Did you fail food maths as well?

The Good Life Letter 

23rd February 2018

  • Why we are all dunces when it comes to counting calories
  • What big Geoff told me that made me stop and think
  • The three-stage plan we should all adopt
You think you’re on a diet? Fooling yourself mate!

So the newspaper headlines would have us believe this week. Apparently, we are all consuming far more calories than we ever admit to, even to ourselves.

The Office of National Statistics reckon that we are all understating the calories we consume by around a third,
following their study of 4,00 people, their eating habits and how they record the number of calories consumed.
As to be expected, the glorious folk of Fleet Street (or wherever it is that the press hang out these days)
immediately leapt upon this as a primary cause of obesity, the increased incidence of diabetes and the overspending of the NHS.

Is it just me or does it seem like these hacks and even our politicians are desperate to link everything to obesity and then use this to attack the population of the country?

Well I’ve got news for them.

There may be other reasons for people gaining weight that has nothing to do with them sneaking a pork pie behind the dietician’s back – and this may shock you as much as it did me.

You see modern life isn’t just damaging us with the mountains of over-processed food, take-away grease and fizzy pop...

...the strain of surviving in 21st century Britain might be at fault also, let me explain why.

The other day my friend Geoff leant back in his chair, patted his considerable stomach and said “This is all down to too much stress.” I couldn't help laughing. I reminded him how he enjoyed his food, not to mention the odd pint, and asked him when he’d last seen the inside of a gym.

I was surprised by his answer. Since Christmas he's cut out the drink and snacking. He eats relatively healthily and he leaves the car at home and walks nearly everywhere.

“And I haven't lost a pound!” he moaned.

Of course, some people find it harder to lose weight than others due to metabolism and mistaking bad foods for good. I'm going to get to this point in a moment. But Geoff is convinced that stress is helping him pile on the pounds. And it seems he may have a point...

How to lose weight without a Sabre Tooth Tiger

Now I've always thought that, if anything, stress made you LOSE weight. I seem to remember cartoons of rake thin men still working at their desks at midnight, wasting away to nothing, gaunt and under pressure.

But it seems this image could be totally wrong – that stress really does contribute to weight gain. And as he's right, I owe Geoff a pint (or an orange juice). I have discovered that when you're stressed adrenaline pours into your system, sending a warning to your body that it's under attack.

This adrenaline causes fat cells to pump fatty acids into your bloodstream to give you extra emergency stores of energy. It's one of the ways evolution kept us safe from Sabre Tooth Tigers and spear-wielding rivals. It helped us run or fight or scramble up a tree.

This may have been fine in prehistoric times but these days tigers are thin on the ground. Stress is now triggered by hectic schedules, heavy workloads, money worries, illness and family crises. In these cases, adrenaline produces the same fatty acids...

...but you don't burn them off in a fight or a sudden 5-mile sprint. Instead you're sitting at your desk with a report to finish by Friday, or on the M25 in a traffic jam, banging your head against the steering wheel.

Then, while the fat hangs around in your bloodstream ready for a non-existent fight, along comes a hormone to dump it all in your belly!

The culprit is cortisol – a hormone that's produced to help your body process the fat released by adrenaline. This could be the reason why fat's sticking to your tummy like glue.

Cortisol mops up the unused fatty deposits (and that's pretty much all of them when you're sitting on the sofa worrying over bills) and then packs them all away in your abdomen.

Not only is cortisol linked with fat but also diabetes, heart disease and depression. This means that there's a chance that your health could be under threat every time you feel overworked or frazzled.

How to battle the bulge

Here are some ways you can control cortisol – and battle the bulge:

  • Don't skimp on your sleep. A University of Chicago study published in the journal 'Sleep' showed that men who slept only 4 hours had 37% more cortisol in their blood than men who got a full 8 hours sleep.

  • Make sure you get 'good quality' sleep. Human growth hormone is essential to help prevent the loss of muscle mass caused by cortisol. Another University of Chicago study showed that men who got plenty of deep sleep released almost 65% more human growth hormone (HGH) than men who slept lightly.

  • Up your laughs. In one study, a group who watched comedy for 60 minutes had less cortisol in their blood compared with a group that tried to relax without any special stimulus. So if you're feeling stressed and wound up after a day's work, try watching a funny film. (For me, it's Blackadder every time!)

  • Get your vitamin C. For stress, take 1,000 milligrams of vitamin C in small doses throughout the day.

  • Don't booze or drink coffee three hours before you go to bed. This dehydrates you until your body thinks there's a water shortage. This will trigger a rush of cortisol and this could be one hidden culprit behind getting fat.

Of course, much like our friends in the press it would be all too easy to claim that stress alone is the cause when clearly it isn’t, but it does help to build our understanding about what is affecting the UK population most right at this moment.

Eat well, treat yourself occasionally and stay happy seem to be the watch words of today friends...

...that’s my plan anyway.

Yours, as always



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