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Do you have a sedentary, desk-based job like I do? Do you suffer from neck pain and stiffness? Chances are you’re like me – always battling neck tension and its inevitable consequences. My recent adventures in physiotherapy, as a result of my hip, have led to some very positive outcomes, including redesigning my workstation. My physiotherapist worked out, very cleverly, that part of my hip problem was from stiffness around the gluteal region which was indirectly related to my stiff neck. When she treated my neck with gentle manipulation, my hip was more flexible. The next step was to correct the postural problems that were affecting my neck for the 35 hours a week that I spent at the desk.

The Problem
I work from a laptop, which is apparently one of the worst things to do. The screen is far too low, causing the neck to bend forward, which results in neck strain even after a short period of time (e.g. half an hour). Any forward-bending work like reading a book will also result in the same problem. Hunching over the iPhone while on public transport exacerbates the problem. Have you ever noticed the posture of everyone on a tram or bus? Of course, we can’t simply blame our digital life for this, because reading a paper book or newspaper will essentially cause the same posture.

The Solution

I had to raise my laptop screen to eye level, so I investigated laptop stands and bought this awesome brushed stainless steel foldable stand from JAS PRO. To kit out my workstation properly, I also needed an external keyboard and a mouse. Here’s my new workstation now:

photo-2I’ve noticed a huge difference with raising the laptop screen, and am trying to minimise use of my iPhone at other times. Taking regular breaks from sedentary work is also helping, and whenever I can I look upwards to stretch my neck – at the ceiling or at the sky, depending on where I am. I’ve also attempted to reposition my chair so that my elbows, hips and knees are all at 90 degree angles. Here’s a useful article on office ergonomics, which can help guide you as to how to pimp your workstation.

 

 

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I’m still officially in rehab, but in a much better place. Two weeks in Bali is the ideal way to kick the running habit. I did look longingly at the treadmill in the gym while I was using the elliptical, but the change of scenery certainly helped me refocus. I have returned a slightly different person, one who has embraced a life without running (for now). Which is a very good thing as my physio made it quite clear this week that I am still in rehab, and running plans are for the distant, not near future. But I’m ok with that.

(I wrote previously about how and why I was told to stop running and how I initially felt about it).

I discovered the meaning of the word “rehabilitation” this week. It means to relive, or reinhabit, your body. I want to reinhabit a new, transformed body – one without the aches and pains and asymmetry that I had been ignoring. And I’ve learned three very important lessons about health.

Lesson Number One. Respect your body.
It is not cool to push your body through its imperfections. I was all gung-ho with long distance running and bodyweight HIIT. It was all those endorphins. I felt great, overall. But deep down I knew I had been physically “unbalanced” for a long time. Being pregnant twice has exacerbated those little imbalances. My physio has managed to drill it down into individual muscles – gluteus maximus, deep rotators, multifidus. I have new exercises to do to train the weaker muscles and have come to the realisation that I pushed my body too far with the training I was doing. Most likely, I’ve overdeveloped the stronger muscles in order to compensate for the weaker sides. Time to even things out now. I’m fully committed to my “rehab”. As my physio bluntly put it, it may seem like I’m doing “two-fifths of bugger all” but it’s the most important work of all. I simply can’t go back to running until I fix what went wrong. I spend almost half an hour on my rehab every night and consider this my main form of training for now.

Lesson Number Two. I am resilient. I am flexible.
I’ve found a new strength in letting go. Before I stopped running, I was a bit more Type A than I am now. I hung on to running with a death-like grip, telling myself I wouldn’t cope if I had to stop. I allowed being a runner to dominate my identity. Now, I am a much more flexible person. I’ll find a way to keep fit. It doesn’t have to be running. It just needs to be something that gets my heart rate up for an extended period of time. I’m actually feeling a little bit relieved, as my running schedule was getting a bit exhausting. And with that relief comes a new openness, a new sense of calm. I’m feeling liberated by letting go of my fixed ideas of myself, and excited by the possibilities as I reinvent myself.

Lesson Number Three. Everything is connected. So fix everything.
My holiday melted away the chronic neck pain I had been suffering from, and on my return I’ve been in the process of “pimping my workstation” to make it more ergonomic. This is worthy of a blog post on its own so stay tuned, but it’s made an enormous difference to my neck. When you spend hours at a desk (and using a laptop) every day like I do, neck pain is pretty much inevitable – unless you pay attention to ergonomics. I’ve also stopped stooping over my iPhone all the time – have you ever noticed how everyone using public transport is hunched over a phone?

Every day I try to do something aerobic – at the moment using the spin bike and walking is all I am managing. The bike is becoming more tolerable with loading up a video or talk to watch – the time flies by! And this week, amazingly, my hip is improving. I don’t have pain, I have more movement, and I can feel my left glute getting stronger. I see my physio again in two weeks and we’ll progressively work on more stabilisers – including the transverse abdominus, which is probably very weak after two pregnancies. I’m looking forward to inhabiting a better, stronger body than ever before. And I have no doubt that this will make me a better runner.

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My name is Carolyn and it’s been one week since my last run.

It’s the first time in years that I haven’t been running at least every few days, bar being pregnant. And even so, I ran up til 28 weeks with my first. (Oh the arrogance! With my second pregnancy, I rekindled my relationship with the couch).

I am literally in rehab. Funny isn’t it? Rehab conjurs up images of Robert Downey Junior in some magical faraway place that looks like a fancy retirement home, where you sit and drink tea and play cards with fellow celebrity rehabbers. But no, my rehab is different. Life goes on but I must rest my hip and cease the running. For, oh, 8 weeks.

Other runners have been very sweet to sympathise with me. My research assistant was more blunt – “But that will kill you!!” she exclaimed when I told her the news. I love her for telling it like it is. Boy does she know me well. But it certainly wasn’t encouraging.

And here’s the thing – life is different without running. I have to find a new home, a new way to keep the endorphins and dopamine and serotonin pumping through me. I need new ways to move my body that don’t stress my sad hip. Because I have discovered, again, just how important it is to keep moving.

It now seems strange that I thought I was a really fit and healthy person. I thought I had it all worked out. But life has a funny way of making you wake up to yourself. My physio palpated about 100 spots on my body, from head to toe, that made me yelp like a kitten being strangled. I have trigger points where I didn’t even know muscles existed. That ain’t healthy, my friend.

It’s all good, I tell myself. I’ve wanted to fix my niggles for a long time. My neck aches. My shoulders are stiff. My TMJ is out. My glutes are crying. My calves are too tight. I’ve known, deep down, that i should have paid attention to my whole body instead of focussing solely on one activity, as blissful as that activity is. Now I’m learning the hard way that everything is connected. Health doesn’t just depend on one aspect of your lifestyle. You can’t cheat Nature. You must, humbly and respectfully, work with the whole system. Legs are connected to butt to lower back to mid back to neck and beyond. I couldn’t keep cheating forever – just running without any thought to the rest of my body.

It’s not easy not being able to run. I feel the familiar tension rising and I need to take off. But I can’t. So I hop on the bike or jump into the pool. The water brings me some relief. I feel like I’m washing myself of my sins. I also feel like a fish out of water – gasping in the middle of every lap. But I persist. And anyway, I’m grateful. For still being able to move, for still having my legs, no matter how sore they are.

I am respecting my body by fixing all the things in my everyday life that make my aches and pains worse. Starting with my neck. I’m finally creating an ergonomic work station. (I blame my extremely short stature for this! A super tall footstool will be needed!) and doing other things that I’ll be blogging about, because no doubt they will help others too in sedentary desk jobs.

I’ve also discovered that I can live without running. And this has brought me a new sense of freedom and confidence. The first few days was pretty strange, like living without an amputated limb. But they say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. And I’m committed to this rehab so I can get back out there one day – my trainers crunching on the gravel track, a podcast in my ears and a song in my heart.

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Photo: Andy Wright, www.flickr.com

I’ve been a bit cheeky this week. My GP wanted me to repeat my cholesterol tests after 6 months but I had made some changes and wanted to know if I was on the right track. One of the advantages of being a GP is being able to order your own pathology tests, so voila… I tested myself for cholesterol! I’m celebrating because my cholesterol is now the best it’s ever been, and the changes I have made have been sustainable and enjoyable. I’m going to share with you what I did.

But firstly, the question is, will these changes make a difference? There is some controversy over this, as the evidence that low-fat diets reduce the risk of having heart attacks is mixed. There’s a lot of talk about how we’re allegedly eating less fat than ever and heart disease and obesity rates are rising – this is simply untrue, as American data shows that Americans are eating as much fat as they were in 1963 and this has remained consistent for decades. What we do know now that it’s not just a low saturated fat diet that makes a difference, but it’s a low saturated fat and high mono-unsaturated fat diet with high fruit and vegetable intake that probably makes the most difference. Low-fat diets have consistently failed to show appreciable benefits on heart attack risk, unless they were Mediterranean style diets that included olives and other sources of mono-unsaturated fats. In one randomised study, the participants consumed a diet of 10% saturated fat and 22% mono-unsaturated fat.

So, does high cholesterol lead to heart attacks? The answer is a bit complicated. From my (somewhat limited) understanding, cholesterol is not the cause but perhaps the straw on the camel’s back. The underlying cause is damage to blood vessels (from trans-fats, high blood pressure, diabetes). The damaged blood vessel lining kind of looks like a graze. Cholesterol is the stuff that patches up this graze – kind of like using putty to close up a hole in a wall. Trouble is that it can be too good of a plug, and causes narrowing of the vessels, which then leads to complete blockage. High cholesterol levels are linked to heart disease, especially at very high levels, and lowering cholesterol with statin drugs does lead to a reduction in heart disease risk. Dr Dean Ornish also demonstrated that a very low fat diet plus stress management program and regular exercise can reverse the blood vessel damage seen in heart disease.

Despite the controversies surrounding cholesterol, I have chosen not to adopt a cavalier attitude and instead chose to change my diet. I didn’t have a terrible diet but I was having a lot of eggs, red meat, and the occasional ice-cream. I was training for a race so I was actually losing weight, but it certainly didn’t help my cholesterol levels. I have no doubt we’ll continue to discover more about cholesterol and heart disease risk.

There is also some evidence that a high-fat diet may also be linked to breast cancer, and that it may change the gut microbiome adversely.

My approach was to focus on restricting saturated fat (note: not all fat; I didn’t pay any attention to the other fats apart from eliminating all trans-fats) and increasing plant foods. I used a combination of a Mediterranean diet and an Ornish diet. I didn’t read any books, just some websites and guidelines, and used Myfitnesspal and/or read nutrition labels. I immediately got to know the foods high in saturated fat – these are full fat dairy and certain meats such as bacon, sausages, chicken thighs, and lamb. All fried foods like chips were also high in saturated fat. I learned that chips were 6g of sat fat a bucket, lasagne was 8g a serve, and Magnums were a whopping 18g a serve!!! (a Mini Magnum, however, was a more modest 6g a serve).

So my diet guidelines were something like this:

Saturated fat: Less than 10% of daily calories, which for me was about 13g per day. (To calculate your daily caloric requirement, go to the Eat for Health website). The good protein choices were low fat yoghurt, low fat cheese, chicken breast (a third of the fat of chicken thighs), lean red meat such as eye fillet steak (only 4g saturated fat per small fillet!), nuts and fish. I could eat normal amounts of these foods with a minimum of saturated fat, so I never felt hungry. I found that having other fats such as the mono-unsaturated fats from nuts helped with satiety. I got a bit peckish if I had a completely low fat diet.

Vegetables: Heaps and heaps of vegetables at every meal; if I didn’t fill my vege drawer up in the fridge I knew I wasn’t going to be having enough. Vegies have lots of fiber which helps you feel full and also soaks up cholesterol so you poop it out. I made at least half my plate veges. I ate vegie sticks as a snack. (Seriously! I love celery!)

Photo: Andy Wright, www.flickr.com
Photo: Andy Wright, www.flickr.com

Legumes: I introduced one or two meals with legumes every week. Sometimes I would mix this up with some animal protein as well. Some days I got away with a completely vegetarian meal!

Very few eggs: I sadly gave up my two egg a day habit, and only had two eggs a week. I quickly forgot about the eggs and now I don’t miss them. Could the 14 eggs a week have been the sole reason for my high cholesterol? Quite possibly, but there is no harm in changing other parts of my diet.

Oats: Every. Single. Morning. Sometimes I had Bircher muesli. Usually I had oats with honey or banana, and sometimes I added Nutella. (Only 1.4g sat fat per serve!) Sometimes I even had Bircher Muesli as a snack!

Portion control: Occasionally we would have a high-fat meal – like when my partner feels like having chorizo, or we eat out, or at a friend’s house. Portion control was my friend – I learned that you can have a small amount of said foods and load up on other foods like veges instead. And of course, once or twice a week I would forget about my sat fat allowance and have whatever I wanted. The first couple of weeks were difficult, but I soon adjusted to not having as much saturated fat in my life and I felt fantastic. I also found that by keeping things flexible this way (not making a big deal about food) I could eat normally, and the family was happy.

I was also careful not to replace the saturated fat with sugar, so I stuck to low glycemic index foods only and very little sugar. I wasn’t aiming to lose weight but I’m definitely leaner and have lost 1 kg.

Looking forward, I’m now going to focus on having more mono-unsaturated fat in my diet (avocadoes, nuts, fish and olives) and perhaps introduce more eggs into my diet, as they are an excellent source of protein and nutrients (I could have the whites only for example; the cholesterol is contained in the egg yolk). My family and I seem to be enjoying the new way of eating, and I now include more of what they enjoy in our meals eg sausages, but I’ll make this as a sausage and chickpea stew and they have more sausages, I have more chickpeas.

What I did wasn’t rocket science; it is basically removing the stuff we don’t need heaps of and replacing it with stuff that we should eat plentifully. I believe that it is this substitution that is the key – you can’t remove saturated fat and replace it with high GI carbs or trans fats and expect to live a long and healthy life. You can’t “cheat” on this stuff. More plant, less animal. And a little bit of Nutella every now and then 😉

Nutella...only 1.4g sat fat per serve (and lots of sugar...) Photo by Rainer Z taken from Wikimedia Commons
Nutella…only 1.4g sat fat per serve (and lots of sugar…)
Photo by Rainer Z taken from Wikimedia Commons

 

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Just bear with me for a moment or two. I need to be a little bit dramatic to express my grief. Let me be a dying swan for a minute. I promise you I am moving on. But yesterday I was told something I had been fearing, but which I thought wouldn’t happen til I was 75 years old and hobbling around a retirement home. I was told to stop running. For a while. For now. Until (insert question mark).

It’s hard for a non-runner to understand, but imagine you were told to stop breathing. Running is my reset button. It’s a place, not an activity, for me. It’s where I get my calm, my resolve, my sense of purpose, my joie de vivre. I run to keep going in life. I run because at one time I couldn’t run for five minutes without feeling like I am dying, and now I run distances that I never dreamed were even possible. (They’re not long distances for a marathoner, but hey. It’s all relative). So running makes me feel strong, and reminds of what is possible out of the seemingly impossible. I ran in my first pregnancy until 28 weeks. Even my mum, who is not an active person, will ask me if I want to go for a run when she comes over to look after the kids. I’m one of those annoying people who does get an undeniable “runner’s high”. I tear up when I remember those cold crisp mornings when I set off on my long runs, listening to an inspiring podcast, the autumn leaves under my feet, the sky blue, my heart soaring and filled with bliss. As soon as I hear the crunching of my feet on gravel, left, right, left, right, I know I’ve come home.

(Enough of the rhapsodies now, woman!)

But it seems my left hip doesn’t like the left, right, left, right and the impact of those feet on gravel. It’s been niggling since my first baby was born. I was told it was a hip flexor tightness and glute weakness. The physio then didn’t know what we know now – that it’s likely I have something called Femoroacetabular Impingement. There’s probably some developmental problem with my hip where the ball bit of the hip joint doesn’t fit well with the cup bit. So there’s a bit that rubs, over and over again, when the hip moves. Hence the hip/groin pain. It’s interesting that I ran a 15km race without too many problems. I’m hopeful.

So for now, I am to stop running. There. I said it. Last night I read a chapter from my “Train Like A Mother” book which is written by two “badass mother runners”, Dimity and Sarah. Dimity describes sobbing as she pulled on her boot when she was diagnosed with a stress fracture and had to stop running for 7 weeks. I sobbed too. Then she talked about a cycling program to train for marathons. Yes it’s possible. And deep water running. And I stopped sobbing.

As I said, I’m moving on. Not being able to run (for now) isn’t something I can change. What I can change is the state of my deep hip rotators, apparently. So I’m doing these funny exercises every day that isolate these little suckers that haven’t been externally rotating my hip enough, causing some instability. I’m rolling around on my little spiky ball which my four-year-old has nicknamed “Thorny”. Thorny gets into the sorest tightest spots around my hip and back to loosen up those naughty muscles. I’m sore today but I’m taking that as a good thing! I’m doing pilates. I’m finding the stationary bike extremely boring, but I’m going to download audiobooks, movies, box sets… whatever gets me through a session! If I’m to stop running for a longer period, I’ll take up deep water running. I can also do spin cycling or zumba or yoga at our Uni fitness centre or local gym.

I’m going to do whatever I can to maximise my chance of getting back to running, and in the meantime, I want to discover that place again, outside of running. I may be giving up running for now, but I’m not giving up on that feeling – the fist-pumping “AWESOME!!” feeling when I’ve moved my body and exceeded my own expectations. No way. And yes, I do know that in the big scheme of things, having a minor hip problem and not being able to run, but still being able to walk, work, pick up my children, and do other physical things is not a huge problem. (Unless I’m talking to a fellow runner!) I need to get some perspective. And get my Zumba on! Who knows what will come from this new phase. Hopefully a brand new hip (please send me some hip love!!), maybe a new-found love of another activity that can sustain me in the times when running takes a back seat. Another place that I call home.

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Photo credit: "Mike" Michael L. Baird [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo credit: "Mike" Michael L. Baird [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo credit: “Mike” Michael L. Baird [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Straight off the bat, I’d like to confess something. I’ve been feeling somewhat of a fraud by calling myself a working mum. Sure, I’m doing a PhD (fulltime) and work as a GP one day a week. I pretty much have a nine-day fortnight. But my Uni work is very flexible – I can work from home, and I am almost completely autonomous. My supervisor has known me for years, and understands that I am very self-directed and I can deliver the goods even when working under pressure (for example, my crazy experiment of working from home with a small baby and then toddler for almost a year). And I don’t work long hours. First and foremost, I don’t find I am productive for more than six or seven hours a day anyway. So I get to Uni around 9, and head home around 4ish. I work similar hours at the clinic.

Don’t get me wrong, it took me a long time to get to this point. I wasn’t handed this awesome work week on a silver platter. Plus I choose to live on a scholarship. And I am a honest mum. I don’t have any family support here in Melbourne. I cook, I clean, and my husband and I divvy every domestic task between the two of us. There’s nobody to mind my kids when I want to go for a run except for him – no grandma around the corner. (I do have a cleaner! For my sanity!)

So now that I’ve got that off my chest, here’s something I wanted to share with you all. I’ve been falling into a routine of workouts during the week that seem to lift me up at exactly the right times, banish the grumpy mummy blues, send my spirits soaring, and see me coming home feeling completely pumped and full of “Yeah!!! I can do it! I’m AWESOME!! Life is AWESOME!!” Call it endorphins, call it stress management, call it whatever you will, but this feeling rocks, and I don’t want to give it up. And the pattern I’ve fallen into seems to tweak the working week in just the right way so that I’m feeling energetic and happy at all the right times (which is, most of the time!)

It’s been counter-intuitive to what I thought (I initially thought that getting my workouts done during the weekend would be the most sustainable. Wrong!) Hear me out and maybe give it a try. You have nothing to lose! If you can tweak your week a bit, it’s worth it.

Monday morning

I know, I know. Monday mornings generally produce groans all round, and a “blah” feeling. Which makes them a perfect time to bust the Monday blues. What a better way to start the week than a heart-pumping workout (your choice – mine is a long run: 10km/one hour) first thing in the morning? You know you’ve got your week set with this under your belt. You’ll start the week (a little bit more) enthused, relaxed and energetic. Even if it’s a short, sharp 20 minutes, try to get this one in first thing on Monday morning. I choose to work at home on Mondays so the time I save on commuting is my running time. I drop the kids off at 8am, and am at my desk, showered and coffee in hand, by 9:30am, feeling fantastic.

Mid week

I usually have a rest day on Tuesdays, as this is the day after my long run, and also my clinic day – which can be unpredictable and are usually exhausting. By Wednesday I am itching for some exercise, as the effects of the endorphins are starting to wear off and I’m getting edgy. Plus it’s Hump Day and all. So on Wednesday afternoons I squeeze in a 20-30 minute run or HIIT session. Hubby gets the kids from daycare (this saves me half an hour). When they get home, mummy’s had a shower and is getting dinner ready with a smile instead of a growl!

Friday evenings

Yep, Fridays ain’t about Friday night drinks any more in our household. Oh, Friday night drinks!! Much like the weekend sleep-ins, I’ve kissed these goodbye. Now, as many of you know, Friday night HIIT is my poison. 20 minutes and I’m ready for the weekend!! Woot!!

The only things flaming for me on Friday evenings  now are my glutes and quads... Photo credit: By Nik Frey (niksan) [CC-BY-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons
The only things flaming for me on Friday evenings now are my glutes and quads…
Photo credit: By Nik Frey (niksan) [CC-BY-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons
Weekends

I used to plan runs on the weekends. If I get them done first thing, that’s great. Sometimes, if we don’t have much on, hubby will take the kids to the playground while I run around the park, or I’ll take the older kidlet out in the pram while the toddler has an afternoon nap. But sometimes the weekend just gets away from us, and I just let it. My weeks are so regimented, so scheduled, down to the minute. I’m kind of happy just to go with the flow on weekends. I try to keep it flexible and not intrude on my family’s time too much. After all, we love spending time with the kids on the weekend, and it’s nice to catch up with family and friends too, plus there are birthday parties to go to, groceries to get… If someone calls and asks us to come over for lunch, I’ll say yes please, and fit in a workout sometime else. I can always pop down to the treadmill after dinner, or do some HIIT in my room if we have a spare 20 minutes. If I get one workout done on the weekends, I’m pretty happy.

Early mornings

Oh I wish my early mornings were for working out! I’m reading a book at the moment for mother runners, and there’s a lot of talk about the 5:30am run. Yeah, well that works if your kids wake at 7am. It’s not uncommon for me to be wide awake at 5am with a toddler racing around the loungeroom with energy to burn. I could take him out for a run, but it’s winter – which means pitch black, freezing weather. I’ve tried doing HIIT but I hit him accidentally while doing a burpee! I let my husband sleep in a little bit as he works late into the night. But as soon as my littlest one decides to not wake at this ungodly hour any more, I’ll be doing the 5:30 run (on the treadmill) or HIIT session for sure.

I’d be really interested to hear how you go if you take on some of the above unsolicited advice from moi. (I’m always very chuffed when someone emails to say they did what I suggested! Wow!!) I feel that planning your workouts in this fashion will self-perpetuate the exercise routine, as it becomes something to sustain wellbeing and happiness instead of a chore. But really, any time that works for you is a great time to get fit and active, so don’t just take my word for it – you choose what works best for you, your work and home situation and your family! Happy Hump Day!!

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Don't get ahead of yourself. That's just a plate of white rice. 
By Priscila Guimarães (originally posted to Flickr as Sushi) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

It’s really great that health is a big topic these days. Industry is coming to the table, and we can now buy organic meats and vegetables in supermarket chains, allergy-friendly foods are widely available, and salad bars jostle next to each other in food courts. Yet there is a risk of developing a “health halo” when it comes to certain food trends – believing that what you’re eating is actually healthier than it is. Here are five common food trends that may trip you up. Always be aware of your choices – a varied plant-based diet is a solid foundation.

1. Fat-free.
I find this one particularly irritating. Whenever I see it, I know it means “packed with sugar”. Processed foods sell because they are palatable to consumers, and it is usually fat or sugar that results in this. I saw a packet of marshmallows marked as “99% fat free”. Hot chocolate mixes and snack bars are often touted as being fat-free as well. Soft drinks are technically fat-free too. To avoid this health halo, don’t buy anything in a packet, and get your fat-free foods from the fruit and vegie aisle instead.

Mmm, so much pink and white fat-free goodness!! https://www.flickr.com/photos/melanie_hughes/4320632960/
Mmm, so much pink and white fat-free goodness!!
https://www.flickr.com/photos/melanie_hughes/4320632960/

2. Gluten-free.
Obviously, a gluten-free diet is essential if you have coeliac disease, or true gluten allergy. Many people feel better on a gluten-free diet (I often think this is because they are actually fructose intolerant, and are reacting to fructose, not gluten, in wheat). But many gluten-free foods are high glycemic index foods, which lead to a multitude of problems including diabetes and overweight. So if you’re indulging in gluten-free bread and pasta because you’re feeling virtuous, consider increasing the fiber in your diet and add protein to your meal to lower the glycemic load, and reduce the portions of your refined carbohydrates.

Mmmm, gluten-free french fries! By Miansari66 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Mmmm, gluten-free french fries!
By Miansari66 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
3. Vegetarianism.
Many vegetarians are actually incredibly healthy eaters – this would seem self-evident as their diets have to be mainly plant-based. A good proportion of vegetarians also choose not to eat animal products for health reasons as well, and are well-versed in eating well. However, lacto-ovo-vegetarians can fall into unhealthy habits just as easily as non-vegetarians. Diets high in white unrefined carbohydrates, with little variety of vegetables, or a dependence on starchy vegetables, and too much high-fat dairy can lead to poor health outcomes. So if you’re a vegetarian who thinks having a McFlurry as a snack and eating lots of white bread with butter is fine because you’re vegetarian and therefore immune to poor health, think again. Include plenty of vegetarian protein in your diet (legumes, nuts, seeds, tofu), vary your vegies, and cut out refined carbohydrates and sugar.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ilove9and23/9419278907/
Yep, this Kit Kat McFlurry is vegetarian.
https://www.flickr.com/photos/ilove9and23/9419278907/

4. “Health” foods.
Many of these irk me as they may not be a lot healthier than other snack foods. They often cater to allergies, not to health per se. And those nut bars that you can buy, masquerading as a healthy snack? It’s great to have nuts in your diet, but slathered in high-fructose corn syrup? No thanks. Buy a packet of nuts instead, and avoid any packaged “health foods”. They’re still just as processed as any other snack food.

I don't think so.
I don’t think so.

5. Asian food.
Ok, this is a bit cheeky, but I put this in because there is a common assumption that Asian food is healthy. Truth is that Asian foods are often high glycemic index foods (hello, rice noodles??) and sauces are high in sugar and salt. E.g. eating teriyaki chicken or sushi ain’t as healthy as we think because of the loads of white rice consumed in each meal, and sugar in the teriyaki chicken sauce and sushi rice seasoning. For healthier options, ask for sauce on the side (e.g. on your Vietnamese vermicelli), cut out the rice, and have sashimi instead of sushi. Some places are starting to make brown rice sushi rolls as well – a change I fully embrace!!

Don't get ahead of yourself. That's just a plate of white rice.  By Priscila Guimarães (originally posted to Flickr as Sushi) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Don’t get ahead of yourself. That’s just a plate of white rice.
By Priscila Guimarães (originally posted to Flickr as Sushi) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
I hope this helps you hang your health halo up and look critically at the food you’re eating. It’s certainly opened my eyes to what I put in my mouth! Most of all, enjoy a wide variety of healthy foods, and avoid food in packets! x

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Burnt red meat. Why else did God give us fire???

Credit: http://www.ixdaily.com/grind/12b431bad00d7a563e523b57cc280a1798189d80

There are two types of annoying guests at dinner: those who harp on excessively about their food preferences, allergies, restrictions etc, and those who wallow in their denial and feel the need to defend their position on eating crap by insisting others do too. I admit I have been on both sides of the fence at one time or another. Here are my tips on how not to make your fellow guests want to vomit whenever you open your mouth at dinner.

If you are on a “diet” or “program” or have some kind of food restriction

Maybe you feel you’re allergic to gluten. Maybe you believe that sugar is evil, or red meat kills you. Maybe you avoid dairy because you believe it’s sent from the Devil to give us all ADHD, autism and cancer. Maybe (like me) you’ve been told to eat less saturated fat because your cholesterol is high. All this may be fair and true, and if you’re truly allergic to something you do need to make this explicit before your throat closes up. But there’s no need to become the High Priest/ess of Annoying Eating Habits, especially if someone else has lovingly prepared the food for you. Here are some do’s and don’ts.

Don’t say

Did you know that olive oil cooked to high temperatures, as in this beautifully roasted potato, kills you by giving you heart disease?

No thanks, I don’t eat pesticides. (as I did when once offered strawberries that were not organic. I know! I know!!!!!)

My naturopath told me to eat organic cold-pressed coconut oil, I don’t eat dairy, because humans are not made to digest cow’s milk.

Wow, there’s a lot of free radicals in this lovely roast beef here. No thanks.

Gluten is evil. We don’t need gluten. It destroys our guts and gives us cancer. No bread thanks. I only eat gluten-free bread. I get it from this beautiful artisan bakery that specialises in gluten-free bread. It’s amazing. It costs $20 a loaf. You should go there.

Noodles have no nutritional value whatsoever. (A true fact, but one that I am ashamed to have repeated at dinner in front of steaming plates of delicious noodles all covered with exquisite sauces of lard and MSG).

Do say

That cake looks amazing! I’ll just have a tiny piece, thanks. Yum!

I’d really love to, but my doctor said I have to avoid red meat. I do miss my steak!

Thank you. Would you like some too?

Great spread!

I won’t, not today, thanks. (Sincere smile). Here you go. (Firmly zips lips).

If you’re living in denial

You feel insecure when someone starts tooting on about their diet, because you eat crap. Or it annoys you because you simply want to dig into the mashed potatoes and get to dessert. You believe that all this nutrition stuff is rubbish and humans should eat whatever the hell they want because life is short (well, it will be for you, that’s for sure).

Don’t say

My grandmother lived til 90 and she smoked every single day of her life and ate lard. (My personal favourite. I bet Granny had her legs amputated from diabetic gangrene).

Everything in moderation!! (Another favourite of mine – usually said by someone who has their plate loaded with french fries).

Come on, eat this burnt bit of cow!!!! It won’t kill you!! One piece won’t kill you! One piece of cake won’t kill you!! (Starts vigorously shoving food at people).

Do say

Nothing at all. Just keep eating, smiling and nodding!

 

You can choose to eat your way, without making it public. Just eat less of what you don’t want to eat, or avoid it altogether. And please, do not force someone to eat something they don’t want to. Mutual respect goes a long way at dinner! Perhaps this will pave the way for mature discussions about diet and nutrition instead of creating polarity.

Burnt red meat. Why else did God give us fire??? Credit: http://www.ixdaily.com/grind/12b431bad00d7a563e523b57cc280a1798189d80
Burnt red meat. Why else did God give us fire???
Credit: http://www.ixdaily.com/grind/12b431bad00d7a563e523b57cc280a1798189d80

Bon appetit!

 

 

 

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prevention

Tonight the Abbott Government announced Australia’s annual budget. Enormous cuts to health are mooted, with an end to free healthcare, for the vague purposes of creating a “Medical Research Future Fund”. How this Fund will operate and what its’ aims will be are yet to be clarified. While I am a medical researcher myself and welcome any support to this vital area, it appears that the Treasurer Joe Hockey is talking about cures. This Future Fund could mean that a cure could be found for chronic disease, he says – like heart disease, for example.

This approach smacks of extreme short-sightedness to me. Nothing in the Budget has been allocated towards increased spending on preventive or public health. Instead we have compulsory co-payments for GP visits, which will deter patients from discussing preventive health concerns with their doctors. These visits will be seen as “non-essential” – but they are in fact the most important visits of all.

You want a cure? Here’s a prescription. Tax the heck out of tobacco and alcohol. Nobody, and I mean nobody (apart from tobacco companies and their employees) needs cigarette smoke. Nobody needs alcohol. We all enjoy it for sure, but we don’t need it. Tax junk food. Tax potato chips, crappy commercially-made biscuits and cakes that are loaded with trans fats, McDonald’s, hot dogs. Tax sugar. Hike the cost of lollies so much that they cost more than gold. Every parent will thank you. (But don’t tax chocolate, coffee or tea. These save lives!!) Make the cost of soft drinks astronomical. You want Coca Cola and diabetes, but say you don’t have enough money to see a GP? You pay $50 for your litre of sugar water.

The savings?

Almost $2 billion from not having to treat smoking-related illness

More than $15 billion a year from not having to treat alcohol-related ilnesses and injuries and from increased productivity (Note: this figure is based on 2004-5 spending).

As for sugar? Figures for Australia are unclear, but the estimated cost for global healthcare is at least $488 billion.

As for physical activity…

Encourage everyone to move. Maybe tax those who are fit and able and don’t do any exercise. Invest in public transport so people have to walk more to and from work. Hike up the fuel excise even further. Improve conditions for cyclists. Make lifts and escalators in office buildings painfully slow, forcing sedentary workers to walk up stairs. Make it mandatory for coffee machines and toilets to be a certain distance from desks so office workers have to move around the office more. Tax chairs so it’s harder to find one to sit on. Subsidise the cost of active gear and gym memberships. Abolish free-to-air TV.

The savings?

Almost $14 billion a year (from 2008 figures).

You do the math. Prevention is better than cure.

prevention

 

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laptop and stethoscope
, ,

laptop and stethoscopeThirteen years ago I had a panic attack after finishing my last shift as a hospital doctor. I was hyperventilating and shaking. For a few minutes I wondered how I was going to survive without that familiar yet suffocating yoke around my neck that I had been carrying – no, not my stethoscope, but my career as a medical doctor. Then I pulled myself together – and I have never looked back since.

I had spent six years in medical school and three years as a junior doctor. I had witnessed dreadful things, distressing things, without any support from senior doctors. I felt like I was on a conveyor belt to Hell. Something seemed to be missing but I didn’t know what it was. So I enrolled in a Chinese Medicine Bachelor Degree and did not apply for a new job the following year. I sat in lectures about Yin and Yang and learned about the different types of Qi. I spent one year just learning about the hundreds of acupuncture points on the body. I learned about herbs that warmed, herbs that dispelled damp, herbs that invigorated Qi. I had become a Sinophile during medical school, in an attempt to discover my cultural “roots”. Studying Chinese Medicine seemed to be an obvious extension of my journey.

At first it was exotic, but then I began to see the parallels between Chinese and Western medicine. I learned about the influences of the five emotions on the body – especially anger and “over-thinking”. Chinese Medicine taught me to appreciate the impact of lifestyle on health. I also had an introduction to nutrition – a naturopath gave us lectures on vitamins, minerals and wholefoods. I was amazed. Nutrition in hospitals boiled down to serving bacon and eggs for oncology patients, and Sustagen to thin patients.

Gratuitous bacon meme... I couldn't resist ;)
Gratuitous bacon meme… I couldn’t resist ;)

I realised how unwell I was. I was plagued with hay fever symptoms, constant sinusitis, back pain, insomnia, constipation. My diet was terrible and I did no exercise. But gradually, with the dawning of a realisation that I should be taking better care of my health, and the blessing of free time – not needing to work 15 hour shifts several times a week – I started doing more exercise and improving what I ate. I started running. I slowly gave up junk food. My hay fever improved.

But I couldn’t leave Western Medicine behind. I felt there was something I hadn’t finished. I was accepted as a GP trainee after graduating from Chinese Medicine. Two years later, after obtaining my Fellowship, I joined an integrative GP clinic and I am still there, eight years on.

I’ve been on a journey to discover the answers to true wellbeing since I diverted from Western Medicine. Since then I’ve learned so much about nutrition, lifestyle, and the mind-body connection and how to use it. Taking a different tangent opened up my eyes to new paradigms. It was startling. I learned that there was more to medicine than prescriptions. I learned that every human being is a complex and unique creature, and that curing and preventing disease often required more than a drug order. I also learned that there were many situations where drugs saved lives and prevented complications. My job is to know what the situation calls for. I’ve returned to Western Medicine with a new set of eyes.

Now I find I’m moving away from acupuncture because it’s a passive treatment. I still use it in practice and am passionate about establishing rigorous evidence around its’ possible effectiveness. But I believe that active lifestyle changes will make the biggest impact on health in the “worried well” that consult me. Time and time again my advice is to eat less sugar, do more exercise, meditate, practise positive self-talk, go to bed at the same time every night. If patients did these religiously they would rarely need to see me. The other problems are easily fixed – the ones that require a prescription.

I consider myself very fortunate to have a career in Western Medicine. I took a roundabout way back to medicine, but I certainly haven’t ended up in the same place – or perhaps the same place, but with a new vision. If I hadn’t left for a little while, I may not have discovered my vocation – to teach and inspire others to find the answers to health and happiness. (One of the ancient definitions of “doctor” is “someone who teaches“). Inspiration implies I have to be a somewhat healthy role model myself. Now I spend my days and nights learning about health and wellbeing – about healing and nurturing the body, heart, mind and spirit. It’s an amazing and privileged journey and I intend to share it with everyone who wants to come along with me. :)

Photo credit: http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6079/6123892769_9fd6451484.jpg

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