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Monthly Archives: May 2008
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Are your colleagues’ holidays making you fat?

What do you associate “holidays” with? Fun, lie-ins, travelling, new places … and good food, along with some inevitable weight-gain. Perhaps you don’t mind putting on a couple of pounds for the sake of really enjoying yourself … but what if your colleagues’ holidays are making you fat?

A couple of my workmates have already been away and others are off over the next few weeks. Holiday-season has started early – and each returnee brings back something to share with the rest of us: fancy chocolates, foreign sweets, bags of nuts…

Fair shares and entitlement

When there’s a treat on offer, it’s very hard not to feel a sense of entitlement; we want our fair share. Everyone else gets a couple of those posh chocolates – so why shouldn’t we?

Earlier this month on Cranky Fitness, Crabby wrote Why can’t you stick to your plan?

“You’ve been eating really healthy all week and you’ve decided you get to have a piece of cake at a birthday lunch. But by the time dessert is served, you’re totally full. Plus the cake is a kind you don’t even really like.

So you eat a monstrously big piece anyway, and don’t even enjoy it.

Q: Why the hell did you do something so dumb?
A: Because you had already decided “I get a piece of cake today,” and you felt entitled to eat it.”

Exactly the same reasoning applies to office treats – we might not even have been “eating really healthy all week”, but we tell ourselves things like:

  • Everyone else is having one, and that guy from accounts took three already!
  • I always bring something back from my holiday: why shouldn’t I get my fair share when other people have bought treats?
  • But they’re free!

Ask yourself what you’re really entitled to: a treat now (leaving you thinking “sod it, I’m quitting my diet for the day/week”) … or long-term success in meeting your health goals?

Making conscious choices

Sometimes, we don’t even get as far as justifying why we deserve the treat. We just grab one without thinking. This often happens when goodies are being passed round; someone appears at your desk, you dip your hand into the box automatically, and before you realise what you’re doing, you’ve scoffed a handful of chocolates. Or you go to make a cup of tea, and someone’s left a giant bag of honey-covered nuts by the kettle, and you pop a few into your mouth…. (not one of my better dieting moments this week!)

Get into the habit of automatically saying, either to the person offering, or to yourself, “I’ll have one later, thanks.” Once half-an-hour or so has passed, make a conscious choice. Perhaps you really want to try a bit of something exotic (we had proper Turkish Delight earlier this week) – fair enough! But you can live without a hunk of the giant Toblerone from Switzerland…

Two more of my colleagues are off on holiday next week, but I’m away the week after – so hopefully the rest of the office will have finished up all the tempting treats before I’m back at my desk …

(Image above by eszter)

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Dieting Basics 2: Fats – mono, poly, trans – which are good?


(This is the second post in the Dieting Basics series.)

What are fats?

Fats, like carbohydrates, provide energy – in fact, they’re an even more concentrated source of energy (containing 9 calories per gram.) They’re made up of fatty acids (chains of carbon and hydrogen atoms), and just as with carbohydrates, the length of the chain varies between different types of fats.

We need fats in our diet – they’re an essential nutrient for our bodies to keep functioning. There are small amounts of fat in most foods, even fruits and vegetables.

Different types of fat

Most of the fats in the food we eat are triglycerides. These consist of three fatty acid molecules attached to a glycerol molecule and are used as a source of energy or stored as body fat. These fatty acid molecules can be saturated (with no double-bonds between carbon atoms) or unsaturated (one or more double-bonds in the carbon chain.)

The types of fatty acids in the triglycerides determine the physical state of the fats. Those with saturated fatty acids, like meat, are solid at room temperature, whereas those with unsaturated fatty acids, like vegetable oils, are liquid at room temperature.

Unsaturated fats are further divided into monounsaturated and polyunsaturated.

Monounsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature, but turn solid when refrigerated. They’re often found within other foods, though: olive oil contains oleic acid, which is one monounsaturated fat. There are also some monounsaturated fats in foods like peanuts and avocados.

Polyunsaturated fats are liquid when at room temperature and when refrigerated: these generally come from plant sources (nuts, seeds and vegetable oils).

Why are saturated fats bad and unsaturated fats good?

Saturated fats raise your cholesterol levels, and high cholesterol can lead to heart problems.

But we do need some fat to keep our body functioning. In particular, there are two fatty acids that our body can’t make on its own – so we need to get these from our food. These are called linoleic acid (omega-6s) and linolenic acid (omega-3s). Both are polyunsaturated fats, found in plant foods, and oily fish is also rich in omega-3.

If you don’t get enough omega-6 and omega-3, you risk health problems such as inflammation and heart disease. These fatty acids also help to keep your cholestoral levels low. Dry skin and dry hair can be symptoms that you’re lacking in these essential fatty acids.

What are trans fats and why are they so bad?

Most trans fats are created by an artificial process; hydrogenation (this is why they are also known as partially hydrogenated fats). Hydrogen atoms are forced onto the molecules in polyunsaturated vegetable fats, to turn the oil into a solid rather than liquid substance, and prolong the shelf-life of the food. This means that the double bonds between carbon atoms in the unsaturated fat become single bonds.

If a vegetable oil is fully hydrogenated, it’s not a trans fat, but it becomes firm and. difficult to use in cooking. So oils are partially hydrogenated instead, creating a soft product used in baking and processing foods such as margarine and partially hydrogenated frying oils. Trans fats are commonly found in cakes, doughnuts cookies and any processed foods – though the consumer backlash against them has led many manufacturers to produce products that don’t use trans fats.

Trans fats have been linked to cardiovascular disease, as they raise levels of “bad” cholesterol and reduce levels of “good” cholesterol. There are also concerns that consumption of trans fats may lead to increased risk of diabetes, obesity, liver dysfunction and infertility.

Small amounts of natural trans fats occur in milk and beef, but these are not associated with the same health risks as artificially produced fats.

What foods are sources of “good” fats?

Keep an eye on your overall calorie intake (it’s particularly important to weigh out portions of high-fat foods) but try to include a few of these in your diet:

  • Avocados
  • Olive oil (in cooking and on salads)
  • Oily fish: salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines
  • Seeds and most nuts
  • Polyunsaturated margarines

If you missed part one of the Dieting Basics series, find it here: Carbohydrate confusion – are they good or bad? … and make sure you get the rest of the series by subscribing to The Office Diet in your feed reader.(Image above by 96dpi)

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How Healthy Habits Keep Your Stress Levels Down

I had one of those days today; slept badly, felt a bit grotty, struggled into the office anyway. And of course it’s days like that when the boss seems to be chasing up every little thing, including emails that somehow slipped my mind a week ago (oops).

Suffice to say that by lunchtime, I was feeling more than a little stressed! But three things – that I’ve written about before on The Office Diet – really helped me to get my perspective back.

  1. I went to the gym at lunchtime

    Even if I start a workout feeling anxious, tearful, furious or completely apathetic, I always end relaxed and cheerful. A half-hour’s cardio session leaves me ready to tackle the world again. Many doctors recommend exercise as a way to combat stress and mild depression, and I have to say that it definitely works for me.

    For more on lunchtime exercise, see Squeezing in some activity at lunchtime.

  2. I ate a healthy lunch

    When I get stressed, I either lose my appetite (I wasn’t hungry at all before the gym – but a workout fixed that!) or I want sweets. However, once I’d had a ham sandwich, carrot sticks and an apple, I was energised for the afternoon ahead: I know that if I’d gone for the comfort-food of a king sized chocolate bar, I’d have regretted it once the sugar-surge wore off…

    If you’re stuck for healthy lunch ideas, take a look at:

  3. I cycled home (despite the rain…)

    Having an “active” commute, rather than taking the bus or train, really helps me to separate home and work. If I’ve had the sort of day that leaves my mind buzzing, a twenty-minute spin on the bike calms me down and helps me to relax before I get back to the flat. Even if you have to drive to work, try going for a quick walk when you get home – it’ll help you to banish any lingering work worries.

Coincidentally, Tim Brownson published a great post on stress today: Stress is a myth. As always with Tim’s pieces, it’s an excellent and entertaining read, which might challenge you if you tend to resign yourself to “being stressed” all the time.

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Dieting Basics 1: Carbohydrate confusion – are they good or bad?

What are carbohydrates?

We need glucose for energy, and carbohydrates are the easiest nutrient for our bodies break down into glucose. They also contain fewer calories than protein and fat, weight for weight (3.75 calories per gram.)

There are two main types of carbohydrates:

Simple carbohydrates or Sugar (the “bad carbs”)

These are sometimes called “simple sugars” or “refined carbohydrates”. They’re quickly broken down into energy by your body, as they consist of only two molecules (two glucose molecules with one link between them). Your body only needs to break this one link to turn the food into energy.

Sugars can be divided further:

Monosaccharide (one molecule) sugars which include glucose and fructose (fruit sugar). Glucose, also known as dextrose, and sucrose have the highest GI ratings, meaning that they’ll give you a surge of quick energy – later followed by a slump which may leave you hungry again.

Disaccharide (two molecule) sugars include sucrose (a glucose and fructose molecule joined together), lactose (milk sugar) and maltose (in malt products, such as Shreddies and other breakfast cereals).

Sucrose is often considered the worst type of sugar, nutritionally, and seen as “empty calories”. Like fructose, it’s found in plants – mainly sugar cane.

Fructose is found naturally in fruits, and most nutritionists agree this is fine. Fruits should be eaten generously as part of a healthy diet – they contain lots of goodies like vitamins, as well as fibre to keep you full for longer. However, if you’re in the US, fructose is often used as a cheap sweetener (it’s derived from corn and often known as “high fructose corn syrup) – be careful to check labels, as many nutritionists have raised concerns about high levels of fructose in this form.

Some people are intolerant to lactose, and nutritionists may recommend cutting down on milk products.

If you’re about to run a marathon, row the Boat Race or swim the channel, stuffing a few mars bars into your mouth is a good thing: you get an instant energy surge. However, for those of us whose daily activity mostly involves typing, wiggling a mouse occasionally, and yawning … simple carbohydrates should be eaten sparingly.

If you want to avoid sucrose, go easy on the obvious culprits such as:

  • Sugary drinks (coke, lemonade, sweet wines, alcopops)
  • Cakes, pastries, doughnuts, biscuits, cookies, chocolate bars…

And check labels on the foods you buy: some, like cereals and baked beans, can contain surprising amounts of sugar.

Complex carbohydrates or Starch (the “good carbs”)

image from BBC schools website

Also known as “unrefined carbohydrates” or “starchy carbohydrates”, complex carbohydrates consist of long chains of glucose molecules. Your body takes longer to break these down to digest the food, which means starches are also known as “slow release” carbohydrates that provide lasting energy. You won’t get the instant surge that chocolate delivers, but you will have consistent energy to last you until your next meal.

Starchy foods include pasta, potatoes, rice and flour. “Refined” carbohydrates are ones where part of the grain has been used (for example, the outside of the wheat grain is stripped off to make white flour for using in white bread and pasta). Wholegrains contain more dietary fibre which has numerous health benefits. They also release energy more slowly than refined carbohydrates, and keep you full for longer. These foods have a low-GI rating, meaning they won’t make your blood sugar levels spike.

So, are carbs good or bad?

Although carbohydrates are not essential in order to live (the body can break down protein for energy), most healthy eating guidelines recommend 55-60% carbohydrate. It’s definitely better to go for starches instead of sugars, and to eat wholegrain versions at least some of the time! Wholemeal or granary bread, wholemeal pasta and brown flour are the best options.

Your body is generally good at regulating the amount of glucose in your blood, using insulin – if you have diabetes, or other conditions that affect your insulin production (women suffering from PCOS can also have problems), then consult your doctor as you may need to help your body regulate your glucose levels through careful eating habits.

As a rule of thumb, eat refined sugars in moderation, and base each meal around wholegrain carbohydrates.

(Image above by fuzuoko)

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Great blog posts for reading over the long weekend

Since it’s a bank holiday weekend, there won’t be another post on The Office Diet till Tuesday. So here’s a few great posts elsewhere which I’ve enjoyed reading during the past week:

  • From The Ririan Project



    For everyone who’s got kids, was once a kid, or is still a big kid at heart (I know I am), this is a great refreshing take on some dieting truths…10 Big Weight Loss Secrets from Little Kids

    Have you ever watched a kid entirely engrossed in a project? They have that magical ability to be serious about what they’re doing without taking it too seriously. You can do the same with your weight loss. You can live every day with more focus, and every week with more motivation.

  • From Diet Blog



    Diet Blog is one of my favourite reads, and well worth subscribing to (not just because I write for it ;-)) This recent post by a guest nutritionist was a great read for me:3 Dieting Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

    I have worked with thousands of clients in successfully fighting fat and I am now, myself, tiny and fit, a mere fraction of my once fat self. A big part of the problem is that dieters do nothing to change their mental state.

  • From Dumb Little Man



    I don’t have a fast-food habit myself (when a colleague asked me, perfectly nicely, earlier this week, “Would you like anything from McDonald’s?” I responded with a “No!” of such horror that he probabably wondered if I had a clown phobia….) But if you’re trying to kick fast food, this article’s a great one:How to Kill Your Addictions to Junk

    I’m going to separate the tasks into kicking crap snacks, kicking fast food and kicking pop (soda to you philistines). Pick whichever will be easiest for you and do that first. A taste of success is incredibly motivating. Then do the one that will be hardest second while you’re on an upswing.

  • From Cranky Fitness



    If you’ve read The One Secret of Weight-Loss Success [check name], but figure there might be ANOTHER secret out there in the world, this post of the wonderful Crabby’s will teach you the secret of success in general. Intrigued? Read on…:Secret to Success Revealed!

    People who are successful at losing weight or writing books or climbing the corporate ladder or running marathons? They recognize that the decisions they make everyday are important, so they make them consciously.

Check back next week for the start of the Dieting Basics series, and subscribe to the RSS feed to make sure you don’t miss a single post!

(Image above by twenty_questions)

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Five Great Tricks for the Healthy Office Worker’s Mind

Here’s five things you can keep telling yourself throughout the day, when you’re getting to a sticky-point at work. I call them the “I’ll just…” tricks.

  1. “I’ll just finish replying to these emails before I get a cookie.”
    Waiting twenty minutes outlasts the craving – you’ll be able to resist that cookie without much effort. And if your inbox is anything like mine, by the time you’ve done that batch of emails, a few more will have come in … a great distraction from snacking!
  2. “I’ll just go for a quick walk, then things won’t seem so overwhelming.”
    Maybe your boss is demanding the report by five – that report you’ve not even started – and the phone is constantly ringing to herald yet another annoyed client. It’s easy to tense up, and start to feel overwhelmed and panicked. Even if taking two minutes out seems the last thing you want to do, get up and walk around for a bit – perhaps to the water cooler and back: you’ll get that much-needed perspective.
  3. “I’ll just smile, even though I don’t feel like it.”
    Whether it’s a colleague you really can’t get on with, a demanding client or your computer acting up – sometimes you feel the best you can do is grit your teeth and bear it. If you can manage a smile, or a friendly word, you’ll find your perspective starts to change. It might seem fake at first, but you’ll soon end up feeling as cheerful as you look: definitely better than turning to chocolate to deal with your frustration.
  4. “I’ll just get the file out.”
    There’s always some job we want to put off. It might be chasing up outstanding invoices, dealing with that long and irate email from a customer, or starting on an important report. Procrastination never works, though; deciding to tidy your desk or archive your emails will only mean you have to deal with the big job the next day. And needless to say, wandering to the vending machine for a snack won’t help either! Figure out the first tiny step (getting the file out, opening a new word document), and start there. Once you’ve begun, your resistance to the job will begin to fade.
  5. “I’ll just do five minutes in the gym before I head home.”
    Hands up if you really, truly, always look forward to your workout after a long day in the office. Anyone? But once you’ve been to the gym, you feel much less stressed and more energised. Focus on that post-workout glow, if you can, but if you really think you can’t face going to the gym, promise yourself that you only have to get changed and spend five minutes working out. Chances are, you’ll end up doing your full routine anyway.

(Image above by minifig)

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