Category Archives: Health

5 lessons learned since The Realist’s Guide to Sugar Free

It has been one year since I published The Realist’s Guide to Sugar Free. So much has happened since it’s almost hard to believe.

My goal in writing the book was to help people understand the dangers and extent of processed sugars being added to our lifestyle. So what have I learned in the year since?

As I’m a compulsive reviewer and improver, I sat down and came up with 5 key things.

1. Falling off the wagon is inevitable

Sugar free living is hard. Really hard. If it wasn’t, then I wouldn’t have written the book. Even with the knowledge and experience I have, in the time since I have fallen off the wagon more than once. So what do you do when this happens? You forgive yourself and learn from the experience.

There are two ways sugar creeps back in. External circumstances beyond your control make things difficult. Then there is personal choice/poor impulse control. The first often leads to a prolonged period of the second.

Unless you have total control over your food, then it is likely that you will encounter a processed meal or two. On its own, it can be fine. A few days of extended travel and it’s back to square one. Your body wants to continue eating the delicious food and the pull is irresistible. Sugar addiction is back in full swing and it takes dedicated effort to get back to healthy eating and stick with it.

So, you will slip up and you need to forgive yourself. Don’t beat yourself up, but put a plan in place to start again. Don’t keep listening to the voice that justifies one more cupcake.

2. Discipline begets discipline

The times when I have been most rigorous about being sugar free are the times when I have been on top of things in plenty of other areas too. Sloppy behaviour has a way of spilling over and the opposite is true.

I’m not saying that going sugar free is the key to solving life’s problems. However, if you want to begin a cycle of self-improvement, pick one cornerstone habit and allow yourself to build from there. For me, that is the physical health that I have always found easier to put on the back burner.

3. ‘Big Food’ is already taking advantage of us

Several well known personalities, especially in the UK, have begun to promote the benefits of a reduced sugar lifestyle. Governments are discussing sugar taxes and health providers are finally coming round to the dangers of sugar, rather than a blanket ban on fats. With increased awareness, you might think that we’re getting closer to an easier shopping experience.

You’d be wrong.

Processed, cheap food is about making profit, and marketing is about making more profit for the same experience and calling it a lifestyle. Big Food marketing to undermine consumer’s attempts at sugar free that I’ve already seen includes:

  • X% less sugar than before! Yes, you’ve made it X% smaller and are still charging me the same price (or more, blaming Brexit). Nice try.
  • Only natural sugars! Yes, you’ve started using fruit sugars instead, but your sugar content is just the same. A particular favourite when it comes to children’s snacks.
  • Sugar free/zero sugar! This takes advantage of the increased desire for sugar-free food, whilst still containing a tonne of the worst kinds of artificial sweeteners. 

4. I want to help people, even though I’m an antisocial introvert

More of a personal one, but worth mentioning. A huge surprise has been the enjoyment I’ve had from people reaching out to me for help. I don’t always have the answers, but I love to point people in the right direction. So if you want to help people, don’t think the only way is to become a keynote speaker or ‘in person’ counsellor. The world always needs more positivity and compassion and this can be done in a million tiny ways.

5. Education is key

I’ve been contacted by people all over the world and it is clear that understanding the ingredients of your food is hard. Food labelling still has a long way to go. Manufacturers will not make it easy.

‘Serving size’ is frequently misleading and makes it hard to calculate % sugar (a particular problem in America, although much easier in Europe). ‘Added sugars’ can refer only to the white stuff, rather than fruit sugar syrups. The phrases ‘healthy’ and ‘low sugar’ are poorly defined and frequently unregulated, making it easy to mislead the consumer.

I’m not going to lie, constant vigilance is exhausting. It’s a long road ahead, but we’ll get there.

Several people have asked for the book to be updated to include recipes. The reasons there aren’t any there already are quite simple. Firstly, I’m no chef. Secondly, people want recipes in cookbooks to be interesting and beautiful. Going sugar free is mainly about mastering the mundane, everyday foods. However, if there is an updated revision, then I will consider including some.

Until then, you can of course sign up to get the first week meal plan I’ve followed to get back on the wagon when I’ve fallen off. It’s basic, but it works for me.

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Seasons – Planning Life Alongside Nature

For us in the northern hemisphere, there is no denying the change in the air. Summer is giving way to autumn (or fall, if you want to be all American about it). The kids are back at school. All the upcoming holidays now have an ‘end of year’ feel to them. For those in the southern hemisphere, the reverse is true. Spring is coming and summer will be here before you know it. Time to hit the beach and get outdoors.

It was whilst living in New Zealand that I realised for the first time how productivity and personal development have seasons of their own, often very much inline with nature. Perhaps it was because all my online inputs were largely presenting an experience that was the reverse of the one I was living through. What I did realise was that as the rains came (I was living in Christchurch, there was lots of rain), it became harder to stay motivated and geared up for new projects all the time.

Any productivity guru worth their salt will tell you that you don’t need to wait for the New Year to make a change. Or that every day is a fresh start. It’s all very true. I just think it becomes harder if you try to do it out of sync with the world around you.

Many people live online so much that it makes it easier, in a strange sort of way. When you never leave the house, it’s easy to forget what is going on outside. I know the temptation of the laptop as much as anyone else. Nevertheless, it can contribute to a feeling of burnout when there is no variation, just the non-stop hustle and grind of daily life.

Right now, I am taking a mini-break to plan the remainder of the year. I wanted to be somewhere different, somewhere much closer to nature, to remind myself of this idea. As the days get shorter, it will become harder to get out of bed each morning. The evenings will seem made for curling up under blankets with a good book, not hitting the gym or high intensity projects. I need to remember this so that I don’t fill my days with things I won’t achieve. I don’t like breaking promises to anyone, least of all myself.

So, over the next few weeks when you begin to see articles and blogs reminding you that ‘It’s not too late to win the year!’ and ‘make that final quarter count!’, remember that life is meant to have periods of recovery and renewal. If you’ve left it until nature begins to shut down, then it might be time to consider a different approach next year.

Of course, for those of you in the southern hemisphere, it’s time to get up and at ‘em.

Books for entrepreneurs: Tools of Titans review

Tim Ferriss does not know how to write short books. Don’t let the fact his paperback versions could be used to bludgeon someone to death put you off. He’s a master of the soundbite.

He’s just collected more of them than anyone else.

Tools of Titans is a fantastic book for anyone who wants to try life-hacking. It works because it doesn’t expound a single point of view. Instead, Tim has interviewed hundreds of top performers and asked them what they do. As he says, it’s all in asking the right questions:

“What do these people do in the first sixty minutes of each morning? What do their workout routines look like, and why? What books have they gifted most to other people? What are the biggest wastes of time for novices in their field? What supplements do they take on a daily basis?”

Of course, this results in some contradictory approaches. But it never seems like he is doing this to cover all bases and therefore always be right. Instead, it’s clear how certain techniques suit different personality types, or specific sets of circumstances. This allows you to cherry pick the ones that work for you. And if they don’t work, a quick flick through the book and you’re sure to come up with a Plan B.

The book itself is divided into three broad sections: healthy, wealthy and wise. There is fluidity between them all, as certain tips and tricks can be applied effectively in all three life areas. It gives the book a sense of structure though that allows you to start where you need the most help. Tim’s writing voice is quite distinctive, so if you don’t gel with his podcast style, you might struggle with reading. I find him to be a highly engaging speaker, so I went through all 674 pages in a week. Most sections contain direct quotes from his interviewees, so there is plenty of variety to keep your brain engaged.

This is one of those books I would recommend without hesitation to anyone who wanted to level up their life. If you’re looking for productivity tips, diet and exercise hacks, habits and routines, meditation and yes, even raw and candid advice for those who are depressed to the point of suicidal, then this is the book for you.

You might even find the thing you didn’t know you really needed along the way.

You can buy Tools of Titans on Amazon and all other good retailers. For more information about Tim and his work, check out toolsoftitans.com

Why the 45,000 pound sugar mountain wasn’t what it seemed

In today’s post-fact society, always read the label

Last week, a huge mound of sugar appeared in Times Square. This piece of educational art was installed to drive home the point that in America, every five minutes children consume 45,485 pounds of added sugar.

That’s a lot of sugar.

I’m all for promoting the dangers of sugars added to and hidden in food. But it did raise the question: who exactly were they trying to educate? What was really the message here?

I’ve been to Times Square. I love it. It’s hustle and bustle and, dare I say it, prime marketing real estate. This installation highlighting the dangers of added sugar comes not from any educational or government body. Nope, it comes from a food manufacturer.

KIND have a message that’s hard not to get behind. From their website:

“We believe if you can’t pronounce an ingredient, it shouldn’t go into your body. Actually, it shouldn’t even go into your pantry. KIND® products are made from nutritionally-dense ingredients like whole nuts, fruits and whole grains – no secret ingredients and no artificial flavors, preservatives or sweeteners.”

However, this is where I get really frustrated with food companies being disingenuous when it comes to promoting healthy food. It’s true that the added sugar consumed by children is way above where it should be and where most parents probably believe it to be. But for many people, it is precisely the types of snacks made by KIND that cause the confusion. They’ve just launched a new range of snacking products, Fruit Bites. Let’s look at the description for the Mango Pineapple Apple version:

Our Mango Pineapple Apple Fruit Bites are made from only 3 simple ingredients and give you a delicious tropical fruit snack in every bite. We don’t use fruit juices, purees, concentrates or preservatives – so you can enjoy a fruit snack that’s actually made from real fruit. And with no sugar added and 1 full serving of fruit per pouch, it’s the perfect lunchbox snack.

Real fruit! That elusive serving! Perfect for the lunchbox! What parent trying to do the right thing wouldn’t go for that? However, let’s look at the nutrition label. Again, from their website:

Whilst it contains no added sugars, it still contains 11g per pouch of natural sugars. Which are, make no mistake about it, still sugar. At an 18g serving, that’s around 60% sugar.

Always be suspicious of marketing, especially when the message is wholesome and healthy. Even more so when that message is aimed at your kids.

How to create a successful morning routine

Why set up a morning routine?

These are a few benefits I’ve found from my own routine over the years.

For many years, a corporate job took most of my time and energy. I would come home from work and have nothing left to give for things that were important to me. I wanted to be a writer, but I never actually wrote anything. This all changed when I dedicated just an hour every morning to my writing. Having a morning routine allows you to dedicate time to the things that matter to you most.

Precious alone time. In today’s world, we are constantly bombarded with interruptions, whether in real life, social media or any other online input. A successful morning routine, one that was clearly defined, gave me a definite course of action, so I always knew what to do next. That removed ‘check twitter’ from my list of options. That space gave me time to think about what was important and also sheltered me from negative bombardment from the moment I woke up.

There are many other benefits, but those two give the biggest returns for a happier and more fulfilling life.

So how do you set up a morning routine?

It’s easier than you think.

Firstly, ask yourself what you hope to achieve from doing this. Everyone will have different objectives. Is it to make time for your creative projects? Is it to make sure you get in a good workout each day? Or perhaps it is to read or work on personal development. What matters most to you will make up the core of the routine.

Secondly, decide how much time you want to devote to this activity. Be realistic. If you want to do a thirty minute workout but have to go to the gym, then include the travel time and showering afterwards. No one will thank you if you run out of time for that. The amount of time required will impact on how early you need to get up in order to complete the routine before beginning your existing obligations.

Thirdly, don’t start too big. Habits take time to become routines and the more you add in, the more likely you are to become overwhelmed and give up. My morning routine started out with a simple, single task: write 1000 words before breakfast. Over time, that has developed into a multi-step routine, but I needed to get used to doing that single but significant task first.

Be in it for the long haul

So what does my routine look like now? It combines several elements that I have seen successful authors, businesspeople and entrepreneurs confirm as being instrumental for them.

1) Begin with a pint of water. I used to go straight to coffee, but never underestimate the power of rehydrating after 7 hours of sleeping.

2) Write 1000 words. That’s still my big goal after 6 years of doing this.

3) Morning Pages – adapted from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. You’re really supposed to do them before anything else, but for me they have actually always been more effective after my half-asleep writing session. The last page always contains three things I am grateful for that morning.

4) 20 Pushups. Really not many, but it makes me feel like I’ve at least done something physical and makes me more likely to do other activity throughout the day.

5) Affirmations and visualisations. Yes, I still feel like an idiot sometimes saying these things out loud, but they do work. I’m shy and introverted by nature, so this gives me the confidence to step outside my comfort zone when I need to.

6) Goals review. Don’t work hard to climb that ladder just to discover it’s up against the wrong tree. Work out what you want and remind yourself every day to stay focused on what matters, rather than what simply feels urgent.

7) Calendar review. It doesn’t matter what grand goals you have for that day if your calendar says you have back-to-back meetings. Again, be realistic.

8) Task list review. By the time I’ve reviewed what matters (goals) and what’s immovable (calendar), it makes it much easier to delete, delegate or defer tasks on my list. What remains still needs to get done, but this way I don’t waste my energy on unnecessary tasks before I get to them.

The power of a morning routine means that these tasks take less time as you repeat them. The whole process above now takes somewhere between 90 minutes and 2 hours. That’s from 6-8am at the latest. That gives me a whole hour to have breakfast, get showered and be at my desk by 9am.

I’ve already achieved things that matter to me and mentally prepared for my day by the point most people are just thinking about booting up the laptop.

None of this will work unless…

A meticulously planned morning routine with all the best intentions and activities will still fail unless you actively set yourself up for success the night before. Unless you have the luxury of being beholden to no-one, you’re going to have to sacrifice some morning sleep to get this done.

A successful morning routine means ensuring you go to bed early enough to get the quality sleep you need. If there are any objects/spaces that are essential to your routine, then these should be found or made clear the night before to remove as much friction as possible and ensure you can make every minute of your morning routine count.

Hopefully this has given you some ideas about how to set up a morning routine and how to grow it into something that makes a huge difference in the level of success and satisfaction you get from your day. If you have any questions or thoughts then drop them in the comments section below, or you can get in touch with me by email at realist@sherrinicholds.com.

Healthy Motivation: FitBit Alta

I am not one of life’s natural movers. I’d always prefer to be curled up with a good book than down at the gym or pounding the pavements. It takes a lot to get me motivated but I finally found something, so I thought I would do a quick Fitbit Alta review.

The original Fitbit Alta came out nearly a year ago and I’ve been using it since then. The updated FitBit Alta HR is the new model, for those who want the additional heart rate tracking functionality, but I’ve stayed with the basic one. After continuous use, I’m happy to give it a big thumbs up.

Pros

The Fitbit Alta and the app are both really easy to use. Honestly, this is the main one for me.

Sleep tracking. Oh boy, this was eye-opening (no pun intended). I finally saw why I was still tired after going to bed at a reasonable time. Restless nights equal tired days:

Challenges and social sharing – given the lower cost of entry to the Fitbit market compared to the Apple Watch or hardcore Garmin products, I’ve got many more friends and acquaintances using a Fitbit. This makes social interaction much easier and the group challenges really hone into the competitive spirit.

Step per hour reminders – another winning feature. 250 steps an hour? We all do that anyway, right? Nope. It’s so easy for an hour to go by and I’ve sat at my desk for the entire time. The subtle buzz on my wrist tells me to get up and get moving for ten minutes, but is subtle enough not to be intrusive if I’m in a meeting and can’t get away.

All of these key features are easy to interact with on the intuitive user interface:

Cons

Only splash resistant, not waterproof. Not good for pool bunnies.

The official bands aren’t the most durable or corporate friendly (turquoise and purple are my favourite). However, the customer service was great when my band broke and the delivery of a replacement was fast and efficient. Plus you can easily get unofficial alternatives on Amazon (I chose these replacement bands for a bit of variety – around $1 per band).

I’m under no illusions that walking 10,000 steps a day will turn me into a lean, mean, fighting machine. Diet plays a significant role in health and 10,000 steps does not by default mean cardio, strength or calorie goals get met. But for someone like me, it’s a daily gentle push towards better health. Overall, I’d recommend Fitbit Alta as a great starter wearable for anyone of any age who wants to be more conscious of their daily activity levels. You can always upgrade to something more hardcore at a later point.

Gran Canaria for Digital Nomads

After spending 3 months with Gran Canaria as my home base, I can say for certain it has been a perfect place. Although the location independent lifestyle is still in its infancy in real terms, I can see great potential for the Canary Islands as a whole to become the nomad capital of Europe. I group them together as a single entity because there is so much variety in such a small space, all of it easy to access. Tenerife and Lanzarote also have a growing digital nomad community that can be reached within an hour or two.

However, I’m also aware that I have some very specific requirements when picking out my ideal travel locations, so in the review that follows, I’ll try to be balanced towards the areas that matter to a majority of people. So how do the Canary Islands fare on the key metrics?

Costs are in US dollars, unless otherwise specified.

Cost

Compared to much of Europe, the Canary Islands aren’t that expensive. They’re not dirt cheap either, as they’re developed and off the mainland. But flights from all over Europe can be purchased for around $50 if you shop around. At this price, I was able to get a return flight to the UK for a long weekend in May for around $75 – an absolute bargain.

The cost of accommodation varies depending on season (as the islands have a strong tourist influence). A one bed apartment can cost as little as $800 per month with utilities included. For less than $900 you can have sea views and balconies, which are my personal preferences. The good news is that low season, when the prices are at their most competitive, the conditions are ideal for working.

Not a bad office view

As someone who tries to eat healthily, fresh meat and produce can be slightly more expensive than in mainland Europe. Supermarkets tend to be smaller and buying in bulk to save money is not always an option. Even so, it is still more cost efficient than eating out, especially in the tourist areas, when a main meal can set you back $15-20 per person.

You have to enjoy meat and cheese around here

The constant requirement of bottled water doesn’t sit well with my conscience either if I’m honest and adds about $2 per person, per day. That adds up over three months!

Weather

Located off the coast of Africa, approximately 28 degrees north of the equator, the Canary Islands have the best weather in the world. Hot days, balmy nights, with very little rainfall. Unlike a lot of other hot, palm tree laden places in the world, this is not subject to intense rainfall. The humidity doesn’t sap away all your energy and force you inside as a sweaty sticky mess.

There can still be variations in temperature, even on the same island, given the exposed position they have to the west. Gran Canaria is a good example of this. Las Palmas in the north has much cooler temperatures than the tourists hotspots of the south, only an hour’s drive away. Regardless, if daily temperatures of 25-35 degrees Celsius (75-95 degrees Fahrenheit) sound good to you, then this might be the place to visit.

Every day is a beach day

 

Internet

If you rely on the internet (and if you’re reading this post then I assume you do), the Canary Islands can be a bit patchy. Coffee shops and coworking spaces in cities have good enough internet to use in most cases. However, once you venture into tourist areas, then coffee shop wifi is more or less an afterthought.

There is a wide variety of accommodation that come with good, free internet access included, but if you want to work in public spaces more, then stick to the cities. I made the trade-off to keep the wifi in the apartment and the beach coffee shop for pleasure or analogue work. I’m still happy with that decision after 3 months, as it actually helped with a work/life separation that can be tough when you’re independent.

Community

A strong digital nomad community isn’t high on my list of needs. Much of the work I do isn’t collaborative and I’m naturally an introvert. Coffee shops with good wifi are enough for me.

Cafe Regina – with coffee like this, I don’t need people!

But I know that for many people, especially those travelling alone, a strong digital nomad community is a must. So, although I can’t speak from personal experience here, it’s clear that Nomad City are pushing things in the right direction. In April Digital Nomad Girls Las Palmas Retreat took place, again highlighting the potential for community over here.

They are all fairly positive, but in comparison to somewhere such as Chiang Mai, it will probably seem a little slow.

Transport

Travel throughout the Canary Islands is affordable and efficient. This applies not only to the bus services that connect the various parts of an island, but also to the inter-air flights that make island hopping easy. It is also fairly simple to hire a car if you prefer to drive yourself, but it is worth noting that these are volcanic islands, so confidence on steep, winding roads with a sheer drop is a must!

Culture

Puerto de Mogan is an idyllic getaway

Although the islands don’t have the same depth of history as much of Europe, there is still over five hundred years worth of culture to be absorbed here. There are some great old buildings, festivals and the food and drink is varied and tasty. You can also explore the volcanic landscapes. I recommend going over to Mount Teide on Tenerife (the highest volcano in the world base-to-peak outside of the Hawaiian Islands) and doing a Teide star-gazing trip.

 

Courtesy of volcanoteide.com

Safety

As a woman, safety is of high importance to me. The Canary Islands contain some of the most comfortable places I’ve found. Of course, in any location, I take a lot of sensible precautions. Outside a city such as Las Palmas, you can find sleazy tourist hotspots where it is assumed that you’re there to have a good time or a summer fling. If that’s also on your travel agenda, then great. For me, it was as simple as avoiding bars at kicking out time in these areas, just as I would anywhere in the world.

In summary, the Canary Islands have something for every digital nomad or location independent worker. The key is knowing what you need and how you want to live. For those who are starting out, bootstrapping and traveling for the first time, it might not be the best place to start if you’ve watched a lot of digital nomad YouTube videos. But for those who are more settled into the lifestyle, or want something in Europe rather than Asia, then I would recommend here so much that I already look forward to when I can return.

Interested in finding out more? Check out the resources below:

CANARY ISLANDS SEIZING THE GLOBAL GROWTH OPPORTUNITY – It’s great to see the government and locals embracing the opportunities of a global market and the digital nomads that come with it.

Places To Work – Las Palmas Co-Working spaces.

Wolfhouse Tenerife – Co-Living – I’ve not visited the Wolfhouse, but I have been to Los Gigantes several times and can say it is a great place to visit.