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Olwen Anderson's Blog

How those weight loss meal replacement shakes work

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Ever wondered how those packaged weight loss meal replacements work? You may have several friends who have used them to successfully lose weight, but feel concerned about doing the same, because your friends now can’t return to ‘normal’ eating for fear of putting the weight back on. Or they have disrupted bowel motions, a frequent ‘side effect’ of whey protein-based meal replacements.  I’m going to let you in on the ‘secret’ behind the effectiveness of this style of diet, and show you how to achieve the same result using real food.


It’s all about the balance in your diet between protein and carbohydrate intake. Most people, if they eat breakfast, eat a meal rich in carbohydrates and sugar; like cereal, with little or no protein.  This is digested quickly by your body, leaving you hungry by late morning. Lunch is often carbohydrate-based too (like a sandwich), and the only meal of the day rich in protein is dinner – meat & veg.

When I complete computer analysis of food diaries for weight loss clients, their intake of protein versus carbohydrate is often way out of balance. It’s this balance that the meal replacement shakes address. They replace your carbohydrate-rich breakfast with a shake that is almost completely protein.  Instantly, you have immensely improved your carbohydrate to protein ratio.

Protein has a different effect on your digestion and your metabolism. It’s a tough molecule, so it takes longer to digest (so it’s longer before you feel hungry again). The digested protein is more likely to be used for muscle development and tissue repair; unlike carbohydrates, which are more likely to be shunted to fat deposits when they’re eaten in excess of your immediate energy needs.


You can have a positive effect on your weight loss by using the same techniques as the commercial meal replacements, but without the expense, and using real food. Switch to a protein-based breakfast, with just a little carbohydrate for energy. An omelette with steamed sweet potato is ideal; or savoury mince on toast. At lunch, include more high quality protein (like fish or chicken); and at dinner, avoid pasta completely in favour of seafood, chicken or fish with non-starchy vegetables. Asian-style stir fries are ideal.

Make sure you include lots of vegetables and legumes to maintain a good fibre intake. Now you’ve got a diet plan that will help you lose weight, and a food plan that you can follow for life. 

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Learn from your dog about work-life balance

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Dogs have the right idea about balance between enthusiastically embracing life, and recovery. Take them for a run along the beach and they will throw themselves at the task, tail wagging madly. But when they get home you can almost hear them thinking “golly, that was hard work – I think I’ll just take a nap”. Once rested, they’re back into the day with enthusiasm.  We could learn a lot from our canine friends about how to balance work and play more effectively.

Our modern, fast pace of living doesn’t easily support a good balance between work and play. Mobile phones and email make it possible to contact anyone, anywhere, anytime, and with that comes an expectation that you will be available at any time. It can be increasingly difficult to take enough time out to rest, recover and rejuvenate. This can make you feel like life really is all work and no play.

Your body is likely to send you signals when you’re over-working and under-playing:

-          Your sleep can be disrupted, with waking during the night, or difficulty getting to sleep. That’s because your adrenal glands are pumping out stress hormones when they should be calm.

-          Being so tired that you drag yourself out of bed in the morning, with little enthusiasm for the day.

-          Craving sweet food or caffeine for an energy ‘lift’ to get you through the day.

-          Catching every cold and bug that’s going around because your immunity is so low.

-          Feeling like everyone wants a piece of you, and you’re not being rewarded for your contribution to the world. Resentment is a big red flag that you’ve been overworking.

-          Being grumpy, irritable and impatient.

What can you do to bring balance back into your life when you’re feeling over-worked?

-          Make sure you have at least some time every day just for you. Some people find that daily meditation or yoga gives them the time out they crave. Others prefer a walk in nature, or listening to favourite music.

-          Be unavailable for some time every week. Switch off your phone. Ignore your emails.  Leave a message that you’re unavailable if you need to. Then take time out to do something that pleases only you: Like a walk on the beach; or a massage; or diving into a good book.  

You’ll return from your time out feeling a little more refreshed and ready to take on the world again.

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How long (and how well) are you likely to live? Take this fun quiz to find out

Monday, October 24, 2011

There are many aspects to a long and healthy life. Researchers have studied areas of the world where people routinely live long and productive lives. They came up with many factors that contributed. These parts of the world have become known as "Blue Zones" and a book has been written about what makes them special.

There's a quiz at "The Blue Zone" web site, The Vitality Compass, that helps you establish how much your current nutrition & lifestyle practices are contributing to your own ageing process. If you'd like to take the quiz, its at

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The Power of Progesterone (To Make Your Life Happier!)

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Although the decline in oestrogen levels after menopause is well known, what is less well known is the importance of progesterone, which balances oestrogen’s effects.  This is most important in your perimenopausal years – that’s the time between when your menstrual cycle is disrupted by failing ovaries; and menopause, when your periods stop completely.

I call progesterone the hormone of happiness, because it promotes a stable happy mood. This hormone has a vital role in fertility, as it’s produced by your ovaries after ovulation. Your oestrogen hormones have already promoted the growth of your uterus lining; progesterone secretion instructs your uterus to finish the job, get ready, because there may be a fertilised egg arriving within a few days. If the egg isn’t fertilised, it disintegrates, and complex feedback messaging between the egg, your uterus and your ovaries lets your uterus know that the lining won’t be required after all, and can be shed. The important aspect of this for the perimenopausal woman is that no ovulation means insufficient progesterone in relation to oestrogen.

When considering your hormones, and particularly problematic symptoms, it’s far more useful to look at the relative balance between them rather than absolute quantities. You could have the healthiest oestrogen levels in the world, but unless you have enough progesterone on hand to balance it, you could experience some very unpleasant symptoms in the last two weeks of your menstrual cycle.

After menopause, when you’re not ovulating, your progesterone levels drop – but so do your oestrogen levels, so it’s all in balance.

Let’s revisit the perimenopausal years. As your ovary function declines, you will have more months where no egg is produced, and therefore minimal progesterone, resulting in relative oestrogen dominance. Some of the first signs of this is worsening pre-menstrual tension, sleep disruption, particularly waking during the night, often with anxiety as well. Mood swings, low libido, foggy thinking, bladder urgency, headaches, weight gain…..there’s a long list of problem symptoms that emerge from this hormone imbalance.

You can have a positive impact on your hormone balance by including enough ('enough' is a careful word choice on my part - not just 'some') fibre-rich and phytoestrogen-rich foods in your diet; particularly legumes, vegetables and fruit. Fitness makes a big difference, as does optimal stress management. Natural therapists use herbs, nutrients, diet and lifestyle changes to rebalance your hormones, and may arrange salivary hormone testing first to establish whether a hormone imbalance really is the problem.

The perimenopausal time of your life is an opportunity as well: Once you enter menopause it will be much harder to maintain a toned, svelte body – so here’s your last chance to easily alter your shape and build enough muscle to help you maintain it. As you age, the effort you have put into building your fitness pre-menopause will pay off. But if you stay on the couch, you’ll feel the effects more in your old age.

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How deprivation could undo your diet

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Heard the saying “all work and no play makes Jack no fun to be around”? Its true – that’s why holidays were invented. You may have  to slog through working weeks that seem to go on forever. But then the weekend arrives. It refreshes and revives you, ready for the coming week’s challenges.

Your diet needs the same balance between rigorous discipline and enjoying some fun treats.

Let’s look at what happens when you don’t allow yourself to enjoy planned treats. You’ll start your diet with a sense of ‘this time I’m going to get it right’. You’ll make massive changes in your diet, and you’ll feel deprived, but soldier on “because you have to”. You’re invited to celebration events but turn down even a sliver of that luscious cake ‘because you’re on a diet’. It’s hard work!

After lots of deprivation, you’re likely to be feeling just a wee bit rebellious. You’ve been “so good” that surely you deserve an unplanned treat. Or worse, you step on the scales to find that you haven’t lost a gram. Now you might feel just a tad rebellious too. You’ve been feeling deprived – for what? Now here comes the overwhelming urge to eat all the ‘bad’ foods – but in less than constrained quantities, and you may abandon your entire weight loss project.

You can prevent this from happening by approaching your weight loss the same way you would a long term work project: With a plan of action, milestones along the way, and regular holidays. Planning your meals a week in advance is an ideal way to identify the ‘special meal’ that will be your ‘time off’ from diet ‘work’, help you feel less deprived, and refresh your resolve for the coming week.

For some people, this could be their favourite family meal with dessert to follow; or a really nice restaurant meal that someone else has prepared for you. If there’s a big celebration happening, like a wedding, you can plan to just enjoy the food on offer without worrying, this time, about whether you ‘should’.  Really savour this weekly treat – and then get back to work, knowing that another treat is definitely coming in just a few days.

Now your weight loss project is more sustainable. And a funny thing will happen: You’ll find yourself naturally balancing your diet more effectively for the long term, and learning how to balance your food intake for effective results.

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Olwen Anderson @olwenanderson


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