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. 

We all have bad habits we would like to change, whether it is eating junk food, drinking alcohol, smoking, biting nails or picking at scabs. More commonly these bad habits are centered around our Health and Well Being. 

Don't get me wrong, indulging in a little guilty pleasure every now and again is not a mortal sin. However, once you get into a habit, it is very difficult to break out of it. You may have formed the habit over 20, 30, even 40 years. How on Earth are you to begin the process of ridding yourself of your "affliction" and get to the new, fitter, healthier you?

Well, that's where most people's efforts end. The intimidatingly daunting task of trying to even find a starting point is enough to discourage most people. The mere thought of changing stops people from changing, therefore making changing bad habits seem impossible.

"To try and fail is of little consequence, but to never start at all is fatal to the habit change"

Well, as you may have guessed, changing bad habits is not impossible - no matter how long you have performed them. It can be done, but it has to be done by you. Yes, you!

Here is your step by step guide to how…

Forgive Yourself - Stop beating yourself up. All those times you did your bad habit in the past are gone. Said and done. Never to return. Do not dwell on them. Forget them and forgive yourself.

Ease into it - Don't go to extremes. It doesn't have to be all or nothing, not to begin with anyway. Cutting from 20 to 10 cigarettes a day over the course of 2 weeks, drinking only on the weekends instead of a glass of wine or 2 every night. You can take it step by step and ease into it. 

The process of changing habits is tough, one that requires hard work and discipline. You may have a dozen bad habits, so to begin with, just focus on one (I am working through my bad habits one at a time and with each one the process gets a little easier). Start with the one you think you can kick, not the one you cling onto, your "emotional crutch" habit. Start small and work up once you get the hang of the process. 

Have a moment of realization - Realize this, right now. You are stronger than your habit. There is nothing in your life that you have not been able to get through yet. You can do this. You do not need your habit to fulfill this need you are feeling. It is only a feeling and feelings pass. You can deal with stress in other healthier ways. You can beat boredom. You can cope with anything life throws at you, you have so far. You do not need this bad habit, you can learn better ones, it is just going to take a bit of time and practice. When you are about to indulge in your bad habit. Stop, take a breath and think about what is causing you to what to do it. What is the trigger - stress, feeling insecure, boredom, the need to relax, being criticized? These are all legitimate feelings that cause you to feel a need. Find out what the cause is and you find out why you have this habit.

OK, we are almost there. Hang in there, you have broken the back of this…

Commit - to yourself. Make just one small tiny step each day, one you will hardly notice but it is going to make all the difference. The change can be so small, you don't even have the scope to be half assed about it. For tomorrow, smoke 19 cigarettes instead of 20. The next day 18, then 17, then 16 until you have reached your goal. Write your intentions down, put it up in plain sight on your wall or fridge. Post it on Facebook, Twitter, write a blog about your experience, start a forum. By writing it down and telling people you are going to kick your habit, you are suddenly accountable. Accountability is a pre-cursor to success.

I have completely given up all processed foods and here is how I did it. I write in a food journal everyday so that I am accountable for what I choose to eat. I don't eat junk food and I have lost 4lbs in the past few weeks.
I used to be a glass of wine a night person (at least). It was an association thing. Wine = end of work day - time to relax. Now with the help of this sign on my fridge and my new herb garden, to relax at the end of a long day, I drink lemon mint leaves in hot water and save my glass of wine for Friday nights only.
Finally, Find a replacement habit - A healthier one that fulfills the need. Make it easy. One that you can do after you feel your trigger, instead of your bad habit. If you need to relieve stress, then try walking, guided meditation, yoga or self massage.
I am not good at sitting still and when I do I tend to occupy myself with scratching at my own skin, as a consequence of being bitten by mosquitoes here in the Costa Rican jungle - lovely! To replace my picking habit, I am using this stress ball. I have it with me everywhere I go. Not only does it stop me from doing my bad habit, I am getting toned forearms in the process.
So to summarize;

Notice - when you have the urge to do your habit. Pause. Then do your new healthier habit.

Repeat - Feel the urge. Stop and then do your new habit. You may lapse every now and again but that is done and in the past and you can just do your new healthy habit the next time you feel the urge. The more you do it the better you'll get.

Practice - Everyday, for as long as it takes. You will keep having these urges so view them as wonderful opportunities to practice your new habit. You can kick your bad habit one urge at a time.

Good Luck. Let me know how you get on kicking your bad habit!