Archive for June, 2014

What Should I Eat? I’m So confused…

The Weight Loss Industry

It doesn’t take long to feel a little bewildered these days with so many differing views on what you should be eating for a healthy lifestyle, in particular for weight loss.  We see in the media, magazines and the like, a plethora of advice, all of it claiming to be expert and apparently all of it works for everyone!  Well we know that’s not true.  Most of the media stuff you see is only half right.  Just look at Jenny Craig and the Magda Zubanski fiasco!  Yes, the Jenny Craig system can work… but only if you’re still in it.  When you stop there’s no outside support, and that’s the problem with weight loss.  It’s an industry and people have to make money and they way they do that is to keep you involved and paying money to stay in the game.


Rule 1 – Don’t Focus on Weight Loss

The reason things like Jenny Craig don’t really work long term is that the system is not sustainable.  Systems that provide everything without telling you what’s going on are a recipe for failure.  It is true that sometimes to get the ball rolling you’ll have to do something temporary, but the trick is to understand what you’re doing and why, and don’t follow a weight loss regimen as your final solution.  Think healthy eating rather that weight loss and make your own individual system a sustainable change in your food consumption.  Weight loss happens with healthy sustainable eating

Rule 2 – If It’s Temporary It’s Not Sustainable

Like I said, sometimes it’s necessary to do something to get your new healthy eating plan going, mainly for motivational purposes.  It’s not necessary to lose weight quickly, in fact sometimes that’s counter-productive, but if you can start with a positive experience if might help you stay on the straight and narrow with your plan.  But this stage of things is only a temporary period and you should set some goals, which, once achieved, will move you on to the next stage.

So what am I talking about?  The best research on weight loss shows that you will always get some weight loss results with a meal replacement shake plan.  Nutritionally it’s not ideal and you have to stick to it.  But clearly you can’t live on shakes for more than a few weeks, and the trick is that once you have started to lose weight, it’s time to kick in to your real plan.

Rule 3 – Plan Ahead

We say that if you’re doing 80% of what you’re supposed to be doing with your meal plan, then you’ll be ok.  But you have to actually have a plan to know when you’re not following it.  You need to have contingencies for certain situations – out to lunch with workmates, out to dinner with family, etc.  What are your plans?  Do you just eat what you want once a week, or do you just choose items that fit into your plan? Strategies are important, and you should start with them.  My view is that it starts with your food shopping.  Don’t go to the supermarket without your list derived from your plan, and only buy from the list.  What you don’t buy you can’t eat.  Very important.  Plan every meal and snack on paper.

Rule 4 – Protein in Every Meal

Protein fills you up.  It gives you a feeling of fullness for a longer period of time.  It also helps in the building of muscle tissue, and the major value of muscle tissue is that it uses more calories without doing anything other than just being there.  So you should also be doing some weight training as part of a healthy lifestyle and the consumption of protein in every meal is consistent with a plan like this.  For breakfast, eggs are good, lunch could be fish or chicken, and dinner could be beef, lamb or the chicken or fish you didn’t have for lunch.  Try to have red meat a couple of times a week especially if your weight sessions are hard work (and they should be).  Most sources of protein have some fat content, and whilst you shouldn’t deliberately add fat to the meal plan, incidental fat is not a problem.   For snacks in between meals, Greek yoghurt with nuts or tuna from a tin are good ideas.

Rule 5 – Eat Many Times a Day

You’ve probably heard this before.  They say that eating regularly ‘keeps your metabolism going’.  The research on that is not clear, but really the purpose of eating regularly during the day has more to do with not getting so hungry you raid the local McDonald’s in desperation than anything else.  So you should have breakfast, a morning snack, lunch, and afternoon snack, dinner and an after dinner snack.  If you have them all you won’t get over hungry.  Research indicates that those who miss a meal, in particular breakfast, will crave fatty and sugary food for their morning snack.  So follow rule 3 and plan everything.  Don’t miss a meal.  After dinner snacks are hard because the body craves sugar at night which it stores completely as body fat as part of our hunter gatherer survival instinct.  You obviously don’t need it in the modern world, and whilst I’m not in favour of artificial sweeteners as a rule, the exception here might be low calorie jelly.  Gelatine fills you up and in this form the artificial taste isn’t so bad.  A no calories late night snack.

Rule 6 – Don’t Eat Fillers

Before we were so blessed with every food in the world at our fingertips, we generally ate the nucleus of a meal and filled up on a carbohydrate of some sort so we weren’t hungry.  Rice, bread, potatoes, noodles, pasta etc, are just fillers.  Calories without real quality.  If you’ve read the old fashioned dietary pyramid and believed it is how you should eat, you’ll most likely be over weight.  If you go into how it was developed you’ll see that the grain and cereal producers in the U.S.A. are responsible for where these items are on the pyramid.  The developers of the pyramid never intended these carbs to be at the base, but financial considerations and government intervention left us with what is a disaster nutritionally.  I’m not saying never eat these things, but unless you’re training for a marathon they’re ‘sometimes only’ foods.  If you’re out to dinner and want some garlic bread, eat it.  But don’t include bread in your every day plan.  White sugar and wheat flour are always going to be ‘only as an exception’ type foods.

Rule 7 – Get Your Carbs From Vegetables and Fruit

So some carbs are definitely necessary for brain and organ function.  But get them with a hit of vitamins and minerals at the same time.  Instead of fillers, eat vegetables.  Instead of sugar, have some fruit in moderate quantities.  The truth is if your only carbs are fruit and vegetables you can have your fill if you eat variety.  Bananas, mangos, avocados and other high calorie fruits are great in moderate quantities and are as tasty as cakes and lollies you might otherwise have.  Examples: with your morning eggs cook some spinach, mushrooms and tomatoes.  With your lunch protein include an old fashioned salad items… tomatoes, lettuce, grated carrot, beetroot, cucumber, even add protein with some grated cheese.  For dinner make a lamb casserole with carrots, peas, capsicum, zucchini, making your own sauce from a recipe if you can to avoid hidden ingredients in purchased sauces.  If course, if you have to buy a sauce, read the ingredients avoiding sugar where possible.  It’s not a huge sin to buy a sauce if the alternative is to buy dinner instead of making it.  For your snacks, add a piece of fruit to your protein, or nuts to your Greek yoghurt.

Rule 8 – Cut Yourself Some Slack

Whilst planning your intake is of the utmost importance, enjoying good company is social settings is an important part of your overall well being.  Eating food for pleasure should not be a sin, but you don’t need to do that every night.  Have a night per week where you go out to dinner and spoil yourself.  You’ll probably find that if you’ve been sticking to your plan you won’t feel like anything too far from home in terms of normal eating for you anyway, but you’ll feel relaxed knowing you can eat what you want.  Remember that if you fall off the wagon outside of this, take note of what you’ve done, write it down in your plan (rule 9) and vow not to do it again.  A mistake doesn’t ruin your whole eating plan.

Rule 9 – Record Your Plan vs Your Actual

A simple routine is the way we keep doing things that are good for us.  Don’t think too much about the food you eat, just plan it, eat it, and move on.  But it’s important to record your progress.  Research indicates those who record their progress stick to their plan.  Use a phone app like My Fitness Pal to record what you consume and match it every week against your plan.  Calorie amnesia is a huge problem for those wanting to lose weight.  Writing it down immediately after you eat it eliminates this.  Eventually you won’t need the app as you move towards permanent healthy eating in a permanent routine.

Rule 10 – Measure Your Success

Every six weeks measure yourself again.  There are several components to the measure.  Scales alone are not good, but can be used in conjunction with other measures.  Use a measuring tape, especially for waist and hip measurements, and if you can have someone measure your body fat that’s a bonus.  Remember that muscle tissue weighs more than fat, and the order of loss of weight is generally that you add muscle first, and the added muscle assists in weight loss, so in an effort to lose weight you may weigh more before you weight less.  In general body fat comes off in the reverse order it went on.  If your stomach fat was first on, it comes off last, so measure everything – neck, chest, hips, stomach at your naval, arms at mid bicep, legs at mid thigh and largest part of the calf muscle.  Otherwise you may focus on the fat that’s not coming off for a while yet.

Good Luck!  Make your changes permanent…


Running Out of Heart Beats…


A Fixed Quantity

Did you know there is a theory (the Heartbeat Hypothesis) that states that every one has a fixed number of heart beats available to them?  It was proposed that when you reached that number your heart would just stop and you would die.  As a result exercise was frowned upon as it made your heart beat faster and you would run out quicker!  The theory was based on the fact that small mammals have very quick heart rates but shorter life spans than larger animals whose heart rate is slower.  Well we know the theory is just rubbish, but lets do the math anyway…

Heartbeats Sedentary vs Active

The average sedentary person has a resting heart rate of 72 beats per minute throughout their life.  As we get older the rate does decrease at a beat every few years until about 70 years old when it stops decreasing and may increase.  Resting heart rate is different to walking around heart rate, and it’s fair to say a sedentary person sitting at their desk doing day to day things would have a heart rate of around 80 bpm.  So assuming a person gets eight hours sleep, during any 24 hour period a sedentary person’s total heart beat count consists of eight hours at 72 bpm (72 x 60) x 8 = 34,560 and 16 hours at 80 bpm (80 x 60) x 16 = 76,800 for a total of 111, 360 beats per day. That’s 40,535,040 beats per year.

But of course, an active person develops significant efficiencies at rest and their resting heart rate is lower, even though there is a period during the day when the heart rate is elevated by exercise.  A person who is active all their life will start with the same resting rate, but this will reduce by about  a beat every two years or so.  So in my case (which is typical of a life long exerciser), in my mid 20s my resting rate was 60 bpm, and this decreased to the age of 50 where it was 45 bpm.  Walk around rate is about 52bpm, and exercise rate for one hour per day averages 155bpm.  Again assuming eight hours sleep, the total heart beats per day is made up of eight hours at 45 bpm (45 x 60) x 8 = 21,600 and 15 hours at 52 bpm (52 x 60) x 15 = 46,800 plus one hour at 155bpm for a total of 68,555 per day and 24,954,020 per year.

That’s a saving of 15, 581,020 beats per year or 38.4%.  So if a sedentary person was to live to the average age of 79.9 years, that same person would live to 110 years old if they had the same number of heart beats before they died!

We of course, know that the theory is seriously flawed for whole range of reasons, and the maths is dodgy to say the least, but the question still remains…

Does Exercise Make You Live Longer?

For along time there was little actual evidence to say that this was case.  It was clear that quality of life was better but because we were not able to research longevity for exercisers due to the lack of subjects who specifically exercised for health before the 1970s, it was difficult to prove.

Since then, there has been a plethora of research and sufficient subject numbers to come to a conclusion.  Almost every research project has shown increase in lifespan related to minimisation of disease factors amongst lifelong exercisers.  Exercise has been shown to reduce the rate of cardiovascular disease significantly and this alone would account for significant lifespan increases – in fact it halves the risk of death from heart disease.  Exercise cuts the risk of stroke in elderly men by a third, and a well rounded program consisting of resistance training including core exercises and also including interval training will stave off the risk of type two diabetes, increase the HDL percentage in cholesterol levels, reduce body weight to normal levels when measured according to hip/waist ratio, body mass index (BMI) and percentage body fat.

Yes, But By How Much?

Well the research is varied in relation to results because subjects in a research project always vary significantly, but basically for every hour of moderate exercise you can gain up to two extra hours of lifespan.  For intense exercise it’s exponentially more.  Lifelong exercises can increase their lifespan from between 5 and 8 years with a better quality of life during their active life.

How Much Exercise?

This year the Heart Foundation of Australia published some new guidelines for exercise.  They were significantly different from suggestions in the past because they acknowledged the serious change in lifestyle over the last ten years that technology has brought us.  Our sedentary lifestyle requires more than just the occasional bout of exercise during the week to maintain proper health.  The new suggestions are for one hour exercise every day at a moderate level, and 30-40 minutes of vigorous exercise per day.  So unless you’re working a physical job it’s important to do something every day.

How Hard Should It Be?

The one hour suggestion is targeted at those who get their exercise walking, but even then the walk needs to be brisk with your heart rate into the 70-75% of maximum heart rate range.  So for a 50 year old otherwise sedentary person that’s a heart rate of around 130 bpm for most of the hour.

If you exercise ‘vigorously’ you can do less.  A weight training session with interval training afterwards for 30-40 minutes of work with your heart rate at 85% of maximum (145 bpm) for most of the time is enough.

Of course, if you exercise too hard and don’t recover properly before your next session then you won’t get the longevity or long term health benefits.  It’s ok when you’re just starting out to find you haven’t recovered, but within a few weeks of training you should be at a steady state in your training even with overloading.  You can tell if you’re training too hard by measuring your resting heart rate before you get out of bed.  If you’re training too hard it will start to increase every morning.  I’d let that go on for maximum a week before I’d start reducing the load to allow better recovery.

So In Short

Exercise improves quality of life by reducing the incidence of cardiovascular disease and other preventable early death causing conditions.  You should do something every day, preferably at a reasonable intensity, but monitor your exercise workload to prevent over working your body and allowing sufficient recovery to take advantage of the long term effects of exercise.




A Core Strength Session

Core Strength

Many clients come to me as remedial massage clients with a range of complaints generally related to lack of core strength.  Sore or tight lower back, ilio-tibial band soreness, shoulder and neck hypertonicity can all be related to muscular imbalances caused by lack of core strength.  So what is core strength?  It’s not just strong abdominals, although they are the major part of what is normally lacking, but rather it’s the whole package of abdominals, upper hip flexors, lower back and gluteal/piriformis muscles involved in postural positioning.  A lack of core strength, or even an imbalance between abs and lower back muscles results in a forward pelvic tilt which manifests itself in pain in the lower back, inability to touch your toes (the hamstring isn’t necessarily tight, it’s just in a stretched position at rest) and possibly knee pain caused by poor patella tracking when quads are over tight and shortened.


How Do I Fix This?

The best way to fix core strength issues is to do a range of core exercises that encourage proper anterior and posterior core balance and do these exercises on a regular basis – for example evey second day.  Below is an example of a core strength program that requires minimal equipment (just a stability or ‘swiss’ ball) and has exercises that can be made more difficult as strength increases.  You’ll notice that there are no sit ups or crunches.  The most common core imbalance is where the hip flexors overpower the abdominals causing the forward pelvic tilt I mentioned above.  Incorrect technique with crunches or full sit ups is often a contributing factor where the hinge point is not understood.  You are supposed to bend in the middle of your abs, not at the hip, but you have to have a reasonable grasp of the anatomy of the area to understand this.  It’s better to avoid these exercises in favour of more general core stability activities.

Running the Session

Warm up first

The core strength session is run as three ‘supersets’ – that is you do two exercises one immediately after the other, without a rest, then rest for a minute before the next superset.  With this session, you’ll do each superset three times and each exercise according to the information below.

Superset One

Ball Rollout followed by Ball Leg Curl.  Do three sets of this combination as a superset.  No rest between the first and second exercise, one minute rest between supersets.

Focus on holding your abs tight – as if you are about to be punched in the stomach – as you roll forward slowly.  Return to the start position at a faster pace ready to repeat.  Rollout 12 times

This is ostensibly a hamstring exercise in  line with correcting the quad/hamstring balance mentioned above, but to complete it properly you have to maintain the hip angle (attempt to keep you hips in a straight line) and tuck your lower legs underneath.  Keep your bum off the ground and hips straight.  Out slow, in a bit faster. 12 reps each set.

Superset Two

Side plank, front plank, side plank.  Do a sideplank on one side for 30 seconds, then a front plank for 30 seconds, then the other side for 30 seconds.  Rest one minute.  Do three sets of this combination.

A side plank can be hard for beginners, so maybe start with 20 seconds and build up to 30.  When 30 seconds is comfortable, add another 15 seconds.  Sometimes just holding yourself up in the side plank is too hard.  Use your hand from the free side to support yourself until you can do so without it.

Superset Three

Jackknife followed by Oblique Back Extension.  12 jackknifes immediately followed by 12 back extensions each side.  Rest one minute.  Do this superset three times.

Support your weight evenly on your hands and the ball. starting with the ball touching your hip bones.  You can start with the beginners’ jackknife tucking your knees to your chest, and as you get used to that, do the more advanced version where you push your hips to the roof.  Keep you legs as close to straight as you can with this one.

Start with your feel against  the bottom of a wall for support.  Raise to one side, return to the start and raise up to the other side.  There’s no need to hyperextend your back.  In the ‘old’ days you would never go past extension, but as long as you’re not too explosive with the movement a little past straight is not a problem.  Reasonably fast up (not too explosive) and slowly return.

Cool Down

Do some quick stretches to help you settle down from your session (see this for why), and ensure you drink afterwards.  If you’ve done the session properly you should have raised a sweat.