Monthly Archives: January 2012


a neat summary of how to reduce stress at work


when the ego bunny goes feral


from  at elephant journal on 31 dec 2011

Well, you are beautiful and unique, but…

Ever have one of those days where things keep knocking you down, and you end up feeling a little squashed and unimportant. And then you decide the best course of action is to greet all of your friends with choruses of “Validate me! Validate me! Tell me you love me! Tell me I’m wonderful!”

I had that day recently. My little fluffy ego bunny was feeling small and in need of cuddling. We all get that way sometimes.

But it’s a quick trip from an ego that’s like this:

(Photo: Captain Subtle)

 To one that looks like this:

(Photo: teletoon)

And which ever state it’s in do you really want some silly rabbit running the show? Sometimes when I look in my ego mirror, I see:

“F*ck yeah, you’re awesome! You are talented and gorgeous and you smell nice and everyone loves you and if they don’t than they can go suck it. Morons!”

And other times it’s more like:

“You suck. You are an opinionated, no-talent hack who will never amount to anything. Your hair is a mess, your life is a mess, and no one likes you so shut up already!”

The thing is, neither one is true. Neither one is healthy. Neither one matters if I really want a mindful life.

So how to stop seeking fluffy bunny ego cuddles all the time?

1. Go outside. Go for a run. In the rain. In December. Get to the highest point you can and look around in amazement of how vast it all is and what a tiny speck you are. Or even look at the stars. Or the ocean. Anything in nature that reminds you how wonderful the world is and that while you are a part of its magnificence–you are a miniscule part.

2. Shut upFor real. When you listen to other people, shut off the part of you that is waiting for your turn to talk, to explain how it makes you feel or why it relates to you. Give that part a rest and listen to someone else for awhile. You might learn something.

3. Stop seeking ego food. You know, fishing for compliments, seeking validation, looking for approval. And instead…

4. Breathe. Doesn’t have to be fancy, or on a cushion, official mediation time (though that’s a great ego leveller too.) When you feel the sad ego bunny syndrome coming on, instead of trying to find someone to stroke it, stop. Take a few deep breaths. Shake it off. Do something that actually nourishes your soul instead of just revving up your ego. One great way to do this would be…

5. Remember how to be happy. “If you want be happy think first of others, if you want to be unhappy think only of yourself.” It’s true. I love telling other people how much I appreciate them, how they amaze me. Not to feed their egos, not so they’ll reciprocate, but because it’s true. The more time I spend focused on how I can be of benefit to others, the less that stupid bunny begs to be cuddled.

My ego is in check enough at the moment that I can fully admit, Pema Chödrön sums it up much better than I have:

Ego is like a room of your own, a room with a view with the temperature and the smells and the music that you like. You want it your own way. You’d just like to have a little peace, you’d like to have a little happiness, you know, just gimme a break. But the more you think that way, the more you try to get life to come out so that it will always suit you, the more your fear of other people and what’s outside your room grows. Rather than becoming more relaxed, you start pulling down the shades and locking the door. When you do go out, you find the experience more and more unsettling and disagreeable. You become touchier, more fearful, more irritable than ever. The more you try to get it your way, the less you feel at home.

Unlock that door. Stop sitting in there snuggling with your ego or asking others to stroke it for you. Come on out where it’s cold,  wild, wet and unpredictable and you might get a little bruised sometimes. It’s worth it.

when you are criticised


from  at elephant journal

It is more blessed to give than receive, no? No one wants to hear he has screwed up. You get flustered. Maybe even blush. You feel like a little kid who’s been called on the carpet for doing something naughty or making a mistake. You want to start swinging away at whoever is dishing out the criticism. It sucks. Can’t we just skip over this part where I’m wrong and move on to where you like me again and everybody’s happy? Please? Nope.

Criticism is like going to the dentist. You know you need it. You’re afraid it’s going to hurt. You get that knot in your stomach when you see it coming. You want the end result where you are better, stronger–but you don’t want to go through it.

We often avoid it as much as possible. We want to stay in our little cocoons where everything is nice and cozy, and no one makes us feel bad about our choices.

But that isn’t what we need.

Compassion isn’t always yes. It isn’t always flattery. When we screw up, flattery is a band aid; criticism is the surgery. If we really want to grow, surrounding ourselves with people who always tell us “it’s okay” isn’t going to cut it. If we want to be stronger, be better, we can’t let fear of criticism keep us wrapped up in our neat little boxes. We have to be able to give it–and take it.

Praise can be addictive. And dangerous.

Just look at Elvis. When Elvis was a rising star, he had his mom around to set him straight when he needed it. After she died, he surrounded himself with “yes men” and became insular, miserable, up and down…with, finally, a tragic, too-soon ending. Imagine the much happier ending if he had friends around who called him on it when he was popping pills and blowing all his money. Instead of random “sightings” by diehard fans, we might be still be enjoying Elvis and Willie duets today.

When criticism comes your way:

1. Stay quiet. Mouth and mind. Hear the person out until he’s finished. Being defensive doesn’t make you stronger; keeping an open heart does.

2. Ask yourself if it’s true. Be honest about this. Even if it hurts. Especially if it hurts.

3. If it’s true, thank the person. Anyone who gives you honest criticism has given you a too-rare gift. He or she has shone a light on an area where you need to change. Might still hurt, but it’s a good thing. If an apology is in order, do that too. The word “but” should not appear anywhere in the apology.

4. If it’s not true, thank the person. And then move on. If it’s a friend and there’s been a misunderstanding, sure–explain yourself. It’s fine to clarify things if you truly believe you are being criticized for something you didn’t do.

But sometimes people just feel like criticizing. Period. Sometimes it has absolutely nothing to do with you except for the fact that you were in their line of fire. I recently received a comment from someone who told me that it was “People like me that make him hate the world.” and he went on in about half a dozen unrelated directions about what made him angry. Had absolutely nothing to do with what I had said or done. Still…good practice.

5. Right the wrong. The great thing about criticism is when it doesn’t just end with you feeling bad. Learning where you’re flawed isn’t where it ends; you are learning where you can grow. If it was unwarranted criticism, then learn the lesson of detaching a little more from your ego. You don’t always have to be right. You can let it go. (I’m writing that for me…I need to hear that the most. Maybe you do too.) If you deserved it, even better. Feel the hurt, stay open, and be better now that you know better.


Unless you never do or say anything, you will be criticized. As the Japanese say, it’s the nail that sticks up that gets hammered down.

But before criticism even comes up organically, we can try soliciting some constructive comments from someone we respect, who will give it to us honestly. No fishing for compliments from people who are going to stroke our ego and tell us how great we are. What good does that really do us? If we are closed up and smoothed over by flattery, how will we be able to learn and improve?

Real growth towards enlightenment starts with a broken, open heart. And how we respond to criticism is one way to get there.

how food can help decrease your stress levels


the way your body deals with stress could provide the clues that can help you become calmer and slimmer, explains nutritional therapist and TV diet expert Charlotte Watts, who has written a ground-breaking book on the issue.

Beat the bulge: Understanding your stress type will help you lose weightBeat the bulge: Understanding your stress type will help you lose weight

Perhaps you are someone who collapses in a tearful heap. Or maybe you fret over endless lists, while others go down with every passing cough and cold.

Not only does feeling stressed and tired cause us to look for an instant energy fix (often found in high-calorie or high carbohydrate foods) but it also makes any excess weight we are carrying harder to lose.



Excess stress hormones in the body encourage fat storage, especially that hard-to-shift type around the middle.

Most diets are doomed to fail if you are stressed. But eating and lifestyle changes can tackle how you react to stress, according to the new book The De-stress Diet.

Take the quiz below to pinpoint your stress type. If you answer yes to three or more questions in any section, that could be your problem. Just follow the expert advice for a slimmer, calmer, healthier 2012.


  • Do you often feel bloated after eating?
  • Do you have irritable bowel syndrome-type symptoms that get worse when you are stressed?
  • Do you have food sensitivities?
  • Have you been on long-term steroid medications, anti-inflammatories and/ or antibiotics?
  • Are you prone to headaches?
  • Is your diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates?

If this is your stress type, many of your problems are caused by insufficient beneficial bacteria in your gut, triggering sugar cravings and digestive problems such as IBS and weight gain.

WHAT TO DO: Increase your intake of natural prebiotics, which help promote good bacteria. They are found in veg (particularly Jerusalem artichokes, chicory, bananas, garlic, onions and leeks) or use supplements. Take digestive enzyme capsules at the start of each meal (around £9 for 100 from health stores) to help your body break down food.

Chew everything properly and wait an hour after eating protein before having fruit as it can cause gut fermentation and gas.

Cut down on sugars, alcohol and caffeine, which can reduce levels of beneficial bacteria and lead to gas, poor immunity and yeast overgrowth (candida).

Eat slowly and chew thoroughly to give your digestion the best chance to work effectively. Get tested for food intolerances (dairy, eggs, fish and grains) as low levels of beneficial bacteria in the gut can make it over-sensitive.


  • Do you feel on constant alert?
  • Do you react quickly to stressful events?
  • Do you struggle to relax?
  • Do you feel under pressure to take charge of things?
  • Do you feel increasingly unable to cope?
  • Are you prone to mood swings or have a tendency towards irritability?

This is one of the most common stress types, and is particularly harmful in the long term because it wears out our physical and mental systems. The adrenal glands (which control many stress hormones) are on  overload, triggering raised appetite and food cravings.

WHAT TO DO: Make sure you are getting all your nutrients by eating protein with every meal (eggs, meat or fish), healthy fats and plenty of vegetables.

Consider taking supplements containing zinc, iron, B vitamins, vitamin C, iodine and magnesium, commonly lost from the body during the stress response.

Nutrients needed: Eating more fruit and veg will help those who are wired and stressedNutrients needed: Eating more fruit and veg will help those who are wired and stressed

Don’t ignore tiredness: unwind in the evenings and try a few minutes of slow breathing each morning or before bed. Slow down your exercise regime. Avoid anything competitive so there is no stressful need to achieve.


  • Do you often complain of feeling cold when others are warm?
  • Do you have poor circulation and are prone to fluid retention?
  • Is your hair thinning and are you losing the edges of your eyebrows?
  • Do you often find it difficult to concentrate?
  • Do you have less and less energy?
  • Do you have a hoarse voice?
  • Do you wake up unrefreshed?

These symptoms are often signs that stress is causing your thyroid gland (which controls metabolism) to under-perform. It’s your body’s way of slowing you down to conserve energy. This makes weight loss harder than ever.

WHAT TO DO: Balance your blood sugar levels to keep energy constant by eating less sugar and refined carbohydrates, and eating protein and good fats with each meal. Cut back on alcohol and coffee. Don’t skimp on exercise — it stimulates sluggish thyroid glands.

Try yoga. Head-down poses encourage blood flow and the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the thyroid gland.

Stretch: Head down yoga positions encourage blood flowStretch: Head down yoga positions encourage blood flow

Protein and leafy greens contain an amino acid called tyrosine, which helps the thyroid produce thyroxine which re-invigorates the metabolism.

Avoid raw cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and kale as they can interfere with thyroid function.

Eat warming foods such as chilli, ginger, green tea, turmeric, cider vinegar, horseradish and wasabi to warm you up.

Consider taking the thyroid- stimulating nutrients iron, zinc, copper, selenium and iodine (found in mackerel, cod, shellfish and seaweeds).


  • Are you prone to hay fever, asthma, eczema, arthritis or psoriasis?
  • Do you get frequent ear, nose and throat infections?
  • Do you have a tendency to fluid retention and weight fluctuations?
  • Are you prone to headaches?
  • Have you been on long-term steroid medications, anti-inflammatories and/or antibiotics?
  • Is your diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates?
  • Do you have osteoporosis, heart disease or joint problems?

These symptoms could be  signs that your immune system is on overdrive. This saps energy,  and suppresses the appetite- satisfaction hormones ghrelin and leptin, making weight loss particularly difficult.

WHAT TO DO: Reduce your intake of sugar to cut down the harmful inflammatory reactions it may be causing in your body.

Boost your intake of foods rich in vitamin C, vitamin E, beta- carotene (found in fresh, brightly coloured fruit and vegetables), as well as the beneficial bioflavonoids and polyphenols found in spices, tea, green tea and garlic (as well as red wine and dark chocolate).

Increase your fruit and vegetable intake to ensure you don’t get dehydrated (because they contain potassium and sugars, they  help the water they contain enter cells more easily than just drink-ing water).

Low levels of omega 3 in the diet can lead to inflammation, making eczema, asthma, dermatitis, hay fever, migraines and arthritis worse — stress exacerbates the effect. An omega 3 supplement may help.

Weight training is a must to strengthen bones and maintain healthy joint lubrication. Avoid hard cardiovascular workouts  and choose gentle jogging or walking instead.


  • Do you get PMS or have a history of menstrual problems?
  • Do you have fibroids, endometriosis or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)?
  • Do you get pre-menstrual or ovulation sugar cravings?
  • Do you get hormonal phases of irritability, crying and/or negative thoughts?
  • Do you have menopausal symptoms?
  • Do you have fertility issues?
  • Have you used hormonal contraception (the Pill, IUD or implant) for years?

Affecting women only, this body type thrives on stress hormones interacting with oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone, skewing the delicate balance your hormonal system needs to function well and leading to weight gain typically on the bottom, hips and thighs.

WHAT TO DO: Reduce your alcohol consumption as it can raise circulating oestrogen and may worsen PMS.

Organic meat, eggs and dairy products tend to be lower in growth hormones, which may disrupt your hormone balance.

Eat a little fermented soy in the form of soy sauce, tamari, miso  and tempeh — the Chinese and Japanese have found this can  help regulate the balance of  female hormones.

Eat plenty of fibre to ensure effective elimination of excess hormones via the bowel (constipation may cause hormones  and toxins to be re-absorbed into the body).

Exercise every day — it is a crucial physical process that increases hormone balance by boosting circulation and detoxification.


  • Do you wake up feeling weary?
  • Do you have energy dips?
  • Do you rely on sugar or caffeine to perk you up?
  • Do you feel fuzzy-headed?
  • Are you exhausted by evening?
  • Do you sleep badly?
  • Do you get fluid retention?

If you’ve been a ‘wired’ stress type for a while, you can easily become a tired type, which can result in crashes that leave you unable to function without unhealthy sugar or stimulants.

Energy boost: Tired and stressed people should eat more red meat, fish and eggs, spinach and watercressEnergy boost: Tired and stressed people should eat more red meat, fish and eggs, spinach and watercress

WHAT TO DO: Swap external energy fixes such as sugar, coffee, alcohol and cigarettes for a multivitamin and mineral supplement to boost iron, B and C vitamins and magnesium.

Eat more red meat, fish and eggs, spinach and watercress (all rich in
iron) and poultry, milk, tofu and mushrooms (for vitamin B12).

Get more fluid by increasing fruit and veg intake and exercise to
reduce stress hormones.


  • Do you often feel as if you can’t be bothered to do anything?
  • Do you have a tendency to depression?
  • Do you use sugar and refined carbohydrates for comfort?
  • Do you have late-night binges or over-eating sessions?
  • Do you sleep badly?
  • Are you prone to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?

Don’t blame lack of willpower — stress has depleted the feelgood hormones serotonin and dopamine.

Low levels are linked to depression, and make you susceptible to junk food cravings as your body searches for a quick fix boost.

WHAT TO DO: Take an Omega-3 supplement to increase receptiveness
to serotonin and dopamine. Eat protein with every meal to ensure a consistent supply of energy to the brain to maintain a healthy mood.

Replenish probiotic gut bacteria with bio-yogurt and cut back on sugar. Take a magnesium supplement. Exercise outdoors. Laugh, listen to music, socialise, have sex: natural opioids are produced in response to these natural highs.

Extracted from The De-stress Diet by Charlotte Watts and Anna Magee, published by Hay House on January 7 at £12.99. © Charlotte Watts and Anna Magee 2012. To order a copy for £10 (P&P free), tel: 0843 382 0000.

Read more:

self control urge surfing


In my new book The Willpower Instinct, I describe one of my favorite studies of self-control. I call it the “torture experiment.” It reveals how mindfulness can help us break free from even the most difficult habits.

Sarah Bowen, a research scientist in the Addictive Behaviors Research Center at the University of Washington, invited smokers who wanted to quit to participate in a study. Each brought an unopened pack of their favorite brand of cigarettes. When the smokers were all there, Bowen seated them around a long table. Then the torture began.

“Take out your pack and look at it,” Bowen instructed. They did. “Now remove the cellophane,” she commanded. “Now open the pack.” She walked the smokers through each step, from breathing in the first smell of the opened pack to pulling out a cigarette, holding it, looking at it, and smelling it. Putting it in their mouth. Taking out a lighter. Bringing the lighter to the cigarette without igniting it. At each step, she forced participants to stop and wait for several minutes.

Bowen wasn’t enjoying the smokers’ agony; her real aim was to investigate whether mindfulness can help smokers resist cravings.

Before the torture test, half of the smokers had received a brief training in a technique called “surfing the urge.” [Click here to listen to Bowen talk about the technique.] Bowen explained to the smokers that urges always pass eventually, whether or not you give in to them. When they felt a strong craving, they should imagine the urge as a wave in the ocean. It would build in intensity, but ultimately crash and dissolve. The smokers were to picture themselves riding the wave, not fighting it but also not giving in to it. They were instructed to pay close attention to the urge to smoke, without trying to change it or get rid of it. What thoughts were going through their mind? What did the urge feel like in the body?

An hour and a half later, after being fully put through the wringer, all of the smokers were released from Bowen’s torture chamber. She didn’t ask them to cut back on cigarettes, and she didn’t even encourage them to use the surfing-the-urge technique in everyday life. But Bowen did give ask them to keep track of how many cigarettes they smoked each day for the following week, along with their daily mood and urges to smoke.

For the first 24 hours, there was no difference in number of cigarettes smoked by the two groups. But starting with the second day, the surfing-the-urge group smoked fewer cigarettes. By day seven, the control group showed no change, but those surfing the urge had cut back 37 percent. Surprisingly, for smokers who had learned to surf the urge, stress no longer automatically led to lighting up.

A new study sheds some light on what’s happening in the brain when we apply mindfulness to tempation. This study recruited 47 smokers who wanted to quit, and asked them to abstain from smoking for 12 hours before the experiment. The researchers taught the participants basic principles of mindful attention—like in Bowen’s study, it was a very quick and simple “intervention,” no formal meditation training required.

The researchers then showed the smokers smoking-related images designed to induce cravings. For some images, the smokers were asked to view them passively, without any special mindfulness to their experience; for other images, they were asked to view them mindfully. They also asked smokers to report any cravings they were experiencing. All the while, the researchers were watching what was happening in each smoker’s, tracking brain activity using a functional magnetic resonance imagine machine.

First, the self-report: mindfulness reduced cravings. It’s counter-intuitive, because research has conclusively shown that images trigger strong cravings in smokers. But mindfulness seems to provide some kind of inoculation to the images.

The reduced cravings correlated with reduced activity in craving-related areas of the brain (e.g. the anterior cingulate cortex). Interestingly, mindfulness didn’t just reduce activity; it functionally disconnected the different regions of the brain that make up the “craving network.”

The experience of a strong craving is the product of several brain areas co-activating: regions that make you make you focus on the object of the craving; regions that create the mixed feelings of desire (anticipating the pleasure of reward, while also experiencing the pain and stress of not yet having what you want), and regions that motivate action to get what you want.

Paying mindful attention to the trigger of the craving interrupted this complex brain response, and ultimately protected smokers from their own desire.

It’s likely that this process can help all sorts of temptation and addiction, from food cravings to shopping addiction, substance abuse, and Internet porn. Want to get started? Researcher (aka torturer of smokers) Sarah Bowen leads you through the practice of surfing the urge (click to stream audio, or right-click/control-click and “save file as” to download MP3).

Kelly McGonigal is a psychologist at Stanford University. Her latest book, which is full of strategies for mindful and self-compassionate change, is The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It.

Studies referenced:

1. Bowen S, Marlatt A (2009). Surfing the urge: brief mindfulness-based intervention for college student smokers. Psychol Addict Behav, 23(4):666-71.
2. Westbrook C, Creswell JD, Tabibnia G, Julson E, Kober H, Tindle HA (2011). Mindful attention reduces neural and self-reporte

what ages us and how to deal with it


Five ageing accelerators


An extract from her book Eat Yourself Young

1 Sluggish digestion

A well-functioning digestive system is central to the anti-ageing process. But when the gut becomes sluggish the body doesn’t absorb nutrients very well –  skin, hair, nails, muscles and bones become undernourished and you start to look and feel older. Yeasts such as candida overgrow, causing toxic side effects, such as headaches, spots, chronic tiredness, depression, low energy and high cholesterol. Around 70 per cent of the immune system is located in the gut, so if it’s sluggish, immunity can be compromised. There’s also a connection between gut and mood: the digestive system contains more neurons than the spinal cord and more neurotransmitters than the brain. In fact, 90 per cent of the mood-enhancing chemical serotonin is created in the bowels, so this so-called ‘eliminative slowdown’ influences mood and emotional wellbeing, too.

Best detoxifier: beetroot is your daily age-defying vitamin and mineral feast. Packed with folic acid, iron, fibre, calcium, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium carotenoids, vitamins A, Bs and C, it also contains highly antioxidant and anti-inflammatory red pigment.


The charcoal test

To check your gut’s transit time, take 5g–10g charcoal (available from health-food shops) two hours before eating and five hours before bed. The perfect time for your bowel movements to turn black is
12–24 hours. Anything more and sluggish gut movement could cause toxic build-up. Anything less, and nutrients are not being absorbed properly.


2 Inflammation

Best anti-inflammatory: turmeric

This is our fast, natural reaction to injury, allergy and infection – as soon as a splinter pierces our skin, the inflammatory response kicks in to protect us. As we age, this response can become overreactive, leaving activated immune cells circulating in the body. Scientists have coined the word ‘inflammaging’ to describe this state of chronic low-level inflammation, and it can take a heavy toll on the body, causing infections, allergies and loss of skin quality.

The immune system starts in the gut, so if it’s inflamed (signs are gas, bloating, loose stools, tenderness) your immunity is compromised. Stay away from foods that cause bloating, or make your eyes or nose run. These are inflammatory responses. Classic inflammatory foods are red meat, sugar, white flour and some dairy products. Instead go for foods containing inflammation-dampening antioxidants (polyphenols), including curcumin (the active ingredient in turmeric), and omega-3 fatty acids.

Best anti-inflammatory: turmeric Aim for one teaspoon of dried turmeric or a thumb-sized piece of fresh root every day in juices, scrambled eggs, stir-fries or rice during cooking. Be careful as it
can stain hands and clothes.


Ease the oestrogen drop
Some women first notice joint pain and other inflammatory symptoms during the menopause, when oestrogen levels drop. Eating a diet rich in plant oestrogens (beans, seeds, leafy greens, whole grains) helps lessen inflammation naturally.


3 Oxidation

Best antioxidant: red beans

Every cell in the body needs oxygen, but it is highly reactive and always looking to combine with other molecules. When it does, it produces unstable atoms called free radicals, which then steal electrons from other atoms. This process can result in oxidative stress, which if prolonged can damage cell structure – even DNA. Our bodies have evolved many ways to manage oxidative stress, but when we are also exposed to high levels of external toxins, such as alcohol, stress, UV light and chemicals in food and cleaning products, it adds to the load we have to process and potentially increases the number of free radicals. A diet of colourful foods, such as green leafy veg, orange fruit and veg, purple berries, cacao nibs and green tea, can help as they contain high levels of
antioxidants, which give up an electron to bond with free radicals so they don’t have to steal them from your cells.

Best antioxidant: red beans Choose from kidney, pinto or aduki beans or small red beans. Their skins are rich in flavonoids such as anthocyanins and other compounds, which pack a big antioxidant punch and reduce eliminative slowdown and inflammation.


4 Hormone imbalance

When you are hormonally imbalanced your body is on an ageing roller coaster – you gain weight, your skin starts to wrinkle, you sleep badly, feel stressed and begin to look older. Hormones counterbalance each other in complex ways, so long-term over- or under-production of a specific hormone – often caused by diet or stress – can cause hormones to overreact. For example, an imbalance of stress hormones may cause wrinkles, abdominal fat gain, sleep disruption, anxiety, mood swings, allergies, headaches, susceptibility to infection, muscle weakness, sugar/alcohol cravings, gas and loss of libido.

Imbalance of thyroid hormones This may cause fatigue, dry skin, heart palpitations, cold hands and feet, thinning hair, brittle nails, weight gain/retention, menstrual irregularities and loss of libido.

Too much insulin This may cause cellulite, sagging skin, abdominal fat, fast weight gain, fatigue, poor memory, carbohydrate cravings, disrupted sleep, elevated blood fats and diabetes.

Diet can help you stabilise your hormones, as will lowering your stress levels with good food and sleep, which will also improve your mood.

Key hormone balancers Pumpkin seeds, asparagus, unrefined whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, barley, oats), nuts (especially brazil nuts), oysters, liquorice (provided you don’t suffer from high blood pressure).

Best hormone balancer: garlic
It contains vitamin B6 which helps with serotonin production and corrects high cortisol levels – a frequent cause of night waking. Garlic is a source of phytoestrogens, which mimic the action of oestrogen and so can help perimenopausal and menopausal women. It also helps regulate  blood sugar levels. Aim to eat a clove a day.


Top brassica

Women’s testosterone declines during menopause, leading to less muscle and even more fat around the middle. Eat lots of cabbage and broccoli — good testosterone-supporting foods (unless you have an underactive thyroid).


5 Acidification

Best alkaliser: lemon

Every cell in the body works best when the fluid inside it is slightly alkaline. But when we eat too many acid-producing foods, such as meat, coffee, cheese, cereal, sugary drinks and snacks, the resulting long-term acid overload – acidification – makes us susceptible to ageing processes.

To neutralise excess acid, the body pulls calcium (which is alkaline) and magnesium from bones, weakening them and potentially leading to osteoporosis. Iodine is taken from soft tissue, which negatively affects the thyroid, leading to fatigue and depression, mental ‘fog’, weight gain and diabetes.

Chronic acidity may also encourage fatty acids to go from a negative to a positive charge and to stick to artery walls, leading to the risk of diabetes and heart disease. Enzyme function may weaken, creating digestive disorders and food intolerances.

There’s a big difference between acidic foods and acid-forming foods. For example, citrus fruits are acidic but have an alkalising effect on the body. You can reverse acidity by avoiding acid-forming foods and eating an alkaline diet – fruit, vegetables and legumes (such as lentils).

Best alkaliser: lemon For a powerful alkalising start to your day drink lemon juice in warm water. It flushes away the liver’s by-products. Use a straw so acid doesn’t harm tooth enamel.


Glug the greens
When you eat a meal high in acid-forming foods, balance it later in the day with a big glass of green juice. Try a mix of celery, spinach, lettuce, kale, parsley, lemon and fresh ginger. It’ll boost your alkalinity.


The five most ageing foods

1 Sugar

There is a vast difference between simple sugars – the refined processed kind usually added to foods – and the slow-releasing carbohydrates that the body converts to glucose to use as fuel. One is ageing, the other is vital. Sugar is involved in four of the ageing processes – acidification, inflammation, eliminative slowdown and hormonal imbalance. A diet full of highly sugared foods slows the body’s ability to regenerate itself and so speeds the ageing process. On an everyday level it causes aching joints, cravings, flabby belly, lack of muscle tone, lowered alertness, mood swings, puffy eyes, spots, tooth decay and wrinkles. Sugar has been shown to shorten life span, hence its nickname, ‘white death’. It is the most ageing food of all.

Switch to slow-release carbohydrates (whole grains, pulses, fruit and veg) instead of refined sugar. Many savoury foods are sweet too. Try beetroot, carrots, sweet potato, tomato, almonds or pistachios when you crave a sweet kick. Good fats slow down the metabolism of sugar, so eat
fruit with nuts and seeds.
Don’t join the sugar rush
Your brain runs on glucose, but unlike other organs, it cannot store it — the amount it gets is the amount that happens to be travelling round the bloodstream. This makes it vulnerable to fluctuating levels of blood sugar. So a sugary snack or drink is like injecting your brain with glucose. You get an instant hit, which quickly diminishes, and your brain goes into crisis mode: you feel weak, headachey, moody and unable to concentrate. In short, all the ageing symptoms of hypoglycaemia. The answer is to avoid processed sugars and fuel your brain with complex carbohydrates instead.


2 Salt

Sodium and chloride – the two components of salt – are important minerals that, along with potassium, keep muscles, nerves and cells functioning well. Despite being an essential compound, salt is ageing simply because we eat too much of it. It’s a cheap flavour enhancer as well as a preservative, and is found in overprocessed foods as well as in ‘healthy’ foods, such as canned beans, cold meats, cheese, bran cereals and soups. Look for anything that says ‘sodium’ on the label, including sodium sulphite (in dried fruits) and sodium alginate (in ice cream). Overconsumption accelerates the ageing processes of acidification, eliminative slowdown, hormone imbalance and inflammation.

You should consume no more than 3g salt (1g sodium) per day. The easiest way to do this is to stop adding salt to your food and avoid processed foods that have more than 0.2g sodium per 100g.

Switch to herbs and, if you must have salt, use Himalayan rock salt or Celtic sea salt, which contain more minerals than table salt and taste ‘saltier’ so you need less.

Halt the salt
A high-salt diet causes inflammation: the cells swell with water, which upsets the sodium/potassium balance that generates the energy needed to move muscles and nerves, causing weakness
and fatigue.


3 Cow’s milk

Although cow’s milk is full of calcium, vitamins and protein, it also triggers four of the ageing processes – eliminative slowdown (causing bloating, constipation or diarrhoea), inflammation (mucus, stiff joints, inflammatory bowel disorders), hormonal imbalance (affecting blood sugar and oestrogen levels) and is acid-forming. Therefore it needs to be balanced by alkalising foods such as vegetables, otherwise calcium (an alkaline) is leached from bones and teeth, negating the effects of this so-called calcium-rich food in the first place. It’s also been linked to serious health conditions, including diabetes, osteoporosis and some cancers, and can be a major allergen linked to asthma and eczema. Look out also for milk derivatives (casein and lactose) in breads, cakes, biscuits, processed meats and crisps.

Switch to goat’s, sheep’s or buffalo milk, which are richer in many vitamins and minerals and contain anti-inflammatory oligosaccharides, which boost friendly gut bacteria and are easier to digest, especially as yoghurt. Try cheeses such as manchego, feta and mozzarella, which are not from cow’s milk. For calcium, switch to dark green leafy veg, beans, nuts and seeds, grains and nut milks.


4 Meat

We need protein to build muscles, ligaments and skin

We need protein to build muscles, ligaments and skin. But meat is not the only protein and as well as triggering all five of the ageing processes, it is loaded with saturated fats and very calorific.
Meat is one of the most acid-forming foodstuffs and because of its high levels of saturated fats, it causes chronic inflammation. Processed meat is high in cancer-causing sulphites and nitrites. It irritates the gut and frying, grilling or chargrilling causes DNA-altering, cancer-causing compounds.
It also causes free radicals and leads to oxidative stress.

Switch to fish, which is a good source of protein. Other youth-making proteins include eggs, grains (especially amaranth and quinoa), legumes (beans, lentils, tofu), nuts and seeds. If you do eat meat limit it to one portion (up to 100g) once a week, preferably free-range chicken/turkey or organic lamb (once a month).


Meats to avoid
Sausages, bacon, ham, burgers, hot dogs and barbecued, grilled and roasted meats should be avoided if possible as they are acid-forming, cause inflammation and some are high in cancer-causing sulphites and nitrites.


5 Bad fats

Bad fats are transfats or hydrogenated fats

Fats are essential for maintaining cell structure, helping the body to absorb fat-soluble vitamins and for healthy-looking skin, brain function, mood and energy.

Every cell in our body has a protective outer coating of fat and protein. If that coating is fluid (ie, made of good fats), it can help cells absorb nutrients and water, as well as process chemical messengers. If it is not fluid (because of a diet of bad fats), this process is impaired. It’s thought that lack of fluidity is a trigger for many ageing symptoms, including decline in skin quality, inflammation, allergies, depression, PMT, joint pain and osteoarthritis.

Bad fats are transfats or hydrogenated fats and, even though UK producers are phasing out transfats, they are still widely found in processed foods such as cakes, fast food, ice cream and oils for deep frying. They interfere with cell function and cause inflammation, acidification, oxidation and hormonal imbalance. Transfats have also been linked to depression, coronary heart disease, raising bad cholesterol and lowering good, and increasing the risk of degenerative diseases. They may also lead to blood sugar disorders as they disrupt the action of insulin.

Switch to fats from unprocessed oily fish, avocados, goat/sheep products, soya and nuts. It’s better to eat full fat than processed low-fat foods and cold-pressed rather than refined oils.


Don’t be coconut shy

Coconut oil is a saturated fat — a phrase that usually rings alarm bells. But because it is plant-based, it contains short- and medium-chain triglycerides, which are healthier for you than the long-chain triglycerides found in saturated animal fats. The liver burns shorter-chain triglycerides as energy so, despite coconut oil being highly calorific, it can help with weight loss — one study shows that women aged 20 to 40 have smaller waists after eating coconut oil for 12 weeks. It may lower blood cholesterol too, making it a top youth-making choice.

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