The calcount Team

5 Ways to Deal with Obesity

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, almost a third of all the adults in our country are clinically obese. That means, when you step into a lift with eleven other people in Sydney and look around, four of you could be cast as the “Before” person in one of those dieting club videos you are forced to see before you get to click “Skip Ad” on YouTube. We are told that obesity is a serious and fast-growing problem. The Department of Health has a definition for what obesity is:
“Overweight and obesity is measured at the population level for adults using the Body Mass Index (BMI) which is calculated by dividing weight in kilograms by height in metres squared. For example, a woman 1.67m in height and weighing 65kg would have a BMI of 23.3 which falls within the healthy weight range. Overweight is measured at a BMI of 25 or more with obesity determined at a BMI of 30 or more. These cut-off points are based on associations between and chronic disease and mortality and have been adopted for use internationally by the World Health Organisation.”
You probably skipped over that definition because it is hard to relate it to anything but don’t worry, we will dissect
The Sad Fat Person
Imagine that you are having lunch with Joe from the office, and he tells you (in-between mouthfuls of Food Court sushi) that his cousin Mary is on a diet because she is obese. You imagine Mary and what imagery flashes through your mind? Do you think about where she sits in the spectrum of Body Mass Index, her waist-hip ratio, her body fat percentage?
Probably not, instead automatic images of Mary the Sad Fat Person are popping into your mind. You are forming an opinion of Mary, imagining her in your mind’s eye. You see her sitting in the lounge-room watching TV, sipping a low-calorie shake whilst secretly longing for a custard-filled Krispy Kreme. Maybe she is peeking through the window at passers-by, or leaving a needy message on her husband’s phone. Mary is not happy. Mary is quiet in public. Mary wants to be thin. She wants to be someone else. This is the meaning of obesity for you and most other people, it has little connection to the official definition. The pictures of Mary come to mind in an instant because obesity is emotive.
It is everywhere you look and everyone you know has an opinion about it and no-one seems to want it for themselves and you read about it on the internet but what is obesity, really?
Doctors don’t like fat people
We have all heard about the health risks but for most of us, obesity is not really just a measure of relative health or an indicator of longevity. Even scientists can’t seem to agree about whether or not a high body-fat ratio will reduce your lifespan, it seems that perhaps people who are overweight might live longer than people regarded as having a ‘normal’ body weight. “Unattractive” and “ugly” are words that more than half of a group of 620 doctors used to describe their obese patients in a survey carried out by the University of Pennsylvania in 2003.
The doctors did not like the way the obese people looked, but they also took their obesity as indicators of a negative character. More than 200 of the doctors surveyed used “lazy”, “weak-willed” and “sloppy” as words to describe those same patients’ personalities and attitudes. These doctors do not think of obesity in the clean, clinical way it is defined by the Department of Health. If this is what doctors think of obese people, what might we suppose the opinion of the average person is?
Has obesity always been a negative thing?
Perhaps we are biologically hard-wired to find obesity distasteful. It seems that just about anything we do or think in a behavioural sense can be explained by our pre-historic past, before fire, farming and Facebook. Anthropologists have used evolutionary pressure to explain everything we generally like and dislike, from lipstick to tidy houses. In prehistory, a large man with lots of body to carry around might not be good at catching rabbits or escaping from the claws of a Sabre-tooth tiger. Perhaps we could not depend on a big woman with irregular hormonal cycles to make babies when the going was good. Or maybe obese people were reviled as selfish hoarders who ate more food than anyone else, so no upstanding tribe members would want to be seen with them. Sounds reasonable?
Well, the logic does not hold because there simply were not enough obese people (or animals) around for any sort of evolutionary bias to take hold. Studies of primitive societies and examinations of cave paintings show that it was very rare for anyone living a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to become obese. If anything, obesity was seen as an indicator of abundance and a paradigm of attractiveness, if the oldest statue in the world is anything to go by. An obese person would be a marvel to behold, probably a leader of a prosperous tribe or an extraordinary person who was able to hunt and gather far more food than anyone else.
So here’s what obesity really is
Remember that the official definition of obesity includes the statement: “…These cut-off points are based on associations between and chronic disease and mortality …”. This means that, officially at least, we call people obese when a group of doctors agree that the person will probably die before his or her thin twin will. Be that as it may, remember that when you thought about Joe’s cousin Mary, you did not see her thin twin crying over her deathbed, you did not feel a pang of pity for her impending doom. Instead, like the doctors in the University of Pennsylvania survey, you are likely to have made a quick judgement about what sort of person she must be to have been called obese by her cousin. You formed an instant negative opinion of her lifestyle, just as you would have formed an instant positive opinion of her life choices if Joe had said that her diet was necessary because she had given all of her food away to a soup kitchen for the homeless.
We began this post with the question “What is obesity, really?”. Perhaps the answer is that obesity is the feeling you get when people look at you as though you are fat. It is the feeling you get when you imagine how people will judge you when you leave the house in a tight shirt that was not tight a couple of years ago when you bought it. It is also the feeling of superiority that a thin person gets when he tells other people about his cousin’s latest diet.
How to live with obesity
For whatever reasons, our society has come to associate obesity with uncontrollable greediness, laziness, and social awkwardness. It is a stigma which does not look as though it will go away any time soon. So here’s our advice about how to deal with it:
  1. Understand that there is a stigma, and it is not a good or fair thing.
  2. Understand the health and personal perception benefits of maintaining a “normal” weight, and work steadily towards achieving and maintaining it for yourself and others
  3. Do not call yourself or others “obese”, because the word has lost its true meaning. It has become a word used to describe social outcasts. If you think of yourself as obese, you might start to behave as a social outcast, and be treated accordingly. If you think of someone you know as being obese, you will start to look down on them from a great height, to the detriment of your relationship.
  4. Do not wear clothes that make you feel fat. Do not eat foods that make you feel like a fat person. Do not avoid crowds and conversations. If anyone makes negative comments about your weight, find some aspect of their appearance to return the favour because no one is perfect. Go about your daily business as You, instead of being that Sad Fat Person.
  5. Remember that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The classical painters like Rubens lovingly immortalised large women, and most people look up to those huge Olympic weightlifters with their massive bellies.
The calcount Team

Australian Food is Good

With an abundance of natural resources and almost 27,000 businesses in our food industry, Australia is a tremendous producer of food. According to the Australian Food and Grocery Council, the food and grocery sector turned over almost $119 billion in 2013-14, which means that it accounts for about a third of total manufacturing in Australia. It is a massive industry dominated by some enormous food growing, processing, and retailing companies who list shares on Australian and international stock exchanges. The sector has a very bright future as growing populations in Asia are expected to demand ever greater amounts of the meat, milk, sugar, rice, fruit and vegetables that we produce. This epic prospect has attracted the interest of companies and capital from all over the world, and led to more and more consolidation as companies try to grow in scale to keep up with demand.
Smaller is better?
But what does growth and consolidation mean for the average consumer? By and large, it means that ever greater amounts of acceptable quality food is produced, so that export earnings rise and more and more people around the world get to enjoy Australia’s bounty. On balance it is a positive mega-trend which seems unstoppable, but we can think of a few reasons that it does not fully benefit local consumers:
  • It means that the contents of our shopping baskets are determined by export markets. Why is it more and more common to find Gold Kiwifruit in the supermarket, where before there was only Green Kiwifruit? It is because Gold Kiwifruit is smoother and sweeter than Green, and much more favoured in China. The producers in New Zealand now grow much more Gold and comparatively less Green, so we end up with a different mix of choices. The new choice is not itself a bad thing, until producers stop growing Green Kiwifruit altogether and our grandchildren never get to experience their unique tang.
  • Lack of diversity for commercial reasons. When international markets are targeted, producers and investors look for sure things rather than experimental products. It makes more commercial sense to grow massive amounts of Fuji apples in your orchard if you know that there is a steady and growing demand for it from a consolidated buyer, rather than growing a mix of Fuji, Green Dragon, Pink Pearl and Pink Lady, even if you know that you could sell a few hundred kilos of Pink Pearl at your local farmers’ market. When was the last time you saw Pink Pearl apples at your local supermarket?
  • The push for ever greater productivity to meet high demand means that large producers are always looking for efficiencies. It now takes just over 40 days from the time a chicken is hatched to the time it ends up in the Meat Section of your local supermarket – quite a feat considering that chickens ‘in the wild’ have a lifespan of 10+ years and 30 years ago it used to take farmers almost 80 days to get chickens ready for market. Chicken produced in the new rapid way (let’s call it ‘fast’ chicken) is much cheaper than chicken grown in a slower-paced environment, but some consumers might still want the alternative ‘slow’ chicken. This is because some consumers might feel better about buying a meat product that has experienced some degree of dignity during its life. As industry consolidation continues and producers get bigger and more automated, it is possible that there will be so few ‘slow chicken’ producers left that it will be far too expensive for the average family to eat anything but the ‘fast’ chicken.
  • Food mileage has become a real issue for some consumers. Some studies have shown that the average total distance travelled by the contents of the average Australian food basket is over 70,000km, which is almost twice the circumference of the earth! This is important because such long transport distances must be enabled by energy-hungry freight methods like refrigerated trucks, trains, ships, and planes. The food itself must often be treated with preservative chemicals and subjected to unusual temperatures and packaging so that it can survive the journey to arrive looking freshly picked. Ever wonder why some bananas come wrapped in airtight wraps with red paper covering the stalks? Have you ever tried to breathe the gas trapped in the wrapper just as you rip it?
  • Profit sharing is a consideration for some consumers. According to local farmer advocates, only 18 cents out of every dollar spent at local Australian supermarkets go to the food grower. Some consumers would prefer to see more of the money they spend go directly to the farmer, rather than the supply chain which supports him or her.
The alternative to Big Producers
Considering the shortcomings of large food producers and distributors, there is a growing trend which has seen some consumers actively seek out smaller producer products. Their rationale for doing so rests on the assumption that if supported, enough of them will survive so that a degree of diversity and choice will remain into the future. If you wanted to spread your food spend beyond the Big Producers, there are several alternatives open to you:
  1. Grow some of your own food in your back yard. Get the kids involved with planting and maintaining a seasonal vegetable patch.
  2. Visit local farmers’ markets whenever you can. Unfortunately, some marketeers in these gatherings exploit the good intentions of their customers by overcharging, but you can often find high quality, reasonably priced produce.
  3. Shop at your local independent grocer if you notice that they stock slightly unorthodox products. Products sourced from major food distributors have a certain uniformity which is quite difficult to disguise. A sure sign that your local is using independent producers is when there are major price differences between their leafy vegetables (kale, lettuce, cabbage, bok-choy) compared to the major supermarkets.
  4. Buy some of your food from smaller distributors who purposefully avoid Big Producers. They make a point to source produce directly from small-scale producers and deliver it directly to consumers, thereby cutting out several links of the modern supply-chain.
The calcount Team

Impulse Eating: a Solution

What is an impulse? The dictionary defines it as a “… sudden, involuntary inclination prompting action…”. When we act under impulse, we make snap decisions to do things that we had not planned to do before we set out. How many times have you stopped to find yourself doing something crazy in the afternoon and reflecting that you had no inkling about doing it when you woke up that morning?
Blame the Brain
Our brains are hard-wired to make impulsive decisions, because it is often necessary to change our plans when new information presents itself. The area of the brain responsible for acting quickly on choices is called the Right Orbitfrontal Cortex. Some studies show that people with a relatively small Right Orbitfrontal Cortex are more prone to act on impulse. When we discover a new option with a possible reward for making a fast new decision, this part of our brain goes into overdrive, quickly weighing up the pros and cons of changing the original plan.
If the impulse wins, “Poof!” goes the plan. Without impulsive decision-making, we would undoubtedly miss out on opportunities that don’t last. If you went out to look for berries deep in the woods, you will quickly change plans and return home laden with fruit if along the way you discover a tree full of ripe apples at arm’s length. If you resist the impulse to pick apples and instead push on for the berries, you might return with thorn scratches and nothing to show for the trip if the possums have eaten all of the berries.
The Dark Side
Some of life’s best decisions are made on impulse, like asking a girl out on a date and finding yourself happily married 20 years later. Acting on impulse is exciting for you and those around you, it gives us joy in spontaneity and makes us eager to see what the next minute brings.
Unfortunately, there is a dark side to impulsive acts. Sometimes our impulses are unhealthy, as in the case of binge eating and poor food choices. It can be very difficult to resist the impulse to buy a large tub of Chocolate Ice Cream when it is displayed in front of you at the supermarket. Then, it is very difficult to resist the impulse to dive into it with a big scoop spoon when you watch Game of Thrones.
Now, there is nothing wrong with an ice-cream bender once in a while, but what often follows is regret, self-loathing, shame, and a feeling of not being in control. Even though bingeing on a tub of ice-cream will not immediately cause a noticeable weight-gain, you might feel as though the outside world can see your shame when you venture out the next day. This negative feeling can lead to a cycle of unhealthy behaviour, which can self-perpetuate and cause an ongoing problem.
A Solution
One solution to managing impulsive acts is to remove or add the conditions or temptations which have caused bad or good impulsive decisions in the past. If you have blown a pay check on the Pokies before, then stop going to hotels which have them, instead find a nice café or upscale bar. If you previously found joy in supporting an unusual street busker, then stroll across a busy city square on a summer afternoon.
When it comes to choosing the contents of your shopping trolley at the supermarket, an option is to avoid the trip altogether.
Follow these steps:
  1. Eat one of your regular meals so that you are not hungry or thirsty.
  2. Write down a list of groceries you need for the next week.
  3. Visit an online store and order exactly what is on your list. Junk food is much less tempting when it is just a small picture arranged in a category with everything else.
The calcount Team

Forget what you know about the Sun

For years we have been told that going out into the sun without SPF1000 sunscreen is like forcing your skin to chain-smoke double-tar cigarettes in the Mad Men meeting room. We have all seen the slickly produced “public service” warnings which equate sunbathing with skin cell torture. And for the love of all that is decent please don’t let your kids run about outside before you check your UV Intensity App, slather the sunscreen, then wrap them in long sleeves, a Little Digger’s Hat and wraparound sunglasses!
Well, we are going to challenge that sun avoidance thinking with this article by explaining that the benefits of getting out with nothing between your skin and the sun far outweigh the risks of excessive sun exposure.
The risk is real, but put it in perspective
Sunlight causes skin cancers like melanoma because it contains UVB light, which can damage the DNA in skin cells by directly impacting the molecule’s structure. When DNA is damaged, it does not function normally and can cause cancerous cells to grow. The sun is the cause of about 90% of all skin cancers (the other 10% is caused by tobacco smoking, UV tanning beds, virus infections, genetic syndromes, immunosuppressive medication, other carcinogens and chronic wounds).
Skin cancers cause between 1,600 and 1,900 deaths in Australia each year. About 150,000 people die every year in Australia, so skin cancers account for about 1.2% of all deaths each year, which is roughly comparable to the number of deaths from accidental falls (about 1,700 each year) and suicides (about 2,300 per year).  In comparison, heart disease kills about 21,000 people (15%), dementia (including Alzheimer’s disease) kills about 11,000 and lung cancer (including respiratory tract cancers) kills about 8,000 people each year.
Globally, the problem of skin cancer is even less significant. The World Health Organisation estimates that skin cancer contributes just 0.1% towards the total world disease burden.
Think about those statistics for a moment… Out of the 24,000,000 people in Australia who are exposed to the sun every day, 1,900 die of skin cancer. Then think about how much publicity skin cancer gets compared to other causes of death. Why do we not get nearly the same volume of scary warnings and advertisements about diabetes, influenza and suicides, when they are the cause of so many more deaths than skin cancers? Could it perhaps be because there is a global multi-billion dollar industry supplying sunscreen, sunglasses, UV-protective clothes and other paraphernalia?
Skin is made for sunlight
The sun has been shining on planet Earth for 4.453 billion years and we humans have been basking in its light for 6 million years. Every aspect of our existence not only depends on the sun, but every single part of our bodies can be explained by its relationship to the sun. Skin is the biggest organ of the body and it is eminently adapted and “designed” to be under the sun, soaking up rays of light. Our bodies are supposed to spend lots of time in sunlight because they have become adapted to sunlight over billions of years of evolution.
Sunlight exposure benefits the health of humans in many different ways, but we will just focus here on three obvious ones:
  1. Vitamin D: Everyone learns about plant photosynthesis in school, but less is taught about human photosynthesis. Human photosynthesis is happens when UVB light from the sun gets into the skin and converts a chemical already in the skin layers (dehydrocholesterol) into a form which your body uses to make vitamin D. Vitamin D regulates at least 1,000 different genes in the human body which govern virtually every single type of body tissue. The active form of vitamin D is vitally important for the neuromuscular and immune systems, as well as calcium metabolism. This means that a shortage of vitamin D causes a wide range of problems in just about every part of the body, but it does not usually cause a complete failure of any single organ. A person deficient in vitamin D may have lots of niggling issues like a less-effective immune system, sore joints, low energy levels, and less-effective nerve and brain function. It may take much longer to bounce back from relatively minor infections like those which cause sore throats and winter coughs. These problems may develop into or cause significant health issues like osteoporosis or chronic infections. In fact, vitamin D deficiency has been linked to dementia, prostate and breast cancer – all of which cause far more deaths than skin cancer! In children, a deficiency in vitamin D causes Rickets, an irreversible condition where bones are not formed properly and limbs become bent and misshapen. It is estimated that over 30% of all adults in Australia are deficient in vitamin D, but it is hard to pin down the exact number down because their symptoms are not obvious.
  2. Circadian rhythm: Circadian rhythms are present in the majority of plants and animals, including humans. They are cycles of body function which repeat themselves every 24 hours or so. An obvious component of the human circadian rhythm is sleep, but there many other cycles which are less visible. Numerous studies have shown that disrupting normal circadian rhythms can cause severe health problems including metabolic issues like diabetes and obesity. Morning sunlight contains blue light which, when entering human eyes, promotes healthy circadian rhythms by causing the body to release melatonin (an important hormone), which triggers a robust circadian rhythm. Bright morning light exposure has been shown to treat seasonal affective disorder, premenstrual syndrome and insomnia.
  3. Skin infections: Sunlight kills bacteria and fungi that cause skin problems such as acne, psoriasis and tinea. You might have noticed that paving stones in the shade are much more likely to grow mould than paving stones which get lots of sunlight. The same principles work broadly with your skin!
So, if we know that we need sunlight, but we also know that we risk getting skin cancer by being exposed to it, what choices should we make? Here are our suggestions:
  • Use the Burn System: This is going to sound too simple to be worth mentioning but here it is: Go directly under the sun as often as possible, but get into the shade as soon as you feel the burn. The burn is a unique feeling, different from the warmth or heat that you might get from an air-conditioning unit or electric heater. When you feel the sun burning, that is the beginning of sunburn, which is the effect of UVB rays damaging the DNA of your skin. You feel it deep in your skin and something equally deep in your brain tells you to move to shade and water quickly. (That burn is why elephants wallow and birds bath. That burn is why people choose to sunbathe near the sea or some other big and inviting body of water. It feels luxurious to be able to get to water and shade whenever you feel the burn, even if you don’t really swim.) It is hardly a revolutionary concept, but humans and animals have used this simple system instinctively for millions of years. The length of time it takes to feel the burning sensation depends on several factors including your skin type, the time of day, or where you are in the world. In the middle of the Sahara Desert at midday it could take two minutes before you get that feeling, or it might take all day in Northern Greenland. Your body’s senses have been fine-tuned to recognise danger, based on millions of years of evolution, so listen and act in accordance with your instincts. Do not lie on the beach and tolerate the burning just because you have been led to believe that your expensive sunscreen is keeping you safe. By the same token, do not stress out if your skin turns brown after a couple of hours out on the lake if you do not feel the burn.
  • Protect the more sensitive skin areas with clothing and sunglasses. Skin on the face and eyes is much thinner and more susceptible to damage, so they should be protected more than other skin areas. Even with protection, you must ultimately rely on the Burn System (see above).
  • Use sunscreen very sparingly. This flies in the face of what we are usually told to do but there are real, good reasons to avoid sunscreen. Most sunscreens contain chemicals like xybenxybenzone which can disrupt normal hormone function and cause skin cancer, and retinyl palmitate which is also a carcinogen. Perhaps more importantly, sunscreen blocks the very same UV light which your body needs to make vitamin D. Sunscreen confuses your internal warning system (the burn) by delaying it in the areas where it is applied. Since it is difficult to get it spread everywhere unless you bath in it, you may jeopardise the health of some parts of your skin (because your “sunscreened” parts are not feeling the burn soon enough). And then there is the clincher: a 2015 study in the US showed that over 80% of sunscreens sold over the counter simply do not work!
We are heading into spring and summer soon but don’t wait until then to get out under the sun. It is important to remember that UVB light cannot penetrate glass, so your body will not make vitamin D from sunlight that comes through your office window. Even if you just roll your car window down during the drive home from work, make sure you get some pure sunlight directly onto your skin… until you feel the burn.
The calcount Team

4 Ways to Rev up your ZZZZZs!

Most people are shocked to learn that half a slice of plain toast is the difference between being awake and being asleep. That’s right, when you sleep for 8 hours, your body burns only about 140 fewer calories than it would have done if you had stayed up all night watching TV instead. This means that even when you are dreaming, with your voluntary muscles paralysed and motionless, you are using almost the same amount of energy as when you are sitting on the train or doing spreadsheets at the office. How does that work, and what does it matter for your weight-loss strategy?
Understanding Sleep
Scientists are still trying to figure out what sleep is and why we need it, so we will not go into too much detail here, except to cover the key points from a calorie-burning perspective. By far, most of the energy your body uses on an ongoing basis goes towards maintaining your basic bodily functions. An example of a basic bodily function is the building and repair of proteins in your muscles. Building and repairing proteins in muscle uses up about 20% of all of the energy your body uses for basic bodily functions. You do not need to “do” anything to use this energy, because your basic bodily functions are happening all of the time for as long as you are alive.
These processes do not stop when you sleep, in fact they become much more active in some ways. When you dream, your brain becomes just as active as it is when you are awake, if not more so. Sleep causes many hormone stores and nerve pathways to be refreshed, and your body works harder on “clean-up” or “de-tox” processes where waste products are removed from circulation. All of this extra activity off-sets the energy-savings you get from resting your muscles and lowering your body temperature during sleep.
Revving up the ZZZZZZs
If you think about it, this information has enormous meaning for weight-loss strategies. If you lose weight by using more calories than you consume on an ongoing basis, then it makes sense to try to increase the number of calories your body burns for basic bodily functions. If you could find a way to increase the amount of energy your body uses when you are inactive, you will literally burn fat whilst you sleep.
Think of your sleeping body as a car in Park with the engine running, with you at the wheel waiting to drive off. Your car is using fuel even though your journey has not started yet. Now imagine that you are impatient to begin the trip so you put your foot on the accelerator. The car does not move but it does go Vroom! a lot louder and it uses much more fuel. Are there some ways to increase the revs of your body’s engine so that you lose weight whilst asleep under the covers? Yes, there are:
  1. Build more muscle: Different types of body tissue uses different amounts of energy for basic functioning, maintenance and repair. Muscle needs about 5 times more energy to maintain than fat does, which is one reason why an active 100kg body-builder needs many more calories than a 100kg sedentary overweight person. Having more muscle is probably the surest way to increase the rate of calories burned during sleep. Women should remember that weight-training does not naturally lead them to gain large bulky muscles, because their bodies do not have enough testosterone to allow large muscle mass without hormone supplementation.
  2. Exercise to strain your body: When your body is strained through high intensity workouts it takes hours to recover, and the recovery process burns calories throughout. An example of a high intensity workout would be going all-out on a rowing machine for 2 minutes, as opposed to rowing sedately and steadily for 20 minutes. You will continue to burn calories in your sleep from the 2 minute row, whereas your calorie burn from the 20 minute row pretty much ends when your workout does.
  3. Do not starve yourself: Whilst it is okay to fast for about 24 hours, it is not a good idea to move onto a very low calorie diet for a sustained period of time. Other serious health reasons aside, starving yourself will cause the rate of energy used for basic bodily functions to drop significantly. This is because your body tries to conserve energy when it is shocked into “thinking” that you cannot get enough food to survive, so it slows down inside.
  4. Relax and breathe: Taking time out of your day to relax and focus on deep, even breathing will reduce stress levels. Stress causes the body’s internal functions to slow down because the same hormones which indicate the threat of starvation are active. A stress-free body will burn more calories over time than a stressed-out one.
When you turn in tonight, think about how much work your body is about to do, then think about how you can kick it into overdrive!
The calcount Team

How to Weigh Yourself

It is not as simple as stepping on a scale and reading the numbers. When you set out on any weight management journey, your single most important measure of success or failure is what the scale says. It is therefore important to understand how they work, what they measure, and how you can use the numbers to give you the best chance of success.
Why do we choose to go onto a controlled diet? Because we are motivated to change our health outcomes and body shape. We measure ourselves by comparing our body weight to those of others, to standards set out by health professionals, and to our own previous and projected weight. The result of a weigh-in therefore has a major impact on our continued motivation and success or failure.
Here are some guidelines to follow when it comes to weighing yourself:
  • Weigh yourself in the privacy of your own bathroom at home, in the morning before breakfast. Do not wear outer clothes or towels which will affect the results. Privacy is important because you are most emotionally vulnerable in the first few seconds of reading the scale. Good or bad, you need a few minutes to absorb the information and come to terms with it on your own. One thoughtless look or off the cuff comment from somebody standing over your shoulder could damage your motivation to keep up with your weight management plan. By all means share the result with people who want you to win, but do it only after you have encouraged yourself internally and insulated your resolve from even the slightest negative vibe. Motivation and resolve comes from within.
  • Weigh yourself on the same day, at the same time, once per week. You should not weigh yourself more than once per week because body weight fluctuates naturally throughout the day and from day to day because of variations in body water composition and material in the digestive tract. The roller-coaster of emotions you will go through as the scales report short-term gains and losses are harmful to your long-term sustained motivation. If you have managed to keep a calorie deficit going for seven days prior to your last weigh-in, you will see a reduction in your body weight.
  • For women, do not weigh yourself during your menstruation period because your body temporarily retains more water than usual so you may get a less-useful result.
  • Do not weigh yourself if it happens that you had an absolutely overindulgent feast (or series of feasts) one or two days before the weigh-in. You will not destroy your weight management plan if you overeat for one or two days in the week, but it will take about two days to get your body weight back to the baseline. If you weigh yourself before your weight has returned to the baseline, you might become needlessly frustrated with the whole plan.
  • The average bathroom scale is not necessarily perfectly accurate, but as long as you use the same scale every week you will get meaningful results. Sometimes different scales are calibrated differently, so try to stick to one. The scale at your gym, doctor’s office or local shopping mall will probably not agree with the one in your bathroom so don’t stress out if you get a different reading from them if you happen to weigh yourself there.
  • Record your results. This is probably the most important tip, because if you can measure it you can improve it. Even if you keep up the regular weigh-ins for just three or four weeks, the recorded results can be used for years into the future. There are few things as satisfying as looking at results from last year and realising that you have become much healthier. There are few things as motivating as looking at results from last year and realising that you have been and can be much healthier than you are today.
Body weight is important, but it is not the most important thing. It is quite possible for one person to weigh much more than another person of the same height yet be healthier because of what the weight is made up of. If the excess weight comes from abdominal white fat deposits, that is bad. If the excess weight comes from lean muscle mass, it is good.
Body weight is a key health indicator but it is not the ultimate goal of weight management plans.
The calcount Team

Meditate to Lose Weight

Everyone knows that if you eat too much for a sustained period, you will gain more weight than you want and need. We all know that if you eat less than normal, you will lose weight until there is a balance between what you eat and what you weigh. More in than out equals weight gain. Less in than out equals weight loss. Same in and out equals weight maintenance.
If everyone knows that managing weight is about balancing the in-and-out food energy equation, why is it still so hard for so many people to maintain their target weight?
Exquisite Balance
The answer to that question ultimately lies in one of the most fundamental challenges known to man: the understanding and practical implementation of balance. Balance. Balance is hard. Balance is what keeps astrophysicists up at night, trying to figure out how the different forces of energy in the universe do not obliterate each other and shrink Everything into the size of Nothing. Balance is what global geopolitical government advisors fret over as they measure and predict the outcomes of wars, elections, demographic trends and foreign trade flows. Balance is what drives the decision to crack into the crème brulee after a medium rare Steak and Shiraz. Just a bit of crunchy sweet silkiness to balance out the blood and tannin aftertaste.
The really frustrating thing about balance is that it is super-simple to understand in theory, but super-hard to practice in reality. In theory, juggling is easy: throw two or three balls up with your right hand, catch them with your left and repeat in sequence, taking care to balance your hand movements with the balls’ arc. In practice, it is so hard that people pay money to see other people do it on street corners. In theory, managing national inflation is easy: increase interest rates when inflation goes up, reduce interest rates when inflation goes down. In practice, a whole room-full of prize-winning economists working night and day with terabytes of data cannot not get it right.
To make matters worse, competence in balance is domain-specific, so the best jugglers do not make the best central bankers and vice-versa. You might be able to detect and exploit the slightest market imbalance on the ASX in your professional investment analyst role, yet be unable to balance your calorie intake with your lifestyle.
Live in the Moment
So how can we become better at balancing our diets? One powerful way to appreciate and execute balance in our lives is through mindfulness meditation. Mindful meditation is all about “living in the moment”. When you practice mindful meditation, you stop thinking about the past and the future, and you stop trying to analyse things around you. When you are on the train during your morning commute, you are there on the train in mind as well as body. You are not thinking about your daughter’s ballet performance from the prior evening, or the mid-morning project meeting at work, or pondering the reason why the person sitting next to you is wearing a heavy greatcoat in 30-degree weather.
The moment is where you are right now. The moment is where you spend all of the time in your life.
Changing the Shape of your Brain
Mindful meditation has been shown to physically alter the areas of the brain associated with self-awareness, memory and compassion. Physically alter – that means change the shape of. That’s right, meditation changes the shapes of the internal structures in your brain. Your brain actually changes. This is not in some intangible, metaphorical or spiritual sense of difference. The pieces in your brain fit together differently after you practice meditation for a while.
Question: if your brain structures change, are you still the same person? Don’t laugh the question away, it is a real conundrum. There have been a great many documented cases of people whose personalities became almost unrecognisable after they survived brain structural changes. There was a period in the 1940s to 1950s when lobotomy procedures were a popular form of treatment for mental disorders in the United States and Europe. Well over 20,000 people had the procedure carried out, whereby the connections to and from their prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain that houses personality) were physically disrupted. If you know anything about the history of lobotomies, you will understand the powerful effects on personality and impulse control that brain structure has. The people who survived lobotomies became entirely different (personality-wise) to the people they were before the procedure.
Why are we talking about lobotomies and mindful meditation in the same breath? It is not because mindful meditation is like having a lobotomy, but the fact that changing brain structure can change personality is evidenced by lobotomies and other cases of brain trauma. The changes to brain structure caused by meditation are nothing like the changes to brain structure caused by lobotomy in intensity and effect, but they are nevertheless both changes to the brain structure. Both lobotomies and meditation work to change one’s personality and impulses.
Becoming Balanced
So, what changes does mindful meditation have on one’s personality? In a word: balance. People who practice mindful meditation find that their way of looking at their lives and their reactions to the world around them becomes more balanced. The increased balance brings a measurable decrease in stress and worry. Sleeping becomes much easier and restful. Hormonal balance is achieved without supplementation and natural body rhythms align with the day-night cycle.
When all of those good things happen, guess what happens to eating patterns? That’s right, they become balanced. It becomes much easier to forego the mid-morning latte. The thought of eating the last third of lunchtime lasagne becomes distasteful because your stomach is signalling satiety to your receptive brain. Preparing the slow-cooked evening meal becomes a pleasure to be anticipated, rather than something you try to avoid by ordering a pizza delivery with the extra cola and garlic bread and side of churros. These healthy eating habits are soon felt in your middle when jeans start to slip off and shirts become blousy and you must go shopping for a new wardrobe.
Okay, so mindful meditation might help. How can one get into it? Here are five starters to get you going. If you can try some of these and you find that they help, then you can delve deeper and do your own research into living the mindful life:
  1. Do not get out of bed in alarm. If your alarm or kids or cockatoo wakes you up each morning so that you leap out of bed, heart pounding, then you are getting up on the wrong side of the bed. Choose an alarm that wakes you gently, with the sound of gentle chimes or flute music. Move slowly and calmly as you get out of bed.
  2.  Every morning before you do anything else, look at something natural for a few minutes. A tree, a waterfall, a lawn, a cloud. Nature is fractal, so let your mind dwell on how small things make big things and bigger things.
  3. Try not to multi-task. Eat breakfast before you watch TV or read emails. Don’t eat when you watch TV. Don’t watch TV when you read emails. Concentrate on one thing at a time. If something disturbs you whilst you are doing something else, do not ignore the interruption. Deal with it until it is done before returning to the thing you were doing. Concentration is the basis of meditation.
  4.  Look at what is actually going on, when it is happening. Pretend that you are watching your home sports team in a crowded stadium and its a nail-biter. Nothing else matters except what is happening on the pitch right now. Two minutes ago when the other team scored to take the lead does not matter. Two days from now when your team parades the trophy down main street does not matter. What matters is what is happening right at that moment because the moment determines the past and the future. The past because it won’t matter that the other team scored if your team does well in this moment and wins the game. The future because the parade won’t matter if it does not happen because your team does not do well in this moment. You know this truth about the moment, so all of your attention is on the moment and nothing else. If you are driving to work and the traffic report comes on the radio to let you know about bad delays ahead, the enjoyment of your commute has been badly eroded. Bad traffic or not, your expectation has been negatively charged. You expect trouble, so you try to think of ways to avoid it. You ruminate on why you did not leave earlier, perhaps you start to blame somebody else for taking up your time earlier in the day. When some other frustrated driver cuts in front of you, stress levels increase and you stew all the way to the office. Meanwhile, you are still driving your car along the same road, taking the same amount of time as you would have done if you had not let the traffic report affect you. When you are driving, just drive. Take the time to feel the engine’s vibration through the steering wheel. Think about the small stones that make the road and how they came from deep within the earth when liquid magma became lava from a volcano then cooled to give you something smooth to ride on.
  5. Put yourself in other people’s shoes. Compassion for others makes one self-aware and self-secure. When you can see and understand the pressures of work deadlines and family trouble in the lines of your work colleague’s face, you will see and understand your own problems more clearly. When you sense the desperation and frustration in the tone of the CEO’s latest memo to all staff, and realise that she is fighting battles of her own even as you fight yours, you will realise that we are all in the same boat even if not all of us understand it. Help those around you if you can, without being condescending or pitying. Everyone needs help, and everyone needs to help.
If these five things do not sound like meditation, that is because meditation is not just about sitting on a mountaintop in the lotus position. It is a lifestyle habit that takes practice and dedication. Just like watching what you eat and exercising to maintain a healthy weight.
The calcount Team

What to Eat when you don’t Feel like Eating

Ever had that feeling? When you are hungry, or you think that you are hungry, or you know that you should eat something, but you just don’t feel like eating?

Sometimes there is a tinge of nausea or stomach-tightening when you think about whatever’s in the fridge or café cabinet. Sometimes your mind is preoccupied with something and it feels like there is no capacity for your brain to deal with anything else like preparing a meal or even chewing and swallowing. Sometimes you are ill with the flu or a niggling headache and you just don’t have an appetite. You take a bite out of a sandwich or banana and immediately lose interest in finishing it. What to do?

First up, don’t stress about it. Usually, when you are hungry you will have a good appetite because your body systems are all functioning in the way that nature intended. Sometimes, the “wires get crossed” and your urge to eat does not sync with everything else. Wait for up to a couple of hours and you may find that your appetite is back and you can enjoy the postponed meal.

Drink lots of water. This will keep you hydrated and get your digestive system moving. If water has no appeal for you, then try something with tang like lemonade or apple juice.

Whilst you are waiting, do something that gets your circulation going. A light walk, some housework or gardening, or even a trip to do some window-shopping will help. When you wait it out, it is helpful to be in a social environment where you can have a laugh and chat with other people. Humans are social beings, we get cues and sub-conscious motivators from people around us. Appetite is promoted when the environment around us is vibrant and engaging. Ever notice how good your appetite is when you are enjoying a holiday in a new place?

If that does not seem to do the trick, try eating whilst you do something else, so that your attention is directed away from whatever is causing your lack of appetite. Movies, books, video games, social media, the internet, TV and 101 other things can divert your attention as you steadily work your way through a meal.

Now on to what to eat. A general rule of thumb is: keep it simple and keep it small. A small meal every few hours is a much better idea than going for many hours between meals.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Soup or broth. Sometimes a warm bone broth or tasty tomato soup will unlock the system and get those digestive juices flowing. They are easy to make and easy to eat, especially if you serve them in a mug which can be sipped whilst you work or play.

  • Boiled eggs. Eggs a chock-full of nutrients and easy to digest. Make a couple of hard-boiled eggs, add a dash of salt and pepper and you could be ready for something more substantial in a couple of hours as they work their nutrient magic. If you have not eaten for a while, the eggs, which have a bit of everything you need, will give you a nice sustained energy boost.

  • Bananas. Choose a ripe one which peels easily to benefit from soothing low-acid sustenance which is packed with potassium and magnesium. Many people find that bananas help with nausea.

  • If you feel like getting creative and having some fun with flavour, try your own designer smoothie. You may find that thinking about your recipe as an experiment might stimulate your taste-buds. What does a simple banana smoothie taste like when you add a spoon of peanut butter to the mix? How about a scoop of mascarpone to strawberries and milk?

If none of this works then try the ultimate urban solution: visit the food-court of your local shopping mall. Walk around and take in the sights and smells. Decide on what you do not like, and what you do like (if anything). Even if you still don’t feel like eating immediately, you will benefit from having been immersed in the possibilities and might find the inspiration you need to get some food into your belly!