Getting Fit and Strong: The Missing Piece of the Puzzle

My name is Tom Ewer and I am healthy enough.

At least, that’s how I see it. I’m 6’2″ and a notch or two under 200lbs. Consult a BMI chart and I’m technically overweight, but I feel pretty healthy, and I’d rather trust my own subjective measure than one so simplistic as BMI.

Tom Ewer
Judge for yourself!

But here’s what I’m not: what most guys want to be. You know – toned, lean, buff, head-turning. And I wish I was, as many of us do.

So what’s holding me back?

For most of us, I think it comes down to one simple thing: faith. To be more specific, faith that making the sacrifices and putting the hard work in will yield the kind of results that will make it all worthwhile (or at least give us the understanding that an awesome body simply isn’t worth the personal sacrifice).

If I had a better understanding of what I needed to do in order to be fitter, stronger and look awesome naked, I would either feel:

  1. Motivated to do what was necessary
  2. Comfortable in the knowledge that I’m not prepared to that the necessary work for the end result I desire

I’m not looking for an absolute answer here. I’m not expecting to point to a picture of Brad Pitt in Fight Club or Hugh Jackman in Wolverine and have someone tell me exactly what I would need to do and how long it would take to get the necessary end result. But I do feel that if I had someone suitably experienced and trustworthy giving me a greater understanding of and confidence in what was necessary to experience genuine, tangible results, I would be in a far better position to take action (or not).

But I don’t know how to go about getting that information or who to get it from.

I saw an entertaining talk earlier today at the Alive conference in Berlin by a guy called Carl Paoli, an ex-gymnast turned personal trainer.

Carl said something that in his talk that stuck in my mind and inspired this article.

He said that at one point, he was ranked (by some means) as the top personal trainer in the United States. But at the same time, he came to realize that his clients weren’t actually getting any fitter. While he moved onto say that he changed his training methods and got great results, there’s no avoiding that at a time, he was incredibly successful in getting paid as a personal trainer, but not so successful at actually delivering the goods.

So, if Carl was number one and an all-round badass buff dude but couldn’t get his clients fit, how can I trust anyone in the health and fitness industry? Who do I look for to provide me with the information I feel I need to make a pivotal decision about my body, and ultimately, my life?

Perhaps it’s an issue with my mindset. I’m not good with leaps of faith; I like evidence. I don’t like someone to tell me to “do more exercise” because I’ll “get fitter” – I want to know what I can expect from my endeavors.

I don’t need all the answers. But to be anything more than just healthy enough, I feel like I need to know more than I do right now. I need to have a greater understanding of what is necessary to become a fitter, stronger version of myself, and believe someone who tells me how I should do it.

Otherwise, I don’t think anything will change, and I might look back one day and ask myself, “what if?” And what ifs suck.

Listen to Your Body – It Can Tell You Where You’re Going Wrong

If you were to embark on a diet, detox or new exercise program, what would be your motivator? The end result? The challenge of willpower?

What about doing it because you can feel the difference in your body?

Forget about seeing the difference. Ensuring you’re happy with your next beach photo on facebook is motivating, but knowing that your body is benefiting from your new regime is more important. By feeling what your body is going through, you’re learning a skill: listening to your body. It may seem simple, but is a great asset when dieting or generally being conscious of your health.

How Do I Know This?

I found this skill when I completed a six week sugar detox. I started off by thinking it’d be a test of my willpower: could I really resist chocolate for six whole weeks? And would this carry on after the detox? I also wondered if I’d drop a few pounds during the process. But what surprised me was what I learnt about how my body reacts to sugar. In short, it makes me tired and irritable. I didn’t expect this outcome from a detox, nor was it my goal. I ended up working out why I always felt fatigued, especially post-lunch. It was a surprising and pleasing result.

By using this skill of listening to my body, I then started a series of elimination diets to find out the cause of my IBS bloating (as advised by my doctor). I’d learnt how to monitor my body’s reactions and got into the habit of recording a food diary. I felt in tune with my body. So instead of retrospectively looking at what I’d eaten the day before a bloating incident, I carefully monitored my diet and was mindful of my body’s reactions.

So far, I haven’t worked out the cause, but I’m carrying on with different food groups. In a similar way to the sugar detox, I discovered an unexpected result of the elimination diets. While I was monitoring my degrees of bloatedness when eliminating caffeine, I found I had bundles more energy. It was easier to get out of bed and I didn’t crave my morning coffee once I’d gotten to work. I’ve therefore carried this forward into my everyday life.

So how did I listen to my body? It really is as simple as being mindful of what you’re putting into your body and monitoring the reactions afterwards. The reaction may be immediate, such as bloating after eating wheat; or it may be longer term, such as finding yourself springing out of bed the day after a time period of no sugar.

Take Your Own Challenge and Keep a Diary

If it’s a detox, are you noticing any changes to your body, like better skin or increased energy? What are you detoxing from? If you feel a positive change, this may be the evil ingredient that’s holding you back from being your healthiest. For me, it was sugar.

If you suffer from IBS symptoms and you eat a certain food, what happens to your body immediately after or later in the day? If you eliminate it completely, do the symptoms disappear? If you eat the food you always thought caused IBS because you once had a reaction, but you now don’t get any symptoms, eat away my friend! For me – I think – this is wheat. (Always remember to check with your doctor for anything medically-related, however.)

On a very basic level, check that when you feel hungry, your body is actually hungry. Listen to your body. Audibly, it may rumble, but you should be able to tell if what your body needs is hydration or if it’s just your mind playing tricks. For me, I ‘feel’ hungry when I’m bored.

While you’re listening to your body for specific complaints, take note of anything else that may be occurring. Going back to my examples, I found increased energy by eliminating sugar and caffeine – without expecting that result. You may find dairy affects your skin, for instance. Or perhaps you get headaches from chocolate.

My new motto is: “Try it and see”. Pick a food group you’re curious about and see how it affects you. There really is no harm in trying, even for a short period of time, and see if you notice any difference to your body. You know your body better than anyone, so listen to it.

9 Ways to Lose Weight (And Keep It Off) Without Changing Your Life

According to Science Daily, the number one reason why diets fail is because dieters underestimate the amount of calories they consume.

In reality, it goes far deeper than that. Miscounting calories isn’t the problem. That’s only an indicator of a far greater issue: that the dieting measures most people take are overly prohibitive.

Many of us associate dieting with restriction and sacrifice — doing things we don’t want to do in order to improve ourselves. That association (and the subsequent actions we take as a result) is typically what trips us up when it comes to losing weight.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. I have discovered that you can lose weight and keep it off without making any drastic lifestyle changes. Furthermore, I’ve made it my personal goal to reveal this truth to as many people as possible, which is why you’re reading this.

Mindset

Before I get onto the specifics, I want to discuss something far more important than any dieting tip I can give you: your mindset. Regardless of how effective my tips are, they’ll be worth little if you don’t approach diet from the right perspective.

The biggest mindset adjustment you need to make is your desire for quick results. Why? Because quick results require great sacrifice and are typically unsustainable in the long run.

Here’s an example. A pound of fat is equal to approximately 3,500 calories. Therefore, if you want to burn 3lbs of fat per week, you will need to consume a deficit of 10,500 calories per week, or ~1,400 calories per day. If your recommended daily intake is 2,000 calories, that means (in theory) that you must consume no more than 400 calories per day. Doesn’t sound like much fun, does it?

I refer to calories only to underline just how onerous the task of quick weight loss is, because I don’t actually want you to focus on your calorie consumption. My approach to diet is far more intuitive and relies upon a subjective observation of how you look and feel over a period of weeks and months, not days. But my point remains: you must divorce yourself from the desire to lose weight quickly.

Doing so is easier than you might think. The reason why most people are keen for quick weight loss is because they want to get off the diet as soon as possible (because it is overly prohibitive). That in itself should highlight the fatal flaw in dramatic dieting: that you’re likely to put all the weight back on when you come off the diet. Such dieting represents a vicious cycle.

Instead of that, you can create a diet that results in gradual, sustainable weight loss and requires little to no willpower. A diet that you can maintain for the long term. A diet that allows you to eat all of the things that you love. A diet that you can (dare I say it) actually enjoy.

In this case, the tortoise beats the hare almost every time, and does so without even breaking a sweat.

So let’s get down to it. If you adopt even just a couple of the tips below and make no other changes to your diet, you are likely to see positive results. And if you employ enough of them, you will observe sustained weight loss.

1. Consume Protein at Breakfast Time

A good breakfast is a protein-packed breakfast. In an article on WebMD about hunger-curbing foodsPurdue University nutrition professor Wayne Campbell, PhD had the following to say about the satiety benefits of protein:

You are most likely to feel fuller after eating protein than other nutrients, including fiber, and one of the theories behind why higher-protein diets work well with weight loss is because it helps you not [to] feel hungry.

That statement was on the back of two studies from Purdue in which it was argued that you are likely to feel less hungry after eating a protein-rich breakfast when compared to an equivalent meal made up of carbohydrates.

I’m sure we can all think of a protein-rich breakfast meal that we would love to eat. Now you can do so without guilt, safe in the knowledge that it can help you to lose weight. When I do eat breakfast (which is rare these days), my meal of choice is grilled bacon and poached eggs.

Speaking of eggs, in a study presented at the 2007 Experimental Biology meeting, researchers at Pennington Biomedical Research Center compared weight loss between two groups of dieters. The first group ate bagels for breakfast, the second group ate eggs. Researcher Nikhil V. Dhurandhar, PhD concluded the following:

Compared to the bagel eaters, overweight women who ate two eggs for breakfast five times a week for eight weeks, as part of a low-fat, reduced-calorie diet, lost 65% more weight, reduced waist circumference by 83% [and] reported higher energy levels.

When people eat [sic] eggs, rich in protein, at breakfast, they felt more satisfied and consumed fewer calories throughout the day, compared to those who ate a primarily carbohydrate meal like a bagel.

The moral of the story is this: a high protein breakfast helps to keep you full and, by extension, can help you to lose weight.

2. Skip Breakfast

Past studies have claimed that eating breakfast provides many benefits for health and weight loss: it boosts your metabolism, prevents you from overeating, positively affects your mood and more (depending upon who you speak to).

However, these claims are typically based upon dated or small-scale studies that follow spurious lines of reasoning. More recent studies have concluded that breakfast is no more important than any other meal when it comes to weight loss.

I mentioned above that I rarely eat breakfast these days — probably once per week. Why? Because it is by far the easiest and least challenging way to lose weight that I know of.

Several studies have concluded that by skipping breakfast, you are likely to consume far less over the course of the day. One such study measured a net calorific deficit of 400 calories per day amongst subjects that skipped breakfast. That’s 2,800 calories per week, which is approximately equivalent to 0.8lbs of fat.

The old argument that you make up for lost calories from skipping breakfast later in the day has been discounted. Although you are likely to consume more calories later in the day than you would have otherwise, the net result will be a calorific deficit.

However, what about the negative side effects commonly attributed to skipping breakfast, such as hunger pangs and decreased alertness? While it is true that you are initially likely to experience what you consider to be hunger pangs, your brain is fooling you. After all, you can survive for weeks without any food; I think you can manage a morning. The “hunger pangs” you feel are nothing more than your body expecting food out of sheer habit. Go without breakfast and after a period of time (possibly just days), the hunger pangs will reduce to a more than tolerable level and eventually disappear altogether. I say this from personal experience.

As for decreased alertness, some studies on children have argued that skipping breakfast can lead to decreased cognition and academic performance, but findings are sketchy at best. A systematic review of 45 studies conducted between 1950 and 2008 concluded as follows:

The evidence indicates that breakfast consumption is more beneficial than skipping breakfast, but this effect is more apparent in children whose nutritional status is compromised … Few studies examined adolescents. Studies of school breakfast programmes suggest that such interventions can have positive effects on academic performance, but this may be in part explained by the increased school attendance that programmes encourage.

So if you’re a malnourished child who is likely to skip school if you don’t have breakfast, you should probably eat breakfast. Otherwise, I wouldn’t worry about it.

I’ll conclude with a simple suggestion: try skipping breakfast for a few days and see how it goes. Give your body a chance to adjust. Drink plenty of fluids to combat your hunger pangs and look forward to an even more satisfying lunch. It could be all you need to do to lose weight.

3. Give Up Liquid Calories

There are generally three reasons why people want to (or are happy to) drink liquid calories:

  1. Caffeine
  2. Ignorance
  3. Taste

The first reason isn’t good enough – after all, you can get caffeine from all sorts of non-calorific sources (as demonstrated in this chart).

The second reason represents a lack of appreciation for how many liquid calories you are consuming (in which case I’ll refer you back to the aforementioned chart).

The third reason is somewhat understandable, but ultimately an issue of perspective.

I mentioned at the top of this article that any weight loss is to be celebrated. So, let’s say for a moment that you wanted to lose just ½lb per week, which is equivalent to around 1,750 calories per week or 250 calories per day. A 500ml bottle of Coca Cola is equal to 210 calories per day. Cutting out that bottle a day would lead to a deficit (over your existing diet) of 1,470 calories per week, equal to approximately 0.42lbs per week. By just cutting out those liquid calories, you can theoretically lose nearly ½lb per week without doing anything else.

Even if you really enjoy your Coca Cola, you can replace it with Diet Coke. Although it may not taste quite as good as what you’re used to, you will find that your taste buds adjust over time (mine certainly did). There is almost always a good zero-calorie substitute for whatever liquid calories you are currently consuming.

4. Use “Sensory Overload” to Stop Hunger Pangs

When it comes to hunger pangs, my strategy of sensory overload is foolproof in the sense that if you are still experiencing hunger pangs when you have completed the process, you can be sure that you are genuinely hungry and should perhaps therefore eat something relatively substantial. However, the chances are that you will rarely get to that point.

I’m not going to pretend like this process is complicated – it is about as simple as it gets. But its simplicity does not detract from its effectiveness. Just follow these five steps:

  1. Drink a tall glass of water
  2. Drink a cup of tea or coffee
  3. Eat a piece of fruit (like an apple or a banana)
  4. Eat a healthy low-calorie snack (like a Nakd Bar – my personal favorite)
  5. Drink a tall glass of water

The idea here is that you are overloading your senses with a number of stimuli – a variety of tastes, textures and even temperatures, not to mention a considerable volume of liquid. Hunger pangs are often psychological (e.g. you crave chocolate because you like the taste) or habitual (e.g. you experience hunger pangs at lunchtime because your body is used to eating then, not because you need to eat) rather than physical, and overloading your senses with a variety of food can coax your brain back into a state of perceived satiety.

If you follow the above five steps and are still hungry after fifteen minutes or so, feel free to eat something more substantial. You’re almost certainly hungry in a physiological sense. But the chances of you still wanting to eat at that point (regardless of whether you actually feel hungry) will be pretty slim – you should feel pretty full.

This can also be a great process to follow when you are tempted to snack on unhealthy foods. Allow yourself to eat your snack of choice, but only after you have followed the above five steps. Once you’re done with the five steps, you may not feel like it anymore. If you do, have at it.

5. Keep a Food Diary

A 2008 study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine observed 1,685 participants, all on calorie-restricted diets. The average weight loss per person after twenty weeks was 13lbs. But here’s the kicker: those who logged what they ate lost an average of 18lbs, compared to an average 9lbs for those who didn’t. By virtue of increased awareness, those who kept food diaries managed to lose twice as much weight.

The takeaway is this: you should probably be keeping a food diary. Don’t worry about the calories – just the simple act of writing down the meals and snacks you eat will increase your awareness of what you’re eating and aid you in your weight loss efforts.

I’m deliberately not linking to any online food diary apps here as they are typically bloated and tempt you to start tracking everything from calories to macronutrients. Instead, I advocate a simple approach to food logging: just use a text file, spreadsheet, or just paper and pen. If you want to stay electronic and link sync your data across devices, I recommend Evernote.

6. Work For Your Snacks

I’ll never suggest that you ban yourself from eating your favorite snacks. However, you certainly could benefit from making them a little less accessible.

Will this really help? Science says yes. It’s all to do with convenience.

In an article on overeating on This Emotional Life, Suzanne Phillips, PsyD referenced a handful of studies that hammer home the effects of convenience on eating (paraphrased):

In one study, a dish of chocolate kisses was moved over the course of weeks to different locations in secretaries’ office: the corner of the desk, the top of the left hand drawer and on a file cabinet six feet from the desk. It was discovered that the further the dish was from people, the less they ate – a difference reflected in 225 extra calories a day. In the debriefing, the secretaries revealed that the longer the distance, the more time they had to talk themselves out of eating another piece!

In another study a cooler full of free ice cream was placed in a cafeteria. It was in the same place every day, but on some days the glass lid was left open and on other days it was closed. On the closed lid days only 14% of the diners had ice cream compared with 30% on the days it was left open.

We’re talking about a simple exercise in psychology: if you’re getting a craving for a particular snack then put yourself in a position where you have to put effort into get hold of it. Don’t make it as simple as opening a cupboard – make it so that you have to walk or drive to your local store.

That little extra effort required may be enough discouragement to convince you not to have the snack (or choose a healthier alternative that you already have in the house). Worst case, you’ll burn a few more calories making the trip to get the snack!

If you want a more challenging version of this and your local store is a semi-considerable distance away (say a mile or so), resolve to walk to the store if you want to get a snack. Your net calories consumed will be lower.

7. Measure Your Portions

In the past a typical serving of spaghetti for me would be anywhere from 160 to 200 strands of spaghetti, which equates to 525-700 calories (yeah — I like pasta). I would grab a healthy handful of spaghetti (perhaps 150 strands), then, fearing I was doing myself a disservice, grab a few more just for good measure.

Then I started measuring out my spaghetti to around 150 grams (which is around 150 strands). In doing so I saved myself from consuming an additional 35-175 calories. I didn’t feel like I was cheating myself either — I was just taking my greed out of the equation and measuring out an amount of spaghetti that I knew would satisfy me.

In my experience, knowing what amount of food will fill you up and making only that much can lead to weight loss with no perceived reduction in satisfaction and satiety. This is backed up by a compelling soup study (yep, you read that right) conducted by Cornell University. In the study, one group were given a normal bowl of soup to eat, while another group were given an automatically-refilling bowl of soup. The outcome was telling:

Participants who were unknowingly eating from self-refilling bowls ate more soup than those eating from normal soup bowls. However, despite consuming 73% more, they did not believe they had consumed more, nor did they perceive themselves as more sated than those eating from normal bowls.

The conclusion was similarly compelling:

These findings are consistent with the notion that the amount of food on a plate or bowl increases intake because it influences consumption norms and expectations and it lessens one’s reliance on self-monitoring. It seems that people use their eyes to count calories and not their stomachs. The importance of having salient, accurate visual cues can play an important role in the prevention of unintentional overeating.

To put it another way, if a big portion of food is put on your plate, you brain tells you that you should eat it. On the other hand, a smaller portion can fill you up just as much and be just as satisfying (psychologically speaking) without the extra unwanted calorific load.

8. Use the Portion Reduction Method

This might feel like a tough one, especially for the kind of person I used to be: those who seemingly only feel satisfied when they eat to the point of slight sickness. It is however a highly effective way of eating less calories.

The method isn’t complicated: it begins with stopping when your body tells you that you’ve had enough at meal time. If you’re anything like me then it’ll take some time to rediscover this feeling, but it is there.

I appreciate that leaving food on the plate is often easier said than done. With that in mind, my suggestion is this: only put ¾ of the food you make on your plate. Then eat the meal slowly and give it fifteen minutes. If you’re still hungry then eat the rest — if not, put it in the bin. Yes, I know it’s a waste, but the quicker it’s in the bin, the sooner you can’t eat it. Then next time you know that you only need to make ¾ of the portion size (or even less, if you care to repeat the experiment). I call this the portion reduction method. It’s gonna be a thing.

I was talking about my spaghetti eating habits in the past tense above for good reason. These days, a serving of pasta for me is only about 75 grams — I just don’t have the appetite for a bigger portion these days. That is thanks to the portion reduction method.

9. Change Your Plates

According to Brian Wansink, head of Cornell’s Food and Brand Lab and the author of Mindless Eating, dinner plate sizes have increased 36% since the 1960s. That corresponds with an increase in obesity in the US from ~15% in 1960 to ~30% in 2004. While correlation does not necessarily lead to causation, the relationship between these two variables is thought-provoking.

With the above in mind, you’ve probably read that if you use smaller plates you’ll eat less. However, that is not necessarily the case — a plate that is too small can simply convince you to go back for seconds or thirds, thus rendering the whole exercise pointless.

So instead of using smaller plates arbitrarily, find your ideal serving size then grab yourself a set of plates that makes your meals look suitably piled up. A mountain of food on a relatively small plate will seem bigger to you than a meal spread across a larger plate.

Conclusion

Over the past few months I have implemented all of the above strategies, and over those months I have been steadily losing weight. I’ve enabled myself to slowly develop habits that I previously would have thought unthinkable. It’s amazing how you can change your diet if you give your body the time it requires to gradually adjust.

I still enjoy all of the foods I love (sometimes in far too much abundance) and I never feel like I am restricting myself. I never thought that sustainable and enjoyable weight loss was possible, but that thought process was nothing more than a reflection of conventional wisdom. The simple fact is that all of the above tips cannot easily be tied to a product, which means that the dieting industry isn’t interested in talking about them. Fortunately, I am.

I am confident that the above tips can help you to lose weight. If you have any comments or questions, please do not hesitate to fire away below!

Taking the UFYH Approach to Exercise

Sticking to a fitness routine is hard.

Honestly, sticking to any sort of routine is hard. Hell, I have trouble remembering to unload the dishwasher when all is said and done. That’s why I find the profane and to-the-point nature of UFYH so inspiring.

What’s this acronym? It stands for Unfuck Your Habitat. It’s part website, part Tumblr blog, part Facebook community, part app. It’s designed to help lazy people like you and me and everyone else out there improve their environments a little bit at a time. The primary principle is 20/10 – you spend 20 minutes performing an activity like doing the dishes and 10 minutes resting.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by big tasks like cleaning the kitchen or what have you. And if you let it go long enough, your home might be unfit for guests and that can lead to feeling depressed. When you’re thinking it’s all or nothing every day, you’re not going to get anywhere. I’ve been in that mindset before and let me tell you, it sucks.

That’s why small work increments are key to “unfucking” your life, whether that means putting your clothes away right after taking them out of the dryer, keeping on top of your finances, or exercising.

Yes, the UFYH approach can be easily applied to your workout routine, too.

If you’re scoffing and saying “What routine?” hear me out. I’ve put together a few tips that should help to make exercise a more consistent part of your life:

  • Don’t marathon. In the UFYH lexicon, a marathon is described as cleaning for hours on end without taking any breaks. This will invariably result in burnout that means you won’t clean again for a long time until it’s so bad you can’t stand it. Process repeat. The same goes for exercise. If you only work out in marathon sessions when you just can’t stand not being fit anymore, you’ll be too sore and too burnt out the next day to make it a regular part of your life. Small increments are key. 20/10 people. 20/10!
  • Make small goals. You don’t need to be like, “Hey, I’m going to workout every day for the rest of my life,” all of a sudden. Biting off a big goal like that is bound to lead to failure, which can lead to depression, and giving up. Instead, set an achievable fitness goal that makes sense for you. Like, “I’ll exercise three times a week.” Or, “I’ll do sit-ups every time someone drinks wine in Game of Thrones.”
  • Pick one task and see it through. When you’re feeling motivated about your physical health, it’s tempting to load up your calendar with a million exercise goals but resist, child, resist! If you’re thinking about getting into Pilates, load up a video on Netflix or YouTube, commit to it for 20 minutes then get up and take a break. After 10 minutes, get back on your mat and do another 20 minutes. But whatever you do, don’t try to become a cyclist, yogi, and karate master in a weekend. That scattered mentality is how we all end up needing to unfuck our lives in the first place!

Will you give the UFYH method a try? What does your pending workout routine look like? I’d love to hear all about it!

Should You Believe Everything That Doctors Say on TV?

You see them everywhere. You recognize their names. And yes, they’re some of the most influential people you know.

These are what some like to call celebrity doctors, who have millions of followers that hang onto their every word. Whether or not it is deserved, these people are widely respected for their “wisdom.”

Celebrity doctors are not going away anytime soon, as the medical industry draws of tens of millions people in each year. Here at Healthy Enough (including yours truly), we watch some of these celebrities on TV and other forms of media every day.

Does that mean we should take all of their advice to heart? In other words, are celebrity doctors all they’re cracked up to be?

Before we dive into this question, let’s figure out why they’re so darned irresistible in the first place.

Why Are Celebrity Doctors So Popular?

They have Presence.

Any successful doctor celebrity is putting on a performance. They have a commanding voice and speak sensationally.  I dare you to watch an episode and try not to hear the words “quick results”, “unbelievable findings”, and “miraculous cure”.  Sometimes, they go so far as to make viewers believe that all cures work for everyone, and that every medical problem has a solution attached to it.

They seem like they truly believe in what they preach. Or, for the skeptics out there, they can pretend they believe it. So many of these doctors spread hope amongst us, and deliver promises (whether or not that is their intention) that sound nothing short of miraculous. People who watch these shows regularly notice that they provide the best, and most times, the easiest to achieve the results they want.

Can We Believe Them?

Maybe. (You didn’t expect me to give you a simple answer, did you?).

For one, we want so badly for what the doctors are saying to be true. We want so badly for those quick fixes to work, whether it’s our low energy levels or high cholesterol levels.  If there’s a product displayed in front of us and it comes with promises of a cure you’re desperately seeking to find, why wouldn’t you jump all over it?

We also want these solutions to work to because we like the people who are telling us that these so-called ‘miracle cures’ can actually cure us. Who wouldn’t want to watch a good looking person who happens to be charismatic and seem to truly care about our health?

Whether or not these products work, these doctors are making money off you. Some even have their own line of products that they push in media outlets. One such doctor likes to harp on conspiracy theories which questions the traditional medical industry and navigates fans to his products, which are – of course – much better.

I bet you’re not surprised to learn that many of these doctors have their own line of products or get some sort of kickbacks from promoting products on media. Not only that, but many of these doctors want you to go to their website, where they get paid per pageview. Yup, you guessed it – they have tons of ads on their website.

That’s not to say that doctor celebrities are all that bad.  You do have to remember that most of them were practicing physicians (and some currently still are) and do have some credibility. And while their advice isn’t for everyone, they probably aren’t basing it off of heresy alone.

So What Does This Mean?

It simply means that you cannot be blind about your health.

While there are many authority figures that might have some legitimate claims or solutions, it doesn’t mean it’s always the right one for you. Sure, these doctors’ claims may be legitimate, but you can’t simply hear what you want to hear, or believe what you want to believe.

The next time you hear of the latest miracle cure, do some research. Ask the advice or opinion or your doctor, or a trusted professional. Make sure you have all the tools necessary to make an informed decision.

Oh, and advice that claims it’ll cure you quickly and easily? It probably isn’t true.

Why You Should Eat Chocolate Every Day

Tom: The following is a guest post by Renee Knight: a freelance writer, editor and storyteller who loves covering health topics. You can find her at ReneeKnight.com.

I eat chocolate just about every day – and I think you should, too.

I let myself enjoy this sweet treat as a mid-morning snack and I don’t feel guilty about it or worry what it’s going to do to my waistline. In fact, I feel pretty good about my choice.

The key is, I’m not eating a milk chocolate candy bar filled with caramel (though that’s certainly okay once in a while). Instead, I’m choosing to get my chocolate fix from dark chocolate – a sweet treat that actually provides health benefits.

That’s the beauty of dark chocolate – not only does it satisfy my sweet tooth, it’s also good for me. Dark chocolate is full of antioxidants that help protect the cardiovascular system and even might help promote weight loss. Even better, eating a small block of dark chocolate keeps me from splurging on a bowl of ice cream or a calorie-filled candy bar later in the day.

In the last few years, several studies have been released purporting the benefits of dark chocolate. And the possible health benefits for those who incorporate dark chocolate into their diet are myriad, including lower blood pressure, weight loss and decreased stroke risk.

The Department of Food Science and Technology at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University recently completed a study that shows a specific antioxidant in cocoa prevented mice from gaining weight while also lowering their blood sugar. The exciting results of this 12-week study appeared in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. Other recent studies show that dark chocolate may help prevent type two diabetes and lower the risk of developing heart disease.

Sounds great, right? Just remember, while choosing dark chocolate over milk chocolate provides several health benefits, that doesn’t mean you should eat an entire 3.5 ounce block in one sitting. Just like anything else, dark chocolate is best in moderation. I usually buy the bigger bars and eat one block at a time. I try different kinds just to mix it up, but I never opt for versions with nuts, caramel or any other popular candy filling. If you choose those varieties, you lose the health benefits and gain empty calories.

And don’t just put any ol’ bar of dark chocolate into your cart. Look at the percentage of cocoa in the chocolate – the higher the better – and check out the ingredient list. Any options with a long ingredient list likely aren’t your best bet.

I have to admit, while I’ve grown to love dark chocolate, I wasn’t a fan at first. Milk chocolate, with all its sugar and fillers, is my first love. If you’re used to milk or even white chocolate, dark chocolate can seem pretty bitter at first – especially when you’re eating versions with a high percentage of cocoa (which offer the most benefits).

To get past that, I pair my antioxidant rich chocolate with my favorite tea. It helps cut down the bitterness, which is honestly something I don’t even notice anymore. If you’re not a tea drinker, a glass of milk or even water may help as you adjust.

Next time a chocolate craving strikes, opt for high-cocoa dark chocolate rather than your go-to sugar-filled sweet treat. Keep a bar in your house like I do, or maybe buy a bag of mini dark chocolate bars to make it easier to stick to one serving at a time. Not only will this keep you from overindulging on not-so-good-for-you sweets later, you’ll enjoy the many health benefits that dark chocolate provides.

What’s your favorite way to enjoy dark chocolate? Tell us in the comments below!

If You Keep Doing This You’re Headed For Disaster

Boy, everyone is on the mark!

My seat right now at the local Starbucks is a prime location to watch, follow, and track one consistent (and usually unconscious) habit that many people do once they’ve paid for their order. As a matter of fact, 12 out of the last 19 people have done this exact same thing.

Want to take a stab at what they’re doing?

Let me give you a hint: it’s not smart. It’s downright dumb.

As a matter of fact it can be a real pain in the neck (literally). It’s called Tech Neck and it involves this simple formula:

While standing, whip out your iPhone and crank your head and neck down so much that you completely wipe out the front of your neck, almost resting your chin on your sternum.

Some even call it Text Neck. Either way, you’re headed for disaster.

I know you can’t envisage missing a text, e-mail, status update or lolcat during those 45 seconds it took to order your grande, sugar-free, no foam, soy, iced mocha latte whatever.

I mean just standing there actually waiting; well, that might be really too simple. And it’d be far too quiet to just be with yourself.

What Tech Neck is Doing to Your Body

So, I’ll leave the psychology of it alone and go after the ergonomics for now.

Our human design doesn’t play nice when we insert our head where it’s not supposed to be. Literally. We’re not made to accommodate a position with our head craned out, forward and down of our shoulders. That’s called forward head posture and it will do a doosey on you over time.

The average human head weighs about 12 lbs (5.5 kg). So take your human head, distend it forward and down towards the device you’re on at about mid-chest height and it now becomes a 42 lb (19 kg) head. Why? Because for every inch of forward head posture, it can increase the weight of the head on the spine by an additional 10 pounds. (AI Kapandji, Physiology of the Joints, Vol. 3, 2008)

That whole trauma unit is now tugging on your spinal column and now you’re shifting the firing patterns of the neurons in your whole entire column and information highway. The disaster primer.

You’re being a pain in the neck and you’re doing it all to yourself.

How?

Because of that thing called gravity. At any given moment gravity is pulling you down. Jut your head into that funky position and out of sequence with the rest of your spine and what happens?

Ouch.

Keep your head there, knocking your center of gravity out of alignment and you’ve just created a domino effect of problems not only down your column but in your shoulders, back, head, and chest. This pulls on that, that screams signals to help, but meanwhile those back muscles are just trying to compensate. Nothing good ever comes out of compensation.

I didn’t even mention the health problems yet, just some of the structural complications that happen over time.

That’s pretty much the exact formula. The 3 key words are “happens over time.” Once you get that forward head posture habit going you’ve set the groove for the pain and discomfort happening easier and quicker.

Any of this sound familiar?

Heck, you could be feeling it all right now while reading this. You don’t have to be on a smart phone. That’s just the device that is the most commonly used. A laptop, e-reader or tablet will do.

According to Experian, the average American aged 25-34 sends and receives over a thousand texts a month. And that’s just text messages. That doesn’t consider unconscious scrolling through e-mail or surfing the web, both of which could cost you a longer down time with your 42 pound head heavy head. The Brits are even screaming Turkey Neck lines!

So What Do To?

First thing, become aware of when you’re doing this and how often. Stop doing it all the time. Once you become aware, there’s no going back. Ignorance is bliss. And painful.

In the meantime, here are three simple actionable things you can do right now.

  1. Be old-fashioned. Simply wait for your latte once in a while.
  2. Bring your smart phone up to at least chin height. Keep your head straight and use your eyes to navigate. (This alone will feel fab.)
  3. Do a big, easy stretch. Go to a doorway and stand back a little, not quite directly under the frame. Place each hand at shoulder height along the frame on both sides. Get a nice chest stretch by taking one foot and gently stepping through the doorway while not moving your hands. Make sure you eyes/head are up at about 20 degrees to ensure a nice chest lift and opener. At the same time squeeze your shoulder blades to remind them of their role in supporting you.

A little awareness can go a long way, especially when you’re making corrections in the angle in which you allow gravity to do its thing. You can create a brand new habit that will bring a whole new slant on how you’re staying connected. You’ll feel so much better doing it too!

You don’t need to head for disaster (pun shamelessly intended).

Try some of those micro movements and see how much of a small, big difference it could make for you.

Weight Loss: When Being Selfish is a Good Thing

Those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.
~ Dr. Seuss

Although weight loss doesn’t have to be a painful process, there are usually what I like to call “emotional start up costs” as you find your feet. It’s expected. We embrace it. Hooray for positive change!

Unfortunately, these costs are often accompanied by something far more damaging and insidious. Surprisingly, the source of this negativity is your friends and family – the people who are supposed to love you, house you, feed you, cuddle you when you have nightmares, hold back your hair when you’ve had one too many tequilas, drive the getaway car if you should decide to rob a bank, and so on.

Yup. Friends, family and other miscellaneous loved ones can often get jealous about what you’re doing the minute you start to take care of yourself and get – quite frankly – rude and unsupportive. I have experienced it first hand with my own weight loss and heard stories from the majority of my friends who’re currently on the same road as us all – the one to a healthier life.

Frustratingly, I’ve been in situations before when I’ve been socializing and have had food and drink literally waved under my nose. These are the kind of lines you have undoubtedly been victim of:

You can have one more. It’s a special occasion!

Can’t you just have a night off?

All this healthy eating isn’t good for you. You’ve got to live!

Sigh.

Yes, it is a special occasion. Yes, from time to time, you do need a night off. The last line’s just plain ignorant, in my eyes, but you may feel differently. And yes, it’s been said to me more than once. But what happens when there was a special occasion last weekend too?

Personally, it upsets me that these people who are supposed to do all of the things I listed above actually don’t respect my decision to turn myself into something better.

You have to remember that whether they realize it or not, these sorts of people are usually jealous that you’ve got the drive and commitment to make your life more fun to be a part of. Additionally, they’re often looking for a reason to validate their own bad choices like binge eating/drinking, because if somebody else is doing it around them, it doesn’t seem like such a bad thing. How many times have we used that tired old excuse?

Who’s experienced this? And how did you deal with it? Probably better than me, I hope. Monica Reinage has got it down way better than I have. My innate ability to “zing back” with something witty is almost non-existent. It’s one of the main reasons why I decided that my career path as a stand up comedian probably wasn’t the right one. I suppose that my usual, polite response of “no, thank you” or “I’m not hungry” or “get that crap away from my nose, you weird, space-invading space-invader” wouldn’t quite cut it as some drunk guy yells “YOU SUCK!” from the back of a darkened room above some grotty bar on the outskirts of the city.

I guess, that in my own roundabout, special way, I’m trying to tell you that you need to do what’s best for you. All the time. Period. Being selfish, in this context, is a good thing.

Anybody who challenges your decision to be happy and be the best you can be isn’t worth having around. Just like Dr. Seuss said.

How a Positive Self Image Affects Your Health

Being healthy doesn’t mean that you simply need to lose weight. If skinny girls heard this (including myself), we’d all run to the closest fast food chain and stuff ourselves silly, every single day.

How we feel about our bodies is just as important as what is going on in them. You ever see that girl rock that little black dress like no other, or that seemingly ordinary guy who seems to make everyone laugh at his jokes?

Yup, you guessed it. They have a positive self image of themselves.

By this point you’re probably thinking, just how does a positive self image help with being healthy? Gosh, what do you think I’m writing this blog post for?

What is Body Image?

Simply put, your body image is basically how you feel about your body.  That being said, everyone has a body part they don’t like (I personally hate my nose). But we’re talking about how you feel about your body overall.

If you have a positive body image, it just means you feel good about your body and are generally happy with the way it looks. It also means that you are realistic about what size your body is, and know that you are not defined by how your body looks.

As a result, people like this don’t really freak out (okay, not always) about what they eat, counting calories, or their weight.

Someone with a negative body image feels the opposite. He or she will compare their bodies constantly to others. As a result they tend to feel anxious, shameful, or even self-conscious about their bodies. Also these types of people tend to have a distorted view of their size and shape.

How Does It Have to Do With Health?

In a nutshell, your body image totally affects your self-esteem. The more negative you feel about your body, the lower self-esteem you have. Low self-esteem can have a big impact in a person’s life, including relationships they have with others.

A poor body image naturally leads to emotional distress (hello, do you think that constantly comparing yourself to others  will make you happy?). This in turn can increase unhealthy behaviors like overeating and alcohol and drug abuse. Because they don’t feel that they are worth much, a person with low self esteem won’t exercise regularly and might have poor grooming habits. Some people even go as far as being socially awkward and have a hard time keeping relationships.

Having low self esteem is also linked to obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. Because they are more prone to stress, these types of people might get sick more often, since they might suffer from a lowered immune response.

How Do I Know if I Think My Body Sucks?

You have to get real honest. Remember, the first step to fixing any potential problem is to admit it. So take a good look at yourself in the mirror. As yourself these questions:

  • Do I like what I see?
  • Are there many things I want to change about my body?

If you find yourself criticizing your body more than you’re complimenting it, you’ve got a poor self image.

Yikes! What Can I Do?

Don’t fret my friend. The first step to getting to a healthier self image is to boost your self-esteem.

Here are some simple ways:

  • Tell yourself that your body is not a measure of self-worth.

  • Write a list about what you like about yourself. Include your accomplishments and talents. Add to this list daily.

  • Focus your energy on people that make you happy, like your family and friends. Feed off their positivity.

  • If you catch yourself criticizing any part of your life, stop and change it to something more positive, like “I may be a bit overweight, but I have ran 10km this week, so I will soon see the pounds melt away.”

  • Remind yourself that nobody’s perfect, including you.

  • Do something creative. Always wanted to learn to play the accordion? Now’s the time.

  • Thank your body for its basic (yet incredibly complex) functions. For example, thank your heart for pumping blood, or for your eyes so you can blogs like this.

  • Educate yourself on what a healthy diet means.

  • Buy a new outfit. It doesn’t have to be sexy, but it should be something that makes you feel good.

The key is to do some of these on a daily basis, or as much as you can. I promise that once you implement some of these steps, you’ll notice that you might stand a little taller and smile a lot more.

Go out and celebrate the awesomeness that is you.

The 10 Proven Benefits of Coconut Oil (You’ll Really Like Number 3)

Every now and again, a ‘super food’ or new fad arrives in our super market aisles that equally interests and baffles us. New, tasty ways of giving our bodies what they need is an exciting discovery for us healthy (or wannabe healthy!) types.

One new ‘super’ on the block is coconut oil. When researching this article, I came across pages and pages of information, with writers raving about it. And I agree – I’ve personally found coconut oil to be fantastic for cooking and beauty uses; ranging from making an excellent sweet-based curry to providing me with a natural and cheap facial scrub.

But what about the proven benefits of coconut oil? For something that is so versatile and seemingly can be used for everything, I want to know if I really should be lathering my face with the oil that I associate more with frying my onions. Plus, should I be eating this amount of fat in my every-day diet? What about the claims that it can help me to lose weight?

Research Has the Answer

  1. Forget what the marketing industry told you about saturated fat being bad! (Here and here explains why.) At around 92% saturated fat, coconut oil should be your staple oil for cooking with. Saturated fat has stronger bonds than others, meaning it won’t break down at higher temperatures like vegetable or olive oil can do. The latter two are less safe to cook with, since their lack of resistance to higher temperatures attracts nasty free radicals.
  2. The answer we’ve all been waiting for: coconut oil can help you to lose weight. It is rich in Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs), which are fats that are more filling than others and can boost metabolism slightly. Therefore, by eating coconut oil over other fats that contain Long Chain Triglycerides (e.g. vegetable oils), you’ll feel fuller for longer and be less likely to over-eat.
  3. The same research also shows that Medium chain fatty acids (MCFA) are readily oxidized in the liver. In layman’s terms, faster oxidation translates to greater energy expenditure – i.e. fat burning – than other fats.
  4. When eating coconut oil during dieting, fat is especially lost around the belly – great news for midriff-flashers and those with a middle-age spread alike. A study of obese men who ate 30 grams of coconut oil for 4 weeks found their waist circumference to reduce by 2.86 cm, or 1.1 inches.
  5. The MCFAs mentioned above contain lauric acid, which is formed into monolaurin within the body and has been found to destroy harmful bacteria. It was compared to antibiotics in its power to kill the fatal pathogen responsible for cases of blood poisoning.
  6. The same acid is also said to help fight herpes, influenza, cytomegalovirus, and even HIV.
  7. While you’re trying to stay healthy, it’s good to know that coconut oil helps improve nutrient absorption; including some of the B vitamins, the fat-soluble vitamins: A, D, E, K, beta-carotene, and some amino acids. Minerals such as calcium and magnesium are important for preventing osteoporosis. Bruce Fife, CN, ND therefore suggests coconut oil can be used to aid this prevention, since it helps absorb the minerals so well.
  8. There is an abundance of research into the effects of coconut oil on neurological diseases, including Alzheimer’s. It may improve symptoms, or delay or prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Pretty powerful stuff!
  9. It’s even great for your pets. The brilliantly named Dogington Post reported the benefits of using coconut oil on doggy ailments, including research into how the MCFAs provide an effective defense against many troublesome parasites, including giardia.
  10. The amount of anecdotal evidence for using coconut oil in beauty treatments is around the same as for cooking and health. Amongst others, it’s anti-fungal, can be used as a natural alternative for deodorant and intensive conditioner, and most interestingly, it has a natural SPF of somewhere between 4 and 10. My initial thought was: “Surely sunbathing in oil will fry me to a crisp?” Apparently not, according to this research.

Coconut Oil: A True Super Food

And you’re probably now wondering where you can buy it and what to do with it. Since it is becoming more well-known, check your local supermarket, or alternatively head to your favorite health food shop. Always look for virgin coconut oil, as the benefits described above were based on the virgin variety.

Some people from the research swear by having a spoonful a day. But as it is so great for cooking with, it makes sense to test your culinary skills and knock up a meal fried in coconut oil. Add it to your morning smoothie or bake a cake for pudding – you’ll likely feel the benefit from just a few additions to your daily diet.

The same goes with beauty. Replace your usual products and simply try it and see the difference.

I hope this article made you want to fill a bath of coconut oil and bathe in it; just like how felt when I read the research and commentary. Have you tried coconut oil and felt or seen the benefits? Please do share in the comments section below – research or personal tips are both welcome.