2018 was a great year. I lost 10 kilos and am still losing – slowly but surely. Oh, I have lost weight numerous times in the past but this is different. This time I know that it will continue until I reach a healthy size. A year ago I was despairing that I would never be able to get down to my healthy weight. People were telling me that it was normal to be heavier over 50, I wondered if I had permanent damage from years of yoyo dieting and I had never had a sustained weight loss over more than a few months. I didn’t know that I already had the answer.
… I have never felt ‘fat and happy’ or believed that it was OK to be obese
Firstly, let me say that I have never felt ‘fat and happy’ or believed that it was OK to be obese. I know that these days it’s politically incorrect to ‘fat shame’ and I couldn’t agree more that shaming is not at all helpful! Neither do I believe that there is a perfect shape or look – we are all different. The emphasis on diets and losing weight has always been flawed for me. Overweight is a symptom and not caused by weakness or gluttony. Lifetime habit changes are the only way to a permanently fit and healthy body. Short term dieting only makes things worse by slowing the metabolism which makes it almost impossible to retain the weight loss. Re-igniting metabolism must accompany weight loss.
‘Nobody that came out of Belsen was fat; you must be eating too much’
Until recently, my weight loss stories are like many others. I have a terrible memory from my 40’s when I started to become heavier. I went to ask for help. He was rude, dismissive and said ‘Nobody that came out of Belsen was fat; you must be eating too much’. I felt guilty – I must be weak and greedy. Then there was the specialist who gave me slimming pills (I later learned these were actually a variation of Speed). I felt amazing I was full of energy and felt no hunger…for the first few days. After that the pills started to affect me less and less. As a parting shot the specialist had said ‘…and if you need any more just ring my receptionist and I can give you as many prescriptions as you need’. I lost a lot of weight in that first month but decided that taking pills was not the answer…I descended into a deeper hole with the weight ricocheting back on…and more
I do believe that there is a healthy weight range within which I would like to fall. When I was obese (as measured by the height to waist ratio as well as the BMI), there was nothing more destroying to my soul than someone saying ‘you aren’t fat, you look lovely’. When I saw a fat photo and didn’t recognise myself I hated it when people said ‘but the real you shines in that picture’; I could see a fat person. I couldn’t fit into my clothes; I couldn’t move quickly; I found exercise tiring; I got stuck in plane seats! The opposite of fat shaming is ‘fat acclaiming’ and I don’t like either.
I had to change my focus to find my motivation.
It was the pursuit of health that led me to permanent weight loss – not a craving for better appearance. Prioritising my appearance always felt so egotistical; don’t tell me I should love myself more either! I love myself but don’t prioritise my appearance. I had to change my focus to find my motivation. Make no mistake, it is perfectly possible to lose weight and be less healthy and I certainly didn’t want that! I am lighter and healthier because I put the focus on becoming healthier first and the weight followed. Ironically I now feel fine about wanting to look my best – it just wasn’t the driver for me losing weight. Now I’m confident, but for me that didn’t come from focusing on myself. Different people will need different motivations. This was mine.
By the age of 40 I was seriously overweight and in a stressful career.
I haven’t had a weight problem all my life. When I was 25 I looked perfect (to me now – not then)! In fact I only began gaining weight when I was around 30. By the age of 40 I was seriously overweight and in a stressful career. I ate (and drank alcohol) when I was tired, stressed, happy, sad…and all the wrong things! I dieted almost continuously in my 40’s. All the diets worked really well but none of them lasted longer than a few months and I continued to put on more kilos in between so the problem became bigger.
Looking back it‘s easy to see that a simple gain of 1 kilo a year over 30 resulted in a weight gain of 20 kilos by the time I was 50! I was becoming physically sick as well. My metabolism was virtually nil; I had migraines, digestive problems with constant acid reflux every night; I was constantly exhausted and my sleep was poor to say the least; I developed multiple allergies, and at one stage a doctor removed everything from my diet except for lamb and apples!; I was always unfit and slid in and out of depression. At least I had a successful career and was earning a good income (or so I reasoned).
My 50’s changed everything.
2007 at my heaviest
My karma arrived! My 50’s changed everything. My GP told me the symptoms were menopause. Then (after a year of symptoms) they found a mass in my uterus. When it was removed it weighed 7 kilos. It wasn’t cancer, it was a Molar pregnancy. After fertility treatment failed in our 30’s, no-one considered that a pregnancy was possible; it was, but this one had gone wrong. The placenta continued to grow for 18 months and was pumping out hormones… I was getting even bigger. I lost 7 kilos after the operation; it wasn’t enough. I got back to work…drinking and eating to deal with the stress and putting off weight loss until I felt better. As if I had missed the clue, my body then performed a slam dunk and landed me with a brain tumour. I finally ‘got it’.
A near death experience always focuses the mind; I had four in 2007!
As if to ram the point home, destiny struck again. A near death experience always focuses the mind; I had four in 2007! I resigned from my job because I thought I was burning out. Finally, I was diagnosed with a benign brain tumour and then spent the rest of that year in hospitals on and off with gaps of ‘recovery’ at home in between. I had four operations altogether and three other near death frights after the tumour was removed in August. I had Deep Vein Thrombosis, an unusual allergic reaction to Heparin and an infection that couldn’t be treated by normal antibiotics (I was allergic or immune to most). I spent a lot of 2007 in the Neuro unit at Auckland hospital. In 2008 I emerged after my final operation to install an acrylic prosthetic skull. I was grateful to be alive and outwardly ‘normal’. My focus on surviving was replaced by a focus on getting well.
I started the road to recovery properly in March 2008. I started small – getting my citizenship which I had relegated because of work for decades. I lost about 10 kilos when I dropped the Dexamethasone drugs and when I started exercising and eating normal (not hospital) food again. I was still obese and my road to wellness had only just started! I also had permanent brain damage from the tumour and needed to start rebuilding my brain to avoid dependence and dementia. In the first few years, I thought that weight was secondary to brain building and focused on learning about that. Over the next 9 years I lost another 10 kilos but it was hard going and I hadn’t found a permanent solution. Little did I know that by 2018 I would go full circle and discover that brain building and weight are directly related.
After nine years, improvement was in my mind but not so much in my body.
Fast forward to 2017. In many ways this was a breakthrough year for me. We had finally managed to start a self-sufficient lifestyle in Matakana after many years of planning. I had been practicing brain building for years and I seemed to be winning. Intellectually all was good. As early as 2011, at my regular check-up, my neurosurgeon had said ‘you are a neuro-specialists nightmare…according to the books, with damage like that, you should be running down the street screaming incoherently’. Those books about the brain have been seriously discredited now. Research and breakthroughs over the past decade have changed everything we thought we knew. Even now, developments in brain research continue to astound me…the brain is amazing. I made a point of keeping up with research and experiences that were ahead of the medical texts and were credible. I refused to accept a diagnosis of despair.
After nine years, however, improvement was in my mind but not so much in my body. Between 2014 and 2016 my weight stayed pretty much the same whatever I did. I was stuck! In 2017, after nine years, I discovered that the missing piece to my wellness was the connection of both wellness and weight.
2011 2012 2013
2014 2015 2016
…my husband dropped a bombshell. He told me that I was snoring and stopped breathing
I always understood that lifestyle factors were vital for a healthy brain. I even developed a five step mnemonic called SPECS to consolidate and explain my discoveries about brain building; it stood for Social, Physical, Emotional, Cognitive and Spiritual. All are important. I began to develop each, discovering the most effective and practical ways to tackle them independently.
In 2017 I had a breakthrough. I knew that sleep was a critical physical brain factor and although I seemed to have sorted my emotional barriers to getting to sleep (I was a serial worrier) my husband dropped a bombshell. He told me that I was snoring and stopped breathing while I thought I was getting a good night’s sleep! This was the first step of my permanent weight loss journey.
In 2018 I sent the machine back and had finally solved my sleep problems.
Diagnosed with sleep Apnoea after an overnight sleep test, I had to use a CPAP machine for sleep. I researched causes and told the specialist that I would be off the machine within a year delivering a 4 point plan. He smiled and said ‘great’. He plan was:
…my gut was so ineffective that it was an underlying cause of my weight problem
During the dieting I was separately trying to improve a gut that no longer worked. I didn’t put two and two together. My gut was so ineffective that it had become an underlying cause of my weight problem. I saw another specialist. I changed my eating to prevent indigestion and improve digestion. It worked and I not only cured my digestion, but also felt much better emotionally, had more energy and…lost weight! This is what I did:
Intermittent fasting is now part of our normal lifestyle.
I then learned about fasting and its amazing positive effects on ageing and the brain! Maybe this could help with weight loss too! I know that many people fast for days – even weeks on water or fruit juice but I couldn’t make it work. I like my food too much and I just kept giving up! I discovered Michael Mosley’s five and two fasting regime which works just as effectively but is much easier. John and I follow this all the time now and enjoy it! We were already practising eating during a daily 12 hour window which we found quite natural and eating earlier was much better for my sleep quality. Intermittent fasting is now part of our normal lifestyle.
Some pointers from my journey:
Don’t mortgage your life for a diet…
If you are feeling a little over whelmed by all this – don’t be! I am an example of someone with more problems than most and I did it! It will take about a year to work through all of the steps to a new you. It took me a decade through trial and error. Learn from my experience and it may not be an instant answer but it will be a new you for a lifetime. A very long and healthy lifetime!
There is enough information here to have a go yourself, but if you would like some support, I have developed a practical five step journey to guide you. Your journey won’t be the same as mine and you may be starting from a different place, but there will be some tricks that I can share. Soon I will be creating an online guide to the five DIY steps; in the meantime I offer confidential coaching sessions in person or online with support materials. Contact me if you are interested.
Don’t mortgage your life for a quick-fix diet; find your own road to wellness! This time next year I will report on progress and no doubt more learning!
Most of us would like more energy. It’s great to wake each morning with that feeling of anticipation and having the resilience to feel energetically enthusiastic all day. Feeling alive with persistent enthusiasm is youthful. As we age it's easy to lose that capacity. This energy loss begins in our 40’s even though we don’t always notice it. Here are some simple practices to understand and ignite energy and build resilience throughout life starting at age 40 or 80.
1. Start the day right
Create a positive mind set for the day. Energy is positively correlated with a positive mood and a regular mood will rewire that mind-set. Make these activities into a daily habit and your normal mood will shift your mind permanently. In other words - don’t worry about not feeling positive – do these positive things and you will feel positive.
Emotionally you feel more stable if you plan the day and you will get a hit of positive chemicals when you achieve results. Our brains are designed to respond positively to action and results which is why good goal setting works.
Introverts and extroverts re-charge energy differently. It’s important to know what helps you to recover and plan it into your day. Failure to do this can lead to ‘burn-out’ over time. If you are feeling stressed – ask yourself if you have taken time to re-charge in the right way.
The brain works best if you use it properly. Here are some of the most common mistakes made:
5. Do it in your own way for others
You are unique. The way in which you think and value people and situations is different and knowing your personal strengths is important. Do you find numbers fascinating, or creating ideas? Do you gravitate to detail and making lists and / or do you enjoy working closely with people. Are you cautious or adventurous?
If you would like to know more about any of these, or the physical and emotional brain basics, contact Janis or ask to get the complete August Wiring Warrior newsletter.
What makes someone look older? When everyone is obsessed with looking younger and avoiding age discrimination – this is an important question. My theory is that if we behave as if we are younger – other people will see us so! Here are my three basic rules for appearing younger.
uniform! Try wearing jeans, tee-shirts and walking shoes (this will look even better if you walk regularly).
Strangely, all of the above will make you feel younger as well as look it. The fact that you brain adjusts to reflect your behaviour also means that these simple acts can improve your thinking as well. Some people are looking old by the time they are 50, others would not be classified as old well into their 70’s. Make sure that you are ‘ageless’!
Wiring Warriors nutritionist Shona has written a series of articles on this site about the importance of brain healthy food and drink. There is no doubt that certain foods can improve mental functioning and others can create ‘brain fog’, poor sleep and change of mood. OK so Christmas is only a few days right? No problem eating badly for a short time- after all it’s so good to eat all those unhealthy foods and drink too much…right? Well – firstly brain healthy food can be even more delicious. Secondly you can see the damage done to your body after the holiday by looking in the mirror. You can’t see your brain and the effects that may be accumulating and appear in future!
So I thought I’d suggest some of the recipes and a menu that I regularly use at this time of year. In most cases the food isn’t harder to prepare or more costly. Substitute a few of the worst brain foods for these rather than try to change everything. For instance, Pavlova is only fat and sugar… substitute double chocolate walnut cake with strawberries; ham is often full of preservatives and fat…substitute succulent spicy turkey.
My menus are based on using the most beneficial Brain foods. Research points clearly to foods that are brain enhancing. There are many claims about super foods – but I have curated the ones that can be used at Christmas and that most specialists agree on. Try to avoid include refined sugar, preservatives and saturated fats and include the following:
Dark chocolate – Great news but beware, not all chocolate is good for your brain! Choose one without dairy ‘fillers’, added sugar and at least 70% cocoa beans . Check the labels. I use Whitttaker’s Dark Ghana. Rich in Flavanols. https://authoritynutrition.com/7-health-benefits-dark-chocolate/
Nuts – especially walnuts. Good source of anti-oxidents and Omega-3. http://www.brainhq.com/brain-resources/brain-healthy-foods-nutrition/nuts-brain-health
Berries – all berries but especially Blueberries. Anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory. http://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/news/20120309/berries-boost-brain-function
Oily fish – especially Salmon and Tuna. Provides Omega-3 http://scienceline.org/2014/03/why-is-salmon-good-for-your-brain/
Olive oil – Extra virgin and uncooked. Contains powerful anti-oxidents. http://www.brainhq.com/brain-resources/brain-healthy-foods-nutrition/5-rules-olive-oil-and-brain-health-getting-most-out-olive-oil
Turkey – calm mood is one of the benefits of turkey. The myth about it sending people to sleep is more likely the after effects of over-eating!
Red Wine – Not too much! However, there is quite a collection of evidence that cites the Resveratrol in red wine as beneficial and even offsetting dementia and memory loss. However, more than a couple of glasses would probably negate the benefits! White wine, beer and spirits seem to have no advantages at all. If you can’t drink alcohol or don’t like wine – you can get the same effect by taking Resveratrol supplements! http://memory.foundation/2015/05/18/red-wine-good-for-the-brain/
Here are some of my ‘go to’ recipes for Christmas. The menus are outlined here and the recipes can be found on the recipes page. Note that most of these are also Gluten and dairy free.
Creamy Coconut oats with blueberries and walnuts (GF/DF)
Fresh berries with yogurt and nuts (Can be GF/DF)
Poached eggs on wholegrain toast with spinach (DF)
Lunch / dinner
Gravlax with mustard and dill sauce (GF/DF)
Succulent spicy turkey with salad or green veg (GF/DF)
Raw beetroot, orange and fennel salad (GF/DF)
Grilled steak with veg or salad (GF/DF)
Double chocolate walnut cake with strawberries (GF/DF)
Amoretti trifle (GF/DF)
Ice cream pudding and berries (Can be GF/DF)
Gluten and dairy free fruity Christmas cake (GF/DF)
Filo sweet mince plait (DF)
Under 60? You probably haven’t thought much about building your brain for the future, but did you know that starting to focus on your brain now could improve your quality of life (and that of your family) as you get older?
There is plenty of interest in brain maintenance and improvement among the 60+ age cohort. Over 60, we can start to become very conscious about deterioration, dependency and even dementia. However, even as we reach 45, parents and friends are becoming older and starting to show signs of the three D’s and most people know someone or have responsibility for someone with one of the D’s by the time they are 60.
The brain simply doesn’t come to the top of the awareness ‘pile’ when we’re younger; it’s something we can do something about when we have time – or we believe that it won’t happen to us and anyway that’s a long way off! There is so much else to focus on… it isn’t much of an exaggeration to say that most people under 60 know more about a mobile phone than their brain! But if you knew that there were some very simple things that you could do now that would make a difference later – wouldn’t you build them into your life?
I am lucky. I needed to find out about brain repair when I was in my 50’s. A tumour the size of a lemon took its toll on the frontal lobe of my brain. In the process of learning to rewire my own brain, I became amazed by its ability to rebuild and equally surprised by how few people know or care about building a strong brain. I have learned that there are three very good reasons why everyone over 45 should be putting more time and energy themselves into building a stronger brain for life:
We tend to take our brain for granted – it just works and after all, we practice by using it every day don’t we? Not really – even doing the crossword every day isn’t a road to brain health without other, integrated activities and lifestyle choices. The good news is that there are some very simple ways to maintain brain health and build strength in everyday life. We must stay relevant and adaptable as the population ages over the next 20 years. If you are 45 or older, be a role model and do it yourself and help a family member or friend to change their brain while you are at it – at least spend as much time learning about your brain as on your mobile phone!
*** If you haven’t read it yet, check out the examples in Norman Doidge’s book ‘The brain that changes itself’
Most of us were taught that the brain deteriorates as it ages…yes? We were even given statistics – the brain loses 1 million cells a day until we die. It was all pretty grim for those over 50. But hold on…we knew a few people who were old but great didn’t we? Einstein, Mandela, Churchill and even my granddad actually. About 20 years ago I was lucky enough to attend a three day workshop for 300 people led by W Edward Deming – the guy who introduced quality to Japan after the war; he was 93 at the time. He never missed a beat on that workshop and was coherent right up to his death a few years later. If these people had lost so many brain cells – how were they functioning so well?
Recently the truth has emerged. Firstly, we start with enormous numbers of cells (between 100 and 200 billion) which can be connected to each other in thousands of different ways. Imagine that number – scientists are fond of comparing this figure to the number of stars in the galaxy; it is that huge. Every one of these thousands of connections creates a thought and wires our brain for better understanding. Loss of brain cells is not the major we used to think it was years ago. It is the amount and strength in our wiring that makes a difference (‘use it or lose it’). The brain is plastic (it changes) and this wiring weaves new thoughts and memories from our experience, building a level of understanding unavailable to younger people. It isn’t until we are about 45 that our brain has enough emotional, cognitive and ethical connections to power up and become a sort of super internet highway which some call wisdom.
Secondly, recent research shows that the brain can give birth to new brain cells. It doesn’t do it in the same way that cells are created in the rest of the body – which is why experts were confused! It turns stem cells from deep in the brain into neurons (brain cells). Roughly 700 a day apparently, so even if we do lose 1 million cells a day (and that may be only those who are failing to work their brains enough)the 700 will go to the place they are needed and combine with this super internet highway that is your aging brain.
If anyone ever suggests that your brain is deteriorating with age – you can now deny that absolutely. It may be getting worse because you aren’t using it enough, but deterioration of its function is not inevitable. Do not confuse dementia with age either. Dementia is not an inevitable aspect of ageing; Even where dementia is genetically inherited, there is hope; it is a disease which, for most of us, can be improved by lifestyle factors like food, drugs and lack of exercise of the body and brain. Research is advancing and there is much that can be done to manage functionality even when physical symptoms are present.
How to start building? Learn about your brain and its potential – take it seriously. Join the Neurological Foundation of NZ where amazing research into the brain is advancing, you will hear about this through their newsletters and free seminars. Come to our Wiring Warrior inspiration and information events. Details of these will be published under 'Events'
Above all, decide to build a better brain as you get older – and know that you can!