Less white bread and more sex... 15 steps to getting fit for summer
With the annual Easter egg binge now behind us, Karl Henry reveals how to boost your metabolism and start working on that beach body
Everybody is searching for the next big diet: the next starvation method to deliver short-term results. The reality is that real health and weight loss is staring you in the face.
Your body, when utilised properly, is a weight loss machine that will work hard to reduce body fat, increase lean tissue and become healthier. I'm going to tell you how to rev up your metabolism and regulate your appetite, and share the trade secrets that will help you stay healthy for life.
Supercharge your system and make your body work for you.
1 The Meal of Champions
If you want your body to work for you, you have to fuel it. Think of your metabolism as a furnace that must be kept stoked.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day as it fires up the furnace and turns your body into a fat-burning machine for the rest of the day. Skip breakfast and you will burn less calories during the day, you will be cranky, you will eat more and feel less motivated. Ideally choose organic porridge oats or eggs and wholemeal bread at breakfast time and, as a rule, aim to eat most of your carbs at breakfast and fewer as the day progresses.
2 Slow down
Ulster people tend to eat too quickly, without adequately chewing their food. Hence the body has to do extra work to break it down, and absorbs fewer nutrients in the process.
You should aim to chew your food for 30 seconds. Studies show that those who take more time to masticate their food have less of the 'hunger hormone' ghrelin circulating in their digestive systems. The simplest way to do this is to put down your knife and fork between each mouthful and let your teeth and jaw do what they were designed to do. You will also reduce stomach bloating, improve digestion and gain more energy.
3 Thirst v Hunger
The hypothalamus is the area of the brain that regulates bodily signals, including thirst and hunger. This means that we can often confuse thirst for hunger when we're not adequately hydrated.
Always have a glass of water at the first sign of hunger. Better still, aim to drink two to three litres a day, starting with lemon and hot water in the morning to flush out toxins.
4 The Stress/Belly Fat Connection
Stress causes the body to produce a hormone called cortisol, which can also promote fat storage, often around the stomach area.
Combine this with the natural ageing process, which lowers your metabolism and increases your fat content, and it's easy to see why middle-age and a wider mid-section go hand-in-hand. Many associate 'chilling out' with indulgence. The truth is that by relaxing the mind you will naturally increase your ability to get that waist back. Try turning off your phone for an hour a day, going for a 20-minute walk in the evening or practising yoga or meditation.
5 Watch the Clock
Your body has a natural circadian rhythm (24-hour cycle). From 8pm to 4am, your body is in the assimilation cycle. Your body is assimilating or absorbing nutrients from your food.
By eating late, your body spends a huge amount of time having to work at digesting your food when it should be sleeping. It reduces the speed at which you absorb the nutrients from your food, leaves you feeling bloated and full and affects your sleep. In an ideal world you should aim to eat your dinner at around 7pm, leaving time for a herbal tea such as peppermint to help you digest your food.
6 In the Bedroom
The aforementioned hypothalamus, which regulates hunger and thirst, also regulates sexual satisfaction. Sex increases your cardiovascular fitness, improves circulation, increases blood flow and, most importantly, releases a host of hormones, some of which play a part in regulating your appetite, specifically carbohydrate cravings. A healthy sex life plays its part in a healthy body.
7 Short, Sharp Bursts
We lead busy lives, struggling to get time for any training. Yet even five or 10 minutes of intense exercise can make a big difference to your weight, mind and body, turning it into a fat-burning furnace.
Short, intense and explosive bursts of exercise can fire up the metabolism, burn calories and release endorphins into the blood stream. Think quick sprints or jumping jacks – anything that breaks a sweat and gets you out of breath.
No matter what exercise you do, to force your body to get the maximum benefits from the workout you must ensure you are getting out of breath but can still hold a conversation. This is the zone at which your body gains the most from a workout.
8 Brown is the New White
Who doesn't want a flatter stomach, more energy and a healthier body? It's much easier than you may think. Simply drop the white carbs from your diet, replace them with wholegrain brown carbs and watch your body change.
Swap white bread for wholemeal brown bread, white pasta for brown pasta and white rice for brown rice. The white versions of these foods are higher on the Glycemic Index, which means they spike your blood sugar level which causes your body to release insulin to remove the excess sugar. The more insulin you produce, the more of your food is stored as body fat.
9 Press Pause
If you overtrain, your body will generally refuse to lose weight. You will be hungrier and struggle to train as hard as normal. You should take at least two rest days a week to let the body recover. This will ensure that you get the best results from your training.
10 The Spice Route
Adding spices to your food will help your body to burn fat, increase its metabolism and keep you healthier and free from illness.
Just increase the amounts gradually and you will grow to love spicy food. Need some inspiration? Add chillies to a stir-fry, ginger to juices and cinnamon to soups and stews. If you're grabbing a sandwich for lunch, add jalapeno peppers or a slick of mustard to your wholemeal wrap or roll.
11 Pros and Carbs
Every meal should contain protein. This has several benefits, including increasing lean muscle tissue, revving up your metabolism and helping balance insulin levels.
Ideally, you should eat 1.5g/kg bodyweight of protein a day. Eggs offer one of the easiest ways of achieving this. They are a complete protein, containing all eight essential amino acids and are full of vitamins and minerals.
12 Stay Strong
Many people eat when they are emotional, eating high-sugar/high-fat comfort foods that may make them feel better in the short-term but not in the long run.
One of the best ways to break this cycle is to exercise. When you're having a bad day or feeling low, you need to move. Movement will increase your energy and lower the emotional triggers that cause you to reach for the biscuits.
An hour-long walk will generally sort out even the most problematic of issues. This is especially true if you have had a bad day at work. Forget the bus and walk home instead. You will have worked out all the stress by the time you get there. Eat normally and avoid the pitfall of sugar-fuelled foods.
13 Sleep Yourself Slim
Sleep is the body's way to recover, regenerate and replenish. Deep sleep will aid your weight-loss process.
By turning off all electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bed, reading to relax the mind and using blackout blinds to keep the light out, you will help the body to completely relax and recover.
Leptin and ghrelin work to control feelings of hunger and fullness. Ghrelin is produced in the gastrointestinal tract and stimulates appetite, while leptin, produced in fat cells, sends a signal to the brain when you are full.
When you don't get enough sleep, it drives leptin levels down, which means you don't feel as satisfied after you eat.
Lack of sleep also causes ghrelin levels to rise, which means your appetite is stimulated, so you crave more food.
14 Muscle Burns Fat
Muscle burns more calories than fat, therefore those who carry more muscle have a higher basal metabolic rate.
In fact, they burn more calories than someone with less muscle even while sitting at their desk eating a sandwich. As you get older your body naturally stores more fat and reduces its muscle content.
Hence resistance exercise is more important than ever.
One of my favourite exercises is the plank. It is fantastic for your core and is so easy to do. Start on elbows and knees, locking hands together. Now straighten your legs and raise your body so that you're supported by the balls of your feet, with feet hip-distance apart. Face the floor, being careful not to arch your back or stick your bottom in the air.
Hold this position for 30 seconds to begin with, extending the time as you get stronger.
15 Women's Health
When a woman is menstruating, her body will swell, she will crave comfort foods and often not feel like training.
It is key to recognise this, not panic and be more mindful of your body at this time.
To reduce swelling, increase your intake of citrus fruits and try boiling water with apple cider vinegar and lemon (cooled slightly before drinking) to help reduce the amount of fluid you gain.
Remember that women are naturally less hungry just before ovulation (mid-cycle) and more hungry in the luteal phase (pre-menstrual).
If you're feeling up to it, lifting weights as part of your training routine can help reduce the effects of PMS, improve your mood and reduce your comfort food cravings.
Most importantly, listen to your body and learn to anticipate the natural appetite peaks and troughs that occur each month.
We have a lot to lose...
More than half of all adults in Northern Ireland are officially overweight, while obesity kills around 450 people a year here, according to the Public Health Agency
Figures from 2011 estimated that the number of children in Northern Ireland between the ages of two and 10 who are classified as obese, is above 20,000
Three of the main health problems caused by obesity are cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes
European men are considered at high risk of these diseases if they have a waist measurement of around 40 inches or more (35 inches for Asian men), while for women, the figure is 35 inches or more, (32 inches for Asian women)
For further information and advice, visit www.choosetolivebetter.com.