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Olwen Anderson's Blog

So, how's your relationship with food going?

Friday, March 17, 2017

book cover women food and god by geneen rothA confession and a revelation first: I didn't seek out this book; my supervising counsellor recommended I read it. So I duly obtained a copy and began. And the revelation: This book has nothing to do with God as Christianity knows it.

Within a few pages I wanted to toss the book across the room. Apparently, many other readers and people who've attended the author's retreats felt the same way. You might too, if you decide to read it. But, since this was 'assigned homework', I persisted. And I'm glad I did - because the book is full of insights, gentle guidance, and sometimes in-your-face realisations about your relationship with food.

There are some really enjoyable insights into "your internal weather pattern" (p.193), how the way you eat could be the key to finding what you believe in (p.77), and lots of others. But you'll probably have to keep reading beyond your discomfort, as I did.

If you suspect that your relationship with what you eat perhaps isn't all that you'd like it to be, then you'll find this book useful. But perhaps not enjoyable in the beginning. Persist.

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Turn back the clock for a better breakfast

Saturday, March 11, 2017
Even just a few decades ago, the meal we started the day with was quite different to the kind many people now experience; and I wonder how much this is contributing to the skyrocketing obesity and diabetes statistics. There were no ‘instant’ breakfast cereals or meal replacement drinks back then.  Instead breakfast was a defined meal, enjoyed sitting down at the table with other household members.

It was a far more substantial affair: porridge was a staple, perhaps with some fresh or stewed fruit. Eggs and often bacon or sausages also appeared, sometimes accompanied by mushrooms, tomato, toast, butter. And, of course, the teapot in its glorious knitted cosy.

Besides the higher nutritional value, sitting down for a defined meal had emotional benefits too: The day began in a calmer, slower fashion. Family relationships were strengthened by eating together.  Admittedly, one family member usually had the job of ‘home maker’ who worked at home and could wash up afterwards But they didn’t have electric dishwashers in those days either. We do now.

Over just a couple of generations we’ve come to perceive breakfast as a bowl of sugary cereal, eaten standing up. Or a meal replacement shake. Even as takeaway balanced one-handed on the commute to work. The outcome may be contributing significantly to our collective poor health, increased sugar consumption and mood swings as well as, I suspect, adding to stress and eroding relationships.

What that old-fashioned better breakfast did was re-feed the body after a long fast overnight. Bolstered by a combination of protein, fat, slow release carbohydrates and fibre, blood glucose level rose gradually. Slower digestion meant this steady blood glucose was sustained for a few hours before declining in time for lunch. That stability didn’t just prevent energy slumps and sugar cravings, it promoted a more even tempered mood.

We can’t turn back time, but we can certainly use what we’ve learnt. Care to take up the challenge to a better breakfast? You’ll notice within a few days that your mid-morning sweet cravings are diminishing, as is the mid-afternoon energy slump. Your mood is more stable and you get home with more energy to enjoy your evening relaxation.

That better breakfast can be as easy as eggs on toast; but have a plan to make your good intentions reality: List your breakfasts for the week and paste it to your fridge door. Enjoy your better day from a better breakfast.

If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy 'How To Clear The Mists Of Brain Fog' 

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Hidden sources of sugar and your addiction to sweet

Saturday, March 04, 2017
Ever wondered why sugar is so addictive? It’s sometimes regarded as the ultimate legal drug from its effects and how easily it can propel you to seek out your next ‘fix’. “But I don’t eat sugar” is a frequent response; yet most of us would be shocked to learn how much sugar we’re actually eating because it’s so well concealed.

We’re hard-wired to detect sweet tastes, just like we’re equipped to detect salty and sour tastes. But  the experience of sweetness switches on a certain neurotransmitter (a brain chemical messenger) that sparks happy feelings of satisfaction and reward. 

Dopamine is the neurotransmitter. The experience of a sweet taste on your tongue is rapidly communicated to your brain, which releases some dopamine in response. The more sweet the taste, the more powerful the dopamine outpouring and the better you feel. Feeling happy is a rather nice sensation, so your brain prompts “Fun! Let’s do this again!” and it pushes you to go seek out some more sweet foods.

That drive for ‘sweetness’, researchers have found, is suspected to over-ride other appetite control mechanisms we have to help let your body know when you’ve eaten enough. Because those controls are dampened it’s all too easy to eventually find yourself constantly seeking out the next sugar ‘high’. When you can’t get your ‘fix’ of sugar, a pretty nasty mood can develop. That’s how sugar becomes an addiction.

There are the obvious sugar sources: soft drinks and lollies. But thanks to our addiction to sweet tastes, manufacturers have learnt how to include increasing amounts of sugar to make their product taste good, and you feel good, without being cloyingly sweet.

Yoghurt is an easy trap because in its natural form it’s quite tart; so some manufacturers have added five teaspoons of sugar to a small 200g tub. Muesli is another apparent ‘healthy’ food that can include lots of sugar, especially the toasted varieties. Foods which would normally have a sharp tang to them, like tomato-based pasta sauces, often have sugar added to make them more palatable.

Scrutinising the label has become the only way to ensure your own sugar addiction is managed. Look at the ‘per 100g’ section of the label: More than 15g of sugar per 100g is regarded as ‘high’ in sugar. There’s no perfect way to overcome a sugar addiction, but avoiding hidden as well as obvious sources of sugar is a good start.

Want to know more? Take a look at this paper: ‘Dietary sugars: their detection by the gut-brain axis and their peripheral and central effects in health and diseases. Ochoa et al Eur J Nutr (2015) 54:1-24

If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy 'The 14 day sugar challenge'.

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Should yoga be part of your life?

Saturday, February 25, 2017
Yoga pose by martin louis via MorgueFileYou’ve probably seen those lycra-clad people purposefully striding towards their yoga class, colourful rolled-up mat tucked under their arm. Should you be doing yoga too? After all, so many folk seem to be taking part these days, and apparently enjoying extra flexibility and strength as a result. 

But you’ve heard yoga’s a spiritual practice, requiring membership of a religious group. And don’t these yoga classes mean you’ll be contorting yourself into uncomfortable, impossible positions like wrapping your leg around your neck? 

Fear not. Yoga certainly is an ancient practice, ‘originating from a Hindu spiritual and ascetic discipline’ according to Google. So it began as a spiritual practice, certainly. But as more people around the world joined in it’s been modified into many different versions for those with specific needs and preferences. Some spiritual groups emphasise yoga, but just as many groups are focused only on the physicality of the practice.

Yoga has become popular because it helps develop your flexibility and strength. That means more ease of movement, and for older adults, less pain and inconvenience from lost mobility that threatens your ability to continue living independently. Yoga also returns you to connection with your body, often needed by those of us who work in intellectual fields. It also allows you to pause and de-stress, especially with the period of quiet meditation that concludes classes. Pretty good all round. 

Because yoga has become so popular, it has sparked the interest of scientists, reviewing how helpful yoga is or could be for supporting specific conditions like asthma, pain, mental health and high blood pressure.

There’s now specific yoga classes for seniors, for mums with bubs, pre-natal yoga, hot yoga, anti-gravity yoga, and some traditional forms too, Iyengar and Hatha. It’s pretty simple to work out if you fit into the ‘seniors’ or ‘pre-natal’ categories, but how do you choose which yoga style is right for you?

The best way to find a class and a teacher you can relate to is through trying out a few different classes and yoga styles, until you find one the best one for you. Keep in mind that yoga is called a ‘practice’ for a reason: you need to keep practising to achieve better results. Check your teacher is accredited to ensure they’re been trained professionally; that helps keep you safe. And, of course, if you have any pre-existing health conditions it’s a good idea to check with your doctor first. 

If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy 'Learn From Your Dog About Work Life Balance'

Image credit: Martin Louis via morgue file

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Help for when the mosquito leaves more than just a bite

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Mosquito. Image credit Dodgerton SkilhauseYou’re entitled to feel a little nervous: relaxing outside on a balmy tropical evening, you notice a mosquito feasting on your arm. Although your instinctive reaction means the mosquito’s life comes to an abrupt end, you can’t help but worry.

That concern is justified: That tiny mosquito could suck out your energy and joy of life in one brief visit, through infecting you with of the tropical mosquito-borne viruses like Ross River or Barmah Forest. These viruses can flatten previously healthy, active people for months with debilitating symptoms including joint ache and relentless dragging fatigue. Some become too unwell to work.

Although many people recover their health completely, others are affected for months or even years with their vibrancy impaired and sometimes with ongoing pain. The urban myth claims nothing can help, but in fact, from a naturopathic perspective, several tools are available to help relieve the symptoms and speed recovery.

If you’ve been struck down by one of these tropical viruses, one of the key strategies you have is rest. Your body is literally fighting an infection; that uses immense amounts of energy. Remember the last time you had a flu or cold, how depleted you felt? Well, the tropical viruses are like the flu, but a more serious form of infection. 

You’ve probably noticed how easily colds and flus can ‘hang on’ when you refuse to allow recovery rest, soldiering on as if nothing was happening. It’s the same with the mosquito-borne viral illnesses: Refuse to rest and you’ll suffer the symptoms even longer. So rest is your number one priority.

Another strategy is to utilise food as medicine and incorporate more immune-boosting, inflammation calming foods into your diet. That means fresh raw foods with a high nutrient density: raw juices, salads, fresh fruits. Remember that home-made chicken soup as an anti-viral isn’t just an old wives’ tale, it’s been scientifically proven to help as it calms down the inflammation-inciting activity of particular immune cells, neutrophils. And that helps because a large contributor to your aches and pains is the waste materials of the immune battle irritating your nerve endings. Calm the inflammation and you help reduce the pain.

Finally, your herbalist has natural remedies available to help too. Some research has identified particular herbs as active against specific viruses; other herbs have a broader range of activity. There are also natural remedies to help calm the inflammation that can create joint and muscle pain. 

If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy 'Quenching the Fires of Inflammation' here 

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You can blame bacteria for your bad breath

Saturday, February 11, 2017
Bad breath is one of those embarrassing conditions that can really put a dampener on your social and romantic life. Finding the source can be challenging though, so here are some common causes and a couple of home remedies to help.

The key point to remember is that bacteria smell. The more bacteria, the more powerful the odour they create through their sulphurous off gassing. Somehow, humans are attuned to detecting the distinctive aroma of harmful bacteria. Perhaps that’s how we’ve learnt to detect ‘off’ food that could poison us and to feel repelled by the smell of contagious infection. Bad breath means bad bacteria, means instinctive revulsion.
The challenge with treating bad breath is discovering what part of your anatomy that smell originates from, and persisting long enough to evict the unwanted colony. Start at your mouth, as it’s a hive of bacterial activity. 

Bacteria are constantly being ingested through food, on air particles, and through kissing (technical term for a process of exchanging body fluids with others). To help keep you safe your immune system has established boundary patrols on all surfaces, called immunoglobulins. They identify potentially dangerous bacteria then alert immune cells to destroy them. This happens in all areas of your body where the inside meets the outside world: sinuses, nose, mouth, intestines, ear canals, vagina, urinary tract.

We also host colonies of commensal (helpful) bacteria on these surfaces. Although the good bacteria also have a distinctive smell, to us they don’t smell ‘bad’, because they’re ‘good’ bacteria.
Change the conditions on your internal mucous membranes and the bacterial balance will change, as will the smell. When you consider your mouth, tongue, tonsils and sinuses are full of moist little crypts harbouring bacteria, you can see how easily an odorous colony could set up their own safe haven.

Further down your digestive tract, reduced stomach acidity (which often happens with age) promotes bad breath; simply because the pH of food when it leaves your stomach affects the bacterial balance of your intestines; and bad bacteria love a more alkaline intestinal environment that an inadequately acidic stomach promotes. 

Some people find the addition of a little apple cider to water before a meal helps boost their stomach enough to restore bacterial harmony. Another home remedy for bad breath is chewing fresh parsley. But to wipe out bad breath completely you need to locate their safe havens and dislodge them by changing your internal environment.

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy 'foods your liver will love'

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Nutritional help for adolescent acne

Saturday, February 04, 2017
As an adolescent rite of passage, acne can make life hell for some teenagers. Some aren’t affected at all, for others the condition is bad enough to draw taunts of ‘pizza face’. It’s cruel: this is a time of life when teenagers become more conscious of their appearance as individuals, and discern their place in the world. If you experienced acne when younger you know first-hand how the embarrassment can really dent your confidence and self-esteem.

What’s behind that acne, though, can vary. So if your adolescent is experiencing acne despite a careful skin care regime, here’s some of the causes, and ways to help nutritionally.

In male adolescents, the growth surge of puberty can bring on shortages of nutrients like zinc and vitamin A. Zinc has a multitude of roles in body biochemical processes, and is needed to get vitamin A out of storage. A protein-rich diet actually enhances zinc absorption. 
Teenager image by Cheryl HoltAt the same time an adolescent’s body needs lots of extra zinc is the time of life your teenage child is becoming more independent in their food choices. What they choose to eat away from home is likely to be influenced by their peers’ food preferences. The teenage years can also be a time when different dietary regimes are explored; so many teenagers try out vegan or vegetarian diets that can be low in micronutrients like zinc and vitamin A.

A teenager’s circadian rhythms can also interfere with their nutrition: many teenagers don’t completely wake up until late morning; so they’re less unlikely to have the appetite for food before school. That can make encouraging them to eat a healthy breakfast challenging.

In young girls, acne can reflect an imbalance of hormones including excess oestrogen and insufficient progesterone promoting over-sensitivity to androgen hormones. Acne in young women can be a sign of polycystic ovary syndrome, which could later interfere with their fertility.

You can help support adolescent nutrition so they’re less vulnerable to acne: Protein-rich foods like eggs, meat and fish are particularly high in zinc, so consider packing hard boiled eggs for their recess snack if they can’t face breakfast. Include high quality protein with their lunch. Nuts are also rich in zinc and other minerals, ideal as snacks. 

Although you can’t control all of what your adolescent eats, you can help support their nutrition with good quality meals when they’re at home. You know, the kind of home cooked meals created from fresh, unprocessed foods. 

If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy 'Get More From Your Iron and Zinc Supplements' 

Image credit: Cheryl Holt via MorgueFile 

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Are you really too busy or is it just not important to you?

Saturday, January 28, 2017
man in hammock by ardanea via morguefileI’m not sure if you’ve ever heard yourself murmuring that modern mantra “I’m too busy to….make a real breakfast…..exercise….meditate…. (insert term for any particular health-boosting activity that takes time and effort). But in fact “too busy” could really be code for “this is not important to me”. 

We all have the same allotment of time resources – 24 hours every day. Energy levels differ from one person to another, and our incomes vary.  But we can all make time, gather together energy and money to do what’s important to us. I came across a tweet recently that summed it up beautifully: “People are remarkably good at doing what they want to do.” (@justsitthere) .

Only you can decide what’s important to you and where you want to expend your time, energy and money. But not everyone knows what they value, and when there’s a mis-match between their values and what’s actually happening they can become pretty uncomfortable.

That discrepancy between values and activities is something I often see in clinic as the source of much physical and emotional distress. So there’s a chance a reality check could make you a lot happier – and healthier.

For example, someone whose top priority is family relationships is likely to be happiest working in a field that doesn’t take them away from their family for long periods. A person whose top priority is health will be happiest when devoting resources towards improving their well-being. A parent who has made the conscious decision to make child rearing their top priority will feel best when involved with their children. Someone whose highest value is travelling will devote their resources towards that. 

Want to know what’s most important to you? On a sheet of paper list the areas of parenting, personal growth, leisure, spirituality, health, work, community, family, partnerships and social relationships. Number them in order of importance to you. Then, number the list again by how you’re actually spending your time/energy/money. If there’s a mis-match between the two lists, you might be feeling unfulfilled, dissatisfied, even stressed. 

Health crises can sometimes be a wake-up call that the activities you’re pouring your effort and resources into don’t actually match your values. So if you catch yourself murmuring “I’m too busy to….” perhaps what you really mean is that it’s not an activity you value. That’s OK; but when your life activities revolved around what’s important for you, more happiness and health can follow.

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy "Controversies of Health: Why do they keep changing the rules?"

Image credit: Ardanea via MorgueFile

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What those meal replacement shakes can't provide

Saturday, January 21, 2017
You’ve probably heard of meal replacement shakes, the nutrition and weight loss ‘solutions’ promoted for people so busy they can’t stop to eat. You might also have heard of complete meal replacements like Soylent, a manufactured drink of nutrients designed to save you from ever having to pick up a saucepan, knife or chopping board again.

On the surface, the meal replacement shake seems an effortless way to shift your breakfast from carbohydrate-based (toast, cereal) towards a healthier protein base. It’s this shift in macronutrient balance that can accelerate weight loss, certainly. But those shakes can’t provide the emotional benefits of eating real food.

Some brave souls have tried living on those powdered meal replacements and wrote about their experience. I think one of them, Josh Helton, put it best when describing what he missed most from food: “The process of eating solid food creates space, breathing, and slowness. It creates perspective”.

So although meal replacement shakes may seem to offer you extra time, it could add to your sense of stress and overwhelm too. For example, imagine you catapult yourself out of bed, grab a meal replacement shake, concentrate to get through peak hour traffic safely. Juggle the demands and priorities of work and eat at your desk. Rush home through more heavy traffic. How stressed are you likely to be without having paused all day? How available will you be for your relationships?

Compare this with a day where you deliberately sit down at the breakfast table with your family. Then take a break at lunchtime away from your desk to enjoy a salad. Sure, you’ve had to put a little extra effort in, and there will be more dishes to wash; but how are you feeling emotionally? How are your relationships with your partner and your family as a result of making this extra effort? 

Along with real food, you get the chance to stop and think. To connect with others around the table. To enjoy the sensory input of the sight, smell and taste of food. Eating is one of the great pleasures of life. There’s the sensory input of the smell and taste of food. The comforting energetic warmth of home-made dishes. 

If you’re considering meal replacement shakes, consider also whether this way of eating really reflects what you want out of life – or are you willing to make the extra effort, so that food becomes a part of nurturing you and your relationships?

If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy 'How Mindful Eating Can Improve Your Health'

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Your holidays restored's how to hold on to the benefits

Saturday, January 14, 2017
How did you feel returning to work after the Christmas holiday break? I bet that by the time you closed the door on your office for the last time in December you were really craving a little time out. Hopefully that restorative rest has put you in a better place to handle the challenges of life again.

Even if it was just a short break – only the public holidays – didn’t it make a difference? Got more energy now? More patience with people? More easily able to focus on your work, less reactive? That’s the power of restorative rest. Imagine if you could feel the benefits of time out between holidays, despite the relentless demands of modern life.

We have developed an unhelpful collective cultural expectation that you’ll be available to take that call, respond to that text and compose a reply to that email 24 hours a day. Being busy is a badge of honour, it seems.

The result can be burnout, a subtle and insidious erosion of your emotional and physical health: Three signs of burnout are an increasing incidence of irritating behaviour in others, reduced tolerance, and you can’t remember the last time you laughed. 

Although you can’t change that people and work have expectations, what you can change is how you manage it. To help you rest and restore your equilibrium like a holiday does. The key is to make your breaks deliberate and regular.

Daily meditators have learnt this advantage. They switch off from the world, completely, for a period of time every day. This reduces the chronic cortisol (stress hormone) secretion that leads to so much unhappiness and physical ailments too. Not yet a regular meditator? Try out some of the guided meditations readily available for free through websites like You can start small with just a few minutes, and build from there. 

If there was just one health-boosting tool I could use for all my clients, it's daily meditation. 

Children can learn meditation and there are free online resources to show you how. So why not include your entire family in your meditation practice?

Meditation as a mini-rest is one of those subtle mood boosters that seem to have no obvious benefit in the moment, but in the long term you and those around you notice your improved mood. Taking this time out will help you cope better with life, and help you feel happier, just like a holiday does. Worth making time out of your busy day to make it happen, do you think?

If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy 'How to Meditate' here 

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Olwen Anderson @olwenanderson


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