Category Archives: Health Matters

Be well, stay well

Don’t stress about losing weight

When we think about ways to lose weight, often the focus is on calories, macros and portion control. Even though what you eat plays a significant role in your body’s ability to burn fat and maintain a healthy weight, it’s not the only factor. Keeping stress levels in check is crucial if you want to avoid stubborn weight gain.

We’ve been hard-wired to cope with what comes our way, to keep us safe and ensure we could run from tigers, lions or bears. Our modern stresses can be relentless: work deadlines, financial worries, traffic jams, pollution, lack of quality relaxation etc. The lions and tigers might have gone but the stress remains. 

Being chronically stressed means we produce more cortisol – the stress hormone. This plays havoc with our ability to keep blood sugar levels balanced, and slows our metabolic rate and therefore our ability to effectively utilise energy from food.

Stress And Insulin

Cortisol works alongside insulin – the fat storing hormone that keeps fat locked away –  to keep blood sugar levels in check. Lowering insulin is the key to unlocking stored fat. High stress results in higher levels of insulin.

Stress And Hormones

Stress can negatively affect other hormones too, like those responsible for hunger and satiation – ghrelin and leptin respectively. When stressed, our ability to control hunger takes a nosedive, meaning we eat more and get hungrier more often.

Stress And Fat Around The Middle

Fat around the middle is the type of
fat that’s easily accessible in times of stress. Being chronically stressed leads to fat
being stored in this area as a survival mechanism. The problem is the
stress doesn’t stop and the body never
gets the chance to access the stored “emergency fat”.

The Blood Sugar Rollercoaster

When we’re stressed blood sugar levels can wildly fluctuate. Cravings kick-in
and we start looking for quick-fixes like sugar, stimulants and alcohol. When we eat this way, we experience sugar highs followed by sugar lows and the cycle continues. Like a real rollercoaster in the fairground, once on it, you can’t get off!

Comfort Eating

When stressed we are more likely to eat, reaching for quick-fixes, and less likely to eat healthy foods because we start relying on food as an emotional crutch. The more quick-fix foods we eat, the more dysregulated our blood sugar levels become, and we end up a slave to our biochemistry, experiencing the highs and lows of the blood sugar rollercoaster, craving more quick-fix unhealthy foods and staying stuck in fat storing mode as insulin levels soar.

Getting Unstuck

Your body is either in fight or flight mode or rest and digest mode. It cannot be in both at the same time. Most of us are stuck in fight or flight mode, which affects our delicate hormonal balance. 

When you lower stress and switch to the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system, you also help your blood sugar levels come into balance. When that happens, insulin drops, the body’s fat stores get unlocked and hunger decreases. The body can then access the stored fat and use it as fuel. Increasing self-care practices and lowering stress are crucial if you want to lose weight. 

Make The Switch

When you breathe deeply it immediately switches your nervous system over to the rest and digest mode (parasympathetic), bringing your body out of stress response. This is where all the magic happens in your body for healing, rejuvenation and fat burning. Find moments in your day as often as possible to breathe deeply, such as whilst waiting for the kettle to boil, whilst on the loo, driving or washing up. 

It’s All In The Balance

As you can see, maintaining a healthy weight is less to do with ‘calories in, calories out’, and more to do with hormonals and the role stress plays in the bigger picture. It’s all about a delicate balance. Making time for relaxing selfcare practices like Epsom salt baths, yoga and meditation, as well as enjoying fun and laughter, will help you feel less stressed, whilst creating a lovely bedtime routine will pay dividends for your waistline. Lack of quality sleep has been proven to increase cortisol output and play havoc with blood sugar regulation the following day. 

Get The Support You Need

Reaching out to a health professional to address your own stress and to find out what your body personally needs, is a great step in feeling supported, motivated and accountable on your health journey. A nutritional therapist can help you with lifestyle and stress-relieving practices alongside deep nutrition for your body, so that you can find your balance.

Jo Rowkins, Nutritional Therapist & Lifestyle Coach at Awakening Health.

Stress? What even is that – ayurvedic massage

It’s been a bit of a day. Everyone, they all want something. Whether it’s time or space or energy or just you. They all want something. God, you’re exhausted. Now imagine this. You’re lying down in a candlelit room. Slowly the air is filled by the undulating sounds of gongs and Tibetan bowls, rising and falling, swirling and twirling, sounds that take you away to… to somewhere calm and peaceful. Stress? Right now you don’t even know how to spell it. 

Emma Thomas and Naomi Potter (left and right) run sound baths in St Michael & All Angels Church in Powis Road and, because they understand how stressful running The Whistler is, invited us along. And very lovely it was too. Floaty and blissful and lovely. The mesmeric sounds of the gongs and bowls are transporting and meditative and take you somewhere else. If you can stop yourself falling asleep – and I did, honest – it’s just beautiful. The next ones are February 11 and 18. Phone Emma on 07974309972 for details and tickets. 

And if you fancy an Ayurvedic massage, check out

Get it on, bang a gong…

Christmas. You love Christmas. Family you haven’t seen since… oh, blimey, do you remember that time? It’s fine. It’ll be different this year. It’s cool. It’s the most wonderful time of the year. It’ll be lovely. Probably. Or it could be like the script EastEnders rejected because it was too scary. Do you remember that time?? Blimey. Who’s coming round? So… he’s vegan and she eats anything as long as it’s high welfare? Are you sure it’s that way round?

Forget all that for a minute. De-stress. Relax. Have you ever had a sound bath?

A sound bath is – and I found this quote on the internet so it must be true – a way of managing anxiety, soothing the nervous system, and blocking all the ideas and thoughts out of your consciousness as you connect with your body. Actually, I’ve had one before and it’s blimmin lovely.

Actually it really is lovely. And if you’re struggling to think of what to get your loved one as a present… read on.

Naomi Potter and Emma Thomas run sound baths in St Michael & All Angels Church in Powis Rd, and if all this Christmas stuff is feeling a bit too much, you could do far worse. “What better way to start the New Year and beat the January blues than by focusing on your health and wellbeing” said Naomi.

Emma takes up the theme. “Melt away and relax with this soothing and restorative sound journey, designed to reset your nervous system and create inner calm. Our uplifting weekly sound journeys, which will include gongs, Tibetan bowls and soothing percussion instruments will create a sense of stillness, grounding and inner peace. Lay down, relax and allow yourself the opportunity to access a state of deep rest.

“Regular sound journeys are powerful healing tools. They are well-known to support relaxation, ease pain, anxiety and muscle tension, and promote better sleep. Concentration and energy levels may improve as a result of regular relaxation with sound”.

Naomi and Emma are donating 15% of any profits from this sound journey series to the Free Tibet campaign which campaigns to protect the human rights of Tibetans.

If this sounds cool – and if it doesn’t… are you OK? – bear in mind that their previous Solstice event sold out quickly so get in quick and make sure you reserve your spot.

Get your tickets here:

Also, next year on January 14th, there’s a harp special with a guest harpist, and that sounds kinda nice too.

How To Have A Mindful Xmas by Jo Rowkins

There’s the Bailey’s. That tub of Quality Street. And the Christmas pud always seems a good idea – until just after you’ve eaten it. How can you avoid that “uurrgghh” when your “Oh, just one more” urge is bigger than your mince pies.

There’s a Christmas song we’ve been practicing recently in The Dulcetones, a fabulous choir I sing in, called “Let’s Make Christmas Mean Something This Year.” I’ve been reflecting on those lyrics. But amid the stress and overwhelm of it all, too often the Christmas reality for many is one of over-indulgence, family tension and feeling wiped out come the new year. So how can we make Christmas mean something this year? One word: mindfulness!

Christmas doesn’t have to be stressful. It can be a time of gratitude and nourishment, and a wonderful exercise in mindfulness. Nurturing yourself and your loved ones at the end of another year, can be an opportunity for relaxation and renewal. Christmas is the stepping stone from one year to the next, so a very powerful time indeed. So, bearing that in mind, here are 11 Ways To A Mindful Christmas:

1. Pamper yourself and your loved ones. Christmas should feel like it’s everyone’s birthday. Make it special by being truly present as you take yourself through each moment of the day.

2. Eat a protein-rich breakfast. I adore wild smoked salmon, spinach and organic eggs alongside my glass of Christmas breakfast champagne. The protein regulates your appetite and reduces the temptation to eat all the chocs and sugary treats on offer! Balanced blood sugar equals balanced energy levels, allowing you to stay fresh and avoid mood swings.

3. Choose quality over quantity. Luxuriate in the decadence of this time of year. Choose wisely, slow down and enjoy every mouthful! Make your food a sensual delight. 

4. Eat the rainbow. Christmas dinner is the ideal opportunity to load your plate with colourful veg. Cruciferous ones like Brussel’s sprouts, broccoli and red cabbage are packed with indole-3-carbinol to help your liver process the extra booze (and they support your hormones too). 

5. Make cooking an act of ritual. Slowing down and being mindful when shopping, prepping and cooking food can make it a sacred act. Notice the colourful vegetables, the smell and the textures. Feel honoured to be able to cook a nourishing meal for yourself and your loved ones, instead of it feeling like a chore.

6. Be mindful of your food intake. Just because it’s Christmas doesn’t mean you have to eat until you’re stuffed. Eat mindfully, chew slowly and give each bite the attention it deserves. Notice the tastes, textures and smells. 

7. Receiving and giving is an experience of abundance and gratitude. Slow down and appreciate what’s happening. Give from your heart when you give, and truly receive and appreciate the gifts you are given.

8. Watch your ego! Family can churn up old patterns, judgments and behaviours that no longer serve us, or are real. Breathe, connect and observe fully. Sometimes negative reactions are our own, sometimes from another family member. Stay true to yourself without the need to react. Breathe deeply, don’t get sucked into old family dramas (this one is easier said than done…sometimes another Campari is actually what’s needed in these situations!!). Choose happiness over being right!

9. Play and have fun. We’re often feeling stressed and overwhelmed due to society’s pressures. Laughter and silliness are the best medicine. Be silly, tell jokes, wear the Christmas jumper, do jigsaw puzzles, play Charades… it’s a time to let your hair down.

10. Drink mindfully. Be sure to sip water regularly as well as selecting healthier options such as red wine, dry white, and Champagne. Drink your vodka or gin with soda water and a squeeze of fresh lemon instead of sugary mixers. 

11. Supplement to support your body. I favour milk thistle and B vitamins to support liver function when drinking excess alcohol, and vitamin C to boost immunity. A quality digestive enzyme is a perfect natural remedy, and you can’t beat mighty magnesium to calm your nerves and help you relax. An Epsom salt bath in the morning will set you up for a relaxing and nurturing Christmas day ahead.

Switching off autopilot is one of the best things you can do. On autopilot you act without thinking, feeling or noticing, and miss all the magic of life happening around you. So, embrace the sensual pleasures and decadence of Christmas day with intention. Being mindful is a great gift to yourself and others and the way to make Christmas mean something this year. 

I wish you a wonderfully mindful, nurturing and healthy Christmas, and a fabulous year ahead full of wellness and self-care.

Jo Rowkins, Nutritional Therapist & Lifestyle Coach at Awakening Health.

Why we really should wear masks

By Andrew Polmear, our intrepid wine and cheese man – it’s OK kids, he’s a retired doctor

Most of us are pretty good at wearing a mask in a public place, possibly because we’d get thrown out if we don’t. But have a look round on a bus or train and you’ll often see someone whose mask is useless – either below the nose or even round the chin. There are people, of course, who are exempt, but they wouldn’t be wearing one at all. Does it matter? How good is the evidence that wearing a mask saves lives?

Comparing different countries. The first sort of evidence is from countries where almost everybody wears a mask when they leave home. One careful study showed that transmission of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes Covid-19) is 7.5 times higher in countries where mask wearing is not universal compared to those where it is. That’s not proof, of course – the difference may have been due to something else; they may also have been hand-washing, or distancing, or just not shaking hands, for example. But the masks probably help. A study of US states found that states in which mask-wearing was compulsory had slower disease growth rates than states where it wasn’t.

Studies that asked contacts of coronavirus cases whether they wore a mask or not, then checking whether or not they caught the disease. It’s not a reliable technique – it all depends on people’s memory and honesty. Roughly, wearing a mask seemed to result in half the risk of catching coronoavirus disease. But almost all of these cases were SARS or MERS, not Covid-19.

Lab studies. The final sort of study is done in a laboratory where they measure particles the size of the water particles that carry coronavirus. Researchers have looked at the different situations that arise. I’ll focus on where the contagious person is coughing:

  • The person coughing is masked: a mask roughly halves the number of particles getting out. (Warning – different studies come up with different figures, according to what size particles were measured and how far away from the person being tested.) A 3-layer homemade cloth mask does as well as a surgical mask. An N95 mask may do a bit better but it’s quite a bit more expensive. Whether it fits properly may be more important than what it’s made of.
  • The person with the mask is in the same room as the person coughing (who is not masked): there is benefit but it’s much less.
  • If both are masked the benefit is much greater at about 80%. But what really makes a difference is if both wear double masks – that is, a surgical mask with a fabric mask over the top. That reduces particle transmission by 95%. It may be that the double masking works more by ensuring a close fit, than by the ability of the extra mask to filter more particles. Try it, it’s quite comfortable!

Where should we wear those masks? Obviously in public enclosed spaces. Keeping 2 metres apart isn’t enough. Those masking studies I mention above were done 6 feet apart. I think masks should also be worn out of doors. If there are no crowds and a good breeze you would probably be all right, but you can never protect yourself against the panting jogger who pushes past you, or against bumping into someone as you round a blind corner. If you can smell the cigarette smoke of a smoker you are inhaling their breath.

Finally, what about in the home if a family member becomes ill or is a contact. There’s just one study on this, from Beijing. Transmission of Covid-19 was reduced by 79% if everyone in the household was masked. But there’s a catch. Masking has to be all the time, including before the person who becomes ill develops symptoms. That’s partly why Covid-19 is such a problem. The time when a person is most contagious is from 2 days before symptoms begin until 1 day after they start. If the person you live with is a contact you have time – mask up straight away, don’t wait for them to become ill. If they develop symptoms out of the blue you’ve probably missed the boat, but mask up anyway.

PS. You may be wondering whether higher quality masks would do better than the fabric and surgical masks described above. After all, an FFP2 mask is, by EU definition, one that filters out 94% or more particles (roughly the same as an N95 mask (the US equivalent) and a KN95 (the Chinese equivalent)). An FFP3 mask filters out 98% or more particles. The answer is no, not necessarily. They were designed for industrial use, not specifically for viral protection. Also, those EU tests do not attempt to mimic the human situation, with one person coughing, or talking, or even just breathing out, and another person breathing in. They may still be better than fabric or ordinary surgical masks, especially if properly fitted, but don’t expect 94% or 98% reduction in transmission. And, of course, don’t wear a mask with a valve in it – that would allow out any virus you are exhaling.

PPS. Those who wear glasses find masks a problem. Their moist breath fogs up the inside of the lenses. From all the people who have commented on this it is clear there’s only one solution: wear the mask high up on your nose and perch the glasses on top of it. One eye surgeon, who needs to wear glasses while operating, tapes the top of his mask to his nose, so it can’t slip down below his glasses.

This is an area of science where new information is coming out every day. By the time this article is published it may already be out of date. And please bear in mind that it is the opinion of one retired GP, not a leading scientist. Andrew regrets that he cannot enter into correspondence with individual readers.