Tuesday, 29 September 2009

10 Weight Loss Tips

In my last post I discussed my experiences regarding a 3-day water fast I undertook as an experiment.

While my comments box did not overflow, the feedback I got was much appreciated. I also had a number of friends ask me whether I had lost weight as a result.

This surprised me because I had never really intended for the fast to be a weight loss tool. Yes, I did lose about 4 or 5kg's, but that weight loss was temporary and within a week of returning to "normal" my weight had again stabilized close to where it was prior to fasting.

My intention was to raise my own awareness of the effect of food and drink on my body ... and to go outside my comfort zone for a few days longer than any previous fasting experience. I guess I was also just a little bit curious to see if I could really do it in the first place. A small test of will power.

Anyway, all this talk of weight loss got me thinking that this was something that people are truly fascinated about. So I decided to do a post off the top of my head called "10 weight loss tips".

Here they are in no particular order.

1. Try to minimise emotional stress. Very often we turn to food as a way to numb our feelings. When we over-eat, so much of our energy is diverted towards digestion that we are left with very little to invest elsewhere. And of course, emotional stress also places a huge demand on our energy reserves too.

2. Clean house ... and kitchen. Decluttering is always a good idea. But throwing out any food that we know is energy-sapping gives one even more satisfaction. Processed foods are a source of chemically-altered fats and refined sugars. In short they are "empty" calories, providing the drawback of excess calories without the attendant benefit of nutrients essential to proper cellular function.

This results in imbalance ... and ultimately symptoms of this imbalance, such as excess body fat. Left unchecked, we become increasingly more at risk of serious illness such as metabolic syndrome, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

3. Go shopping every few days. Human beings were designed to respond best to a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables. And the only way to get these fresh is to buy them as close to harvest as you can get ... and consume them quickly.

4. Daily activity. Just about every program on the internet today suggests we can get everything we need from 20 minutes or less of vigorous resistance exercise or interval training, maybe 3 times a week. This may be an efficient way of increasing your calorie burn post exercise ... but it's not enough to keep you physically fit.

And if you're not physically fit, you can't be that healthy. And if you're not that healthy you are exposed to manifestations of this such as excess body fat.

5. Retire earlier. No, I don't mean stop working. I mean go to bed earlier than you normally do. We spend our nights trying to de-stress in front of the computer or the TV. By the time we go to bed we are wired and our systems are full of the stress hormone cortisol. This works against melatonin, a natural sleep-inducing hormone ... and we end up getting short-changed.

So go to bed earlier, read and gently wind down. When you close your eyes, learn to leave your day behind. When you sleep you recuperate. If you don't get enough, fat loss will be virtually impossible.

6. Stop going out to eat ... and ordering in. You always end up eating calorie-dense, nutrient depleted high-fat cooked "addiction" food. This may taste great, but it will set you back in your efforts to lose weight. Instead, make this an occasional treat so you still keep a healthy state of mind.

7. Social support. If your family aren't with you when it comes to healthy eating initiatives, then you are fighting a losing battle. It's just that simple. But don't impose your regime on your family either. It all comes down to the art of negotiation. Don't blow it, because fat loss doesn't happen in a domestic war zone.

8. If you buy it, you will consume it. That goes for the booze you buy in case your friends pop over for a visit. And it goes for the chocolate you buy just for the occasional treat. When the addiction monster raises its ugly head, all resistance will crumble. Better not to have anything "on tap" in the first place. Temptation is much easier to resist that way.

9. Keep your head. If you have a blow out, don't compound it. Dust yourself off and get back on track ... and learn what you can for next time. Berating yourself will only make you feel worse and you want to keep your emotions on an even keel.

10. Finally, keep learning. Keep an open mind and never stop experimenting. But don't become an information hound. Dig until you find someone who you think you can trust, then learn what you can from them while keeping an open mind. Don't blow with the wind.

Until next time, my svelte little friends!

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Water Fast Complete

I completed my fast as scheduled and can now relate my experience.

Before I start I would again refer you to my words of caution mentioned in my last post. There are always risks involved, so please do the responsible thing and seek medical advice and supervision as a matter of preference.

I decided to undertake a short-term water fast (no food, only water) in order to learn more about this intriguing practice. Apparently when a body is not burdened with the necessity to digest, absorb and assimilate food ... it can then use all available resources to repair, rejuvenate and regenerate.

Most people are generally terrified of the idea of going without food for even a few hours. My friends were horrified. Why are you doing that? Why would you do that to yourself? Why stress yourself so severely? Are you mad? Will you be OK?

These were a few of the comments made. The assumption being that I was doing something highly dangerous and verging on the insane. People are afraid of what they don't understand, so these reactions are not surprising. I was quite relaxed.

Even my more enlightened friends were apprehensive. What about your blood sugar? Why don't you just start with a day? Isn't four days too long? Why do you want to do this?

Of course I had done my homework, reading books, articles and accounts of people who had fasted ... and lived to tell the tale. All were enlightening. All were filled with fascinating data that was quite unexpected.

It would seem that fasting is an amazingly effective healing protocol. But in this world of medical obsession and litigation, honest information was always shrouded with statements of caution.

I decided I was ready to fast and wanted, as an informed adult, to exercise my right to learn more the best way I knew how ... first hand experience.

I started on the Wednesday before my trip to London. I simply had a light, early dinner ... then stopped eating and went to bed at my normal time. Totally painless! The next morning I jumped on the train to London, got settled, shopped, walked and attended a three hour seminar. By 5pm Thursday I was still not that hungry or uncomfortable. I'd been too busy.

Walking the few miles back to the hotel that evening was the first time I felt noticeably hungry. Every street corner exuded the smell of curry, or pizza or some exotic treat. Every smell seemed to beckon me.

This exercise was rapidly becoming a huge feat of restraint.

It would have been so easy to say I'd gone 24 hours and just pack it in ... but I remained determined. I'd fasted 24 hours on numerous occasions. I was ready for unchartered territory. So I retired to my hotel to read, drink water and pretend not to notice the plethora of odours that wafted from everywhere.

London smells delicious!

Friday was easier. I had found my rhythm, renewed my resolve and survived my first night. I had slept well, but woken at 3am with the feeling that I was mildly nauseous. The walk to my seminars was uneventful, but I did notice all the Japanese restaurants and wood-fired pizza nooks.

This was not going to be easy.

My research indicated that once I had exhausted my body's reserves of stored carbohydrate (glycogen) it would enter a period of "gluconeogenesis" where it would break down protein to create the sugar needed to feed my brain. This would continue only long enough for it to sense that this was potentially destructive, whereupon it would then change gear and enter "protein sparing".

In this phase of gluconeogenesis, fats would be broken down creating more glucose, as well as some alcohol-like molecules called ketones. I'm no scientist, so please accept that my grasp of the supporting science may be somewhat limited.

Once past protein-sparing, appetite would theoretically disappear (it didn't for me) and a "normal" human could conceivably continue for far longer than most would imagine. Experienced fasters under supervision are known to fast for more than a month with no apparent harmful consequence.

I was just trying to survive 4 days without chewing my own arm off!

Friday night was hard. I felt worse than during the day and seemed to feel different every six hours or so. My hunger was dulled by a mild headache and I could definitely feel the toxins being released from my body fat reserves.

By Saturday morning, I felt brilliant. I had remained committed to monitoring the colour (and odour) of my urine and drinking water fairly consistently without going overboard. I was consuming at least three litres each 24 hours and for me this felt about right. Again, you may be different, so consult a professional if you want to know more. I was also careful to stand up slowly, as blood pressure tends to come down.

Saturday was a great day. I was clear-headed, went for a lovely walk in the sun and had energy to spare. Vigorous exercise is contraindicated during a fast, but I felt quite comfortable with mobility exercises and regular walks. I also appreciated the extra rest and sleep. While I was hungry, I was also feeling a sense of achievement.

I also decided that I would break my fast with a small helping of fruit on Sunday morning at around 9am. A formal lunch was planned for 1pm, so I wanted to introduce my system to something gently some hours in advance. Again, everyone is different and professional supervision may suggest a different strategy. The important thing is to respect your body and be gentle. Common sense should guide your actions.

Saturday night was a pleasure. No headache. A deep, relaxed, rejuvenating sleep ... and a clear head on rising.

My Sunday fruit was watermelon and grapes. They were nothing short of divine and I ate everything as if I would never eat again. The taste was exquisite. The perfect food for a body that felt "new". I was not tired, or grumpy, or sore. I was alert, relaxed and clear-headed. I ate slowly feeling no urge to gulp. My intention was only to savour.

The lunch was also a treat and I probably ate too much. In the few days since then, I have been aware of the load that food imposes on the body and have instinctively chosen to eat less. Any mistakes are immediately evident.

In the process I am closer to my goals of eating more responsibly. It is an experience I will definitely repeat. Most importantly I feel I am developing a better idea of my body's own unique nutritional requirements and learning better long-term consumption habits.

I feel considerably richer for the experience.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Water Fast Planned

In a total departure from my usual slightly sour observations I thought I would try an experiment.

I'm planning on doing a short term water fast, from tonight (Wednesday) until Sunday afternoon. I have done several one day/two night fasts, but this will be new territory for me.

In case anyone decides to duplicate this, please be advised that it is always recommended you do some homework first and undertake any fasting "under medical supervision". Fasting is not for everyone, so please ... always be responsible.

Why am I doing this?

Because I am genuinely curious to see what effect it will have on my body and mind. I will be in a relaxed, low key environment and will stop running for the duration. I will however walk ... and I will definitely sleep.

But I'm really looking forward to it. It's all part of my overall plan to clean, declutter and heal.

I will describe my experience next time I post.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

NHS Painting Itself Into A Corner

Government has rejected a proposal by a management consulting firm to cut 137,000 jobs in the NHS over the next 5 years in order to save GBP20 billion by 2014.

Both clinical and administrative positions were under threat, representing roughly 10% of the Health Service's workforce. This of course is only one chapter in the continuing saga over the future of the NHS and once again raises the question "are cuts really necessary to protect it?"

A discussion about the subject on BBC breakfast raised some interesting thought processes. The three reasons given by people opposed to cuts and used to justify additional spending on the NHS are:

- we're all living longer
- patient expectations are higher
- more drugs are coming onto the market

Keep in mind that NHS spending already accounts for about 20% of total government expenditure.

The discussion also pointed out that the cuts proposed were for doctors and nurses ... and should have been focused on better efficiencies. More clinical staff, less "pen pushing" middle-management administrators. This appeared to echo the sentiment of most of the people who e-mailed in to join the fray.

And of course, being that the NHS is a business, mention was also made of "productivity" ... essentially shorter lengths of stay with better outcomes. How slick!

I listened with interest and make the following observations.

Here goes:

1. We are not all living longer. That is a misleading statistic that is rolled out whenever people feel the need to justify continued investment in a system that quite clearly is against the ropes. The statistics show an apparent increase in average life span primarily because of less infant mortality (as hygiene standards have improved over the last 100 years).

The reality hidden in these numbers is that we are getting sicker sooner, then lingering on in a state of dependance. Hardly something to crow about ... but then there is always this moral imperative to measure "success" purely in terms of life extension. Surely quality of life is ultimately more meaningful?

And why pretend that things are better for us now when they actually are not?

Although people flinch from the truth, it is very profitable for the medical and pharmaceutical industries to sustain life at any cost. But we have no provision in our existing paradigm for an answer to that one any time soon.

2. Patient expectations are higher. That's interesting. Are we becoming more discerning, or simply more spoilt? Or are we believing the rhetoric that says that we should demand more from those in charge.

Personally, I feel it's totally unrealsitic to think that the system in its current state can even continue to tread water.

Again more lies. People should perhaps rethink ... and downgrade their expectations in line with reality. Or learn to live a healthier lifestyle.

3. More drugs are coming on the market. Finally, the truth! That is why we should be spending more folks. How else can we keep launching new drugs and keep this gravy train moving?

Onwards and upwards old chap ... let's increase government expenditure to 25% of total budget. Why show people how to get healthy and reduce a growing market? After all, it's what the market wants to hear.

My prediction ... sledgehammer cuts, many tears and people crying foul ... and more lies until the whole system becomes completely unsustainable. I wonder if my postcode will be fortuitous or detrimental?

How can we continue to miss that our focus should shift from picking up the pieces to prevention in the first place? We have an entire economy that depends on people getting sick and dependant.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Our Health Paradigm

I watched with interest a TV show yesterday that looked at two sides of the UK benefits system.

Ordinarily, this would not be something that I would have much interest in as I am not a big fan of the concept and avoid shows that wallow in such matters on principle. What probably held my attention long enough to get me watching was a story about an elderly couple who had defrauded the system of over 2.5 million pounds.

I was fascinated to see whether anything would be done about it. This soon became secondary to me.

There was also a story about a middle-aged lady who had her 10 year-old daughter dressing her, bathing her and tending to her every need. You see, this lady suffered from osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia and needed her daughter to help her with the daily basics we take for granted.

She also felt extremely guilty about being what she perceived as an imposition on her own young child. When asked how she felt, the child bravely confessed that the situation was difficult as her mother squirmed with embarrassment.

Basically, some concerned citizen helped her fill out the necessary paperwork, leading to a monthly cash entitlement that allowed her to fund a full-time adult carer ... and free up her daughter so she could enjoy life like any "normal" ten year old.

On the surface, a lovely story. This mum was so touched that she was no longer a burden on her daughter. And State funds had come to the rescue of someone truly in need.

This poignant tale also saddened me on a number of other levels.

First, the sick lady's doctor had told her her condition was irreversable. She related this "fact" with a degree of grim stoicism. Now our friend was quite a large lady (as was her young daughter) which got me thinking that her woes were largely diet related. But I'm not a doctor, so how inappropriate of me to make such an assumption.

This possibility of diet as a potential causative factor also quite clearly never even entered the equation, or it would surely have been mentioned. Why not? I can only speculate.

The State obviously didn't see it as an issue. Why not? Perhaps because her doctor didn't. Again, speculation on my behalf.

Or do we just not talk about something that personal?

Here were two people, a mother and a daughter, who quite obviously were dreadfully unhappy with their lot. Their doctor had given them no hope. Nor had he/she raised diet as a factor, in spite of their physical appearance. At least not to the degree where it was at all worthy of comment.

And the state was perfectly happy to continue funding this sorry situation to its inevitable conclusion. More dependance. More cost. Continued perpetuation of a paradigm that is becoming more and more deep-seated in today's benefit-dependent culture.

And with all the millions at its disposal, not one expert will step forward to raise the issue of diet. In fact, more and more money will be spent trying to find a cure, or at least a mitigator to control the ever-increasing burden on State resources.

Doctors. Dieticians. Panels of highly qualified experts and legislators. All will conveniently ignore the two truths most fundamental to this most serious of issues.

First, consumption habits are the cause of the lion's share of this suffering ... and people like this sweet lady and her smiling daughter will never know the truth.

And second, her diagnosis of "hopelessly dependant for life with things getting progressively worse" virtually ensures that these two individuals (and millions more now and in the future) will continue to deplete the finite resources of a system that fosters more lies and more wretched dependance.

What a tragic waste of potentially productive lives! When will someone finally come to their senses and stop the rot. That 10 year-old child is likely to end up just like her mother. Riddled with pain. Unaware of her true options. Dependant for life. And convinced that she is a victim of her own bad genetics or random misfortune.

Is there no-one else out there who sees this? Maybe not.