Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Chocolate - friend or foe?

There’s nothing like a festivity to give you an excuse to have a good old party. Valentines, Easter, Halloween, Christmas and New Years… But what do all of these holidays have in common? Many of you will be thinking family, friends and a good old get together but the number one common factor that all these festivities share is: Overindulgence… and its right hand man – Chocolate. 
I am far from advocating the presentation of a platter full of carrot sticks, humus and delicious air to disappointed, salivating family members on Christmas Day, or throwing away the remainder of your Easter egg stash (we all have some lingering in the fridge), but when you are determined to eat that last spoonful of ‘Death by Chocolate’ even though you may well be the first victim of ‘exactly what it says on the tin’, there’s a problem. The zealous and crazed overconsumption of chocolate that occurs every quarter would suggest that it was going out of fashion. Not to be the Chocolate Scrooge, I am in agreement that the holidays should spell a break from the healthy and strict diets that we live from day to day but put it into perspective:
Valentines- The Good: Your few of your favourite chocolates that your other half bought you. Bless…
The Bad: The ten boxes of chocolates you have stashed under your bed that you bought yourself from the local garage.
Easter – The Good: A dark chocolate Easter egg that you nibble from the fridge over some days – just the right size for one.
The Bad: Going on an Easter egg hunt- in the supermarket. Pretending that you are buying those seven Easter eggs for your children/nieces/dog is fooling no-one.
Halloween- The Good: Saving the sweets for the trick-or-treaters.
The Bad: Chasing four year olds down the street after you had second thoughts about giving them your giant Toblerone.
Christmas- The Good: Passing on the after-dinner chocolates and choosing a nice glass of white wine spritzer instead.
The Bad: Your lower body becoming completely hidden under a blanket of shiny, metallic sweet wrappers. 
 By New Years the guilt of the year’s overindulgence has set in and as new workout clothes, diet books, exercise videos and detox plans pour off the shelves, we vow to make this year different- a new you. But by Valentine’s, with its velvet lined chocolate boxes and expensive candlelit dinners, the resolution is out the window… and the chocolate cycle continues.   
So here’s a thought. If we can recognise that we pander to the same routine year in, year out, then why not try something different. How many of you have sworn off chocolate until the evil Easter bunny comes a-hopping next year only to crumble at the sight of a caramel square? Don't wait till Monday, or after your holiday or even Christmas, start now! Don't live your life for holidays, live your life day by day, eat a balanced diet and get moving three times a week so you can be who you want to be and have the body that you want, all year round.  

Is the Media Helping?

As I scan the pages of Style magazine I come across the cutting opinion pages of top fashionistas and every well-manicured word that drips from their mouths is accepted by us mere mortals as gospel truth as they pit the latest fashions against each other in the ‘What’s Hot and What’s Not Barometer.’ 

As we crave to fit in with society, these barometers are our lifeline, saving us from the shame and disgrace of fashion faux pas. 
However, gone are the deep analysis of the wedge shoe and the recoiling of horror at the reappraisal of the all in one satin jumpsuit.

It seems that these ‘fashion gurus’, who have immense influence on their readers, have extended their criticism to what is under the clothes; us and our bodies.

Second to the unforgiving, unflattering ‘IT’ cut-out swimsuit that topped the list of what is HOT column this week was the new camera that makes you drop a dress size by instantly airbrushing your holiday snaps.

Praised as the best thing since gluten-free bread, this innovative piece of technology will save you months of hard work at the gym and gives you the green light to knock back all the cider you wish when on your hols… or does it?

This new piece of ‘genius’ just feeds on women’s desire to feel better about themselves without the effort that is needed to achieve just that.

The only thing that it achieves, however, is a head in the sand approach. It might make you feel good for that split moment when browsing through your photos when back in the dreary homeland but YOU will know that it is all an illusion.

But how would you feel if it wasn’t an illusion? If it was reality?
The flattering holiday snaps may be great to show to the family and friends but when you are on holiday you are still going to feel that dread as you unpack that itsy bitsy bikini.

Holidays are meant to be enjoyed, not holiday pics; give yourself that boost of self-confidence the old-fashioned way, by working to drop that dress size yourself, so you can walk with your head held high as you walk down the beach not just when someone shouts “cheese!”.

Six weeks before you hit the beach, embark on your bikini mission and blitz that body.

A healthy diet and exercise regime will help you achieve that ‘one size smaller’ look without the price tag of an expensive camera and you will take home a figure to be proud of.

So… spend that money that you saved on the ‘nifty technology’ on a relaxing massage from a sexy Turk and a slinky new dress for your slinky new shape. 

Nobody's Perfect

How many times have you looked at glossy magazines with scantily clas girls; bums like peaches, washboard abs and Barbie busts? How many times have you thought, ‘If only I looked like that I’d be perfect… life would be perfect’?

Well folks, here’s a surprising piece of news… it is a massive FIB! Hours of airbrushing, touching-up and lighting have created these ‘perfect’ models, not good diet and fitness. Here’s a little perk… even models suffer from the horrid curse of cellulite! 

Just this morning I was watching an advert which featured a beautiful, flawless, 34-24-34 woman and what was she advertising?... Cream Crackers. 

The media use our craving for an ‘unattainable’ body to sell their products but we are so bombarded with these images that we now deem them ‘normal’ and see ourselves as ‘abnormal’ as we don’t fit into that mould. 

However, all you have to do is look at the ‘circle of shame’ that graces the same magazines, where we get a guilty pleasure in getting a glimpse of celebrities’ wobbly bits/cellulite/stretch-marks, to see that they are, in fact, just as ‘abnormal’ as us. 

What we need to do is destroy the dangerous myth of ‘perfection’ that has turned our lovely ladies into a nation of hermits, shunning their bikinis in favour for Victorian ‘all-in-one’ bathing suits, hiding their shapely legs in tights thicker than George Bush. 

Instead of looking in the mirror and think, ‘I’m never going to look like that’ we need to say to ourselves, ‘I don’t want to look like that, I want look like me’. This must be the first step; to be realistic. 

If you are not happy in your body, do something about it but don’t get disheartened by gluing your face onto Paris Hilton’s body and sticking it to fridge door. … Guaranteed you will get more acquainted with the inside of your fridge than before your diet. 

You are setting yourself up for failure from the word go. Instead, root through those old photos and find a picture where you looked and felt you’re most fabulous: this is your new goal so stick this up instead of a stick-insect. 

Remember, this picture is how you WANT to look, not how you ‘SHOULD’ look. It is a slight change in your attitude that makes a big difference to your success.

Liquid diet? Liquid hell!

A smart man once said, ‘There are no shortcuts to any place worth going’ and the words of Earl Nightingale still ring true today- particularly when it comes to diet and fitness. 

Coming into the summer I have noticed a noticeable increase in ads for ‘quick-fix’ weight-loss… You know the ones- ‘I lost 4 stone in 5 weeks- find out my secret!’, ‘Ditch the gym and get ripped in 2 weeks with this one tip!’ and ‘Who has time for the gym? Lose 3 dress sizes in a month’. 

Although it is in our nature to go for the quick route, there is no point in papering over the cracks: Yes, you may see results but what happens when you stop taking the ‘miracle pill’ or finish the ‘liquid diet’? You will pile it all back on again… plus more. 
A close family member of mine participated in such a ‘liquid diet’ which is advertised in pharmacies across the country, in the hand of a slim size 8 model with a healthy glow and huge smile. 

Evidently the model didn’t do the diet herself. Instead of having the huge high watt smile, the mentioned family member was constantly moody and would throw massive tantrums at the sight of a chocolate bar. 

The ‘healthy glow’ in the ad was contrasted with her dull, yellowish complexion and hair loss… it effectively is glorified starvation. 

Although she reached her goal of three stone weight loss in almost as many weeks, she piled it all back on… and more.

 It wasn’t that she didn’t stick to the ‘aftercare’ diet, she ate fruit and low-fat food, her body just clung to every morsel that she put into her mouth for fear she would submit it to such starvation again. 

Now said person has been converted to a sensible weight-loss programme by joining a slimming class and embarking on an exercise regime and has lost 3 stone. 

Although it took her longer to lose the same amount of weight, gone are the mood swings and ill complexion; now she has her own ‘glow’ that would rival the ‘liquid diet’ model’s.
Although we sometimes lack the willpower to lose weight and get fit, time is the key. As long as you pick yourself up and learn from your mistakes then you can be where you want to be.

Health and fitness is an education and no ‘quick weight loss’ plaster is going to heal a lifetime of bad choices. 

Next time you find yourself saying, ‘I want to lose weight’, change it into be something productive; imagine yourself in 6 months as opposed to a month and you will feel such satisfaction when you reach your goal, knowing that you have achieved it through hard work and perseverance. 

When you get disheartened and the ‘liquid-diet’ model’s figure is tempting you to the dark side, remember the wise words of a modern guru, ‘Fitness - If it came in a bottle, everybody would have a good body’ – Cher.         

Put your new shoes on...

You have been sticking religiously to your new diet for weeks and can feel the pounds coming off slowly but surely. Each week equals a new buckle hole on your trusty belt, (which now has a functional purpose as well as cosmetic!) and you have just bought that beautiful, slinky dress that you have been eyeing up for weeks. Life could not get any better, could it?

Suddenly, a feeling of dread washes over you, with the image of the diet bandwagon in the horizon, you in the gutter after being boldly jolted off. Now what has caused this feeling of overpowering anxiety you ask? Socialising. With the temptation of calorie laden, three course meals and the never-ending flow of wine, socialising can be deemed as the dieter’s nemesis, threatening to undo all the hard work of the past few weeks. However, dieting shouldn’t turn you from a flourishing social butterfly to a jittering hermit, you just have to make the right choices! You don’t need to have an list of excuses by the phone in preparation for any last-minute dinner invites (my husband/mum/dog is sick, etc.) and neither is there a need to quiver in the corner with a glass of water whilst everyone is tucking into delicious meals; you can enjoy your night out without feeling guilty the next morning; just be prepared! 

When ordering, stick to tomato-based dishes as opposed to cream-based and avoid eating from the bread basket! If ordering chicken dishes don’t be afraid to ask for it grilled and stock up on your veg for your side instead of ordering heavy carbs. When choosing your drinks stick to white wine and spirits and steer clear from dark liquors, calorie laden ciders and sugary alco-pops. Drink a glass of water between your drinks or dilute your white wine with diet lemonade, a lovely spritzer that halves your calories! You can even have dessert just go for the healthy dessert like meringue nests filled with lots of fresh fruit. Eating out should not be the bane of a dieter’s life but be embraced. By placing yourself in situations where you are challenged you can build confidence in making the right food choices away from the comfort of your home. Healthy eating is an education and restaurants can put you to the test but as with all tests, be prepared and you will be ready for any hurdles that may come your way; you wouldn’t go into an exam without revising and the same is for dieting!

So ditch the trainers for a night on the tiles without worrying about tipping the scales the next day. Besides, why work so hard to fit into that beautiful slinky dress if you don’t get a chance to show it off? So be safe in the knowledge that your ever-decreasing butt can still be secure on the back of the diet bandwagon, even with a glass of sauvignon in hand.

The Measure of Success

You are working so hard at the gym that even super-fit Madonna would be proud, you have even resisted hitting that snooze button to squeeze in that early morning session and you are walking around with your (sweaty) head held high, simultaneously giving yourself a pat on the back ( thanks to your new flexibility!) You bounce into the bathroom one sunny morning after weeks and weeks of hard grafting and cheerily step on the scales. Eyes like saucers you glance behind you to see if the cat (or pet elephant) has stepped onto the scales unbeknown to you weighing it down but oh no, it is all you, every…single… pound. But before you reach for that secret, family-sized chocolate bar that is stashed away on the top of the wardrobe (we all have one for emergencies) STOP!

Just because the bathroom scales may not have whizzed down a stone it doesn’t mean that all your hard work was for nothing. Do your clothes feel looser? Have you started to see definition in your tummy, your legs feel more toned? It’s not that you haven’t lost weight, you have lost body fat and gained muscle. Imagine that a pound of fat looks like a football and a pound of muscle looks like a tennis ball: If you are training hard then you are gaining muscle, but losing fat and so the scales may say that you are still the same weight but you are slimmer and more toned and leaner. Instead of concentrating on losing weight, change your thinking; its body fat you want to lose.  Scales do not account for your body composition and you can fluctuate five pounds in a day so they are not a good indicator to track your progress.

The scales have caused great heartbreak to women across the nation for decades so try reverting back to old-fashioned measures and find yourself a measuring tape. Measure your bust, waist (the smallest part of your torso), abdomen (just below your belly button), hips (the widest part of your lower body) and the top of your thigh in inches and record every 6 weeks. By measuring inch-loss you are more likely to stick to a fitness plan as your measurements are personal to you and you are less likely to obsess over numbers as you won’t be stepping on the scales every day. Try this technique for first 6 weeks without tipping a toe on the scales and you will feel more encouraged as you see your inches dwindle down. Guaranteed that little black cloud that threatens to ruin your fitness plan will be quickly dispersed and your trusty chocolate bar will remain in storage for a real emergency.