The Key to Looking and Feeling Younger

one key ingredient for good health

one key ingredient for good healthI was asked the other day what would be the one key piece of advice I’d give to someone if they wanted to “improve their fitness”. Wow. What a question. There’s so much that it can cover.

I immediately thought of “get enough sleep”, but then that’s not a particularly easy piece of advice to follow for some people.

“Exercise more” is another obvious one that comes to mind, but again, that could mean many things to many people.

I came up with a few more sage pieces of advice which I’ll probably share with you another day, but none of them hit the spot. Some of it was too running specific, some of it wasn’t necessarily easy to implement, some of it didn’t take into account everybody’s life circumstances. The one piece of advice I arrived at,  the one thing that everyone can do, the one thing that could help anyone take the first step towards looking and feeling younger, was something that is sitting right under our noses, and costs next to nothing.

And that something is…………WATER folks. Simple, cost effective and something that many of us need reminding of from time to time!

So, what’s so great about water?

  • If you’re well hydrated, your skin will look fresh and clear – because it will help to flush toxins out of the body, and it will increase blood flow to the skin
  • Water can aid in weight loss, by ensuring maximum uptake of nutrients from your food. Often, your body’s cry for food is a cry for micronutrients -(vitamins and minerals) not the bulky macronutrients -fat, protein and carbs. In short, water can make you want to eat less
  • It helps to eliminate waste from your body in a number of ways, including through the bowel, often eliminating feelings of bloatedness
  • Drinking enough water helps with muscle function and improves sporting performance
  • Water aids in disease prevention (it has been shown to decrease the risk of colon cancer by 45% and bladder cancer by 50%)
  • It just makes you fell better
  • It’s pretty cheap and readily available

 And did I say it aids in weight loss?

  • Water is a natural appetite suppressant. Next time you reach for a snack, think again, and go for water instead. You’ll be surprised how far a glass of water can go towards satisfying your hunger.
  • Enough water ensures your body can metabolise fat effectively. Water ensures your kidneys are functioning effectively, which in turns ensures your liver is able to remove toxins and waster from your blood. With your liver switched to maximum efficiency, it can better metabolise fat.
  • Water is a great substitute for high energy drinks such as shakes, smoothies, soft drinks, sports drinks. Swap these for a cool glass of water with a slice of lemon, and you’ll be saving calories big time.

What about fitness?

  • An inadequate amount of water will impair muscle function, leading to a less functional you
  • Too little water will cause your body to slow down, and you’ll lack energy
  • Dehydration leads to a reduction in blood volume, impairing performance
  • You won’t be able to regulate your body temperature efficiently if you are dehydrated
  • As your brain is over 70% water, you can expect to experience headaches if you aren’t well hydrated

If you are chronically dehydrated, leading to the impaired performance outlined above, you can’t train at your optimum level, which means you can’t realise your true fitness potential.

A few tips on staying hydrated

Water Tip #1. Drink the stuff. Even though fish do naughty things in it, you have to drink it to feel the benefits! Tea and coffee count. The caffeine in tea and coffee do act as a very mild diuretic, but the balance is overwhelmingly tipped towards hydration rather than dehydration after a cup of coffee. For caffeine to dehydrate you, you have to consume a lot of it, in a short space of time

Water Tip #2. Add a slice of lemon and/or some mint to your water to make it more interesting. The lemon will also help to stimulate hydrochloric acid

Water Tip#3. Carry water with you throughout the day. Better still, set an alarm to go off every hour. Get up and walk to the water cooler. Pour yourself some water, and drink it! Delicious

Water Tip #4. Limit the amount of water you drink at meal time. Whilst some people will recommend that you fill up on a big glass of water before a meal to help you to eat less, the water will only serve to dilute the hydrochloric acid necessary for the break-down of food.

Water Tip #5. Get into the habit of having a big glass of water when you wake up, or have some hot water with lemon juice for an extra digestive boost

Bonus Tip: For expert advice on health and fitness, train with us. Leave your details here, and we’ll give you a call.

How Alcohol Impacts Your Training and Your Weight

How alcohol impacts your training

Don’t you just love this time of year? Here in Sydney, we are lucky enough to have summer and Christmas fall at the same time. That means warm sunny days, more time to fit in your exercise in daylight, lots of partying, and not much clothing to hide behind! (I could be thinking about my misspent youth here, but let’s run with it).

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How alcohol impacts your training


Yes, it’s the silly season, when most of us let go, sometimes just a little too much. Ever wonder how someone’s weight (perhaps yours) manages to creep up on them in a slow ambush until “BANG” one day they are 5-10 kgs heavier than they were a few years ago?

Could be, they over indulge around this time of year, put on an extra kg or two, then don’t take it off again. For most of us, it’s easy to hide a kg somewhere on your body. The jeans just fit a bit more snugly, your belt probably won’t even need to go out a notch – not this year anyway.

The holiday season can also have a profound impact on your training. You may feel you have less time for exercising,  (which actually just means you’re giving something else priority), or you may have had one too many champagnes at the office Christmas party, so it’s just that little bit harder to get out of bed. And if you do get out of bed to go for your early morning run, you might be feeling a little shabby.

So that we’ve all  got it straight in our heads how alcohol impacts your training and your weight, here are a few facts, because  having an  unbalanced approach to partying could be what gets in the way of all your hard work paying off.


  1. Alcohol dehydrates you, as it is a diuretic. It makes the kidneys produce more urine. Exercising soon after drinking can make the dehydration worse, especially in hot weather, as you’ll be sweating. For optimum circulation of oxygen and nutrients to your muscles, you need to be well hydrated. Your training and performance will be sub maximal if you are dehydrated. Alternating alcoholic drinks with mineral water will not only mean you consume less alcohol, it will help you to stay hydrated.
  2. When your system is breaking down alcohol, the liver can’t produce as much glucose, which means you have low blood sugar levels. This can account for cravings of sweetened soft drinks such as Coke after a big night out. Blood sugars give you energy when you are exercising, so if your body is busy metabolising alcohol, you’ll have less energy for exercise, and your performance will drop. Your co-ordination and concentration can be affected as well.
  3. Not only does your body need to break down the alcohol, it also needs to clear itself of the by-products of alcohol metabolism, so you won’t be able to clear out the lactic acid produced in exercise as efficiently as you normally do.
  4. As alcohol is a toxin, the body prioritises getting it out of your system over burning fats or carbohydrates. So, not only do you get a whopping 7 cals per gram of alcohol (compared to 4 cals per gram of  proteins and carbs), you won’t be burning the extra carbs you eat at the office Christmas party, or burn much stored fat, till all the alcohol is out of your system.
  5. Alcohol breaks down amino acids (stored in muscles) and stores them as fat. This is more pronounced around the thighs and bum. Long term alcohol use reduces protein synthesis, resulting in a decrease in muscle growth.
  6. Over the top drinking also increases levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which also encourages fat storage, particularly around the belly.
  7. Alcohol negatively affects your sleep patterns. This can result in you being tired the day after a couple of drinks and may cause you to go for instant energy hits of sugar, piling on more calories. The lack of sleep will also inhibit the production of Human Growth Hormone, (HGH) which plays an important role in the building and repairing of muscles-very important for recovering after a hard speed session or gym workout. Alcohol can inhibit HGH secretion by as much as 70%.
  8. Alcohol limits your body’s ability to absorb key micronutrients from your food, particularly Vit B1 (Thiamine), B12, Folic Acid and Zinc. B1 is important for protein and fat metabolism, as well as for  forming haemoglobin (necessary for oxygen transport in your  blood). It also plays a role in metabolising carbohydrates. B12 helps maintain healthy red blood and nerve cells. Folic acid is important in the formation of new cells, and a deficiency can result in a lower oxygen carrying capacity, affecting your endurance. Zinc is important for energy production, and a deficiency will impair your endurance.


So, in a nutshell, alcohol will impair your reaction time, wreck your sleep and recovery, give you a whopping 7 cals per gram, help you stack on weight around your mid section whilst depleting muscle mass around the thighs and gluteal muscles, and quite possibly make you eat more than you otherwise normally would have.


What’s the solution? Don’t over indulge. Make sure you know what the safe levels of drinking are, and plan your quality training sessions to be at least 24 hours after alcohol. Eat well (and a little less) when you are not partying, so the effect of any excesses is counteracted by your general good eating habits.

If you do overindulge -don’t stress about it. Get quickly back on the straight and narrow and put it down to experience!

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How Many Calories Do You Drink?

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Hooked on Running

Burn an extra 160 calories a day and lose weight

foods to boost your metabolism and lose weight

foods to boost your metabolism and lose weightDon’t obsess about what not to eat. Here are eight foods which could actually help you to lose weight by eating them! You could also take a look at other ways to boost your metabolism and lose weight. 


Green Tea

Green tea will really get your metabolism firing. Chose it over black tea or coffee for it’s flavinoids and antioxidants, as well as for it’s thermogenic properties. Simply put, it will boost your metabolism. The amount of extra calories you burn isn’t huge – one cup will help you burn up to an extra 60 calories, but every little bit helps to lose weight.


Low Fat Yoghurt

Good quality, unsweetened, plain yoghurt is packed full of live bacteria called probiotics, which help your gut process food more efficiently. Yoghurt is also a good source of protein and calcium. Seemingly inexplicably, a 2005 study showed that including low fat yoghurt in a reduced calorie diet had a greater effect in helping people to lose weight,  than a reduced calorie diet which did not include yoghurt. Over a 12 week period, people who were in the group which ate yoghurt lost about 1.8kg more weight than the other group, and also lost 81% more fat around the stomach than the non-yoghurt eaters.



Cinnamon has been shown to control the spike in blood sugar experienced after eating a high sugar meal. It seems the cinnamon slows down gastric emptying, releasing the sugars into the blood more gradually. This can make you fell full for longer, helping you to lose weight.  Think of it along the same lines as the difference between eating oats for breakfast vs coco pops!



Well-known as a broad spectrum anti-microbial (kills all sorts of little germs and bugs), Korean researchers found that rats given a high calorie diet as well as a garlic supplement did not gain as much weight as rats who weren’t given the garlic supplement. When exercise was thrown into the mix, the garlic was even more effective in preventing weight gain.

To get the most out of your garlic, crush the fresh bulb and leave it to sit for 10 minutes before adding it to your cooking. This helps it to retain about 70% more of its beneficial compounds. Crushing the garlic releases the beneficial enzymes trapped in the cells of the plant. The enzymes boost the levels of the healthy compounds in garlic, which peak about 10 mins after crushing.

For best results, add the garlic in at the last minute, so it is cooked only lightly.


Hot Peppers

Researchers testing a compound related to capsaicin, found in chili and other hot peppers, showed the compound could boost your metabolism. The study found an increase in calories burned after a test meal.

The extra boost in metabolism amounted to about 100cals for a 50kg women, to about 200 cals for a 90 kg man. Not insignificant. That’s about 25% of the calorie deficit you need to find (500cals) each day if you want to lose 500gms in weight a week. I’ll take that.



Similar to the capsaicin in chili peppers, ginger can boost your metabolism after you’ve eaten it, as well as aid digestion and decrease appetite. Add some grated fresh ginger to your stir fry, or make a yummy ginger tea by infusing in sliced fresh ginger in hot water. You can also add it to your favourite baking recipes.



Recent studies suggest that the acetic acid in vinegar may switch on genes that release proteins that break down fat. Participants in a Japanese study who drank 1-2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar daily for 12 weeks, were able to lose weight, and  lower their visceral fat (fat surrounding organs) and waist circumference significantly.

Dark Chocolate

No article on the magical properties of foods would be complete without the mention of dark chocolate! Someone can always come up with some reason for eating chocolate. Here’s a study by Nestle researchers which shows that dark chocolate can aid in weight loss by reducing stress hormones.


What do you think?



Foods to make you run faster

foods to run faster

foods to run fasterSounds a bit too good to be true doesn’t. Foods which will actually make you run faster. When you think about it though, there are of heaps foods which will help you to do just that.

I want to concentrate on just a couple of foods here, olive oil and apple cider vinegar.

Both these foods have been shown to aid in weight loss, and if you have less excess fat to carry around the track, you’ll run faster. I’m not suggesting that if you pop into the kitchen and swig on the salad dressing like there’s no tomorrow, you’ll wake up a couple of kilos lighter in the morning, but research has shown both these foods may aid weight loss.

So, how can olive oil help you run faster?

Research published in the American Journal of Nutrition has suggested that simply smelling olive oil may help you lose weight. Eleven men were given low fat yoghurt to eat over two days, and half of them had a fat free olive oil extract mixed into the yoghurt.

Their brain activity was measured after the snack, and the group who ate the olive oil extract enriched yoghurt, had increased activity in areas of the brain associated with fat consumption. Remember the olive oil extract was fat-free, so both groups had the same low fat snack as far as calories go. Researches believe it is the scent of the olive oil which might help you to feel full. It might be possible to simulate fat-triggered sensations in the brain by the scent of ingredients the body implicitly associates with fat.

Other research carried out over a period of three months supports this theory. Subjects ate no-fat yoghurt, with either butterfat, rapseed oil or olive oil added to it. The olive oil consumers reported feeling fuller on a day to day basis, and also had higher levels of serotonin than the other groups. Serotonin is a hormone associated with feelings of satiety. The aromatic compounds in olive oil slow the absorption of glucose into the blood stream, making as feel fuller for longer.

To enjoy the benefits of olive oil, you should consume in moderation at room temperature, accompanying other food. Whilst olive oil is relatively stable, overheating it can change the molecular structure and the aromatic volatiles can evaporate during heating.

Apple cider vinegar

The Journal of Functional Foods recently published a study showing that subjects who consumed a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar mixed with water before eating had lower blood glucose levels than the control group. The acetic acid may hamper the body’s ability to digest starch, the researchers say. Less starch is being broken down into calories in the blood stream, which over time might show an effect on body weight. There are other studies to back up the theory, including Japanese research published in 2009, which showed acetic acid to be associated with lower BMI, waist circumference and blood triglycerides.

You don’t need to use apple cider vinegar for the effect. Any vinegar with 5% acidity will do, but don’t drink it straight. Mix a tablespoon with a big glass of water, or drizzle the same amount on a salad.

Neither of these methods will see you losing 5kgs to get you running faster in that race you have next weekend. You should be looking more at the long term over 3 or 4 months. AND most importantly, the results won’t be so dramatic that you can go crazy and eat your head off in the meantime. Increasing your use of olive oil and vinegar will not counteract your over eating, but may be the difference between losing that extra half to one kilo or not.

To some, it may not seem worth it, but I know I’d like to be a kilo lighter come the next time I run a race I’ve been training for.


Image courtesy of Idea go/

How To Fend Off The Menopause Midriff

menopause midriff

“Healthy Diet Won’t Stop Menopause Weight Gain”

menopause midriffThat’s a nice scary headline for women of a certain age, isn’t it? It’s one that did the rounds of online news sites a couple of weeks ago now.

Not so scary really when you stop to read the fine print though!


In a study of 7000 healthy Australian women age 48  to 56, researchers found  those who ate the most healthy foods gained just as much weight over the six years of the study, as those who ate the least healthy foods – about 1.7 kilograms.


Is the middle aged spread unavoidable?

Well, not really. If you eat too much of anything you will gain weight, regardless of the health value of the food. So whilst eating healthy food won’t stop you gaining weight in your late 40′ s and early 50’s , eating less of it will. Chief researcher, Clare Collins said “Women, on average, will gain two kilograms over the menopause years and the only women who resist that are women who put either extra focus on their diet or extra focus on physical activity or both,”


“Our earlier research had found people who had a higher diet quality score also consumed more calories, because if you have a greater frequency and variety of healthy foods you also consume more energy,” she said. “So the good news is we showed they don’t gain [more] weight.”

Analysis of the study’s data also seems to be finding a link between high fruit and vegetable intake and less weight gain. Collins suspects this is due to switching from unhealthy foods.


My experience

A couple of months ago, I was the lightest I’ve been since year 11 at school. I was training for a half marathon, so doing quite a bit of exercise, though not the mileage I’ve done for previous races. I upped my resistance training, which I think really helped with fat burning, and yes, I was watching what I ate very closely for the month prior to the race. Before I popped something into my mouth, I considered whether it would help me go faster, or whether it would just end up being dead weight I’d have to carry around the course. Getting on for two months later, I am still sitting on the lighter side of my usual adult weight range. It’s unlikely this is due to loss of muscle or bone mass due to the type of exercise I do. It is due to eating less food and being pretty much alcohol free. Even just a couple of glasses a week gives your calorie intake a boost of up to 400 calories.


So… how to fend off the menopause midriff?

The peri-menopausal and post menopausal health message is pretty much the same as at any other time of your life.  If your diet isn’t up to scratch, include more fruit and vegetables in your diet. Eat less food, drink less alcohol and exercise more to fend off the menopause midriff.

Top Ten Fat Blasters

fat blasting exercisesHere are 10 essential things you need to know if you are exercising for fat loss.


1. Burn Fat In Bed

The benefits of exercise as a fat burner continue long after your cool down. In fact you can even burn fat whilst you’re asleep. This increased energy expenditure, that is, calorie burning, is much greater when you have been exercising at at least 75% intensity. That’s running beteen a 7 and 8 out of 10 on the Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE). So keep those interval training sessions going.

You might be able to think of other ways to increase your energy expenditure in bed. If so, go for it!


2. Don’t Work in the “Fat Burning Zone”

The body does burn a greater percentage of calories from fat in the “fat burning zone”  -about 65% of your maximum heart rate, but overall, you burn more calories when you work at a higher intensity. So whilst a lower percentage of calories burned will come from fat when you are working at a higher intensity, you will burn more calories overall at a higher intensity, and  more calories from fat as well. It’s the overall calories burned that is important in weight loss, so keep the intensity up (when your body is ready for it)

The chart below explains it.

Low Intensity – 60-65% MHR High Intensity – 80-85% MHR
Total Calories expended per min. 4.86 6.86
Fat Calories expended per min. 2.43 2.7
Total Calories expended in 30 min. 146 206
Total Fat calories expended in 30 min. 73 82
Percentage of fat calories burned 50% 39.85%

Source: From The 24/5 Complete Personal Training Manual, 24 Hour Fitness, 2000


3. Enjoy Your Exercise

There’s  no use choosing an exercise that you are not going to enjoy. Whilst energy burned is dependent on the activity itself, it is also dependent on how much effort you put in, how well you can perform the activity, how long you do it for, and how often. I’m not saying you have to leap out of bed at 5:30am on these cold, wet, dark mornings, and say “Yippee I’m going for a run” but if you choose something you enjoy most of the time, you’re far more likely to keep it up. Train with a group, set yourself a goal such as a fun run to get you through those tough moments where you feel totally unmotivated (which believe it or not we ALL have), choose something practical and accessible. Running is a great exercise for enjoyment. You can do it with friends, you can go as hard or as easy as you like, it’s very accessible – just a pair of shoes, shorts and t-shirt, plus your undies of course, and you’re away. What could be more simple and enjoyable?


4. Use Large Muscles to Up the Calorie Burn

You need to get your large muscle groups involved for a serious fat burning workout.  The greater the overall muscle involvement, the more calories will be burned in the workout. Anything that recruits your thighs and bum will be a winner on the fat burning front. Running of course fits the bill, as does rowing, so if you’re at the gym, jump on the rowing machine. Don’t overdo the rower first up though – it is very hard on your lower back so you need to do  little bits frequently and build up to rowing further, rather than go hammer and tongs on your first attempt. 2 -5 mins first up at a slow pace will be fine.  Take a look at this video for some good tips on rowing technique. Well worth the 5 mins before you jump on a rower.


5. Develop Your Aerobic Capacity

Fat burning activity has to be sustained for a reasonable length of time, for maximum results. Whilst sprinting might be a great exercise, you can only sprint for a short period of time. For maximum fat burning, you need to be doing at least 20 minutes of fat burning exercise a few times a week. Increase your endurance by doing longer, slower bouts of exercise -perhaps a long slow run, or running efforts of 10 minutes duration at a slightly faster pace than if you were just going out for a jog,  with a  few minutes recovery interval in between efforts. You’ll find you’ll be able to do more repeats of your faster fat burning exercise if you improve your endurance.


6. Interval Training Maximises Calorie Burn

Interval training is where you have an effort, and then a rest interval. Contrary to popular belief, the “interval” is actually your rest time-which has little impact on fat burning, but is interesting just the same. Interval training is great: if used correctly it can make you run faster, improve your aerobic fitness, and burn more fat. In short, it makes very effective use of your time. To get the most out of interval session, join a group where you can be overseen by a trainer or coach who can help to ensure you are working at just the right intensity, and doing just the right amount of training.


7. Carry That Weight

Weight bearing exercise such as running uses more calories than those in which your weight is supported, such as swimming or cycling. It’s because you have to move your body weight against gravity.


8. Run In A Fasting State?

Does running before breakfast burn more fat? Possibly. If the body exercises in a fasting state (for example when you have gone overnight without eating) it has to rely on fat stores for energy. On the other hand, the lack of a ready energy supply could mean you don’t work as hard or for as long as you might have done otherwise. Play around with this and try the same session both before you’ve eaten and then on other days when you haven’t. Compare your times, how you felt, how long you could sustain the effort and make a judgement for yourself on this one.


9. Keep Challenging Yourself

If you want to keep up the results, you need to keep up the intensity. As you get fitter, you’ll be able to run faster, and do more. Your body will be able to cope with increasing demands on it. If you just keep doing what you’ve always been doing, the benefits will plateau.


10. Keep On The Move

Research has found that leaner people tend to stand and move around more than overweight people in their normal daily life. The Mayo Clinic found that non -exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) was up to 350kj (or nearly 90 kilocalories) higher each day, in people who move around more. If you have a desk job, set your alarm to get up and move around every 30 minutes. It’s so easy to get bogged down in something and have a couple of hours go by without you every having moved more than your fingers and your eyelids! Take a look at sitting can be deadly for more on why you should get up and move around.

Walking to the biscuit tin doesn’t count by the way!



Image courtesy of AKARAKINGDOMS /

DISCLAIMER: Any information contained in this document is obtained from current and reliable sources and is solely for the purpose of interest and information.  Individuals receiving this information must exercise their independent judgment in determining its appropriateness for their particular needs. The information and training advice is general in nature and may not be suited to the recipient’s individual needs. Medical advice should always be sought when starting an exercise program. As the ordinary or otherwise use(s) of this information is outside the control of the author, no representation or warranty, expressed or implied, is made as to the effect(s) of such use(s), (including damage or injury), or the results obtained. The author expressly disclaims responsibility as to the interpretation of the views contained in this article, ordinary or otherwise. Furthermore, the author shall not be liable for any errors or delays in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon. The author shall not be responsible for any damages resulting from use of or reliance upon this information. Readers of this document are solely responsible for compliance with all laws and regulations applying to the use of the information, including intellectual property rights of third parties.

Why Biggest Losers Regain Their Weight

The Truth About Fat
Image courtesy of Michelle Meiklejohn”.

My sons have become obsessed with “Biggest Loser”. They love the drama. They love the characters. I really think they are oblivious to the contestants’ weight. To them the weigh-ins are just numbers and it’s all a game. I realised this only after I had the “do you really think that we should be using other people’s weight issues as our entertainment?” chat. Perhaps it was a bit too deep for a 9 year old and a 6 year old. They do tend to take things a little more on face value than we do, don’t they?

Anyway, having sat through a couple of episodes myself, it’s heart wrenching to think that many of these people will put back on much of the weight they’ve taken off. But why is this? Why is it that people who have put themselves through so much, who clearly don’t want to be fat, simply find it too hard to “be like the rest of us”?

SBS aired a doco last night (13/05/2013) “The Truth About Fat”. I highly recommend you take a look. It’s available free to view until 27th May 2013. Some really interesting stuff. Be warned… there are a few needles and blood and guts bits. Just close your eyes if you can’t cope, as it is definitely worth a look. It may well turn your thoughts on obesity upside down, or it may confirm what you have had a nagging suspicion about all along.


Why has obesity reached epidemic proportions?

The program looks at research explaining what obesity might be all about. Traditionally, the thought has been that to be in a healthy weight range, you exercise more, or eat less. “Eat less, exercise more, or get fat” as my brother says to his son. And, this of course is 100% true. At the end of the day, being fat or thin is still pretty much about the energy equation. Take in more energy that your body is able to use up, and there is only one place for that energy to go. It turns to fat and is stored in adipose tissue in your body.

In today’s modern world, we eat more food than we need. It’s estimated we eat an average of 200 calories more than we need to every day. Doesn’t take long for that to add up, and for our collective weight to creep up over time. We have an abundance of food, rich in calories, and for some people, it is extremely difficult to resist. Being in a health weight range is just a matter of willpower isn’t it? Well, yes, to some extent it is, but there’s way more to it than that. A large  number of people find it almost impossible to exercise their willpower over the forces that compel them to eat. So what’s going on?

Our bodies evolved in a world where calories were scarce, and the opportunity to feast was uncommon. The developed world however is awash with food, and 25% of people in the developed world are clinically obese. What is it that shapes our decisions about food – what we eat, how much we eat, when we eat, and when we stop eating?



The simple answer is hormones. Ghrelin and PYY. Ghrelin is also known as the hunger hormone. It stimulates appetite, therefore increases food intake, and promotes fat storage. It is produced and released mainly by the stomach, and also in small amounts by the small intestine, the pancreas and the brain.

Peptide YY (or PYY), on the other hand, gives you a feeling of fullness, and signals when to stop eating. It is released into the small intestine after eating, circulates in the blood and binds to receptors in the brain, which results in a decreased appetite and a feeling of fullness. PYY release starts before food reaches the small intestine, and the amount increases as food hits the small intestine, hence the time lag between eating and feeling full. SLOW DOWN YOUR EATING!

The Truth About Fat showed that whilst ghrelin levels in obese people stayed pretty constant – ie they didn’t rise dramatically if they fasted, their levels of PYY were low. It’s thought that the lower levels of PYY prevent obese people from ever really feeling full. The research quoted obese people “I never really feel hungry, but once I start eating, I can’t stop”.

So, one thought is that hormones in obese people are simply different to people who are not overweight. Which makes sense of course, but what is it that causes some people’s hormones to go haywire?


Research with twins shows stress may be a factor

One line of research has looked at identical twins, who are different weights. Epigenetics is the study of changes in gene expression caused by our environment-not just our physical environment, but also life events that can have an effect on us. The fact that these identical twins can have the same genes but one is fat and one is thin, suggests that the fat gene can be turned on or off. Epigenetics can explain this.

There seems to be a  common thread amongst pairs of adult twins with discordant weight. People have pinpointed the time that changes in the fat twin’s body weight started to take place, and compared this to what was going on in their life. Interestingly, results point to times of stress being a factor in the switching on of the fat gene. My thoughts for some time have been that stress plays a huge role in being overweight. My first word of advice to anyone looking at losing weight is to look at their stress levels and attack that first. Once that’s under control, weight is likely to fall off with little effort.

The fact that what could seem to be very small events in your life might change your physical shape in the future, is both exciting and frightening, and at the same time tragic. Talking to people who really struggle with their weight, and seeing their frustration at how their life is limited by their obesity is a very sobering experience. How great that we are unlocking the key to turning their lives around.

This current research indicates that the assumption that fat people are lacking will power is not entirely correct. Simplistically, you can say that people who are fat lack the willpower to overcome their compulsion to eat, however, when your biology is working against you, the amount of willpower needed to overcome your eating habit is far greater than the willpower needed by thin people to eat well. So thin people of the world, no need to feel so superior. Hormonal imbalance and gene expression are not an excuse for being fat, they are a reason.


Gastric bypass surgery alters brain function

Another area examined by the program was surgery, specifically gastric bypass. Whilst a gastric by-pass does involve a drastic reduction in the size of a person’s stomach, it would seem that this surgery also works by changing the level of hormones responsible for obesity. People report not feeling hungry, but most importantly, feeling full when they eat. Patients themselves have reported that more changes have taken place in their head than their stomach.

MRIs looking at brain activity in obese people who are shown yummy fatty foods show lots of activity in the brain in the areas associated with addiction, emotional response and reward, compared to that of a thin person, who has little brain activity in those areas, shown the same photos. After gastric bypass surgery, obese people have been shown the same photos they were shown prior to their surgery, and their brain activity is greatly reduced to around the same level as a thin person. The bypass surgery seems to have pressed a reset button in their brain, returning the “fat genes” back to normal.

Gastric by-pass surgery of course has very real risks, and it is a last resort suitable for some people, but we are not far off less radical procedures to cure obesity.


Are we missing something here?

On the surface, it all seems very logical. We get fat because we eat too much and do too little exercise. Due to our biology coupled with certain environmental factors and life events, the pull of food is far greater for some people than it is for others. Medical intervention will fix this. Great. So, we may soon have a cure for obesity.

But given it would seem obesity can be caused by an oversupply of food coupled with stressors which switch on our fat gene, could it be that we are barking up the wrong tree. Would prevention not be better than cure? Is our consumer driven society not just stoking the obesity fire, and if we in the developed world shared the food around a bit and chilled out,  would we not all be a bit better off?