Friday, 12 September 2014


Why do we spend billions on pills and potions to lose weight, when the simple act of eating a healthy and balanced diet will do the job?

I've now been eating healthy for 12 weeks and my carb cravings have gone. I wondered if that might be at the heart of the issue. If found that researchers at Harvard Medical School have reported that the effects of the sharp rise in blood sugar and the subsequent fall activates the same part of the brain as emotion and addiction.

It appears like our brains have evolved to reward us when we eat high calorie foods. This is great for a primitive ancestors, for whom food was difficult to come by. Where a rare honeycomb would be an energy dense treat, but we can get sugar filled sweets every day. Our brains seem to override our common sense and we keep eating.

When given the choice between a salad and a bar of chocolate, most people with weight issues would pick the chocolate. Whilst the salad tastes good, our brain sees the calorie rich sweets and starts to release the reward chemicals, giving us little choice in the matter. Combine this chemical assault with emotional issues that can be subdued with food and we have a recipe for disaster.

I know I have certain foods that I couldn't just eat a single portion. Biscuits being the number one culprit. So when I embarked on the Slimming World plan, I went 'cold turkey'. I know that on the plan you are allowed a little of what you like as syns, so you don't feel deprived. But eating two chocolate digestives, leaving their remaining 25 friends in the packet would have been too difficult. Bread, pizza, sweets and chocolate all went the same way, out of the house. I have to admit the cravings for these foods was difficult for the first couple of weeks. Sugary stuff was the first thing I realised I wasn't craving around week three. Bread took a little longer, but now I no longer feel I NEED to eat any of it. I still enjoy the taste of bread, but am happy with a single portion as part of a meal.

The problem with a food addiction is that you can't easily go tee total in the same way someone with a problem with alcohol or drugs. You need food to survive and it is woven into the fabric of our society. Eating with family, celebrating with food and socialising with friends. It is hard to escape. Fasting is a very severe step for most people and therefore not an option. Enter the weight loss pills and supplements. If you could pop a single pill every day and still indulge your brain's constant need for calories whilst remaining at a healthy weight, lots of people would sign up.

I would like to see a study where subjects were deprived of refined carbohydrates for a period of time, in a rehab type environment to confirm my suspicions that the carb craving can be broken, like an addiction. I think that whilst it is possible to do at home, the distractions of family, friends and the environment would make the task too difficult for most people. Once the research was complete and people knew for certain that, for example, six weeks of a diet free from over processed or refined carbohydrates would make it easier to eat a healthy diet for the rest of their lives, they would be more determined to see it though.

After losing eighty one pounds so far and feeling comfortable with the food I'm eating, I wanted to see what effect eating chocolate would have on me. I bought one of my favorite bars (Boost 12.5 syns) and tried it on Wednesday. Apart from thinking it was a waste of my syn allowance, I found that it was not as nice as I remembered. In the past I could quite happily have munched through a four pack. One was more than enough. Part of me wanted it to taste nasty. In reality it just tasted like a lump of sugary chocolate, not unpleasant, but not something that I'll be rushing out to try again. Could it be that I have broken the addiction? Now to sort out my emotional relationship with food.  

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Week 11 weigh in: Mind blown

I still can't believe what the scales said this morning. Neither could my consultant, which is why I got weighed twice, just to make sure that the number was correct. In week eleven, when the rate of weight loss should be slowing down a little, I lost eight pounds.

Eight freakin pounds! I still feel like jumping up and down I'm so happy. It looks like the extra effort in the gym, combined with the slimming world eating plan paid off this week. I've now lost eighty one pounds since I restarted this quest to get healthy. I've lost over ten inches off my waist and dropped four shirt sizes.

This week saw my book gain an extra sticker, my five and a half stone award. I don't know about slimmer of the week though. Although I stayed to group, I had to leave five minutes early for an appointment. So I don't know if I won that, or even if I qualify because of leaving early. Will find out next Wednesday.

 This week has been the first week where I feel thinner. I know I've posted previously about feeling better, fitter and happy that clothes are getting big. But this week I found that I could look in the mirror and see who I used to be starting to emerge, rather than the ugly lump of lard I couldn't face in the mirror. I know I still have a long way to go, with another 160lbs to lose, but now I just look like a large bloke, not the poster guy for triple bypass surgery.

For my self imposed challenge of losing 100lbs in 100 days, I have just 19lbs to go in the next 22 days. Still a tall order, but if it was easy it wouldn't be such an incentive when I'm at the gym or fighting the bad eating habits. It does seem silly that I'm working so hard, for a t-shirt that I've designed myself. But it is working for me, its a goal with a non food related reward at the end. I know that to make my goal, I can't have a single bad day. I have to exercise or be active almost every day. I know I cannot sustain this level for ever, but for the last 78 days, I've been breaking old habits and making new ones. On the 3rd of October, when my challenge ends, I will be thinner and fitter and hopefully free of a lot of my bad eating habits.

A couple of days ago, I found myself thinking about what I was going to eat, once I could relax my eating plan on day 101, but I couldn't think of anything more decadent than a cheese and ham sandwich. Fast food, sweets and chocolate all seemed to turn my stomach. So I didn't start to obsess about the sandwich, I made a Slimming World friendly version. Bread roll from my healthy extra, cheese from my A choice, 3 syns of low fat mayo with lettuce, spring onion and lean ham, all free on a red day. It was delicious. It looks like I might be able to sustain this lifestyle long term, which is really what I'm after. I'm starting to see my new lifestyle emerge from this 'diet'.

Monday, 8 September 2014


High intensity interval training or HIIT is a bit of a buzz work right now in the fitness world, as it is claimed that it gets you fit faster and melts fat off your body in a short time. So I decided to look into it.

It really does work. I joined the gym three weeks ago so that I could get access to equipment that meant I could exercise harder without further damaging my back or knees. At that point I could just about manage 40 minutes brisk walking. My first workout on the cross trainer totaled 40 minutes at a low intensity. Three weeks on after incorporating HIIT on the cross trainer I now routinely complete a 90 minute workout four times a week in addition to my walking.

So here is how to do it. Find a cardio exercise you enjoy and get up to speed, you should be working at about  75% of your capacity for about 3 minutes, then for 30-45 seconds, go as far and hard as you can. At the end of the sprint, drop back down to your 75% for a couple of minutes, then repeat the sprint / active rest cycle for about 20 minutes.

Here is a quick bit of advice though, if you are new to fitness, then make sure you wear a heart monitor, learn your maximum heart rate and don't overdo it. This is a stressful way to work out, but you will improve quickly.

It works by creating an oxygen deficit in your muscles during the short bursts of high intensity work, this oxygen is replaced during the active rest periods. It keeps your heart rate up and both these actions require large amounts of energy. If you have reduced your calorific intake, your body has to burn up fat to provide the energy. A second way your body burns even more fat is through an effect called post-exercise oxygen consumption, or to give it it's nickname, Afterburn. This afterburn continues to burn fat for up to 48 hours as your muscles replace the missing oxygen and glycogen energy stores.

For those of you who don't have the time to spend hours in the gym, 20 minutes of HIIT 5 times a week, providing it's combined with healthy eating, is all you need to do. You can really burn through that lard, as you can burn more calories with a 20 minute HIIT workout, than you can by spending an hour on a treadmill. If you combine it with weights / resistance training, you will get even better results.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Week 10 weigh in

After ten weeks of following the slimming world lifestyle my weight loss is still going strong. Another six and a half pounds gone, bringing my total to seventy four pounds of lard shed. This week I received my five stone award and slimmer of the week.

As I get lighter each week my calorie requirement drops, to continue with the big losses each week I have two options, either drop my calorie intake further or increase my activity so that I burn more calories.

For this lifestyle to be sustainable for the rest of my life, restricting my calories any more will make it too difficult to maintain for a prolonged period. That means I need to get more active. So I made an appointment with one of the trainers at my gym and asked them to help me figure out a good weight loss workout. Because of my spine injury, I am restricted in which equipment I can use safely. The plan combines 48 minutes of cardio, with 4 sets of strength training and I warm up and cool down by walking to the gym.

The cardio workout is all on the cross trainer, split in to 3 x 16 minutes. The programs are all set up for interval training. The strength training is all on static machines to protect my back, whilst I am slowly improving my core muscles. The strength exercises are all focused on chest, back and arm muscles. I don't need a leg day yet, carrying an excess 200lbs everywhere I go, makes everyday leg day.

I'm now on my second week with this workout and all is going well. My weight loss is on track for my 100 lbs in 100 days challenge. I have 26lbs to go in the next five weigh ins. I've designed a t-shirt as my own award for completing the challenge and am all ready to order it on the web, but I've just had to recycle a second bunch of t-shirts that were too big, so I have no idea what size shirt I'll be wearing in a months time.

Life is starting to get back into a routine again so I hope to be posting more regularly, with more healthy recipes, tips and advice.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Week 9 weigh in

Another six pounds lost this week, taking my total at week nine to 67 pounds! I was surprised to see my run of slimmer of the week beaten this week, but I was really pleased. One of my fellow slimmers put up a seven pound loss in group this week and the smile on her face was awesome. So this week I came home with only two stickers for my log book, my four and a half stone award and Slimmer of the Month award.

This week in group we voted for the Woman of the Year award. It is an award for the person who has inspired fellow members on their weight loss journey over the past year. Our consultant read out the names of each nominee and gave them a rose, with the winner getting a rose, an award and a winner's sash. The lady who won really deserved the title and has achieved a lot over the last couple of years, but the thing that struck me was the look of accomplishment on the other nominee's faces. It really meant a lot to them to know that other members had felt compelled to nominate them, and that their contribution to the group had been noticed.

I found that in addition to my fixation on the achievement awards I work hard to attain each week, I really do get something special from the group meeting. From insight into other people's struggle with food issues, food ideas, triumphs and failures, every story shared in group does help me to stick with the plan and to not lose sight of my goal of developing a healthy relationship with food.

To all the ladies in my group, you all deserve an award for being an inspiration each and every week. Thank you.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Exercising on an empty stomach

There seems to have been a shift in thinking amongst the fitness gurus about the benefits of exercising on an empty stomach after they discovered a report in the Strength & Conditioning Journal. The cherry picks data from various sources to support it's own argument. The main data source is two studies that used just six and seven moderately trained athletes respectively. Such a small sample size cannot yield any significant results as the variation amongst the six subjects would cloud the statistical results.

The fitness gurus that just regurgitate the headlines forget to consider that the studies were conducted on people with low body fat. There are hundreds of studies that show when an individuals body fat drops below optimal levels, some muscle mass is is consumed during exercise. For those of us with lard to spare, the chemistry is different. Firstly we burn through any glucose left in the blood, then the hormones tell the liver and muscles to release the glycogen stored in the liver and muscles. Once that is used up, excess fat is burnt.

When you exercise in a fasted state, your body is already releasing the growth hormone that is used to repair your body. This means that you can work at higher intensity levels, build more muscle and your body gets more efficient at burning stored fat for energy. You also release more fat oxidising enzymes, which is the scientific term for burning fat.

There are also studies that show that endurance athletes who train on an empty stomach perform significantly better on subsequent fed races, as their bodies learn to switch from burning food energy to fat stores during long endurance races.

For my own testing, I worked out on Friday after eating a balanced lunch and performed well. This morning I worked out at 10am, after not eating since 4pm yesterday and the post workout report from the gym's computer system showed that today's work out was at a higher intensity and I burnt around 23% more calories during my 45 minute workout. I know that my sample size of one is statistically insignificant, but I will switch between fasted and fed workouts and record the results to see if the data shows any significant variation in performance levels.

Working out hungry may not suit everyone, but if you feel it works for you, then stick with it. For any weight loss or fitness subject out there, there will be people that say it works and those that say it doesn't. We, the unfit masses, need to exercise our brains as well as our butts to sift through the good and bad science to find out what applies to us and what applies to the elite athletes, on whom most of the studies were based. Whatever you find, sitting at the computer reading about it, ain't gonna shift the excess pounds. Get up and get active.

The Science
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Effect of intermittent fasting and refeeding on insulin action in healthy men. Halberg N, Henriksen M, et al. Dept. of Muscle Research Centre, The Panum Institute, University of Copenhagen, Denmark. Journal of Applied Physiology, 2005 Dec;99(6):2128-36
The correlation between metabolic syndrome and prostatic diseases. De Nunzio C, Aronson W, et al. Department of Urology, Sant'Andrea Hospital, University La Sapienza, Rome, Italy. European Urology, 2012 Mar;61(3):560-70
Insulin resistance and breast-cancer risk. Bruning PF, Bonfrèr JM, et al. The Netherlands Cancer Institute, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Bruning PF, Bonfrèr JM, et al. The Netherlands Cancer Institute, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. International Journal of Cancer, 1992 Oct 21;52(4):511-6
Insulin resistance and cancer: epidemiological evidence. Tsugane S, Inoue M. Cancer Science, 2010 May;101(5):1073-9.
Effect of intermittent fasting and refeeding on insulin action in healthy men. Halberg N, Henriksen M, et al. Dept. of Muscle Research Centre, The Panum Institute, University of Copenhagen, Denmark. Journal of Applied Physiology, 2005 Dec;99(6):2128-36.
Usefulness of routine periodic fasting to lower risk of coronary artery disease in patients undergoing coronary angiography. Horne BD, May HT, et al. Cardiovascular Department, Intermountain Medical Center, Murray, Utah, USA. American Journal of Cardiology, 2008 Oct 1;102(7):814-819.
Growth hormone increases muscle mass and strength but does not rejuvenate myofibrillar protein synthesis in healthy subjects over 60 years old. Welle S, Thornton C, et al. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 1996 Sep;81(9):3239-43.
Growth hormone in health and disease: Long-term GH therapy--benefits and unanswered questions. Clemmons D. Nature Reviews Endocrinology, 2013 Jun;9(6):317-8
Adult growth hormone deficiency - benefits, side effects, and risks of growth hormone replacement. Reed ML, Merriam GR. Geriatrics and Extended Care, VA Puget Sound Health Care System, Madigan Health Care System, Tacoma, WA, USA. Frontiers in Endocrinology (Lausanne), 2013 Jun 4;4:64.
Basal growth hormone concentration increased following a weight loss focused dietary intervention in older overweight and obese women. Miller GD, Nicklas BJ, et al. Department Health and Exercise Science, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC, USA. The Journal of Nutrition Health and Aging, 2012 Feb;16(2):169-74.
Sex differences in anxiety and depression: Role of testosterone. McHenry J, Carrier N, et al. Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology, 2014 Jan;35(1):42-57.
Beneficial and adverse effects of testosterone on the cardiovascular system in men. Ruige JB, Ouwens DM, et al. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 2013 Nov;98(11):4300-10.
Andropause or male menopause? Rationale for testosterone replacement therapy in older men with low testosterone levels. Cunningham GR. Endocrine Practice, 2013 Sep-Oct;19(5):847-52.
Effects of testosterone and progressive resistance exercise in healthy, highly functioning older men with low-normal testosterone levels. Hildreth KL, Barry DW, et al. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 2013 May;98(5):1891-900.
Effects of Ramadan fasting on 60 min of endurance running performance in moderately trained men. Aziz AR, Wahid MF, et al. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 2010 Jun;44(7):516-21.
Hormonal responses and adaptations to resistance exercise and training. Kraemer WJ, Ratamess NA. Sports Medicine, 2005;35(4):339-61.
Testosterone physiology in resistance exercise and training: the up-stream regulatory elements. Vingren JL, Kraemer WJ, et al. Sports Medicine, 2010 Dec 1;40(12):1037-53.
Exercise in the fasted state facilitates fibre type-specific intramyocellular lipid breakdown and stimulates glycogen resynthesis in humans. De Bock K, Richter EA, et al. Journal of Physiology2005 Apr 15;564(Pt 2):649-60.
Increased p70s6k phosphorylation during intake of a protein-carbohydrate drink following resistance exercise in the fasted state. Deldicque L, De Bock K, et al. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 2010 Mar;108(4):791-800.
Metabolic responses to exercise after fasting. Dohm GL, Beeker RT, et al. Journal of Applied Physiology, 1986 Oct;61(4):1363-8
Alternate-day fasting in nonobese subjects: effects on body weight, body composition, and energy metabolism. Heilbronn LK, Smith SR, et al. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2005 Jan;81(1):69-73.
Training in the fasted state facilitates re-activation of eEF2 activity during recovery from endurance exercise. Van Proeyen K, De Bock K, et al. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 2011 Jul;111(7):1297-305.
Training in the fasted state improves glucose tolerance during fat-rich diet. Van Proeyen K, Szlufcik K, et al. 2010 Nov 1;588(Pt 21):4289-302.
Effect of training in the fasted state on metabolic responses during exercise with carbohydrate intake. De Bock K, Derave W, et al. Journal of Applied Physiology, 2008 Apr;104(4):1045-55.
Effects of caloric restriction and overnight fasting on cycling endurance performance. Ferguson LM, Rossi KA, et al. Ferguson LM, Rossi KA, et al. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2009 Mar;23(2):560-70.
Adaptations to skeletal muscle with endurance exercise training in the acutely fed versus overnight-fasted state. Stannard SR, Buckley AJ, et al. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 2010 Jul;13(4):465-9.
Beneficial metabolic adaptations due to endurance exercise training in the fasted state. Van Proeyen K, Szlufcik K, et al. Journal of Applied Physiology, 2011 Jan;110(1):236-45.
Effects of caloric restriction and overnight fasting on cycling endurance performance. Ferguson LM, Rossi KA, et al. Ferguson LM, Rossi KA, et al. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2009 Mar;23(2):560-70.
Using molecular classification to predict gains in maximal aerobic capacity following endurance exercise training in humans. Timmons, J.A., Knudsen, S., Rankinen, T., et al. Panum Institutet and Center for Healthy Ageing, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark. Journal of Applied Physiology, 2010 Jun;108(6):1487-96. Epub 2010 Feb 4
Effects of Ramadan fasting on 60 min of endurance running performance in moderately trained men. Aziz AR, Wahid MF, et al. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 2010 Jun;44(7):516-21.
The effect of ramadan fasting on physical performances, mood state and perceived exertion in young footballers. Chtourou H, Hammouda O, et al. Asian Journal of Sports Medicine, 2011 Sep;2(3):177-85.
Ramadan fastings effect on plasma leptin, adiponectin concentrations, and body composition in trained young men. Bouhlel E, Denguezli M, et al. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 2008 Dec;18(6):617-27.
Effect of carbohydrate ingestion during exercise on post-exercise substrate oxidation and energy intake. Melby CL, Osterberg KL, et al. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 2002 Sep;12(3):294-309.
The protein-retaining effects of growth hormone during fasting involve inhibition of muscle-protein breakdown. Nørrelund H, Nair KS, et al. Diabetes. 2001 Jan;50(1):96-104.
Intermittent fasting does not affect whole-body glucose, lipid, or protein metabolism. Soeters MR, Lammers NM, et al. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2009 Nov;90(5):1244-51.
Protein feeding pattern does not affect protein retention in young women. Arnal MA, Mosoni L, et al. Journal of Nutrition, 2000 Jul;130(7):1700-4.
A controlled trial of reduced meal frequency without caloric restriction in healthy, normal-weight, middle-aged adults. Stote KS, Baer DJ, et al. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2007 Apr;85(4):981-8.
Protein pulse feeding improves protein retention in elderly women. Arnal MA, Mosoni L, et al. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1999 Jun;69(6):1202-8.
Splanchnic and leg substrate exchange after ingestion of a natural mixed meal in humans. Capaldo B, Gastaldelli A, et al. Diabetes. 1999 May;48(5):958-66.

Friday, 22 August 2014

At the gym

I joined our local gym today. I was going to try to hold off spending the money, but pounding the pavements was starting to take it's toll on my joints. Whilst I was unfit, hauling my ass round our little town was exercise enough, but all that walking over the last eight weeks has improved my fitness quite surprisingly. I found that I wasn't able to push myself or my heart rate into the ideal fat burning zone by walking. The pace I need to reach now puts too much stress on my overloaded joints and spinal injury.

The cross trainer, pictured to the right, is a great bit of kit. It gives a whole body workout without the jarring impacts of a treadmill or pavement or the numb butt of the exercise bikes. The fluid elliptical movement of your feet is similar to running and works the same lower body muscles. The longer two pole handles are linked to the foot plates and allow you to push and pull working you upper body. You can also let go of the handles altogether and work your core muscles as you constantly adjust your balance whilst moving.

The machine also has several resistance settings, that mean you can use it as a warm up exercise, as your main workout or as a cool down machine. Personally I use it as my main workout as I walk to and from the gym as a warm up.

For my main workout I did 3 fifteen minute sessions. Each session I set the machine at a low resistance and pace myself so that my heart rate holds steady at 120 bpm for five minutes. I then double the resistance and pick up the pace for a minute, pushing my heart rate out of the aerobic zone, up to 150 bpm into the anaerobic zone for one minute, then drop the resistance and speed, so my heart rate drops back to 120. After two minutes at 120 bpm, I repeat the faster pace etc until I've completed 15 minutes. I take a short 3 minute break, grab some water and then repeat the exercise again.

I based the workout on interval training, although at a slightly more relaxed pace and intensity, as I'm guessing workout facilities in the local heart attack ward are a little sparse. You calculate your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220. The idea fat burning zone is 55 - 65% of your maximum, the anaerobic zone is between 65-75%. Shorter sessions of interval training has been shown to be more effective than spending hours plodding along on the treadmill. Ideally it should be one minute at high intensity, then two at a lower intensity for about 30 minutes. Although my fitness level has improved significantly, I'm no where need ready for very intense levels.

As my fitness levels improve, I'll up the intensity of the intervals to maintain the optimal fat burning effects. As my core strength improves I'll be able to add weights into the workout to push the muscles that don't get pushed hard enough on the cross trainer.