Monthly Archives: November 2008

Review of Steve Pavlina’s Personal Development for Smart People – how does it apply to dieters?

One of the bloggers who I’ve been reading for a long time (over two years now) is Steve Pavlina. In fact, it was his articles that first inspired me to start The Office Diet – so this blog’s very existance is probably owed to him!

As you can imagine, then, I was delighted (in an over-excited fan girl sort of way) when Steve announced that he had a book coming out. I duly snapped up a copy from Amazon as soon as it was available in the UK, and read it cover-to-cover in the space of a few days.

So, what’s Personal Development for Smart People (PDfSP) about, and why should dieters get themselves a copy?

Overview of Personal Development for Smart People

Perhaps the easiest way to start a review about PDfSP is to explain that it’s quite different from many other “self-help” style books. My frustration with these books in the past is that they seem to trot out a series of fairly common-sense ideas, along with the occasional trite maxim – there’s rarely anything in them which gives me a new flash of insight about any life problems I’m having.

PDfSP, though, is an extremely in-depth and well-thought-through take on personal development. It’s clear that Steve invested a huge amount of time in thinking about this book, rather than just writing it. The first part is quite abstract, dealing with seven principles for “growth” in all areas of your life. Steve presents this as a diagram, with three “core” principles (Truth, Love and Power) combining to form the secondary principles (Oneness, Authority and Courage), and all six of these forming “Intelligence”.

The second part of the book deals with the nitty-gritty of applying each of these seven principles to different areas, such as “Career”, “Money” and “Health”:

Keep your fitness routine simple and direct. Don’t overcomplicate your life with fancy or expensive exercise equipment; and don’t mistake manufactured supplements, powders, and shakes for a healthy, natural diet. Here’s a simple rule of thumb that will save you a lot of money: if it comes in a can, bottle or canister, you don’t need it.
– from Health and Courage

I personally liked the abstract, almost quite academic approach, and felt that it gave the book a coherence and structure that many standard “self-help” books lack.

What I liked most about Personal Development for Smart People

A few things stood out for me about this book, that made it well worth the money:

  • Steve’s style is extremely motivating. He’s challenging at times, but in an inspiring way (not like an Army boot camp instructor or anything). Just reading PDfSP made me feel energised and encouraged in my health goals – and my other life goals.
  • The book is detailed, in depth and packed with material, not fluffed out with cute cartoons, quizzes, and so on.
  • Steve presents some genuinely new ideas and ways of thinking (new to me, at least!) My post a couple of weeks ago about Set goals which change your life NOW was sparked off by reading Steve’s words on goals.
  • This is a book that you could return to time and time again. I read it through quite fast (I tend to be greedy when it comes to books – and chocolate…) but I want to go back and work through the chapters slowly, taking some notes and doing the exercises along the way.

I also liked the way that Steve is looking for “principles” of growth, so that his advice can be applied to any area of life. So often, self-help books seem aimed at putting a sticking-plaster over the holes in one part of our life, whilst not providing any help with other problem areas. As part two of PDfSP demonstrates, Steve’s principles can be applied to a number of areas, from “Money” to “Health” to “Relationships”.

Steve is also very honest about his own experiences, particularly ones which might not be considered especially glowing! His Introduction opens with:

Do you remember the exact moment you first became interested in personal development? I certainly do. It happened in January 1991 while I was sitting in a jail cell. I’d just been arrested for felony grand theft. This wasn’t my first run-in with the law, so I knew I was in trouble. I was 19 years old.

What I didn’t like about Personal Development for Smart People

Enough with the good – what’s the bad stuff? On the whole, very little! There were just a few aspects of PDfSP that I found didn’t really work for me:

  • Steve places a lot of importance on fitting everything into a neat structure (here, the seven principles). I felt that in some cases, the principles weren’t sufficiently different (I kept getting muddled between “power” which is one of the primary three, and “authority” which is the expression of “power” plus “truth”), and sometimes the structure felt a little forced. Anyone with a strong maths or science background, though, might find this a refreshing approach to self-help.
  • I’m a committed Christian, and whilst I try to stay open minded (and certainly do my best to respect other people’s views and beliefs), I did find Steve’s chapter on “Spirituality” hard to agree with. Again, this is not exactly a criticism of the book, more just reflective of what I brought to it as a reader.

Should you buy Personal Development for Smart People?

Whether you’ve got a shelf-full of self help books, or whether the idea of self-help makes you grimace, I think this book could be very valuable. Why not at least download the free sample chapter from Steve’s site, to see if it might be for you?

If you do like it, you can buy it here:


What are you thankful for?

In the US tomorrow, it’ll be Thanksgiving, and although I’m in the UK, I think having a day focused on gratitude is a great idea.

Whether or not you’ll be celebrating Thanksgiving tomorrow, it’s worth taking a few minutes to think about what you’re grateful for – especially when it comes to your body, your physical health and your diet.

These are just a few areas you might like to think about:

Being thankful for your health

I don’t know what your personal circumstances are. You may be reading The Office Diet because you have a medical condition that predisposes you to being overweight. You may be suffering from stress or depression, or you may have severe food allergies. But I imagine that, on the whole, you readers are a pretty healthy bunch. You have access to medical care, you get sufficient nutrients from what you eat to keep you well, and you’re knowledgeable enough to know how to take care of your body (even if, like me, you sometimes slip up in practice!)

Even if you’re not currently as healthy as you’d like to be, be thankful for what you do have – and be thankful that you have the power and self-awareness to take positive steps to improve your health.

Being thankful for your physical ability and strength

If you’re like me, with two left feet and a distinct lack of co-ordination, you might feel rather a long way from being the world’s best sportsman/woman. Notice the way your body feels after exercise, though: do you have a satisfying glow of strength and achievement? You might not be as fit, strong or active as you’d like – but your body is an amazing piece of equipment, resilient and with an impressive ability to get fit and strong through a moderate amount of exercise.

What activities can you do now that you perhaps couldn’t do, through lack of physical ability, a year, or two years ago? I’m certainly not claiming any great prowess in the gym, but compared to myself a few years ago, I’m a lot fitter and stronger!

Being thankful for your job

One of the focuses of The Office Diet over the past year has been on the “office” part – I know that many of you are employees in 8-4 or 9-5 type jobs. As a former full-time office worker myself, I know that it’s sometimes hard to be thankful for your job! You might feel that without the stress, or the long hours, or the boredom of your job, you’d be much better placed to suceed in your diet.

Thanksgiving is a great time to focus on the positive aspects of your job. That could be simply the fact that you have a job, in the current economic climate.
But if you can, go further, and list some of the things (however small) that you enjoy about your work day.

Being thankful that you’re self-aware

Something I know about everyone reading this is that you’re interested in living a healthy lifestyle that nurtures your mind and body – good for you! You’re not succumbing to the junk-food and sloth-like habits that many people adopt without even bothering to question them. Even if your health, your fitness and your weight aren’t yet what you want, you’re on the right path.

Be thankful that you’ve got this self-awareness, and that along with it, you’ve got the willingness to change. The fact that you’re reading this says a lot about you: you’re someone who cares about your health and who knows that a few lifestyle tweaks are enough to pay dividends for years to com.

What are you thankful for?

Try to find just five minutes this week (maybe during a dull meeting, in your lunch hour, or on a coffee break) to scribble a list of things you’re thankful for. Make sure you include at least one thing about your body, at least one thing about your eating habits, and at least one thing about your exercise. They don’t have to be big (“I’m thankful that I can now walk up a flight of stairs without being out of breath” is fine), but do try to find something for all these aspects of your healthy living journey.

If you’re celebrating Thanksgiving tomorrow, I hope you have a wonderful, joy-filled day. And you hereby have my permission to enjoy yourself without thinking once about calories – one day won’t ruin your diet (just get straight back on the wagon on Friday).

Don’t forget that you can get email updates from The Office Diet straight to your inbox. Just pop your email address in the box on the top right of this page.


Office diet clubs and groups

Wish you didn’t have the day job? Convinced you’d do better if you could just get away from the pressures of work? Think again! You can make office life a positive influence when it comes to eating healthily and losing weight by joining – or starting – a workplace slimming group.

Here in the UK, Weight Watchers has announced a scheme to start clubs in workplaces, called, imaginatively enough “At Work”. (In the US, this has been going for a while.)

Advantages to an office diet group

The office can be full of temptations and pitfalls for the unwary dieter. Whether it’s the buffet at a meeting, the colleagues who (unwittingly or otherwise) sabotage your diet, or the effects of stress, it’s easy to pile on the pounds whilst at work.

Being part of a diet, health or weight-watching group, then, could make all the difference. Having the support and encouragement of workmates who share your goals can be a huge boost to motivation – very much needed when it comes to turning down a cookie during that mid-afternoon energy slump. And the occasional element of competition might not go amiss either; if you know you’re having a weigh-in on Monday, your office diet club might boost your self control even when you’re not at work over the weekend…

Some dieting groups like to use slimming as a way to donate to charity, perhaps with each member giving $1 or £1 each week that they lose weight, and paying a “penalty” of $2 or £2 for no loss or a gain.

As well as the support of colleagues, the plans used for work-based clubs are more likely to fit into your lifestyle — and the meetings can be easily arranged during a lunch-hour or straight after work.

The Weight Watchers AT WORK program is a group participation program designed to support the special weight loss needs and concerns of working people.
UFC – Classes – Healthy Living

Weight Watchers at Work is a respected, popular, successful campus program. Hundreds of UVM employees have successfully lost weight and reached their goals since the Weight Watchers at Work started five years ago. The convenience of having the weekly meetings on campus has enabled busy employees to take advantage of this successful program.
Weight Watchers at Work, The University of Vermont

(Possible) Disadvantages to an office diet group

So what are the drawbacks to dieting along with your office-mates? Usually, all will go well, but you might want to be prepared to deal with any problems that do arise. These might be:

  • Some people getting too competitive and being insensitive towards members of the group who haven’t lose weight.
  • Coworkers who are overweight but not in the group getting pressured to join. (They may have health issues that mean they can’t diet, or they may simply be happy with their size – either way, it’s not fair for an overzealous diet group to make them feel uncomfortable.)
  • Dieting talk taking over the office, and boring everyone else to tears!

In general, so long as the group members are sensitive towards one another and to other colleagues, it’s likely that an office diet group will be a supportive, fun and motivational experience for all involved. Many office dieters have commented that sharing something personal like weight concerns is a good way to feel closer to colleagues and to get to “really know” people.

Talk your boss into it

Could you get your employer on board, either with Weight Watchers or with a similar club-based plan? The Daily Telegraph (a national UK newspaper) notes that:

With 18 million working days lost annually to weight-related illnesses, there is an incentive for companies to join the NHS in tackling the obesity crisis.

The work-based weight loss clubs which require a fee (such as Weight Watchers) are great ones to encourage your boss to pay part or all of the costs for! If you do decide to go for this route, try getting together a few like-minded colleagues who can help you persuade the management team that healthier, fitter employees are happier and harder-working.

And if you do start a group, make sure you get all the others to bookmark The Office Diet. You can even sign up to free RSS updates and/or email updates (pop your address in the top right corner).


Eat more (dark) chocolate: it’s good for you

My bio on a recent interview (which you can find on the Ditch Diets Live Light site) explained that “[Ali] firmly believes that any healthy eating plan should allow room for chocolate.” So I thought the time was right for a post here on The Office Diet about some of the (purported) health benefits of chocolate:

Eating dark chocolate could help control diabetes and blood pressure

Eating dark chocolate could help control diabetes and blood pressure, Italian experts say. Researchers found eating 100g of dark chocolate each day for 15 days lowered blood pressure in the 15 person-study.

This is a small study, so I’d like to see more research done in this area. Also, 100g of dark chocolate contains around 500 calories – so this wouldn’t be a great diet to follow if you’re trying to lose weight!

Chocolate improves your mood

Study participants with atypical depression were more likely to crave chocolate, and they felt that chocolate had a definite positive effect on feelings of irritability, depression and anxiety.

The serotonin in chocolate is a mood-booster, but this study showed that people with “atypical depression” (which is a common form of depression where the sufferer “can still react positively to pleasing events while those experiencing melancholic depression cannot have a change of mood in response to external events”).

Chocolate can help prevent heart disease and cancer

Researchers in Scotland and Italy say dark chocolate has much better anti-oxidant properties. This means that it can protect the heart and arteries from oxidative damage, similar to the rust that develops on metal over time. Writing in the journal Nature, they said adding milk to chocolate may cancel out these health benefits.

The antioxidants in chocolate are more concentrated in dark chocolate (which is also slightly lower in calories), so go for a smallish bar of dark chocolate rather than a giant slab of milk chocolate.

My advice would be to enjoy dark chocolate as a treat, ideally by replacing unhealthier options (milk chocolate, or sugary/fatty snacks) – don’t use the health benefits of chocolate as licence to scoff a family-sized bar every day!


Ten unusual facts about calories

Calories are at the heart of most modern weight-loss diets: we all know that to lose weight, we need to eat fewer calories than we expend.

But even though the word “calories” is familiar to any dieter, how much do you really know about them? Here are ten facts, some of which you’ve probably never heard before:

1. The word “calorie” came into general use in English in the 1880s, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. The first example of “calorie” being used in relation to food rather than heat energy in general is this:

1892 Pall Mall Gaz. 22 June 6/1 A pound of beefsteak contains..870 calories of energy.

2. The definition of a calorie is “the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1°C”.

3. In nutrition, what we talk of as “calories” are really kilocalories – enough energy to raise the temperature of a kilogram of water by 1°C. (This is why the metric unit is the kilojoule.)

4. The first diet book to advocate calorie counting and to offer lists of calories was Dr Lulu Hunt Peters’ Diet and Health With Key to the Calories. The term was new to her readers, and would have been unknown a couple of generations before. She told them that:

Hereafter you are going to eat calories of food. Instead of saying one slice of bread, or a piece of pie, you will say 100 Calories of bread, 350 Calories of pie.

5. The average deep fried mars bar contains almost 1,000 calories – that could be most of your daily allowance, if you’re a small female office dieter…

6. The Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps eats 12,000 calories per day whilst training – that’s enough calories to feel ten sedentary office dieters! (Time for a change of job, perhaps..?)

7. Eating a high-calorie diet when pregnant is linked to giving birth to boys rather than girls. (The rise in low-calorie diets in the developed world is seen as one possible reason for the increasing number of female babies being born compared to male babies.)

8. There are no calories in tea or coffee (just in the milk and sugar that you add…)

9. If you average out the calorie consumption per day in America, it’s 3,790 calories per day per person. That’s with daily recommended calorie intake at 2, 000 calories per day for the average woman and 2,500 for the average man…

10. New York restaurants are now legally obliged to display calorie counts on menus … and in the UK, government ministers are calling for similar legislation.

Want to know more about calories? Check out the Dieting Basics ebook for full information on how many calories you should be eating, how to burn more calories than you take in, and how to calculate the calories in any portion of food.

(Image above by Mafleen)


You don’t need to feel the burn to feel the benefits

Do you feel that you should do more exercise, but hate the thought of spending hours in the gym? Do you want to be more active, but worry that you’ll need to shed those extra pounds first in order to have a chance of keeping up?

If you’re avoiding exercise because you see it as an “all or nothing”, start thinking instead about ways to make your current lifestyle just a bit more active. You don’t need to go to the gym three times a week to see health benefits.

Just get moving

Cranky Fitness had a great guest post from Drew Harvey of Diet Tired a few days ago. Drew wrote:

What constitutes the best form of exercise for weight loss? Here is a shocker: anything that gets you moving on a regular, preferably daily, basis.

Although, as Drew points out, weight loss does depend on calories in being less than calories out, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the best sort of exercise is the one that burns the most calories. After all, what do you think will have more benefits for your body in the long run: six months’ worth of daily half-hour walks, or two weeks of daily gym sessions followed by five and a half months where you’ve been completely put off exercising?

Something which “gets you moving on a regular, preferably daily, basis” is something that fits easily around the rest of your life. I’m a big fan of:

  • Having an active commute (even if the only way to do that is to get off the bus a couple of stops early, or to park your car further from work).
  • Escaping from the office for your full lunch hour, and enjoying a relaxing walk – or working off some energy with a quick jog, cycle ride or gym session
  • Making activity something fun that involves friends or family members.

Exercise boosts willpower

It can be depressing to watch the numbers slowly tick round on the calorie-counter at the gym or on your heart rate monitor. When I’ve been sweating away from thirty minutes, it’s galling to be told I’ve only burnt as many calories as there are in a Wispa (one of my favourite types of chocolate bar…)

However, I know that exercise for me isn’t just about the calories I burn – it’s also about the calories I don’t eat. As Drew writes:

It is a well known fact that people eat healthier on days that they are active. By simply being active and consequently feeling good about yourself, you decrease your daily calorie intake through better food choices.

I’ve definitely seen the truth of this in my own attempts to live healthily. When I go to the gym, take a long walk, or commute by bike, I’m much more ready to resist that cookie or slice of cake – because I don’t want to undo all my hard work. And if I’m exercising, I know that I need to eat extra “good” food (protein, unrefined carbs) for sustained energy during my workout, instead of skimping on lunch then wasting calories on chocolate.

How will you get active?

Try to find some way of being active every day – even if it’s just a half-hour stroll after dinner, or a quick power walk during your lunch hour. You might find some of these articles useful for further inspiration:

1 2 3