Developing healthy habits

Don’t let a bad day become a lifestyle – James Clear

Habits are the foundation of our lives. And building healthy habits is absolutely essential to win at this game that we call life. When I am working with clients I look at their daily routines and food diaries, studying carefully for where tweaks and upgrades can be made. But choosing healthy food options when we are living in what is fundamentally a toxic food environment can be hard. What can we do?

Firstly, we need to make our new or improved habit obvious. For example, do you keep forgetting to take your whole-food supplements? Keep them out on the countertop in the kitchen so that you look at them every time you reach for the kettle, for example. Likewise, do you have a blender or a juicer sitting at the back of a cupboard? Get it out on the countertop so that you are constantly reminded to use it. Likewise, if you have a habit that you need to drop, or that you feel no longer serves you, you will more rapidly eliminate it if you make it invisible.

We then need to make the good habit attractive. For example, tie it to a reward. “If I go for a 10 minute run after work (start small if you have never been running before), I will then go home and prepare my healthy evening meal”. This is where changing your peer group can be helpful. Tie your desired new habit in with a group of people where such habits are the norm.

Thirdly, we need to make our new habit easy. For example, if that involves committing to going to the gym on the way home from work, choose a gym that’s located halfway between home and work, or at least one that you don’t have to drive in the opposite direction to get to. If I choose to, I can run to my gym from both home and work, because it’s midway between the two. I am less likely to run there if it’s in the opposite direction. Finally, we need to make the new habit satisfying. Ideally, don’t miss twice – i.e. don’t skip two days in a row.

On the flip side, the four keys to making a bad habit disappear are to make it invisible, make it unattractive, make it difficult, and make it unsatisfying.

So how does this all translate into, for example, upgrading your lifestyle to move towards a mostly living foods diet, if that is your aim? I have touched on making it obvious – have all the tools for that lifestyle to hand – high quality juicer, good blender, lots of sprouting seeds and the jars/growing medium for their cultivation close at hand. I have my automatic sprouter and sprout rack in one area of my kitchen, and they are positioned in an obvious place to remind me to use them. It really only does take 2 minutes to load up the sprouting jars and another 2 to plant up the automatic sprouter for the category 2 sprouts. The thing that initiates your desirable new habit should only take 2 minutes, otherwise it may seem too difficult.
(For information about the six categories of sprouts and their benefits, see my book The Whole Body Solution.) Making the upgraded lifestyle seem attractive is the next hurdle. Take sprouting for example. It’s actually really good fun to see the sprouts growing. That’s a reward in itself, knowing that they are doing your body good.

Making it easy is next. Design your kitchen to ensure that you have everything you need for this good habit to take place, and that nothing can stand in your way. Making it satisfying would be enjoying the fruits of your labour, literally. Imagine the massive spectrum of antioxidants that your body is receiving from the sprouted food! Think about all the nutrients and enzymes that are being delivered in an easy to digest form. If that’s not satisfying, I don’t know what is.

Finally, trying to change too much in one go could lead to problems, and a high drop out rate. So make your habits small and simple initially, and then stack them. One good habit on top of another.
For example here, changing from a processed plant-based diet to a healthy, unprocessed one could progress like this:
Add in a good variety of brightly-coloured vegetables every day, either steamed or ideally raw.
Add in a green juice.
Add in a healthy smoothie with raw, unprocessed protein powder.
Make your own nut milk instead of buying processed ones in a carton.
Use tempeh instead of highly processed meat substitutes.
Add in a good selection of sprouted foods.

And voila – you did it! Notice that I have put the emphasis on adding. Add the good stuff! What happens if we are told we can’t have something? We rebel, because the message is one of deprivation. And we all hate the idea of deprivation don’t we?

Stick with your habits. Make them small and achievable initially. Celebrate the little wins. If you add in 3 good things every month to your lifestyle, within a year you will have made a huge difference. Within 5 years, you may hardly recognise yourself. Just keep going. And celebrate the journey.

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Can a plant-based diet be of benefit in the fight against Covid-19?

Well of course it can, can’t it? It’s obvious… all those wonderful antioxidants from minimally-processed fruit and veg in the healthy vegan diet, powering up our immune systems and giving the body everything it needs to fight infection. But hold on one second… It might sound obvious, but can it actually be proven? Turns out it can.

There’s so much speculation involved in Covid-19 and we might anticipate, as healthy people on a high antioxidant living foods/minimally processed diet, that we therefore should be immune, or at least partially immune, to every bacterium or virus that comes our way. Speaking as someone who never gets the common cold or flu, even when everyone around me is dropping like flies, my assumption was for sure that it had everything to do with my diet and supplementation regime and my robust immune system. But as the saying goes, “one swallow doesn’t make a summer”, and any scientific researcher will tell you that using only oneself as a test subject doesn’t prove anything. For a study to stack scientifically, you need to test hundreds, and ideally thousands of people, to avoid the spanner in the works of potential outliers like me.

I am delighted to say that this research finally does exist, and has been published in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Hana Kahleova, the lead author, states that overweight people have lower protection following Covid vaccination, as do smokers, diabetics and those with elevated blood pressure or high cholesterol. Mostly, as we’ve already heard, it’s those who have other health problems that tend to die from Covid-19. In 2021, a study following 600,000 people who had high intake of fruit and vegetables, indicated a 43% reduction in the severity of Covid.

The most recent study published in January 2022, which involved approximately 3000 health workers from 6 countries, who ate a fully plant-based diet, decreased their risk of moderate to severe Covid by 73%. That’s massive! In the Blue Zones, where those who have the healthiest and longest lives on the planet reside, one would anticipate that the Covid death rate would be lower. This certainly appears to be the case. Comparisons have been made, for example, between Okinawans (one of the Blue Zones) and those living in Tokyo. In Okinawa, which is, after all, part of Japan, Covid mortality is 16 times lower. Now we can’t just put this down to the healthy diet of the Okinawans. The population density in Tokyo is way higher, those who live there are almost invariably going to be more stressed (stress negatively impacts the immune system after all), and there are many more smokers in Tokyo. But the fact remains that the average age of the population of Okinawa is higher, but they are nonetheless healthier.

What is starting to occur in Okinawa, sadly, is that the younger generations are starting to experience degenerative disease as a result of not following the traditional diet of their elders. The USA has a big influence in Okinawa as a result of the presence of their military bases, so the younger residents who have succumbed to the Western diet are significantly less healthy than their parents, which is a tragedy.

Diabetes is a huge co-morbidity for Covid, and diabetics are much more likely to get severe disease from infection. High blood sugar levels suppress the immune system, and a plant-based diet is well-known to reverse Type 2 diabetes, which is a lifestyle disease. People are not often dying from the Covid virus itself, but from the inflammation which the virus causes. A plant-based diet is anti-inflammatory, as long as it’s a whole-foods, minimally processed plant-based diet (after all, chips are vegan and pizza can be, but that doesn’t mean they are healthy!). The antioxidants in the whole-foods, plant-based diet and, even better, the living foods diet are having such a massively positive impact on people’s health that it’s impossible to ignore. Whilst there will always be those who want to continue burying their head in the sand and believing their own ingrained dogma that the Western diet is best and that there’s nothing wrong with, for example, keto, it’s time for a shift.

High antioxidant diets are beneficial for everyone, and that means eating (and of course juicing) your greens. And eating low-glycaemic fruit. And sprouted foods, and superfoods. And seaweed. Yes, seaweed. If you’re interested in how I get my 70 a day (yes, I really do eat 70 fruit and veg per day!), please see my separate blog post on the subject here.

Will a living foods diet eliminate your risk of ever succumbing to Covid? I can’t guarantee that. But the research is clear. If you happen to get it, it won’t be as severe. Which can only be a good thing.

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How do you do it?

I was asked this very question last week: “How do you do it?” In the context of keeping going with my healthy lifestyle when it’s dark, when I might have had a bad day, when I might be distracted elsewhere, when I may not have the enthusiasm to prepare a healthy meal… etc. We all have off days, days when there’s always something that needs our attention and is more important than doing all the things that we know support us in our healthy lifestyles. Things we “should” do… even when we would rather curl up in front of the TV instead of doing that weight training session or spin class. Things we “should” eat instead of grabbing the nearest convenient thing.

There are some of my readers who seem to perceive me as some kind of superwoman who never has an off day and never feels tired. Ah, if only they knew! I’m only human after all, and the fact is, all of us, without exception, have bad days when our enthusiasm wanes. The difference is that those people who can make themselves keep going no matter what, all seem to have one thing in common, and it’s to do with language. They have turned their “should” into a “must”. I am one of those people. I do not allow myself to have a get-out clause. If there’s something that I need to do or achieve, I make it an absolute necessity, not a “should”.

I have recently committed to taking on a new mentee, and he is hugely enthusiastic. He basically wants me to open up my brain and give him everything that’s in there. He wants to skyrocket his physical and mental performance and become an invincible superhero, ideally overnight. I love motivated people like this and have all the time in the world for them. Trouble is, things don’t happen instantaneously and with any program, it takes time for the benefits to manifest. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither were our bodies. It can take many years to become an overnight success.

So, let’s highlight aspects of the process that “Mentor Max” is taking her new student through. David (not his real name) is a fit young man who is highly motivated to becoming successful in many endeavours. He is accustomed to hard work and realises that nothing good comes without effort, focus and discipline. Whilst we joke that he wants it all now, he appreciates that good results take time and commitment. He calls me 4 times a week and regularly sends WhatsApp photos of the healthy meals he is making. This is great, and we have ascertained exactly what he wants to achieve, why, and by when, and importantly, how he is going to feel when he gets there, and how his life will improve as a result. I am delighted that he has asked me to help him on his journey of personal growth and improvement.

David’s diet wasn’t difficult to improve. For breakfast, I have suggested that he switches to my special recipe chia seed porridge with blueberries, instead of instant oats, milk and Pringles (yes, really). Lunch is not currently within his control, but dinner is. He’s not quite ready to go plant-based yet (but based on his goals and the speed at which he wants to reach them, he will soon make the shift), so abundant fresh vegetables have been added for dinner and red meat has been eliminated, as have the white bread and digestive biscuits. He already drinks plenty of water and maintains good hydration. Exercise is easy for him to fit in. He has a physically active job and easy access to a well-equipped gym, and trains 5 to 6 days a week, with a combination of strength, endurance and cardio training. Understanding the importance of exercise and how it fits in not only to achieving his goals but how it also improves his mood and physique, David has no problem in getting his workouts done, even if he’s tired.

David is still in the early stages of his transition to a superhero diet, but his digestive system is already feeling the benefits. Raw vegan protein powder has now been added for breakfast, since David needs to maintain good strength and muscle mass for his job, and it balances out the macros in the chia porridge; otherwise his overall daily fat percentage intake may become too high. He has, within just two weeks, made changes that would take many people months to achieve. There are, after all, advantages to “wanting it all and wanting it now”, and being disciplined to stick with the changes that will get you there. Having read that we tend to become the sum of the five people we spend the most time with, David has even changed his social group and is seeking out positive people who will be a good influence on him.

So – back to “how do I do it?” and, indeed in this example here, how does David do it? Firstly, he has huge goals that he is committed to achieving. They are not a “should” for him, they are a “must”, as are mine for me. Secondly, he has tracked down a mentor to keep him on track, someone who is getting the results that he wants to achieve – me. I myself have a good friend and sport training buddy who I can call on at the drop of a hat, if I ever feel that I am wavering (which is very rare). We keep each other focussed and have fun in the process – no excuses. Do you have a mentor or training buddy? I highly recommend it. Thirdly, David is prepared to do whatever it takes to reach his goals, even if that means totally changing his diet, lifestyle and social group in the fullness of time. Let’s face it – not everyone is ready to make an instantaneous leap from Pringles for breakfast to green juice! Finally, and this is a big one, David is now familiar with, and embracing, the process of “adding the good stuff” as I call it. This is not deprivation, it’s abundance. Two weeks ago he never knew that chia seeds existed – now he eats them every morning. Just wait until we add maca to the protein powder/chia porridge combo. Now that
really will be something!

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From medical write-off to mountains and marathons – a healing journey and the joy of stubbornness

I admit it, I’m stubborn. Capricorn characteristics or otherwise, if anyone tells me I can’t do something, I will go out of my way to prove them wrong. It wouldn’t be the first time. I was sitting in the doctor’s office, in the spring of 1990, being told that I was incurable. Once the diagnosis had registered, which took a few minutes given my depleted state, I was already halfway out of the door, telling the doctor that I would let him know how I got on.

I was born in a blizzard in January 1963. It was the coldest winter on record in the UK and a time when the world was in upheaval and people were challenging their traditionally held beliefs. As a child and at high school, I was very athletic and regarded as a promising gymnast and sprinter. My academic interests were languages and science. Growing up on the Isle of Wight, there were no decent athletic or gymnastic training programs, so I threw myself into my studies. At the age of 17, I was accepted to study veterinary medicine at the Royal Veterinary College, London, having proven the naysayers wrong (“you won’t get good enough grades, you’re too small, you’re too young, your dad isn’t a vet” and other such nonsense). I qualified in 1985 as the UK’s youngest vet. 

Like many others, I was consuming the typical nutritionally deficient British diet, although I had at least eliminated dairy products at the age of 15, having experimented on myself to conclude that I was allergic to them. As a young veterinarian, believing that I was indestructible, I put in long hours in my stressful profession. Although I was slim, fit and outwardly healthy looking, my 12 to 15 hour workdays with no breaks eventually began to take their toll. By early 1990 my weight had dropped to 90 pounds (44 kilos) and people at work started calling me “The Stick”. Even my boyfriend at the time called me Sticky, progressing to “Ribley” when my ribs became even more prominent. No one really meant any harm, but I was conscious of being visibly emaciated.

I was exhausted, so hauled myself to the doctor. Blood tests showed that I had virtually no white blood cells, and I was diagnosed with Epstein-Barr virus and chronic fatigue syndrome, with additional advanced muscular degeneration. My immune system had crashed and my health was totally compromised. I was advised to take at least a month off work, which I could not do because of my heavy schedule. Sat in the doctor’s office, I was told that there was no treatment and that I would probably never recover. That was the moment in which my stubborn streak saved my life. 

Fortunately, I knew all about personal responsibility. I realised that I had obviously screwed up badly to get myself into this mess in the first place, so I knew it was my own responsibility to fix myself. The difficulty was, knowing where to start. With no internet to search, I ended up in the supermarket of all places, propped up on my shopping trolley, staring at the magazine rack. “Health and Fitness”. The magazine almost jumped out at me, with its cover picture of an athletic looking woman with muscles like I used to have. I bought the mag. Later that day, whilst flicking through its pages, I noticed a short article that resonated with me. It stated that we need to eat five servings of fruit and vegetables per day to maintain good health. An idea jumped forward. “If that’s what we need to maintain health, I obviously need more than that to regain it.” From that day forward, my diet changed radically. 

As a child, I hated cooked vegetables and I would either eat them raw or not at all. My plan was to eat 10 servings of fruit and 10 servings of raw vegetables every day. I was also keen to rebuild my wasted muscles, so exercise was in order. I forced myself to go to the gym at the local leisure centre. Almost the first day I went, I got chatting to a young man of about the same age. Having observed my thinness, he commented “you must be very healthy”. I had difficulty in not laughing. Why would anyone mistake me for being healthy because I was thin? I never told him that 5 days earlier the medical profession had written me off. 

Exercise was hard. The first time I went for a run, I barely made it to the next lamp post before collapsing. I persevered, refusing to give up. I kept going running, I continued weight training. Gradually my strength and my fitness started to put in a comeback. My wasted muscles began to reappear. I nearly cried with joy the first time I saw my regenerated biceps. After 6 months, I thought I had nailed it, so I entered my first road race. But first, a trip to the doctor. He repeated the blood tests. To my joy and his amazement, the virus was gone and my white blood cell count was back to normal. To say that I was very excited was the understatement of the year, so I started telling the doctor how I had done it. He was disinterested in my recovery process. Sadly, 5 years later he suffered a massive heart attack and could never work again. 

My first road race was a 5 miler, which I completed in 40 minutes. That whetted my appetite; road racing was fun, and I was keen to find out just how much this new body could do. I was eating a high raw, but not totally vegan diet. I still drank alcohol, but not frequently and never in large quantities. By 1992 I was feeling so strong and healthy that I went to New York and ran the New York City marathon. The atmosphere was electric. I had to do more. I set my next running challenge – to complete the London marathon in less than 4 hours. I got myself a running coach. His name was Mike, but everyone called him “The Terminator”. Many people had stopped training with him because he pushed them too hard. I, on the other hand, loved it. He introduced me to hill sprints, for which I am forever grateful. I ran London in 1994, in a time of 3 hours 55 minutes. I could hardly believe that 4 years earlier I had been a medical write off. My recreation became road racing, triathlons, mountain bike racing, rock climbing, skiing, karate – anything active, anything involving fitness and a challenge, I was up for it. 

I was then fortunate to discover the Fresh Network, at that time headed up by Karen Knowler. I joined immediately and started going to all the events that they hosted – David Wolfe, Brian Clement, Gabriel Cousens… I literally ate up the information they gave. I became a 100% living foods vegan in 1998, which was a natural progression from the high raw diet that I had been eating, and that was so instrumental in my recovery. I then tweaked my raw diet. Less fruit. More green juices. The wonders of wheatgrass. That worked better for me. 

My next major challenge was to overcome a severe injury sustained in a skiing accident. I fell 200 feet on ice and ruptured the cruciate ligaments in my left knee. I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t work. I was in plaster from my hip to my toes. What now? Attitude and determination, that’s what. And if you don’t like what one doctor says, get a second opinion. I was told that because I was not an international rugby player, I didn’t need surgery. I did say that I had some unfinished business with a karate black belt, but that didn’t seem to sway his opinion. So, in the height of my stubbornness, I sought out the best orthopaedic surgeon in Hampshire. I went to see him privately. Within 5 minutes, we had arranged a date for surgery. 

I knew that the recovery from surgery was going to need a focused mind. I had not only the surgery, but the 6 months of intense physiotherapy and rehabilitation to deal with. The pain was unbelievable. It was probably my own fault for refusing painkillers, but I didn’t want to put them in a nice clean body. Yes, sometimes my stubbornness causes me suffering. I got up every morning at 6am so that I could be in the gym doing my exercises and rehab and still get to work on time. I trained diligently at my exercises, worked out a specific anti-inflammatory raw diet and was juicing like mad. Success! My surgeon has now retired, but he followed me up for 10 years after the operation. The last time I saw him, he said that he has never seen a recovery like mine. I have full function of my left knee, and no degenerative change whatsoever. 

Back to the unfinished business with the black belt. I was close to black belt standard just before the skiing accident; I had passed 2 out of the 3 disciplines, failing just on the fighting section. Two and a half years after the accident, I was finally allowed back to karate training, as long as I wore a huge knee brace made out of aircraft aluminium which my surgeon had specially made for me. He didn’t want me to return to karate. He said it was seriously bad for knees. I, of course, had other ideas.

I had been training for 6 hard months and fighting with my then boyfriend, himself an experienced black belt, nearly every day. I further tweaked my diet. Alcohol was a total no-no. I discovered that nuts make me tired and a lot of fruit does not work well in my system despite my activity levels. I thrive on greens, green juices, sprouts and wheatgrass. In 2001 the big day came; I was called up to fight. My opponent was an intimidating thug of a woman from a tough London club. 45 pounds heavier than me, she enjoyed fighting and the look in her eyes indicated that she couldn’t wait to beat me to a pulp. I didn’t have her brute strength, but I was sharp and fast and won the fight, despite getting a heavy bash in the ribs that almost knocked me over. Just 4 people gained their black belt that day out of about 40 who tried. I was proud to be one of them. 

In 2004 I attended the Hippocrates Health Institute in Florida for the first time. I had the time of my life; I thought I knew so much about health before I went, but it was a total eye opener, completely humbling. I enrolled on the Health Educator course the following year, which was a natural progression since I was already teaching classes and giving lectures throughout the UK. I graduated as a Hippocrates Health Educator in 2006. I now teach the Hippocrates lifestyle from my home near Southampton as well as lecturing, presenting seminars and writing books and magazine articles. My clients range from British international athletes to grandparents, and I love helping all of them to go beyond what they currently think is possible. 

I continue to challenge myself both physically and mentally; I can’t encourage other people to do something if I am not prepared to do it myself. In 2012 I climbed Kilimanjaro. In 2015 I ran the Brighton Marathon, and in 2018 I did one of my biggest running challenges to date – the Dragon Double – two tough endurance races within a week of each other, one on the Great Wall of China (I came second in my age group) and then the Thunder Dragon race in the Himalayas in Bhutan, in which I won my age category. I train with former Olympic sprinters just for the heck of it. I can’t keep up with them, but it’s fun trying! I am currently training for the Serpent Trail Ultramarathon in 2022. I run fully barefoot, or in my trusty barefoot shoes because it gives me a better connection to, and feeling for, the earth. And every day, I rejoice in my stubbornness. 

Read my full healing journey and the science behind my recovery in my book The Fatigue Solution.

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Genetic Mutations and Vitamin C

Humans are a slightly odd species. We continue to drink the milk of the wrong species of mammal past weaning age, many believe that we need to eat meat, fish or eggs every day, even though our teeth could hardly be a worse design for meat eating, and we can’t make our own vitamin C, which means we have to eat it every day to stay healthy. Some of us even have blue eyes (the natural eye colour for humans is brown), thanks to a genetic mutation that appeared a few thousand years ago in Denmark. I always knew I was a Viking.

Back to vitamin C, and our inability to make it from glucose – sometimes referred to as an inborn metabolic error. We share this unusual trait with Haplorrhini primates, as well as the guinea pig and the fruit bat, so we’re up there with the greats.

In 1979, Irwin Stone published a medical hypothesis entitled Homo Sapiens Ascorbicus, a Biochemically Corrected Robust Human Mutant. Stone himself had been researching vitamin C for years and was personally taking massive doses of it in an attempt to match the levels that the other 4000 species of mammal without our odd mutation are able to make continuously. High levels of vitamin C in the blood effectively eradicate viral infections – pretty relevant in our current Covid world. Evidently human-sized goats under stress can produce up to 100 grams (yes, grams, not milligrams) of vitamin C, which has led to the suggestion that humans should also be taking gigantic doses because our cells are effectively the same as those of the goat. Superficially, this makes a lot of sense – except that in the case of vitamin C, it’s erroneous. In many ways metabolically, humans just can’t be compared to goats.

Humans are supposed to eat plants that contain vitamin C, not vast doses of synthetic supplements (which is sadly what most vitamin C tablets are). Synthetic vitamin C can be made from boiling up coal tar with sulphuric acid, or these days, manufactured from genetically modified corn. Is this as good, or even remotely the same as, eating a wide variety of whole vegetables and fruit which contain not just vitamin C but the remaining 24,999 (approximately) antioxidants that we need? Clearly not. It’s true that humans can get away with taking vast amounts of synthetic vitamins, just as it’s true that eating burgers and chips, smoking and drinking vast amounts of alcohol doesn’t kill you right away. But it doesn’t mean that health is created via this path. Indeed, if you are prone to forming oxalate kidney stones, taking large doses of synthetic vitamin C will significantly raise your risk of this horribly painful condition.

What the vitamin C researchers in the 1970s could not have predicted was that in 2008, a paper published in Cell (21st March) would disprove the theory that humans should take massive vitamin C doses. Luckily for humans, our red blood cells have the ability to suck up the oxidised form of vitamin C (L-dehydroascorbic acid, or DHA as it is also known) and convert it straight back to the antioxidant form, which can then be transported via the blood stream to any cell that needs it. The other mammals without our genetic mutation can’t do this, probably explaining why they need to produce so much more of the vitamin than we humans need to eat in our diet.

Going further, researchers in the 21st Century have discovered that there’s a protein, known as Glut1, on mammalian cell membranes that is the primary transporter of glucose. Because the DHA molecule is a similar shape to glucose, this protein can also transport DHA, but in human red blood cells Glut1 strongly favours DHA transportation, not glucose. But what about the mammals that produce their own vitamin C? Lo and behold, whilst they have the Glut1 protein in all their other cells, they don’t have it on their red blood cells – they have a different one, which can’t transport DHA. In fact, the only mammals that have this specific protein on their red blood cells appear to be those which can’t make their own vitamin C. Fascinating stuff, but what does that mean for us?

Vitamin C is essential, and many health-conscious people make a point of taking extra supplementation (even if this is synthetic) thanks to the important work of Linus Pauling and other 20th Century researchers. However, thanks to more recent studies, the recommendation to only take supplementation that is made from whole-food sources, and not individual isolated and concentrated doses of one nutrient, is gaining traction. High doses of synthetic vitamin C supplements do not create health. Better health is gained via a whole-foods, plant-based, minimally processed diet with whole-food based supplements such as this one that contain all 25,000 (approximately) antioxidants, working synergistically together. This is what I do, and this is what I will continue to recommend. There’s no quick-fix. Health is gained through the combination of multiple factors – an excellent diet, exercise, stress reduction, joyful interaction with others – performed consistently over time.

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Top takeaways from The Real Truth About Health Conference

I love The Real Truth About Health Conference, this year, as per 2020, held online. It features top speakers and authors from the USA and Canada, whose mission is to present the most important and perhaps less well-known information to skyrocket human and planetary health, for free. In 2014 I attended the conference, held in New York, in person. The conference has grown significantly, and last week, thousands of people from around the world were joining in on Zoom.

It would be impossible to present here every single important point from even one presentation, let alone 10 days’ worth of information, but below follow some of my top takeaways from the lectures that I was able to attend.

Eating animals increases your risk of both cancer and heart disease. We have known this for years of course. It’s the cooked saturated fat in meat that is especially harmful to the cardiovascular system, and the animal protein that increases cancer risk. When you eat meat, you get animal protein and animal fat together – you can’t have one without the other. Heart disease may manifest itself before cancer, or vice versa, but given the overwhelming evidence from studying many thousands of people globally for over half a century, a whole foods, plant-based diet has never looked so appealing.

A diagonal crease in your earlobes is a strong predictor of a heart attack. Yes, according to a well-respected interventional cardiologist, if you have developed a diagonal crease in your earlobes, you have a 70% chance of having a heart attack within the next 5 years. On hearing this, I rushed to the mirror. What does it mean if I have a diagonal crease half way across one ear lobe and nothing in the other? I have been a living foods vegan for over 25 years, and I exercise every day. Does this mean I am still at risk? Think I might have to put myself through my arterial cleansing routine, which I wrote about in The Whole Body Solution, just as a precaution. And I thought it was just to do with the way I had been sleeping!

The most important way to boost your immune system has nothing to do with diet. As always, Brian Clement was telling it like it is, and I love him for it. The best and most widely-proven method of maintaining iron-clad immunity is to live with purpose and love what you do, every single day. The second most important aspect is to have close connectivity – and this doesn’t mean having lots of friends on Facebook! He’s talking about meaningful connections, a strong sense of community and mutual trust within your close circle. This has been challenging for the past year, to say the least. But it remains 100% true that the biggest killer of old people isn’t lack of exercise, poor diet or even smoking – it’s loneliness. As lockdown eases, it’s never been more important to get out there and connect with your close friends. Zoom calls and WhatsApp have their uses, but it’s not as important as physical touch, which was the third “non-food” method of heightening immunity on Brian’s list.

Over to David Wolfe. I first met David in 1998 when very few people in the UK had heard of him. Very well educated and widely-read, David brings his own unique perspective on food and longevity. I absolutely love his lectures. Last time I went to one of David’s presentations, about 5 years ago, he was extolling the virtues of charcoal. He still is. At that time, it was birch charcoal that he was bringing to out attention – now it is coconut charcoal. Studies in mammals (he didn’t state which species of mammal) have indicated that by taking charcoal, longevity is increased by 20%. Another food which has been shown to increase longevity is humans by 13% is extra virgin olive oil (first cold press, never cooked). Excited, I remembered that I had some birch charcoal in the cupboard that I had bought at that lecture a few years back. I took it, stirred into some water, last night before bed. My diet has been the same for years, and I never get gastrointestinal pain, so I was surprised to wake up at 5am this morning, writhing in agony with the most intense, stabbing upper abdominal pain that I have ever experienced. I thought that either I had suddenly developed gastric ulceration, or that my gall bladder was about to explode. Was it the charcoal? I have no idea, but I am pretty reluctant to try it again. Fortunately the intense pain only lasted a couple of hours, and now I am completely back to normal,

David is also a huge fan of technology in the world of our well-being, including electronic square wave zappers and biomats, to name a couple of things. So if you have any specific medical issues, these are things which may be of value for you to investigate further.

So there you have it – a few (I hope) useful takeaways from this year’s lectures. If you want to catch up with all the lectures on demand, you can get a trial subscription via this link. Happy listening, and go check your earlobes!

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Nutritional Nerding – Part 2

In part 1, I focused on the macronutrients, and outlined what a difference they had made to me during a fitness competition. You can read Part 1 here if you missed it. So, following on, it’s micronutrient time. I am not going to try to cover the 25,000 antioxidants that we so far know about, or indeed 92 minerals in one article. What’s important here is how you can tweak your food and supplements to increase the micronutrient absorption and therefore get the greatest benefits.

I’m going to keep it simple, and state that in general, most micronutrients are either water soluble or fat soluble. The fat soluble vitamins are A, D, E and K. The water soluble ones are B and C. But there’s more to life than just those 6 micronutrients. Let’s look a little closer.

If you’ve read Love Your Bones, (or even if you haven’t) you probably won’t need me to remind you that vitamins D and K are hugely important. So, on a plant-based diet, how do we maximise absorption? I take D3 and K2 as a supplement, so if you’re doing the same (which you should, especially if you live in a climate like the UK where there isn’t enough sun for half the year), take it with some food that contains fat. I take mine just after breakfast, since I have chia seeds with home made nut milk for my first meal of the day. I also take my essential fatty acid supplement at the same time. The one I use contains a fantastic mix of omega 3, 5, 6, 7 and 9, all from plant sources (fish oil is not necessary, or recommended). You can buy it here.

Other essential fat-soluble micronutrients that are better absorbed in the presence of fat are the carotenoids. You may have heard of beta-carotene, the precursor to vitamin A, but also bear in mind that there are over 40 carotenoids that have a direct impact on our health, and we need all of them. The “old” method of improving absorption of carotenoids from plants was the recommendation to cook them with butter, but we’ve moved on, haven’t we. So if for example you’re having grated carrots in a salad, use a dressing that contains tahini to add a little healthy fat to that meal, or alternatively have some avocado with it.

On the subject of the fat-soluble carotenoids, there are two particularly important ones to mention here – lutein and zeaxanthin. Any ophthalmologist worth his Himalayan salt would be telling you that foods containing these carotenoids are absolutely essential for prevention of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). The macula is located at the back of the eye, and is responsible for fine-detail vision. In one interesting study, blood levels of lutein and zeaxanthin increased by 44% after subjects took this food supplement for just 28 days. Needless to say, this is something that I personally use and recommend.

On to some of the water-soluble micronutrients, and what could be better than to talk about the polyphenols? In this category we have flavonols, anthocyanins, lignans and stilbenes. The flavonols and anthocyanins in particular have huge benefits as antioxidants in the prevention of heart disease, reducing the risk of metabolic syndrome and improving skin texture and appearance. Dark red berries contain fantastic amounts of these compounds – indeed, the darker the better. So, if you want really good results, you need to be eating (or taking supplements made from) those with blue-black pigments, such as blueberries, blackcurrants and blackberries. But there’s a new kid in town, better known to those from cold northern climates where this berry grows best – Lonicera caerulea, AKA the haskap berry, which has 3 times the antioxidant levels of blueberries. So if you live in Poland, Scandinavia, Russia or northern Japan, add some of these beauties to your smoothie.

Some of the beneficial phenolic compounds found in the dark berries can’t quite make up their mind if they are fat soluble or water soluble (indeed, some dissolve just as well in ethanol as they do in water). So if you’re putting berries in your smoothie and want maximum absorption, throw a bit of tahini in the mix to ensure you have everything covered.

What about minerals? I’ll make this clear – I don’t recommend taking mineral supplements. They just don’t get absorbed very well. It’s far better to eat mineral-rich vegetables, including dark green leaves and seaweed. Even so, the iron in these foods is better absorbed in the presence of vitamin C. The leaves themselves contain vitamin C, but for an extra boost to absorption, squeeze some lemon juice on your salad.

In summary, for the best absorption of your micronutrients, combine your meals to take advantage of what is water soluble and what is fat soluble. And if you’re using supplements, take them with food or just after meals, and make sure they are made from whole foods, always. Individual isolated supplementation is what people did in the 20th Century. From a health perspective, we’ve taken a giant leap forward, and so should you.

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Nutritional Nerding – Part 1

As a description of someone, the term “nerd” may be viewed in a negative light. However, I see it differently, and if someone called me a nutritional nerd I would be delighted. I even call my wonderful webmaster “Supernerd”, which fortunately he takes as the compliment it is intended to be. So – what exactly is nutritional nerding? I think I just made it up actually, as a blanket term to cover all the amazing things that one can study when it comes to food, what’s good for us, and why.

I have to confess, in all of my study relating to food and its ability to prevent disease, I was, and still remain, fascinated by the micronutrients – ie all those lovely molecules present in food of every different colour that have such incredible benefits for our bodies. I always believed that by eating a whole foods (ideally raw and sprouted) plant-based diet, together with judicial supplementation, we didn’t really need to worry about the so-called macronutrients (abbreviated to macros) – that is, protein, carbohydrate and fat. Apparently, I am wrong; particularly, it seems, in relation to achieving specific goals in sport. As someone who has been involved in competitive sport for several decades, it seems odd to only just be finding this out. Prior to September 2020, when I entered the first specific fitness challenge of my life, I did my running, went to the gym, and ate my living foods diet. As long as it was raw vegan and didn’t have added raw sugars, I just ate it, paying no attention whatsoever to these macro things. In effect, from a health perspective, I genuinely believed I had my diet nailed. As someone who is always helping other people to upgrade, it’s surprising that all this time, I was missing a trick.

Back to the fitness challenge. Admittedly I joined the challenge for the exercise, since my ultramarathon had been cancelled and I needed something else to focus my attention, but it came together with a vegan diet plan. I was all set to ignore this – after all, why would I want to downgrade my diet and start eating cooked vegan food? But evidently, the best results would not be obtained via the exercise alone. No, no, no… it was those pesky macros that were important on this plan, not the calories, the exercise or anything else. Who knew that you could turn your metabolism into a raging furnace of fat-blasting just by focusing on a macro split? Not that I had any fat to lose, or so I thought, but hey, if I was going to win first prize in this competition, it was time to delve into this new area of study.

Depending on who you listen to, one of the three macros is going to be your enemy (and this isn’t entirely accurate). I guess you have all heard that high fat diets are harmful (they can be), high protein diets are harmful (they certainly are if you’re eating animal protein) and high carb diets make you fat (indeed they can). So – what on earth are we supposed to do? By definition, if you severely restrict one macro (which I don’t recommend), your diet will be made up of the other two. Ultimately, all food is made up of the 3 macros, it’s just the ratios that are different, and depending on what your individual goals are, the macros can be tweaked to get you there faster.

Having eaten a raw food diet for so long, this came as somewhat of a revelation – the closest thing thus far to “raw food macros” that I had read about was David Wolfe’s “sunfood triangle” in his book The Sunfood Diet Success System. The macro planner in the fitness challenge I had entered depended on one’s current weight, and that was all. For every pound of bodyweight, apparently I would need one gram of protein, 0.3 grams of fat and between 1 gram and 0.6 grams of carbs, depending on which stage of the challenge I was at (first 2 weeks 1g of carbs, next 2 weeks 0.8g, next 2 weeks 0.7g etc). Now, if you’re eating prepackaged processed food, it’s pretty easy to work out how many grams of each macro is in your meal – after all, it’s listed per 100 grams of product, so you just plug your numbers in. Heck, there are even apps that will do it for you. What about my Sunday breakfast of chia seed porridge with home-made chocolate hazelnut milk though? What kind of a macro split does that have, and is it genuinely the best thing for refuelling my body after a long run? Time to work it out, and see if I can upgrade.

Chia seeds per 100 grams have: 486 calories, 42g carbs, 17g protein, 31g fat. I use 2 tablespoons, which gives me –
138 calories, 14g carbs, 5.6g protein, 10.3g fat. To this I add a scoop of Sunwarrior raw protein powder (chocolate flavour) which is 100 calories, 4g carbs, 17g protein and 1.2g fat. Nice high protein content for muscle recovery and keeping me feeling full for longer. Then, some liquid is needed, and I don’t like it with just water, so it’s time for my home made chocolate hazelnut milk to go with it. 250ml of this contains 182.5 calories, 15.5g carbs, 3.8g protein and 12g fat. Yikes! That throws off my macros a bit, giving me a total, for the meal, of 420 calories, 33.5g carbs, 26.4g protein and 23.5g fat. It’s a very healthy breakfast for a long distance runner such as myself, but for someone wishing to lose weight, it’s not a good split (too many carbs). And why? It’s because this particular home made milk contains dates. Oops! Take the dates out, use stevia as a sweetener instead and what do you get? 313 calories, 23g carbs, 23g protein and 10.9g fat. That’s quite a difference, and an instant upgrade.

So, what happened when I did my fitness challenge and paid attention to macros? I shed fat like you wouldn’t believe. I didn’t really have a lot of fat to lose, but the macro split that I followed revved up my metabolism faster than just the exercise alone, and ensured that I retained and built muscle as opposed to losing it whilst on a calorie deficit. I ended up leaner, with better muscle definition and approximately 12% body fat, lower than I had been in years of raw food eating. And the best part? Because I built muscle and the weight training made me stronger, my running improved, especially uphill running. This stuff works!

I’ll be back again soon with more nutritional nerding, focusing on my favourite micronutrients – see you then.

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Health improvement in 2021

Feeling a little stuck with your goal setting for this year? Help is at hand! I always love to spend time at the beginning of each year to consider what I want to achieve in the coming 12 months, and create a vision board based on that. Today I am breaking this feature down into some general categories, getting more specific with each one as I go further into it. Let’s kick off with the obvious one – food.

3 simple diet upgrades for the New Year

Eat lots more greens. Yes, it’s important. After the indulgences of Christmas festivities, it’s possible that you might have not kept up your intake of greens, because it’s easy to let it slip a bit. Time to get straight back in. Rocket, spinach, kale, chard, watercress, lamb’s lettuce, cavolo nero, pea shoots, microgreens… the choices are almost endless and the benefits are massive. Have a good variety every day, and ideally in more than one meal. Yes, you can have greens for breakfast in green juice, greens in a mid-morning smoothie, greens for lunch in a salad, and greens in the evening, blended into a soup perhaps. Go large on the greens. They provide a host of minerals and antioxidants, are a good source of soft fibre and really are the foundation of a healthy diet.

This might be a little controversial – reduce your fruit intake. Yes, I am not an advocate of high fruit diets. Keep up the intake of berries of course, but don’t go overboard on the sweet fruit. The reason is simple – fructose, the sugar found in fruit, can surprisingly lead to weight gain and elevated triglyceride levels from the way it is metabolised. Yes, fruit contains beneficial antioxidants, but keep it low GI, by eating berries rather than bananas. The exception (because there always is one) – if you are an ectomorphic athlete involved in endurance sport. You are then burning off so much sugar that you can go right ahead with that 3-banana-and-buckets-of-berries smoothie. Yum! Thanks to some rather clever supplements, you can get the health benefits of a variety of different fruit without the sugar content. Email for more information, or click this link.

Don’t forget the fat. Healthy fats improve cholesterol transport in the blood and keep the arteries free from atherosclerotic plaque. They’re essential for cognitive function (how well your brain works) too. Counterintuitive perhaps, but nonetheless true. The best sources? Walnuts, almonds, flax seeds, chia seeds and algae. No oily fish needed. Supplement-wise, if you’re looking for a good (and importantly, vegan) essential fatty acid supplement that’s high in omega 3 and also contains omegas 5, 6, 7 and 9 – this is the one I use and recommend

3 exercise suggestions

Cardio. Keep it simple. Raise your heart rate but keep it in the right zone for optimal fat burning without causing undue stress on the body by spiking cortisol. Subtract your age from 220, and take 75% of this as the heart rate you’re aiming for. Example for a 40 year old = 220 – 40 = 180. 75% of 180 = 135. So, during your cardio sessions, keep your heart rate at about 135. More than this and yes, you’ll burn more calories, but you could be putting undue stress on the body and causing your cortisol levels to rise. High cortisol actually breaks down muscle and potentially leads to fat gain – the opposite of what you want to achieve. Aim for an hour a day of steady cardio, and increase if you’re training for something specific. A couple of HIIT sessions per week is fine to throw in as well, just don’t make it the only type of cardio that you do.

Strength/resistance/weight training. What a game-changer! As I have mentioned in previous newsletters, I have been participating in two different fitness challenges between September and December 2020. By adding in resistance workouts 6 times a week, I absolutely blitzed bodyfat (not that I had a lot to begin with) and gained some quite spectacular muscle definition for someone of my age. It’s never too late to start and it’s actually quite fun once you get into it. It’s also absolutely essential for bone health, as I mention in my book Love Your Bones.
With gyms closed, get some resistance bands or just work with body weight. There’s so much you can do at home – many YouTube videos are available so take advantage, or sign up to a paid strength training and conditioning program.

Yoga. Brilliant for strength and flexibility, and some of the gentler styles are great for relaxation too – something we all need whilst experiencing the effects of a pandemic.
We all have time for exercise. I now get up at 6am and run for an hour before work, and do my strength training when I get home. If I can fit it in, so can you. Let’s build some healthy exercise habits to power us through 2021!

Some general lifestyle recommendations

Adequate sleep. Muscles grow and bodies recover whilst you sleep. Two surges of human growth hormone (HGH) occur whilst you sleep, and HGH could even be considered to be the fountain of youth. To get a good night’s sleep, eliminate screen time for 90 minutes before bed. Yes, if you make only one New Year’s resolution, make it this one. Blue light interferes with melatonin production and prevents you from falling asleep easily.

Feed your mind. Whether this is with an inspiring podcast (there are so many great ones to choose from) a fascinating book (I am currently enjoying Think Like a Monk by Jay Shetty), or via a daily meditation practice, your mind needs input. Spend time doing activities that you enjoy. And if you have essential tasks to do that you hate, why not think of ways to enjoy them; or if they sap your energy, outsource them instead. Adding to this, declutter your space and let go of old paperwork, objects that are broken and that you no longer use, and anything that you don’t find either useful or beautiful. Your environment is absolutely impacted by what you keep in it, and an uncluttered space is essential for feeling lighter and more joyful in every respect.

Avoid negativity. I was amazed to read how many negative comments on people’s posts there were on one of the Facebook fitness groups I recently joined, so I quit the group. Misery loves company – don’t let it into your life. It has been said that we are the sum of the 5 people that we spend the most time with. Choose carefully.

So, a few suggestions which I hope you will find useful to help you to improve your health (both physical and mental) and fitness in 2021. Which will you commit to do?

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Do you have time to be fit and healthy?

“Max is the busiest person I know…”. So stated one of my friends who wrote an endorsement for my first-published book The Whole Body Solution. I hear time and again people saying that they don’t have time to exercise, or that they can’t get fit because they can’t fit it into their busy schedule. Whilst I appreciate that in rare instances this can be true, it doesn’t actually apply to everyone, if you really look closely at what activities they actually do spend their time on.

Shortly after my August ultramarathon was cancelled, I got a leg injury which prevented me from following up on my plan to run the distance anyway, just for the heck of it. I had a break from regular exercise for nearly 6 weeks, and confess that I was a little directionless. After all, running is my thing, and if I can’t do it… well, nothing can truly replace it. During this 6 weeks off, and following a bit of overindulgence on my still healthy, still raw vegan diet, I was ready to sign up for a fitness challenge that I had previously seen advertised multiple times. I was particularly interested that the challenge was vegan, and that there was prize money, so I paid my entry fee and got the download. It was only then that I discovered that it involved 3 training sessions per day of an hour each. How on earth, with my 10 to 11 hour working days, was I going to fit that in?

Many of you will have perhaps seen the “time management” quadrant, outlining that tasks are broadly divisible into 4 categories:
Important and urgent. This is the “firefighting” zone.
Important and not urgent. This is where all good businesspeople should spend their time.
Urgent and not important. The ringing phone, the constant Facebook updates, the pinging of e-mail and WhatsApp.
Not urgent and not important. Don’t waste your time in this area, or pay someone else to do it.

I have to say I have become really good at prioritising (in my work, I have to), but was I ready for this, and how was I going to achieve an additional 2 hours of exercise in my already pretty full day? Some serious evaluation was needed, so I broke my day down. Before the challenge started, this is what it looked like:
6.45am – get up, shower, make fresh green juice for the day, leave the house at 8am. Work all day (no lunch break), finish at 6.30 to 7pm, run outdoors for an hour or so or go to the gym, make food for the next day, usually finish all tasks by 9pm, then catch up, relax, wind down and in bed by 10.30pm.

“All” I had to do was carve out 3 hours for a 60 minute cardio (in my case running) session each morning, and a weights session for an hour at any time of day, and another hour run session in the evening. Simple right? As I write this, I have just come to the end of week 7 of this 8 week challenge, and I haven’t missed a single session. Not one. What changes did I have to make to achieve this daunting task?

Batch juicing. This has been an absolute lifesaver. On weekends, I batch-juice and divide my green juice into 500ml bottles, and freeze them. Wouldn’t I lose nutritional value by doing this? The answer is yes, but not massively. 98% of the antioxidants would still be intact, and 100% of the protein. Well worth the sacrifice.

Eliminate all unnecessary distractions. The pinging WhatsApp, Facebook updates and email notifications. I batch-checked e-mails and WhatsApp twice daily and replied to those that needed my immediate attention. Ignored and deleted the remainder (I get 300 e-mails per day, most of which just don’t require my attention when I am that focused on something that I consider to be majorly important). No TV. I am very strict about this. Rest assured, all requests for consultations and discussions from clients are always responded to.

As a result of the batch juicing, I was able to get a morning run in before work, just by getting up at 6am rather than 6.45am. An hour of extra exercise for 45 minutes less in bed. I’ll call that a win. Sometimes I even make it a 70 minute session. I am on the treadmill by 6.20am at the latest, jump off at 7.20am, grab my thawed green juice and pre-prepared lunch and leave the house at 8am as normal.

The evening training has been hard. Two 60 minute sessions back to back, every day. Initially I ran first, then went straight into the weight training. But because I am a better runner than weightlifter, I found that once I got off the treadmill, launching into the weights was really tough, so I flipped it on its head. Get in from work, change into sports gear immediately and launch into the weights session straight away. Mop the sweat off the floor(!), jump straight on the treadmill and run for an hour. No excuses. Get_it_done. Finish the run, make food for the following day, shower, bed. No TV. No screen time, no e-mails. Bed. Rest. Sleep.

Last week, I ran 70 miles. Yes, seventy. That’s a record for me. The program works. My aim was to get down to my 1990s “racing weight” of 52kg by the end of the 8 weeks, and of course win the competition. 7 weeks in, I have already surpassed that goal. I haven’t been this lean in years, and even my ultramarathon training didn’t give me a body like this. Although I was never overweight, I now definitely have an athlete’s body (admittedly, an older athlete). Time will tell if I win the competition (it is judged on 13th November), but this has in itself been a lesson in extreme discipline, focus and meticulous time management.

If you have a goal, and I mean a really huge goal that you absolutely must achieve (rather than one that you feel you “should” achieve) you’ll find the time to devote to it, even if it hurts like hell. If it’s important enough, you’ll find a way. If it’s not, you’ll find an excuse. Now tell me – do you have time to be fit and healthy? I bet you do, if it’s important enough to you that is.

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