Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Cut the crap!

On my very favourite website I see a lot of people going through the rigours of sorting out their eating issues. I am making absolutely no judgement on this as we all have to find our own path to where we want to go. However I thought it might be useful to include a few thoughts on here about food. More specifically the quality of food.

Now I am a self confessed foodie! I love food I think it is one of the great delights of life, especially when mixed with good company and good fellowship. However my preference is for GOOD FOOD and good company. If I can only have the good company I will settle for a lower standard of food but if there is no company why would I compromise on the quality of the food?

What I am saying in my roundabout way is this. On Saturday night we are eating out with friends. I will go where we go and eat what I want from whatever is on offer. What sort of person gets precious about what they are eating in those circumstances?

However that is a once or twice a month thing for me (and I suspect for many of us) the rest of the time I am eating for me. To put fuel in my body and to give my body what it needs to be healthy.

Therefore my question is why would anyone eat most of the crap that is on offer these days? Highly processed industrialised food that has been added to tampered with and generally mucked around with until it often bears no resemblance to what it started out as!

If you are looking to get lean and stay think, think and think again about what is going into your body.

It is true that the calories in v. calories out is the ultimate equation but is that really where it ends?

For the first three months of my new lifestyle I was conscious of what I was eating and by most standards I aat well. Since I have come back from my holidays I have stepped it up a bit and really started to look at my diet and see where I can eliminate any remaining processed foods.

Let’ start with breakfast. In the winter porridge is I believe one of the finest foods available to us. Just rolled oats, nothing added nothing taken away. Slice a banana on there and a drizzle of pure runny honey. Gorgeous. At the weekends a couple of free range egs and some smoked salmon!

Bread. I have looked at what goes into commercially made bread and have decided, thanks but no thanks. I don’t each much bread but what I do will be homemade with flour yeast and water and any other seeds or grains I decide to put in.

Snacks are easy! Lean protein with some of last nights veggies or seeds or nuts or fruit with natural yoghurt.

Evening meals are easy. Lean protein and veggies (just got a George Formby type grill and I have to say I am converted!). This does not have to be boring, there are plenty of ways to make it interesting with sauces using chillies, lemon grass, ginger, garlic, tomatoes etc. etc. The key being I know what is going in not some food scientist in a lab somewhere.

Last meal for me is usually some fresh fruit diced up and taken with a dollop of Greek yoghurt and a drizzle of honey, perhaps some quality granola for crunch and carbs if I have been to the gym.

At the weekends there is a bit more chance of varying things because time is at less of a premium.

So what is the result of this? Well I thought I felt good before Christmas but to say there is a tangible improvement about how I feel day to day would be an understatement!

Now I am not saying anyone else has to eat this way, all I am saying is that for me it works. I feel better, I never wake up tired, while all around me are coughing and spluttering I seem to be immune, I have more energy than ever and it seems more ambition!

Is this just me bigging up me? Well maybe but who cares? What I am saying is you want to feel better? Look at the quality of the food you are eating. You don’t have to eat out of the health food store or be taking all sorts of weird and wonderful supplements. Just spend more time in the fresh foods and produce section of the supermarket than all the junk food aisles!

I know a few people will be reading this a bit horrified thinking I am some sort of holier than though health freak. I can assure you I am not I have just discovered that I can feel much better for much longer than I ever did when I was eating junk, and that is good enough for me. Give it a try what is the worst that will happen?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Paying the energy bills.

People have asked me whether having cut calories back when trying to lose weight it is important to compensate for additional calories that have been ‘spent’ through exercise.

Firstly let me make it clear if your body needs say 2100 calories a day to live and allow you to do all the things you are asking it to do (run your brain, breath, move, digest food, eliminate that food, constantly re-build cells etc. etc.) and you only give it 1100, it has to have that energy from somewhere. It runs contrary to the laws of physics for it not to have to take that energy from somewhere.

So in ‘the economy’ of your body evolution has coded three different types of energy, that which you are earning and processing, a i.e. your food intake in it's various forms which it always uses first, the energy involved in your active infrastructure (muscles, skeleton organs etc.) and that which it has stored in the bank against hard times – fat..

Fat is natures energy store. Every gram contains 9 calories as opposed to 4 in every gram of protein or carbohydrate. It is (as far as survival goes) like gold.
So why not if we have too much just eliminate it out of the poop chute?
The reason is that we evolved in a world where food supply was not constant and in winter particularly, those who had been able to store up excess energy from the plentiful times had a greater chance of survival (and therefore were more likely to re-produce) than those who could not.
There was no advantage to be had in getting rid of precious energy you may need during the hard times. It is this evolutionary fact (which we see in operation in many many other animals), that gives us the problems we now have.

The difficulty we now face is that we now have no times of famine (well most of us do not) and we are surrounded by shelves of supermarket groaning with energy dense foods. Trouble is evolution is glacially slow and ours has not had time to adjust and has not yet caught up.
So back to the original question. Let us suppose you embark on a sensible calorie restricted diet where the intake needed to maintain your body and the activities you are doing is 2100 and you aim for a loss of say 2lb per week aim to take in 1100 calories per day. This is quite a drastic change from the say 2500 per day you were consuming.

Being dedicated and focussed you take yourself off to the gym and having strapped on your trusty heart rate monitor you exercise to the tune of 600 calories. In effect you have just robbed you body of 600 calories as your normal maintenance level has gone from 2100 to 2700.
This is something of a shock to your system as you are now actually 1700 short on the day.
Now unfortunately as yet the body has not evolved a direct line from your conscious mind to your cybernetic regulatory system. It is no good saying don’t worry I am only doing this for a week or two, feel free to use up my fat stores normal service will be restored as soon as I am X stones Y pounds.

What your ‘evolutionary body thinks is “cripes! The food (income) has run out I have energy bills to pay (the deficit you have created) and I have to pay it and quickly."

Now (aside from where it is needed to perform certain functions in the body like protect nerves etc.) fat really only has one main purpose and that is paying the energy bill. But it is very good at that. However it is not the only substance in your body that can pay the energy bill. Your muscles, organs and skeleton can too.

But let us look at muscles for a moment. In evolutionary terms these are the earning sections of your economy. They allow animals to run, jump, walk to where the food is, to hunt food down, lift rocks and branches to find grubs etc. So while they can pay energy bills they can also be employed to keep the income coming in - call it your earning infrastructure.

We know that if you work muscles with physical exercises and particularly heavy weight exercises your body would rather repair them and keep them in good working order than it would use them to pay the energy bills. Of course it would if they are there you can eat if they are not you cannot.

This makes evolutionary sense. Those early humans who had the muscle power to hunt and gather, got more food than those who did not.

Consequently your body responds differently to say a 1000 per day deficit if you are accounting for and eating those additional calories than if you are not. It registers that the muscles are being used that energy volumes are increased even though there is still a deficit. Exercising and increasing intake is sometimes called 'high energy flux'.

What we know is that if you are in high energy flux and your deficit is the same as if you were just in calorie depravation your body reacts differently.

In high energy flux your body knows it has to maintain it’s investment infrastructure (the muscles and skeleton etc) as they will be needed to keep the income flowing in therefore it pays the energy bills out of it’s fat reserves.

If you force it into what is sometimes called ‘starvation mode’ by going on very low calorie intake (wether by choice or by creating that state by exercising and not increasing intake) it tries to hang on to it’s ‘gold deposit’ of fat as it has no idea how long the famine will last and after all it is not using it’s infrastructure anyway so it can sell a bit of that off.

What does this mean to people trying to lose weight? It means that if you send your body into energy deficit but do not use your infrastructure you lose a higher proportion of muscle than you do fat. This in turn decreases the need for calories (after all the investment infrastructure cost more to maintain than the fat deposits) which makes sense really seeing as there is a shortage of food. Thus decreasing your need for energy.

You will lose weight by starving! But what happens when you have had enough of starving yourself and the will power goes? You have sold off some investment infrastructure (muscle and skeleton) and the amount of energy you need to stay alive has fallen from say 2100 calories per day to 2000.

But no body gives you an accurate read out and you return to your previous eating habits and consume 2500 calories a day. So even though you have lost weight you are now putting it back on at a rate greater than you were before because the level needed to maintain your physical body has fallen. So now rather than being in excess to the tune of 400 cals per day you are in excess to the tune of 500 calories per day.

Not only that but unless you make efforts to re-build that investment infrastructure that excess will be laid down against either another famine or when you next decide to go on a starvation diet. No wonder the fat piles back on.

If you are looking to lose fat, strive for a state of high energy flux. Let your body know it needs all the infrastructure it has to maintain these levels of energy input and let it be confident in using up some of it’s fat stores. That way lies the lean fit you I suspect you want!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Stress and how to deal with it!

I thought it might be useful to look a bit closer at the whole question of stress.

Stress is a response we have evolved and developed over millions of years so it is with us to stay and is not 'just' imagination.

Cortisole is produced in the adrenal gland and as many know adrenaline is the most powerful of stress responses to be used in fight or flight. However adrenaline is not useful for longer term 'stresses' or what could be termed challenges, as it causes an immediate physiological response.

Cortisole is triggered by our brain dealing with input from both bio-feedback mechanisms in the body and by stimulus from outside changing the way we think. To explain further if you are hungry that is a bio-feedback it is telling you to start thinking about finding some food. If you don't cortisole is employed to start providing the body with more glucose.

However it is quite possible to trigger the stress response by the way we 'choose to think'. If we go to the supermarket and find the shelves empty even though we may just have eaten it is likely that there will be a stress response because we are thinking forward about how we might have no food to eat!

Often we stress ourselves through our own imaginings. If loved one is late home we imagine flashing blue lights and emergency rooms much more than we do seeing them enjoying themselves and losing track of time!

So this is the easiest 'stress relief' tip you will ever get! If you find yourself stressed, ask yourself this simple question 'How can I think about this differently'. There are several sub-strategies that I know work or you can make them up as you go along. What you do does not really matter as long as you can change your focus and the way you are thinking.

My chosen response to stress is always to develop a strategy to deal with whatever it is. This winds my OH up no end!!!

When I ran training I used to invite people to write down all of the 'work stuff' that was running around in their heads, you know all the stuff which is 'crucial' (not!) and would if I left it there distract them all day. I then got them to seal it in an envelope and sign the back. They then gave the envelope to someone else in the group they trusted or to me. At the end of the day they got them back.
What this did was dump that stuff for the period of the training but they knew they would have it back at the end of the day. I have though had people at the end of the training say they would not bother taking the envelope back!!

Others quite rightly suggest distraction. If you are stressing over something you probably have too much 'thinking time' on your hands. Go do something else. Listen to some music on headphones, do the ironing, go for a walk with your OH there are thousands of things.
The point is that in modern life many of our stresses are very perceptual.

The great thing is that if you change the thinking you change your bodies physiological response. For instance it is known that laughter decreases cortisole levels in the blood stream! So put a Blackadder DVD on (it always makes me laugh!).

Of course exercise is without doubt a really really good way of getting rid of stress.
Once you have done it once notice what difference it made, how and where your body felt difference.

Stress is natural, in fact it could be argued it is an essential part of being human, it is how we DEAL with it that will determine if you are it's mater or it's slave.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Being sold to

It strikes me that people trying to do something about their weight/fat are a somewhat vulnerable group when it comes to being targeted by the rapacious ‘diet’ industry. It seems everywhere you look there is someone promising you an easy way to lose 40lbs of unwanted belly, or ‘eat this and you will be healthy for life’.

Let me just say one thing. If any of these things worked we would all be lean lithe and lissom and some fortunate inventor would be sitting there counting his (her?) billions. There would be only one thing to buy and we would all use it wouldn’t we?

But there is not just one miracle cure is there, whether it is a super abs twister or a super fat burning goji berry shake!

The fact is there really is no short cut. The fact is that most of us have eaten an exccess of calories for years. We decide we want to change in a moment but we also the results in a moment. There is a fundamental mismatch here.

I am of course open to argument but as far as I can tell there is no easy way to get lean. It is about changing behaviour. No longer eating without thinking what is going into the body and why, it is about moving more than perhaps you have done for years. It is about re-discovering where food sensibly fits within a balanced and happy lifestyle.

None of these things are made any easier by being bombarded by ‘marketeers’ (snake oil salesmen) purporting to have the easy cure to all your body shape issues.

So I have a few recommendations:

If the product is ONLY aimed at dieters run, run in the opposite direction. You do not see ‘diet’ cabbage or ‘diet’ Swedes. There really is no need for diet foods just good proportions of good foods. There is no prescription of only a few foods to eat, food CAN be enjoyed so work out how much of the food you enjoy you can eat.

There are no pills or potions that will do the job for you. If there were the NHS would be giving them out for free. Obesity is costing us millions now and will cost us billions in the future.

Any exercise contraption that promises to make you lean lithe and lissom from one body movement should be avoided like the plague. THEY do not work. Those buff and beautiful models they have on them are just that models, they are being paid to look that good, and they look that good because they do the hard work of looking after their nutrition and exercise in the kitchen and the gym.

Of course there are people who will profit from helping us along the way, those who provide gym facilities, for example. No problem with that they are offering their facilities to everyone not selling their gym as a miracle cure. People who have ‘been there and done that will often write books about their experience’. As long as they are not selling snake oil I see no problem with them making a living by sharing their knowledge.

You no doubt can think of other examples. I am by nature a free market person but I also think it is incumbent on the consumer to educate themselves to avoid being taken in by these rouges.

That is the purpose of writing this blog piece. The sooner we ALL wise up and realise that there is no ‘quick fit – get ripped in 4 weeks’ answer the better!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Is it really that confusing?

I went to a friend of my daughter’s to pick her up last night and bumped into the friend’s mum, a lady of similar vintage to myself. She had not seen me for some considerable time and remarked on how much less of me there was. She said she too would like to lose weight but it is all sooo confusing. How had I done it?

That got me to thinking. It is confusing, but why so?

Call me a cynic but I think the whole ‘diet’ thing has been made confusing by the fractured and self interested nature of the diet industry. Each part of that industry (and it is enormous) is interested in pushing forward it’s solution as THE solution.

Let us examine a simple proposition, one that has worked for me, it has transformed me from a fat, sluggish 51 year old that was deluded in thinking that he was just big boned into a more realistic leaner, healthier, fitter 51 year old, who is under many fewer illusions.

The proposition is that in essence getting lean is actually quite simple and straight forward. The problem is that there really is not a great deal of money to be made from selling ‘products’ this way. How so?

The first building block to a leaner life is in your own head. Get that sorted and you are well on your way. True it may be that you have to spend a few bob on a good book or two but if you really want to you can glean huge amounts of information from the good old interweb. You must be prepared to sort the wheat from the chaff but it is out there.

Secondly eat well (with a calorie deficit while trying to lose fat). By eat well I mean good food, quality food. Not specialist foods, not diet food just the best quality food your budget will allow. If you are reasonably well off by all means eat fillet steak, if you cannot stretch to that slow cook some shin of beef, it will end up falling apart tender and taste better than the fillet. Vegetables are plentiful all year round and if you choose those that are in season they will not cost a fortune. Trouble is for the ‘diet industry’ there is no way you can process a vegetable to make it more healthy. Why because it is usually pretty damn perfect as it is. Learn how to make good bread. You will find that you need eat less of it because it is denser and more satisfying. No need to eat the ‘diet’ variety. In fact I would go so far as to say that there is no need to eat any ‘products’ of the ‘diet’ industry.

Thirdly. MOVE!!!! Part of the reason we have such an obesity problem is that we have not evolved to do what I am doing now, sitting at a PC typing! Our bodies were evolved to move, to work, to run, to walk to where the food is. So to get lean we HAVE to move more. That means cardio vascular exercise, running, cycling, swimming, walking. No need for any sort of diet industry here.

Fourthly. Re-build lean mass. If you have a temporary calorie deficit (what is often referred to as dieting) your body will to a certain extent catabolise it’s own lean mass as well as some of the fat that is stored.

Anyone who reads this blog knows that I am a rabid advocate of maintaining lean mass. Why? Simple really lean mass (muscle and organs) takes a lot more calories to stay alive. Therefore if you maintain your lean mass while losing fat your metabolism will be higher than if you lose of lean mass along with the fat.

So given that anyone in deficit will lose lean muscle, the body has to be encouraged to ‘re-build’ it’s muscles. This is done by doing resistance (weight) training that take the muscle to the point of hypertrophy, which is where the micro fine fibres are broken and need to be repaired. It is the repaired strands that strengthen and re-build the muscle.

Again there is good evolutionary reasoning for this. Successful early humans would have lifted rocks carried branches and done all manner of other things. Those that maintained and repaired muscle well did better than those who did not. Evolution in action.

But again not something the ‘diet industry is going to tell you about’ is it? True, gyms do well out of it but there are many many things that can be done at home at very low cost.

So is it really confusing, this getting lean business? Get your head straight, eat quality fresh food whenever possible (in the short term at a deficit to your energy needs). Move. Get the heart pumping, encourage the body to burn off excess fat. Re-build the lean muscle being loss through weight bearing resistance exercise.

How confusing is that, the rest is just detail?

These are the secrets that the diet/nutritionist/supplement industry does not want you to know, because there is nothing in it for them. They are desperate to sell their supplements and diet magic. In past day they had a name for these people – snake oil salesmen.

Ask yourself one other question do turkeys vote for Christmas? Why then would the diet industry ever come up with a product that worked? If it did it would go out of business.
If one person reads this blog and starts to think differently it will have made my year because it will be one more person delivered from the grasping clutches of the diet industry.