Just because something is common, doesn’t make it normal

We can probably all think of at least one person we know that has complained of either low back pain, neck pain or headaches. You may have experienced one or more of these in the past, maybe you’ve got symptoms right now as you’re reading this. The scary thing is, because these symptoms are so common, many people believe them to be a normal part of life. I can recount so many consultations where I have asked patients who have ticked the box next to ‘headaches’ to tell me more about them and they will say something like ‘Yeah, I get headaches, maybe 3 days a week, they’re eased with paracetamol, but that’s normal right?’….It’s definitely not normal.

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I have used the above examples because it’s what I see in practise, but you could use plenty of other symptoms/conditions that are so common they could mistakenly be considered as normal. Many people who experience allergies, psoriasis, insomnia, low energy and period pains may believe they have to just accept feeling less than average and manage their symptoms as best they can.

Symptoms shouldn’t be disregarded and ignored. Your body is designed to function optimally and symptoms are messages from your body trying to tell you something is wrong. It is tempting to cover up symptoms from our body, especially when it comes to pain. Acute pain can be effectively blocked by pain relief medication, such as ibuprofen, paracetamol, naproxen, cocodamol, tramaodol. However, pain relief medication doesn’t actually fix the problem, it just covers up the signal and pain relief doesn’t always help when it comes to chronic pain.

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An analogy I like to use to help explain this is – imagine if you were driving and your ‘check engine’ light came on in your car…you could acknowledge that something wasn’t right and get the engine checked and have the necessary work carried out to fix the engine and tadah, the light is no longer on. OR you could stick a sticker over the light and pretend there’s no problem at all.  Your body is the engine and the light is the pain signal and the sticker is the pain relief.

People don’t just cover up pain, we take antihistamines for allergies, antibiotics for acne, statins for cholesterol, metformin for diabetes, the list goes on! Instead of accepting common complaints as a normal part of life and trying to cover up symptoms with medication, the root cause of the problem needs to be established and worked on. If you get rid of the cause of the problem, the body will no longer have to send you signals in the form of symptoms.

Paula xo

Fibre – what it is, why it’s important and where to find it

🙋🏼‍♀️ Hands up anyone who has ever experienced constipation and has been told to ‘eat more fibre’. When my doctor told me that for the millionth time, I remember thinking, what the hell does that actually mean? I used to assume that I got enough fibre from my bran flakes…it said ‘high in fibre’ on the box so why was I still constipated?! I now realise that A. I wasn’t getting enough fibre, B. this contributed hugely to my chronic constipation and C. despite what the clever labelling told me, there are much better sources of fibre than cereal.

Fibre is the bit of plants that is, for our human gut, indigestible. Although we can’t break it down and absorb it, consuming enough fibre is still really important for overall health. There are 2 types of fibre: soluble fibre will absorb liquids and is sticky. Insoluble fibre doesn’t absorb water and is rougher in texture.

Fibre, both soluble and insoluble promotes good digestive health. Our guts are long, thin tubes of smooth muscle, this muscle contracts in a wave like motion to move stuff along. Insoluble fibre adds ruffage and bulk to our stool which regulates bowel movements. Think about how difficult it is and how much you have to squeeze an almost empty toothpaste tube to get just a little toothpaste out and how much easier it is to get toothpaste out of a full tube. It’s the same for the muscles of our gut, having enough ‘bulk’ from insoluble fibre makes it easier for them to move the contents of your gut along to where they can be excreted.

Soluble fibre, because it absorbs water, helps lubricate the bowels. It is also a prebiotic, this means it acts as a food supply for our gut bacteria. Keeping the gut microbiome, which resides in our large intestine, fed and healthy is in our best interest. Soluble fibre is sticky when combined with water so it binds to things like excess cholesterol and other waste products the body wants to excrete. Without enough soluble fibre, these waste products can reabsorb through the gut and back into the blood stream.

Getting the right amount of fibre requires hitting a sweet spot, too little can lead to poor bowel regulation, either constipation or loose bowels. It can also leave you with poor appetite regulation, i.e. not feeling satisfied after meals or becoming hungry soon after a meal. Issues with blood sugar or cholesterol management have also been linked to lack of fibre in the diet. Too much fibre can cause abdominal discomfort, gas and bloating.

To get enough fibre, most of us could do with eating more veggies. Vegetables contain both types of fibre, are nutrient dense and low calorie so aim for 1-2 fist size portions of veg with every meal. If your diet includes a rainbow of plant matter every day, your fibre intake should be spot on and you will be able to enjoy all the perks!

Paula xo

If you want to make a change, start now.

Over the past couple of weeks, I have noticed a trend. When discussing adopting healthy habits with my patients, they have started to tell me ‘I want to, but I’ll just wait until after Christmas and start in the New Year’. Delaying doing something you know you want to, something that will makeyou feel better, because of an annual holiday, to me, sounds a bit bizarre! Yes, it’s Christmas in a few weeks but why does that mean you can’t start a healthy habit now?

I think the problem is that we are resistant to change, we like what we know. Developing new habits, at first, takes will-power, time, motivation and is perhaps for some a littledaunting. Sure, change can be uncomfortable but if you’re waiting for the perfect moment to change, chances are, it will never materialise. If you know what it is you would like to change, makes steps towards that today.

If you know who you’d like to be or you know who you truly are, but aren’t acting in a way that’s congruent to your values, you have to change. You cannot do the same things or act in the same way and expect different results.

To make change easier, start off by knowing exactly why you want to do it. Having a clear understanding of why something’s important to you will make it easier to prioritise your habit. For example, Habit = get 7+ hours of sleep every night. Why = I want to start going to bed earlier so I can get more sleep, this will allow me to be more productive at work, have more patience with my loved ones and avoid so many food cravings and control my weight better.

Get some accountability. If you find it difficult to keep promises to yourself, find someone else to keep you accountable. For example, if you want to walk more but know that you lack the self-discipline needed, join a walking group or find a friend to walk with. For some, not wanting to let anyone else down will be the motivation for change.

Make the change convenient. Don’t set yourself up to fail, so if you despise early mornings, don’t try to get up early to exercise before work. You’re a night owl, accept it and exercise in the evenings after work, when you have more energy.

There is never an ideal time to try to form a new habit. If you want to make a change for the better, there is no better time than right now. We will always find a reason, or even reasons not to change. I think Christmas and the stress it brings is a widely used excuse but let’s face it, we can find any reason to justify our hesitancy if we really want to. There is no promise of tomorrow so act today.

Paula xo

There’s no such thing as a cold or flu season

We have been misled to believe that there are times of the year when getting run down or sick is inevitable. It’s common belief that there is a ‘season’ where people are plagued by blocked noses and coughs and there is not a lot we can do about it. Our only hope is to keep our fingers crossed and prey we don’t catch anything. Is this really true? Do the viruses that cause cold and flu suddenly come out of hiding and attack?

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The viruses that cause colds and flus are actually present throughout the year and are always being transmitted between people. The problem is, the way we behave at certain times of the year weakens our immune system. SO the cold and flus don’t suddenly rise up and go on a rampage, we just become more susceptible to catching them.

Here are some tips to naturally prevent colds and flus this winter:

  1. Supplement with Vitamin D

A deficiency in this vitamin is linked to increased susceptibility to infection. We’re more at risk of deficiency in vitamin D in the winter as the solar intensity is too low to make enough vitamin D from sunlight. So it’s super important to dose up of vit D up in these months.

  1. Keep your gut happy

80% of our immune system is located in our gut and it is the largest barrier between us and the viruses trying to get in and infect us. Over consumption of pro inflammatory, highly processed, sugary foods will damage your gut and can cause it to become leaky. This allows bugs and viruses to sneak through. So keep your gut as healthy as possible by giving it foods it loves – plenty of veg, quality animal products and a good probiotic are a great place to start.

  1. Get enough sleep

The average adult needs 7-9 hours of sleep a night – chronic sleep deprivation can significantly reduce immune function. This time of year, with all the Christmas do’s and celebrations it’s easy to get less z’s then we need so try to prioritise early night and lay ins where you can.

  1. Manage your stress levels

Being chronically stressed leads to elevated levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, this can supress the normal immune system function. A lot of people get stressed this time of year, Christmas can bring with it many worries. So it’s really important to participate in healthy habits that manage stress – things like walking in nature, deep breathing, yoga and meditation are all great options.

  1. Limit your alcohol intake

Excessive alcohol intake slows your immune system’s ability to fight off infections. Even people who drink heavily on just one occasion will affect their immunity. The holiday season is a period of excess but try not to overdo it if you wish to avoid catching a cold or the flu.

  1. Stay active

The shorter days and colder weather may put you off staying as active as you do in the summer, but getting plenty of regular exercise is essential for good immune function. Moderate exercise can help to reduce stress levels, we already know that too much stress is bad news for the immune system. Exercise and movement has a positive effect on every system in the body and the immune system is no exception.

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I hope the above tips will help you to stay happy and healthy especially over the festive period!

Paula xo

Listen to your body

Your body, like everything else in nature, is intelligent. Although it may not always feel like it, your body is always on your team, working constantly to keep you as healthy as it possibly can. Our bodies try their best to communicate with us, they send us messages, but do we always listen?

In the past, I have hushed the very clear messages from my body, telling me to slow down, take a break, get more sleep. I would choose to ignore these messages and then get frustrated or even resentful towards my own body for letting me get run down, sick or injured. In reality that was on me, I was letting the team down.

Yesterday morning I had planned to go to the gym and train. I had my work Christmas do the night before and although I didn’t drink, I did go to bed a couple hours later than usual. (Crazy, I know!) I woke up Sunday morning feeling congested with a blocked nose and ear, puffy face and a headache!

I had felt all week as though I was fighting something off and I think the interruption to my normal circadian rhythm had given this cold the slight advantage and today I am feeling below average. This was then confirmed by checking my HRV (Heart Rate Variability) it gave me a readiness score of 3/10 and advised rest and recovery.

HRV is the variation in the time intervals between heartbeats. It is a window into your autonomic nervous system – the part of the nervous system over which we do not have conscious control. Basically, the HRV readings I take indicate whether my nervous system is in its stressed ‘fight or flight’ state or whether it has gone into recovery ‘rest and digest’ mode. The app I use will give me a score out of 10, the higher the score, the better. Yesterday, I was deep in the stressed state.

So instead of stressing my body further with weight training, I decided to give my body what it needed and go into the gym and just walk on a treadmill, mobilise and then meditate. I didn’t feel so ill that it warranted total rest – some gentle, low intransitive movement did me good.

Accepting that yesterday should be a non training day would have, a couple of years ago, been unacceptable to me. I probably would have pushed myself to train regardless of the messages from my body telling me not to, and in all likeliness would have ended up feeling worse in the long run.

I have learnt the hard way, through years of recurrent illness and infections, that skipping training is sometimes a good thing. It certainly isn’t the end of the world, I don’t need to worry about it, I wont wake up the next day unfit or over weight. I think taking this attitude towards your body requires self compassion and knowing that hustling and grinding everyday, regardless of how you feel isn’t always the answer.

I don’t want people to think that I’m just trying to get out of training, I love training and would much rather have done that yesterday, but I love my body more. I want to treat it right, take care of it and I have it the best chance of kicking that cold’s ass!

Today I woke up feeling good and my HRV was back up to 9/10. Listen to your body, it’s smart. We have one body to last our lifetime so it’s in our best interest to be kind to it!

Paula xo

Commit to a gratitude challenge!

I try to write down 3 things everyday that I am grateful for and have done this on and off for a few years, but at the end of October I came across a gratitude challenge. This challenge suggested that for the month of November, you post publicly about something you are grateful for everyday for 30 days.

I used @positivelypresent’s gratitude challenge, each day had a different word to focus on and interpret however you’d like. Some examples include: home, inspiration and nature.

The challenge made me think about things I don’t ordinarily include in my gratitude journal. I checked the word every morning and then I found myself throughout the day looking for all the different ways that ‘word of the day’ positively influenced my life.

I don’t always manage to write in my journal, but with this challenge I didn’t want to skip a single day. Knowing that it was for a short amount of time made it easy to commit and stick to. It made being grateful a daily practise. Upon completing the challenge I have been left with a true habit, I habitually think about what I have to be grateful for throughout the day.

I know I keep going on about it but if you aren’t already, start practising gratitude. It will change your life! Why don’t you start with the challenge? It lasts 30 days but you can start whenever you like! Commit to just 30 days and I promise you, it will make you feel so good you won’t wanna stop!

Creativity takes courage

When I was younger, I loved writing – stories and poetry. I loved to draw and to paint. I used to put on singing and dancing performances and small plays and force my family to sit and watch.  I remember the pride I felt as my mum displayed my poems, with accompanying art work, on the fridge. I relished in the applause and the raving reviews that would inevitably come my way after every performance. It made me feel good about myself.

I will never forget putting on a particularly funny performance that made my sister pee herself from laughing so hard! Looking back, I was a super creative child, expressing myself in these ways brought me great joy. I don’t really know when but at some point, I stopped readily expressing my creativity.

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My creative expression probably started to dwindle as I started to care about what other people thought of me. Individuals that are creating something are leaving themselves open to the criticism of others. Children don’t concern themselves with how they’re perceived by others. Children have the courage to do what makes them happy and brings them joy, regardless of whether others think it’s lame or silly.

After listening to Brene Brown’s book – the Power of Vulnerability, I learned that we are all creative, I think this is easy to see in children and I wrongly believed that most people grew out of being creative. The truth is that some of us choose to express our creativity and others do not.  Those that do, tend to be happier and live more fulfilling lives.

I think a lot of adults, myself included, fall into the trap of thinking that if a task isn’t productive, it’s not worth doing. You can’t possibly ‘waste time’ being creative when there’s a thousand other, more productive, uses of your time, right? Wrong…being creative should never be viewed as a waste of time.

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Creativity is a form of play – it is essential for well-being, it is known to reduce stress and anxiety, it gives you a sense of purpose, it leads to a sense of pride and accomplishment, it requires the willingness to fail and try again, it encourages us to become lifelong learners and without it there is no innovation.

Creating content for this blog and social media platforms has brought me such a sense of calm and contentment. I encourage you to find a way to be creative, you could cook, sing, dance or draw do whatever you like, just find some way to express yourself.

Paula xo