Thursday, 28 February 2013

Ban the baristas!

Apologies for the lack of blogs this week ... it was my birthday on Tuesday so I've been busy celebrating!
The party isn't quite over ... but I just wanted to blog about this article I spotted in the daily mail - obviously the source of all reputable health advice ;-)

It's about whether caffeine should be banned or not - which might sound crazy to you, but if you consume enough caffeine it could hypothetically kill you and it is an addictive drug for which some people have had to have professional rehab treatment - seriously!

If we all wanted to live as healthily as possible we would never have any caffeine, alcohol or refined sugar.  But for alot of people that would take alot of fun out of life too!! I'm also pretty liberal at heart so I'm not hugely in favour of banning things, but I do think there isn't enough awareness around the fact that alcohol and caffeine are both drugs and with that comes some significant health implications.  Certainly if you find it hard to go a day without one of these it should be a warning that your body has adapted to the drug and it's time to take a break.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Early birds

I was asked a good question over the weekend, something I'm sure most of us have suffered with at one point or another so I thought I'd answer it on the blog.

The question was what can be done to avoid early waking. This is where you wake up in the small hours, say 4-6am and can't get back to sleep, even though you need to. So if you went to bed at 8pm and woke up at 6am that doesn't count!

Firstly are you being woken up by noise or temperature or light? A change in any of these can easily wake you up. I have blackout blinds and usually sleep with earplugs for this very reason.

Next question is did you / do you eat your dinner late? Eating less then 3hours before bed will mean you go to sleep without completing digestion which can cause sleep disturbances. If you have to eat late then avoid meat and cheese and you'll probably sleep better.

Did you have any caffeine during the day? This is probably super obvious to all of you but I am still surprised by how many people don't realise that taking a drug designed to make you feel more alert would disrupt your sleep patterns. If you have any sleep problems I'd recommend cutting out coffee altogether as a minimum, but in general avoid caffeine after midday.

Were you dehydrated? Your body will wake you up if it needs anything so make sure you're hydrated. But don't make the mistake I sometimes make of forgetting to drink all afternoon, drinking lots in the evening and then waking up in the night to use the bathroom! Make sure you drink throughout the day so your pee is only the faintest yellow colour before you go to bed.

Did you have any alcohol? This really affects me. I rarely drink these days but whether I have 1 drink or 3 I always wake up early the next day instead of being able to sleep it off.

One of the reasons alcohol can cause early waking is that alcohol is a fast burning sugar, so can give you a sugar high but be followed by a blood sugar crash. If you're blood sugar drops too low your body produces adrenaline and cortisol to raise them to a safe level, but unfortunately their production also wakes you up.

This is why stress and poor food choices can also lead to disturbed sleep. Stress can mess up your pattern of producing cortisol, making you tired at night and alert during the day, whilst also disregulating your blood sugar.

Eating a dinner that isn't big enough or has a high glycemic index and/or insufficient protein can lead to blood sugar drops during the night. That's why choosing wholegrains such as brown rice, quinoa or bulgar wheat is so important in the evening, along with fibre rich vegetables to slow digestion even more add in some fish, tofu or pulses for some healthy protein, leave a couple of hours to digest before you go to bed and you should sleep through.

For anyone who has to eat early for work, childcare or other reasons then a tactical snack 90 minutes before bedtime should do the trick, have a protein shake or natural yoghurt with a banana + some seeds, or some oatcakes with hummous or no sugar peanut butter and you should be sustained through til morning.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

A tale of two evenings

Last night I had a late one, out with work colleagues til gone midnight. Today I bumped into a friend of mine had a similarly late night with clients and we compared notes.

Despite not going to bed til 1am I felt surprisingly alert today and was pretty productive, whilst my friend was having one of those days you have to drag yourself through, counting down the minutes to home time. So what was the difference?

The first and most obvious one is that I didn't drink any alcohol. I appreciate that for some of you the idea of a sober night out is too hideous for words, but if you've ever been forced to do it for any length of time due to medication, pregnancy or illness you'll know that it is possible to have just as much fun sober and sometimes even have a better time than if you drank (alcohol is a depressive drug).

Infact I wasn't the only one, a couple of other colleagues were on the soft drinks and no one batted an eyelid so I think the sober stigma is disappearing.

The absence of alcohol does make you sleep better and not be hungover, but also if you are matching your drinking partners drink for drink with water, as I was, you'll end the evening thoroughly hydrated so will wake less dehydrated than usual and therefore with more energy.

Obviously with an evening that long you have to eat. Fortunately we ordered food early on, but the mains were way too stodgy for my tastes so instead I ordered a couple lighter of appetiser dishes to snack on.

My friend unfortunately had to eat a three course dinner at 10pm which is less than ideal and meant he didn't sleep well. Eating that much rich food that late means you'll go to bed with a half full stomach and won't detox properly overnight. If you do have to eat late go for a vegetarian non-cheese option, as meat and cheese takes the most time to digest.

As per yesterdays blog, staying healthy whilst maintaining an active social life is totally doable, you don't have to become an anti-social hermit to keep to a healthy regime.

It just takes a bit of adapting and being mindful of the effect of your choices on your body. You also have to accept your limitations. Now I'm in my thirties I know I can't party like I used to - one 1am bed time a week is fine, but two nights in a row and I'd feel as rough as my friend did!

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Dieting out

Gosh it was cold this evening, but a nice warming veggie curry at Las Iguanas warmed me right up.

Both myself and my friend are on health kicks but with different approaches, so had to find somewhere we could both eat.

I'm currently on a vegan low sugar diet but still enjoying carbs. So my palm heart and squash Moqueca (ordered gluten free) full of veggies and served with rice was perfect.

My dining companion is currently low-carbing so went for chicken fajitas and asked for a side salad in place of the flour tortillas.

Dieting doesn't have to be a miserable anti-social affair. If you choose somewhere with a varied menu and an easygoing attitude you'll find something to suit everyone. I find asian and south american cuisines are the most adaptable but don't be afraid to ask for substitutions and discuss your particular requirements with your waiter. Most chains these days are now clued in to the need to be flexible in order to attract customers.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

BMI motivation

I'm not a fan of following guides and tables when it comes to working out ideal weights. You generally know by looking at someone if they're a healthy weight or not. But for those who can't tell or who maybe need a number to jolt them into action the BMI is a useful guide.

It can be wildly inaccurate so should be used with care - I once had a boyfriend who was very into weight training and had an impressively low amount of body fat but was told by the GP practice nurse that he was obese and should lose weight, obviously too busy looking at his chart to notice this was clearly not the case!

Your body fat percentage is the most truthful measure, if you can get an accurate reading, but save the money on the scales and buy a tape measure! I think periodically measuring yourself with a tape measure is one of the best ways to keep tabs on whether you're inshape or not and can pick up other issues such as waist to hip ratio which tells you your insulin profile and risk of diabetes amongst other conditions, and if you're losing or gaining in particular areas.

Trying on a pair of skinny jeans is another super easy way to keep tabs on your weight - if you can get into the same clothes you wore five years ago you're doing well!

Still when the bbc published this article on obesity I couldn't resist their cute little BMI world comparison tool.

It turns out that if everyone had the same bmi as me (21) then it would remove 35,192,090 tonnes of total weight from the world population! Put in your weight and height and it will also tell you where you are relative to your country (i'm in the bottom 10%) and which country average you match (Bangladesh).

So if you need a bit of motivation to lose some weight, click on the articlee below and scroll down to calculate your bmi 


Monday, 18 February 2013

Run with a pack

Miss Haribo here again

I'm a big of a gadget monster so people often ask me what my favourite bit of exercise equipment it. My answer: a friend!

I don't mean that you should start using your mate as weights! But that exercising with other people can be a great motivation.

Fairly obviously you are more likely to actually go to that session because you don't want to let your friends down and gossiping through a session makes the whole thing less painful.

But there are other benefits too. A friend who is a little faster than you can inspire you to quicken your pace to catch up. Pacing a friend who is slower can restrain you from going too hard in what is supposed to be a recovery run.

They can also be pretty inspirational. I've lost count of the number of jumps, vaults or climbs I've managed in parkour simply because I've been able to see someone do them first and realise that they are actually possible.  
So next time you want to enjoy your workout a little more: invite a friend along.

Miss Haribo


Thursday, 14 February 2013

Miss Haribo Murder Miles

Miss Haribo here,

For the last six weeks I've been doing the "murder mile" sessions at my gym.  They were organised by Run Dem Crew and we basically tore it up running track, intervals and parachute sprints(!) around London.  I've been off running due to injury for six months and I wanted to get back into it. My ambition was to run just one run where I felt ok and not pathetic. I can confidently say that thanks to Charlie Dark and the rest of the murder mile crew I completely smashed that goal.

It might seem a bit odd to take a class in learning how to run. However, I learnt lots about things like running form, how to stay strong when finishing a race, the need to incorporate speed training, some amazing places to run in London and how to cope when it feels uncomfortable.

While the physical part of training is important to mental one is too. I also learned that I have to step out of my comfort zone if I ever want to improve (and one day I'll be comfortable there)  and that what really matters is quality not quantity.

The latter is particularly important. Too many time we'll head out to the park on a run when we aren't really feeling it, do the same thing as we did the week before and the week before that. But all we achieve is burning a few calories and falling a bit out of love with running. It's better to do something really good for a short while that made you improve and that you enjoyed.

Miss Haribo

For those that want to know more about what happened and how to join in next time the link is here:,377 . This was my absolute favourite session. I felt like my legs were flying by the end!  


Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Lent - old skool style

I love pancakes, infact if I ever ended up on death row and had to pick a last meal they would probably be it.

But last night I didn't have pancakes for dinner. Partly because I was out, but also because having been on a low sugar diet for a couple of weeks I actually didn't feel like them. This was really odd - thinking I wanted them but not actually wanting them.

This just shows how addictive sweet foods are but also how quickly you can adjust your palate.

In the past I've suggested all sorts of different things to give up for lent. But this year I recommend going back to the old school lent and give up sugar. Traditionally you're also meant to give up butter and eggs, but sugar is quite enough. Infact giving up sugar is one of the best dietary changes you can make for your health in the long-run.

If you're onboard with this then up til easter you need to avoid anything sweet tasting other than fruit (no cheating with sweeteners) or anything containing more than 5g added sugar per 100g.

I'm not going to lie to you, it's going to be hard, but by the end of it you'll have so much control over your sugar cravings that you might not even feel like your easter eggs!

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Daylight not twilight

Apologies for the lack of blog yesterday, I got home late and so tired I couldn't think so I saved you an incoherent ramble!!

This is the time of year that is hardest for most of us, physically and emotionally. Endless short, cold days without the excitement of Christmas to keep us going it's easy to feel tired and worn out.  There's another reason for why you might feel like this - it's the longest period of time sine most of us got some decent sunshine, so we'll be running down our vitamin D stores.

Some of my friends wisely counteract this with a trip to sunnier climbs this year and come back totally rejuvenated. If however you're a snow lover and use your early hols to hit the slopes then you'll most likely be going at least 6 months without a decent dose of sunshine.

Whilst there is alot of wise advice to scare off us from too much sun exposure, living in this country over the year we're actually likely to get not enough.  Rushing out into the sunshine for three weeks total cooking every summer is definitely not good for you and is not the answer.

I'm still supplementing with my vitamin D supplements but I think it's also important to get some daily daylight exposure especially to help regulate our sleep and energy levels - we are not vampires and are designed to wake up and go to sleep with the sun, so it's going to affect us if we don't see any daylight monday to friday.  Try and get out in some daylight for at least 15minutes every day - if you can walk part of the way to work that's a great way to do it, but otherwise just go for a walk round the block at lunchtime.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

The diet wake up

Any good personal trainer will tell you that you shouldn't follow the same exercise routine indefinitely - your muscles will get used to doing the same exercises and so in the long run they will use their effectiveness.

It's worth thinking about your diet in the same way. Overtime your body adapts to your diet but also your nutritional needs change. The diet that suited your body in your twenties won't still be perfect for you in your thirties.

Gradually adapting what you eat overtime to your needs is an important part of staying healthy. But it can also be good to adjust your diet more radically for a couple of weeks to wake it up and activate your fat burning pathways!

A detox is a good way of doing this as is a couple of weeks on a carb restricted diet which can help get your blood sugar levels back into balance or help you kick the sugar habit if your diet has gone off track.

Endless yoyo dieting is very unhealthy and I'm against strict diets as a long-term approach to nutrition, but if you want to try out a new diet for a couple of weeks twice a year it can be a wake up call for your body, bring some new foods or recipes into your diet and do you some good.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Creamy comfort

I love a creamy sauce, who doesn't?! But if you're dairy intolerant then you don't get to enjoy the creamy goodness.

So thank goodness for the wonderful coconut! Coconut cream, creamed coconut, coconut milk can all be used to make a nice creamy sauce and some very easy dishes without the dairy.

You can rustle up a super quick dinner by stir-frying some chicken, tofu, or prawns with veg and then making a quick creamy sauce with a teaspoon of thai green paste dissolved into half a tin of coconut milk. Add some lime rind and a squeeze of lime juice to add some zing and heat through.

This evening I got home late and so rustled up another of my fave super quick creamy dinners - chicken brazilian.

I make this with tofu but I'm sure it also works with prawns. You can also spice it up by cooking in some chilli flakes when you add the garlic.

Chicken Brazilian, serves 4
Cube 3-4 chicken breasts and toss in 1tbsp fresh lemon juice, then stirfry in 1tbsp til it's starting to brown.
Chop 2 onions and add to the chicken. Add 2 gloves of garlic minced. Stirfry for 5 minutes.
Slice 1 green pepper and add, then dissolve 55g creamed coconut in 150ml boiling water and add to the pan (or the same volume of coconut milk). Chop 2 large tomatoes and add them to the pan then add 55g ground almonds to thicken the sauce plus a few turns of black pepper.
Stir it all together and simmer for 15mins. Serve with brown rice or quinoa.


Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Dubious dairy

Having a dairy intolerance sucks! You miss out on so many wonderful foods, creamy yoghurt, beautiful cheese, delicious ice cream, the luxury of some gold top on your breakfast cereal - so many foodie pleasures!

But I think there's a danger in focussing too much on intolerances when it comes to whether you can eat dairy or not.

Infact even if you've been checked for lactose intolerance and don't have it that doesn't mean you can eat dairy, it's possible to react to the protein in dairy which won't be checked by this test.

Dairy has long been touted as a key food group in our diets as if it's essential for our health. From my personal research I think the truth is infact the opposite and I don't believe any of us should be eating it for our health and it should be saved for the 20 per cent naughty food in the 80/20 balance.

Isn't milk a natural food?
Yes it is - for babies. We are clearly not designed as adults to eat food that has to be squeezed out of a boob! If we really thought about it we'd realise there is something very wrong with drinking milk as adults, plus our bodies aren't designed to deal with milk beyond toddlerhood.

Don't we need dairy for our bones? No! Infact last year Harvard school of public health left dairy off it's recommmended healthy eating food plate on the basis that there is little evidence of a benefit of dairy in osteoperosis and considerable evidence that dairy can be harmful to our health ... Pretty damning stuff. And logical too, if dairy prevented osteoperosis it would have a much lower incidence in europe than it does in asia where dairy is not a staple food - infact statistically the truth is the opposite, those on an asian diet have much stronger bones!

So why do people believe it's so good for them?
Milk is big business and the milk industry lobby throws billions at advertising to perpetuate the myth that we and our kids need to drink milk to get strong bones.

There are also some concerns over the effect of dairy on fertility. It's well known amongst nutritional therapists that saturated fats disrupt a healthy hormone balance and also that non-organic milk (and even organic but to a much lesser degree) is laced with hormones given to the cows which can have an effect on our own endocrine system - scary! If you're struggling to conceive you may want to cut the dairy for 2 mths minimum.

Well that's all killed my day dream about some creamy greek yoghurt!

Just remember dairy should be a treat food, not a staple, unless you're a baby cow!

Monday, 4 February 2013

Salad style

Apologies for the lack of blog yesterday.  A busy weekend culminated in a trip to IKEA which, if any of you have been, you'll understand can put the best of us into a catatonic state!!

Not only was I incapable of blogging, I was also incapable of making my lunch for work, so instead picked up a cooked Salmon salad from Itsu which was delicious.

Whilst buying lunch out every day in the city can be pretty pricey, it's worth doing every now and again for some lunch inspiration. A salad out is usually nicer than a salad from home and for me at least, this is down to the number of ingredients.  My Itsu salad contained the following amongst I'm sure more ingredients than I was aware of: Salmon, some kind of oil based herb dressing, parsley, coriander, carrot, beetroot, pumpkin seeds, poppy seeds.  Together these created a salad that was delicious and kept me interested to the end.

The key to recreating this at home is having a well stocked pantry. Obviously the leaves, salad or cooked veg and herbs need to be fresh from the fridge but it's the added extras that can make a salad interesting and vary the flavour.  It's also a great way to keep your diet varied and make sure you're getting a comprehensive range of nutrients, as even within a small group such as seeds, each seed will have a different nutrient composition

Here are my favourite salad pantry supplies:

Nuts & seeds for some crunch: I rotate between pumpkin, sunflower, poppy and seeds as well as pine nuts, pecans or walnuts to add some flavour, flaked almonds are also lovely with an Asian style salad

Antipasto: bottled olives, artichokes, capers, anchovies, peppers and sundried or sunblush tomatoes add a lovely flourish and liven up even the most boring salad

Seaweed: Yes the weed from the sea! Clearspring sell a good selection and I add a few wakame flakes to my salad every now and then for a great source of minerals

Emergency supplies: Food is always best fresh but for when the cupboards are bare some tinned sweetcorn or tinned asparagus and some tinned tuna can be rustled into a nice quick salad with some leaves

Fruity finish: a sprinkle of sultanas, goji berries, or even some chopped apricots, can add a lovely sweetness to bitter leaves - just use sparingly to avoid overpowering the salad

Dressing: I always keep a bottle of Newmans own Italian dressing in my fridge for a lazy day, but otherwise I rotate between olive oil or sesame oil combined with lemon juice, various vinegars (balsamic, cider, rice wine and my new favourite Ume Plum from Waitrose).