I’ve just worked out that it’s been exactly 160 days since I called time on the longest-running love affair of my life: my relationship with salt and vinegar crisps. (Note to US readers: ‘crisps’ are Brit speak for potato chips).
Let me start by putting into context just how much I love, love, love salt and vinegar crisps. From the moment I could hold a packet, they were never out of my hands for long. Some families have a great sporting heritage that passes from generation to generation. I come from a long line of proud crisp lovers (though my Mum only likes ready salted crisps, which I don’t think are worth bothering with). My family are exceptional connoisseurs of crisps. No, really. Recently, one of my brothers (aged 55) tied a kitchen towel around the head of one of my nephews (aged 28) and challenged him to a taste test to see if he could correctly identify different brands of crisps (he could).
When I spent time studying in France and Spain as a student, my suitcase would be splitting at the seams with several weeks’ supply of crisps – the French and Spanish do many things well from a culinary perspective…but crisps are definitely not one of them.
Though I’d started off with a regular-sized daily dose of crisps, as family packs arrived on the market, I upgraded to those – only I didn’t share them with my family, nor anyone else for that matter.
Even recently, as part of my qualification as a Functional Medicine Certified Health Coach, I would listen to seminars by world-leading medical experts on disease prevention, all the while chomping my way happily through a bag of crisps.
How did I square being a health coach with being a crisp addict? Well, in my head, it was quite easy. Here’s what I’d repeat to myself like a mantra:
“At least it’s better than eating sweets.”
“I eat healthily most of the time, so that’s what matters and a few crisps aren’t going to make any difference.”
And then, 160 days ago, something changed. That’s when I attended a three-day functional medicine conference on neuroplasticity in LA. I don’t recall anyone mentioning crisps at all but I do know that I returned home and I knew in my heart that I just didn’t want to carry on eating them.
I readily admit that I had attempted to go cold turkey once before. A couple of years ago, I’d make a well-intentioned attempt to quit crisps and I went a whole three weeks without them… but then, a stressful day at work and, well, you know how it is. One packet led to another and we were back together, the crisps and I.
But this time it was different. Maybe it was spending three days in the company of the world’s most brilliant, visionary doctors. Or maybe it was facing up to the reality of how we are damaging our brains through our daily lifestyle habits. Either way, I knew too much. I knew that the industrial oils that my beloved crisps were fried in are profoundly damaging to our health. I knew that, drip by drip, crisp by crisp, over many months and many years, those refined oils hurt our brain and all the rest of us too.
I could no longer hide my head in the sand and pretend it was OK for me to ingest a family sized helping of rancid, harmful oil every day. I love salt and vinegar crisps and I think I always will. I love their crunch and their saltiness and their sharpness. But, here’s the thing. I love my kids more. Way, way more. And I do not – I absolutely, passionately, desperately do not – want to eat my way into a broken brain. A brain that will saddle my kids with the responsibility of looking after someone who no longer recognizes them and who they do not recognize as their mother. Not if I can help it. And it turns out that actually I can do quite a lot to help it.
So here’s my final love letter to crisps:
We’ve had fun, you and I. I’ve turned to you when I’m sad and when I’m happy, when I’m hungry and when I’m just bored, when I’m watching TV, when my favourite magazine pops through the door…and just because it’s 9pm and that means time for crisps. Sometimes I turned to you and I didn’t even notice what I was putting in my mouth. My hand just kept going until the bag was empty. A handful was never, ever enough: I had to eat the lot. Sometimes I felt a bit rubbish afterwards. But I always came back for more. And more.
But now…well, something’s changed between us. You see, I know too much about you. Not just the marketing nonsense about being hand-cooked – a big, fat fib that’s emblazoned on the front of the “artisan” looking packet to make us feel better about bingeing on you. No, it’s more than that. I know that you cost me a lot more that you say you do. I know that you’re no good for me. I know that you’re fried in hideously unnatural fats that cause inflammation. I know that inflammation is what’s behind nearly all chronic diseases. And, thanks all the same, but I don’t much fancy a chronic disease.
So we’re finally through, you and I. You see, I value myself too much to let you steal my health. Forty-six years of eating crisps is quite enough for one lifetime.
I’m over you.