Why Diets Don’t Work and What to Do Instead

We’ve passed Fail Friday now (3 ½ weeks into the year apparently) so most people will have given up on their New Year Resolutions, abandoned their diets and stopped going to the gym.

Diets are 10-a -penny and there’s always a new one to try, from boring to bizarre. You’ll lose weight on them, then pile it all back on later. That isn’t what most people want so it seems to me that diets don’t work.

Don’t blame yourself – it’s actually the diet that causes the weight regain (happens to 95% of dieters). Your body is a wonderful survival machine and you can’t force it to keep on losing fat long-term through deprivation. Restrict energy intake and your body will slow your metabolism to protect you against your self-imposed food shortage. Much of the weight you’ll lose isn’t fat anyway but lean tissue that you need to hang onto. A better way is to invest in your health and happiness by learning to eat well.

Have you heard that a calorie is a calorie? That’s right from a physics point of view but it isn’t helpful for weight loss because your body reacts in different ways to different types of foods. The result is that some calories put weight on, others help you lose weight. Your body’s responses include fat storage or fat burning, increased hunger or satiety. Obsessing about calories is also bad because it takes the focus off the goodness in food leaving you lacking in important nutrients.

A Colin Shelbourne cartoon from Survival Guide for the Skint.

What really causes weight gain? Sugar is number 1, via the production of insulin and increase of appetite. Then there’s processed carbohydrate (called ‘soon to be sugar’), including flour and breakfast cereals. Then there are fructose and alcohol which create fat via the liver. Next come seed oils which your body loves to store. And don’t think sweeteners come free; they confuse your brain and upset your body’s appetite controls so you eat more. All those chemical additives can make your body produce fat to safely store them as a toxin-protection response.

The key therefore is to avoid these fat-storage triggers. They’re in most processed foods including: ready meals, takeaways, fizzy drinks, pastry, crisps, chocolate, booze, diet foods. These are the things people snack on all day.

For healthy weight loss, eat home-made meals that satisfy you for 4 or 5 hours to see you through to the next meal without snacking. Each meal should contain plants, proteins and fats. Breakfast in particular should contain enough protein and fat so that you don’t get hungry mid-morning. Here’s a piece I wrote on breakfasts to give you some ideas. Cook your own natural, nutritious food and let your excess weight melt away.

If you want to know more, including your personal metabolic type and the mixture of food that’s right for your body, my next Eat for a Better Life course starts on 20th February at The Foyer, Irish Street, Whitehaven.  Or have a one-to-one consultation any time by ‘phone or Skype.

Top tip – Give up diets, Learn to Eat Well!

A Little of What You Fancy

The closer we get to Christmas, the more unhealthy stuff is shoved in front of our eyes and under our noses. There are office parties, family gatherings and all sorts of social occasions where people will pressure us to indulge more than we want to (often to make themselves feel better)

 “Go on, have another…”

Thankfully we don’t have to eat and drink everything on offer and suffer for it, or refuse it all and feel left out; we can take a middle road, use the 80/20 rule, join in without excess and enjoy a little of what you fancy.

There’s a saying:

Don’t worry what you eat between Christmas and New Year, it’s what you eat between New Year and Christmas that really matters.

If you’ve been taking care of yourself, your amazing body will cope with a bit of unhealthy stuff especially if you keep putting mostly good things inside you. Great breakfasts, super lunches, healthy snacks, fabulous dinners, all home-made mixtures of plants and proteins and fats. You’ll take it all in your stride.

Here’s a Jon Gabriel breakfast that seems light but is nutritious enough to last for several hours – fruit, full-fat natural yoghurt, ground flax, hemp, chia seeds, protein powder and I like to add some nuts – just stir it all together.

Of course, some people will dive in with gay abandon, intending to fix the damage in the New Year. If that’s you, going on a diet is unlikely to be helpful so resolve to build in some better eating habits or have some nutrition coaching and learn to eat well.

There will be presents as well as food and I leave you a quote I just saw from Bernard Manning:

I once bought my kids a set of batteries for Christmas

with a note on it saying

“Toys not included”

Merry Christmas!

Jackie

Picnics

One of the joys of summer is eating al fresco. A picnic is an essential part of a summer outing.

Have you noticed that food tastes better when we eat it outside? Psychologists have found that our physical sensations and emotional responses are greatly improved by the power of our perception of our environment. Restaurants have applied this science to their décor, choosing colour, patterns and music to set the mood. The same food actually tastes different depending on the wallpaper!

We also connect enjoyment of food with family memories: a favourite outdoor spot, the smell of grass and wild flowers, the sound of trees rustling in the breeze, the feel of warm sand on bare feet. Taking Jack LaLanne’s idea from July’s quote of the month, we need to be nearer to nature to be happy.    And when our brains are stimulated, our taste buds step up a notch.

So, what food to take on your picnic? On TV you’ll see images of unhealthy fizzy drinks, crisps, cheese processed almost to the point of being plastic and all manner of factory-made nibbles. When you’re getting back to the great outdoors, nature and all things real I’m sure you’ll want better than fake food.

Sandwiches are common but often dry, dull and too heavy on bread to be a good choice for lunch. Instead try boiled eggs, cheeses, salami, lettuce, tomatoes, sticks of crunchy carrot and celery, cooling cucumber, creamy avocado, peppery radishes, spicy spring onions, ham rolled round cream cheese, small bread rolls with butter. My grandmother’s special was fried chicken in herby breadcrumbs – so tasty!

Fruit is nice and juicy although it can attract wasps and invite the biting midge to suck your sweet blood. Use it to make a refreshing infusion by adding a few slices of apple, lemon and strawberry to a big bottle of water. Chill it well before you set off.

June’s post had ideas for drinks.

Share the pleasure by eating all together sitting at a picnic table or on a rug. Here’s how they do it in France where people are still healthy and slim.

Top tip – enjoy a real food picnic.

If you’d like to get my full Eat Well News, sign up here. It’s so much more than the things I post on my blog. I’ll be in touch with you about nutrition and health, and to provide articles, and updates (eg research and campaigns relating to nutrition and health), and marketing (eg events, products, services, talks and courses), and recipes, and things to bring a smile. Please let me know all the ways you would like to hear from me either by using this form or sending me an email.

 

Drink to Your Health

With the all warm weather, you might fancy a cold drink. They say that in America, over half the calories consumed come from sugar in soft drinks. Terrifying! Outrageously, 12% of the Coca-cola is drunk at breakfast. In Britain we’re not that bad (yet) but we certainly do have a drink problem. So what’s what?

Starting with the worst things to drink:

– Fizzy drinks – very sugary leading to weight gain, blood sugar imbalances and diabetes. They’re very acidic leading to tooth decay and bone density loss.

– Low-cal fizzy drinks – the use of sweeteners has increased since the sugar tax came in. Weight loss clubs often recommend low-cal fizzy drinks but these have been proven not to help with weight loss. The sweet taste of the chemical sweeteners confuses your body’s control systems (not a good idea). Your brain thinks that sugar is coming; then it doesn’t so you go looking for food.

If you’ve been wondering how effective the sugar tax on drinks is likely to be, here are some results from those who’ve already tried it.

– Fruit Juice – seen as healthy and natural but still a sugary drink. Fruit juice can be up to a year old and have lost a lot of its nutrients. Fructose is processed via your liver to create fat. Too much fruit can cause problems with weight gain, tooth decay and in extremes, even non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (first found in 1980). You wouldn’t eat 4 apples/oranges at once but they’re easy to drink. Stick to eating whole fruit.

– Smoothies – most bought ones and internet recipes are too heavy on fruit or other sweet ingredients. Here’s the Wikipedia definition of a smoothie which illustrates the problem:

A smoothie is a thick beverage made from blended raw fruit, vegetables or ice cream and cookies with other ingredients such as water, ice, or sweeteners.”

Definitely not recommended!

– Squash – depends how strong you mix it. Contains sugar or sweeteners.

– Sports / Energy drinks – heavily marketed, unhealthy and unnecessary. High in caffeine and sugar they’re very bad, especially for children.  This piece talks about them causing sudden cardiac deaths in young people.  So, quite rightly, there’s been a fuss about children and energy drinks.  See #notforchildren The majority of kids drink them, often having a litre at a time which is very dangerous. It’s like taking a chainsaw to their adrenal glands. Supermarkets have taken steps eg reducing promotion to kids and trying to prevent sales to children.

Here’s what Jamie Oliver’s site says about them.

On to Something Better

Well that was all a bit dismal, so what’s the solution? It’s surprisingly easy to wean yourself off sweet drinks; your palate can change in as little as two weeks. Here are some healthy alternatives:

Tastes much nicer than it looks – a refreshing salad in a glass!

– Vegetable juices – juice your own for a brilliant way to get lots of vitamins, minerals, enzymes and phytonutrients. Use 80% vegetables (eg celery, cucumber, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower stems, leafy greens, sprig of parsley, some ginger). Add small amounts of fruit to improve flavour (½ a lime, some lemon, a bit of pear, few cranberries, bit of tomato). Drink within an hour or freeze.

– Smoothies – use avocados and green leaves with almond / coconut milk or plain live yoghurt. Add a few berries or an inch of banana.

– Milk – shown to be even more hydrating than water when exercising. The sugar in milk (lactose) can cause weight gain if you have a lot, the fat doesn’t.

The Moody Cow at Allonby sells the real thing – unpasturised. It tastes delicious.

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– Coconut water – a great isotonic refresher. Best if you buy a coconut, pierce the top and pour it out. Bought coconut milk will be older and may have additives so read the label.

– Iced tea. Not the syrupy type in a can or bottle. Make some delicate green tea, add a slice of lime and some ice.

– Water – fruit infused. Put a strawberry or a couple of raspberries / blackberries or a slice of lemon / lime in a mug and pour an inch of boiling water over. Let it sit for 10 minutes then top up with cold.

– Water – re-hydration solution. Make your own if it’s very hot and you’re doing a lot of exercise. Add a little salt and sugar to your water.

– Water – great choice – would be even better if they stopped fluoridation!

Top tip – switch to healthier drinks.

Eat Well News

To get my full Eat Well News, sign up here. It’s so much more than the blog posts I write. I’ll be in touch with you about nutrition and health, and to provide articles, and updates (eg research and campaigns relating to nutrition and health), and marketing (eg events, products, services, talks and courses), and recipes, and things to bring a smile. Please let me know all the ways you would like to hear from me either by using this form or sending me an email.

Exercise, Health and a Bit of Balance

May was National Walking Month so hopefully you’ve enjoyed taking the occasional stroll in the lovely weather.

Moving your body every day is a good thing. It’s only a minor factor for weight loss but crucial when it comes to health. For many conditions it’s better than any medicine, even having value in preventing and treating cancer. However, in common with many other good things, more is not always better and too much can hurt you.

I’ll just back up and do a detour to deal with the weight loss thing in case you fell straight off your chair. Food is the main factor for weight loss – not exercise. Weight training and high intensity interval training are best. If you’re one of the 1000s pounding the treadmill every day watching the calories tick, you need to know that aerobic exercise is the worst for weight loss. It generally burns very little and makes you quite a bit hungrier. Even if energy balance worked at all (which it doesn’t), the way diet clubs teach it is very misleading as Zoe Harcombe explains here. The energy you burn, above what you always burn at rest, does not cancel out that bun and a latte in the gym cafe. As Dr Aseem Malhotra says, you can’t outrun a bad diet. What matters for weight is the type of food. Some you’ll burn, some you’ll store. Different foods affect different hormones. But I write about that most of the time so I’ll get off my soapbox and end my diversion. Oh, but while I still have one foot on my soapbox, energy drinks are terrible, especially for children, and no one should drink them. More on drinks next month.

 

OK, where were we? Exercise and Health.

I always ask people on my courses to listen to their bodies. It isn’t something we’re used to doing. Life is all one mad charge forwards regardless of how we feel. We’re driven by external expectations, work, family, social norms. If our bodies complain, the usual reaction is to take over-the-counter drugs to silence the messages.

Most of us recognise that too much work is a bad thing but surely any amount of exercise is good.

If you feel generally snoozy and sluggish, it could be a sign that you need to move more.

France 2009

If you are very tired and exercise doesn’t energise you, it could be a sign that your body needs some recovery. We often underestimate the importance of rest. It can seem a bit soft to take a nap or a day off. When I was on the Great Britain Field Archery team I remember hearing that the commitment to rest is as important as the commitment to train hard.

Shame I didn’t take more notice at the time!

I used to have a stressful job and I used exercise as an antidote. The more stressed I got, the more desperately I exercised. Adding to the burden, I didn’t know then about eating right for your metabolic type. My diet was full of sugar but lacking the fat that I needed. And there were toxins in the low-fat products I ate. I believed the adverts saying they were better for me; how wrong can you be? I got more and more run down and relied too much on cortisol and adrenalin to keep me going. I dragged myself out of bed each day feeling like death and forced myself onwards. You can scrape the bottom of the barrel of your resources for so long but the end result for me was a hole in the barrel. I suffered total exhaustion and chronic fatigue. I was incapacitated for a year and half.

I’m not the only one to fall into the excess exercise trap. Sometimes the consequences are more severe than I suffered and can appear suddenly. I was saddened by the death of a Cumbrian chef at this year’s London Marathon. Here’s a piece about the dangers of over-doing it and how extreme sport scars your heart.

Nowadays I prefer a bit of balance and self care to punishing my body with gruelling regimes.

What do you think counts as exercise? Have you realised it doesn’t have to be done in a special place (eg a gym) or for a certain period of time (eg an hour)? Actually your body is designed for continuous movement and you can include lots of things you might not have counted before. Vacuuming, washing the car, playing with the kids, digging the garden, dancing, walking the dog, doing a few squats while the kettle boils, reaching up to hang out the washing.

I’m a fan of Dr Mercola’s NO dump (developed by Zach Bush). I love Michael Mosely’s book on Fast Exercise – here’s a little HIIT video. And have a listen to this podcast on primal play Dr Chatterjee and Darryl.

Dr Chaterjee’s book The Four Pillar Plan talks about movement snacking and Dr Joan Vernikos explains the need for non-exercise movement throughout the day regardless of whether you do ‘exercise sessions’. Just standing up from your chair every 20 minutes lets your body engage with gravity and brings many health, strength and weight benefits.

Do you take your health for granted? I used to but not any more. Having experienced life without it, health is really important to me now and that’s why I don’t compromise on food, exercise and rest. I don’t want to ever go back to that misery.

Good health is a lot about self care. It’s about getting some exercise every day, but not so much that you burn yourself out. It’s about nourishing your body with good food, but not sticking so rigidly to a dietary regime that it prevents you from living a rich, happy life. It’s about deep sleep, rest and fun. It’s about balance.

Top tips: Real food is good. Exercise is good. Rest is good. Balance is good.

The Cup That Cheers

What do Brits do in a crisis? – put the kettle on! There is no calamity so great that it cannot be eased by a ‘nice cup of tea’.  We’ve even given it a special day of its own.

21st April is National Tea Day.

We started drinking tea in Britain way back in the mid 1600s when it was referred to as ‘China drink. We quickly took it to our hearts even though it was fantastically expensive due to import tax and was often kept in locked chests to prevent pilfering. It’s cheap as chips now and we consume 165 million cups a day!! That’s 60.2 billion cups a year and around double the coffee we drink (UK coffee week was 16-22th April).

You can read about the history of tea and all the different types on the Tea Association website.  (One point for caution: they talk about what’s in tea and consider fluoride to be a nutrient which it is not; it’s a neurotoxin.)

There are so many types to sample and enjoy. There’s black tea, green tea, white tea, tea flavoured with flowers and herbs – even without including the herbal teas (called tisanes). When I was a student, there was a tea stall on Bath indoor market. From the array of exotic leaves, I would make my choice, then watch in wonder as the half pound was weighed and poured onto a single sheet of paper that magically became a parcel tied with string.  (I don’t know whether they still do this wondrous packaging but you can still buy tea in Bath market and I’m thrilled to see that my other favourite stalls are still there – selling cheese and second-hand books.)

Our favourite brew supports our health with anti-oxidant polyphenols and flavonoids. There are detriments too from caffeine and fluoride so it’s best have water sometimes rather than drinking tea (and coffee) all day long. It’s also diuretic and can play havoc with your bladder. If you take sugar, work on giving it up. I had one client who was surprised to discover she was consuming 24 teaspoons of sugar a day just from drinking tea!

My old pint pot now relegated to housing part of my pencil collection.

We don’t treat tea drinking with the elaborate rituals of China or Japan, usually using tea bags and brewing in a mug at home and work but we certainly do all like our tea a certain way – and in our favourite cup/mug. Some like a pint pot brewed so strong the spoon very nearly stands up it in. Others dip the bag in for a microsecond and barely colour the water. And I don’t dare comment on the milk first or tea first debate!

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Afternoon tea, however, has become a special event with delicate china cups and saucers, one pot for the tea, one for hot water, a little jug of milk and a tiered cake stand bearing dainty sandwiches, scones and cake.

Not healthy of course with all that flour and sugar but an inbuilt memory of a more genteel age. At least that’s how it should be; I was horrified on a cream tea spa day at a posh hotel with a friend to have a chunky Starbucks mug plonked down in front of me which completely jarred against the rest of our classy treat.

Do you always snack with your cuppa? It’s another of those marketing-induced habits. Think of Rich Tea – “a drink’s too wet without one” or “Have a break have a ….” you know the rest; that’s how successful they are at fixing their messages in our psyche.

They’ve normalised snacking at every point through the day so now we graze constantly like we never did before. Tea rooms and coffee shops offer enormous portions of cakes and slices as I wrote about muffins vs buns.

So drink tea in moderation, for the pleasure of it and the good things it contains, rather than as your principle hydrator.  Realise that you can have it on its own. If you really want a snack, have a small bun or biscuit you’ve made yourself, or better still a handful of nuts or some fresh coconut. At the bottom of my recipes page are links to lots of websites with great recipes. Let me know of other healthy snacks you like.

Top tip: Enjoy your cuppa and be cheered.

The Calorie Fallacy

How do you decide what to eat?

Since the introduction of calories as a measure of food energy content, we’ve become obsessed with them. The government’s official messages at the moment mention nothing else.  However in spite of its popularity, calorific content is a poor basis for making food choices.

A huge and powerful industry makes and aggressively markets low-calorie food products. The BBC showed some years ago in ‘The Big Fat Truth about Low Fat Food’, that these products are not good for your health.

Instead of thinking primarily about calories, I ask the people on my Nutrition Coaching courses to focus on the goodness in foods. Some foods provide nutrients and improve your health. These include fresh meat, fish, eggs, cheese, fruit, veg and natural fats. Good food gives you essential amino acids, essential fatty acids, vitamins, minerals and enzymes.

Other foods are bad for you and your body has to work really hard to deal with them by using up lots of your vitamins, minerals and enzymes and most of your energy too. They leave you with compromised health and feeling exhausted. These include processed foods, biscuits, crisps, donuts, snack bars, fizzy pop, flavoured water and ready meals.

Bad food contains refined sugar, salt, damaged fats, artificial sweeteners and additives. Often processed foods are chemically altered to increase the appeal to your taste buds. They override your body’s ways of knowing when you’ve had enough and you can just carry on eating more and more.

So stop worrying about calories and think about goodness. Ignore the marketing hype which results in low-fat and low-calorie foods being labelled as healthy even if they’re not. Think instead how food can build your health or harm you.

Top tip – eat real food!

Make 2018 a Good Year

However 2017 turned out for you, we’re all hoping 2018 will be a good year. And you can make that more likely!

Did you know that the more you think about, talk about and write about something, the more likely it is to happen.

Jim Rohn said, You are the sum of the five people with whom you spend the most time

Who are those five people for you? Do they inspire you or drag you down? Since you’re going to end up like the people you spend time with it makes sense to keep company with the sort of people you’d like to be.

Jim Rohn also said you’re the average of “the five things around you, the ideas of the five books you read, the feelings from the five films or TV programmes you watch.” So it really matters what you choose to surround yourself with habitually.

I’ll continue with the theme:

  • the five websites you read
  • the five people you follow on social media

  • the five activities you do
  • the five items you use
  • the five songs you listen to
  • the five foods you eat!

Thinking of food, I’ve spent January consoling people who over-indulged at Christmas and New Year by reminding them that our regular habits matter more than what we eat or drink occasionally. So what is it that we eat most of in Britain? Chicken perhaps, or potatoes? No, apparently, it’s white flour – hardly a health food. Why so much? Think bread, wraps, pasta, pizza base, pies and pastry, Yorkshire pudding, cakes, biscuits, pancakes…need I go on? No wonder much of the population is over-fed but undernourished. What can you do?  (spoiler alert – top 5 at the end!)

Think of less processed alternatives to the floury things you eat.

  • A cabbage leaf makes a good wrap (blanch it first to make it more flexible).
  • Combine whatever filling you usually put in a sandwich with some salad. Top it with olive oil to make a superior lunch.

    Winter Salad

  • Too cold for salad?  Soups are a great way to get loads of different types of vegetables into your diet. You can put a bit of chopped up meat in for protein. (Use leftovers from dinner.) Have it with a hunk of cheese and there’s no need for any bread.
  • You can make pizza base from cauliflower chopped up in a food processor. Mix with egg, cheese and seasoning and shape into a circle. Bake for 20 minutes before adding toppings.
  • And there’s a wonderful Jon Gabriel recipe on YouTube for pizza that uses omelette as a base. It’s very satisfying; delicious hot when you make it or cold later on. Jon uses 3 eggs to make his but that’s too many for me so scale the recipe to match your appetite.
  • Instead of pasta, you can make courgetti using a spiralizer or simply making strips using a potato peeler. Have some meat with it to make up for the bit of protein you lose from the wheat. Wider strips can replace pasta sheets for lasagna.
  • Nuts (natural) and fresh coconut make great snacks.
  • Sticks of carrot, celery and cheese with apple slices makes an easy, portable lunch.
  • Instead of biscuits, have a square or 2 of the chocolate/nut/seed mix I showed you last issue.
  • You can make buns using ground almonds as a base – just mix a large egg, a tablespoon of melted butter, 3 oz ground almonds, a sprinkling of raisins, ¼ teaspoon of baking powder, a pinch of salt. Bake in paper cases in a bun tin at Gas Mark 3, 160o C for about 25 minutes
  • You can even make cake in a cup in the microwave. Use a mix of ground almonds, raisins and egg.
  • Microwave ‘bread’ made in a mug is similar. Beat an egg with 2 desert spoonfuls of ground flax seeds, 1 teaspoon baking powder, pinch of salt. Cook of full power for 1min 20 seconds.

As you improve your habits, you’ll feel the benefits. Fill your diet with good nutrition by resolving to regularly include more good things in your diet.

Try these 5:

  • vegetables – have some with every meal (potatoes don’t count)
  • meat/fish – good quality, home cooked
  • healthy fats – olive oil, butter, avocado, nuts
  • fruit – have a piece or two each day (but skip the fruit juice)
  • water – as your number 1 drink

Top tip: Make your main 5 foods/drinks good ones.

What with all the confusing messages in the press and TV programmes about diets most nights throughout January it isn’t easy to know what’s good. If you’re not sure, get in touch and Learn to Eat Well.

Eat for Better Business coming to Kendal

On 12th April (10am to 4pm), I’m bringing Eat for Better Business to the Mintworks, Kendal for a Cumbria Chamber of Commerce event.

It’s an interactive day focused on busting many currently fashionable food myths to help you feel great and work at the top of your game.
For quality work you need to be at your best without suffering any afternoon slump or fuzzy concentration. That means putting the right things in your body. You wouldn’t try to run your computer on gas or your car on jet fuel, but with confusing messages everywhere it’s hard to know what to eat for the best.
By the end of the workshop, delegates will:

  • recognise the importance of diet
  • have identified the impact on work
  • discover better breakfasts and lunches
  • understand why we eat and what we need
  • explore what’s hidden in food
  • know what to eat for brain power
  • appreciate the importance of meal breaks
  • have defined a personal goal.

The delegate rate for this full day workshop is £65 +VAT Chamber and Made in Cumbria members / £120 +VAT non-members – to book your place(s) please – BOOK HERE

Should you have any questions regarding the above training event, please do not hesitate to contact me or Catherynn Dunstan from Cumbria Chamber catherynn@cumbriachamber.co.uk.