Monday, March 23, 2015

Why it’s so damn hard to live healthfully – and how to make it MUCH easier (Part 2)

Why it's so damn hard to live healthfully – and how to make it MUCH easier (Part 2)

Paleo approvedIn last week's article I gave you my top 5 reasons why living healthfully is so damn hard, and they're pretty compelling ones. I hope no one has slashed their wrists in despair while waiting for me to share my antidotes for neutralising each of these health-poisoners, and making it MUCH easier to stay on track ;-).

Reason # 1: Our society is deeply sick, and those who are supposed to keep us well are sick themselves.

Antidote # 1: Seek out healthy role models, including health advisors.

When you live in a society that frames it as normal to have to take your kids to the doctor every second week; normal for people to be put on mind-altering prescription drugs and told they have a 'biochemical imbalance' when they're experiencing distress from life challenges; normal for the 30-plus years after mid-life to be dogged by physical disability and cognitive decline; and normal for junk food companies to sponsor sporting events, you have to take powerful counter-action.

I have an ever-expanding collection of role models who inspire me to put my health, and my family's health, at the centre of every decision I make. They remind me that I am in control of my life, and it's a responsibilty I take seriously.

I also enjoy reaping the rewards of exercising that responsibility wisely: I'm stronger, fitter, and have more energy and stamina now, in my 40s, than I had in my teens and early 20s, when I didn't prioritise my health. As a result I pack a lot more living into every day! My role models include:
Dr Joel Fuhrman, who turned 61 on 2 December 2014, but shows no signs of retiring from his busy medical practice, prolific article- and book-writing, and public appearances including regular guests spots on the Dr Oz show.
Dr Caldwell Esselstyn, who turned 81 just a few days after Dr Fuhrman on 12 December 2014, and is still taking care of many of the patients whose advanced heart disease he reversed with dietary therapy, as well as speaking at conferences around the world.
Professor T. Colin Campbell, who is also now in his 80s and still active in writing and teaching plant-based nutrition courses.
Dr Pam Popper, who spent the first few decades of her life paying absolutely no attention to her health, then had an epiphany in her late 30s, and went on to establish The Wellness Forum, an organisation devoted to educating both children and adults in how to eat for optimal health.
Dr Pamela Peeke, one of my newest role models, who has conducted pioneering research into food addiction and obesity, and is still running marathons and triathlons in her 60s.
Allan Stewart, who graduated from Southern Cross University with a Master of Clinical Science - Complementary Medicine at the age of 97, having earned his law degree 6 years earlier, in just 4 1/2 years rather than the usual 6.
Dr Ellsworth Wareham, a pioneering heart surgeon who retired at age 95, and at 100, still has the vigour to tend his garden and 2-storey house by himself.

Oh, one more: Leonard Cohen, who turned 81 on 21 September 2015 (what is it about me and 80 year old men???), still writing and performing wonderful music, and flaunting on-stage energy and stamina that would put most people 40 years younger to shame.

What I look for in a role model is a passion for contributing to others through their gifts, a 'life is not a dress rehearsal' attitude, and a healthy disrespect for conventional ideas of aging!
Many of my role models double as health advisors. What I look for in a heath advisor is someone who 'walks their talk' and is a living advertisement for the effectiveness of what they do. If your doctor, personal trainer, naturopath or any other health advisor doesn't inspire you with their health and vitality, find one who does.
Action step: write down the names of people who inspire you to be your best self! Read their books or biographies about them, 'friend' them on Facebook (assuming they're still alive ;-) ), and reflect on the elements of their stories that most uplift you.

Reason # 2: We are constantly bombarded by messages that unhealthy foods are much more fun than healthy ones, and that eating them will make us feel better about ourselves.

Antidote # 2: Learn to prepare healthy foods in delicious ways, and train yourself to notice and talk back to the subliminal messages in food advertisements.

One of the aspects of my practice that brings me the greatest joy is running my 6-week cooking course, Healthy Eating - for Life! I get such a kick out of seeing the expressions of surprised delight, and hearing the 'oohs' and 'aahs' as my class participants taste their recipe samples.
Many of them tell me they simply had no idea that food that's good for you could taste so great! The notion that eating for health requires enormous self-discipline and self-sacrifice is just plain WRONG.
Personally, I love food; always have. I learned to cook before I hit my teens, guided by the Margaret Fulton Encyclopedia of Food & Cookery that my Dad bought me in hopes that I would develop the love of cooking that my Mum had completely lost by the time I came along:).
After I started studying nutrition, I realised I'd picked up some very dangerous habits from the venerable Mrs Fulton, so I committed to learning how to prepare wholesome foods in ways that maximised their nutritional value... without compromising on taste. The Healthy Eating - for Life! course and DVD set are the ultimate outcomes of this grand mission.
As for junk food ads, it's one of my family's favourite games - on the rare occasions we watch commercial TV - to develop anti-ads for the junk food ads we see. My 14-year old, extremely media-savvy son has a particular talent for putting a sarcastic spin on ads. Here's one of my favourites:
"Betcha can't eat just one! Yep, that's because we employed an entire team of food technologists and psychologists to make this snack food more addictive than crack."
I also get a giggle out of the many wonderful anti-ads sending up nutritionally bereft food and beverages, like these:




And if you don't mind a little bad language, this magnificent anti-ad really sums up what I'm trying to get across to you:

Action step: acquire some healthy recipes that you enjoy (of course, I'd love to see you in my next cooking course :) ), and start noticing the hidden messages in ads.

Reason # 3: Trying to live healthfully feels like being a salmon swimming upstream.

Antidote # 3: Create your own tribe - surround yourself with people who are also committed to living healthy lives rather than joining the lemming-march off the nearest cliff.

Did you know that obesity is contagious? Using the subjects recruited for the famed Framingham Heart Study, researchers from Harvard University showed that the more obese social contacts you have, the more likely you are to become obese. Alison Hill, the study's lead author, commented
"We find that having four obese friends doubled people's chance of becoming obese compared to people with no obese friends,"
while another researcher involved in the study, David Rand, noted that the more obese people you have contact with in any social capacity, the more likely you are to become obese.
Further research clarified the mechanism behind this intriguing finding: it's the habits that are transmitted person-to-person, in a very similar manner to the transmission of infectious disease.
So if your friends are in the habit of catching up over coffee and cake, or having pizza-and-beer nights, you're likely to develop those habits too. If, on the other hand, your friends decide to meet up at a gym class, or go for a run together along the beach, it's highly likely you'll pick up these good habits.
Habits - not information, beliefs or your dietary philosophy - over time, determine your body weight and health status.
So does this mean you should dump all your overweight friends? Not at all! Our social ties are hugely important to us, and shouldn't be broken unless the relationship is directly toxic to us.
But it makes sense to cultivate social connections with people who are on the same track as you - and that may include overweight or unhealthy friends who are determined to clean up their acts!
I encourage participants in my group intensive The LEAN Program, and my monthly membership program Get LEAN, Stay LEAN, to find a 'buddy' from amongst the other participants, and stay in touch outside of the course. Why? Because hooking up with at least one other person who shares your goals, and making yourself accountable to them, skyrockets your chances of success.
An example: one of my clients, whom I'll call Rochelle, struggled for several years with opposition from her husband and extended family to the dietary habits she adopted in order to overcome her migraines. As a happy coincidence, the same diet I put her on to control her migraines also helped her lose weight and keep it off - something she'd always struggled with.
So it was a no-brainer for her to stick with her healthy lifestyle program... except that her family and friends just didn't 'get it' that if Rochelle strayed off her diet, she would be in bed with a migraine for the next couple of days! She felt like she was under siege, always having to defend her choices.
Finally, she met a woman at the gym who understood what it was like to be constantly battling your weight, and how liberating it was to finally find the answer so you didn't have to struggle anymore. They started hanging out together outside of the gym, and Rochelle felt vastly strengthened in her commitment to maintain the healthy behaviours that were working so well for her.
Action step: make a 'healthy behaviour date' with a friend who's committed to healthy living - you could go for a walk together, have a cooking day where you make wholesome recipes together and divide up the spoils to take home, or watch a documentary such as Forks Over Knives, Food Inc or Food Matters together.


Reason # 4: Your brain is hard-wired to repeat the same behaviours, over and over again.

Antidote # 4: Learn EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) to literally rewire your brain and reprogram your behaviour.

I'll never forget working with Amy at an introductory talk I gave on EFT. Amy had what I can only describe as a pathological aversion to eating salad, owing to some traumatic childhood experiences involving, among other things, fungusy-smelling raw mushrooms and mushy alfalfa sprouts!
I used EFT to work on these childhood memories for about 20 minutes. A few days later, Amy wrote me:
Amy-salad obsession_blurred
I use EFT extensively with my clients (and myself!) to root out old, bad habits and replace them with new, health-supporting habits. Why rely on that extremely unreliable ally, willpower, when you can get your entire mind - the conscious and the unconscious parts - on your side instead?


Reason # 5: You have limiting beliefs that hold you back from being all you can be.

Antidote #5: EFT works brilliantly for overcoming these beliefs, too!

You may not realise it, but you are almost certainly holding many unconscious beliefs such as "I don't deserve to have what I want - including a healthy body," "Losing weight will make me feel unsafe," and "There's no point making the effort to get healthy because I'll only fall back into old ways after a while."
I spend a LOT of time with my clients ferreting out their self-defeating beliefs and then tapping them to kingdom come, with EFT. The breakthroughs that flow from this are truly amazing.

Why it’s so damn hard to live healthfully – and how to make it MUCH easier (Part 1)

Why it's so damn hard to live healthfully – and how to make it MUCH easier (Part 1)

Paleo approvedLooking back on over 20 years of clinical practice as a naturopath and 17 as a counsellor, there's one fact that really jumps out at me: CHANGE IS HARD!!!!!!
Even when my clients and program participants know they need to change – they understand how their habits of eating, exercising (or not), thinking, feeling and relating to others are causing most or all of their health and personal problems; they see the sense in the changes I recommend they make in order to be healthy and happy; they're intellectually committed to making those changes – even after all of that, the vast majority of people still find it enormously difficult to change their behaviour.

The primary reason I undertook training as a counsellor, after 4 years at naturopathic college and 2 years in practice, was to try to understand why people find it so hard to change, and what I could do to help them.

It took more than a 2-year Graduate Diploma of Counselling to figure that one out, but I think I've got it covered now. So here are my top 5 reasons why living healthfully is so damn hard, and what you can do to turn that around.

Reason # 1: Our society is deeply sick, and those who are supposed to keep us well are sick themselves.

Does that sound extreme? Look around you. Every time I go to the supermarket, I see morbidly obese people pushing shopping trolleys full of processed food up to the check-out. Then I watch them painfully hobble into the pharmacy to get their prescriptions filled – prescriptions for diabetes pills, high blood pressure pills, cholesterol-lowering pills, erectile dysfunction pills, anti-depressant pills and every other pill under the sun – most or all of which would be become completely unnecessary if they changed what they ate.
It's a macabre merry-go-round: eat the food that makes you sick; go to the doctor whose prescription essentially acts as a permission slip to continue your unhealthy behaviour; keep eating the food that makes you sick; get even sicker and return to the doctor…
To the food and pharmaceutical industries (which are disturbingly closely intertwined), these unfortunate people are simply profit-centres, to be exploited all through their lives until there's no more profit to be wrung from them.

And who prescribed those pills? Doctors, who themselves are very likely to be overweight and unhealthy – in a survey of Australian GPs, 44% reported suffering from chronic health problems while another survey found that 55% are inactive, compared to 38% of the general population.

Having received the most minimal education in nutrition and self-care while at medical school, doctors simply don't know how to take care of their own health. No wonder  less than 50% of people surveyed rated their GP's recommendations about healthy eating and physical activity as useful.

But doctors aren't the only unhealthy role models. When I go to seminars pitched at naturopaths, I'm always struck by how many overweight, unhealthy-looking practitioners I see there. Often even the speakers are overweight.
My husband is floored by how many of the personal trainers at the YMCA where he works out, are, not to put too fine a point on it, fat. Talk about the blind leading the blind!

Reason # 2: We are constantly bombarded by messages that unhealthy foods are much more fun than healthy ones, and that eating them will make us feel better about ourselves.

What do you see when you turn on your TV, leaf through a magazine, or drive down the highway? A constant barrage of ads for junk food that subliminally persuade you that consuming this particular food or beverage will solve all our problems and make you happy.
In the spirit of Crazy People, the 1990 comedy in which Dudley Moore plays a disenchanted ad executive who is committed to a psychiatric hospital for designing a series of 'truth in advertising' slogans such as the deeply memorable "Jaguar — For men who'd like hand-jobs from beautiful women they hardly know" and "Volvo — they're boxy but they're good", I'd like to offer you a few translations of the 'real' messages hidden in junk food ads:

"Ferrero Rocher: It's a pretty half-arsed substitute for actually feeling loved by another human being, but at least you can buy it anywhere."
"Coke – it's the drink for socially awkward people who are desperate and deluded enough to think that consuming an overpriced beverage will help them look cool and make friends."
"Magnum: Haven't had really good sex for a really long time? Eat our ice creams and you'll forget about that for a little while. (Eat enough of them for long enough and you'll probably never have really good sex again.)"
The reality is, as I explain in The LEAN Program, my 6-week intensive expressly designed to help you overcome food cravings, emotional eating and food addiction, that our brain's response to constant overstimulation by the excessive amounts of sugar, salt and fat in these 'fun foods' actually results in a diminished capacity to experience pleasure.
There simply is no substitute for the healthy 'highs' our neurochemistry is set up for: physical activity (especially novel forms of it), love and connections with others, and of course, good sex :). Everything we try to do to bypass our fundamental needs for these 3 things, ends up thwarting our capacity to feel good.

Reason # 3: Trying to live healthfully feels like being a salmon swimming upstream.

One of the main concerns I hear from my clients, after I've explained what's caused their health problems and how to fix them, is "But how I am going to eat this way when my husband, my kids, my colleagues and practically everybody else in my life won't makes the change with me?"

And boy, do I sympathise with them! I dropped meat from my diet when I was 15 years old, and for the next 15 years I had to contend with a barrage of bad jokes, snide remarks, opposition and criticism from my family and even many of my friends.
It did my head in. Why were they so bothered by my personal choices?
It took me years to figure it out, and the answer came to me through reading books on social psychology: Humans, because of our evolutionary history in which survival itself was contingent on belonging to a tight-knit group, are very finely attuned to the norms of our social groups. Conforming with what others are doing brings a sense of security. Non-conformity – either our own or others – makes us feel deeply uncomfortable and insecure.

Ever been on a train at peak hour, when suddenly a drunk or mentally ill person boards, and starts talking to other passengers? You understand intuitively that the social norm when on a crowded train is to stay in your own space, avoid eye contact with others, and only speak to them if you absolutely must, for example because they're sitting on your handbag strap.
Now watch everybody in the carriage squirm as the drunk lurches up to one of them and starts to chat. They all feel uncomfortable, even though they're not the ones who are flouting social norms – it's the drunk who is.

That's exactly what happens when you decide to embrace healthful living in a sick society. You make other people feel uncomfortable, and they try everything they know to make you stop your non-conformist behaviour and fit back in with 'normal' again.

Reason # 4: Your brain is hard-wired to repeat the same behaviours, over and over again.

Eric Kandel, who won a Nobel Prize for figuring out how our neurons (brain cells) store memories, found that repetition of a behaviour for just 1 hour causes the number of synaptic connections between neurons – which is the basis for long-term memory – to more than double.

What this means is that if you have been waking up in the morning for the last 20 years and having a coffee and a cigarette before you do anything else, there is literally a pathway in your brain that compels you to have a coffee and a cigarette when your first wake up.
Even when you're completely committed, on an intellectual level, to waking up and going for a brisk walk instead, followed by a healthy breakfast, trying to fight against this programmed behaviour feels like arm-wrestling with Arnold Schwarzenegger!

Reason # 5: You have limiting beliefs that hold you back from being all you can be.

Many people believe that it's their fear of failure that holds them back from embracing healthful living. "What if I don't reach my weight loss target? I'll feel like a total failure." "What if I sign up for the City to Surf and I can't complete it? I'll be such a loser."
Fear of failure is a barrier to making change, but in my experience, fear of success is an even bigger barrier. Fear of success? Who would be afraid to get what they want? Lots of people, actually.

So many of my clients feel unworthy of success because of beliefs they developed in early childhood. When we've been working together long enough that they know they can trust me with their darkest thoughts, they'll confess that being sick and ill is actually more comfortable for them than feeling healthy, vital, empowered and strong.
They've lived with their self-limiting beliefs – 'I'm not good enough', 'My needs aren't as important as other people's', 'I don't deserve to have what I really want' – for so long that breaking free of those beliefs and claiming their birthright of health and happiness feels incredibly daunting.

So there they are, my top 5 reasons why embracing healthy living is so difficult. I've spent the last 20 years figuring out ways to overcome each of them, first road-testing them in my own life, and then honing them with my clients. 

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Bollywood’s Biggest Star Goes Vegan and Makes Billions of People Reexamine Their Diet

India is an enormous country, we’re talking 1.25 billion people enormous, so when one of their biggest stars decides to adopt a plant-based diet, it’s going to get some attention.
Which is exactly what happened when Bollywood star Aamir Khan announced that he was taking his diet to the next level and going vegan. Inspired to make the shift for health reasons after his wife, Kiran Rao, showed him a video of common ailments that can be avoided by dietary changes, Khan, who wasn’t even vegetarian, went cold Tofurky and dropped animal products all in one go.
His decision has been met with surprise in the media, with many articles expressing wonder at the fact that being vegan means actually, you know, being vegan. Once a serious meat eater, the press can’t believe that along with eschewing meat Khan is also removing dairy products such as ghee and paneer. While he has admitted that he misses yogurt, he feels that vegans have the upper hand on health over those who include animal products on their plates.
The media has also expressed concern that Khan’s choice to go plant-based will guide his son toward the diet, even though he has stated that it is ultimately up to his son to decide what he eats. This has also led some to question whether or not Khan was going to try and coerce his fans to adopt it as well!
While no plans have been announced for Khan to embed subliminal messages into his films or compel moviegoers to look deeply into his eyes as he hypnotizes them into choosing veganism yet, it appears that his immediate plans are just to try and be healthy and not fill his body with animal products.

Repeat after me…I love kale…I love kale

That’s not to say the response has been all shock and trepidation. His choice has garnered a positive response as well, with producers of Master Chef 4 approaching him to judge the finale of their all vegetarian season this year. Positive, negative or in-between, Khan’s dietary decisions have opened a dialogue in the country about plant-based diets and what they mean. Any way you dice that, the exposure is a great thing.
For someone as high profile as Khan to make the transition to plant-based eating, it’s inevitable that a lot of attention will be paid to his choice. Celebrities change up their diets all the time, sometimes sticking with the choice for the long haul and sometimes not so much (though, considering that Aamir Khan has the nickname of “Mr. Perfectionist,” we have high hopes). There is one certainty, however, and it’s that veganism gets lots of exposure when a high profile individual adopts it.
Whether or not you consider yourself a celebophile, it’s always a good thing when a person who people look upon favorably chooses a vegan diet. People naturally like to emulate those who they admire, and with the type of following that many celebrities have, that influence can be a positive thing – if the person in question is making “good” choices. Plant-based diets have been recommended by health professionals for their benefit to human health as well as by the UN for its low environmental impact. If seeing a guy that you dug in “Dil Chahta Hai” is what inspires you to give it a try, that’s awesome.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015