There is just so much misinformation and plain hokum about health and weight loss out there, so it was nice to come across this very well informed piece, in in an episode of the BBC radio 4 Inside Health programme. Listen from 16:35 minutes onwards.
Everywhere we look, it seems that dieting is endemic. If you happen to ask a dieter what they would like to eat, the answer is an inventory of what they have had during the last day or so.
As they try to work out the answer to your question, they tally up what they have been eating. It seems as if they have lost touch with the most important source of information – the messages from the body in answer to the questions: “are you hungry?” “what do you feel like eating?”
Using ‘will power’ and tallying up calories leads people to think about food all the time except when they are eating. Can you see how the other way round, eating with awareness, would be more helpful?
It is as if we are losing touch with the messages coming from the body: about hunger or fullness. There is an innate wisdom of the body which is telling us when to eat, what to eat and when to stop. We need to get back in touch with this.
Mindfulness offers us a way to learn to listen to our inner wisdom. There is growing research that supports mindful eating as a way forward.
Food is very commonly a way of managing emotions. If you are not so sure about this, stop and think for a few moments about how you eat, particularly sweet things. And sometimes this seems to have a compulsivity which looks very similar to drugs. Of course this should come as no surprise, because the psychological mechanisms are the same.
Increasing the ability to listen to our emotions and manage them more skilfully is one of the key benefits of mindfulness practice. As well as the formal mindfulness practices, one of the things we can do is to practise mindful eating once a day. Don’t expect this to be easy! Start with something simple like a cup of tea or eating an apple or a biscuit and build up from there. This will help to develop the skills needed to tune into the feedback that shows us the way. Not will power, but utilising the gentle wisdom of our body to tell us what feels right.
Recently there was a series of 3 shows on BBC Radio 4 which are a great example of how the media can really do it’s job: informing people about important things, Priceless! The time would be well spent listening to these very well informed shows.
Link to Inside Health Podcast – 12 August – Conflicted Health Part 1: Are conflicts of interest in medicine out of control and undermining public trust, or an over-hyped concern? Dr Mark Porter investigates the hidden influences driving your doctor.
Link to Inside Health Podcast – 19 August – Conflicted Health Part 2: Dr Mark Porter examines the hidden conflicts of interest that may affect how your GP or specialist treats you. He discovers that the advice patient groups give you is also not immune to the influences of organisations such as pharmaceutical companies.
Link to Inside Health Podcast – 26 August – Conflicted Health Part 3: Dr Mark Porter examines how powerful lobbying groups like the food and alcohol industries steer public health policy in the direction that suits them most.
(Another excellent source is a book called “Bad Pharma: How Medicine is Broken, and How We Can Fix It” By a doctor and science writer, Ben Goldacre.)
For me the powerful lesson behind all this is that the priorities of the ‘Health Industry’ often may not be entirely about our welfare.
And that instead of putting all our trust in them we might do well to take our health and wellbeing into our own hands as much as possible. How?
Some regular exercise, mindfulness practice, eating mindfully, compassion for ourselves and others: there is plenty of evidence that these things actually do work and there are no side effects, other than making the world a better place for others as well.
Promoting Natural Sleep
Many would agree that the first two things that go when we are not at our best are our sense of humour and sleep! Sleep is a natural process, related to many biological rhythms (“Circadian” Rhythms). Yet, many different issues can become a trigger for a disruption of such an important part of our lives. Sleeping tablets are only useful as a short term measure to overcome a crisis perhaps. After that they become part of the problem. Over the counter medication too will soon become ineffective as our body becomes used to the substances. Alcohol and sleeping medication will also cause problems with the various stages of a natural sleep cycle.
Learning practical strategies for good sleep hygiene as well as psychological interventions can help people to overcome Insomnia. Once a person can learn to deal with the worry of not sleeping they are on the way to achieving something very important, that is to break a vicious circle of worry, tiredness and less sleep. Sometimes sleep problems have a physical cause (pain, obesity and breathing problems). Deciding to talk to someone is the start towards solutions; because there are times we feel stuck and need someone else to help us make changes.
Turmeric (Curcuma Longa)
The advice around what constitutes ‘healthy eating’ can seem confusing and contradictory. However, there is one humble spice that has popped up in media from time to time. Turmeric (which contains the active ingredient curcumin) is often found in curries, giving the food its distinctive yellow colour. It is also available as a food supplement. In a recent study by Dr Lesley Walker and Cancer Research UK (BBC 28.10.09) is has shown to have anti cancer properties. It may also have an anti inflammatory effect. If you want to watch out for high levels of fat and salt, often present in restaurants and take away food, then you could add a small amount to your cooking.