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What’s Belly Fat Got To Do With Food Sensitivities?

Wow, what a week. I did my very first webinar last Saturday, thank you very much to those who were there. I’m happy to say I didn’t muck up the technology! Here’s some of the feedback:

“Awesome info.”

“I have just listened to the webinar session, and I have to let you know it was absolutely FANTASTIC!!!  I have taken notes, and will put them into action.”

“It was really excellent! The subject matter and presentation. Also, loved the client stories. I think my sisters would be very interested to watch the recording, too.“

The webinar was specifically for smart women approaching 50 (shhh!) and the topic was, “How to Have Peace of Mind Around Food And Curb Your Cravings Without Depending On Willpower.” If it interests you at all to pick up some useful information that you can apply to your everyday which will make a difference, here’s the link to the webinar replay. I don’t know how long this replay will be up for, and this is the only time you’ll catch me on my very first webinar! Lol.

So, what have I been denying?

Well, one of the things I shared on the webinar was the idea of food sensitivities.

Food sensitivities are when your immune system has a response to the food you’re eating. It causes inflammation which can show up in numerous ways – a runny nose, puffy eyes, fatigue, bloating, general puffiness, foggy thinking, lack of concentration, lack of motivation, poor memory, itchy skin, eczema, a rumbly tummy… The trouble with food sensitivities is that they can be hard to track and because we often think that our symptoms are a “normal” part of life, that it’s just “something that one gets”, we don’t recognize that those symptoms could be the result of eating foods that don’t agree with us.

Inflammation is actually a healthy response from our immune system. We all know, for example, when we’ve sprained an ankle, and our ankle goes red, swells up, feels hot to the touch and is painful, that it’s a normal part of the healing process. It can also save our life. But the inflammation that comes from food sensitivities is often ongoing when we continue to eat those very foods that cause the inflammation in the first place. In other words, the inflammation becomes chronic. What’s more, it is often also at a low level, which enables us to either not notice it or ignore it.

Here’s the thing about inflammation. It can be what’s causing you to hold on to that excess weight. Who would have thought, right?

Simplifying it as much as possible, inflammation cause physiological stress in your body, which in turn causes your stress hormone, cortisol, to be elevated. This in turn raises your blood sugar levels, which then also raises the level of another hormone, insulin. It’s the interaction of these two hormones being chronically elevated that then causes your body to deposit fat around the middle and to hold on to it.

As this process continues and we pack more fat into the cells, the fat cells expand until they are “full up” and then, they themselves start to get inflamed, kicking off another cycle of inflammation.

And what is good for you to know is that there is increasing evidence that this kind of systemic inflammation plays a central role in other more serious conditions such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

So, how can you reduce inflammation?

Here’s the long and short of it.

  1. Discover if you have any food sensitivities and remove those foods temporarily in order to help your digestive system to heal. A good way to do this is by following an elimination protocol. Here’s one resource – Tom Malterre’s book (and if you happen to consult it, I’d personally leave out Phase 1).
  2. Significantly reduce or remove inflammatory foods from your diet, such as refined sugar, foods cooked at a high temperature, processed meats, artificial trans-fats which can be found in hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, margarine, refined carbohydrates, excessive alcohol.
  3. Include as many anti-inflammatory foods in your meals as you can. These are foods that help your body to quell the fires of inflammation, such as green leafy vegetables, broccoli, coriander (cilantro), blueberries, turmeric, bone broth, foods that are rich in omega-3 fats like salmon, matcha tea.

Now that said, I really don’t like having to say, “Don’t eat this or that.” So, instead, I’m going to ask you to focus primarily on (3) and raise your awareness to be able to do (1). Then eat, eat and eat all the foods that are good for you – nutrient-dense, real, whole foods. You can start today, by upping your vegetable intake. Just add one or two more servings, or three! With some delicious butter!

There, that feels so very much better, doesn’t it? 😉

Make your next years your best years.

Do women in their 40’s and 50’s really have to lose their waistline?

 

What a week! The “busy bug” found me and bit me. 🙂 But I am otherwise very well, and I hope the same goes for you too.

After my last newsletter, Elaine wrote with a great question (thanks, Elaine). She asked, “Question about the weight gain around the middle. Is it unavoidable or even essential to have that belt of fat? A good friend of mine, who is also a qualified yoga teacher, told me that it is essential to have that belt of fat to retain or compensate for the lower level of oestrogen in the menopausal years. She said her gynae told her that. Say goodbye to the hourglass shape once past fertile years and accept the rectangle because it is nature’s way. True or false?”

Interestingly, this last weekend, one of the lectures on my degree was on “Nutritional Therapy and Healthy Aging.” Our lecturer asked if getting to 50 inevitably means you’ll get middle aged spread, and then proceeded to show us that that isn’t true, as she is living proof of that.

So why is it that we often see evidence of the thickening waistline, and an apparent shift in body shape from the pear (wide hips and thighs, with more weight below the waist, consisting of subcutaneous fat – that is, surface fat surrounding the muscle) to the apple (fat around the middle, and often, also around the organs, known as visceral fat)?

The short answer is, unbalanced hormones.

During our fertile years, oestrogen is produced by the ovaries, and as we get into our 40’s and 50’s, and we begin to stop ovulating, the body looks to its fat tissue to help with oestrogen production. Fat tissue contains an enzyme called aromatase, which converts testosterone to oestrogen, so this becomes an important element of our hormone mix, because oestrogen helps with other bodily changes too, such as slowing down postmenopausal bone loss (which itself also happens because of less oestrgen).

Overall, therefore, as we get into our 40’s and 50’s, we produce less oestrogen, and lower levels of oestrogen lead to a change in the distribution of fat, depositing more fat around the middle. This happens even without any weight gain.

The trouble is, fat around the middle (specifically visceral fat) is more metabolically active than subcutaneous fat, and increases the risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Plus, it is highly receptive to stress, and with ongoing stress being common in our modern lives, the depositing of and holding onto fat in this area is exacerbated. Why? Because with the ongoing stress, the body thinks that it’s going to need readily accessible fuel for “fight or flight”, which is the only way it knows how to interpret stress.

However, in our modern lives, we generally don’t fight or flee, but we do tend to have chronically elevated stress levels. So the body continues to circulate energy in our bloodstream that it means for fighting or fleeing, upsetting our balance of hormones further, and depositing even more fat around the middle for the ongoing stress it believes it needs it for. And now, it’s not just oestrogen, there’s also the interplay of cortisol and insulin.

So does it mean that we have to say goodbye to the hourglass shape and accept the rectangle, and place all the blame on oestrogen?

The bottom line is that our bodies are hugely complex systems, and it isn’t as simple as saying that oestrogen on its own makes you fat around the middle. Too much is just as problematic as too little, and it’ll also be relative to other hormones like progesterone. It’s really about hormonal balance.

That’s why it’s especially important for women in their 40’s and 50’s, to manage their stress levels, to eat the right foods that help to keep their hormones balanced, and to have the right kind of movement, and daily moderate movement, such as walking in particular – because this uses up the energy in the system that the body thinks it needs for the ongoing stress. See how it’s all inter-related?

I’m not a hormone expert. This is something I’m learning more and more about. But what I do know, is that I used to have much more belly fat, and it all came to a head when I started getting episodes of hot flushes, night sweats and insomnia. And when I changed my diet and lifestyle, some of my waist returned, and the hot flushes and night sweats went. The insomnia took a little longer.

Perhaps the most interesting thing of all, is that if I tip the balance on my eating habits for long enough that I cross the threshold, some of those symptoms come back. And the good news is, I know exactly what to do to get right back into balance again. Now, my next target is to get into optimal balance. I’ll keep you posted.

In the meantime, where are you at? Are there changes that you know would be beneficial for you to make, so that you can get some of your waistline back? How would that feel?

Make your next years your best years.

 

These two themes kept coming up

The summer holidays are over. Uni has started again and the new term has started, and the greatest news is I’m still loving all the lectures! 🙂

The last one, just before I left to catch the plane from London back to Malaysia, was on Female & Male Health. OK, admittedly, that doesn’t sound so interesting. But here’s what’s so exciting about the topic. It’s all about understanding how our hormones work, how we metabolise them in our bodies and how they can go out of balance.

For those of us who are well into or even past our 40s, the symptoms of unbalanced hormones can show up as poor sleep, fatigue, irritability, hot flushes, night sweats, joint pain, itching skin, memory loss, low libido, weight gain and more. It’s no surprise then to wonder if our best years are behind us and to question, “Is this it? Is life downhill from here on out?”

That’s exactly how I felt when I was 48.

Now, here’s the thing. Because the degree I’m doing is based in Functional Medicine, we don’t much care about the label given to a condition as such. Instead, we look at where or how the body isn’t functioning optimally and then work to get to the underlying root cause of that imbalance. Yes, lab tests often help to guide us in understanding exactly where these imbalances are, so that they can be addressed. But, regardless of that, two themes kept coming up, again and again, in virtually everything we looked at, which don’t require lab tests.

These two themes were the very ones that helped me, after I read that book that transformed my perspective from always and secretly wanting to lose weight, to understanding that food “tells” our bodies what to do. Putting it another way, food actually communicates to the hormones in our bodies. This was a major light bulb moment for me. And it’s also exactly the lightbulbs that happen for my coaching clients.

Many of us have mistakenly placed all emphasis on calories and calories only, without knowing that it’s the quality of the food that makes the difference, because of the messages it carries. For example, eating certain foods tells your body to pile the weight on, and other foods tell your body to build muscle, while some foods put your body into physiological stress, and other foods can calm you down.

So, the foods that you choose have a direct impact on either helping to keep your hormones in balance or helping to kick them out of balance. Which means, that the foods you choose to eat can have a significant impact on your experience of those symptoms I mentioned above.

Now, remember how I said that in Functional Medicine, we look to get down to the root causes?

Drum roll now please, for the two themes, over which you actually have more control over than you might think and which go hand in hand. They are:

  1. Normalise weight
  2. Normalise blood sugar and insulin levels (insulin itself being a hormone)

It may not sound so sexy when put like that, I know. But if you really want to make a difference to your energy levels and how you feel in yourself and about yourself, then this means choosing foods that help you to do just that.

Here’s how in a nutshell

  • Scrap the C.R.A.P. – Caffeine, Refined sugar, Alcohol, Processed food. These throw your hormones out of balance.
  • Make protein and non-starchy vegetables the foundation of all your meals. There’s plenty to choose from – salmon, eggs, cottage cheese, tuna, chicken…. Protein will fill you up (protein takes longer to break down), and help to balance your blood sugar levels to ensure you have energy throughout the day without experiencing hunger pangs or sugar dips.
  • Add some healthy fat – olive oil, avocado, raw nuts and seeds… These help you to feel satisfied and are also needed by your body for optimal functioning.
  • Keep starches low, focusing on protein, non-starchy vegetables and healthy fats to keep you filled and satisfied.

Now, to get your ideas flowing as to the types of meals you can have from focusing on those 4 things, here’s a list to get you going.

Your starter list of meals to try:

Soups

  • Coconut cream of Carrot, Orange and Ginger Soup with Chicken garnished with almonds
  • Creamy Cauliflower and Salmon Soup with Roasted Crushed Pecans

Salads

  • Thai Style Chicken Salad with Cashews
  • Spicy Chicken Wings with Roast Cauliflower/Roast Peppers
  • Tuna Salad with Avocado
  • Chicken roasted in cumin and coconut oil, with quinoa, celery, apple and cashews/almonds
  • Tuna, asparagus & orange
  • Prawn lettuce wrap – red peppers, cucumber, lettuce, thai dressing, chilli, coriander
  • Chicken with roasted cauliflower, sweet potato and caraway
  • Ground turkey fried in chilli and cumin, served with avocado, greek yogurt salsa, tomatoes and romaine lettuce

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

  • Red Curry Prawns/Fish Laksa with Basil/Coriander, Lime & Chilli
  • Salmon Cakes with Mango and Coriander Salsa
  • Simple Baked Salmon in Coconut Milk
  • Ginger & Sesame Baked Cod or Salmon with Bok Choy
  • Roast Chicken with Caraway, Fried Mushrooms and sugar snap peas
  • Stuffed Peppers with tuna, basil and pine nuts
  • Caraway, Sweet Potato and King Prawn Chowder – here’s the recipe
  • Beef Bourguinon (no added flour)
  • Steak with Herb Butter/Chimchurri
  • Roast butterfly of pork fillet with rosemary
  • Pan-grilled pork fillet in thyme and lemon served with apple and chilli slaw (cabbage & carrot) in yogurt, mustard and white wine vinegar dressing, plus coriander

Snacks

  • Almond Butter & Celery
  • Apples and Turkey with Cheddar
  • Berries & Yogurt
  • Homemade Sunflower/Sesame/Almond Crackers
  • Easy-to-make Paleo Bread – Go on – give it a go!
  • Prosciutto & Pears
  • Chia Seed Pudding

Desserts

Not a bad list, eh? And when you cook those meals and serve them up, many people don’t recognise that it’s actually healthy food, because it looks good and it tastes good.

Alright, maybe one of these days I’ll get my act together and post recipes and photographs. That said, documenting things really aren’t my strong point, so please don’t hold your breath, but feel free to remind me!

Now over to you. How will you change some of your food choices today?

Make your next years your best years.

6 Tips for Getting More Sleep

If you’re not getting enough sleep (who is?) then this is just for you.

Clearly the duck I captured in my photo is getting enough, catching forty winks right in the middle of the day…or maybe not, because he’s sleeping on his feet! Whatever it is, getting enough sleep is crucial for our health and well-being, as well as our ability to function well during the day. Last week, a young guy I know stayed working until 1 a.m.. Later that morning, while cycling back in to work, he fell asleep momentarily and fell over, grazing and bruising himself badly. While that may seem obvious, lack of sleep is one area that we could be paying more attention to.

Ever since the invention of the electric bulb, we’ve been defying our natural body (circadian) rhythms and staying up later into the night, doing whatever it is that we do. We might watch TV or, if you’re like me, you’ll be reading or writing on your computer. The bottom line? Our mind is over-stimulated at a time of day (actually, night) when we should naturally be winding down, getting ready for sleep and rest.

Many studies have now shown that we should ideally be getting 8 hours of sleep each night. Both our mind and our body need that time to rest, re-energise and re-charge. In addition, both our mind and our body are inextricably linked. If our mind is not rested, then neither is our body. So here’s the question – do you feel as if your mind is properly rested? The answer for most is “rarely”.

[Tweet “We live in a mind-oriented culture, and we seldom recognise that we are not properly rested”]

While we may have heard the term, “stress,” we often don’t associate mental tiredness with it. Mental pressure, yes, but not mental tiredness. Have you ever been working at your desk, for example, and you’ve felt tired, but pushed it away and carried on anyway? Lol, me too, I’ve been there, done that. We all do. That tiredness is physiological stress, and it affects us, not just mentally, but also emotionally and physically. Quite simply, it affects our entire well-being.

We all know how grumpy we can be when we are tired and are suffering from lack of sleep. Ogres appear as if out of nowhere and we can snap at people without meaning to. Imagine what’s happening inside of your body for you to be doing this.

Here are just some of what happens in our bodies when we are stressed (extracted from Deepak Chopra’s book, Grow Younger, Live Longer):

  • One part of your adrenal glands pumps out adrenaline and noradrenaline, which constricts blood vessels
  • Another part of your adrenal glands pumps out cortisol
  • Your pancreas releases more of the hormone glucagon
  • Your pancreas releases less insulin
  • As a result of the increased glucagon and decreased insulin, your blood sugar level rises
  • You reduce the blood supply to your digestive organs and increase the blood supply to your muscles
  • Your pituitary gland releases less growth hormone

Hormones (insulin, glucagon, cortisol, growth hormone) are chemical messengers. The change in the cocktail of hormones mentioned by Dr Chopra above tells our bodies to “keep going” and not spend effort or energy in healing and repairing because we need to keep on “keeping going”. To properly heal, regenerate and rejuvenate, we need adequate rest.

In the short-term, we all recognise how a lack of sleep affects us from the mental perspective – our ability to concentrate, our mental agility and ability to respond quickly are all compromised, but we don’t necessarily recognise how lack of sleep over the long-term will impact on our health and well-being.

Our bodies are amazingly clever. We can’t ourselves heal a cut or wound and we trust our bodies to do that for us. But we take our bodies so much for granted.

Today, the invitation is to give yourself the gift of adequate and restful sleep. Restful sleep is when both your body and mind are in deep rest and your mind is sleeping. You drift off easily to sleep and you sleep soundly through the night. If you happen to wake up during the night, you are able to get back to sleep easily (that means, no middle of the night prowling or sending emails! I laugh, because I have been known to do that)

Here are six tips to help you get more sleep and to sleep more deeply:

  • Find ways to practice waking meditations. These are moments when you are awake, but your mind is restful. You are fully present and attentive to whatever you are doing, be it washing the dishes, going for a walk or tidying your papers, but your mind is at rest, relaxed and focused on that one thing.
  • Power down your computer half an hour earlier each day and do something less stimulating instead. Perhaps read a book in bed.
  • Download the F.lux programme (free) from www.justgetflux.com. Light from our computers are primarily in the blue spectrum, but our brain recognises light in the orange spectrum (think sunset) as a sign to get ready for sleep. The flux programme changes the colour of the light emanating from your computer in the evenings and nights so that it is less stimulating (blue light) on your brain.
  • Make your room as dark as possible. When light hits your skin, it affects your circadian rhythm, affecting the depth of your sleep and interfering with weight loss. By the way, light in your child’s bedroom will also affect their sleep, so consider turning off their night light after they’ve fallen asleep.
  • Keep your room cool but not cold, to encourage your body to “mini-hibernate”.
  • Make it a habit to go to bed at the same time each night and go to sleep before midnight. Our bodies do its best healing work between the hours of 10 p.m. and 2 a.m., with the hours before midnight being the most significant. You’ll also find that these hours before midnight are the most rejuvenating. There’s a reason why “beauty sleep” is a recognised term in our vocabulary.

Happy restful sleep to you. Do let me know how you go.

Love,

Veronica
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