is by doing a blood test and checking your blood glucose levels. Pre-diabetes will progress into diabetes. The good news is that pre-diabetes is reversible if you take immediate action and make lifestyle changes (diet modifications, increasing exercise and losing weight).

References

Aune D, Keum N, Giovannucci E, et al. Whole grain consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and all cause and cause specific mortality: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. BMJ. 2016;353:i2716. Published 2016 Jun 14. doi:10.1136/bmj.i2716

Afshin A, Micha R, Khatibzadeh S, Mozaffarian D. Consumption of nuts and legumes and risk of incident ischemic heart disease, stroke, and diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014;100(1):278-288. doi:10.3945/ajcn.113.076901

Jiang R, Manson JE, Stampfer MJ, Liu S, Willett WC, Hu FB. Nut and peanut butter consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes in women. JAMA. 2002;288(20):2554-2560. doi:10.1001/jama.288.20.2554

Aune D, Keum N, Giovannucci E, et al. Nut consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer, all-cause and cause-specific mortality: a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. BMC Med. 2016;14(1):207. Published 2016 Dec 5. doi:10.1186/s12916-016-0730-3

Nikodijevic CJ, Probst YC, Batterham MJ, Tapsell LC, Neale EP. Nut consumption in a representative survey of Australians: a secondary analysis of the 2011-2012 National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey [published online ahead of print, 2020 Mar 10]. Public Health Nutr. 2020;1-11. doi:10.1017/S1368980019004117

Colberg, S. R., Sigal, R. J., Fernhall, B., Regensteiner, J. G., Blissmer, B. J., Rubin, R. R., Chasan-Taber, L., Albright, A. L., Braun, B., American College of Sports Medicine, & American Diabetes Association (2010). Exercise and type 2 diabetes: the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Diabetes Association: joint position statement. Diabetes care, 33(12), e147–e167. doi:10.2337/dc10-9990

Dempsey PC, Owen N, Yates TE, Kingwell BA, Dunstan DW. Sitting Less and Moving More: Improved Glycaemic Control for Type 2 Diabetes Prevention and Management. Curr Diab Rep. 2016;16(11):114. doi:10.1007/s11892-016-0797-4

Things to consider before going vegan

In today’s highly-connected, social-media driven society, it would be hard not to notice an increased vegan presence across many aspects of our lives- from diets and cleaning products, to clothing and furniture. What was once a fringe movement, veganism is now a lifestyle cultivated in response to several sociological concerns; primarily health, environmental impact and animal welfare. Young adults are arguably the greatest users of social media. As such, they are no strangers to the momentum of popular culture, be it veganism or otherwise. So although the driving principles behind veganism are commendable, is adopting their dietary choices in particular safe for young adults? We’ll explore this in the article below.

What exactly is veganism?

Before we continue, let’s clarify what the term ‘veganism’ actually refers to. In its native sense, veganism describes a lifestyle that seeks to exclude the exploitation of animals for the benefit of humans. Nowadays, veganism broadly describes the avoidance of use or consumption of animal or animal by-products. In terms of dietary choices, this translates to the avoidance of consumption of meat and animal by-products- for instance honey, dairy and eggs.

Why are young adults adopting a vegan diet?

The global climate crisis we are facing today has left young adults fearful of the impending state of our planet. Australia’s recent Climate of the Nation Report estimated that 83% of Australians aged 18-34 years old were concerned about climate change. We needn’t look further than the recent Global Climate Strike or at Greta Thunberg’s emotive address at the UN Climate Action Summit to see these statistics. Fortunately, the young adults of today- particularly in the developed world- are equipped with the communication skills, autonomy and passion to respond to issues that matter to them. As such, for many of these young adults, adopting a vegan diet has been one of the more direct and tangible responses to an issue that extends far beyond them. Earlier this year, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report detailing ways in which climate change could be mitigated by 2050; one of these was eating a plant-based diet.

Nonetheless, there are a myriad of other reasons why young people may adopt a vegan diet. These reasons range from religious adherence and pop culture to food intolerances. Among the most common reasons, however, are environmental impact, perceived health benefits and animal rights/welfare. A growing awareness of these driving factors has encouraged the food and hospitality industries to cater to vegan diets. This has enabled the diet to become accessible to many young adults, despite family and peers following omnivorous diets.  Australia is in fact the third-fastest growing vegan market in the world, behind the UAE and China.

Source: Pixabay

Are there any nutritional benefits to the individual?

On average, only 5% of Australian adults reach the recommended serves of fruit and vegetables each day. So you would think that the inherent increase in plant foods on a vegan diet would be beneficial? However, as with any ‘diet’, nutritional benefits depend on what an individual actually eats. Studies have found that people who adopt a vegan diet for ethical (i.e. animal welfare) reasons, tend to consume higher amounts of processed vegan foods than those who adopt the diet for health. Regularly consuming processed foods high in sugar, fat and salt- whether vegan or not- are undoubtedly detrimental for health.

Nonetheless, a vegan diet can be just as nutritious as any balanced, plant-based diet with a variety of food sources. A recent, small-scale Finnish study on young adults found that vegans tended to have better cholesterol and fatty acid profiles than their meat-eating counterparts; that is, they had lower levels of LDL (also known as ‘bad’) cholesterol and saturated fat. They also had greater concentrations of protective phytochemicals in their blood, likely a result of the increased consumption of high antioxidant-containing plant foods. This was also compounded by a pilot study that found total cholesterol, and cholesterol and fatty acid profiles, could be improved in just 4 weeks by following a vegan diet.

Source: Pixabay

Are there any nutritional risks with following a vegan diet at a young age?

Meat, seafood and animal by-products are powerhouses of various macro and micronutrients. There is evidence to suggest that individuals on vegan diets are commonly at risk of deficiency in four key nutrients- iron, B12, calcium and omega-3. Additionally, recent studies have found that vegans tend to have lower Vitamin D and iodine levels than their meat-eating counterparts. Without adequate planning, some individuals may also not be meeting their recommended daily intakes of protein. Such deficiencies can have negative long-term consequences on an individual’s health.

Red meat and poultry, for instance, contain the highest sources of protein. At its most basic level, protein is essential for the building, repair and maintenance of cells, tissues and muscles. Meat also contains haem-iron, which is more easily absorbed than the non-haem iron found in plant foods. Young women in particular need to maintain iron levels as menstruation puts some of them at risk of iron deficiency. For both men and women, meat and eggs are the only source of natural B12- a vitamin essential for nerve function and red blood cell production. Additionally, seafood provides the best source of omega-3-fatty acids, a polyunsaturated fat essential for the structure of cell membranes.  Dairy products are potent sources of bioavailable calcium, and as such those on a vegan diet may be at risk of calcium deficiency. Calcium is a crucial mineral at any stage in life, but it is more pertinent for those under the age of 25 years old. This is because calcium is essential for the building and maintenance of bone, and adolescence is a period of rapid development that requires optimal nutrition. Peak bone strength is achieved around 25 years old; after that if calcium intake is inadequate, then the body draws on the bones’ calcium reserves.

Source: Pixabay

Can these risks be minimized?

A vegan diet can absolutely be healthful with mindful planning and professional advice. If someone is considering becoming vegan, it is a good idea for them to take a full blood test to establish their individual baseline nutrient status with a GP and APD.

In terms of the common nutrient deficiencies mentioned above, there are several dietary practices that an individual can adopt to minimise deficiency risks. Adequate protein, for instance, can be achieved by aiming to include a serve of plant-based protein at each main meal. This could be having 30 g of peanut butter on toast at breakfast, 170 g of tofu at lunch and 150 g of cooked lentils at dinner. Sufficient vitamin B12 and calcium intake can easily be reached by choosing fortified cereals or plant milks, while iron absorption can be boosted by pairing its consumption with high vitamin C foods. Additionally, adequate intake of omega-3 fats may be reached by regularly consuming nuts and seeds such as flaxseeds and walnuts. Finally, supplementation for any nutrient deficiencies can be considered in conjunction with the advice of an APD.

The bottom line

Vegan diets can be made healthy but it is important to consult with a nutritionist or dietitian to ensure you are not missing out on any nutrients. As with any diet, it carries both nutritional benefits and risks. However, with careful consideration and professional dietetic planning, it can be a highly nutritious diet with low environmental and animal impact.

This article was written by Nadia Mazari. Nadia is a student dietitian at the University of Sydney. Her passion for dietetics, health and wellbeing began as a young foodie with a love for helping people in need, and grew into a dream to become a dietitian. As an aspiring health professional, Nadia’s long-term goal is to gain a wealth of experience in all aspects of dietetics- from fertility and gut disorders to mental health. This is reflected in the range of topics she has addressed in her writing for Ideal Nutrition. In her spare time, Nadia can be found dining out with friends and family, binge-watching watching chick flicks with her mum and sisters, burying herself in a good book or soaking up the Aussie sun. You can follow her on Instagram here.




Hamilton Island

Here goes another late post. We traveled to Hamilton Island back in May to celebrate the bridal shower of a good friend. I’d like to dedicate this post to her because without her, this trip would not have happened 🙂

My girls and I have always talked about going on a trip together. We knew it would be amazing but we never just got around to the planning phase of it. We tried to plan small road trips here and there but this was our first big adventure. The fact that we had to book plane tickets and accommodation in advance meant that no one could bail out last minute. We had a rough plan of the what we wanted to do (beach day, games night, fancy dining) but we finalised it after we arrived. We booked two rooms at Whitsunday Apartments (3 in each room). We had a decent size bedroom and the living area was quite spacious which came in quite handy for our games night.

View from the balcony

Where we ate:

  • Pizzeria and Gelato Bar
  • Popeyes Takeaway
  • Pool Terrace
  • Hamilton Island Wildlife Café

Day 1

I myself had a very rough start to the day as I had only packed the night before and had very little sleep. But I was too excited after seeing the girls and almost forgot about my sleep deprivation. We caught the 12pm flight and arrived around 2:30pm. We caught a shuttle bus to Whitsundays apartment. We were super hungry so our first mission was to find some late lunch or early dinner. We walked down to the shops area, shared pizzas and ended on a sweet note with gelato! Then we went to IGA to buy some nibbles and drinks. After heading back to our apartment, we set up our snacks platter and played games. We were pretty exhausted so we were in bed by 10:30pm.

First impression from the plane
First pic on the island
View from our balcony

Day 2
We woke up around 6 and left the apartment by 7. We checked in for our cruise to Whitsunday Islands National Park. As we had arrived ahead of time, we had plenty of time to kill which allowed us to capture some early morning shots. The view on the cruise to Whitsunday Islands was absolutely breathtaking. Happy to say, it got even better after we arrived at Whitehaven beach. The sand was so white! We could not get over how beautiful this beach was. I had been to a lot of beaches (in Australia and overseas) but I have never felt as comfortable being in the water (I’m not the swimmer type). The water was so crystal clear, you could see the fishes as they swam close to the shore. We later learnt that the sand is 98% pure white silica, which gives it a brilliant, near luminescent colour.

We also went on a short-guided bush walk where we learnt about native trees like Lily pilly, Soap tree, Pandang tree (can use in cooking to wrap), eucalyptus tree (very strong scent), waxy leaves and even a saw a ghetto! We had a slightly late lunch after returning to the island (with local seafood) and bought some more drinks on our way home. We then relaxed at the jacuzzi and had a small celebration in the apartment (with cake and read mushy letters) before heading to dinner. It was our last night here so the plan was to stay up and play games after we come back. But we had to retire after a few games because we wanted to get up on time to watch the sunrise.

The six of us F.R.I.E.N.D.S

Day 3

We woke up at around 5am. For some of us, it was a record to be waking up this early. As we were walking there, we realised, to our surprise that we were there ahead of time. It was definitely the most beautiful sunrise I’ve ever seen. I think this may have been my first one (excluding the ones where I was travelling).

Getting up early made us quite hungry so our next mission was to find breakfast. We found a Koala cafe and I will forever remember the poor koala I saw who was missing an eye. After a very satisfying buffet, we came back to our hotel and packed our bags. We still had one more activity left on our list which was to do a group painting. This took up some time and by the time we had finished, it was time to head off to the airport. On the shuttle bus, we were chatting to the driver and happened to mention that we hadn’t seen some parts of the island. He then asked us the places we had been to and he said we were missing some of the good ones. He offered us the chance to get off the bus while he was going around in a loop. We did this at two locations and managed to get some pretty good pictures.

Going to miss this view!
F.R.I.E.N.D.S at One Tree Hill

Overall, we had the most incredible time and this was a trip we will cherish for many years to come (or until the next one at least). We really wish we could’ve stayed longer but there’s always a next time! We joked about how one of us should get married here so we are forced to return. I’d love to go back with any excuse I have! For future travellers, I’d recommend staying for at least 4-5 days, visiting One Tree Hill and Whitsunday Islands National Park and make sure to get in the water at Whitehaven Beach (ranked #1 beach in Australia).

South Coast

This is a super late post. We went to South Coast a while ago but somehow didn’t get around to posting it. But lately, I have been thinking of South Coast after seeing the devastating bushfires. It is so awful to watch because I know it is such a beautiful place. I’d highly recommend it to any future travellers. Now let’s get started with the details:

Our approach: We did not plan much at all. We read a few articles online and noted down some places we wanted to see but did not have a particular order. We really enjoy the spontaneity that comes with free travel so we wanted to keep it flexible.

Where we stayed: Marriot Park Hotel, Nowra

Where we ate:

  • Beleaf Japanese
  • The Deli on Kinghorne
  • The Little Snapper
  • Leaf Noodle and Bar
  • Cherubs 3 (twice)
  • Woody’s Woodfired Pizza
  • Sea Vista Café (Gerringong)

Places we visited:

  • Shoalhaven Zoo
  • Culburra Beach
  • Seven Mile Beach
  • Seven Mile National Park
  • Hanging Rock Lookout
  • Bomaderry Walking Track (partial)
  • Chinaman Beach
  • Jervis Bay National Park
  • Booderee National Park
  • Coolangatta Estate
  • Werri Beach
  • Kingford Smith lookout

Day 1

We didn’t arrive until the afternoon and was very hungry after we checked into our hotel. Luckily, we had a Japanese restaurant located close to us. We went moon watching and tried to go to a very secluded beach afterwards. But the beach was so secluded, we couldn’t even find the beach. We could hear it but couldn’t see the entrance past the bushes (should’ve carried a torch). We decided to return to normal well-lit places and went for a long walk.

Day 2

It was a bit of a struggle to find a breakfast place that was open. We eventually found one and headed off to our first stop for the day- Shoalhaven Zoo. It was a pretty small zoo but both of us quite enjoyed it (perhaps because it was our first time visiting one together). Our 3 favourites would be the wombat, crocodile and of course the king of jungle (mighty lion). We had lunch afterwards at a nearby fish and chips place. We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring nearby beaches and went back to the secluded beach we were unable to find the day before.

Day 3
We tried to do the Bomaderry Creek walking track but the surface wasn’t good then we tried to locate Jervis Bay national park and ended up at another beach. We then tried to head to Jervis Bay national park but the road was closed off. So, we ended up going to another one called Booderee National Park. We had a quick stop at the local takeaway shop to help us gain some energy for exploring. We hiked down to Steamers Beach. It was tough (the beach was 200+ steps down) but the view was worth it. We visited a few more spots at this park and explored right up till sunset.

Day 4

We had a very lazy morning and ended up going back to an old place for brunch. And it was time to drive back home. On our way, we stopped at Coolangatta Estate, Kingford Smith lookout, Werri Beach and a restaurant in Gerringong which had a beautiful view.

Overall, it was a short but a very memorable trip. We managed to visit 7 beaches in total so that was definitely a record. I will always remember South Coast for its beautiful beaches and national parks.

Nervy November

I don’t even know where to begin. November was an incredibly challenging month for me. I needed to do some revisions for the last paper I had submitted from my PhD. It was classed as minor revisions but I felt like it still took up a fair chunk of my time. I still had a lot of writing left to do so I was freaking out a little. But I somehow managed to contain it inside and told myself it was still doable.

I had my annual progress review this month which went really well. It was kind of bittersweet in a way because I knew that this would be the last one. My first bit of good news came in halfway through the month when I found out that my last paper had been accepted. It was a huge relief and I felt reassured that all the hard work I put in earlier in the month was paid off. Soon after, I presented at a digital health showcase which again reminded me how far I had come. It was kind of reassuring to have these moments as it motivated me to push harder.

The last week of November was the worst. I knew I needed to polish up my draft and make further revisions. But I also had to review copyediting for my final paper and mark a bunch of assignments. Time was running out and I knew I just needed to make the most of what I had. I pretty much did everything I could- I worked on the weekends/ drank a lot of coffee/ woke up extra early/ worked really late. The day before I submitted, I had a very long day and was at uni till about midnight doing formatting (that’s the longest I have ever stayed back so I broke a record there).

Now coming to the actual day of submission, I still had more formatting to do despite the heavy efforts I made on the previous day. The actual process of submitting was rather anticlimactic and I felt very numb afterwards. I was hoping to feel a lot of excitement but I felt nothing. A part of me was probably too exhausted to feel anything and a part of me was dreading the remaining marking I needed to do, as well as packing for my trip. I submitted my thesis on a Friday, did marking on the weekend and flew out on Monday morning. It was super hectic so I had no time to write a blog before I left. We went to four cities- Cairns, Osaka, Tokyo and Kyoto (blog coming soon). It was really amazing and it was nice to be able to half switch off- I say ‘half’ because I still had to respond to further copyediting emails and finish marking. Of course, it would be nice to switch off completely but I’ve realised that it won’t be possible for some time because I still have loose ends to tie up. Since coming back, I have been working on just that and doing some post PhD cleaning. It is very therapeutic to be throwing out some of the papers I have accumulated over the last four years.

This entry is the last of the PhD diaries so it’s a very bittersweet moment for me. I started writing from the first day of my PhD and somehow came up with the idea of doing a monthly blog. The main reason at the time was wanting to share my progress and not feel ‘alone’ in the journey. I was a bit late a lot of the times but I told myself I’d take the time to reflect no matter what. I stayed true to my word and here we are 46 months later! A big thank you to everyone who supported me in my journey and took the time to read my posts 🙂

Crispy tofu, sauteed mushrooms and avo on toast
Blinis with scrambled egg
Mashed potato with pan-fried chiscken and asparagu
Veggie platter with olive and nuts
Avo on toast with sunny side egg, wilted spinach and leftover potato balls
Veggie platter
Omlette with spinach and fruit platter
French toast with mango and pomegranate
Fridge cleanout meal with mushrooms, asparagus, tomato and prawn

Optimistic October

My October started on a happy note. I was finally able to submit my paper by the end of the first week. I ran into some major technical issues on the day and it almost felt like I wouldn’t make that day. But I was pretty determined to push through as I had set myself a goal to submit that Friday. I stayed back and submitted at 9:30pm so it felt like a big milestone!

With my last paper out of the way, I was able to focus on revising the remaining chapters. I still had 3 weeks of teaching left so I had to manage my time around this. I could sense the end was near so I found it much easier to focus and get through my tasks. I was able to make a lot of progress on the two chapters that required extensive revisions.

In other news, I was presented with some great opportunities this month. Unfortunately, some were things I cannot pursue right now due to my ongoing PhD commitment. It’s not easy to say no but I knew that taking on other projects/roles would delay my submission. My progress has been very slow since July so had no choice but to turn it down the ones that came with a deadline. Fortunately, I was able to postpone one and I cannot wait to share this with you soon. 

Overall, October was a relatively productive month. As the past few months haven’t been so great for me, I’d probably say that this was the best I’ve had in a long while. My month ended on an even better note as I received a positive response from the journal I had submitted to and started on the revisions.

Here are my October eats 🙂 now that the weather is warmer, I have been making a lot more smoothies this month. This month, I partnered up with Seastraws as an ambassador. I’m excited to be partnering with an Aussie brand that is focused on reducing the environmental impact and saving our oceans. In case you’re wondering how that’s possible: 10 million less plastic straws would be used daily if all of us in Australia were to swap to reusable straws! You can use the code ‘ANIKA’ to get 10% off your order 🙂

Excited for the smoothie season!
Broccolini, bean, snow pea and cashew stir-fry
Brunch with sunny side, wilted spinach, tomato and strawberry with choc coated almonds
Pasta with mushroom, spinach, asparagus, prawn and mussels
French toast with berries and almonds
Pasta with avo ‘pesto’, asparagus and capsicum
Prawn and asparagus curry
Sunday brunch
Pasta with mushroom, asparagus and spinach. Topped with pan fried mackeral

Bombay toast with wilted spinach and tomato
Pasta with asparagus and spinach

Slow September

I started this month feeling somewhat settled after a very eventful month in August. While I had adjusted to my teaching schedule, I still found it difficult to make substantial progress on my final paper. I still had some issues with my code that needed resolving. In the first week, I managed to get some results, with the help of a statistician. It was very exciting to be getting some sort of output and I remember feeling very optimistic at this point

It was a good start but it was only the beginning. I needed to do other add on analyses which took some time to figure out. Things had kind of picked up for me at the beginning of September but it went backwards again. There were times where I felt like I was going around in circles and not getting anywhere with my PhD or with my life in general.

Happy to say, the clouds eventually passed over and I ran my last analyses on the last day of September. I honestly cannot explain how excited I felt to be finishing up with the statistical analyses. This last paper has been the only thing that has held me back from submitting my thesis so I can’t wait to get this paper out of the way and start finalising my remaining chapters.

In other news, I became a plant mum this month which was pretty huge for me because I’ve never been into gardening. While I admired the idea of succulents, I haven’t been able to keep them alive when I’ve owned them in the past. Other than PhD and plants, food has been keeping me busy. I’ve picked up my food photography game which always excites me.

Overall, September was a pretty frustrating month for me but at least it ended on a good note. I can finally see the light at the end of the PhD tunnel which seems to be never ending. Let’s hope October will be a more fruitful month and will make up for my slowness from September.

Here are some of my September eats 🙂

Grilled tofu and zucchini marking the start of my new grill pan!
Pan-fried hoki fillets in a bed of brown rice and veggies
French toast with berries (used chia seeds and mashed banana to substitute for eggs)
Stir-fry tofu with beans, capsicum and cashew
Blueberry pancakes, topped shaved coconut with cacao nibs
Cacao porridge bowl with banana, berries, shaved coconut, pepita, walnut and honey
Sweet and savoury brunch with sunny side eggs, sauteed mushrooms, wilted spinach and toast two ways
Fruit custard using first mangoes for the season, yay!
Pan-fried salmon with potatoes (white and sweet), brussel sprout, spinach and cherry tomatoes
Blueberry pancakes topped with mangoes, shaved coconut and cacao nibs

Agonizing August

This month, I started feeling a real sense of disconnection from my thesis. I spent most of it in agony. It was quite an ordeal. To be honest, I probably spent more time worrying about it than actually working on it (physically). You might remember from my earlier post that I ran into some major issues with statistics. The code that I needed to generate for my analyses was a complex one and totally new to me. As I don’t have a coding background, I required support from a statistician and it took over a couple of weeks (still yet to resolve fully).

The other reason I haven’t made enough progress was because of my teaching commitments this semester. While I have really strapped for time since semester has started, I’m really enjoying my current role and it has been a rewarding experience. However, I haven’t worked this many hours since I started my PhD so I also felt like I haven’t had enough time to focus on my thesis. I’m still yet to figure out a way to balance the two but I’m hopeful that it’ll slowly fall into place!

In other news, I decided not to attend the DAA conference in Gold Coast. The sad part is that I had even purchased tickets a while ago and really wanted to go. But I realised that it would be best not to go with a hanging PhD. It felt a little weird because I‘ve attended and presented at all the DAA conferences since I graduated as a dietitian. It was a tough decision to make but maybe it was a good thing that I didn’t go as I was down with the flu around that time.  

Overall, it was a really tough month as I had to deal with numerous challenges (both personal and professional). Dealing with a single setback is somewhat manageable but it’s much harder when you’ve got almost everything going wrong in your life (it may sound like an exaggeration but it really isn’t all that easy to see light when you’re stuck in a dark tunnel). Happy to say, I ended August on a happier note- I recently moved houses and got myself a much-needed haircut. I was really stuck in a rut, so both changes have been very refreshing for me!

Here are some of my August eats 🙂

Baked potatoes (white and sweet), salmon and wilted spinach
Quinoa, mushrooms and broccolini with baked salmon
Sunday pancakes with berries
Red and white quinoa with veggies and baked hoki fillets
Porridge (plain and cacao) with banana, strawberries, almonds and chia
One pan meal with quinoa, mushrooms and broccolini
Couscous with mushrooms, broccolini and capsicum + topped with pan-fried salmon

Jeopardized July

My month started off on a good note as I took off to Fiji to attend a friend’s wedding. I was away for just over a week (blog coming up soon). Towards the end of my holiday, I was ready to come home and smash the rest of my PhD. I knew there would be an awful lot of revisions that would need to be done but I told myself that it was going to be okay. The motto I had in mind was to take it ‘one page at a time’. However, I soon realised the magnitiude of revisions that awaited me was going to be far more than what I had anticipated. I needed to redo parts of my analyses using a different method. As I wasn’t familiar with this method, I needed to start from scratch. I went back to the basics (did all the Googling I could, watched YouTube tutorials and tried to contact others). All of these did help to some extent as I was able to get close to reaching the final numbers. However, I was stuck on the last step and could not work out how to combine the results I had.

This misery phase lasted many days until I was finally able see a statistician. It turned out that the output I was trying to achieve didn’t work as SPSS doesn’t allow this function. In other words, SPSS was not sophisticated enough to perform this step. This meant that I needed to resort to a different software (SAS, R or Stata). I chose the latter as I had some exposure in my first year. However, what I didn’t realise was how complex the code would be. Luckily, I was able to get some help from the statistician but it still took me a really long time. Safe to say, I’m now somewhat closer to having a finished code.

Overall, it was a pretty terrible month. I know that I’ve probably had worst months in the past but the present really does seem like the worst. I also had to deal with some personal issues which made it very difficult to make progress. I thought this month was going to be the final leg of my PhD (the ‘writing up’ phase). But the truth is I have done very little writing this month. I haven’t been writing as the stats took the chunk of my time. This means that my draft chapters haven’t been touched for weeks so I’m putting all my hopes on August.

Here are some of my eats from August 🙂 I didn’t do much cooking as I was away for the week and things got crazy after that…

Sunday meal prep- roast pumpkin and capsicum
Sunday meal prep with panfried tofu (honey and soy), broccolini and capsicum (EVOO, garlic and ginger)
Rainbow vege platter with hommus and olives

Jammed June

This month has been one hell of a crazy month. I was very ambitious in setting my goals because I knew I would be taking some time off at the end of the month. My first task for the month was to finish writing up my intervention paper. I was hoping to have this ready by the first week of June but I didn’t get around to finishing until 15th June.

The other big goal I had set for myself was to finish a draft of all my chapters by 28th June. It seemed like an impossible and never-ending task. My progress was very slow at the beginning which left me feeling very anxious. I was getting frustrated and there were times when I felt very low. After much self-battle, I told myself that I was going to stick to my original plan and prepare a draft. I knew it would not be the perfect version I imagined it to be but I just wanted to have something. I was wrong to think that the finale was going to be a smooth ride as I realised that the end game is going to be wilder than I imagined!

Happy to say, I managed to print out my draft on 28th June. I had the longest day ever (finished at 9 pm) but it was such a good feeling to see it in print. I know that the draft I have produced is far from perfect but I feel pretty excited knowing that it’s now a step closer to getting better. Now it’s time for me temporarily switch off as I part ways with my thesis. I’m off to Fiji to attend my friend’s destination wedding.

Overall, it was a very jam-packed month but I managed to accomplish all I wanted to before going away. I also had my exit seminar earlier this month which was a 25 min presentation. Putting together my presentation made me realise just how far I have come in the last 3.5 years. The end is so near yet so far! But at least I can now see light at the end of the tunnel.

Here are some of my June eats 🙂

Iftar fruit, veggie and nut platter
Last platter from Ramadan
Okra, broccoli and sweet potato stir-fry
Milk vermicelli with almond, sultana and pistachio
Carrot halwa
A berry-some toast
French toast with smashed raspberries
Prawn and seafood risotto with mushroom and spinach

Meticulous May

I can’t believe we are in June. It is literally freaking me out because I am leaving to attend a friend’s destination wedding and had planned to finish all my chapters before the end of this month. I really did hustle hard in May but I’m not sure if it was enough to get me to where I need to be.

May was a pretty crazy but relatively productive month. I finished running my intervention in the first week of May. I had been running this since mid-January so I was really excited to close my intervention and get onto to the next step of analysing. I had made appointments with statisticians to help me guide my data analyses. While it was insightful to see two different statisticians, I also found it overwhelming because they had very different approaches and I needed to work out what would work best in my situation, and I hadn’t done anything similar involving a large data set of this sort. Most tasks have been taking longer than anticipated as some sections needed to be analysed multiple times or in different ways. There were times I felt too overwhelmed as there was simply too much to do! I tried to get around this by writing a clear plan of what needs to be done and changing tasks frequently (when possible) to overcome fatigue associated with data analyses.

In other news, I was away in Hamilton Island for a hens getaway (blog coming up soon) and also attended the 9 to Thrive Summit with Business Chicks. On the whole, May was pretty tedious but was a huge learning curve for me as I discovered new ways of doing things. Unfortunately, most of these were learnt the hard way after spending huge chunks of my time. But it was really useful to learn these techniques and has helped me feel more equipped to tackle similar analyses in the future (if there is a next time) 😛

Here are some of my May eats. Due to Ramadan, most of the photos I took this month were fruit and veggie platters.

Solo iftar spread
Chickpea chaat (click here for recipe)
Oat, almond and sultana biscuits (recipe adapted from here)
Prawn and calamari risotto with mushroom and spinach
Oat, cranberry and peanut butter slice

Chickpea Chaat

Ingredients

2 X 400g can of Chickpeas (drained)

1 X 400g can of red kidney beans (drained)

2 medium sized potatoes, chopped

2 tomatoes, finely diced

2 red capsicum, finely diced

2 green capsicum, finely diced

1 onion

1 tablespoon of EVOO

4 garlic cloves

Small knob of ginger

1 teaspoon of Shan Chaat Masala

Fresh chillies

Fresh coriander

Method

  1. Heat EVOO on a large frypan
  2. Cut up onion, garlic and ginger, chilli and coriander (I use a chopper). Add to pan once oil is hot
  3. Add potatoes and close the lid
  4. Drain and rinse lentils. Once potatoes are soft, add chickpeas and red kidney beans in one go.
  5. Add chopped capsicum and tomatoes
  6. Add Shaan Chaat Masala and mix thoroughly. Cook with lid closed for about 10 mins on low heat.
  7. Garnish with coriander. Can also be served in lettuce cups!

5 ways to have a healthier Ramadan

1.Hydration is a must

While you are fasting, your body will experience mild dehydration so it is important to replenish your body with plenty of fluids after breaking your fast. If you are struggling to drink enough, you could try having fluids in other forms such as in smoothies, shakes, infused water or herbal teas. Soup is another great choice but make sure to go low on the salt (salt stimulates thirst).

2. Wake up for suhoor

It certainly is no easy task to wake up before dawn but it will help you cope better with the fast. Suhoor is highly recommended as it will help you fuel your body for the day (you wouldn’t get in a racing a car without petrol; same concept goes with fasting). To make things easier, prepare your meal before you go to sleep. Include sources of protein (such as eggs, lentils, yoghurt, nuts fish, chicken and lean meat) and have carbohydrates that are wholegrain or low GI (such as basmati rice, oats, wholegrain bread or flatbread). These will keep you fuller for longer as they are digested slowly.

Suhoor inspo: overnight oats with bananas, berries and chia

3. Incorporate fruit and veggies in your meals

These foods typically require a lot of chewing so it’ll help you eat slowly. This is particularly important at iftar as you may be tempted to overeat and overfill your plates because you haven’t eaten all day! If you are living in summer countries, opt for fruits that have greater water content such as watermelon or strawberries.

Fruit platter inspo for iftar
Veggie platter inspo for iftar

4. Stay fairly active

It is likely that your workout habits would be affected as it is difficult to exercise in the hours you are fasting. If you are struggling to keep up with your usual routine, it is completely okay to take a break from doing intense workouts. As an alternative, you could switch to lighter activities such as some brisk walking or yoga.

5. Enjoy small indulgences of your choice

You don’t have to completely abandon the foods that you love. It is okay to incorporate some sweet treats and fried items (the latter is particularly common in South Asian cultures). The key is to consume in moderation or making a healthier alternative, if possible.

Final tip: if you are feeling extra peckish even after eating large quantities of food, ask yourself if you have drunk enough water. We often tend to mistake thirst for hunger because some of the symptoms of mild dehydration (i.e. headache, fatigue, light-headedness and difficulty concentrating) can resemble symptoms of hunger!

Chickpea Chaat (get the recipe from here)

Agitated April

 My priorities for this month were to attempt first round analyses of the data that had come in so far and make big progress with writing. I met with statistician at the start of April which gave me a rough idea on what I needed to do. It took me a while to clean up data and work out how to report my outcomes in a table. I realised that it’s going to be some trial and error before I know what’s going to look best.

In terms of writing, I finished writing up Chapter 1 which felt like quite a milestone as I had wanted to get it ready since last December. I also started formatted two of my other chapters and completed my intent to submit form.

In other news, I turned 26 this month. I’m so grateful to everyone who made it special but let’s just say there were some highs and lows even though I have passed the official quarter life crisis. I also travelled to the South Coast during the Easter long weekend which involved lots of good food, beaches and hiking (blog will be up soon). It was really nice to get away and it definitely helped me feel calmer.

Overall, it was a pretty demanding month. I definitely felt like I had my thinking caps on more than usual. My mind keeps racing and goes places. I am finding it difficult to be in the present. I feel rather overwhelmed but let’s hope that I will be able to pull this through on time *positive vibes*

Here are some of my April eats 🙂 I have started investing a bit more time in the kitchen to cook dishes different to the usual. I am really enjoying it; photographing food brings pure joy to my soul!

Cherry tomatoes, spinach, edamame beans and goats cheese
French toast with strawberries and bananas
Avo toast with chilli flakes and lemon
Okra, sweet potato and capsicum
Creamy tomato soup (recipe adapted from Sanitarium)
Porridge with bananas, raspberries and chia
Vegan smoothie bowl with almond milk, bananas and cacao
Sauteed mushrooms, broccoli, red capcisum and cherry tomatoes
Chia pancakes with kiwi, stone fruit and grapes

Gulgong, NSW

We visited Gulgong in February to celebrate our two year anniversary. We started off our day by making anniversary pancakes (pancakes are very close to our heart) and then to drove out to Gulgong. It took us much longer than we anticipated due to a stopover for lunch and unpaved road surfaces around Gulgong.

We chose Gulgong because we wanted to experience something different. Neither of us had have stayed in a rural place, and this was our first time travelling to the Mudgee region.

Where we stayed: Owl Head Lodge

This place was in the middle of nowhere. We both fell in love when we saw photos of vineyards and countryside views. We instantly knew that this would be the perfect opportunity to experience Australian outback. The accommodation was lovely and very well kept. The view of the outback was definitely the highlight.

Where we ate: Thai to You + Haldi Indian Restaurant

Gulgong is a mining town to its core. The buildings and streets are a well-preserved example of a late 19th century/ early 20th century architecture. It is also a very small town and doesn’t have many options for eating out. It was kind of good in a way as it made it easy for us to decide! The food at both places was pretty average, definitely wasn’t something you’d remember.

As this was a short weekend getaway, we didn’t have much time to explore. We mostly took photos outside out cottage and at Gulgong Pioneers Museum. We loved being able to walk the streets of this gold mining town and learn about the heritage. Visiting the museum was very much eye-opening as we were able to see items from 19th century which made us realise how tough life would have been back then without the technology we have today. It definitely helped us appreciate all the little things we take for granted today like having a washing machine, electrical appliances in the kitchen etc.

Overall, it was a very short but memorable trip. I’d definitely recommend Gulgong to anyone after a rural experience or a secluded getaway. We stopped at Blue Mountains on our way back to reminisce as that’s where we went for our first year anniversary.

A 19th century classroom
Blue Mountains
Gotta love the mountains

Mediocre March

Cannot believe we are another month down! With my submission around the corner, I find it really scary that a quarter of the year is gone. In terms of my PhD, I’m still running my intervention and need to collect some more data. I closed recruitment this month which felt like a step closer to completion. I’m really looking forward to the next phase. I’ve started cleaning the data which feels rather tedious. But I know it’s going to get more exciting once I have my data set ready for analyses. The other good news is that the paper I resubmitted last month was accepted for publication. I have been holding onto this paper for the longest time (started data collection in early 2017); so, it felt really nice to get it out of my hands.


In other news, I’m back to teaching again. I’m doing less hours this semester as I wanted to allocate enough time for writing up. Speaking of which, I really need to work towards finishing my first chapter. I’ve been meaning to get it finished for some time now but I’m having trouble tying up my ideas. This is probably because I haven’t had the chance to block out enough time. Going forward, I need to ensure I allocate hours for writing every week.


Another highlight of the month was getting featured in the latest infuse magazine as a rising star. The struggle to keep Shenanigans of a Dietitian alive has been real while doing a full-time PhD. Maintaining my presence on the blog and Instagram hasn’t been easy. I’ve had to take lots of breaks. I’ve had to take lots of breaks every time I felt overwhelmed. So, it was really special to have this recognition from infuse. Click here to read the feature (page 32-34).


Overall, it was a relatively good month. It probably feels somewhat mediocre for me because I was rather ambitious and hoping to get a lot more done (mainly with writing). But it’s alright, we’ve got April to get on top of that!

Here are some of my March eats 🙂

Prawn risotto with mushrooms and spinach
Fruit and veggie platter with homemade tzatziki
Vegetarian pasta with mushrooms and spinach
Mixed stir-fry vege with mushrooms + using up leftover meat
Cacao and plain waffles with plum, grapes, passionfruit and chia
Breakfast bowl with blueberry Kefir (The Culture Co) + granola + kiwi + banana + topped with chia
Another fruit and vege platter
Fusion brunch with Khichuri (similar to khichdi) + sauteed mushrooms + wilted spinach and scrambled eggs
Making the most of plums before they are gone!
Risotto with risoni and pearl barley, mushrooms, pea and spinach
Pancakes with kiwi, grapes and chia
Weekend waffles with raspberry, strawberry, shaved coconut, nectarine and passionfruit

Frantic February

The start of this month officially marked 3 years since I started my PhD. This put me in a rather panicky state because it was scary to process how time just flew. But it was also exciting when I began to reflect on my achievements in the last 3 years. It was important for me to take on this reflection as I am often harsh on myself and tend to focus on failures or things that didn’t work out. This is why I find it beneficial to reflect at least once a month through writing this series.

In terms of progress with my PhD, my accomplishments included submitting my paper revisions and recruiting around over 100 people in my intervention. Earlier this month, I was really excited to be moving closer to our target. However, I have had major setbacks since then. Towards the end of January, I submitted an ethics modification which incorporated a new mode of recruitment. I was really hoping to get better results but unfortunately, it did not work out for me despite getting approval. It was frustrating because I had seen others gain success using the same technique. So, I had no other choice but to resort to existing old-fashioned methods (i.e. putting up flyers).

I also worked on another ethics modification (hopefully this will be the last one). I was hoping to submit abstracts to present my results later this year but I am still in the middle of collecting data. I was disappointed in myself for not being able to prepare a submission on time because I have always been successful in the past (the conference deadlines have always pushed me to get my paper ready). However, I was quick to remind myself that everything happens for a reason (I constantly tell myself that when I miss out on opportunities). It’s a bit different now because I am dealing with a much larger data set, and my priorities have changed. My current priorities are to finish running this intervention, write up my final paper and submit my thesis. Speaking of which, I have made some progress with writing but not to the level I was hoping.

In other news, we went on a rural getaway to celebrate our anniversary (blog coming up soon). My month ended with a desk move. It was really exciting to be upgrading after 3 years but also a little sad because my PhD journey is coming to an end.

Here are some of my February eats 🙂

Spaghetti with prawn, lentil and vege
Mini pancakes with coconut and blueberries
Pumpkin, spinach and prawn curry
Risotto with prawn and mushroom (V-day special)
Brunch with mushroom omelette, wilted spinach and tomatoes
Stewed stone fruit
Toast Tuesday with stewed stone fruit (from above), chia and coconut
Stir-fry with green beans, prawn and tomato
Banana and cacao pancakes, topped with blackberries and breakfast topper (The Chia Co)
French toast with breakfast topper (The Chia Co), bananas and kefir (The Culture Co)
Penne with seafood marinara and vege

Bali, Indonesia

Our approach: We travelled to Bali at the end 2018 to celebrate New Year. We had just moved in together so we did not get a lot of time to plan this trip. We relied on Instagram and a few good friends for recommendations. We booked our day trips using Bali Sun Tours which made it a lot easier. We also planned in rest days as we wanted to make sure we relaxed rather than travelling every single day.

Where we stayed: Astagina Resort and Spa

Where we ate:

Places we visited

We landed in Bali around 9pm. By the time we checked in to the hotel, it was 10pm. We were told that most outside restaurants would be closed so the only option we had was to dine at our hotel.

Day 1

We were super excited to head out to the streets to explore. We looked up a breakfast place that was about 30 mins away by foot. We loved the vibe at Crumb and Coaster. We visited Ground Zero memorial from here and later drank coconuts at Double Six Beach. We explored the streets near our hotel and ended up walking about 15000 steps. Later that night, we attended a NYE gala at our hotel which was pretty nice. We got a chance to watch Balinese dancing and a band play. We were getting too sleepy to stay as our Aussie time was 3 hours ahead. We came back to our room, got ready for bed and turned off all the lights. Then we watched the fireworks from our bed. The view wasn’t spectacular but it was pretty good.

Day 2

We left the hotel just after 8:30am in a private taxi booked with Bali Sun Tours. The first stop was Bali Swings which was about 1.5 hours away from our hotel. We chose this spot because we had seen too many Instagram pics at this location. We loved the drive to Ubud where we got to see the Balinese countryside and small towns/ villages. The rides were incredible but some were very crowded. We spent a lot of time waiting for our turns at one of these spots and decided to go for the ones that had a shorter queue.

We had a Balinese breakfast and lunch here. It was getting very hot so we cooled down with a coconut. It started to rain just as I was waiting to go on my last swing. Soon enough, everyone had to duck indoors because the rain got too heavy. We were pretty drenched but decided to continue our journey to Blanco Renaissance Museum. We had chosen a museum with the hope that it’ll be an indoor space. On our way there, the rain cleared and we were able to get some decent pictures here which involved parrots sitting on our hands. The last stop for the day was Saraswati Temple which was literally a 3 min drive from here. This was our first time visiting a Balinese temple so we loved the experience here. We went to a sip a drink afterwards while starting at the Lotus pond behind us. At this cafe, we sat on the floor with a lower table which was a unique experience. We had dinner at Blue 9 Beach. I loved trying a dish called Pepes Ikan which was fish cooked in banana leaf. We headed home early as we had an early start the next day.

Day 3
We woke up at 4:45am and managed to get ready by 6am. We got dropped off at Sanur wharf and waited for the jet boat to arrive which was a rather long wait. Then we went to Nusa Penida. We were put in groups of 5 or 6 and had a driver with us to show us around Kelingking Beach, Angel’s Billabong and Crystal Bay. Unfortunately, there was a big crowd and it took us a long time to get photos. We had lunch at a local restaurant where I had the best guava juice. On the way back, I started feeling sick. We got off at a restaurant near our hotel to grab some dinner. I was too sick to eat so I packed up my food. I went to bed early with the hope to sleep it off.

Kelingking

Read more at: http://www.bali-indonesia.com/magazine/kelingking-beach.htm?cid=ch:OTH:001

beach, Angel’s Billabong and Crystal Bay. Unfortunately, there was a big crowd and it took us a long time to get photos. We had lunch at a local restaurant where I had the best guava juice. On the way back, I started feeling sick. We got off at a restaurant near our hotel to grab some dinner. I was too sick to eat so I packed up my food. I went to bed early with the hope to sleep it off.

Angel’s Billabong (Nusa Penida)

Day 4
I spent most of today recovering in bed. The good thing was that we had nothing planned for today. I wasn’t too well by lunch time so we decided we get room service. By evening, I felt well enough to go out so we went to Made’s Warung. This restaurant was recommended to me by an Indonesian friend. The atmosphere here was lovely. I would highly recommend this restaurant to anyone wanting to try authentic Balinese or Indonesian cuisine

Day 5
We had booked a day tour with Bali Sun Tours which was a Green Luminious tour in Ubud. We left around 8:30am. We started our day with watching batik and jewellery making at a factory. This was followed by visiting a coffee and tea plantation where we tasted multiple drinks. Next, we visited Batuan Village Temple where we tried on a sarong for the first time (they are compulsory at most Balinese temples). Tegenungan Waterfall had the most spectacular view. It was a very busy time so we didn’t many good photos but we loved being able to go all the way down. It felt like quite a workout in the humidity but it was very much worth it. Other highlights from this tour included Tegalalang Rice Terrace and lunch at Boni Bali restaurant. Here, we had lunch with the best view of Tegalalang. We were the only ones in the restaurant which felt like a very special treatment. After coming back to our hotel, we went for a long walk to a store that was recommended by a Balinese friend.

Tegallalang Rice Terrace
Balinese fish curry and rice
Hello from my nest!

Day 6

We had another day tour booked with Bali Sun Tours which included Parasailing at Tanoa water sports, visiting Uluwatu Temple, Padang-Padang beach and Jimbaran Bay. It was our first time parasailing and both of us really enjoyed it. Next stop was Uluwatu Temple which was absolutely breathtaking. We saw a lot monkeys around here but we were scared to interact after witnessing a tourist lose her shoe to a monkey! We stopped to have lunch at a Balinese place recommended by our driver. The last stop for our day was Jimbaran Bay which is famous for its seafood.  Unfortunately, we had just eaten lunch before coming here so we had no space to try any. So, we took our time to explore the area and cooled down with a drink before leaving. We were very exhausted after coming home and fell asleep without dinner.

Loved the view from Uluwatu Temple

Day 7

We went for a long walk to find breakfast because we wanted to take our time deciding on the last day. We returned to our hotel to check out and went out buy souvenirs. We still had a lot of time to kill so we treated ourselves so a massage and pedicure at our hotel. For lunch, we chose a Balinese restaurant near us where I tried Ikan goreng jahi. Then it was time to head to the airport. My upset stomach had worsened by this time so I was really happy to be coming back home. TIP: exercise caution when eating out. Bali Belly is more common than you think!

From Bali, with love

Final thoughts

While we did have a few negative experiences, we absolutely loved Bali! My highlights were Bali Swings, Tegenungan Waterfall and Tegallalang Rice Terrace. And let’s not forget the food and drinks. We loved the fresh juices. Here are 3 tips for any future travellers:

  1. Be wary when talking to strangers as some locals may try to take advantage of you; having said that, the majority of the Balinese people are lovely! On our first day, we had an encounter with a guy which turned into a rather strange experience. Initially, it looked like he was advertising or handing out flyers; however, he scratched off two cards in front of us and told us that we had apparently won a prize. I had won a t-shirt and my partner had won the first prize which was a stay at their hotel and cash to spend. He asked us to go there with him in the taxi to claim the prize. I told him that we’d go on another day as it was close to where we were going later. However, he said that he offer was only valid on that day. He was rather pushy with his approach. Luckily, for us we knew that if it’s too good to be true, it probably is!
  2. The prices of items can vary a lot depending on where you go and who you buy from. Any shops located around the touristy area will charge you more. Feel free to haggle if you can. We have very little skills to bargain so we only bought things from places that had a price tag.
  3. Don’t worry about withdrawing large amounts of cash before you leave as they have plenty of places to exchange currency. If you’re staying in the touristy area, you’ll find places to multiple places to exchange at every street! We initially found it hard to get the large currency conversion in our head but soon realised that 100 000 Rupiah equates to about $10 AUD.

Pre-wedding / holud ceremony

So, it has been about two years since I posted my wedding blog. We did have two other events but I never came back to write about the remaining. I do have a bunch of reasons for not posting about it but to cut a long story short, that year was a very overwhelming year for me. I had thought about writing it after I launched my website properly. But things got really busy with my PhD and a new job. The other reasons are rather dramatic and long so I will spare you the details.

As we were in January, I had social media and family reminding me of the events that happened two years ago. I couldn’t help but reminisce the past. I started wondering whether I should post the blog or if it is too late. I pretty much spent the last few weeks thinking about it and told myself that I’m just going to do it. So here it goes!

We had our pre-wedding function a week before our wedding. This event is a chance to put haldi / holud (turmeric paste) on the bride and groom. Applying turmeric paste to the bride and groom is seen as an act of blessing. Traditionally, haldi (Hindi) or holud (Bengali) holds a special place of honour as the colour is thought be auspicious and provides a natural glow.

Prior to the event

There was a lot of gift wrapping that needed to be done as this event also included a gift exchange from both parties. My family spent the whole day preparing the foods and presents, as per tradition. I wanted to help out but I was told to rest and enjoy being a bride.

I could have used that time to start getting ready earlier. But I was a hell of an enthusiastic bride who also wanted to wear a photographer hat. Here are some shots I took:

At the event

The theme for our event was yellow, green and red. The guests were asked to wear these colours. The venue was at Wright’s Road Function Centre in Castle Hill.

We had several dance performances by our family and friends. But we also had a local Bengali band come in to perform live music. The stage and table setting were done by QES-Qanitaz Event Solutions.

The entrance song I chose for myself was Teri Ore (an all-time fav). The groom’s entrance was performed by a Punjabi dholok player who just came in to cover the entrance.

Some of the other décor included a high chai stall, mehendi/ henna stall, DIY photobooth and Bangle stall. We did not want our guests to be sitting down the whole time (and get bored) so we set up a few stalls. The idea was to get them to move around and have fun on their own. The mehendi stall was managed by Supriya from Glam You.

The Instagram frame for the DIY photobooth was ordered on Etsy. Other items ordered from Etsy included a customised guest book and a cake topper for reception. Speaking of which, I will include some other details as I’m not going to be posting a reception blog. We hired a professional photobooth for the reception. The customised photobooth was done by Create a Booth which included unlimited prints and the option to send the photos to their email.

Wedding favours were saved for the final event. We had initially planned to order on Etsy but we realised the products we liked had long shipping periods or did not have enough in supply (we needed ~200). In the end, we decided to keep it local by purchasing candles from Ikea and ordering customised labels on Vistaprint.

That’s pretty much it. Here are some shots captured by BV photography:

Jagged January

I cannot believe the first month of the year has left us already! Time is flying away like crazy. It really scares me sometimes because I am due to hand in my PhD in a couple of months. I was away in Bali for the first week of January (blog coming up soon). Coming back to work was initially overwhelming but I was also excited to be back. Happy to say, I was able to finally start my intervention from mid-January. Honestly, it was so surreal because this is something I have been planning for the longest time. In fact, the majority of my PhD has been about planning this intervention. Unfortunately, we are a little behind with recruitment so I have recently submitted another ethics modification. So, I’m really hoping that the recruitment situation will improve when the approval comes through.

In other news, I haven’t been able to do much writing this month as I was so preoccupied with other tasks. I was doing major revisions on one of my earlier papers which took me a lot more time than I anticipated. I had hoped that this would be finished by mid-January at most. As a result, I have fallen rather behind with my thesis.

Overall, January was a pretty rough month but I am super positive that things will pick up in February. I didn’t take much food photos this month which is a little sad. This is definitely something that I want to make time for in the coming months. Here are some of my January eats 🙂

Been having lots of egg sandwiches this month with a salad on the side
Black Forest and Ferrero Rocher cake (a birthday special)
Eggplant, potato and tomato curry
Waffles with banana, chia and strawberries
Long melon and prawn curry

Desperate December

Happy New Year! I’m a little late in posting this. December was a very busy month. I had set myself a very long to-do list which included all the bits and pieces that I hadn’t finished. I also really wanted to finish writing chapter one of my thesis to feel a sense of completeness. I had told myself I’d finish everything by the last working day (21st December) and allow myself to switch off after this.

Unfortunately, it did not go as I had planned. I did get very close to finishing some tasks but not to the extent I had hoped. This resulted in much anxiety which lasted even after my holidays had started. After a few days, I managed to convince myself that I didn’t need to fret over the things I didn’t get done. It will eventually be done next year. I was able to relax after this and had the best time. We had nothing planned for the first couple of days so it was nice to be doing nothing.

In other news, I finally went on a hike to Wedding Cake Rock after wanting to go for over 4 years. Sadly I was not able to go close as it has been fenced off for safety reasons. Nonetheless, the view was worth it and it was nice to have something ticked off my bucket list. I then travelled to Bali for an end of year holiday (blog coming up soon).

Overall, I just want to end by saying I am so grateful for all the wonderful things that happened in 2018. It has taught me to be more resilient, chase bigger dreams, keep hustling and more importantly, trust the timing of things. If I were to describe the past year in one word, I’d say GRATITUDE. Here’s to a bigger and better 2019.

Here are some of my December eats 🙂

Pancakes with chia, coconut and strawberries
Toast with yoghurt, raspberry and The Chia Co (Breakfast topper)
Cause mangoes make a better summer 😉
Waffles with bananas topped with chia and chocolate coated strawberries
Banana cake with almonds and sultanas
Banana, peanut butter and chia toast
Oat, banana and sultana cookies
Plain pancakes with bananas and cherry
Slow cooked chicken haleem with barley and lentils (similar recipe here)
Pancakes with coconut, raspberry and strawberry

A sweet summer without the guilt

This time of the year is all about celebration which often involves numerous sweet treats. Some of us tend to overindulge while some may feel overly conscious or guilty about eating certain foods. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Fortunately, there are plenty of fine-looking fruits in season this time of the year and you can use these to fuel your body with energy and nutrients, help cool you down and stay hydrated. Here are some ways to incorporate summer stone fruits:

  1. Mangoes are a great source of fibre, vitamins A and C and contain potassium, folate, B6, iron and vitamin E. Despite containing lots of vitamins, minerals, fibre, phytochemicals and antioxidants, this fruit often gets a bad name for being ‘too sweet’. Many will avoid it for this reason or think that they are cheating on their diet if they eat one. Yes, mangoes are higher in sugar compared to most fruits but this is natural sugar. There is no need to be scared of mangoes because the sugar naturally occurring in fruits are perfectly okay. As the sugars are present with other nutrients (such as fibre for mangoes), it changes the way our body digests and absorbs the natural sugars. In this case, the sugar (fructose) in mangoes are encased in fibre which helps slow down the absorption and affects the way it metabolises in our bodies. This means that it doesn’t get fast, direct access to the liver like it does when it the sugar is ‘free’ (i.e. added sugar).

Some healthy ways to eat mangoes include using them in moderation in your milkshakes or smoothies and smoothie bowls. You could also make them part of a main course by tossing them into a green salad, adding them in veggie skewers, grilling on the barbeque or adding into your curries. Click here to read about other sweet and savoury ways to get more mango in your life. Some Christmas recipe ideas include a mango tiramisu AKA mangomisu, Christmas trifle using mangos and mango chia pudding. 

  1. Apricots are packed with vitamin A and rich in fibre. They are a good source of vitamin C, copper, and potassium. You could chop apricots and add them to your morning cereal or yoghurt, add them to your batter when making pancakes and in your salads. Apricot goes well with green leaves, feta, and almonds.

Apricot also has a great potential to shine at the Xmas table by including them in cakes, tarts or pies. You could also use them to make a gluten-free stuffing or in a chutney that can be served with bread.

  1. Some other stone fruits in summer include peaches, plums and nectarines. These are rich in vitamins A, C and E, as well as dietary fibre, potassium and antioxidants. One cup of sliced plums or apricots can provide you with a quarter of your daily vitamin C needs. Two small peaches have the same amount of potassium as a medium banana. Plums are good sources of vitamin K; two of these purple fruits can give you around 10% of your daily vitamin K needs.

You could add these in your salads or desserts or include them as a Christmas fruit platter. Click here to find some more inspo using stone fruits.

Christmas party ideas

The holiday season is upon us, so I thought I’d share some of my holiday favourites. All of these photos were taken last year during Xmas season, except for the custard.

Veggie platter- for those that know me well would know how much I love colours and eating the rainbow. I am still a newbie at putting together platters but I have so much fun every time I do one. It’s such a great starter to serve as your guests are coming in. It’s relatively easy to put together and keeps your guests busy!

Garlic, butter and chilli prawns – I’m a big lover of all things seafood. Chilli and garlic are two of my favourite ingredients in cooking. And cherry tomatoes marry well with just about everything. I’m not a big user of butter in savoury dishes but you need to be a little on special occasions like these!

Roast chicken and veggies- although I’m a big fan of plant-based diet, some occasions are celebrated better with meat. And I truly feel that Xmas is one of these. I have a small family but feel free to upgrade to a turkey if that’s what you prefer. I also added baby chat potatoes and pumpkin here. It’s super easy because it gets cooked in the same bag.

Quinoa pilaf with veggies – this is a great dish for any vegetarians you might have to cater for and wholegrains are something we should be eating more of. Quinoa is one of these. It is technically a pseudograin but has the properties to classify as a wholegrain. I love the touch of seafood flavours in this dish. Quinoa is very versatile, so free to add any other seafood if you like.

Stir-fry veggies- I have used fresh cauliflower, broccolini, mushrooms and zucchini here but you can go with frozen veggies for convenience. I have added a small amount of chicken but you can leave this out if you prefer a vegetarian dish.

Fruit custard- this one is probably one of the easiest desserts to whip up. The best thing is that you can prepare this ahead of time. All you literally need is milk, custard powder, sugar and fresh fruits. I chose to use a sugar substitute which were sent to me from Nuvia. It is a natural sweetner made from the Stevia plant.

Yoghurt barks-this is another relatively easy dessert to make and you get to pick what toppings you like. The original recipe I had looked up had used rose petals and pomegranates but I did not have these at home. So, I chose to use some stone fruit (apricot and nectarine), pistachio and white chocolate chips.

Port Stephens and Nelson Bay

Duration: 3 days

Where we stayed: Riverside Motel, Karuah

We chose to stay here because the majority of places were booked out around Port Stephens and Nelson Bay. Unfortunately, we were late to join the game which meant we had to find an accommodation that was further out than what we would have preferred. The motel was lovely, very neat for a 3 star place. However, it took us about 50-60 mins to drive to any place of interest.

Where we ate:

Places visited:

Day 1

We left Sydney around 1pm. We faced huge traffic getting out of Sydney. We reached at 5:40pm. We were so exhausted, we showered and rested. Soon, we realised we had no restaurants near us and would have to travel for almost one hour and it may even close by the time we reach. We rushed and got ready and managed to arrive by 8:30pm. We were starving as we had an early lunch. The heavy pasta for dinner was very satisfying.

Seafood spaghetti

Creme brulee

Day 2

We woke up late and drove up to Nelson Bay. Getting there late made it really hard to find a parking. We got parking at 12pm and we had a lunch/ brunch. We tried oysters for the very first time. Then we shared a seafood pizza which wasn’t very ‘seafoody’. The next activity we had on our list was to go ride camels. We excitedly headed towards Oakfield Ranch Camel Rides. Unfortunately, the lines were extremely long. It was almost like the whole of Sydney had come to ride camels in Nelson Bay! We waited for almost an hour and gave up. We decided to hang out by the beach at Anna Bay and watched other people ride camels from afar. We were starting to get a little hungry as we only had brunch. We decided to try more oysters from the local farm.  Then we watched the beautiful sunset from D’Albora Marina while enjoying ice cream because it’s everything in moderation. For dinner, we had tried to make plans at Little Beach Boathouse which is supposed have amazing water views. Unfortunately, no tables were available here so we went to The Point instead which turned out to be lovely, to our surprise.

There’s always a first time!

Oysters fresh from the farm

 

Dinner at The Point

Day 3

The next morning we set out to Tomaree Head for a hike. We tried to start early this time but we still found it incredibly hard to find a parking. We got lucky because a lady approached us and told us that she was leaving (GOD BLESS HER-  she made our day). We went for a hike which was absolutely breathtaking. We treated ourselves to ice cream as a post-hike treat. We grabbed a quick lunch from a small cafe (most stores were closed for Easter Sunday or closed by then). We then headed to Gan Gan Lookout to watch the sunset. This was another popular spot and luckily, we managed to secure ourselves a parking by coming early. The last stop for the night was a buffet dinner which did not go down so well for me.

Sunset from Gan Gan Lookout

A sunset to remember!

More seafood at V Buffet

Day 4

We enjoyed the last day of sleeping in and checked out of our hotel. We went to The Greenhouse Eatery in Medowie. The vibe at this café was pretty unique and we loved the green scenery.  Then it was time to head back to Sydney. We faced quite a bit of traffic on our way back and stopped for lunch at Biwon in Hornsby.

Our neverending love for kimchi