Why do you try to do too much and fail, and what can you do about it?

Mountain climber shutterstock_136309799.jpg

I'm an optimist, always have been. I firmly believe that I can do more in the time I have available than I actually can. I always think it will take less time to get somewhere than it does, that the roads will be traffic-free and a smooth journey awaits. I also believe that I'll be able to get through the list of ten things that I set myself to do each day, and that I'll also fit in two exercise sessions around this, and do the housework, and have time to read my favourite book in the evening.

But I don't.

And I'm not alone. Many of us will take on too many things at once, try to fit a new course in around a busy work schedule, imagine that we'll have time to cook all of our meals for the week ahead on Sunday afternoon, or tell the gym instructor when we join the gym that it'll be no problem to go seven days a week. Stand up if this last one is you. Now sit down again, at least you've got a squat in today even if you haven't quite squeezed in that workout.

Now I'm not saying optimism is a bad thing; we need it to motivate ourselves and research has often found that working towards something positive is more effective than working away from something negative, and that people with a strong belief in themselves are often more likely to achieve. But sometimes we go too far and this can be as problematic as being too negative; what we need instead is to strike a nice balance.

So let's look at why it is in our nature as humans to overload ourselves with things to do and then repeatedly come up short? And after that we'll look at some possibilities to change in future.

Optimism feels good

It takes us to an imaginary place where everything is how we want it to be and that makes us feel good. Because we feel good we decide that's where we'd like to be instead and so we rush to get there, attempting to do everything all in one go. This can lead to a mismatch between our dreams and desires and our current situation and abilities. I'm sure you know it, I call it 'X-Factor Syndrome'. "I want to be the next Mariah Carey." And ok, that's cool, what's sometimes forgotten is how long and hard the journey is to get that far, let's just settle for singing in tune first and go from there; if we still want it, we keep working at it step-by-step, often for a long time to really master it.

Memory is always rose-tinted

If you've ever done something silly like a marathon, or other suitably big challenge, you'll know what I'm talking about here. You finish the race and you say it, you always do...'never again', and you mean it. You feel terrible, exhausted, your whole body hurts and you can't stomach food or drink. But as the days pass these aches and pains become less and you start to think, 'maybe it wasn't that bad?' Within two weeks you're trawling websites looking for future marathons because you're sure you can go faster, and then boom, you've entered! 

The same happens here, we forget that we took on too much and it didn't work, or we push it to the back of our minds or assign the failure to maintain our change as down to chance or something beyond our control. It may well have been; what we often don't do though is to look at why it didn't go as planned. What have I really learned? What needs to be different this time for me to get there? These are deep and painful questions sometimes, and we don't like to recognise 'failures' on our own part, although it is helpful to do so and even to look at them not as failures, simply as learning. 

We prefer it to feeling 'negative'

Even if we've had a go at something and it hasn't worked out, it's better not to be down about it, right? If we start saying things like 'I can't do that' these days, it's easy to be labelled as a pessimist or just being negative. Society puts a lot of pressure on us to be cheerful and upbeat, when sometimes we don't want to be, and actually, it's not always helpful to be. As with most things, it's about striking the right balance, it's not about saying 'that's impossible' or "I can never achieve things', it's about saying 'what's realistic to do right now given what's going on in life/work/at home.' In the long run, this can help us more than blind faith and endless positivity.

Thinking positively is a start...but it's doing that actually makes things happen

One thing I've discovered over the years is that sometimes we just don't feel very positive. Some days I wake up and think 'I can't be arsed to train today' or 'that plan I have for the business is useless.' I've worked with many clients too who turn up for sessions feeling down or tired or lacking belief they can achieve their goals. We work on the mantra of 'let's just do it anyway.' So we do some exercise or we eat well even if we're not feeling it, and lo and behold, our mood improves and we start to feel a bit more positive about things.

If you struggle with positivity, taking the 'just do it anyway' approach might help. It's certainly better than thinking positively but not doing something about it, that's just praying for luck and whilst sometimes it can happen, what you want becomes much more likely with doing.

Optimism prevents us from examining potential problems,  barriers and drawbacks

Being positive and believing things will work out in the end can stop us from examining why we haven't got there already. A reality check allows us to look more deeply at why we've not achieved the goals we set, and most importantly, create an action plan for the future.

 

So we've established that for many of us, it's in our nature to be overly optimistic and set ourselves up not to achieve. In fact, did you know there are even different types of optimists! Check them out here to see which you are, then come back quickly so we can do something about helping you to achieve lifestyle changes, or whatever else it is you're after.

What can we do about all this?

Firstly, let's state that it really depends on whether you think it's a problem or not. Are you happy as you are and the change you want is just an added bonus, but not that important? Or does it really frustrate you that you can't get to where you want to be? In which case, you must understand the things that bring about change. Change comes when:

1) I am confident that I can do it.

This is our self-belief. If we have high self-belief, sometimes known as self-efficacy (confidence in our ability to do a certain thing) then the likelihood of success increases. As we've been talking about in this article, it's not just about this though. Some X-Factor contestants have very high self-belief, but they lack in the other areas below, namely point 4! 

2) There is a reason or reasons for me to do it.

Seeing the values change brings can help us to change. It may be that we'll gain something important from doing so; energy, health, self-esteem, or we lose something by doing it; embarrassment, anxieties, a feeling of worthlessness, a health issue. 

3) It is important for me to do it.

This is the motivation bit. Knowing that there are benefits is not enough though; many people know that quitting smoking is good for their health, but they still don't do it. That's often because the thing they get from smoking they value more than their health, or at least equally as much. The change you want to make has to fit in with your values as a person for it be important enough to make the effort to change, or you must at least see how it benefits the things you value in a roundabout way. For example, someone may not value their health, but they may highly value their family and feel it's important to spend quality time with them, so they're driven to change because they know their family are worried about them or they wish to be able to continue to provide for them.

4) I have the skills and resources to be able to do it.

The final piece in the jigsaw is about the things you can actually do, your skills. I can believe that I can win the X-Factor all I want, but if I can't sing there's a fair chance it ain't going to happen (I might still make the final 12 in some years though)! It may well be that I need to develop some skills, or at least consider which ones I'll need to use. I need to think about the resources I have to do the job; do I need time, money or support from someone else with the skills I lack?

 

Bearing all of this in mind, here's your 5 point change checklist. Try it for me now with a lifestyle goal you're looking to work on; grab a pen and paper and follow these steps:

  1. Pick a change (remember, less is more, get this one done first and then come back to do the others later)
  2. Ask yourself how confident you are that you can achieve it on a scale of 0-10. Write down why you chose this number and not a lower one?
  3. Write down all the good things you'll get from this change.
  4. Write down why you want to make the change now.
  5. List the skills and resources you need to make this change. If you don't have any on your list, write next to them how you can get them or who you'll need to help you, there's nothing wrong with asking for help.

A few other pointers for you too; look back at what's gone wrong in the past when you've tried to do this (or something similar if doing it for the first time). Be honest, or better still, ask someone you know to tell you why they think you didn't succeed. Then come up with some ideas for how you can get over this hurdle this time.

And if you're sat there feeling like you can't achieve your goal, you can always change it you know, or change the answers to any of the questions, or just crack on and do it anyway like we said before, as you get closer so will your belief rise.

I'd love to hear how you get on with your goals in the comments box below, or if you have any questions you'd like to ask.

Five ways to get a better night's sleep

Sleep does all sorts of wonderful things for your mind and body, yet according to the National Sleep Council, nearly half of the population get less than six hours sleep each night and four in five feel their sleep is disturbed, inadequate or extremely bad.

So here's five handy little tips to help you find better balance with your snoozing...

Sleep counting sheep shutterstock_110338271.jpg

1) Get into a rhythm. 

Setting a routine for your day with consistent wake-up and bed times helps to train your body and mind. All of us have an in-built body clock, known as our Circadian Rhythm, and by being consistent with when we do things, we help to set our system to naturally wake up and fall asleep when we want it to. It's essentially like writing code for a computer programme.

 

2) Go dark

Light is a stimulant to you body in much the same way that caffeine is. When your eyes and skin cells detect bright light, they think it must be coming from that giant ball in the sky and that it's time to get up and move around. That's because for the vast majority of time our species has spent on the planet, lightbulbs, computers, iPhones and Kindles didn't exist. The problem now is that these advances in technology are tricking your brain into believing it's time to switch on, when late in the evening the exact opposite is true. Here are a few ideas to help your body to know it's bedtime:

 
Sleep dark shutterstock_124822804.jpg
  • Set your electronic devices to dim in the evening. 
  • Better still, set yourself an electronic device curfew time of a couple of hours before bed
  • Get yourself a set of blackout blinds or curtains for your room
  • Dim the light switches later in the evening
  • Read a paperback occasionally instead of always using an e-reader (then recycle it of course)

 

3) Cut down on the stimulants later in the day

Your body actually starts to wind down for bed mid-late afternoon, so cutting out teas, coffees, energy drinks and high sugar foods after around 4pm can help you to prepare for a good night's kip.

 

4) Relax

Many of us find it hard to sleep as our brains are still whirring away with thoughts of the day; work deadlines, family pressures, money and everything else that makes life so busy. I know only too well that I can sit working late into the night and when I go to bed, my mind is still running through what I've been doing and what's next. Much like screen-time deadlines and closely linked, it's worth setting a curfew time for work. Choose an enjoyable task to do afterwards; read, listen to music, take a bath, enjoy a hobby, meditate, whatever it is that works for you.

Relax meditate shutterstock_154425812.jpg

5) Boost your melatonin

Your what? It's a hormone your body produces naturally that is strongly associated with sleep. As the day wears on, levels of a stress hormone named cortisol decrease, largely because the time when you are supposed to have gone and done all of your hard work has finished. As this happens, melatonin increases, helping to relax your body and begin the process of repair and recovery. It's a wonderful system when it works well, hormones acting in pairs to balance each other out nicely.

Darkness is known to boost melatonin levels, so following the tips in point 2 will help, but you might also get some benefits from nutrition too. Certain foods are high in a protein called Tryptophan and this is the thing your body uses to make melatonin. The research is still hit and miss, but the theory is that if you increase Tryptophan levels, you may just boost melatonin and therefore improve sleep. Try these as part of little evening snacks to see if they make any difference for you:

  • Milk
  • Turkey
  • Cheese
  • Lettuce
  • Wholemeal bread

 

Summary

Hopefully there are a few helpful tips there to help you find better balance. As always, we'd suggest choosing just one to try first so that you can successfully embed it into your daily routines. Any questions, feel free to post here or get in touch.

 

Sleep well,

 

Paul and the balance team :-) 

The Ten Steps to a Balanced Diet

Diet, healthy eating, nutrition, food and drink...call it what you will, it can seem very complicated. There are countless books on the subject, and the worst thing is that some say the complete opposite to others, they're literally chalk and cheese! Although you won't find any cheese in those lactose-free ones of course! 

What makes them all the more confusing of course is that there are lots of stories about how they worked miracles for people. Then there are lots of other stories about how they were terrible for others, and in some cases, dangerous to the extreme. I've spent years fielding questions from clients and PT's in training about whether this diet is any good or if this one is a load of rubbish. And in my world of Personal Training, there's often a blanket response of 'diets don't work' or 'they're a load of rubbish.' 

That's not strictly true though, most diets contain an element of fact or useful advice. Some may take it to the extreme, but the principle on which it is founded is has a grain of truth (unless of course it's wheat free, no grains in there)! OK I'll stop with the bad jokes now.

Balanced diet shutterstock_86102689.jpg

 

Years ago, I decided that if I was going to try to decode the fact from the fiction, there were two key things I needed to do:

1) Know the science - study the research, stay on top of the latest journal articles and news and come out armed with the best ideas at the time. It'll never be right or wrong as nutrition is so individual, and it'll change over time, but at least I'd know what the consensus thoughts were at any one moment in time.

2) Read all the diet books and information out there! Dr Atkins, Dukan, The Zone, Blood Type, Cambridge, Paleo, 5:2, Weight Watchers, Slimming World, Cabbage Soup, high fat, low-fat, no fat, high carb, no carb, GI, GL, high protein, calorie counting, counting your macros, liquid only, shake plans, you name it, I've read and researched it.

This has done two main things for me; firstly it's allowed me to compare the science to the diets. There's always crossover, something taken from a snippet of science and moulded into a formula for people to follow. `Secondly, it's allowed me to see the commonalities; what are the things that are generally accepted across the board? There's a reason they appear so many times; it's because they're the things that actually work.

Here's an example, albeit not from a diet. I once went into my gym for a workout and they'd installed this miracle device, a treadmill where your lower half is vacuum-packed into a special surround during your workout. Apparently it changed pressure constantly by pumping air in and out of the vacuum and this helped to decrease body fat...amazing! Upon looking at the information on the huge display surrounding the treadmill, it appeared that it was guaranteed to work for me if I paid to use it three times each week for 30-60 minutes (I could walk or run, my choice) and then also ate plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and drank 2 litres of water each day.  Now I am not a Professor of Science but something told me that the guaranteed results might have more to do with the consistency of exercise and the healthy dietary changes encouraged alongside it.

The same is true of diets, we just need to be able to cherry-pick the good bits. That's where the Ten Steps to a Balanced Diet were born. They're the things that science currently says there is good evidence for. 

So what are they?

Put simply, they can be divided into four sections; what, how much, why and when. 

The first steps are all about what you're actually eating, outlining the different types, the affects of these according to the research and which we should focus on or limit.

1) Carbohydrates

2) Fats

3) Proteins

4) Vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other healthy stuff

5) Water

What you'll discover is that, unlike many diets, we don't emphasise the importance of one nutrient over another; rather we focus on getting the right balance for you to meet your goals and needs and recognise that all of them have a vital role to play in a balanced diet that keeps you fit, healthy and happy. There's one other 'what' step in the process:

6) Quality control - here we look at all the things that you might like to limit or reduce in your diet. We don't say cut out because that's often an extreme choice and you must decide what's right for you.

Linking this together, we can then focus on how much you're having of these foods.

7) Quantity control - We look at ways to control portion size, working through a range of approaches to find out what suits you best - calorie-counting, weighing and measuring food or simpler tools for gauging how much you're consuming.

Calories shutterstock_304085609.jpg

The final three steps take different angles on why you eat the foods you do:

Shopping trolley shutterstock_188857853.jpg

8) Planning and preparation - this step focuses on shopping, ordering food, making lists, preparing food to take to work and making meals in healthier ways.

9) Food and mood - here we delve into the impact of psychology on food; just why do you eat certain things and what can you do to change this.

10) Meal timing - the science on this step is weaker than the others, but that's not to say it can't be helpful. Getting yourself into eating routines can be an effective tool to help you ensure you're eating the right things and in the correct amounts.

 

Meal timing shutterstock_249910762.jpg

The underpinning elements

Generally, I'll show a client the Ten Steps and then we'll work through them in one of two ways:

1) They'll have a clear idea of a step or steps they want and need to work on, so we'll start with just one of these, the one they deem most important.

2) If someone isn't sure, they can work through a short questionnaire for each step to help them determine where they think they want and need to focus. They simply then pick a step and we start from there.

We'll review progress regularly and then continue to work on that step, or move onto another if the time is right, all the time setting measurable targets to ensure they're on course.

Whatever changes we agree the client will make, there's always a checklist to go through before committing to it. These are essentially the foundations of the Ten Steps, the things that underpin them and allow the client to embed them into their lifestyle. You should always consider these things when making dietary alterations if you want to ensure they last. They are:

  • Cost - are the changes you're looking to make within the budget you wish?
  • Time - can you purchase, prepare and consume these foods within your current average day?
  • Taste - are you going to enjoy the foods and want to eat them for a sustained period of time?
  • Significant others - will the changes work taking into account the important people in your life?
  • Ease - can you source the ingredients you'er considering easily? Is it something that can be adapted when work gets busy or you have holidays?

 

I hope that just by reading through our Ten Steps to a Balanced Diet, it's helped you to think about where you are and the changes you might wish to make. If you're keen to experience the Ten Steps yourself, then here's some exciting news. Very soon you'll be able to sign up and work through them online, asking questions and getting help along the way to ensure you make progress towards your goals. If you can't wait til then, check out our page on the website about one-to-one coaching packages, and we'll help you find your balance.

 

Thanks,

 

Paul

Even though I know it's not good for me, why do I still do it? Exploring the mindset of giving things up

Everyone has been there in some way, shape or form. Some of us really want to give up smoking, but we just can't seem to resist when colleagues invite us outside for the mid-morning break. For others, we so desperately want to say no to the cake on offer but it's hard when it appears to be somebody's birthday, promotion or leaving do nearly every day, and even harder when our folks have bought it especially for our visit...it is our favourite after all. Others of us are determined to stick to a 'two drinks only' plan on Friday night, but somehow that turns into seven and we're not quite surehow.

 

The reality is that change is not black and white. It's often not as simple as saying "I really want this and therefore I'm going to completely give up that." We see benefits to making changes but we also see benefits to doing the things we currently do, or we wouldn't be doing them in the first place.

 

This concept is known as Ambivalence. It is, according to the dictionary, 'the state of having mixed feelings or contradictory ideas about something.' Here are some examples...

'I want to lose weight'...BUT...'I really like wine as it helps me to unwind after a stressful day.'

'I'm determined to give up cigarettes as I know they're bad for my health'...BUT...'As bad as they are for me, I know they're the one thing that helps me keep weight off.'

'I'm constantly getting ill and I'm sure it's because I eat too much sugar.'...BUT...'When I get tired in the afternoons I need something to perk me up quickly to make it to the end of the day.'

Balanced diet 2 shutterstock_171498590.jpg

We could go on with many more examples; my bet is you're sat there now thinking about your own. And there are a few things we should say about this thought process:

1) IT IS COMPLETELY NORMAL. No matter what the person you follow on Instagram says about #Gainz #AthleteLife #CleanEating #NoExcuses or any other 'motivational' saying, they often think about unhealthy things too, find it hard to resist them, often don't and feel really bad if they do.

2) It is useful. Ambivalence allows you to explore your choices, and make no mistake about it, change is absolutely a choice. You need to decide if there are more pros to changing than there are to staying the same, or if the drawbacks you currently experience are worth making the effort to change, even though you know it might be tough.

3. When you change, it can still be there. In fact, once you've decided to give something up, it's possible that your mindset starts to change to focus on all the things you miss about it. This is the tough time...sticking to what you've gone for or going back. If you do go back, you're not a failure, a loser or a lesser person, you just made a choice that now wasn't the right time for you to make that change, and that's ok.

 

So how do you start to work through ambivalence? Try this simple little too. It's known as a Decisional Balance Sheet. We like the name of course!! :-) 

Decisional Balance.png

As with the example above, divide a piece of paper into four even squares and label them something like 'Good things about changing', 'Bad things about changing', 'Good things about staying the same' and 'Bad things about staying the same.' Then for the change you're considering, put all the thoughts you have about it into the box that best corresponds.

How do you analyse the results?

You can just look at the volume of answers. If there are lots in the benefits of change and drawbacks of staying the same boxes, then you might well want to go for it. Sometimes though, it's more about quality than quantity, so it's worth going back through to look at which answers you feel are most important. You can do this by numbering them 1-however many, and it may help you decide what's right for you right now.

 

Needless to say, it'll be a balanced decision and right for you.

 

Next time...we'll look at how you can stick to the changes you decide to make.

 

 

 

 

 

To count calories or not? Here's a balanced view on the subject.

Before we start looking at the pros and cons of calorie counting, we should first take time to understand what a calorie is. It's not just something that makes a food tastier! 

It is in fact a measure of the energy (more specifically heat energy) available in any food, or in fact, anything that contains energy. Coal has an abundance of calories, but I wouldn't suggest using it to fuel your workout. These days we know roughly how many calories you need based on how active you are, your age, gender, bodily build and whether you want to maintain, lose or gain weight.

Technically, the calories we all know and (maybe count) are actually kilocalories. That is, they are the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of 1 kilogram of water by 1 degree Celsius. An actual calorie is the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 degree Celsius, 1,000 times smaller than a kilocalorie. 

So when you hear that you need 2,500 calories a day for example, it's actually 2,500 kilocalories, or 2,500,000 (2.5 million) calories daily. No that doesn't mean you're greedy! It's just that food manufacturers simplify to make numbers easier for us to understand, and probably because all those zeros wouldn't fit on the label.

Calories shutterstock_304085609.jpg

Now we know what they are, let's take a look at some of the pros and cons of counting them.

 

FOR

  • If you spend a little time on the mathematics of it, you can get a pretty good idea of how many calories you need consume each day to reach your goal, whether that's to lose, maintain or gain weight, or to improve exercise performance. Numbers don't fail either. If we use reasonably accurate formulas and can stick to what they say, then over time, the results we want will come.

 

  • It helps us to better control portion sizes. Counting, even for a short time can help us to get a handle on exactly how much we should eat to meet our needs. I know a few people who have incredible calorie knowledge and it helps them to weigh up (almost literally) the portion sizes they require so that they ensure they get what they need without going over the top.

 

  • It helps us make better choices about what to eat. I'll be honest, I've often had little idea of how many calories are in the foods I eat, but in recent times it's been good to become more aware. It's certainly stopped me having quite as many custard creams with my evening cup of decaf tea. Certain foods (often the less healthy choices) are more calorie dense, that is they contain lots of calories in a small amount of food. They're also often lower in fibre, meaning you need to eat more of them before you feel full. Put these together and it's easy to eat way over your calorie needs. Getting to know your numbers can help you to know when to stop.

AGAINST

  • It's hard work. It takes a lot of time and effort to remember to log everything and weigh and measure foods so that you're getting accurate readings. This can also be mentally challenging, making food seem less enjoyable and somewhat of a chore.
  • It comes with a degree of inaccuracy. Even the most detailed calculations available are based on estimates. The only ways to know exactly how many calories you need are complex and expensive. One is to be tested in a special room that examines the content of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the air as you go about your daily life. These rooms are generally only found in science labs and universities, so it's unlikely many of us will be able to have these tests. Another is to drink a specially altered (and very expensive) water that can be tracked as it passes through your body. Equally, it's almost impossible to assess exactly how many calories we eat on a daily basis - we're bound to forget things and can't weigh and measure all the foods we eat when we're out and about. 
  •  One of the strongest arguments against calorie counting must be that humankind has successfully managed its weight over millennia without food labels and MyFitnessPal to help. The question is of course, how have we done this? There are a few simple things we can focus on which can help us to maintain or lose weight...

1) Learn to listen to your body - the Jedi power of tuning in to what your body is telling you is accessible to all, but its one that appears to be getting forgotten. Spending some time assessing how you feel before you eat may make a bigger difference than you'd think - are you hungry, or are you thirsty, tired, stressed, angry, upset, happy or bored? All of these and more can lead to us reach for food when that's not actually what we need.

2) Make better choices - whilst it's not impossible, it's much harder to gain weight on a diet low in processed foods. Natural foods are higher in fibre and water and so fill us up more quickly.

3) Be active - moving on a daily basis through exercise but also just daily life activities like walking and housework all helps to use calories and balance the scales. You don't have to go back to washing clothes by hand in the local river and then running them through a mangle, but using stairs, making your work commute active, getting out on lunch breaks, making family time active and even standing instead of sitting will over time have a big impact.

 

SUMMARY

That's it for our balanced view on whether to count calories. The choice of course is, as always, yours to make and should be based on what works best for you.

Have a question? Want to know how to estimate your daily calorie needs or how to know how many calories you're burning? Post it on here and I'll be happy to help.

 

Stay balanced,

 

Paul

Water: the stuff of life

As it's the hottest week of the year so far, I thought it might be useful to give you some helpful hints and tips on water and staying hydrated. Hopefully something in here helps you to find your fluid balance.

How much fluid do you need?

Use this calculation to work out your base needs...

  • Age: up to 30 = 35-40ml of water per kg body weight (multiply your weight in kg by 0.035 or 0.04)
  • Age: 31-54 = 30-35ml of water per kg body weight (multiply your weight in kg by 0.03 or 0.035)
  • Age: 55-65 = 30ml of water per kg body weight (multiply your weight in kg by 0.03)
  • Age: 65+ = 25ml of water per kg body weight (multiply your weight in kg by 0.025)

 

So, for example, Bob is 56 years old and weighs 80kg, the calculation he needs to do is:

80kg x 0.03 = 2.4 litres per day

 

What about exercise?

The more exercise you do the more fluid you'll need. Hard exercise can increase your daily fluid needs by up to a litre for every hour done. Check out the tests later in this article to work out if you're getting the right amount for your needs.

 

What counts towards my fluid intake?

There's water in your food, so if you're eating a healthy, balanced diet, it's thought that around 20% of your basic water needs are met. So for our example above, Bob would be getting just under half a litre each day through food  and need to drink around 2 litres each day.

 

Drinks that count towards hydration include:

  • Water
  • Squash
  • Milk
  • Fruit juice (this will hydrate you but can be higher in calories so you may want to dilute it with water)
  • Fizzy drinks (yep even these hydrate you; again though they'll often be higher in calories so limit the amount you consume)
  • Tea and coffee (the vast majority of what's in your mug is water so it serves to hydrate you, outweighing the diuretic effects of the caffeine. If you're sensitive to caffeine you may want to limit the amount of coffee you drink to just a few each day)
  • Shandy (yep because there's very little alcohol in here, it can hydrate you. Too much booze though will dehydrate you, so either limit the amount or drink plenty of water at the same time)

 

How do I check that I'm getting the amount I need?

Every one of us needs a slightly different amount of fluid. Whilst the calculations above are helpful, you'll likely need to make tweaks to how much you drink based on:

  • Your genetics
  • Your training regime
  • Your diet
  • The weather
  • Illness
  • Age, gender, pregnancy, the number of diuretics like alcohol you've been cons,ing, sleep, stress and medication

Because of this, there are some great tests you can do to see if you're getting what you need:

 

1) How do you feel? Tiredness, dry mouth and skin, headaches, irritability, unusual hunger and aching muscles can all be signs that you're dehydrated. Listen to your body and if you think you're thirsty, drink fluids little and often to help rehydrate yourself.

 

2) The pee test. Urine should be light or straw-coloured. Darker urine or even only urinating a few times each day suggest you're dehydrated. The NHS suggests that going to the loo less than 3 or 4 times a day is a good sign.

 

3) For the exercisers out there, weighing yourself before and after training can be a great marker of hydration. Sadly if you've lost three pounds during your workout I'm sorry to say it won't all be fat! Much of it will be water and will mean you need to rehydrate. 

Even just a 1-2% decrease in weight after a workout will mean you are dehydrated and need to replenish your fluids. If not you may feel unwell, tired and your exercise and mental performance can decrease significantly.

Just as an example of how small a weight loss this can be, for me, weighing in at 70kg, even a loss of 0.5-1.5kg (1-3 lbs) after a session means I'm dehydrated. This would likely need me to drink somewhere between 0.5 and 1.5 litres of fluid to replace these losses.

 

Summary

Drink little and often across the day using any combination of the drinks outlined. Monitor your hydration levels through how you're feeling, your urine colour and your weight post-exercise.

Over time you'll learn the timings and amounts that work for you to maintain your fluid balance.

A balanced guide to snacking

A major cause of weight gain or the solution to creating and maintaining the lean physique and healthy body you desire?

This is a question I often get asked by my clients when I'm working with them to help shift some excess body fat and look a little more toned. Is snacking good for me? Or is the reason I'm gaining weight? Well the answer is, as many of those who've been on one of the course I've taught will tell you..........it depends.

It depends on a whole host of factors. What was it that you snacked on? How many snacks did you have? Were you eating because you were hungry? Or were you tired, angry, upset, bored or just doing it because it's part of a routine? How much did you eat across the rest of the day? How much exercise are you doing at the moment and how active are you in your everyday life?

This is why the science on the subject shows such varied results. Some studies suggest that snacking regularly helps people to lose weight. Other studies show that those who eat more often gain more weight. Some research has shown no difference between three square meals a day or grazing regularly on smaller meals, as long as the calorie intake is equal. Some studies suggest that eating small and often can have a beneficial effect on health measures like choleste4rol and blood sugar levels. But guess what? Others have not.

 

Finding your balance

 

When I work with my clients we look at three key areas:

1)    What are you eating? In the balance approach, there’s no such thing as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ foods, just better or worse ones depending on the personal, the situation and the goals. Ask yourself ‘is there something better I could choose most of the time that would help me achieve what I want?’ There often is.

2)    How much are you eating? Alongside food quality, we also consider food quantity. It may simply be that we don’t need that much energy given how active we are across the week. In which case we can look at lower calorie foods that are still filling (we’ll come to that later).

3)    Why are you eating? Was it because of hunger, is there an emotional trigger or is it a habit/routine that has been developed over time and is just ‘the way it is’ at the moment. This helps us to develop solutions; these may be other things that can be done to cope with emotions, changes to the daily routine, or better snack options to choose, so let’s have a look at that now.

Better balance

This next section is based on options that are often better for most people with goals of improving their weight, reducing their body fat and generally improving their physical and mental health. That doesn’t mean that they’re right for everyone. You may have an allergy, the food may not easily be accessible to you or you may simply not like it. That’s ok; the key thing is just to get you thinking ‘what could I change?’ If you’re stuck answering this question, get in touch and I’ll happily offer some support and advice.

 

Here’s some snack ideas my clients have found useful over the years:

·      Portion things out - let’s start realistically. If you are going to have some chocolate, crisps or cake, can you take the one portion you have and break it into smaller bits so that you have it over time rather than in one go? Tupperware can be a great solution to this, or feel free to share it with others, as less is in this case, less. If you can’t bear to give it away, go back to the portioning idea.

·      Fruit and vegetables – most of us need more and this is a great time to get them. They’re packed full of good stuff to keep us healthy but also have a high fibre and water content that can help increase feelings of fullness too.

·      Carrot or celery sticks and houmous - staying with the veg theme, why chop them into little sticks and dip them in some houmous. This adds some healthy fats and more importantly, some protein, which is known to keep hunger locked up for longer.

·      Natural yoghurt – less calories than the flavoured sugary counterparts, a good source of calcium and vitamin D and some research to show it may help aid effective fat burning. Yoghurt is again a decent source of protein and you can keep it varied by adding different things to it; nuts and seeds, dried or fresh fruit, a little honey, grated dark chocolate or oats.

·      Boiled eggs – easy to prepare to take with you, boil them up the night before and then pop them in some Tupperware. They’re a complete protein, which means they contain all the amino acids your body needs and again they’re great at keeping hunger controlled for longer.

·      Dark chocolate (70% +) - Still high in calories so don’t go mad here, although you’ll find it hard to eat too much as it’s quite rich. This is a good choice for those who have a sweet tooth as it can curb the craving and it’s pretty rich in antioxidants that act to keep you healthy.

·      Unprocessed nuts or seeds – often avoided because of their high fat content, these should form part of a truly balanced diet. The fats are the healthier type and there’s protein too, as well as numerous vitamins and minerals. Portion control is important again though, as too many calories are too many calories. Portion big bags out into small Tupperware containers for each day.

·      Oatcakes, rye crackers or rice cakes – there’s a few reasons why these are helpful additions to your day. They’re fairly low calorie compared to less healthy choices and they’re a good source of fibre, strongly linked to increased feelings of fullness. Of course adding toppings is fine like oatcakes with a little peanut butter on top, but find a balance that works for you. If you’re not losing body fat and you know it’s definitely not because you’re under-eating, where can you make small and gradual reductions to your food intake?

·      Unprocessed meats – another food source rich in protein to help leave you feeling full and less likely to reach for the biscuit barrel. Only small quantities of meats are needed as they’re often high in fat and calories too and it’s easy to over-consume protein.

·      Protein shakes – whilst many don’t need to turn to supplements, for some life is busy and using a protein shake mixed with water or milk is an easier solution than preparing other foods. If it’s used instead of a Chunky KitKat there’s no arguing that it’s a better choice and those of you who exercise regularly may find it a great snack choice post-training to help your recovery in a quick, simple, easily digested way. You can of course, get a good quantity of protein from just drinking milk; so if sports shakes aren’t your thing and you’re not lactose intolerant, give it a try.

  

A bite-size summary

I hope you’ve found this little blog useful and if nothing else, it’s given you some ideas. I’ve been regularly snacking for years on some of the above foods and I find it works for me because I lead an active lifestyle and I know that if I let myself get hungry, that’s when I reach for worse choices. If you know this is the same for you or you’re just stuck in a rut of unhealthy snacks, try making one or two simple changes to help you find your way to balance.

 

 

Alison's journey to balance

When I created balance it was because I wanted to build a business that helped people, one that had strong values at it's core and did some good. My work has led to me meeting others who share this passion for helping people. One such lady I met recently, Alison. She runs a photography business with a real difference, it's purpose to help ladies with low self-esteem, whatever the reason and use photography as a tool to help them see the best of themselves, boost their confidence and make them a bit happier. I have to say I think it's an awesome idea and shares so much in common with what I do with clients through balance. Here's Alison's story.

I would never in a million years have believed how much my life has turned around in just over a year! 

I am a serial dieter who is ‘celebrating’ forty years of yoyo dieting this year and something I’m not remotely proud of. I consider myself to be an intelligent, well-educated woman so why do I not have the self-control to maintain a healthy weight for a relative shorty – 5’ 3”.  My excuses are legendary… I’m too tired to think about what to eat, can’t be bothered, it’s not fair that other people seem to eat what they like but not put weight on and so it goes on.

I’m an expert on every diet in the known universe, actually pretty knowledgeable about good nutrition and I’ve successfully lost weight so many times that I’ve lost count. I feel much better when I’m ‘trim’, it’s a huge confidence boost and I feel so much happier about myself which lulls me in to a false sense of security and gradually all the weight creeps back on. So I bury my head in the sand and try to ignore the ever tighter clothes, cranky joints and general dissatisfaction with everything until something flips the switch in my head and yet again I get to grips with my unhealthy eating and off we go on the roughly four to five year cycle.

What I also have to admit is that I don’t like exercise! That said, I’m not a total couch potato because we have always had Labradors, lots of them, and I’ve walked miles and miles over the years but obviously not enough to keep my weight under control and maintain a balance between eating and exercise!

So what’s happened in the last year? Well in January 2014 I offered to keep a friend company on a Breast Cancer Care Pink Ribbon Walk at Blenheim Palace. Plenty of time to get myself together as it wasn’t until May – or so I thought. At the beginning of April I panicked…the realisation that 20-miles wasn’t going to be quite as easy as I thought, despite the fact that I thought of myself as a ‘walker’. And I was probably the heaviest I had been for years.  So the humiliation of letting my friend down was worse than the humiliation of appearing at the local gym in the biggest T-shirt and jogging bottoms I could find and saying ‘I have a 20 mile charity walk to complete in six weeks time. I hate exercise…HELP!’

Thankfully, the gym owner took this as a personal challenge and worked with me over the following weeks to get me prepared! One of the first things he told me was ‘forget fat, think fit, don’t weigh yourself, and just eat well but sensibly’. So for the first time in my life I didn’t get on the scales at every opportunity and tried to stop focusing on food. Regular sessions, three to four times a week, of about 40-45 minutes under the beady eye of my gym guru did the trick and I actually did the walk and survived it remarkably well!

So I continued with my gym sessions and to my surprise I realised that my body shape was changing and I felt pretty good. By Christmas I knew I had lost a lot of weight, and felt much healthier for it, but I still couldn’t see the change when I looked in mirror. 

Over the Christmas holidays my photographer husband persuaded me to model for him so he could test some new lighting equipment. Like most women I hate having my photograph taken, so I wasn’t very gracious with my agreement. Curiosity got the better of me a couple of days after the shoot, and I took a look at the results. ‘They’re OK’ was my initial reaction, but I took another look the following day…and another, until it finally dawned on me that I actually quite liked what I was seeing. He had made me look pretty good!  Well actually getting fit and as a result becoming much trimmer was the first thing that made me look and feel better about myself. I realised that my self-esteem had been at rock bottom for years and suddenly I was feeling like a new woman. 

It occurred to me that if a few photos could work wonders for me, then why couldn’t they do the same for other women. So at 59 years old, after lots of planning and discussions with other women, we launched Esteem Visions, a new genre of portrait photography for women with self-esteem, confidence and body image issues.

As a result of my new venture I met Paul from Balance Weight Loss. If only he had been available to me years ago, it could have saved me so much angst and set me on the right track for life. Moderation has become my mantra, which in itself brings about the balance between being healthy, fit, a sensible weight and happy. I’m no stick insect, never will be, and have always felt that I was ‘built for comfort, not for speed!’ 

Paul’s guidance and motivation along with the visual images we create at Esteem Visions are powerful tools for creating a happy and balanced future and it’s now my mission to help other women feel as great as I do! I have every intention of growing old ‘very disgracefully’!

 

If you want to know more about Esteem Visions and speak to Alison, check out her website here:

http://www.esteemvisions.com 





The world is your playground - making outdoor exercise fun

If you’re a little bored with your current gym routine, summer is a great time of year to mix things up a little by getting outdoors. The world is a great gym and even better, membership is free. Try this little routine and get yourself a shot of vitamin D in the process:

 

Lamppost shuttles

Choose a fairly flat path or piece of road with no crossings that has lampposts equally spaced along it. After warming up thoroughly try the following:

·      Sprint to the first lamppost, walk back to the start

·      Sprint to the second lamppost, walk back just one

·      Sprint three lampposts, walk back

·      Rest for 30 seconds and repeat 2-6 times depending on how you feel

 

Park bench circuits

You can work every muscle just with a local park bench and a resistance band. Try this great little circuit for 30-60 seconds on each exercise depending on how fit you’re feeling:

·      Squats (bum to bench)

·      Press-ups (off the back is easier, off the bench is harder, feet on the bench is super-hard)

·      Step-ups (alternate legs to make it easier, do all on one leg then swap to make it harder)

·      Dynaband rows (close to your body)

·      Triceps dips (legs bent to make it easier, straight to make it tougher)

·      Dynaband rows (elbows out wide)

 

Hanging around

Children’s play area make for great training kit. Just be sure to let the kids use it first of course! If it’s free then try these challenging exercises:

·      Hangs – if pull-ups is too tough, just try holding the rail and hanging in mid-air. Work up until you can do 20-30 seconds.

·      Knee raises – once you’ve mastered the hang, holding your body as still as possible, draw one leg at a time up towards your chest doing 8-12 each side. You can progress by performing with both legs at the same time.

·      Swings – if you like monkeying around this is a great exercise for you. Swing from one bar to the next without letting your feet touch the floor if you can.

·      Pull-ups – there are so many variations here, close grip, wide grip, holds at the top, shifting your bodyweight left and right and many more. Aim to do 4-10 repetitions.

Here's me messing about with a few different pull-up variations;

Assisted with a band if you find pull-ups tough but want to be able to do them: http://youtu.be/mRV-vX3rh3c  

Pull-ups with a pull to one side to add some variety and work the core and upper body harder: http://youtu.be/DvUxsEvEzIk

 A more advanced version pulling to both sides in one rep: http://youtu.be/RszZO2Lj7yY

Step-climbing

Climbing stairs is a phenomenal way of keeping fit and burning calories. It’s great for toning your thighs, backside and core and keeping your heart in good shape. Try one of these options to suit you:

·      Walking up stairs – find a flight of steps with at least 20 steps. Aim to spend 5-10 minutes walking up and down with as little rest as you can.

·      Stair running – you can place both feet on each step to develop fast feet or take steps one or two at a time to develop leg power.

·      Step jumps – stand at the bottom of the steps and jump onto the first step then step back down. If you’re feeling confident you can try the second or third step.

If you'd like a simple exercise routine to tone your body, you can download my guide 'A Week in Balance'. As well as healthy recipes, you'll find a range of bodyweight exercises to tone all areas. Even better, there are three difficulty levels for each exercise so you can pick the one that feels right for you. Get your copy here for just £2, half of which goes to the Genetic Alliance UK charity. 

 

Bring me sunshine - how the yellow ball in the sky impacts your health

We all enjoy it when we wake up, peek through the curtains and discover that the sun is shining. Just what is it that makes catching a few rays so good for us? Here are seven great reasons:

1)   Sunlight boosts your stores of vitamin D, which works with calcium to give you healthy teeth and bones. What you may not know is that it also plays a role in keeping your eyes healthy and may help protect against heart disease, cancers, diabetes, arthritis and MS.

2)   Exposure to sun and heat improves your body’s ability to sweat efficiently, enabling you to stay cooler better. Effectively it helps you develop a better air conditioning system.

3)   Sunlight has also been shown to boost testosterone levels in men, which may help to improve muscle growth and increase your sex drive.

4)   It boosts your body’s natural defence mechanism; your immune system by improving the function of special cells whose job it is to protect your from illness.

5)   Sunshine increases levels of a substance known as Nitric Oxide within your body. This causes your blood vessels to widen and can lower blood pressure as a result.

6)   Ever wondered why you feel so happy and relaxed on sunny days? Well, one reason may be that it boosts levels of serotonin, a chemical in your brain known to elevate your mood and regulate your appetite. This may also be why we find it easier to eat lighter meals in the summer.

7)   It’ll help you remember everything you’ve just read! Exposure to sunlight has been shown to improve memory and help you get better sleep. Getting more of the latter also improves memory.

GEDC0048.JPG

The clear message – be sure to get some sunshine as often as you can. Be sensible though; too much in one go on very hot days can lead to sunburn and may increase skin cancer risk in the long-term; as with all things it always comes back to balance. 

 

Balanced BBQ recipes for summer

Summer is still very much here and you might want to make the most of it with a barbecue for family and friends. Everybody loves cooking outdoors so I thought I’d put together some simple, healthy, quick, tasty recipes for barbecues and eating outdoors. All you need do is choose your favourite, invite a few friends over, get the food and drinks in and light the coals.

 

There’s something quite magical about cooking over a real fire, as if somehow you’re transported back in time thousands of years to an era when you hunted, scavenged and prepared your food on a daily basis. I don’t suggest you go that far these days and I certainly wouldn’t recommend barbecues on a regular basis as the process of cooking over a flame can increase cancer-causing substances in the foods. I’d also recommend using good quality meat for your outdoor meals, as there’s plenty of evidence that the cheap stuff increases health risks in the long term too. If you buy good stuff and treat yourself occasionally (which is probably all you can do given the not so great British weather), a barbecue can be a really tasty treat. Be sure to cook your meats thoroughly to manage the risks of food poisoning.

Here are three recipes you can use to make your next barbecue a balanced one:

 

Balance Kebabs

When imagining a kebab, most people picture some almost unidentifiable meat purchased at 3am after a night out. In truth though they can be an incredibly healthy addition to your diet. The word kebab simply means food cooked on a skewer.

Vegetarian option – load up a skewer with chunks of halloumi, red onion, courgette, cherry tomatoes and mixed peppers.

For the carnivores – either replace the halloumi or simply add cuts of lamb or beefsteak.

 

Balance mushroom burgers

Cook two large flat mushrooms with their stems removed (Portobello work well) and a burger of your choice. I opt for venison but you can be traditional and use beef or go vege with a bean burger. Once cooked, place the burger between the two mushrooms and add iceberg lettuce, a slice of beef tomato, smoked cheese and a little brown sauce.

 

Super sides

Not everything you have at a barbecue needs to be cooked on the grill. Here are two healthy sides you can use to add flavour and variety to your gathering.

 

Falafel and couscous tabouleh

Add a little Mediterranean feel to your occasion with this Lebanese classic. These days you can easily buy falafel and houmous in lots of places so there’s no need to make your own. Simply follow this recipe and it’ll be ready in no time.

·      25g couscous per person

·      1 tablespoon of olive oil

·      1 lemon juiced

·      A few bunches of parsley and coriander

·      1 or 2 spring onions

·      2 beetroot

·      2 beef tomatoes

·      Half a cucumber

·      Black pepper

·      1-2 packets of falafel

·      Houmous (you can buy different flavours to give your guests a bit of variety)

Cook the couscous as per the packet instructions; normally it takes just a few minutes. Chop the onions, beetroot, tomatoes, cucumber and herbs and mix the couscous in once cooked. In a different bowl mix the lemon juice with a little black pepper and olive oil and then add the couscous mix. Cut the falafel into smaller pieces and mix in. Serve in a bowl and place the houmous separately in a small dish.

 

Sweet potato wedges

 I use this easy-to-prepare potato wedges recipe all of the time. They taste great served hot or cold, with a little slat and pepper or with a tzatziki dip.

Take one medium-sized sweet potato (white potatoes are in fact just as healthy so you can switch if you’d like). Cut it into wedges leaving the skin on, put in a pan and cover with water then bring to the boil.

Drain the potatoes and place back in the pan to season with sea salt, black pepper and 1 clove of grated garlic. Mix gently then, using an oil bottle with a spray nozzle, squirt a couple of sprays of oil onto a baking sheet. Place the wedges on the sheet; spray the top of them with a little more oil then pop in a hot oven and cook till brown. Mine usually take around 20 minutes in a fan-assisted oven at 180 degrees Celsius. 

 

If you liked these recipes you may enjoy A Week in Balance, my seven-day recipe plan for every meal of the day and snack ideas too. For just £2 you can get your copy here. Half of all proceeds goes to help Genetic Alliance UK in their work supporting people with rare conditions. 

 

 

Full of beans or running on empty?

 

It’s an often talked about topic in health and fitness. Many of us say ‘I’d like to have more energy’ or 'I want to feel less tired’. What actually is it that we’re asking for? How do I get more of it? Is it a real 'thing’ or some mystical force like the powers superheroes possess in the movies?

As with most things health and fitness, the answer is far from black and white. There are numerous reasons why you may feel more or less energetic. Let’s have a look at what they are.

Food energy

Your body needs calories from carbohydrates, fat and protein to live. You get these from food and drink which in turn get this energy from the sun. If you eat plants they absorb the energy directly and if you eat animal produce they’ve absorbed energy from sunlight and from the plants they’ve eaten. These foods are converted inside you to something known as ATP. This is the energy currency of your body and it’s the only one it accepts.

It’s easy then. If I just eat more I’ll have more energy! Well yes to a certain extent, if you don’t eat enough your energy levels will be lower, much like if you don’t fill your car with petrol it can’t run. However, it’s not simply about quantity but also quality. For your body to convert the food into usable energy, it needs vitamins and minerals. This means you need foods that provide these in order to best access the energy, one of the reasons why getting your five-a-day is so important.

The quality of the food also has an impact on what your body does with it. High sugar, refined foods cause your blood sugar levels to rise rapidly. Your body panics as too much sugar in your blood is harmful and so it rapidly releases a hormone known as insulin. Its job is to store away this energy to bring blood sugars back to normal and make you safe. This increases the likelihood of your body storing this food as fat, especially when your energy stores for your muscles and organs are already topped up because you haven’t done much exercise (we’ll look at that in a bit).

Because your body panics when it senses rapid rises in blood sugars, it releases lots of insulin. This often means that too much sugar is removed from your blood and you feel really weak and tired. You know that feeling mid-afternoon after a big lunch or shortly after you’ve indulged in a sizeable treat? So rather than these energy rich foods giving you more energy, they actually make you feel more tired.

Key messages for food energy:

1) Are you eating enough? Your body needs enough food to make enough energy.

2) Are you eating the right nutrients i.e. a mixture of healthy carbohydrate, fat, protein, vitamins and minerals?

3) Are you eating too many refined, processed foods? Even though they’re full of energy, they’ll leave you feeling exactly the opposite.

 

Fluid energy

 

Water plays a key role in keeping you energised too. That’s because your blood is mostly made of the stuff and it’s your blood that carries the nutrients we’ve already talked about around your body.

So how much should you drink? Multiply your weight in kilograms by the figures below to help you work it out:

Age (years)

Multiply your weight in kg by  this figure

16-30

0.035-0.04 (dependent on the  individual)

31-54

0.03-0.035 (dependent on the  individual)

55-65

0.03

65+

0.025

There are other things to consider too:

   How much exercise do you do? If you train regularly, use this guide created by the American College of Sports Medicine to work out how much extra fluid you need: https://www.acsm.org/docs/brochures/selecting-and-effectively-using-hydration-for-fitness.pdf

   Warmer climates will mean you need to drink more than normal, as will illness.

   There is water in food too. If you’re eating your five-a-day and a normal diet you’ll get around 20% of your daily fluid needs.

   Caffeinated drinks probably won’t dehydrate you like you may think. Most of what is in a cup of coffee is water so this will actually offset the dehydrating effects of caffeine.

   Alcohol on the other hand will definitely dehydrate you.

   How do you feel? If you’re dehydrated you need to drink more. You can also use urine colour as an indicator; it should be light or straw coloured.

Key messages for fluid energy:

1)   Are you drinking enough water for your needs?

2)   Are you dehydrated? Use how you feel and urine colour as an indicator.

3)   Are you getting fluids from healthy foods like fruit and vegetables?

 

Hormonal energy

Your body has a range of glands that produce special messengers called hormones. These perform a vast range of roles in your body, from making you feel good to ensuring your metabolism works properly. Some of the key hormones are:

   Insulin and glucagon

   Thyroxine

   Serotonin

   Adrenaline and cortisol

Between them they can play a huge part in how energetic you feel. Let’s have a little look at why.

Insulin and glucagon – this pair of hormones work together to control your blood glucose levels. This is important, as your brain needs a steady supply of glucose to enable it to function. You know that confused, weak, irritated or dizzy feeling you can get when you haven’t eaten for hours? If your blood glucose drops too low, glucagon leaps into action telling your body to release some it has stored away for emergencies like this. That’s why sometimes you can be hungry, not eat and your hunger goes away. You only have a limited supply though, so it’s important to top up with quality carbohydrate.

Insulin on the other hand goes to work when your blood glucose is too high, like after a big meal or that half packet of biscuits. When you overindulge your body can overreact, releasing too much insulin and sending blood glucose levels lower than normal. This makes you feel lethargic and sleepy, like after that big Sunday roast. So you see, get the balance of these hormones wrong and you’ll feel much less energetic. Do it too often with overeating or unhealthy foods and you can develop diabetes. This is when your body becomes resistant to the insulin it produces and will have an even more dramatic impact on energy levels.

Thyroxine – this is one of the hormones made by your thyroid gland that has a big impact on your metabolism. People with underactive thyroid will find they feel tired and can gain weight easily, whilst those with an overactive thyroid may be unusually energetic, have a racing heart, high temperature and sweating. Both obviously cause unusual fluctuations in your energy levels. If you recognise any of these symptoms and they are unusual, you should definitely visit a GP to discuss it.

Serotonin – along with other substances, this has a big role to play in your mood. Technically it’s not a hormone, it’s a neurotransmitter, meaning it creates connections in your brain but let’s not split hairs. Research is fairly clear here; low serotonin is linked to higher rates of depression with mood increasing as levels increase. Depression is often linked to a feeling of lethargy and low energy so again we have another possible explanation for how energetic we may feel.

There are some lifestyle changes we can make to boost our levels of serotonin, namely:

   Get outside – sunshine plays a big part in our levels.

   Exercise – movement also increase serotonin. And what’s better, if you link to the first point you can get a double whammy. This is one theory for why exercise makes us feeling good, often more energetic after than we were when we started which if energy were just calories would be completely illogical.

   Nutrition – your body makes serotonin from a substance called tryptophan and you can find this in certain foods. Eating them regularly may boost levels although this certainly isn’t proven yet. The foods contain plenty of other nutrients so they won’t do any harm though. Good sources include turkey, chicken, eggs, milk, bananas, corn, nuts and seeds, beans and lentils.

Adrenaline and cortisol – these are your ‘fight or flight’ hormones. They kick in when your body is faced with a stress, be it a physical or mental one and cause a chain reaction of events that supply your muscles and brain with more energy. Too little and you’ll feel lethargic, almost like having your foot constantly on the break in the car. Too much and you can burn yourself out. Imagine driving with your foot flat on the accelerator constantly. Get the balance right and your energy levels will rise. So how can you do this?

   Get the balance of exercise and rest. Don’t train hard or long every single day. Your body gets fitter whilst it recovers, not when it’s actually exercising. If you don’t give it time to recover, well it won’t recover and you’ll be left feeling more tired and less fit than before. Some think that overdoing exercise (or work) can cause your adrenal glands to struggle to produce as much as you require. This is referred to as ‘burnout’ and leaves you feeling constantly exhausted and able only to perform short, low intensity exercise before getting tired.

   Sleep – moderate exercise has been shown to improve sleep. There are lots of other things you can do to and I’ll be telling you more about these in my new ‘Balance Guide to Better Sleep’ coming soon.

   Mix light with dark – cortisol is triggered by light so if you spend too long indoors you’ll get less and may feel less energetic. Leave the lights on or expose yourself to TV’s, computer screens and even standby lights late at night and you can elevate levels when you’re trying to nod off. It all comes back to getting that balance just right.

Key messages for hormonal energy:

1)   Control both portion size and food quality to ensure balance of your insulin levels and help maintain a steadier supply of energy to your brain and organs.

2)   Boost levels of serotonin and other happy hormones by getting some sunshine, exercising and eating healthily.

3)   Moderate exercise with enough time for rest and recovery will also help keep your adrenaline and cortisol levels in balance.

 

Positive mental energy

Call it what you like depending on your view of the world…happiness, emotional energy, positive mental attitude, spiritual energy, chi; your mind plays a huge part in how energetic you feel.

Ever noticed how certain sportspeople seem to be injured more when they’re losing? And how five minutes later when they’re winning again they seem to be able to jump higher, run further and faster.

Maybe then there are things we can do to create this mindset for more energy. I’m not saying I know all of the answers here, but in my experience the following seems to help:

   Do what you love. Having a job or a hobby that you’re passionate about increases your energy for it.

   Surround yourself with positivity. Being in an environment full of energetic people tends to lift us up with them.

   Focus on the positives. Set goals about thinks we want rather than things we don’t. See the learning to be gained in things that haven’t gone quite to plan. Be optimistic. As Monty Python once sang…’always look on the bright side of life.’

On the flip side there are things that can sap us of energy. These include pain, negative emotions, arguments, physical and mental illness. Seeking help from medical practitioners for physical ailments or counselors for psychological ones may be a great way to help manage or overcome some of these instances and move us back to a feeling of greater energy.

Key messages for positive mental energy:

1)   Control both portion size and food quality to ensure balance of your insulin levels and help maintain a steadier supply of energy to your brain and organs.

2)   Boost levels of serotonin and other happy hormones by getting some sunshine, exercising and eating healthily.

 

Physical energy

As mentioned earlier, logically exercise will leave you feeling more tired than when you started. If you do a very long or very hard exercise session then it certainly will, but moderate exercise seems to leave you feeling more alert, awake and energetic than before you started. Why is that?

   Chemicals – as you’ve already seen, exercise changes levels of a wide range of hormones and neurotransmitters including adrenaline, serotonin and dopamine.

   Fresh air – light and nature have both been shown to boost mood and energy, particularly green spaces and water.

   Movement – being seated causes joints and muscles to tighten, leading to aches and pains and less energy as a result. Standing or moving around can help to wake up your body leaving it moving more freely and increasing your energy levels.

   Socialising – often we exercise with others and human interaction is essential to happiness. Happiness is a big part of energy and so the two go hand in hand.

   Distraction – exercise can take our mind off of our daily stresses and as they ebb away we feel our energy levels start to rise.

Key messages for positive mental energy:

1)   Moderate exercise can leave us feeling more energetic than before we began for a wide range of reasons. Just 30 minutes a day getting a little breathless will make a difference.

2)   Hard exercise can work too but we’ve got to be careful to get the balance right or we’ll end up feeling more tired. Imagine it like your bank account, too many withdrawals and not enough deposits and you’ll put yourself in the red.

 

Summary

Why we feel more or less energetic is not as simple as we might at first think. It is a complex mix of our nutrition and fluid intake, physical and mental wellbeing and the changes these bring about to the numerous chemicals and systems in our body.

If you’ve been feeling sluggish or low on energy, have a think about what we’ve just covered and maybe choose just one thing to change to see if it makes a difference. If it does, you may have found your answer, if not simply try changing another. Change too much at once and it can be quite stressful, making you feel even less energetic! You also won’t be able to work out which of the things was the route cause of your low energy levels.

I hope you’ve found this useful. Remember you can get in touch at any time if you’d like more help.

Stay balanced,

Paul

0775 200 1203

info@balanceweightloss.co.uk

A taste of summer

Glastonbury, Wimbledon, long evenings sat in the garden, all of these can only mean one thing, it’s mid-summer. To celebrate this here’s two simple, healthy, tasty, balanced desserts you can serve for the family or after a barbecue using the most quintessentially English fruit, the strawberry.

Strawberries are a great addition to a balanced diet because:

   They’re rich in vitamin C, with one cup providing your entire daily requirements

   They’re low Glycaemic Index and have been linked to better blood sugar regulation

   They contain a good source of dietary fibre

   Also found inside are numerous antioxidants, vitamin K, manganese, magnesium, iodine, folate, potassium, phosphorous and copper

   The richness of antioxidants means this little berry has been strongly linked to the prevention of both heart disease and a range of cancers

   They may even help to slow down the effects of ageing!

Natural Strawberry Yoghurt

Strawberries

Pumpkin or sunflower seeds

Halved walnuts

Honey

Plain natural yoghurt

1 square of dark chocolate

Slice as many strawberries as you desire (4-7 per person depending on size is normally enough) and mix in to the yoghurt with the walnuts and pumpkin seeds. Grate the dark chocolate on top and add a small spoon of honey.

The 60-Second Mini-Strawberry Cheesecake

Plain digestive biscuits

Chopped strawberries

Cream cheese or mascarpone

Natural yoghurt

Sliced almonds and mixed seeds

Honey (optional)

Roll or whack the digestive biscuit into small crumbs (you choose which but the latter is a fantastic choice for stress relief) and place into the bottom of a bowl or champagne flute. It tastes the same but the glass gives it a more arty appearance! J

Mix the cream cheese or mascarpone with a few spoons of yoghurt and if desired mix a little honey in for extra sweetness. Pour this mix on top of the biscuit base. Add the chopped strawberries, sliced almonds and mixed seeds to suit.

Fancy more recipes like this? Then download my new guide ‘A Week in Balance’, with seven days’ of breakfasts, snacks, lunches and dinners plus a home exercise routine to keep you fit, healthy and balanced. It’s only £2 with half going to charity, get your copy here: http://bit.ly/1GQEhRO

The great outdoors

With summer finally here for most of us, it’s time to take exercise outside. There’s a whole host of reasons why getting outdoors is good for you:

Sunlight – natural light increases your vitamin D levels and boosts your mood by raising levels of important hormones.

Nature – believe it or not some research has shown that being active in picturesque settings improves mood whereas the same activity in unpleasant surroundings can actually make it worse. You’ll know this feeling, there’s something about the greens of the grass and trees and (hopefully) the blue of the sky, the blaze of colours in autumn or at sunset.

Immune strength – being stuck in an air-conditioned office with fellow workers can increase the likelihood of picking up coughs and colds. As exercise boosts the immune system, a little walk outside may help strengthen your defences.

Smells good – the fragrances of nature, like fresh slowers, cut grass or the smell of rain leave us feeling relaxed and happier.

Feel energised – research has suggested that in as many as 90% of people, being in fresh air surrounded by nature increases how energetic we feel, and it’s cheaper than coffee!

Here are four exercises you can do to ensure your abs look in tiptop shape for a spot of sunbathing!

The front squat – squats actually activate your stomach muscles far more than sit-ups and adding a little weight to hold increases the challenge further.

Press-ups – another great exercise for the deep muscles of your core, as well as your chest, arms and shoulders too.

Side Plank – firm up those love handles with this simple exercise.

Back extensions – to ensure your entire middle is strong and toned and you look after your back, add this great exercise in to your workout.

Fancy exercising outdoors? Why not join our weekly balance boot camps.

Wenesday’s, 6-7pm, up on Clifton Downs (at the corner of Ivywell Road where it meets the Downs). If maps isn’t your thing, it’s about 250 yards up from where the ice cream van is always sat at the lookout point! :-) 

Want to know more? Get in touch.

Her are a few snaps from some of my own recent outdoor workouts!

What is it that makes achieving goals possible?

Last week I returned from the last of the three big fitness challenges I set myself this year. In April I ran the Rotterdam Marathon and was happy to get my PB of 3:14, still room for improvement but good progress. A month later my close friends Simon and Tom and I cycled form London to Brussels via Amsterdam, 330 miles in four days. We rode well together and felt strong at the end. That bode well for the big one, four days doing the Three Peaks of Snowdon, Scafell and Ben Nevis and cycling the 440 miles in between them. Whilst it was definitely one of the toughest things I’ve done, we did it!

Through experiences like these and working with so many people to help them achieve their goals, here are the key things that I believe make the difference:

The vision – whilst these things appeared daunting, I never waivered in my belief that I could do them. I drew on previous experiences of similar events and knew I had the fitness and determination to get through them.

The drive – motivation is key. This event meant a lot to me, Tom and Simon. We were raising money for Genetic Alliance, a charity supporting those with rare genetic conditions. Tom’s young son Dexter has one such condition and the sense of purpose meant we were never going to let tiredness or pain get the better of us. Personally it was something I’d had in my head to do for a long time and I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it.

The support – having the guys alongside me, and Vicky doing an amazing job driving the camper van made such a difference. Sharing experiences and having help when needed is essential for getting where you want to go.

The preparation – whilst we certainly made mistakes, we were well organised for the event with the right tools and gear. We’d planned our route and whilst at times we adapted it we always knew where we were.

The challenge – goals need to be tough enough to motivate you but not so tough that they seem unreachable. We certainly had to work to for it (10 hours of exercise a day) but we knew if we worked hard we’d get there.

 Compare your own goals against these and see where you might need to make changes. If you need any help, feel free to get in touch.

Surprisingly 'super' foods

These days the term ‘super-food’ is pretty common. You’ll hear it in relation to a berry only found growing high in the Himalayas, a bean that South American tribes have been cooking with for centuries, tribes where the average life expectancy is reported to be about 150, or a fruit that is reported to contain more Omega 3 than a school of mackerel and looks like it comes from outer space.

There’s likely nothing wrong with these foods of course, they’re fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds after all, but you’ll likely pay a fair price for them to be transported from the far reaches of the planet and packaged in recycled brown paper with pictures of snow-covered mountains and beautiful sunsets.

If you want some super foods, it is possible to look a little closer to home. There’s a range of fruit and vegetables cultivated in Britain and Europe that could easily be considered super, they just haven’t got the right agent! With a little marketing support they could easily be found in those articles in glossy magazines telling you the secret foods that Jennifer Aniston eats to stay looking so young and thin.

Here’s just a few of the foods that I’d promote from their standard 'non-league’ persona at present to stars of the 'Garden Premier League’.

1) Peas

With 40% of your daily vitamin K, a third of your manganese needs and 30% of your vitamin B requirements in just one cup of peas, I think super is a fair description. Add to this the discovery that coumestrol, a nutrient found in peas may protect against cancers and that saponins, antioxidants present in these delicious green pods could play a role in preventing and managing type 2 diabetes. Peas frozen straight from picking are easy to store, unbelievably simple to cook and they go with almost any evening meal.

2) Apples

An apple a day may actually help to keep the doctor away, or to quote the original 150-year old version of this rhyme:  

“Eat an apple on going to bed, and you’ll keep the doctor from earning his bread." 

Apples contain vitamins A, C and E and the nutrients quercetin and pectin. The former has been linked with everything from decreased risk of cancer to heart disease and Alzheimer’s, while the latter is a soluble fibre shown to lower blood pressure and blood sugar levels.

3) Potatoes

Those of you who have read my post sin recent times will know I’m a proud supporter of the humble spud. In many comparisons it beats its celebrity cosine the sweet potato and it’s so versatile, tasty and cheap that you’ll often find it in my trolley. Spuds have probably had bad press because they often get a makeover that results in them being transformed into a chip or a packet of crisps, but baked, boiled or mashed they’re a great addition to many classic meals and a good source of nutrition too.

4) Blackberries

The thing I really love about blackberries, apart from their nutritional content and their great taste, is that for a month every year you can pick enough of them to freeze and eat the whole year round. I’ve done this previously and it saves a couple of quid each week on my shopping. At this time of year you’ll need to buy them, but they’re worth it. The rich blue colour means you’ll find plenty of antioxidants inside with plenty of vitamins C and K to keep, amongst other things your immune system strong and blood working as it should.

5) Onions

Onions are rich in nutrients known as flavonoids, in fact pound for pound they contain more of these wonderful little things than most. They’re also high in sulphur which is essential for keeping bones, connective tissues and muscles healthy. They’re sooooo cheap and can be added to salads, stews, stir-frys and just about anything you can think of, with Michael Ruhiman describing them in his book 'The Elements of Cooking’ as 'perhaps even the most important ingredient.’ For use in stock, to add flavour, as a paste, or just to eat in their own right, add a few to your trolley and plates each week.

6) Oranges

Not that long ago, oranges, like bananas, were one of those foods considered a delicacy as they were shipped in from abroad. Getting one in your Christmas stocking was a real treat but nowadays they’ve lost out in their popularity stakes to foods equally rich in vitamin C but a little more exotic like kiwi. 

As well as vitamin C there’s a host of B-vitamins, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, selenium, copper, choline, zeaxanthin, and of course carotenoids or vitamin A that are found in red, orange and yellow foods. This wondrous combination of nutrients has been linked to better sleep, decreased risk of cancer, stroke, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and healthier skin. Not bad eh? Super some might say.

7) Rocket

This peppery little salad leaf has been shown to have medicinal properties in the treatment of stomach ulcers. These days it’s just considered a cheap addition to a side-salad, but it’s flavour and nutrient-rich content means it should get a bigger billing. Maybe if it used one of it’s alternative names like arugula or rucola it’d get better press? Like Prince or good old Reg Dwight, aka Elton John, a name change can make such a difference.

8) Carrots

A recent Dutch study suggested that orange-coloured fruit and vegetables appear to have the strongest protective effect against heart disease. Just one portion of carrots has your body’s daily recommendation for vitamin A sorted so maybe that’s one of the reasons. Try them steamed to keep in as many of the nutrients as possible and maintain their fresh taste at the same time.

9) Mint

From experience I can say that mint is without doubt the easiest herb to grow. In fact it’s the hardest one to stop growing! Keep it in pots so that your garden doesn’t suffer from a remake of that famous B-movie 'Attack of the Mentha’ (that’s its posh Latin gardening name). Used in everything from teas to gum, soups to toothpastes, it is a great addition to peas (see number 1) or as a herb to flavour meats like lamb. Through history it has been used to soothe the stomach, to freshen breath and as an anti-bacterial agent.

10) Strawberries

OK so you may class strawberries as belonging to the 'super foods’ generation but as they’re grown in the UK and are easy to get hold of, I’ve popped them in my list too. Rich in vitamin C they have a protective effect on the immune system and have been linked with protection against cancer, eye health, lowering cholesterol, weight management due to their fibre content and even preventing wrinkles! 

How much is all this going to set you back? Well, I’ve popped onto Tesco online and priced up these 10 items compared to 10 traditional super-foods. Here are the results:

Peas £0.98 for 1kg frozen vs Mangetout £1.40 for 215g

Apples £0.79 for 5 Braeburn vs Avocados £1.75 4-pack ripen at home

Potatoes £1.75 for 2.5kg of white potatoes vs Sweet potatoes £3.00 for 2.5kg 

Blackberries £2.00 for 150g vs Blueberries £2.00 for 150g

Onions £0.16 each vs Leeks £0.44 each

Oranges £0.30 each vs Pineapple £1.50 for a large size

Rocket £1.00 for 1 bag vs Asparagus £1.65 for a bunch

Carrots £0.60 for 1kg vs Beetroot £1.00 for 300g cooked

Mint £0.70 for 30g vs £0.70 for 2 lime grass stems 

Strawberries £2.00 for 400g vs Goji berries £3.20 for 200g

With a mocked up shopping list and a quick bit of maths I reckon I could easily save about £11 every shop by choosing the everyday foods over the more exotic 'super-foods’. As I said previously the more expensive foods are good for us too, we just don’t have to spend a fortune to get a whole host of nutrients and keep us healthy. 

Maybe a nice balance of both is a good idea?

Stay healthy,

Paul

Why should your diet be like a Christmas candle?

It seems an odd combination doesn’t it; what could a candle and eating to lose weight possibly have in common. Well the answer is that to work effectively they both need the same three things.

For a candle to burn it needs:

1) Wax

2) A wick

3) A flame

The wax is the source of energy for the candle. It is the wax that when heated up begins to melt, but it can’t work on its own. The wick is essential too; as the wax of the candle melts, the liquid wax is drawn up the wick. As it does so it becomes increasingly hotter until it turns into a gas. It is this gas that is ignited by the flame and keeps it burning brightly, in turn generating more heat and melting more wax from the candle beneath.

The wick plays a vital role in keeping the melted wax in the flame long enough to turn into a gas and allow it to burn. Without the wick, heated wax would simply melt but no flame would be created and as such the wax would not vaporise (become gas). As such at the end you’d juts be left with the same amount of wax but it wouldn’t look as pretty any more.

The final piece of the jigsaw of course was the initial spark, the flame that set the wick alight and began the process. Without this the candle obviously can’t burn.

All well and good you say, but what’s this got to do with my diet? Well, in recent years there’s been a trend towards low carbohydrate diets. Why is this? Well, according to some, carbs cause diabetes, they make you fat and you don’t need them to burn fat.

However, if you take the analogy of our little Christmas Candle, you’ll see that this isn’t right at all. To burn body fat you need three things:

1) Some body fat to burn (the wax)

2) Some carbohydrates (the wick)

3) Movement (the flame)

Much like the candle, your body’s biggest energy source is its fat. In fact, even the leanest individuals store plenty of energy as fat. If we take an average, fairly ‘elfy’ individual as an example:

Buddy weighs 80 kilo’s and his body fat percentage is 20 per cent. This means that 16 kilo’s of buddy are fat, or 35 pounds. 

Knowing that a pound of fat is equivalent to around 3,500 calories, that means Buddy has around 123,200 calories of energy to draw on when needed from fat. That’s enough in theory to run around 50 marathons!

So we’ve established that we’ve got energy to burn. Now let’s see how carbohydrate is involved, time for a little trip to the chemistry lab.

When glucose is broken down, a substance known as pyruvate is produced. This in turn creates  oxaloacetate, which is a vital substance in the process of fat breakdown. If carbohydrate levels are low, less pyruvate is produced, so less oxaloacetate is produced, and therefore less fat is broken down, or rather fat is broken down inefficiently. In simple terms, remove the carbohydrates and you remove the wick that allows the fat to burn.

Finally of course, you need a spark to create the flame, ignite the wick and begin the process. This is exercise or movement. The more you move the higher your metabolism, meaning your flame burns brighter. 

So if you want to burn your wax, sorry body fat, effectively, be sure to keep some healthy carbohydrates in your diet. Examples might be whole grain rice, pasta or bread, quinoa, couscous, bulgar wheat and fruit and vegetables. And of course remember to move, aim for 30 minutes exercise every day and your flame will burn brightly.

Merry Christmas everyone,

Paul

From white stuff to right stuff: Five alternatives to sugar

Weaved throughout many of the ‘Ten Steps to a Balanced Diet’ is the importance of decreasing sugar intake. Sugar is a highly refined substance and as you already know, foods high in sugar will contain a lot of calories and soon leave us feeling hungry again and ready for more. 

In its highly processed state it offers few if any health benefits, and over time excess sugar intake can lead to weight gain, diabetes and tooth decay so we’re all told we should reduce how much we consume. Trouble is, that’s not always as easy as it sounds. Here I honestly review a few sugar alternatives that you could consider using to wean yourself off the white stuff, looking at the benefits and drawbacks of each.

Honey

Made by bees using nectar from flowers, honey has been used by various empires through the ages, including the Greeks and Romans. 

The good: Rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, there’s certainly more goodness in honey than in refined sugar. It’s been shown to contain iron, calcium, sodium, potassium and magnesium which all keep your body functioning optimally. 

Over the years it’s been proposed that it might treat wounds and infections, control allergies and manage gastrointestinal problems, although these claims need a lot more research to prove one way or the other. It has been shown in one study to ease night-time coughing in those with colds.

Drawbacks: Manuka honey is often purchased by people in an attempt to alleviate their latest bout of cold/flu. Whilst it may work as an antibacterial treatment for wounds, it’s cold-fighting properties are not yet proven, nor are the other claims made about it lowering cholesterol, treating diabetes and even cancer.

In fact, honey is around 80% sugar, half of it fructose, meaning whilst it’s probably slightly better than sugar, go easy on how much you use or you’ll be adding calories and increasing your insulin levels just as you would with refined sugar.

Panela

Pa what I hear you say? Panela….what’s that? Well it’s unrefined cane sugar, or certainly less refined than sugar. When sugarcane is cut down, it is boiled and the sap oozes out. This sap is then further refined to produce sugar, but Panela is just hardened blocks of this sap.

The good: As it is produced from the juice of the cane plant, it’s been shown to contain all of the vitamins and minerals found in the plant; everything form vitamin A to zinc, with plenty in between including calcium, copper, vitamins C and D, iron, potassium and polyphenols. It scores very highly on its levels of antioxidants too.

I use it myself, grating it into porridge to add some sweetness. It tastes good and a block lasts me a long time.

Drawbacks: It’s still over 70% sucrose, so the usual advice to consume it in moderation applies.

Carob

Carob is produced form the pods of the carob tree, found in the Middle East. They are ground and roasted to produce a chocolate-like substance.

The good: It is lower fat than cocoa powder, half as much in fact. It is also caffeine free, in fact it has no stimulants at all yet it still tastes like chocolate.

You can find it in 9bars or use it to make these very tasty cookies suitable for vegans.

Drawbacks: Yep, you guessed it. It’s still high in sugars and therefore calories too.

Maple syrup

A completely natural substance made from the sap of that maple tree, synonymous with Canada of course where the majority is produced.

The good: Another rich source of nutrients - magnesium, zinc, manganese and zinc to name a few. It’s also rich in phenols, powerful antioxidants more usually associated with grapes and berries, and wine by those who need to justify their slightly elevated intake! :-)

Drawbacks: Groundhog Day!! High in sugar and calories, say no more.

Dried fruit

Ok so you know what this is. There are lots of different types of course; apricots, figs, dates, prunes, raisins and sultanas, pineapple and many more.

The good: Dried fruits are actually higher in fibre than fresh alternatives and fibre is essential in the diet to keep your digestive system healthy, fill you up and keep cholesterol levels low. Some dried fruits seem to be higher in nutrients than their freshly picked counterparts too, check out this interesting article on the Livestrong website to find out more.

The drawbacks: Dried fruit has lost all of its water and so may have a higher sugar content and higher glycaemic index. They’ve also been shown to have a laxative effect in some people so eating them before a run is not advised!

In summary, all of these may offer a little more nutritional benefit than plain old refined sugar, but as the first and arguably most important step of the balance 'ten steps to a healthy diet’ says, go easy on the quantity. As the old saying goes:

                           'Everything in moderation’

Or to put it another way, you need to find your balance. :-)

How to have yourself a balanced little Christmas: five festive coping strategies

It’s that time of year again. Parties, work nights out, seeing friends, three course meals, mince pies, wine, mulled wine, hot wine, more wine, beer, cheese, hot dogs at the German market, Christmas cake, biscuits, chocolate, oh and maybe a bit more wine!

How do you, and more to the point your scales, survive all of this? To help you through the festive minefield I’ve included below five ways to fight the festive flab.

1) Don’t!

I bet that surprised you!? The key question you need to ask yourself is do you want to be conscious of your eating, drinking and exercise for the next few weeks? If the answer is yes, read on for the next tips. If it’s no, then why beat yourself up about it or go through the pretense of saying “oh I won’t eat this” or “I’ll just go and have one or two drinks”?

If you’re well balanced for 11 months of the year, and you want to lose balance just for one, then so be it, accept it and get planning to get back on it in January. Alternatively, ask yourself, is it really worth potentially giving up all of those valuable improvements you’ve made this year for the sake of a few weeks?

2) Use a buddy

Friends, work colleagues and partners can be extremely valuable. In fact, everybody can benefit from having a “Santa’s Little Helper”. Get them to remind you of your goals at the office Christmas party, plan your meals with you or help in any way that you agree with them.

3) Get an advent calendar

No not the chocolate type, but use a proper calendar to plan your Christmas schedule. Plan in your Christmas parties, evenings with friends, shopping expeditions etc and then make sure you plan in some exercise sessions around it. If it’s in the calendar it’s far more likely to get done.

4) Choose your own presents

Not the ones from Santa obviously, they’re made by the Elves at the North Pole so you can’t change what you get, that depends on whether you’ve been naughty or nice this year of course.

You can choose which of the festive treats you will indulge in though and which you will say no to. Select a couple of your absolute favourites and plan to have these as your treats. I’ll be choosing mince pies with Baileys clotted cream and Lindt chocolates. I’ll be saying no to Christmas Pud and Christmas Cake as I don’t really like either that much.

5) Write to Santa

Instead of writing your present wish list, instead write out your goals for the holiday period. It might be to maintain weight, exercise a certain number of times, consume 5 portions of fruit and vegetables each day to balance off the festive goodies, or even to set a realistic goal for weight gain, whatever works for you.

However you choose to do it, may your days be merry and bright….and balanced of course.

Paul

Detox.......debunked

I’ve been asked to put this blog piece together by a good friend of mine Emma. She’s a very good runner who works in an office and regularly sees colleagues go on juice detox diets, losing a substantial amount of weight in a short space of time, only to put it all back on again and more in the following weeks.

She’s not alone in being frustrated by the ‘detox’ industry. There are numerous detox diets out there that claim to guarantee weight loss, rid your body of harmful toxins, revitalise you and improve your health. They vary in their structure but generally advocate the complete removal of unhealthy foods from the diet alongside a large increase in water, fruit and vegetables whilst at the same time cutting calories quite dramatically. So what is the truth behind all of this?

The evidence 

Well, in reality, there’s a very limited amount of data on the benefits of a detox diet. Searching through the journals I came across one study from 2012 that asked 31 volunteers to go on a 4-week detox plan. At the end of the period the participants had lost an average of 9 pounds each, which in fairness is not far above the recommended guidelines of 2 pounds per week.

So what’s the issue here you might ask? It works doesn’t it? Well yes, but it most likely worked because participants consumed between 850 and 1000 calories per day. There was likely no miracle detoxification process going on inside the body; it was simply a reduction in calories. And as you’ll know if you’ve read my previous pieces, decreasing calories below what your body needs to function normally will:

1) Lead to rapid decreases in weight loss as your energy stores and the water that binds to them are used up.

2) Leave your body with too little energy for what it needs, forcing it to go into a kind of 'starvation mode’.

3) Make you very hungry and likely to crave foods in the long term that are less healthy and will lead to weight gain above the point where you started.

4) Possibly cause your body to turn to itself to provide energy. This can lead to a decrease in muscle mass, lowering your overall metabolic rate and making it even harder to lose weight and keep it off in future.

Let’s take a balanced look at detox diets in general then and see what we can learn and use from them.

What’s good and bad about detox?

1) It encourages an increase in water intake. This is not a bad thing for most of us. Water is essential to make our bodies work properly and many don’t get enough. It’s all about balance though; too much water can also be harmful so stick to the sensible guidelines of 1.5-2 litres per day alongside a healthy diet, increasing of course if you exercise a lot or live in a warm environment (not the UK)!

2) It emphasises the need for fruit and vegetables. We all know they’re packed full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants so getting our 5-a-day or possibly even slightly more is going to help keep us healthy. Again though, too much can be a bad thing; raw food diets and too much sugar from large amounts of fruit can cause health problems. Emphasise vegetables over fruit and be sensible on the quantities.

3) It helps us to minimise processed foods. Of course, detox diets will demonise things that come in packages, telling you they’re the reason the world is in the state it’s in. They’ll also tell you that we are all allergic to these foods, but whilst some can be, this 'fact’ is certainly yet to be ascertained by science. So whilst there’s some truth to this, there’s room for a more balanced approach. If cutting processed foods completely is what you feel you need to do to lose weight and get healthy, then there is nothing wrong with that. As long as you get enough calories and of course can sustain your new eating routine in the long run, go for it. For many though this is seen as too extreme, and so after a short spell avoiding certain aisles in the supermarket and hiding behind a pillow when that chocolate advert comes on, they give in to temptation and binge, hiding the evidence by putting the wrappers in next door’s wheelie bin. If this is you, then find a middle ground, choosing the more processed foods as occasional treats to be enjoyed instead of making yourself feel like you’ve committed some sort of crime just by peeling open the packaging.

4) It prays on our weaknesses. Yes it took us five years to gain that weight steadily, but we can get rid of it all in just four weeks, can’t we? Well, sadly no we can’t. The old saying 'slow and steady wins the race’ applies to weight loss more than almost anything else. To avoid impacting the functioning of your body, you need to fuel it right. Over time it can then start to bring itself back into balance, decreasing weight and improving health. I’ve borrowed a few quotes here from a very good article I found online by Kathleen Zelman, director of nutrition for WebMD. She spoke to some nutrition experts and here’s what Connie Diekman, a registered dietician said.

Detox diets prey on the vulnerability of dieters with fear tactics while gaining financially by selling products that are not necessary and potentially dangerous.”

5) There’s an over-reliance on juicing. If using lots of fruits, the sugar content here can actually be very high. Recent studies have suggested that consuming too much fruit juice regularly may be as harmful as using fizzy drinks. Some do emphasise vegetables instead which do have a lower sugar content.

6) It implies that we need to drastically change the way we eat and drink regularly to 'detoxify’ our systems. This is a myth. Our bodies are designed to detoxify themselves on a daily basis, as Frank Sacks from Harvard Medical School points out.

Your body is designed to remove toxins efficiently, with organs such as the kidneys, liver and colon. You don’t need detox diets, pills, or potions to help your body do its job.”

What are the alternatives?

You can take some of the principles of the detox diets and apply them to a more balanced approach. In fact, you’ll find them all in the balance weight loss 'ten steps to a balanced diet’.

1) Drink plenty of fluids; water, milk, a little diluted fruit juice and even sensible amounts of tea and coffee (the caffeine content in a few cups will not kill you, in fact there’s quite a few antioxidants in there).

2) Get your 5-a-day, 7 if you can. Emphasise vegetables and berries with some other fruits, making sure to vary them regularly and get a wide range of colours.

3) Use whole grains; apart from the small amount of people who are truly wheat allergic, using whole grains alongside fruit and vegetables will give you adequate fibre to help you remove waste products (your body detoxing itself again). Vary the grains used to get the most nutrients; wild rice, spelt, rye, oats, barley, couscous and quinoa can all add taste to your diet as well as giving you the energy you need to function.

4) Limit processed foods, fizzy drinks and alcohol. We all know it; we know what’s really healthy and what we shouldn’t eat as much. All you need to do is work out how; it might mean choosing certain days for treats, limiting the number per week, not putting them in your shopping basket, avoiding times and places where you consume them, coming up with alternative foods and drinks to eat instead. It doesn’t matter what you do as long as it’s sustainable and it works for you.

There’s one other advantage to all of this of course; your blender should last longer! ;-)

Start finding your balance today.

Paul :-)