7 Steps to Happiness

100_2326View this 7 minute clip on my You Tube Channel; out in 7 easy steps how to bring happiness into your life, filmed on a beautiful Indonesian island, worth watching for the view alone!

Disconnecting to reconnect - Tiny Buddha

Pleased to share my article on the importance of disconnecting from technology and reconnecting with ourselves and nature which has just been published on  To celebrate I'm trying something new and have a video blog on the topic to share with you, you can read the full article on tiny buddha; [video width="320" height="240" mp4=""][/video]Let me know your thoughts and your experiences in the comments section

Pet Therapy

dogWe are living more separately now days than we did 30 years ago when social connection was a lot more common and science is now proving the impacts this has on our heath. Loneliness is one of the top reasons people see a therapist in the US now and a recent study suggests that over 25% of Americans feel they don’t have any close friends with which they’d share a problem. In the age of social media when we may have hundreds of friends on facebook we are actually getting increasingly lonely. Studies are now suggesting that social connection is as important to our health as diet and exercise and that social isolation is having a detrimental impact on our health.Anyone who has owned a much loved pet will attest to the benefits, the smiles they bring to us, the comfort and companionship. Pets can ease loneliness, reduce stress, encourage exercise and studies now show they may even help you live longer. Most notably;• Pet owners are less likely to suffer from depression.• People with pets have lower blood pressure in stressful situations.• Playing with a pet can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine, which calm and relax.• Heart attack patients with pets survive longer than those without.• Pet owners over age 65 make 30% fewer visits to their doctors.The use of pet therapy is becoming increasingly popular for the sick and elderly, this involves organisations bringing specially trained animals to visit those who are sick, depressed and lonely by bringing a smile to their face, providing companionship and calming anxiety to aid recovery.But what if you are not able to have pets of your own? The Japanese have found the answer to this in Paro the therapeutic robot seal being used to help treat the sick and elderly. Designed to look and move like a real pet and respond to interaction, it is thought to help combat loneliness, make people smile, help keep them calm and is also used to help dementia sufferers. Paro has already been a real hit in nursing homes across the globe.The studies seem to show more health benefits with dogs rather than cats probably due to the fact that a cat couldn’t care less about your health, aslong as you feed her, let her out and let her sit on your knee, bed, book, coat, desk, sofa and whenever else she wants. My family have had dogs and cats for as long as I can remember and the love, affection and company they have provided over the years for anyone who has visited the house has been immeasurable.I have always admired the unconditional love you get from a dog, partly due to having less brain cells as cats will testify, cats will only love you when it suits and usually if there’s something in it for them. But what dogs lack in brains they make up for in heart (and appetite if they are Labradors)! I love both cats and dogs and animals in general but have noted that cats will tolerate us whereas dogs worship us but both bring benefits far beyond their company;• The dog makes me feel safe when I am sleeping alone in the house• He immediately cleans up any food I may have spilled on the floor• The cat keeps me warm when she’s curled up on my bed• She also keeps the mice population down in the garden shed• The dog makes me exercise, even on the coldest days when he needs his walk• When I am sick or sad they seem to know and come and curl up bedside me• They have replaced the alarm clock as my morning wake up call• They think it’s ok to go to sleep in the afternoon, in fact they encourage it• They listen to you, even when you say the craziest things, and they never argue• When I come home from shopping they great me as if I’ve returned from a six month expedition across the dessert.I have grown up with animals around and I think it’s great for kids to learn how to look after something from a young age, even if it is a goldfish or a hamster, it also teaches kids lessons about life and death but the impact of pets goes much further than that. For me I am happier when animals are around and I always feel special when I come home to pets.

Diet beyond food

100_2057Although it is true that we are what we eat, it is also true that there’s more to it than that. It is also about how we eat and other factors. In a nation that is overfed but under nourished it’s clear that we no longer eat because we are hungry, so what others reasons could there be? There are in fact many factors impacting what we eat, for example; our emotions play a role in our food choices, our lifestyles, environment, education, food cost and availability, the habits we’ve grown up with, convenience and time.I don’t think we can underestimate the role our emotions play in our food choices but our food choices also play a massive part in our emotions; we all know what it’s like to reach for comfort food on a cold wet day when you’re not feeling happy and likewise we’ve seen the effects too much sugar has on the kids behaviour and the sluggish feeling we get ourselves when we’ve over indulged on the wrong things. We may eat for boredom, sadness, fear or just because those around us are eating, we may not even be hungry. I used to eat to fill a gap in my soul but I’ve found other things in my life that fill that gap now.Stress also has a big role to play in our diet with studies now evidencing the role of the hormone cortisol in weight gain. Cortisol is produced when we are stressed and this helps us react in times of stress by activating the fight or flight response, this worked well in times gone by when stress normally meant you were being hunted by an animal or there was a famine occurring, the body would release adrenalin to activate the fight of flight response and would also hold onto its fat reserves, this is good if we still lived in past times but in today’s modern world our stressors are different; they are work emails, traffic jams, forgetting someone’s birthday, the supermarket car park being full and unfortunately ‘stress’ occurs far more frequently, the result being that are bodies are awash with cortisol and reducing fat is the last thing it wants to do, even if we’re eating all the right things.The body doesn’t shape our health it is the mirror of our inner health and how we live our life. Whilst it’s important to look after our body (eating right, exercise etc) there’s more to it than that and the fundamental part is if we look after how we live our health will be better.As well as what we are eating we should consider how we are eating it. How often do we sit around the table and focus on our meals, chewing slowly and waiting a few minutes afterwards to see if we’re full before we dive in for seconds? Many of our meals now are rushed and on the go. I’ve found it helpful using smaller plates to control portion size and only eating until I’m 80% full, once you’ve allowed time after the meal for it to settle you find that you’re no longer hungry, but without allowing this time the temptation is to continue to eat until we can’t fit anymore in and by doing this we are eating more than we need to. When you eat soley for hunger it’s surprising how little you need. Drinking water also ensures we do not feel so hungry and then accidentally overeat. In fact some of our hunger pains can actually be a sign from the body that it is thirsty and needs more water. Many of us are not drinking enough water throughout the day and this is contributing to our eating habits.My food journey has made me realise how much of what we eat is through habit. You're used to what you grow up on or what those around you eat, this becomes your habit pattern. As I began to travel I experienced many different foods I’d never eaten before and began to eat more real food and enjoyed it so brought the cook books. One day a friend asked me what are the best recipes from it I’d tried and I realised I hadn’t actually done any, it decorated the kitchen saying ‘look how healthy I am’, in the same way I’d take fruit to work and it would decorate my desk until it went off and I threw it away! Only when I put myself in an environment of eating this kind of food everyday (ashrams and yoga retreats) did I become used to it, realised how god it made me feel and my body started to crave it, even after I left. Now I use the cookbooks, my body actually wants to eat this food not just because I think I should, I have experienced it and it’s become a habit, it’s no longer a tough choice of what I think I ought to be doing versus what I want to do they are now the same thing.This is the big turning point; putting what we know into practice, putting the education into action. There are thousands of books and articles relating to food and diet available and it’s become and muti million dollar industry but still we make bad choices. To me there’s more to it than understanding the educational elements of diet, there’s a big difference between knowing what we should be eating and putting that into action. We know that fast food is not good for us but it doesn’t stop temptation giving way to take aways, so how do we make the shift from what we know to be true to putting it into practice?I think it starts by looking at why we make these choices; is it because of how we feel (emotions), is it because of convenience (time), maybe it’s because of our lifestyle or the environment in which we live. If we have a very social lifestyle that involves being at pubs and restaurants often we may find this is impacting our diet; alcohol in particular is not just responsible for weight gain itself it also leads to us making poor food choices later that night and even the next day, it dehydrates us and disturbs our sleep, also things that impact our diets.It’s not easy and it requires a change that’s why we can find many excuses that prevent change from occurring, here are two of the most popular ones and some antidotes;“I don’t have the time”; plan ahead and find the time; thinking about a menu for the week when you do your shopping ensures you have all the things you need in the house to make the right choices and if something tempts you (chocolate, biscuits etc), don’t buy it, save it for a special occasion, if it’s not there you can’t eat it. By making meals ahead of time on the weekends or the night before work it makes it much quicker and easier when you’re short on time.“I can’t afford good food and take away is so cheap”; Deals in supermarkets now mean that making good meals for cheap is possible, there are also lots of free recipes available for inspiration on making healthy meals out of a few ingredients. If you have the land and climate try to grow your own from seed, this is a cheaper, healthier alternative. The question you need to ask yourself is what price do you put on your health?Some of the biggest diseases in present times are diet and lifestyle related; obesity, heart disease, diabetes, depression and they are still on the rise.  When the cost of being unhealthy outweighs the effort of being healthy we find that people adjust to making the change, for some the motivation to change comes in the form of a health scare, but don’t wait for this to happen, take your health into your own hands, put what we know into practice and consider the bigger picture when it comes to what we are eating to ensure we eat for our health. It not only helps you lose weight it also makes you fitter, healthier and happier and weighed up with the alternatives the choice is clear.

We are what we eat

FoodI brought my first size 8 clothes just recently and it came as a bit of a shock, I had to check the label to make sure it wasn’t a misprint, I’d taken a size 12 into the changing rooms so that shows how far off I was. I’d not really noticed myself, my clothes were all baggy but I’d been travelling for 4 months and thought it was just a side effect of washing and wearing the same things over and over again but when I returned home my friends all remarked on the weight I’d lost and asked me how so this made me think; how did I do this without really knowing I had?I’ve dieted all my life, not because I’m fat but because I’m short (at least that’s the reason that’s always sat well with me), I am ‘stocky’ as my granddad would say and I love my food too which has never helped. This has lead me to try all the diet fads going over the years but never to any avail so how had I managed it all these years later without even trying. I’ve come to the conclusion that any diet that restricts too many food groups is doomed to fail, it’s just not sustainable or balanced, it makes you miserable and only works for as long as you’re sticking to the regime, I needed to find something that was part of everyday life that I could do forever not just whilst I was ‘on a diet’Now I’m not going to sit here and tell you I was sat on the sofa eating chips when 10 kg disappeared down one of the back cushions and you’re not expecting to read that either (although you were secretly hoping I had discovered some quick fix that required little effort). It’s hard work and it takes discipline and it requires moderating some of the things you love the most but you knew that already didn’t you!There has never been a truer word spoken about diet than the phrase “we are what we eat”. There’s so much temptation around these days and the less healthy stuff is often more convenient and cheaper which makes it even harder for us to do the right thing, as a result we are living in a nation that is over fed but under nourished.Before processed foods were so plentiful and widely available what did we eat? We ate real food and coincidently during these times there was less obesity, depression and disease. Real food is food that has lived, things our grandparents would recognise as food and preferably the sort we can grow in our gardens (or someone else can grow in their gardens for us)! We need to eat far more fruit and veg than we currently do and we need to know that it is clean, the drive to mass produce cheap, plentiful, pretty food that can travel miles and last weeks has meant an increase in chemicals and preservatives used on food that is best eaten in its natural state. This is why organic produce is my choice or home grown is even better (and cheaper).When we talk about the price of good quality food what we’re really talking about is the price we’re putting on our health and nothing puts it into context like a comparison to the millions of dollars our health system spends on fixing diet related disease. There can in fact be a high price for cheap food.I’ve also found over the last few months that when I’ve not been eating meat I’ve felt better, due to the nature of the places I’ve been staying at my diet has been mostly vegetarian. Meat has become cheap and plentiful and has increased in our diets with the popularity of Atkins and Paleo diets. Now I’m not a vegetarian and I also believe meat has a fundamental role in our diet to provide us with iron and protein but I do think we eat too much of it in the western world. I think this impacts on our health in the increase in heart disease and digestive disorders we are seeing and the impact on the environment is just as significant. Take the mass deforestation occurring to make more room for livestock and places to grow the feed for the stock, there are now more livestock on the planet than people, this is contributing to an increase in water use and decreases in water quality due to the pollution from farms. There is also the increase in green house gas emissions associated with producing meat and the impacts on soil quality due to the large amount of feed that needs to be cultivated to feed our meat before we eat it.The importance of eating real food is not just for diet, it contributes to our health and our happiness. People tell me my eyes are bright and my skin clear as well as looking slimmer, the weight is a bonus, the best thing about this for me is the way it makes me feel. Food has such an impact on our moods, eating the right things makes us feel better, we can all relate to that sluggish sad feeling we get when we’ve indulged in all the wrong things and if we’re feeling down we’re more likely to reach for the less healthy foods to comfort us, it can be a vicious circle.I still have fish and chips by the beach and enjoy the odd glass of wine with dinner. I don’t have a gym membership, nor do I pound the pavement in my jogging gear. So how did I shed my additional kilos and how do I stay healthy? For me it wasn’t so much about diet, more about a healthy lifestyle, the weight loss was just a bonus.I have chosen exercise that I enjoy, sometimes this is a simple as a gentle stroll along the beach, it could be a bike to work or regular yoga classes. I also noticed that once I no longer had a car I was walking much more everyday and this has also played a part.  Just remember the two key points for exercise; do it everyday for at least 30 minutes and make sure it’s something you enjoy, if it’s not fun you’re not going to want to do it. It needs to be something you look forward to not something on your to do list that you’d really rather wasn’t there. It’s not just the calorie burning, toning, sweat busting endorphin inducing plus of exercise, it can also be a great social activity too, it becomes more than something you’re doing for your health, it’s a valuable part of your life.I eat real food, mostly fruit and veg with the occasional fish and meat, I drink lots of water and I exercise everyday. I have also reduced the amount of alcohol I have when I socialise. I don’t often snack between meals but if I do it’s healthy (fruit, veg, nuts etc). The key for me is balance and moderation, that way you don’t have to go without and when you do indulge it tastes so much better. I still have the odd treat, a chocolate bar or some ice cream but it’s reserved for special occasions.I meditate to keep my stress levels down and I try to spend time doing things I enjoy and living happily. I give gratitude everyday, there is always something to be grateful for even if it’s just that the sun is shining. I make sure I have enough sleep and prioritise early nights. I have also learned to distinguish between hunger and emotional eating, eating for boredom, sadness, fear, or simply because others are eating.By eating and exercising for health not diet we are making sustainable, long lasting changes to our lifestyles which can lead to happier, healthier, longer lives. I believe there’s more to it than just what we eat though and we’ll explore that in part 2 to come…….

The wonders of coconut

untitledUntil quite recently the closest I got to a coconut was in a Bounty bar, which I thought was as good as it got, why would you need more? I didn’t even know what one looked like, where they came from let alone how to get into one.My journey of discovery began when I identified a dairy intolerance but also because of my love of Asian food. Whilst in Asia I would gorge on curries and creamy soups with no ill effects (apart from the occasional travellers stomach) and I would also buy a coconut to drink from the street stalls (thankfully they open it for you).Dairy intolerances seem more prevalent today and this has lead to more mainstream information and sharing of ideas, coconut milk and cream feature heavily. Being intolerant to dairy made creamy sauces untouchable until I substituted coconut cream. The more I researched the more alternatives I found until I came to the wonderful realisation that I would not have to go without ice cream again.It turns out the coconut has many uses and all of the different parts can be used. Weather it’s the oil, flesh, water, milk, cream and the husks make great serving bowls that add a fancy twist when serving up rice dishes.The oil can be used for cooking with high heat, greasing baking tins, basting meat, making dressing – just about anything you’d use cooking oil for. The milk and cream of a coconut can be used as alternatives anywhere you’d use dairy milk and cream, but it’s especially great in porridge, curries and making ice cream!Coconut water has recently found fame thanks to celebrity endorsements, it’s a great hydrator and natural, it has more electrolytes than water but none of the unhealthy additives the sports drinks on the market have, you can mix it with cranberry juice or similar if you want a different taste to it.The flesh is nice to eat on its own or with sweet desserts but dried and shredded makes a great alternative to sugar. I put it in my baking, on my cereals and even in sauces, anything that needs a bit of something sweet really.And it doesn’t stop there, coconut is also an excellent addition to your beauty regime, it’s inexpensive, multiuse and natural so totally good for you inside and out.  Due to concerns over toxins in our beauty products I now also use coconut oil in the bathroom. It’s a great hair conditioner and skin moisturiser which also naturally contains a low factor sun protection. Coconut oil can also be used to remove makeup and cleanse your face.When I tell people I put coconut oil on my hair and body they look at me like I’ve just told them I smoother myself in butter or something.I also use coconut oil for oil pulling, which is an Ayurvedic cleansing technique, by swishing melted coconut oil around your mouth for 20 minutes then spitting it out you help remove bacteria and toxins from your mouth and lymph system, it leads to whiter teeth, healthy gums, fresh breath and detoxes the body.So rather than spending hundreds of dollars on products that ‘contain coconut’ why not use the real thing, 100% natural, no chemicals added, good for you and good for your wallet. It’s what the ancient tribes have used for thousands of years before the invention of chemical products and in my opinion is a wonder product of its own.And of course it still tastes really great with chocolate too!

Natural Health

100_1954In a world where stress, anxiety, mood disorders and depression are on the rise and many medical professionals are keen to turn to pills for the answer maybe it’s time we stopped to consider the natural remedies people have used for centuries to keep sickness away.It may seem too good to be true that something so readily available could make us better. We have become conditioned to turn to pills for assistance and quick fixes, these days if we are ill there’s little time to stop and recover, life continues and we have to keep up but at what cost to our health and long term quality of life.I used to get headaches when I worked all day in an office with no natural light, looking at a computer all day, breathing in air conditioning and sitting down for far too many hours of the day at a desk, although it was tempting to take a pill and carry on working through the busy to do list I found that all I needed was 30 minutes walking outside in the sunlight and fresh air and this resolve my headache naturally.Studies are now confirming the health benefits of natural remedies, and in many cases doctors are now also suggesting regular exercise and being outdoors could be of benefit to patients with mild depression. So before we reach for the medicine cabinet ensure you’ve not overlooked some of the following natural alternatives;1. ExerciseStudies now show that there are more benefits to exercise than we first thought, we know it keeps us healthy and trim and makes us feel good and is now recommended as an antidote for stress and depression but tests on mice show that it also improves memory and focus by contributing to the growth of new nerve cells in the hippocampus region of the brain that can stimulate improved memory and learning. Exercise is also know to help us sleep better and can add to our social health if we exercise with friends or play team sports.The trick is to find exercise you enjoy whether this be taking the kids for a bike ride, walking with friends, yoga, swimming at the beach or maybe you are one of those people who love the gym or classes or need the extra motivation a personal trainer brings, as long as it’s something you enjoy it doesn’t matter what it is as if you enjoy it you’re more likely to do it regularly and it won’t feel like a chore. Making lifestyle adjustments can help too, walking to the shops not taking the car, cycling to work in the mornings, getting a dog and walking it daily whatever the weather, find what works for you and exercise will become so much easier, it should be something you enjoy.2. Fruit & VegetablesIt is so true that we are what we eat, it is also true that we don’t get enough fresh vegetables in our current diets. Not only are they good for our health, they give us clear skin and improve our moods and have some of the vital nutrients we seem to be short of these days.Space and climate don’t always permit it but where you can try and grow your own, not only does this foster the connection between you and your food but it also ensures you know exactly where it’s come from and how it’s been grown, nothing tastes fresher than veg that’s come straight from your garden onto your plate.3. PetsPets can ease loneliness, reduce stress, encourage exercise and studies now show they may even help you live longer. Reports from recent studies suggest that pet owners are less likely to suffer from depression and that people with pets have lower blood pressure in stressful situations. This could be due to the fact that playing with a pet can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine, which calm and relax.The use of pet therapy is becoming increasingly popular for the sick and elderly, this involves organisations bringing specially trained animals to visit those who are sick, depressed and lonely by bringing a smile to their face, providing companionship and calming anxiety to aid recovery.4. Being outdoorsWe know we don’t get outside as much as we should these days, especially in winter, not only it the fresh air good for us, we need sunlight to keep our vitamin D levels up and being in nature has also been found to lift our mood and better our health. We know how refreshing it feels to take a walk in the bush or sit by a lake and research is now showing it goes much further than that.The connection we get from being in nature utilises all the senses and brings clarity and focus which is why sometimes when you’re struggling for inspiration in the office or to solve a complex problem it helps to take a stroll to clear your mind, many offices are now using walking meetings as a way of improving health, creativity and productivity. Particularly in the technological age when emails and phones so often disrupt our concentration and cause breaks in our creativity.UK charity Mind suggest that time in nature is beneficial for those with depression, it enhances mood, self esteem, reduces anger and confusion and tension, it has also been linked to lower blood pressure, reducing pain and strengthening the immune system.5. CoconutWhether it’s the water, milk, cream or oil the benefits of coconut have been widely reported, great for hydration, an alternative to dairy and a natural sweetener, coconut is great for inside the body and out. Using the oil when frying on high heat or on your body; to condition your hair or moisturise your skin, I also use coconut oil for oil pulling to help eliminate toxins from my body.6. LemonsA great source of vitamin C that can be used to treat the common cold, lemon aids digestion and speeds up metabolism helping with weight loss. Can be used as a salad dressing, to add flavour to food, cleaning agent, beauty product or simply in a glass of water.Take a slice of lemon in warm water to start your day to help detoxify and gently wake up your digestive system. Speaking of water……..7. Drink waterOur bodies are made up of mostly water so it makes sense that keeping hydrated is critical for good health. Often some of the niggles we get like headaches or dry skin can simply be a sign that we’ve not drunk enough water.By drinking enough water our bodies are able to carry out their required functions, our toxins are flushed out, we have more energy, we feel better, our skin is better and it helps your immune system.8. SleepOur bodies heal when we sleep, not only that but after a good nights sleep we feel more refreshed and better able to navigate the day, our mood lifts and things seem to go smoother after a good nights rest, we should never under estimate the importance of a good nights sleep.9. Meditation/ stillnessIn a world that is constantly on and moving at a quickening pace we find it very hard to be still. 10 minutes of calming your mind each day and sitting in stillness is beneficial for your health and your mood.Science is catching up with what ancient wisdom has always known, the benefits of meditation can be used to treat many ills, and science has now proven that meditation physically changes the brain. Studies show that not only does regular meditation calm us, it slows our blood pressure, gives us clarity of mind, improves our memory and has been linked to treatment for many health conditions.

10 things to do to make you healthier

10 things to do to make you healthier (and they are cheap and easy)

  1. Drink more water
  2. Eat more veg
  3. Walk outside in nature for 30 minutes every day
  4. Go to bed earlier
  5. Drink less (alcohol)
  6. Stretch every morning
  7. Take 10 mindful minutes a day in solitude to still your mind
  8. Think of 3 things you're grateful for every day
  9. At meal times only eat until you’re 80% full
  10. Do something you enjoy everyday