Sugar demon cure

Let’s talk sugar.

This has to be the biggest betrayal of my life. 12 teaspoons of hidden sugar in my typical lunch time meal from a well known “health” chain. 12!

When you learn to read labels, and understand them i.e. 1 teaspoon of sugar is roughly equivalent to 3.5g of sugar on a label, then you start to see the truth oh so clearly. We’re unknowingly being poisoned by added sugar.

You know a lot of medical professionals are tagging Alzheimers as type 3 Dibeties these days. Sugar has a hell of a lot to account for.

So, with haste, let’s take control of the sugar crisis for ourselves. It’s surprising easy to do when you know how.

First, the measurement – 3.5g of sugar per teaspoon. Work out what this looks like for each item you usually purchase or are thinking about purchasing in the supermarket. Check out your fridge and cupboards. I threw away about a third of my products (part-used my I add, but with the knowledge I now have, giving them away might well have made me feel pangs of guilt!).

Second, quit the fruit juice, squash (added to water), and junk food. The amount of sugar in these products is astounding. For instance, the orange juice I’ve purchased before now had 4 teaspoons of sugar – per glass! What many don’t know is that when fruit is juiced (even if you do this at home yourself), the fibre in the fruit is eliminated leaving only the fructose, which is pure sugar. No nutritional value whatsoever.

Junk food is much the same, and to be honest I’ve extended this line of thought, supported by a ton of research, to all processed foods. Junk food isn’t food, and it’s changed the way we view and consume food, which is extremely sad.

Thirdly, watch out for dressings and sauces. If you go to a restaurant or pick up a lunch tray from a well known chain, ask for or buy one with the dressing and/or sauce on the side. Both are typically packed with sugar, e.g. BBQ sauce is usually around 55% sugar. I mean really.

Fourth, try not to substitute with sweeteners. When you taste sugar your body thinks sugar is coming and gets ready for it. It leaves you with an even bigger craving than before. I now view it similarly to methadone for crack addicts. And in case you think that’s extreme, Mark Hyman, a physician, scholar and New York Times best-selling author, has research to suggest sugar is 8 times as addictive as cocaine. I’m serious.

And fifth, so.. fat.. right, so that’s actually good for you as part of a balanced diet. All the crap we’ve been fed about reducing fat and all the many low-fat options available – they have stripped the taste and replaced all that reduced flavour with… you guessed it, twice the sugar. Basically, read “half the fat” as “double the sugar”.

Phew.

These days I’m pretty relaxed about life. But I have to say, this has got me angry.

Very few people seem to realise what is being added without their knowledge. My inquisitive nature sparked after watching Food.Inc on Amazon Prime, a free documentary. It’s not even about sugar, but concerns the food industry (in the US) in connection with meat and poultry. It led me to researching food in general, and my goodness, what a box to open. But what sparked the most interest, and utter horror if I’m frank, is hidden sugar in what we consume.

What the food industry labels as healthy, as diet-friendly, is nothing but a lie. Once you go digging there’s a lot to find, it’s just being successfully suppressed by that industry. Many parallels are being drawn with the tobacco industry 20 years ago. Tobacco industry leaders swore under oath that it didn’t cause disease, that didn’t cause lung cancer. We all know now that they lied through their teeth, but people didn’t know THEN. We’re facing the same paradox with sugar consumption.

I mentioned the newly coined “type 3 Diabetes” earlier – well, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The number of diseases that a high sugar diet is linked to is overwhelming. Study after study makes the link between increased sugar consumption over the last 30 years with the increase in child obesity. Child obesity was rare 30 years ago – what’s changed? Hmm.

Lastly, I have to say I’ve been shocked by what I’ve been able to find on this. The research is more than compelling, it’s knockout. But what I have realised as well, is it’s manageable – you can choose better without lots of time and effort spent:

  • Check labels, calculate teaspoons of sugar per product by dividing by 3.5g
  • Cut out junk and juice now !
  • Be conscious of what is in your dressings and sauces.
  • Don’t fake sugar.
  • Don’t buy reduced fat products.
  • Stay active, it still counts toward around 30% of your weight management, and has huge health benefits.
  • Get educated, watch and read it for yourself. If you’re just getting started, watch “That Sugar Film” by Damon Gameau. It really is worth it. Other sources of information can be found on podcasts such as “Sugar Podcast”, and some other famous names in the fight against added sugar are Dr. Robert Lustig, Stephanie Soechtig, Dr. David Ludwig and Sarah Wilson.

So, to everyone opening the box to this travesty, I hope this is the start of your empowerment in managing your health and wellbeing in a new way. I can only hope the people wave on this will start to create real change at a grass roots level. I feel this might be the only way to topple the food industry lies, and curb the disease-ridden futures a lot of our population are facing.

After 2 weeks of cutting added sugar I’m heading out of the withdrawal phase – I woke up with headaches most days and felt a little agitated in the middle of the working day when I’d normally get my sugary caffeine fix post-lunch – but on the whole it’s been relatively easy, and I know it was worth that short phase of relative difficulty. I feel like this is a really easy choice, an easy enough tweak to my lifestyle. It might not be for everyone, but I guess a lot of it is up to the individual, and their own bloody mindedness to make a change.

If it helps my normal day of food and drink now looks like this:

  • Roughly 50-100ml of water at the gym.
  • Shredded wheat with a tablespoon of oats, sugar free almond milk, handful of almonds, teaspoon of chia seeds, half teaspoon of cinnamon powder, OR two thin slices of rye bread, small amount of butter, and marmite.
  • Salad (usually green leaves, beetroot, fresh herbs) and poached salmon, OR green leaves, lentils, beetroot puree and feta.
  • Roughly 50ml of water.
  • Artisan coffee with full fat milk.
  • Mixed nuts (unsalted) or banana.
  • 2 “shots” of coconut water (never from concentrate).
  • Palm-sized portion of chicken or fish, grilled and/or stir-fried vegetables (at least 3) and a small portion of sweet potato or rye bread.
  • Roughly 50ml of water.
  • Small portion of blueberries.
  • One piece of 90% cocoa dark chocolate.

I’ve lost 2.5kg in 2 weeks – the only thing I’ve done is reduce my added sugar intake – NOT my calories. My daily calorie intake has actually gone up ever so slightly. And this is the the big learning about calories – a calorie isn’t just a calorie. It depends what food source that calorie is coming from as to how it’s burned. A “sugar calorie” is more often than not turned into fat – fat and protein calories are often not.Blowing your mind, right!  Sugar with no fibre attached just hits your liver with force. Here’s the science-y bit – I promise it’s worth the read…

The only organ that can metabolise sugar is the liver. Highly active individuals (we’re talking athletes) can eat quite a bit of fructose without problems, because their livers will turn the fructose into glycogen – a storage form of glucose in the liver. However, when someone’s liver is already full of glycogen (which is true of most people), the fructose is turned into fat, contributing to fatty liver disease. At the same time, your liver becomes insulin resistant, which can lead to obesity, metabolic syndrome and many other diseases. Eventually, the pancreas will become unable to secrete sufficient insulin to drive blood glucose into cells. At this point, blood sugar levels elevate significantly, and that’s when a diagnosis of Diabetes is made.

This is what’s going so wrong with the world of health, all those fatty waistlines and clogged arteries. Hidden sugar is the hidden truth we’ve been needing to hear for so long now. Let it be known.

Emily x

Don’t tolerate deprivation, make a plan

What are you feeling deprived of?

On a scale of 1-10 (low-high), how do you feel about the following:

  • Sleep
  • Time to yourself/ Freedom
  • Physical/ Mental energy
  • Emotional support
  • Love
  • Friendship
  • Career opportunities.

So, with a little clarity, what next?  –You ask why.

Anyone can develop an unconscious habit of self deprivation. Usually it results from a childhood trauma. Ask yourself where this really stems from, when it started.

As the years pass, you learn to tolerate deprivation, you come to expect it, it feels familiar. Tell yourself you’re not going to tolerate it any longer. You have the strength to break any cycle.

Now what?  –You make a plan.

For example, there was a time in my life I felt socially deprived. I had two friendships hanging by a thread, family I took for granted, and I’d just (rightly!) ended a long term romantic relationship. It was time to take stock and from then, I decided things had to change.

I already understood where pushing people away started. I was badly bulled in two schools, and I protected myself by keeping people at arms length. I started reading up on how to break the barriers I’d formed, to try and take control of something I felt was marring my life.

I took the fairly drastic step of moving to London. Something I’d told myself wasn’t for me – busy, busy, too many people. Well, people we’re exactly what I needed!

I moved jobs, and eventually sold my flat and rented in North London. Ouch!

I quickly set about rebuilding my two existing friendships- I just needed to make time for them, be organised, prioritise them. I started seeing a lot more of my sister, building a stronger sisterly bond. Actually, I spent more time with my whole family. I met two really fantastic people at work, who became two very good friends. And, I met (and married!) a wonderful man, and my best friend in the world.

I’m never going to be someone with hoards of friends, and that’s ok by me. As long as I have a small number of people I’m close to, that I can share the highs and lows, and laughs with, I’m good 🙂

I feel I’ve come a long way since those days of feeling lonely and unsure about what I could bring to a friendship, and equally what they could bring me. I know it helped to come away from what I knew, a comfort zone of sorts, and start afresh to tackle this head on. Forcing myself to be exposed and vulnerable wasn’t easy – it really wasn’t, but I had a plan, I had a goal, and I was bloody-minded about it.

You can make small tweaks, or significant life changes – whatever works for you. The first step is identifying what’s missing. Then make a plan – mind map it. Get a blank piece of paper, start in the middle and work your way out – ideas all over the place! Then hone in on what’s doable, and what will make the difference. You may need to break your plan down into more manageable pieces. Mine wasn’t a quick fix, but it got me where I needed to be, to be happy. You can do it.

Emily x

Staying well in winter

Although I’m not for want of information about how to stay well in winter, it’s wading through all there is, and knowing the right things to do, for me.

Having had the flu and a subsequent cold in the space of 2 months, I’ve been seriously lax in keeping myself well this season!

So, in my sheer annoyance at the second bout of illness, I did my research to speed up my recovery, and limit the likelihood of coming down with other viruses being sneezed and spluttered at me on the overground when I was better!

So here’s my advice for..

Staying well:

  • Get the flu jab – seriously, find the time. This is the first year I’ve worked for a Company that don’t just provide it as a given, to staff. I thought, nah it’ll be fine. And nah, it wasn’t.
  • Layer up – Especially, wear a scarf, and try and keep your nose warm.
  • Hydrate – hot and cold liquids. I like fruit and herbal teas that don’t contain sugar or caffeine – too much sugar and caffeine can slow your recovery if you’re ill. In particular, ginger, peppermint and lemon are all great ones to try. Also, if plain water isn’t your thing, then a sugar-free squash is the answer.
  • Rest! – even if you’re not unwell, you need to rest when you can, to allow your body and mind time to relax in between battling the stresses of work and life, as well as the seasonal elements of the cold and wet weather!
  • Baths – total chill. If you’re like me and you don’t want to just sit in the quiet, then put on a podcast, or audio-book. Nothing too intense though! A few candles.. heaven.

And, if you’re unwell:

  • First thing in the morning you feel the worst! I take a pain killer first thing. It’s my only “non-natural” remedy when I’m ill. I stay clear of tablet medication the remainder of the day (unless I have a migraine, when something strong is most definitely needed!)
  • Honey, or liquid gold! – It contains antioxidants, gives you energy and helps you sleep. It’s also a natural antiseptic that will help sooth and heal a sore throat. Stir it into hot water, and enjoy. (Try not to drink or eat too much sugar in general, as this can slow recovery.)
  • Face steaming – sounds weird, but it’s absolutely amazing to be able to breath again if you have a stuffy cold! Stir half a teaspoon of Vix or suchlike, into a basin with a bit of boiling water in it. Put your head over it (not in it, of course!!) and put a towel over your head and the basin to trap in the steam. Breathe in, and wait as the vapours do their magic 🙂 (just be careful not to keep your eyes open when your breathing in the stream, as the vapour can make them feel sensitive).
  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine and excessive sugar.
  • Hold a hot water bottle over your nose like a nose strip, to try and sooth the inflammation.
  • Vaseline will stop your face getting chapped.
  • Rest, hydrate, repeat, in the warm.

Take care.

Emily x

Journaling to pacify

Writing a journal has been two things for me.

  1. In my teenage years it was an emotional outlet, a way to pacify overwhelming emotions, stress and anxiety, because I was badly bullied at school for 3 long years. After that period had passed, I read some of the pages back at random, and it gave me the power to acknowledge how I’d grown strong from that place.
  2. In my early adult years it was a tool for personal reflection and exploring new lines of thinking. At a time when you’re trying to answer those ‘meaning of life?’, ‘who am I?’ questions, it was a way of centering my thoughts, reconnecting with them in a positive, mind-cleansing way, and, for me specifically, it provided a safe vulnerability outlet for many years.

Now, I must say, my life and who I am is more clear to me than ever. And the bits that aren’t, I’m ok with finding along the way. Now I’m more of a list writing person. Future goals, in-the-moment ideas, insights into myself – capturing any thought is a form of journaling, and it helps me top up my personal clarity when things might be a little unsettled.

I’d recommend it to anyone who needs a healthy, easy accessible and affordable outlet, anytime.

P.s. a smart diary is a pretty lovely Christmas gift too 🙂

Emily x

The self care antidote to rumination

Rumination is over-thinking or obsessing about situations or life events, such as work or relationships.

The constant replay of a stressful event, or rather the story we tell ourselves about that event, entrenches a false belief that makes us think there is a real danger, and distorts how we think and feel – that self-talk that stress sets off.

With the knowledge that this is a thing, it’s common, I was suddenly very compelled to find a way to stop it happening to me. I read A LOT of papers and columns, and they all (there and abouts) said the same thing – the best counter is physical action and relaxation experiences. These can shift our focus of attention and shut off the stuck record. Not rocket science stuff here, but rather something in every persons control.

So, my healthy distractions became:

  • Mastering something outside of work – experiences, particularly involving others, make us happier than material things. Getting really good at something not connected with work gives you a level of control over how you day goes.

I’ve tried my hand at a few things – badminton, improv classes, learning Italian, learning piano (I actually bought one, and ending up selling it for more than I paid – I briefly considered opening an online shop :S). But I haven’t quite found my thing. I figure it’s part of the game, and I’m just going to keep on trying. Maybe I’m mastering trying! I’ve recently booked on a beginners photography course for the New Year.. let’s see.

  • Moving my butt – It’s easy to neglect exercise when rumination or mental exhaustion makes you want to curl up in a duvet. It requires time and energy, starting something new can be daunting, and the whole process doesn’t feel comfortable or familiar at first. But I realise a lot of doing it is making it routine to just get there – I mean physically getting to the place you workout, whether that be the gym, or any sports club or lessons. Then your only focus is on the workout itself, other things melt away for a while.

When I worked my first job I had someone to go with, and the gym was on the ground floor of the office, so exercise made it into my routine. Subsequent jobs didn’t make it easy so I neglected exercise for years. But this year I decided to look into commute options to my current job. I’ve chosen a certain route with a gym situated half way, and I know I do better in the mornings (evenings are for chilling!).

As a side note, it’s a total bonus having complete control over my commute by walking to the gym and on to work from there – no trains, buses, traffic. I didn’t appreciate the low level anxiety I felt with frequent London transport issues, until I decided to walk the 40 minute route each morning.

  • Actively clearing my mind – Meditation is a great way to calm an over-thinking mind, as it’s an exercise in not thinking. Those minutes each day are as much a part of our self care as eating well, getting enough sleep and brushing our teeth twice a day. I often use this time to tell myself a positive affirmation or mantra to ease the troubling thoughts of the day.

Outside of mantra meditation, the most frequent things I do to relax and clear my mind, are: read something inspiring, sit quietly and focus on a lighted candle, cook with my partner, snuggle up with a hot water bottle, take a bath, listen to guided meditation on you tube and i-tunes, spend weekends in the Cotswolds with family (one of my favourite places for nature and a unique stillness), sit in a quiet coffee shop and be in the moment for every sip of coffee – bonus if they have a window to sit by!

  • Listening to music that works for me – it can change our emotional temperature. I now have a growing playlist of meditation, zen and relaxation tracks, sounds of nature and piano music.

The thing about music is I’m often still going about normal everyday life, but this is on in the background as a kind of soother. Someone came up to me in Covent Garden the other day, and asked where I was from. When I replied “London”, he said I was the most chilled Londoner he’d ever seen, whilst we were in the mist of busy Christmas shopper crowds. I was half way through a sleep mediation album. It works in angry crowds too!

There are so many things that can be worked into life to shift our focus of attention, quiet the inner critic, and give your mind a break.

When I don’t feel on top of things in my life I start to find it harder to switch negative thoughts off, so I do these things now even when I feel great. Rather than dwelling, I feel strong enough most of the time to rationalise self-reflection by telling myself a positive story and filling my time with real, self caring experiences.

Emily x

Take charge of that full plate of yours

Numerous factors can equate to feelings of being overloaded, tired and stressed.

Because I can’t relate to this from a family management perspective, I’m coming at this from a work angle.

As Director of my team, I see the added value in helping them prioritise their work, being there to listen, and genuinely seeking the best for them day to day, in promoting positive employee wellbeing. Admittedly, it does make life difficult if your boss is not invested.

Whatever boss you have, if you see burnout on the horizon it’s important to be both clear and negotiable in explaining your current priorities and why you shouldn’t take on anything more right now.

For example, if your reason for saying no to your boss is that you don’t have enough time, prepare a list of the other tasks/projects on which you’re working, to discuss.

If in fact you need your manager to be more supportive in some way, be specific and come at it from a collaborative angle of “it would really help me.. if you..” rather than one that provokes a defensive response: “you’re not doing this..”.

If being overloaded is more about you – either needing a psychological detachment, getting better at delegating, or letting go of fear, this is less about a tactful approach and preparation, and more about finding strategies to overcome our own mental tendencies.

Taking a mental break from the job and flipping the off-switch on work concerns is super important. Research has shown that when people don’t regularly detach from work, there is a very real cost in terms of the depletion of mental and physical energy.

There’s a few ways we can switch-off from work:

  • manage the boundaries between work and other aspects of your life e.g. don’t send and respond to emails during the evenings, at weekends and whilst on holiday.
  • “unplug” and get away from electronic gadgets when you leave the office and long before bed.
  • do something meaningful with your time outside of work e.g. learn a new hobby or participate in a club.
  • Spend time with people you enjoy being around. Forward plan.

If you hold a fear of delegation or it doesn’t come naturally it can be ok for a while, but eventually the burden gains momentum. You can do a number of things to move this to a healthier place:

  • name the fear e.g. it won’t be done how I want, I feel a loss of control, I don’t want others taking the credit etc.
  • mind map ways to mitigate the named fear, that you are comfortable with.
  • delegate to the right people, and invest in training them where necessary.
  • Don’t play the blame game. Practice methods for greater tolerance and remember your team’s success and growth is a reflection of your success.

Whatever you need to take charge and make a positive change for yourself at work, there’s no better time than right now.

Emily x

Self care design

Taking care of yourself. Simple.

But when we’re busy and overwhelmed, a small reprieve can often feel like an indulgence.

Your physical, mental and emotional health should be a priority, not a luxury.

Ironically, self care is usually the first thing to go when we have a lot on.

If you’ve forgotten what it means to take care of yourself, I hope this blog will provide a steer toward.

Emily x