Weight loss doubled with a journal

September 24, 2009 by  
Filed under Diets


I am keen on journals for all kinds of reasons: they improve mental health if you ‘mind dump’ your thoughts every day, expand your creativity and put you in touch with your deeper feelings and processes.

Now it seems it can also help you lose weight – in fact it can double your weight loss. By keeping a simple food diary, you can see clearly what you are eating rather than ‘guessing’. Strangely, guessing results in you thinking you are eating less and exercising more but by using whatever method works best for you – email, pen and paper, a spreadsheet – you get a realistic estimate of how you are really doing.

A US study showed that after 20 weeks of journaling, reducing calories by 500 a day and exercising moderately the participants had an average weight loss of around 13 pounds. But, the more that they wrote in their journals, the more weight they lost and that meant about twice as much as a control group who didn’t write a journal.

Men are better than women at dieting

September 12, 2009 by  
Filed under Diets, Mens Health, Womens Health


Most men do not embrace the concept of dieting unless pushed to it by a health problem or a few gentle (ie nagging) remarks from their partner. But research shows that when they do decide to got it they are better at it than women.

Men have not been well served by the diet industry, partly because of inertia, but also because of embarrassment. The traditional dieting aids for women like slimming groups just do not attract men. Do not despair though because I have found a couple of resources that can really help.

First is a clever woman who realised men don’t like dieting in public, for example asking for a gin and slimline tonic still isn’t quite the thing – and actually from a health point of view that slimline tonic is worthless. It may have fewer calories but it also has a cocktail of chemicals in it – go for the real thing and get the benefit!

Jeni Blaskett decided to create a slimming group in which men would flourish and lose weight. One that meant that men could go about their daily routines without feeling they were losing face so she set up a website www.Beltdown.com exclusively for men

Beltdown’s key diet plan principle is unique, and couldn’t be easier to follow – ‘If you can’t wash it, try to avoid it’. So a cooked breakfast of eggs, bacon, tomatoes and mushrooms makes it onto the tick list, cake and biscuits do not. The website has plenty of info aimed specifically at men, such as which are the lowest calorie beers and curries, and the format allows for men to stay totally anonymous, whilst still getting the challenge, competitiveness and interaction of a group – but online.

If you have an internet connection, it costs £8 a month membership and is available 24/7 – so no more excuses skip over to www.beltdown.com

Men only

If you want a programme designed by a man who has been there and done that himself, then I can recommend Robert Paterson’s book ‘Warriors’. He found the same problems in going to slimming groups as Jeni describes so he put together a very successful programme that has all the elements needed for successful weight loss. It is particularly aimed at those who have found success in their careers but who, due to hectic lifestyles and lack of time, have lost their healthy body in the process.

He created a specially developed ‘business plan’ to show you how to: – Set targets you can meet – Devise sensible day-to-day eating plans – Motivate yourself when the going gets tough – Achieve long term success – Treat your body as your business

Robert was an international banker weighing 22 stone who lost 8 stone on his regime, and kept the weight off. He is now Chairman of the Emerging Markets Group and Chairman of Performance Consultants, Brasil. He is a spokesman for the British Heart Foundation and regularly competes in events to raise funds for them. You will find his book on Amazon by typing in his name and Warriors in their search box.

Alli – All it’s cracked up to be?

July 5, 2009 by  
Filed under Diets, Vitamins & Supplements


This is the time when the diet industry is maximising it’s advertising as we approach the season of maximum exposure. Great if you are body confident, but the statistics show that the vast majority of women are unhappy with their weight, so the advent of a new ‘miracle’ diet product is greeted with delight, but is it justified?

Alli is on sale at pharmacies like Boots and has been highly featured in magazines as a ‘miracle’ weight loss product, but it is a drug and ought to be treated with caution.

What and how

The pills contain Orlistat that has been used for years but only on prescription to treat obesity. It works by attaching itself to some of that fat in your food and blocking it from being broken down by your body’s natural enzymes. It then passes the fat through your digestive system, into your intestines and eventually out through your bowels. So most of the fat you eat isn’t being absorbed by the body, so those calories aren’t heading for your hips. So what’s the problem?

It won’t get rid of any fat you have already stored, just new intake, so you still have to go on a low calorie diet and these are linked to weight re-gain and unbalanced hormones. Also, these pills strongly suggest you seriously restrict the amount of fat intake you have, but when you block fat from being absorbed in the body, you are blocking the valuable nutrients that fat can provide. You will see those effects in the deteriorating condition of both your skin and hair.

If you go over the fat amount recommendations with Alli you get something called “Treatment Effects”. This has been reported by women as meaning that you will spend a lot of time in the loo as your body rushes to expel the fat straight out of your system, and it will be mostly liquid. Effects include leaking, wet gas, and diarrhoea, plus a sense of urgency you could probably live without.

Risk links you don’t need

The National Cancer Institute in the USA reports a study showing significant increase in the incidence of aberrant crypt foci that are widely believed to be a precursor of colon cancer. There also appears to be a link between Orlistat and breast cancer that the FDA reported as being a higher relative risk of between four and seven times than in women not taking Orlistat. There is also a risk of liver damage from the prescription strength version of Alli available in the USA called Xenical. This is currently under FDA investigation and lists hepatitis as one of the side effects.

There is no doubt that Alli is highly effective for some people, but like all supplements and drugs what suits one may not be ideal for someone else. Popping a pill to lose weight is not a healthy option, sadly the only effective way to diet is to eat less of healthy foods, reduce saturated fats, sugar and alcohol and exercise more. Now if I could get that into a pill I would probably make a fortune!

Natural diet pills warning

February 15, 2009 by  
Filed under Diets, Natural Medicine


Just because something says ‘natural’ on the packaging is no guarantee that it actually is – particularly if it is imported from a country with less stringent health regulations than our own. The easy availability of products on the Internet has made it even more important that you check the source of what you are buying.

Latest news from the USA has shown that popular weight loss products promoted heavily by sports people and TV personalities are seriously flawed and freely available without prescription from health stores or online. You would think if they are on sale in a health shop they would be ok, but the Food and Drug Administration says weight-loss capsules, called StarCaps, which are promoted as natural dietary supplements and contain papaya, could be hazardous to your health. That’s because they also contain a potent pharmaceutical drug called bumetanide, a strong diuretic. Using too much of this drug can lead to serious water and mineral loss because it decreases the amount of water retained in the body by increasing urination. This is a prescription drug which requires you to be monitored by your doctor for side effects which include severe thirst, dry mouth, mental confusion and muscle cramps/weakness. It can also mask steroid use, which is why it is on the list of substances banned by the National Football League, and why several players who had taken it failed a drug test when they tested positive for bumetanide. Why football players need diet pills is a bit of a mystery, as it’s hard to tell what size they are under all that padding, but presumably they had their reasons and several are now suing the health store chain that sold the supplement to them.

The FDA has found other similar ‘natural’ weight loss products – most of which are imported from China and Peru – and named Sliminate, Superslim and Slim Up among 69 tainted weight-loss supplements they have found so far. The problem is that many of these drugs do not fully declare their ingredients, which makes them illegal in the USA, but still available on the Internet. An additional complication can be if you are already taking prescription medication and some of these ingredients can interact with your drugs, and reported symptoms include high blood pressure, chest pains, palpitations or seizures. Because you don’t know exactly what they contain, they could have toxic interactions with your own medication and could make it difficult for your doctor to diagnose to diagnose patients.

As I have mentioned before, just because something is natural doesn’t mean you won’t be affected in an adverse way by it. The simplest things, like garlic for instance, can bring some people out in allergic reactions including sweating, increased blood pressure and faintness – and millions of people experience no effect at all. Garlic is in fact extremely good for the immune system, but there is no guarantee on how it will affect you personally. Losing weight is a good goal, but remember that natural weight loss usually involves eating less and exercising more, a cheaper – and safer – alternative to supplements all round.

Dieting? Train your tongue for maximum success

January 6, 2009 by  
Filed under Diets, Food & Nutrition

Diets come and go, and are more or less successful, but according to neuroscientists we may be overlooking a vital factor. We tend to focus on calories and exercise and food generally – which are all good things – but a report in Science Daily has added another element. Research has shown that if you are overweight over a long period it gradually numbs the taste sensation to sweet foods. Now that may sound like a good thing, but it means in reality that you eat more sweeter foods to compensate. The scientists have shown that there is a critical link between taste and body weight so knowing that will help if you have a sweet tooth. There are two factors at work: obesity is often accompanied by a failure of the ‘satiety signal’, in other words knowing when you are full and also not recognising that your taste buds have been deadened so you don’t realise how much you are increasing your intake of sweet foods.

Solution? Start with portion control, and use a smaller plate, and monitor your sweet food intake so you can start reducing it.

Mediteranean diet reduces kids asthma risk by 78%

November 6, 2008 by  
Filed under Childrens Health, Diets, Food & Nutrition

With 1 in 11 children currently receiving treatment for asthma it is now a very common condition – but that doesn’t make it any the less worrying. We have dealt with asthma before, but some news in this week might help make life easier for some of those children, and their parents. For those who are unsure about asthma in young children, the symptoms to look out for are:

* A cough at night
* A cold that doesn’t go away
* A whistling sound when breathing out

That last symptom is particularly relevant in the UK as we apparently have the highest prevalence of severe wheeze in children aged 13-14 years than anywhere else in the world.

Now the medical journal Allergy is suggesting a way parents can be more in control of the condition through some simple dietary changes. I have talked about the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet for heart health in adults, but now it seems it could also relieve asthma symptoms in children. In Crete, where the Mediterranean diet is the norm, an estimated 80% of the children there eat fresh fruit at least twice a day and almost that same number also have fresh vegetables twice daily as well. (Sadly the research doesn’t tell us how they get them to eat so much without a fistfight) So why is it important? Well very few children in Crete have asthma or hay fever and the researchers from the University of Porto in Portugal concluded that their best asthma-fighting foods were oranges, apples, tomatoes and grapes.

Adults on the same type of diet, who had asthma, were found to have fewer attacks and flare-ups. However, if they also included nuts in their diet at least three times a week then that produced less wheezing. A likely explanation for this is that nuts contain a lot of magnesium which helps boost your lung power.

AVOID THIS: There was however one substance that the researchers found that would double the risk of children getting asthma and allergic rhinitis – margarine. This finding confirms what an Australian study found over 7 years ago when they first warned that the polyunsaturated fats found in many margarines can double a child’s chances of having asthma.

If you want more information, please visit www.asthma.org.uk

Top 4 foods to fight cholesterol

As winter approaches and cold weather is upon us, we naturally start to change our diets and often we are going for food that is comforting and also high in cholesterol from increased amounts of things like red meat and butter. Now while I admit that a crumpet with low fat spread would never pass my lips, it is sensible at this time of year to look at your overall diet and see if you are including the best possible foods to help fight cholesterol if that is a health problem for you. Women might also want to check out the Health Bites item for a tip on vitamin K.

I don’t think any of these ‘superfoods’ are going to be a revelation to you, but they might remind you of how helpful they can be in your fight to maintain low cholesterol. Many people ask me why I don’t just suggest statins (see previous issues on the website for my negative views on that) or just take one of the many cholesterol-lowering drinks you find in your supermarket. You can, of course, but if you read the labels on many of them you will find they are full of sugar, or worse, sweeteners plus E numbers and colours.

Also, the American Heart Association warns consumers about filling their diet with sterol-enhanced products such as spreads and drinks unless they also cut back on other sources of fat. If you just add these items in without doing so, they warn that obviously it could lead to excess calorie consumption which is not healthy and that anyone who has a history of heart disease or elevated LDL levels, must talk to their doctor before adding these sorts of products into their diet.

These suggestions are for a natural way to control cholesterol, and in these economically challenged times they are also cheaper – and healthier – than those manufactured products.

1 Oats
The Scots have had it right all along, because porridge for breakfast is one of the healthiest ways to start the day. If you don’t fancy the traditional salt version, and I wouldn’t recommend it if you are dealing with heart disease, then try it with semi-skimmed or low-fat milk and sweeten with a little honey or maple syrup. It’s the fibre in the oats that plays a significant role in decreasing “bad cholesterol” (LDL) levels. It works to reduce LDL levels by grabbing onto the cholesterol and eliminating it from the body through the digestive system. If you want to increase your fibre intake even more then add a chopped apple, or some prunes to the breakfast bowl. Some excellent fiber-rich choices besides oatmeal and oat bran include beans, barley, apples and prunes.

2 Plant Sterols
Another way to significantly reduce LDL levels is to include plenty of natural sterols found in fruit, vegetables, pulses, nuts and seeds. They work by blocking cholesterol absorption and preventing it from getting into the bloodstream. People who include plenty of fruit and vegetables in their diet experience, on average, a 9% decrease in LDL levels and an average 12% reduction in C-reactive protein levels, another key indicator of heart disease risk. Another good reason for exceeding your ’5 a day’ quota.

3 Fatty Fish
I can’t help it, the phrase Fatty Fish reminds me of a childhood reading of Billy Bunter, and doesn’t sound all that appetising does it? However, wild salmon, sardines and anchovies are all rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids. There is so much research now on how these “healthy fats” are essential for so many functions in the body that I hesitate to even mention it. But – in case you haven’t heard, they reduce LDL levels, help lower high blood pressure and cut cardiovascular risk. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids may also raise levels of “good cholesterol” (HDL), which helps transport bad cholesterol to the liver, where it can be eliminated from the body. The usual recommendation is to have these fish at least twice a week, but not from the fish and chip shop as they are at their healthiest when grilled or baked.

Vegetarians, or fish haters, can also get the same good benefits from soya beans, seeds or nuts. A study in Hypertension: Journal of the American Heart Association reported that omega-3 fatty acids from walnuts and flaxseeds had as much impact on blood pressure as omega-3 fatty acids from fish. A handful a day is enough to provide the heart benefits you need – any more and you are running into high calorie territory. Oh, and check out the health bites for another benefit of Omega 3.

4 Olive Oil
I have mentioned the benefits of the Mediterranean diet before, and olive oil is a key component of it. For a healthy heart we need to cut down on saturated fat and trans fats – often listed in the ingredients as ‘hydrogenated’ or ‘partially hydrogenated’fats or oils.

Sources of the healthier monounsaturated fats are extra virgin olive oil, avocados, peanuts and nuts and they will all help lower your LDL and raise your HDL levels. Again, however, please be cautious as all types of fat contain more than twice the calories of proteins or carbohydrates.

So how do you combine them in the ideal day? Well you could start with breakfast of porridge with an apple chopped into it, then for lunch a large salad and dinner of grilled fish and home made ratatouille – lots of olive oil and healthy garlic in there!

Criminals watch your diet!

This story is irresistible to a woman who writes so often about the effects of diet on health. What I didn’t realise is that what you eat could also get you banged up! Dr John Bond, a researcher at the University of Leicester and scientific support officer at Northamptonshire Police, is the inventor of a revolutionary forensic fingerprint technique that will help put unhealthy criminals behind bars.

He claims that criminals who eat processed foods are more likely to be discovered by police because their fingerprint sweat corrodes metal – just shows you what fast food does to your stomach if just the sweat can eat away an external surface like that! Apparently the police already love consumers of processed foods as they tend to be leave better fingerprints for the police to identify.

It’s down to the fact that sweaty fingerprint marks made more of a corrosive impression on metal if they had a high salt content – and processed food, fish and chips and burgers tend to be high in salt as a preservative. The body needs to excrete excess salt, which comes out as sweat through the pores in our fingers, and so when you touch a surface it will be high in salt if you eat a lot of processed foods – the higher the salt, the better the corrosion of the metal.

Not sure whether I should be encouraging fast food diets in criminals, to aid their capture, or encourage them to switch to the Mediterranean diet!

Diabetes and memory loss solution

Another story that interested me this week, also came from Canada and the Baycrest Center. This time they were reporting on the link between diabetes, high-fat foods and memory loss.

Apparently, adults with type 2 diabetes who eat unhealthy, high-fat, meals can suffer from some reduction in their ability to remember things immediately after eating such a meal. Possibly because they have fallen asleep while digesting such a heavy meal, but there is hope as the temporary memory loss can be offset by taking antioxidant vitamins C and E with the meal.

It is already known that diabetes is linked to the ability to retain information, but now it seems that adults with type 2 diabetes are especially vulnerable to acute memory loss after eating unhealthy foods. The new findings appeared in a recent issue of Nutrition Research, a professional peer-reviewed journal, and suggests that taking high doses of antioxidant vitamins C and E with the meal may help minimize those memory slumps.

Type 2 diabetes is associated with chronic oxidative stress, a major contributor to cognitive decline and Alzheimer disease. If you have an unhealthy diet, then that raises your level of free radicals and those unstable molecules can damage tissue, including brain tissue. These destructive molecule reactions typically occur over a one-to-three hour period after you have eaten but don’t think that popping a supplement pill will do the trick on its own. It’s a place to start, and the study used vitamin C of 100mg and vitamin E of 800 mg taken with the meal, but do check with your doctor as there are contraindications for taking high doses.

Specifically, tell your doctor if you are taking warfarin as you may not be able to take vitamin E without special monitoring during treatment, and also consult your doctor if you are pregnant or breast-feeding a baby.

Ideally you will change your diet to one that is high in antioxidants to chase down those free radicals – look back at the article on the Mediterranean Diet as it is generally accepted to be one of the most health-giving there is.

Mediterranean magic

It’s not up to date news, just a reminder of something that will substantially improve your health – and is enjoyable as well. I am off on a Mediterranean cruise calling near to Florence in a few weeks, so when a piece of research from that area came in it caught my attention. The British Medical Journal this week published a study from the University of Florence that showed that people who followed an authentic Mediterranean diet lived longer and suffered few serious diseases.

The so-called Mediterranean Diet had great favour a few years ago, but sadly it is no longer followed as strictly or by as many people – even in the Mediterranean itself. So what are the benefits? Well research done on an extremely large scale and across Mediterranean populations and others in the U.S., Northern Europe, and a group of Europeans living in Australia gave impressive results.

Dr Sofi of the University of Florence and colleagues followed the diets of 1,574,299 individuals for intervals of three to 18 years, and showed that those who followed the dietary rules got all this:

** a 9% lower overall death rate

** a 9% lower risk of dying from heart disease

** a 6% lower incidence of contracting, or dying from cancer

** a 13% lower risk of contracting Parkinson’s disease

** a 13% lower risk of contracting Alzheimer’s disease

And what do you have to suffer to achieve these impressive improvements in your health and longevity? The Mediterranean diet is rich in vegetables, fruits, legumes, cereals, fish, nuts, olive oil, and a moderate intake of red wine during meals. So that’s no hardship is it? On the downside the diet is also low in red meat, dairy products, and alcohol in large quantities BUT the key word is low. You don’t have to give them up altogether just eat moderately in comparison to the other elements of the diet – we may not have much Mediterranean sunshine at the moment, but we can at least benefit from their dietary habits!

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