Stressed out? What it is doing to your body

Most of us have been there before, where you feel overwhelmed with responsibilities, anxious about a decision or lacking in sleep because something is on your mind. Stress is the reaction to any change that requires an adjustment or response, in a combination of physical, mental and emotional responses.

Now I am a very relaxed person; easy going, not uptight, and fairly happy with most things in life. However, lately I’ve been stressed. I don’t show my stress at first, and carry on with every day life in a regular happy way, until a mix of sleeplessness, fatigue and anxiety becomes too much and I break down (read: tears for no reason and the desire to do nothing but have a nap). This only lasts a day and the next morning I’m up and at ’em with a spring in my step, feeling rather sheepish about my previous lapse in dignity, luckily still having the ability to laugh at myself!
It got me thinking about how stress affects different people, and what stress can do to your body. When continual bouts of stress are unresolved and there is no relaxation in between, we refer to it as ‘distress’ which is a negative stress reaction. Physical symptoms such as headaches, upset stomach, skin problems, elevated blood pressure, chest pain and sleeping problems can become apparent and can also bring on or worsen disease or illness.

When you are suffering from stress, you may find it hard to eat healthily, or have the time to prepare healthy meals. Emotional eating is also often triggered with stress, where food is used for comforting and excess consumption may lead to weight gain. Stress also causes the body to release more cortisol – a stress hormone that that increases sugars in the bloodstream. It also curbs functions that are non-essential such as immunity and digestion, and this stress hormone can cause the body to retain more tummy fat – the dangerous kind around our vital organs. These physical symptoms can be very detrimental to your health and may not be resolved until your stress levels are managed.

It’s not only physical implications but also mental ones, including increased anxiety, worsened depression, lack of motivation or focus and irritability. This can lead some to change their behaviours to overcome their anxiety by means of under or over eating, drug or alcohol abuse and social withdrawal.

These are pretty serious consequences which I urge you all to take care of before things get too bad. But how do you manage stress levels? Physical activity, meditation, yoga and relaxation methods can help to overcome stress, as can a healthy diet and plenty of sleep. Easier said than done, right?

Routine and preparation is really important to manage stress levels during challenging times. Making things as simple as possible might be the answer for you during these times, by eating the same thing each day and sticking to your usual exercise routine. Saying yes to extra plans may not be possible and it is best not to overbook yourself – something I am still combatting! However everyone is different and manages stress in different ways. Me? I like to be busy, I thrive on multitasking, however learning your limits is certainly valuable when it comes to preventing breakdowns (and breakouts!).

If you feel yourself beginning to feel overwhelmed or anxious, take time out – go for a walk, work up a sweat, eat lots of fresh food rather than sugary junk, and ensure you get yourself to bed at a decent hour.

After my breakdown last week, where a mixture of happy and frustrating feelings collided, I had the best sleep I have ever had in my life, falling to sleep in record time, and am now feeling ready to take on the world! (one step at a time, of course…)
How do you manage stress?



Intermittent Dieting

It’s that feeling of hunger you get when you’re trying to lose weight; that feeling of energy depletion and sluggishness; and the feeling that that slice of mud cake is screaming at you to eat it…. Well that one is probably you just being delusional, however there could be scientific reasoning behind all of those dieting symptoms.

This week I attended a seminar by associate professor Amanda Salis who presented the topic “Why diets (usually) fail”. Amanda has done research on behalf of the University of Sydney’s Boden Institute of Obesity, Exercise and Eating Disorders and she claims that the reason many diets fail is because the body responds to energy restriction with a ‘famine reaction’ that increases appetite, reduces metabolic rate and alters circulating hormone concentrations in a way that stimulates fat accumulation. In other words, when you restrict your intake of calories your body starts to think that there isn’t enough food available to eat and it slows everything down to prevent you wasting away!

This research amazed me, as I have been preaching the idea of boosting your metabolism and eating more to lose more for a while now, and this shows that what I have been advising actually has a whole lot of evidence behind it. So what does Amanda recommend we do to beat this pesky famine response? She recommends intermittent dieting as a strategy to overcome the slowing of the metabolism in order to continue to lose weight and break the plateau. In her studies she monitored two groups of women; one group who took part in continuous dieting with a calorie restriction of 500 calories per day, the other group who restricted their intake by 500 calories per day for two weeks, followed by two weeks of eating to maintain their weight. For example, the intermittent dieting group followed a 1500cal diet for two weeks followed by a 2000cal diet for then next two weeks and repeated this process. After the trial finished, the intermittent dieting group actually lost significantly more weight than the continuous dieters even though they ate more!

20131001-222535.jpgThis way over getting over a weight loss plateau is highly successful and I encourage you to increase your calorie intake for a while to save your metabolism from the sluggish state you’ve put it in. This way you can trick your body into losing more body fat without hitting a plateau again. Give this method a try and see what a difference it makes, and soon you’ll be off that plateau and getting the results you want!

2 weeks to go? No problem with HIIT

With a friend’s wedding fast approaching and a dress to gracefully squeeze into I had to pick up my game in training so that I’d be feeling my best on the day. Us girls know that it’s important to feel good to look good, and it really does come down to taking care of your body in the lead up to the event. But what can be done in 2 weeks?
High intensity interval training (HIIT) is a form of training that allows you to exert yourself at high intensities for a short time, followed by a period of low intensity to recover. For example, sprinting for 1 minute then walking for 1 minute and repeat. This type of training does wonders for your metabolism as it urges your body to burn more fuel in the following 24 hours. In fact studies have shown that HIIT causes your body to produce excess post-oxygen consumption (EPOC) which means that the body increases the rate of oxygen intake following strenuous activity. EPOC is accompanied by an elevated consumption of fuel where fat stores are broken down and used. So this means that training this way will essentially cause you to burn more fat through the day and the best news is that you only have to do it for a short period of time to get the best results. 15-30 minutes of HIIT is plenty of time to continually raise and drop your heart rate via the different intensities that you’re training at and help to torch the fat – exactly what we want with 2 weeks to go! HIIT can be easily incorporated into your training program either on the end of your strength workouts, or as an added workout for up to 30 minutes. Try doing this on your usual walk or jog by increasing your pace for a short time then decreasing it to recover. Hills are also a great way to increase intensity and should be included in your runs or walks to amp up the intensity.
Personally, I like to add 15-20 minutes HIIT treadmill training on the end of my workout where I sprint for 1 minute and walk for 1 minute repeatedly. In the lead up to an event, ensuring that you’re burning those extra calories over the course of the day means that a leaner, more toned and more confident person is revealed. HIIT is just one of the ways to really tighten up your training program, but when completed 2-3 times per week it can make the difference in your fitness as well as how comfortable you feel in that dress πŸ™‚

Wedding fun!

The art of indulgence

When it comes to eating out, as a nutritionist, I am often observed during meal times. People like to know exactly what I’m eating, because apparently anything that goes into my mouth must be healthy! Little do they know that eating out is a time when I choose to eat the foods I love, whether they are healthy or not. Learning to indulge once in a while is a useful skill that will not only allow you to enjoy delightful food, but also help with weight management. Psychologically, if we choose to ban certain foods (e.g. chocolate, cheese, wine etc) then as soon as we’ve had a small bite or sip, we’ve blown the diet and feel as though we may as well eat the whole block or drink the entire bottle. Instead of banning foods, you should consider restricting some foods by only having a little treat every now and then. This means eating healthy foods 90% of the time such as fruit, vegetables, lean meats, fish, low fat dairy and whole grains, while allowing yourself small portions of your favourite foods 10% of the time. For example, I may eat a variety of healthy foods throughout the day but then choose to have dessert or a glass of wine with dinner.
Another way to indulge healthily is to compensate with exercise. Try doing an extra hard workout or longer run if you know that you’re dining out in the evening in order to balance out a potential calorie overload. This doesn’t mean you can go wild with your treats; it is important to restrict the portion sizes of these unhealthy foods, as no amount of exercise will undo the damage of an entire pizza!
After just returning from a short stay in Melbourne with my boyfriend, it was apparent that the entire trip consisted of amazing food and intermittent bursts of fantastic shopping! The thing is, knowing that I was going to be indulging in treats in advance meant that I was more eager to stick to a healthy diet during the week prior. Not worrying about the hollandaise sauce on my breakfast or the copious amounts of pasta consumed on Lygon Street was a delight in itself, and now that I am back in Sydney and back to my usual routine, I have faith knowing that my weekend getaway is not hindering the body results that I work hard for on an average day.
To indulge sensibly is a useful tool to prevent yourself from bingeing or over eating foods that you have ‘banned’ in order to maintain a healthy diet. However, consuming your favourite foods in restricted portions can satisfy your cravings so that, you too, can master the art of indulgence.


Spring has Sprung: is your body ready?

As the months go by we are venturing closer and closer to the warm weather, sunny barbecues, holiday celebrations and bikinis! Sure, you may have stayed super fit and maintain the amazing body that you’ve worked so hard for, however for most of us, a few winter kilos need to be removed NOW! So how do we do it?
FRUIT AND VEGGIES: Increase your intake as this food group contains lots of fibre to help keep you satisfied for longer so that you can fill up on all the good stuff, without craving nasty junk food.
USE RESISTANCE: Weight training will aid in increasing your metabolism by building muscle. You will see more definition in your body and changes in your body shape. Aim for 3 resistance training sessions per week for optimum results.
BULK UP: Increase your protein intake to boost your metabolism to help you burn fat faster! Lean protein sources such as chicken, beef, eggs, tofu, cottage cheese and fish are all great sources to add to your meals.
DRINK UP: Being well hydrated helps to flush out any toxins in your body which may contribute to bloating and fluid retention. Ensure you drink 1.5-2L of water per day, and consume some more if you are exercising.
GO LOW: Choose low GI carbohydrate sources such as brown rice, multigrain bread and lentils which provide you with long lasting energy to avoid any sugar cravings later in the day.
CUT THE ALCOHOL: alcoholic beverages increase the concentration of toxins in your body which can lead to bloating, but the effects of alcohol are more likely to lead to unwise food choices such as cheese, late night kebabs, excess sugar in mixers and a huge calorie addition to your daily intake. Try cutting your intake to a few drinks at social events only 2 days per week.
Following these guidelines will help to cut calories and ensure you make the most sensible food choices. If you need to lose a few kilos before you try on your bikini then it is important to look closely at your diet.


Nutrition Myths

With so much information on nutrition available, it leads many people to be confused about what’s healthy and what’s not. I was lucky enough to attend the Egg Nutrition Council breakfast to discuss nutrition myths and unravel the maze of information that is out to confuse everyone!
The first myth discussed was “Are carbohydrates bad for you?” This is a topic that comes up regularly due to the bad rap that carbs have been given in the past when it seemed like everyone wanting to lose weight was cutting carbs! It is important to consume low GI and high fibre complex carbohydrates such as wholegrain bread and legumes rather than simple carbohydrtaes such as sugar as they provide nutrients for gastrointestinal health and bowel problems and can help to reduce risk of colon cancer. Refined simple sugars like those in cakes, biscuits, white bread and many other processed foods are of little nutritional value, however fruits should still be included as they contain vitamins and minerals important optimum body functioning. However, this does not mean that we are to consume carbohyfrates as much as we like. Moderate consumption of high fibre complex carbohydrates is recommended to provide essential vitamins and minerals as well as keep you feeling fuller for longer.
Those who exercise regularly will make better use of good quality carbs during their workout over those with low levels of physical activity. This does not mean that if you exercise you can eat what you like. Instead it is best to use food as fuel for your body to exercise. If you put in bad fuel (unhealthy food) you will put out bad performance (less gains in sports performance). Supplementation in sports nutrition can also be used for convenience, however it is always best to get your adequate nutrient intake from whole foods, according to Exercise Scientist and Personal Trainer, Damien Kelly. Protein supplements are to be used as a back up only, and preparation is the key to adequate nutrition.
Another myth that was discussed is whether eating eggs is bad for your cholesterol. Eggs are actually very high in omega-3 oils and are Heart Foundation Tick approved. This means that they are actually a helpful food source in lowering risk of heart disease. Instead, it is saturated fat that we must consume with caution. Fatty cuts of meat, full fat dairy and many processed foods contain saturated fat that can increase blood cholesterol levels and eventually block arteries, leading to heart disease. Eggs are a good source of nutrition and can be introduced early to infants in their cooked form to lower the risk of egg allergies. Whether eggs are from free range, organic or cage hens, the nutrient content is very similar, therefore it simply comes down to ethical choices. 6 eggs per week is recommended by the Heart Foundation for optimal health.
So are eggs perhaps the new ‘superfood’? The word ‘superfood’ is perhaps an overused term which describes a very nutritious food source, however, according to Dr Grant from the Egg Nutrition Council “there will always be a new trending superfood as long as there is money to be made.” It is important to eat a combination of wholesome healthy foods to give you all the nutrients your body needs, rather than relying on a new ‘superfood’!
Another question addressed was “is eating organic food more nutritious than non-organic food?” The nature of organic food means that it is often seasonal, where the vitamin and mineral content is at its optimum level. Homegrown fruit and veges are possibly the most organic you can get, however purchasing non-organic foods when they are in season provides similar nutrient levels, therefore it mainly comes down to cost and availability to you. As most Australians do not consume the optimum serving of fruit and vegetables, more important than choosing organic foods is simply aiming for 2 serves of fruit an 5 serves of vegetables daily.
Supplements are available everywhere now, but are vitamins and mineral supplements better than whole foods? A healthy, balanced diet should contain all of the nutrients you need, however if you take part in lots of physical activity, aren’t getting enough rest or are feeling fatigued, then a good quality multivitamin can help. Of course, a healthy diet is the first and foremost aspect, however supplements can be used as a great back up. More specific supplements may be required such as folate and Vitamin D during pregnancy, but nutrients from your diet are always best.
Another myth discussed was “should sugar be avoided?” Refined sugars such as biscuits, white bread and confectionary are of little nutritional value, however natural sugar from fruits containing vitamins and fibre should still be included in your diet. When cutting back on refined sugar, take care not to compensate with artificial sweeteners or salty foods.
Accordng to Damien Kelly, many individuals need a structured diet plan and exercise regime with shopping lists and further follow up for success. It is important to make healthy eating easy and a health priority to get the best possible results.

Boost your metabolism

Metabolism refers to the physical and chemical processes that occur in the body which keep us functioning normally in order to stay alive, such as breathing, blood circulation and nerve function. To carry out these processes, our body converts energy from the food we eat. Chemicals in our digestive system break down food into fuel, which is either used immediately or stored in the body’s tissues.
In other words, metabolism refers to the all of the processes in our body that occurs to keep us alive, and determines how much energy we use throughout the day. Base Metabolic Rate (BMR) determines the amount of energy we use without accounting for any physical activity. Our BMR is largely determined by genetics, gender and age however there are definitely a few things we can do to increase it. What is the benefit of increasing our BMR? Overall you will burn more calories throughout the course of the day aiding in weight management and energy levels.
The best way to boost your metabolism is by creating a body that burns more fuel just to exist. Muscle tissue is an active tissue that requires energy to contract, while fat tissue is inactive tissue and is simply a store of excess calories that does not require energy to exist. Building lean muscle tissue will enable you to burn more energy even when you’re not exercising making fat loss much easier as your body will use our fat stores as fuel to meet this higher demand. The best kind of exercise to build muscle is resistance training by using weights or your body to strengthen each muscle group, creating a larger proportion of muscle mass in the body. Hard-working muscles need plenty of energy to burn. Regular exercise increases muscle mass and teaches the body to burn kilojoules at a faster rate, even when at rest.
Crash dieting, starving or fasting means you will be eating too few kilojoules which misleads your body into starvation mode and causes the body to slow the metabolism to conserve energy which can drop your BMR by up to 15 per cent. Ensuring that you eat every 3 hours will get your body used to the constant intake of food and speed up your metabolic rate as it starts to expect the extra fuel. It is important to limit portions though by sticking to 5-6 small meals per day. The thermogenic effect of food can also play a role in boosting metabolism as food requires energy to digest and breakdown. Protein requires more energy than other kinds of food to breakdown and is therefore a great inclusion in each small meal to increase your rate of burning calories. At first including more food into your diet may be a little strange, as many are used to restricting their diet to very minimal amounts when trying to lose fat. You may actually feel quite full for a change, but after a few days your body should start to adjust to the increased consumption and you’ll begin to feel hungry around the 3 hour mark – a sign your metabolism is increasing!
So how is all of this relevant to you? If you’re looking to tone up, lose a bit of fat or simply sick of a sluggish system, drag yourself to the weights section, eat more mini meals, increase protein in your diet and enjoy your well deserved energy boost!