29 April 2008

I Can't Stop Craving Food!

Have you ever had the overwhelming desire to reach for your favourite meals, snacks or drinks. Have you ever felt that you’d kill for a coffee or knock old ladies out of the way to get to your favourite fast food?

Many of the people I know believe their cravings are signs that their body is crying out for some missing vitamins or nutrients contained in whatever it is that they suddenly feel they can’t live without. Safe in this knowledge they can feel less guilty about giving in to the cravings.

Sadly for many of us, scientists have yet to find any evidence that this theory holds up.

So if cravings are indeed more to do with our mental attitude than biological needs, how do we handle them?

1. Distract yourself. Whenever you feel a craving coming on, get up and do something, preferably something that immediately removes you from the part of the office where the donuts are. If you are at your desk, get up and visit the water cooler. If you’re at home, step away from the cookie jar! In both cases, when you return your craving will have passed.

2. Keep substitutes handy. If you know what you regularly crave, keep a healthier option close to hand and reach for this when the cravings begin. If cravings are due to your brain seeking pleasure, you need to train your mind to find pleasure from different sources. Try swapping chocolates for grapes & nuts.

3. Everything in moderation. No food is totally bad, most problems associated with diet these days are caused by quantity more than quality so decide in advance how much you should really have and stick to that. 2 cookies and not 6. And then allow yourself this quantity, and only this quantity, when the cravings strike.

4. Retrain your brain. Most people are on the lookout for instant pleasure and gratification. Satisfying your cravings provides this but is then often followed by guilt. If you can, train your brain to focus on the pleasure and (smug) gratification you’ll experience by being strong and resisting. You’ll be unbearable to be around but think of the good you've done!

Photograph by lamusa (Flickr)

5 Quick Health & Fitness Links

Teenagers Only Gyms - OMG whatever next

I've said it once, I'll say it again, Skipping Breakfast Can Make You Fat. Go on, grab some granola!

Lose Weight Without Cutting Back on Food...according to scientists.

The 20 Saltiest Foods in America - includes the Saltiest Dessert which is a scone with the same sodium load as seven servings of bacon! Yum!

5 year old who weighs 6 stone - Too Fat To Toddle

25 April 2008

Treadmill Terror

Don't try this at home....obviously.

But it is quite funny in a painful sort of way....

Watch here.


24 April 2008

5 Things You Should Always Do in the Gym

Here are some great fitness tips for you to try today...

1. Warm up properly. The quality and effectiveness of your workout will be noticeably improved if your muscles are thoroughly warmed up. Spend 5-8 minutes at the beginning of your workout gradually increasing the intensity of your walking, running, cycling, rowing or cross training until you feel warm and are breathing heavily. The difference this makes cannot be stressed enough.

2. Stay hydrated. Even mild dehydration can lead to a reduction in your performance and your results. Drink a glass of water in advance of your workout. Sip water throughout your exercise routine and then have another glass when you’ve finished.

3. Breathe. Use your lung capacity to the fullest extent. The more oxygen you get to the working muscles, the harder you can exercise and the better your results will be. Be especially watchful when working on your abs - many people hold their breath - breathe.

4. Stay focused. If you’re distracted while you work out, you could be compromising your results. Keep focused on your exercise, the intensity of your workout, how you feel, what areas are working hardest and whether or not you could be pushing harder. Be honest - couldn't you run for another 5 mins? Monitor your performance constantly, challenge yourself with the level of intensity of your exercise and you’ll get the best possible results. Don't ever be the guy/girl who walks on the treadmill chatting on the cell phone.

5. Stretch. Exercise isn’t just about working hard it’s also important to balance your workout with some stretching to correct the imbalances that arise from modern living and to keep yourself injury free. Every workout should include a stretch to open up the chest and shoulders and one to loosen up the hamstrings. These are the areas that get tightest and that cause the most common injuries such as neck and back pain. Here's a great chest stretch to try in the gym next time.

Photograph by targophoto.com (Flickr)

21 April 2008

Eating Your Way To A Great Night’s Sleep – Part 2

Following on from Part 1 of Eating Your Way To A Great Nights Sleep, I hope you've had a chance to try out some of the tips for breakfast, snacks and lunch. Today we’re going to look at how to handle the second half of your day. Even if you just try a couple of the tips, I'm sure you'll start feeling the benefits of improved sleep very soon.

Peckish at 4pm?
Your afternoon snack should be fruit that’s high in vitamin C as this helps to reduce stress. Choose your snack carefully as not all fruits are created equally – this chart will help you size up your options.
Fruit Tip - Eating a couple of oat cakes at the same time will slow the release of the fruit sugars into your system.

Choose an evening meal that contains a small amount of brown rice which is a good source of B-Vitamins to keep your system running calmly and smoothly. Combine this with grilled salmon or tuna steak and some green vegetables. Oily fish will give you another burst of tryptophan and the green vegetables contain magnesium to help calm you through the evening. A lack of magnesium can leave you feeling jumpy so top-up on your greens.

A Glass of Wine with Dinner?
If you like to have an alcoholic drink in the evening, have it with your meal as this will limit any drastic impact on your blood sugar levels that could cause disrupted sleep later on. And stick to one or two drinks maximum. The same rule applies here as with the caffeinated drinks earlier in the day – enjoy the first and then ask yourself do you really want any more or would you rather have a good night’s sleep? Ideally, avoid caffeine after midday and allow your body to rid its effects from your body in time for bed.

A little treat
If you’ve got a sweet tooth and like chocolate then the end of the day is the best time to indulge yourself. Choose a couple of squares of dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa solids for a burst of feel-good chemicals followed a slight drop in blood sugar to ease you off to sleep. Stop after a couple of squares though and don't feel obliged to finish it all in one go!

A good quality hot chocolate is even better as the calcium in the milk helps to calm your mind while the drink will cause your body temperature to be raised slightly and then it will cool. This temperature cooling simulates what happens when you sleep and can help you to drop off more quickly.

Sweet Dreams!

Coming Soon: The Best Exercises For Great Sleep

Photograph by Anushruti R (Flickr)

17 April 2008

Are you wasting 51% of your day?

Interesting to see a news article this morning about how
'more than half (51%) of office time is said to be spent dealing with unwanted emails and telephone calls, with 44% of bosses saying their most productive working happens on the journey to and from work'

This is what I was posting about earlier in the week about Stealing Back Your Free Time . The news piece goes on to say

'The average senior manager only manages to complete 3 hours 50 minutes of constructive work each day'

How depressing is that? It makes you think that if 5 hours are wasted everyday with emails to people usually less than 100 yards away from you*, how much more productive your day could be with some self-imposed rules. Suddenly my habit of checking my emails twice a day seems like the most sensible thing I could be doing. I hate few things more than wasting my day. Don't you?

*39% of all office emails travel less than 100 metres from sender to recipient.

Photograph by SiSter PhotograPher (Flickr)

16 April 2008

Do This Now - Instant Relief From Neck Ache

Been sitting at your desk for a while? Feeling the tension creep in between your shoulder blades and up to your neck. Well, let's sort it out right now and give you some relief.
No need to even move from your desk - here are 4 quick tips I wrote for a magazine article that will ease your aching neck and shoulders. Enjoy.

Photograph by Martin Kingsley (Flickr)

15 April 2008

How to Steal Back Your Free Time

Do you ever think you have so much to do that you need more hours in the day? You're not alone. According to a recent study, a vast number of people are using modern technology and multi-tasking to cram 31 hours of activity into 24 hours.

Doesn't sound wise does it? All these gadgets and labour saving devices that were designed to save us time and enrich our lives have actually created a personal disaster area for many people as they've become so wrapped up in checking emails, calling friends and family, updating social networking sites and checking in with work on their 'Crackberry' at the weekends. Is this you?

I'm all for progress but not when it's not managed properly and ultimately it's our responsibility to be vigilant with how we let technology rule our lives. Especially when the biggest excuse for not staying fit, eating well and taking good care of ourselves is lack of time. Do we really not have time or are we allowing all these other distractions to hijack the valuable time we do have?

A few months ago I read The 4-hour Work Week by Tim Ferris which is a pretty compelling book (although unethhical in parts) that advises taking a different approach. Rather than seeing how much you can pack into each 24-hour period, think about how efficiently you can get things done. Ask yourself, do you need your email switched on all the time, pinging away with new messages distracting you from whatever task you're trying to complete? Do you need to check your phone every 5-minutes to see if you've missed a call or SMS? Do you need to be involved in every work meeting going or social event - online or offline - that's taking place?

Technology is brilliant for managing your schedule but if we're not careful it can eat time. This is usually time that we would have spent being active or taking exercise, planning, shopping and preparing great meals, taking some time to relax and unwind or to spend quality time with the people close to us. And as the article says, multitasking and continually trying to pack more in can actually be counter productive as the quality of what we're doing suffers. Constantly multitasking can also lead to burnout either mentally or physically.

So here are some tips on how to show your technology who's boss. By following these rules, you'll be able to achieve what you need to AS WELL as have time for the richer things in life like looking after yourself.

Check your email twice each day. Once in the morning and once in the afternoon. Set aside a chunk of time to deal with the messages and then turn it off again. I find that dealing with emails at 9.30-10.15am and 4.00-4.45pm works well.

Manage your phone time by using your voicemail. It's amazing how many people call others when they're a bit bored or have some time to kill but not much to say. If you answer all of these calls you could lose hours in a day. Let some of these calls go to voicemail and 9 times out of 10 the caller won't even leave a message but will leave you alone and call someone else to kill time instead. If something is urgent they'll leave a message and you can get back to them right away.

Decide in advance how long tasks will take and allocate them only this time. If you approach a job with the attitude that it'll take as long as it takes, you could be there for hours and you'll get easily distracted along the way. If you decide in advance how long something will take then you'll complete it quickly and efficiently, often well within the time limit and you can move on to the next thing on your list.

Try it, you might just get a bit of your life back.

Photograph by niallkennedy (Flickr)

12 April 2008

Weekend is here - Wiggle those Hips

If you've been sitting at a desk all week, here's 4 quick and easy exercises to do to loosen you up and get you ready for the weekend. Well....

What are you waiting for - Wiggle Those Hips!

Photograph by acaben (Flickr)

11 April 2008

Think You Think Too Much?

Recently I’ve been re-reading The Magic of Thinking Big by David J. Schwartz

I regularly return to this book and find it always gives me a good kick to make sure I don’t put any limits on the goals that I set for myself or for people that I work with.

This time, one section struck a new chord. Early in the book the author talks about how people limit their potential by falling into the trap of making excuses as to why they can’t achieve great things.
He refers to this as ‘the failure disease’. One of the common excuses people make is their health. ‘If only my health were better, then I’d really be able to succeed with everything…’

Schwartz counters this by making a simple point. There is something physically wrong with almost everyone. The perfect specimen of human life just doesn’t exist. He goes on to argue that the way to overcome health as an excuse is simply to refuse to talk about it. The logic being that if everyone sat around bemoaning their illnesses, no-one would ever get anything done. And on the other side of things, just look at those who are most successful in life – they speed on regardless of any injuries or ailments and they simply don’t let physical limitations register, never mind hold them back.

Most people these days, spend a lot of time thinking about how they feel, what mood they are in and how this affects what they're supposed to be doing at the time. A side effect of Oprah! I would encourage this – it’s my philosophy to keep an eye on your performance at all times and if it’s not as good as it could be, have a strategy handy to fix it immediately.

But David Schwartz’s advice in this section of his book made me think about challenging this occasionally. How about, for one day only we all refuse to think or talk about how we’re feeling? We don’t weigh up the pros and cons of what mood all our tasks will put us in, we just get on and do them. No more, ‘I don’t have the energy for gym tonight' or ‘I just can't be bothered to do that.’ No questions, no procrastination, no umming and ahhhing - just instant action. I wonder if we’d be more productive or less..?

Sorry Oprah.

Photograph by Christian et Cie (Flickr)

10 April 2008

Eating Your Way to A Great Nights Sleep - Part 1

Earlier this week I talked about how sleeping a good quality sleep could actually help you to lose weight.

So how do you make sure you sleep well and for the right length of time? You are only as good and as effective as the quality of your sleep. In essence, You are what you snooze.

And making sure you get a good night's sleep begins from the moment you wake up in the morning. Everything you eat and drink that day will have an effect on your sleep patterns later and so managing your energy and keeping your system steady is crucial. Here are some great food tips to help you gear up for a big sleep.

Wake up at a regular time and start the day with a glass of water or a cup of warm water with lemon. This is the beginning of a well-hydrated day. Proper hydration prevents irritability and leads to eating well so this is an easy way to get your day off to a great start. Think about this everyday - the first thing you consume each day sets the tone for the rest of the day - make it a good one.

Breakfast on porridge / oatmeal, muesli or fruit and yoghurt. Oats in porridge or muesli release energy slowly which keeps you calm throughout the morning. Fruit can release sugars into the bloodstream quickly but combining them with a protein such as yoghurt slows down the digestion of your breakfast. Avoid sugary cereals which cause a quick rise in blood sugar followed by a quick drop which leaves you craving more sugar as this pattern will then repeat itself throughout the day. Climbing aboard this sugar rollercoaster leaves you feeling moody, running on adrenalin and makes it tough to wind down at the end of the day.

Drinking caffeine is like taking a quick injection of stress hormones. Tea, coffee and fizzy drinks should be kept to a minimum and for most people, cutting back here isn’t too much of a problem. Usually, you enjoy the first, the second is never quite as good and the third actually isn’t that satisfying at all. Focus on quality rather than the quantity with your caffeine intake and you won’t feel deprived. Then, when you’ve had your fix, switch to herbal teas instead. I drink Rooibos (Redbush) tea. It has no caffeine at all, tastes great and leaves you feeling calm and focused.

Your morning snack can be pineapple, kiwi or banana with sesame seeds, peanuts, walnuts or pecan nuts. These are all high in serotonin which helps to regulate frustration, aggression, body temperature, mood, sleep and appetite. Sesame seeds are a particularly good source of zinc which is an essential component of an effective immune system which is vital for dealing well with stressful situations. Keep a small bag of these on your desk at work so you remember to have a handful a day.

Lunch should be salad-based as the leaves help to calm the nerves. Adding fish or turkey provides you with a helping of Tryptophan – an essential amino acid that increases brain levels of serotonin to keep you calm.

At this stage, you’re well into your day feeling calm, focused, effective and energised. You've grazed well throughout the morning and restricted your caffeine intake - so far, everything is on track for a calm day and great sleep at the end. Try it and let me know if it doesn't make you feel focused and more alert.

Stay tuned to find out how to tackle the rest of the day...

Photograph by POSITiv (Flickr)

8 April 2008

Want to save $40,000 & Feel Great?

There was an interesting piece in the paper last weekend about Human Growth Hormone
and it’s possible role in reversing the effects of ageing. Apparently it can:

• Increase skin thickness
• Reduce wrinkles and body fat
• Increase muscle mass
• Boost libido
• Improve mental wellbeing
• Increase energy levels and metabolic rate

Quite frankly it seems to do everything! Some Doctors who work with HGH claim it has transformed their lives while some studies suggest that the benefits of taking HGH are marginal, probably not worth the potential risky side effects. Anyway with a potential financial outlay of $40,000 a year to cover the regular injections required to really make a difference, not many of us will be lining up to invest.

But here's the thing. The article went on to offer tips on how to achieve the same effects as HGH injections on a budget and much more quickly than signing up for a course under the needle. The advice is simple, common sense and is guaranteed to work, without the possible side effects of the so-called miracle cure. Some of it may sound familiar:

• Get 8 hours sleep a night
• Drink as little alcohol as possible
• Eat organic protein with every meal
• Eat as few grain-based foods as possible – get your carbs from vegetables & fruit instead
• Avoid anything that contains sugar
• Exercise regularly
• Keep stress to a minimum
• Cut down your exposure to pollution an pesticides

Hmmm, it got me thinking. We read the same sensible advice over and over but are still often tempted to try the next miracle cure, even if it’s expensive, and even if it doesn’t live up to the ‘quick, easy fix’ that it promises to be. Forget miracle cures and let’s go back to basics.

Think about which of the key 8-points above you are most in need of addressing and decide right now how you will implement a change in this area. If you want to drink less alcohol, make the rest of the week booze free. If you need to exercise more, plan your activity for the next 7-days and commit to it. If you’re feeling under stress, book your next mental time out and make it happen.

So, no need to think of healthy living as sacrificing the stuff you like, think of it as saving yourself $40,000!

Photograph by nixArt (Flickr)

7 April 2008

Sleeping Your Way to Weight Loss

I was speaking to someone recently who made an interesting observation.  She went away for a long weekend having weighed herself before she left.  She then weighed herself on her return and found that she had lost a couple of pounds.  As usual, she weighed herself a few days later and noticed that the weight had returned.  I asked her what had changed over the period and she wasn’t sure.  Although she had been in a different environment, she’d followed her regular routine with food and exercise.  When she thought about it in more detail, the only thing that was different while she was away was that she slept better.  She slept for longer and had a deeper sleep resulting in her feeling more refreshed when she woke up. 

 Had she slept herself slimmer?
And could the return to a sleep deprived routine account for her weight gain?

The answer is yes, it could.  Research has shown that lack of sleep can make you fat.  If we consistently fail to get enough sleep, our bodies release less leptin into our system.  Leptin is a hormone that signals the state of fat stores.  Sleep deprivation also causes our bodies to release more ghrelin, a hormone that signals hunger.  The result of these changes in the balance of our system increase the likelihood of overeating which can, in turn, lead to weight gain.

Even if your tiredness doesn’t lead you to overeating and gain weight, not getting enough sleep can cause problems with your weight loss progamme.  Feeling tired can be stressful and when we’re stressed we produce more of the stress hormones adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol.  The presence of these hormones in your system can force your metabolism to slow down and hang on to fat. This can impact on your fitness workout, making it less effective in burning body fat than the same routines performed when you are feeling calm.

Remember this if you ever encounter a period when you’re not getting the results you want from your fitness programme or diet plan.  There may be no need to change your exercise or your food routine but instead look at your sleep pattern.

Here are the golden rules of getting enough sleep:

1. Work out how much sleep you need and schedule the ideal hours for getting this sleep

2. Stick to a routine and stick to it. Establish a bed time and a waking time and you’ll sleep well in the hours in-between

3. Clear out your sleeping environment.  Bedrooms are for sleeping so get rid of the TV, computer, any exercise equipment and put all clothes away every evening.

Isn’t that refreshing?  The key to effectively managing your weight is to sleep!  Okay - maybe just in part. There's no escaping the fact that diet and fitness are the greatest contributor to losing weight but it's worth bearing in mind next time you let your weight worries stress you out and keep you awake.

Coming Soon: Changes you can make to your exercise plan and food routine that will help you sleep better.

Photograph by John Carleton (Flickr)





3 April 2008

How to Be A Fat Burning Machine

One of the Fitness magazines I write for had a short feature on 'Yoga on Ropes'this month. A new fitness trend that has gained lots of publicity and even caught David Beckham's eye.

I've not tried this myself but it looks like a great way to strengthen and stretch all your muscles with a variety of postures and holds. My only question was over the claims in some reports that a workout with the ropes could burn more calories in 45 minutes than you could hope to burn in a spinning class. I've tried spinning and, having witnessed hundreds of classes over the years can safely say it's definitely one of those workouts that demands you 'feel the burn' and push yourself to your fitness limits. I don't doubt the yoga ropes are effective, I'm just not sure they'll burn more calories than spinning.

It raises an interesting point though. I'm often asked which exercise burns the most calories and what's the best way to shape up quickly. There are plenty of charts and graphs detailing how many calories different types of exercise burn, but beware, there are some inconsistencies between these.

You've got to remember that people with good fitness levels are conditioned to burning calories, particularly fat calories more efficiently than people who aren't so fit, and so will have a higher calorie burn for exactly the same activities. If you put a well trained runner on a treadmill for 15 minutes, they'll burn more fat calories than an unfit person who spends most of their time sitting on the sofa, who is walking along beside them.

So really, when it comes to burning calories effectively, what matters most isn't what you do, but how often you do it. Keep challenging your fitness regularly in a variety of ways and you'll become a fat burning machine who gets great results from whatever activities you spend your time on. This includes the many other uses for the Ropes beyond yoga which a quick visit to the manufacturers site will show you.

As far as yoga on ropes goes, plan this type of session as you would a regular yoga or pilates session - a couple of sessions a month of this type will be great and you can make these the best possible calorie burners by working hard at all your other activities. That way you've got a regular routine that balances cardio work with strength training along with mobility and flexibility sessions giving you a balanced routine that keeps you in tip top shape and free of injury.

Photograph by chicagopublicradio (Flickr)

1 April 2008

How to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain

Is it possible to stay fit on the move?

Lots of people finally get into a fitness routine only to then get knocked off course when their routine is interrupted by a holiday or business trip.

This doesn’t need to happen. There’s no need to lose the rhythm with all your good intentions, just because you’re not in your normal environment. All you need to stay on track is a bit of planning. Here are the top 3 complaints I hear, and my suggestions:

1. I travel lots and it’s just not possible to eat healthy airline food.
This may once have been the case but it just isn’t true these days. Airlines have to cater for everyone and most offer vegetarian, kosher, low carb, low salt, low cholesterol, wheat free or dairy free options, as well as covering a variety of special dietary requirements. You just need to book your requested meal in advance, preferably when booking your flights. And remember, you don’t need to be a vegetarian to go for the vegetarian option. (Trust me - they don't check!) If you need to be focused for work at the end of your trip, order the meal that is best suited to either helping you sleep or helping you stay awake on your journey, depending on the distance you’re travelling and the time zones you’ll be crossing. Boring I know, but don't go crazy with the free alcohol on the flight. Water, water, and more water is what you need in the air.

The same principles apply to healthy hotel eating. Just because there’s a buffet at breakfast, it doesn’t mean you need to try to eat it all. Be selective, continue to eat what you know works for you at home and take advantage of the fact that someone else is preparing produce that you wouldn’t think of at home...a whole platter of fruit all ready for you? Don't just go for the cooked breakfast 'just because I'm in a hotel and it's a one off'.

2. Traveling disrupts my routine.
It is true that travelling can be disruptive so make sure that you have a routine that works for you when you’re on the go. Tackling life with just one single routine is a limited approach to life so get flexible. Have different routines and strategies for work and home life, weekdays and weekends. You need to recognise what your weaknesses are (room service hamburger - bloody mary(s) on the plane -McDonald breakfast at the airport) - and avoid them where you can in favour of healthier alternatives. Remember, you are allowed to continue eating as well as you do at home.

3. The hotels I visit don’t have gyms
You might not be able to keep up with your full routine while you’re away so instead see the change of scene as an opportunity to try something new. Go for a swim or a run, or even rent a bike. On a recent holiday I found a local park that had a route to run round the outside, a hill and some steps for interval training and a dedicated exercise area where it was really easy to put together a tough total body workout in surroundings more beautiful than I have access to at home.

Being away from home for a period doesn't have to be an excuse to eat junk and slob out. Instead, think of it as a great excuse to try new stuff. I rarely get to swim but on holiday, you can't get me out of the pool - I turn into the Man from Atlantis! Embrace the change and think of all the new and exciting ways you can try to stay on track.

Photograph by Trinity (Flickr)