Are you suffering from festive fomo?

Hey, would you like to come to this place, spend the evening at that place, have a mince pie, sausage roll, egg nog, mulled wine, taste my world-beating Christmas cake…?

And you’ll go because you can’t resist. You’ll feast like you’ll never see another meal, and you’ll consume frightening amounts of festive tipples because otherwise you’ll be missing out on all the fun, right?

FOMO – aka fear of missing out – is the acute and often unjustified belief that everyone is having way more fun than you, and that you’re somehow being left out of all the said fun. And it reaches its annual high round about now.

Small wonder. Apparently, the British cram 44% more social occasions into December than any other month.

But FOMO really is not your friend this month (or indeed any month) – especially if you want to stay healthy over the holidays.

Let’s take a look at how that festive FOMO usually pans out…

You’re committed to healthy eating at Christmas, and you go to one buffet parties or events. The food looks delicious, but you are watching your weight, so your deprived mouth can only water. There’s a very subtle fear that you are never going to be able to have any of these delicious treats ever again. The fear of missing out activates your survival instinct to consume everything and anything. And so you go on a binge, and your healthy eating plans are obliterated. The self-recriminations start.

Here’s the thing you need to know about FOMO. We are culturally programmed to over-value losses and under-value gains so it’s really not your fault. So we put more importance on the food we may be missing out on, and less on our goals and wellbeing.

The big question, of course, is what are you really missing out on? Nothing. OK, maybe some sweet or high-carb treats, some booze filled evenings and such. But eating and drinking these have a flipside: blood sugar imbalance/ energy crashes, poor sleep, almost certain weight gain (if you consume in excess) – and that’s without mentioning the negative self-talk for having over-indulged.

There’s another thing about this festive FOMO and it’s that it has you giving up taking responsibility for your actions around food and alcohol (you would have been able to resist, right, but it was the party season?)

 

FIX YOUR FOMO AROUND FOOD

There are several things going on when it comes to food. Your fear of ‘missing out’ on that delicious desert is the first.

But also refusing food (though it should be a basic human right) is mired in emotional meaning both for you and for the host.

The answer is not to find more and more creative ways to say no. If you have to own up to eating healthily around this time or being gluten or dairy free, this seems to compound the original offence of not wanting to eat.

Can you get that it doesn’t mean anything if you don’t want to stuff yourself to the gunnels with sausage rolls and mince pies? It doesn’t mean anything about your relationship with food, or how you feel about the host. You just don’t want the sausage rolls!

Your action plan is this:

  1. HAVE AN ACTUAL PLAN Before you go to bed each night, plan out your food for the next day. This is never more true than at Christmas, when parties, chocolates, cookies and “treats” are just about everywhere.
  2. DON’T TRY TO DIET JUST NOW Set a maintenance goal instead. This is much more realistic and it is achievable, even at this time of year. It will also give you the freedom to enjoy yourself without feeling deprived, or that you’ve failed, which in turn means you’re more likely to rebel (and this is code for heading straight for the box of chocolates without a second glance).
  3. BE BALANCED Manage portions. Eat slowly. Savour each mouthful.
  4. YOU EAT WELL AT OTHER MEALS. Lots of vegetables. Making sure you’re feeling full with smart carbohydrate choices and plenty of protein-rich foods. Then you head to your party, have one or two drinks, a few nibbles and – most of all – enjoy time with the people you love!
  5. OH, AND DON’T GO TO A PARTY HUNGRY If you do, you’ll be fighting a loosing battle. Have a low GI snack before you go – just a little something that includes protein and slow release carbs (cottage cheese or unsweetened nut butter on an oatcake, for example).
  6. KEEP FAMILY CHOCOLATES OUT OF SIGHT so you’re not tempted to tuck in just because they’re there. Ever heard of the ‘see food and eat it’ diet?

FIX YOUR FOMO AROUND ALCOHOL

Frequently, partygoers who are cautious about their alcohol consumption are view with suspicion. You can roll out the usual excuses for abstention: I’ve got a hangover from the party the night before, I’m on antibiotics, I’ve got a really important work thing tomorrow, and the like.

If you want to have a few glasses of wine, have a few glasses of wine. But make that decision inside of what you know to be your social schedule over the entire Christmas period.

How does the amount of socialising stack up against your health goals?

To be clear, you absolutely can honour all your social commitments but, in order not to find yourself tempted by the usual crash diet in January, hear this: it IS possible to go out, have fun, eat well and not have everyone notice you are being ‘healthy’.

If you cut back on the amount you are drinking at social events – even choosing not to drink at some events at all – you can feel the improvements almost immediately. On those nights that you don’t drink at all, you’ll sleep better, wake feeling more refreshed, you’ll have much more energy, and your mood will be better. The impact on your waistline will be positive, too – alcohol is a big contributor to belly fat and is brimming with unnecessary calories

Here are a few suggestions for cutting down – if that’s what you choose to do.

  1. Decide how much you are going to drink (maximum) before you go out.
  2. Consider telling someone else who will be there (friend or partner, perhaps), to help keep you accountable.
  3. Don’t feel pressurised by others. It’s your life and you are the one who makes the decisions.
  4. Have an excuse ready when you want to give it a miss (remember ‘no, thanks, I’d rather have …..’ is perfectly OK.

So, you see, the fear around missing out is just an illusion. And, actually (in social media terms, certainly) FOMO is a bit old hat. What’s trending right now is JOMO, the joy of missing out. Think what you will be gaining from taking on board some of my tips, enjoying yourself without over eating or drinking too much…

The diet industry is flawed

There has been more chatter than normal of late about whether diets are actually good for your soul, thanks to a recent book by Great British Bake Off finalist Ruby Tandoh, Eat Up: Food, Appetite and Eating What You Want.

The marketing promises a ‘radical manifesto that takes the guilt out of eating and puts the pleasure back in’, while one celebrity reviewer claims it will ‘give you more nourishment and wellness – not to mention waffles – than any number of clean eating books.’

It does bring up the question: ”What should we be eating for health and happiness?“ As a nutritional therapist and health coach, I can answer that easily for you right now. Eat in a way that balances your blood sugar at least 80% of the time, focussing on whole foods like fish, lentils and pulses, lots of veg and salad, a little fruit, and small amounts of rice, potatoes and pasta. BUT (and it is a big but) for any healthy lifestyle plan to work in the long term, it has to be sustainable, and that means not only easy to follow but enjoyable. And the truth is, cutting out entire food groups and never having the scope for a glass of wine or a piece of birthday cake is a recipe for disaster.

The sad truth is that we have fallen out of love with real food, and we no longer trust ourselves to know what to eat any more.

It all started when an American scientist called Ancel Keys had in mind to test a hypothesis that eating fat gave you heart disease. He looked at data from 22 countries, ditched three quarters of the countries’ data because it didn’t fit with his theory and – ta, da! – that’s how that old chestnut came into being.

Then … a study on rabbits was published that showed when rabbits were given cholesterol, it furred up their arteries and they died. Of course they did. They were rabbits and they normally only ever ate plants (which do not contain cholesterol).

And that is how we got to fear fat. Fat was blamed for giving us heart disease and also for making us fat (not helped by the fact that in English, the word for the fat you eat and the unwanted body inches is the same). That Keys guy, by the way, quite some time ago announced that, whoops, the data didn’t stack up.

The damage was done. Governments from around the world started making this fat hatred policy, leading to the big food manufacturers coming in to ‘save’ us with their fat free, ‘healthier’ versions of the food that we had likely been eating without undue problems for millennia. And once the money is involved, good luck with getting any government policy changed.

But there is something else going on, too. We are so time poor that rewarding ourselves with treat foods like cake and biscuits is the easiest way to show ourselves some self love. My experience as a Nutritional Therapist is that so little of why we eat what we eat has to do with nourishing our body (regardless of whether we believe anti-fat propaganda or not). The far greater part is to do with how we feel about ourselves and about life in general. Eating half a packet of chocolate biscuits is much easier than figuring out – not to mention getting – what we really need, which might be a way to de-stress, feel loved, get attention, kick back our heels and even sleep. We are almost completely out of touch with our own bodies.

When I’m working with clients, we focus a great deal on lifestyle and mindset because it is a critical factor in deciding whether we make healthy food choices. Simple fact: if you feel stressed or miserable, the chocolate biscuits are always going to win – unless you have a plan in place for dealing with those things.

Pepper this with a heavy dose of guilt – because many people know what they ‘should’ be eating – and it’s easy to end up making food decisions based on a crazily long list of rationales. Eat the damn chocolate cake and move on! Choose the cake. Then stop the conversation you’re having in your head about it. Eating a slice of cake is not the end of the world. Do not get all ‘what the heck, I might as well eat the whole damn thing’.

My passion is to spread the word that eating real food to nourish the body and soul is both desirable and achievable. And you can have cake. Really you can. Just not as often as you might be having it now. Find other ways to feel what you need to feel. Consider ways to polish your self care. I guarantee you are not doing enough. Just as relationship gurus advocate not looking to another person for happiness, the chocolate biscuits won’t make you happy either and you know that. Enjoy the theatre and magic of cooking and eating foods you love and that love you back. Then read a book, go on a long walk via a country pub, swim, dance, sing … Whatever floats your boat.

Why eating garlic every day can help you live longer

The Greek physician Hippocrates is often quoted as saying “let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food”. There’s such a lot of truth in this, and nutritionists and health coaches like me have spent years studying what this actually means in real life. One of his secrets to lasting health was garlic, and he often prescribed it to his patients for its restorative power and life-extending potential.

 

I’m a massive garlic fan because many dishes are simply better with it in, but it is also a functional food, which means it actually does something above and beyond tasting good.

 

Here’s the science bit…. garlic is packed with anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties, meaning it’s great at warding off infection. It contains high levels of vitamin C, known to for its immunity-boosting and disease-fighting properties. Indeed, a study even found that eating about two teaspoons or more of garlic a day could significantly reduce the risk of prostate cancer.

 

In addition to that, garlic has a high potassium content that can help the body absorb essential nutrients, helping your digestive system do its job properly. This all singing, all dancing ingredient also has anti-inflammatory compounds that can help our musculoskeletal and respiratory systems.

 

Garlic is also an ace ingredient for helping your body to detox naturally. It contains several sulfur compounds that activate the liver enzymes responsible for expelling toxins from the body. It also has allicin and selenium, two important nutrients that play an important role in protecting the liver from damage.

 

Most of us will cook garlic straight after crushing or chopping, which doesn’t allow enough time for enzyme reactions that boost the healthy compounds in garlic. My tip for getting the most out of the garlic you use is to crush it at room temperature, and let it sit for about 15 minutes. Never cook at high heat – try eating it raw or lightly cooked for maximum health benefits.  Don’t worry about the aromatic after-affects… parsley is excellent for combatting garlic breath!

The health benefits of coffee

Coffee is a much-maligned drink, with the downside more frequently talked about than the many positives. In this post you’ll find all the ammunition you need to drink coffee without the guilt. It really CAN be good thing but, like all good things, you need to know when to stop. Here you’ll also find info on how much is safe to drink and why it’s not a good thing if you’re trying to get pregnant.

 

1) Coffee can help you burn fat

Caffeine is found in almost every fat loss supplement because it’s one of a very small number of substances proven to help with fat burning. Research shows that it can boost your metabolic rate by up to 11%, and raise the amount of fat you burn by between 10% in overweight people and 29% in lean people. The downside is that the effects are likely to diminish with time in regular coffee drinkers.

 

2) The caffeine in it can boost your physical performance

Caffeine stimulates production of adrenaline. This is one of the stress hormones, but primes you for physical activity. A cup of coffee can improve physical performance by up to 12%. Caffeine also stimulates the nervous system, telling it to break down the fat stored in fat cells and making the energy more available to be used as fuel.

 

3) Coffee contains some important nutrients

A cup of coffee is so much more than just hot black water. A cup of coffee contains…

  • Riboflavin (Vitamin B2
  • Pantothenic Acid (Vitamin B5
  • Manganese and Potassium
  • Magnesium and Niacin (B3)
  • Coffee is also packed with antioxidants.

 

4) Coffee can make you smarter

Caffeine blocks one type of neurotransmitter that can hold you back and increases noradrenaline and dopamine, leading to enhanced firing of neurons. In short, a cup of coffee can boost your brain function.

 

5) Coffee could lower your risk of developing type II diabetes

A number of observational studies show that coffee drinkers have as much as a 62% lower risk of developing this disease; one of the biggest health problems of our time, which is characterised by raised blood sugar and the inability to secrete insulin to lower blood sugar levels. A daily cup can typically lower your risk by 7%.

 

6) Coffee may lower your risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease

Possibly the disease that frightens the most people and one without a cure…While healthy eating and exercising have been demonstrated to help prevent the disease, it’s worth knowing that drinking coffee could also make a difference. Several studies show coffee drinkers are as much as 65% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s as non-coffee drinkers.

 

7) The same is true for Parkinson’s Disease

Due to its effect on the dopamine-generating neurons in the brain, coffee drinkers are up to 60% less likely to develop this degenerative condition. It seems here it’s the caffeine at work as decaf drinkers did not see the same effect.

 

8) Coffee can make you happier

A Harvard study showed that women who drank 4 cups a day had a 20% lower risk of depression, while further research demonstrated those who drank 4 or more cups were 53% less likely to commit suicide.

 

9) Coffee can reduce the risk of stroke and heart disease

While it’s true that coffee does have a small impact on blood pressure (so take care if your levels are raised), research shows that women who drank coffee had a reduced risk of heart disease. Some studies show that stroke risk is reduced by up to 20%.

 

10) And you might even live longer, too

Given coffee drinkers have a reduced risk of some of today’s most common or debilitating diseases, this makes perfect sense. A couple of very large observational studies point to a 26% lower risk of death in women who drink coffee.

 

The best way to enjoy coffee

No coffee after 2pm. It is, after all, a stimulant and, if you drink it too late in the day, it can interfere with the quality of your sleep (or your ability to get to sleep in the first place).

Ditch the sugar. A sure fire way to undo all the good a cup of coffee can do is to add a few spoons of the white stuff. The downside to sugar is now pretty well documented. In a nutshell, it increases inflammation in the body, and can lead to obesity and diabetes. If not having sugar gives you palpitations, consider switching to xylitol (brand name in the UK, Total Sweet) instead. It’s a sugar alcohol that doesn’t have the same impact on your blood sugar levels and is even good for gut health.

Go organic. Coffee is routinely heavily sprayed with pesticides, which are essentially synthetic hormones mixed with other horrid stuff not fit for human consumption.

 

How much can I drink?

The amount of caffeine in a single cup of coffee varies enormously. A small home brewed cup (unless you have an amazing coffee machine) is likely to contain around 50mg per cup, while a large one from a coffee shop might have over 400mg. You’d expect the average cup to have around 100mg. A number of studies suggest up to 400mg a day (that’s about 4 cups) is safe for most people but many people are able to enjoy more without any ill effects. Do bear in mind that tea, chocolate and some soft drinks and prescription drugs also contain caffeine, so you need to view your coffee intake in light of other things you are eating and drinking.

 

Coffee and fertility

There is plenty of evidence suggest that caffeine (especially coffee) might play a role in decreasing fertility, though exactly why or how this happens is a little unclear.

One study found women who drank less than one cup of coffee were twice as likely to become pregnant as moderate coffee drinkers, and the risk of not becoming pregnant increased with the number of cups of coffee they drank each day.

There are implications for men, too. Another study found that sperm problems (sperm count, motility and abnormalities) increase with the number of cups of coffee drank each day.

It is, however, worth noting that all of the studies were carried out on the general populous rather than specifically on women and men who were having difficulty conceiving. On top of that, the results of the many studies carried out have sometimes been conflicting.

So what does this mean for you on a practical level? The NHS recommends women trying to get pregnant limit their caffeine intake to two cups a day, However, to err on the side of caution, I would recommend cutting out all caffeine- containing food and drinks three or four months before trying for a baby.

Should I go meat free?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last year, it can’t have escaped your notice that being vegan, vegetarian or at least mostly meat free has been big news. Eschewing meat in favour of veggie alternatives has also been huge in the recipe book business.

But could you take the plunge, and should you, even if you could? I’m often asked by friends, family and clients, and here is my view:

People become vegan or vegetarians for many reasons, including health, religion, concerns about animal welfare, or a desire to eat in a way that avoids excessive use of environmental resources.

Becoming a vegetarian has become more appealing and accessible, thanks to the year-round availability of fresh produce, more vegetarian dining options, and the growing culinary influence of cultures with largely plant-based diets.

A number of scientific studies have shown that going meat free has definite benefits (see below). However, a vegetarian diet isn’t necessarily healthy. A diet of sugary, fizzy drinks, pizza and cake is technically vegetarian. For health, just like any other diet, it is important to focus on eating a rainbow of vegetables, balanced sources of protein (see below), smaller amounts of starchy carbohydrates like rice, pasta, bread and potatoes, and healthy fats like those found in oily fish, nuts, seeds and avocados.

Plant-based sources of protein

  • Tofu, miso and tempeh
  • Buckwheat
  • Quinoa (say ‘keen-wa’)
  • Peas and beans
  • Lentils
  • Chickpeas
  • Nuts and nut butters
  • Seeds and seed butters, including flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp, pumpkin and sesame seeds, and tahini
  • Leafy green veg
  • Novel proteins (those that have been manufactured from vegetable sources to resemble animal proteins in texture) like TVP (textured vegetable protein, derived from soy), seitan (wheat gluten) and Quorn mycoprotein (derived from a fungus). All are manufactured and processed and have same issues as all processed foods.

 

Enjoy the benefits without going veggie

You can get many of the health benefits of being vegetarian without going all the way. A Mediterranean diet, for example, features a greater emphasis on plant foods with more limited use of meat and associated with longer life and reduced risk of chronic illness.

If you don’t want to become a complete vegetarian, you can steer your diet in that direction with a few simple substitutions, such as plant-based sources of protein instead of meat a couple of times a week.

Although, strictly speaking, vegetarians do not eat any meat, poultry, fish or seafood at all, some people go part the way towards being vegetarian and call themselves vegetarian, so let’s get really clear on the distinctions…

  • Vegans eat no meat, poultry, fish, seafood or any products derived from animals, including honey, eggs and dairy products.
  • Vegetarians don’t eat meat, poultry, fish, seafood or any products derived from dead animals. Sub-groups of vegetarianism are:
  • Lacto-ovo vegetarians don’t eat meat, poultry, fish or seafood but they do eat eggs and consume dairy products.
  • Lacto-vegetarians eat no meat, poultry, fish or seafood but they do eat dairy products.
  • Ovo-vegetarians eat no meat, poultry, fish or seafood and avoid dairy, but they do eat eggs.
  • Pesco-vegetarians (or pescatarians) are not vegetarians, because they eat fish and seafood (dead animals), they also usually eat eggs and dairy, but no meat or poultry .

 

Is going vegetarian healthier?    

Compared with meat eaters, vegetarians tend to eat less saturated fat and cholesterol, and more vitamins C and E, dietary fibre, folic acid, potassium, magnesium, and phytochemicals (plant chemicals), such as carotenoids and flavonoids. As a result, they tend to have lower total and LDL (bad) cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and lower body mass index (BMI), all of which are associated with longevity and a reduced risk for many chronic diseases. However, we now know that eating saturated fat and cholesterol neither leads to heart disease nor an increase in cholesterol levels. The good results vegetarians and vegans have with heart health may simply be due to the fact that they have a much healthier diet than the average person on the Western diet, they are better informed about nutrition and particularly for vegans much junk is off the menu (as much of it contains dairy or egg). Vegetarians and vegans are also less likely to smoke or drink excessively, and are likely to take more exercise. These factors, too, are life preserving.

A huge number of studies point to eating more fruit and veg to reduce the risk of developing certain cancers.  And, if you stop eating red meat (whether or not you become a vegetarian), you’ll eliminate a risk factor for colon cancer. It’s not clear whether avoiding all animal products reduces the risk further.

 

Vegetarianism & Nutrient Deficiencies

Some women worry they won’t get enough calcium to support bone health if they don’t eat dairy. Women would have to get their calcium from vegetables like bok choy, broccoli, Chinese cabbage, spring greens, and kale. Tofu and sesame seed (including tahini) are also great sources of calcium.

People who follow a vegetarian diet (and especially a vegan diet) may be at risk of getting insufficient vitamin D and vitamin K, both needed for bone health. Although green leafy vegetables contain some vitamin K, vegans may also need to rely on fortified foods, including some types of soy milk, rice milk, organic orange juice, and breakfast cereals. They may also want to consider taking a vitamin D supplement.

The biggest problem for vegans is a lack of vitamin B12 as there are zero plant sources for it. It has to be supplemented or come from fortified foods.

Diets that include no fish or eggs are low in EPA and DHA. Your body can convert ALA in plant foods to EPA and DHA, but not very efficiently. Vegans can get DHA from algae supplements, which increase blood levels of DHA as well as EPA. Good ALA sources include flaxseed, walnuts, rapeseed oil, and soy.

Becoming a vegetarian or vegan is very much a personal choice, but one thing is clear, we would all benefit from increasing the amount of vegetables (and fruit) in our diets. They contain an array of life-enhancing plant chemicals, vitamins and minerals that help in the fight against disease. They fill you up by activating the satiety hormone leptin, they make it easier to eliminate waste via the colon and, they help mop up excess hormones in the body, making them essential in the detoxification process.

Change begins with self care

The secret sauce of weight loss…  

I wonder how long you have spent over the course of your life searching for the magic pill when it comes to weight loss? And how much money you have spent on miracle products that promised to make the weight drop off over night – or at least not make the business of losing weight seem so tricky?   

First things first, if you are someone who has spent a significant amount of times in slimming clubs, what you should know is that almost certainly you have been taught to eat the wrong things. And the community mindset seems to be about finding ways to cheat the diet. It’s no wonder people lose weight and put it straight back on again. Of course, actually eating the right things will help you lose the weight naturally, without calorie counting. And eating the way I show my clients has them naturally wanting to eat the foods that will love their body rather than deciding to seek solace in a bag of Haribos. 

What the slimming clubs miss is the vital mindset element of losing weight. Part of that is taking care of your self care. That is the real secret sauce for losing weight, and here’s why. 

If you are an emotional eater, no ‘diet’ in the world is going to help you deal with what the REAL issue is – your wonky relationship with food. You need to rewire your food brain, because emotional eating or binge eating are major causes of diet failure but, unless you get to the root of the problem, you’re destined to yo-yo diet … forever. 

Self care is the recognition that only YOU can make yourself happy and that, if you make sure that you dedicate some time EVERY DAY purely for your own enjoyment, you will have more fun, you will be more fun to be around, and you will have far greater reserves to deal with the stresses of everyday life.  

The miracle of self care doesn’t end there. When you dedicate a small amount of time each day to your own happiness, there is less need to reach for the chocolate biscuits. I’m guessing you’re like many of my clients – you are so time poor that rewarding yourself with treat foods like cake and biscuits is the easiest way to show yourself some self love.  

My experience from clients I see is that so little of why you eat what you eat, has to do with nourishing your body. The far greater part is to do with how you feel about yourself and about life in general.  Eating half a packet of chocolate biscuits is much easier than figuring out – not to mention getting – what you really need, which might be a way to de-stress, feel loved, get attention, kick back your heels and even sleep.   

I am sure that you get what I am saying conceptually, but this is not enough for the magic to work. Just understanding won’t get you the benefits. You have to be in action. Are you doing AT LEAST three things EVERY DAY just because they make you happy? I thought not. 

Self care is a skill and it is a discipline. It is something that can be very easy to do (which is why it is something you often don’t bother to do).  So, this week’s challenge: make a list of at least 20 things (even really frivolous things) that you LOVE to do just because they delight you.  Some take hardly any time; some take a little longer. You don’t have to spend long for this to be effective. You have to write them down, too. Again, having this on a conceptual level is not enough.  

I know from working with my clients that coming up with a list can feel difficult to start with but persevere.  When it’s done, keep it somewhere handy so it’s easy to turn to for inspiration.