The Dreaded ‘D’ Word

62d90016fec43840b0d4702abc79b425Serendipity — I have always had a love/hate thing with dieting and was gearing myself up to go on yet another diet to rid the extra kilo or two, when I found this article from the New York Times (2016) written by Sandra Aamodt, neuroscientist and the author of “Why Diets Make Us Fat: The Unintended Consequences of Our Obsession With Weight Loss.”  – “Why You Can’t Lose Weight on a Diet -The problem isn’t willpower. It’s neuroscience.You can’t — and shouldn’t — fight back.”

‘SIX years after dropping an average of 129 pounds on the American TV program “The Biggest Loser,” a new study reports, the participants were burning about 500 fewer calories a day than other people their age and size. This helps explain why they had regained 70 percent of their lost weight since the show’s finale. The diet industry reacted defensively, arguing that the participants had lost weight too fast or ate the wrong kinds of food — that diets do work, if you pick the right one.

But this study is just the latest example of research showing that in the long run dieting is rarely effective, doesn’t reliably improve health and does more harm than good. There is a better way to eat.

The root of the problem is not willpower but neuroscience. Metabolic suppression is one of several powerful tools that the brain uses to keep the body within a certain weight range, called the set point. The range, which varies from person to person, is determined by genes and life experience. When dieters’ weight drops below it, they not only burn fewer calories but also produce more hunger-inducing hormones and find eating more rewarding.

The brain’s weight-regulation system considers your set point to be the correct weight for you, whether or not your doctor agrees. If someone starts at 120 pounds and drops to 80, her brain rightfully declares a starvation state of emergency, using every method available to get that weight back up to normal. The same thing happens to someone who starts at 300 pounds and diets down to 200, as the “Biggest Loser” participants discovered.

This coordinated brain response is a major reason that dieters find weight loss so hard to achieve and maintain. For example, men with severe obesity have only one chance in 1,290 of reaching the normal weight range within a year; severely obese women have one chance in 677. A vast majority of those who beat the odds are likely to end up gaining the weight back over the next five years. In private, even the diet industry agrees that weight loss is rarely sustained. A report for members of the industry stated: “In 2002, 231 million Europeans attempted some form of diet. Of these only 1 percent will achieve permanent weight loss.”

The specific “Biggest Loser” diet plan is probably not to blame. A previous study, found similar metabolic suppression in people who had lost weight and kept it off for up to six years. Whether weight is lost slowly or quickly has no effect on later regain. Likewise — despite endless debate about the relative value of different approaches — in head-to-head comparisons, diet plans that provide the same calories through different types of food lead to similar weight loss and regain.

As a neuroscientist, I’ve read hundreds of studies on the brain’s ability to fight weight loss. I also know about it from experience. For three decades, starting at age 13, I lost and regained the same 10 or 15 pounds almost every year. On my most serious diet, in my late 20s, I got down to 125 pounds, 30 pounds below my normal weight. I wanted (unwisely) to lose more, but I got stuck. After several months of eating fewer than 800 calories a day and spending an hour at the gym every morning, I hadn’t lost another ounce. When I gave up on losing and switched my goal to maintaining that weight, I started gaining instead.

I was lucky to end up back at my starting weight instead of above it. After about five years, 41 percent of dieters gain back more weight than they lost. Long-term studies show dieters are more likely than non-dieters to become obese over the next one to 15 years. That’s true in men and women, across ethnic groups, from childhood through middle age. The effect is strongest in those who started in the normal weight range, a group that includes almost half of the female dieters in the United States.

Some experts argue that instead of dieting leading to long-term weight gain, the relationship goes in the other direction: People who are genetically prone to gain weight are more likely to diet. To test this idea, researchers followed over 4,000 twins aged 16 to 25. Dieters were more likely to gain weight than their non-dieting identical twins, suggesting that dieting does indeed increase weight gain even after accounting for genetic background. The difference in weight gain was even larger between fraternal twins, so dieters may also have a higher genetic tendency to gain. The study found that a single diet increased the odds of becoming overweight by a factor of two in men and three in women. Women who had gone on two or more diets during the study were five times as likely to become overweight.

The causal relationship between diets and weight gain can also be tested by studying people with an external motivation to lose weight. Boxers and wrestlers who diet to qualify for their weight classes presumably have no particular genetic predisposition toward obesity.

Yet a 2006 study, found that elite athletes who competed for Finland in such weight-conscious sports were three times more likely to be obese by age 60 than their peers who competed in other sports.

To test this idea rigorously, researchers could randomly assign people to worry about their weight, but that is hard to do. One program took the opposite approach, though, helping teenage girls who were unhappy with their bodies to become less concerned about their weight. In a randomized trial, the eBody Project, an online program to fight eating disorders by reducing girls’ desire to be thin, led to less dieting and also prevented future weight gain. Girls who participated in the program saw their weight remain stable over the next two years, while their peers without the intervention gained a few pounds.

WHY would dieting lead to weight gain? First, dieting is stressful. Calorie restriction produces stress hormones, which act on fat cells to increase the amount of abdominal fat. Such fat is associated with medical problems like diabetes and heart disease, regardless of overall weight.

Second, weight anxiety and dieting predict later binge eating, as well as weight gain. Girls who labeled themselves as dieters in early adolescence were three times more likely to become overweight over the next four years. Another study found that adolescent girls who dieted frequently were 12 times more likely than non-dieters to binge two years later.

My repeated dieting eventually caught up with me, as this research would predict. When I was in graduate school and under a lot of stress, I started binge eating. I would finish a carton of ice cream or a box of saltines with butter, usually at 3 a.m. The urge to keep eating was intense, even after I had made myself sick.

Fortunately, when the stress eased, I was able to stop. At the time, I felt terrible about being out of control, but now I know that binge eating is a common mammalian response to starvation.

Much of what we understand about weight regulation comes from studies of rodents, whose eating habits resemble ours. Mice and rats enjoy the same wide range of foods that we do. When tasty food is plentiful, individual rodents gain different amounts of weight, and the genes that influence weight in people have similar effects in mice. Under stress, rodents eat more sweet and fatty foods. Like us, both laboratory and wild rodents have become fatter over the past few decades.

In the laboratory, rodents learn to binge when deprivation alternates with tasty food — a situation familiar to many dieters. Rats develop binge eating after several weeks consisting of five days of food restriction followed by two days of free access to Oreos.

Four days later, a brief stressor leads them to eat almost twice as many Oreos as animals that received the stressor but did not have their diets restricted. A small taste of Oreos can induce deprived animals to binge on regular chow, if nothing else is available. Repeated food deprivation changes dopamine and other neurotransmitters in the brain that govern how animals respond to rewards, which increases their motivation to seek out and eat food. This may explain why the animals binge, especially as these brain changes can last long after the diet is over.

In people, dieting also reduces the influence of the brain’s weight-regulation system by teaching us to rely on rules rather than hunger to control eating. People who eat this way become more vulnerable to external cues telling them what to eat. In the modern environment, many of those cues were invented by marketers to make us eat more, like advertising, supersizing and the all-you-can-eat buffet. Studies show that long-term dieters are more likely to eat for emotional reasons or simply because food is available.

When dieters who have long ignored their hunger finally exhaust their willpower, they tend to overeat for all these reasons, leading to weight gain.

Even people who understand the difficulty of long-term weight loss often turn to dieting because they are worried about health problems associated with obesity like heart disease and diabetes. But our culture’s view of obesity as uniquely deadly is mistaken. Low fitness, smoking, high blood pressure, low income and loneliness are all better predictors of early death than obesity. Exercise is especially important: Data from a 2009 study showed that low fitness is responsible for 16 percent to 17 percent of deaths in the United States, while obesity accounts for only 2 percent to 3 percent, once fitness is factored out. Exercise reduces abdominal fat and improves health, even without weight loss. This suggests that overweight people should focus more on exercising than on calorie restriction.

In addition, the evidence that dieting improves people’s health is surprisingly poor. Part of the problem is that no one knows how to get more than a small fraction of people to sustain weight loss for years. The few studies that overcame that hurdle are not encouraging. In a 2013 study of obese and overweight people with diabetes, on average the dieters maintained a 6 percent weight loss for over nine years, but the dieters had a similar number of heart attacks, strokes and deaths from heart disease during that time as the control group. Earlier this year, researchers found that intentional weight loss had no effect on mortality in overweight diabetics followed for 19 years.

Diets often do improve cholesterol, blood sugar and other health markers in the short term, but these gains may result from changes in behavior like exercising and eating more vegetables. Obese people who exercise, eat enough vegetables and don’t smoke are no more likely to die young than normal-weight people with the same habits. A 2013 meta-analysis (which combines the results of multiple studies) found that health improvements in dieters have no relationship to the amount of weight they lose.

If dieting doesn’t work, what should we do instead? I recommend mindful eating — paying attention to signals of hunger and fullness, without judgment, to relearn how to eat only as much as the brain’s weight-regulation system commands.

Relative to chronic dieters, people who eat when they’re hungry and stop when they’re full are less likely to become overweight, maintain more stable weights over time and spend less time thinking about food. Mindful eating also helps people with eating disorders like binge eating learn to eat normally. Depending on the individual’s set point, mindful eating may reduce weight or it may not. Either way, it’s a powerful tool to maintain weight stability, without deprivation.

I finally gave up dieting six years ago, and I’m much happier. I redirected the energy I used to spend on dieting to establishing daily habits of exercise and meditation. I also enjoy food more while worrying about it less, now that it no longer comes with a side order of shame.’

Sandra Aamodt, neuroscientist, the author of “Why Diets Make Us Fat: The Unintended Consequences of Our Obsession With Weight Loss.”




Use Your Intuition for Podium Recognition

finding-your-voice1Intuition is the gut feeling or insight that we all experience, but too often we allow our intellect to overrule the ‘sotto voce’ in our heads.

Many emergency workers whose job it is to keep people safe, trust their intuition inexplicably and act upon it immediately without questioning.  Like the story of the firefighter, who dousing a seemingly easily managed fire, knows instantly at gut level that he has to get out of the building.  He makes it out just in time to witness the building’s massive collapse and its eruption into a blazing inferno.

Intuition is an immediate knowing, a first flush of thought before the intellect tries to reason it out. It provides us with a sense of knowing that this is the right or wrong course to take, the decision to make or the person to trust or distrust.

Albert Einstein, a believer in the power of imagination and intuition said  “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant.  We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift”.

6In public speaking, intuition will unfailing guide you to a greater speech and a more dynamic performance.  Use intuition to edit your speech and guide your choice to pick the holistic memory chunks or prompts to keep you on track at the lectern.  Use your intuition to measure the response of the audience so that you can refine or add to your words if needed.  At question time let it direct you diplomatically in your response to each of the questions

Encourage your intuitive ability  by choosing to become more aware of that gut feeling, that small voice in your head.  Challenge yourself to identify  who may be on the caller on phone when it rings or when standing at a bank of elevators ask which one will arrive first.  So at first you maybe wrong – but the more you practice the intuitive message becomes undeniably evident.

 Mary Atkins – Author of the definitive self-help guide to public speaking  Finding Your Voice – ten steps to successful public speaking.        available in two editions  (same content but different covers) throughout the world and now on Kindle.




The Magic of Hoi An

IMG_7971Needs must and consequently we have become expert travel hunter-gatherers scouring for travel deals that offer not only ‘x’ amount of nights in quality accommodation but also provide the additional set of steak knives bonuses. A recent trip came from Sunday paper travel page Luxury Escape promotion to Vietnam. The package included eight nights in beachside luxury in Hoi An, eight spa treatments, one cooking class, breakfast and lunch or dinner daily, two night stay in Ho Chi Minh and a partridge in a pear tree – tra- la-la.

The well-preserved ancient city of Hoi An sits conveniently on the coast so travellers can enjoy best of culture, shopping and beach life. Once a major spice trading post of the Orient in the sixteenth and seventeenth century until the river Thu Bon that winds through the graceful city silted up and trade moved up the coast to Danang.

Our hotel room faced the ocean. It is large and light with a day bed on a glassed in balcony. We sleep well, the bed is a wowser comfortable King plus size, oh how I hanker for a King at home, but I digress, we wake to the sight of a couple of brightly coloured wooden pleasure boats with their elegant curved bows cruising to berth at one of the hotels along Cua Dai Beach.

The glass shower stall proved interesting, neither of us had noticed the dinner plate size shower-head high in the ceiling, rather we were mystified by the site and height of the hand-held shower. It was a point of discussion, here we have a capacious shower stall and the source of ablution placed at the height of an average six-year-old. It was days before we found the fire-hose-bad-hair-day shower head in the ceiling and we no longer needed to limbo under the portable jets to wash clean.

At breakfast most mornings we opted for Pho, slivers of beef poached in a delicious broth served over noodles then topped with a generous handful of aromatic Vietnamese herbs. Yes of course you could have bacon, American and crispy, eggs anyway you dang well please and many other morsels, pastries, cold cuts to tempt but we are in Vietnam and Pho it is, with a little bit of Vietnamese equivalent of gravalax on the side.

IMG_7912Our shuttle from the hotel takes us into Hoi An city centre. In the heat we walk slowly through the dusty lane. Small shops, their windows displays of bespoke tailoring vie for our attention with a graceful weather-beaten curved bridge, Chua Cau, that spans a small canal. The small covered bridge guarded by twin statues of monkeys was built in 1590 to link the Japanese quarter with the Chinese community and is still in use today.

It is quiet, as it is the time of day when motor bikes are not allowed in this part of the city. The only transports to dodge are bicycles and Vietnamese style bicycle rickshaws called Cyclos. The buildings are mainly wood with weathered limed walls in fading cobalt blue, saffron and amber. Colour in these narrow streets catches us with every turn; red long fluttering flags, displays of pearl bright lacquered ware, bales of hued silk and Chinese lanterns that delight and defy the imagination in colour and shape.

IMG_7915By the river we watch an old woman plying a single oared flat-bottomed boat across the river. On her head is the traditional cone hat with a slash of red ribbon hanging from it. She is thin but strong easing her heavy craft carefully into a berth beside the food market. The river on this cloudy monsoonal day has a mirror shine.

We drink cocktails and meet a couple of young lads from Welsh Wales walking through the street dressed only in their boxer shorts and ladies silk dressing gowns. Their excuse, not that they needed one, was they had just completed the ice bucket challenge. Groups of children wearing traditional dragon costumes ran to and thro excitedly at tourists and into shops scaring the devil away while their comrades made sure the devil knew they meant business by steadily banging a huge drum lashed to a  billy cart. It was Vietnam’s Independence Day and a time of celebrations that gave these small boys full reign to have fun.

IMG_7924The drums were distant in our restaurant, Faifo Xua is an elegantly refurbished historic merchants home with its own art gallery. Young women graceful in their áo dài: tight-fitting silk tunics worn over long pants, took us to our table. The menu was billed as creative Vietnamese cuisine and the food did not disappoint. I was hard pushed to share my spicy fish and belly of pork clay pot. It was my birthday and desert came as a cake with chocolate writing wishing Mrs Mary a very happy anniversary, instantly there was music, a pianist playing on an old piano and it seemed as though the whole restaurant joined in the chorus, happy birthday to you ….

 The resort style of hotel was perfect we swam and slouched by the pool by day opting to go most days into Hoi An as the day cooled. What will stay with me long after the jet lag and sharing pictures of the trip is the warmth of the Vietnamese people.  Gentle, considerate people well suited to living in a place called Hoi An, which is aptly translated ‘Peaceful Meeting Place.’


Seeing Red

IMG_5069Oh, you can colour my world with happiness all the way!   Colour My World – Petula Clark 1966

Stats say that silver-coloured cars are the most visible on the road in any light and least likely to be involved in an accident. If you want to soothe the troubled brow then pink is first choice. Yes pink is no longer the hallmark of the pretty young thing created in Barbie’s image it is now being used effectively in prison and mental care facilities to subdue the violent or erratic souls that live within. Yellow and orange make us hungry and wearing bright colours make us more attractive to others as colours are responsible for creating the 60-90% of first impressions and it seems we like colour.

Blue evidently clocks in as the global favourite colour but not necessarily linked to the fact that dogs can only see blues and greens but  can’t see red. BTW it’s a myth that bulls charge when they see red, colour has nothing to do with it the bull simply responds to a moving object.  Little known fact that seeing red before an exam evidently decreases your chances of doing well but red before a race will spur you on to win.

Another red gem –  women have an easier time than men identifying the subtle changes in the colour red because we have an extra X chromosome which allows us to see the full spectrum of reds from crimson to maroon to pillar box red whereas the blokes see red as red, no finite shades just red.

Artists must be seventh heaven playing with all the shades and tones of the colour wheel. Examing objects more intensely than the rest of us, seeing the minute and myriad of shades that make up the integrity of each colour. As Edouard Manet said There are no lines in nature, only areas of colour, one against another.

If colour makes you dizzy, nauseous, panicked, gives you rapid heart rate and a headache you may suffer from chromophobia an irrational fear of colour. But the good news is it can be treated so you, like the rest of us, can celebrate the rainbow bounty of colour that surrounds us.

For me the brighter, biting and bolder, the better – crimson with purple, hot pink with British racing green, lavender with emerald, chocolate velvet brown with shiny patent-leather black and palettes of green upon green upon green. Artwork that leaps out at me like the red splash on the white canvas in the recent French film Intouchables or Brett Whitely’s Self Portrait in the Studio that holds your gaze forever with its stinging cobalt blue background. Definitely yes – You can colour my world with sunshine yellow each day. Oh, you can colour my world with happiness all the way! Just take the green from the grass and the blue from the sky up above! 


Mystical union between a speaker and audience

Punchy, quality content must be a taken for any speech of merit but it is in the delivery that the true mettle of the speech will be proven.

Speaking Clubs offer regular speaking practice  and this will develop lectern confidence.  If you  couple this with learned techniques, like the pause, rhythm and colour in the voice to emphasis your message you will become a speaker of some competence.

I think the difference between a competent speaker and a memorable one is the individual who creates, what can only be termed as, a mystical union between him/her self and the audience.

This charismatic difference is found in a speaker who is authentic, completely warts and all true to his/her self.  Sometimes it needs a bit of coaching to push past our ego that wants to be seen as the dynamo at the lectern. It takes courage to accept the fact that you aren’t perfect. But when you are  unafraid to step into your authentic signature style – the audience will recognise the integrity of your language, posture and intent. They will reward you  with their responsive energy and you the speaker will experience the joy of  holding an audience in the palm of your hand.

Pet peeves. Speakers who do not run to time, complacent speakers who think they can wing it or use  jargon – so elitist.  Speakers who shy away from using a microphone,  read from their notes with no eye contact, But my all time head banging irritation is the rising inflection. No ladies and gentlemen it is not nerves that makes the voice squeak  it is a habit which is a barrier to the effectiveness of your communication. While the audience is still hanging with the question mark tremor at the end of your sentence that’s all they hear. It’s a habit a silly habit, record and listen to it and make an effort to quit it.

Here ends today’s lesson folks!

 My book ‘Finding Your Voice – Ten steps to successful public speaking’ in 2005. encapsulated  four decades of my speaking, training/coaching, speaker management and evaluation passion. Promoted by the publisher Lothian  as the definitive self-help guide to public speaking.

From my Soapbox -Are you right? Or are you right?

IMG_5005In the 1950s/60s social etiquette decreed that middle class folks did not talk about politics, religion or sex at a dinner party. Mind you it really would not have mattered at all as most in the dinner party milieu of that time had pretty similar values. Sex, well it was a broad brush sniggering at the smutty jokes that were pertinent to the starter of half a grilled grapefruit studded with a cherry.  Religion was dutiful, rather than a spiritual choice and politics, you should be one-step ahead of me here, conservative with a capital C.

I was Conservative through and through. Both my parents were members of the Conservative Party and as a family we attended all of the fund-raising dances and events organised by our local branch.  We knew we were in the right. In WW2 my father commanded the Royal Artillery battalion that protected Winston Churchill who happened to be our local MP.  My father had a ‘man the gunboats’ view of life.   A mind-set that was born out of his war time experiences and his conviction of that in the long run ‘tough-love’ was best for all men whatever their race or creed. I too for many years shared these conservative values believing that it served the best interests of my country.

Now at the age of 75 I’m a Labour party voter, or for my American friends, a Democrat.  Difficult position because I still frequently swan around in the same pond of old conservative friends, so I adhere to the out-dated dinner-party creed when I’m enjoying their company. For me the switch was about my own gradual evolution.  An evolution marked with life’s passage of loss, marriage, children, a continuing spiritual quest and a mid-life crisis of ‘who the fuck am I?’

My Labour ideals are not based on a ‘bleeding heart’ mentality rather what I see as the softer  more important philosophical qualities of compassion.   The American Poet and Prophet Wendell Berry captures my beliefs in this quote  ‘To make a living is not to make a killing it’s to have enough.’

The demonising of politicians is reaching new levels of vitriol and hate as voters on both sides of the debate find we can’t trust our duly elected representatives. Equally politicians are put into the unenviable position of trying to capture our vote and protect their brand by any means including distorting and fabricating the facts. Sorry I mean lying. We as the public, if indeed we do take an interest, read right-wing editorials or left-wing articles and knee jerk respond accordingly.  Like angry spectators on the sidelines we barrack and cat call. Our party shows us the right way and the opposition is in the wrong.

It is patently evident on both sides of politics that not all politicians are clean. But if we were to take a more tolerant look at them and work on the premise that essentially politicians are well-intentioned people who go into parliament with a passion for addressing issues from their electorate or a desire to make sure that our country is managed effectively – then we have a starting point for a deeper understanding of what makes us tick.

Consider this question – whether it would be possible for both sides of politics to come an understanding that neither party is completely right or totally wrong. Imagine if they could walk in each other’s psychological sandshoes for a moment. If that could happen we may have terms for negotiation.

I don’t know about you but I’m tired of this paralysing righteousness that grips our country. No I don’t have the answers of how to fix the deficit, to be equal handed to the millions of refuges who wish so desperately to come to our country, develop impartial tax and welfare policies, to grow the economy or have an inkling of the requirements to grow new industries. That is why we pay our politicians.

Thinking you’re right does not mean you are. The 13th century Sufi mystic Rumi said ‘Somewhere between right and wrong there is a garden – I will meet you there.’

Social media, with its up to the minute is the game-changer. We see almost daily how the dynamics of a revolution has been changed by power of social media. With an avalanche of public opinion these political opponents may seriously consider talking to each other, I mean respectfully, honestly and without a whisper of sledging and who knows what bounty that could bring.

Tell your politicians of choice- there are some very nice gardens around Parliament House – get to it.



Give me a jar of coloured pens ………….

IMG_5093If you are looking for a technique to make planning your work easy and affectice; whether it be the first draft stage of a speech or any written work , become a child again and create  a colourful Mind Map.

Mind mapping originated in the 1960s with Tony Buzan and allows you to generate an organic explosion of ideas.

Just like a road map a Mind Map will give you an overview of your topic, enables you to tap into the wealth of your imagination,  collect together large chunks of data and be enjoyable to review and  consider how to progress.

1. Take a sheet of blank unlined paper. Use it landscape rather than portrait style.

2. You will need a container of coloured pens and pencils.

3. In the centre of the page draw an image or write the topic  that you want to explore from there create logical and illogical branches of thoughts to spin off from the central title.

The one above is an old one of mine.  I create Mind Maps not only for work but for everyday issues where I need to see things more clearly. This Thoughts Shape Your Life Map  is very busy, the ideas just kept coming and I was running out of room but the finished Map gave me great clarity on how my everyday, every moment thoughts affected my life for the better or worse.