Top Five Factors Affecting Your Weight – Not What You’re Expecting?!

Most people think they know what the best advice is to get control of their weight: eat small portions of healthy food and exercise.  Yet, if we look at the science, some different answers come out.

Let’s look at the top five factors that really affect your weight, then think about how best to use this information.

DanceClass5) Exercise

It is really beneficial to exercise on a number of levels.  It boosts your mood, improves how your body processes what you eat, and changes how your body looks.  However, it isn’t the biggest factor in controlling your weight.  There is only so much exercise you can humanly do.  +

Unfortunately, our modern high-sugar, high-fat foods pack a huge calorie punch that you don’t have enough hours in the day to work off.  So, although beneficial, exercise can never be sufficient to control your weight without bringing some other factors into the equation

baby-1151351_6404) Sleep

Lots of studies have shown a direct correlation between getting too little sleep and gaining weight.  That’s the bad news.  The worse news is that more and more people are getting by on less sleep than they need, in our modern society.  Whether you attribute it to electric lights allowing poeple to stay up/work later, too much screen time before bed, or the high stress and long hours of much of modern life, the fact is there.

It’s definitely worthwhile to take steps to improve your sleep quality and quantity.  That might involve looking at your sleep hygiene: avoiding or  cutting down on caffeine (that includes chocolate), alcohol and nicotine; not looking at blue light after a certain time; decreasing sweet foods in the evening; make sure your bedroom is as cool, dark and quiet as possible; establish a pre-sleep routine; do something to drop your stress levels (more below on this).

c71d0-salad3) What You Eat

Of course, what you eat matters.  While food fads come and go at frighteningly regular intervals, and different studies point in different directions, there are some principles which endure.  You may not be sure how much red wine is good for you, but you know that a little can have benefits, at least to your body (your brain is a different matter, according to Dr Daniel Amen, who preaches being teetotal).  And you know that eating crisps, chocolate and pizza, and drinking sugary drinks (or even sugar free drinks with artificial sweeteners) will do you, and your weight, no good at all.

The best advice is to eat moderately from any natural, unprocessed foods.  You may not be able to avoid processed foods entirely (nor want to), but make sure they don’t take over.  And the less sugar, the better.

What To Eat When2) When You Eat

More recently, there has been a lot of press coverage, and a lot of scientific research, on the importance of when you eat.  Of course, there’s the 5:2 diet, where you restrict your calories to a quarter of ‘normal’ on two days each week.  There are also other forms of intermittent fasting, eg. doing a full 36 hour fast once a week, or doing a weekend fast once a month.  Another option is time-restricted eating: going at least 13 hours between your evening meal and when you break your fast.  It seems like everyone has an opinion, and a scientific study or five to back it up, determining when you should eat for optimum health and weight control.

Certainly, eating last thing at night is seen by almost everyone as a bad idea, and giving your digestive system some kind of a break on a regular basis seems like a good idea.

cat-2209105_6401) Relaxation

Stastics on comfort eating and stress eating vary between 25% and 50% of people in modern society.  That’s  up to 1 in 2 people who turn to food for comfort or to deal with stress!  Yet, anyone who has ever done this knows it’s far from effective.  The real result is more stress as you feel guilt and shame, and hate your body for not being the weight you want it to be.

Underlying this are a couple of different factors.  One is boredom or loneliness.  Another is stress and the release of cortisol.  There are lots of studies showing that cortisol triggers appetite for fat and sugar, and that it makes it harder to shift excess weight.  And, to add insult to injury, even over-exercising can be a stressor that causes the release of cortisol!

By relaxing, you can stop the release of cortisol, and balance your autonomic nervous system.  This by itself will help with weight control both at the level of stopping cravings, as well as at a physiological level helping your body to process the food you eat in a healthier way.  It will also help your sleep – so finally we have a win-win.

What’s the solution?

With the stress-relaxation axis being perhaps the single most important factor influencing weight, there is finally some good news.  There are lots of things that you can do to help you relax.  Better yet, many of them can be done in short periods of time.

My top seven picks for de-stressing are:

4-7-8 Breathing

This is a surprisingly simple technique.  The basic idea is that you breath following a three part structure:

First, you breath in through your nose on a count of four.

Second, you hold your breath for a count of seven.

Third, you breathe out through pursed lips on a count of eight.

An added touch is to have your tongue touching the back of your top front teeth throughout, including as you exhale forcefully through your mouth.  However, don’t worry if this is overcomplicated.  Just keep to the basic count, and everything else is icing on the cake, so to speak.

Mini-meditations

There is increasing evidence that meditation doesn’t have to take a long time to be effective.  In fact, some people even suggest as little as three minutes, three times a day, can have a profound effect.  And you can choose from a lot of different kinds of meditation.  Here are a few simple meditation  suggestions:

1)Watch your breath as it flows in and out.  No need to control it or count, just be present with your breath.

2) Imagine yourself in a safe, pleasant place.  Make the space feel as real as possible: what would you hear, what would you see, what would you feel, what would you smell, what would you taste?

3) Be present with your actual experience.  What can you feel right now?  What can you see?  What can you hear?  Can you taste anything?  Can you smell anything?  For three minutes (or more) just keep asking yourself those questions, and seeing what comes up.

Socialising

Take some time to be with other people.  At best, this would be face-to-face.  Really listen to whoever you are with and acknowledge them.  You can also take the time to write a heartfelt text.  The point is to truly connect with someone, so make it a mini-love-letter, rather than a mini-rant.  Or call someone, just to say hello and find out how they are.  We are social animals, and some true human connection works wonders on our mood.

Movement

Pick something you enjoy.  It could be five minutes of chair yoga while you’re on break, or a longer yoga class.  Or it could be dancing, or walking, jogging, skating, weights.  Whatever you enjoy.  And it doesn’t have to take long, even a few minutes will make a difference to your mood.  Moving releases all kinds of natural chemicals to help you feel good, as well as burning calories – yay, another win-win!

Reading

Studies show that just six minutes reading de-stresses you as much as meditating.  How easy is that to fit into your day?

Crafting
Taking up a hobby that relaxes you and keeps your hands occupied is a win-win.  After all, if your hands are busy, they can’t be putting food in your mouth.  Secondly, such pasttimes are meditative, getting you into that flow space where you are challenged just enough to stay interested and relaxed at the same time.  There are myriad different options here, for example sketching, zentangle, colouring, knitting, sewing, painting, felting,

Hypno-relaxation

This is like an amped-up version of meditation.  You are guided, so it’s easier to follow and not get lost.  And extra benefits and suggestions can be added in, to improve your immune system, help you lose weight, teach you a new breathing technique, or many more options.  To try out a mini-hypno-relaxation, just click on the image below and relax!

How To Really Make Healthy Eating Easy

The Starting Point

Have you seen this TEDx Talk, which promises to explain “How to make healthy eating unbelievably easy”?  Unfortunately, it only manages to be unbelievably naive.

The basic premise is that to make healthy eating easy, you have to remove unhealthy options from your surroundings.  Sadly, there is nothing new there.  After all, in Bill Phillips’ 2010 bestseller Transformation: How to Change Everything, he discusses exactly that as one of his first steps.  Clear out your kitchen of any junk food and other triggers to unhealthy eating.

What Else?

More to the point, that was just the first step of many Bill Phillips suggests.  He also talks about motivation, community, accountability, and healing the past, to name just a few.  There’s a good reason for that: the “control your surroundings” plan only works as a short-term measure.

Sure, some people live places where the closest shop takes long enough to get to that it’s an effort you’d be unwilling to make unless you’re desperate.  Or somewhere that the shops are closed for a good deal of the time.  For any city dweller, though, junk food is just a short walk away, day or night.

On top of that, if your cravings are strong enough, you’ll drive half an hour to the closest shop.  Or spend an hour baking something at home from ingredients most people won’t want to remove from their kitchen, even if they have had a clear out.  Hell, I’ve baked flapjacks using oats, apple juice, apricots and not much more.  All healthy ingredients, but eat enough of them and the calories add up!

As Bill Phillips correctly pointed out all those years ago, the most important factor in achieving transformation is not trying to bend your environment to your will, because that’s pretty much impossible.  The most important factor is mindset, and there are several different elements to it.

brain-619060_640Motivation

I’ve written about motivation in the past – the different types that exist, and how to make them work for you.  Motivation is certainly an important element, yet it’s only part of the equation that makes up mindset.  Other elements include environment, capabilities and resources, beliefs and values, sense of identity, and life’s purpose.

Environment

By environment, I don’t mean whether you’ve got cookies in your kitchen cupboard.  Rather, it’s things like how stressed you are in your life.  Do you love your job, your relationships, your financial and geographical situation, your home?  Or do any or all of them cause you stress?  Do you live right next to a really delicious bakery?  Are there always cakes in your office kitchen?  What activities do you do with your friends?  Do you go to the pub, go out for dinner, or are you more likely to do something active with them?

Resources and Capabilities

What resources do you have?  I’m not just talking about whether you have a computer, but also whether you have time to search for the information you need, or someone that you can ask for help.  Do you have a kitchen, and is it equipped with the pots, pans, baking tins and whatever else you might need to make healthy, nutritious food?

And what skills and capabilities do you have?  Do you know how to cook healthy food that is tasty?  And can you do so in the time you have between work and other commitments?  What about shopping for healthy food: do you find you never have the ingredients you need?  How about what goes with what?

Beliefs and Values

What beliefs do you have that may help or hinder you?  Do you believe that healthy food has to be tasteless and boring?  Do you believe that junk food is the only way to reward yourself?  Not only that, but as you make changes to your behaviour you may come across new beliefs you didn’t realise you held.

You can also ask yourself what you value: what is important to you?  Is it important for you to have variety in your life?  That might be a block to cutting certain foods out of your diet.  Or do you feel it’s vital to be hospitable?  How might that affect what you feel you need to offer others who come to your home?

Sense of Identity

Who do you feel yourself to be?  That might seem an odd question.  Still, a lot of people say things like: “I’m not someone who can change,” or “I always fall back into old habits”, or “I just love food too much to give up some things”.  These become part of how you see yourself, and that can be a block to enjoying healthy eating.

Sense of Purpose

This is a biggie: what do you think your purpose is in this life?  Now, you might be wondering what that has to do with healthy eating.  Think about this, though.  If you feel your purpose is to be happy, but being overweight makes you unhappy, then changing to a healthier way of eating will help you fulfill your life’s purpose.  If you feel that being of service to others is paramount, how might you getting on top of your eating help others?  Would it give you more energy to assist them?  Would you be able to act as a role model to inspire others to make better choices?

meditation-1384758_640

How To Change Your Mindset

There are a number of ways to approach your mindset.

Questioning

One of those is by asking yourself some of the questions above.  By becoming clear on what is helping you and hindering you can make changes in a way that suits you better.  For example, if you realise that going to the break room at work is a big trigger for you, can you find a way around it?  That might be going out to the park instead of going to the break room.  Or it might be starting a healthy eating initiative at work, to get others involved.  That way, you improve your environment and also get a community of like-minded people as support: win-win.

Healing the Past

Another mindset transformer is to heal issues from the past that have led you to where you are.  You might choose a talking therapy, or maybe you could try hypnotherapy.  It’s amazing what you can do when you revisit the past in hypnosis, and see how it might have been different.  You can find resources you weren’t aware of, and bring them to bear in both the past and the present, to move you forward into a new future.

Shifting Your Sense of Self

Also, those questions around sense of identity.  How do you change those sabotaging, deeply held views of yourself?  Once again, hypnosis may provide a solution.  In your subconscious, there are myriad different possibilities, and the chance to try on what it might feel like to shift your sense of self a little.  Not that you want to be someone else entirely: you will still be you, just a happier, healthier version of yourself.

Finding and Living Your Life’s Purpose

As for life’s purpose, not everyone is sure what theirs is.  Gaining some clarity on that can be really helpful, as can exploring at a subconscious level what that might look like.  How would you act if you were living your life’s purpose?  Seeing this in hypnosis can give you a greater sense of motivation of the best kind!

Making Healthy Eating Easy

The real way to make healthy eating easy isn’t by clearing out your kitchen, though that may be a good place to start.  The most important factor is to shift your mindset.  If you think about healthy eating as pleasurable and as part of who you are, then it will be easy to maintain.  Otherwise, there will always be the possibility of getting cravings that send you out to the shops, day or night, near or far.

The easiest way to shift your mindset is to approach it at the level where these things reside.  Not in the rational logic of your everyday thoughts, where you know you ought to eat an apple rather than a biscuit, but at the subconscious level of your deep desires, which hypnotherapy gives you access to.  You have nothing to lose but your cravings and guilt.

Top Five Reasons to Drink Herbal Teas

tea-1132529_640Herbal teas can be wonderful for improving your overall sense of wellness.  They can more accurately called herbal infusions, as they don’t contain any tea.  And of course you don’t necessarily need to use a teabag: you can create your own herbal infusions quite easily from many leaves and flowers you might find growing wild: nettle and dandelion, for instance.  Others are created from leaves or roots that you can buy from a local store or supermarket, such as root ginger or peppermint leaves.

Still, there’s also a delightful market of wonderful ready-made tea bags, many of them organic, to tempt your tastebuds.  And while many people reach for teas in cold weather, they are great all year round.

In particular, if you are trying to manage your weight, herbal teas may be a surprising source of help.

  1. Many herbal  infusions aid with digestion in one way or another: reducing heartburn; increasing blood flow to the digestive system; absorbing gas; providing a laxative effect; increasing digestive enzymes.  Check out such top picks as ginger, fennel, dandelion, peppermint, nettle, lemon verbena, lemon balm, chamomile and liquorice.

2. Just the fact of reducing your stress, which numerous herbal teas such as chamomile, peppermint, lavender and ginseng do, will also help keep you away from comfort eating.

3. It’s been shown that having something warm, rather than cold, be it food or drink, increases your sense of satiety.  So, a herbal tea will reduce your hunger pangs and cravings.  I especially love liquorice, or a liquorice and peppermint blend for this, as the sweetness of liquorice as an after dinner treat replaces my desire for dessert.

4. How many people have taken up smoking to stop them snacking?  It’s well known that it’s easier to replace one habit with another.  Far healthier, though, to sip a cup of tea, rather than mindlessly snacking.

5. Many people suffer unwittingly from dehydration and it’s common to reach for food when you feel that need.  However, you can satisfy the true desire with a herbal tea that has no calories, and plenty of vitamins and minerals.

So, why not try replacing a snack with a herbal infusion, or sipping a warm brew after a meal rather than reaching for dessert?

Porridge Passion

Last week I wrote about eating healthily.  For me, that definitely includes breakfast as the most important meal of the day, and one where you can eat something sweet without paying a heavy price 😉

And, as the weather turns colder, porridge is a great option.

Oats are a fabulous source of heart-healthy fibre, as well as a host of vitamins and anti-oxidants.  They are slow release, leaving you feeling fuller longer.  In fact, studies show that people who eat porridge for breakfast, compared to sugared corn flakes, go on to eat between 31% and 50% less at lunch!

As a busy and sometimes stressed and forgetful mother-of-two, though, I’ve had some trouble with porridge.  Preparing it, putting it on the stove, then getting distracted by the kids fighting, or by a smelly nappy, or whatever, only to come back to a burnt pan and porridge that is good only for the bin.

Raising this dilemma, friends came up with a number of solutions.

Preparing the porridge the night before and just reheating it was one.  However, I’m tired at night and don’t really feel like making porridge, whereas I’m always fairly fresh in the morning (well, for a couple of hours, depending on how much sleep the little ones let me get).

Plus, I like to cook fruit into my porridge.  Firstly, because I don’t use milk, sugar, cream or honey, so the fruit gives it an extra sweet creaminess that is delicious.  Secondly, as it’s a way to get a good start on my “five a day“.  I’m a little uncertain, though, about leaving cooked fruit standing overnight. 

Another suggestion was to cook it in the microwave.  I’ve long been wary of using the microwave for anything much, however, this article changed my mind, looking at scientific studies on microwave use.  Of course, they might have been paid for by microwave companies, but I don’t think so 🙂

As you can see here, my first attempt at adapting my favourite porridge recipe to the microwave did not go well…

Undaunted, I took some more advice and tried again 🙂  Here is a photo recipe for my new favourite winter breakfast:

I add in pineapple and pear (about 300g total, and you can use any fruit that cooks well – apple, plum, apricot etc), pour on 55g of oats (I like doing 35g of jumbo rolled oats with 20g of the more milled oats, for a slightly textured but still creamy porridge), add boiling water to just slightly more than cover the lot.  Stick it in the microwave at 850 watts for two and a half minutes, stir, then another two and a half minutes.  Add fresh grapes and a seed mix (or walnuts or other nuts).  Yum!

So, I’ve shown you mine… What’s your favourite winter breakfast?

What To Eat When

When I coach people on healthy eating, one of the things that they sometimes bring up is the idea that eating late in the evening isn’t great for health.  That’s absolutely true, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of how time affects the health benefits or detriments of your eating.

How could time affect your eating choices?

Eating later in the evening is not the best thing to do, either in terms of the quality of your sleep, or in terms of digesting.  In particular, caffeinated drinks or foods (like chocolate), and sugary food more generally, won’t do you any favours.

Like your grandma may have told you, if you have to eat something at night, the best thing is warm milk.  Milk (and in fact any dairy: ie. cheese, eggs, and even chicken) contains a pre-cursor to melatonin (hydroxytryptophan), and so encourages sleep.  Having it warm is also soothing for your stomach.

Are there other ways you can optimise what you eat when?

Yes, there are!  If you want to have something sweet, the best time is for breakfast.  This may seem counter-intuitive.  Won’t you be setting yourself up for sugar cravings all day long?  Actually, eating sweet, sugary foods at breakfast time doesn’t seem to lead to cravings, and it’s also when they are digested best, as you have a whole day of activity ahead of you.

The second best time to eat something sweet is right before a workout.  So, if you know you’re about to do some exercise, and you really want a treat, go for it!

You might also ask yourself, what sweet treats can you have that are better for you?  Obviously, fresh fruit is better than anything with processed sugar.  And even “healthy” sweet alternatives (such as honey) may be no better than sugar in terms of calories.  Still, honey does have other health benefits, so you may want to include some in your sweet treat category of foods.  Another great thing here are dates (especially medjool dates).  These make a great, sweet treat, and are also good for you in terms of fibre, which helps with feelings of satiety, too.

What about protein?

Protein, whether from animals or from plants, is excellent for health.  For one thing, protein gives you a sense of satiety, helping beat cravings and stopping unhealthy snacking.  For another, it’s a necessary ingredient in building lean muscle, which burns calories.  However, there are huge debates on what kind of protein you should eat, how much, and when.

Research suggests it is best to have protein spread throughout the day, rather than just all at one meal.  So, try to find protein to add to your breakfast.  You could add an egg to your breakfast toast, or nuts to your cereal.

Another important thing to know is that the RDA’s (Recommended Daily Allowances) are set not for optimal health, but for the minimum amount required not to have a deficiecy.  In fact, studies show that most people benefit from having twice as much protein as given in their RDA!  So, don’t shy away from protein, it’s really important at a lot of levels.

As for the question of whether to have meat-based protein or plant-based protein, there are benefits and issues with both.

Red meat and cured meat may have downsides in terms of health, although on the up side animal-based protein provides a very easily accessible source of protein.  Meat sources of protein provide around 30% protein, and contain all the amino acids the human body needs.  However, they may also be fatty, and processed meat such as ham, is linked to carcinogenic effects.  Eggs provide about 12% protein, and fish will provide about 25% protein.

Plant-based protein requires a deal more thought, as only quinoa provides all the amino acids you need, and even then not at a huge rate.  For example, cooked quinoa is only about 4.5% protein, with 23% being carbohydrates.  Combining legumes (such as lentils – 9% protein) with rice will provide complete protein, and also has the benefit of a good deal of fibre.  This improves feelings of satiety, too.

The Elements of Weightloss

Everyone has heard that weightloss is simply about eating less calories than you burn: balancing what you eat with how much you exercise.  So, how come it feels so complicated?

In reality, there are a lot of elements that affect weightloss.  Let’s take a look at some of the most important ones.

Food

All calories are not created equal.  We need a balance of different kinds of food in our diet: carbohydrates, proteins, fibre, and lots of micronutrients.  Studies show that the most important macronutrient in terms of feeling full is protein.  And wholegrains give you fibre and vitamins you won’t find in more processed carbohydrates.

When you eat matters as much as what you eat.  For example, eating late at night puts a strain on your system, so you don’t sleep as well, and you don’t process the calories as efficiently, either.  The best time to eat something sweet is either first thing in the morning, or after a workout.  And it’s best to have protein at every meal, maximising the satiety effect, as well as supporting your body’s rebuilding processes.

Exercise

Cardiovascular exercise is great for burning calories, and for keeping your heart healthy.  This can be anything from walking to cycling, from a step class to aquafit, from kickboxing to dancing.  And remember that things like walking up stairs instead of using a lift, or getting off the bus a stop early, really do add up!  Guidelines recommend an average of half an hour a day.  However, you can do less if you do it at high intensity with short rests: high intensity interval training or HIIT is extremely effective.

Weight bearing exercise is vital for building and maintaining lean muscle mass, which is what burns calories.  It’s also vital for maintaining strong bones, especially important for women, but relevant to men, too, as you age.  Not everyone may enjoy lifting weights, but remember that weight bearing exercise doesn’t have to involve a gym or dumbells.  You can also use your own body weight, as you do in yoga.

Flexibility work keeps your muscles adaptable, and maximises their movement.  While a lot of stretching before a workout isn’t great, incorporating stretching into whatever you do, and especially stretching after your muscles are warm and have been worked is vital.

Perhaps the most important thing with exercise, though, is to find things that feel fun!  If you don’t enjoy it, you’re unlikely to stick with it.

Drink

You don’t always think about the calories in what you are drinking, but these can really add up.  And low cal drinks are often worse for you than “full fat”.  Studies show these encourage fat deposits to be laid down, as well as messing with your body’s sense of fullness, so low cal drinks encourage cravings!

Water is great, hydrating your body, and with no calories.  It isn’t the only answer, though.  Too much water can be a bad thing, washing micronutrients out of your body.  In terms of quenching thirst and making you feel fuller and more satisfied, water with a squeeze of citrus is the best.  Make it up fresh if you can, as most “mineral water with a touch of…” drinks contain either sugar or thosed dreaded artifical sweeteners!

The key word with alcohol is moderation.  While there may be some health benefits to a glass of wine, too much alcohol dehydrates you.  On top of that, when you drink you make worse choices…

Sleep

Not everyone considers how important sleep is to a healthy weight.  Studies link lack of sleep to weight gain.  Being tired encourages you to eat more, and particularly to reach for carbohydrates for the energy boost.

And there is a bit of a vicious circle here.  Being tired has you reaching for starchy foods, but eating starchy foods close to bedtime negatively affects your sleep.

Interestingly, the old idea about having milk before bed turns out to have a basis in science.  All dairy, in fact, contains a chemical which helps your body to make melatonin, the sleep chemical.  So, a warm, milk drink before bed will help your sleep.  If you don’t like milk, consider other ways you can include more dairy in your diet, or taking a supplement like 5-HTP or melatonin.