Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Why Sugar is Not So Sweet

I can't believe I haven't written about this yet.  Sugar is my "pet subject" at the moment.  I'm constantly talking about how horrendous it is.  So I thought it was time I wrote something here.

Sugar has only been widely consumed in this country since the 19th century.  Before that, we would mainly have sweetened foods with honey.  Only the very rich would have been able to afford sugar and its price would have meant that it was eaten in moderation.

Over the last few decades, sugar consumption has risen drastically.  Sugary snacks - chocolate bars, biscuits, cakes, sweets and fizzy pop and available in most shops (even those not selling other food) and often positioned right by the till.  We are sold it at cinemas.  We watch it being advertised on TV,  We even herald the Christmas season by a certain fizzy drink ad appearing on our screens.  Sugar is firmly in our culture.

Now, let me talk about sugar.  It either comes from sugar cane or sugar beet, but we're not eating a vegetable when we consume it.  The sugar crystals we eat are a highly processed substance. And therefore they are a lot stronger than what we would every consume directly from nature.

And that is where the problem starts.  By consuming such a strongly sweet product, many of us get a "hit" as the sugar releases neurotransmitters in our brains.  Unfortunately when we eat some more, our brains have re-regulated their neurotransmitter release and the hit is much lower.  This leads sugar to be one of the most addictive substances around as people crave that original surge of pleasure.

If you disagree with that last statement, try giving up sugar completely.  And if you are one of the lucky people in today's society who don't have an addictive personality, try asking your friends to give up sugar and see what their reaction is.

I've heard it said that sugar wouldn't be legal if it was discovered today, but it's very difficult to make a decision against a substance when many of the decision makers will be addicted to it.

Addiction is a complex issue and not one I'm going to tackle here.

However, I am going to talk about the negative effects sugar has on our body.

Let's start with teeth.  I remember as a child going to the dentist and seeing wrappers from chocolate and sweets and cans from fizzy drinks pinned up on a notice board along with clear bags containing the amount of sugar they contained.  It was quite shocking.  I also distinctly remember a poem by Pam Ayres tell the foolish what would happen if they didn't look after their teeth.  Both stuck wth me.

Sugar will rot your teeth.  Since more or less giving up sugar, my teeth are the most healthy they've ever been.  My dentist is amazed and even he, when I tell him my lack of sugar, stares at me with disbelief and admits he couldn't do without it.  Strangely, the bags of sugar are no longer pinned to the notice board.

Then there is the effect sugar has when you eat it.  We like it because it gives us a "hit".  If we're tired, we may eat a biscuit or a chocolate bar to give us some more energy.  But this is a short term hit and if we use sugar in this way, we are likely to be stuck with a slump fairly soon afterwards.  Either that, or we have to continue to eat sugary snacks.

The pancreas is designed to regulate our blood sugar levels by releasing insulin.  This works fine if we consume just a little amount of sugar, but when we over consume it, more pressure is put on the pancreas which eventually wears out and leads to type-2 diabetes.  

There are many different types of sugars.  Glucose is the type of sugar our bodies use.  When we eat healthy carbohydrates, eg starchy vegetables, the body breaks them down into glucose and this is used directly by our organs.   However refined sugar has a high fructose content and this cannot be used in the same way.   Instead, it gets broken down by the liver.  If we are just consuming a small amount, say in fruit, for example, our livers cope fine.  But if we are consuming the sorts of amounts found in fizzy drinks and sugary snacks, then our livers can become overwhelmed.

This process in the liver produces higher amounts of uric acid.  This puts more pressure on the kidneys and can raise blood pressure.

Fructose doesn't trigger insulin in the same way as glucose, so our bodies don't register when we are full up.  That and the inefficient way it metabolises, leads it to be converted and stored as fat in the body.  Refined sugar is the fastest way to put on weight.

And on top of this, refined sugar contains no useful nutrition.  All the vitamins, minerals, enzymes, proteins and fats have been stripped out.  So when we consume it, we are eating empty calories. Then in order to metabolise it, the body has to take certain nutrients from our cells.  In this way, it strips the body of nutrients rather than putting them in.   Unless, you are in the middle of a famine with nothing else to eat, there is no good reason to consume refined sugar.

So before you reach for that next slice of cake, consider what you're doing to your body.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Why Things Go Wrong When Things Start to Go Right

I've spoken to people who, when their lives take a turn for the better after a period of stress, suddenly find they start to struggle rather than finding that things become easier.  I'm talking about fears, barriers that come up, unpleasant feelings, all happening when things start to improve.

So, why does this happen and what is going on?

Well, when we've been struggling with whatever challenge we've been facing, whether it caused stress or made you feel unsafe, we start to put up our barriers.  If we feel we need protection, we will do this to the exclusion of everything else.  Issues that we faced along the way may not have been processed, but instead filed away until we were in a better place emotionally to deal with them.

When things start to go right in our lives, we relax. We no longer need to be on red alert all the time.   We finally feel safer and we start to open up.

And guess what?  All that stuff we buried when we weren't feeling so great comes up.  As human beings, we have an innate draw towards healing ourselves, so as soon as it's safe to do so, this instinct takes over.

However, because we're often not versed in the ways of emotional healing, we can find this a bit overwhelming.  When unresolved issues come up, they don't have a flag attached saying "emotional residue from that time when I felt hurt by my ex" or similar.  Oh no.  We just get an unpleasant feeling.  We may feel upset, we may feel angry, or any other emotion might come up.

The most logical assumption is that the present situation is causing you to feel that emotion.  This will either cause internal conflict as you try to work out why you're crying when your current situation is so great or you will find problems in your current situation to match the emotions, where there really aren't any.

The good news is that these things have come up because we're feeling safe enough to deal with them.  So, if you are experiencing this, life is probably going well for you and you are in a place where you feel supported.

It is, however, important to process these issues and let them go in order to move forwards with our lives.  We don't need to understand them, but often a memory of where they came from will also surface which might give us some clarity we need.  Then once we've let them go, we're free to carry on enjoying the good times that life has brought us.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Importance of Grief

Grief is probably something that most of us have had to experience at some point in our lives.  The most common and well-know reason is the death of a loved one, but we grieve to some extent for other reasons as well.  We grieve for any kind of loss, be it the end of a relationship, the loss of a friendship or even a change in situation.

Some of these events may only require a small amount of grieving; others may need a grieving process that lasts years.  I grieved for the sale of my old car - a classic mini that I'd got myself far too emotionally attached  to for my own good.  I grieved for about an hour after the buyer took her away, and then I was able to move on with no regrets.  However when I grieved for my aunt, who died when I was 19, the whole process lasted about 10 years.

There's no procedure for grieving and there's no formula to follow.  No-one can tell you how long it will take, or what form it will take.  It's not linear and it's not rational.  However it is very necessary.

Grief is the process that takes you from the painful state you find yourself in at the point of loss, to acceptance of the situation and an ability to let go and move on.  I think the most useful thing to know about grief is that it comes in cycles.  You think you're coping really well and then something comes along to knock you sideways - again.

Often we fall straight into the grieving process.  If our sorrow is strong and we are comfortable with our emotions, we will naturally start to go through the stages.  However, often we block it and this is where we get stuck.

I've heard many people say they just can't cry.  Sometimes we can't connect with our emotions as they are too painful so we block them away.  Other times, there is a fear that if we break down, we'll never stop crying, so we prevent ourselves  from even starting.  Maybe we think we need to be strong for someone else - a child or a partner.  This might be a necessary protection for the initial intensity of the emotion, but if we don't go back and address it, then we can't let go.

Letting go doesn't mean we are forgetting.  Sometimes we don't want to grieve because we don't want to let the memory of a loved one go.  But if we have such a highly charged emotional response to them that we can't even think about them, then are we really remembering them in a way they or we'd want.

Going back to my aunt, who was the first person I had to grieve for,  I went through a lot of emotions.  For years, I believed I could have done something to prevent it, which was hugely unlikely and probably quite arrogant about my influence as a teenager.  For years I blamed those around her for not being able to help her.  But that is also unfair.  Eventually I came to accept that it was just a tragedy and a belief formed that she is probably happier now she's in the spirit world.

The thing that shows I've reached acceptance, is that I can remember the good times we had with happiness and joy.  I can remember what she was like with love.  I can remember my relationship with her without regrets.

The process was far from straight forwards.  After the initial shock of losing her, my  days ran pretty normally. Sometimes I'd think about things when my mind was quiet, but because I didn't see her day to day, my routines weren't affected.  What I noticed was that every so often waves of emotion would come up and hit me and I'd find myself crying again.  Over the 10 years after her death, these happened less frequently and less intensely.  Each time they happened my thoughts and feelings processed a bit more and I began to make some sense of my loss.

If we don't grieve for whatever reason, we become stuck emotionally at the point the person died. We have to keep carrying the pain around with us and this can cause us to close up to prevent the emotions accidentally spilling out.  Often people may "expect" us to have gotten over the loss by a certain point, so then we can feel it's even more necessary to hide the unresolved grief away.  Grief can include many emotions, such as anger, regret, self-pity and others.  If we don't complete the grief process, we won't have resolved all the individual emotions.

As you probably already realise from reading my other blog posts, if we have unresolved emotions, then we will likely be reacting to present events rather than making conscious choices.  Imagine if you still had unresolved anger within you, you could well find it bursts out when you least expect it.  If you are living with unresolved regret, you may find that you are living in the past a lot.

There are many ways to resolve these emotions, but the main one is to intend to grieve.  Intention is a great starting point and often just allowing process to follow is enough.  We may find we attract supportive people who we can talk to, or maybe we meet someone else who's gone through a similar experience.  Even if there is no-one around who we feel understands us, a supportive hug can still help us along our journey.  Nothing anyone says or does will make the pain disappear overnight, but it's important to keep the process moving forwards.

So, if you know there is a person or event you haven't grieved for, please consider going through this process to set yourself free and allow yourself to remember the positive memories without pain.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Would You Prefer to be Right or Happy?

I've been asked on occasions in my life whether I'd rather be right or happy and so I now ask this of you.  Would you prefer your world to make sense according to your beliefs even if those beliefs will lead to sadness and disharmony?  Many people would, although they might not recognise this fact.  These patterns run under the surface and are rarely completely conscious.

Or would you prefer to be happy even if this meant challenging the view you've created of the world?  Although it seems the obvious choice on paper, sometimes it can take real courage to accept this choice.

For example, imagine that you've been brought up to believe in the sanctity of marriage over everything else and yours is breaking down.  Do you stay in order to be a "good" person; responsible, reliable, someone who knows the meaning of a promise?  Or do you make the decision to go because it will give you and your spouse a better chance of finding happiness in the future in a way you'd never manage together?

There's no right or wrong choice here.  I'm just asking people to be aware of what they are choosing between.

We generally invest a lot of ourselves in our belief of how the world is.  The things we believe in strongly literally become our world.  These beliefs keep us feeling safe.  They keep a certain amount of order in a chaotic world.

When I was younger, I believed that in order to be cool, you had to have some kind of vice.  So when I initially decided to stop smoking, I had a massive contradiction going on.  I'd already stopped drinking alcohol, so smoking was my last "naughty"  habit.  I believed that by becoming sensible, I would become boring.  Luckily my desire for better health was stronger than this belief and I turned it around.  I changed my beliefs and I now feel my life is far more interesting than it was back then.

Some people believe they'll never get over an event that they experienced.   They may or may not be right but, by believing that and needing to be right, they are removing the possibility of any healing in that area.  I expect we all know someone who carries around the pain from a past event and we often wish on their behalf that they could let it go.  Carrying around pain like this weighs us down and can cloud our whole life.

On the other side, there have been instances where people's belief in their healing has helped them in getting over pain.  Sometimes our belief systems can work for us.

The key is to know when our beliefs are helping us be happy and when they are working against happiness.

Some it can be seen as a virtue to hold beliefs firm and never waver them.  However I'd like to put a contradictory view that it is often healthy to adjust our viewpoint as new information becomes available.

So, if you are the kind of person whose beliefs cause you to be weighed down, please ask yourself the question, "would you prefer to be right or happy?"

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Boundaries and Their Effect on our Health

Boundaries are an interesting subject.  Some people hold their boundaries very tightly and others are too loose with theirs.  I believe the best way is to hold them firmly but with some flexibility.  If boundaries are too tight or too loose, then we can end up with health problems.

Imagine your boundaries are too loose.  You let anyone take advantage of your good nature. You find it hard to say no to people.  You allow people to turn up at your house unannounced whenever they feel like it.  You get cornered at parties by people you don’t really want an extended conversation with.  You put up with unreasonable behaviour from people because you don’t want to risk conflict.  I could find many other examples.

Now imagine your boundaries are too tight.  You don’t do anything if it hasn't been in the diary at least a week.  You don’t let anyone in emotionally.  You are rigid about not giving anything away for fear of being taken advantage of.  You find it hard to form relationships with people and can appear withdrawn or aloof.

Boundaries can be physical, emotional or behavioural.  And your boundaries might not be the same strength in each of these areas.  For example, you may be very friendly but hate hugging someone.  Or you might be emotionally withdrawn, but will offer to help people to the extent that you have no time left for yourself.

Now, we are usually born with no boundaries.  We have yet to learn about them and so as a baby, we will generally be quite happy being passed around from person to person for a hug.  Babies are generally very trusting, hence why they rely on responsible adults to keep them safe.

As we get older, we develop boundaries through experience and learning. Our parents will teach us not to talk to strangers.  They may well tell us not to give away everything we own because they're not going to buy us a whole lot of new stuff.

However, we also develop boundaries from our own life experiences.  We may find that we are taken advantage of for being too generous.  We may find that we get hurt if we're too open.  We may find that we feel uncomfortable when strangers give us a hug.

And so we start to bring our boundaries in to such a level as to keep us feeling safe.  This is an important part of development and necessary for our wellbeing.

However we also learn from our friends and from society as a whole.  Some of these things may be helpful, for example, our friends feel loved when we give them a hug. But some of them may be more destructive, for example if we think we need to be promiscuous to be cool.

What's healthy is different for different people, but usually it consists of only giving as much as you freely want to with no conditions.

Now, if we are giving too much, ie our boundaries are too loose, then our energy is likely to become depleted.  The end result of this is chronic fatigue.  I've worked with people who have lost their spark, they've lost their enthusiasm for life and they don't have motivation for even the fun stuff.

However, if we wall ourselves off from the world, only letting people in with a signed invitation in triplicate, then our hearts become closed and this will not only cause us to become isolated, but can also eventually lead to health problems.  We are naturally sociable beings, so if we're closing up and going against our nature, there is probably some kind of trauma or stress underlying it.

It's hard to change our level of boundaries.  We may feel guilty about tightening up boundaries that were too loose.  We may feel that we're becoming a bad person for not giving as much of ourselves as we did before and this might be difficult to adjust to.  However, as long as you are firm about where you stand, people will usually respect you for being clear about things.  The trouble comes when people who are used to the "old" you, struggle with adapting to the "new" you.  But this is their problem.  The important ones will work it out.

It's also quite hard to open up and loosen tight boundaries.  This can feel quite vulnerable and can feel quite risky.  However, no-one is suggesting you have to open up in one go.  It might be easier to take little steps and test the response you get at each stage.  And it may be that it's not appropriate to open up the same amount with everyone.

Again, as with many of my other blogs, I will say that it's perfectly possible to do this adjustment by yourself, but if you're finding it difficult, then a therapist can often be of help.  It's not necessary in today's society to struggle alone.

So I hope this gives you some food for thought about boundaries and the effect of not setting them at a healthy level.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Don't Give Up

I went to a funeral last Friday.  Fortunately for me, it wasn't someone I was close to, but it touched me deeply and I was acutely aware of how much the family and close friends must be suffering to lose someone they loved in such a tragic way.  The woman, who wasn't much older than myself, committed suicide after a battle with bi-polar disorder.

As I said, I didn't know her well, and therefore wouldn't presume to talk about her case and her suffering, but it does raise the issue in general about how people suffer with these conditions and how often they, sadly, don't find the help they need to deal with them and embrace their lives again.

As well as the sadness and grief I felt today, I also felt anger.  I felt the tragedy that, in today's society, people still aren't aware enough of these issues to be able to help those that suffer.   But I realise that a part of the problem with mental illness is that it's very difficult to understand what someone is going through unless you've gone through a similar situation yourself.

How can you know how someone can reach the point where they wish to take their own life if you've never felt that low?  How can you understand the bleakness that overtakes everything?  How can you even begin to imagine how someone who is well loved would think that their family would be better off without them?  How can you believe that every bit of hope has gone from them, that they don't believe things will ever get better?

Luckily for me in my story, I never lost hope, even if at times it was only a small glimmer.   The vicar at the funeral today read out a quote from Anne Frank -"Where there's hope, there's life".  And I truly believe that hope is what keeps people alive when they are in the depths of their suffering.

But as well as hope there needs to be professional support.  I know that the help I provide isn't mainstream, and I would never profess to be able to cure people of anything.  However myself and other such health professionals can provide help to ease the emotional suffering people go through.  Kinesiology and homeopathy helped me when I was going through my depression and I wouldn't be where I am today without them.

I have no issue with people who prefer to go down the mainstream route of medication but, please know that if whatever you are doing isn't working, whether mainstream or alternative, there are other options.  There are many therapies and treatments out there.  If one therapist isn't helping, try another one.  If one modality doesn't resonate with you, please try a different one.  If what was helping, stops helping, it may be time to change to something else.  Whatever happens, please don't suffer alone and please don't ever lose hope.

I know what I went through with my own depression.  I know the emotional pain I suffered. I remember countless times when I phoned my homeopath in hysteria, not knowing what to do with myself.  I remember the times I’d lie in my bed in unbearable emotional agony, not being able to find any relief. 

Back then, I didn't feel I could talk about any of this.  At the time I felt that I was probably over-reacting, or I was being weak and crap.  Because I never received a proper diagnosis of my condition,  I often questioned whether I actually had one. 

So I did the opposite, I tried to hide it.  I tried to present a positive, together front for the world.  I tried to be OK.  And because I lived alone and I was OK for a lot of the time, it worked pretty well.  I expect very few people, know what I went through.

I still find it hard to talk about this now, but this isn't about me.  I’m sure many people have gone through what I went through and suffered alone too.  This is about encouraging people to get help.  This is about encouraging people not to give up when things seem so bleak you can't see the light at the end of the tunnel.  This is about trying to prevent the suffering people go through when one person feels they have no alternative but to give up.

So please, if you or anyone you know is suffering from emotional pain of any kind, please seek help and know that you don't have to go through this alone.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Importance of Our Relationship with Mum and Dad

The relationship we have (or had, if they have passed on) with our parents is the most important and fundamental one we'll ever have.  And I'm going to explain just why this is.

Love them or hate them, they are the people who will have influenced us the most in our life.  They are usually the first people we bond with. Or if, for whatever reason, they aren't, that is also significant.  They are the people who teach us about the world.  When we are born we have no frame of reference for how to survive on planet earth.  We scream when our needs aren't met and we sleep - that is it. Our parents teach us values and ways of behaving which they believe will stand us in good stead as we get older and have to survive on our own.

They do this with the best of intentions, but inevitably they will project their own stuff on to us.  They have to do this - it's not possible to explain to a 2 year old that there are "different ways of responding according to our personal truth".

Up until puberty, we tend to lap up our parents' teachings (unless there was some kind of abuse).  Once we hit puberty, we start to find our own individuality and this is where we push against our parents' rules.  This is necessary in order to become our own person, but it is also necessary for parents to hold the boundaries to keep us safe.  As with most things, it becomes about finding a balance and renegotiating this throughout the teenage years.

If this period of time goes smoothly (or as smoothly as anything can go when it's accompanied by buckets of hormones), we come out the other side as an adult and our relationship with our parents will have moved to become a more adult-adult relationship rather then the parent-child relationship or our younger years.

However, often things don't work out quite like that and we're left with relationship problems with our parents.  As adults, we start to see our parents' weaknesses - let's face it, none of us are perfect.  We start to identify our own values and realise how much they differ from those of our parents.  If we're still a teenager or only just out of those years, we can believe that we're right and they are wrong.  And this can continue until we resolve it.

The other thing that can happen is that we don't grow up from the parent-child relationship into the adult-adult relationship.  Sometimes this is down to the parents still treating us like a child and other times it's the child still playing out the same role because they don't know how to change or it feels unsafe to change.  Either way, this will have a massive impact on the way we see ourselves and how we behave in the rest of our life.

Regardless of how we see our relationship with our parents, that relationship will impact the way we relate to other people.  Broadly speaking, our relationship with Mum shapes our relationship with women and our relationship with Dad shapes our relationship with men.  The most obvious relationships it affects are those with a romantic partner and our children, but it will have an effect on other relationships too.

We tend to look for romantic partners who either have characteristics we liked in our parents or have the opposite characteristics of those we have issue with.  Note, I say "have issue" rather than dislike, as often we reject something which is only the symptom of an issue.  This is often what we see when young adults go out with "rebel" boyfriends or girlfriends.  If they are rebelling against the rules of their parents, a romantic partner who doesn't seem to live by rules can seem very attractive, even if deep down they like stability and predictability in their lives.

Then when we have children and we have to find a way to parent, out comes the first manual we have experience of - the manual of Mum and Dad.  On instinct, we behave the same way unless we've consciously made a decision to do something different.  The major things will be easy to change because they are the significant ones.  It's the little things we tend to do the same.  How often do you hear women say with a groan, "I'm turning into my Mum".  I'm sure men find the same thing with their Dads.

Now, this is not necessarily a bad thing if we've resolved any issues in our relationships with Mum and Dad.  If we can openly feel the love for our parents and appreciate them for all their good qualities, then turning into a version of them as we get older might not seem such a terrible thing.  But if we haven't resolve the relationships, then this might seem an awful thing.

The good news is that, like everything, our relationships can be healed.  Our parents were usually doing their best, even if we feel that the best wasn't very good.  Maybe they were coming from a dysfunctional relationship with their own parents, or were trying to adjust to society's rules of the time.  

By healing the relationships, we free us up to not only have a better relationship with Mum and Dad, but also to have better relationships with others.  Our self worth will rise and we will start to attract people on a more equal basis.   We will start to be more comfortable with who we are and we will present that to the world, rather than a mask of how we feel we ought to behave.  

And finally, we usually out-live our parents, so if you want to have a better relationship with them, start looking at healing it sooner rather than later, because once they have gone, although the relationship can still be healed, you may find you have regrets that you weren't able to share it with them.