Posts Tagged ‘fitness’

Everybody craves. Whether its chocolate, crisps or sweeties, craving these high sugar high fat items is a biproduct of our 21st century lifestyle, our habits and our preferences. sugar-cravings

The reasons why we crave are to do with our blood sugars. Not to get too technical, but for those who don’t know, blood sugar refers to the blood glucose level (glucose is a simple sugar) which your body will naturally regulate as part of homeostasis (the system through which your body maintains regulation in temperature, PH etc in order to keep your internal environment at the ideal levels for optimal working performance).

The idea is to try to maintain a consistent level of blood sugar throughout the day. If you do this your eating patterns will also be consistent and you won’t crave (See picture one)

ideal blood sugar fcThe red line corresponds to the ideal blood glucose level, the blue line is the actual blood glucose level. This shows the ideal way to maintain your blood sugar throughout the day, by eating regularly.

If you starve yourself for hours your blood sugar dips, causing you to crave something sweet to kick them back up. This is the most dangerous time in terms of cheating and will be the time when you are most likely to chose an unhealthy biscuit over something slow release like a piece of fruit (see in picture two).

poor blood sugar fc

Once again the red line is optimal glucose level and the blue line is actual glucose level. Here it is possible to see that between the morning and evening meal the blood sugar dips causing craving. This causes us to eat something high in sugar, like a biscuit which causes the blood sugar to rise, but too high meaning insulin is activated which takes glucose out of the blood once again driving it down.

The scary thing that the time it takes for your blood sugar to dip can be as little as four hours. When this dip occurs you will feel yourself craving and the search for those nasty quick release, white is shite carbs which give you the quick boost. The bad thing is indulging your cravings will often overshoot your required sugar intake, meaning that your blood sugar is now too high! When your body experiences a rapid boost in blood sugar, caused by indulging your sweet tooth, your pancreas releases the hormone insulin. This is a hormone controlled by the pancreas that is central in regulating carb and fat breakdown in the body. Insulin causes excess glucose to be removed from the blood to try to get back to that ideal state once again. The problem here is the insulin can drive the blood sugar too low, so once again the cravings begin to push blood sugar up, and so this self depreciating cycle continues…

As you can imagine insulin is going to have a very hard job if there is too much glucose in the blood. This often causes insulin malfunctions, which is basically what diabetes is.

The best way to prevent this cycle from happening is to eat small meals often, and ensuring you eat foods that are low GI. This means they are low in the glycemic index and so will take longer to burn. This means they will slowly release their sugars maintaining a more level glucose measurement throughout your day, thus reducing the cravings and making it easier for you to stick to a healthy meal plan.

When you find yourself craving something try a rice cake, or eating some protein instead of quick release carbs like biscuits and pastries. The occasional treat is of course allowed but make sure it is not a common indulgence.

Avoiding foods with added sugar is also a good way to keep cravings at bay. Particularly fizzy drinks, fruit juices with added sweetener (see the ingredients) and things with white flour in (pizza, pasta, cake).

Take home points

*Eat little and often: roughly every 3 to 4 hours, be sure not to over eat! Aim for about 300 cals per meal or two larger meals, say breakfast and dinner with a snack in between.

*Eat proteins (chicken, ham, eggs etc …) and fats (yoghurt, milk, cheese…) with every meal. By fats I mean low fat options or healthy fat options such as olive oil dressing or almonds. This will slow carbohydrate digestion preventing spiking blood sugar.

*When choosing carbs avoid white flour like the plague. Remember white is shite so whole foods are a must. The fiber you will get from these will keep you fuller for longer. Things like lentils, brown rice, brown pasta, soda or brown bread and wheat germ.

*If you do give into your cravings don’t worry, just make sure you jump back on the bandwagon in your next meal!

One of the most difficult things to navigate in the search for a healthy lifestyle is the quagmire of conflicting research in health science. Dr X says you don’t need extra protein in your diet to maintaining a healthy lifestyle whereas Joe trainer says you can’t expect good gains without it. Dr X says that eating thirty minutes before your workout will give you more energy to training by Joe trainer says working out on an empty stomach makes you leaner quicker. Dr X says that it’s alright to go on a tan bed whereas Joe trainer says don’t go near them unless you want a melanoma.

doc

It is really easy to get totally stumped and bogged down by this but there is one sure fire way to figure out fact from fiction.

1)      Look at the sources of your information. TV, internet and media are great for latching on to sensationalised headlines, and articles claiming fantastical results can often be shown to be full of false promise. “This amazing study which found that 98% of its participants who took this magic diet pill lost all their unwanted fat”, this is particularly true of cosmetics (by definition a cosmetic is not legally allowed to turn you from crypt keeper to Kelly brook, they are only allowed to make a percentage of difference or they would be required to be administered by a professional, hence why you have to go to your doctor for Botox and you can go down to Boots for your anti wrinkle crèmes). Look at the original copies of the studies the media is talking about through Google Scholar, specifically how many people they tested and the kind of measures they used to do that testing you are more likely to get a better understanding of how much BS you are reading and how much is actually good science. One of the main problems when talking about sports performance specifically is how do you even measure performance and improvements? Sure with a sprinter it’s a matter of seconds and milliseconds but with something more team based like rugby, hockey or football how do you really know its improving their performance? How can you definitively measure performance like that?

2)      We tend to believe experts. Particularly those who have impressive sounding qualifications like MD or PhD’s. I’ll let you in on a little secret, even doctors can make mistakes and just because they say something doesn’t mean they are right. Have the confidence to challenge something that an expert says. If it sounds too good to be true its more than likely some sneaky endorsement deal or some personal opinion which may be based on sound academic experience but could also be  an out of date view based on biased research with some important variables not being considered etc etc.

3)      Jargon can be intimidating. Trainers talking about glucose, insulin levels and breaking down muscular microfibers can often be used as a tool to dazzle you into thinking “here is an expert, so I’m going to believe whatever he says”, and here comes the sales pitch where he tells you about how good this supplement powder is bla bla bla. There is most definitely a science to health and exercise but for the average person it isn’t crucial to know all the ins and outs, that is for the real professional athletes and the Olympic types. These people will employ professionals in sports medicine and dietetics to get their bodies working to tip top condition and as I have mentioned before this will be a tailored plan based on the specific athlete. The main scientific fact you need to remember when you’re talking about health is you need to figure out what suits you and you alone.

4)      I can not stress enough how much sales comes into fitness and health. All these “magic” active yoghurt drinks which, when taken with a balanced diet have been shown to reduce cholesterol, well genius if you eat a balanced diet that will happen anyway! Unless you are taking prescribed medications that have been through a rigorous clinical trial and are administered by your doctor as far as I am concerned all the yoghurts and active drinks are made up science.

5)      This brings me on to supplements. We love a quick fix. Taking a shake which has a macho torso on the packet and screams protein from every thick plasticed, foil packed inch will go a long way to giving you that ego machismo boost “ I’m being SO healthy right now” feeling.  Supplements originated with the elite athletes but are quickly becoming food for the masses with every health food store and supermarket now stocking a shelf or two. There is definitely a place for supplements in a healthy lifestyle but they are so called for a reason. As a supplement they are meant to be an addition to your diet not a meal replacement and if mis taken they can increase your daily calories and not go very far to helping you lose weight. The best way to take supplements, unless specifically advocated by a healthcare professional is straight after a tough weights work out and that’s all. Eat a complex carb, high fruit veg and lean protein diet and you won’t need to go mad on your supplements. Oh and one word for Creatine, be careful and above all with anything you are putting into your body read about it, not the back of the packet, reviews online, health boards, ask your health food store clerks and fitness bloggers. If they don’t know they should be able to direct you to someone who does.

Take home points:

  • Look at your sources
  • Don’t take “experts” opinions as gold
  • Don’t be intimidated by scary sounding science words and jargon
  • Don’t get hauled into a sales scam
  • Go easy on supplements

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For those of you who don’t know this is a picture of the Bugatti Veyron and yes this is a supercar. Designed and developed by German engineers the super sport version of the Veyron is the fastest legal road car in the world, clocking speeds of over 250 mph. Taking 3 years to make, with a cost of 5 million pounds and a price tag of 850, 000, Volkswagen make a significant loss with every one however, this elite and high spec performance vehicle pushes the boundaries of what is possible in a car and as a result has a reputation almost as big as its price tag.

Think of this car as analogy of your potential, you at your best. All your parts working in sync, the right fuel to make you reach your top speed and the well groomed exterior to attract the attention of passersby. This is the ideal. The point I am trying to make here is that you should aim to achieve your highest potential, the perfect you that you can be. This means instead of comparing yourself to others you have to look inside, take responsibility and get real with yourself.

I don’t know what stage of fitness you’re at. You could be 3 stone overweight or more even, miserable and self conscious, or you could be a healthy weight struggling to shift those last few inches. It doesn’t matter. The real issue here is how can you achieve your goals and how can you maintain healthy habits once you have them in place.

There is a myth that if you can do something for 21 days then it becomes a habit. This is nonsense and is actually based on an anecdote from an American plastic surgeon (if you really want to read more see the link below [1]). The truth is, there is no magic number and no day that you will wake up and suddenly find being healthy easy. If it was easy, no one would be overweight! The reason people give up is because they like it easy, no one likes doing things that are difficult. You don’t want to be one of these people, challenging yourself makes up the backbone of being fit and maintaining it and it is crucial you get into your head now that it is never going to get easy.

The proven way to start new and healthy habits is to start small. Habits in every shape or form are based on cues, from your environment (hearing the phone ringing and answering it), other people (high fiving your best friend every time you see them) and biology (getting food when you feel hungry) and overcoming cues that you have held for your whole life is tough! This is why the little changes are so effective. Once you start with something small something bigger won’t seem so daunting and that little voice inside your head that always said “hey there’s no way I can do something like that!” will start to sound a little more like “Hey, if I can do this maybe I can do that!”.

This small beginning could be anything from taking the stairs or leaving the car at home a few times a week. The important thing is to challenge yourself, gradually building up to cycling to work or joining a fitness class at the local gym. Another great way to start new and healthy habits is with a change in your life. Starting a new job, moving away or leaving for college are all great as the environments change significantly and as a result there are no cues built up yet, prompting you to engage in unhealthy behaviours.

Another important thing to realise is you are going to fall off the band wagon. It is not a matter of if it’s a matter of when. Christmas, birthdays, hell even Sunday dinners are a challenge! Although it is important to eat right in order to stay fit and lose weight if that is your goal, if you want to maintain it you shouldn’t be too strict on yourself, if you are you will only go crazy and eat 5 cakes. Think of it like a rebellious teen who is grounded to her room for being bold for a month. Eventually the teen is going to get so pissed off she’s going to tell her parents stick it and leave anyway. It is impossible to be 100% good 100% of the time. If you eat well 90% of the time and let yourself have a cheat meal once in a while at a family event or special occasion you are more likely to be able to live your fitness.

Take home points:

  • Don’t compete with anyone except yourself
  • Strive to be the best possible you you can be
  • Don’t think fitness is ever going to be easy
  • Understand that forming good habits is a gradual process
  • Realise you are going to cheat, it’s how you deal with it afterwards that matters

Links:

Maxwell Maltz American plastic surgeon 21 day habit myths debunked: http://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/hbrc/2012/06/29/busting-the-21-days-habit-formation-myth/