Tag Archives: Health

Following the Dream

30 Jan

Hey folks, you may have noticed that the content on the site is becoming less frequent that before (was it ever truly “frequent”?). I just want to keep you up to date as to why.

If you’re a regular reader you’ll know that I moved to Barcelona to do my Master’s degree in Nutrition and Metabolism. That goal was competed last summer and now I’m moving on the next stage of my plan.

I’m currently setting myself up as an online nutritional consultant based out of Barcelona, basically pursuing my passion of helping people live healthier lives. There’s quite a bit of work ahead of me with website design and content writing for my new site but I’m very, very excited about it.

On top of that I’m also writing articles for Latin Dance Community which I find very rewarding too. All of this means that I may not be dedicating as much time to the Dancing Irishman blog for a while. I’m still here, just focusing on other projects at the moment.

Anyway, I hope you’ll still be looking forward to reading my stuff when I finally get back to it in the future (it could be next month for all I know).

Keep Dancing folks.

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The Best Diet in the World (and why I don’t follow it)

11 Mar

Diets these days are like religions.

The followers of a particular diet, just like those of a particular religion, will often do all they can to promote it, spread it to new followers and if ever their beliefs are threatened by other “non-believers”, well let’s just say that some wouldn’t bat an eyelid at waging a holy war, on that great battleground that is the interweb, in defense of of their dietary gods.

Just as in religion, blind faith and unquestioning extremism only cause trouble. I’ll talk more about this a little later on.

Life as a guinea pig
As a lot of my friends and regular readers know, I was a fat kid. Some would say chubby but either way, I just didn’t look right in a bathing suit.

In my mid-teens I started reading about nutrition and exercise science and this started a passion that burns serious calories to this very day.

I love new knowledge so that’s led me to not only read a wide variety of books on nutrition but to also try out those dietary approaches on myself. Truth be told, there are probably very few of the major eating systems that I haven’t given a try. From strict veganism to hardcore ketosis-inducing Atkins I’ve survived or thrived on a lot of different diets.

Today I want to introduce you to one that I think is really worth your time looking into a little more.

“P” is for Paleo
Many of you, I’m sure, have heard of the Paleo diet.

The Paelo Diet intends to bring us a step back towards our ancestors (no harm there)

The Paelo Diet intends to bring us a step back towards our ancestors (no harm there).

These days it is both popular (and growing in popularity) and controversial. Let me go all hipster on you all and just say “I was doing Paleo before it was cool”. I first gave it a try about 12 years ago and I’m still a big believer in its effectiveness at helping people lose weight and improving their health.

Paleo: Excavation to Explosion
The Paleo Diet got its first real dose of popularity back in 2002 when Dr. Loren Cordain published his book “The Paleo Diet”, extolling the virtues of the foods supposedly eaten by our Paleolithic ancestors and simultaneously tearing a new A-hole in any foods that were part of the agricultural revolution.

His work became controversial (for the wrong reasons) and eventually became popular (for the right reasons) thanks to a reinvigorating kick in the form of “The Paleo Solution” written by Robb Wolf, an apostle of Dr. Cordain, along with the promotion of Paleo eating in the ever expanding world of Cross Fit exercise.

There is a glut of info about Paleo online but I recommend Robb Wolf’s website as a decent starting point.

What Paleo IS
Basically, Paleo is a way of eating that attempts to mimic (as closely as we can in the modern world) the diet of our paleolithic (stone age) ancestors i.e. before agriculture reared its “ugly” head and started throwing its “weight” around and making us all the unhealthy fatties that we are today (please forgive my hyperbole, I’m Irish, we get carried away with such things).

The underlying theory is that agri-foods like grains, legumes and dairy have only been in the human diet for a relatively short amount of time (approx. 10,000 years) compared to how long anatomically modern humans have been around (approx. 100,000 years). Thus, it’s believed that the human digestive system/body hasn’t had enough time to adapt to them and certain substances they contain. So, our bodies react poorly to them resulting in a myriad of diet-related illness’ that we are seeing in ever increasing numbers these days like obesity, Type-2 diabetes, autoimmune diseases etc.

In a nutshell, Paleo encourages the consumption of “Paleo foods” such as:

  • Lean meats (preferably from grass-fed animals)
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Nuts and seeds

    A good paleo diet should look something like this; plenty of fruit and veg along with unprocessed meats.

    A good paleo diet should look something like this; plenty of fruit and veg along with unprocessed meat and fish.

and discourages the consumption of “Agricultural Products” which are new to the human diet such as:

  • Grains (wheat, barley, rye, oats, corn, rice)
  • White potatoes
  • Dairy
  • Legumes
  • Refined vegetable oils
  • Processed foods in general

Think of it like this: if you were dropped into a tropical rainforest and had to hunt, gather and scavenge your food, you would be eating paleo. You would be saying goodbye to modern day staples such as breads, cakes, candies, chips and “pretty much” anything that comes prepackaged.

What Paleo IS NOT
Paleo is not an excuse to eat nothing but bacon (as some would have you believe).

A healthy diet is not made of Bacon alone!

A healthy diet is not made of Bacon alone! (My God, it’s so beautiful)

Why eat like a caveman?
The very nature of the Paleo Diet dictates that you suddenly begin consuming virtually all of your food unprocessed. Going from the Standard American Diet (SAD, great acronym, right) to Paleo generally means that  you’ll immediately be consuming:

Less
Sugar
Starch
Refined/Damaged Oils
Crap

& More
Vegetables
Fruits
Fibre
Protein
Healthy Fats

So in one powerful swoop the Paleo diet covers the majority of areas that most “other diets” try to improve upon.

The diet claims to help you:

  • Lose weight
  • Treat Type-2 diabetes
  • Improve autoimmune disease (such as rheumatoid arthritis)
  • Control other forms of inflammation such as acne
  • Make you look daaaaamn sexy in a bathing suit

From my own experience on the diet I can honestly say that I never feel so good as when I’m following Paleo. The best way I could describe the feeling of paleo is that everything is just smooth. Like a well oiled engine burning high octane fuel compared to an old, poorly maintained engine running on regular. They both run, but one runs better and is gonna last a lot longer.

I always lose weight on Paleo (due to the drop in carbs and elimination of water retention), my skin is always clear and I feel full of energy. The diet works and it works well.

Additionally, one of the best things about Paleo these days is the huge community of followers that has developed around it which means that finding info about paleo and more importantly, finding paleo-friendly recipes is now easier than ever.

The Devil is in the Dogma
What’s the catch right? There’s gotta be something? Terrible B.O.? Hairy chests? Development of a sloping forehead?

The Paleo Diet will not result in the formation of Modern Cavemen.

The Paleo Diet will not turn you into a modern cavemen (hopefully).

Truth be told, no! The diet itself is excellent, nourishing and far superior to the crap most people eat today.

The problem lies in the fact that, like religion, the paleo diet suffers from its own Dogma.

The central premise is that if a foodstuff could be found by our hunter-gatherer ancestors it’s good. Equally, if a food wasn’t available to those same ancestors, back in the day, it’s bad. This is an intentional oversimplification but I’m going to use it to explain a point.

Therefore, foods like maple syrup or honey are Paleo. Now, maple syrup and honey, in reality, are little more than sugar syrup with extra flavor and some minerals and other compounds in miniscule quantities. They behave in your body in virtually the same way as sugar (anyone who disagrees has no idea about biochemistry and I, thankfully, have science on my side).

Or another example, the humble spud (white potato) is a no-go but the sweet potato (also an agricultural product) is considered essential by Paleo athletes who heavily rely on it as a carb source.

You also encounter (mostly) newbies to Paleo who look at it as an excuse to gorge excessively on meat (see “Bacon” above) or on fruits. The problem with fruits these days is that they have been altered significantly by agriculture and contain far more sugar than their wild/ancient relatives. Paleo isn’t just about meat and fruit but some people (both inside and outside the paleo movement) would have you believe so.

On the other end of the spectrum, certain “modern” foods (such as certain fermented dairy products) may very well be tolerated on the paleo diet but dogma dictates that they’re bad because they’re new.

In fact, this has led to a schism in the paleo movement with traditionalists (those religiously following the original paleo dogma) and “New-Paleo” followers who are less strict and more willing to try “certain” non-paleo foods. Just like a schism in religion followers of both sects (which have far more in common than otherwise) squabble over these miniscule differences. Religious history repeating itself. But I digress…

Why I don’t follow Paleo (at the moment)
I’ve just said that Paleo is amazing and that “it does exactly what it says on the tin” and that it makes me feel great. Why then wouldn’t I follow it?

We’re finally getting to the point I want to make. There are other considerations to make about the food we put into our mouths than simply its affects on us as individuals.

We live on a small planet, with limited resources but with a population of about 7 billion hungry people. Diets in the developed world (and I’m talking about standard diets too, not just paleo) rely heavily on animal products. The problem with that is that producing food from animals is far more costly (monetary investment, space, environment) than producing food from plants. I’m not going to go into details myself but you can read more here and here.

Long story short, eating meat is far harder on the environment and heavier on our limited resources than eating plants.

As a human being, I can’t justify huge quantities of meat in my diet when I know that it simply isn’t sustainable. I’m “trying” to be responsible.

The Hypocrite
So have I eliminated meat from my diet? Hell no!

From my own personal experience I know that I do far better with some meat in my diet than without. Humans are omnivores (science agrees with me) and we and our ancestors have been eating meat for millions of years (the ability to cook meat is often cited as the evolutionary kick-starter of human brain development). I have little doubt that there are substances that we can get from meat far more efficiently than from plants (Vitamin B12 is an obvious example). I’m not going to sacrifice my health entirely by eliminating meat completely.

Replacing (some) animal protein with plant protein is one step towards a more sustainable planet.

Replacing (some) animal protein with plant protein is one step towards a more sustainable planet.

I’ve come to a compromise with the way I eat that allows me the benefits of meat in a mostly plant based diet. It’s not a perfect solution but it’s the best I’m willing to do. I also don’t want to give up some of my favorite foods  on my cheat days (heaven forbid).

On top of that, my diet changes regularly. Depending on my fitness goals, depending on my health, depending on my budget. I say that I don’t eat paleo NOW but that doesn’t mean that I won’t go paleo (or conversely, vegan for that matter, although I doubt it) in the future. “Never say never” is a dietary policy that has worked well for me over the years.

Food for thought
Our health is vitally important. So is our planet.

They whole point of this article is to introduce an incredibly healthy eating system along with making people aware of the consequences of their food choices. On a planet of limited dimensions, our choices and actions ultimately affect everyone and everything else. I just want people to see the bigger picture.

I’m not telling people to give up meat. I’m not telling people to go paleo. Both would be hypocritical of me (I’ve just realized that saying it like that really puts me in a lose-lose situation). I just want you, as an individual, to be aware of your health, your responsibility and your choices regarding both.

Eat well folks!

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Cheat Day Diary (A Photographic Record of a Day of Pure Food Hedonism)

7 Aug

I don’t drink… I don’t smoke… I don’t do drugs… but by God do I EAT!!!

A well managed cheat day does not have to be a diet ruiner!

A well managed cheat day does not have to be a diet ruiner!

I have had a weekly cheat day for almost 7 years now and I refined my technique greatly after reading Tim Ferris’s “The 4 Hour Body”. I try to eat as clean as I can during the week but 1 day of pure food-based hedonism out of every 7 helps keep me sane and reminds me how crappy junk food makes me feel. I’ve written about the importance of cheat days for sticking to eating plans here!

The World Games ended here last Sunday (my usual cheat day) so this week I decided to make a pig of myself on Monday.

Here’s a step-by-step, bite-by-bite guide to gorging like a professional eater and not worrying about the repercussions. I’ve included estimates of calorie intake for the meals as best I can.

9.00am: Coffee to start the engines
I start a cheat day the same way I do every other day of the week. Three large glasses of ice-cold water followed by two large mugs of strong, black coffee. I “intermittent fast” so I don’t take any calories before at least midday which means I don’t use milk or sugar.

The caffeine in the coffee causes your body to release lipids from fat-cells into the blood stream when your body is in a fasted state. That means your morning coffee gets you burning fat as soon as you wake up.
Calories: 0

11.45am: Gym

Just back form the gym and ready to start my day of gluttony

Just back form the gym and ready to start my day of gluttony

I’m nursing an elbow injury at the moment and both my physiotherapist and chiropractor advised me to avoid upper body  movements for the next month. So I had a fairly heavy leg’s day to make up for it. I did eleven sets of 5 reps of squats pyramiding up to and then down from my maximum weight.

Having a cheat day on a heavy exercise day means that some of the excess calories you consume will at least be put to good use in rebuilding your muscles.

I also try to cycle around the city throughout the day to keep my muscles active which promotes the shuttling of nutrients into muscle cells in preference to fat storage.

1.00pm: Sugar Rush

Two local specialities, "Panelita de Leche" and "Arequipe". They're pretty much sugar and milk!

Two local specialties, “Panelita de Leche” and “Arequipe”. They’re pretty much sugar and milk!

Right after heavy exercise muscles need sugar to halt the catabolic (muscle break down) effects of cortisol. To begin the anabolic (muscle building) process nothing is better than high-glycemic (fast release) sugars. I normally use a couple of bananas but seeing as I didn’t have any food left in the house (I had no time to go shopping while volunteering at the games) these little desserts I received during the games had to suffice.
Calories: 180

1.20pm: Grilled Beef, Bolognaise, Cheese and Vegetable Sandwich

My first lunch; a surprisingly god sandwich!

My first lunch; a surprisingly good sandwich!

Calories: 600

1.50pm: Banana Bread

I really love good banana bread. This was far from the best I've ever had.

I really love good banana bread. Unfortunately this wasn’t that good!.

Calories: 200

2.10pm: Fried Chicken, Rice, Fried Potatoes, Roasted Plantain, Salad & Passion-fruit juice in milk

This was a nice post workout carb-boost

This was a nice post workout carb-boost (Roasted plantain and fried yellow potatoes are amongst my favourite foods in Colombia)

The day previously I had a whole conversation about fried chicken with my buddy Santana which combined with watching the movie “Soul Plane” left me with some serious cravings for fried chicken. This really hit the spot.

Gloves for eating chicken are such a great idea.

Gloves for eating chicken are such a great idea.

I also had to show a picture of something I’ve only seen in Colombia. People eat fried chicken here with gloves and although it looks weird at first it really is a great idea and stops your fingers getting super greasy.

Also, if you’ve never tried passion fruit juice in milk before, you haven’t lived
Calories: 1300

3.30pm: Peach Genovesa and Black Coffee

This is at one of my favourite cafes in Cali

This is at one of my favorite cafes in Cali

A genovesa is like a sponge cake that has been soaked in condensed milk and cream to create an incredibly wet, sweet cake which in this case was topped with peach compote. I try not to drink my calories so the coffee was black and unsweetened.

On another note, if you’re wondering how I pass my time in between mouthfuls, I read a lot while I’m eating. I always have a selection of books stored on my phone so I never get bored while I’m gorging myself.
Calories: 500

4.10pm: Cherry Cheesecake Ice-cream

Some of Colombia's best icecream courtesy of "Crepes & Waffles"

Some of Colombia’s best ice-cream courtesy of “Crepes & Waffles”

Calories: 200

4.40pm: Almojabana

One of Colombia's better pastry products: Light, slightly cheesy and with a hint of sweetness

One of Colombia’s better pastry products: Light, slightly cheesy and with a hint of sweetness

Calories: 180

4.50pm: Oreo-Cream Cupcake

This expensive little fecker neither lived up to its name nor price tag

This expensive little fecker neither lived up to its name nor its price tag

Calories: 300

5.00pm: Calorie Mate

"Cheese" flavor apparently... they should return to testing.

“Cheese” flavor, apparently… they really should return to taste testing.

Calorie Mate is a product that anyone who has lived in Japan for any decent length of time will recognize. It’s basically a “nutritionally balanced” meal replacement biscuit. I received loads from the Japanese Ultimate Frisbee Team that I was translating for during the World Games. I fail to understand it’s popularity.
Calories: 200

5.10pm: Instant “Tan Tan Men” noodles

Another gift from the Japanese Frisbee Team.

Another gift from the Japanese Frisbee Team.

Calories: 120

5.20pm: Probiotic Yogurt

This is my favourite yoghurt here because of the probiotic mix it contains

This is my favorite yogurt here because of the probiotic mix it contains

Eating huge quantities of sugar and other junk foods can play havoc with your intestinal flora (the bacteria that live in your digestive tract) so I always make sure I take a good hit of probiotic (good bacteria) yogurt when I have a cheat day to help restore the balance of good bacteria faster.
Calories: 50

5.30pm: Nutella (imitation)

Not the real deal but just as tasty!

Not the real deal but just as tasty!

I found this imitation nutella on special offer. I hadn’t had nutella in a while so I added it to the cart. I polished off half of it the way it’s supposed to be done… straight out of the jar with a spoon.
Calories: 550

7.00pm: Oreo Ice-cream

This stuff is simply orgasmic!

This stuff is simply orgasmic!

I have a serious weakness for Ice-cream and this Oreo ice-cream by Popsy is amazing (I avoided it for ages because I “kind of” snobbishly looked down on oreos but it really is an amazing ice-cream. I got through about three quarters of the tub.
Calories: 1200

8.00pm: Oatmeal (The Cleanup Guy)

One very runny bowl of porridge (oatmeal)

One very runny bowl of porridge (oatmeal)

It’s a great idea to finish off a cheat day with a good punch of soluble fiber. This helps to move the food through your digestive tract faster and the soluble fiber also cleans your intestines along the way helping to expel any waste that might otherwise remain after such a day of gluttony.

A couple of tablespoons of freshly ground flaxseeds in water (swallowed as fast as possible as it’s horrible stuff) would be even better.
Calories: 50

9.10pm: One seriously distended stomach

To say that I was on the point of exploding would be quite accurate.

To say that I was on the point of exploding would be quite accurate.

Grand Calorie Total: 5630

Am I worried about this huge glut of calories? No.

Why? Because every other day of the week I eat very, very healthy food in very controlled portions.

If I ate like this everyday I wouldn’t live very long. I would probably have died of a heart attack or diabetes years ago. But I have more sense than that. I realize how important diet is in maintaining one’s health but I’m also aware that it is what you eat most of the time and not what you eat only rarely that makes the difference.

I’ve written a few pointers on how to correctly manage a cheat day at the end of this article. Read and understand them and you too can enjoy a day of pure food pleasure once a week and not have to worry about ruining your diet progress.

Happy Eating Folks

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The Importance of Being Grateful

23 Apr
Being consciously grateful has many of the benefits of meditation!

Being consciously grateful has many of the benefits of meditation!

We all want…

We want more money.

We want to look better naked.

We want pie.

We want more respect from our coworkers.

We want to be better dancers… lovers… parents… painters… friends… speakers…

We want, we want, we want!

The truth is there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting. It’s perfectly natural and it motivates us to work for what we want in life.

However, if you are in a constant state of “want” you can begin to feel deprived and if you consistently feel deprived your mood and general well-being can seriously suffer. On the extreme end of the scale you could even begin to experience depression.

One thing that we need to realize these days is that no matter how much we “want” we also need to be aware of the many blessings that we already “have” in our lives.

Everyone needs to be grateful
I learned about the importance of gratitude as a way to improve general well-being in the same way I’ve come to learn about many useful things in my life; through necessity.

A few years ago I went through a personal “rough patch” that put me on a path to trying to sort it out for myself. I ended up reading a few self-help books and I took a particular interest in the books written by the very famous Tony Robbins. I learned a few different things and it certainly opened my mind to the power of technologies like Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP).

But of all the things I learned from that time in my life, one of the few that I have maintained and practiced consistently over the years and which is probably the simplest of them all, is conscious gratitude.

Conscious Gratitude. Why?

Why? It is simply the fastest way I have ever found to feel better… immediately and long-term.
And there are a whole host of other reasons why you should practice gratitude regularly, including:

  • better mental health
  • improves the quality of your relationships
  • greater happiness
  • helps you deal with loss and negative emotions
  • improved performance at work and school
  • better sleep
  • improves your immune system and overall health

Check out this article on Huffington Post for a more detailed look on the benefits of being grateful.

How
To be honest there are probably a million different ways to do this but I’m going to tell you how I do because I’ve found it both effective and easy to make a regular habit. It only takes 2 or 3 minutes a day.

  • Pick a time: You need to make this a habit so make being grateful part of your regular schedule. It could be first thing in the morning or right after lunch. Preferably it should be a time when you can be alone and quiet (not the easiest things to find these days). Personally I always do it at the very end of my stretching routine after I exercise, that way I always just add it on to my time in the gym.
  • Optional: Pick an upbeat song you like: Something that makes you feel good that lasts for 3 0r 4 minutes. You can listen to it as you do the activity and use it like a timer, letting you know when you’ve done enough.
  • Get comfortable: Find a position you’re comfortable sitting or lying in. If you’re at home you could lie on the couch or sit in a favorite chair. I’m a little bit of a purist so I do it seated in “seiza” something I picked up from my karate training. Seiza is not easy so I definitely wouldn’t recommend it to beginners. Whatever position works for you for 3 minutes should be fine.
seiza

Seiza, the traditional way of sitting in Japan, is definitely not for beginners!

  • Close your eyes: This is not necessary but it definitely helps you to visualize and focus. I’ve learned how to do this with my eyes open over time but whenever I can (i.e. when I’m alone) I do it with my eyes closed because it just feels easier and more effective.
  • Think about everything you’re grateful for: this is the “bread and butter” of this activity. You should think of everything you have in your life and are grateful for and try to visualize it in your mind. When you visualize it, consciously feel the sensations of happiness that come with the thoughts of those things. The most important part of this whole activity is that you actually make yourself feel good by thinking of these things in your life that you have been blessed with. Only focus on the positive things that make you happy. Physically smile and enjoy the sensation while you think of everything. Don’t be worried if anyone sees you doing this. What’s the worst they can say? Ha, that guy looks really happy !!! (What a burn!)

A few ideas for things to be grateful about might be:

  • The people you love in your life, your family, your friends, your partner
  • Your health
  • All the good experiences you’ve had in life
  • The coming days, weeks and months and all the amazing possibilities they hold
  • That beautiful girl who wears virtually nothing at the gym
  • Your job and the opportunities it has brought you
  • The delicious meal you had with friends last weekend
  • Your achievements over the years
  • Your skills and the things you do well; cooking, dancing, making ornaments out of paperclips
  • The challenges you’ve faced that have shaped you for the better
smiley

Be grateful. It’s a great way to perk-up your day!

Consciously think of these things, visualize them and experience the happiness and gratitude that they make you feel!

And that’s it. Feel better for the rest of the day knowing how much you have to be grateful for in life.

It’s gonna be one hell of a great day.

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Have you been working-out lately? Because you look spectacular 🙂 If you liked this article go ahead and share it with your friends via the Facebook or Twitter buttons below and if you use Stumbleupon please give it a “Thumbs Up”. I’d really appreciate it 😉

The Lean Mean Salsa Machine (A concise guide to Eating, Moving and Sleeping)

23 May

No matter what you attempt in life, if your body isn’t in tip-top condition, reaching your goals will be nowhere near as easy as when your at your optimum.

For this reason I try to keep myself as healthy as circumstances allow and I’ve developed a pretty good awareness of what works for me and what doesn’t. I’ve been interested in nutrition and exercise science since I was a chubby, unfit 15 year old who spent his time eating junk, playing video games and watching excessive amounts of TV. Since then I’ve devoured a small library of texts about health and I’ve changed my lifestyle considerably and now, thankfully, feel and look a whole lot better.

Abs: for many, the whole world of fitness and nutrition seems to boil down to a hard, lumpy stomach!

Abs: for many, the whole world of fitness and nutrition seems to boil down to a hard, lumpy stomach! Just in case you’re wondering, these aren’t my abs (I never wear black)!

When I’m running at optimum, it makes everything else I do a breeze and I believe that everyone else should do their utmost to look after their bodies so they can always bring their A-game to the dance floor (and everywhere else in life).

I could (and probably will at some stage) write individual posts for many of the points I’m going to mention here, but for the time-being I’m just going to give a concise guide to some easily modifiable aspects of your lifestyle. There are many people who will disagree with some of these points but that doesn’t bother me in the least. I’m only going to talk about things that I know work or have worked for me and may work for you too.

A note on individuality and self-assessment
Everybody is different (thankfully) and that means what works for one may very well not work for another. Thus, I can’t stress the importance of actively experimenting and trying to find what works best for you.
Please try out the following recommendations (and whatever variations of them which you can come up with) and take note of how your body reacts over time. Keep what works for you and discard whatever doesn’t.
Unfortunately, a lot of us these days have been in a state of suboptimal health for so long that we no longer know what it feels like to be truly healthy. So get some outside help and monitor your progress by measuring whatever values you can (weight, body fat, blood pressure, cholesterol etc.) before and after you make these changes. Give them time (at least 4 weeks) to take effect and hopefully at that stage these healthy habits will have stuck.

The following points are in no particular order. While I consider them all important I will make note of those which I feel have a particularly profound affect on your health. Obviously, the cumulative affect of a number of these together is greater than doing any one on it’s own.

Get enough sleep

This one is incredibly important. Lack of sleep disrupts hormones enormously especially those involved in growth and repair and appetite control. Getting sufficient sleep is essential for your body to reset and repair itself every day so can be ready for what the day throws at you.

I know from experience that when I don’t get enough sleep (for me 7-8 hours) the next day I’ll be rife with food cravings and much more likely to eat something that I shouldn’t, when I shouldn’t. Lack of sleep is one of the major reasons (I believe) that people develop food cravings that sabotage their attempts to eat healthily.

What constitutes enough sleep? This varies for everyone, some need less, some more, but I feel that 7-8 hours is a good starting point. If you have trouble sleeping try to address it as soon as possible (it may be as simple as using earplugs and an eye-mask, which I’ve been doing for years).

Don’t smoke

If you’re still doing this, you’re an idiot. Quit!

Don’t drink

While there may be some minor benefits to a little alcohol, these are far outweighed by the detrimental effects of its consumption in excess (experience tells me that the majority of people who drink, do so in excess).

I’m very lucky in that I never started drinking when I was a teenager and neither have I ever felt the necessity to do so. Do your body and your wallet a favor and either reduce your alcohol consumption significantly or eliminate it altogether.

Learn to read food labels

You can not know what you’re consuming if you don’t what is in your food. Learn to read food labels quickly (just takes a little practice) so you can scan them and eliminate unhealthy choices quickly and efficiently.

A good rule of thumb is; the longer the ingredient list the less likely it is to be a healthy food choice.

Eat enough fruit & vegetables to put a small cow to shame

Your parents were not lying to you when they told you to eat more veggies as a kid. Vegetables are not only full of vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants but they also contains hundreds, even thousands, of so far undocumented substances that can have a profound effect on keeping us healthy and disease free.

This is an example of what I have to lug home from my local supermarket every week! If you're not getting exercise just by carrying your veggies home, you're not eating enough?

This is an example of what I have to lug home from my local supermarket every week! If you’re not getting exercise just by carrying your veggies home, you’re not eating enough?

Eat as many different coloured vegetables as you can every day but focus on dark-green leafy vegetables (like spinach, lettuce, cabbage etc.) and try to get plenty of them raw too. Make it a point to eat one huge, leafy-green salad every day.

Caveat: You should be eating vastly more vegetables than fruit, as veggies are far more nutritionally dense and some fruits contain a lot of sugar (which is fine if your exercising regularly but may not be so good for you if your sedentary). For moderately-active to active people, 3 to 5 pieces of fruit a day is fine (1 piece is equivalent to an apple, a banana, a medium slice of pineapple, a big handful of berries etc.). Dried fruit should be avoided, it’s far too calorie dense.

Cook for yourself

The most surefire way to know exactly what you’re putting into your body is to prepare your own food (or as much of it as possible).

I’ve always loved cooking but if you can’t, now is the time to learn. You don’t need to be a master chef either. Just learn a few healthy recipes that you like and alternate them.

You don’t have time, you say? I’m a time-efficiency freak so I’ve developed a few routines to keep my kitchen time as low as possible. The trick is to cook in bulk. I prepare up to 10 meals worth of food in a gigantic pot, divide it into separate containers, freeze it and then just heat it up when I need it. At any one time, my freezer is full of different chilies, curries and stews ready to be eaten at a moments notice.

Eliminate grains from your diet

I never buy bread, pasta or rice. Grains, especially processed ones are simply sources of calories and provide little nutritional value when compared to other carbohydrate sources such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, plantains and legumes.

Whatever nutrients they do contain are poorly absorbed due to compounds they contain called phytates which bind to minerals in food and prevent their absorption in your gut. So all you get is a hefty dose of carbohydrates that wreaks havoc with your blood sugar and will leave you feeling hungry in a few short hours.

The worst offenders are gluten containing grains such as wheat, rye, barley and oats as the gluten content has a negative effect on digestibility and gut health which, although not having as strong an affect in the general population as in people with coeliac disease, can result in sub-par physical condition. Think of how full you felt the last time you had a heavy meal full of pasta or bread, it probably took quite a while for that uncomfortably full, bloated feeling to subside. That’s more than likely the gluten blocking up your digestive tract.

Do this as a test; entirely eliminate gluten containing grains and their products from your diet for about 3 weeks and then have a meal containing bread or pasta. Do not expect to feel well a few hours later!

Eliminate processed sugar

SUGAR IS THE DEVIL!!! Repeat it until the phrase sticks in your head folks, “Sugar is the devil”.

This one point alone will have a huge affect on your health (and appearance).

The real culprit in sugar is probably fructose which more and more scientific studies are showing has negative affects on health when consumed in excess (which is what most people consume). It has been linked to obesity, liver damage, high blood pressure and even gout. No one wants gout!

Unfortunately, sugar is as addictive as crack (or so I’ve read) and is ubiquitous in modern processed foods. Sugar is pure carbohydrate with absolutely no nutritional value and you should avoid it in all it’s forms so check labels for the following; table sugar, high fructose corn-syrup, honey, raw cane sugar, fructose, sucrose, rice syrup, agave syrup etc. Although some of these are lauded as health foods, they are virtually all identical; almost pure sugar, devoid of fiber and containing only trace amounts (if any) of vitamins and minerals.

I have, in the past, dropped my body-fat significantly by simply eliminating foods containing refined sugar, and nothing else, from my diet.

Remember, “Sugar is the devil!”

Get enough protein

Be it animal or vegetable protein, aim for about one gram per kilogram of lean body-weight. Protein helps to repair your body (especially after strenuous exercise) and keeps you feeling fuller for longer than carbs or fat.

Good sources are lean meats, fish, eggs and (if your a vegetarian/vegan) properly cooked legumes like lentils and beans. A simple rule of thumb is that you get between 20-25 grams of protein per 100 grams of uncooked meat or legumes.

Get adequate Omega-3 oils

Diets high in Omega-3 oils have been shown to improve symptoms of chronic inflammation (such as arthritis and psoriasis), depression, heart disease and a whole host of other ailments common in the modern world. Unfortunately they’re not so easy to consume if you don’t eat a lot of oily fish, like trout and salmon, which are amongst the best sources of these healthy fats.

While Omega-3 oils can be found in plant sources like flax and chia seeds, walnuts and hemp oil, they need to be converted to more active forms (EPA and DHA) by the body, which is not very efficient at doing this. So in my opinion the best way to get them is to eat a large portion of fatty fish such as salmon, trout or mackerel once a week. If you’re a fan of salmon sashimi like I am this will be good new for you. If you’re not a big fish fan (like I was before I lived in Japan and Colombia) you can always buy Omega-3 supplements (of which Krill-oil is now supposed to be the best option).

Exercise

Your body was made to move and if your not moving, your doing yourself a great disservice. Doing any type of exercise is better than doing none but I really recommend lifting weights (here’s the routine I recommend that actually made me love going to the gym) for the huge changes it can bring about in your appearance and in how you feel everyday. Lifting weights is a great form of exercise for both men and women (ladies, don’t believe any “lies” you may have heard about women who lift weights ending up looking like the incredible hulk, it just doesn’t happen like that. Some of the most beautiful bodies I have ever seen have been those of women who lift weights regularly).

This is what you look like without exercise. Remember: diet makes you look good in clothes, exercise makes you look good naked!!!

This is what you look like without exercise.
Remember: diet makes you look good in clothes, exercise makes you look good naked!!! (The spelling mistake isn’t mine)

If you can’t find a gym try body weight exercises like push-ups, chin-ups etc at home. If you can’t do anything else, running is fine but you get much more bang for your buck, so to speak, by dedicating your time to more intense exercise like weightlifting.

That said, the effect of regular, low intensity exercise can’t be ignored. I know from experience that I lose weight quickly if I’m social dancing 3 or 4 times a week and when I’m cycling a lot. A bicycle is usually one of the first things I buy when I move to a new city and I try to travel by bike as much as possible so I’m getting some exercise everyday.

Avoid environmental toxins

This one, unfortunately, is not so easy to accomplish in the modern world. Our food, homes, cooking utensils and hygiene products are loaded with chemicals that disrupt hormones and in many cases are linked to cancer and other diseases.

For this, I try to reduce the amount of chemicals I use in my home as much as possible, I never cook with aluminium nor  non-stick cook-wear and I reduce the amount of contact my food has with plastics of all types.

Fast

These days, people eat a lot, so much so that we can rarely truly say that we have an empty stomach. A great deal of research these days is revealing the beneficial effects of fasting, especially in the area of weight loss.

I’ve practiced fasting, in one form or another, since I was in university and have always felt better because of it. It gives your body, especially your digestive system, a chance to rest and reset for itself and it has a hugely beneficial effect on the hormonal systems involved in repair, weight loss and blood sugar control. I used to do a weekly one day fast but now I practice intermittent fasting (eating a late lunch and dinner and no breakfast) almost everyday.

Not only do I feel healthier doing this but I also save a huge amount of time during the day as instead of eating 4 times a day, as I used to, I only eat two big meals daily which means I spend a lot less time preparing food and have more free time to dedicate to things I want/need to do. Hunger pangs are rare and when they do happen they last for less than 5 minutes and then disappear. I also feel an amazing mental clarity while I’m fasting which I can only attribute to much more stable blood sugar and hormones. Give it a try and feel the difference.

Be flexible

The world is not perfect and neither are humans. No one can be expected to eat perfectly all the time. Life gets in the way; parties, dinners, dates, holidays, stress etc. can all mess up the best of intentions. If you slip up, accept it and get back on track as quickly as possible (I find fasting a great way to reset the system after a lapse into poor eating) and remember it’s what you do most of the time that maters rather than what you do 100% of the time.

If you need help sticking to any type of eating habit you can find a whole load of useful tips in these articles here and here.

Looking at this list now, it doesn’t appear to be as concise as I had first expected. Still, I hope you found something useful here and it helps you make your life and your body a little (hopefully a lot) healthier.

I love talking about health so I’d love to hear your comments and questions on this post.

Stay healthy and keep dancing.

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Fiona Uyema

Japanese Cookbook Author

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