It’s Great To Look Good, But Not At The Expense Of Your Health
It’s that time of the year when summer opens its door and beckons us in. Without doubt, it’s a welcome invitation and one most of us are only too happy to accept. But there are few amongst us brave enough to enter summer’s door without stopping by a mirror first. We pause to critically evaluate the way we look and, in many cases, to promise ourselves that we will try and lose a little weight before we slip into our swimsuit.
In this regard, summer is not only the season of the sun, but also the season for looking good. And in our search for the ever elusive formula which will have us at our best, some of us commit to diets and exercise regimes which offer the promise of a quick fix. Too often though, that quick fix comes at a cost, most especially to our health. Sometimes, it even does us more harm than the problem we are trying to overcome.
And so, I begin this article with a plea. If you, like me, want to look your best this summer and are contemplating a new diet or a new exercise regime, then undertake it with these two simple words in mind – Cherish Yourself!’
There! I feel better already. Let’s take a look at some of the diets and exercise programs out there and consider how we might go about the business of looking our best.
Diets have ever been the most popular means of shedding weight. Trouble is, most of them don’t work. They’re either too restrictive in terms of what they allow us to eat (causing us to give them up, usually sooner rather than later!) or they deplete us so severely that our bodies begin to think they’re starving and try desperately to hold onto the very fat we are looking to rid ourselves of. In the end, the only thing we end up losing is our lean muscle mass.
So. Diets don’t work. At least, not for most of us. As study after study has shown, even should we manage to lose weight as a result of dieting, we will quickly put that weight back on once we begin eating ‘normally’ again, often ending up heavier than when we first set out on our weight-loss journey.
Not only this, but many diets are downright bad for us. This is especially so in the case of extreme, ‘fad’ diets which often deprive us of the essential nutrients and fats we all require for our general well-being (the lemon detox diet, the potato diet, the cabbage soup diet, and the fruitarian diet all spring to mind when I think of diets of this type).
Other diets are based on sounder nutritional principles (the Paleo diet and the concept of intermittent fasting sit in this group) but need to be followed sensibly and with the awareness that, in the end, the only thing which will help us to lose weight is if we consume less calories than we expend.
Take intermittent fasting as an example. The notion that we can boost our metabolism and diet effectively if we restrict our food intake on various days of the week or during certain hours of the day has some validity, but only when combined with the rights kinds of food and exercise, as well as a recognition that diets like these are ultimately designed to ensure we consume fewer calories. If someone minimizes their food intake for sixteen hours a day but consumes the same amount of food as they have always done over the remaining eight hours, then they are extremely unlikely to lose weight.
In the end, the only diet that will work is the one we can apply and stick to permanently. In other words, we need to examine the way we eat and look to make achievable, realistic changes that we can sustain for a lifetime.
As an example of the type of change I’m talking about, let’s look at how someone with a sweet tooth (let’s call her Sarah!) might go about adjusting her diet.
A good place for Sarah to start would be for her to resist the temptations of sugary breakfast cereals and snacks like biscuits and cake. In their place, a nutritious home-made cereal (like my favourite linseed breakfast cereal) would represent a much healthier start to Sarah’s day, whilst snacking on a small handful of dried fruits and nuts in the place of biscuits and cakes would be great for her waistline and general sense of well-being. Sarah might also want to steer away from full fat cafe lattes and stop adding sugar to her tea and coffee. If she can’t quite bring herself to do the latter, then she might choose to use a natural sweetener like Stevia, which has a GI of zero, as compared to sugar, which has a GI of 68. Having made these changes, it should be easy for Sarah to give up that bowl of ice cream or cake she likes for dessert and snack on a couple of pieces of dark chocolate instead. Dark chocolate is full of antioxidants, has a low GI, and even offers benefits for the heart by improving blood flow.
Simply by making these few simple changes, Sarah will look and feel better. She will drastically reduce the number of calories she is taking in and if she can learn to shop around the edges of the supermarket (where the vast bulk of raw and natural foodstuffs can be found) and avoid the endless aisles of processed and packaged foods (all designed to save us time and effort, but not our waistline) then she will be well on the way to creating a diet which is not only good for her, but which she can sustain.
All of us understand that exercise is an important component in our quest to look good. It helps to tone our muscles, increases our levels of fitness and ability to deal with stress, and it burns extra calories. As with diet though, the only exercise program that is likely to work is the one that you can stick to.
With this in mind, one piece of advice I’d like to offer is to work out what you want to achieve from your exercise program before you embark upon it. If your primary goal is to get fit, then any program based around cardio work (such as running) will be of benefit. On the other hand, if your primary goal is to lose weight and increase muscle tone, then you might want to take into account that long, slow cardio (in the form of jogging or running) might not be the way to go. Ultimately, the body adapts to this type of exercise and the spark it provides to your metabolism is, in fact, minimal. A better, bet, if you want to lose weight, might be to follow a program which includes at least a component of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). This type of training takes much less time than long, slow cardio and research suggests that it is more effective in firing up your metabolism and encouraging weight loss. Be warned though. HIIT might not take much of your time, but it is hard (the words High Intensity sort of give that away!).
In the end, your best bet might be to arrange a meeting with a trainer or a yoga teacher (my personal favourite!) who can help you to devise an interesting and varied program which best fits your goals. Ultimately, the only exercise regime which will have long term benefits is the one you enjoy and which you can sustain.
What, you ask, does meditation have to do with looking good? Well, quite a lot, as it happens. Meditation, in particular, is a great way to relieve stress, a condition all too prevalent in the 21st century. Among a host of other medical conditions, stress has been associated with a greater concentration of fat in the abdomen (primarily through the overproduction of cortisol) and that, in turn, has been linked to higher mortality.
Not only does meditation allow us to deal effectively with stress, but it encourages mindfulness. This is particularly important when it comes to eating, as the slower and more mindfully we eat, the less we will consume (and the more we will enjoy our food!).
So, as a final tip to looking good, include meditation as part of your daily routine, even if it is only for five minutes at a time. Its health benefits are considerable and it is great for the soul as well!
Finally, remember to celebrate your own natural beauty. We are all made to be the way we are. We have our own genetics, our own shape, and very few of us conform to the body image that some magazines continue to market as ‘ideal’. It’s time to look beyond the pages of photoshopped beauty and reclaim our individuality!
I hope some of this helps. Good luck with looking (and most importantly) feeling good this summer. And remember to – ‘cherish yourself!’