Author Archives: Julian

About Julian

Into healing chronic illness and combating mental illness through better living. Lively, some would say funny, and always striving to become a better person.

Are You Walking or Talking? – The Pitfalls of Nature Walks in Modern Times

I am very lucky to have a small group of friends who appreciate nature. They enjoy it, take it in, listen to it, look at it, say very little, and are comfortable with long pauses to admire the outdoors. Now, I am no expert, but I imagine not everyone is so patient with the countryside. Some walking partners really only want an excuse to exercise, talk, a lot, or take pictures for their new Instagram account. Please do not misconstrue me, I am not saying that, in order to appreciate nature, you should not do these things at all, walking around like some hermetical sage wizard who has transcended the responsibilities of trivial human affairs, but many people do too much else when they’re out walking.

When you’re taking pictures, talking too much, or focusing on the steps, you’re not getting the benefits of the countryside that really make you feel alive. By this I mean, the sound of dead twigs under foot, the soft rustling of low bushes, batted gently by swirling gusts, and the pale-gold sunshine warming your cheeks after the cold wind whips them rosy red. In these winter months, you relish the scarcity of bird song, and the sounds of streams, their notes richer, deeper, and more viscous in the icy temperatures. You see animals and plants that are different dependent on the seasons, and you see skies that vary greatly and elicit as many emotions as there are colours in them.

When you can tune into this, you’re communing with nature and it speak to us, in whispers at first. With other people, sometimes loud, well-meaning though I am sure, the chances of you being able to hear it, to see it and appreciate it fully reduce.

I propose that, even if you’ve never tried it before, or you think it odd, that to go out into nature alone is worth doing. If you’ve never done it before, consider it a challenge from me to you. Take a public footpath, or venture further out to a landmark with your car. Just go by yourself. Or, if you really can’t face it, take someone with you that you know you can be comfortably silent with for stretches of time. This is important. The more that you listen to nature in the quiet, the louder it speaks. I believe this can be very healing if you suffer from any mental health issues or physical illnesses. I often find myself feeling much better following a walk, more optimistic, focussed and alive. I credit this with taking in the landscape, which feeds my vitality, while talking too much or using technology, drains it.

Nature walking is a very special activity. Many of us enjoy it with others, which is no bad thing. Just remember, the sounds, sights and sensations of the outdoors are quiet, require patience and attention, and are worth a more thoughtful, tacit and pensive approach. Nature heals, if you listen. Sadly, the social responsibilities and technological commodities of the modern era can wildly distract us and decrease our ability to enjoy and benefit from nature. So, are you walking or are you talking? Choose your friends and smart tech wisely.

Follow me on Heathen (top right by my face) for more mental health tips. Be sure to share these articles with friends and loved ones who you want to look out for in these difficult times. Walking outdoors can be a very rewarding experience if you are able to tune into the landscape thoughtfully. Even if you have never tried this before, I encourage you to take a walk by yourself. See what you discover with nothing but the trees and wind for company. I wish you happiness and health in the New Year.

You’re Killing Yourself – Meditate on Your Inner Critic

It’s taken me a long time to notice that voice. Always picking faults and putting me down. That’s not me, but it’s a powerful echo from childhood that, until recently I could not even name. This voice, so hard to detect at first, has made me doubt myself, hate myself, and talk down to myself. It’s made me skip out on opportunities that could have created joy and personal growth, and it’s constantly, and tersely, requesting that I hide myself away.

It’s been a long time coming for that voice inside that’s trying to kill my creativity and snuff out my opportunities to grow. I realised what was happening when I started to pay closer attention to my body and my thoughts. This, with the help of meditation, encouraged me to understand and engage with the thoughts that drove me to self-sabotage. By distancing myself from the thoughts that came and went, causing depression and anxiety as I held onto them and let them drag me down, I was able to lift myself up. When you pay attention to the thoughts and their negative hold, you can better disengage from them. Once you do this, you can start to work the other way, catching yourself in the process of critical self-talk, distancing and changing the thought pattern.

Instead of ‘I’m a failure’, I now see that I have a thought which thinks: ‘you are failing’, but it is neither true, nor me, only a thought. Once I can get to this point, putting the breaks on things, I can then reverse engineer the thought and latch onto a positive iteration. ‘I am not a failure. I am doing my best under difficult circumstances with little support. This is hard, and anyone would struggle to be successful under these conditions.’ Also, what is failure? Making mistakes might be a failure in the short-term, but you have an entire life to live and mistakes are part of the process of learning. You can’t really be a mistake. We humans are ever-changing and ever-developing. What I am today, I may not be tomorrow. So can anyone be a failure? I’m not sure it’s even possible, so long as you believe that failure is a state preceding success, rather than something which cannot change.

What about ‘You are ugly’? So what? There are plenty of successful AND ugly people in the world. Besides which, what I may deem ugly, others may deem beautiful, as attraction varies widely. Love is about more than what you look like. In fact, I could go so far as to say what you look like matters very little. What about how well you care for your partner? What about how interesting you are? Are you funny? That goes some way, believe me! Do you read a lot? Have you got a good mind? There are so many facets of human beauty outside of what your body looks like. And let’s face it, without some serious and dangerous surgery, you’re stuck with what you’ve got, so look after it and let it be!

If you can put the breaks on your thoughts and look at them from a distance, as meditation teaches you to do, you’re no longer so close that the thought and you are one. I am not a failure because I do not belong to this thought. I am not ugly, because a thought about how I may look ugly, is not one I wish to choose to attach myself to. In the famous words of the French philosopher Renes Descartes: ‘I think, therefore I am.’ Meditation gives you the ability to pick which associations you wish to give the power of ‘I’ to, and which you do not. This is a supremely powerful gift, and one I hope that anyone can use.

Here’s a task for you to do. Meditate once a week or try to do this when you are stressed or feeling bad about yourself. Do this for 10 minutes using a guided meditation like the headspace app (my favourite). I would recommend trying the skill of ‘noting’ which is about acknowledging a thought, noting it, and giving it no further fuel to turn into a problem. Then, once you’ve figured out what negative thoughts are shouting the loudest, write three of them down on paper. Once you have these, take one at a time, firstly writing about how the thought came from your mind, but does not belong to you, the ‘I’ part of yourself. Then, think about a few ways that this thought doesn’t matter or is not important to your values. Ultimately, we are striving to learn, develop and find love, joy and happiness. If the thought doesn’t give you these things, let it be and don’t associate with it. Doing this a few times over the space of weeks and months can allow you to stop your inner critic from killing your positive inner voice.

We’re all fighting a battle with a silent killer, the critic, a manifestation of thoughts about you which do not, in reality, belong to you. They are the external voices of many of the harsh experiences in your life. Meditation can help you freeze these thoughts from the critic, become more aware of them, and then, reverse engineer more positive thoughts which you can choose to claim as your own. You are not at the mercy of your inner critic, but you do need to out it and make it visible, otherwise it will continue to kill your true, authentic self until you do.

Follow me on Heathen (top right by my face) for more mental health tips. Be sure to share these articles with friends and loved ones who you want to look out for in these difficult times. Meditation opens up to the critic and gives us tools to manage this voice. You deserve that dialogue, so you can be happier, healthier and more fulfilled in your life. Good health to you.

The SAD Survival Kit – 7 Ways to Feel Better Instantly

You’re struggling with depression, anxiety, or maybe you’re just having a bad day. Whatever is happening for you, you’re in a slump and you don’t know how to get out of it. This list is about reminders. When we’re in a low place, we need to be reminded of the steps we can take immediately to pull ourselves out and get back to normality. When you’re down, you’re not thinking properly, so it takes prompts or friends to help us back up. In a way, this article is meant as a friend. A list which can pull you up and get you back on your feet. We’re not always surrounded by company, more so than ever during a global pandemic, so we need to adapt. Here are 7 things you can do to look after yourself on your own and get back on your feet.

Keep warm

Photo by Ergyn Meshekran on Unsplash

Temperature can be a game changer for mood and in these cold winter months, we can forget to keep warm. If you can afford to put the boiler on, turn the temperature up until you’re comfortable. 19-21 degrees celsius (approx 66-70 farenheit) is optimal. If you can’t afford that, a hot water bottle under the covers can give you a much needed boost and also something to hold onto for comfort. Set a timer for heating to come on before you usually wake up for a couple of hours in the morning, and in the evening. Keep doors and windows shut. At night, tuck your curtains behind radiators to avoid heat loss and close them.

Drink something hot

Photo by Julian Hochgesang on Unsplash

Following on from keeping warm, a nice hot drink can really lift the spirits. You could have herbal teas, black tea or coffee. If you feel like you need something more, have a hot chocolate. Remember, self care is about determining what works for you and what you enjoy the most.

Go for a walk

Photo by Dan Burton on Unsplash

During the cold months, walking is not something you might typically like to do, but it is so effective at fighting low mood. If you’re particularly susceptible to Seasonal Affective Disorder, where mood plummets in winter, you’re likely not getting enough sunshine, and therefore vitamin D. Your body can only make vitamin D through the skin and its interactions with sunlight. During periods of lower daylight, a 20 – 30 minute walk in the light hours can really make a difference. The cardiovascular exercise of walking is also a great mood booster.

Meditate

Photo by Stephanie Greene on Unsplash

I’m a firm believer in the power of meditation and I frequently sing the praises of the Headspace app. As someone who ruminates, experiences low mood and high levels of anxiety, this app and 10-20 minutes of meditation a day, has saved me more times than I can count. Meditation teaches you to acknowledge your thoughts as just that, thoughts, with no power over you. You pay attention to them and let them pass. You don’t need to follow or latch onto a thought, but it’s very tempting at times to do this. The technique allows us a few degrees of separation from our thoughts so that we don’t have to give them control over us.

Write a journal

Photo by BENCE BOROS on Unsplash

Can you spend a few minutes thinking about what you did today or yesterday? Even if you don’t want to reflect on the past, you could write about the thoughts that you are having. Putting thoughts down on paper is an excellent way of transferring them. You’re offloading data which frees your mind up to think about other things. This is a similar unburdening as you experience through meditation, but writing can work better for some, so it’s worth a go. It’s also great to have a routine at the end of the day to spend 15 minutes writing about your day. This can give some structure if you’re feeling lost.

Tidy your space

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

This is a tricky one. I know more than most that sometimes you just don’t have the energy or inclination to tidy up, but if you can do it, a clean space makes all the difference to your wellbeing. Sometimes we let things get so on top of us and become so used to it as the status quo, that we can’t remember what it felt like to have a tidy place. If you can do it, it’s worth it.

Invest in a hobby

Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

If you like drawing, find a small spot where you can do this whenever you want. Do you like to read? Make a comfy place for yourself and read. Whatever it is that you enjoy doing, do more of it, even if you don’t feel like it. I guarantee that you will feel better afterwards. A small word of advice though, if your hobby is creative and you tend to be critical, it can help to be mindful that you may not love what you create and that’s ok! Just put it aside and come back later. Perhaps it will look better tomorrow. Whatever it is that you feel about what you make, try not to give it too much power. You’re in a low place and that will cloud your judgement. You did it, and that’s all that counts.

This list is by no means revolutionary. These are things that many people may do from time to time, but when you’re in a bad place, it helps to have quick, simple prompts that can call you to action. You now remember that you can help yourself by:

  1. Keeping warm
  2. Grabbing a hot drink
  3. Going for a walk
  4. Meditating for 10-20 minutes
  5. Writing in your journal at the end of the day for 15 minutes
  6. Tidying your space
  7. Setting up a space to do more of the hobbies you love

This is a simple, but effective way to lift your mood instantly and I hope that the simple layout of advice can get you to feel empowered when you’re feeling down. We need to look out for each other, even when we can’t be together.

Follow me on Heathen (top right hand corner) for more mental health tips. Be sure to share these articles with friends and loved ones who you want to look out for in these3 difficult times. Self care is extremely important and something we need to do for ourselves. I hope you feel better soon!

C Is for COVID – 5 Ways to Get More Vitamin C in 2021

It’s been a trying year, I think we’d all agree. The news has gone from miserable to downright dire. Christmas was cancelled here in the UK as the new covid (dare I even utter the words!) variant spreads across the population. Medical experts are straddling a wrecking ball of ‘umms’ and ‘ahhs’, ‘maybes’ and ‘could be’s’, like they’re Miley Cyrus during the chaotic years. Toilet roll, our most beloved signifier of civilised society teetered on the precipice of market place extinction, followed closely by the elusive transparent liquid alcohol, feverishly sought by all.

Despite this confusion, experts agree that getting enough vitamin C can help support your health if you do get the new virus. Some scientists believe that those at higher risk, with cardiovascular disease or immune system problems are likely more at risk due to the fact that their cells are worse at transporting vitamin C. Without this vitamin, the body’s cells struggle to fight back or heal the damage caused by the virus. For this reason, we’ve got to keep an eye on our vitamin C levels before we get ill so that our cells can retain as much as they need to effectively fight viral infections. Here are five simple ways to get more Vitamin C in every day:

1. Take a Supplement

yellow medication pill on persons hand

Now this may seem like a straightforward starting place, but if you’re concerned about your vitamin levels, taking a vitamin C supplement may improve your levels over time. Again, this will depend on how well you are able to absorb the supplement and on how well your cells are able to take in nutrients. Still, getting into the habit every morning to take the supplement may help in the long run, and in most cases, will do no harm. If you have a medical condition, please consult with your doctor first regarding any supplement choices. Safety first!

2. More Fruit

round orange fruit

Fruit! The font of plenty! So villainised for its sugar content these days! BUT, if you’re not diabetic or in some form of exemption, fruit as a snack is brilliant for a high dose of vitamin C that tastes delicious and doesn’t cost too much! Citrus fruits keep a long time and are typically high in vitamin C. Berries like blueberries, strawberries and blackberries are also high vitamin C fruits that taste delicious! Little tip here, for those on a budget, buy your berries frozen. They’re cheaper than fresh, but just as healthy for you.

3. Vegetables

bowl of salad

Kale, broccoli and brussel sprouts are cheap and full of vitamin C. You might be breaking wind, but you’ll keep covid (and dear ones) at bay! Broccoli has more vitamin C than an orange, so scrap that last tip and start munching on them stalks. Cook them though, yeh? Let’s not be that person eating raw broccoli in public now shall we?

4. Po-tay-toes?

green and brown round fruits in green plastic bucket

What’s taters eh precious? Now, don’t be coy with me my hobbity friends. The common potato and its sweet counterpart, the, uh… SWEET potato, are great sources of vitamin C. That means MORE mash, and baked potatoes, and all of the good, wholesome, starchy meal ideas you can put this tuber at the centre of!

5. Juice It

carrot juice on mason jar

The thought of eating getting you down? Cooking broccoli got you giving up? Never fear, juice is here! Seriously, vegetable and citrus juices can get you tonnes of vitamin C. If you have to buy store bought, try to go for fresh juices not from concentrate. If you can afford to buy, or have, a juicer, juicing fresh produce not only gets the best results, but in my opinion, tastes better too! You’re also overwhelmed with options for juice recipes which can keep it interesting. I personally like to juice a whole bunch of celery because it’s great for digestion and helps keep the heart healthy.

Ok, so you’re armed with your covid toolkit for fighting the virus with the power of vitamin C U LATER VIRUS. You’re getting it from a supplement, fruit snacks, high vitamin veggies like broccoli, your favourite yummy starches, and, for those of us who cannot lift a finger to cook, juicing! You’re all set. Remember, getting your vitamin C levels up before you get ill will make the process easier and the recovery faster. So, make sure to follow these tips and try to get some vitamin C in your diet over this period. Hopefully you won’t have to deal with this virus at all, but if you do, you’re that little bit more prepared, and your body will thank you!

Follow me on Heathen (top right hand corner) for more light hearted health advice. Be sure to share these articles with friends and loved ones who you want to protect in these times. Maybe a Juicer in the January sale? There’s still time!

To Beat Chronic Illness You Have to Trust Your Gut

When dealing with chronic physical and mental illness, who will help us but our instincts?

Chronically Ill People

Nobody can tell you why you hurt. People call you ‘whiner’, ‘hypochondriac’, or even worse, they ignore your pain altogether. 

You’re hurting, not just inside, but in your very bones. It’s difficult living with pain you can’t pinpoint and symptoms as mysterious and worrying as they are diffuse and intangible. 

You’re not getting any where with doctors. They tell you over and over again: ‘your bloods are fine’, ‘you have depression’, ‘you need to take it easy’. And you try your best to do this, but you aren’t winning. So, you continue to push for answers. 

The problem is, nobody has the answers. Nobody who we consider reputable anyway. And by reputable, I mean medically sanctioned. The issue here is that medical sanctions apply to medical research, and when the research comes up on chronic illness, it comes up extremely short indeed. 

University was a trigger point for me. I didn’t fit in. I wasn’t part of the cut throat bullshit that kept the private school feeder college kids energized. They loved to jibe and poke at each other, find ways to get underneath the skin, and into the mind. It was an unpleasant, jarring experience. For a while, my mind took the brunt, but eventually, like an ass overburdened, my body broke too. 

I started getting ill more often. At first it was just small things, like breathing problems during the summer after exams, when the quiet period allowed my body to feel the emotional pain it had endured during the whole year. By the end of second year, however, I was a wreck. I had a slipped disk which had caused all manner of painful nerve problems, and a degree of numbness that persisted. It got so bad that I could not walk properly at one point. The MRIs spat back data suggesting it was ‘nothing serious’, but it didn’t feel like that to me. 

I endured increasingly bizarre health complications. I couldn’t breathe — something like asthma was taking hold. I had heart palpitations, more severe by the day. I experienced numbness and tingling in my hands and feet. My bones ached in my ankles, knees, and hips. My blood pressure was extremely high all of the time. The list of problems spun out of control. 

Nobody could help me. The doctors were not listening, and appeared unconcerned by the raw data they were getting back — all the while, my quality of life plummeted. I was getting nowhere. 

It’s at this breaking point —  when you really have to decide to give up and die, or get up and do something —  that you really put your life into perspective. 

I realized, ‘Julian, nobody is going to save you from this, you have only yourself, and your intuition to guide you — use it, and get better.’

So, I listened to that voice, telling me to guide myself, to trust my gut, ironically, one of the first places I focused my healing energies. I’d always had some digestive issues, but I largely ignored them. What can you really do about it? You feel kind of powerless when it comes to your stomach. It’s used every day. You seem to feel as though it should handle the task its set without complaint. Everyone else seems to manage it, why can’t you stomach it too? 

Well, I started to realize, our bodies really do have weak points — places, organs, or points that need fortifying. Many have a weakness in the stomach, but it’s just not something that we try to manage or intuitively fix. We just carry on until something really bad happens and we need surgery. This is a disaster. We need to fortify these weak points before we end up in hospital. Every single one of our organs can do its job well if we give it what it needs. 

But it takes a lot of work. We have to do research. We have to be prepared to look outside what is considered scientifically justifiable. There is so much that science has the barest grasp, and people with chronic illness are the first to know about this. They are the first to learn the limitations of science when it comes to fixing their health. Once you realize just how thin the net is, you learn to make your own net. You cannot rely on medical interventions for your health. Some of them are ineffective, some still are down right dangerous and unnecessary. Now, I am not anti-science, and I am not anti-medicine, but I do think that when it comes to chronic illness, we have a disastrously poor grasp on what is causing it. An open mind is the only way to better health. 

I’ve read some very out there stuff. How about Anthony Williams, the ‘Medical Medium’? He writes about chronic health issues, and he gets his answers from a spirit that guides him by talking to him in his head. Do I rule it out as fraudulent? No, I let my intuition guide me. Does the message seem genuine? Are people getting better? If the answers are ‘yes’, then who am I to discount it? 

I’m serious. If you’re battling chronic illness, you need to be open to ideas that fly directly in the face of the concrete bastion of the scientific method. You are not going to get the answers that you need or want there. It is going to be grueling, and you are going to doubt what you are doing at times, but you must trust yourself. If nothing else, having faith in your mind and body will help you get better. Many people who suffer from chronic illness have lost both, and that is a tragedy. 

My point is, there is much we don’t understand, and when nobody understands you, or what you are going through, you are going to have to find ways to understand it yourself, many of which will seem very bizarre indeed to the vast majority of society. That’s none of your concern. You are listening to your intuition and following a path of learning. You’re a pioneer, and a marauder on the edge of understanding. You have got to believe in yourself and use your feelers to find the truth. This truth may be heretical, even absurd to many, but that is not for you to worry about. What you care about is getting better, so get better, by any means necessary. You’re going to learn a lot about yourself on the way, and trust me, it’ll be worth it. 

Just in case you don’t know, I’m doing better everyday. Many of my health issues are clearing up. I’m becoming happier. I trust myself and my body. I listen to the birds, the trees, the earth, and the sky, and I believe in that. I believe that the universe supports us when we listen to it, so I’m letting it guide me, by putting my faith in that spiritual reality. I’m only at the beginning, and all because I listened to a man who hears voices in his head. I think I’ll keep an ear out for the plants and trees, maybe they’ll have something to say about it too? Nothing is too weird. Keep pushing for the confidence in your life, your soul, and the spirit of Earth. It is waiting patiently for you to listen.

Trust your gut. Heal it, if you need to. Be prepared for a bumpy ride. You’re going to end up in places nobody else understands. What an exciting opportunity. Use that gift to build confidence in your life and spirit. It’s a turning point for anyone. You might need to walk on the fringe, but if that’s how you get better, does it matter? I guess that’s for you to decide. 

Follow Heathen for more stories on the cross section of health, spirituality, and mental wellbeing. Share with anyone who needs the message of love and support that lies within.

How Intermittent Fasting Reset My Habits

And how it can do the same for you

Intermittent fasting has been touted as one of the most miraculous health changes you can make. It’s trending everywhere. Seriously, everyone is doing it. You’re not doing it? Not very cool of you. Are you one of those uncool people? You are? My condolences.

They say it’s good for reducing insulin resistance, combating cravings, and burning visceral fat, but less is said about the habitual side of this activity.

Setting a definitive time to start eating — this is usually 12, noon — has really revolutionised my eating habits. Let’s dive in (no, not with you fork) below.

Brings Structure

For those of us who struggle with snacking (my hand is up, believe me), having some routine to the times we can and cannot eat is really important. Knowing when it’s ok to eat, and when it’s not, in my personal experience, gives me enough structure to eat less often. Paradoxically, structure helps free you from the whims of your cravings and appetite. If you know when to eat, you’re less likely to eat outside of these times. Pair that with your now improving insulin sensitivity and shrinking stomach (the stomach will change as you eat less frequently and in smaller portions), and structured eating has the potential to improve your health dramatically.

Made Me Choose Healthier Options

When your eating window is reduced, you’re more likely to eat better, knowing that you need the nutrition to get on with the day. Now, whenever I break my fast, I scream ‘HEALTH!’ as I blitz an assortment of fruits and veggies for a nutritional feast. My neighbors, they do not speak to me anymore.

Not only this, coffee, which I used to drench in full-fat milk, has to be black during your fasting period. No room on this one. You have to ditch the cream and milk and go black. Sooner than you realise, however, it’s like you never even missed it (unlike your housemate’s repeated heckling to ‘take out the trash’, which you miss repeatedly, even defiantly). Coffee still brings that delicious bitterness and satisfying buzz that it’s always done, just with less calories, and without the anti-inflammatory contribution of dairy.

I also increased my water intake (I am about 99% water now, like a sea-jelly), which, as the science suggests, can reduce dehydration and aid digestion — result! I try to go for filtered water, mainly for the taste (it can filter out impurities, like the yoga you do to block out Becky’s negativity at work). Even if you’re drinking more nasty tap water, it’s still a move in the right direction — well done!

Easier to Say ‘No’

Repeat after me:

‘No.’

‘No, thank you.’

‘Good day sir!’

‘Not today, Satan.’

‘Oh helllll no.’

‘Not even if you were the Dalai Lama.’

Seriously, you’re going to become an angel of divine declination. You’re going to get so good at saying ‘no’ to people, they’ll write to ‘scrooge-watch’ to have you visited by the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future! When they get there, you’ll say ‘no’ to them too!

It’s actually a really good habit to get into with people. If you’re taking your health seriously and fasting properly, you’re going to say that word a lot, and people will get the message eventually. When it gets through, your life will get easier and healthier as a result.

The Takeaway (No, You Are Not Ordering Takeaway)

Aside from the obvious health benefits you can get from fasting, the habits it helps you form can give you a boost towards a healthier lifestyle. You’re given some structure to your eating schedule, you can make healthier choices during your fast, and you’re going to get better at saying ‘no’ to people. These are essential to turning your health around. You’ll thank me later. I am a genius. Very clever. It’s because of all the fasting I do, and the daily health-scream as I blitz my vegetables. That kind of primal energy really gives you vitality. You should try it — it’s great.

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Dieting Is Restrictive and That’s Exactly How It Needs to Be

‘Dieting’, as a term, gets a bad wrap these days. 

You hear the usual bombastic responses from people:

‘Dieting is restrictive.’

‘Dieting can lead to eating disorders.’

‘Dieting can create unhealthy relationships with food.’

The problem is, we’re already past the stage where we get to have a healthy relationship with food. The food we are given, except for the very basic wholefoods that we can buy, are laced with destructive toxins, like hormones, additives, preservatives, pesticides, and antibiotics. These chemicals are already wreaking havoc on our digestion, causing systemic toxicity, which then leads to inflammation. Sustained inflammation feeds into the development of chronic illnesses, like cancer, heart disease and diabetes. 

When we tell someone that they have an ‘eating disorder’ because they choose to be selective about their eating habits, we are often making an unfair, uninformed, and unsubstantiated comment about somebodies lifestyle choices. 

The fact of the matter is, our food has never been so poisonous. Sweeteners cause weight gain. Preservatives have been shown to exacerbate behavioural problems. Sugar (abundantly present in a wide range of shop-bought foods) definitively increases risk for obesity, leading to other chronic health conditions. Poisonous produce is abundant, poorly understood, and often advertised as ‘health promoting’. 

Is it any wonder some of us feel the need to restrict in order to survive — even thrive — under these conditions? 

Don’t get me wrong, I am not in any way saying that eating disorders do not exist — they unequivocally do, but the negative value judgements that the typical person imbues on dieters is unfounded, and even, ignorant. 

I think dieters and any person who is on the road to a healthier life, should reclaim the term. Yes, dieting is restrictive, and, unfortunately, as food corps pump more and more toxic junk into our foods, a healthy diet will have to be.

We have got to completely re-frame the way that we view dieting or lifestyle changes in society. Did you know that the American Diabetic Association is funded by coca cola? What does that statement say to you? Can you read between the lines? Big food companies do not want to help you, they want to control the information which is being given. This is a game of damage limitation, and big food companies have their fingers in all the pies. 

It is up to dieters, and those who take it upon themselves to reform their eating through big lifestyle changes, to do their research, and find a diet which works to make them feel healthier and happier. 

About a year ago, following a particularly stressful period, I started to develop symptoms. These symptoms ranged from hip, knee and ankle pain, to drastic mood swings and even periodic, uncontrollable crying and laughter. My symptoms were disconcerting. I was determined to find the root cause. 

On that journey, I discovered a lot about my particular dietary needs. I learned about lactose and gluten sensitivity, and I learned about the effects of a highly westernised diet on conditions of chronic pain and neurological disorders. My conclusion? Certain foods had to go. These are foods that I had grown up with as a child, foods that were deemed to be fine, even good for you. They were doing me harm, and I wish I’d had the courage to intervene and improve my life sooner. 

I spent years with serious mood swings and emerging chronic pain, to my mind, the beginnings of arthritis. I am only 28 years old. To be in that position at my age was devastating, but I had to act. I needed research and fundamental changes in perspective to find a way to heal. 

It’s still a process. I still eat foods that I have learned are bad for me from time to time, but the key is, I’ve significantly reduced this intake. I think a diet might cross into the eating disorder territory when it gets to the black and white elimination of an ever increasing range of foods. In contrast, a healthy tapering of some known allergens is a good route to a more sustainable and healthy life. 

I’ve cut out milk. I was intolerant to cows milk as a baby, before allergies were properly understood, but somehow, as I grew older, I lost touch with that understanding. This was the first to go, and you wouldn’t believe how easy it was. I only had milk in my coffee. As soon as I accepted black coffee as a delicious alternative, I never needed milk again, and my health began to improve. Boom, one busted, a few more to go. 

Gluten, now this is a bit more tricky. How do you get rid of something that is a staple in the western diet? The answer is, ‘with a great deal more difficulty’. Tapering has been the most effective thing in this instance. Just gradually getting rid of bread. For lunch, I’ll try a salad, or maybe a smoothie instead. More wholefoods, less gluten. It’s not easy, but it is doable with time. 

I also cut out soda — all kinds. I just drink water, coffee, and herbal teas. Sometimes this is hard, as water can get a bit dull, but to be honest, as long as I have my coffee, I don’t miss soda too much. I’m pretty happy not to touch it, and my urge to drink it is non-existent. 

My point is this, if you need to cut foods from your diet to feel healthier and happier, do it. Please. You need to look out for yourself first. If ‘restrictive’ dieting helps you feel more like yourself, more like the you you always knew you could be, then just do it. Peer pressure, judgement, and outdated views about food are not your problem. Your problem is figuring out how to make your life more enjoyable. If you’re like me, you’ve probably felt sluggish, run down, and low in mood. You may even be suffering from something like fibromyalgia, arthritis or MS. These lethargic and painful states require you to rethink your nutrition plan. Some of that may well involve restricting certain foods, and that’s ok. 

This is not a drill. Not all food is your friend, and your ‘friends’ may not support that view. Just tell them that you’re not doing it for them, this is for you. We need to start reclaiming the word ‘dieter’. We’re restricting because the food industry is no longer supporting our health in the ways that they claim to be. We have a duty to restrict where this can save us from foods that harm us. For those of you battling food intolerances, mood swings, and chronic physical pain, ‘dieting’ is not a bad word. Don’t let anyone tell you different. Dieting is restrictive, yes, but that restriction is about preservation, not obsession. Keep doing what makes you feel better. 

When it comes to your health, diet for you, for your preservation, for your livelihood, and for your well being. Never let the people around you talk you down. Trust your instincts, work out what feels right, and follow it relentlessly. ‘Restriction’ is not a bad word. ‘Dieting’ is not a bad word. Claim them back, then claim your health as well. 

Three Coffee Hacks That Will Change Your Life

Drink better coffee today following these sexy hacks

I’m not joking when I say coffee is more important to me than everything I hold dear in this world. I’d push my own mother off a cliff for a bag of beans. I’d throw my sisters in jail for one last whiff of grounds (I’d throw them in jail for a lot less and all, they’re very annoying). If you tried to take my morning coffee, I’d fight you. I’d wrestle you naked in the mud, screaming like an ape. I’d take everything you loved in this world if you threatened my liquid, warm, coffee-joy. 

Having said that, I am a compassionate man who is always looking for ways to help his community. I want to share with you three changes which dramatically improved my access to good quality coffee on the go, healthier blends, and a healthier experience. Don’t say I’m not kind, you’ll thank me at the end of this (that is not a supposition). 


Get an Aeropress — Seriously, GET ONE

The aeropress changed my life. Before, reliant on revolting instant misery (might be a cool band name, noted), I was a shade of a man. Today, I pack light, and live on cloud nine. You can get them on Amazon super cheap. If you buy a metal filter, you can get literally thousands of uses out of this thing, which you can easily take with you anywhere. 

This piece of kit is immense. It’s lightweight and uses your own physical pressure, paired with boiling water, to press a shot of coffee at a time. I think it has other uses too, but that’s of no interest to me, I just use it for the raw, brooding pleasure of delicious coffee, any time I want. 

AeroPress – Official Store, Replacement Parts And Recipes
The AeroPress coffee maker is a better coffee press that makes delicious coffee quickly and easily.

Not only does this piece of kit make itself uniquely portable, but it’s also saving you money. Historically, you might have had to use a cafetiere (I never liked them much, personally), or a proper coffee machine (yikes, expensive!), but now you can get your own grounds, often for much cheaper than at a cafe! I mean, let’s face it, nobody is going to enjoy a coffee shop anymore, what with a shuffling queue system, grumpy, militant employees, and the unnerving ambience of an operating theatre. Skip the queue, do it at home, or on the go, and save yourself MONEY. 


Choose a Medium Roast No. 3–4 for Ultimate Health Benefits

You might be partial to some reaaaallly dark coffee. We’re talking so dark, it’d crack an inappropriate joke over your grannies funeral casket just for kicks. But the science says you’re missing out if you go too far north on the cooking scale. Too well-done, and you’re going to be skipping some of those vital nutrients, abundant in medium to light roasts. 

Photo by Ochir-Erdene Oyunmedeg on Unsplash

That’s because this study found that lighter roasts contain more chlorogenic acid and higher levels of antioxidants, which contribute to lower levels of inflammation in the body. Antioxidants can reduce your risk of heart and liver disease (as well as a host of other inflammatory diseases), so making it a part of your diet is a great boost to overall health. Just make sure you’re getting everything you can from that delicious, bitter bean (I’m sure that could have been my nickname in high school). 


Drink It Blaaaaaaaack

Like the colour of my soul. No, I’m kidding, we’ve clarified that I’m actually a really nice guy. Drop it, would you? 

The thing I’m trying to get at, isn’t so much that black coffee is any different, it’s just less likely to be filled with things that can antagonise your immune system. I realised I couldn’t hack milk. That’s right, an abyssal character such as myself cannot drink milky wilky cos it makey my tummy achey. Don’t make fun, I’m still terrifying and powerful and dangerous, oh wait, no, scratch that, I am very nice. 

Lactose intolerance is much more common than you’d think. 30 million Americans suffer from the disorder in which the body cannot break down the milk sugar lactose. It’s not usually serious, but over time, it can have a negative impact on digestive health. Even if you’re not intolerant, you might still be sensitive (not me, I’m hard as nails), which can mean that milk still irritates your digestive system. 

Photo by Tania Malréchauffé on Unsplash

Additives such as sweeteners have been linked to rising obesity levels. Do not put sweeteners in your drinks. You are not bypassing, cheating, or otherwise tricking your body’s mechanisms in a clever way. You’re just trying to do things the easy way. Nothing in life is easy, don’t cheat, especially not with such an elegant mistress as caffeine. She’ll think you’re tacky, and may even file a court order for abuse in a domestic setting. Don’t ruin this good thing you have going.

Sugar is the final, and potentially most yucky of all additives. I don’t even feel the need to provide any kind of research backed evidence for this. Sugar kills. You know it, I know it, it’s not controversial at this point. Try not to have so much, especially in drinks where sugar can get to your blood stream faster than in solid foods. Get it from fruits, not processed sources. Also, coffee deserves better. Don’t you think it deserves better? I’m not really asking you anyway, but you already knew that.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Coffee Made Easy, With Me, Your Host, The One And Onl… 

So that’s three things you can do today to improve your coffee drinking experience. You’re welcome. Don’t thank me. I already thanked myself. You should get an aeropress, make sure to drink a lighter roast for optimum health, and keep added shit out of your coffee! Drink it black, and never go back! 

Please like, comment and subscribe – I won’t beg, I’m not desperate, just chill about this whole thing. No big deal. No sweat at all. Don’t worry about it.

We Are Way Past The Point Where Fat People Only Have Themselves to Blame

There are no words in the English language to describe the ire I feel when I hear ignorant, narrow-minded opinions about fat people.

Why are we here today? With one of the last acceptable prejudices being against someone’s weight, which as I’ll explain, has less than ever to do with victorian values of ‘personal responsibility’ and ‘a jolly good helping of elbow grease and grit’, the stuff of real characters! Go-getters! Nay, dare I say, thin people?

You’ll regularly here from thin people that ‘fat people only have themselves to blame’, but that just isn’t true. Society is playing an ever greater part in obesity, and I cannot sit by any longer and hear all about the erudite, no, transcendental wisdoms of the general public, who more often than not, have no understanding of the science of obesity whatsoever.

I’ll admit, I’m coming on a little strong, but remember, if you even have a niggle in your mind that society is at least partly to blame for fatness, then this is not directed at you. Remember that. If you’re on the fence, then this is probably not directed at you either. There’s a lot of misinformation out there, and it’s hard to know without a thorough rummage through the science, what exactly is true on the topic of obesity.

No, this piece is about that charming selection of people in the audience who take no greater pleasure than provocatively poking fat people with metaphorical sticks and other sharp, pointy things, telling them how disgusting and lazy they are, and how their health is declining because they can’t stop shoving pork pies in their mouths. Well, I’ve got news for you, nasty, you’re wrong, and I’ll tell you why right… now.

Despite what you may think about fat people, they are still people, and people have been peopleing now for a very long time. People have been the same, physiologically speaking, for at least long enough for me to make my next point. If, accepting that human physiology has not changed in any discernible way in the last millennia, even in the last thousand years, why, in the last hundred, have people become fatter and fatter? Obesity levels are reaching record heights. People are fatter than ever. Not just fat people, but people in general.

More people are morbidly obese, proportionately speaking, than at any other time in history. Since 1991, obesity levels in the UK have risen by 65% in males, and 25% in females. To believe that fat people are lazy or disgusting is to admit unbridled ignorance. Society is changing the proportionality of obesity. It is fair to say that the amount of human willpower, or our propensity towards good old-fashioned elbow grease has not decreased. We are still animals of fortitude, tenacity and endurance by all accounts. So what has changed? Fat people are not the hinge on which obesity generates itself, they are but a byproduct of something much more sinister and creeping.

Dr Giulia Enders in Gut tells us that the concept of obesity is far more complicated than just willpower. Our gut microbiome plays a significant role in our propensity to eat the wrong things. The most memorable test she illustrates was done on a unique set of lab rats without any bacterial colonies in their digestive systems at all. They were completely sterile. These rats then received various colonies of bacteria in transplantation. The rats who were given strains of bacteria known to cause disease became disproportionately obese. The rats given a healthy cocktail of lactobacillus and friends continued to maintain a slim weight.

What is more, the gut biome, much like the cordiceps mushroom or the parasitic wasp, may actually influence host behaviour. When you have an overgrowth of bad bacteria, you are more likely to crave carbohydrates and processed sugars, Enders says. These bacteria can produce chemical signals to request more food from the host. This symbiotic relationship between our gut bacteria, which help us digest our food and us, has been a pact of understanding for aeons. We are only just beginning to understand the mechanisms by which these tiny microorganisms can have such large effects on our behaviour.

Genetics, method of birth, food eaten, trauma, antibiotics, sleep and exercise, all impact the gut biome. A compromised gut makes room for pathogens, which leads to obesity as cravings increase for processed sugars and carbohydrates which feed these bad bacteria. This mixture of influences is a fairly common list in how to be healthy or unhealthy, but it’s not as simple as ‘do these things and you will be healthy’. We are now contending with an environment which actively wants to take these things away from us.

During the birthing process, the mother provides a great deal of beneficial bacteria to the baby as it leaves the birthing canal. Cesarians are on the rise. Cesarians prevent this important transfer of beneficial bacteria. Breast feeding has also been displaced by formula milk. Breat milk contains huge amounts of beneficial bacteria to an infant, as well as lots of important antibodies. From birth, our gut biomes are under onslaught from westernised influences which can set us behind, or even lead us to obesity.

Look at sleep, for instance. Sleep deprivation is on the rise. From 2010 to 2018, sleep deprivation (classed as anything under 7 hours), rose from just over to 30%, to just over 35%. That might not seem like a lot, but if we account for the fact that this has happened over just 8 years, we can see that modern life is coming for our z’s.

Physical exercise becomes a chore when so many of our waking hours are consumed by menial tasks, work commitments and socialising at the end of the day. Jobs demanding physical activity are falling as more people work at a desk for at least 8 hours a day. A poll of 2000 UK residents found that, during the lockdown, physical activity fell by 30 minutes, leading to weight gain over time.

Antibiotics are a blessing. They provide a way for us to perform surgeries without sepsis. They allow common infections to be treated and cured with relative ease. They’re essential to saving lives. Unfortunately, they’re also overprescribed needlessly for common complaints which might improve with rest, and they’re devastating for the gut biome. When antibiotics are used long-term, they can kill off many of the important fibre digesting bacteria which support health, which then leaves space for hardier pathogens to take root in the gut lining.

Finally, the food that we eat is laced with additives which promote weight gain. Drinking a diet coke to be skinny? The artificial sweeteners are known to cause obesity. Our meat is drenched in hormones and antibiotics to meet high meat demands and the growing prevalence of disease and antibiotic resistance in intense agriculture. Pesticides riddle our produce. Tomatoes are bred to contain more sugar. Food is a constant onslaught for our insides. All of these factors are detrimental to our gut health, and poor gut health correlates with weight gain, autoimmune diseases and metabolic syndromes.

Society is fuelling obesity, perhaps not consciously, perhaps not with malicious intent, but definitely, and powerfully, and even, dare I say it, clandestinely. We just see fat people and their fatness, and it makes for an easy target. They’re there, we can observe that they are fat and therefore, by some kind of cave man logic, they must be the source of fatness, but, as with anything that’s worth researching about, it’s not that simple.

People like to blame what they can see because it’s much easier to live with than what they cannot. The Cold War was a time of anxiety, deep suspicion and secrecy. The sort of contextual backdrop which leaves the hairs on your nape on end. Not knowing your enemy, or when he will strike is fear itself. Without fat people to take the fall for obesity, who would we point the finger at? It’s not easy when you can’t see the problem, but it is there and it needs addressing now.

Fatness is endemic.

Fatness is spreading.

Fatness is not about fat people.

Society plays a bigger role than ever in fatness. Fat people have agency, yes. We all have agency, but agency is also effected by societal structures. Big food corporations, employment law, covid isolation sanctions, stressful lives and so much more. To say that fat people bring about their own health issues is to ignore the mounting scientific evidence. The walls are closing in on us. We’re being squashed in our freedoms, liberties, and desires for healthier lives. You can’t fight a shrinking room with no doors. Not without looking at the problems in our modern lifestyles will we begin to make better choices.

The paradox of it all is this.

As our world shrinks in around us, we’re all going to get bigger.

Fat is symptomatic of an imbalance in the social fabric of our lives. The sooner we recognise that, the faster we can begin to heal.

And for the last time, repeat after me, fat people are not the cause of fatness, society is.

Dietsolation – How What We Eat Can Divide Us

There’s a lot of fear that comes with food.

Fear that we eat too much. Fear that eat eat too little. Fear that we are hurting our health. Fear that we cannot have a normal relationship with food. Fear that our diet makes us different from other people.

These are all fears I experience sometimes.

Now let me hit you with a few oughts that feed the fear.

I ought to eat more healthily.

I ought to be healthier.

I ought to enjoy food.

It’s really heartbreaking when you see other people around you, succeeding, even treating food as a triviality, as something that merely goes in the mouth and keeps the body ticking.

There is pain in seeing the way others get on with food. How they can take it for granted, enjoy it for the taste alone, even maintain a healthy lifestyle without obsessing over it.

Food can be painful for us. Eating can be control. It’s often an enmeshing of a host of meticulous, exhausting titrations and layers, like creating the finest chef’s cuisine, with none of the feeling of satisfaction for making it.

I don’t like my relationship with food. Eating too much is guilt, misery and chastisement. When I eat for the pleasure and release of emotional pain, I am only reminded of how tied up food is with my sense of self, my ego and my emotional baggage.

The wold is out of control.

You have no control.

You cannot even choose what you put in your mouth.

Only babies need help putting the right food in their mouths. Like a baby, you are not fit to have control over your life.

That drifting hopelessness is all too familiar for many of us. Depression is like staring into oblivion, tied to a thread, tied to a stick, that’s being held by someone you don’t trust, who’s lackadaisically relying on a pilot they don’t know, to keep you steady. There’s no feeling quite like it. You’re an astronaut, not quite cut loose into the depths, but in severe danger of it.

That’s why some of us (including me) like to diet. It gives us some fleeting control back. No longer are we thinking ‘I have no choice but to trust in the environment, in chaos’, but rather, ‘I get to choose. I am in charge here.’. No longer are you facing the depths of open space with nothing but a needle thread and your hooligan-disaster-buddy his unreliable, probably unlicensed, cowboy-space-pilot to save you. You’re driving the ship, you’ve booted out the space monkeys of dubious origins, and you’re driving somewhere, with a steering wheel (or whatever it is they use in space).

Dieting can give us that control, for a moment at least.

The problem is, once you get out in your space boat, how long before you get lonely? How long before you run out of juice? How long before you give up on your destination?

Usually, it’s not that long, give or take your god-given resolve and tenacity.

What is worse is how taking back control through dieting can actually reinforce the sense of loneliness and otherness in your life, further driving you to sadness.

I’ve spent no end of time dieting, and the truth is, it can make you feel very lonely.

Often, your reasons are the first thing which creates the schism.

‘I’m dieting for my health.’

‘But you don’t look ill, what are you going to eat?’

‘I am going to try and eat more wholefoods and cut out junk.’

‘Oh, uh, ok, I couldn’t live without my takeaways!’

You couldn’t live without the takeaways? I might be reading too much into it, but does that mean you think I want to die? And if you do think that, well you can’t think much of me. We all know that suicide (sadly) is a taboo. People who are suicidal are some of the worst treated and most poorly regarded in society. Why? Because people don’t enjoy dealing with emotions. They want a hassle-free, easy life.

Half the time, just saying you want to eat healthier separates you because people think you’re trying to become better than them. It couldn’t be further from the truth. If I could eat badly all the time and not have that start to impact my health or, sometimes, my sense of control, then I would, believe me. I just don’t see it that way.

And if / when you fail your diet and revert to your old ways, the schism inverts itself. You, who were on the pedestal, become just another failed dieter who cannot live up to their snobby health standards. Everyone in the office gets their smack of delicious schadenfreude. Oh, the taste of watching others fail is ambrosia to these people, like a melted ice cream, dropped by a sad child at the zoo. Again, never my intention, but certainly somewhat the attitude I have noticed from some colleagues or friends.

If the sense of isolation due to ‘snobby lifestyle choices’ wasn’t enough, dieting makes it almost impossible to enjoy social commitments centred around food. You’re going to your parents for Christmas dinner, you’re a vegan (you can scream in horror if you like) now. Your mum, who cooks delicious food, is definitely not a vegan, and as powerful as her food is to your olfactory schnozz, more powerful yet, are her opinions about ‘fad diets’.

At once you’re met with an interrogation, defiance and a lack of acceptance. In order to appease your family, you let go of your control or alienate yourself. The same is true for situations with friends. Want to meet up for a chat? Cafe, restaurant, pub? Your choice! You have options! Except, you don’t really have options… Most of the places people talk are also the places they eat. Society is defined by the community of food and eating. If you’re dieting, you can’t eat like others. You’re committing the social equivalent of sepukku (please do not look that up if you’re about to eat – actually, just don’t at any point if you can avoid it).

If all the endemic social and cultural obstacles were not enough to make you despair, think about this final, and potentially, most devastating schism, the otherness of your own attitude to something which you can neither give up, nor enjoy fully as other people seem to. You might be something close to an addict, but unlike an alcoholic, who may give up his vodka in his recovery, you cannot decide to give up eating. You are perpetually trapped into a cycle of emotional entrenchment with food, which you must repeatedly experience for the rest of your life.

Every time you eat, you are creating a divide between what you perceive food to be, and what food actually is. You are not like other people, who eat and enjoy food, but who do not have any emotional side effects every time they chow down on a delicious flaky pastry.

It’s just you. You’re the one who doesn’t get the enjoyment, but somehow obsesses over it more than the average person. What greater divide exists, than between a food addict’s perception of food, and the reality of its function? For the pensive among you, the power of the mind to separate us from reality can be one of the most potent causes of sadness in existence. Our mind’s relationship with food is no less devastating and chasmic in nature.

Dieting has so many benefits, but it’s also riddled with traps. Traps of social and cultural courtesy and expectation, but also traps in perception and judgement, both about the world around us, and about ourselves. Dietsolation is a real problem for many, especially those who have found food a source, equal parts despair and obsession. When division is rife in just about every segment of social life, from politics, to technology, to the repercussions of pandemics and protests, does food have to be another way for us to exclude one another?

No, I hope not, but it will take an understanding as to why some people diet in order to get there. When we learn to be less judgemental about dieting, when we appreciate what a diet entails at face value, we allow the distance to fall, and create opportunities for innovation in social life. Could we get a coffee to go, then take a walk in nature? Can we be supportive when friends or colleagues get on a health kick? Can we perhaps even listen to them when they feel down about their relationship with food? Understanding is the road to intimacy without food, and I want to be a part of that understanding. It’s why I’m writing this article to you now. 

Closeness shouldn’t only come from food, and for some, that requirement is vital to their health and happiness.