Being a Specialist in Fitness Nutrition isn't all about working with clients on weight management. I find myself being approached,more and more, to work with clients to help them combat conditions like chronic inflammation or a dependency on prescribed medications, such as sleeping pills or anti-depressants.  
So this is the first in a series of blogs about how nutrition can help with things other than, whether you look good in your bikini or not.

If you are reading this, then you will have at some point in your life experienced pain and swelling after a bump or fall, itching or streaming eyes in response to an allergy or cramping and internal discomfort due to bad bacteria in a food you have eaten. 
Hayfever in the spring is acute inflammation
Inflammation is the body's immediate response to protect and heal itself from damage caused by either virus, bacteria, environmental toxin or injury. It can therefore, occur anywhere in the body. After rest, once the allergen has gone or after a short period of taking medication, the body returns back to normal. This short-lived response is known as acute inflammation

Inflammation can also occur, however, for a prolonged period of time. If  the inflammatory agent keeps being re-introduced or the body is in a weakened or stressed state, it continuously has to fight off the repeat offender and the inflammatory response fails to shut off. This is chronic inflammation.
Arthritis is a type of chronic inflammation
Acute inflammation serves a purpose and is crucial to keeping us alive, offering protection and stimulating an immune response. Chronic inflammation, however, can be managed and lessened, if you implement a healthy diet and lifestyle. 

The inflammation process is like a light bulb. When turned on, the light bulb will burn out a lot quicker than if it’s turned off. When the inflammation process fails to turn off, it will quickly blows out the immune system. Once the immune system is compromised because of this overuse, ALL forms of chronic disease can occur—not just inflammatory diseases. Chronic inflammation that persists for a long period could also be killing us slowly over time. When low doses of pro-inflammatory substances continue to be released into the body for an extended period, they attack healthy cells, blood vessels and tissues instead of protecting them. These attacks may not always trigger pain and are nowhere to be seen, unlike a bruise or a cut to on your skin. Like a slow poison, the inflammatory cells and hormones destroy our body gradually as we continue to live, work and play with a false sense of good health.
It is now widely believed that chronic inflammation that goes undetected for years is the underlying cause of many illnesses such as type II diabetes, heart disease, stroke, some cancers (e.g. colon cancer), neurological diseases (e.g. Alzheimer’s and dementia), autoimmune diseases (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis), inflammatory bowel diseases (e.g. Crohn’s disease), as well as other diseases which have unknown causes, like allergies, fibromyalgia and migraines.

Here are just some of the common causes of chronic inflammation:

Good Fats vs Bad Fats There are certain fats that have a pro-inflammatory effect, like Omega 6 essential fatty acids. These are naturally occurring in the body and can be found in abundance in polyunsaturated vegetable oil, such as sunflower, safflower, soybean and corn. Once in the body, they are converted into arachidonic acid, which is then used to generate pro-inflammatory cells and hormones. As this essential fatty acid is produced in the body there is no need to get it any excess from our food sources. Check the label on packaged and processed foods. You will see that most of them contains some form of Omega 6, therefore by removing packaged foods from your diet, you can eliminate some of the aggravation cause by Bad Fats.

Not all fats are bad, however, Omega 3 fatty acids are not produced naturally in the body and so we must get them in our diet to remain healthy. Omega 3's can be found in extra virgin olive oil and oily fish. Incorporate these into your diet then you will be supplying your body with eicosapentaenoic acids, which have a potent anti-inflammatory properties. By eating fish like Salmon, Sardines and anchovies, 3 times a week and consuming olive oil in either dressings or dips, like hummus, then you can go some way to shifting the Good Fat/Bad Fat balance.

Insulin Spikes Foods that spike our blood sugar levels quickly, like white breads, cakes, cookies and sodas, prompt our body to produce more insulin. It does this to normalize our glucose levels.  All of the goodies in the picture opposite would only increase the production of cells and hormones that are pro-inflammatory. Now, that’s another good reason to avoid refined carbohydrates and excessive sugars. Try to eat whole grain options whenever possible, not only do they leave you feeling fuller for longer, they better manage our blood sugar level and do not cause a dramatic insulin spike.

Insulin levels also rise when you allow your blood sugar to drop, say after a long period with out eating or first thing in the morning. I find that eating 5-6 small meals a day helps keep my blood sugar levels constant. Eat wholegrain complex carbohydrates, to start the day the anti-inflammatory way. 

Stress  It will not come as a surprise that stress can increase the production of pro-inflammatory chemicals in the body. People deal with stress in different ways so whether it is staying physically active, taking time for quiet meditation or finding a relaxing hobby outside of work that allows you to chill out, then it is not only important for your sanity but your long term health too.
Ensuring you get a good nights sleep will also help with both stress levels and reduce inflammation.

Stress affects the stomach more commonly than not. A diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meat, fish, wholegrains and good fats will help to reduce your intake of mood altering chemicals found in processed foods, which can also contribute to stress.

Studies also found that mental stress can cause changes to our immune defense systems, too. This makes us more vulnerable to infectious diseases and slows down the healing process by decreasing the production of pro-inflammatory hormones in places where they are needed most.

Food sensitivity Food intolerance, as opposed to a food allergy, doesn’t cause an immediate reaction in your body. Instead, it festers quietly in your gut and causes low-grade chronic inflammation for, as long as, years. So, many of us are unaware we actually have a food intolerance and so keep eating the foods that cause our persistent headaches, arthritis or low immune function. Ask your GP for advice on food sensitivity testing. You never know, by excluding one item from your diet you may solve the mystery of your perpetual black under eyes or chronic fatigue.

Fat cells Scientists found that fat cells aren’t just dormant repositories of excess fat. These fat cells actually secrete arachidonic acid which, eventually, turn into runaway pro-inflammatory substances that circulate throughout our body. The more fat cells you have, the more inflammation you potentially have brewing inside. No wonder then, if inflammation is the precursor to chronic diseases, like Type 2 Diabetes and Obesity, then the higher your total body fat %, the more likely you are to develop these conditions. 


In summary , it would appear that once again, the answer lies in a healthy well balanced diet and fitness regime, if you are to manage chronic inflammation. With the exception of specific food sensitivities you can start implementing an anti-inflammatory lifestyle today. With the introduction of small, regular meals to prevent insulin spiking, the elimination of processed food to remove Omega 6 fatty acids and lower total % body fat and exercise to manage stress levels, you' ll probably find that a wonderful side effect of this type of diet is that, you will not even need to worry about your weight.  An anti-inflammatory diet is all about looking good on the inside for your long term health. 

So many of my clients have kids. I hear over and over again from parents how hard it is to stick to their healthy eating plan when they have kids.  They enter meal times with the best intentions to cook themselves a healthy nutritious meal after they have fed the kids and, of course, this never happens and they end up eating whatever their kids are having instead. As most kids are picky eaters, this meal usually takes parents off their Nutrition Plan.

So this blog has double the reason to read: 1) You will, hopefully, get your kids eating healthy meals, 2) You will be able to still eat what they do but now it's guilt free.

The following tips, I collected from real life "healthy " Mom's and some tricks and tips from my own Mom and Nan, who always made sure I ate my veggies.
1. Let the kids help with planning and shopping. As a weekend activity, go online (I love Pinterest for this) with your kids or sit down together with healthy cookbooks and magazines. Allow them to them pick out some healthy recipes they would like to make and then go shopping for the ingredients with their list.  This way they feel like they are in charge of what they are eating and become more responsible for the end result. They will, therefore, be more likely to enjoy healthy eating. It is not always practical, but a weekend shopping trip may inspire them enough for the whole week.

2. Kid-Created Recipe Cards. From the selections your kids make in no.1, collect the pictures and recipes so you can create and compile Recipe Cards.  Ask them to go through and rate the meals according to how much they liked eating them with colorful stickers.  Soon they will have created their own healthy recipe book. You can use this as a tool, offering them a choice of meals from something they have created, again allowing them to feel in control of their choices and more likely to enjoy what they eat.

3. Make foods that will attract kids. What tastes better; a normal round pancake or a Micky Mouse shaped pancake? Adding a smily face or turning a healthy snack into an animal is always a winner. This is also a great tactic for limiting the amount of choc chips, cookie chunks, or chips you add to the dish too. Here are some of my favorites:
Animal Energy Balls
Rainbow Pizza
Caterpillar Grapes
Building Bloc Fruit Salad

4. Invest in a dehydrator. Kids love small snack foods. With a dehydrator you can make chips from apple, beet, carrot, parsnip, apricot, blueberries and many more healthy fruits and veg. This way you can ensure that the snack you are giving your kids is preservative free. It is also great for making homemade yogurt, granola, fruit roll ups or healthy salmon & beef jerky, even healthy treats for your pets.

5. Open a restaurant. This is one thing I used to do with my Nan when I stayed with her at the weekend (not surprising then that I went on to own a chain of restaurants - go figure). Buy cute little aprons, chef hats and a chalkboard so they can write or draw a menu, buy kid sized utensils and hey presto! You have your very own restaurant. I love this idea because even if your kid does not go on to a future in the restaurant trade they will certainly learn to understand the process of choosing from the menu, taking orders and waiting for the food to arrive, so they are better prepared in a real restaurant and ,hopefully, better behaved.

6. The 2 Bite Rule. As my clients will tell you, I am a great believer in the theory that the anticipation of doing something is often worse than actually doing it. For this reason, I like to use the 2 bite rule when getting anyone, even adults, to try a new food. The first bite they will, for sure, twist their face and say they don't like it. At the second bite they will have overcome some of the nervous anticipation of trying something new and you may even get them to take more bites from there. I always keep at it, and re introduce the new healthy item the next day so that they get used to it quickly and without too much fuss.

7. Roast your veggies. When we are young we have a much "sweeter palate" - this is why it is often difficult to get kids to want anything other than candy.  You may have noticed that if you roast your vegetables, they take on a sweeter taste. I love roasting cauliflower, broccoli, green beans and peppers. Firm favorites with kids are always sweet potato and carrots. 

8. Plant a garden. Having a garden is a great way to get kids interested in, not only healthier foods but in learning about where their food comes from. Food from your own garden is packed with more flavor and children love getting their hands dirty picking their meals straight from their own garden too. Check out this TED Talk by a passionate and animated school teacher from an inner city school in the South Bronx, where he and his kids grow lush gardens for food, greenery and are now providing jobs. 

9. Choose a "Try It" food. Every time you go shopping with the kids, pick a "Try It" food. Guide your child when at the market, allowing them to pick one item from the outer isles of the store, (which is where the fresh produce is usually kept) keeping them away from the inner isles (which is where all the packaged and processed food is kept). As long as you stick to a No Junk Food rule, then your child gets something that they would not normally have, as a treat, and expand their food preferences as a result.

10. Make a shake. Kids love shakes and it is so much easier to get kids to drink their nutrients than it is to get them to sit down and eat a full meal. Make delicious smoothies with berries, yogurt, flaxseed and you can also sneak in vegetables too. Kale and spinach go well in shakes. If you have left overs, you can always freeze them into healthy popsicles too.
Hopefully implementing some of these tips will help you get your kids, not only taking in more nutrient dense food but also building the repertoire of what they have in their diet and interested in food and nutrition. You can never start too early when it comes to taking responsibility for your health and well being. Plus, a great side effect, is you as a parent can stick to a healthy eating plan with out having to make different dishes for kids and adults. Who knows with these tips you may find yourself better fueled so that you can better parent your kids - What could be more rewarding than that?!

So, I recently wrote a blog on "How to break a habit". Now that I am successfully weening myself from my vices, I have realized that ,during the process, there have been many instances when I have substituted another thing or action in place of my habit to help me overcome the urge to indulge. This intrigued me.

Now admittedly, some of these substitutions have been little better than the original bad habit. Instead of having chocolate (to which I have a food sensitivity), at the end of a meal, I started having a cup of decaf coffee, which has given me stomach rot. Some substitutions have been more beneficial, like instead of indulging my OCD and idly picking at my scars, I now rub on Vitamin E oil when I feel my trigger, consequently my skin is not only healed but looks great. 

So this blog is on "How to form a healthier habit" as I have found it a great way to actually help break a bad one. If you need additional tactics on how to rid yourself of all your bad habits or you would like to incorporate a healthy habit into your life but don't know how to go about it, this one is for you.

Now I am no expert on habit formation, however, as well as my own small triumphs,  I also have experienced  several breakthroughs with some clients of mine recently. I have been working with them on various things from increasing the amount of physical activity they perform each week, focusing on a developing a specific weaker area of of their body or helping them give up junk food. 

My Coaching Hotline Client, Gary has a sedentary job in an office but is physically active after work and at weekends playing soccer for a local league team. Gary is 6'2" and has typical "footballer's" legs - big quads (legs) and glutes (butt). As he has time for little else, afterwork and his soccer commitments, Gary was feeling his sport specific training left him looking out of proportion. He had developed "gladiatorial" thighs after years of soccer training but had a smaller "weedier" upper body. So when he approached me with this problem we applied the following strategies:

1. Focus on one habit - We all have lots of things we would like to change, but if we try to change them all at once we are setting ourselves up for failure.  I encourage my clients to start by introducing one small change in to their routine and once this becomes a habit, we introduce another one. This way, you will not feel overwhelmed by the prospect of initiating the change. You will also not be exhausted from the mental stress of feeling like you have to change so many aspects of your life all at once.

2. Introduce your habit slowly - It doesn't have to be "all or nothing". Start by doing your new habit once a day. We use up a lot of our energy trying to change and this makes the task seem more difficult than it has to be. To change your entire diet on Monday will probably see you fail by Tuesday. Plus, many people don't have the time to invest in a new habit immediately so they feel like they may as well not start. For example, if you want to start an exercise regime but don't have an hour in the day to spare, start by every time you have a break at work, when you stand up from your desk, do 10 jumping jacks. Let's say you leave your desk 10 times a day that's 100 jacks, over a week that adds up to 1/2 a pound of fat loss. You don't have to commit to doing a full hour long sweat session to make a difference. 
3. Connect the dots - Try to make a mental connection between something that is already a habit and the new one you are trying to form. That way it is simply an extension of something you already do, rather than a whole new thing to incorporate in to your day. For example, you may already brush your teeth (at least I hope you do). Try forming a flossing habit too by flossing one tooth before you brush, then the next time floss two teeth. Try to form a connection between reaching for the toothbrush and flossing. Better yet, leave yourself a cheerful visual reminders in the form of a post it notes like I do.

4. Find the joy  - If you view your habit as something you are doing for moral reasons, because someone says it is what you should do, or it is "good for you" but it is not enjoyable then you will likely fail. You have to make the link in your brain between what you are doing and how you can ultimately get enjoyment or fulfillment from it. Countless studies have shown that if you can motivate someone by the promise of some thing positive rather than scare or shame them into doing something out of fear then they are much more likely to succeed. Put a carrot on the end of your stick -  If your goal is to get outdoors and be more physically active, invite a friend on a walk to the coffee shop, instead of driving. When you get to your destination, not only have you spent some quality time with a buddy, you have burned calories and have enough of a caffeine hit that you can walk all the way back too.

5. Tell a friend - The best way to succeed is to make yourself accountable and the best way to do that is by telling people about what you are doing. For my own habit formation, I ask my partner or close friend to check in with me on occasion for a "progress report". I may not always have good news for them but it certainly makes me stop and think before I revert back to my olds ways or skip out on my new habit. That millisecond pause is often enough to help me complete my habit for that day.

6. Learn from others -  You will probably find that once you do start to share your story with others that they open up. They will have useful advice to offer or introduce you to new ideas and ways that they have succeeded in the past with things. As I said, we all have ways in which we would like to improve ourselves so chances are they will have been through a similar process and can share their wisdom.

7. Set yourself up for success - With a little forethought this can be easily achieved. If you are trying to give up junk food, empty your cupboards of candy and chips and pre prepare some healthy snacks like hummus and carrot sticks or celery and natural nut butter. Ask your work colleagues not to offer you anything from the box of donuts they bring in and have a healthy alternative ready so that when they do indulge you can still  join in, but you don't have to feel guilty about it. If you are invited out for dinner, ask if you can recommend the restaurant so you can preview the menu to ensure that you can make a healthy choice on the night.

8. Have patience - The whole point is to start slowly so that you don't get overwhelmed - so exercise patience. If you start by doing something for 5 minutes a day soon you will find that you get a certain sense of enjoyment out of it. It will make you feel proud and smug, like you are an achiever. This will spur you on to do it more and more frequently. Allow yourself to have lots of small successes rather than one big one. That way you will have more to celebrate. Just think, if you change just one small thing a month, you could have 36 new healthier habits in the next 3 years, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. For now concentrate on 5 minutes a day, until you have acquired your new habit forming skills.

Gary has now incorporated the 8 steps to habit formation, outlined above, and is seeing great results. As he already did enough exercise for his lower body, Gary focused his one habit change on his upper body. He decided to start doing 10 press - ups each time he laced up his soccer boots and not invest in a gym membership and embark on some crazy weight lifting plan right away. An easy attainable goal.  Using his soccer boots as the "trigger" also made him make a connection between what he was doing already (playing soccer) and forming his new habit (10 push ups). Gary decided to tell his cousin, who also plays soccer, what he was doing. As it turns out, his cousin went through the same thing and had invested in a pull up bar that he has in the doorway to his bathroom. Every time he visits the bathroom, he does 10 pull ups. Gary thought this was a great idea and now does the same. He built up gradually and is now doing at least 50 upper body exercises a day. After just 8 weeks, Gary is seeing the change in his physique and feels that his soccer performance has improved because of it. So much so, he recently was chosen to play in a friendly match against the Olympic soccer team from Gibon Check out this photo of him in action - Go Gary.

What is on your list of habits to break and habits to form? What methods have worked for you and what has lead you to fail?