5 A Day ~ For Mind As Well As Body

The NHS has added a 5 A Day for your mind to the now fairly well understood theory about 5 A Day fruit and veg. I am not sure when this was introduced to the general wellbeing lexicon, but I rather like it.

wellbeing

The origins of the 5 A Day fruit and veg campaign are a bit unclear. Some argue it all started in the orange- growing fields of California but Ken Kizer was director of the US State Department for Health Services back then . He says that it wasn’t a case, as some have claimed, of fruit and vegetable growers looking for new markets, but a mutually beneficial venture for industry and public health policy.

“It didn’t originate from the agricultural community. It just so happens that when we reached out to them and pointed out this would help them, they got onboard and became enthusiastic partners.”

In the UK there is evidence it was mentioned as far back as the 1980s.

Whatever the history, in 2003 the World Health Organisation launched a worldwide campaign to promote the importance of having 400g of fruit and veg per day which could prevent cardiovascular disease, some cancers and stroke. Since then, many countries have marketed the idea; Australia have adopted a 2&5 policy (2 portions of fruit + 5 of veg which sounds eminently sensible); Canada, France, Germany, Japan, New Zealand and Norway are all in on it.

Does it work? Well it works at Bee HQ and does seem to have entered the minds of the generation who were at school when it was first heavily promoted in schools here in the UK. Of course it is a target – the campaign in Australia is called “Go For 2 & 5″  and in NZ they add a ‘+’ into the equation (5 + A Day) showing an impressive optimism.

Naturally fruit and veg producers have got in on the marketing act, but I don’t see that as a bad thing. However I think the jury is out as to whether it works.

The government’s former chief medical officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, says he thinks it has been partially successful so far.

The middle classes did listen, and the supermarkets listened and they tend to respond to the middle class consumer particularly.

I think it’s been less successful in reaching the disadvantaged communities where those levels of fruit and vegetables were already low.

So now we have a 5 A day for mental health:

Connect

Be Active

Keep learning

Give To Others

Be Mindful

five ways to wellbeing

Food for thought. I like it ~ will it work? Let’s see

Annie Bee x

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Insomnia: The Upside

For a number of reasons I am having a hugely stressful time at the moment and one of the symptoms is lack of sleep. Some days I feel very woolly headed as a result – forgetful, absent, confused and worried it might be dementia. Stress coupled with insomnia is not pretty.

Insomnia

So what keeps me from going round the twist in bed at night when I am wide awake, ruminating the list of problems and possible solutions, trying breathing exercises (I have had some joy with the 4-7-8 breathing technique which is definitely worth a try if you are also struggling to get a good night’s sleep) and maintaining the view that the worst possible thing to do is check the clock – ” 3.22am!!! I will be a wreck tomorrow”?

Insomnia words

I listen to the radio. Both my mother and father had radios on hand for their wakefulness, each with his and hers earphones. I listen to a mixture of stations and learn a lot along the way. This week I learnt about a very interesting Tasmanian-born New Zealand woman, Ettie Rout who was a very important campaigner on sexually transmitted diseases during World War I.

Coincidentally I listened to an entirely different programme about the NZ practice of using Rangatahi Maori Youth Courts to keep the numbers of Maori adolescents out of the prison system. Maoris count for 15% of the total NZ population but for 50% of the prison population. A similar scheme is being tried in Australia (NSW I think) for their indigenous youth and the results seem promising so far.

I also listened to a very interesting programme about the Battle of Verdun, which, I am ashamed to say I had little or no knowledge of (the Somme Offensive is perhaps more well-remembered here in the UK due to the loss of 57000 British lives in the first DAY). Verdun is still a complete wasteland: the soil is so full of bodies, arsenic and unexploded shells that nothing grows there to this day.

I listen to plenty of uplifting programmes as well. One of my favourites is Doctor Karl on Radio 5 Live’s Up All Night show. There is nothing that man doesn’t know about science – 99% of it goes straight over my head, but I love listening nevertheless.

Listening to the radio in bed

Forgive me if any of the information above is slightly shonky: sometimes it is difficult to remember exact details of things I have heard at 4.58am (“no point in going back to sleep now, I will be up in 2 hours”).

Hope you are sleeping better than me!

Annie Bee x

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Gardening For Health

Hello all

After a month or so away from my blog, here I am, in the middle of winter, writing about gardening! Mind you, with El Niño giving us the mildest of autumns in the UK (not to mention very wet), the gardening calendar is slightly confused. Here in the ‘burbs, we have blossom out, sodden lawns and a smattering of snow. Nature will cope, although there are bound to be knock-on effects during the next few seasons.

I have gardened here for 15 years; when we moved in, it was, in effect, a blank slate. A few shrubs, a couple of roses, a grotty path leading to a half-collapsed shed, and rat-infested compost heaps, allowed us to landscape and plant (with help of course) the garden we wanted. I have learnt many things over the years:

  1. Looking from the house and wondering where to start to get a grip on problems is not going to solve anything: get your boots and gardening gloves on, grab some tools and get to work.
  2. If you do need help, ask. Don’t let the garden go: it will not sort itself out. As Rudyard Kipling said, “Gardens are not made by sitting in the shade”.
  3. Don’t keep plants which are wrong for the conditions or are in the wrong place. Move them, give them away or compost them. A garden is a dynamic beast.
  4. First and foremost, take care of the soil.
  5. If you have the space and can afford it, get a greenhouse. Growing from seed (which can of course be done in the house) takes gardening to a whole new level.

” A garden is a grand teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust” ~ Gertrude Jekyll.

It is good for the body and soul. Therapeutic gardening is an old concept; hospitals have a long history of providing gardens for patients and in recent times there has been research to show that horticulture offers many benefits. One of the best known gardening charities in the UK is Thrive, which started in 1978. They use gardening to bring about positive changes in the lives of people living with disabilities or ill health, or who are isolated, disadvantaged or vulnerable. Benefits include

  • Better physical health through exercise and learning how to use or strengthen muscles to improve mobility
  • Improved mental health through a sense of purpose and achievement
  • The opportunity to connect with others – reducing feelings of isolation or exclusion
  • Acquiring new skills to improve the chances of finding employment
  • Just feeling better for being outside, in touch with nature and in the ‘great outdoors’

Who needs a gym membership when there is a garden to get stuck into? If you don’t have a garden: volunteer in one, or help a neighbour, look into guerrilla gardening, read some gardening books, dream about spring sowing.

Ultimate greenhouse

On what has been billed ‘Blue Monday’ (apparently today is the most depressing day of the year) you could do worse than to get out into a garden, be mindful of the beauty, listen to the birds and get moving.

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Annie Bee x

The Side-Plate Diet: New Research On Portion Sizes

Hello friends

As many of you know, I am a keen proponent of losing weight, or keeping weight off, by controlling your portion sizes. You eat normally (though healthily) but use smaller plates to impose control over your food intake. This has worked extraordinarily well for me. I started doing The Side Plate Diet about eleven months ago and it has transformed by body and my relationship to eating.

The BMJ this week reports that

~ Theresa Marteau from the University of Cambridge and colleagues recently published a Cochrane review that found the “most conclusive evidence to date” that people consume more food or drinks from larger size portions or packages, and when using larger items of tableware.

Additionally, they say that reducing portion sizes may mean going back to the noticeably smaller tableware which was being used in the 1950s, and suggest that one change which could make a difference would be,

 ~ Designing tableware to encourage smaller mouthfuls, such as, shallow plates, straight sided glasses, cutlery.

My views and information on plate sizes, if you want to read more, are here. And if you are worried about your weight and would like to try The Side Plate Diet, use the search bar at the right of the blog, and have a look at this.

This new research has some great suggestions and is taking a very sensible and longer-term view about reducing over-consumption and preventing obesity. The most recent statistics showing the problem in the UK of childhood obesity are, frankly, alarming.

The possibility of a new sugar-tax being implemented is also currently at the top of the agenda here, but we have a long way to go.

side plate diet

Using smaller plates is a very easy approach to dieting. It works.

Please share the buzz ~

Annie Bee x

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Brilliant Idea: Free Fruit Bonanza

Sometimes you see a new idea which is so brainy, it makes your eyes water.

In the UK, Woolworths is sadly a thing of the past. Many of us still fondly remember Ladybird kids clothes and  Pick’n’Mix. It is a thriving supermarket chain in other countries though, and has recently successfully trialled offering a free piece of fruit to all kids entering all of its (961) Australian stores, from a complimentary basket of apples, pears, bananas and mandarins. The idea was originally put to the test in their New Zealand shops (which trade as Countdown) and seems to be popular. Woolies expect to be giving away about one million pieces of fruit a year and assures consumers that the cost of fruit will not rise to compensate.

If you have ever had a child in tow who could name 107 places they’d rather be than in a supermarket with Mummy (unless she is going to provide biscuits/sweets/chocolate/magazine and toys from the shelves at will) the offer of a piece of fruit sounds to me like a welcome initiative. Anything to help keep mum sane and Little Jonnie happy.  And of course this option is healthy, one of your 5-a-day, and it will presumably encourage the habit of healthy snacking when sitting in the trolley. Better than a packet of Wotsits.

Tesco has already trialled it here in the UK at one, forward-thinking store in Lincolnshire and have decided to roll it out to 15 Glasgow branches. Hopefully it will  prove popular enough to go nationwide.

It won’t end  the sound of the screaming kid in the trolley ~ and lord knows we have all been there. It might help though and I imagine it could be an incentive for parents to shop at that supermarket rather than another. Let’s see.

supermarket children

My own trips to the supermarket are a bit like Groundhog Day but without the humour. Or romance. I might not be screaming out loud  but inside my head there is often an ear-piercing silent yell. Perhaps the free piece of fruit will eventually be offered not just kids but exasperated shoppers in their 50s. We can but hope. Great if you are on a diet. Blood sugar dropped? Have an apple. Feeling rough after a long night at the bar? Help yourself to a banana. Bored with the duties of being the Fridge Fairy? Here’s a pear.

I think it could work.

Annie Bee x

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The Everlasting Menopause ~ Is There An Upside?

If, like me, you have been dealing with the menopause for absolutely ages (as my memory has been melted by the hot flushes, I am having to guess that I am now entering my 5th year) you might be wondering whether this mid-life cloud has a silver lining. My initial answer would be, ‘does it bollox’ but let’s see.

I turned to my Personal Assistant, Google, and asked the question.

First up is Web MD and a cheerful obs-gyny doctor from Maine who suggests that,

“The truth is that women over 50 are just hitting their stride,” she writes in the introduction of her new book, The Secret Pleasures of Menopause. 

So secret that they are certainly hidden from me. She goes on to say,

“You can turn yourself on. You can rewire your brain and your body to feel more pleasure. The brain is the biggest sex organ in the body.”

Hmmmm.

I must say there are plenty of listings on Google for what can improve the menopause (yoga, exercise, nitric oxide, acupuncture, hops, and a neck-cooler to mention a few) but not so many for the upside. I do eventually find some joker who says this,

“Menopause is a gift, a lantern lighting the way to significant transformation in all areas of your life………. menopause is not the wicked witch. She does not drain women of any vital function nor turn them old, weak, crotchety, or unattractive with a wave of her wand”.

As youngsters (for whom their 50s is light years away) might say: ~ LOL

There is some information out there which I do agree with: Yes, it is natural. Yes, it (eventually) means no more periods and contraception. But is it a stage during which, as this cheerful woman suggest,

“…. the door opens to receive the wisdom of our lineage”?

That may be a step too far, even for the most optimistic of us. I’m not sure I even know what it means.

My only hope is that it is nearing the end. I can’t say my symptoms (brain atrophy, hot flushes, poor sleep are the highlights) have left me feeling particularly cheery.

hot flushes

Menopausal rant over ~ I feel a lot better already and I haven’t even got my neck-cooler out.

Annie Bee x

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Willpower ~ How Does It Work?

I have been giving a lot of thought to the question of willpower. I can’t say I have it in abundance, but when I do decide to do something (even if it is after many years of not doing anything), I do seem to be able to stick to my guns. So much about our health (by which here I mean diet and exercise) comes down to that often elusive willpower.

Anyone with a slightly addictive personality (which refers to a particular set of personality traits that make an individual predisposed to developing addictions) will know about hitting rock bottom. There is often a trigger for deciding that enough is enough, whether it relates to drugs, alcohol abuse or over-eating. These triggers are very personal, but in my experience there comes a moment of compete clarity after which you know change MUST take place. It is only then that you take control of the problem and make changes.

Firstly then, what exactly is willpower?

The American Psychological Association calls willpower

the ability to resist short-term temptations in order to meet long-term goals.

From what I have researched on the subject, willpower has a finite supply. You therefore need to use it wisely, which is a nuisance frankly. I won’t be the only person out there who has thought it was a bottomless well and the issue was how you can harness as much as possible. On the flip-side, the good news is that you can work on building strategies to improve your use of it.

willpower

One interesting aspect of willpower is that people will often use up the limited supply on family and professional matters, leaving little for themselves. After a taxing day at the office, or with the kids, it is far more difficult to then find the time to keep on making good decisions about food. A recent study showed that people faced with a very stressful work-related task who were then asked to choose between different foods tended to make less healthy choices. Personally I think this is also compounded by the reasoning that a difficult day requires reward. You have had a very tough day at work, or dealing with 3 kids under the age of 7, or 2 moody teenagers, and a large glass of wine at 5.30pm (“the sun is over the yardarm somewhere”) sounds infinitely justifiable. Or, in food terms, you have a had the day from hell in the workplace, so you decide that a takeaway curry will cheer you up instead of the omelette and salad you had originally planned.

So willpower is definitely a tricky one: it is limited and it can be sabotaged fairly easily too. Sounds like other strategies are required. What are some ways of improving your chances of making best use of willpower when it comes to dieting?

  • Have a long-term, achievable goal. Are you going to a wedding in November, to which you would dearly love to get back into your favourite dress? Perhaps you want to be able to run a 5K next year and have realised that shedding some weight will make that goal a great deal easier to achieve? Make a record of your achievements as you go along and set yourself a goal you can meet.
  • Stay well rested. Over-tired people make bad decisions.
  • If you have a bad day, and your diet has seemingly gone out the window, put it behind you. It is done, nothing can be achieved by dwelling on it (except perhaps to work out why it happened and try to take steps to avoid making that mistake again – learn from it). Get back on track and don’t be too hard on yourself.
  • Minimise temptation. We are expecting a lot from willpower – don’t make it doubly hard by putting temptations in your way.

determination

I don’t want to sound preachy, but for those people who say “I simply don’t have the willpower” I would say this: you haven’t hit your rock bottom yet. When you do, and you decide to take control, have an achievable plan and work hard. The benefits are joyous.

Annie Bee x

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