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:

Cancer UK ad

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.

Tum tiddly tum tum

It’s not easy to get a six pack but it’s really easy to get a family pack

People in middle age are more prone to fat around their tummies and, although we can build our stomach muscles through crunches and other exercises, no-one will see them if they are hidden under a layer of flab!

In the UK almost one quarter of adults are obese and in the US it’s one third and those figures are set to rise if the pundits are to be believed; this means that there will be a corresponding increase in those illnesses that are associated with obesity such as high blood pressure, diabetes and certain types of cancer. Unfortunately, as we get older, it gets more difficult to keep the weight off, especially around the tummy area but there are things that you can do to keep yourself in super shape and reduce the risks.

Firstly, remember that your body is the most amazing machine in the universe and, to get the best out of it, you need to put good stuff in and the good stuff comes from nature and not from a laboratory (no offense to any scientists who may be reading!). For many years now artificial sugars have been added to many foodstuffs and, without realising it, people are consuming far more sugar than they used to and what does sugar do? Yep it piles on the pounds. So, is the answer to go for the ‘sugar free’ option? No.

Things like fizzy drinks which are advertised as ‘sugar free’ don’t contain any natural sugar but they do contain artificial versions which actually taste more sugary than the real thing and work on the body in the same way i.e they tell our body to store fat because they trigger the production of insulin. Instead try making your own juices using ingredients like cucumber, lemon juice and ginger – it tastes great and will help your body to burn fat without really adding any calories. Green tea will also boost your metabolism and help your body to break down fat (have a look at the science here).green tea

Refined carbohydrates are also not going to help you trim down a spreading waist line; white bread and white pasta will give us a burst of energy but this burns out after a very short period which means that our blood sugar levels drop and then, more often than not, we have a sugar craving which we will want to satisfy with something sweet which means we end up consuming more sugar and we’re back to square one. Having more whole grains and therefore more fibre in your diet will make your body work far more efficiently and effectively.

Another mucked about with in a lab ingredient we have to think about is something called ‘trans fats’ otherwise known as hydrogenated vegetable oil which is used to make products stay fresher for longer. Food. Unhealthy foodThought to be a major contributing factor to obesity and related health problems in the US the Food and Drug Administration said that trans fats ‘could no longer be generally regarded as safe’. However they still crop up in many foods such as doughnuts, shop bought deserts, fast foods, chocolate biscuits and cream substitutes.

We need fats in our diets but we should be looking at naturally occurring polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats such as those found in nuts and avocados, olive and soybean oils. almonds-avocado

If we are more sensible with our diets and look at eating natural foods that keep us fuller for longer, we also won’t be thinking about snacking during the day; one of the worst culprits when it comes to adding weight. It’s not uncommon for people to have a can of soda between meals and a chocolate bar as a mid-afternoon snack but these two items, on their own, can give you more than the daily recommended limit for sugar plus you’re taking in around 350 calories which will take you about an hour of fast paced walking to burn off!

It’s not easy to get a six pack but it’s really easy to get a family pack if you overload on sugary and starchy foods and don’t exercise enough.

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……..




Would you give your child cocaine?

“if you’re a good girl, we’ll stop off at MacDonalds afterwards as a ‘treat'”

In a news article out today, a doctor is calling for weight-loss surgery to be more readily availble for children; he claims that it’s a necessary measure to stem the rise of obesity in the young. Essentially he is urging parents to put their kids under the knife, before they are fully matured and promoting the removal of a large portion of the stomach so that the intake of food that will satisfy their appetite will be greatly reduced.

I will no doubt be called out for saying this but wouldn’t it be simpler, cheaper and less traumatic for the child to speak to the parents about nutrition and exercise? This ‘obesity epidemic’ has only come about since the mass consumption of processed and fast foods and the inclination of kids to spend their days glued to their mobile phones rather than being outside kicking around a football or riding a bike so why can’t we start there?

It’s been known for sometime that sugar is highly addictive and yet it is added, in one form or another, to virtually all junk food and processed foods. Some scientists say that it’s more addictive than cocaine but parents seem to be quite happy to continue shovelling it down their kid’s throats in the name of ‘convenience’. It also doesn’t help that parents will often negotiate with their children using sugar as a bargaining chip – “if you’re a good girl, we’ll stop off at MacDonalds afterwards as a ‘treat'” or “be a good boy and we’ll buy you some sweets”………

This sends the message that sugar is a reward for good behaviour.

Conversely, vegetables and fruit are, I would imagine, rarely used for motivation; how many parents say “be good and you can have vegetable stir fry for dinner”?

I’m not saying that parents who use food as carrot or stick are bad for doing so; I certainly grew up with the idea that sweets were treats but that was before the days of sugar being hidden in absoutely everything so I didn’t consume enough of it to become addicted…………

Exercise, or lack thereof, is another contributor to obesity in the young. I wonder how many children walk to school these days rather than have their parents drop them off in the car on the way to work? How many exercise with their parents on a regular basis; go out for a walk, go swimming etc? How many play team sports on a regular basis? Finally, how many do all of these things but in a virtual world?

Cutting out lumps of kids’ stomachs is not the answer; fresh natural foods and regular exercise are the things that will end the ‘obesity crisis’ but I guess that’s a pretty old fashioned idea………..

Living it Large

one of the women will likely be an object of derision and the other is modelling on the catwalk in a fashion show

We are constantly being advised that it’s not healthy to be overweight. It’s true, if you are obese you are more likely to suffer from all sorts of health related issues such as diabetes, heart problems, high blood pressure and breathing problems. That said, if you are underweight you may end up with a weak immune system and fragile bones so a happy medium is always the ideal.

I think that we can all agree that neither of these images presents a picture of perfect health and yet one of the women will likely be an object of derision and the other is modelling on the catwalk in a fashion show.

Around 725,000 people in the UK have an eating disorder and, in America more than 35% of people are considered obese. How have we managed to create a culture where people have so many body issues? Many say that the media is to blame; if people are looking for body images to aspire to it’s pretty difficult to live up to something which has been airbrushed and digitally enhanced. Essentially you are on a hiding to nothing right from the start – if you try change your body to copy an image which is not even real your self-esteem is bound to suffer. So why not just make the best of what you’ve got and be happy with that? It would make life so much easier.

 If you’re carrying a few extra pounds you might have got the idea in your head that you can’t go out and exercise because people will laugh or tease you – so what? What does it say about them? People’s negative comments usually stem from their own insecurities; how many people will make nasty comments about another person when they’re on their own? Very few, usually its one person in a group who will say something in attempt to get recognition from the others. The only reason they do that is that they don’t believe in their own self-worth i.e. they don’t feel that giving information about themselves will be of interest to their ‘friends’ so they look for someone else to target and deflect attention. Ridicule of another person never comes from a good place. Rudeness

If you’re happy with yourself and the way that you look no words will ever be able to hurt you; if you’re not happy with the way that you look there are things you can do to change that so don’t give up and, if you fall, get up and try again because it will all come together in the end.

If you’ve decided that you want to change something about your body look at exercise types which are going to be low impact such as swimming, walking or yoga as you will have less risk of injury and you will see noticeable improvements in a relatively short space of time which will give you the encouragement you need to continue. If your aim at the start is to run 26 miles it will be easy to feel defeated and there will be a bigger chance that you’ll give up; if your aim is to walk a mile and you achieve it after 2 weeks how amazing will that feel? You’ll have a great sense of achievement and then will want to push on to the next mile and the next. As with anyone who has taken the decision to up their exercise, you will begin to feel so much better about yourself that you will undoubtedly want to make other important life style changes. Before you know it, you will have a whole new wonderful you!

Everyone should be allowed to make decisions about their health and their body without interference and, if they are happy with the results – super! The ultimate that we can achieve in life is to wake up every day smiling and without a care in the world, secure in the knowledge that we are exactly as we want to be. Thin, fat, old, young, tall or short – we are all truly beautiful when we smile.


In Pursuit of Beauty?

…beauty is in the eye of the media

It would seem these days that beauty is in the eye of the media; there are millions of images on the TV, in magazines, on the internet etc. all telling us what we should or shouldn’t look like. Unfortunately, as with all things, the media is not exactly consistent.

How many times do we see pictures like these? ‘So and so celebrity has really piled on the pounds!’ Then the next day ‘so and so celebrity is too skinny’; ironically it’s often the same celebrity who was lambasted for being overweight 6 months previously.

If you type ‘celebrities who’ve let themselves go’ into google it will bring up hundreds of people who have simply got older or lost/gained a little weight. So celebrities are human huh? Shocker! (This comes with rolling eyes and a slight feeling of exasperation).

The question is where does this leave the rest of us mere mortals? Well, we now have young people who become anorexic or bulimic because their onscreen role models are a size 6. It doesn’t occur to them to question whether or not said idol is happy being that size or whether their job (and the media) demands that they are slim and actually they’d really like to be able to have a dessert occasionally. It doesn’t occur to them to question whether or not they will be healthy as a size 6; if you’re naturally slim it’s one thing, if you’re naturally a size 14 and shrink yourself down to a size 6 is another thing altogether. They also don’t consider the fact that many stars have personal trainers and spend hours in the gym with them every day; to lose weight without exercise will mean a big and potentially dangerous reduction in calories.

On the flip side we now also have Fat Acceptance (or Body Acceptance) which is essentially people who are overweight, and know that they’re overweight, fighting back against Fat Shaming. fat shaming 2(This is the charming past-time of being unpleasant to people considered fat by ‘shamers’ on social media.) There is even a Fat Activist movement which addresses the issue of, what they see as, society’s ‘bias’ against obese people.

This means that, on the one hand we have young people desperate to be skinny and, on the other, we have those who are obese calling for fat-shaming to be considered a hate crime. It’s well known that both anorexia and obesity come with massive health risks and yet both are on the increase.

Part of the obesity problem can certainly be attributed to the fast and convenience food that has become a staple for many people. Sugar is believed to be more addictive than cocaine and yet these type of food are absolutely packed full of it. However, another part of the problem is our attitudes to ourselves and our bodies and the fact that open and honest discussions are few and far between. The Government is seen as ‘the Nanny State’ if it advises people on the health risks of obesity and anorexia, schools no longer teach classes on cookery and nutrition, children are happier in front of a computer screen rather than being outside running around and the internet provides a safe haven for advocates of over-eating and starvation and the bullies that follow them. If we could all see the damage that’s being done to our insides maybe we’d be less concerned with how we look on the outside……….


It’s Just A Matter of In and Out

There is no magic formula

“After a lifetime of losing and gaining weight, I get it. No matter how you slice it, weight loss comes down to the simple formula of calories in, calories out”. Valerie Bertinelli

There is no magic formula; if we want to lose weight, we need to think about calories, the fuel for our body if you like, and how many we should be eating on a daily basis. There is no exact answer as it depends on our build, our age (we need less as we get older) and how active we are but, for a rough guide, it’s about 2500 per day for men and about 2000 for women. So, if you want to lose weight, you need to burn off more calories than you eat but, in order to do this, you need to know how many calories you’re taking in and how many you’re burning off.

The 200 calories in a small bar of chocolate will take about an hour to burn off if you are walking at normal pace of around 3 miles per hour. The same applies for a couple of slices of toast and butter or two large scrambled eggs or a salad (no dressing) with grilled chicken.

If you fancy a pizza and eat your way through the whole thing you will have consumed around 850 calories – to burn this off you will need to ride a bike at around 16-20 miles per hour for a whole hour. The same applies if you have a burger and fries, take away fish and chips or a korma curry. If you decide to have a pint of beer with dinner you can add another 200 calories!

So you can see that, if you don’t do any exercise to burn off all these calories, they can add up very quickly indeed. If you have fast food for dinner and opt for a take away curry and rice, with a couple of pints of beer followed by a bowl of chocolate ice-cream you could easily get through 1500 calories if not more; if you’re a woman, that doesn’t leave very many for the rest of the day.

If you decide that you want a healthier life and to lose a bit of weight spend some time working out how much sugar you have in your diet (don’t forget tea, coffee, soft drinks and alcohol) then work out how many calories you eat in a day. If the sugar is more than 25g (around 6 teaspoons) and your calorie intake is more than 2500 on an average day then think about changing something. You don’t have to live on lettuce leaves and water but maybe making different choices could change how you feel about your body. Add to that 30 minutes of fast walking a day and you’ll be surprised at the results.



Love Hurts

The question is: What is too much?

It’s a sad fact of life that, sometimes, the things that we love most will not make us happy in the end and this is so true when it comes to food. Unfortunately people build emotional attachments to certain foods in the same way that they do with people and, just as we must accept that our love of Johnny Depp or Angelina Jolie is destined to be unrequited, we must also accept that our love of some foods will ultimately do us harm.

Various Governments have gone to great lengths to ensure that food packaging these days is covered with loads of nutritional information which is supposed to enable us to have a healthy and balanced diet. Unfortunately there isn’t enough room on the packaging to explain what all the percentages and diagrams actually mean so most people don’t take a blind bit of notice. There are a few things in food which we need to keep an eye on if we are going to live a healthy life and one of them is:


Sugar: Much of the processed and fast food that are the staples of many people’s diets these days contain an awful  lot of added sugar and, simply put, ingesting too much sugar can lead to heart attacks, liver failure, type two Diabetes, certain cancers and a host of other nasties that you really don’t want. The question is: What is too much? Anything more than about 25 grams or 6 teaspoons a day is the answer. So what is going to take you over your 25 grams?

A single can of cola has about 39 grams

A supermarket sandwich and a low fat yoghurt have around 30 grams

A blueberry muffin has around 30 grams

Just these 3 items could well be lunch for someone who is trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle: there’s no fat in cola, a sandwich is just a sandwich, the yoghurt is low fat and everyone knows that blueberries are good for you. Right? Unfortunately no – in this one meal you will have around 99 grams of sugar which is 4 times the recommended daily amount. If you then add in cereal and milk for breakfast you will have around another 15 grams; sweet and sour chicken with rice for dinner could add another 60 grams which takes your total for the day (without snack bars, sweets, ice-cream or chocolate) to around 174 grams

You will also need to check any labels carefully when you decide to reduce your sugar intake as it can be referred to as sucrose, syrup, dextrin, dextrose, fructose, glucose, saccharose and sweeteners, to name but a few!