Free Yourself From Counting

Do you track what you eat? Wear a fitness watch? Like a long streak? Lots of us love a good graph but it can be dangerous too. Achieving measures and collecting data can be addictive – to your detriment.

Calories

When I help people learn to eat well, one of the things that surprises them is the lack of counting. It’s all about nutrients, pleasure, satisfaction and health, caring for yourself with real food, with not a calorie in sight. Calories are all very well as a physics measure of energy but they tell you nothing about biology or how your body uses different types of foods in different ways. Counting them tends to drive people towards bad food choices.

Most diets are based on calorie restriction, even if they disguise that by using measures like points. So dieters head for lower calorie foods and manufactured food-like products. Often these are low in fat, so valuable nutrients are lost.

Natural fats like butter, lard, dripping, olive oil and coconut oil are useful to the body.

  • We need fat soluble vitamins.
  • We don’t absorb minerals as well without fats.
  • Fats boost our metabolic rate so we burn more energy. Depression of metabolism caused by calorie restriction is one of the key reasons that dieters stall/plateau and then regain weight.
  • And fats add flavour which is why low-fat and fat-free products have to be loaded with sugar, sweeteners and flavouring chemicals.

The supermarket section labelled as healthy contains many products that are bad for you.

Food Apps

Pausing midway through a film to boil the kettle, I caught a few minutes of a BBC3 programme about eating disorders. A girl was saying that having put on weight as a student boozing and eating kebabs she started using a food-tracking app. I suppose the same thing happens with these apps as other types of scrolling, addiction to likes and other built-in artificial rewards. It’s all designed to keep you doing the next thing, and the next, making it hard to control or to stop. The girl became obsessed with her food app and lost so much weight her periods stopped and a year later they still haven’t restarted, although thankfully she’s eating again.

Exercise Apps

The same day I had been speaking to someone who had read that the fitness apps, exercise trackers and watches that people wear has made them over-exercise at times when their bodies really wanted to rest and this has exacerbated chronic post viral fatigue (including long-covid).

Like so many things that ‘everybody knows’ the 10,000 steps a day has no science behind it at all. It was marketing by a Japanese company that manufactures pedometers. Yes, it’s good to walk. No, it is not good to feel forced to do a certain number of steps each day, regardless of how you feel. And there are better types of exercise that get neglected because apps reward you for consecutive days of doing the same thing. Research shows aerobic exercise on its own reduces your all-cause mortality by 16% and strength training one its own reduces it by 21%, whereas if you do both, you reduce your all-cause mortality by 29%.

Not only that but exercising every day can be counter productive. The benefits come during the recovery phase, so you need days off or to change the part of the body you work on. Here’s a study showing muscle weakness caused by 3 days of consecutive exercise.

When I was competing internationally (and also had a very demanding full-time job) I kept records, even created a visual monthly training records chart to identify training patterns leading to better performance.

I certainly trained at times when it would have been better not to – even when injured, which caused me damage as well as pain (more fool me).

The morning of writing this blog post I slept in. Weirdly, even though I work for myself, I still feel guilty about things like that, such are the expectations on us to work hard all the time. But truthfully, with plenty of time to prepare for someone coming later in the morning, it wasn’t a problem. No need to crack the whip.

It’s a part of human nature to push ourselves to do more and now it’s been made worse by tech.

Time to take back control of our lives and not be told what to do and when to do it. Ditch the apps sometimes – at a weekend or for a week or a month or forever.

Time to listen to our bodies, be kind, recognise that we change day to day and sometimes rest is good.

Be Free From Counting

I help people to change their relationship with food so that they are not trapped in a prison made of numbers. Your body’s needs won’t be the same every day or in every situation. There’s no need to be trapped in a rigid ‘on it – off it’ diet mentality. Rather than fighting against yourself with miserable, strict denial you can listen to your body and provide nutrition in a caring, flexible way.

Top tip: Set yourself free from the tyranny of counting.

Chocolate

The shops are full of chocolate again. There are chocolates in scary wrappers (with scary inflated prices) for Halloween and the big tubs for Christmas are out already. The UK chocolate market is worth almost £4 billion pa. We eat a staggering 8 kg a year each which means the average person will eat more than half a tonne of it in a lifetime. The Swizz and Austrians eat even more.

Mostly it’s bad for you, so you might be glad that a bit of quality, dark chocolate does you good. Chocolate can be better or worse depending on the other ingredients used. Check labels and avoid anything with High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), Monosodium Glutamate (MSG), any artificial sweeteners and any artificial preservatives. You’re now spoilt for choice with companies that make high quality, ethical, organic chocolate, including Love Cocoa run by James Cadbury (great, great, great grandson of the original John Cadbury).

If the cocoa/cacao names have confused you – raw cacao powder is made by cold-pressing unroasted cacao beans. The process keeps the living enzymes in the cacao to make “raw chocolate”. Cocoa is made from roasted cacao seeds so has lost its enzymes. Some studies show health benefits from both types, others suggest that raw cacao is best.

The amount of sugar in chocolate varies greatly from milk to dark. There are all sorts of amazing flavours but some of those come with extra sugar. Any with sort centres or caramel will be very sugary.

Here is one of Dr David Unwin’s wonderful sugar equivalent infographics which shows the effect on your blood sugar.

Dr David Unwin

The most popular type in the UK is milk chocolate which is very bad. People often find dark chocolate a bit strong to start with but you can retrain you palate to prefer less sweetness in only a couple of weeks which is well worth doing. You’re less likely to eat dark chocolate in large amounts because it’s so rich.

The high concentrations of beneficial antioxidants and poly-phenols make dark chocolate (>70%) a superior snack in small amounts – a few squares a day, not a few bars.

Here are some of the healthy things in it:

  • resveratrol, a powerful antioxidant, good for blood pressure, heart health and your brain
  • flavanols which are anti-inflammatory.
  • cocoa butter, containing approximately 33% oleic acid, the same healthy monounsaturate as olive oil.
  • minerals including potassium, phosphorus, copper, iron, zinc, and magnesium.
  • valeric acid (a stress reducer), caffeine and theobromine (nervous system stimulants). Dark chocolate enhances mood, concentration, learning and memory.
  • tryptophan which the brain uses to make serotonin and may be why we get a chocolate ‘high’.

A Swedish study even found that it helps reduce heart disease risk.

Downsides (apart from over-consumption)?

– chocolate may trigger migraine in some people.

the caffeine in chocolate may stop some people sleeping if eaten late in the day.

– if you have a chronic health problem, it’s really helpful to stop all sugar.

If you’re healthy then enjoy dark chocolate and enjoy it in moderation.

Top tip: A little dark chocolate does you good!

Quote of the Month – Obestity

Obesity shows us primarily what is being done to people, not what people are doing to themselves.

Several studies have found that chronic stress, loneliness, lack of fulfilment or negative life events are strongly associated with weight gain. Job insecurity and financial hardship are especially significant.

If any country is to reverse one of the world’s most stubborn trends, its policymakers must recognise that the solution will come not from haranguing people, but from improving the quality of their lives and their environment.

John Burn-Murdoch

@jburnmurdoch

Financial Times

Cheese Farm Visit

I’ve just been on a Cumbria Chamber of Commerce visit to Park House Organic Cheese Farm at Torpenhow (pronounced TrePENa).

Mostly I dread (and avoid) the food at business events as it invariably consists of tables laden with processed beige – a health-damaging carb fest guaranteed to send everyone snoozy afterwards.

Not at Park House Farm. How fabulous is this?

And of course their milk to drink. (Plus some Zingi Bear organic ginger switchel – but I’ll tell you about that another time.)

Park House milk is the real thing. Creamy and delicious with all the nutrition that should be in milk.

(Timely perhaps that this piece on ‘not milks’ popped on Twitter the other day.)

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Mark and Jenny told us how they had come to run this inspirational farm the way they do.

Mark and Jenny

When the milk price crashed in 2015 and it was costing 28p/l to produce milk which they could only sell for 15p/l, they realised that they would need to change direction or go bankrupt.

They decided to go organic and to work with nature instead of battling against it. No fertiliser. No herbicides, no pesticides.

They split their fields into smaller paddocks, replanting hedgerows removed decades before during the time of intensification. They removed the problem of slurry by keeping the cows outside instead of indoors making Park House the only 100% pasture-fed farm in Cumbria. They use mob-grazing to move the cows around the paddocks. They embrace weeds and use lots of different types of plants in their grass – especially clover which is a natural nitrogen fixer.

It took time for their artificial-nitrogen addicted grass to get over the shock, but now it is the lushest, healthiest grass I’ve ever seen and took quite some effort to wade through as we walked up the field to see the cows.

And what beautiful cows they were. So healthy and content, fed only on grass and organic silage.

Living at the mercy of the milk buyers was a stressful life so Mark and Jenny started to make cheese with their milk. You can buy it at the farm, locally in good food shops like Shill’s of Cockermouth and from the farm’s online shop. There’s cheddar, the nicest brie I’ve ever eaten, a crumbly Lancashire, one oak smoked and Binsey Red which I particularly enjoyed. And I await with eager anticipation the return to production of their blue.

You’ll be hearing more about the Torpenhow Cheese Farm later.

Top tip – Treat yourself to some Torpenhow organic cheese.

PS – there’s a petition asking the new PM to work for nature by supporting organic farming.  Here’s the link to sign.

 

Quote of the month – adverts

Unexpected delight of an advert-free day on Channel 4 as a mark of respect for the Queen’s funeral.

I’m sure the sellers will be measuring the effects on sales and behaviours but I wonder what bad choices were avoided by this break.

“Our society is set up to hypnotise us to feel less-than-good about ourselves in order to sell us things.”

Richard Lister

From his book Radical Rest

Silencing Science

When I was talking to my Eat Yourself Well group this month, they were shocked by some of the things that companies do to make money when they know they are selling a myth (lie).

The results from huge studies are ignored/hidden but the results from very small, flimsy studies are trumpeted in the media and that makes it very difficult for people to keep track of what’s what.

Don’t eat eggs ~ then eat eggs.

Don’t eat butter ~ then butter is fine

Don’t eat meat ~ we haven’t reached the point where meat is back on the “it’s good for you” messaging but I hope it won’t take long because people are going to end up badly over-fed and under-nourished on the fake rubbish that they’re being convinced to eat instead.

Nina Teicholz, a nutrition expert and journalist, gave the keynote talk this May at the Public Health Collaboration Conference. In this blog post I’ll share a few of the highlights but I highly recommend watching all of it. Here’s the link.

To declare my position. I spent 10 years eating lots of fruit and veg, less meat and little fat. The result? I was overweight (which I didn’t like), I was always hungry (with hunger distraction and hangry spells), I was tired all the time (in my 30s when I should have been full of life), I suffered dizzy spells, mood swings, bad skin and a weak immune system. They were 10 miserable years ending with an illness that lasted a year and a half.

Since I started to eat low-carb, high fat, real food in 2004 I’ve felt great.  So it’s no surprise that I’m an enthusiastic member of the Public Health Collaboration and a big fan of their Real Food Lifestyle.

Nina started by talking about the last couple of years and the broader sense of confusion about information and misinformation we’ve experienced. She has found it disorientating. Facts, Fake News, Lies, Opinions, Beliefs and Denial of Scientific Findings. The last is the most troubling and has been going on for a long time in the nutrition field.

Nina gives key examples, showing some of the ways that nutrition evidence has been ignored, hidden, mis-presented and its authors attacked. The result is that the public still believe messages that are not underpinned by science at all and as a result might be working hard to do things that are detrimental to their own health.

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Saturated Fat

A large number of government-funded trials have been conducted lasting for periods of 1-8 years and including over 67,000 people.

Results:

Saturated fat has no effect on cardiovascular mortality, total mortality, stokes etc.

This is the opposite of what we’ve been told for decades so the results were hidden eg the Minnesota Coronary Study was not published at all for 17 years and then put in an inappropriate journal so no one knew. And all because the authors were disappointed with the findings.

The National Institute of Health later analysed more raw data from this trial. They showed that the more the men lowered their cholesterol, the more likely they were to die from cardiovascular disease.

This is Denial of Scientific Findings.

The evidence does not support what people were told and now believe.

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Dairy

The USDA reviewed the US dietary guidelines. They said that dairy has an effect on CVD. When you look at the evidence they referenced, 100% of it does not support their statement. This is Denial of Scientific Findings and misinformation.

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Dietary Cholesterol

In 2015, the US dropped the previous limit on cholesterol intake because there is no relationship between dietary cholesterol and blood cholesterol. But, inexplicably they still recommend dietary patterns lower in cholesterol.

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Low-Fat Diet

This is the second most studied hypothesis in the history of nutrition.

Most clinical trials you hear about are small. 200 is considered large. For low-fat diet benefits, >50,000 people have been studied.

The US National Institute for Health did the Women’s Health Initiative which involved 49k women for 7-8 years. This is a huge study.

They thought they were going to prove that the low-fat diet works but they could find no difference. It didn’t help obesity, heart disease, any sort of cancer or diabetes.

The low-fat promotions continue. This is Denial of Scientific Findings.

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Nina similarly covered Low-Carb Diet (plenty of evidence to support its safety and efficacy) and the 2019 Red Meat study (which didn’t really demonstrate that red meat is dangerous but caused a heck of a rumpus).

Sound nutrition information has been systematically silenced for many years.

News headlines usually come from observational studies which are the lowest strength of evidence. They might have low numbers of subjects and select those to bias the likely findings. If they say the opposite of what large, clinical trials have said before, it’s usually best to ignore them.

Science cannot exist without challenge and debate. Unquestioning certainty is dangerous. Those who try to bring truth to light are persecuted. When they can’t argue with the science, they attack and smear the people who say things that don’t agree with their view of the world. Call them a …denier. This seems to be the world we live in now.

Top tip – either ignore the nutrition news headlines as most probably untrue, or dig into the actual studies that underpin them before you make changes that might damage your health.

Trust Your Common Sense

 

By dla11

What a strange world we live in. Is it just me or did everything make more sense a few years ago? Now many things seem to be upside down and the wrong way round, as if we’d fallen through the looking glass with Alice. Do you hear stories and do a double take? Have your alarm bells been ringing? Does your common sense tell you that it’s not quite right?

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The media love to hype everything because they’re in the business of selling news; normal, happy times are no good to them. They’ve over-done the ‘crisis-of-the-day’ thing to the point of desensitising us. The day before yesterday is already old news, so the natural way we’ve lived for millennia won’t be promoted – there’s no money in it.

The headlines and narratives spewed out often misrepresent any underlying facts or even present the opposite. I think most people would be shocked by the lack of science behind the sound-bites and things ‘everyone knows….’

Technology has taken over and everything has an algorithm or worse, some (almost always wrong) predictive modelling. Fear is being used by governments to alter behaviour – we all know about the psychological nudge unit now. What percentage of the news we get is fake news? Who knows? Fact checkers do not check facts but are paid by those who benefit from promulgating their own position. People who stand up for the truth are erased from social media and whistle blowers are silenced. Scientists are not allowed to debate. Freedom of speech and of thought are things of the past.

It’s sad that we have to doubt all we hear from the media and government. But once you know some things are lies it makes you doubt everything else. It’s sad when conspiracy theories seem more sensible than the official narrative and sadder still when they come true.

So what can we be reasonably confident that we have been lied to about?

Saturated Fat

Saturated fat causes heart disease. No. A single, very poor (but highly promoted) American study decades ago ended up with the world believing that saturated fat causes heart disease and should be avoided. Actually, even the original study data really show that sugar is a problem, rather than fat, as an English Professor contested at the time and others have demonstrated since. Many, better studies over the years have shown that saturated fat is not a problem.

In fact dairy fats which are high in butyric acid (C4:0) and pentadecanoic acid (C15:0) have been shown to be protective against heart disease. What does eating cheese do to you? Lowers incidence of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Plus lower body weight, waist circumference and blood sugar (which of course are associated with these health problems). Plus higher HDL. And it’s delicious!!! Read a paper on cheese here.

Coconut oil is another healthy saturated fat and there’s nothing wrong with animal fats like lard and dripping either. (Actually, lard is mainly mono-unsaturated, like olive oil.)

The consequence of this misinformation has been the huge increase in consumption of vegetable oils like sunflower oil and this has driven today’s global obesity and diabetes crises plus many other diseases including cancer. We are harmed by too much omega 6.

Our Dietary Guidelines are still based on the old, flawed message because the panel that reviews them is made up of people linked to the food industry. It’s a bit like Europe’s nutriscore system that rates Nesquik (made mostly of sugar) as healthier than ham. Complete tripe!

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Sunshine

Going out in the sun without protection is dangerous. Not usually. A little sun exposure is good for us. During the recent heat-wave, temperatures were so high that staying out of the sun was very sensible. But over the last decade or so, we’ve been scared off getting any sunshine at all on our skin. This has been hugely detrimental.

Sunshine enables us to make vitamin D in our skin (providing you’ve got enough cholesterol in your body to make it from of course). One of the biggest risk factors for a bad covid outcome (other than age) is low vitamin D. Most people in Britain are vitamin D deficient.

Vitamin D is protective against cancer and rates of all cancers have gone up since we shunned the sun – ironically including skin cancer. You need to be mindful of your own skin of course and it’s important not to overdo it and burn. Fair skin can make plenty in about 20 minutes daily (arms and legs exposed). Darker skins need more. Those who can’t or don’t go in the sun need vitamin D supplements. Suncreams mostly contain toxins (even those marketed for children) so, if you need to use one, read up about them and choose one that won’t poison you.

We also make nitric oxide in sunshine which relaxes blood vessels and lowers blood pressure.

Sunlight stimulates our brain helping set our internal clocks to sleep well when it’s dark at night by making melatonin – and that is also a powerful antioxidant.

And of course, sunshine makes us happy!

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Healthy Diet

There is one healthy diet and everyone should eat the same way. No. We are not all the same. We have biochemical individuality. Ever go on a diet with a friend? Worked for one but not the other? It’s genetic and as a generalisation, the further north you go, the more meat and fat you need. Our populations have all been mixed up so you can experiment with different mixtures yourself or I can do a Metabolic Type Test for you. Only about 20% of the people in Britain suit the Eat Well Guide low-fat, moderate protein, heavy carb mixture.

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Calories, Fat and Weight

A calorie is a calorie. Not in terms of biological effect. The type of food you eat determines whether you gain or lose weight, not the number of calories.

Fat makes you fat. Generally no. Most types of fat do not cause weight gain. High omega 6 vegetable oils and sugar make you fat by triggering your storage mechanisms.

Eat less and move more for weight loss. No. By all means move more because it’s fantastic for your health but you cannot outrun a bad diet. Read this excellent piece in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

If you want to lose weight you don’t need to eat less, you need to eat better. That’s why I help people Learn to Eat Well!

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Meat

Meat is dangerous / gives you cancer. No. It’s dense in bio-available nutrients and is good for us. Processed food is dangerous and probably does cause cancer. Humans have eaten meat through the whole of history. Our non-communicable health problems are very new. But fake meat suddenly became the great way to make lots of money. It promises (erroneously) to save your health, save the animals and save the planet. It’s ultra-processed and made of ingredients that will damage your health like soya, omega 6 fats and chemicals, so steer well clear however much you’re bombarded with messages urging you to give up healthy, natural food and switch to factory-made artificial stuff.

See this 1min video on a Tweet from Frederik Leroy.

There is also a 3h interview with Frederik. I haven’t listened to all of that yet but it looks at the links between the campaigns to demonize meat-eating, the corporatization of the food system, the proliferation of chronic disease, biased nutritional science, global deficiencies and malnutrition, and animal-rights groups.

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Salt

You mustn’t have any salt. Well, we need some of that too. Processed food has too much. It would taste like the rubbish it is unless it was masked with lots of salt and sugar and chemicals. A little salt on home cooked food is a good thing – use natural sea salt or rock salt for diverse minerals to help keep your electrolytes balanced, rather than just sodium chloride from table salt. In a heatwave, you can make a solay (concentrated salt solution), keep it in a jar and add a teaspoon to your glass of water, plus a few crushed berries. Better than an isotonic sports drink full of sugar and chemicals.

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There’s more in this month’s Eat Well News, but for a blog post I’ve been on my soap box long enough (and don’t even get me started on anti-bacterial hand wash!) My hubby says I’m cynical. He’s right. And I think it’s a reasonable, self-protective stance all things considered.

So when your common sense alerts you to fake news – take all of it with a big pinch of salt!

Top tip – Whatever tripe they try to feed you, trust your common sense!