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Knowledge blog

Nutrition part 4.

A shit story: Is your digestive system healthy?

A great indicator is your stool and how regularly you deposit one! 

So here we go, lets talk about the taboo subject of your poo. If you are a healthy adult you should be 'producing' a minimum of one stool per day and your stool should come out quickly and easily without straining. It should be large, spongy and shouldn't smell. It should also float. If your bowels are behaving badly then you need to look at your diet and lifestyle as your digestive health is very important and an excellent indicator of your overall health.

The key to a healthy gut good nutrition and importantly fibre! It's really that simple. Your diet should be made up of a variety of whole grains, oats, beans, pulses and lentils, fruit, vegetables and nuts; all of which contain naturally occurring fibre.

There are two types of fibre; soluble and insoluble. 

  • Soluble fibre helps lower cholesterol and is found in beans, oats, barley, broccoli, prunes, apples and citrus fruits. 

  • Insoluble fibre is as it says; insoluble, it passes through your gut undigested scraping off intestinal plaque that builds up in your gut. This keeps your gut clean, speeds up the digestive process and carries some fat with it too! So don't spend lots of money on a colonic just eat more fibre. Insoluble fibre is found in many fruits and vegetables. 

Eating plenty of naturally occurring fibre helps you stay healthy and keeps your digestive process running smoothly. It is important however not to eat fibre that has been removed from its original source and artificially added to your food like 'all bran' for example. Because it is not a 'whole' food and not in its natural state there is an un- naturally high volume of fibre per gram of food. This means that this sort of fibre can actually cause malnutrition, as fibre is water soluble and needs a lot of hydrogen molecules. Therefore if you're eating too much in one go it can stop you from absorbing water soluble vitamins as there is a lack of hydrogen molecules for them to attach to and can also make you dehydrated. It is also important to mention that you shouldn't overeat on natural fibre as well. 

Your lifestyle can also affect your gut health, for example; bloating, constipation, cramps and IBS can all be caused by stress and poor posture. If you're stressed and secreting too much cortisol (stress hormone) your body starts to behave in fight or flight mode. It changes the balance of your hormones affecting your state of homeostasis sending your body's systems spiralling, affecting overall hormone secretion, blood flow, water retention, your circadian rhythm and also your muscular tension and posture. Poor posture from for example a tight chest, rigid ribs, a weak core and/or a tight upper back in your thoracic spine can cause your blood flow to the gut to become restricted and your diaphragm can become dysfunctional. The diaphragm can constrict around your oesophagus, and sit too high partially contracted or in spasm which causes the flow of food into the stomach to become restricted and delayed. It also changes your intra-abdominal pressure causing your organs to sit too high and squashed together restricting their blood flow and ability to function properly. 

Mindfulness, exercise and body therapys are ​excellent remedies to heal your digestive health by balancing your mind and body and releasing physical and mental tensions that cause your body to become contorted. The Release Me! movement therapy exercises will help you change your posture by learning how to switch specific muscles on and off. 

Are you well hydrated? 

We all know we should drink approximately 2 litres of water a day and more if you sweat, but how do you know when you’ve had enough? A key indicator here is your urine, your urine should be almost colourless and odourless. This is the best way to track your hydration. If your urine is yellow and has a pungent smell to it then you need to drink more now! When you initially start a hydration programme your body isn’t used to, you will make quite a few trips to the toilet. This is because your body hasn’t recognised your new schedule as a habit yet. It takes approximately two weeks for your body to recognise that this isn’t just a fad and then it will allow the additional water to be utilised by your body and you will frequent the toilet less often.

Being hydrated with plain water is essential for good health. Water helps flush our system and keep it clean, it is needed in the absorption of vitamins A,D,E and K and is essential for concentration and healthy brain function. Our body is made up of over 70% water and so it is essential to replace the water lost through sweat and internal maintenance. You can keep hydrated from eating lots of fruit and vegetables that hold a lot of water and plain tap water, there is no need to spend lots of money on bottled water. 

Nutrition part 3.

The best way to start the day.

The word 'breakfast' comes from the act of 'breaking fast'. When you sleep you are fasting so your body lowers its metabolism (your ability to burn calories) accordingly to save energy. When you wake up it will be running very low so you need to eat breakfast to raise your metabolism and give your body the energy boost it needs to start the day. There are many different thoughts about when to have breakfast and everyone is different so finding the right time for you is important. Our body runs on its own circadian rhythm and you need to allow for your digestive system to wake up and prepare to accept food before you start eating. This can be around 30 minutes after you wake up. If eating breakfast is a new habit it will take longer for you to feel hungry as your body isn't expecting food so you will need to slowly introduce breakfast as part of a new routine by eating a bit later and small portions so that you don't suddenly overload your system. By eating a healthy breakfast you will give your body the best start to the day, so you will be full of energy!

What is a good breakfast? 

A good breakfast needs three main components; complex carbohydrates, protein and 'good' fats. Complex carbohydrates release energy slowly throughout the morning keeping your metabolism at a steady rate, enabling you to burn calories and fuel your body's functions effectively. Your body uses protein to build and repair tissues. You also use protein to make enzymes, hormones, and other body chemicals. Protein is an important building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood. Fats are important carriers for vitamin and mineral absorption, provide energy and produce important hormones.

Complex carbohydrates are found in: 

  • Oats

  • Whole food muesli / cereal

  • Wholemeal / rye bread

  • Whole grains

  • Fruit

Protein and fats are found in:

  • Oats

  • Nuts / seeds

  • Avocado

  • Eggs

  • Nut butter (make sure it is pure nut butter and no added palm oil like Meridian)

  • Fish

 

Note: Be careful to avoid sugars or sweeteners at breakfast unless they are natural in the form of fruit or honey. Sugars and sweeteners will spike your blood sugars giving you a quick but temporary sugar high followed by a massive energy crash, sending your endocrine system (hormones) into overdrive to deal with the influx of sugar and upsetting your natural metabolic rhythm. Always check the label on cereal boxes as you may be surprised to know that most breakfast cereals including some 'healthy' muesli options are full of sugars and sweeteners. 

Nutrition part 2.

Eat a rainbow every day. 

We've all heard the advice to eat 5 fruit and vegetables a day, however new advice suggests we should be eating a rainbow of colours a day too. Firstly, when it comes to choosing your five a day don't forget it must be made up of 5 different types of fruit and vegetables. Easting 5 bananas is still just counts as one and now more importantly is only one of the 4 colour groups you need. With this new evidence you also need to think about how many different colours you are consuming. 

The science bit:

New scientific research shows that it is the colour in the fruit and vegetables that make them special. Within each colour pigment are disease-fighting phytochemicals that have been scientifically proven to help protect against certain cancers, arthritis, heart disease and even premature ageing! It is important that you eat a variety of brightly coloured fruit and vegetables every day to reap the full benefits. 

When choosing your five a day you need to select a variety of colours from each of the four colour groups listed below to make the most of their antioxidant properties. 

Red: Strawberries, pink grapefruit, apples, cranberries, cherries, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, radishes, watermelon, grapes. 

Benefits: 

• can help protect against cancer

• keep your heart healthy

• improve vision

• improve memory

• help avoid urinary tract infections

Yellow/Orange: Apricots, cantaloupe and gala melons, mango, peaches, papaya, oranges, satsumas, grapefruit, bananas, pineapple, nectarines, carrots, swede, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, yellow and orange peppers, pumpkin, sweetcorn. 

Benefits: 

• contain vitamin A - good for healthy skin and vision

• may reduce the risk of lung cancer

• reduce inflammation associated with arthritis

• natural sunblock

Green: Asparagus, avocado, rocket, spinach, lettuce, watercress, cucumber, broccoli, brussel sprouts, leafy cabbage, spring greens, beans, peas, sugar snap peas, mangetout, cress, courgette peppers, spring onion, leeks, apples, grapes, kiwi fruit. 

Benefits: 

• the antioxidants act as 'natural' sun glasses

• can help prevent cancer

Blue/Purple: Blackberries, blueberries, grapes, black currents, plums, prunes, rasins, red cabbage, red onions, aubergine. 

Benefits: 

• keep your heart healthy

• reduce risk of strokes

• help protect against cancer

• improve memory

Understanding pain - Part 4

Stress. 

 

Stress counts as pain; it affects your mental health, hormone balance, muscular tension, digestion, energy levels, I could keep going! So understanding how you can control your stress is transformative, it gives you back the power. 

 

So what can you do if you're stressed?

 

Remove yourself from the situation. This is often the hardest thing to do but this doesn't actually mean you have to physically remove yourself. The most enlightening thing I have ever been told is that we have the ability to decide how we feel about anything, that we have a choice. Therefore if a situation is causing you to feel stressed, you can choose to change your emotional response. This is not always easy and sometimes requires professional assistance by someone like myself or a therapist but here are a few simple things you can do yourself.

 

  • Breathe! Take control of your body. It seems obvious but we often forget to 'take a breath'. Allow yourself just a few minutes or even 30 seconds to focus just on your breathing; deep full breaths to slow your heart rate and calm you. By taking deliberate breaths you take control of your body, you now control your personal environment (body) you now decide on your heart rate. Just in that moment nothing else matters and you will find yourself naturally start to calm.   

  • Mindfulness. Take control of your mind. Zone out of the world for a few minutes mentally, stop the noise in your head of to do lists, negative thoughts, goals, worries etc and just 'be' in a clear mind for a moment. This creates 'space' to change how we feel. When we are calm we have the ability to use our rational mind where we make better decisions and can control how we choose to feel about a situation, when we feel in chaos or stressed our survival brain takes over and rational thought goes out the window. 

  • Journalling. Writing down how we feel about a situation helps our brain to process our emotions and the situation we are in. The active process of journalling allows you to focus just on you and how you feel, don't just try to keep going. Stop, reflect, listen to your mind, emotions, concerns and write them down. Get them out. The result of written word or pictures on paper gives you visual feedback of seeing it from an outside perspective which allows you to process it differently. Again it gives you control of your mind and that 'space' away from your stress. You are not just experiencing it, you are processing it!

 

These three simple techniques help remove you from the stressful situation and bring your control back therefore allowing you to change or choose how you feel. Even if you just feel LESS stressed thats an achievement in itself!

 

Here is a mindfulness video to get you started.

Nutrition part 1

Diets don’t work – but why not? 

A diet is usually a temporary state that isn't healthy to sustain over long periods, resulting in short term results. This can result in many harmful effects on your body; low metabolism, increased body fat, water loss and a feeling of deprivation. 

Calorie restrictive diets: 

A diet usually reduces your calories to a dangerous level below your BMR. Your BMR stands for; Basal Metabolic Rate, which is the amount of calories your body needs in a day to function at its lowest basic level. If you go below this level your body will go into starvation mode. 

What does this mean? 

Your metabolism (the rate at which you can burn calories) will be lowered to allow for the reduction in energy. 

• Fatigue and lack of concentration are good indicators of this.

• This then escalates and you will start storing fat rather than losing it as your body is trying to conserve more energy reserves.

 

If you do lose weight some of it might be fat but most of it will be water mass from your muscles, or in some cases a loss of bone density resulting in a very unhealthy body that can cause long term damage to your health. 

Food restrictive diets: 

When you go on a diet that restricts allot of food types you can become malnutritioned as variety really is the spice of life. In ideal world we should be eating up to 20 different types of food a day to ensure we consume all the nutrients we need. 

What happens if we don't get enough nutrients? 

When you don't consume these nutrients your body can start to extract nutrients from your bones reducing your bone density. 

• Your organs can start to breakdown

• Fatigue, bad skin, bad bowel movements and headaches are good indicators that something needs to change.

What happens when you return back to your normal diet? 

When you stop a diet and return to your old eating habits you can actually put on more weight than you lost and twice as quickly. This is a response to the damage you have done to your body whilst on the diet and the fact that you didn't change your eating habits for the long term. 

Why? 

 If you're metabolism has lowered then when you go back to eating your usual diet your body will still be storing extra fat and burning energy slowly therefore twice the weight gain! Short term diets means short term 'gains' I use the word 'gains' carefully because as we just discussed there isn't much to gain. Once you go back to your usual habits your usual shape and weight will come back. 

A diet doesn't resolve the issue of poor eating. You haven't addressed anything on a permanent basis therefore falling in to the trap of yo yo dieting. The key to long term success is to make permanent changes that YOU feel are sustainable. Remember it is YOUR choice; never eat anything you don't enjoy for the sake of being healthy it is just not worth it and you won't stick to it. 

Eating should be a pleasurable experience and you can still indulge and eat the foods you love, just learn the art of moderation. If you want faster results add exercise in to the mix and you're on to a winner. 

Small changes can make the biggest difference, make a change today and see what you can achieve.

Understanding pain - Part 1

Listen to your body.

Pain is your body's warning signal asking for change and it is important to understand what your brain is telling you and whether it is correct.

Many people suffer from pain on a daily basis and just ignore it hoping it will go away. It may seem to go away and then you get a random new pain somewhere else and so on. This is your body using its coping mechanisms to change your neuromuscular pathways to try and move you away from the original pain. It will do this for as long as it can until you run out of other options and that's when severe pain or injury happens. "My back just went and I don't know why?" Pain is a warning signal asking you for change, so please listen to your body and always seek professional help. 

Pain can also be the result of perceived weakness or injury. The mind is so powerful, our perception of our own ability and physical state can create pain/warning signals where there is no physical risk just our perceived risk. This is common after a serious injury or a longterm constant pain. The good news is this can be reprogrammed through rehabilitation.

Learn to qualify your pain and listen to your body! Knowledge is power, literally.

Understanding pain - Part 3

Physical pain and mental pain understanding your limits.

No pain, no gain???

No, the wrong pain equals no gain at all! Understanding your limits and where your personal fatigue point is, is incredibly important for your training to be safe and effective.

The most important part of your training program is to execute all exercises with the best technique that you can for perfect practice. When you perform an exercise with good technique you are not only becoming stronger, fitter, more flexible, you are also teaching yourself how to use your body effectively for functional movement and good posture. Therefore your brain's ability to retain this new neuromuscular information is equally important.

Our brain's goal is to survive each moment maintaining homeostasis as best it can. (Homeostasis - a stable equilibrium between interdependent elements.) Therefore it does not like pain and it will do everything in its power to keep you away from pain, so understanding different types and levels of pain is very important to ensure an effective workout.

 

Physical pain: good pain or bad pain.

  • The gradual fatigue of your muscle strength causing a warm burning sensation that builds progressively in the active muscles is typically due to a build up of lactic acid as your muscles are not able to get enough oxygen. This is your muscles reaching their maximum effort and is part of a good workout. When you feel this start to happen you can work into this pain within reason as it is 'good' pain, your body is progressing its fitness. Whilst it is important to progress your body it is also important not injure yourself. You should still be able to say your address out loud and take at least 3 to 5 breaths without the pain causing you to stop or lose focus. Aim to stop at this point. Once you pass this point and it starts to feel unbearable, stabbing, ripping or you can only concentrate on the pain, you have gone too far. You will be at risk of injury and importantly you have moved into a 'bad' pain point and so your brain will not want to retain any new neuromuscular information as it deems it negative.

  • Stabbing, ripping, sharp, spasming, twanging or gripping pain is 'bad' pain. You are at risk of injury or have caused an injury. Any pain that causes you to lose focus, take a sharp intake of breath, lose your ability to perform with good technique; this is your body sending you a warning signal asking for change as it feels at risk. STOP the exercise immediately. You can not gain anything by working through this kind of pain other than an injury!

  • Most importantly this is not a fight, it should not feel like you are fighting or struggling with your body. Do not chase pain your body will not thank you.

Mental pain: good pain or bad pain.

  • Mental fatigue; this counts as pain! Your brain is a muscle and it has a maximum effort too when it comes to it's learning ability. If you start to lose focus when performing an exercise and become stressed, annoyed, frustrated, like you are failing because you are unable to perform it and it just keeps going wrong. STOP. Walk away and take a mental break from trying to learn it. When you move into this negative mental space of learning your brain will not retain this new information as it will associate it with the 'bad' mental pain it has caused you. I always stick with the saying "quit whilst you're ahead" when it comes to mental fatigue. When you are completing an exercise well and are fatiguing nicely to a point of exertion, this is 'good' mental fatigue pain, where you are still maintaining perfect practice and feel positive you have achieved your goal. Your brain will want to retain this positive information and so the next time you complete this exercise it will be easier and you will progress. There is no gain in pushing further. (The only exception to the rule is if you are training with a professional for a specific event where you need to learn how to keep going.)

 

Your perceived level of exertion can help you measure where you are. This works on a scale of 1 to 10 and is your own personal scale, everyone will be different.

  • 1 is easy, you can keep doing this all day.

  • 4 is effort and a good learning level to allow you time to get your execution right.

  • 5 is getting tough your ability (physical or mental) is limited but manageable.

  • 7 is a near maximum effort before you lose focus or move into 'bad' pain.

  • 8 is really pushing close to your absolute maximum effort and should be performed under professional supervision.

  • 10 is the most pain you can take before you pass out! You NEVER want to get here.

 

When performing an exercise to achieve your 'gain' (mental or physical) you want to stay within the range of 5 to 7. 

  • If your goal is strength you are feeling that burn and your ability to perform the exercise diminish but you are in control.

  • If your goal is cardiovascular you have an elevated heart rate but it is not building uncontrollably and your breathing is short but you can still say your full name without needing to take a breath. 

  • If your goal is mental, to learn a new movement pattern for example, then you feel able to concentrate on the perfect practice technique and it is becoming difficult but you are not losing technique.

  • If your goal is flexibility, you are feeling an elongation stretch of the target muscle that feels nice and opening and then starts to ease.

Always exercise safely and if you are unsure seek professional guidance.

 

Understanding pain - Part 2

The power of words.

Our belief systems are incredibly powerful, they determine how we will physically and psychologically respond to any situation.

The words that we use to describe our belief in our physical ability to perform an action will cause a neuromuscular response, determining which muscles we use and what tension to hold them under. This gives us the power to mentally rehabilitate ourselves away from pain by changing our belief systems.

 

For example;

"I can't do a plank as I have a bad lower back"

The key words here are CAN'T and BAD. This will cause the fear of injury or pain response; 

Physically your body will contract the muscles in your lower back to restrict and stabilise the movement in your spine with the aim of reducing the risk of injury as you believe it is vulnerable. This however causes two immediate problems:

1. This will increase the arch and compression in your spine putting pressure on the vertebral discs and put your back muscles under strain actually increasing the risk of injury.

2. If you contract your lower back, because the body works by reciprocal inhibition, you will therefore not be able to contract your lower abdominal muscles and these are one of the muscles you are actually wanting to strengthen by performing a plank.  

 

Psychologically you don't believe you can do it so your body will have "the fear"! This causes its own set of problems:

1. Your whole body will be held under increased tension in a lockdown effect to protect you from injury. This will cause you to fatigue more quickly and muscles that are held under too much tension are again more prone to injury.

2. Your "can't" belief means you've mentally failed before you've started. Therefore your brain is likely to send warning pain signals to your lower back to encourage you to stop for fear of injury even if there is no actual risk of injury.

 

These responses therefore decrease your ability to perform a plank and will most likely result in your back feeling weak, in pain and you needing to stop quickly.

 

So how can you change these belief systems? 

1. Don't approach an exercise already believing you CAN'T do it. Believe that you have the ability to LEARN to do it. Or "I can't do it YET!" This allows your brain to focus on the potential of learning the 'yet' rather than the immediate shut down of 'can't'.  

2. Believe in change, so a 'BAD' back can be strengthened. This again provides us with that much needed 'potential' which is positive and provides options.

Therefore our sentence can change to;

 

"I would like to be able to do a plank to help strengthen my back." 

Our new key words are now positive with a focus on the ability to learn. This means you are open to change and your body will be focused on strengthening. Therefore you will be more relaxed physically and mentally and focused on what you are actually doing rather than focusing your energy on what you are trying not to do. 

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