The war on sugar!
Britain is already the fat man of Europe and the problem is only getting worse, part of the solution lies in understanding what's causing this issue. Myself and NHS pharmacist Peter Kelly have been visiting London colleges to promote a fresh, simplified concept of healthy living and find out from the students what difficulties they face in achieving it. After visiting 2 colleges and revisiting another, already I can see trends in the answers given by students when asked how they coped with different aspects of healthy living.
The students complained that unhealthy food is cheaper and more available than healthy alternatives in the area surrounding their colleges, take a stroll down most high streets and the options are overwhelmingly in favor of fast food. When asked about exercise the boys did slightly better but as I'm sure you're aware, cultural influences are at play here as well as there simply being more options for males. In addition to this many students said that attending college, holding down a job and keeping up with coursework meant that there was no time for exercise and the combined stress of all this makes it difficult for them to relax.
It seems that similarly to adults, students are subject to an inescapable lifestyle and environment that make it quite difficult to live healthily - they're heavily overexposed to temping junk food (including its advertising) and live busy lives which we all know can be stressful and get in the way of proper exercise. Since diet, specifically sugar intake is one of the biggest causes of weight gain and obesity, I decided to look into it further. During my investigation I came across a documentary that some of you may have watched called That Sugar Film (2014). While the humor wasn't quite to my taste, it really put into perspective how damaging sugar is to our health and how widespread sugar's use and consumption really is. Here's a trailer to give you an idea:
Filmmaker Damon Gameau goes from eating a diet free from refined sugar, to eating the equivalent of 40 teaspoons of sugar per day for 2 months to measure its effects on the body, notably:
Liver damage - which can lead to insulin resistance and diabetes
Increased blood fat levels - which can contribute to heart disease
8.5kg weight gain with a 7% increase in body fat, adding 10cm to his waist!
After watching the documentary my girlfriend and I made the decision to give up refined sugar for a month to see how it affects us. I failed after 1 day when I discovered half a tub of ice cream in the freezer, but I've rejoined the mission and so far it's been 3 days. I have to confess, I am struggling with the cravings at times however I've noticed significant improvements in my mental focus/concentration, which is surprising in such a short period. It's supposed to take around 3-4 weeks for the cravings to subside so wish us luck! I'll give you an update on our progress in my next post :)
The biggest diet mistake you can make is counting calories with no regard to their source, not all calories are created equal - so a calorie from a vegetable or good protein source is obviously much better for you than one from processed fat, sugar or processed anything for that matter! Here's a clip from an interview with Hugh Jackman about his diet while he was training for his role as Wolverine (X-Men) and had to get into the best shape of his life:
As you can tell from the video and this approximate sample meal plan, his diet was very basic and if you adapted it according to your preferences (less meat, vegan etc) and of course added some variation you'd be left with a near perfect diet that's inexpensive too, no need for fancy berries or tonics! Small amounts of sugar can be enjoyed as an occasional treat unless you're preparing to star in the next X-Men movie, but ultimately we should be watching our sugar intake rather than calories.
Finally, I'd like to finish with the "5 steps to health living" which is at the heart of the healthy living project/workshops. The steps are simple and if applied to your lifestyle are guaranteed to make you healthier, give them a try:
1.) SLEEP - You need to sleep at least 8 hours per night. People tend to struggle with this one the most but consistent good sleep is unsurprisingly vitalising.
2.) EXERCISE - You need to exercise for a minimum of 20 minutes on average per day. This doesn't have to be confined to the gym, you could swim, dance, play sports etc just get active!
3.) DIET - You need to drink 2 litres of water per day, keep your sugar intake to a minimum, base your diet on vegetables, fruit, protein, unrefined carbohydrates, healthy fats and freshly prepare your food as much as possible. Don't worry though, the occasional treat or "cheat meal" is allowed ;)
4.) HAVE FUN - It's essential for good health to regularly have fun. Holidays aren't luxuries, they're essential and doing other activities that you enjoy should be an integral part of your life.
5.) RELAX - You need to learn to relax and do activities that you find relaxing on a regular basis. The body heals when it's in a relaxed state. Meditation, yoga or anything that quietens the mind are ideal choices.
Thank you for reading!