Tuesday, January 30, 2007

How your body works #3

Before I go any further, I want to make it clear that the 'HYBW' thread is not about providing never-before-revealed secrets on how to look like the (heavily edited) pictures we see gloating at us from magazines and advertisements. As the old body-building adage goes, if you want a perfect body, you have to choose your parents carefully.

What I am trying to move towards is a better understanding of how our bodies work, and what we can do to make the one we've got work more efficiently, without having to devote every waking hour to maintaining it, or having to exclude ourselves from general society (of course, this would be less of a hardship for some of us than others :-)

In HYBW so far, we've looked at how the body utilises and regulates its energy resources. The good news is that our bodies are extremely efficient at making sure we don't run out of energy. For the majority of us, the bad news is that our bodies are extremely efficient at making sure we don't run out of energy.

As I said in the last article, we have got to get away from being obsessed with our weight. Weight is a very unreliable way of working out if we are eating right. Fat weighs much less than muscle. When people crash diet, they lose muscle and fat. They lose weight. They they stop the diet, and their fat levels increase.

However the muscle you've lost will not all return (and, as you leave your teens behind, muscle and bone wastage begins anyway!). So, even if the dieter returns to the same weight they were at the beginning of the diet, they are almost certainly carrying more fat (and less muscle) than they were. So their body needs less food than it did before. You can work out the rest.

For the more fanatical (i.e. people like me) I'll look at some ways of measuring body composition in later articles, for now we need to find some ways of keeping the little men from hearing the starvation alarm bells ringing, so they don't slow our system down, and steal (sorry, borrow) from our muscle supplies, while not giving them so much stuff that they stockpile it away as fat.

Some good ways of doing this are:

1. Raise your metabolic rate

2. Eat smaller portions, more frequently

3. Eat more 'good' food

4. Eat less 'bad' food

In the next HYBW we'll look at what this means in practice.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

getting organised #3

Procure a strong box large enough to hold oversize A4 documents, and put it by/under the desk/area that you work.

Lay all waste printed/written matter FLAT in it. This is your ‘piling tray'.

Crumpled paper takes up loads of room, and is difficult to retrieve. The piling tray takes ages to fill up, and when you discover you have thrown away an important piece of manuscript, letter, statement or invoice, you know where it is - piled - in chronological order.

When the box is full, remove the bottom half of the pile and check through it to make sure the contents are all disposable (this is particularly important if you have kids, or are not the only person who uses the work area!).

Remember, your piling tray is just for flat sheets of paper. Sweet wrappers, fruit peel, tea bags and empty drinks cans get placed in an appropriate disposal receptacle.

Monday, January 22, 2007

How your body works #2

In the first HYBW we learned that:

1. The way the human body obtains energy is 'more complex than a very complex thing'.

2. There are millions of little men who organise the distribution of energy inside your body (estimates of the exact 1. quantity, 2. size and 3. origin of the little men vary, but most Very Clever People agree that there are 1. between 17 and a gazillion, 2. 'extremely small', 3. there are some questions that only Very Stupid People bother to ask).

3. The primary task of the little men is to make sure your body doesn't run out of energy, and to that end they will stockpile any extra energy (as fat), and will slow your body's system down if they notice that energy demands are exceeding supplies.

Because the little men are extremely lazy, when your body needs energy they will take the easiest route they can to get it. Once they have used up the muscles' (limited) glycogen reserves, they start to nick (although they prefer to call it 'borrowing') stuff from the little men who are repairing and maintaining your body. When all that stuff is used up they reluctantly reach for the (more difficult to open) containers marked 'muscle' and 'fat'.

Yes, you did read that right, MUSCLE and fat. When we consume less calories than our body expends, we don't just lose fat, we also lose muscle. And as muscle is one of the main 'energy burners in our systems, when we lose muscle, we also need less energy to support our body (this is one of the reasons the little men get rid of muscle when the 'starvation bells' start ringing).

And here we hit the vicious cycle that many serial crash dieters encounter. A person gets an invite to a function that's happening next month, and realises they no longer fit the clothes they want to wear. So they embark on one of the latest 'soup and celery' diets, and - after four weeks of utter misery - reach their target. During and after the function they resume their previous eating habits, and are dismayed to find they quickly put all the weight (and often more) back on again.

Well, if you've been paying attention, you're there with the answer already. 1. The little men have sensed a 'starvation' situation, so they've slowed down the body's metabolism. 2. When the calorie deficit has become an ongoing problem, they've obtained energy from muscle as well as fat. 3. When the 'starvation bells' stop ringing, the little men start stockpiling fat again, in a body whose metabolism is running slower and has less muscle than it did at the start of the diet.

This is a problem exacerbated by the fact that most people use weighing scales as the sole means of measuring their progress. But we'll talk more about that in HYBW #3.

Thursday, January 18, 2007


There are many theories about why we sleep. We do know that we cannot function for long without it.

The longest recorded stint of deliberate sleeplessness was a science experiment by seventeen-year-old Randy Gardner in 1965. He managed to stay awake for 11 days without the use of stimulant drugs

Towards the end of the time, he was experiencing hallucinations and feeling faint. Researchers then attached EEG monitors to his head as he went to sleep, which took less than four seconds. He awoke after sleeping for about 14 hours, and said that he felt fine.

Humans are (in the main) robust, resilient creatures who can survive under less than perfect conditions for extremely long periods of time, however, there is a wide body of evidence that shows many of us are not getting enough sleep.

A wide range of studies on sleep have come to overlapping conclusions on the benefits of sleep:

Learning and memory: Sleep helps the brain commit new information to memory through a process called memory consolidation.

Safety: Sleep debt can lead to a greater tendency to spontaneously fall asleep during the daytime.

Mood: Sleep loss can contribute to irritability, inability to concentrate, and mood swings.

Cardiovascular health: Sleep disorders have been linked to hypertension, increased stress hormone levels, and irregular heartbeat.

Disease: Sleep deprivation depletes our immune functions.

Of course, there are times of life when the luxury of sleep is simply not on offer (babies anyone?). And some people find getting to/staying asleep a problem. However, if you know that you are spending too much time aimlessly TV channel- or web-surfing, it might be a good idea to try a few weeks of supplementing your sleep quota, and seeing whether it makes you feel any better.

One big side benefit of going to bed early is that many people get the desire to snack on 'comfort food' after 9pm (for me it is red wine and chocolate). If you're asleep, this isn't an issue!

On a personal note, I spent last year making a concerted effort to increase my sleep quota (from 5.5 hours to 7 hours a night). In the interests of full disclosure, I fall asleep quickly and sleep deeply, however, the results were very positive, including greater alertness and energy throughout the day (especially in mid-afternoon), and getting up in the morning now takes MUCH less effort than it did.

Getting organised #2

This blog entry is particularly applicable to students, but it can be applied to just about anybody who is in the position where they have so much to do that they don't know where to start.

If possible, find a quiet place, and sit yourself down with pen, paper and a cup/glass of your favourite (non-alcoholic) beverage.

Write a list of all the things you think you need to get done within the next two weeks, including apologies to people, thank yous, telephone calls that need to be made, and emails/letters which should be written.

If you have missed deadlines, or if you are certain to miss them, make a separate list of the people you have/are going to let down, along with a REALISTIC estimate of when you are going to be able to get the task done.

Then contact the people you are going to disappoint. If possible do this face-to-face. Failing that, by phone. A last resort is sending a letter/email, along with a number/place where you can be contacted. Do not put off doing this.

When talking to these people, you will often find that they are willing to renegotiate deadlines. This is great, but having gained a stay of execution, it is essential for your future credibility that you meet this revised deadline.

Some of the tasks may actually no longer need doing, or the person you are talking to may offer to relieve you of the duty. Hurrah!

Once this has been done, go through your list, and number the tasks according to priority (not preference). Any that are not essential, cross off, or move to a ‘to be done sometime’ list.

Then cancel any non-essential engagements, and begin completing the tasks. Cross each item off as you go, refusing to avoid any of the listed activities. If you do you will break the power of the list to clear your backlog. It should be obvious, but don't take on any non-essential commitments until you have worked your way through the existing list!

When all items are completed, take the list, crumple, tear or otherwise mangle it, and triumphantly toss it in the bin.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

How your body works #1

The processes the human body employs to obtain, store, utilise and distribute energy are, to use the correct scientific terminology, 'more complex than a very complex thing'.

The major energy-users in your body are the hundreds of muscles that help you, and bits and pieces in your body, move. Muscles do this by contracting, converting chemical energy into mechanical energy.

The basic source of chemical energy for muscles is adenosine triphosphate or ATP. When the phosphate bonds are broken, energy is released, and the actin and myosin filaments of your muscles use this energy to slide past each other causing a contraction... oh... are you getting bored? Thought so.

The truth is that there are millions of little men continually carrying sacks of fuel around your body. There are other little men who release the energy from that fuel. And even more little men who remove the resulting by-products.

To these little men your body is their house, so they are keen to keep it in one piece. They're also rather lazy, so they don't want to work any harder than they have to.

If more stuff comes in than is needed, they will stockpile it for later (primarily as fat). Also, if they think that your body isn't getting enough food (and this is the main point of this blog entry) they'll slow down your metabolism to save energy.

There's more to it than that, but I've already exceeded the official 'average blog-reader attention span' word-count.

We'll continue the subject in HYBW #2.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Getting organised #1

Get hold of a strong large box, plus two large bin-liners. Mark one bin-liner 'rubbish', the other with the day's date.

Starting at one corner of a room, check every item (including cupboard contents), putting rubbish in the appropriate bag, and all items you know you won't be using in the next three months (including clothes) in the dated bin-liner (you may need more than one dated bin-liner!).

Put any items you're not sure about in the box.

Then seal up the dated bag(s) and put away in a safe, dry place.

Dispose of/recycle the items in the rubbish bag/s.

Go through the box of odd items and find places to put the ones you really want to keep. Keep this box as a ‘limbo’ to put all subsequent items that have no immediate purpose or place, but which you cannot bring yourself to throw away. If/when it gets too full, savagely sift it and dispose of some of the items (or put them in a 'dated' bin-liner!).

If a year passes without you missing the stuff in the dated bin-liners, you almost certainly don't need the stuff. Find someone who does, or recycle/dump it.

Repeat as necessary.

Thursday, January 04, 2007


Breathing is one of the few bodily functions which can be controlled both consciously and unconsciously.

The respiratory system eliminates 70% of your metabolic waste.

Perspiration accounts for 19%.

'Bathroom activities' contribute a surprisingly meagre 10%.

Most people breathe high in the chest, and in a shallow, irregular manner, which leads to reduced brain function, and in some people, anxiety attacks.

The internet is full of sites with masses of data and exercises. Just Google 'breathing properly' and take your pick!

The bottom line is to take time to fill your lungs with air.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Nutrition #1

I am someone who exercises at least five times a week (a mixture of weight training and cardiovascular). And yet, as I entered my late 30s/early 40s, I saw my waist size inexorably increase.

As I was exercising regularly, I reluctantly realised that I was going to have to start thinking about modifying my diet. So, during 2005 I spent time studying the area of nutrition.

I soon discovered that:

1. The food industry tells a lot of half-truths.

2. Nutrition is not an exact science.

What we do know is that what we eat and drink provides our bodies with the raw materials it uses to power and renew itself.

If the body receives more fuel than it burns, it will:

a. expel it
b. use it to upgrade our body parts
c. convert it into fat

If the body receives less energy than it consumes, it will find that energy from its own reserves.

So far, so bleeding obvious. If we want to lose weight, we have to eat less (oh, and for those of you thinking 'I eat what I want, and I never gain a pound' or 'I really wish I could gain weight', 1. Most people hate you, and 2. You might still learn something from this stuff).

During the course of 2006, I discovered that eating properly is not necessarily eating less, and in following articles I am going to look at some of the ways I fine-tuned my eating habits, and lost 4 stone of fat in the process.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Another year, another blog

My name is Brett Jordan.

I'm in my mid-forties.

I was born with a lot of advantages.

Parents who devoted their lives to equipping me with excellent survival tools. Roots. Wings. Love. Education. The golden rule. The value of hard work.

Providence/happenstance placed me in the middle economic strata of one of the richest countries on the planet.

I have a body that enjoys good health.

I became a Christian in my late teens, and my faith is a source of hope and strength, as well as continually challenging and re-shaping my worldview.

I have four intelligent, healthy, loving children.

Last year I started a blog. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed maintaining it, and how many people enjoyed viewing it. It is essentially a 'I found this cool stuff and thought I'd share it' kind of site, and I'll continue publishing it until I get bored with it.

A number of people have said they would like to hear a little bit more about me. This will be the site for them. The aim will be for it to publish a couple of ideas a week based on my own personal experience, so it's worth using the RSS feed. The topics will be unashamedly 'Brett-shaped', and will make no claims to be exhaustively researched.

Comments are enabled, and welcomed.