Wednesday, 29 February 2012
Patrick is one of the leading nutritionists in the UK and is very into his research - usually as evidence as to the importance of food with respect to health. This article was on a growing body of research that shows that giving in to temptation has more to do with physical fatigue than moral weakness.
The research suggests that exercising will power is actually like exercising a muscle, using up energy and tiring during the day. So you start the day able to resist the cookie jar, but by the time you get home you can't help yourself.
Therefore anything else that uses up energy - a stressful day at work, running around after your kids - can effect your ability to resist temptation afterwards.
City life can be pretty stressful and I'm sure we've all gone home and tucked straight into some ice cream at some point in our lives (I certainly have)! However if you find yourself regularly turning into a post-work cookie monster then that's probably a sign that you should be having an afternoon snack or even just something small before you leave the office to top up your blood sugar levels thereby boosting your willpower. Also if you do get home ravenous then have a piece of fruit when you get in to satisfy your sweet tooth and buy you some time to cook a healthy dinner.
ps If you want to learn more about nutrition and optimum health I'd highly recommend signing up for Patrick's newsletter www.patrickholford.com
Sunday, 26 February 2012
Wednesday, 22 February 2012
The idea that excess alcohol intake is a working class problem is totally out of date, but a convenient story for the well educated who like to think that because they're drinking high quality wine every evening they aren't doing themselves any harm.
The article is a worth a read, but particularly noteworthy is that recent research shows that even small levels of alcohol consumption can significantly increase breast cancer risk.
I do often get cited research. About alcohol lowering risk of heart disease, which is true in small doses, but the antioxidants in wine can be taken as supplements and there are plenty of other ways to wind down after work (the stress reduction effect of alcohol is thought to be part of why it can lower blood pressure, although if you've ever seen my Uncle Julian mid rant after a few glasses of red you might disagree!)
The point is that any alcoholic drink is bad for you on some level and therefore any misguided notions of drinking for our health need to be kicked into touch. You should enjoy alcohol, like all other treats, in moderation as part of the 80/20 rule, so preferably on no more than two days a week.
I always give something up for lent to break any bad habits and remind myself that I do have pretty good willpower. But even if you think it's a religious rouse it's actually a good time of year to be cleaning up your diet, much better than January.
Plus it ties in with Ms Haribo's small rewards model - a chocolate egg after 40 days of abstinence from your favourite treats may seem unbalanced, but it really does work as a motivator and the chocolate tastes so much better when you get to Easter.
Traditional lent involves no eggs, dairy, meat or sugar (including chocolate) - which is a pretty good list to follow, but is perhaps a bit too comprehensive for some.
Still lent has to be a stretch to count, giving up something you eat every couple of weeks doesn't really count, whereas something you eat, drink or crave every day will be a challenge and significant enough to make a positive impact on your health.
Here are the usual suspects if you need some inspiration
Chocolate/sweets (or all sugar if you are feeling brave)
Cheese (or all dairy if you can manage it)
Salty snacks (crisps, doritos, salted nuts)
Wheat (or gluten as the tougher version)
Caffeine (tea or coffee, including green tea)
As you'd expect I follow a pretty healthy diet, but I'm not going to cop out, instead I'm giving up all of the above (yes all!) with one caveat - I may have a glass of bubbly on my birthday, which inconveniently is just a few days into lent.
There are also other non-food habits you can give up for lent:
- Eating in front of the tv
- Watching tv just before going to bed or first thing in the morning (it's a stressor)
- Skipping breakfast
- multi-tasking whilst you eat eg reading, talking on the phone, working
- finishing all the food on your plate rather than stopping when full
- getting the tube one stop when you could walk
There are plenty more I'm sure you can think of.
I personally am seriously considering giving up watching TV altogether. It's something I've done for lent in the past, with the exception of watching films at the cinema, and it's surprising how much time it frees up and how much more energy you have if you relax after work in silence.
The only thing holding me back is (please don't judge me!) missing out on the communal TOWIE watching in my flat. Having to shut myself away in my room whilst listening to the giggles from the living room may be too much to bear, even in exchange for a yummy easter egg.
Sunday, 19 February 2012
Friday, 17 February 2012
As mentioned before, and will surprise no one who knows me, I love graphs, statistics and tracking my progress. I also love giving myself a reward when I achieve a goal.
Theoretically achieving a goal should be motivation enough but sometimes we all need a little bit of extra help. Not only are rewards a good motivation but they can actually help us believe that we enjoyed something that would be a bit unpleasant.
This stems from a fairly classic experiment in psychology, in which subjects did a boring task and then got paid to lie and then tell someone else how much fun the task was. Once this was done those paid a small amount to then actually reported to the experimenter that they liked the task, while those paid a lot were happy to admit that it was totally boring. This sounds crazy but it has a simple explanation: those paid only a small amount to lie had to somehow justify the lie to their brain and convince themselves that they had actually enjoyed the task.(http://psychclassics.yorku.ca/Festinger/ )
So when I give myself a reward for sticking to something I don't like very much I try to make sure the reward is small. For example my 'reward' for going to Fight Klub at 7am on a Friday was that I would be allowed to read Grazia on the bus. It actually helps me to reprogram my brain to convince me that I like something. So not only is 7am Fight Klub not painful, but it's something I actively enjoy!
Wednesday, 15 February 2012
It was unconventional to say the least and, whilst trying to follow the novel instruction of 'turn your vagina to the ceiling', I did wonder what I was doing there!
Still, despite not being the traditional yoga class I was after I left feeling taller, lighter and refreshed.
This isn't the first time I've thought 'is this really doing anything' during some of the pilates and yoga based classes I've been to! But this is just because the techniques involved are so much more subtle than a conventional weights workout, which makes them easy to dismiss.
I think the same may be true when it comes to healthy eating, people expect to have to make really radical changes to their diets and feel pretty deprived to see any results.
Infact some of the subtler changes can be pretty powerful and pretty easy to do. Here are a few of my favourites:
- drink a glass of water before each meal or snack, before you have a tea or coffee, before you go to bed and when you wake up, makes a huge difference to energy levels
- add some protein to every meal or snack, even a few nuts or a glass of soya milk can be enough to help balance your blood sugar and keep you feeling full
- swapping your sugary muesli or cereal for a non-sugar version is an easy way to make your breakfast low GI and keep you full for longer. If you need some extra sweetness add some chopped fruit (fresh or dried) and do the same with your porridge instead of adding sugar or honey.
- The same applies to fruit yoghurts which are full of sugar. Instead have natural yoghurt mixed with some fruit to sweeten it up. Avoiding sugar isn't just important for weight management, it's also key in the long run in avoiding diabetes, heart disease and digestive disorders.
- have a wheat-free roll with your soup rather than a white bread roll or make your lunchtime sandwich with wholemeal gluten free bread to avoid the post wheat snooze
- go to bed half an hour earlier during the week to feel mentally and physically refreshed and help keep bugs at bay
- switch to decaf tea or coffee or green tea for your afternoon drink to encourage restful sleep
- have a side salad along with your dinner everyday to up your intake of super nutritious greens
- cook with olive oil or coconut fat rather than butter and use a pure sunflower spread on your toast
- take five meditative breaths before you eat to switch your nervous system from the sympathetic (stressed) mode to parasympathetic (relaxed) this will allow proper digestion and absorption of nutrients and reduce stress-related symptoms such as bloating, wind or urgency
- leave a clear breath between each mouthful when eating to force you to slow down eating and chew properly to improve food breakdown
- go for a ten minute stroll after a meal to moderate insulin production
Monday, 13 February 2012
One guy was saying how, despite his wife's comments that he didn't need to buy her flowers or chocolates he always got her some anyway knowing she didn't really mean it (a wise man)! The other, in contrast, said that he had been clear with his wife that he didn't buy into the whole thing and had set out the terms and conditions of their relationship early on, including that he wouldn't be participating in valentines day (how romantic)!
To be fair, I can understand the whole anti-commercialism stance on valentines, but I'm a romantic at heart so any excuse for a display of love is fine with me.
I think one of the nicest ways to enjoy valentines day is planning a romantic evening in for your other half. Rather than paying over the odds in an over-crowded restaurant, a well executed meal will impress your valentine and show a bit of effort on your part.
However take care on what you cook as it may effect whether you get rewarded for your hard work ;-)
Firstly, make sure you're fully aware of your partners likes/dislikes and allergies. A duck a l'orange may be impressive, but will leave me sweaty and teary eyes courtesy of my orange allergy.
Even if you're both allergy free, meals with a high quotient of wheat or dairy products tend to send people to sleep and be a bit of a passion killer - so skip the pasta, creamy sauces and cheese board.
The same goes for very carb intensive meals, so serve the carbs as a side dish, rather than the main attraction and keep them medium to low GI - use new or sweet potatoes rather than white potatoes, spaghetti rather than penne and basmati rather than long-grain rice.
Large portions of red meat can also be a challenge to digest so skip the beef and lamb or serve in small quantities as a starter. Instead serve scallops to start and fish or chicken for main, to keep the meal filling but light. A fresh salad is always good as a side dish along with some steamed asparagus or minted peas.
Strawberries and champagne are of course perfect for pudding, but if you want to serve something a bit fancier serve these in addition to a dark chocolate pudding or dipping pot. Dark chocolate is less sugary than milk chocolate and other puddings, so is less likely to induce a post-dinner blood sugar crash and is a natural aphrodisiac :-)
If it's a four course affair you're serving up, serve a nice fresh cafetiere of decaf coffee with the petit fours (asda's fair trade organic decaf is lovely). Decaf coffee contains taurine so still has a slight stimulant effect without making you feel wired instead of relaxed. Brewing up some fresh mint tea is also a lovely alternative and a natural digestive aid - just add a handful fresh mint leaves to your pot instead of a tea bag.
Sunday, 12 February 2012
It struck me that for most people this is a terrible idea. Not only do you only work a few specific muscles very hard (she does have amazing abs) and neglect others but it must also be exceptionally boring. And I say this as someone who really loves pole dancing.
One of the foundations of microeconomics is convex preferences, which basically says if I like A and I like B then I prefer a mixture of A and B to just A or B.
For those straining your brain to remember their undergrad economics courses this is a slightly fancy way of saying we have diminishing marginal utility: as we consume more of just one thing we get a bit bored and we don't like it as much. Which will eventually mean you don't really want to do it at all and is why it's important to keep your exercise schedule "non-routine".
I do a mixture of running, yoga, circuits, dancing and parkour. Which not only provides a nice balance meaning that my body gets a good overall workout, but also that I continue to love everything I do!
Thursday, 9 February 2012
I think it's easy, especially in the goal-driven environment city, to get caught up on what you want rather than what you have ... 'I'll be happy when I get a promotion', 'I'll be happy when I can buy a house', 'I'll be happy when I've lost 6lbs'. The problem with this internal mental chatter is that there'll always be another level you'll want to get to, so you'll never actually be finished.
The report also made an excellent point, that people don't understand what makes them happy and pursuing happiness can be self-defeating. Whilst at the same time they are deciding to do something for happiness's sake rather than actually enjoying the activity itself.
Anyone who reads this blog will know I'm all in favour of self-improvement and setting goals, but at the same time on a day to day level we need to learn to enjoy ourselves.
Acknowledge what you're not happy with and want to change, but at the same time accept your current circumstances and then find a way to enjoy yourself as much as possible today. It would be easy to miss out on a whole life of pleasure by trying to get to the next stage instead of enjoying the here and now.
If this is something you struggle with then make a list of everything that has made you genuinely happy in the past ... you might be surprised what crops up. Include a list of activities that make you happy - going to the cinema, seeing friends or just getting some alone time - and then make sure you do one every week - hopefully it'll keep you smiling.
Wednesday, 8 February 2012
Even if you're not particularly stressed, getting insufficient sleep can lead to increased appetite, disregulated blood sugar, impaired immunity, low mood, impaired brain function and accelerated ageing so it's pretty key to good health.
But it's not just about getting more sleep, the quality of sleep is also important and that's why I'm making an effort not to miss my sleep window too often.
'The window', as I call it, is the time in your day when your body naturally wants to go to sleep. Your natural sleep and waking patterns are part of the cicardian rhythm in which cortisol levels vary throughout the day controlling how asleep or awake you are.
Morning waking is triggered by a rise in cortisol levels, cortisol production then increases rapidly on waking (to get you out of bed)! Levels then gradually decrease throughout the day, which is why we're generally more energetic in the morning than in the evening.
Towards the end of the day cortisol levels will drop to a level at which you start yawning and can easily fall asleep. For most people this is between 9.30pm-10.30pm.
The reason I refer to this period of time as a window is that if you don't go to sleep during this period, your body will perceive this as you not being in a safe situation to go to sleep and so will produce an extra amount of cortisol to wake you up again giving you a second wind. The rhythm is then disrupted and it can be 2-3hours before your cortisol levels revert to the sleep level.
Even if you do go to bed when you've woken up a bit, your sleep may not be as deep or restful and you may even find that you wake up earlier than if you'd gone to sleep earlier!
Bearing in mind you'll usually need 15 minutes to get to sleep, catching the window means being in bed by 10.15, which I appreciate is pretty early for city folk. Still if you can manage this 2-3 times a week you can help make up for any sleep deficit you've built up.
Generally you should stop any chores or stimulating activities (watching tv counts as stimulating) at 9.30pm. It's a good time to read or take a bath and get ready for bed. Once you start yawning then that's your cue to go to sleep, and you've probably got 30 minutes until the window closes.
I started yawning an hour ago, but I'm still yawning now so maybe I'm just still in it. Goodnigjt!
In the past sleep would get sacrificed but it's now one of my top priorities so I'm not always finding time to write my blog. Til things calm down please bear with me and I'll be roping in some more guest editors to fill the gaps.
Infact the importance of sleep brings me nicely onto todays blog...
My first job in the city was as an analyst at Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein (try saying that in a hurry!). And,whilst I thought this job was pretty interesting, I have to admit that some of the research we produced was pretty dry!
So occasionally one of our analysts would go off piste and write a report unrelated to their research area. Topics included reports on their holidays, facial hair and other random items, but the one that generated the most interest was a report on the recipe for Happiness.
The reports main theme was why you shouldn't equate happiness with money. Instead happiness could be improved by following these 9 rules.
• Exercise regularly.
• Have sex (preferably with someone you love).
• Devote time and effort to close relationships.
• Pause for reflection, meditate on the good things in life.
• Seek work that engages your skills, look to enjoy your job.
• Give your body the sleep it needs.
• Don't pursue happiness for its own sake, enjoy the moment.
• Take control of your life, set yourself achievable goals.
• Remember to follow all the rules.
This wasn't just based on the analysts own philosophy, in true analyst style he backed it all up with research and it's all pretty logical, still the pursuit of money over happiness, and health, remains prevalent in the city. Maybe there should be more research out there like this to lift the city gloom!
Monday, 6 February 2012
Something else that's also changed is that a lot of them (mainly the girls) are as a consequence taking a lot better care of themselves.
Of course we all know you have to eat well and take care of yourself during pregnancy and breastfeeding, but I've also observed how much thought and preparation goes into what you feed your little ones when they start weaning.
I've never had children, but I can understand why you would take so much care over their nutrition, particularly during early stages of development. Still the difference between how we care for ourselves compared to how we care for children is much greater than it should be.
City singles get through crazy amounts of alcohol and caffeine but most city mums give these up (quite rightly) as soon as they get pregnant. And whilst the childless are living off oversalted takeaways and ready meals, city mums are busy cooking up organic vegetable purees for their little ones.
The fact is that we should be taking better care of ourselves regardless of our stage in life - alcohol, drugs, caffeine, aritificial additives, sugar and excess salt are bad for us at any age, it's just that a foetus or child is so much smaller so much more sensitive to these baddies.
As part of my 80/20 approach to nutrition (eat healthily 80 percent of the time and 20percent of the time eat whatever you fancy, regardless of nutritional value) I believe that for the 80 per cent of the time we shouldn't eat or drink anything we wouldn't give to a five year old - which rules out a lot! You'd be crazy to give a child a breakfast of pain au chocolat with a black Americano to wash it down! Can you imagine! Or a dinner of battered sweet and sour prawns washed down with a couple of beers!
The truth is that once you're old enough to be making your own dinners you also need to start taking care of yourself and policing your food, just like your mum would! Would she let you eat a snickers everyday and drink a bottle of wine with dinner? Mine certainly wouldn't!
Thursday, 2 February 2012
Miss Haribo here again
I thought I’d follow on from Emilie’s “Healthonomics” blog of a few weeks back. Exercise really is a great investment, but as she pointed out gym membership can be pretty expensive if you don’t go that often. And it’s too easy to fall into the alternative of couch surfing, especially when it’s cold outside and the idea of going and exercising outside doesn’t exactly fill you with joy. So what can you do instead?
This is probably the cheapest exercise you can do.
Both Nike and Sweaty Betty run free running clubs around London. Swetty Betty also does yoga and pilates classes.
The Serpentine running club costs only £25 a year and has coached and social running sessions every day.
I’m not a DVD fan (although I do love my Pussycat dolls workout which I picked up for £2.99) so you’ll have to look through Emilie’s blogs for recommendations.
However, the new generation of fitness games for consoles like the Wii are really good. I like the “my fitness coach” series as they don’t work out much more than a DVD but, unlike a DVD, you get a different workout each time. I’m also a sucker for graphs and progress rewards, which playing on your computer can give you.
But by far the best workout tool I’ve seen is for the iphone and is by Nike. It’s called Nike Training Club. It’s free and is like having your own personal trainer. All the exercises come with video that shoes you how to do it, and you can choose to set yourself different goal such as building strength, or working your butt.
Plus you get rewards, but I’ll talk about the motivational power of rewards later.........