Category Archives: Features & Lifestyle

Food For Thought

Deciding to lose weight is like stepping headfirst into a tornado: one friend swears by the caveman diet while another plans to starve them self two days a week for the rest of their life. Meanwhile threads and forums populate the web with the same vacuous drivel, encouraging us to fear our food and try made-up detoxes which regard daily eating as some kind of dicey past time.

Of course when your dress size is tipping – nay keeling – into the next size, and every dressing room magically transforms into a brightly-lit crime scene littered with balls of clothing, desperation kicks in.

I’ve never been fat in a way that compromised my health but for a long time I slid down that tunnel of self-despair reducing myself to strings of adjectives  - hideous, embarrassing, fat -  criticisms I wouldn’t think to call anyone else.

When people ask how I eventually lost weight they seem sceptical that it was as obvious as walking each day, cutting out bread and trying my hand at mindfulness. And there were other important factors too of course,  like learning to cook and substituting ‘diet products’ (low cal, high sugar soups and things) for vegetables, grains and pulses.  But mindfulness has been the unsung hero in my new outlook towards food and life.

I’m a fussy eater. Like a reaaaally fussy eater. I won’t eat meat and I hate anything with an unusual texture (I’m looking at you courgettes) so when I find something I love – and I mean really love – the urge to plough through it becomes too much. I inhale everything in sight, trying to fit in as much in as I can without considering whether I’m really hungry or what I’m even eating. I can devour entire loaves of bread or several portions of pasta in one sitting failing to recognise that I’m full until it’s too late and my stomach’s sore and protruding.

My mum was the first person I heard mention mindfulness. She used it to reduce stress and become more aware of the world around her. When she told me about the exercises – focussing on breathing, contemplating movement – it sounded facile and slightly new-age. But over time I started adapting it to what I was eating, and in turn learned to appreciate food in a way I never had before.

For me, mindful eating isn’t about diets or giving up food, it’s about experiencing food more intensely. When I eat now (especially if it’s something I like) I try to eat it slowly, putting my fork down while I chew and tuning into the flavours, the aroma, appreciating the colours and presentation of the food.

Over time my appetite has reduced (or maybe stabilised) and I can finally recognise when I’m full (content to be precise), reducing all that preventable stuff like indigestion and bloating. It’s still testing of course and I’m not an expert by any stretch but in the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, Smile, breathe and go slowly.

COS It’s So Nice

A newer, cooler ampersand in the H&M portfolio, & Other Stories has become my go-to spot on the net, but it’s still the crisp white shirts in COS which get me – and my bank account – every time.

When H&M launched its decidedly more fashion-forward concept brand & Other Stories, I was enthralled by the bright colours and unusual shapes. A follow-up to its subsidiary label ‘Collection of Style’ or COS as it’s monikered, & Other Stories wasn’t as directional or easy-wearing as its sibling, instead producing modern silhouettes in vibrant, high-end fabrics.

These last twelve months my wardrobe has become robust, mostly made up of items from these two brands. But while I lean towards the tailored, quirky lines of Other Stories, I still hanker after COS’s simple, structured shape.

Last year, a change in circumstance prompted a wardrobe overhaul and along with several bad habits (like biting my nails, which I started age four and only gave up last June) I disposed of all my old, ill-fitting clothes, choosing simply to start over. The nub of my wardrobe consisted mainly of fast-fashion brands which were repetitive, cheap, and which I harboured no love for (bar one or two exceptional items which were spared the nebulous fate of the black sack), but the process of starting over was entwined with new priorities. I didn’t want to saturate my wardrobe with more clutter, and following the collapse of the Bangladeshi factory last spring I became increasingly concerned about where my clothes were coming from, but also how retailers generate pollution. I needed to dress all the same, and was determined to achieve that elusive ‘capsule wardrobe’ fabled by Gok Wan.

I remember seeing Vanilla Sky as a kid and aside from coveting Penelope Cruz’s chocolate-y brown hair, I became fixated on this loose shirt she wore in one of the earlier scenes. I went hunting for something similar in A-Wear but only found those close-fitting dobby shirts in shades of pastel and blue (the kind reserved for cheap polyester work trousers with an unexplained sheen).

My dreams of relaxed poplin shirts were scuppered, and aside from secondary school I didn’t own a shirt till last year. But eventually, after battling my wardrobe’s tangled graveyard of knitwear my mind turned to simple, directional separates and once again I embarked on a mission to find the ideal crisp white shirt.

In this age of fast-fashion, the white shirt is the very definition of a wardrobe staple. Buttoned-up or worn relaxed, it has a touch of masculinity to it with tailored trousers, while looking remarkably feminine with close-fitting jeans. Cos’s ability to reinvent the iconic shape, playing with proportion, reversing the traditional dipped hem or eliminating the collar sets it apart while small details – a contrast pocket, concealed buttons – give it that touch of luxury which normally goes amiss on the high street.

& Other Stories will always enthrall, but COS just wins me every time.

A Day In The Life

Every so often I read The Mail Online and wonder what my life would look like splashed across the website for a pack of click-ready hyenas to troll. Anyhow, in a moment of boredom I decided to write my own Daily Mail-inspired column of shame. Here we go.

Is this Art Historian a benefits CHEAT? We ask whether Michelle has ROBBED the tax payer by studying a USELESS degree.

‘Scarlet fever: Michelle’s pink skirt gets caught in her knickers AGAIN!’

‘Are you lonesome tonight? Recent photos show Michelle exiting a night club alone. But our expert asks ‘Do alcohol and late nights CAUSE INFERTILITY in women UNDER 25?”

‘I just can’t afford it’: Meet the woman living RENT FREE in a THREE BEDROOM HOUSE who claims €3 coffees are TOO EXPENSIVE!’

‘Counting Crow’s feet: Has Michelle lost her youthful good looks? Recent poll suggests women in their mid-twenties are 83% LESS DESIRABLE than they are in their late teens.’

‘I look like I’ve been punched!’ Michelle considers turning to drastic measures as make-up fails to cover up dark under-eye circles.’

‘CelluLIGHT? She may be lithe but those hips don’t lie as pockets of cellulite ripple on the beach.’

‘The ups and downs of not taking the elevator: returning to the office, the beleaguered Michelle fell UP the stairs before sliding BACK DOWN and cutting her leg. But is this the ONLY TIME it’s acceptable to cry in the workplace?’

‘Are you INSANE? Described as keeping a low profile by friends, Michelle was spotted at an event last week following a recent bust up with a mystery man. But a new study published by Ontario State University suggests MEN are the LEADING CAUSE OF MADNESS in women UNDER 25. Jan Moir wonders whether Michelle has got a dose of the MAD COW disease.’

For whatever reason I’ve always imagined The Hall of The Mountain King is played two minute before every deadline @ Daily Mail HQ.

The New Norm

I read an article on The Business of Fashion the other week in which Uniqlo’s newly appointed CMO, Jorgen Andersson, described consumer culture as generic. The interview ran around the same time I discovered “normcore,” a new, non trend-driven movement featuring self-aware twenty-somethings dressing like Steve Jobs.

Too bad Friends (and more specifically Chandler) got there 20 years earlier with this spectacular ‘divorced dad’ ensemble.

How Pinteresting

I set up a Pinterest account several months ago, but never really used it until I suggested the company I work for adopt the platform. The statistics I found in favour of the social networking site were glowing with Pinterest generating significant traffic to retail sites, and many referrals translating into purchases. Damage control is at a minimum too, with most users pinning inspiring content instead of the mouthy, opinionated blather that stews on Twitter.

But Pinterest is quite a lot of fun I’ve discovered (quelle surprise), and an easy way to siphon off 30-odd minutes before bed or on the bus. And because it’s an image-based platform it doesn’t feel intrusive or prying like Facebook, but rather like a fun, whimsy aside you can call upon at a later date.

Anyhow, seeing that I spend my days combing retail sites, it’s becoming clear that e-tailers are trying to tap into a social experience and build communities or hubs that orbit their brand, with users increasingly looking to brands for original content as much as quality products.

I’ve already mentioned my favourite store here, & Other Stories, whose e-commerce site is modelled on Pinterest with stylised images that can readily be explored online. But Sephora, the American make-up mecca, have taken the social experience further with their forum-style Beauty Board.

The idea’s simple but effective: users (ie real-life people) upload their beauty and hair images with a run-through of which products they used and how they created their look. Readers can instantly shop the products which appear in an automatic tab to the right, and have the opportunity to leave product reviews or comments under each image, creating a dialogue and giving would-be buyers insight into the product’s potential.

By harnessing the chatter created on Instagram and recognising the influence of forums, blogs and above all Pinterest, Sephora has positioned itself neatly amongst the dialogue, filling the cracks that naturally appear online. Where I’ve scanned Pinterest in the past and racked my brains as to the exact shade of coral, the site steps up and gives its users the tools to recreate a look, ensuring each look is readily shoppable, integrating the idea as a whole.

Of course, there’ll always be someone who takes the piss.
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