Roman Holiday

HAPPY NEW YEAR! How have you all been? I hope that Christmas was all that you hoped it would be and that you’ve had a great start to 2019! As for me, I arrived back home last night after an 8 hour drive and, what turned out to be, a very enjoyable break in Rome. There was the odd emotional moment but I let them come and they did…and then they went but there were also some very happy moments, some of which I thought I’d share with you…

HAPPY NEW YEAR! How have you all been? I hope that Christmas was all that you hoped it would be and that you’ve had a great start to 2019! As for me, I arrived back home last night after an 8 hour drive and, what turned out to be, a very enjoyable break in Rome. There was the odd emotional moment but I let them come… and they did…and then they went but there were also some very happy moments, some of which I thought I’d share with you….

Rome is a very strange place; it has more graffiti than I’ve ever seen in any city in the World, it has potholes that you could bury a badger in and it is extremely dirty, in many places there were bags of rubbish piled up in the streets. However, you can walk along narrow, cobbled streets (do not wear heels here ladies!), with their tiny boutiques full of Italian chic and then come across something like this:

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There are immense monuments to the city’s glorious past that just seem to rise up before you from nowhere. We found this one whilst on the hunt for lunch and were lucky enough to get the last remaining table in a restaurant just opposite; what made it even better was that the sun was shining and it was warm enough to sit outside! Can you imagine looking at this whilst tucking into the most delicate mushroom risotto? Heaven! Saying that, I’d chosen the risotto as my stomach was in revolt after 2 or 3 days of eating nothing but pizza and pasta; it says something about a culture when the ‘light’ option is risotto!

What many people don’t realise about Rome is that, just outside the city there are mountain ranges that, if tackled, offer the most beautiful views and one of the best ways to get to them is on a motorbike, so that’s what we did. Glorious bend after glorious blend led us through tiny villages and beautiful countryside that seemed to subtly change with every kilometre.

 

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After 100km or so we finally stopped for lunch in a grotty looking cafe that served wonderful food (I was told that any restaurant in or around Rome that doesn’t serve great food will close down within a month or so!). We chatted about the ride up there as bikers are prone to do, enjoyed our lunch and some coffee that was like rocket fuel and  eventually wandered outside for the journey back. At some point the weather had decided that it would stop being warm and sunny and, instead, would give us some cloud cover and drop the temperature by 8 degrees or so; it was absolutely bloody freezing! The guys decided that the route back through the mountains could potentially result in the loss of extremities so we took the motorway instead…..4 very experienced bikers, full of coffee and with a straight road ahead of them meant that we hit speeds of 240 kmph but at least we got back to the warmth of our friends’ house in double quick time!

I should point out that this trip into the mountains was taken on New Year’s Eve and 5 hours on the back of a powerful bike, travelling at high speed through twisty, winding roads is not exactly what you’d call relaxing. Once home, there was time for a quick change of clothes before it was off to the supermarket to stock up on booze for the evening’s festivities and then shower, slap on some make-up, party dress and I was good to go! I started to feel a bit weary around 11pm but all thoughts of sleep were drowned out by party music and the noise of 15, over-excited Italians all talking at once (how anyone actually follows the conversation is beyond me!)

Close to midnight I was looking longingly up the stairs and was, mentally, already in my PJ’s and tucked up in bed with my kindle but then the countdown began and everyone rushed outside; curious, I followed. The view from my friends’ house is, well, Rome…pretty much all of it and it was ablaze! There was an absolute sea of fireworks as far as the eye could see and the noise was unbelievable! Lights in every colour, flashes, speeding rockets, spinning fire, raining droplets and the sound of 10,000 drums, it was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen! Sadly I was too busy enjoying it to take any picture – sorry about that! The excitement of that kept me going until 01.30 but then I took myself of to bed – the last of the revelers crashed at around 5am but were up the next day at 10am to prepare lunch for 20 guests!

New Year’s Day involved lots of eating and people yawning but the next day dawned bright but freezing cold so my best friend Will and I and his cousin Manuel (our host) wrapped up warm and set off for Frascati. From there we went to Castel Gandolfo, this beautiful old village is on the edge of a huge lake and is home to the summer residence of the Pope; lucky guy, the views are amazing:

 

We drank cappuccino outside while watching the world go by, we ate Porchetta in pizza bread, we wandered through market stalls and smelled all the delicious aromas they had to offer and marveled at the beauty of the landscape before agreeing that we were all cold and tired and it was time to go home. As we circled the lake to pick up the road back to Rome the sun began to set and, despite the temperature and our heavy eyes, we had to stop and just watch……

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I cried a little on Christmas Day because I wasn’t with the man that I loved, I cried again on New Year’s Eve for the same reason BUT in between those times I was with friends, people who care about me and want me to be happy. I was welcomed into an Italian home by people who are hospitable, charming, generous and unfailingly kind. I was hugged and kissed by everyone who crossed the threshold and I even learned to speak a little Italian with their patient coaching. Before leaving, I had wondered if I would be better off spending Christmas and New Year alone; I’m very glad that I decided to spend it with these wonderful people instead! Oh and I mustn’t forget Stella, our host’s beautiful dog who let me hug her when I felt sad and made me laugh by doing a 4 wheel drift on the kitchen tiles when she was racing to get her dinner. We went for several long walks with Stella and I was reminded of what it is to be joyful; I want to be as free and as happy as that little dog and, over the last 2 weeks, I came close ;O)

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Lisa x

PS. If you ever fancy a trip to Rome my friend Manuel has a super little B&B for rent just yards away from the Colosseum ;O)

 

When even Healthy isn’t Healthy!

Food is not something we can exist without (well not for very long anyway) so is it really any wonder that so many of us have such a complex relationship with it? What’s your relationship with food? I’d really love it if you’d share your thoughts with me….

How do you feel about what you eat? Is your relationship with food unhealthy? Do you find that you have emotions attached to food? If so, it’s not really surprising as we are constantly bombarded with messages that tell us what we should eat, when, how much, what’s bad, what’s good……it really is completely non-stop (and I’ve just realised that I add to the mountain of information with my blog – oops!)

distorted body imageWe are all aware of conditions such as Anorexia and Bulimia which stem from distorted body image and can lead to serious health problems and even death. We have seen people become morbidly obese, eating themselves into ill health and an early grave.  There are reports in the news every day which tell us that certain foods cause cancer and heart disease, that our BMI should be a certain number and that our food choices will ultimately determine how well and how long we live. However, some nutritionists now believe that some of us could be at risk from a newly discovered eating disorder. Orthorexia is an obsession with ‘pure’ or ‘clean’ food which can lead people to cut out entire food groups, thereby depriving themselves of some essential vitamins and nutrients.

Come on inner peaceI read this article and thought ‘oh bloody hell that could be me!!’. Anyone who reads the stuff that I write knows that I have a deep interest in nutrition and a love of exercise but this article made me wonder if I do wonder sometimes if I over do it. When I have a rest day I’ll often feel restless because I’m very active 6 days out of 7; I know that my body needs to rest but my mind often requires a lot of mediation to get with the programme. I very rarely eat processed foods or refined sugars, I think about food additives and calories and make my food choices according to:

  1. How they will help me exercise and workout in the gym
  2. Whether, if I over indulge, they’ll make me fat.
  • Healthy foodsThat said, I’m not a big foodie, so I don’t feel as though I am missing out by choosing to eat those foods that we deem as being healthy – vegetables, fruits, lean meat, nuts, berries and fish. I actually like the taste of vegetables, especially green vegetables but I never used to; it was only when I started training seriously, in my twenties, that I began to understand the effect that food could have on my body. For that reason I wonder if I have just made the mental connection between doing what I enjoy (working out and exercise) and the foods that make it easier. Over the last 20 odd years I’ve experimented with food and I eat what best serves my purpose; cakes, candy, junk food, lots of bread and pasta and processed foods don’t so I don’t eat them. I’m not sure if this means that my relationship with food is unhealthy or not; I’m slim and pretty fit but I don’t get a great deal of pleasure from food as, for me, it’s a means to an end. I like to work out and I like my clothes to fit so what’s the problem? Food is not something we can exist without (well not for very long anyway) so is it really any wonder that so many of us have such a complex relationship with it?

What’s your relationship with food? I’d really love it if you’d share your thoughts with me as, even after all these years, I still find it a fascinating subject :O) x

Debunking Diets (Part 2)

The bread here tends to be of the baguette variety and not the sliced white kind which means that it’s not chock full of additives and preservatives. If you buy a baguette here you have to eat it on the same day because the following day it will be so hard that you could beat someone to death with it! 

This is part 2 of my post looking into some of the diets that are out there – what do they involve and, more importantly, are they going to work! The diet industry is absolutely huge with millions of $$$$ being spent every year as people search for the magic formula that will take them from fat to thin as quickly and as easily as possible:

The 5:2 Diet claims that you can lose 2 stone in 12 weeks by eating a ‘Mediterranean’ diet 5 days a week and just one quarter of your normal calorie intake on the other 2 days. capreseThe ‘Mediterranean’ aspect of the plan is to cut back on bread and cakes and to include more fats, from oily fish and olive oil, and use fresh vegetables and fruit. Apparently during the 5 days a week you are encouraged to eat ‘normally’. As, during the other 2 days your calorie intake should be around 600-800 (25% of your typical intake) we can assume that ‘normal’ will be between 2400 and 3200 calories per day.

The plan suggests that the 600-800 calories should be ingested in the course of up to 3 meals a day. Obviously this includes everything you eat but also everything that you drink as well so it will need a lot of careful planning to keep within these levels.

The fitness regime that’s recommended to go with the eating plan is short bursts of high intensity interval training (up to 20 minutes) three times a week with strength training on two other days to help build muscle and burn fat faster.

Verdict: I live on the Cote D’Azur i.e. the Mediterranean and I can tell you that the people here eat a lot of bread and also their fair share of cakes! Pasta and pizza are also very popular so why aren’t they all desperately overweight and turning to this kind of diet plan?

  1. They eat very little in the way of processed foods, meals are cooked from scratch using fresh and natural ingredients.
  2. BaguetteThe bread here tends to be of the baguette variety and not the sliced white kind which means that it’s not chock full of additives and preservatives. If you buy a baguette here you have to eat it on the same day because the following day it will be so hard that you could beat someone to death with it!
  3. The weather here tends to be very good with around 300 days of sunshine a year so people spend an awful lot of time outside, walking, swimming or playing sports
  4. Although cakes are very popular, they’re not eaten to excess for the most part and, again, they are freshly made without additives and preservatives.

All of that said, the eating plan that is proposed with this diet IS very healthy and, as you will be cutting your weekly calorie intake and cutting out processed and junk food I’ve no doubt that you will lose weight. However, what I cannot for the life of me understand, is why you wouldn’t just cut the number of calories that you eat each day to give yourself the same weekly total rather than carrying on as normal for 5 days and then drastically reducing intake for the other 2. I understand the principals of fasting and it can be very beneficial in terms of overall health but, in order to maintain the weight loss, participants will need to continue eating in this way long term. Cheating on a dietAs you are effectively, ‘depriving’ yourself 2 days a week I wonder what affect this will have psychologically on people who are fasting purely to lose weight. If you come to dread the fasting days and see them as something to be endured rather than something beneficial then I would expect the tendency to be to ‘cheat’ on the fasting days or to overeat on the other 5. Although the testimonials for the plan were good, the fasting days were also described as ‘hard’ which, for me, never bodes well. Healthy eating should be a pleasure and not a torment.

When all is said and done, what this programme advocates is eating less crap, more fresh fruit and veg, cutting down on calories and exercising more so not really what you’d call ground breaking.

 

It’s For Your Own Good

I’d really love to hear your thoughts on this…. 

What’s your first reaction when someone tells you you’re wrong? Feel a bit miffed? Hackles go up? Think of arguments to defend your position? All perfectly normal; none of us really likes being told we’re wrong and, worse, being proved wrong.

There was recently a case in point; Cancer Research UK (for whom I personally have massive respect) were caught up in a Twitter battle which was then picked up by the mainstream media. Why? They had the audacity to put out an advertisement which did nothing more than state facts:

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It’s perfectly true, people who are obese are more likely to die from certain cancers than those who are a ‘healthy’ weight; it was a very bold ad and was, I’m sure, designed to attract attention. However, it also put out a more subtle message which is, effectively, ‘if you die from an obesity related cancer, it’s your fault’ or, to put it another way ‘the choices you make are wrong‘. I’m not saying that’s necessarily a bad thing as I’m sure that it put the fear of God into some people and  made them think about a more healthy lifestyle but it can also put people’s backs up and make them defend their choices more rigorously however compelling the evidence against them may be. This is certainly true of Sofie Hagen Sofie Hagen who started the Twitter storm with comments like:

“So hey, hate fat people. But admit that you hate fat people. That whole ‘It is unhealthy’ speech is embarrassing and it’s getting old now. You don’t want us to be healthy, you want us to hate ourselves. Because you hate us. Own up to your bigotry.” and

“If you genuinely think you care about the health of fat people, fine. Has centuries of shaming, bullying and scaring fat people made us lose weight? Or are there more fat people than ever?”

When I read those comments my first thought was ‘wow this poor girl is really scared’ but the second was ‘she is completely delusional’.  I’m sure that she knows, on some level, that being obese is not healthy  but she’s never going to admit it all the time that people are telling her she’s made the wrong choices. I doubt very much if she will try to lose weight because, the more people attack her position, the more likely she is to defend it.

I some ways I absolutely applaud Cancer Research UK for their ad as I think that rising levels of obesity are a concern but I can’t help wondering if promoting all the positive aspects of a healthy diet would be more effective? In order to break an addiction people need one of two things: a massive negative from continuing with their addiction or a massive positive from stopping – which do you think is more productive? I’d really love to hear your thoughts on this….

 

When One Just Isn’t Enough

if something makes us feel good we want to do it again and again.

Apparently millennials are going to be the fattest generation ever in the UK but why?

There is a mountain of evidence that points towards increased consumption of refined sugar which is both physically and mentally addictive; sugar increases dopamine levels in our brains and that makes us feel good. Human beings are no different from animals in that, if something makes us feel good we want to do it again and again. One triple chocolate muffin leads to another and before long one just isn’t enough to satisfy us so we take two and so it goes on. homer-simpson-drooling-meme-815

Unfortunately, if you stuff your face with chocolate muffins on a regular basis you are going to get fat (I realise that’s not politically correct but it’s a fact). Some people are happy to be fat but some are not, they suffer emotionally when they see the pounds piling on but, ironically, the thing that is causing their emotional distress is also the thing that makes them feel good – refined sugar.

This is a viscious circle and it needs to be broken. Essentially there are two ways to do that: either go cold turkey and cut sugar out of your diet completely or find another, healthier way to get the same happy feelings that sugar gives you. Cold turkey can certainly work for some people, the physical addiction cycle will be broken in a few days, but only if the pleasure of losing weight outweighs the pleasure felt when eating sugar. If it doesn’t then you will feel deprived if you stop eating sugar, like you have lost something precious and the urge to go back to it will be stronger than ever. This is one of the reasons why people try one diet after another, lose a few pounds, and then gain them all back again and more besides.

There are other foods that increase dopamine in the brain which are much, much healthier than refined sugars – almonds, avocados, bananas, fish and dairy for instance. Of course, if you really want to give yourself a boost, your brain releases endorphins, serotonin, dopamine and adrenaline when you exercise.happy runner

Those same chemical reactions occur when we listen to our favourite music so, if you create a playlist of upbeat tunes, stick on your headphones and go out for a brisk walk you’ll be getting double bubble! Not only that but you’ll lose weight and, as you will have replaced one mood enhancer with another rather than depriving yourself of all those good feelings you will be more likely to keep the weight off.

A Product of Circumstance?

Are unhealthy processed foods cheaper than the wholesome, natural alternatives?

A recent article claims that poverty and not people’s food choices is the cause of the obesity epedemic in the UK (and presumably in other countries as well). It cites various statistics linking obesity and poverty but, as we all know, there are lies, damn lies and……

Leaving aside other social factors and focusing purely on the economic: Are unhealthy processed foods cheaper than the wholesome, natural alternatives?

Let’s assume a family of 4 decides to pick up dinner from MacDonalds; known for their ‘from 99p’ adverts. Mum and Dad will probably have a burger and fries each, the kids will have a happy meal and maybe an ice-cream for desert, sound reasonable?

2 Big Mac meduim value meals: £4.69 x 2 = £9.38

2 Chicken McNugget happy meals: £2.79 x 2 = £5.58

2 Mcflurries: 2 x £0.99 = £1.98

Total = £16.94 [Source]

If we take that cash down to the local supermarket instead what will it buy us?

For £4.50 you can buy a whole chicken

Add some potatoes for £1.50

Another £3 will easily buy enough vegetables for this meal and probably another as well.

That’s a roast dinner for 4 people for a little more than half the price of dinner from MacDonalds. Not only that but the calorie and sugar content of the meal will be significantly lower and the nutritional content a lot higher!

Even if you buy a ready meal for everyone, the cost will still be higher than buying the fresh, natural ingredients and preparing and cooking them yourself.

I can believe, to an extent, that those who live in poorer areas are more liable to be obese but I don’t think it’s for economic reasons; it’s far more likely to be a lack of education in the importance of nutrition and exercise. Also that, as we know, the sugar that appears in virtually all fast foods and ready meals is highly addictive and the greater the consumption, the greater the craving……..

 

 

 

Length Matters

They may not have found the elixir of life just yet but there is no doubt that the scientific community is working hard towards it.

 

Our bodies really are the most advanced piece of engineering in the Universe; what we can achieve, feel and experience is absolutely mind-boggling when you think about it. We even have an inbuilt repair mechanism, how awesome is that?! We are made up of around 37 trillion cells which reproduce to create new cells when old ones die, repair damaged cells and promote growth. However, every time a cell reproduces, effectively makes an identical copy of itself, telomeres at the end of our chromosomes get shorter and shorter and, once they get too short, the cell is unable to replicate itself. This means that the cell ages and is then not able to properly do the job that it’s meant to and it will eventually die. The result for us is old age and eventually death.

The guy in the video below is Bill Andrews PHD and he’s a molecular biologist and gerontologist who has spent pretty much all of his working life trying to find a ‘cure’ for aging. He says that he will achieve his aim ‘or die trying. His work centres around creating a product that will lengthen telomeres and therefore, he believes, increase life expectancy.

Scientific research into telomeres is considered to be of vital importance, so much so that, in 2009, the Nobel prize for Physiology or medicine was awarded to three American scientists who discovered telomeres.

They may not have found the elixir of life just yet but there is no doubt that the scientific community is working hard towards it.

Until someone comes up with a pill or a tonic that will stop or even reverse the aging process, what can we do to help keep our telomeres at a good length? Making sure that we get enough of the right vitamins is a sensible place to start.

Apparently there is a molecular link between Vitamin D and DNA repair which is essential to maintaining telomere length.  So, where do we find Vitamin D? Firstly, from sunlight which promotes vitamin D synthesis from cholesterol in the skin but it can also be found in certain foods such as:

Eggs, cheese and oily fish, such as mackeral, all contain vitamin D as does, love it or hate it, beef liver which also contains B vitamins, considered vitally important for natural cell replication. If you’re not a liver fan you can top up your B vitamin intake with fish such as sardines and fresh, wild caught salmon.

If we want to address DNA damage and help boost telemere length we should stock up on natural sources of C and E vitamins which can be found in oranges, avocados, almonds, red peppers, sweet potatoe and spinach.

These foods, as well as being rich in the vitamins believed to influence telomere length, also form the basis of a healthy and natural diet; combine this with a good exercise programme and stress reducing meditation and you could live better, younger and maybe even longer.