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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Should vending machines be banned?

Last week I consulted a female professional for weight loss. My client works 12+ hour days, largely desk bound in a role she studied for more than 5 years at university to be able to do at an international firm. Since beginning work in this industry more than ten years ago, my client has gained more than 20kg. Daily life consists of dragging herself out of bed in order to get to work as early as she can, hour after hour spent at a desk or in meetings, grabbing food on the run. She is lucky to leave the office by 8pm, and dinner is generally a takeout meal before she collapses into bed 6 or so hours before she does it all again. My client makes great money but she eats poorly, feels dreadful, has little time to exercise and has not seen the sun for some time.

Unfortunately this story is not so uncommon – for men and women alike trying to make it in the corporate world, lives like these are becoming the norm and health as a result is suffering long term. The suggestions in today’s media to ban vending machines from workplaces in order to help to solve the obesity crisis amongst Australian adults simplify a much larger issue - a larger issue that has seen our work taking precedence over health, welling and ultimately our lives.

If workplaces continue to expect and demand long working hours, there is a reciprocal requirement that they in turn provide support for the health of their staff members. Healthy food must be provided in house, exercise classes, walking groups and an on site gyms mandatory and health checks freely available in order for staff members to monitor their weight, blood pressure and heart disease risk factors routinely as to protect their health long term. Most importantly, middle level management who deal with the staff on a daily basis must be supportive of these initiatives. Leaving the office for fresh air, flexible working hours and taking time out to eat a nutritionally balanced lunch should be encouraged, not looked upon with disdain and judgment.

One of the biggest issues we face in attempting to enforce such positive health initiatives in private industry is that employees have been overworked with few benefits for such a long time, that such conditions are considered the norm. Few large companies can honestly say that they provide a “healthy” work environment, instead doing the bare minimum to tick an OH&S box that they are doing “something”, no matter how insufficient the “something” may be. A lecture once a year on eating healthy is nothing compared to an on site cafĂ© that actually proves the food at cost.

Is it an employer’s job to look after the health of their staff? Absolutely, if the employer is demanding extreme work hours which place unreasonable time demands on their staff. It is a cop out to claim that large companies are struggling – a brief look at the profit margins of some of our largest employers of Australians around the country record billion dollar profits year after year, so surely a little more investment in the staff is not an unreasonable request? Healthy staff means happy staff which in turn means productive staff; it is as simple as that and the vending machine is just the beginning

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

To muesli or not to muesli?

For many, it comes as a surprise that muesli may not be the best breakfast choice, particularly if you are wanting to lose weight. CHOICE today released a report in which more than 100 different types of muesli were reviewed, and reported that a large number of mueslis commonly marketed as "healthy", "low in sugar", "wholegrain" and "nutritious" are actually packed full of carbs, fat, sugar and ultimately calories.

The issue with muesli is that while it is "healthy" built on grains, nuts and fruit, it is the culmination of high calorie, high fat ingredeints that result in a product that is exceptionally healthy but so full of calories that you could run to Perth and back. The reality is that most of us spend the bulk of our day sitting down, which means our favourite muesli is simply too high in calories to be enjoyed every day.

One of the biggest issues is that an ideal serve of muesli is just 1/3- 1/2 cup, yes, that little but most of us polish off at least double that amount as well as yoghurt, milk and fruit to top it all off. If you do love your muesli, to choose one that is not so high in calories, aim for varieties that contain just 20g of total carbohydrates per serve, and <3g of saturated fat per 100g. Skip the varieties that contain dried fruit, which are packed full of sugar and remember that if you choose one with nuts, you do not also need nuts during the day, as nuts are high in fat and you CAN eat too many.

My personal favourite is definitely the Carman's Fruit Free, primarily because the brand uses a lot of sunflower and pumpkin seeds, which are expensive but which increase the polyunsaturated fat content of the muesli. Most mueslis are packed full of monos, which we get plenty of from avocado, olive oil and almonds, but the polys are rare. Then if you need a gluten free muesli, you cannot go past the Brookfarm.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

24hr before the City2Surf-What should you be eating?

With less than 24hrs to go until the big race, preparation thoughts can now turn to getting your nutrition right so you are optimally fuelled for a 14km run or walk. While ensuring that your muscles stores of glycogen are at their best, for the more recreational athletes, this does not mean you have to carb load as if you are a marathon runner to prepare. All you need is a couple of light, carbohydrate rich options later today as well as a good pre run breakfast to get the most out of your City2Surf.

While events that are longer than 90 minutes of high intensity such as marathon running or triathlon do warrant a carb load, shorter events simply need a good meal the night before and morning of an event.

Today choose carb rich options for both your lunch and dinner to ensure you top your muscle fuel stores up tonight. Good options include some pasta or noodles with a little lean chicken or fish, a few vegetables with a large glass of 100% juice to go with.

Next but most importantly it is imperative that you do eat something before the run, and high GI carbs such as bananas, sports drinks and lollies will not cut it, as their energy peak will last just 30-60 minutes, and it is likely to be several hours before you actually start your event.

Light but carb rich breakie options that will not sit on your tummy include a plain breakfast cereal such as Weetbix and skim milk, some peanut butter or eggs on toast or a liquid meal drink such as an Up and Go. If you find that you really struggle to eat before a run, try a small amount of an energy bar or even a skim milk coffee. Ideally we will eat something 90-120 minutes before a run to get us through the hour or so of running/walking. If though you do need to get out of bed at the crack of dawn to make it into the city, you may need a top up snack an hour or so before you run. Good options include 1 slice of white bread with peanut butter, small skim milk coffee, protein/carb energy bar or a liquid drink such as Up &b Go.

Most importantly is the need to keep well hydrated. Drink plenty of water today and if you are prone to cramping, add some Hydralyte to your water bottle to help prevent cramps as well as aid hydration. Remember, for the vast majority of us, sports drinks are not necessary and are simply giving you extra calories that you are likely to actually wanting to burn during the big race. Stick to water, take a bottle with you to sip on before the run and enjoy every minute of the race you have worked so hard to prepare for.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Are you a food addict?

Food addiction is a topic that comes up rather frequently in weight loss chat rooms and diet blogs as individuals struggling with their weight will describe a state in which they feel completely out of control with their food and their eating. Descriptions of this out of control behaviour include eating frenzies in which entire cakes, packets of biscuits and large blocks of chocolate are eaten to pre-planned binges with large amounts of food purchased for the sole purpose of eating for comfort and a sense of extreme fullness that accompanies it. So, is food addiction real and if so, what causes it, but most importantly, how can we manage it?

A component of a perceived “food addiction” will be behavioural, while other parts psychological as well as physiological. For example, the complex taste mix of fat and sugar found in cakes, biscuits, chocolate and fast foods will over time prime the brain to crave more and more of these foods if they are regularly consumed. For individuals who are psychologically vulnerable e.g. those who are lonely, depressed or just bored, who then may start to self-medicate with food, a potential link may be formed in the brain between the tastes of these foods and symptom i.e. feeling better. Then, in addition to these variables we may also have the powerful early programming which taught us as children that we will never be thin, or that you eat to self soothe. Such early teachings exist in the subconscious, driving us towards these behaviours when we are most vulnerable.

So, the real cure to food addiction is threefold. Firstly you need to eliminate the craving response from the brain by going cold turkey. Secondly, you need to keep psychologically engaged and thirdly but most importantly, you need to identify when you are most vulnerable and repeatedly practice not indulging yourself that will take nothing but patience, practice and time. Just as an AA member may state, “I have not had a drink for so many days”, so too becomes the mantra for those with “food addiction” - “I have not had a binge for …… days”. A rather harsh intervention perhaps but one that will ultimately free you from the addictive foods, the guilt and give you your life back.