Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Why The Gluten-Free Diet Doesn't Aid Weightloss

Traditional gluten-free diet:
Cut out anything with gluten in it. No cake, no bread, no pasta, nothing with flour, unless you make it yourself with gluten-free flour such as millet or buckwheat.

Modern gluten-free diet:
Anything with a 'gluten-free' label, regardless of the additives included to compensate for lack of gluten

   First of all, what is gluten?
   Gluten is a natural protein found in wheat, rye, barley and other similar basic ingredients. It's the glue ('gluten' literally means 'glue' in Latin) that holds food together, just as protein in our body holds our cells together. It's also used to pack out processed foods and fast foods - now, you probably heard alarm bells when I said 'processed' and 'fast food' and may be writing this article off immediately. Well, you'd be wrong to. It's the method of cooking, the salt, the sugar, and all the other ingredients that make fast and processed foods bad. Not gluten. You shouldn't be eating fast food or processed foods anyway, whether you want to lose weight or not, as they contain little of anything good for you.

   What is Coeliac's Disease?
   Coeliac's Disease, (or Celiacs) is an auto-immune disorder directed towards gluten. It means that the body's immune response reacts badly to the gluten and can result in abdominal pains, bloating, nausea and other bad things, and, more critically, prevents the proper absorption of vitamins and minerals into your blood stream. People with Coeliac's Disease, which is about 1 in 100, or people with a gluten-intolerance (which mimics Coeliac's Disease but without the immune response) have to avoid gluten in order to absorb the important nutrients in food and to stay healthy. If they consume gluten, it can have awful side-effects for them, but by keeping away from it, they're able to gain weight and live healthily like the rest of us.

   Why is gluten supposedly bad?
   Gluten is linked to (not the cause of) things like bloating, indigestion, digistive problems and things like that that. The thing is, all of these are symptoms of Coeliac's and a gluten intolerance, so if you suffer from any of that, cutting out gluten is the only way to go. But these things can also be caused by other things within food, such as acid, sugar, speed-eating and so on. Gluten doesn't cause intolerance or Coeliac's, these are things you're born with or develop naturally. Consuming gluten or not won't affect it. You either have it or you don't.

   Why do people believe gluten leads to weight-loss?
   Maybe about 10-15 years ago, it did. Gluten is present in dense foods like bread, cake, biscuits, pasta and so on. People with gluten intolerances would have to have cut things with gluten out, which is more or less anything with flour. But, because the world wasn't so obsessed with gluten-free at that point, there were no gluten-free alternatives. This meant that people cut out bread, cake, pasta and such things and didn't replace them with gluten-free mimics. But it wasn't the lack of gluten that caused weightloss, but rather the lack of the sugar and density of the food. They were having lighter alternatives which inevitably led to weight loss.
   Now, however, there are loads of gluten-free mimics, so people who can't eat gluten can still have a delicious, spongey cake that won't crumble to pieces upon a first glance. Unfortunately, people who can eat gluten mistake these gluten-free alternatives as 'healthy'.

   What does gluten-free mean?
   What it says on the tin. The food has no gluten in it. This is usually done by replacing the wheat or flour with something else like buckwheat or quinoa, which works similarly to the flour except it doesn't contain gluten. However, this leads real gluten-free products to be very crumbly and not particularly moist or inviting, especially when home-made. This is because the gluten that holds them together simply isn't present.
   With the increasing understanding of Coeliac's Disease and gluten intolerances, a lot of food is now available as gluten-free. And with the sudden obsession - goodness knows where it came from - of the idea that gluten-free is good and healthy for everyone, even more companies are jumping on the band-wagon because they know gluten-free will sell. The trouble is that these companies add other ingredients to their foods to compensate for the lack of gluten - artificial ingredients which are certainly not healthy, in an attempt to make them more delicious and non-crumbly. These foods usually contain extra fat and sugar to compensate for the foul-tasting gluten-replacement, meaning that by eating any old store-bought food which claims to be gluten-free is much more likely doing your waistline and your health more harm than good - doubtlessly the opposite effect you're looking for.

   The trouble is that gluten is often confused with carbs. It's true that gluten is present in a lot of foods high in carbohydrates, and carbohydrates are what really fill you up and, when eaten excessively, can indeed lead to weight-gain. But you're still getting just as many carbs, if not more, by going for the gluten-free option because of all the added ingredients. These products are made for people with Coeliac's so that they can eat non-crumbly cake like the rest of us.
   There is no evidence that going gluten-free leads to weight loss. A close friend of mine actually has Coeliac's Disease, and since she was diagnosed and has eaten gluten-free foods, she's actually gained weight. This is good for her because she was sickly skinny before and now she looks and feels healthy as she's able to absorb vitamins properly, but with so many food companies jumping on the gluten-free bandwagon, most of the gluten-free food out there won't help you lose weight, as the gluten's been replaced with things that actually will affect your weight in a negative way.

   So what should you do?
   Don't even give gluten a thought unless you have an intolerance. Gluten isn't an ingredient on it's own, it's a part of an ingredient, and cutting it out doesn't change a single thing. Swapping normal food for gluten-free versions of the same thing will give you less nutrients and less of the good things that are in the original because of all the added ingredients. You must remember that gluten contains no fat, sugar or anything like that, it is only a protein. Instead, if you really want to target a food group, you might want to look at cutting down on foods that are known to have a lot of it, as they usually happen to have a lot of carbohydrates as well. Don't cut these foods out, however, as, contrary to popular belief (the same kind of 'popular belief' that has people thinking gluten-free works), you need carbs to function properly, as well as protein, some fats, water and so on.
   Instead of reaching for a fad diet, just eat well. You can have your cakes, you can have your pizza, just go easy on them, and make sure you get the fruit, veg, meat and water that you need, too.
   You may wonder "if it doesn't work, why do so many people do it?" Because it's a fad diet. Eating healthily may not get people the results they want, or give them the results quickly enough. As a result, it's common to start thinking that doing something completely different will shock your body enough to get it to lose weight, but that simply doesn't work. As a result, these diets die out because they don't work, or, worse, are unhealthy. At the end of the day, the only diet that truly works is a balanced one, with all food groups taken in moderation.

   Gluten does not relate to calories. Gluten does not relate to fat. Gluten has no effect on weight loss or weight gain, it's everything else in the food that does that. And dieting alone will certainly not get your body where you want it to be safely and reliably. You can only melt fat away by burning more calories than you take in (keep in mind that going about your normal day also burns calories), which means you must exercise. By dieting alone, the weight you've lost can come back much easier than if you've exercised it away, as with exercise your muscle becomes leaner and needs more energy to move it which leads you to burn even more calories while going about your day to day business.


• Gluten doesn't contain fat, sugar or anything like that. It is only protein. It doesn't contribute to weight-gain or weight-loss.
• Gluten isn't an ingredient, it's a part of an ingredient - it's a part of wheat, barley, rye, flour and so on, which are basic ingredients for a lot of different foods.
• Most of the gluten-free foods out there add other ingredients to replace the gluten to keep the products moist, soft and non-crumbly. These added ingredients do include sugars and fats, and these are more likely to adversely affect your waist-line than the original food. These are not foods made for weight-loss, after all, they are made for people with a gluten-intolerance so that they can have soft, spongy cakes and doughy pizzas like the rest of us.
• Gluten is confused with carbs, and carbs are usually more dense and filling foods which, when eaten too frequently, do contribute to weight-gain. However, cutting carbohydrates out is a bad thing, too, as you do need them, despite popular belief. You should never cut foods out, only cut them down.
• A gluten-free diet won't change a thing. If you choose proper, naturally gluten-free foods without added ingredients you may see a slight decrease in weight, but that's because you've replaced gluten foods with fresher, nutritionally denser foods, which is always advised for weight-loss. The gluten has nothing to do with it at all. Gluten simply doesn't work that way.

Monday, 26 January 2015

DIY Watercolour Gift Bags

   It's been a very long time since I've felt creative. I've been making a lot of jewellery for Valentine sales and for my art exhibit in the summer, but after Christmas I'd really like a break from that particular area of work. Casual crafts aren't something that come to me very easily, though, so when I'm being creative it is mostly for my shop. I've returned to finishing off my book at last, however, but it's slow going as I get back into it.
   But, over the past couple of weeks, and thanks to Miss Vicky Viola for my little surprise birthday package, I've finally gotten some ideas. And this is the first!
   It's far from difficult and far from unique, but these handmade watercolour gift bags can really pretty up a gift! I actually came up with it a couple of days ago when I realised I had little time to go out and find a gift bag for some little prezzies I'm bringing to The Netherlands next week, so I decided to make one instead, saving time and money as well as finally making some creative content for this blog. It's supposed to be half fitness and half craft, but I think we can all agree that the latter has been somewhat forgotten since the Christmas rush.

   So, to make these watercolour gift bags all you really need is card and paint. Watercolour paper, around 300gsm, typically, is the best to use since it's made for this kind of thing, and it's also more than stable enough to hold the bag's contents.

1. Take your paper and measure out the size you want your bag to be, marking off the folding lines. You can use two sheets for a larger bag, or stick to a single, full sheet and create a bag 11cm wide by 2.5cm deep as I did. This used up the entire sheet, uncut, and left a small panel for gluing at one end.

2. Score along the lines with scissors or a blade against a ruler, but for goodness' sake be careful. Don't fold it yet.

3. Next, turn the paper over and begin on the clean side with the watercolour paints. To make splotches like I did, you need to apply the paint in the rough shape and size you want the splotch to be. Once you've painted it in, dip your brush in clean water and drip it into the paint splotch. This will cause the middle, or wherever you dripped it, to lighten and the colour will flood to the edges, giving you harder lines when it's dry. If you want a soft edge instead, gently wash the wet brush over the edges of the splotch to lift the paint away. You can combine it, too, to give splotches both hard and soft edges. Be aware that the paper will start to warp, but it will flatten out again once it's all dry, which is one of the best qualities of watercolour paper.
   The colour will darken when it dries, so if you want a lighter finish, use some clean tissue and dab it (don't rub it) in the paint to soak most of it up. The edges will remain, but most of the paint will be lifted off
   It's best to experiment with this a little bit first, get used to the paint, the water, the depth of colour and the finish. The colours will never be even with watercolour used like this, the edges will probably be darker and if you've mixed up a purple, for example, you may find you can clearly see patches of blue and patches of red amongst the purple.

   Let the paper dry before moving on! You can run a hairdryer over it to speed up the process if you like, but let it dry naturally for a while, first, or you risk blowing the paint around.

4. Fold along the scored lines, remembering of course that the paint is on the outside, and glue the excess flap to the inside of the opposite end. Once it's fixed in place, glue the flaps along the bottom together. You might want to weigh the inside of the bag down to help keep it in place while it dries; I used a small pocket book.

   I added some string to the bag which I ran through the same watercolour paints and tied together through two holes which I think gives it a nice finish ^^

Sunday, 25 January 2015

The Athlete Mindset Workbook

   The Athlete Mindset Workbook from Team Blessed Bodies is a valuable tool in many ways - and not just in fitness. It talks about how big a part your mental state plays when it comes to getting in shape and taking that passion to the next level. It's all about confidence, and, above all else, learning to love what you have. I know what kind of body I want, but when I look through fitness magazines or see the instructors in my workout DVDs, I can't help comparing them all and seeing that, while they're all have great physiques - slim and lean - they all have different shapes. Some have curves, a gorgeously cinched waist, while others are straight-sided. Some have gorgeous muscle definition, others less, others more, but they're all in great shape and went through similar training.
   It's lead me to wonder and even worry about how I'll look. Being dominantly meso/endo, I should, in theory, be able to avoid straight sides and get some nice curves even when I've shed the fat, but I can't know for certain. I have an image in my mind of the body I want, but it's possible that my build won't ever let me achieve that. And that's kind of gotten me down (though admittedly never stopped me).
   Even just flicking through the first few pages of the Athlete Mindset Workbook has made me realise that, and immediately start to change it, to stop thinking about what I can't have and learn to accept that I might turn out differently from what I hoped, maybe even better, and because it will have been my own hard work that got me there, I'll love it regardless.
   But I said above that it doesn't just apply to fitness. Those who know me or have been reading my blog for long enough know there's nothing I want more than to be a successful fantasy author, but a lot of what the book was saying about mindset was applicable to that, too, and that's great. Have belief that I can get where I want to, not just through hard work of promotion and dedication, but because of the skills I possess in that area, either naturally or through more work. And I believe I possess both. I have my weaknesses in writing, I'm very wordy - you probably noticed that just from my blog - and I have a tendancy to drag things out. But these are things I can overcome, because it's entirely within my power, which is something else the book teaches.

   I already have a lot of self-belief - not in an arrogant way, but in a proud way. I know there are things I'm good at, and these are the things I do often, and, in a sense, I'm good at them because I do them so much, and I do them so much because I love them. So, ultimately, it's about forgetting what the little voice in the back of your mind starts to tell you when you start looking at your competition a little closer, or at the hurdles in your way. You can overcome them, and you also have to learn that you possess things others don't, just as they possess things you don't. It's about self-belief.

Co-Author, Leslie Lewis, MFA

   This book is ultimately aimed at the athlete, people looking to find a career in fitness, be it as a model, a competitor, an instructor or a journalist, but many lessons can be applied to other parts of your life, or to simpler goals, as I have. I may not be a striving athlete - I only got into this because I wanted to lose weight - but it's become a surprising passion of mine now, and that also means I get into my head about it a little more because it's important to me. The contents of this book will help me to find the strength I need to crush the life out of that little voice of doubt, because, simply put, fat should not be on the body; it can be lost.

   The book goes through chapters, starting with the simple subject of your goals. Your ultimate goal, your dream - in my case, applying the book to both of my passions, that would be to become a successful fantasy author and have my dream body. Then it talks about a time frame in which you'd like to achieve that (something I'd not considered). After that it talks about your ideal goals for the current year, and after that still, realistic goals.
   Then it talks about learning to give yourself a pat on the back when you've achieved something difficult, whatever that might be. If it was a challenge for you personally, and you overcame it, you should recognise that fact. It's something worth mentioning at the start of the book so it can be kept in mind throughout.
   The book then goes on to ask you why you want to achieve these goals, and by outlining precisely why you want it - something you may not have actually considered until this point - it will only increase your drive because you'll have a more conscious reason, even if it was there all along.

Co-Author, Fatima Leite Kusch

   I have problems in both my weightloss and my writing, and both of them are the same thing really: overthinking. I get in my head, as I mentioned before, and that can be really damaging. The bood suggests a refocusing assessment - figure out what it is that you feel you're doing wrong and where you need to improve. For me, I obsess over food - I wonder too often if I'm eating enough or eating too much, and I can never work it out, and the worst part of it is that I'm consistantly losing weight despite it. I'm probably doing everything right, but I can't shake the thought that I'm not. So how can I improve? Speak to a dietician, or go over everything I eat and see if there's any way I can improve it in an attempt to shake the paranoia from my mind. For example, I neither drink enough water 'nor eat enough fruit and veg. Anywhere near, in fact. If I were to drink more and replace a snack or two a day with an apple or a banana, that could be enough. It may be that I feel I'm making the wrong decisions.
   When it comes to my writing, I know where I need to improve, but being wordy is a subconscious thing. Part of me thinks I should stop worrying because it may not be as bad as I think, but I also believe it wouldn't have even come to mind at all if it didn't truly bother me. I hate wordy books just as I hate vague books, so I need to learn to turn it down and allow the reader's imagination to fill in the gaps rather than paint a perfect picture every five minutes. After all, I was able to picture Sparhawk from the Elenium very well even though all I knew about him was that he had a crooked nose.

   Ultimately, while you'd think a lot of the contents of this book should be fairly obvious and occur to the individual naturally, when it comes to your goals - especially goals that take a lot of time and a lot of work - you also have a lot of time for doubt to sink in. The Athlete Mindset Workbook is an active approach at destroying that, and is applicable to all parts of your life, fitness or not. Sometimes these things need to be pointed out to you. I've always considered myself level-headed and quite smart when it comes to the psychology of other people, but when it's for my own good, it seems to escape me. This book has pointed that out, and shown me that even if I achieve something that doesn't affect anyone else in the slightest, if it was hard, I deserve to pat myself on the back.
   The book was released January 13th 2015 and was written by fitness coaches Terry Orlick PHD and Fatima Leite Kusch, as well as actress, artist and yoga instructor Leslie Lewis, MFA. Alongside valuable psychological tips, it also features a killer HIIT workout and a clever/scary-as-pants yoga routine (the yoga itself isn't scary, it's the added idea of doing it on a paddleboard that sort of puts me off, even if it makes it compelling at the same time).

Thursday, 22 January 2015

30 Day Plank Challenge

   Your core is more than just your abs, it's most of the muscles in your torso, including your side muscles (internal and external obliques) and back muscles (quadratus lumborum), as well as your diaphragm, and planks are a great way to work all of the muscles together. A strong core can help you maintain balance which in turn leads to improved form in other exercises which is necessary for safety as well as effective results from those exercises.
   The plank might be an old exercise, but just because it's not 'new' doesn't mean it isn't effective.  Oldies are often goodies. Unlike the crunch, the plank involves your hips, shoulders and chest as well as your abs, and when lots of muscle groups are getting involved, you also burn more calories as more energy is needed.
   The 30 Day Plank Challenge is a simple concept. A plank looks easy, but anyone who's done one can attest to the fact that it isn't. Your body is kept straight throughout the exercise and your muscles tensed to maintain that form, and the challenge is essentially to build up your stamina and hold the plank for longer and longer. The Challenge is not a substitute for a workout, but is supplemental, meaning you should add it on to your main workout for maximum benefits. Simply holding a plank for even 5 minutes won't give you an effective full-body workout.
   A plank is also a fantastic push-up assistance exercise, along with chest flyes, bench presses, burpees and bent-over double rows, so if you're working towards being able to pump out 20 push ups in a row, this will help.
   Planks are also a really versatile exercise, and there are loads of variations. If you can already hold a plank perfectly, you can choose a more challenging variety like a side plank and run through the challenge with that instead.

How to do the 30 Day Plank Challenge:

   The simplest method of the 30 Day Plank Challenge is to simply hold a basic plank (toes and hands, or elbows and knees if you're not strong enough) for a set amount of time every day for 30 days, the times for which are listed below.
   An alternative variation is to work through levels, moving onto the next level when you're able to hold the previous level's plank variation for 90 seconds.
   Do whichever you're comfortable with. The 4-level version is harder in some ways, but also uses a beginner's variation for the first 7 days and only encourages you to reach 90 seconds, whereas the simpler version is just one position, but encourages you to reach 5 minutes by the 30th day, either on your forearms or hands, but always on your toes.

Basic Plank Form:
• Extend your arms beneath you, keeping your arms straight and vertical, your elbows and wrists beneath your shoulders. Alternatively if this is too hard, you can hold yourself on your elbows instead, just ensure your elbows are straight beneath your shoulders, upper arms perpendicular to the floor.
• Lift yourself onto your toes and hands (or knees and forearms) and contract your abdominal, glute and thigh muscles while breathing as normally as you can. Keep your muscles contracted throughout the pose. Think about pulling your bellybutton into your spine throughout the move to ensure you maintain the contraction.
• Hold the plank for the allotted amount of time for the day.


More on the 4-level 30 Day Plank Challenge
Static knee & forearm plank: keep your body straight, but rest on your knees and forearms rather than toes and hands.
Static forearm plank: rest on your toes and your forearms.
Static single leg & forearm plank: rest on your forearms and the toes of one foot, extending your other leg out straight behind you and hold.
Dynamic elbow to wrist plank: staying on either your knees or toes, move from a plank resting on your forearms to a plank on your hands, then lower back to forearms, then back to hands repeatedly.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

WCC: World of Warcraft Shadow Box

   Some of you might remember the crafting challenge I set myself on my other blog, The Wyvern's Tail. It was to make something World of Warcraft related without repeating a medium. I really enjoyed doing it, but Christmas 2013 was busy, and then throughout the entirety of 2014 I never picked it back up again because I simply got used to not doing it. Plus I agreed early 2014 to an art exhibit for summer 2015, so any time I would have spend making things for the self-imposed challenge went onto making pieces for the exhibit instead.
   I did attempt a few pieces last year, though, but none of them got finished. One came close, which is the one I finally decided to put together yesterday. It wasn't finished because I found the upper right corner to be too empty, but couldn't decide if I should put anything there or not, and if so, what? So all the pieces ended up sitting loose in the box I'd used, on a shelf out of the way. I got sick of looking at it in the end and just glued it all together, and I think it looks fine, empty corner or not. In fact, now I'm thinking that corner would be too much if I filled it in.

   The shadow box is set in Ashenvale, for those of you who are interested, as has a Night Elf springing an ambush on an Orc. I'm actually a Horde player, so naturally the Orc will win (because I said so), but I love Ashenvale, and I believe it belongs far more to the Night Elves than the Orcs.
   You can see more pictures of the finished thing and when it was in pieces on the original blog post. I would like to put together another, either from another game or simply another scene from WoW, because I really enjoyed making this, even if it did take me a while to finally put it together. It's a bit of a shame that the window on the lid of the box I used is acrylic because it's easily bumped and scratched, but it cost me no more than £7 anyway. Shadow box dioramas aren't expensive to make - once you've got the box, you just need paper/card and pens/paints. It's just a matter of patience really.

   It's nice to finally get a bit of creativity on the blog again...

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