Jul 03

Healthy Eating Week: 5 of 5 – Make one Change

For their final challenge, the British Nutrition Foundation is encouraging us to ‘make one change’.  Do keep reading to the end of this post (or scroll ahead) for some helpful resources).

I’m not keen on the word ‘change’.  I don’t think anyone, aside from those who are a danger to society, should have to change who they are.  Most people have so much ability within themselves; you don’t have to change in order to be amazing, because you already are!

children exploring

What could you view or do differently to discover the possibilities available to you?

That said, it’s definitely possible to tweak specific actions we do and how we do them in order to gain new skills and explore new opportunities.  After all, it’s often said that the definition of insanity is to do the same thing repeatedly and expect a different result.  So, if you’re not experiencing the results you want from what you’re currently doing, perhaps it’s time to think about whether there’s something else you could do instead.

I’m very opposed to changing because someone says you should, or for the sake of a trend.  Whatever you do should feel authentic for you.  Remember that there is unlikely to be a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution to your problem.  Just because something worked wonderfully well for someone else, it doesn’t mean it will work for you.  Doing something different may involve a certain amount of discomfort, but if the change is brining you great unhappiness and little or no benefit, it’s not for you, no matter what conventional wisdom says.  Don’t make the mistake I’ve made repeatedly.  Be open to new things, but not so open that your brains fall out! Be strong and confident enough to say when something isn’t working and stand your ground.  Maybe it can be fixed but you will never know unless you speak out.

Not happy with an aspect of your life? Time for an upgrade.

Not happy with an aspect of your life? Time for an upgrade.

So, how do you decide whether something needs to be different, and what that should be?  I’ve written down my whole process for doing this, but if you don’t want to read it all, scroll to the end, where I’ve made you a handy downloadable worksheet.

For those of you who like detailed instructions, here’s the 5-step process in full:

1. Start of by thinking about what isn’t currently working well for you.  This could be in any area of your life, but let’s stick to wellbeing for now, as that’s my specialist subject.  Then make a list of headings of key areas in your life, which could look something like this:

Feeling lost?  Start making a list of simple upgrades that will move you forward.  Use my handy worksheet to help you.

Feeling lost? Start making a list of simple upgrades that will move you forward. Use my handy worksheet to help you.

What I eat and drink

How I move

Relaxation

How I sleep

My relationships with others

My relationship with myself

2. Then put a star against the top 2-3 that you’d like to work on.  Mine would look like:

*What I eat and drink

*How I move

Relaxation

How I sleep

*My relationships with others

My relationship with myself

3. For each area you have starred, write down at least 5 upgrades you could make in order to come closer to where you’d like to be in that area.  For now, don’t worry how good an upgrade they are, just make a list.  You can do more than 5 if you like.  For example, my ‘eat’ one might look like:

Array of healthy foods

Ready for a lifestyle upgrade? Which small change would make the most difference to you?

Drink 2 litres of fluid a day

Eat cruciferous vegetables at least once a day

Check that I’m eating a rainbow every day

Try a new healthy recipe every week

Print out a list of the ‘dirty dozen’ foods.  Buy only organic versions of these foods

Have breakfast on every weekday

Make use of my new steamer

Clear out my spice cupboard to make sure all my spices are fresh

4. Now, for each of your lists, cross out the ones you’re already doing (you might be surprised), or the ones that aren’t useful, important or achievable at the moment (you can always come back to them when the time is right).  Then decide on 2-3 things that you can do in the next week or fortnight that will make the biggest difference in getting you from where you are to where you want to be.  Highlight those.  My list now looks like:

Drink 2 litres of fluid a day

Eat cruciferous vegetables at least once a day

Check that I’m eating a rainbow every day

Try a new healthy recipe every week  (I already do this)

Print out a list of the ‘dirty dozen’ foods.  Buy only organic versions of these foods

Have breakfast on every weekday

Make use of my new steamer

Clear out my spice cupboard to make sure all my spices are fresh (I have other priorities in the next week)

Women walking & holding hands

You don’t have to do it alone! Who or what do you need to turn your upgrade idea into a reality?

5. One final step; what do you need to make these upgrades happen?  Is it a resource or a person?  Write it next to your ‘top 3’ and note what you will do to get it.  For example:

Drink 2 litres of fluid a day (2 litre glass bottle for desk – Ikea?)

Eat cruciferous vegetables at least once a day (make checklist for fridge)

Check that I’m eating a rainbow every day (as above)

Now you’re ready to go.

If it's important, be patient and persistent.  You'll never know where you'll end up unless you take the first step.

If it’s important, be patient and persistent. You’ll never know where you’ll end up unless you take the first step.

I appreciate that this may take time initially, but it shouldn’t take hugely long – after all, it’s only taken me 30 minutes to write this whole article!  Remember to come back at the end of the week and tick what you have done. See if it’s helped and decide whether you need to continue working on that upgrade, or whether you can move on to another one.  Some upgrades will take longer to achieve a result than others, so do be patient and persist if you feel it’s worthwhile.

Remember that your life upgrades should be geared towards a particular objective; not just there because ‘they said’ it was a good idea.  Who said it?  Why?  What qualified ‘them’ to say it?  Were they talking to you personally?

Make one change worksheet

Right-click on the worksheet to dowload it.

To give you a little help, I’ve made you a special ‘Make one Change’ activity sheet. Right-click

on the image to download it.

A lot of people tell me that their objective is to achieve more energy.  Does that resonate with you?  If so, my online course, ‘Stronger Without Sugar’ is here to help.  In just 60 days, you can win back the energy you need to do the things you love.  If you give this just 20 minutes a day maximum, you’ll more than make up for that time with the energy you gain.  You may also find that your skin sparkles and your digestion improves.  But above all, you’ll feel amazing.

Stronger Without Sugar graphic

‘Stronger Without Sugar’ is back, and better than ever!

If you’d like to join me at a very special price (available for a limited time only) click here to get started.

 

Jun 20

Healthy Eating Week: 4 of 5

How many times have you heard the saying, “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day”?  The British Nutrition Foundation would certainly like you to believe that.  But is it true?

Can eating breakfast really improve your health?

Can eating breakfast really improve your health?

There are some studies that suggest that people who want to lose weight have a slightly better chance of doing so if they eat breakfast.  That seems a little paradoxical, doesn’t it?  Or at least it does if you still subscribe to the ‘calories in, calories out’ model.  If you do, you might be confused.  How could eating extra calories help you lose more weight?

The traditionalists would argue that if you eat breakfast, you’ll eat less during the rest of the day, and so you’ll eat fewer calories overall.  Actually, that doesn’t seem to be true according to studies.  In fact, those who skip breakfast may eat less throughout the rest of the day than breakfast eaters.  Instead, something far more interesting and important might be happening.

What seems to happen is that those who eat breakfast improve their glucose tolerance for the whole day.  This in turn means they are less likely to store fat.  It also seems that those who eat breakfast burn through energy more quickly than those that don’t.  I think this is what people mean when they say that breakfast ‘kick-starts your metabolism’.  It’s not strictly true, but it describes the effect you might see, which is fair enough.  Eating breakfast also seems to improve memory, concentration and performance in school-age children.

Eating breakfast may help improve mood and concentration in children.

Eating breakfast may help improve mood and concentration in children.

Does it matter what’s in your breakfast, or will any old breakfast do?  There are surprisingly few studies which explore this.  One is a study where primary school children were fed an oatmeal based breakfast, a cereal, or no breakfast at all.  When they ate the oatmeal they were able to pay better attention, remember things better, and perform complex tasks more efficiently.  This suggests that a breakfast that releases energy slowly may have more benefits than one which releases energy quickly.  However, it’s not quite that simple.  Our individual biology may influence what kind of breakfast will be most helpful for any one person.  What suits me may not suit you so well.

Get to work on an egg - and add some vegetables too!

Get to work on an egg – and add some vegetables too!

 

In the longer term, my opinion is that getting as much nutrient density as possible into your diet is the way forward, and that applies to breakfast too.  We used to be told to ‘go to work on an egg’, and I think that’s still sound advice.  Eggs are packed with protein and nutrients.  What’s more, you can enjoy them with avocadoes, mushrooms and tomatoes and get some nutrient-dense vegetables at the start of your day.  Too busy to cook eggs in the morning?  Hard-boil them the night before and tuck into them the next day.  Please don’t eat them on public transport, though, as it will not make you popular with your fellow travellers!

Hate hard boiled eggs?  Me too.  Instead I make a frittata (Spanish Omelette) and eat a wedge when I’m in a hurry.  You can find one of my frittata recipes here.

So, although breakfast probably isn’t the most important meal of the day, it certainly seems to play an important role in overall health, and in your ability to succeed at any intellectual work you may be doing.  If you do eat breakfast, get in as much nutrient density as you can, avoid sugary breakfasts with no nutritional value, and really make the start of your day count!

Would you like some ideas for healthy breakfasts that are quick, easy and definitely not boring?  Join my Breakfast Club here.  It’s free until the end of June.  breakfast-club-no-date

 

Jun 15

Healthy Eating Week: 3 of 5

Get Active

Parents and toddler exercising together

Keeping active is for everyone. It doesn’t matter where you’re starting from.

Although this is called ‘healthy eating week’, the BNF is addressing other aspects of lifestyle as well.  Staying active is one of the best things you can do to keep your body and mind healthier for longer.

The current recommendation is to do 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity 5 days a week.  Of course, you can do more if you want to and are able.  Moderate intensity activity means that your heart rate should go up by 60%.  For example, if your resting heart rate is 75 beats per minute, your heart rate after moderate exercise should be 120 beats per minute.  How do you know what your heart rate is?  Most phones now have an app where you can measure your heart rate, or you may have one of those sports watches that perform the same function.

As well as this, you should also do two sessions of strength training every week.  This can be anything involving weight, but you don’t need to lift weights.  There are plenty of videos that show you how to do resistance activity using your own body weight, or you can use filled water bottles, cans of food, or a resistance band.  You could even do gardening or carrying shopping.

Bored teenage girls (12-16) sitting with instructor in gym class

Fed up with exercise? My tips could help.

The drawback is that exercise isn’t always easy, accessible or enjoyable. Take me, for instance. I loathe exercise.  Absolutely can’t stand it, but I know I need to do it.  Apparently people like me are genetically programmed to hate exercise.  Whereas being active has been shown to be helpful for improving mood, I’ve often found exercise makes me unhappy, and I know from anecdotes that I’m not alone.

Some people can use reframing or other mindset techniques to help themselves tolerate exercise better, but this can be incredibly challenging.  The reason is that, in some people, exercise provokes hormonal changes that make them more prone to low mood.  As I’ve often said, in the battle between willpower and hormones, hormones will always win. That’s their job.

If you love exercise, being active for 150 minutes a week at a beneficial level of activity is easy.  If not, it’s a big deal.  What can you do to make it more bearable for yourself?  Here are 5 top tips from a self-confessed exercise-phobe.

  1. Woman with hula hoop

    Could this be your new favourite exercise? Bare midriff optional.

    Choose something you like. There’s no need to join a gym, in fact unless you really love gyms and plan to go often, I don’t recommend it.  You can injure yourself if you’re not using the equipment properly, and I don’t find them very hygienic places; you’re always putting your hands in other people’s sweat.  In my gym I once found a lady (I use the term loosely) using the hairdryer to dry somewhere unmentionable.  That was the last straw!  Luckily, there are many other great places to exercise.  Swimming is great if you’re able, and if not try aqua aerobics or water volleyball.  Some people love dance classes, but if you’re self-conscious like me, get a DVD and work out at home.  Try something really unusual like hula-hooping and break the mould.

  2. Change it up and break it down. Doing the same exercises all the time is very boring and could lead to injury if you’re always working on the same muscle groups.  Instead, try building lots of different activities into your week.  Even if you’re at home and can’t get to anywhere that’s safe to exercise, there are a myriad of DVDs and You Tube videos you can use.  Don’t have 30 minutes a day, or not able to do that much yet?  No problem.  Two lots of 15 minutes or 3 lots of 10 minutes are just as good provided you can get your heart rate up and keep going.

  3. Two legs or four?  Activity is more fun with a friend (or many)

    Two legs or four? Activity is more fun with a friend (or many)

    Involve a friend. You don’t need to exercise on your own and think how much more variety you can introduce if you play with one or more friends. It’s also safer as you can keep an eye on one another.  Tennis and badminton are great if you can find a friend of a similar standard.  You don’t have to join a club or buy posh whites.  Many parks and councils will have courts that you can use on a pay-as-you-go basis.  If you like team games, there’s a massive range to choose from.  If you really hate sport just going for a walk with a friend or partner is fantastic, or if you’re both a bit scared of going to a class, go together to give each other moral support.   If you’re on a walk, try and balance faster walking to get your heart rate up with natter time.

  4. Older woman stretching by a river

    Let nature be your playground

    Let nature be your gym. There’s some research to suggest that you get more benefit from performing exercise outside than from doing the same level of activity indoors. Where it’s safe and practical to do so, it’s great to be outside.  Walking is free, and it’s not the only thing.  You can use benches to do press-ups or tricep dips, and clean grass makes a nice soft base for sit-ups and planks.  If you’re really brave and it’s safe and permitted you can even climb trees!  Remember that gardening is great exercise if that’s available to you.

  5. Keep track. Take advantage of the free app on your phone or use your fitness watch and keep track of what you’re doing.  You may not feel like you’re doing very much, but those steps can all add up.  On many phones you can set yourself a daily step target.  We’re supposed to do 10,000 steps, but that’s a big target if you’ve got very little time or haven’t exercised before.  Start smaller (but still challenging yourself) and build up.

A note on exercising safely.  How do you know if the You Tube video or DVD, or the new sport you’ve picked is safe for you?  My mate Karl, who’s a personal trainer, has these tips for you.

  1. Make sure the person explains and demonstrates the exercise clearly. Practice with them until you’re sure you know what to do.

  2. You don't need to look like this to exercise; find role models who are more like you.

    You don’t need to look like this to exercise; find role models who are more like you.

    Are any of the people doing the exercise like you? If they’re all super-fit gym bunnies with concave stomachs that’s fine if you’re that person too, but it may not be right for you if you’re a bit less active with wobbly bits.  Many DVDs will show a range of people doing the exercise, and that will tell you if it’s likely to be suitable.

  3. If you’ve got special circumstances, such as pregnancy, post a question or write to the makers of the video to check if the exercise is safe for you.

  4. If you’re exercising in a gym or club, check that their insurance will cover you. Most gyms and clubs have trainers on hand to make sure you’re using the equipment safely and effectively.  Use them.

  5. If you’ve got an underlying medical condition or you’re not sure, ALWAYS check with your doctor first.

Let me know what you’re doing to stay active.

Jun 14

Healthy Eating Week: Part 2 of 5

Vital Veggies

Small children surrounded by fruit and vegetables

Eating a rainbow of fruits and vegetables is associated with better health.

Today I’m talking to you about vegetables and fruit.  The BNF would like you to achieve your ‘5-a-day’ target, but is that really enough?

We’re bombarded by the ‘5-a-day’ message, but some studies suggest that ‘7-10 a day’ would be far better in terms of improving our long-term health.  For example, the recent EPIC study, which was indeed truly epic, showed that the greatest benefit came from eating more than 569g fruit and vegetables, especially vegetables, each day.  That’s at least 7 portions.

The ‘5-a-day’ message was introduced because it was thought that most people wouldn’t achieve a higher target.  Indeed, in 2015 it was reported that up to 75% of adults may not be achieving 5-a-day, with 16-24 year olds being least likely to get sufficient.

Both fruits and vegetables in a variety of colours provide a range of vitamins, minerals and plant nutrients essential to good health.  As some fruits can be high in sugar, I tend to recommend eating more vegetables than fruit; limit your fruit to 1-2 pieces a day.

Berries

Berries are packed with nutrients, and provide a touch of sweetness without a big effect on your blood sugar.

Some people say you should avoid eating fruit if you want to lose weight.  I haven’t found any evidence to support that.  Indeed eating fruit is associated with a reduced risk of many chronic conditions, including high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.  If you’re trying to lose weight, stick to berries and orchard fruits (if you like numbers, anything with a GL of 7 or less), and avoid sweeter tropical fruits.

So, how can you get more veggies and fruits into your diet?  Here are 7 quick tips:

 

  1. Bowl of butternut squash soup

    Vegetable soups are filling, healhty and a great way to add more veg and reduce food waste.

    Take portable veggies to work. Cherry tomatoes, sugar snap peas and baby carrots are all durable, and require no preparation. Eat them with houmous or guacamole if you don’t want them by themselves.

  2. Put together all your leftover veggies and make a big batch of vegetable soup. Freeze in portion sizes for a fuss-free meal when you need it.  A great way of avoiding food waste.

  3. Small portions of leftover veg? Mix them with beaten egg and a little cheese, decant into cupcake cases and bake for 15 minutes for simple breakfast muffins that can also be eaten on the go.]

  4. Search the Internet for unusual recipes involving vegetables in unlikely places. For example sweet potato or beetroot brownies, or avocado chocolate mousse.  These aren’t super-healthy, of course, but may be a way of boosting veg intake in veggie-phobes, and are great for occasional novelty value.

  5. Eat a small bowl of salad at the start of your main meal. Bitter leaves such as rocket or watercress may help with your digestion, and you can add variety by adding in a couple of different vegetables every day.  For example, one day you could be simple and classic with tomato and cucumber, and another day you could go Mediterranean and use grilled peppers and courgettes.  The possibilities are endless.

    Happy lady eating salad.

    Try a small salad at the start of your meal. What veggies can you add to make it more interesting?

  6. Chop and freeze ripe fruit that you’re not going to eat. Blend it with yoghurt or equivalent and half a frozen banana for an instant iced dessert.  If you have a machine that really churns frozen fruit to an ice cream consistency, so much the better. If your fruit is sweet enough you won’t need the banana, and if your machine churns properly you can forego the yoghurt too if you like.

  7. Try cauliflower or broccoli instead of rice, or use them as a base for veggie burgers.

    Try cauliflower or broccoli instead of rice, or use them as a base for veggie burgers.

    Use cauliflower or broccoli in place of rice (simply blitz it in the food processor, or grater), and courgettes or carrots instead of noodles. It’s best to make these at home with a small device like a pencil sharpener, but if you really can’t stand the idea, most supermarkets sell pre-spiralized veggies.

Want to find out more about what’s in your diet?  Come and join me at the Aldgate Festival this Saturday (16 June) from 2pm and take one of my quizzes.

Jun 13

Healthy Eating Week (Part 1 of 5)

Array of healthy foods

The foundations of healthy eating aren’t complicated!

This week is the British Nutrition Foundation’s healthy eating week.  The problem with healthy eating is that it can be both extremely simple and rather complex.  Simple in that a few basic principles apply to most people most of the time, and complex in that there are plenty of exceptions to every rule, and finding out why some people’s bodies don’t work in accordance with the ‘norm’ can be a difficult task.

When people ask me what’s healthy and what’s not, it’s not always easy to answer, because everyone is different.  What’s healthy for me may be less healthy for you.  However, if you’re having difficulties, it’s often worth going back to basics, and making sure the essentials are in place.  Once you’ve got those sorted, you can often get a clearer idea of whether something more specific needs to be done, and what that might be.

So, what are these essentials? For the next 5 days I’ll be focusing on one of the BNF’s healthy eating challenges each day.  They’re not rocket science, but they’re often forgotten, and yet if they’re not in place, it’s much more difficult to build a healthy lifestyle.

Today I’ll be talking about how to stay hydrated

Staying hydrated enables every cell in the body to carry out its functions.

Staying hydrated enables every cell in the body to carry out its functions.

You’ll have heard people saying that it’s necessary to drink 8 glasses of water a day.  Actually, there’s no evidence behind that, and no studies to show that people who do this achieve better health outcomes.  However, the truth is that we are essentially bags of fluid, and every reaction in the body takes place in a fluid environment.  So, in order to function at every level, it’s essential to take liquid on board.

Although water is important, it’s worth remembering that there’s plenty of fluid in fruits and vegetables, and that these can count towards your intake as well, as can soup and milk or its equivalent.  To an extent, you can eat your fluids as well as drink them.  In general you should aim for 1.5-2 litres of total fluid a day, but if you’re in a hot country or doing a lot of exercise, you may need more.

Remember that too much water without sufficient minerals can be dangerous, so make sure that you’re taking nutrition on board in some form, not just drinking loads of water!

Top tips for getting water on board:

  1. Plenty of vegetables and fruits have high water content, giving you lots of options for keeping your fluids topped up.

    Plenty of vegetables and fruits have high water content, giving you lots of options for keeping your fluids topped up.

    Eat your fluid. Cucumber, watermelon, courgette, lettuce, peppers, aubergine and spinach are all composed of over 90% water, and will help you stay hydrated.

  2. Keep a full bottle of water where you work and drink it throughout the day.

  3. Bored with water? Herbal teas and clear soups count too.  Don’t like herbal teas?  Try adding lemon or orange slices, mint leaves or pomegranate seeds to your water to cheer it up.  Experiment with your favourite combinations.  Fizzy water is just as good as still, and can feel like a more exciting drink, especially with a few fruit slices added.

    Jars of flavoured water

    Keeping your fluids up needn’t be boring.

  4. Hot day? How about blending some fizzy water with a piece of fruit, and freezing it on a stick?  Result: a healthier ice lolly, and great hydration.  Some people also like to add veggies into the mix, but I’ve never been brave enough.

  5. To get the greatest benefit from your water, sip it through the day, rather than drinking a big glass (or several) all at once. The only effect of drinking a lot at once will be that you spend more time than you’d like in the bathroom!

Tomorrow I’ll be talking about veggie power, so be sure to join me then.

Do you have too much sugar in your diet?  Do you know what’s really in your snack?  Join me this Saturday afternoon (19 June) at the Aldgate Square Festival in London and find out.  It’s free!

Apr 26

When it all goes Wrong (Part 1 of 2)

Does someone you know appear to have the perfect life? The chances are that they don't!

Does someone you know appear to have the perfect life? The chances are that they don’t!

The world can be a very tough place to live in.  And when one unpleasant thing happens, others often follow.  If you’re struggling with any of the problems that regularly beset us; chronic stress, debt, bereavement, conflict and discrimination, it can be galling to look at all the people on social media with their perfect lives, doing everything you can’t.

Well, let me give you a reality check.  What you see on social media is rarely the whole picture, and even the experts struggle, fail and pick themselves up again (or sometimes fail to do so).  Let me give you a personal example.

When you meet me on social media, or live at a networking event, I’ll always have a smile on my face.  I’ll always try to make you laugh and help you to feel good.  You’ll think my life is full of fun, and that only good things come my way.

Do you have days when you feel like this? I do. Life can be cruel to everyone.

Do you have days when you feel like this? I do. Life can be cruel to everyone.

What if I told you that I’d suffered two bereavements in the past 6 weeks? What if I told you that my entire healthy lifestyle strategy has gone out of the window, because for a time I was in too much physical and emotional pain to get out of bed, and afterwards I couldn’t pick up the pieces?  That’s part of the truth as well, it’s just the part that you don’t normally see.

It’s not supposed to happen to me.  I’m the professional.  I’m the expert.  I’m the one who’s supposed to have all the answers.  I’m supposed to be the perfect role model, and get it right all the time, so I can inspire everyone else.  Isn’t that why you choose me?

Susannah Alexander

I’m not anyone’s idea of perfection, but I hope that makes me easier to relate to.

Or might you choose me because, like you, I have feet of clay.  I don’t have trite answers for the complexities and tragedies of life, and I don’t even try to present a perfect image designed to be unattainable or make you feel somehow inferior.  I know that feeling, and it’s the last thing I want for anyone I work with.

If losing my way with health goals can happen to me, a professional in the wellness industry, I’m sure it can happen to you, or someone you know.  There’s no shame in it; when life’s tragedies hit, everyone deals with them in the only way they can.  Afterwards, there’s no manual for picking up the pieces.

All this got me thinking; how do you start again when it’s all gone wrong?  You still want to be healthy, but it all seems like far too much effort, you have so many other things to deal with, and you feel guilty or shallow for even thinking about it, yet you’re not happy with where things are.  How do you get yourself unstuck?

Stress

How do you pick up the pieces when your world comes crashing down?

I’m not going to give you easy answers, because I don’t want to belittle what you’re going through, and because I don’t have them.  If you’re in a bad place, the last thing you want is some strident voice telling you some variation of, “(Wo)man up; you just have to get on with it”.  But I do have some ideas to get you started.  In the second half of this blog, I’ll be sharing 7 strategies with you.  They’re easy and attainable, and you can pick and choose what suits you best.

In the meantime, if you’re going through a tough patch, please know that you’re not alone, and you don’t have to do this alone.  Help is out there.

Have you had a hard time recently?  Would you like help in reclaiming your health goals in an atmosphere of compassion, kindness and fun?  If so, my wellness break in the Scottish Highlands is perfect for you.  Click here to learn more and get our special introductory offer.

 

Apr 11

Parkinson’s Disease; an Introduction

This is a post for World Parkinson’s Day to raise awareness of the condition.  There’s quite a bit to get through, so please feel free to select the parts most relevant to you.

What is Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s disease is a deterioration of areas of the brain called the basal ganglia, which are responsible for controlling movement.  Around 0.3% of people in the industrialized world will develop the condition.  It is most common in the over 50s, with around 4-5% of over-85s developing Parkinson’s.  With an aging population, Parkinson’s is likely to become more common in the future.  People can also develop Parkinson’s-like symptoms (known as ‘Parkinsonism’), but the distinguishing feature of Parkinson’s itself is the degeneration of the nerve cells which make and respond to the chemical dopamine.  Of course, we can’t see this degeneration without sophisticated scanning equipment, so for us lay folk, it’s much more useful to look at the physical symptoms we might see in ourselves and others.

What are the symptoms of Parkinson’s?

There are 3 main symptoms associated with early Parkinson’s disease:

Symptoms of Parkinson's Disease.  Not every patient will have all these symptoms.

Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease. Not every patient will have all these symptoms.

  1. Tremor – a trembling in parts of the body such as hands, feet, face, lips and tongue. These tremors usually start in one limb when it is supported and at rest, and stop with movement and sleep.  Gradually they spread throughout the body.

  2. Rigidity, or stiffness – jerky movements that take a lot of energy to perform. Again, this generally starts on one side of the body, and progresses to both sides.

  3. Slowness in initiating and performing movement – or suddenly stopping in the middle of a voluntary movement. People often have difficulty in starting walking, or in turning.  They may freeze while walking, or may lean forward and take small, shuffling steps when they walk.

If someone you know is in the over 50s age group, and is showing some or all of these symptoms, it’s important to get medical advice.

How is Parkinson’s Treated?

Parkinson’s disease can’t yet be cured or put in remission, but drug therapies can help manage the symptoms.  The aim is to increase the amount of dopamine in the brain, and support the parts of the brain where dopamine has an effect. Patients can also be referred by their doctor to other services, such as physiotherapy, which can help them manage their symptoms.

How can Nutrition help?

Nutrition can’t improve the disease itself, but it can help with some of the symptoms, enable the drugs to be as effective as possible and support overall wellbeing.  Ways in which the nutritional therapist can help include:

  • Identifying whether the patient may lack specific nutrients, and helping to include these in the diet.

  • Helping the patient to understand when to take medication in relation to meals or nutrients, and whether there are foods that can’t be eaten if the patient is using particular medications.

  • Identifying the way of eating that’s best for the patient, and providing suggestions to help

    Eating well, and timing food and medication correctly, may help people with Parkinson's.

    Eating well, and timing food and medication correctly, may help people with Parkinson’s.

    them eat meals that work best for them.

  • Support general digestive health and energy production. In particular, recommend Parkinson’s-friendly protocols for indigestion and constipation.

  • Signpost other services that may be useful to support the patient’s well-being, depending on their needs.

For more information about nutrition and medicines, try ‘Parkinson’s Disease – Reducing Symptoms with Nutrition and Drugs’ by Geoffrey and Lucille Leader.  Lucille is the leading nutritional therapist in this field, and works closely with doctors in a leading London hospital.

What else can help?

It’s very important that people with Parkinson’s see a speech therapist early on, to get help with speaking before their speech deteriorates too far.  They should also be referred to a physiotherapist.

Appropriate exercise can also be very important in helping to maintain control of movement.  Some people find that the right kind of exercise can slow down the rate at which their symptoms develop.  My friend Jane Cullen specialises in exercise for people with Parkinson’s.  You can find her at http://www.janemcullen.com/.

Many people with Parkinson’s find complementary therapies to be helpful. Although there is limited clinical evidence that these therapies work, a lot of people, both those with Parkinson’s, and those that care for them, find that they make a positive difference to their overall well-being.  Since stress can exacerbate symptoms, therapies which reduce stress may be helpful.  Therapies that have been useful include:

  • Some people find therapies which support relaxation helpful

    Some people find therapies which support relaxation helpful

    Movement or touch-based therapies such as Alexander technique, Reiki and osteopathy.

  • Activity-based therapies such as music or art therapy.

  • Relaxation therapies such as meditation or aromatherapy.

There are even people who claim to have stopped the disease in its tracks by retraining their mind to use different pathways to compensate for the ones that have been lost.  Of course, this is very controversial. If you’d like to know more about it, I’d recommend the book “The Brain’s Way of Healing: Stories of Remarkable Recoveries and Discoveries” by Norman Doidge.

Finding out More

If you’re concerned about Parkinson’s or care for someone who may have the condition, it’s important to visit your doctor as soon as possible.  You can also visit www.parkinsons.org.uk, which is packed with advice and information.  To get insight about the highs and lows of life with Parkinson’s, try my friend Jane Cullen’s novel ‘Say that Again’.  It’s received acclaim around the world, particularly from people with Parkinson’s, who say that the portrayal of the lead character is incredibly accurate.  Jane doesn’t have Parkinson’s, but she’s spent years helping people who do, so she knows her stuff.

If any of the issues in this post concern you, and you’d like to talk to me about them, please feel free to contact me.

Mar 22

Your Thyroid Made Easy (Part 1 of 3)

This week, I had the privilege of studying with a former lecturer of mine, reviewing the latest evidence in how we support thyroid function with nutrition.  For many symptoms that people commonly experience, and which may be dismissed as ‘just your age’, or ‘you’re a bit depressed’, the thyroid may be involved.   That’s why I decided to write a series of quick blog posts about what the thyroid does, and how your thyroid function may affect you.

diagram of thyroid glandWhat is the Thyroid, and why is it important?

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland found in the front of your neck, just below your Adam’s apple.  It produces hormones which regulate your metabolic rate, which is the rate at which your body carries out its physiological jobs.  In other words, it affects the speed at which every cell in your body works.

Thyroid hormones affect body temperature, mood, weight, how you process certain nutrients, and how your cells communicate.  This means that, if things go wrong, symptoms can occur all over your body, and can vary a great deal between individuals.

What can go wrong?

Your thyroid can become overactive, forcing the cells in your body to work too quickly.  This is

Angry woman

Feeling persistently ‘wired’?

called hyperthyroidism.  It’s quite rare (about 1% of the population have it).  It’s more common in women than in men.  Key symptoms can include:

  • Weight loss, or difficulty gaining or maintaining weight

  • Rapid pulse, sweating and palpitations

  • Loose bowels

  • Warm, clammy hands

  • Nervousness, irritability and mood changes

On the other hand, your thyroid can become underactive, in which case everything slows down.  This is called hypothyroidism, and is more common (depending on who you ask, between 2 and 10% of the population may be affected to some degree).  There are many symptoms, but if you experience most or all of the following together, you should definitely consider getting your thyroid function checked:

  • Having an underactive thyroid can make you feel low, and prone to weight gain.

    Having an underactive thyroid can make you feel low, and prone to weight gain.

    Constipation

  • Weight gain, or difficulty losing weight

  • Cold hands and feet

  • Persistent tiredness (can’t get going in the morning, even if you’ve had enough sleep)

  • Changes in mood and mental health

  • Problems with periods (women only!)

How can you know for sure how well your thyroid is working?

Thyroid function is measured by a blood test.  If, like me, you’re needle phobic and you can’t handle blood tests, there’s a company that will test blood that you collect yourself by pricking your finger.

Generally, your GP will test for a hormone called TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone).  This is a very reliable test, but it will only tell you whether or not this particular hormone is being produced at the right levels. This gives you an idea of how well your thyroid may be working, but not what the source of the problem might be.

That’s why, if you come to myself or one of my colleagues, we’re likely to recommend a more comprehensive test.  The test uses the same amount of blood, but tests for more markers, to give us a fuller picture of what’s going on.  This can help us to work with your diet and lifestyle in a way that’s right for you, rather than doing the same thing for everyone.

In my next post, I’ll be talking about what your blood test means, and how you can support your thyroid’s health.

Mar 01

Which Woman are You?

When you’re a one-person business, you spend a lot of time preoccupied with marketing.  It’s not usually what you’re trained to do, but you have to do it.

Recently I joined a marketing challenge.  Inevitably one of the first excercises what to get us to identify our perfect client.  Most of the people on the challenge also work in the world of nutrition.  We were posting what we thought our ideal client might be like for all to see.

Angry lady

When I hear demeaning portrayals of women like me, I feel like this!

As I started to read the responses, I became more and more angry.  One after another, client profiles appeared which looked like this:

“She’s aged 40-55. She feels exhausted/overburdened/frumpy/overweight/unattractive. She realises she’s heading for menopause/diabetes/heart disease/depression/adrenal fatigue. She’s busy with kids and caring for elderly parents, and has no time/she’s let herself go. She’s lost herself/she has no confidence. She’s tried every diet, but nothing works, and she no longer looks good in her jeans/little black dress/swimsuit. She wants to feel alive/more sexy/attractive/energised, and needs someone to show her the way.”

Super Woman

You don’t have to be perfect to be amazing

By the time I’d read a few of these, the red mist had well and truly decended.  I find this kind of profiling on women in their second youth so demeaning and patronizing.  Apparently it’s good marketing, because it makes the audience feel desperate enough to buy, but I’ve decided that I don’t like it; it’s manipulative and condecending.  I don’t want to be thought of in that way, and I’m sure if you are a lady in your second youth, you don’t either.

That’s when I wrote my own profile of ladies in their second youth.  This is the way I see people like you.  I hope you see yourself in it too.

Click here to see yourself as I see you.

The real surprise was the response; I posted what I’d written in a Facebook group for ladies aged 40+.  Over 150 ladies told me how much they liked it, and how much more effective it was than portraying negative stereotypes.  I hope you feel the same way, and that what I’ve written will resonate with you.

Free Webinar graphic

Join us at our self-care party.

If you do, and you’d like some tips on living life well and taking care of YOU from women like you who’ve been knocked about by life’s journey, and keep rising to the challenge, please join myself and super-coach Heather Waring on a FREE webinar on 1 March 2018 at 8pm.

Click here to save your seat.

How do you like to be protrayed?  I’d love to know.  Leave me a comment, and let me know what you think.

 

Feb 15

Sugar Free February (2 of 3)

In my last post, I talked about what Sugar Free February is about, and the benefits of taking part.  Today, I’m going to answer some of the questions I see most often on the Internet, and discuss some of the unwanted symptoms you may experience.  If you have a question of your own, please comment, and I’ll be happy to answer.

Did you miss my previous post?  Read it here.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Can I eat Natural Sugar?

Table sugar

Sugar may be a natural product, but that doesn’t mean it’s beneficial!

OK, this one is guaranteed to make me angry.  Listen, all sugar is natural.  There is no such thing as “unnatural sugar”, unless you count artificial sweeteners which I categorically DON’T recommend (see below). The term “natural sugar” is a complete nonsense.  So no, I’m afraid you can’t eat sugary foods, even if you think of them as ‘natural’.  ‘Natural’ and ‘beneficial’ are not the same thing.

The thing to remember about sugar is not where it comes from, but how your body responds to it.  This is called the glycaemic response.  It’s measured on the glycaemic index, and the most reliable indicator of how it will affect your body is the glycaemic load (GL).

The take-home message is that sugar, honey, maple syrup, rice syrup and any other similar product you can think of all score highly on the glycaemic index.  Some score a bit higher than others, but all are high.  I love honey. It’s soothing if you have a cold, and its antibacterial properties may be useful for helping with illness or injury, but in terms of your glycaemic response, it’s no different from table sugar.

On a forum recently, I met someone who used agarve syrup because it’s ‘natural’.  Now, I made the same mistake when I was starting out, so it’s quite understandable, but there’s nothing natural about agarve at all. It’s a highly concentrated, highly processed form of fructose, a bit like the high fructose corn syrup that seems to be added to almost everything.  It may have started out as a plant, but it’s about as close to its origins as your or I are to a fish.  Agarve and similar products may not spike your blood sugar, but used long-term, they are likely to have a harmful effect on your liver.  You don’t want fatty liver disease if you can avoid it, and it’s on the rise, big-time.

So, let’s please stop talking about ‘natural sugar’, because it’s completely meaningless.

What about Fruit?

Berries

Berries are packed with nutrients, and provide a touch of sweetness without a big effect on your blood sugar.

I’m a fan of fruit, and generally I don’t think people should be giving it up for Sugar Free February.  Here’s why:

  • There are two main types of sugar in fruit; glucose and fructose. Most fruits are higher in fructose than glucose.  Fructose will not have the same effect as glucose on your blood sugar, as it’s processed in the liver rather than in the cells.  You may have read about the damaging effects of fructose, but eating 1 or 2 pieces of fruit daily shouldn’t be damaging; fructose is only a problem because it is given to us as an additive or syrup in higher concentrations than the body is equipped to tolerate long-term.  You can choose fruits that are lower in glucose, or total sugar, using the table on this page.

  • People make a huge mistake when they think of foods in terms of single nutrients. As well as sugars, fruit contains a whole range of nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, and a group of nutrients we don’t know much about yet, but which seem to be really important to good health, called phytochemicals.  Different fruits contain different nutrients, so feel free to enjoy a variety.

  • Plus, fruit contains fibre. Fibre isn’t exactly a nutrient, as our bodies can’t fully digest or absorb it, but it’s one of the components of food most frequently and consistently associated with long-term health.  This could be because one of its main functions is to allow food to pass through the digestive tract efficiently, but it’s also thought to nourish beneficial bacteria in our intestines, and help remove harmful by-products of digestion.  It’s crucial to get enough fibre, and most of us don’t.

    sugar-content-of-fruit

    Use this handy table to find out which sugars are in your favourite fruit.

artificial sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners can cause unwanted effects in some people. They’ve never been shown to help with weight, and they won’t help retrain your tastebuds.

What about artificial sweeteners?

Plenty of people quit sugar in February only to substitute with artificial sweeteners.  Each to their own, of course, but here’s why I’m not a fan:

  • Artificial sweeteners won’t help you achieve your health goals. It’s been shown, for example, that people who swap sugary drinks for similar drinks with artificial sweeteners don’t lose weight.  You would think that getting rid of the calories in the fizzy drinks would be helpful, but it doesn’t seem to make a difference.  The current thinking is that this is because the sweeteners disrupt the activity of the bacteria which live in the intestines, and which are our best allies in making the most of our nutrition. So, swapping sugar for sweetener is unlikely to help you if weight management is one of your goals.

  • Some artificial sweeteners can give you nasty side effects, such as bloating and diarrhoea. You may be feeling virtuous, but you’re not likely to be as much fun to be around!

  • If you substitute one sweet taste for another, you will never retrain your tastebuds. When you’re free of very sweet things for a while, you’ll understand just how over-sweet they are, and be satisfied with far less sweetness.  This is really the key to being free of sugars for good.

  • Most artificial sweeteners leave a horrible aftertaste.

I’m getting withdrawal symptoms. What’s going on?

For some people, being free of sugar is straightforward. For others it’s not so easy and unwanted symptoms can occur.  If that happens to you, be assured that they shouldn’t last more than a week or two, but if they do persist, have a word with your doctor.

 Are you experiencing any of these common symptoms?

Headaches/Nausea

Headaches are common when freeing yourself from sugar, but consult your doctor if they persist.

Headaches are common when freeing yourself from sugar, but consult your doctor if they persist.

If you’re experiencing symptoms like these, you’ll probably have heard that this is because ‘toxins’ are being removed from your body, or because you have a fungal problem.  There is no real evidence for either of these assertions, and I’m inclined to disregard them unless anyone can provide compelling evidence to the contrary.  For various reasons, which I’m happy to explain if asked, my knowledge of how things work would suggest that the body doesn’t operate this way.  However, the symptoms can be very real and unpleasant.  I think that it’s more likely that the symptoms exist either because you are lacking your most readily available energy source, and it takes time to adjust, or because the balance of fluid in your body is undergoing adjustment.

The good news is that the symptoms will pass in a couple of days or weeks, but to help you feel better, make sure you’re eating nutritious meals and keeping well hydrated with water and herbal teas.  You may also find gentle to moderate exercise helpful.

Moodiness

Head made of sugar cubes

Is sugar addictive? It can certainly feel that way.

Is sugar addictive?  This is a hotly debated topic.  Advocates point out experiments on mice in which cocaine-addicted mice prefer sugar to cocaine when offered both choices, and remind us that, in the human brain, sugar activates dopamine signalling pathways, which provide a sense of reward.  Those against the idea suggest that lots of activities activate dopamine pathways without being addictive, such as driving a fast car, or having enjoyable intercourse.  They also point out that experiments relating to sugar addiction have never been done on humans, and we’re not mice!

Personally, I’m on the fence on this issue, but I’m certain that becoming free of sugar can make people very moody.  Regardless of whether sugar is addictive, it certainly does activate dopamine receptors, giving you a sense of reward and pleasure.  When that doesn’t happen it can make you feel low, particularly if the rest of your life isn’t going well, or you’re under stress.

There isn’t an easy way round this one, and it’s nothing to do with willpower.  I think the best technique is to anticipate it, and make a list of things that give you pleasure.  When you find yourself getting moody, make time for one of these things.  Again, staying hydrated and doing some physical activity, particularly if you can spend time outside, may help.  I personally find singing helpful; it needn’t take long, you can do it anywhere, and it’s free.

Dizziness

Be careful of this one; if it persists it could be a sign that you’re not getting enough carbohydrate for your body’s needs, or possibly that you’re dehydrated.  However, you don’t need sugar to compensate.  Instead, try introducing some whole grains, beans or pulses into your diet, and make sure you’re drinking enough fluid.  Some people love very low carbohydrate diets, but they may not suit you.  Listen to your body and be sensible; dizziness isn’t a nice symptom.  If it still persists, pop along to your GP and get your blood pressure checked, as it may be on the low side.

Of course, I haven’t yet addressed the most frequently asked question of all, which goes something like this:

“I’m doing really well, but there are times when I really want something sweet to eat.  Any ideas?”

The answer to this question depends on what you’re aiming to get out  of Sugar Free February, but I have plenty of ideas that don’t involve refined sugar, or even excessive levels of sugar from fruit.  In my next post, I’ll be telling you all about those, and sharing some recipes, so stay tuned for that.  Watch this space!

Did you miss the first post in this series?  Catch up here.

 

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