I remember reading a book by David Gillespie called ‘Sweet Poison’ which totally changed my view on eating processed sugar. This book was written by a 40kg overweight, sleep deprived father of four that had run out of diet options to lose weight. One day he decided to eliminate sugar out of his diet completely and the changes not just physically but mentally to the way he felt was radical. David started to investigate the link between our soaring obesity rates and the worrying diseases that were emerging in the 21st century. He found links between the introduction of processed sugar in the 1940’s and the increase of heart disease and diabetes.
A background of poor health is what also drove Sarah Wilson to quit sugar and start a successful company and movement in the process with her ‘IQuitsugar.com’ online program and books. The I quit sugar movement proved to fill a gap in the market with over 1.5million people in over 113 countries joining her online program to learn the tools to successfully ditch sugar for good. The results from her devotees are astonishing, with some displaying increases in fertility, decreased symptoms of chronic and auto-immune diseases whilst for others it has assisted with the management of diabetes and helped many others lose that stubborn belly fat for good.
So knowing all of this this let’s look at specifically how sugar affects our overall health.
Sugar is stored as excess fat around the mid section:
According to the Heart Foundation (heartfoundation.org.au) more than 64% of Australians are overweight or obese and more than 1 in 4 children. These are worrying statistics as being overweight lends itself to the likelihood of having chronic diseases such as cardio thoracic diseases and diabetes.
There are 2 types of belly fat the first one is called subcutaneous fat that is fat located just under the skin. Subcutaneous fat is often referred to as ‘ love handles’, ‘saddlebags’ or ‘back fat’. Whilst carrying excess weight around the mid section is not ideal with changes to your diet and moving more it is possible to reduce this area.
The second more concerning fat is called visceral fat which is generally indicated by a ‘pot belly’ or an apple shape. This type of fat is of concern as it is much deeper under the skin and surrounds the vital organs. Visceral fat can cause changes to our hormonal profiles and has links to both cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Sugar may promote cancerous cells and recurrence:
In 1924 there was a German Scientist named Otto Warburg who discovered that cancerous cells need a lot more sugar to grow and divide than normal cells this became known as the ‘Warburg Effect’. Cancerous cells metabolise sugar differently to normal cells and there has been a lot of research as of late to discover new treatments for this process.
Let it be known however that eating sugar directly does not cause cancer however, there is an indirect link between cancer risk and sugar. We know this because having a diet high in sugar lends itself to being overweight or obese. According to the Cancer Research UK, being overweight or obese increases the risk of 13 different types of cancer. In fact, after smoking, obesity is the second most preventable form of cancer in the UK.
There have been some further research groups which looked at the recurrence rates of women with breast cancer. A ‘PREDIMED’ study followed 300 breast cancer survivors for 3 years, 199 eating a ‘normal’ healthy diet as advised by dieticians and 108 eating a Mediterranean style diet comprising of 4 serves of vegetables, 3 serves of fruit, 1 serve of whole grains and plenty of olive oil, fish and seafood 3-4 times a week and a little red meat.
11 patients experienced a recurrence whilst on the normal diet whilst no one on the Mediterranean diet underwent a relapse. The Mediterranean diet focuses on eating whole foods including vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, whole grains, fish and olive oil whilst being low in red and processed meat and alcohol is kept to a minimum. Whilst only a small study it is promising.
Sugar can damage your heart:
It has been noted that sugar can cause contribute to cardiovascular diseases, however, a 2013 article in the Journal of American Heart Association displayed strong evidence that sugar can actually affect the pumping mechanism of your heart and could increase the risk of heart failure. The findings specifically pinpointed a molecule from sugar called glucose metabolite glucose 6-phosphate (G6P) that was responsible for changes in the muscle protein of the heart. These changes could eventually lead to heart failure.
High sugar diets can age you:
I used to remember my mum telling my in my youth that drinking lots of alcohol will age you. I used to think this was her one of her many attempts of trying to keep me away from it. Now I understand that the sugar content in alcohol and many processed foods ages our cells and causes many of them to die prematurely. Excess processed sugar can cause dark circles around your eyes, wrinkles, dehydrate your skin and can fast track the ageing process.
Basically, sugar bonds with proteins in your body in a process called glycation. They also harden collagen and elastin, and prevent your body from making more. All these effects mean your skin looses elasticity, lines and wrinkles start to set in, and signs of visible ageing become more apparent.
Beware Sugar is hidden in most things that we eat:
Whilst many of us strive to avoid eating processed sugar like chocolates, lollies, cakes and pastries sugar is also in a lot of everyday foods that we consume. For example dairy products such as milk, yoghurt, cream, butter, ice cream and cheese all contain ‘lactose’ which is a sugar found in dairy products. Whilst this is a more natural occurring sugar than say the sugar found in biscuits it still is made up of the same composition of fructose and glucose.
So basically, whether it’s in a piece of fruit, a fizzy drink or a pastry, sugar is made up of the same two components: fructose and glucose. The molecule structure and composition of sugar molecules is the same no matter where they come from. Let’s not get confused that the sugar found in cake has the same effect on the body as say the sugar found in fruit (which it doesn’t). For one thing, fruit offers good stuff like vitamins, antioxidants and water whilst cakes, lollies and biscuit offer zero nutritional benefits.
When it comes to choosing what to eat the old adage ‘you are what you eat’ and ‘everything in moderation’ couldn’t ring truer. It’s important to ‘eat the rainbow’ when it comes to a healthy mix of fruits and vegetables so we get all of our essential vitamins and minerals plus the all important fibre requirements to aid digestion. Sweet processed treats and alcohol should be limited to special occasions or on the weekends. In the health and wellness world we educate our clients to understand that 70% of how you look is what you are eating and drinking and the other 30% consists of what you are ‘doing’ .
If you are looking to detox off processed sugar start by making some small changes every week. It could be something as simple as cutting back your alcohol consumption from Monday to Friday or not eating dessert every time you go out for dinner. Over time you will notice your sugar cravings have all but disappeared and you wont even think twice about eating it nor miss it. The benefits of the weight you lose, how much more energy you have and the clarity of your thoughts will be motivation enough to cut back or ditch the sugar for good!
Recently there has been a shift away from the terms ‘health and fitness’ to a more encompassing term used to describe our overall health called ‘wellness’. You only need to look on social media for an increase in the amount of people describing themselves as ‘wellness warriors’ using hashtags such as #nourishing and #fitmotivation whilst striking the latest Yoga pose. I should know! I am one of the converted as well!
The shift for me has been a positive one as more and more research has come out to support the fact that our overall health is made up of much more than what we put into our mouths and what type of exercise we do.
Whilst our diet and exercise play an important role in how we look and feel, these are just smaller parts to the bigger picture to what I describe as, our ‘Holistic Health’.
Our Holistic Health is comprised of the following 5 lifestyle factors:
We have somewhere between 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts on any given day that is 35-48 thoughts per person per minute. As you can imagine that is a lot of information for our rational brains to process. When we think, we manipulate information to form concepts, engage in problem solving, reason and make decisions. Not all thoughts are deemed equal, and sometimes when we are under stress or are feeling tired or depleted our rational brain finds it hard to make decisions and think positively this can be described as ‘stinking thinking’.
Long-term stress can wreak havoc on our physical health thru the presence of injuries and mental health concerns. If left untreated, the ill effects of stress can lead to time off work, niggling injuries that don’t get better and even the breakdown of oneself and our relationships.
In order to maintain positive thinking and manage stress levels it is important to take time out everyday to ‘switch off’ from distractions and allow yourself to be present with your own company and thoughts.
Options to help manage stress levels include mental awareness apps such as ‘Head Space’ which encourage you to take 10 minutes out of everyday for some mental wellbeing activities. Other ways you can help manage your stress include participating in a Yoga class, practicing some meditation or Tai Chi and even doing some adult drawing or colouring in.
How we breathe effects the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood at any given time replenishing our brain and other vital organs with essential nutrients. We take on average 20,000 breaths per day which, makes it an important part of our health to get right.
Breathing correctly can reduce your stress levels, improve the performance of your workouts and boost your immune system. Poor breathing can lead to anxiety, panic attacks, hyperventilation and even insomnia and depression.
When we are stressed our body goes into ‘fight or flight’ mode and our breathing becomes more shallow and frequent. This causes us to breathe like we are hyperventilating which in turn increases our heart rate, leading to palpitations and contributes to feelings of anxiety and being out of control.
In order to breathe correctly we should focus on what we call ‘diaphragmatic breathing’. This technique involves placing one hand on our chest, say our left hand, and our right hand on our abdomen. When we breathe in and out your left hand should remain still and your right hand should move up and down. If your left hand is moving your breathing is too shallow and you are not using your diaphragm correctly. Practice taking slow deep breaths in and out until you perfect the technique. Take note of how this correct breathing technique will help boost your workouts and your health.
The average amount of water contained in the human body is approximately 50-65% for the average adult person. Considering our bodies are largely made up of water then it is crucial that we consume enough good quality water on a daily basis.
Water in the body is responsible for flushing wastes and toxins thru the body as well as metabolising and digesting food. It is also the primary building block for all of our cells, as well as helping to insulate and lubricate the body, and assist in regulating our body temperature.
The research around how much water to drink does vary but you should aim to consume 35-45ml/kg of fluid which translates into about 2-3 litres per day. An active person who trains for longer than 40 minutes per day training at a high intensity should add an extra 500-1000ml a day with athletes or people exposed to extreme heat more again.
Generally, an indication of being thirsty is the bodies way of telling you, your already dehydrated. Just losing even 1% of the bodies water has an impact on our physical performance as well as impairing our mental performance. Up to 70% of people are dehydrated at any one time a result of drinking too much coffee, juices and smoothies which are loaded with caffeine and sugar.
If your having trouble drinking enough water daily, try carrying around a drink bottle with a slice of cut up lemon or lime. Add vegetables such as sliced up cucumbers, carrots or mint leaves for a fresh zesty flavor. Add a glass of water before every meal and snack to help you feel fuller for longer and to stop the urge of wanting to overeat. Add a pinch of rock salt to assist in replacing essential minerals and salts lost thru perspiration as well as to help slow down the urination process.
Life is a about balance and when it comes to nutrition nothing beats a strong foundation of carbohydrates, good fats and proteins or what we commonly refer to as macronutrients. Where a lot of people get it wrong is when we start eliminating certain food groups in an attempt to lose weight often replacing proteins and carbs with foods loaded with hidden sugars.
The need to refuel throughout the day will largely depend upon your workload and individual energy requirements. If for example, you are a Personal Trainer like me and get up before 5am every morning to train and work, then I often need 2 small meals before lunchtime to keep me going. If you exercise during your lunch break you may find that you need a small snack before you train and a bigger meal after training to help manage hunger and energy levels or vice versa. As a general rule of thumb try not to leave longer than 3-4 hours between eating as this will help regulate your blood sugars and prevent you from overeating at your next meal.
Your 3-4 meals a day should consist of lean proteins to help build lean muscle and keep you feeling full as well as good fats such as olive oils, avocado’s nuts and seeds. Green vegetables such as spinach, kale, lettuce, broccoli, cucumbers, beans and peas should be eaten with every meal to ensure you boost your immune system and help you get all of your essential vitamins and nutrients in.
We are a nation of alarming statistics with obesity levels on the rise with data from the ‘National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey’ (NHANES 2013-2014) stating that ‘1 in 3’ adults were considered to be overweight. More that ‘2 in 3’ adults were considered to be overweight or have obesity and ‘1 in 6’ children between the ages of 2-19 were considered to be obese.
‘Sitting’ has become the new ‘smoking’ with the majority of our adult population sitting at a desk for 8-12 hours a day up to 5 times a week. It’s no surprise then that the incidence of cardiovascular disease and diabetes is also on the rise, this is adding more strain to an already overflowing health system. According to the U.S division for “Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention’ about 630,000 Americans die from heart disease every year – that is 1 in 4 deaths. In the United States, someone has a heart attack every 40 seconds. According to the report also, the estimated cost of covering health care services, medications and lost productivity is approximately $200 billion each year.
Coupled with the heart disease facts is our current statistics on the incidence of diabetes. According to the “National Diabetes Statistics Report’ from the ‘Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)), 30.3 million Americans have either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes that is 9.4% of the population. From this 30.3 million people, 7.2 million are undiagnosed which means they do not even know that they have it.
Alarming statistics aside, a strategy to help improve our current health situation is to get moving more often. When clients ask my advice on how often they should exercise my response is always ‘everyday’. Now this may seem a little excessive but exercise doesn’t always have to be in a gym environment it could involve taking the dog for a walk after work, swimming laps in your lunch break or playing some social sport of a weekend.
Try to stick to exercise that you enjoy doing as you are more likely to stick with it long term. For those times when you think your motivation may be an issue enlist the services of a Personal Trainer who can design workouts specifically tailored for you or grab a workout buddy as you are less likely to cancel on them.
When it come to exercise variety is the ‘spice of life’, your body is very good at adapting to exercise so ensure you do a variety of cardio, resistance training, body weight exercises and stretching.
Ultimately, the responsibility of our health and wellness comes down to 1 person….which is ourselves. In order to not be a statistic of disease we have to move more and watch the amount of processed foods and drinks we consume.
Perhaps one of your goals for 2018 is to prioritize your health, which involves quitting the excuses and putting more time into your physical and mental wellbeing.
The benefits of exercise go way beyond just the physical transformations that take place but extend far deeper into the emotional and mental well being of our health. I know myself that after a workout it clears the fog in my brain, stabilizes my moods and allows me to clear the lens and refocus again. Embarking on any new fitness journey can bring up a whole host of insecurities around the way you look, your fitness levels, what to do and for some it can be quite intimidating stepping foot into a place that has a bunch of toned bodies everywhere and some scary looking equipment.
If you are embarking on a new exercise regime here are my top 5 tips to get you started and to help keep you going:
1. Moderation is not failure
When embarking on any new exercise regime it is important to remember you have to learn to crawl before you can walk. If it has been a significant period of time since you laced up your trainers, begin with some low impact activities such as cycling, swimming, walking, Pilates or Yoga. It is important to recognize that there is not just the physical benefits of exercise such as increases in strength, endurance and fitness but also the emotional benefits of exercise such as improvements in mental and emotional health
2. Set Realistic Expectations
Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will be your body. As a Personal Trainer I encourage my clients to set goals that are realistic and achievable in terms of their exercise and nutrition. You really need to check your expectations when it comes to the ‘big picture’ of what you are trying to achieve. If you are have a major event you would like to train for ensure you don’t leave it to the last minute before you join a gym or embark on that running program.
3. Get a Support System
Research tells us that the reasons the majority of people leave gyms is not because they move away or cant afford it but because of a lack of motivation. If you find it hard to be self motivated on the best of days try training with a buddy I guarantee you are less likely to hit the ‘snooze’ button if you know you have committed to meeting someone at 6am. If the thought of stepping into the weights area feels intimidating, or you are not confident around what to do, enlist the services of a Personal Trainer who can specifically design programs based around your strengths and weaknesses. You will be surprised at what your body can do and how hard you can push yourself when you have someone encouraging you to do so. Personal Trainers provide accountability and will ask you the difficult questions around food habits, stress, sleep and exercise. Join a gym that provides plenty of variety in terms of it’s service offerings, clubs such as Fitness First have small group training classes and group fitness classes that make working out social and fun.
4. Participate in Exercises or Sport that you Enjoy
Lets face it, if exercise feels like a chore or you are mentally ticking off the minutes before you can get out of there, chances are you wont last long. Not all exercise has to be structured or in the gym, you may love training outdoors or playing sport several times a week, these are great ways to keep fit plus they are social and enjoyable. Participate in small group training classes, join a running club or a Bootcamp you will be surprised at how quickly the time goes.
5. See How You Measure Up
Wearable technology has transformed the way we can measure heart rates, outputs, distances, pace, sleep and even body fat. Measuring our heart rate for example provides clear cut results around how hard we are working or perhaps how not. The ability to measure our results allows us to take responsibility for each and every workout, it also allows us to accurately compare our results over a period of time and to track our progress. Most wearable technology is easily synched to mobile devices and some even provide you with programs on what to do in the gym. Another great way to provide some insight into where your strengths and weaknesses lie is the “Bio-Score’. The Bio-Score available at Fitness First, is a holistic analysis of your health which allows you to see where you stand before you set out to improve.The Bio-Score measures your lung function, agility, strength, cardio, functional strength, core strength, waist to height ratio, muscular power, blood pressure and metabolic blood testing. These results are then formulated into a software program which provide us with a Bio age vs our chronological or actual age. Set yourself a goal to improve these markers in 12 weeks and retest again.
Take it from me, exercise does have the power to not just transform your body but it has the power to transform your life.
These tips will get you well on your way to improving your health and wellbeing, remember exercise should be a habit like brushing your teeth or combing your hair. The hardest part is getting started, remember some exercise is better than none and to be kind to yourself, self compassion will increase your likelihood to succeed long term.
For every glass of alcohol you consume make sure you drink a glass of water to keep yourself hydrated and in control.
Rather than drinking full strength alcohol try a beer shandy or a white wine sprizter and save yourself half the calories.
Make sure you eat before you head out so you are less likely to overindulge on party food or have too much to drink.
There are a multitude of low calorie and low carb beers and wines to choose from these days to assist you in watching your waist line.
Don’t allow other people to top up your glass especially if you are driving, ensure you know what a standard drink looks like.
Avoid the Punch Bowl or the Slushie Machine these drinks a full of sugar and therefore calories and contain large amounts of alcohol.
Try not to socialize around the buffet table – out of sight is definitely out of mind.
Don’t succumb to peer pressure when it comes to drinking and food. Just because it is offered does not mean you have to eat/drink it. Instead opt for healthy appetizers and sensible drinking.
Don’t beat yourself up too much if you have a splurge on your favourite dessert or cocktail. Rather hit the gym the next day or go for a run instead to burn off those extra calories.
Keep in mind there are no ‘quick fixes’ to weight loss, crash dieting before an event will only lead to bingeing down the track. Instead opt for a healthy eating plan and aim to move your body for at least an hour everyday.