Moods: Moves, Munchies and Mates

For a few years now i have been following the Minimum Effective dose approach to exercise: 4 times a week I do short bouts of high intensity exercise.  “only 4 times a week” purposefully builds in a little failure into my system so that when it inevitably happens it doesn’t stress me too much. I don’t have to exercise every day, if I missed a planned session I can catch it up later in the week.

Recently this has fallen apart as we are renovating our home. We have been crashing at my in laws and as a result I am no where near my normal run, and I have never got round to finding a place in their house where I can do a workout. Basically I have failed utterly. It has all fallen apart. I am thinking I will get back into it when i get back to our house.

My whole schedule has been thrown into disarray, at the moment no day is the same. We are further from town, so we can’t walk and cycle like we normally do to get about. Renting a car to get around means that my step count is down from 10K+ to less than 3K a day. Isaac my beautiful baby boy has recently taken to getting up several times a night so our sleep quality is low, oh and our house looks like it has been hit by a hurricane.

In short: No Sleep, No exercise, No Routine, at least we are still able to eat, other wise it would be a happiness perfect storm!

I have noticed that when you are asked what you want for your kids the only acceptable thing to say is ‘I just want them to be happy”.

I actually think “just be happy” is quite a cruel goal to set your kids. Unless you the parent, the adult have cracked this ‘happiness’ thing, it seems unfair to ask that of your kid. As far as I can tell most young kids are way ahead of their parents on the happiness front. Now I am a dad, I have an important example to set, so when Isaac is old enough I would like to be able to tell him something meaningful and helpful about being happy: other than: “Just stay a  child forever, you are doing great”.

Before I embark on a quest for happiness i think it is important to realise that it resides in the brain. The brain is an machine thats primary function is to keep you alive by getting you into close proximity to food and help you reproduce by getting you into close proximity to attractive people you want to procreate with. (check, check: my brain seems to be working ok: good for me)

Our emotional states are like a thermostat: We are supposed to be unhappy when things are going badly so we act to make them better. If you are hungry and unloved, it make sense to move toward the buffet with all the attractive people standing around it. When you get there, no one will agree to sleep with you if you are already grinning like an idiot before you arrive.

When it comes to happiness better is desirable, but perfection is not. In that way it is a bit like my diabetic brother keeping his blood sugar within acceptable levels. Very low blood sugar can be lethal, but insanely high blood sugar isn’t great either. This must also hold true for happiness or it would simply be a case of saying: ‘show me where all the drugs are!’

Digging into the literature a little the big leavers seem to be:

Exercise 

“According to the ‘endorphins hypothesis’, exercise augments the secretion of endogenous opioid peptides in the brain, reducing pain and causing general euphoria”. General Euphoria sounds great! so it looks like Exercise is a must. We are upright walking apes. Humans are supposed to walk like fish are supposed to swim so building activity into our days really does appear to be essential to staying upbeat.

Food 

Do eat: A few weeks ago I played about with quite a tough regime of fasting. As far as i can tell i wasn’t getting enough calories and it was impacting my ability to stay motivated. I have backed the fasting off quite a bit and surprisingly eating more has had no measurable effect on my waist line. The weight I lost seems to be staying off.

The best rule of thumb i have come across to help me select the right food is: All ‘real’ food needs to be chopped, pealed or cooked before you can eat it: Otherwise is just a tasty food substitute.

The composition of what we eat is really important: “Those who crave chocolate tend to do so when they feel emotionally low and the ability to improve mood seems to be a major reason for its consumption”. http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-1-4615-1067-3_2

The same holds true for wine: There is nothing like a glass of wine to lift your spirits. These treats work really well if they are added to an already good diet that is largely prepared at home.

Friends: 

Finally friends seem to be essential for elevating mood. Even having firm plans to get to gather and do something fun with friends has a measurable positive effect on a persons level of happiness.

Having Something to look forward to: 

Wine Rides is an active weekend away. We lay on beautiful locally sourced and seasonal food and it is the perfect thing to enjoy with your partner or even a group of friends. We created this event to make people happy. That is what its designed to do. I promise if you book on to a Wine Ride we can budge the needle and make you even happier than you are now.

Now all i need to do is work out how to get this bomb site sorted so I can get back to normal!

bomb site

Bad Tourists & Dieting:

Bad Tourists & Dieting: 

This is me

This is me

NHS assesemnet of my weight

This is the NHS assessment of my weight

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Within a 46 hr window I will have eaten about 600 calories: to put that into some context that works out at about 12% of a ‘normal’ man’s calorie intake, based on 2500 calories per day pro rata.

Why? you may be thinking. As it happens I am not fat. When I started this experiment I was actually slightly ‘lean’ and had a body fat % between 15%-20%.

The truth is my opening paragraph has been written to be as attention grabbing as possible. By the end of the day I will have had a fairly massive dinner, viking size portions and i expect that my calories will be much closer to normal, though still well bellow the 2500 cals the NHS say i ‘need’ to eat.

I would also point out that my BMI is 26.6. Which puts me in the ‘overweight’ category. There is a discrepancy between my estimated body fat percentage as measured with body fat callipers (pinch an inch test) and an estimate based on my height and weight BMI. So I am both Lean and overweight all at the same time.

Clearly something is very wrong.

Have you ever noticed how fad diets come in waves? Why haven’t we found the one true path yet? Why don’t any of these things work? The truth its that almost all of these diets work to some degree. I have been regularly fasting on the 5:2 regime popularised by BBC Dr Michael Mosley for the last three years and that has worked really well for me.  What I have learned in that time is that no-one has the right answer for you. You have to find that for yourself.

A friend directed me recently to http://fast5.org/ Although my weight is under control, I jumped at this opportunity to see if I could further refine my system. 5:2 fasting is where twice a week, you only consume 600 calories in a 24hr period. Fast-5 is where you eat what you want but each day you have to consume all your calories for the day in a 5hr window.

I have been doing the five two for a while, i know that bringing the two fast closer together in the week makes the second one much easier. So I suspected that training my self to not need or expect breakfast and lunch would have a massive advantage: it would make the extreme 5:2 fast much easier and potentially unnecessary.

The problem with Fast-5 is that because there is no calorie restriction in the evening, you do have to do it every day. The obvious problem with fast-5 is that most people are not doing it so you get invited to lunch and you have to decide how you are going to play that.

It is clear to me that I am going to need a blend of the two systems. At the moment I am doing both. Twice a week I only have 600 cal dinner and every other day I have what i want to eat (which is quite a lot) but i wait till 5pm to start eating. I do however drink black coffee, teas and have the occasional coke zero. Unless My mother in law is cooking Sunday lunch in which case I blow it all off.

So how is it going: 

A problem with the 5:2 system is that occasionally one of the fasts is really tough. I may find it hard to concentrate, or I just cant do anything after about 5pm. There is also some irritability. Killing breakfast and lunch seems to have dealt with this problem. Mondays any Thursdays really are like any other day now, with perhaps slightly more irritability after 5pm on the days when i cut back to 600 cals.

Another advantage is that my personal spending is almost nothing. We cook at home, so food there is very cheap. Lunch was always a big expense for me because i like nice food. By working out how to make it possible to wait till i am home I am able to eat all my calories where they are cheapest which frankly is great. that is roughly an extra £100 a month that appeared out of nowhere.

I want to be clear that I am not sat here ‘Starving’. It literally is completely normal. My energy levels are very stable. I also have an extra hour in my day, which i sort of don’t know what to do with. To night when I get home, i can really let my dog off its leash and go nuts eating. Which is fun for me.

When I started the 5:2 it was really tough.  However adding fast 5 now has been incidental to me because my metabolism is already set up to go for extended periods without food. If a marathon runner asked me to go for a 24mile run with them tomorrow, i would say: ‘No’. Because I am not trained to do that. If a powerlifter ask me to pick up 120kgs weight I wold say: ‘No’ because i am not train to do that. So i wouldn’t expect someone to wake up tomorrow and find this regime easy and I am not suggesting that you dear reader, do this.

What I have learned:

Clearly a man 6ft 1inch tall doesn’t need 2500 calories a day. This realisation lead me to briefly look into where this number comes from, and it seems that it is sort of plucked out of the air.

“In September 2007, the Institute of Medicine held a workshop entitled “The Development of DRIs 1994–2004: Lessons Learned and New Challenges.”[16] At that meeting, several speakers stated that the current Dietary Recommended Intakes (DRI’s) were largely based upon the very lowest rank in the quality of evidence pyramid, that is, opinion, rather than the highest level – randomized controlled clinical trials. Speakers called for a higher standard of evidence to be utilized when making dietary recommendations.”

That makes sense; when ever you here an expert quote this figure they just name the body that recommends it, they never talk about why that is the number. My guess is that this is the upper end of a fairly large range: i.e. 1000-2500 calories for a man depending on the nature of his work or total daily activity level. If your job involves sitting in a well heated room in front of a computer, chances are you don’t need that much food. If you are an olympic rower you may need much more.

You know what it is like if you don’t have food: you are ‘starving’ you have terrible energy crashes, you have felt that and I am asking you to believe that you don’t need that much food right? The difference is the type of metabolism you are in. I am in ketosis: metabolising fat. Most people are not, they are living off blood sugar. What causes irritability and the feeling of faint is switching into ketosis, that is particularly true if you don’t do it very often.

Ketosis (fat metabolism) is much more efficient than Glycolysis (carbohydrate metabolism). That is the real reason I don’t need that much food to get through the day. If I eat 3 meals a day i would be in Glycolysis and my calorie requirement would be much higher.

Conclusion: 

I don’t think fasting is for everyone. In fact I think the biggest problem with fad diets is that there participants rave about them and evangelise for their system. When it comes to picking a diet people have tendency to be “bad tourist”. They show up in a new place where things are done differently and say: ”that isn’t the way i do it, so its not right”. I am ashamed to say I have done this in the past.

However I also don’t think that the ‘Western diet’ is for everyone, nor are the NHS dietary recommendations for everyone. There is no ‘one true path’. As I eluded to at the top of this article I am quite a thick set man. I also find it hard to stop eating when i start. I don’t find it very hard to go for long periods of time without food so fasting in one form or another suits me. My wife on the other hand didn’t get on with it at all.

The basic problem is that their is too much food available to us. So very few people can get by eating as they want when they want. The market is offering way to many foods that are high in sugar, because these foods have long shelf life’s and a high profit margin.

What is really important is not judging yourself, be honest about your own limits, and use careful  persistent experimentation. If you do those things, you can find system that works well for your genetics in your circumstances.

If anything the requirement on the NHS to make recommendations is a poison chalice. I think the fact that they accept it show some hubris. I can’t help wondering if the health of the nation would be better if we desalinated the tools and information people need to work out their own daily food recommendations, rather than assuming experts are better placed to do it for us.

Top Tip: Ignore BMI:  its just nonsense.

Update: some time ago i dropped the ‘fast-5′ part from my system, it started to wear me out & food was too taisty to eat that little that often. 

Struggling to keep your new years resolution? Don’t give up now.

The new years resolution thing has never really appealed to me because I have always found it a little judgemental. I feel like it is embedded in the Protestant work ethic: ‘Did you have a nice christmas? did you get drunk at new years? Well now it is time for you to become a better person: you must learn mandarin because your happiness is contingent on your feeling you’re ‘better’ than you were last year.’

Carrots are better than sticks, and new years feels like a stick to me. I  also get the impression that people are going to some lengths to improve themselves in the vague hope that it will make them ‘happier’ in a sort of general way. I don’t think this is the case. If you are  an unhappy person that can’t speak mandarin, and you learn mandarin, then you will make your self into an unhappy person who can speak mandarin. It’s not that you shouldn’t learn another language, just that your happiness shouldn’t be the motivating drive because it isn’t a very effective one.

Happiness is like the weather. It ebbs and flows as a result of circumstances and that is the point of it. You can’t have the sweet without the sour. The most effective thing you can do to increase your happiness is to write down three things that went well that day, every day. It is obvious that doesn’t make any tangible difference to your life. It just changes the way you feel about your life.

NB: As a result of writing that last paragraph I have just gone on amazon and bought my self http://www.fiveminutejournal.com/ designed for just this purpose. I will give it a go and see if I can notice the difference. 

Alternatively: you could book a Wine Ride. I promise it will make you happier. Book here

I feel like that was a small Strategic decision that could lead to a marginal increase in my happiness going forward.

The other problem that i have with new years resolutions is the word ‘resolve’. Most people interpret that as requiring and ongoing effort. There is an element of morality in this that seems people want to ‘resolve’ or endeavour to make a greater effort. People often adopt tactical solutions to things that really would be better handled strategically.

For example: If you want to walk more, a tactical approach would be: ‘Always take the stairs’. That is an ongoing determination to do something. So it requires an ongoing mental effort. If you want to walk more, a strategic approach might be: ‘Sell your car’. That is a one time decision that compels more walking on an ongoing basis.

‘Sell your car’ It isn’t very new years resolution-y though is it? it doesn’t have the sense of ongoing self-flagellation. You cant update people on how ‘project walk more’ is going. It is sort of self evident. Jim doesn’t own a car: therefore Jim does a lot of walking. There is no hand ringing, it just is. It also works. But if Jim determine to take the stairs more. That is much better because it can slowly ebb away at Jim’s will power until he finally cracks and gives up.

I know ‘sell your car’ mights seem like  the ‘nuclear’ option. But here is the thing, if you are not willing to sacrifice something substantial like a car to solve a problem, then how serious are you about solving this thing? If you are not that serious about solving the problem then why are you determining to do something for at least a year? Why is it a new years resolution? Why bother?

There some problems that have tactical solutions. Its just there aren’t any tactics that require a whole year to test, 5 weeks is all you need for most things.

A few years ago I started the 5:2 diet. Within five weeks I established it worked and that I could do it. I was playing with it. There was a clear down side, you have to fast for 2 days a week and that sucks. I wanted to see if the weight loss was significant enough to make that cost worth while. The first 5 weeks went well I did another five weeks. In those first ten weeks I determined that it was worth me adopting this as a permanent life style.

The advantage of taking a testing approach is that you might find an effective tactic that will help you achieve a goal. I am ‘happier’ about my weight. My health is better, and when my attention is focused on my health, i am glad i have improved it, but I remain essentially the same person, just skinnier.

The problem with the testing approach is it doesn’t allow you to imagine a future self that is inherently a better person, so it is less inviting an exciting. I also can’t attribute the weight loss to my own good virtue: I tried out a tactic and found it work for me.

Embedded in the tradition of new years resolutions is the notion that ‘better’ people with more will power are more effective. They achieve desirable out comes. This isn’t really true. Some people chance upon an effective tactic and find it easy to keep it going beyond 5 weeks and most people don’t and end up feeling let down.

It is a lottery. The people who stick to their New years resolutions get to feel great, because they can attribute their success to themselves, but the people who ‘fail’ have to buy another ticket next year. I think this tradition continues simply because enough notable exceptions get lucky and manage to make it work.

So what is the answer? 

Well the end of the year is a time for reflection. So if you must have a new years resolution and you are finding it hard to stick to use this simple trouble shooter i have drawn up. Click on the image to make it bigger. If it helps please like and share this post using the links bellow. Happy New Year!

How to fix your new years resolution

How to fix your new years resolution

If your Stag doesn’t want a stripper.

stage do wine

I once worked for the BBC on a show that was broadly about the difference between men and women. We recreated an experiment that show that when men were in the presence of ‘hot’  women there risk taken behaviour increased. The hansom fella in the long black coat is me in my fatter days:

The point of the experiment is that attractive women increase male testosterone levels and this  inter makes men more likely to take increased risks. I remember planning this shoot. We talked about shooting or cutting a sequence that involved lots of archetypal male activity that showed men taking increase risks: Base Jumping, bungie jumping, wrestling. I joked with my female boss that I would like them to do that sequence and then cut to me doing my typical male activity of taking the bins out.

The point I was making is that most blokes art on steroids, constantly throwing themselves of

buildings or getting into fights. It’s not enough we still have the historical pressure to earn more than our female partners, we are also supposed to recreationally fight tigers while maintaining a

body fat of less than 8%. In the meantime your friends expect you to drink like a fish and mock any attempt to watch what you eat.

Stag do’s in particular come with a lot of cultural baggage. Let’s face it they are a not insignificant expenditure, even if you all agree to constrain the budget. So you want to make sure everyone is going to enjoy it, especially the stag! Most blokes have to contend with the question of weather or not to have a stripper. I would be interested to know what the split is these days: I know I have lived a sheltered existence. None of the stag do’s I have been on have had one.

Not least it’s weird, in so much as most women don’t want their partners to have, one and most men don’t really want to lie to their partners about having had a stripper. It could be me, but I don’t see my friends all that often. After university people end up scattered around the country, if not the planet. There are the odd significant birth days that merit a weekend away with friends, but other than that, holidays with friends consist of stag do’s. Often enough many of the people who should be on the stag are in fact female. If there is one thing girls tend to be better at than guys, it is checking in with each other via text and phone. Even if it is lads only, its nice to be able to spend at least a little time chatting and catching up.

If your stag likes wine or cycling Wine rides will be perfect for them. There’s a fun activity, its chilled out and there is plenty of booze on hand that wont give you a massive hang over. Also we love having stags on Wine Rides. The stags that come on a Wine Ride are great guys. I also remember my own wedding and know what a special time it is. It means a lot to me to be able to see groups of friends getting together at this important time and I love being able to help create great stag do’s that are fun not hideous.

https://youtu.be/voOjIPLxnoQ

If you are planning stag do for next summer and think a wine ride might be for your group get in touch, and we will see what we can do for you:

email info@winerides.co.uk

Mindfulness: skeptics guide

medatationI hate mumbo jumbo so I was initially very sceptical about meditation. I would go as far as to say that in the past i have openly mocked people for doing it. My wife does yoga and I am ashamed to say I once made a snide comment when I found out that yoga classes end with a guided meditation.

That having been said I think I have been meditating regularly for the best part of a year now and finally felt like I may have something constructive to say on the subject.

My early experiments with meditation didn’t go particularly well. I have a list of repeating weekly to-do’s and I added ‘5 minutes mindfulness’ to that list only to remove it after a brief period of time. Initially I found that creating an obligation with myself to meditate was adding to my stress levels. So i hit the delete button on that one pretty quick.

However on a very adhoc basis I did try and do some meditation throughout the year. I have heard that cocaine is a drug that becomes more addictive the more you do it. I think the same must be true of meditation, as the more i did it, the more i tended to get out of it.

I took the view that if there were any benefits to be gained from meditation that the majority of those benefits would be accrued with a very small but regular investment in time. So I decided that 5 minutes was how long I was going to try and do.

Now I do regularly meditate, almost every day and I will do 8 minutes. I have also found that I do find it to be a useful addition to my day. It is most useful for quickly reducing stress. Now we have had a child I just don’t get the enormous spans of uninterrupted time that I used to luxuriate in.

I didn’t know it before Isaac our baby showed up, but my once a week treat of watching the whole Andrew Marr Show on a Sunday before I did anything was a ridiculously decadent luxury. I find I can sometimes watch a whole episode in little bouts throughout the Sunday if I can be bothered. However that amount of relaxation can be achieved in a single 8 minute session of mindfulness. There is a tired almost hot feeling that I get in my head and being mindful of that almost feels like I am working those knots out of my mind a bit like a sports massage.

The other place were I find it really helpful is if I can’t sleep. If there is something on my mind, and that is stopping me from sleeping I can get up go next door and meditate. That has proved really effective at stopping thoughts from spinning around in my head.

How does it work? 

elephant eyeMeditation helps with insomnia by preventing rumination.

Rumination is the habit of turning something over and over in your head. Thinking about everything you have to do, or want to do. The trouble is that it is a self re-enforcing habit. The more you do it, the greater your tendency to want to do it. It also tends to amplify any feelings that you are having. If you are ruminating at night, you are also thinking about something at a point when you can’t do anything about it. So it is particularly pointless. Interestingly, you normally only need an activity to take your mind off the rumination for 2 minutes to break the cycle of rumination and meditation is a perfect activity for this, as it occupies the auditory part of your mind.

Meditation is an interesting activity because it helps you get a bit of a handle on how your consciousness really works. Daniel Kahneman is a psychologist who won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 2002. His great insight is that the voice you hear in your head isn’t the guy making most of the decisions in your life.

Kahneman describes system 1 and system 2.  System one is the one that you use for the vast, vast majority of the decisions that you have to make through the day. It uses unconscious reasoning. No matter how clever you are, you are making judgement calls largely based on how you ‘feel’. What is really cool is that particularly if you are intelligent, the conscious part of your brain retrospectively comes up with justifications for the decisions that you have made that day. This gives all of us the illusion that we made a decision because we really thought it through, but the truth is that often we just did something cos it felt right and then came up with a neat justification later.

System two is the slow thoughtful part of your brain. It is the voice you hear in your head when you think. The reason we don’t use this part of our brain, to do most of our thinking is that it is really expensive. It takes a lot of mental resources to think about things in detail, so we don’t. However we need to maintain an internally consistent record of why we did the things we did, and so our mind builds this illusion for us that we thought it all through.

The best metaphor I have heard is that the voice in your head thinks he is the oval office, making all the decisions, but in reality he is the press office, just telling everyone what the oval office wants people to hear.

I think meditation basically gives that guy in the press office something to do for long enough for ‘you’ to at least have a peak at what the guy in the oval office is dealing with.

monkeyAnother similar metaphor is that your mind is two animals: A monkey riding an elephant. the monkey is on the top bouncing around and making a lot of noise, he also thinks he is ‘driving’ the elephant, but the reality is that the elephant, is walking exactly where he wants to go and only very occasionally taking any notice of the monkey. Fundamentally that must be true when you think about it: If you aren’t woken in the morning by an alarm, then you are woken by some unconscious part of your brain. Basically you will eventually get up because the elephant realises it has to eat and like wise, even if the monkey wants to stay up all night and watch TV, eventually the elephant will sleep on the couch, or drag you to bed. The fundamental decisions including who you are attracted to aren’t in fact taken by the voice in your head, many of the important calls get taken behind some kind of psychological curtain.

 

What I do

When I meditate I close my eyes and point my minds eye at different parts of my body. A good trick I started with was to focus on the places where I could feel one part of my body touching another part of my body. You can feel were one toe touches another, then you might feel where your foot contacts the floor, or if you’re sat cross legged, your other leg. By moving from one contact point at the most distal parts of your body and heading slowly towards my head, I can easily do 5 minutes self-guided meditation.

The other thing I do is find my heart beat. Then I find my pulse in my hands, then I ‘listen’ for both, My hands and feet pulse after my heart. Once I have found those I can feel the pulse in the forearms. And if things go really well I can feel a pulse travel through my body out to my hands and feet.

All these things are normally below the level of conscious awareness. They need to be or even ordering coffee or holding a simple conversation would be an ordeal, but it is amazing to think of the shear number inputs and the amount of information that you lower brain is just handling for you throughout the day. I don’t imagine that i would ever get to see everything my lower brain is dealing with, but looking at those two things does give you some insights.