Fitness and nutrition: Let the road to Damascus lead you to a healthier life

Think about the food you’re eating a little more, while you wait for your Road to Damascus moment

In six weeks’ time the media will be full of people discussing how their New Year’s resolutions will get their lives in better shape, get their diet in better shape, get their health in better shape.

And four weeks later, all the good intentions will be gone, and most people will be doing exactly as they were doing before, except for maybe feeling a little more guilty about not getting their lives and their diet and their health in better shape.

Resolutions don’t work, because they don’t have the force of awakening. To really change – to get the diet and the lifestyle and the healthfulness you really want – you need a bombshell to explode in your consciousness.

You need a Road to Damascus moment.

Here is Olympic athlete Derval O’Rourke’s Damascene moment: “I trailed home in seventh place and I left the track feeling absolutely devastated . . . the message was loud and clear: I wasn’t paying enough attention to my general health. I was depending solely on the work I was doing on the track and in the gym. And that was not enough. Sitting outside the Olympic Stadium in Greece was a wake-up call for me.”

What O’Rourke realised was that “everything is intertwined”. Without the right lifestyle of eating well and sleeping well she was going to keep coming in in seventh place.

As O'Rourke tells it in her book, Food For the Fast Lane, she meets a nutritionist, Andrea Cullen. "After just one hour in Andrea's company, I changed the way I thought about food . . . I actually developed a love of eating healthier foods," she says.

Two years later, it takes O’Rourke 7.84 seconds to become world champion.

Her Damascene moment, in the depths of her biggest failure, turned her around.

The funny thing about the road to Damascus is that it can be anywhere.

In 2002 Steve Flynn, of the Happy Pear in Greystones, finds himself sleeping on the floor of a flat owned by a vegetarian, in Vancouver: “At the time, it was like meeting a different species of human.” He asked the guy if he could eat the same food as him for a week. “Eating so much new stuff – lentils, beans, quinoa, brown rice – was a huge eye opener.”

Steve calls his twin brother, Dave, expecting to get one up on him: “Dave, guess what? I’ve decided to be a veggie, I like the idea of thinking about food a bit more.” Lo and behold, in true twin magic, Dave replied, “That’s weird; I decided the same thing this week too.”

The rest, as they say, is history. The brothers Flynn return home, they open up an old greengrocer’s shop in Greystones “and the food revolution was on the way”.

“Our aim was to start our food revolution by making fruit and veg sexy. And we wanted to get involved with our community and drag as many people along for the ride as we possibly could.”

Food enterprise

Today, that old greengrocer's shop is the epicentre of a radical food enterprise that employs 50 people in a pair of cafes, a shop and online shop, a sprout and wheatgrass farm, a cherry farm, in schools, Happy Heart courses, a distribution company, and a splendid book, The Happy Pear: Recipes and Stories from the First Ten Years.

Just in case you think that you need to be an athlete like O’Rourke or, like the Flynn brothers, to “like the idea of thinking about food a bit more”, rest assured that it can happen to anyone, anywhere.

Several years ago, Michael Kelly is a salary man working in IT, and doing the weekly shop in a supermarket. He is just about to chuck a net of garlic into his trolley when he notices that it says “Product of China.”

“That was my Road to Damascus moment . . . the fact that it was something so small and so cheap that had travelled SO far just really got my goat up. The Chinese garlic is a metaphor for all that is wrong with our food chain, which is no longer really about food, seasonality or feeding ourselves.”

With his goat fully got, Kelly goes forth and establishes GIY – Grow It Yourself – which is today a national organisation with thousands of members, growers and gardeners who have just planted their own garlic over the last couple of weeks. Chinese garlic? No thanks.

And if you don't know how to plant garlic, or anything else, then Kelly's new book, Grow Cook Eat, will tell you not only how to grow everything but how to cook everything.

So, don’t wait for a New Year’s resolution to help you to “like the idea of thinking about food a bit more”. Just stand on the road to Damascus, and stick your thumb out.

Food For the Fast Lane, Derval O'Rourke (Gill & Macmillan): see The Happy Pear, David & Stephen Flynn (Penguin): see Grow Cook Eat, Michael Kelly (GIY): see John McKenna is author of Where to Eat and Stay on the Wild Atlantic Way.

Recipe: Baked avocado, eggs and basil

This is a lovely weekend breakfast or brunch recipe. It takes a little time, with the eggs being baked in the oven. On Saturday mornings, I don’t have to be out training quite as early as I do on other mornings. So this recipe is perfect for those times when I have the extra hour to shuffle around the kitchen and make something nice.

Serves 2 1 avocado Salt and pepper A few basil leaves, chopped 2 eggs Grated Parmesan, to garnish Method Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas 4. Cut the avocado in half and remove the stone. Use a teaspoon to scoop out some of the flesh from each half, creating a hollow large enough to hold a cracked egg. Chop the scooped-out avocado flesh and set aside. Season the avocado halves and sprinkle an equal amount of chopped basil over each one, reserving some as a garnish. Crack one egg into each avocado half. Place the filled avocado halves on a baking tray and bake for 20 minutes. Arrange the baked avocado halves on serving plates alongside the chopped avocado. Garnish with basil and Parmesan. Image and recipe taken from “Food For the Fast Lane” by Derval O’Rourke

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