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Thursday, 18 September 2014

Fat Binder Myths: Debunked

   Staying fit and leading a healthy lifestyle aren’t just modern trends: they’re ideals that have been around for centuries. Undeniably, vanity has played a significant role in our history, while the obsession with keeping fit can be found no matter how far back into history you go, largely due to the inception of various diets and work-out routines.

   It’s no secret: a combination of eating well and working out regularly is the key to maintaining a good lifestyle, but looking to our predecessors for tips and advice on how to do this is not always the best idea. Indeed, if we look back, we find hundreds of ‘fad’ diets – just take 11th Century William the Conquerer and his ‘Liquid (alcohol) Diet’ as an example! Yet looking forward there are positive signs for the future of dieting, with an emphasis being put on nutrition, scientifically proven weight loss methods and exercise.
   However, while good work is being done to eradicate bogus weight-loss programmes and ‘fads’, people will always want to find that quick-fix. In this article we’ll have a look at various different dieting trends throughout history, and see how the more outlandish fads have been slowly but surely replaced by more sustainable, healthy weight loss methods.

   Talking of outlandish fads, The Victorian Age seems a great place to start. This is because the Victorians, with their corsets and ideal hourglass figures, first made body consciousness (and vanity) a real issue. It was thought that women needed to be seen as ‘frail’ to find themselves a husband, and thus began ‘Victorian Starvation'*, where women literally starved themselves to live up to the image of being delicate and feminine.
   This was followed by poet Lord Byron who, in 1820, launched the ‘Vinegar and Water Diet’ – the aim was to take a few spoonfuls of this before a meal to make you feel full up.
   The first official ‘fad’ was introduced later that century, by Horace Fletcher, and was known as ‘Fletcherism’. The diet involved chewing your food... a lot – 32 times to be exact – after which you would spit it out. This was supposed to allow you to take in all the nutrients from food, but none of the calorie or fat intake. It was a popular diet on both sides of the Atlantic and, as such, truly started the Western world’s obsession with bizarre diets.

   The 20th Century saw a stronger focus towards various diets that disappeared as quickly as they came. This began in the 1920s, where an increase in cigarette sales was caused by manufacturers professing their weight loss properties. This was before the dangers of cigarettes were known, of course, with tobacco companies merely stating they suppressed one’s appetite, as is evident from the once popular “pick up a cigarette instead of a sweet” advertising campaign.
   The 50s saw a strong rise in celebrity culture and, consequently, all of the unrealistic body expectations that went with it. This brought with it a lot of weird and wacky ways of keeping trim: fads such as the ‘Tapeworm Diet’ (where people took pills with parasites that ate up all your fat) and the ‘Sleeping Beauty Diet’ (so-called because you can’t eat if you’re sleeping) became increasingly popular, despite the harms associated with them. One positive to come out of this era, however, was the ‘Grapefruit Diet’. Eating half a grapefruit with every meal not only gives you one of your five a day, but actively helps to reduce fat. This diet has been a stalwart in households ever since the 1930s, so clearly longevity lies in the healthy alternative!
   The following decades saw the rise of more substantial and well thought out ways of staying and keeping fit, with people encouraged to make smarter decisions. The creation of specifically formulated weight loss foods and milkshakes saw another rise in the dieting curve. However, for the first time, this was partnered with people who were far more aware of the necessity of leading a healthy lifestyle. This led to the fitness crazes of the 80s and the rise of a gym culture which saw more people taking up the likes of aerobics and yoga. 

   More recent times have seen a rise of scientifically proven dieting trends such as The Atkins Diet. This sees users on a low carb/high protein diet and, although there are debates over the safety of such a diet, the effects on weight loss are undeniable. More modern-day ways of keeping fit include cleanses and detoxes – mainly used by celebrities and then followed by fans. At the same time, more and more people are turning to diet supplements such as fat burners which work with the natural workings of your body to help you lose those extra pounds. At the same time, the food wheel (red for bad, orange for ok, green for good) which can be found on most supermarket products these days, as well as the aforementioned ‘five a day’ concept has seen a big increase in the trend for healthy eating.
   In summary, the past few decades (and centuries for that matter) have seen the development of a number of interesting dieting trends, some more dubious than others. While the older of these certainly raise health suspicions, we can be confident that the more recent are backed up by scientific research and tend to be clinically proven. Looking forward, more gravitas is being placed on keeping fit and maintaining a healthy lifestyle in conjunction with any weight loss programme. While there are a number of gimmicky diet fads hitting bookshelves and TV screens every year, it’s becoming easier and easier to see the wheat from the chaff – simply ensure that they follow these key concepts to healthy living.

* Read more: 15 most bizarre diets in history

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

iQ Chocolate Review

   If you're on a little bit of a health and fitness kick like me, you should know that chocolate is not off the menu. I know, best news ever, right? And when it comes to chocolate, the darker the better, as the high cocoa content (70%+) is amazingly good for you - but then there's raw chocolate, which is in a league of its own. It's a popular belief that chocolate releases endorphins and makes you happy. Well, that's not strictly true. Cocoa does do this, but the lower the percentage of cocoa and the more it's cooked and tempered, the less happy-making they are. Dark chocolate has a high cocoa content even with all the tempering, which means it retains a lot of good stuff - dark isn't the popular favourite, no, but the reason it's so bitter is because of all the goodness. Who looks forward to eat vegetables? It's a similar sort of thing.
   But raw chocolate goes through very little tempering, very little cooking and tempering, and as it maintains so much of its natural goodness, it also includes less additives, including added sugars. It is, believe it or not, one of the fabled 'superfoods'.

   iQ Chocolate, a chocolate company based in Scotland, have some of the best raw chocolate I've had, and I've tried a few. It's not as rough-textured as most of them are, and has a nice, shiny, smooth finish to the bar itself. They're made from Peruvian cocoa, some of the best cocoa around, and sweetened with coconut blossom nectar, meaning no refined sugars or artificial sweeteners. It's au naturel, and has been stoneground at low temperatures to keep it raw, preserving all of the goodness, which means high levels of nutrients, minerals and antioxidants, which is something iQ are proud to point out all over their adorable packaging. What's more, all iQ bars are free from gluten, soya, dairy, lecithin and nuts, so it's safe for most allergies, too. No one has to miss out.

   YogiQ and BeautiQ are the two newest bars from iQ - guess who they're aimed at? Beauty buffs and fitness fanatics.
   BeautiQ has a delicious addition of wild, organic seabuckthorn which adds a lovely little crunch to each bite, something I really quite liked. Seabuckthorn is a brilliant antioxidant and immunity booster on top of the benefits of raw chocolate itself, and the combination of all ingredients helps to promote anti-aging, cellular repair and hormonal function.
   YogiQ contains ginseng and ginger, giving it another little something to set it apart from the rest, and supports muscle function and energy release - and I tell you, I felt it. Perhaps I imagined it, I don't know, but sometimes even if it is a placebo effect, it's valuable. Both ginseng and ginger are wonderful immunity boosters, too, and ginger can also increase metabolic rate while ginseng can improve stamina and endurance, too.
   Both 35g bars contain only 197 calories, which is quite an achievement - but you have to remember, of course, that calories are important for active individuals such as myself, which is also why putting together a calorie-controlled diet by yourself rarely works out unless you're a dietician. I also felt more positive after each bar, too. I used to eat ordinary chocolate when I felt down - I've since learned not to drown my sorrows in food because it doesn't help any, only making me feel sick and guilty - but I admit to giving in when it comes to raw chocolate, and since raw chocolate packs a big punch in such a tiny bar, I don't feel the guilt, I don't feel sick, and I actually feel better than normal chocolate makes me feel.

   I know what you might be thinking, because I used to be the same way: it's chocolate, stop gussying it up, it can't do all of that, for goodness' sake.
   But why not? Cocoa beans are seeds from a fruit, it's a naturally occurring thing, just like milk. Cocoa goes through a process to become what we know as chocolate, just as milk goes through a process to become safe to drink, or to become cheese or yoghurt. What's the difference? There isn't one, and dairy is rich in calcium which does a number of wonders itself. And raw chocolate isn't typical chocolate, afterall; it's not been treated the same way as standard store-bought chocolate, and as a result it's healthier, with less calories, bad fat and sugars. So believe it. I'm not talking out of my bum, and you all know I wouldn't push a product if I didn't see any value. Remember my trial with raspberry ketone? Remember how I said it didn't work for me? Well, I love raw chocolate, and I love iQ the most. I'll be back and buying more in no time. And just as well, because I fancy trying their orange with wild raspberry bar!

Friday, 12 September 2014

Manchester Dog's Home Fundraiser

   Following the fire at the Manchester Dog's Home last night, which claimed the lives of over 53 dogs, 50% of all sales in Peaches and Pebbles over the next 7 days will be donated to their fundraiser.

Shaolin Warrior Workout: 2 Weeks Later

   The Shaolin Warrior Workout is amazing. As I said before I started, I didn't expect it to be easy at all, and I was right: it's not easy. But I didn't even expect it to be doable, and it was. It takes some concentration to make sure you maintain your form, and a little bit of flexibility, but after having started doing yoga several months ago, even before my month of Yoga Meltdown, I am a little looser and my legs are a little stronger than they would have been otherwise, and that's made learning, sinking into and holding the stances easier for me, too. So I do have a slight advantage, but that still only comes from about 4 months of casual yoga and 1 month solid.

   Having done kickboxing I've also found I have a slight advantage in the punches and kicks, too, but that's not to say that any of it is easy. The DVD is broken down into 8 sections not counting the warm up and the introduction, but so far I have only been able to use 3 of those sections - the stamina training, basic stances and punches, and combination training. I spent the first day alone going over the stances - like the Irish Stepdance workout I did back in June, this consisted of replaying the first 2.5-3 minutes of a single chapter. However, I gained a good workout from that alone, to be honest, and I'm quite confident in my stances now. I can only hold them for about a minute - some, like the ma bu and gong bu a little longer, and others, like the pu bu a lot less, but I am familiar enough with them.

   Once I had taken the time to learn the stances, I was able to move on with that same chapter of the DVD to the actual punches and body movement, and I managed to pull my left tricep immediately. Oops. It was my own fault and I knew it had happened the moment I threw a single awkward punch. Lesson learned. But suffice it to say that the punches certainly helped to raise the heartrate, and when I moved onto combination training I got an even better workout.
   The warm up also gets into more muscles than I knew I had, and while I would certainly recommend doing a little bit of cardio before the workout to make certain that your muscles are warm enough to do what needs to be done, the warm up really does loosen you up.

   I've been doing it for two weeks now, and I'm building my confidence with it. I certainly can't keep up with them all when they're speeding up their punches and body movements, but I'm quite proud of what I can do. I'm quite confident that, like a few of my DVDs, I won't make it to the end of this workout by the end of the month. I don't like to progress onto new chapters of the DVD unless I'm happy with what comes first. If I can't do it, I won't move on until I can, because it surely only gets harder from then onwards, unless the move is just impossible. There were a few jumps in the Irish Stepdance workout that I just could not figure out no matter how many times I tried and I had no choice but to move past those, but I'll only do that if I really must, and I can't get my mind to work over my body. However, at this point, while I've not yet encountered anything in the DVD that I've not been able to overcome (I'm still in the early stages, of course), I do believe that both of the other Shaolin Warrior Workout DVDs will serve to cover another month of workouts each - and they also lead me to believe that a few of the other Yan Lei DVDs I've been looking at might well be worth the time as well.

   Simply put: I love it. It's fun, it's different, and it gives me the cardio and body weight training moves I need. The Shifu's English isn't perfect, no, but you get used to it, and the more you use the DVD the easier it becomes, and because moves are demonstrated as well as explained. There are no problems, as far as I can see. At this point, I recommend it! But we'll see if any of that changes in the next two weeks...

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Ask Me Anything

Following on from last week's question about dreams, I don't mean this in as harsh a way as it might sound, I'm just curious: do you truly believe you can achieve your dream?

   In all honesty...I don't know. I'm writing in an obscure genre, and while I'm fortunate that the Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit being turned into films, and Game of Thrones being as big as it is, fantasy is of more interest these days, there's also the issue of there being about 6 literary agencies in the entire country that accept fantasy novels. And that sucks.
   However, I can say this: I have no intention of giving up. I enjoy writing immensely, and I have ideas on top of ideas. I have vague plans for about 5 more books, all in different worlds with very different stories, and I built those ideas up over the past year. So you can assume that, for every book that gets rejected, I have four other ideas for new books. Yes the rejections suck, but you have to remind yourself that it's not just because it might be badly written that it gets rejected. It can also be because the agent doesn't feel they can represent your work well enough, maybe they're not taking on new pieces at that time, maybe they simply didn't like it, or maybe the market isn't ready for it. All you can do is press on and try again.
   I do have a plan, though. The first thing I submitted to literary agencies was the first book of a trilogy. I hadn't yet finished the trilogy, though I was a quarter the way through the second book when I sent the first out. When I got my rejection letters back I was understandably heart broken, as it was my first go. I kept writing the second book, but I gradually lost interest due to hopelessness. It was then that I took a depressed sort of break and stopped writing for a few months, then decided I missed it too much and started work on something new. It fell apart, but then I began work on my current book which is very nearly finished. But! Instead of sending it out and waiting for a response before getting to work on a new book, I'm going to polish it off, proof read it, clean it up so it's ready, write the cover letter, synopsis and so on, and then put it all to one side to start work on a new book. That way, when I do get around to sending the book out, I'll have already moved on and the rejection won't hit so hard because I'll have moved onto something new already and likely become obsessed with that, instead.

   I feel I'm blathering and making no sense. So, in short, while I can't say that I honestly believe I'll get where I want to the way I want to, I will be published one day because I can self-publish if I have to. I'm fortunate in that aspect, at least. But will I be able to convince an agent that my work and I are worth the time? I don't know. There are a lot of factors to consider. I do believe my work and I are worth it, though, but of course I'd say that, I have to believe in myself, otherwise why would I keep trying?

   Either way, I will continue to write. I've been doing it for nearly 11 years now, I've found many of my weaknesses and fixed many of them. There are still a few that exist, I can admit that, but I'm overcoming them, too. And it will take a lot of rejections on a lot of my books to get me to give up, but even then they are the opinions of the few. Those 'few' are professionals in the industry, yes, I am certainly not disputing that fact, and whether they ever accept me or not, I respect them and their experienced decisions, but there are only about 6 of them. Those 6 can't speak for all the fans of fantasy. For example, people love Game of Thrones; I, on the other hand, have neither seen it or read it, and 'nor am I interested in doing so. I don't like shiney, happy, heroic fantasy, but I don't like exceedingly dark and gritty/sexual fantasy either. I like it in between, and Game of Thrones doesn't seem that way to me. Admittedly I've not given it the chance in order to find out, but I'm quite happy not watching it, and I don't feel I'm missing out at all. I'm following too many complex programs at the moment to add another to the list, anyway.

   But, I'll end with this: I do believe that, if you stick with something and let yourself grow with it, accepting help and criticism where you can, you can take it where you want to, and I don't think my work is any different.

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