Judith Wills' diet and wellbeing blog: blowing the cobwebs away

Judith Wills / 31 January 2014

Slimming expert Judith Wills gets cracking with her weightloss and wellbeing challenge with a visit to the doctor, a bit of hula hooping and renewed determination to tackle her insomnia.

So I went back to the surgery the other day for the results of all my blood tests, to make sure I'm not suffering from heart disease, diabetes or anything that would contra-indicate self-help measures such as exercise and diet to improve my sorry state of being.

Gladly, I'm not diabetic or even pre-diabetic; my liver is fine (something of a miracle); my heart beat is normal, and Doc says my stabbing headaches and even the chest pains are probably muscle tension.

The bad news is that for the first time in my life, my blood pressure, both systolic and diastolic, is high. But the real shock was my cholesterol – 9.5. Nine point five! Almost off the scale of high risk. But again, Doc wasn't worried and didn't even mention the S word. “You're HDL is good and that matters more”, he explained. So of course the minute I got home I checked it out at WebMD and sure enough it seems that my total cholesterol to HDL ('good' cholesterol) ratio is 'low to very low risk' at 3.4, and that my total HDL at 2.8 is 'desirable' and that both these figures, it is now believed, are more important than the actual cholesterol total. Phew. But even so… I'm back on the lentil soup and all the other stuff that helps, right now.

Doc says he agrees with me that most of my symptoms/problems relate to stress, under-exercise and being slightly overweight, and to go ahead with my fitness and health plans and return in 3 months to get re-tested for cholesterol and blood pressure.

So I've made a start. Foodwise I'm following all my ideas listed last week and I've apparently lost 1.5 lbs in a few days – goodie!

I'm taking a short stamina-building walk up the hill daily, and I've been in what I optimistically call the 'exercise room' (latterly 'spider haven') to clean and oil the poor neglected equipment and have a bit of a go on the stepper and bike (managed 3 mins!).

I've begun daily stretching (not before time; my back and hips are so tight and stiff it's becoming a real problem), and as I stood trying to loosen up my hips two days ago, a random thought came into my brain. Hula hoop.

I used to love hula hooping when I was a kid. I went online and read up all about it (it's back on trend!) and most experts seem to think it's good for back and hip mobility and pain reduction, as well as for strengthening the abs. Apparently the more novice/stiff/useless you are, the larger the hoop should be (small ones rotate faster and are harder to keep going). It arrived yesterday. It's HUGE. I can manage just six rotations so far - it's going to take a while - see photo!

And so to my sleep patterns and insomnia. There are many nights when I wake around 3 am and can't get back to sleep till about 6 am – useless. In recent months I've also had problems even getting off to sleep, and spend long periods in 'half sleep', brain buzzing.

I want decent sleep not only because feeling tired is so negative and impairs so much of daily life both physically and mentally, but also because there is much research to show lack of sleep – or the right type of sleep - effects food intake, say scientists*.

Research on the hormones leptin and ghrelin finds that both can influence how much we eat. Ghrelin stimulates appetite, while leptin sends a signal to the brain when you're full. Lack of sleep drives leptin levels down and causes ghrelin levels to rise. These findings are validated by research** that shows people who sleep less weigh more – and may have more trouble losing weight.

In one study, overweight participants decreased their food intake for two weeks, and got either 5.5 hours of sleep a night, or 8.5 hours of sleep a night. By the end of the study, the ones who got 5.5 hours of sleep had lost less body fat than those who got 8.5 hours.

And of course, being tired makes poor food and lifestyle choices more likely - “I can't cook a proper meal, I'm too tired.” “I'm tired, I'll watch TV instead of going for that brisk walk.”

So I've just started Natrasleep, herbals with valerian and hops, as I don't want to go down the prescription sleeping pills route, not least because after continual use they become less effective. I'm also hoping the increase in exercise and fresh air will begin to help a bit, as will the decrease in alcohol. And I'm trying to avoid computer brain-games before bed. Instead of raising my adrenalin trying to beat someone on the other side of the world at Word Scramble, I should stroke the cat and have a mug of hot milk.

So, this weight control and wellbeing business is all 'joined-up'. And very interesting.

PS – free blue badge parking for the obese. Just a thought, but wouldn't it be a better idea to encourage overweight people to have to walk further to the supermarket door, not make it easier for them to take only a couple of steps?

*The Sleep Medicine Program, New York University School.
** The Canadian Medical Association Journal.

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