Have we gone diet crazy?

I get asked a lot of funny questions in my line of work. Most of them go something along the lines of “What can I do to lose weight really quickly?”, or “How do I get rid of this cellulite/ muffin top/ back fat/ stretch marks etc?”.
But I have to admit the strangest one by far came last week: What do I think of the hCG diet? What?? The only hCG I know is from my days of biochemistry: “hCG”- the so-called pregnancy hormone. This is the hormone we test for with a blood test to see if a lady is pregnant. The levels rise quickly early in the pregnancy, and taper off later on. Its so pregnancy specific, a positive lab test can be done before the lady in question even thinks she might be pregnant.
So, what does this “new” diet entail? Well, first of all, its not new. It was first tried out in the sixties, and nothing much about it has changed since then.

Basically how it works (or not!), is that it is an extremely restrictive diet, with followers limited to only 500 Calories per day. That is starvation levels. Even in the most restrictive of diets, women are not recommended to drop their Calorie intake below 1200Cal. So how do they manage this? By receiving injections or oral drops of the hormone hCG, synthetic of course. This fools the body into thinking its pregnant, and in the presence of the very low Calorie intake, fat stores are released to ensure the little (non-existant) baby still gets enough Calories.
Now, common sense should make us ask a few pertinent questions. Like, what happens if a man goes on the diet? Or a menopausal or post-menopausal woman? A teenage girl?

Unfortunately I can’t answer those questions but I can tell you this. It is never, ever, a good idea to a) take hormones you don’t need , and b) starve yourself.
Aside from all the dangers we know about of hormone-related diseases such as cancer, low Calorie diets come with their own set of pitfalls. Like fatigue, nausea, constipation, hair loss. Now we can add to that the side effects that have been reported by followers of this diet, headaches, blood clots, breast swelling (even in males), water retention. Sounds just like, well, pregnancy.

And then there’s the trap we all know about. When you fall off a very restrictive diet, your body goes nuts for food, and stores every spare Calorie and you end up gaining most, if not all, of your weight back. Sometimes with interest.
The FDA has not approved hCG as a weight loss drug, and even go so far as to say it should not even be sold as homeopathic weight loss solution. It is ineffective, and dangerous. Most studies of this dietary method show no difference in weight loss between two groups of subjects on the same diet, but one group on the drops, one taking a placebo.

This diet is possibly one of the most unhealthy that I have ever heard of, and you should certainly ask yourself some very serious questions if you are willing to put your body at such risk in order to lose weight. And it’s not a cheap diet. So take that money and invest it in a nutritionist, a trainer, a GP and maybe even a psychologist. Get yourself a first-class team behind you to help you achieve your goals the healthy and permanent way.

Next time I will discuss the 5.2 diet, which although not ideal, makes a lot more sense than this one! Until then, some light heartedness to make you giggle:
Lady to friend over the phone: ” I finally lost 90kg of useless fat!”
Second lady:”How on earth did you manage to do that?”
First lady:”I divorced him!”

Stay happy, stay healthy!

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Are you going to eat that??

As the unidentified meat in our food scandal dies down (or gets swept under the carpet by suppliers), we have to be wary of not falling into complacency.

Many of the mentioned suppliers are simply carrying on trading, the food they supply remains on our shop shelves and in our grocery trolleys. What has changed? Are there new processes in place to ensure this does not happen again/ is not still happening? I haven’t heard of any. Everyone is saying “cross contamination”, “better screening processes”, “review of labeling laws”, etc., etc., but what is BEING done?

I fail to see any news informing consumers about any of these new processes allegedly in place to ensure this does not happen again. If these processes are being passed into law, shouldn’t the public be aware of every step along the way? How else are we going to stand up and insist on our right to know what we’re eating, and to eat only what we choose to eat?

Here in South Africa, one of our leading universities, in the wake of the UK horse meat scandal, tested our leading shops for unidentified ingredients in meat products and most of our leading shops failed the test. All matter of unlabeled ingredients, including meat, were found in the products. Some products (e.g. Game meat) were not at all what they claimed to be (beef instead)!
At first the university declined to name and shame the perpetrators, but the media were on them in an instant with the law and the consumers right to know, and the university recently named the implicated shops. Unfortunately, the specific products have not been named, which leaves us wondering, what can we buy?

Well, a good start is to buy only what you can identify. Want lamb chops? Buy something that looks like lamb chops. Avoid the processed stuff- meat is meat, there should only be one ingredient on the list, if there’s more, you’re probably buying something dodgy. All processed (deli) meats have added ingredients which means, not only are you not sure of what you’re eating, it could also be really bad for your health with loads of added salt and preservatives. All frozen ready meals – same story. You cannot be certain of what you are buying if it is no longer in its natural state.

I know we are short on time these days. No one feels like spending an hour cooking after a long day at work, but this junk we are eating is slowly killing us and our kids. For the sake of your health, do the cooking yourself. If you cook double or triple portions and freeze the rest, you will only have to cook 2-3 times a week, just add fresh salad or vegetables on the day you reheat and eat. Is it exciting? No, but neither is being slowly poisoned by artificial hormones and pesticides.
And consider a day or two per week that you go meat-free. There are awesome vegetarian recipes available on the net, try something new, its good for you! And easier on the wallet, because in spite of our “meat ” containing less meat than ever, we seem to pay more than ever.
Chunky vegetable stew or lentil and chickpea curries are filling, healthy, and you know what you’re eating.

We have strayed so far from the way we were intended to live. We are intelligent, sentient beings. We are meant to live in the fullest flush of health, be fit, sharp minded and care about the planet and the creatures we share it with. Why do we think so little of ourselves that we abuse the planet, practice animal cruelty to feed our greed, and poison our bodies with chemicals, pesticides and hormones?

This is not how it’s meant to be. You can make a difference, by being the change you want to see.

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Horse burger, anyone?

Do you know what’s in the food you’re eating? These days, even though everything is labelled and ingredients listed and some food products even claim to be able to trace their contents all the way back to source, we are even more likely to not know what we are eating.

Earlier today, some big chain supermarkets in the UK and Ireland had to admit that they had unknowingly being selling processed meat burger patties that, while the labels stated beef, contained not only pork, but also horse meat! Now, this was not their fault, as they accept the meat from various providers with whom they have a good faith agreement to provide the quality they have agreed upon. Many of these providers, in turn, obtain their meat supplies from various other sources. What we can learn from this, is the longer the supply chain, the more “contamination” can creep in.

While the health authorities assure the public that there has never been a health risk from these products, there remains a few concerns. Firstly, while some people are fine eating beef, they would never consider eating horse. It becomes an emotional or ethical problem to eat something many of us view as pets or childhood friends. Secondly, many people choose to not eat pork, whether for cultural, religious or personal beliefs. It’s true that many of these folk would only be purchasing halal or kosher meat anyway so would not be affected, but others expect to get beef when they buy beef. And thirdly, if horse and pork are sneaking in, what else have we missed that is not getting tested for? I dread to think.

The only way to get around this is to keep the supply chain short. If you are serious about quality meat, buy from a local butcher you trust. Ensure his supply comes from farms where the animals are raised organically, free range, and ethically. Want burgers? Have him mince up some good quality topside or fillet and make your own, or perhaps he can make them for you. If you make your own, you can increase the nutritional value by adding finely grated vegetables or pre-cooked lentils to the mixture. This also makes your expensive meat go further. Make them in bulk and freeze them, and you’ll always have best quality patties at your fingertips.

It’s not only meat we have to worry about. The further food is from its natural state, the more unknown the content is. Compare the label on any processed food box to what you actually want to eat. How many ingredients are in that box of heat ‘n eat whatever? Do you know what all of them are? Can you even pronounce all of them? Some of them aren’t even words, just letters and numbers that look like a chemical formula. Do you really want to eat that?

Its not easy to follow a clean diet. Admittedly, we do not always have the time or the energy to do this, but start small. You don’t have to cook everything from start, every day. When you get great quality food, cook in bulk and freeze. It’s not ideal, but it beats the alternative. Get organized with friends, each making certain dishes in bulk that you share, and everyone gets loads of different stuff. Start your own salad or herb garden. It doesn’t take up a lot of space and you have instant access to organic, fresh herbs. It works out cheaper too, so you can use the extra money for that good quality meat we spoke about.

Like anything worth doing, there isn’t a quick easy fix. But the benefits to your health are enormous, and it will be better for your children and the planet.

Let’s all respect ourselves enough to only put the very best into our bodies.

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Should our children diet?

Childhood obesity is at pandemic proportions. Does this sound drastic?

Im not sure of the facts and figures ( I used to be), but I am stating this just by looking around me at the local shopping mall. If I recall correctly, and I am open to correction here, the top countries for childhood obesity until recently were, in no particular order, the USA, UK, China and South Africa. This is shocking, if you consider that they are all what we would consider ” sporty countries”, the first three having an extremely good showing at the Olympics, and SA always in the top rankings of major team sports.

What is going wrong?

If I look around me at the mall, the majority of the children I see are most definitely overweight, quite a few are obese. Chubby babies are lovely and healthy, theres nothing cute about a 9 year old who weighs more than I do. Teenage boys already sporting a belly, pretty young girls with the ever present “muffin-top”. Who’s to blame?

The media is often hauled over the coals for contributing to poor body image, especially amongst girls. Celebrities are chastised for being too thin, then made fun of and crucified if they gain weight, like Lady Gaga who was recently hauled over the coals for a very paltry weight gain that, quite frankly, just made her look like the rest of us normal folk. It’s hard to keep a happy medium.

It has become politically incorrect to use the words “fat”, “obese”, etc, and we must replace them with euphemisms in order not to offend. But what about the skinny? Someone I know recently lost a respectable amount of weight. Comments ranged from “too thin” (no, he used to be overweight), “are you ill?” (no, this is what normal and healthy looks like), to “don’t lose any more” (actually, he still had a bit to go), and ” you’d better stop what you’re doing” (what, stop getting healthy?). No wonder the kids don’t know if they’re coming or going.

So I guess that leaves it up to us, the adults. As much as it riles modern society, the fact of the matter is, children need to be guided. They cannot be allowed to make their own choices when it comes to food. What child is going to choose a healthy low fat meal instead of fast food? Fruit instead of fries? Water instead of fizzy drinks?

In the formative years, parents have the responsibility of guiding and educating their children to make the correct choices in life, this includes food. Society is way too obsessed with allowing children to make their own choices, allowing them to become their own person. Well, if you want to allow your children to become obese adults with type 2 diabetes and heart disease, by all means, go ahead. Just don’t blame McDonalds, your doctor or anyone else. Take responsibility for the lessons YOU instilled in your child. Research will back me up here when I say that overweight children go on to become overweight adults.

What if your child has already passed the top end of the acceptable weight range? Well, do something! A trip to your GP would be your first step. They can determine if the child is healthy, or if there’s an underlying condition. They can also recommend a dietician who specializes in childhood weight problems. No, your child is not going to like to diet any more than the rest of us do. But it needs to be done. It can be made easier if the whole family changes to the new eating plan, Calorie intake can be adjusted for the individual members.

Don’t make them feel to be the odd one out. Explain that as a family, you are going to be focussing on becoming more healthy, that means eating healthily, and getting some activity in every day. Don’t mention the word DIET. Even young children have a negative connotation to the word. Don’t be overly critical of their weight, or yours. Lead by example.

Encourage physical activity every day. Christmas gifts can be actual, real, sport equipment, instead of a console that they can play sport on! Mini cricket, football or basketball are popular and can easily be played in a back yard or local park. All kids love bicycles. Allow them to try out various sports until they find what they like to do, be it ballet or baseball. People are more likely to stick to activities they enjoy.

Set up a rewards system. Just like adults, children need to know their sacrifice is appreciated. New trainers, a trip to the movies or a cool new outfit at certain milestones serve as both motivation and reward.

Get involved. Do not be the “managing the crisis at a distance” parent. It is your child, not your employee. Let them know that they matter so much to you, that you will walk this journey with them until the end. Join in the activities, adjust your eating habits too, learn together about how to live a healthy life. Motivate and support each other.

At the end of the day, your health is YOUR responsibility. Your child’s health is too, as they cannot be held responsible for something when they don’t know better. Don’t look back one day and say “I should’ve done this”, or “I shouldn’t have done that”. Do what’s right and do it now.

After all, as my Grandpa used to say, ” A glutton is not born, a glutton is created.”

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The food pyramid – ancient artefact?

When we learned about healthy eating, one of the first things we learned of was the food pyramid. It is a pyramid shaped guide of healthy foods divided into sections showing the recommended intake for each food group. But is it still relevant today?

Many nutrition experts (and some of us less expert) believe the food pyramid is out of date. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, the recommendations for the food pyramid were based on out-of-date science and the U.S. government has this year replaced the food pyramid with the food plate, richer in fruit and vegetables.

So what was wrong with the pyramid? Well, for a start, many of the representations of the pyramid found in books failed to mention serving sizes. What exactly is a serving of meat, bread, or vegetables? I had many students try to convince me that a hamburger is one bread serving (because it is one bun!), one meat serving (although burger meat is seldom anything close to proper, healthy lean beef), two vegetable servings (one slice of tomato and one lettuce leaf does not even make up one vegetable serving), and no fat servings because they don’t think of the butter on the bun, the fat in the meat, the oil it was fried in, or the mayo!!!

So serving sizes aside, where else does the pyramid go wrong? It doesn’t account for individual food intake needs. What I mean by this is that just by looking at the pyramid, I cannot determine if I should eat 6, 12 or anything in between portions of carbs. It makes a difference if I am a 75kg male who regularly runs 5km and works out in the gym, or if I am a 50kg female with a sedentary job who only does Pilates once a week. You might say here that common sense should prevail, but unfortunately common sense is increasingly rare in a world where most people seem to want to have others think for them, and palm the responsibility of their health off onto their GP’s, their parents, or the fast food industry.

Also problematic is the vilification of fats- perched at the top of the pyramid, squashed into a corner, as it were, along with sugar. Many people thus assumed that they should avoid fats, and made no distinction between the healthy fats necessary for body and brain function, and the unhealthy fats. Also, the inclusion of dairy as a group on its own implies it is an important part of a balanced diet, but many people are lactose intolerant, or avoid dairy for cultural or religious reasons. In the old food pyramid, up to 3 glasses of full fat milk was allowed. Today we know this is not a good idea.

So where do we look for guidelines now? I would suggest the Harvard Healthy Eating Plate. It is simple to use and easy to understand. Using the image of a dinner plate to represent your food intake for a meal, or for the days food intake, it encourages you obtain half your food intake from a variety of fruit and vegetables, a quarter from healthy whole grains, and a quarter from healthy protein sources, including vegetarian options with beans and nuts. They also emphasize the use of healthy fats in cooking and eating, and encourage drinking water and the little running man in the corner reminds us that staying active is as important for health and weight control as eating correctly.

What’s also great about the Healthy Eating Plate, is the mini educational snippets included, pointing us in the right direction to choose the healthier option within each of the food groups mentioned. The emphasis is on whole grains, as opposed to simply grains, where many people would then choose white flour products and refined grains instead. A wide variety of protein sources are listed, encouraging us to look away from red meat to include white meat, and even plant source proteins, and to avoid processed meats which often contain excessive amounts of fats and sodium.

It remains important here to emphasize that even though following the guidelines, one must also be aware of your total Calorie intake for the day. Overeating will still lead to weight gain, no matter how healthy the plates of food you are eating. So remember to keep your portion sizes under control. If you need help with this, seek out the services of a dietician to help you.

The Harvard Healthy Eating Plate can be found at http://www.hsph.harvard.edu along with a whole lot of healthy eating advice. If you are new to healthy eating, it’s a great place to start!

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Balancing your supplement intake

There is indeed no shortage of supplements available on the market today, and there’s almost no condition, real or imaginary, that you can’t find a supplement for.

But what do we need? And how do we know if we’re taking enough, too much, or if what we take is clashing with everything else we take? Do we even pay attention to the side-effects, or do we think because it’s a natural product it can only be good for us?

We’re going to pay some attention to some of the basic supplements, and then throw in some interesting ones just for fun. Most of us take a multivitamin, right? Does yours contain vitamins and minerals as well as trace elements? Does it contain the minimal RDA (which will only prevent deficiencies ), or the higher optimal or therapeutic doses (which will ensure good health)? Are you taking the correct one for your stage in life? Our needs change as we grow older, perhaps moving through pregnancy, menopause or high stress periods.

Most people’s next choice would be the Omega -fats.Here you need to make sure that you’re getting the right balance between the 3,6, and 9. Most of us get enough 6 in our diet, and need to supplement with 3. Omega3 is important for general health, heart and cardiovascular health, cognitive functions and eye health. But now, what is the source of your Omega3 supplement? If it comes from farmed fish, it could have a lower concentrate. Has it been filtered to remove toxins? Does it contain both EPA and DHA types? Vegetarians can supplement with flaxseed oil.

Next on most people’s list is probably a weight control formula. CLA is a pretty popular choice, and most supplement houses will have this in their range. CLA is an Omega6 fatty acid. It is a safe fat burner and contains no stimulants. It helps the body to use fat stores for energy and is therefore best used with exercise. Also popular is HCA ( hydroxycitric acid). HCA appears to promote fat loss and helps control appetite. Some supplement houses package pure HCA, some add Chromium and still others also add metabolism boosters or stimulants such as caffeine to their formula. These can make you feel anxious and jittery, so read the label.

Need a good night’s sleep? There’s plenty to choose from, but don’t take these sleeping aids lightly just because they’re natural or herbal. Sleeping aids are best always discussed with your GP, as they can interfere with other medication, and although mostly non-addictive, they may cause unpleasant side effects. These formula often contain Valerian and Passion flower to relax and calm, or perhaps an anti-anxiety product like Theanine. Melatonin has been popular in recent years but it’s recommended to speak to your GP about this.

Now lets look at a few you might not have heard of!
Olive Leaf Extract? Yes, indeed. Not just good for Dolmades, olive leaves contain a wonderful antioxidant called oleuropein.
Cherry extract: a natural anti-inflammatory, if used regularly, can help prevent the formation of uric acid.
Quercetin: supports the immune system and can bring relief during seasonal allergy time.
Grape seed extract: potent anti-oxidant and a popular ingredient in most anti-aging formulas.
Adaptogens are plant extracts that help the body cope with the physical effects of stress and will therefore help with stress coping ability.
Co-enzyme Q10 is an anti-oxidant strongly linked to preventing heart damage and can be taken by people using cholesterol lowering medications to help prevent heart muscle damage.
Curcumin is found in turmeric (yes, the yellow curry spice!) and is helpful in reducing inflammation. Don’t worry, you won’t turn yellow!

Once more, please remember to discuss any supplements you might be thinking of taking with your healthcare provider. This article is intended for information only. Always discuss with your doctor before starting or stopping any medication or supplementation.

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Don’t mess with the meds!

An ugly thing is sticking it’s head out in the local fitness industry. It’s not a new issue, it’s a resurrection of an issue that seems to have a cyclical component.

The last time I heard of this was about four years ago and then a friend drew my attention to it again last week. I doubt it’s been quiet in the intervening years, I probably just didn’t hear about it for a while.

The issue in question is the abuse of prescription medication for weight loss.

Four years ago, a friend and colleague in the fitness industry who was new in town asked for recommendations for a GP so that she could renew her prescription for her thyroid medication. A fellow personal trainer ( yes, a supposed professional), told her that if she went to a specific pharmacy and told a specific pharmacist that he had sent her, she could get the meds without a script. He said he did it for all his clients to help them lose weight.

Now it’s become a trend again, so much so that a womens magazine recently ran an article on it, and it seems it’s quite prevalent amongst gym goers, not only professional body builders, who prefer a quick fix over a hard slog.

What these people don’t know (or do, but don’t care ), is that taking medication unnecessarily is never a good thing. Your body’s hormonal balance exists on a sensitive mechanism called a negative feedback loop. Flood your system with unnecessary thyroid hormone, and pretty soon it stops manufacturing it’s own. So when you stop the meds, your metabolism drops and you pick up weight again and start the whole process all over. Each time you do more damage until your body no longer produces the hormone in question and you become completely reliant on the medication. You have just medicated yourself into a full blown medical condition.

Even more worrying, is that seeing as how thyroid medication can only be obtained on doctors prescription, most of these people are obtaining the drug through illegal sources, with no guarantee that they are getting the pure product.

I took the liberty of googling a popular appetite suppressant which I know is a scheduled drug. I came across more than one website where I could purchase it without a prescription, no questions asked. They all say they are selling the real deal, they all say its safe to use, they will all post my order without quibble. They look real, just like the real thing, right down to the packaging.

Some side effects of this appetite suppressant: heart palpitations, psychotic episodes, mood swings, depression, dry mouth, anorexia. Perfectly safe to take without a doctor’s supervision? Yeah, right!

Now to get to the point, don’t think you can abuse these meds indiscriminately and not pay the price. You can’t buy health on credit, you will pay one day in worse ways than you imagine right now. If you are considering these methods, think again. And then think again. Research the drugs and pay close attention to the side effects. There are reasons why these medications usage needs to be monitored by a medical professional.

If your trainer or wellness professional recommends this path to you, or ( even worse) offers to get the drug for you, they do not have your best interests at heart. All that matters to them is that you show great results so that they look good. If they are truly concerned about your health, they will refer you to a medical professional to have a full hormone profile test done to determine why you aren’t losing weight. I would suggest reporting them to their professional governing body, and getting a new trainer- one who can help you without resorting to underhand, illegal methods.

Health is not a right- it’s a privilege. One that should not be abused, or the consequences could be disastrous.

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