Thursday, 31 January 2013

A month of health: Wrap

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I want to focus on my health this year, I am turning 40 this year after all, but I don't want to "diet". I am done with diets. I reckon I have tried them all, well all the vaguely sane ones any way. I can't say I have ever had the will power for the lettuce leaf a day kind of diets. I digress...

I want this year to be different. I do have weight to lose but I don't want to spend three months getting it off and nine months putting it back on. That would be last year. And the year before, come to think of it.

I want to be healthy in the broader sense. Healthy body and mind.

I am embracing moderation with my food and drinking. Getting my headspace sorted and managing my stress (you should see how often I catch myself standing in front of the pantry after a bout of frustration). I walk regularly and I will start pilates classes with the physio next week. I am aiming for real food. Slow food. Embracing the food rules. Learning to break the binge and bust cycle.

I do not want to be a human accordion any more.

It is going to be a slow and steady approach to fit and fabulous. I have my good and bad days. I fight the urge to drink protein shakes and eat celery for a week to 'drop a few quick kilos'. But I am better than that. Stick to my little rules*, I tell myself, and it will go. Eventually. It is about my health, not the size of my thighs. And that is just the way I want it.

Do you have any health goals in 2013? Share them in the comments.

A month of health posts:
February will be:

 A month of frugality. 

I hope you will enjoy it.

* No lollies, no chocolate (except fair-trade dark chocolate occasionally), no carbs after 6pm, no night time snacking.

Monday, 28 January 2013

A month of health: Skin

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It is a truth universally known that almost 40 year old skin is not the same as 21 year old skin. Neither are 40 year old knees like 21 year old knees, mind you, but no-one can see that creaky feeling you get as you climb stairs, but they can see the lines on your face.
I met a woman when I was in my 20s. She was approaching 60 and had the most sensational skin. She swore it was a combination of good genetics and a daily moisturising routine ('always apply in an upwards direction' she said, 'and don't forget your neck'). I don't know if she had actually undergone cosmetic surgery or not (I can be quite gullible), but I have always heeded her advice. You just never know.
Coming from a fair-skinned family, I have learnt to be careful with sun exposure. Skin cancer is the leading cancer in Australia. Most skin cancers are preventable. In addition to having regular skin checks, you can prevent most skin cancers by diligently:

  • avoiding the sun in the middle of the day
  • wearing sunscreen every day (mine is in the moisturiser I apply daily. In an upwards direction, not overlooking the neck area); and 
  • wearing a hat
Smoker's are renowned for having poor skin. Saggy. Prematurely wrinkled. The anti-smoking campaigns warn us that "Every cigarette is doing you damage". When it comes to your skin, I think that is true.
You need to eat a healthy diet and drink plenty of water if you want beautiful skin. Lots of fruit and vegetables, whole grains and lean protein. Real food. I always know when I have drunk too much and eaten too much sugar and/or oil. My skin breaks out, gets shiny and loses 'bounce'. You are what you eat.
Sleep is your skin's best friend. You need at least seven hour's a night. Sleep improves complexion, removes dark circles under the eyes and makes the skin glow. Sleep can provide your skin everything it needs and it is more important than any cosmetic treatment and more necessary than any cream.
A friend of mine has regular Botox. Unbeknownst to me, she has been doing it for years. My only experience with Botox is for use in vocal folds that don't work properly (spasmodic dysphonia). I can't imagine injecting bacteria into my face. On purpose. But I guess it is a solution to the natural changes of ageing, for some people.
I read in a magazine about cosmetic acupuncture. Rejuvenating the face (and body) by having tiny needles stuck into your face. Apparently it works a treat. And the effects spread beyond your face to rejuvenate your whole body.

What do you think your skin tells you about your health?

Thursday, 24 January 2013

A month of health: Slow food

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The slow food movement grew in resistance to the fast food chains that sprang up and monopolised society's palate. It is in direct opposition of drive-through, multi-national convenience and reminds us that growing food is an art and we should appreciate our farmers for the contribution they make to our health.

Australian's started to get fat, really fat, when the likes of McDonald's started popping up on every corner. Like our American friends before us, we claimed our spot in the world's fattest nations, largely due, in my opinion, to having "fries with that".

I am out of the fast food game this year (except maybe on long road trips with the kids). For me, as I reconnect with real food, now is the perfect time to stick to buying locally grown, seasonal foods. The seasons provide the variety that I crave. Buying local means less travel miles which equates to fresher produce and less environmental impact. And when it comes to healthy eating, we all know fresh is best.

I frequent the local fresh produce market, buying local orange juice (when I don't make my own), getting locally produced breads and local meat from the local butcher. Our chickens produce our eggs and they are the best eggs in town. There is much more exploring to do to find local producers of other products like rice, wheat, and dairy.

The slow food movement also advocates for "taste education". Not only do we need to teach ourselves where our food comes from, but also take the time to truly enjoy the meal. Taste each bite. Chew each mouthful with vigour. Indulge in the sights and smells of our meals. I am still working on this. I am known to be a speed eater!

I have enjoyed a couple of lovely seasonal meals in the past week, cooked from scratch from vegetables grown in my local area.

Carrot and red lentil dahl

Zucchini, pea and potato soup

Absolutely the best thing I have done for my body in ages. Hands down.

You are what you eat. And apparently, you are how you eat too.

Do you embrace the slow food movement?

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

A month of health: Connection

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I have been blessed with many friends throughout my life. Many of my friendships have been enduring and have evolved throughout the various stages of life. Many have survived the time-consuming self-centredness that comes from raring four children, close together in age.

I don't really nurture these connections like I should. I love it when I see them, but I don't see them enough. I rely on the seeds I sowed when we first met, and ongoing shared experiences, often, years ago, rather than putting in the effort they deserve now.

I want to be a good friend. I want to be available. I want to support my friends. I want to be more attentive. I want to know more about their day-to-day lives again, not just the big stuff. I want to listen to their stories.

Being connected to your community is an important factor in maintaining health. Having a network of support is essential for your well-being and peace of mind. Having other adults in the world who know and care about your children lessens the responsibility of raising them on your own.

I was reminded today that good people can spiral out of control without connection. Having someone who looks out for you and notices your moods and behaviours is essential for accountability and motivation. Having stable relationships enables you to grow as a person.

Without connection there is loneliness and isolation.

Do you nurture your connections?

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

A month of health: Stress management

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As things hot up on the 'back to school' front and work undergoes another series of imposed changes, I am reminded once again of the importance of mental health in the quest for a healthy life. Stress makes me irritable, cranky, and unproductive, so just when I need to get more done, I fail at the basics.

Stress is a normal part of life, of course. We can rarely avoid it altogether, and in and of itself, it is a natural state. In short bursts, stress can invigorate us; we have all the goods to deal with short-term stress. Our bodies set the wheels of our sympathetic nervous system in motion; fight or flight. Acute stress response.

The only problem is that the source of stress frequently hangs around, accumulates and sends us spiraling rapidly into a state of quivering that disables us from making reasonable decisions, problem solving or, indeed, seeking help.

Stress management is all about self-care. Setting realistic goals and expectations, delegating, negotiating and finding a way to find some reprieve from the source of the stress (not always an easy task).

We need to build the resilience to cope with stress. To break situations down into manageable chunks. To sift out life's distractions, so we can get on with things that make a difference. To find a solution to the constant re-infestation of nits!

We need to balance the actual urgent/important with the unknown-but-apparently-urgent-or-important-to-someone. Things we want to do, with things we are expected to do. Things we do for us, with things we do for others.

We need to identify the signs of 'burn out' and take action to change what we can.

We need to find some headspace, whether that is through doing some exercise, spending time with family and friends, going to a movie, reading a book or tending your garden. Whatever works for you. A little or a lot; whatever you need.

Go placidly amidst the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence*. 

What do you do when stress gets the better of you?

* From Desiderata

Monday, 21 January 2013

A month of health: Alcohol

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I drank too much on Friday night. I do this from time to time. Generally I am not much of a drinker these days; these days being "since I became a Mum". I was pregnant or breastfeeding from July 2004 until August 2010 (true story), so I pretty much lost my mojo with alcohol.

This Summer has been such a social time for us. When I look back over the past six weeks, there has been barely a day that hasn't involved a 'toast' of two. At the end of the day, alcohol is not in keeping with a healthy lifestyle, and parenting with a hangover is just no fun.

Much of the time, alcohol consumption is habitual. A wine after a long day. A beer on a hot afternoon. A champagne to celebrate an occasion. Or a gin and tonic well, just because they are so good.

Different types of alcohol contain different calorie counts so if you are drinking in moderation and trying to keep the kilos off, small amounts of wine or a light beer are best. But do not fool yourselves. A standard drink (10g of alcohol) contains 56 calories from the alcohol alone, then you have to add the mixers/sugars etc. and you are looking at 135 calories per wine or beer.

Long term, drinking too much not only effects your ability to maintain your weight (empty calories and the poor will power that results from drinking both attribute to this), it can play havoc with your mood, sleep patterns, and energy levels. There is a long list of long-term health issues that arise from habitual alcohol misuse.

The Australian guidelines state that you shouldn't drink more than two standard drinks in any one day. I definitely broke that rule this Summer on more than one occasion!

So I reckon I have two choices: drink in moderation, or don't drink at all. I thought about joining FebFast this year, but to me that is just another short-term commitment and I am not doing that this year. So what the Geege and I will do is, drink less alcohol all the time and one week per month, drink no alcohol at all.

What are you like after a night on the plonk?

Sunday, 20 January 2013

A month of health: Breakfast ideas

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I figure if we are trying to improve our health, we need to start with the first meal of the day: breakfast.We all know that breakfast is the most important meal. Those of us who eat breakfast are fueling ourselves for the day, giving ourselves energy, improving our concentration and setting ourselves up for better eating patterns for the day. But breakfast can be the source of enormous frustration in our household. We rarely have all six of us eating the same thing.

I am a breakfast eater and have been most of my life.  It is the one meal that I don't seek variety and samey-samey is absolutely fine for me. I don't think my brain is too discerning in the morning. During the week you will find me eating a bowl of muesli but I welcome a fry-up or some pancakes at one day of the weekend (especially when prepared by someone else).

The Geege struggles with breakfast but manages to stomach something most mornings. Often just a banana and a coffee, or three.

Dew Drop would eat breakfast foods at every meal if he could. He is the Hobbit of the family who frequently has second breakfasts. He likes all types of cereals, fruit and yoghurt and toast.

The Minx is hit and miss, one day to the next, with no rhyme or reason. Yesterday she ate a bowl of weetbix with sultanas, today she had two mouthfuls and declared she hated it. We take it one day at a time with our precious.

Doo Dah likes variety with his breakfasts but will happily eat something on most days. He makes requests on different days for cereal, toast, eggs, pancakes or a smoothie. We usually give him what he asks for.

Nugget, well he is the fussy fuss pot of the family and breakfast is no exception. He will eat toast, but he would live on bread alone if we would let him. He also likes Nutrigrain, but I only let him have it on holidays.

Needless to say, I am always on the look out for quick and healthy breakfast ideas (that are not cereal) that will meet the needs of all the family. I am accruing a lovely list of options we have been trying out and I want to share with you:

  • Muesli muffins (Nugget still won't eat these, but the other kids love them)
  • Tomato on wholegrain toast, even better with a bit of cottage cheese spread on there too
  • French toast
  • Egg soldiers
  • Fruit smoothies
  • Wholewheat banana bread
  • Baked beans on toast
  • Fruit salad and yoghurt
  • Ham and egg cups - Put a slice of ham into a muffin tray and top it with an egg. Bake until firm. Eat hot or cold.
  • Porridge (no success with any of the kids liking oats, but I love it!)
What do you eat for breakfast?

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

A month of health: Real food

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When it comes right down to it, how can we be healthy if we litter our diet with chemicals, additives and preservatives? Can we be healthy if we eat un-pronounceable ingredients that we don't add to our own food but seem happy to have someone else add? How can we be healthy if we don't eat real food?

There is so much edible stuff that masquerades as food but isn't. Two minute noodles spring to mind as do some crackers and many forms of confectionery and soft drinks. It is like feeding your child cardboard, only with more preservatives.

I come from a family of cooks. Both Mum and Dad prepared meals from scratch. We all watched and learnt by osmosis and for me, cooking the family meal is a normal part of the day. I prefer my own cooking to a jar prepared in a factory. Probably a bit too much if I am honest. But I want to role model to my children what food actually looks like and where it comes from.

We have our vegetables delivered and I usually top up at the local farmer's market or the stalls at the nearby farms. Local is best for sustainability, reduced travel miles and freshness. I can't always afford to buy organic, but I do when I can, especially focusing on the dirty dozen. Same goes with supermarket bought products; Australian made all the way.

When I get busy though, I start to take short cuts in the kitchen. A few too many 'easy dinners' creep into the menu plan and before I know it, the kids have been two days without a vegetable! Crumbed fish and bottled sauces are leading contenders. The mindfulness of connecting with the source of the food seems to slip away and meals become fast rather than slow food.

I have long been interested in the work of Michael Pollan, and more recently, his convert 100 Days of Real Food. I have shared a number of his food rules in the form of blog posts over the years. The man makes a lot of sense to me.

So as I am spring cleaning my diet and looking to improve my health, rather than selecting a 'diet' per se, I am trying to oust processed foods, increase fruit and vegetable consumption, and find the path to maintenance of weight. Prepared foods with more than five ingredients are off the menu as are foods with unrecognisable contents.

Over on the 100 Days of Real food blog they have a 14 week program to look gradually at different aspects of your diet to increase your real food consumption. We started it last year and got stuck after Week 1 because Week 2 means I have to address my love affair with Coke Zero and I may not be ready to do that even though it totally signifies all the badness there is in the food world in one neat little (recyclable) container.

But I am going to start again. Even if it means postponing Week 2 until the end.

What are your thoughts about real food?

Sunday, 13 January 2013

A month of health: Move

So far in my month of health, I have been focusing on cutting down  lollies sugar, making lasting changes to my diet, and clearing my headspace. Already I starting to feel more in control of what goes in my mouth. I may have even found some self-discipline! I am coming to terms with needing a long term approach to  health, not a quick fix.

For me feeling healthy is a natural outcome of regular exercise.  Exercise is usually the thing that keeps me sane. I miss it when I don't do it. All the sweating seems to knock some sense into me and helps me forego treats and over-indulgences. I rate the natural high.

I haven't done much exercise since I had my stomach operation. While I get around pretty well nowadays, I still don't feel 100%. I get random twinges, can't carry much and fatigue easily (not to mention that my toenails that are STILL falling off after my 100km walk).

But this week I am beginning my assault on my thighs. I am reintroducing movement into my schedule. Here is my plan:

  • I will be walking 30+ minutes most days. 
  • I am going to increase my incidental exercise every day.
  • I will make an appointment to visit my physiotherapist to find out what I can do to strengthen this stomach region of mine. I suspect she will encourage a re-acquaintance with my exercise ball and possibly some pilates.
  • I am putting together an exercise folder to house all of the snippets and inspirational images that I have collected over the years. You know? Home-based resistance training plans. Interval training programs. Daily yoga routines. I am going to remind myself all the benefits of doing push-ups.
How do you incorporate movement into your schedule? Have you ever made your own exercise plan? What do you do?

Next post in series: Real food

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

A month of health: Headspace

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I had a conniption last night. While dining with the family at the end of a scorcher of a day, my eldest son, Nugget complained of a sore ear. The likely culprit was an ear infection. With much ado, I needed to take him to the emergency department to get him some medicine.

Dew Drop chucked a massive tantrum because he wanted to come. The Minx got upset because Dew Drop was screaming and clearly tired upset. Doo Dah also started crying because, in order to appease the overtired and loudly screaming Dew Drop, Gran had offered for him to stay with her until I had finished at the hospital, so Doo Dah wanted to too. It was stressful with a capital S.

Thankfully the family kicked into action. Kids were whisked wither and dither and grand sleeping arrangements made. The stop at the ED was remarkably short; diagnosis? Otitis externa.

I found myself at 9pm, lathered in my own sweat, feeling very haranged. My head was cluttered. My thoughts on fast forward and rewind at the same time.

When the cool change finally approached after the long hot day, I ventured off to bed and lay awake for some time thinking. Unwinding. Health is about so much more than the food that you eat and the exercise that you do. Mental health is a critical factor. Sleep is important. Emotional support essential.

Your ability to cope with the unexpected is very much tied to your own state of mind. When you are fresh, you can do anything. After three weeks on the move, out of routine and out of sorts, everything seems hard.

I was ready to pull up stumps and head back to the big smoke last night. But today, after a dose of some bad reality television, a good Irish book and a little sleep, I have managed to find my fresh approach. The world seems a little brighter again.

The key for me is rest. Having a break from the responsibility of parenting. Clearing my headspace by having time to myself. I only need a snippet, but without it I suffer.

What will you do today to clear your headspace?

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

A month of health: Small steps

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January is breezing by. The kids and I are on holidays this week, visiting the fam in Fibrotown. It has been a hot Summer. The best I can remember in a long time.

I cannot emphasise enough that single parenting is for the brave. And single parenting four tired, hot children camping in your sister's backyard is well... let's just say a 24/7 commitment. Little people are very warm when sitting/sleeping on top of you in 30+ degrees. I say no more least I incriminate myself or others.

Needless to say, I haven't had a lot of time to think about my health goals. In a funny way, this has been the best start I could have hoped for. I have done the hard, fast diets. I have shed the kegs in record time. I have ticked boxes, reached weight loss goals, and read every book under the sun.

I just haven't been able to sustain it.

It is a maintenance issue for me. It is about my relationship with food. It is about my ability to put on the hand brake and say enough is enough.

It has something to do with emotions and a lot to do with discipline. While I admire those with self-discipline, I have always had a little piece of me that thinks they are boring. Where's your sense of adventure? And fun? And spontaneity?

All my fun and spontaneity is firmly planted on my jodpur thighs.

So as I venture forward, sucking the life out of Summer before I return to work next week, I have been practising my self-discipline skills as I attempt to stay away from nutritiously dead foods. I am trying to recall the Food Rules of Michael Pollen and the simple wisdom of Susie Burrell.

I have no particular weight goals. I have no specific eating plan, except my new year's resolution. I am taking it slow this year. Health for life, not for a few months. I am finding the middle ground. My middle ground. There's no rush to the imaginary finish line because there is no finish line. I am changing my habits.

So tell me. How do you maintain your weight? Are you self-disciplined? Or do you diet when you find yourself slipping?

Friday, 4 January 2013

A month of health: Camping

I can't think of a better way to bring in the new year than camping with family and friends. I really mean it. It is tops! You get all of the fun of a new year's celebration without the fuss or traffic.

Like last year, the Geege, the kids and I pottered off to camp on the Central Coast with a bunch of happy campers on December 27. Old friends, and new, bonding over some tarpology and the three 'S's'; sand, sun and surf.

It was fabulous. Daily swims, the odd bushwalk, and plenty of food and beverages highlighted by glow sticks, sparklers and solar lanterns. Harmonious happy kids, scooting, bike riding, and swimming until they dropped; sleeping like angels then cranking it all out again the next day. Wash and repeat. Their eyes are sparkling, their skin glowing. They look like they have been hugged by Summer.

I sat up late on the last night, regretfully saying goodbye to the gigantic sky full of twinkling stars, replaying the week's memories in my mind. The boys' first boogie board rides. The Minx mastering the scooter. The kids sneaking out of the tent on new year's eve to dance to Gangnam style. The extraordinary efforts of the group to create the perfect 'white night' to celebrate a 30th birthday. Backyard cricket. Composting. Lindt chocolate. Exploring the beach caves with the kids. The Geege having a Nanna nap in his camp chair. Truly magic.

The whole week served as a timely reminder that the key to happiness is spending time with people you love and living a healthy life. 2013 will be all about that for me. More socialising. More focus on health.

January will be dedicated to health on the blog too. I will organise my diet and exercise routine for the year, look at recipes for boosting mental health and looking for balance. I hope you will join me.

My first step towards a healthier life is my new year's resolution: No more lollies or chocolate (except fair trade, organic chocolate no more than once per week). So far so good.

So welcome to 2013. What did you do to start the year?
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