It’s that time of year when diet and fitness seems to be on everyone’s lips. I always think it is strange that although many people feel the need to purge and scourge their bodies into submission in January following the excesses of Christmas, all in all it is the possibly the most difficult time of the year to do it.

Trying to start a new exercise and health regime in the middle of winter when the weather is usually poor, the bills from the festive season add up to depression and the nights are dark and long, seems crazy. If any time of the year called for warming meals, treats and other comfort foods it is January! The only thing January has going for it is the fact that we have been conditioned to think that it is a ‘new beginning’. However as we all know, that New Year glow wears off pretty quickly and motivation tends to evaporate. With our New Year’s resolutions in tatters around our lycra clad ankles the appeal of the Gym and a rocket salad for dinner starts to fade.

Then there are the diet contradictions. In a very unscientific study conducted by myself from my personal collection of diet books I found that if you dip into all of them instead of leading to a ‘new you’ all you get is a ‘confused you’. High Fat, No Fat, Low Fat, Low Carb, No Dairy, Detox Diet, Juice Diet, Seed and Nut diet, Wheat Free, Sugar Free; the list is endless and in some areas contradictory and dangerous.


Most maddening of all

Perhaps the most maddening of all is the fact that most of these diets will work when strictly adhered to but the problem really arises if you start taking bits from all of them and mixing it up. Eating lots of good fat is alright on its own but start mixing in some sugars and you are in trouble. Of course the main problem with all of these diets is that you can not stay on them for life and so maintenance is always going to be an issue. Torture and restrict yourself for six weeks, buy a whole new wardrobe for the thinner you and then spend the rest of the year working back up towards the fat clothes end of the rail in order to start again, after Christmas in the next New Year! It is cyclical and as well as being hard on the body it is mentally draining and consuming and appears to be a never ending battle.

Education is the only key to stop this roundabout. Over the past year instead of jumping on the latest fad diet I have been trying to learn a little bit more about how the body works and how food affects it. It’s all very well reading food labels but if you don’t know what the terms mean then it might as well be written in a foreign language. The buzz word at the moment seems to be Hydrogenated Fat. This is one of the many evils of the modern food world but it has led to confusion and the vilifying of every type of fat.

Hydrogenated Fat is found in many products in our supermarkets. It is the most common way of changing good healthy natural oil into a killer. The reason for it is that the process provides longer shelf life of a product, leading to cheaper products but the cost is the nutritional value of the food. Without boring anyone with the actual process of how oil is hydrogenated, basically it is heated at a very high temperature and often involves the use of nickel and aluminium. Yes, metals; a residue of which is often left over in the food that we eat! Forgive me for stating the obvious but as far as I’m aware it is never a good idea to eat metal, that’s not what it is for.


Aluminium residue

Aluminium residue is a real worry as some studies have linked it to Alzheimer’s disease and osteoporosis. Before you start raiding the cupboards to rid it of all things with hydrogenated fat the good news is that the body, because it is so sophisticated, can actually deal with these bad fats. One of the best analogies that I came across was this. Just as a bricklayer can deal with defective bricks when building, our body has ways of dealing with trans-fatty acids in our diet. The body will recognise the bad things and eliminate them.

If a builder comes across a defective block he just puts it aside or destroys it to prevent it from being used and gets a good brick instead. The problem arises when we don’t have any ‘good bricks’ to replace it! If most of your food falls into the defective category then the body has to use the bad stuff to feed the cells. If a builder doesn’t have anything but bad bricks to build a wall then he has to use them. If too much bad stuff gets in the body has no choice but to use it and this is the beginning of deterioration, degeneration and, naturally, disease. Read the labels and be aware that if it has a fat content and a long shelf life, chances are it contains hydrogenated fat. It is best avoided, or at least eaten in very small amounts. Instant gravy mixes, frying oils and margarines often fall into this category; read the labels and find some natural substitutes.

Aspartame is a sweetener which is in thousands of products, particularly diet products. This stuff is really bad. If the label says ‘Sugar Free’ be sure to read it carefully and if it contains aspartame, avoid it if possible. Too much of this stuff can literally kill you. Effectively with the heat of the body, aspartame is converted into formaldehyde. Basic first year science will make you aware that formaldehyde is not good for a healthy body. Aspartame also changes the brain’s chemistry and again all you need to know is that this is not good. Too much aspartame can lead to self poisoning, showing up in spasms, shooting pains, numbness in your legs, headaches, joint pain, memory loss; indeed over ninety two recognised symptoms have been documented. Read the labels and avoid it. It is absolutely no good being slim but sick.


I find it particularly annoying that the food that is over processed and quite bad for us is usually the cheaper option. It must be extremely frustrating trying to feed a large family on a budget without being forced to buy some of these chemical laden foods. Organic, natural foods can often be twice and three times the price of their over processed equivalent. When we look at the state of the health service in this country it would make much more sense for the government to start diverting some funds into better nutrition. We wouldn’t be as sick if we were healthier and yet those that are trying to live healthily are penalised financially. It makes little sense.

Exercise is vital but you don’t have to join a gym to do it, just get moving. The body was designed to move, not to sit in a car, sit at a desk, sit in the car again, sit on a sofa and then lie on a bed until the following morning when we do it all over again. Cycle with the kids, play with them in the garden, take them on a nature walk. Park your car further away from your job, get up and change the channels manually rather than using the remote control, take the stairs; small, simple changes can have a big impact over time.

Finally use your common sense. Being healthy is not rocket science and it won’t be found in a mad diet that you can’t live on forever or a gym membership that you hate using. Make 2008 a year of small changes and health rather than the massive challenge that this year you will get thin!