It’s Not Rocket Science: 30 tips to an evidence-based life well lived

Confused by conflicting health advice?  Not sure if you should cook your kale in coconut oil or sweep it all in the rubbish bin. Coconut oil is nice and slippery like that.

The shocking truth is it’s actually not that hard or confusing.  There is more agreement and good science than confusion and shades of grey.

I realise this is not what some social media platforms or celebrities selling you snake oil to put up your hoo-ha at the full moon would have you believe.  See any recommendation by Gwenyth Paltrow or Pete Evens … ever.

So here are some science-based tips that could just change your life.

Eat

  • Eat loads of fresh fruit and veg
  • Eat red meat in moderation, or better not at all
  • Minimize mercury in fish
  • Enjoy dairy if you are not lactose intolerant.  Although the environment might not thank you, your body will.
  • Eat whole foods. Go for variety, lots of colours and types.  Sure enjoy ‘superfoods’ if they turn you on, but don’t obsess over them or eliminate perfectly good alternatives.  Can’t afford chia seeds? Eat a banana and a strawberry and smile at yourself and your savings. What about carbs some will say? There is some emerging science that for some people and situations low carb is helpful.  However good carbs are not the devil and don’t go down this route without good support or reason and certainly don’t swap your carbs for bacon!
  • Prioritize good quality oils.  While the saturated fat debate rages, I’d focus on vegetable oils.
  • Avoid the foods you have issues with BUT be careful avoiding stuff for shits, giggles or food fashion.
  • Chew well and enjoy.
  • Enjoy tea and coffee if you like it.
  • Minimize crap.
  • Have less than 10 teaspoons of sugar a day. This is more difficult than you might think, given how much is hidden in foods.  No need to get all obsessed and high-and-mighty about your #AMAZing-sugar-free-life.  Unless it makes you happy, in which case, fill your sugar-free-boots.
  • Enjoy alcohol in moderation, if your personal and genetic risk profile allows it.  Don’t kid yourself about what moderation actually means.  Check the guidelines.

Move

  • Get fit, stay fit.  This could be one of the best decisions you make
  • Avoid prolonged sitting or standing
  • Stretch

Love

  • Be connected to others and do stuff for them
  • Meditate or pray or whatever turns you on
  • Do stuff you love
  • Get some nature time, forest bathing is a thing that might even have science on its side.
  • Understand your personal values and live a life aligned to them

Protect, Check & Avoid

  • Protect yourself from the sun (slip, slop, slap)
  • Practice good dental hygiene
  • Get your regular (gender and age-appropriate) screening tests
  • Get the vaccinations you need
  • Don’t touch cigarettes or illegal drugs
  • Try and avoid smog and unnecessary chemical exposure at home and work
  • Manage your stress
  • Use your brain or lose your brain
  • Don’t believe what you read on the internet and never read the comments!

Live … a little

  • Just sometimes ….. eat doughnuts, drink champagne and stay up late …. just to know you have free will and your life is your own.

Footnote

My blogging career started with a health-based hobby blog, while writing a PhD, and also very ill.  I consumed a lot of science on health.  Something I had been warming up to for several decades prior.  Along the way, I feel I got a solid sense of some basic science-based principles re health and lifestyle stuff.  During the same time, I was horrified to see many ‘food and lifestyle fashions’ moving in the wrong or opposite direction to the science.

This list is a bit of a compilation of that time updated to account for new research.  I thought hard about backfilling references on each one – and it was time to get a life.  Maybe that can be my retirement project in a few more decades.  

For now, as at 2020, I am confident this list, if followed, will serve you well.  Updating it has reminded me of some large gaps that need attention in my life.

Yours as Ever,
Dr Rachel
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The 7 BEs of well-BE-ing

Welcome to an overview of the 7 BEs of well-BE-ing, get in touch if you want to know more.  

Be True

We know relationships with others are hard work.  What of those with ourselves? 

Being true to yourself always starts with values clarity.  You can get some clarity here.  Mind you, clarity is just the beginning, consistent values-based action is key too.  

Not being true to your values, often comes with warning signs.  Discomfort? Physical symptoms? Overindulgence? What are yours?

Be Kind

Let’s start with being kind to yourself – What does this look like for you?

For me, it is detaching from my inner critic. She is a mighty strong and persistent woman. She is also kinda smart, hence difficult to argue with. I carefully don’t say stopping my inner critic, that would be a fool’s errand.

I say detaching in a mindfulness sense. I mean noticing, observing and accepting, without trying to change her. Of course then paradoxically it tends to take some of the sting out of her.

Be Comfortable Asking for Help

I am a hypocrite on this one. I am really really rubbish at asking for help.

See that time I moved by myself turning down offers of help because it just seemed easy not to feel indebted to anyone. There was a little bit of the old control freak – I’ll just do it my way in there too. FYI – it did not go well.

Be With

“It’s clear that social relationships are critical for promoting wellbeing and for acting as a buffer against mental ill health for people of all ages.” The mental health foundation.

Social support is also important for physical health outcomes. Many people lack social support, who could you offer or receive social support to today? The great thing about remembering to BE WITH, both physically and emotionally is it offers social support to all present.

Be Accountable

I remember reading an article in the Herald around 2012 about these people meeting in cafes and calling themselves ‘quantifiers’. They tracked all manner of information about themselves with a crazy array of gadgets. In truth, I thought my word these people don’t have a life.

Then I became a Quantifier, yes with a capital Q. I even tracked physiological, symptoms and lifestyle information in a statistics package for months and then ran actual statistics on it!

I learned again never to say never (how many times must one learn that?). I also learnt that data can be very important in holding oneself accountable for health goals.

I don’t recommend everyone become a quantifier – I do recommend maybe trying it (there are many cool apps are out there, see our blog for how to work this with Heart Rate Variability).

What I do recommend is to craft accountability for your wellbeing goals. Often accountability to others is more effective than to yourself – Consider a friend, parent, child, pet (dogs are great for keeping you honest on walking), therapist, support group (online or real life), coach, team mates, teacher, mentor, elder, church leader…..

Be in Motion

You don’t need to be this guy to be in motion. Motion can be very small, yet not insignificant. Here are some tips from the mental health foundation on the topic:

• Take the stairs not the lift
• Go for a walk at lunchtime
• Walk into work – perhaps with a colleague – so you can ‘connect’ as well
• Get off the bus one stop earlier
• Organise a work sporting activity
• Have a kick-about in a local park
• Do some ‘easy exercise’, like stretching, before you leave for work in the morning
• Walk to someone’s desk instead of calling or emailing.

I see being in Motion as not just physical, but I think of motion also in terms of learning and growth.

Be the Journey

I’m a huge Work in Progress when it comes to ‘being the journey’. Firstly let me explain what I mean by this idea. I mean, remembering, despite Hollywood’s best messaging to the contrary, life is not about the destination. There is no one main goal or place to arrive. Life is quite literally lived right now, and right now.

I am no Echart Tolle (The Power of Now). I have come far and I will go further. But I am no natural. I did not become that person who did a PhD in wellbeing for interest, by being a naturally sunny natured, easy to self-manage person. Quite the opposite. My core personality is intolerant, distractable and cynical. Living in the present and I are not natural allies.

Oddly, I started to flex my Power-of-Now muscle, not when I read the book, but when I was very sick. When the present was unbearable and the pain and nausea overwhelming. My learning started when I was too sick to run off to the future or to think about the past. I came face-to-face with the present when it grabbed my attention so much I could not be elsewhere.

I am now reasonably well, and sometimes really in the Now. In the future, I hope to be more in the Now (see what I did there lol).

Be the Journey

The Magic of Seven

Just for fun some other sevens to entertain you…….

  • Pillars of the House of Wisdom in the Book of Proverbs.
  • Chakras
  • Sages of Greece.
  • Sorrows and Joys of Mary
  • Heavens of Islam
  • Deadly sins
  • Ancient sages
  • Steps around the fire (to unite when marrying)
  • Days for god to create the world
  • Days of morning in Judaism
  • Angels in Egyptian mythology
  • Major stars of big dipper
  • Cervical vertebrae of most mammals
  • Periods on the periodic table of elements and
  • Colors of the rainbow
  • Continents and seas on earth
  • Hills of Rome
  • Hills of Istanbul,
  • ‘planets’ visible to the naked eye
  • Notes in a typical major or minor scale
  • Last, but certainly not least, books in the Harry Potter series

Weight-loss andMe: Finally putting my money where my mouth isn’t.

Post by Claire Lichtwark-McInnes.

I don’t remember how long it took for me to get fat.
I just know it happened.
I now understand much more about why it happened.
During my weight loss journey, I have been encouraged to think about why I decided to take action, what were the defining issues?

I was very uncomfortable. So my main driver, my  ‘why’ for taking action was I wanted to be comfortable.

I had also noticed I was losing my natural confidence in social situations and I wanted some nice clothes.  Wearing tents gets stale after a while.  I had given up on the idea of looking good as I  had long since stopped looking in the mirror for fear of what I would see.

My Three Cs

Now 16 months later and 17kg lighter, all on a frame only a smidge over five foot, I still carry a card that reminds me of my why,  my three C’s: Comfort, Confidence, Clothes.
threeCs

Where will it end?

You might ask – how did the journey begin? And where does it end?

To answer the last question first, and potentially to disappoint you …..it doesn’t end.
I am not on a diet I am making healthy choices.  I expect the choices I make to continue for life.

It started in April 2018, fed up with not fitting clothes, feeling uncomfortable and looking like crap (see above), I decided to go to Weight Watchers, now known as Wellbeing that Works or just WW.

I was not looking for a quick fix, but a long term solution.  I still have 9kg to go to reach goal weight, I am not in a hurry it is slowly but surely happening.

I chose WW to support my journey as I like their approach, central to which is understanding that weight-loss is more about mindset than food.  I have a lot of supportive family and friends few of whom have ever been fat.  As much I love them, as tangible support – they are fairly useless.  Real support comes from people who have been there, WW ticked this box for me too.

While losing weight I have been on an Alaskan cruise, had long holidays, attended celebrations and generally lived life to the full.  I  do not feel deprived.  I even had the privilege of dropping into WW meetings in America. This really added to my travel experience, meeting real locals with shared goals and experience to me.

To achieve my goals I make small but frequent changes.  I substitute avocado for butter, olive oil for canola, have more fish and chicken than red meat, more fruit and vegetables, and less sugar. My diet now contains way more variety and way more taste than previously.  I no longer eat something if it isn’t really nice. 

Looking at my journey alongside the Mental Health Foundation’s five ways to wellbeing model is enlightening.

Connect

Talk, listen, be there feel connected. – my chosen support group is WW.  I find it powerful and inspiring to hear of others successes and challenges.  It’s nice not to be alone.  I get great advice and friendship from the coaches and members.  I have attended meetings in several countries and guess what!….    the challenges are the same wherever you go.  I intend to continue to use this support forever.

Give

…your time, your words, your presence. I enjoy supporting other members when they speak of challenges that are all too familiar.

Take Notice

Remember the little things that give you joy.  Taking time out to sit with a coffee and the daily crossword is huge.  I’m never too busy to do that now.

Keep Learning

Embrace new experiences, see opportunities, surprise yourself.   I love my new paddle-board ……. Sometimes I stay upright …….sometimes not.  I’m looking forward to my first book club meeting tomorrow.  I also love learning new recipes and new ways to cook.

Be Active

Do what you can, enjoy what you do, move your mood.  I’m lucky I have no physical hurdles to exercise so I enjoy riding my bike and swimming and I keep fairly active on the farm.   However, WW teaches even small things to get moving, gentle walks or chair exercises for example.
I have also learned to understand when I eat even when I’m not hungry, why I do. What my triggers are, how to manage them and how to be kind to myself when I am not perfect. Progress not perfection is the key.

Even at this stage of the journey, I try on clothes in front of those terrible fitting room mirrors without descending into misery.  I enjoy my exercise instead of it being a chore.
I am now looking to expand this knowledge to other areas of my life.  I will keep you posted as I go.

Meanwhile all the best on your own wellbeing journeys, whatever they are.

Yours as ever,

Claire  X

Links

https://www.weightwatchers.com/nz/
NB: I receive no monetary or other payment from  WW, I am simply sharing what has worked for me, there are other great systems out there – the trick is finding one that works for you.

Are those plants on your desk helping you focus?

Yes, plants can help you perform better at certain tasks, maybe.

A study in the Journal of Environmental Psychology asked 34 students to perform certain cognitive tasks.  Half had four plants on their desk (including some flowers) the other half used the same room, performed the same task, but had no plants to keep them company.

The student’s attention was tested three times: when they arrived in the office; after a difficult task; and after a five min break.

Attention improved after the difficult task for those with plants but not those without plants!  Attention did not improve after the break for either group.

So why did plants seemingly aid attention? Was it the inner ‘omm shanty shanty’ magic of plants?

Interestingly the authours of the study propose a different potential explanation: Directed attention (the sort you need for attention tasks) gets depleted.  Nature has a complexity about it that triggers an undirected (wandering) sort of attention – this gives the direct attention system a wee rest and recharge.

So what about the science

For those that have not noticed, I have a mission to promote critical thinking of scientific methods in this, post-truth world (for which I blame The Donald).  I am a campaigner for the truth.  I always start with science, however, one must bring their critic’s hat even here.

What are your thoughts about what could be the flaws in this study? Or even just the things that make generalising difficult?

In this instance, the small sample size is a clear limitation. Something else is the fact that both conditions had a nature view outside the window by the desk.  This may have interfered with the results.  Another issue is the no-plant condition was a terribly barren one.  Hence, perhaps the improvement in attention was nothing to do with plants and just to do with ‘things’ versus very bare.  Finally, there is that question mark about why there was not any improvement after a break – when the plant group could really have benefitted from all that nature complexity right there under their noses.  Fortunately, the authors know what they are doing and acknowledge and discuss all of these.

So on balance, I think I’ll be putting a few plants near my desk.

Links References and all that Jazz

FYI: This is part of our quick reads series; helping you stay informed without hogging your precious time.  This post covers the peer-reviewed academic paper shown below.

Raanaas, R. K., Evensen, K. H., Rich, D., Sjøstrøm, G., & Patil, G. (2011). Benefits of indoor plants on attention capacity in an office setting. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 31(1), 99-105. doi: 10.1016/j.jenvp.2010.11.005

Photo Credit

Wellbeing: The Catch is You!

The problem with most home or work-based wellbeing programs is people. Yep. People. People get in the way of themselves.  Time and time again.  Oh and again.

This brings us to another topic I follow i.e. habit change.  Mastering your habits is fundamental in maintaining your wellbeing.

Even threat of death might not work

Guess how many people are not taking the medications that will very likely save their life, six months after a heart attack?  Fifty percent.  Yes.  You read that right.  One in two people do swallow the pills that will (probably) save their lives.

Just imagine what the statistics are for difficult wellbeing habits e.g. exercising and eating right.

Dismal.

What to do? What to do?

You can start with my 8 tips to get control of your habits.

But wait there is more, consider also:

  • Riding the wave: of enthusiasm that is.  Starting with a big bang and lots of activity might just help push you through your first slump.
  • Pick a good day to start.  Pick a fresh start day, the start of the week, a birthday, the beginning of a month.

More science is coming!

I am excited to say that 50 scientists have teamed up with a gym to offer free programs and collect data to learn more about the science of habits.  I am sorry to say it’s in America.  If you are reading from there check it out.   If not, one of the related links had this tool that worked for me in New Zealand.  Apparently, I am starting exercising tomorrow.

What next? What more?

With my passion for wellbeing at work – the question on my mind now is: how well are wellbeing programs building in serious support for habit change?

Links, References and all that Jazz

https://www.stickk.com

https://stepupfitness.org/signup

https://www.inc.com/jessica-stillman/can-this-dream-team-of-47-top-scientists-finally-figure-out-how-to-change-bad-

habits.htmlhttps://www.scientificamerican.com/article/using-behavioral-science-to-build-an-exercise-habit/