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Olwen Anderson's Blog

What those meal replacement shakes can't provide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Are your buttons being pushed?

Monday, January 02, 2017
Image credit Anita Peppers via MorguefileIdly waiting in the post office queue, the toy with a “try me”! sticker caught my attention. A hole cut in the packaging was just big enough to push the button and create a noise loud enough to make everyone around me turn around to look. It made me think of the metaphorical buttons we can all wear from time to time; the ones that seem to control our reactions (but don’t have to).

Ever heard the term ‘that person really pushed my buttons’? It just means they’ve (unconsciously or deliberately) located a way to make you respond in a particular way. Somehow, people close to you can learn intuitively how to generate a reaction. Children especially seem to have an uncanny ability to locate these buttons on their parents. In response they get anger, or a hug, or perhaps they know you’ll cave in on their request if they repeatedly push the same button.  

It can seem that you have no choice but to respond in a pre-defined way when someone in your life pushes your buttons. That you are helpless to respond in any other way except the way you have in the past. But in reality, how you choose to respond to another person actually puts you in a far more powerful position than you might think.
Victor Frankl, a psychotherapist and survivor of internment in the Holocaust, put it well: He pointed out that his captors could never take away his power of choice in how to respond. You also have this power too if you want to learn how to use it. The key is to be present enough to notice when your particular emotional buttons are being pushed.

You might sense a flash of emotion burst forth when it happens. For example, while hunting down a car parking spot, someone cheekily pushes ahead into the space you’ve been waiting for. Your emotional button labelled “How Dare You” lights up, and you automatically reach towards that big loud button situated in the centre of most steering wheels. Anger ensues, and your mood plummets. Instead, you could decide to just let it go. Move on, knowing another parking spot will open up.

What’s the reward if you choose to notice your automatic emotional reaction and this time, respond differently? In letting something like this go, you get to enjoy life more, spend your day in a better mood. Worth the trouble, do you think?

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy 'Managing Your Inner Toddler' 

Image credit: Anita Peppers via MorgueFile

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The breakfast to beat fatigue

Monday, January 02, 2017

"Feeling tired" is one of the most frequent complaints I hear in clinic. But sometimes the cause of that fatigue is actually something that can be easily addressed: by starting the day better, with the kind of real breakfast that will actually support energy production during a demanding day.

People on the standard Australian diet (SAD for short) customarily catapult themselves out of bed, briefly pausing in the kitchen to grab a bite to eat before rushing out the door. In some circles it’s a badge of honour to boast about how little time it takes from when your eyelids open to when you put the key in the car ignition.

Some people do this a slightly different way: bypassing the kitchen, then a pit stop at the bakery or café for food and coffee, somehow balancing both with the steering wheel as they rush to work.

Problem is, either kind of breakfast isn’t going to power you through a busy day. A high carbohydrate breakfast like a bakery pastry will be absorbed quickly. Your blood glucose level will soar upwards, fast. But because it’s just carbohydrates, by mid-morning your blood glucose level will drop, leaving your brain short on fuel, prompting you to reach for the coffee and biscuits. 

Your day can become an exhausting energy rollercoaster of highs and lows that leave you with almost no energy by the end of the day. But deliberately making time to eat a real breakfast while seated at the table, can set up stable, calm energy for your busy day.

Stopping for a real breakfast also offers you the chance to pause; and digestion always works better when you’re more relaxed. That’s because eating mindfully (undistracted by rushing) reduces your cortisol secretion, enabling digestive enzyme production. If you suffer from indigestion eating on the run could be the cause.

Change your breakfast and you’ll notice positive changes within a week. You’ll miss the mid-morning sugar cravings. Even better, that mid-afternoon energy slump will begin to evaporate. And in the evening you won’t be as ravenously hungry. Perhaps you’ll be able to say ‘no’ to dessert for a change. This is all good for your mood and your waistline.

So what’s a “good” breakfast? Something like eggs and avocado on toast; or a vegetable omelette; perhaps home made baked beans with hard boiled eggs. None of these take much time to prepare and cook, and yet the energy benefits will stay with you all day. 

[Need some breakfast inspiration? Take a look at my Instagram account , I often post breakfast shots there. ]

The photo is one of my favourite breakfasts, zucchini fritters with home made baked beans. You can follow the links to the recipes on this blog. 

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Cold showers and hot flushes

Saturday, December 31, 2016
Shower by Dodgerton Skillhause via MorgueFileOne of the most challenging of the menopausal symptoms, I think, is hot flushes. Some women manage to get through menopause without them, others struggle with them for years.

Hot flushes – or as some call them, power surges - can range from a mildly increased sense of warmth up to a sudden intense sense of raging internal heat, accompanied by a lather of sweat, perhaps redness too. Uncomfortable and embarrassing.

Worse, these flushes can disrupt the sleep a menopausal woman needs so desperately. Overnight hours can be punctuated by constant waking; blankets off, sweat, get cold again, blankets on. Perhaps even a clothing change. The next day sleep deprivation makes you grumpy and less resilient to stress, which increases your stress hormone levels, which tends to amplify hot flushes. A vicious cycle. 

There isn’t one tried-and-true guaranteed-to-work remedy for hot flushes, alas, because each woman’s hormonal makeup is different. Some foods and situations can exacerbate hot flushes: sugar, caffeine, red wine, chocolate….you know, all the foods that we tend to crave more of when our hormones get out of balance. How unfair. However there are a number of home remedies passed down through the generations that can ease the burden. 

Exercise helps, as does regular meditation and time out, as these all reduce your circulating cortisol, the pesky stress hormone that can throw your entire system out of balance. And there’s a folk remedy you might not have heard of, but could be worth a try. Even better, it’s free.

Anecdotal evidence has emerged from the land of the Finns, that their cultural practice of sauna eases hot flushes. In a traditional Finnish sauna the process is to get hot (in the sauna), then plunge into icy cold water, rest for a while and repeat. It’s all about the rapid, extreme temperature change.

You might not have access to a sauna, but you can apply this temperature change exercise every day during bathing. Before you step out of the shower, turn the water temperature completely to cold. Apparently the rapid temperature change can ease hot flushes for a few hours, somehow. If your exercise of choice is swimming, then plunging into cold water is what to do.

There’s no guarantee that either a cold shower or a sauna will help ease your hot flushes, but if your life has been turned upside down by this unpleasant sign of menopause, perhaps it’s worth a try?

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy 'How to Stay Healthy During Menopause' 

Image credit: @Dodgerton_Skillhause via MorgueFile

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Plan It, Do It, And You Will Feel Better

Saturday, December 31, 2016
It’s the time of year when many of us reach for a fresh piece of paper and begin defining goals for the coming year. What’s the coming year going to be like for your health? If you started 2016 with a sense of resolve but didn’t follow through to completion, I’d like to help you make them actually manifest this time around.

If you set goals last year, take some time to review the list. What did you achieve? What didn’t get done? Congratulate yourself for what you did do, and reflect on what happened to prevent you achieving the others. This review can help you approach things differently this time around. For example, did you try to change too much at once, creating a sense of overwhelm? Even if you feel you failed, this is an important part of the process.

Now create the 2017 list – what you’d like your health to look like in 12 months time. Now, write beside each item why this particular goal is important to you. Knowing why you’re working hard to make something happen is going to help get you through the inevitable tough times.

Set one goal in just three areas: Movement, food and mood. Sound too easy? Perhaps – but you can always set extra goals later on. For example, you might list ‘walk 30 minutes each day’, ‘eat breakfast’, and ‘meditate 15 minutes each day’.

The biggest trap in health goals, I’ve observed, is trying to change everything at once. Health develops from habits. Habits develop from daily repetition over time. It’s simply too overwhelming to create lots of new habits all at once, because it’s too overwhelming. The desire to completely change fitness food and routines all at once is often what trips people up. Then when it gets just too much the entire plan is abandoned. It’s the fastest way to obliterate your good intentions, throwing you back into feeling helpless and hopeless.

Expect relapses. You’ll have days when, despite your good intentions, your exercise didn’t happen. Or you missed meditation because you got held up at work. Finally, you’ll also have days when you feel like you can’t be bothered: Do it anyway. And when it gets tough, just go back to the ‘why do this’ part of your goals list. That will help motivate you to keep going.

Because you know how good you’ll feel as you get healthier. I wish you a happy new year and a very healthy 2017.

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy 'Beat Burnout This Year'

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How a moustache can help beat depression in men

Saturday, December 31, 2016
source Laura Musikanski via Morgue FileMovember, to me, is both disturbing and a great opportunity. Disturbing because I lived through the 70s and their questionable lurid fluorescent polyester fashions. Seeing moustaches sprout on upper lips everywhere this month takes me right back there. But these memorable moustaches are also a great reminder for us to pay attention to the way the men in our lives are feeling; but perhaps through a different perspective lens than women generally use.

Women are acculturated from childhood to use words to express how they’re feeling. So a woman feeling down in the dumps will pick up the phone, start a conversation. Talking helps her feel better. But men don’t always do this, and being aware of the different ways men and women communicate feelings could help you identify when a man in your life is struggling emotionally.

Many men are taught through our culture that talking about how you’re feeling isn’t acceptable. Subtle messages, like that movie hero image of the strong, silent man. According to the movie archetypes, it’s a sign of strength to remain silent. However it’s culturally acceptable for men to express those feelings through doings: A man is allowed to express regard and affection for someone in practical ways: fix their car, mow the lawn, get helpful to make your loved ones’ lives easier. Positive feelings are expressed in positive actions.

But how do you express negative feelings if words aren’t an accessible tool, but action is? Anger, perhaps. Silence, maybe. Or isolating yourself from other people. And as you can imagine, for a woman accustomed to expressing feelings with words this silence and anger can be mighty confusing. It seems like your man is angry because he’s acting angry. But that might not be what’s actually going on in his head. 

In counselling we have a saying: Under hostility you’ll often find pain. So if your bloke’s mood seems to be angry, he could actually be depressed. He just might not have the vocabulary to communicate it. Fortunately the website offers many words to help you get past a man’s habitual silence, enable him to connect in a way that helps those feelings get out and get sorted in a non-destructive way.

That’s the gift of Movember: Reminding us that men really do experience feelings, but may not have the tools to let us know they’re struggling. This website is the feeling toolbox for men.

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy 'Blokes Can Be Healthy Too'

Image credit: @lauramusikanski via MorgueFile

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Three ways to help ease pain in your osteoarthritic joints

Saturday, November 26, 2016
Pain’s pretty unpleasant. And pain in your osteoarthritic joints that progressively gets worse is especially distressing, for what it predicts: Pain promotes immobility, and reduced mobility can lead to the loss of living independently in the future.

Arthritic joints can deceive you into immobility. When you remain still they hurt less, discouraging movement. If lying still in bed is the only time you’re pain free, its tempting to stay there. But movement  stimulates the production of synovial fluid within each joint capsule, literally lubricating your joints and helping wash away waste products of inflammation that irritate nerve endings. 

Without activity your muscles turn to flab, your metabolism slows, mood slumps and weight can creep on. Core strength is lost, increasing the risk of falls. You know you have to move, but pain’s a great deterrent. What to do?
From a nutritional perspective, there are three things you can investigate. One is to see whether you’re sensitive to the deadly nightshade family of vegetables (including potatoes and tomatoes). In some people these foods aggravate osteoarthritis.

The second strategy is to assess whether you’re eating too much pro-inflammatory foods and not enough anti-inflammatory foods. Dairy, delicious as it is, can spark inflammation in the joints of susceptible folk. Green vegetables and fresh fruit have an anti-inflammatory effect.

The ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 oils in your diet is the third strategy to investigate. Omega-6 oils can promote inflammation. Generally speaking, omega-6 (inflammatory) foods are found in foods developed in the post-industrial era: Grains, dairy, some vegetable oils, feedlot beef, fish farms fed on grain. Omega-3 oils with their anti-inflammatory effect are plentiful in oily (wild caught) fish, grass-fed beef, flaxseed and  green vegetables.
Want to investigate how much what you’re eating is sparking your arthritic pain? Try two weeks without dairy in any form, then review the proportion of green vegetables and wild-caught seafood in your diet. As your last experiment, try two weeks without potatoes or tomatoes in your diet.

What will you eat instead? Vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, free-range meat, wild caught fish, avocado, olive oil, organic eggs.  Real food; the kind that doesn’t come out of a packet.

Physical activity is important too:  the kind of exercises that get your joints moving without further eroding the joint cartilage. Your health practitioner is the best source for advice on the safest and most effective practical activities that can help.

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy 'Milk? Maybe not...' here

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The power and the perils of licorice

Saturday, November 12, 2016
“Just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s safe.” You’ve probably come across this truism, and surprisingly, licorice, that delicious natural treat, falls squarely into this category: It’s natural but potentially very unsafe.  And since the root of this delicious herb is readily available in concentrated lolly-like form this could be a good time for us to review its power, and also the perils for your health if you decide to use licorice in therapeutic quantities without a herbalist’s guidance.

Licorice has many different actions in your body. As an adrenal tonic, it helps combat the low blood pressure of adrenal fatigue. Inflamed tissues like gastric ulcers are soothed by it. As a broad-spectrum anti-viral it helps combat colds and flu, and helps clear the floods of mucous that come with a cold. In a hormonal disorder like PCOS, licorice (combined with other herbs) helps block the excess androgen (male) hormones that can lead to facial hair and acne. Also, it acts as a ‘synergist’, which in herbal terminology means it’s going to potentiate the other herbs in a mixture.

It helps that licorice tastes so good, making it easier to take sometimes bitter herbal mixtures. That’s the good news: powerful and easy to take. But in large doses, or for a long time, licorice can cause some problems.

One of the controllers of your blood pressure level is the balance between sodium and potassium in your bloodstream. Licorice promotes sodium increase and potassium decrease, inducing an increase in blood pressure. Worse, it can help promote fluid retention too through influencing your kidneys. For this reason, people with kidney disease also may be advised to avoid licorice.  And this is why folk with hypertension shouldn’t take licorice because it so effectively lifts blood pressure

In the long term, licorice can upset your potassium balance enough to increase heart arrhythmia (palpitations), something menopausal women are vulnerable to. This is because potassium and sodium work together biochemically to help create the electric nerve impulses that control heart beat rhythm.

How much licorice is safe? That depends: The soft chewy sweets sold as ‘licorice’ often don’t have much real licorice in them. But if you often enjoy those concentrated solid licorice squares as a sweet treat, and you have some health issues like high blood pressure, kidney problems or heart rhythm issues, perhaps have a chat with your health practitioner before you pop another in your mouth.

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy 'How Much Salt Is Too Much' here


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The party season stash

Saturday, November 05, 2016
I’ve got a couple of stashes ready for the party season – one at work, one at home. You might have a stash too. Nothing illegal here folks – I’m talking about managing the party season without losing all the hard work you’ve put in to improve your health since the last party season.

End-of-year functions can be lots of fun. It’s a chance to catch up with work colleagues. To thank the people and businesses who’ve supported you during the year. To confer awards. And just to relax from the stress of dealing with the pointy end of the year.

But parties and functions present a nutritional challenge. First, because when you go out you’re not eating your usual evening meal. Instead of meat and veg most nights, you’re eating finger food. There’s often alcohol too. Secondly, because you’re eating out more, you’re likely eating less of the salads, meat and vegetables that usually form your diet. Also, if you have a late night you might often feel too tired to prepare a healthy breakfast of eggs and vegetables. 

A few weeks of party eating can really erode your nutrition. Hence the ‘stash’: fast to prepare and eat meals to prevent function food becoming your evening meal. You know that if you arrive at a party ravenously hungry you’re likely to over-indulge in the delicious but rich and highly processed offerings.

Here’s how to create your own stash: Plan ahead. Stow heat ‘n eat portion sized home cooked meals in your freezer. Perhaps stock the fridge with hard boiled eggs to have on toast with tomato and avocado. At work, stash some raw nuts in your desk drawer. Consider a substantial snack of vegie sticks and vegetable-based dip in the late afternoon. Perhaps a smoothie will help save you from the aromatic fried food function platters. Even some hard boiled egg on toast with tomato is likely to be healthier than the fried food on a tray the waiter presents.

If you want to be really organised, think up some fast-to-prepare meals you enjoy and paste the list to your fridge door. Then when the dilemma of ‘what can I eat – fast’ arises the solutions are already there.

Your liver and your skin will thank you for this diligence with your nutrition; and with the extra nutrients in home-prepared food your nervous system will be better nourished, better able to support you through the busiest time of the year.

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy 'How to handle an imperfect Christmas' 

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