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.
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.
These yummy Power Balls really satisfy my sweet craving in the afternoons and are so easy to make.
You can take them with you to work, send them off with the kids to school or pop then in your gym bag for a great post workout snack.
Here is the recipe for you:
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Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Mix together in a bowl - 1 cup oat flour, 2 cups almond meal, 3 tsp baking powder and a teaspoon of ginger (either powder or finely chopped fresh). Gradually add 4 tablespoons (dessert spoons if you are English) of honey and the same of coconut oil. Mix thoroughly. Next add a cup of mashed, cooked carrots.
Portion out mixture onto baking tray using a teaspoon as a measure. Next roll each ball in your hands to make them nice round balls. One batch makes approx about 18 balls.
Coat each ball in crushed almonds.
Bake for 25 minutes at 350F.
Remove from oven and let cool then pop in the fridge.
I like to have my Power Balls as an afternoon snack with a cup of Green Tea.
Paradoxical as it sounds, new research shows that a better body image could actually help you lose more body weight. In other words, accepting your body as it is and spending less time thinking about it is the best way to live a leaner, healthier lifestyle.
We are constantly bombarded with images of unattainable, unrealistic, and unhealthy beauty. It is no secret that, these days, your average model has a BMI of 16.5, plus her photos undergo a lot of editing with computer software. What is the final image? You end up with distorted imaginary, arguably a non-human view of what purports to be a “normal” and beautiful body.
To give you some perspective, at my height of 5’4″ (162.5 cm), I would have to weigh 95lb to have a BMI of 16.5. Since my normal weight is about 120 lb, I would have to lose all my body fat plus nearly 10 pounds of lean body tissue. Then airbrush me into oblivion (To get an idea what is possible with digital enhancement, take a look at a this video on You Tube ) and you might have something that looks like an image in a magazine.
Sadly, they had to photoshop the meat back onto this model, so drastic is the image.
But here’s the paradox. Bizarrely, impossibly thin images are all around us. Yet more people are overweight and obese than ever before. This seems odd, don’t you think? You’d think that being surrounded by such images of "perfection" would motivate people to lose weight, but the opposite is happening instead. Why?
Surely it is the case that, weight loss is simply:energy in (food) versus energy out (movement). Well, it looks like us geeks might have been a bit too simplistic...
In this week’s blog, we will talk about the idea that for people struggling with their weight, how they see their body is just as important as — if not more important than — the biology of their body.
What is Body image?
We all went through an awkward stage as teenagers, I know I did. You may still be in an awkward stage 30 years later. How often do you look in the mirror or obsess over a photo of yourself – “ OMG! Is that what I really look like?! If I could just lose/gain x pounds, lift this, and tuck that, THEN I would be happy.” You know the drill.
Body image is how we perceive our physical appearance. This can be either good or bad. But it is also affected by important those body perceptions are to you.
So there are 2 parts to Body Image:
1. Evaluative body image:
This is: a) How you think and feel you look and b) How happy you are with your body.
In geek terms, this is your cognitive appraisal and associated emotions (aka what you think and feel). However, what you think and feel about your body isn’t necessarily the actual reality. If this is the case, you are what is known as "body dysmorphic".
2. Body image investment:
This is: a) How important body image is to you and b) How much body image affects your daily life. If you are preoccupied with the way your body looks (body concern), this is a hallmark of a dysfunctional body image investment. If this is the case then you will also probably experience social physique anxiety. This is when you feel anxious in social settings and during interactions with others because you think that others are judging your body.
You will probably find that the majority of people have one of the following 3 attitudes when it comes to their Body Image. Which one are you?
You might not like your body much (evaluation) but not really care an awful lot (investment). This might mean you treat your body like an ugly but necessary inconvenience, like having to clean out the cat’s litter box. Gross, but what are ya gonna do?!
Or, you might think you look great (evaluation) and find that greatness really, really important as well (investment), which might mean that you spend a lot of time being afraid of losing your hot bod.
Of course, many of us have the worst of both worlds. We don’t like our bodies, and because we’re so invested in body image, our perceived-grotesque physiques make us want to hide under a rock.
Whether evaluation and/or investment, we tend to think of “body image” as something that happens inside our head. But could it affect our actual bodies?
How do you measure body image?
You might be wondering how you measure body image and the different parts that make it up. There are a series of questionnaires and scales to indicate someone’s body image.
For evaluative body image, one of the more interesting and easy scales to use and understand is the figure rating scale (Figure 1). This provides a series of body outlines numbered 1 (very thin) to 9 (very heavy).
Participants pick the number they think fits their actual body size, and then they pick the number that represents their ideal body size. The bigger the difference (self-ideal discrepancy) the more body image issues a participant has.
Keep in mind this is perceived body size, not real body size. People may actually be their ideal body size but not think so. If you think you’re a 9 on the scale but you’re really a 1, you’ve definitely got a problem.
Body image investment is assessed using questionnaires that ask things like:
- How often do you feel fat when taking a shower?
- How often has your body shape/size kept you from concentrating?
- How nervous do you feel about your body in social settings?
(Figure 1: Figure Rating Scale. From Bhuiyan et al, 2003.)
What role does body image play in weight loss?
A recent study by the US National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health looks at whether improving body image may help women lose weight over a year-long behavior change program. (You can read the full article here: Body image change and improved eating self-regulation in a weight management intervention in women.)
The study followed a group of obese women went through a year-long weight loss program that focused on behavior changes. Now, you may be thinking, "Well aren’t all weight loss programs behavior changes?" Yes, but this one focused on self-regulation of eating (with an approach known as self-determination theory) rather than calorie counting or specific meal plans.
Our own Food Program at My Coaching Hotline focuses on eating self-regulation. This may bother some people who may be expecting an auto-pilot type of approach. What — I don’t get a list of meals? Or a meal plan to follow? You mean I have to pay attention to how my body feels and I have to make decisions!? - I hear you cry.Well, I get that it’s often easier to let other people make decisions for you. However, the advantage of self-regulated eating is that mindful, voluntary and self-directed eating is more sustainable long-term, while fostering independence. You learn the skills you need to eat better… for life… without someone else constantly checking up on you. Yes, this can be scary at first, but a lot more sustainable and useful. (Trust us. We’ve helped lots of clients.)
What is Self - Regulation?
Several factors guide the self-regulation of eating:
The women also increased their level of physical activity, but as with the eating, there were no specific prescriptions for what to do each day.
- confidence that you can do it (eating self-efficacy);
- consciously controlled eating that isn’t too rigid (highly flexible cognitive restraint );
- less emotional eating; less eating triggered by specific situations; and less eating because of habits (reduced dis-inhibition including emotional, situational and habitual cues); and
- less perceived hunger.
Body image sessions
Half the women also went to body image enhancement sessions to improve their body acceptance and satisfaction (evaluative body image) and decrease their over-preoccupation with appearance (investment in body image).
Exercises to improve body acceptance and evaluation included:
- looking at a mirror and systematically looking at body parts;
- making realistic goals and expectations for their bodies; and
- creating a realistic ideal body based on their parents’ weight history and their body type.
Exercises to improve investment in appearance included:
What were the results of this study?
- understanding what body image is;
- finding the cause of the disorder (what situations — social and personal — triggered the dysfunction?);
- keeping a diary to record negative self-talk and the feelings it causes;
- helping the women to cope with prejudice;
- helping the women let go of the belief they need to look different in order to be happy.
Improved body image
The body image sessions worked. The women in these sessions improved both evaluative body image and body image investment.
Improved eating self-regulation & weight loss
Improving body image also improved eating self-regulation. With better eating, there was better weight loss.
The body image group lost 7.3% of their body weight, while the control group lost only 1.7% of their body weight.
It makes sense that better eating means more weight loss, but seems odd that a better body image would help weight loss. Wouldn’t you think that people should lose weight first… and then feel better about their bodies? It appears that this is not the case. The group that got care, counseling, and compassion kicked ass. This goes against the drill sergeant/tough love approach, doesn’t it?
Using a mathematical model (partial least squares) the researchers found that changes in body image investment was more important for weight loss than body image evaluation. In other words, to lose weight, it’s more important to let go of the fear of "Does my bum look big in this?" and the preoccupation of what others may be thinking about how you look in your bikini. It is much more useful to stop obsession about body size and shape than it is to always feel great about yourself if you are trying to lose weight.
(After all, remember our hypothetical people who feel good about their body, but are afraid of losing it? They’re much more likely to rigidly control their eating and exercise, which sets them up for problems like diet rebounds, exercise compulsions, and binge eating later on. Plus, if you’re not as invested in your body image, you realize that small things like day-to-day weight fluctuations aren’t that big a deal.)
So what can we take away from this?
You’d think people would be motivated to change if they were unhappy with their body. In fact, the opposite is true: Greater body image dissatisfaction actually hinders weight loss.
You may need a certain amount of dissatisfaction with your current body if you want to change it, but more isn’t better. Pointing out that someone is overweight or obese, or beating yourself up mentally, doesn’t make you more motivated. Nor does it help you get leaner.
At My Coaching Hotline, we use an “awesomeness-based coaching” approach. We don’t spend time pointing out your “flaws” or “problem areas” (imaginary or otherwise). We find what’s already awesome about you, right now, no matter what your body looks like… and help you do and feel more of that. (And just a warning: We have a Ten Push-up Rule at My Coaching Hotline: Self-criticism gets you ten push ups. We know that negative self-talk doesn’t do you any good. So we push-up that nasty stuff right outta you.)
This study shows that improving body image helps with weight loss. And it seems that spending less time worrying about how your body looks and how other people may scrutinize your body is a bigger part of the puzzle than how unhappy you are about your body.
Want to lose weight?
As counter-intuitive as it sounds, accepting your body as it is and spending less time thinking about your body can improve your weight loss. You still have to eat a little less and move around a little more… but at the very least, you’ll find you like yourself at the end of the day.
- Stop obsessing about your body. If possible, try to get “outside yourself” — into a bigger world full of activities, experiences, social causes, and other things more interesting than whether you can see your abs.
- Pursue self-acceptance, self-care and self-compassion… not self-criticism.
- Pay more attention to what you eat — eat slowly and mindfully.
- Move your body more.