TCYH (Full Series)
Now that we’ve actually finished our exercise series which includes a section on how to start from absolute basics, this should probably be renamed our feeling healthy (long) post.
This is our full introductory article on getting healthy, but not just “healthy” as in jogging without armpit rain or looking at the mirror and not being hugely depressed, but healthy as in feeling good. We should really stress – as a business that sells health – while everything we sell is incredibly healthy and nutritious, there is no MAGIC PILL, it just does not exist. There is no “lose fat – give you a six-pack (and a thigh gap???) – make your legs look great – add six inches to your biceps – remove cellulite” one a day pill. The sad thing is all those things are achievable if you’re willing to put in the time. If you’re thinking about transforming your health (and we hope you are), then it’s going to take more than just a pill in the morning and switching to diet coke (the second worst drink in existence for your health after petrol). The goal is to make meaningful changes and then have them become the norm. We’re hoping to help make a transition to that (healthier) lifestyle easier. If you’re in a hurry (shame on you) read Part 1 and 3 (Part 2 is kinda scary anyway). If you’re really REALLY in a hurry, you should probably just go to one of those websites that lies about how easy everything is (…it’s not even really a diet, you can eat AS MUCH AS YOU LIKE! Hahaha, good luck with that!)
So how DO you start getting healthy??? Here’s a quick overview!
1. Exercise (sorry to do this to you… again), is the single most important thing you can do to help your body. Your body was designed to move, and allowing it to do that is essential to your well-being and ability to feel good. It reduces stress, increases energy levels, balances hormones, helps with sleep, and has countless other benefits (asides from the obvious, healthy heart, bones, and muscles). The key is to do the right kind of exercise (treadmills don’t count!). To read more about what exercises you can do, read here (HIIT) or look here (Personal Training)! Or look here (Best 5 Exercises), here (Weightlifting Complexes), and here (How to Design a Workout)!
2. You are what you eat. Yes, this is shaping up to be something you’ve heard a hundred times before, but did you know that what you eat effects not just your current physical (and mental) state, but also your genetic health, and that that may be passed on to your kids. It adds a whole new level to the nature/nurture debate.
Everything on supermarket shelves these days is covered in pesticides and full of synthetics (flavours, sweeteners, colours, preservatives); it is astounding that food companies are allowed to sell this stuff. Get educated before you end up with any of the known side-effects (infertility, cancer, obesity etc.), or even some of the unknown ones.
3. 3 Meals a Day. 5 meals a day, 11 meals a day, 1 meal a day… I’m not sure why so much debate still surrounds this topic. A far more interesting “side note” is that we eat WAY TOO MUCH! It has been proven in numerous peer reviewed studies that fasting or calorie reduction is hugely beneficial to your health and can help you live longer and be healthier. Instead of focusing on the number of meals, try eating half your usual meal portion and then waiting 10 minutes. If you’re still hungry by all means have more, but by focusing on how you feel, you’ll be far less likely to habitually over-eat.
4. Reduce Stressors. This is integral to getting healthy. The main hurdle to getting in shape is understanding that your body is a small ecosystem that requires different bodily processes to be functioning in unison for you to feel great (it’s not just eating more chia), and if you are stressed all day this cannot happen. Stress means cortisol, cortisol means weight gain AND worse sleep, and worse sleep means MORE CORTISOL. Try to reduce stress by meditating, reading, exercising, practicing awareness, spending more time with friends or family, and laughing more!
5. Be Passionate. Having things that you are passionate about and make you feel good is not just about having a hobby, it’s about something that reminds you how amazing every day is, that every day is an opportunity for you to push the boundaries of who you thought you were and have a better sense of self. If your days are just work -> tv -> sleep -> wake up -> work, how can you not expect to feel like staying in bed all day!? You can be passionate about ANYTHING: your work (if you’re very lucky), music, sports, astronomy, astrology, physics, biology, fashion, nutrition, art, design, craft, woodwork, machines, computers, psychology, philosophy, cooking, eating, connecting, writing, helping others, the list is endless and it really doesn’t matter as long as you are excited about it and growing in your understanding of what it means to live.
This is by no means a comprehensive guide to getting healthy, but it does illustrate how simple and at the same time how difficult it can be (note difficult, not complicated. It should never be complicated). A lot of people will start going to the gym only to find that after a month of extreme discipline no progress has been made, or that all those pounds lost on that diet have come back with interest, and feel disheartened and that somehow there body is defective, or they just aren’t meant to be fit and healthy. Nothing could be further from the truth, but trying to trick your body with short term quick fixes will rarely result in lasting changes. If you want to change your body, you have to change your life, an endeavor that will help rekindle that wonder and awe at all the amazing things around you that go unnoticed every single day.
Such as the “electron transport chain”, where your body:
- creates energy via a process so complex that we have only in the last 100 years understood it, i.e. the movement of electrons from high to low energy particles, releasing hydrogen atoms to create a “proton gradient”;
- stores this energy in the same way a battery stores energy (ion gradients);
- At the end of all of this, the hydrogen meets with the oxygen you breath to produce (tah-dah) H2O/water. That’s completely inconceivable when you think of the havoc we wreak on the environment trying to create energy! This is happening in you RIGHT NOW. There is currently a small chain reaction happening to keep you moving. Next time you’re finding it difficult to marvel at the world around you, stop and marvel at the sheer magic that IS you.
(Read more about it here. This blows my mind every time I re-re-read how it works (it’s a rather spectacular example of how amazing our bodies are.)
The key to driving this change is to remember that you have THE most caring and loyal companion in the world carrying you around for your WHOLE LIFE! It deals with everything you throw at it and is tirelessly trying to keep you safe and happy. Now it’s time to LET your body look after you, and once you do that you’ll start to regain that sense of connection between you, your body, and nature (which you were designed to have a connection with!), and you’ll feel a million dollars. Getting healthy is about a combination of all the things mentioned above to allow your body function in a balanced manner, and that’s when magic things happen.
Exercise: 10 minutes per day
Stress Reduction: 10 minutes per day
Time in Nature (go for a walk): 10 minutes per day
That’s 30 minutes, and if you are now whispering to your computer that you don’t have 30 minutes to spare… there’s a pretty good chance you’ve spent more than 2 hours today watching tv, or on social media, or trying to decide if putting on your pyjamas straight after dinner makes you a bad person. Happiness and health aren’t complicated, but they do take a bit of discipline and a lot of forcing yourself outside your comfort zone.
This week try these:
• Eat less food, but eat better. More whole foods and organic where possible
• Be silent. Even if you don’t yet want to meditate or practice awareness, having 10 minutes a day where there is no tv, no computer, and no noise will help to settle you and reduce stress
Taking Control of Your Health Part 2: You are what you eat!
Today’s article was (and still is) a bit lengthy to say the least, so it’s been divided into 2 sections, the first dealing with common food additives (artificial compounds in our food) and the direct effects these have on our bodies. The second section looks at the cellular effects of our modern diet, how nutrition affects your epi-genetics, and how it directly impacts on the health of your DNA.
Firstly, there’s been a lot of media attention over the past 4-5 decades on excising particular macro nutrients from your diet, or adopting a particular style of eating. The reality is, over the past few hundred years, many different diets have been shown to be perfectly suitable for living a healthy life (for example scientists say to lower saturated fat intake, but people living on a high saturated fat, coconut rich diet are perfectly healthy and have very low rates of heart disease). The thing that all of these diets had in common is that they were natural. They didn’t contain carton loads of synthetic, purpose built molecules, designed in a lab solely for the purpose of increasing corporate profits. Yes, nature is full of chemicals, as are our bodies, but not the kind that are now so pervasive in our diets. It has taken millennia for our bodies to develop the collection of enzymes and bacteria and immensely complex processes that allow us to access and benefit from the nutrients nature provides. Nature is built on a collection of chemical reactions necessary to maintain living organisms.
When we introduce synthetic materials to our diet, there is no end to the havoc this wreaks on our bodies. Infertility, cancer, obesity, heart disease, cognitive decline, IBS, and so many other “modern health issues” stem from the fact that we have introduced alien compounds to our bodies and we are now seeing the effects this is having on our microbiome, on our DNA, on our immune system, and (somewhat unconsciously) on our lifestyles.
You want low cal?? No problem! Here are some carcinogenic artificial sweeteners that will slowly kill you.
You want great taste?? We’ll create a host of highly processed and synthesized food additives to make EVERYTHING you eat taste great! In fact, it’ll taste so good, you won’t be able to stop eating it!
What’s that? Low cost you say?? We’ve got you covered! Here’s a collection of preservatives ensuring our products can stay on your shelves for years, keeping your costs down and our profits up.
Tell you what… we’ll even throw in hydrogenated oils and NOT TELL YOU!! Who knows why you’re having a heart attack. It’s probably because you’re too excited about the delicious food you’re about to eat!
Ok, so let’s get down to the nitty-gritty… what’s on/in your food
Common Food Additives (Pesticides):
Glyphosate, more commonly known as Roundup, is Monsanto’s way of killing off weeds and giving you: kidney and liver damage, cancer, reproductive issues, and endocrine issues. It’s also an irritant. I’m irritated.
2,4-D, is another herbicide, and has a host of side benefits. Neurotoxicity, reproductive issues, cancer, kidney and liver damage, BIRTH DEFECTS, and endocrine issues.
MCPP, also known as the delightful Mecroporp, can cause neurotoxicity, reproductive issues, kidney and liver damage, BIRTH DEFECTS, endocrine issues and maybe cancer. (I felt a bit short-changed with that “maybe” as well)
Dicamba – irritant, reproductive effects, birth defects, neurotoxicity, kidney and liver damage
Trifluralin – irritant, reproductive issues, kidney and liver damage, endocrine issues and maybe cancer
Pendimethalin – irritant, reproductive issues, endocrine issues and maybe cancer
Pelargonic Acid – irritant
Bifenthrin – irritant, neurotoxicity, BIRTH DEFECTS, probable endocrine issues and maybe cancer
Malathion – irritant, neurotoxicity, kidney and liver damage, reproductive issues, birth defects, endocrine issues and maybe cancer
Permethrin – irritant, neurotoxicity, kidney and liver damage, reproductive issues, probable endocrine issues and cancer
*A point worth mentioning is that studies on both sides of this debate have been plagued with at least some degree of confirmation bias. Researchers who want to find problems, generally found problems. Researchers who worked for the corporations producing these chemicals strangely enough didn’t. They then poked holes in each others research. The end result is that WE are the test subjects in a predominantly unnecessary experiment so that a handful of companies can make inordinate profits. For this reason I do my best to avoid the dirty dozen (unless organic).
Common Food Additives (Sweeteners & Fats)
E 951 – Aspartame: This well known sweetener is hidden in so very many everyday products, and can cause cognitive problems (memory loss and brain fog), headaches and migraines, tumors, cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and many other common health problems.
E 945 – Saccharin: Saccharin has been used as a sweetener for over 100 years, and has been involved in many controversies in that time. Having been shown to cause cancer in mice, all products containing saccharine were required to have a warning label, until someone realized that mice are not actually people and it was then decided that it should be made law that saccharin need not be labelled as hazardous and was removed from all government carcinogen lists.
E 955 – Sucralose: A 2008 study showed that in higher concentrations, Sucralose has been proven to be a culprit in the killing of your gut micro-flora, though many researchers dispute this given that the tests were done using very high doses. Regardless of this, Sucralose (also sold as Splenda) is produced by combining sugar with chlorine, and chlorine is highly toxic suggesting that the only real means of attesting to Sucralose’s safety is that we don’t absorb all of it when it is ingested, just some.
E 950 – Acesulfame-K: Research has shown that “chronic use” or ingestion of Acesulfame-K can cause issues with “neurological function”. Other research has shown it may affect prenatal development and could affect insulin secretion. There are other health concerns linked to consumption of Ace-K, but seeing as it has undergone relatively little testing, it’s probably better to just avoid it completely.
Regardless of the information above, a key point to make is that most artificial sweeteners are added/used with the intention of caloric reduction to bring about weightloss, and it has been shown in numerous studies to have the opposite effect. People who regularly consume “diet” products consistently gained weight due to altered eating behaviours brought about by the sweeteners. Just don’t eat the second box of doughnuts!
HFCS – Yes, you guessed it. High Fructose Corn Syrup! It tastes DEEEELICIOUS!!! And it will make you obese quicker than you can say “but this cake’s made with whole-wheat flour” (Also included is a side-serving of diabetes). The trick with HFCS is recognizing that it’s just a highly processes sugar, and just because it’s not listed as an ingredient on the “healthy” pastry your chewing, does not mean there isn’t some form of highly concentrated sugar in there. HFCS has been vilified in the media as the main culprit in the rise in diet related health issues, though it’s just a simple sugar like any other. All simple carb’s should be kept to a minimum (within reason), so if there’s more than 4-5 grams of simple carb’s per hundred grams, you’re holding dessert not dinner.
MSG – An old favourite of the food additive haters, MSG (Monosodium Glutamate – a salt form of a non-essential amino acid) is actually (or at least was originally) derived from vegetables. There has been compelling research stating that in low doses, MSG is harmless (otherwise we’d get sick every time we ate MSG containing vegetables, such as tomatoes, potatoes, or mushrooms). That said, isolating flavour enhancing compounds hasn’t worked all that well for our bodies so far, and there’s no guarantee that the MSG you’re eating isn’t some hugely synthetic chemical creation, as opposed to a vegetable extract. Best stick with the Himalayan Rock Salt (or eat more mushrooms?)
Hydrogenated Fats– This is an interesting invention(??) from the turn of the 20th century. At first glance, hydrogenated fats will sound as though they are hugely processed with high temperatures, and this is, in fact, exactly the case. The difference between saturated and unsaturated fats is the amount of hydrogen they hold, with saturated fats being unable to hold any more hydrogen atoms (given that they are already “saturated”, though technically the distinction is actually down to the carbon bonds present in the fat – double bonds = unsaturated, no double bonds = saturated). Hydrogen-ated fats are denatured unsaturated fats, which are bombarded with hydrogen atoms to forcibly change them into saturated fats. You may wonder why they would not just use saturated fats to begin with, and the answer (unsurprisingly) is money.
Unsaturated fats are cheaper and when hydrogenated will have a longer shelf life. They are also easier to store and transport as they are solid at room temperature, and give a “better” texture to foods when used in baking (also meaning that cake you just bought won’t melt at room temperature… Well maybe it’s not that extreme, but it’s primarily to reduce the need for refrigeration. So now you know what’s in all those cakes that don’t need to be in the fridge).
Trans fats are another interesting anomaly. Trans (coming from the greek for “the other way [around]”) fats, are fats that effectively have their heads reversed. While there are some naturally occurring trans-fats (such as Conjugated Linoleic Acid in dairy products), the majority present in our diet these days are unnatural. These unnatural trans-fats are the result of the hydrogenation process, and can make up to 45% of hydrogenated fats in a given food.
Hydrogenated trans-fats have been implicated in the development of diabetes (type 2), and are well established as culprits in the rise of heart disease. This is where the media got involved to skew the data and muddy the waters (not that we have access to any magic studies, but it has become fairly clear that a lot of mis-information has happened). The most commonly cited study was from the Nurse’s Health Study. During the course of the 14 year study on CHD patients, it was found that for every increase of 2% in dietary calories from trans fats (instead of carb’s), your chances of have coronary heart disease DOUBLED. Whereas, an increase of 5% in saturated fats resulted in an increase of 17%. Increasing your daily caloric intake of saturated fats to 5% (of total calories) is rather difficult unless you eat a LOT of butter and coconut oil, while a 2% increase in trans (hydrogenated) unsaturated fats is very, very manageable.
Trans-fats are essentially saturated fats, but do not behave like them. Therefore, trans-fats being harmful to your health does not mean that saturated fats are bad for you!
Advancements in processing and their effects:
The 2 major advancements in food processing have been discussed above (hydrogenation of unsaturated fats, and the high refinement of sugars), with the third major one being high temperature processing. These three “advancements” have, to be fair, increased the food supply dramatically, but have caused (and will continue to cause) untold mayhem for our health. We have increased our caloric intake, and simultaneously destroyed almost all of the micro-nutrients necessary for the health of your body and microbiome (gut flora). This results in the destruction of our immune system, a huge increase in health problems, and a complete reduction in the satiety of food, meaning that too much is eaten, compounding the negative health effects.
Part 3: Reducing Stressors
Welcome to the third part in the getting healthy series. This section will give a brief introduction into stress and how to reduce it. Stress reduction is hardly a new discussion point, but by approaching it pragmatically and incrementally, it can be more manageable to incorporate these techniques into your life! We’ll start off by looking at stress and the mechanisms by which it works, and then have a look at the 4 key means of reducing it (Awareness, Connection, Nature, and Exercise… ACNE!), and how to encorporate these things into your life.
Firstly, let’s look at stress.
When your brain (or actually your amygdala) senses danger, is tells the hypothalamus to activate the sympathetic nervous system. Epinephrine (aka adrenaline) is released and the “fight or flight” response is initiated. This is done to prime you for pending danger (more oxygen, faster glucose supply, better vision), and it happens in response to ALL stressors! Your body does not distinguish between that annoying driver in front of you and that argument you had at the shops, it only dictates on the degree of the response based on how agitated you are. The Adrenal Gland is also responsible for producing cortisol (also known as the stress hormone) and this happens via the HPA axis (a fancy way of saying a combination of the Hypothalamus, the Pituitary gland, and the Adrenal glands). When cortisol is released into the body, it is accompanied by adrenaline so as to increase focus, clarity, and oxygen uptake. Planning an imminent escape from danger, your body switches to using glucose (its quickest source) for energy. When the adrenaline has subsided (the stressor is gone) and you’re left with the cortisol, your body will then need to replenish it glucose stores (of course!), the only problem being that you haven’t burned any glucose (unless you wrestled with the annoying driver in front of you for 15 minutes). What this really means is that when get stressed at work you cause a shift in how your body functions, and if this shift is prolonged or left uncorrected, it can have substantial consequences for your health!
SNS and PNS overview:
The autonomous nervous system (ANS) is a branch of your peripheral nervous system that regulates many of your unconscious actions, such as breathing, heart rate, digestion etc. There are 2 sides to your autonomous nervous system, the sympathetic and the parasympathetic. Loosely speaking, the sympathetic nervous system can be called the “fight or flight” system, and takes effect when you are in a precarious situation. The parasympathetic nervous system can be called the “rest and digest” system, and takes over when things are safe and your body needs to take stock and regenerate. A balance between these two is vital as they both play a role in your health. Some of the functions carried out by your autonomous nervous system include:
- Diverting blood away from your GI tract (SNS)
- Increasing blood flow to your GI tract by dilating blood vessels (PNS)
- Dilates bronchioles of the lung to allow for greater oxygen uptake (SNS)
- Constricts bronchioles when less oxygen is needed
- Dilates pupils to allow more light into the eye (SNS)
- Increases saliva productions and peristalsis (the rhythmic contraction of the bowels that enables digestion) (PNS)
As you can see, many of the processes of the SNS and PNS are antagonistic in nature, but there is also some crossover and a LOT of things going on behind the scenes!
Stress reduction Techniques
These are our top 5 techniques for stress reduction! The list is done in no particular order as they are all excellent at reducing stress and making you feel better all round.
This is an easy one. It increases your health, gives you energy, increases the amount of feel good hormones flowing, increases oxygen uptake, and helps your body to get more nutrients out of the food you’re eating. For an idea of some routines you can try, take a look here!
As a guideline, we’d recommend exercising at least 3 times a week (reasonably high intensity, like with our HIIT training guide) or 6 times a week (reasonably low intensity exercise, like a brisk walk for 15-20 minutes or a jog for 10-15 minutes). Try to play on your own need for a good behaviour reward, and tell yourself you can have that 15 minutes to relax on the couch AFTER you’ve done your exercise, and then make a routine of it. This way you too (just like Charlie Sheen) can be “bi-winning”, as you will lose the guilt of sitting on your butt and doing nothing AND you’ll feel industrious and healthy having done your exercise. It’s hard to argue with that kind of genius.
It may sound silly, but the old saying “laughter is the best medicine” has far more scientific backing then we give it credit for! And while this may seem like an intuitively obvious way to reduce stress, many people won’t make the effort to include more smiling in their day. It shouldn’t really feel like too much of a chore, though. Make a list of movies that make you laugh, a list of people who make you laugh, a list of activities that make you happy, and a list of places that make it easy for you to forget about work (often people pick the quiet spots for relaxing, but sometimes they’re the ones that force us to reflect on our problems. Here we’re just looking for smiles, so big and noisy please!).
After you have your list, try to include 1 movie Monday – Thursday, one activity for the weekend, and one place for the weekend. I didn’t mention the people that make you smile, because it should be obvious straight away that you should spend more time with them every day (if possible).
This is the only technique of the 5 that is a skill in and of itself. Zoning (discussed later) is the bi-product of a skill, but is not necessarily dependent on it. The health benefits of meditation are at this point indisputable, well researched and documented, and becoming more and more necessary given how excessive our exposure to stressors and stimulants has become. While meditation is a skill that takes years to fully develop, the intent with which you meditate and the act of focusing (even if not always successful) is worth the effort. By removing worries from your mind, even just for 15 minutes, you will have a much more objective idea of why you were worried in the first place and feel much better as a result.
Rather than pretending that we are experts in all things meditation, we’ve included some links (at the bottom of the article) that we think are excellent resources for introducing you to both how to meditate and why to meditate.
If you really struggle with meditation, but would still like to get a feel for what it can do, yoga breathing is always a very real alternative. While it doesn’t offer the same benefits, learning to breath correctly is no less important for your health and focus on breathing is a core tenet of meditation just that yoga breathing has the advantage of being somewhat less esoteric. As per usual, we’re not ones for doing things half measure, so here is our advanced yoga breathing technique. It will leave you feeling like your diaphragm just got a massage, but please take it easy in the beginning, and remember CONSULT A DOCTOR BEFORE PERFORMING ANY NEW EXERCISES/MOVEMENTS.
- Lie on your back with a neutral spine position, and your hands on your lower abdomen
- Breathe in to your lower back and slowly look to fill your lungs with air from your lower abdomen up
- Once you have inhaled fully (your hands should have risen, not your chest), hold for 5 seconds
- Begin to exhale through your mouth, slowly forcing the air out of your abdominal cavity until you feel you can exhale no more.
- At this point keep trying to exhale, and slowly push your lower back down into the floor (or bed if you’re doing this before sleeping) curling your and hips up. Hold this position
- Slowly start to unwind your back and hips towards a neutral spinal position. You should feel an odd sensation which is your diaphragm stretching (please stop once you’ve found a comfortable stretch).
- Relax fully and slowly begin to inhale again (as in steps 1-3)
- Start by doing this 5 times and look to build up to 10. Each “rep” should take about 30 seconds, though this is not a competition to see how long you can hold it or how many you can do. 2-3 reps will be more than enough to get the desired effect if you are fully focused on your breathing.
Getting out into nature could be considered the most important of all these factors, insofar as it helps to reconnect us with where we came from. This “grounding” effect (of time in nature) has been shown in countless studies to reduce stress, and we can even take this a step further and look at “earthing” which has been shown to substantially reduce inflammation in the body. Earthing involves no more than touching the ground (soil, not carpet), and should be done for 15-30 minutes at ago with the more body area exposed, the stronger the response. This is believed to be because our bodies resonate at the same frequency (or have the same electrical energies) as the earth, and spending time in (or on) nature will help us to remove/rebalance this frequency as it may have been altered through constant bombardment of Electro-Magnetic waves (phones, internet & wifi, tv, radio etc.). The truth is that we are really only beginning to understand the effects of the digital age on our body and the staggering levels of light/energy waves around us ALL THE TIME, and have yet to gain a definitive answer as to how damaging it is. Getting back to nature will only ever be a good thing.
Zoning (Achieving Flow)
The 5th and final of stress reduction techniques we call zoning! Zoning is more commonly known as “achieving flow” a term coined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who identifies a state of awareness (or lack thereof) akin to meditating that occurred when someone was fully absorbed in a task, be it playing a sport, doing art, playing music, reading a book, anything that demands 100% of your attention. The idea, he proposes, is that the challenges/demands of the task you are tending to requires so much of your mental resources that awareness of your body and your “self” is no longer possible. Effectively, you are leaving behind your baggage for a little while (or meditating while doing something). In practice this is not only an excellent form of stress relief, but can also increase your feeling of well-being, with the only question being how long the increased feelings of well-being last. Regardless of this, having something that you can enjoy to the extent that you forget all your problems for a little while is something that should be cherished.