Cortisol and Stress

The ‘fight-or-flight’ stress response was designed to help us to flee immediate danger. Stress is not something we can reach out and touch. It’s our emotional response to a given situation. Things that some find stressful, others may not. We are all conditioned to respond to situations differently. The good news is that you created this conditioning, so you can also change it!

Under stressful conditions, cortisol is released, providing the body with glucose by tapping into stores via the liver. This energy can help an individual fight or flee a stressor and, in the short term, it’s not harmful. However, elevated cortisol over the long term consistently produces excess glucose, leading to an increase in blood sugar and insulin levels.

Cortisol also curbs functions that would be nonessential or detrimental in a fight-or-flight ‘emergency’ situation. It alters immune system responses and suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system and growth processes. This complex natural alarm system also communicates with regions of your brain that control mood, motivation and fear. Necessary if faced with imminent danger in the short term, but highly detrimental if exposed to this level of cortisol in the long term.


How to lower cortisol levels

Exercise: particularly high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is one of the most effective ways of reducing stress and systemic cortisol levels. Ironically, it’s usually the first thing we drop from our schedule when we’re stressed. MAKE time to be physically active, EVERYDAY.

Nutrition and blood sugar stability: The most significant ‘side effect’ of improving blood sugar stability is a feeling of calm. This newfound calmness is definitely attributable to the physiological changes in your body. It’s reinforced by a feeling of self-confidence in finally gaining an understanding of your body, instead of fighting a losing battle against it.

 Mindfulness: As they say, life is what happens when you put your phone down!

In our fast-paced world, it’s important to practise being ‘present’ and continuing to remind yourself to do so.

Great expectations: In general terms, the greater the distance between your expectations and reality, the greater the perceived stress! Whether it’s family, a friend, a colleague or your workplace in general, if you continue to have an unrealistic expectation of others, you will continually feel disappointed and frustrated. Stressed! Change your expectations and your frustration will be greatly reduced. You may even feel pleasantly surprised when your expectations are exceeded!

Putting things into perspective: When you are confronted with stressful situations, it can be helpful to put things into perspective. Think about the worst-case scenario if the situation escalates to the extreme. Often, you will find that the potential consequences would not be as negative as you may have initially thought and often, it’s unlikely to escalate to this level anyway. If you’re unable to do this ‘in the heat of the moment’, use this as a reflective tool when the emotion has subsided. It may help you in similar situations in the future.

Make the habit of keeping a ‘stress diary’ your new daily activity. If you experience a stressful episode, write down the source of stress, your reaction to it and, at the end of the day, reflect on a possible alternative reaction the next time something similar occurs. Becoming aware of your behavioral patterns and putting things into perspective will often reduce your stress levels.




Plastic products are commonly marked with a number enclosed by the recycling symbol, which is typically found on the bottom of the product.

In general plastic products marked with the numbers 2, 4 and 5 are the safer choices.

 The following graphic is a quick summary of the plastics labels and their “threat” level.

The following sections provide information on each type of plastic.

PLASTIC #1 – PET or PETE stands for polyethylene terephthalate, a plastic resin and a form of polyester.

Where is PETE found?

PETE is commonly used to package:

  • Cosmetics
  • Household cleaners
  • Water
  • Juice
  • Soft drinks
  • Salad dressings
  • Oil
  • Peanut butter

Health Concerns

Studies have found levels of antimony (a toxic chemical) leaching from water bottles that have been placed in heat for prolonged times. Although PETE does not contain BPA or Phthalates, it’s always best to make sure that your water bottles are not temperature abused. PETE plastic should not be reused because cleaning detergents and high temperatures can cause chemicals to leach out of the plastic. Plastic #1 is only intended for one time use.

PLASTIC #2 – High-density polyethylene (HDPE) is a polyethylene thermoplastic made from petroleum. HDPE is hard, opaque and can withstand somewhat high temperatures.

Where is HDPE found?

HDPE is used in the manufacturing of toys, and the packaging of:

  • Laundry detergent
  • Milk jugs
  • Folding chairs & tables

Health Concerns

No known health concerns.

PLASTIC #3 – Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is a thermoplastic polymer. Through the use of phthalates, a plasticizer, it can be made softer and more flexible.

Where is PVC found?

  • Shower curtains
  • Cling wrap
  • Waterbeds
  • Pool toys
  • Inflatable structures
  • Clothing
  • Vinyl IV bags used in neo-natal intensive care

PVC can also be found in car interiors and vinyl flooring, resulting in the release of toxic chemicals into the air.

Health Concerns

PVC is one of the toxic plastics that should be avoided.

  • Purchase a shower curtain made from organic hemp, bamboo or PEVA. PEVA (polyethylene vinyl acetate) is a non-vinyl (PVC-free), chlorine-free, biodegradable plastic.
  • Air out the car before getting in.
  • Avoid using cling wrap made with PVC.
  • Avoid inflatable structures, air mattresses, and toys made with PVC. Note: Aerobed pakmat and Aerobed Ecolite are PVC and phthalate free.
  • Choose all baby toys, pool toys, and bath toys that are labeled to be PVC, Phthalate and BPA free.

PLASTIC #4 – Low-density polyethylene (LDPE) is a thermoplastic made from petroleum. It can be found translucent or opaque. It is flexible and tough but breakable.

Where is LDPE found?

  • Juice and milk cartons (as the water-proof inner and outer layer)
  • Most plastic grocery bags
  • Some packaging material

Health Concerns

No known health concerns.


PLASTIC #5 – Polypropylene (PP) is a thermoplastic polymer. It is strong, tough, has a high resistance to heat and acts as a barrier to moisture.

Where is Polypropylene found?

  • Yogurt & margarine tubs
  • Plastic cups & baby bottles
  • Kitchenware, microwavable plastic containers and lids

Health Concerns

Most PP are microwavable safe and dishwasher safe. NOTE: microwavable/dishwasher safe only means that the plastic will not warp when heated. It does not imply that it is a healthy practice. A better alternative is using glass containers to heat foods and to hand wash plastic instead of using the dishwasher.

PLASTIC #6 – Polystyrene (PS) is a petroleum-based plastic. It can either be hard or used in the form of styrofoam.

Where is Polystyrene found?

Polystyrene is widely used in packaging materials and insulation. Some common items include:

  • Disposable cutlery
  • CD and DVD cases
  • Egg cartons
  • Foam cups & to-go foam packaging from restaurants.

Health Concerns

According to the Foundation for Achievements in Science and Education fact sheet, long term exposure to small quantities of styrene can cause neurotoxic (fatigue, nervousness, difficulty sleeping), hematological (low platelet and hemoglobin values), cytogenetic (chromosomal and lymphatic abnormalities), and carcinogenic effects. Styrene is classified as a possible human carcinogen by the EPA and by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).

Ways to avoid Polystyrene:

  • Package left over foods from a restaurant in your own glass or stainless steel containers.
  • Avoid styrofoam cups or plates and instead use stainless steel, glass, or bamboo products.
  • Bring your own silverware to fast-food restaurants instead of using their plastic ones.

PLASTIC #7 can be a little tricky as it stands for “Other” which may or may not contain BPA. It is commonly used to label Polycarbonate (PC). The letters PC may be present with the recycling symbol, which would indicate that the product is made with polycarbonate.

Polycarbonate is derived from BPA.

Where is Polycarbonate found?

  • Electrical wiring
  • CD/DVD cases
  • Baby bottles
  • 3 and 5 gallon reusable bottles

Health Concerns

BPA has been found to be an endocrine disruptor. Choose bottles made with the #1, #2, #4, or #5 recycling codes.

Safest Choices

In conclusion, plastic products marked with the numbers 2, 4 and 5 are the safer choices. Regardless of what plastic you use, avoid exposing your plastics to high temperatures (microwave, dishwasher) and use mild detergents for cleaning. Since there is no guarantee that plastics will not leach out harmful chemicals, I suggest playing it safe by trying to avoid plastic when possible.

MILK: The good, the bad & the ugly

jersey cow

When determining if an adult or child is getting optimum nutrition from food choices, it is necessary to consider the whole picture. In the case of milk ‘substitutes’, many of the available alternatives are not a nutrient-for-nutrient substitute for cow’s milk. If you’ve been conclusively diagnosed with intolerance to certain elements of dairy, or if you’re making choices based on a vegan diet, switching to an alternative milk without making other dietary adjustments to compensate may leave you, and/or your children, vulnerable to nutrient deficiencies.

There seems to be much confusion, perpetuated by information overload from overzealous marketing campaigns, when it comes to milk and milk substitutes. In this article, I have addressed some of the most common alternatives, along with the pros and cons, to help provide some clarity and enable you to make informed choices for yourself and your family.

There are many scaremongers online touting the ‘dangers’ of consuming dairy products. I’ve now heard it’s responsible for everything from a snotty nose to cancer. Consequently many of us are sent in search of ‘healthier’ alternatives. Rather than listening to hearsay and unqualified opinions, let’s look at some facts…


Milk is a significant source of readily absorbed vitamins and minerals, particularly calcium. Despite persistent rumours about an association between dairy and ill health, there is no scientific evidence to qualify these myths, which include excessive mucous production, cancer and weight gain. There is, however, a plethora of peer-reviewed studies recognising dairy consumption for its important role in optimum health and nutrition.
Milk and milk products contain a good balance of protein, fat and carbohydrate and are a very important source of essential nutrients including calcium, riboflavin, phosphorus, pantothenic acid and vitamins A, D and B12. Milk products also contain high quality proteins that are well suited to human needs.

Cancer, inflammation & fatty acids:

Although the etiology of most cases of this disease is not known, risk factors include a variety of nutritional factors. The quantity and quality of fatty acids are especially crucial. Among fatty acids to which great importance in modification of cancer risk is attributed are conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). The main natural source of them is milk and dairy products and meat of different species. Studies show their possible health promoting effects in obesity, atherosclerosis, cardiovascular diseases, osteoporosis, diabetes, insulin resistance, inflammation, and various types of cancer – especially breast cancer.

Several recent peer-reviewed studies indicate that the recommended amount (3 servings/day) of dairy produce helps close gaps between current nutrient intakes and recommendations. In fact, consuming more than three servings of dairy per day leads to better nutrient status and improved bone health and is associated with lower blood pressure and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and type-2 diabetes.

In Australia, 60% of children (9-16 years) are not meeting the estimated average requirement for calcium, and milk is an important dietary source of calcium.

Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) indicates the amount of any given essential nutrient required to prevent a deficiency in 97% of the population. It is by no means our optimum amount, rather a bare minimum. If your RDI of calcium is 1000mg/day and today you consume only 500mg, the other 500mg is pulled from your bone minerals. Repeat this for the next 10 years and you’ll likely find yourself with irreversible brittle bones.

Further research facts:

  • Osteoporosis– if milk and milk products are removed from the diet, it can lead to an inadequate intake of calcium. This is of particular concern for women, children and the elderly, who have high calcium needs. Calcium deficiency may lead to disorders such as osteoporosis
  • Colon cancer– some studies have found that people who regularly eat dairy products have a reduced risk of developing colon cancer.
  • Blood pressure– research in the US found that a high intake of fruits and vegetables, combined with low-fat dairy foods, lowers blood pressure more than fruits and vegetables alone.
  • Type 2 diabetes– a 10-year study of 3,000 overweight adults found that consuming milk and other milk products may protect overweight young adults from developing type-2 diabetes.

Adequate dairy consumption:

  • reduces oral acidity (which causes decay)
  • Stimulates saliva flow
  • Decreases plaque formation
  • Decreases the incidence of tooth decay

Variations explained:

  • Full cream– full cream milk contains around 4% fat and is a source of vitamins A and D. For children up to the age of 2 years, full cream milk is recommended.
  • Reduced fat– expect around half as much fat (2%) in reduced fat milk as full cream. Children over the age of two years can drink reduced fat milk.
  • Skim milk– contains less than 1% fat. Children older than five years can safely consume skim milk. Both reduced fat and skim milk have vitamin A and D added to replace the naturally occurring vitamins that are reduced when the fat is removed.
  • Raw milk
    Most milk is pasteurised (heat treated). While pasteurisation reduces the amount of some vitamins, such as vitamin C, it also kills bacteria. Unpasteurised milk is a health hazard because of the dangers of exposure to bacterial diseases.
  • Goats milk

Some people switch to goat’s milk as an alternative to cow’s milk because of perceived sensitivities.

Allergies and sensitivities are usually due to one or more of the proteins found in milk. The proteins in goat’s milk are very closely related to those in cow’s milk so replacing one with the other usually doesn’t help.

Lactose intolerance
Lactose is a type of carbohydrate that naturally occurs in milk from any mammal, including humans. Normally, an enzyme called lactase breaks down lactose so it can be absorbed into the bloodstream. Some people don’t produce enough lactase – undigested lactose is broken up by the bacteria in the gut causing gas, bloating, pain and diarrhoea. This condition is called ‘lactose intolerance’. You can be born lactose intolerant or develop it later in life. If you think you may be lactose intolerant, it’s advisable to see your health professional for a conclusive diagnosis.

Who is at risk for lactose intolerance?

Lactose intolerance is a common condition that is more likely to occur in adulthood, with a higher incidence in older adults. Lactase, the enzyme we produce to digest lactose, is a by-product of healthy gut flora. Therefore individuals with poor gut flora are commonly lactose intolerant.

Some populations are more affected than others, including African Americans, Hispanic Americans, American Indians, and Asian Americans. The condition is least common among Americans of northern European descent. Infants born prematurely are more likely to have lactase deficiency because an infant’s lactase levels do not increase until the third trimester of pregnancy.

What are the symptoms of lactose intolerance?

People with lactose intolerance may feel uncomfortable 30 minutes to 2 hours after consuming lactose. Symptoms range from mild to severe based on the amount of lactose consumed and the amount a person can tolerate. Common symptoms include abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhoea and nausea. However, these symptoms may also be associated with other issues, so a professional diagnosis is essential.

How is lactose intolerance diagnosed?

Two tests are commonly used to measure the digestion of lactose.

Hydrogen Breath Test. The person drinks a lactose-loaded beverage and then the breath is analysed at regular intervals to measure the amount of hydrogen. Normally, very little hydrogen is detectable in the breath, but undigested lactose produces high levels of hydrogen. Smoking and some foods and medications may affect the accuracy of the results. You should check with your doctor about foods and medications that may interfere with test results.

Stool Acidity Test. The stool acidity test is used for infants and young children to measure the amount of acid in the stool. Undigested lactose creates lactic acid and other fatty acids that can be detected in a stool sample. Glucose may also be present in the stool as a result of undigested lactose. Because lactose intolerance is uncommon in infants and children younger than 2, a health professional should take special care in determining the cause of a child’s digestive symptoms.

 Researchers have identified a possible genetic link to primary lactase deficiency. Some people inherit a gene from their parents that makes it likely they will develop primary lactase deficiency. This discovery may be useful in developing future genetic tests to identify people at risk for lactose intolerance. Secondary lactase deficiency results from injury to the small intestine that occurs with severe diarrheal illness, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, or chemotherapy. This type of lactase deficiency can occur at any age but is more common in infancy.
Milk and milk products are highly nutritious, so those who suffer from lactose intolerance don’t need to give them up entirely. You can still consume cow’s milk in moderate quantities and you can also use lactose-free milk.

Those intolerant to lactose can generally tolerate:

  • Half a cup of milk
  • Three quarters of a cup of yoghurt
  • Three quarters of a cup of unripened cheeses like cottage or ricotta.

Is all dairy high in lactose?

Lower-lactose dairy products include:

  • Fermented milk products, including some yoghurts, mature cheeses (like cheddar cheese, fetta and mozzarella) and butter, generally pose no tolerance problems.
  • Heated milk products, such as evaporated milk, seem to be better tolerated than unheated foods because the heating process breaks down some of the lactose.

Foods that contain lactose are better tolerated if eaten with other foods or spread out over the day, rather than being eaten in large amounts at once.

Daily calcium requirements
Getting enough calcium is important for people with lactose intolerance when the intake of milk and milk products is limited. Many foods can provide calcium and other nutrients the body needs. Non-milk products that are high in calcium include fish with soft bones such as salmon and sardines and dark green vegetables such as spinach.

 The Recommended Dietary Intake (RDI) for calcium by age and gender:

2-3 yr: 500mg/day
4-8yr 700mg/day
9-11yr 1000mg/day
12-16yr 1300mg/day
Adults 1000mg/day
Women 51yr+ and the elderly 1300mg/day

 Table 2. Calcium content in common foods

Non-milk Products Calcium Content
Sardines, with bone, 90g 325 mg
Spinach, frozen, cooked, 1 cup 291 mg
Salmon, canned, with bone, 90g 181 mg
Soy milk, unfortified, 1 cup 61 mg
Orange, 1 medium 52 mg
Broccoli, raw, 1 cup 41 mg
Lettuce greens, 1 cup 20 mg
Tuna, white, canned, 90g 12 mg
Milk and Milk Products
Yogurt, with active and live cultures, plain, low-fat, vitamin D-fortified, 1 cup 415 mg
Milk, reduced fat, vitamin D-fortified, 1 cup 285 mg
Swiss cheese, 30g 224 mg
Cottage cheese, 1/2 cup 87 mg

.A2 milk

A2 milk is cow’s milk produced from cow’s whose milk is high in the beta-casein A2 form of casein and low in the beta-casein A1 form of casein (a type of protein present in milk). A1 is believed to be responsible for some of the intolerances to cow’s milk, while A2 is believed to be more easily digested.

A1 and A2 are genetic variants of the beta-casein milk protein with different chemical structures. The A1 β-casein type is the most common type found in cow’s milk in Europe (excluding France), the USA, Australia and New Zealand.

A genetic test, developed by the A2 Corporation, determines whether a cow produces the A2 or A1 type protein in its milk. The test uses hair from the cow’s tail to determine this. The test allows the A2 Corporation to give licenses to milk producers once these producers prove their cows produce A2 β-casein protein in their milk.


Rice milk is a kind of grain milk processed from rice. It is mostly made from brown rice and may be manufactured as sweetened or unsweetened.

Compared to cow’s milk, rice milk contains more carbohydrates, but does not contain significant amounts of calcium or protein, and no cholesterol or lactose. Commercial brands of rice milk, however, are often fortified with vitamins and minerals, including calcium, vitamin B12, vitamin B3, and iron.

Rice milk is often consumed by people who are lactose intolerant, allergic to soy or have PKU. It is also used as a dairy substitute by vegans.

Rice milk is made by pressing the rice through a mill stream using diffusion to strain out the pressed grains. It is sometimes also made at home using rice flour and brown rice protein, or by boiling brown rice with a large volume of water, blending and straining the mixture.

 Common Ingredients (will vary between brands): filtered water, brown rice (10%), sugar sunflower oil, calcium carbonate, salt, vegetable gum, flavour.

250ml (1 cup) serve Reduced fat cow’s milk Unfortified Rice Milk
calories 104 cals 128
protein 8.3g 1.5g
carbohydrates 12.0g 26.0g
fat 2.5g 2.0g
calcium 308mg 20mg
sodium 113mg 175mg

As you will observe in the above nutrient comparison, rice milk is higher in carbohydrates and sodium and lower in protein and calcium (unless fortified). The protein in rice is not a complete protein (containing all essential amino acids), so is not as readily utilised at that in cow’s milk. If you choose to replace dairy with rice milk, you can see this is not a direct nutrient-for-nutrient substitute. Cow’s milk is also unique in that the absorption of calcium is superior to other sources. When it comes to infants (<2yrs), besides the insufficient calcium and protein, rice milk is not an adequate source of dietary fat. If chemicals and hormones are what you’re concerned about, perhaps you could consider organic milk.


Almonds are a rich source of vitamin E, Omega 6 fatty acids and minerals. Almond milk is made from ground almonds (friction, heat, oxygen) that are mixed with water, plus vitamins, stabilizers, and in most cases, sugar. Also, commercially manufactured almond milk is often fortified with calcium.

Typical ingredients list in commercial Almond Milk: Water, almonds, cane sugar, salt, sunflower oil, gum plus various added vitamins and minerals.

The pros:

  • It’s lactose-free
  • It’s dairy-free for those who have dairy-related intolerances or allergies

(although, you can source lactose-free or A2 milk to cover these issues)

The cons:

  • Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are highly sensitive to heat, light and oxygen which, when exposed, can turn the EFAs rancid
  • The source of calcium often used in fortification is calcium carbonate. This is the cheapest source of calcium supplementation and can cause gas and stomach upset as it requires adequate stomach acid to effectively digest and absorb.
  • There have been cases where parents have substituted Almond Milk instead of infant formula or breast milk, providing inadequate nutrition for infants. This can result in low bone density, rickets, low muscle tone and a visible goitre.
  • Almonds are a goitrogenic food, meaning, when consumed in large quantities, they can suppress the function of the thyroid gland by interfering with iodine uptake, causing an enlargement of the thyroid. Goitrogens can be negated by cooking, but many are opting for raw almond milk, thinking it’s the healthier option. Again, while cooking may reduce the goitrogen effect, it will further destroy the EFA’s.
  • It often contains added sugar
  • It often contains vegetable oil – generally high in Omega 6. Besides this oil likely being highly processed and exposed to heat, it is also further throwing out our already skewed omega 3:6 ratio (see previous blog regarding a balance between Omega 3 and 6)


Another ‘pretend’ milk and not my favourite choice. Many ‘rumours’ about detrimental health effects of soy, however, no conclusive scientific evidence either way. However, I tend to think that where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Food for thought…

The pros:

  • It’s lactose-free and doesn’t contain the proteins some individuals may have sensitivities to in cow’s milk
  • Suitable for vegans

The cons:

  • Soy milk is ‘pretend’ milk, therefore the manufacturers add (processed) oils and sugar in an effort to make it resemble cow’s milk
  • It is usually calcium fortified, which is not as well absorbed as the natural calcium found in dairy (see information earlier in this article)
  • Soy milk is composed of an inferior profile of essential amino acids (absorbed and utilised protein) when compared to cow’s milk
  • Flatulence – the amount of gas produced depends on the quantity consumed.
  • Soy allergy – common allergic symptoms to soy milk include hives, coughing, digestive distress, fainting and wheezing.
  • Thyroid function – soy is a goitrogen, which means it may interfere with thyroid function. The thyroid gland runs our metabolism and low thyroid during pregnancy and infancy (non-dairy formulas) can lead to retardation.
  • Phytic acid – non-fermented soy milk contains large amounts of phytic acid, which can interfere with absorption of several essential nutrients, such as iron, calcium and iodine.


FIBRE & EATING BREAKFAST: 2 things to help you shed unwanted body fat & 2 things commonly missed!



Whole, unprocessed carbohydrates, such as vegetables, fruit, oats, nuts, seeds, etc.


  • Fibre aids overall digestive health
  • Fibre promotes heart health & may lower cholesterol, blood pressure & blood sugar
  • Fibre ferments in your gut and produces prebiotics, which feeds & promotes good bacteria
  • Fibre makes you feel full and reduces cravings and overall calorie intake
  • Fibre and healthy gut flora promote fat loss!!!


Consume at least 8-12 grams of fibre in each of the three main meals of the day. Men require >30 grams per day, women require >25 grams.

The solution begins at breakfast. Starting your day with the right meal is the only way you will reach this goal. The breakfast outlined below is easy to prepare, 10-12g of fibre, antioxidants, calcium, protein, and it’s YUM!


2 dessertspoons of ‘The Muesli’

150g Natural yoghurt (or milk)

1 heaped dessertspn Peak Nutritionals WPI powder

Handful of fresh or frozen berries or cherries

Cinnamon to taste

Mix the first three ingredients together and add the berries/cinnamon. This can be made the night before for a bircher-style dish.

Tip: if you like it a little sweeter, try the Vanilla WPI rather than the Natural, or add a passionfruit to the mix.

The Muesli & Peak Nutritionals WPI are available at BURN LAB via Mr Ray’s Espresso or online.

For quantities appropriate for your body, please ask your trainer to print out your personalised Aston Rx menu planner…


When weight training goes wrong…

Document2Have you ever wondered why it is that some people exercise their butt off, yet never seem to change shape? Unfortunate genetics, right? Wrong!

The bottom line is: everyone has the same skeletal structure, ingeniously manoeuvered by an intricate network of muscles. Lying over this is a layer of stored energy, or body fat. The extent to which you choose to develop your muscle tissue (or allow it to deteriorate) and the degree of excess body fat you allow to accumulate is completely up to you. Saddlebag thighs and love handles cannot be blamed on poor old mum, grandma or a distant uncle on your father’s side! Of course, we all have certain genetic traits that may make fat loss or muscle gain a little easier for some, or more difficult for others, but generally, great bodies are not born, they are made … as are those which are out of shape!

Information overload…

These days you can’t swing a cat in a gym without hitting an ‘expert’! Unfortunately, there are more widespread, contradictory opinions amongst the experts than there are diet books, so whom should we choose to believe? How much of what we do is a necessary part of getting into shape, and how much is urban myth? Most diet and exercise veterans are still trying to piece it together, so I can certainly sympathise with the disillusioned novice enthusiast.

So where are we going wrong?

To make significant changes to our shape and general condition, we must change our body composition by adding lean muscle tissue and losing stored body fat. Contrary to popular belief, developing muscle does not necessarily mean increasing muscle size, but rather increasing the density of the fibres within that muscle, improving tone and shape.

Despite the growing number of exercise enthusiasts, I’ve always found that those individuals actually making significant gains are so rare that it is disturbing. The sheer frustration of witnessing this phenomenon over the past 20 years continues to inspire me to write books and work 1:1 with private clients.

If you feel like you’ve been working hard, yet your body shape is not changes as you’d like it to, or it is changing shape in a less than desirable way, perhaps you’ll find the answer in the list of common exercise faux pas below:

Overdeveloped upper traps: This common phenomenon results in sloping shoulders, a thick neck, poor posture and likely, headaches. Your trapezius muscle (or traps) is a diamond shaped muscle spanning from the base of your scull to the middle of your back. The upper traps often become dominant if you have poor scapula (shoulder blade) stability, poor technique, you are training too heavy for your capability, choosing the wrong exercises or, all of the above. This muscle ‘shrugs’ your shoulders up towards your ears. Once your upper traps become dominant, it’s very difficult to reverse and can ruin your symmetry and posture. It’s a particularly unattractive muscle for women to overdevelop. The most common exercises which can cause this issue: shrugs, (incorrect) deadlifts, (incorrect) deltoid raises, (incorrect) lat pulldowns or rows.

Thick waist: Whilst excess stored body fat is the most common cause of a thickening waistline, overdevelopment of obliques and erector spinae (lower back) muscles can also contribute and are particularly noticeable in lean individuals with unsuitable training regimes/technique. Compound movements, such as heavy deadlifts and weighted oblique work are common culprits. To make your waist look smaller and improve your symmetry, development of your lats (lattisimus dorsi) will have a positive impact on your overall proportion. Again, correct technique is rare, but crucial.

Poor posture: It’s common to focus your training on the muscles that are most visible (front) and neglect your ‘posterior chain’ of muscles. We also spend much of our day reaching forward (driving, sitting at a desk, reading, etc.), so strengthening the posterior chain of muscles and stretching/releasing anterior muscles (chest, shoulders) plays a crucial role in developing and maintaining good posture and avoiding injuries.

Underdeveloped glutes: Poor squatting and lunging technique, often exacerbated by inflexible hamstrings and tight hip flexors, will often result in poor recruitment of your glute muscles and potential lower back and knee injuries. Your glutes are powerful muscles and, when trained correctly, reduce injury risk and improve overall aesthetics.

Poor overall symmetry: Some of the most commonly neglected muscle groups are lats, rear shoulders, lower traps, hamstrings and calves, all of which contribute significantly to a symmetrically proportioned body.

Out-training a poor diet: For those of you who feel you need to be ‘smashed’ by your trainer in order to feel you either get ‘value’ from your session or you feel the need to work off your poor eating habits, think again. Engaging in smart, mindful, focused and planned training will see you gain more results, faster and with far less risk of injury and simply pushing your body with poor technique through inappropriate exercises, all in the name of ‘sweat’! I call this the new phenomena of the ‘Instagram workout’. It’s gathering momentum amongst some, both in the form of 1:1 training and group class cult followings. Experience tells me that many of these regimes will end in tears – both in poorly developed physiques and inevitable injuries – not dissimilar to the ‘aerobic’ movement of the ‘80’s!

All of the above can be overcome and/or corrected by a reputable, experienced trainer.

Bottom line? Train smart .. avoid injuries … get results!

Body composition: what is it and why is it so important?


Why is it useful to measure your body composition?
Body composition is the term used to describe the different components that make up our total body weight. It’s the ratio between our stored body fat and lean body weight (muscle, bone, organs … everything other than fat) that determines our health, tone, shape, performance, strength, metabolic rate and overall appearance. Our lean body weight (LBW) is metabolically active and fat (adipose) tissue is not.
Weight on the scales
Bathroom scales provide a measure of total weight, but don’t determine what that weight is composed of. Based only on scale weight, a 90 kilo athlete with less than 10% body fat may be considered obese by a typical weight chart. This also includes Body Mass Index (BMI) measures for the same reason. While BMI combined with waist circumference gives some indication of our physical condition, it is not as accurate as body composition.
Hydrostatic Weighing
What is it?
This is a method that involves immersing a person underwater in a large tank of water and works on the principle of displacement. LBW is more dense than water and fat tissue is less dense than water, therefore an individual with more body fat will weigh less under water and be more buoyant.

Hydrostatic weighing has long been considered a highly accurate measure of body composition.

It’s highly inaccessible, inconvenient and many more sophisticated methods are now being developed which are superseding this method.

Skinfold/Caliper Measurements

What is it?
The skin is pinched in various sites of the body using calipers to determine the thickness of sub
cutaneous (beneath the skin) body fat. Several formulas exist to calculate the sum of these measurements, incorporating our weight, height and age to estimate an overall body fat percentage.

Accessible and inexpensive. When performed by a trained and skilled professional they are up to 98% accurate.

Difficult to determine the body fat of an individual who is extremely overweight.
Accuracy takes skill and training and is commonly compromised by unskilled operators.
Bioelectrical Impedance
Bioelectrical Impedance is now a commonly used method. It sends a weak electrical current through the body. Electricity is carried by water and there is less water in fat tissue than in LBW, so it uses impedance/resistance of the current to differentiate the two. Methods range from scales you stand on to electrodes placed on the skin and handheld devices. The more accurate machines measure the entire body rather than simply standing on scales. The scales with feet electrodes only will send the current up one leg and down the other, only ‘guestimating’ you from the waist up.
Accessible, accurate, no human intervention/error, relatively inexpensive.
The readings can be affected by hydration levels so measurements should be taken under similar conditions each time for the most accuracy.
Ideal Body Weight and Percent Body Fat
A ‘healthy range’ of body fat for men is between 8 and 20 per cent, whilst for women it ranges between 20 and 30 per cent. ‘Healthy range’ means that for every per cent over or below this range, your risk of disease increases.
Over-fat has been linked to an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease and several forms of cancer, whilst under-fat (particularly in women) may increase the risk of hormonal disturbances, impaired immune function and osteoporosis.
There are two parts to reducing your body fat percentage:
1. reduce overall stored body fat
2. increase lean muscle tissue
To reach the lower end of the desired range, you must have adequate LBW to support such fat loss. Any attempt to reduce body fat using extreme measures not only leads to decreased performance, but is also likely to lead to severe health complications, such as nutrient deficiencies, infertility and injuries.
Is Body Composition Genetic?
Some aspects of where you store your body fat is genetic, however, whether you choose to store excess body fat is up to you! Your genetics are the bullet in the gun … your lifestyle is the trigger!
We lose around 3% LBW per decade after the age of 30 – that is, if we don’t exercise. In this case your body fat percentage will be increasing as you age, even if your weight doesn’t change. I often hear people use their age as justification for weighing more, but in fact we should weigh less as we age due to loss of muscle and bone density. Food for thought…



  • There is a constant battle going on in your gut between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria
  • The ‘good guys’ are known as probiotics and they feed on prebiotics
  • The better your gut flora, the better your immune system, nutrient absorption, waste excretion, body fat percentage, mental health, bone density, digestive health, blood sugar, lactose tolerance, cholesterol and triglycerides
  • Healthy gut flora lowers your risk of many diseases, including colon cancer & osteoporosis, plus it changes the metabolism of dietary carcinogens
  • Your gut microbial community regulates expression of genes that affect fat deposition and fatty acid oxidation. Poor gut bacteria exacerbates inflammatory & auto-immune conditions
  • Negative influences on gut flora include diet, stress, age, antibiotics
  • For 50+ years we have known that the administration of antibacterial agents promotes the growth of farm animals to accelerate weight gain.
  • These changes in the composition of microbiota lead to an increased capacity to extract calories from otherwise indigestible constituents of food consumed
  • Prebiotics are plant foods that pass through the gut undigested until they reach the colon
  • They ferment in the colon & become an important fuel source for good bacteria
  • Some foods containing prebiotics: garlic, asparagus, onions, leeks, artichokes, banana, cabbage, snow peas, beetroot, peas, nectarines, grapefruit, cashews, oats, pistachios
  • Food intolerances: eg: lactase enzyme is a by-product of prebiotic fermentation!
  • We each have around 1.3kgs of bacteria in our gut
  • Fibre – nurtures good microbes/gut bacteria
  • Mental illness/depression/anxiety are linked to gut health
  • Your gut is the biggest sensory organ, sending information to the brain
Prebiotics are a special form of dietary fibre Probiotics are live bacteria in dairy and supplement form. There are hundreds of species of probiotics
Prebiotic supplements are not affected by heat, cold, acid or time Probiotic bacteria must be kept alive. They may be destroyed by heat, stomach acid or poor storage
Prebiotics provide a wide range of health benefits Probiotics provide a wide range of health benefits
Prebiotics nourish the ‘good’ bacteria that we already have in our gut Probiotic supplements must contain more than 5 strains of bacteria to be effective. They must compete with over 1000 species already in our gut
Prebiotics may be helpful in many chronic digestive disorders amongst other health benefits Certain probiotic species have shown to be helpful in several digestive disorders amongst other health benefits

The (not so obvious) benefits of exercise…


In my experience, one of the most common reasons we’re motivated to exercise is aesthetics. Yep – shed a few kilos of fat, tone-up those flabby areas, fit into our ‘skinny jeans’ or look good on that beach holiday. While it can be a positive thing to have a goal, the downside of this kind of superficial/external motivation is that it’s more of a whim than a long term need. At the end of the day, is it really enough to make you change your entire lifestyle to achieve?

Whilst caught up in the frenzy of numbers on the bathroom scales and the profile of our belly in the mirror, sometimes we miss the other far more important benefits of living a healthy lifestyle, which includes regular, consistent exercise. I’ve known many individuals throw their arms up in the air in despair, claiming not to be getting any benefit at all from exercising, simply because the scales are not moving as quickly as they’d like. At times like these, it’s important to be aware of the many benefits of exercise and view the aesthetic results for what they are … a pleasant bonus!

The evidence is overwhelming: A body needs physical activity to stay lean and healthy

Fat burning: the effects of exercise are not as simplistic as ‘calories in vs calories burned’. You cannot out-run or out-train a poor or excessive diet. However, there are many physiological benefits activated by regular exercise, all of which assist your body in burning fat more effectively…

Increases insulin sensitivity: Muscles are the engines in your body that burn calories and make you move. And just like any engine that burns fuel to make it go (such as a car burning petrol), muscles need fuel too. That fuel is fat and carbohydrate (glucose). During exercise, the demand for fuel increases and the body responds accordingly. Glucose stored in the muscle is burned very quickly.  At about the same time, glucose stored in the liver is released into the bloodstream (like fast fuel injection). Fat is released from special cells called adipocytes (fat storage cells). This fat along with glucose makes its way through the bloodstream to the muscles to be used for fuel. Once the fuel reaches the muscle, it must enter through special pathways so that the muscles can use it for energy.

On the wall of every muscle cell are special receptors, like doors, that allow glucose to pass from the bloodstream to the muscle. These doors do not open unless they are ‘unlocked’ by insulin. The good news is that exercise has an insulin-like effect, making insulin work better in your body. During exercise, the doors swing open easily, allowing more glucose to enter the muscle to be burned up for energy.

Sometimes blood glucose continues to drop after exercise. That is because the glucose in the muscle that was used at the beginning of exercise needs to be replaced. The muscles, all revved up from exercise, continue to take glucose from the bloodstream to replace what was lost.

Increased Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR):

Our BMR is the calories we burn at rest. If you lay still for 24 hours, you burn a certain number of calories a day to keep your heart beating and sustain life. This BMR is generally around 75% of the total calories we use in a day, so it’s pretty significant. It is determined largely by our lean body weight (muscle tissue). The more muscle (density, tone, strength), the higher your BMR. Conversely, should you feel your exercise regime is ‘not working’ and become inconsistent, you risk a rapid loss in lean muscle tissue and a consequent decrease in BMR. Whilst you may remain the same ‘weight’, or even lose weight, you’re actually getting fatter as your body composition changes in the wrong direction (Less muscle, more fat).

The EPOC effect: Following high intensity interval training the body enters a state known as ‘excess post-exercise oxygen consumption’, or EPOC. After you finish your workout, your body will be working overtime for up to 24 hours in order to restore your body back to its resting state. This means you will be burning energy/kilojoules at a much higher rate, even whilst sedentary.

Protection against disease: regular exercise can reduce our risk of heart disease, hypertension, stroke, certain cancers (colon, breast), type-2 diabetes and depression.

Joint health and inflammation

Joints require motion to stay healthy. Inactivity causes joints to stiffen and the adjoining tissue to weaken. Building strength and ‘tone’ in muscles surrounding our joints allows that ‘tension’ in our muscles to pull pressure away from the joints, resulting in less compression and friction. Conversely, allowing muscles to deteriorate can lead to permanent joint damage over time.

Bone health and balance

Weight-bearing exercise is very beneficial for bones in people of all ages. This approach applies tension to muscle and bone, and the body responds to this stress by increasing bone density, in young adults by as much as 2 – 8% a year. Careful weight training can also be very beneficial for elderly people, particularly women. In addition to improving bone density, weight-bearing exercise reduces the risk of fractures by improving muscle strength and balance, thus helping to prevent falls.

Back pain

People who do not exercise regularly face an increased risk for low back pain, especially during times when they suddenly have to perform stressful, unfamiliar activities. These activities may include lifting children, gardening, digging, or moving heavy items.

Lack of exercise leads to the following conditions that may threaten the back:

  • Hamstring inflexibility may alter the pivot point in general movement, causing you to compensate by bending from your lower back rather than your hips. This repetitive strain can lead to pressure on discs and consequent injury.
  • Tightness through the hip flexor muscles (from sitting for prolonged periods) can also contribute to lower back pain and eventual disc damage.
  • General muscle inflexibility can restrict the back’s ability to move, rotate, and bend, forcing unnecessary pressure on surrounding joints.
  • Weak core muscles can increase the strain on the back and can cause an abnormal tilt of the pelvis (hip bones).
  • Weak back muscles may increase the load on the spine and the risk of disk compression.
  • Carrying excessive body fat puts more weight on the spine and increases pressure on the vertebrae and discs.

Effect of Exercise on Cancer

A number of studies have indicated that regular exercise may reduce the risk of breast, colon, and possibly prostate cancers.

Studies confirm that exercise significantly reduces the risk of colon cancer (by up to 50%). Exercise also decreases the risk of breast cancer in pre and post-menopausal women by up to 30%.

Low intensity exercise has a protective effect against colon cancer, according to studies, including the Nurses Health Study and the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Prevention Study II. People with colon cancer who exercise may reduce their risk of a recurrence.

Exercise also has a beneficial effect on people receiving treatment for cancer. Aerobic and resistance training can reduce fatigue in patients undergoing chemotherapy or radiation treatments for cancer. Fatigue is a common side effect of such treatments.

Effects on the Gastrointestinal Tract

Moderate regular exercise may reduce the risk for some intestinal disorders. These disorders include ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, indigestion, and diverticulosis. Older people who exercise moderately may have a lower risk for severe gastrointestinal bleeding.

Effects on Neurological Diseases and Mental Decline

Studies have shown that regular exercise helps reduce one’s risk for memory loss. Epidemiologic studies have found an association between increased exercise and slower rate of functional decline in older adults.

People with existing neurological diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease, should be encouraged to exercise. Specialized exercise programs that improve mobility are particularly valuable for patients with Parkinson’s disease. Patients with neurological disorders who exercise experience less stiffness, as well as reduction in, and even reversal of, muscle wasting. In addition, the psychological benefits of exercise are extremely important in managing these disorders.

Effects on Emotional Disorders

Some research has suggested that exercise may have antidepressant effects. Although there is little evidence that exercise can correct major depression, a number of studies have suggested benefits in mild to moderate depression in adults. Research findings include:

  • Just 30 minutes of brisk exercise three times a week was as effective as medication in relieving symptoms, and reducing relapse, in many patients with mild-to-moderate depression.
  • Teenagers who are active in sports have a greater sense of well-being than their sedentary peers. The more vigorously they exercise, the better their emotional health.
  • Physical inactivity is strongly linked to depression in children 8 – 12 years of age.
  • Exercise decreases some of the most troublesome emotional symptoms of menopause. Women who exercise during menopause showed less anxiety, stress, and depression than inactive women with menopause did.

Exercise’s Effects on Diabetes:

Moderate aerobic exercise can lower your risk for type 2 diabetes.

Exercise has positive benefits for those who have diabetes. It can lower blood sugar levels, improve insulin sensitivity, and strengthen the heart. Strength training, which increases muscle and reduces fat, may be particularly helpful for people with diabetes.

In conclusion…the next time you become frustrated with your lack of ‘results’ on the scales, remember all of the above health benefits of exercise and remember to take a long term, holistic approach. Exercise (and diet!) is not something we do for a short stint to reshape our backside, it needs to become part of our general body maintenance. You don’t necessarily ‘see’ a result from brushing your teeth everyday, but you continue to do it as you know it is a significant part of care and maintenance. Regular exercise is no different.




After a recent trip to Los Angeles – the mecca of Diet Sodas – I have never observed so many overweight and obese people consuming bottomless buckets of Diet Coke. In every cafe, the selection of sweetener sachets presents a virtual rainbow of choice. The demand is higher than I’ve ever seen and I believe the consequences are becoming increasingly obvious.

Over the years, a large majority of people I’ve met who are constantly battling with their weight are ‘addicted’ to diet soft drinks and other forms of artificial sweetener and ‘diet’ foods. This association has been building in my mind over recent years, but it appears now the evidence is beginning to materialise.

We now know that gut flora plays a significant role in our overall health as well as weight control. Individuals with poor gut flora actually absorb more calories from food than those with a good balance of healthy flora.

Recently, Israeli researchers have demonstrated, in animals and humans, that the effect of artificial sweeteners on changing the gut bacteria has a profound role in changing metabolism, especially the metabolism of sugar. These researchers have been able to induce diabetes in lab animals, simply by feeding them artificially sweetened foods. They then were able to characterise the changes in the gut bacteria. Even more profound was their research that demonstrated that by taking fecal specimens from the animal that had been exposed to artificial sweeteners like aspartame, and transplanting these fecal specimens into laboratory animals that did not have gut bacteria, the risk for diabetes was also increased.

Over coming years we’re likely to see more and more advertising for artificially sweetened beverages as the news related to the dangers of sugar sweetened beverages gets more traction. This should in no way be interpreted as giving the green light for artificially sweetened beverages as we now see science demonstrating that risk of some of our most devastating medical conditions is actually increased with their consumption.