"Today we are faced with a challenge that calls for a shift in our thinking, so that humanity stops threatening its life support system. We are called to assist the Earth to heal her wounds and in the process, heal our own."
- Wangari Maathai

Friday, October 15, 2010

Clean Fresh Water for All

Today, bloggers all over the world are talking about clean, fresh water.  This is a marvelous video that explains the hype and hoax behind bottled water and how clever marketing has duped us all.  Watch it, share it, save money, improve health and help the environment!  The Story of Bottled Water

Diana Elsmere

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Unsustainable practices - who is responsible?


Is it the manufacturer who:
  • Uses destructive extraction processes in order to obtain raw materials?
  • Harvests raw materials in non-sustainable ways?
  • Infringes on human rights in any way?
  • Causes pollution during the extraction of raw materials and during the manufacture of the product?
  • Uses chemicals that have not been tested for safety and that have unknown effects on the web of life on which we rely?
  • Uses deadly poisons in the production of the product leading to pollution problems, poisonings and destruction of environments and species?
  • Produces products that are not bio-degradable and have limited life-spans (do these products end up in land-fill sites and cause pollution for hundreds of years?)
  • Produces hazardous wastes and does not make provision for the proper disposal of these wastes?
  • Does not inform the public of the dangers of their products before, during or after production?
  • Does not inform the public of the ingredients contained in their products?

Is it the retailer who sells goods not knowing or turning a blind eye to the fact that:
  • The goods fall under any of the categories listed under the manufacturer above?
  • They use huge amounts of non-biodegradable packaging that will take hundreds of years to break-down and cause problems for future generations?
  • Sells products that do not have the ingredients listed on their labels?
  • Sells products containing ingredients that have not been tested for safety?

Is it the corporation that:
  • Uses products that are produced in any of the abovementioned ways?
  • Provides services to companies and organizations that produce these products?
  • Does not raise concerns about these products with the manufacturer or warn the public about these products?
  • That puts profit taking before concerns for the health of the public and the planet?

Is it the consumer who:
  • Unwittingly supports all the above?
  • Does not demand safe products?
  • Does not exercise the consumers’ right to know?
  • Purchases products not knowing anything about the ingredients in it or the manufacturing processes listed above?

Is it the media that:
  • Allows the advertising of products and services that support any of the above mentioned practices?
  • Does not report on CEO’s who are successfully moving their companies beyond  sustainability to being restorative – actually giving back to the earth
  • Does not report on the fact that we need more leaders, corporations and manufacturers who do not just do what the law requires but who do what is right?
  • Does not speak about new possibilities, new ways or a new future?
  • Speaks about symptom of crime but not about some of the causes of crime?

Is it the advertising world that:
  • Advertises products and services that support any of the abovementioned practices?
  • That makes consumers believe that they have to buy more and more stuff?

Is it the government that:
  • Spends a great deal of money in doing ‘more of the same’ and not enough on finding sustainable alternatives for all?
  • Is not pro-active in leading the sustainability revolution?
  • Spends too much money on trying to alleviate symptoms (e.g. crime) and not enough on dealing with causes?

Is it the developer who:
  • Strips the land of topsoil and all plants destroying habitat and ecosystems?
  • Uses building methods and products that are harmful and not sustainable?
  • Fails to use cutting edge technologies that are earth and people friendly?
  • Uses vast amounts of paving causing water to run-off instead of seeping into the earth?

Is it the poor person who:
  • Out of desperation cuts down trees?
  • Out of hunger, steals
  • Out of a profound sense of alienation (the advertising world says that you are not worth much if you don’t have all these consumer goods) commits other crimes?
  • Is it the newly urbanized person who drops a paper on the ground because they do not understand the concept of ‘waste’?

It is all of us.  We are all complicit in it.  We are destroying the earth. 

Let’s talk. Let’s work together. Let’s find new ways of being that are not destructive and that will safe-guard the future for our children.  

Diana Elsmere

Monday, October 4, 2010

Harbor Green: Going 'Green' Can Be Easy

Harbor Green: Going 'Green' Can Be Easy: " Most people think that being 'green' means you have to replace everything in your home or make dramatic changes in your lifestyle. This..."

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Dumb and Dumber

I read the following imaginary conversation between God and St Francis in an old Biophile magazine, the author's name is not mentioned so I am not able to acknowledge them here.  However, whoever they are I  am I grateful to them for this delightful, thought provoking account.

"GOD:  Frank, you know all about gardens and nature.  What in the World is going on down there?  What happened to the dandelions, violets, thistle and stuff I started eons ago?  I had a perfect, no-maintenance garden plan.  Those plants grow in any type of soil, withstand drought and multiply with abandon.  The nectar from the long lasting blossoms attracts butterflies, honeybees and flocks of birds.  I expected to see a vast garden of colours by now.  But all I see are these green rectangles.

ST FRANCIS:  It's the tribes that settled there, Lord.  The Suburbanites.  They started calling your flowers weeds and went to great lengths to kill them and replace them with grass.

GOD:  Grass?  But is is so boring.  It's not colourful.  It doesn't attract butterflies, birds and bees, only grubs and sod worms.  It's temperamental with temperatures.  Do these Suburbanites really want all that grass growing there?

ST FRANCIS:  Apparently so, Lord.  They go to great pains to grow it and keep it green.  They begin each spring by fertilizing grass and poisoning any other plant that crops up in the lawn.

GOD:  The spring rains and warm weather probably make grass grow really fast.  That must make the Suburbanites happy.

ST FRANCIS:  Apparently not, Lord.  As soon as it grows a little they cut it, sometimes twice a week.

GOD:  They cut it?  Do they bale it like hay?

ST FRANCIS:  Not exactly Lord, most of them rake it up and put it into bags.

GOD:  They bag it?  Why?  Is it a cash crop?  Do they sell it?

ST FRANCIS:  No sir  -  just the opposite.  They pay to throw it away.

GOD:  Now, let me get this straight.  They fertilize the grass so it will grow.  And when it does grow, they cut it off and pay to throw it away?

ST FRANCIS:  Yes, sir.

GOD:  These Suburbanites must be relieved in the summer when we cut back on the rain and turn up the heat.  That surely slows the growth and saves them a lot of work.

ST FRANCIS:  You aren't going to believe this, Lord.  When the grass stops growing so fast, they drag out hoses and pay more money to water it so they can continue to mow it and pay to get rid of it.

GOD:  What nonsense.  At least they kept some of the trees.  That was a sheer stroke of genius, if I do say so myself.  The trees grow leaves in the spring to provide beauty and shade in the summer.  In the autumn, the leaves fall to the ground and form a natural blanket to keep moisture in the soil and protect the trees and bushes.  Plus, as they rot, the leaves form compost to enhance the soil.  It's a natural circle of life.

ST FRANCIS:  You'd better sit down, Lord.  The Suburbanites have drawn a new circle.  As soon as the leaves fall, they rake them into great piles and pay to have them hauled away.

GOD:  No.  What do they do to protect the shrub and tree roots in the winter and to keep the soil moist and loose?

ST FRANCIS:  After throwing away the leaves, they go out and buy something which they call mulch.  They haul it home and spread it around in place of the leaves.

GOD:  And where do they get this mulch?

ST FRANCIS:  The cut down trees and grind them up to make the mulch.

GOD:  Enough!  I don't want to think about this anymore.  St Catherine, you're in charge of the arts.  What movie have you scheduled for us tonight?

ST CATHERINE:  Dumb and Dumber, Lord.  It's a real stupid movie about .......

GOD:  Never mind, I think I just heard the whole story from St Francis."

Monday, September 13, 2010

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A Sacred Connection to Nature

A Sacred Connection to Nature

Diana invited me to write a blog entry for a sacred experience in nature. I looked up the word sacred in the dictionary. It is defined a few ways. One of these being, “Sacred; regarded with reverence” (Merriam Webster, 2009). I am delighted by this because what I feel ‘the moment I step outside’ is reverence. This reverence is embedded in my every breath and movement. It is not the separate sacredness of the holy or divine, which are somehow beautiful but other than myself, and thus not to be integrated easily into daily life. The sacredness I know reverberates through- out the natural world and is easily available for perception and integration whenever I step outside.

Yesterday I stepped outside into the dark, quiet waiting of the night. Our deck is surrounded by whispering pines and opens onto a green space, a light filled, canyon arroyo unfolding downhill to a stream. Coast Live Oaks stud this hill and provide shady respite for the wild turkey and deer that feed on its dry grasses. The arroyo is quiet and sunny during the day. It is full of life and movement during the night.

I stepped onto the dark-sheltered ground with some trepidation. Unlike the oppossum, raccoons, fox and coyote who travel these paths in nocturnal rhythms, I do not have night vision. I do have night senses though. These senses came alive as I nestled into the nook of a fallen oak. I asked permission from this place to be here. The night and hillside answered me back with chirrups of tree frog and the scent of night creatures. I inhaled deeply and felt my spine supported by the strength of the oak at my back. This support opened my senses and I immersed in a sacred moment of being with the planet that is my home.

Breathing in and breathing out, my sense of astral time and the capacity to see far back and far forward in time awakened. I felt cradled in the origin of my planet and my species. Dr. Mike Cohen, a founding member of the field of Ecopsychology has taught me, “In the beginning of the Universe was its natural attraction for it to begin to live and grow in balance and beauty. It did. Today, each of us senses and feels that same original natural attraction as it exists in each moment of our lives. That original attraction grew in to being you and I in the present, along with the rest of the Universe” (Cohen, 2010). When Dr. Cohen speaks of this attraction he includes in his meaning the atomic attractions that create the hydrogen and carbon molecules forming the basis of life. Thus illuminating the attraction of life itself to be created as a grounded and pragmatic phenomenon. A natural phenomenon that birthed molecules still with us today which continue to create life more than thirteen billion years after their original manifestation. This is harmonious with the definition of sacred; to be regarded with reverence. If not sheer, jaw dropping awe.

The memory of this wisdom and the present moment of being both inside and transfluent through time in reverential being bonded me to the ground and sky, the wind and stars around me. I heard a male Spotted Owl call his stark and penetrating cry. A female Spotted Owl responded with her ululating, throaty trill. A whoosh of Spotted Wing flying power swept through the trees as they danced their timeless call-and-response to create more life.

Their mating call and flight was given poignancy because this species is on the endangered species list in the “near threatened category”. My reverence opened into pain. When I am in reverence with a sacred moment that includes myself, then all other life forms also become sacred. My own hunger, thirst and need to exist connect through a shared attraction of common molecules to the owls, trees, and the very landscape of my life. So when a species is endangered - and there are 1,240 endangered species on this planet, including 838 bird species, twelve percent of all existing bird species, then reverence itself and life itself is endangered. For after all, how would we as a human community deal with another species that wiped out twelve percent of our population? We would consider them monsters of insanity to be eliminated at any cost. Yet, I myself and my own species are the authors of this travesty of extinction unfolding every day.

My pain telescoped through my heart, down my arms and into my hands. Which rested on the earth and grass beside me. The solid earth beneath me reminded me of the simple transcendence of humus and compost. I remembered more of Dr. Cohen’s words. Words he uses to explain that nature does not make toxic waste, that nothing in nature goes to waste. It is all recycled and reused. Even the air and water molecules that have been with us for millions of years. I opened my heart and took a breath and inhaled this balance and rightness. I set my mind to hope that this balance, alongside the touch and communication of an awakened human endeavor based in its own attraction to life itself, might answer the call of the Spotted Owl with kindness and sustaining action.

To find out more about endangered species go to the IUCN Redlist at IUCNRedlist.org.

To read more of Dr. Cohen’s work and find out about Nature Activities, Careers and Degrees in Ecopsychology go to www.ecopsych.com

To read more about Dr. Cohen’s experience with reverence and NNIAL in nature go to http://www.ecopsych.com/coretruth.html, and, http://www.ecopsych.com/earthstories101.html.

Leslie Whitcomb, B.A./Family Counseling for Social Issues, PH.D. Candidate in Ecopsychology, Shamanic Ritual and Relational Education, has been an educator and counselor for thirty years. She teaches workshops, is a published author in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, self-help anthologies and academic texts. Leslie maintains a private teaching practice in Applied Ecopsychology in the forest near her home and, through telecounseling, all over the globe.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Getting and spending we lay waste our powers ....

William Wordsworth wrote this in 1807:

The world is too much with us; late and soon
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

If he thought things were bad 200 years ago,  I wonder what he would have said about the world and what we are doing to his beloved Nature if he were alive today! 

I made up a list of a few simple things that if implemented, could lighten our load on the planet:

What we can do.

1.  Buy natural products and buy local whenever possible.
2.  Avoid all chemicals.
3.  Eat organic produce (it is not only healthier, it is better for the environment)
4.  Eliminate waste where possible and where not possible, reduce, re-use or recycle:
  • Plastics
  • Glass
  • Paper
  • Organic matter (garden and kitchen scraps should never be sent to any landfill)
  • Clothing, linen, household goods.
5.  Observe at least one 'buy nothing day' per week - more if you can! 
6.  Use your car less - start a lift club or live closer to work.
7.  Read labels.  If ingredients are not listed or you don't understand what they are, don't buy the product.
8.  Buy yourself Ruth Winter's series of consumer dictionaries and educate yourself.
9.  Remember most poisons/chemicals have not been tested for safety (out of 80,000 man-made chemicals, only about 2,000 have been tested for safety).  We have no idea what these poisons/chemicals are doing to our health, our children's health or the health of the planet on which we depend.  If you think you can do without the planet, just try and stop breathing for 10 minutes and see what happens.
10.  As a general cleaning agent use one cup of vinegar per 10litres of hot water.  Stronger solutions of 50/50 water/vinegar or neat vinegar can be used on tougher dirt.  Add essential oil for fragrance if you like.  The vinegar smell disappears within 5 - 10 minutes.  Vinegar is a very powerful cleaning agent.
11.  Make air freshener using 1/2 cup white alcohol (cheap vodka works well) 20 - 30 drops each of 2 to 3 essential oils of your choice.  Pour into spray bottle and fill up with water.  Shake before use. Alternatively, we all know that lighting a flame eradicates unpleasant odours, so leave a lighter and a candle in the loo.
12.  Use natural soaps for personal use and natural laundry soaps for laundry. 
13.  Stop using fabric softeners.
14.  Share this information with all your friends.  Get them to stop using poisons and chemicals as well.
15.  Consider 'right' livelihood options. 

You can make a difference. 

Until next time

Diana Elsmere

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The tree which moves some to tears of joy..

I have been pondering on some lines from William Blake that I find very powerful and relevant at this time:

The tree which moves some to tears of
joy is in the eyes of others
only a green thing that stands in the way
- William Blake, The Letters

The question is, why do some people get moved to tears of joy by a tree and others regard it as an inconvenience?  Finding the answer to this 'why' is to seek true understanding.  True understanding is the only way a genuine meeting of minds and hearts is possible.  Without a deep understanding of both points of view, there can be nothing but polarisation.  Polarisation results in animosity and antipathy.  After that comes the worst 'a' word yet; the wish to annihilate each other. 

Firstly, my point of view is the former i.e. I get moved to tears of joy by a tree, so I see the world through those eyes.  I did not understand why I saw the world that way - I just did and I felt I was right.  From this stance I have spent many years in angry judgment of everyone else who did not see the world as I did. Thinking about it now, I probably terrified the living daylights out of everyone! 

The truth is, unless someone has a recognizable connection experience with nature or, in many cases of modern society a recognizable reconnection experience with nature,  they will remain polarised against her and will never get moved to tears of joy by a tree.

Humans are all deeply rooted in Nature.  Nature embraces all of us (whether we recognize it or not) ALL THE TIME.  Just try and stop breathing and see what happens.  MJ Cohen, founder of EcoPsychology has a wonderful exercise to demonstrate this - try this for yourself:  http://www.ecopsch.com/trailattract.html

Nature speaks for herself.  There are hardened loggers who chopped down ancient forests for years who suddenly, one day, turn into the ancient forests' most ardent protectors.  History is full of occurrences where so called 'sinners' suddenly turned into 'saints'. When Nature speaks to you, you are irrevocably changed.

This is my recognizable reconnection experience that changed my life.

In 1982 I was spending a few days at a retreat centre near the Magaliesberg for some silent, solitary contemplation.  The struggle to find inner solitude and silence against the backdrop of my own mental noise was gargantuan.  After the second day, things were not going as planned; instead of being rejuvenated, I was exhausted.  Feeling very dejected, I went for a walk up a hill behind the cottage where I was staying and sat down on a rock.  A bird alighted on a small tree next to me and stared at me with its bright eyes.  Immediately, my mind sprang into action, bringing up all the identification markers so that I could name it, categorize it. 

As I observed my automatic mental response, silence engulfed me.  It was much more than a 'felt' instruction of 'stop naming'; it was a state of being that overwhelmed me with such an intense sense of 'beingness' that I was unable to move, let alone think or 'label'.  I could feel life humming in everything and I was included in everything.  Language disappeared; there was only silence and an expansive feeling of immense joy.  This experience changed my life.

Has anyone else had a 'reconnecting' experience?  Please share it on this blog. 

Diana Elsmere

Friday, August 13, 2010

Reconnecting

In the early 1980's I had a 'reconnecting' experience that slowly and imperceptibly changed my life.  It was the essential cause of my resigning and deciding not to work in the corporate world again nearly 25 years later.  Leaving my job had nothing to do with a 'goal' or a running away,  it was a running towards something my heart and soul longed for - freedom and reconnection with all life.   95% of my time was spent indoors, either in an office or in a car.  Everything I did after hours was designed around forgetting what I had to do during office hours.  Funnily enough, I did not know what I was running 'to';  nothing was described or planned, it was a simple knowing that I had to leave.  I suppose this is what most people call a 'mid-life' crises.  I wonder if anyone will ever read this and understand?  If so, I hope you will tell me about your experience.  It just seemed to me that I could not do it anymore.  I could not pretend and hide who I was anymore.  I am not articulate and cold logic does not come naturally.  Logic to me is considering all aspects, how they connect, integrate and synthesize.  As all woman do, I look for co-operation not competition.  Mostly, this way of thinking just did not work in the workplace and, in order to survive there, I had to learn to think like the workplace did.  As a result, I felt that I was slowly dying.  It was awful..

Now I can say things like 'I can feel the moonlight dancing in my soul' instead of 'through the chair...'!!

Diana Elsmere

Friday, May 28, 2010

Inspiration for exercise

My weight has dropped down to 60.6kgs and this does not make me happy!  I have not been able to exercise for about 4 weeks due to a wicked sinus infection which is causing lung congestion.  I am feeling so depressed about this that I could spit.  I miss running, I miss lifting weights, I miss the wonderful feeling of exhilaration that exercising brings.  More than all that, no exercise means loss of strength, which, just kills me.  Every day I think:  'Today I will be better' but I am not.  It must be hell on earth for people suffering from ill health for long periods of time.  At times like this, I am reminded of the importance of good health and how vital it is to take care of it.   Every aspect of it: environment, diet, exercise.   This means no chemicals/toxins in the environment or food intake.  Keeping things as natural and balanced as possible so as not to overload the body.

Just to get my mind of this depressing subject have a look at the late Marjorie Newlin at:  http://femalemuscle.com/homegrown/marjorie-newlin-86-year-old-female-bodybuilder/
Talk about inspiration for anyone who says they can't exercise!  Marjorie started body building at the age of 72 and competed up until she died at the age of 87 (beating younger women too!).  The fact that she became so strong and stayed strong until she died just proves the wonderful recuperative abilites of the body when it is treated properly.  Most people I know over 80 don't look anything like her, hell, most people I know don't look like her or have her strength.

One day soon I will be able to exercise again....please..?

Diana Elsmere

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

H. Pylori

OK, I know that I have not posted anything for ages and I do have reasons for being so lax.  Firstly, I have been sick and secondly, I have had major problems with network coverage.  Living in SA makes connecting to the net a challenge in itself but when you add the fact that the network I was using had barely any coverage where I live made it virtually impossible.  Anyway, we have now changed to another provider and there is a huge improvement.

The doctor discovered that I had a high infection of this thing called Helicobacter Pylori.  It was horrible and made me quite sick.  H.Pylori is also known to cause ulcers and stomach cancer.  Fortunately, provided there is no resistance to antibiotics, it can be eradicated.  It is necessary to take two different types of antibiotics together with other medication which neutralises stomach acid.  I have just had a look on the net to see how other people experienced symptoms and I was shocked to see what some people went through.  The symptoms are so diverse it is difficult to pinpoint without a blood or stool test.  The symptoms include back pain, nausea, vomiting constipation or diarrhoea, abdominal pain, indigestion and burping.  My advise to anyone is this:  if you are experiencing any weird abdominal symptoms that do not go away (some poor people suffered for years before they were diagnosed correctly)  get your doctor to test you for Helicobacter Pylori and, if you have it, get it treated pronto. 

Well, I just got over that little lot and then I got a lung infection.  It was not bad enough to warrant more antibiotics so I have just weathered this on my own.  I have read that taking antibiotics indiscriminately leads to antibiotic resistance of goggas (like H.Pylori) and then when you really need the antibiotic, it does not work.  So if I can fight things off without medication that is the route I am taking!  It might take longer but it will make me stronger.

Diana

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Everything is connected

What started out as a simple matter of me losing a bit of weight is turning into something else entirely.  Of course, the original objective is still the framework on which everything else hangs but I am no longer sure that it is the main one anymore. 

What this whole journey confirms for me is that everything is connected.  The health of our bodies depends on how we take care of them; this includes what we eat and how we make the effort to get our bodies moving.  Our bodies, having evolved from ancient times when we were still hunter/gatherers, are used to moving and need to move in order to stay strong.  This equates to exercise. 

What we eat depends on food produced by other people.  The next thing we have to look at and question is 'what is in and on the food we eat?'  How is the food we eat produced?  How is it modified?  Is it grown in such a way that does not harm the environment?  In a way that is sustainable?  Are chemicals used?  Are poisons used?

Another aspect of health relates to the contact we have with our environment.  Does our environment contain poisons or chemicals that can harm us or our children?  We cannot keep ourselves healthy if we live in an environment that is polluted or we eat food grown in chemicals and poisons. 

The final aspect of health is related to our relationship to all life (including fellow human beings).  We, as humans have the intelligience to search out the unseen.  With a little effort we are able to see the 'invisible' threads that connect privilege to suffering, economic wealth to ecological damage, greed to disaster.  Without making these connections we close our hearts; if we close our hearts, we are no longer human. 

Everything that happens in the world comes back to the individual.  We are all responsible. 


Diana Elsmere

Friday, March 19, 2010

I-T Band Injury

The reason why I am so insistent that people who have not exercised for some time take it really, really slowly in the beginning is that, if you don't, you can injure yourself.  Don't be like me.  In the beginning I went too fast, too soon and for my efforts picked up an I-T Band injury which plagued me for nearly a year.  In fact it still gives me a twinge now and again as a gentle reminder of what not to do.

I found some information on this injury on the web but, as usual, what works best is listening to your own body.  This is how I overcame this injury. 

1.  Shortened my stride.  The longer the stride the more strain on the I-T Band.  Today, even when I run at maximum speed I keep my stride short. 
2.  I keep my posture as upright as possible.  Even on hills.  Most joggers I see, slump their bodies forwards especially if they are beginners or when they are running uphill.  This is a big no-no as it puts a strain on the
I-T Band.  If you observe professional runners - their postures are always upright - there is not a 'slumper' in sight when they run!

The other things that help relieve some discomfort with this injury are stretching and massage or rolling it out.  You can check under merchandise/injury prevention tools at http://www.runinjuryfree.com/ for an idea of the rolling out method.  Of course you don't need to buy this foam roller as there are much cheaper alternatives:  try your local pool shop (pool noodles) or hardware store (plastic piping) or you can use a rolling pin or a can.  They all work well.

Rest is also important - when something hurts, rest it.  Don't be a hero and try to 'push' through anything.  If your body hurts it is telling you that something is wrong.  Don't ignore pain.

Diana Elsmere

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Losing weight and fat

There are no 'secrets' to losing weight and fat.  There is only education and implementation. 

First up, is education.  Just like we all have to educate ourselves on how to use various objects in our lives like our car, TV, playstation, computer etc. we also have to educate ourselves on how to take care of our own bodies and health. 

We all have handbooks on our cars.  We look up how much pressure we should put in the tyres, when we should have it serviced and what fuel to put in it to make it run at its optimum.  Some people even add all sorts of gadgets to make their cars go faster or put in special sound systems so that they can listen to music with greater clarity and depth.  If someone is interested in something, they take the time to learn about it.

Why are so few people interested in their own bodies?  What is the point of anything else on this plane of existence if we did not have a body?  I would go so far as to say, without a body, you and I would not have a life!

There are no handbooks on health.  There is lots of information available on what to do once you are sick or overweight or depressed etc. but very little emphasis on how to stay well in the first place.  Also, without knowing how to stay well, how are you going to stay that way once you get better?  So learning about what is in the food we eat and how much of it we, each as individuals, need to stay healthy is the first step in the education process.  Most people have no idea what protein, carbohydrates or fat are.  They have no idea what these things do or where to find them in food.  They also have no idea what their own particular bodies need. 

I go on a bit about individual needs because I want to emphasise that everyones' needs are different and should be assessed individually and personally.   For instance, a daily protein intake of 1g per 1lb of lean body mass is recommended, as a guideline.  The truth is that this measure of 1g can range from less than 1g to more than 1g per person.  I might need 1.2g of protein per 1lb of body weight per day, the next person may only need 0.50g or 0.75g of protein per per 1lb of body weight per day.  The same applies to carbohydrates and fats.  The right amounts for you can only be found by experimentation with your own diet and listening to how your body responds.  It is a bit like tuning an engine.  Adjust it until it runs sweetly.  An added complication is that your body's needs may vary due to seasonal changes, increased or decreased stress, age or other factors.  If you have trained yourself to be in tune with your body you will immediately pick up its changing needs and rectify your food intake. 

Hand in hand with education goes implementation.  It is useless to gather knowledge if you don't use it.  As you learn something more about creating better health, apply it immediately in your life.  For instance, you smoke, you suddenly realise that it is bad for you so you stop.  Next:  you eat tons of processed foods and when you learn that these are bad for you, you stop.  Next:  you learn that fresh fruit is good for you so you start including it in your diet.  And so on ...... and so on .....

Education and implementation is the name of the game.  No secrets, no mysteries .....!

Diana Elsmere

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Protein, carbs and fat....

I got it wrong again!  The amount of protein should be about 1 gram for every pound of lean body mass.  So for me this works out to be about 100g of protein a day, not 140g!  On top of this counting of protein, carbohydrates and fat intake, it is important to do it all within the daily calorie intake required to lose weight.  So because I have upped my protein intake (and through this the fat intake increases as well) I have to adjust the carb intake in order to keep the daily calorie count correct. 

In order for me to lose weight (taking into consideration that I exercise 6 days a week) I have to consume about 1800 calories a day.   Through trial and error (because it is so different for everyone) I have to work out all that I am supposed to eat per day within the framework of calories and correct proportions (for me) of protein:carbs:fats.  It is far more complicated than I ever imagined and takes a lot of recording, noting results, adjusting and recording all over again.  It is complicated because, despite all those wonderful claims of wonder diets and wonder pills etc. the business of getting personal nutrition correct is totally individual and cannot be generalised.  What works for me, may not work for the next person. 

This is why it is so important to know your own body and the effects different foods have on you.  It is also vital to know exactly what you eat and record it.  I used to think recording everything was a waste of time until I started doing it.  I was flabbergasted at what the records told me - what I assumed/thought was very seldom an accurate picture.  It is exactly the same reason why a pedometer is necessary - it is a reality check and it stops us kidding ourselves.    

Proportions yesterday were:  Protein:  127.7g;  Carbohydrates:  78.7g;  Fat: 57.2g  This is not ideal as I think the carbohydrates are a bit low but I lost 0.8 kg in 24 hours!  This is probably mostly water so I am not getting too excited about it.  Training wise I did not experience the cramping of my quads in the last minutes of cardio so this is a good indication that my body is very grateful for the extra protein. 

Today I am going to reduce the protein down to about 100g and increase the carbohydrate intake because I think that it is too low and will show up as lack of energy if I don't correct it. 

Can't wait to see what happens!

Diana Elsmere

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Are you getting enough protein?

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing! 

I had some idea of the amount of protein I should eat every day, but I had the measurements all skewed.  I am supposed to eat about 140g of protein per day and I translated this measurement into food weight.  Wrong!  Instead of calculating the grams of protein in chicken for example, I was simply weighing the amount of chicken.  There are about 30g of protein in 100g of chicken and I would measure out about 120g of chicken which equates to about 35g of protein.  I finally figured it out - I was eating about 40g of protein per day and not 140g.  BIG difference I say. 

The next difficulty I faced was how on earth was I going to get 140g of protein into my daily diet.  When I added up all the protein, carbs and fats I had to eat I found that it was simply impossible to eat it all!  The penny finally dropped; this is why athletes use protein shakes, because it is so easy to get lots of protein in this way.  A decent protein shake can deliver 42g of protein which equates to eating about 7 eggs!  

I always turned my nose up at these shakes in the past but it finally makes sense to me.  Watching a documentary on the amazing Bruce Lee together with the realisation that I was really not getting the proper nutrition did it for me.  Bruce Lee was the pioneer of the protein shake.  He would blend raw steak, about 12 eggs and other stuff I can't remember, and drink it.  Everyone was shocked at the time because no-one was doing it.  I am sure everyone knows about Bruce's 'one inch punch' and his lightening speed and if that's what protein can do, then I want more of it.

I had a protein shake this morning after my endurance run (to help the recovery process I believe is the correct terminology!)

It will be very interesting to see if any differences manifest in strength, speed, endurance and body fat.

Watch this space!

Diana Elsmere

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Technology for Fitness

I simply have to talk about the wonderful gadgets that are available that help tremendously when getting fit, healthy and strong. 

The first one for anyone who is just starting to exercise is a pedometer.  Not every pedometer is the same as some are more accurate than others.  I have an Omron which is very precise.  It also religiously counts all the steps I take even if I have it in my pocket or handbag.   The good thing about a pedometer is that it tells it like it is.  If you have not done your 10,000 steps for the day, then you haven't done them, no pretending.  So it is a great reality check for serious office potatoes.  When I worked all day I thought I got loads of exercise because I climbed a few flights of stairs.  The reality is that in order to be regarded as 'active' you have to walk at least 10,000 steps a day.  This equates to about 5 miles (11 kms).   Children should be taking more than 10,000 steps a day and elderly persons about 6,500. 

The psychology of the pedometer is two fold. 
  1. You can't kid yourself.
  2. It inspires you to get off your butt and take a few more steps to get the count up there.  In fact, I got to the point where I always made sure that I did more than the 10,000 steps.  I came up with all sorts of ways to increase the daily count:  e.g. when I was cooking, instead of sitting down and waiting for things to get going I would walk up and down.  When ironing I would keep moving and not just stand there.  When I went shopping I would park as far away from the shop as I could get and walk.  If it was raining I would go to the nearest shopping center and traverse the whole place until I got my count. 
The other gadget that I would not do without is a heart rate monitor.  I have a middle of the range one (it does not have GPS or anything fancy).  I find all the counting of heartbeats and such a real bother so the monitor does it all that for me - and a lot more accurately I can tell you!

It (the monitor) tells you when you are not making enough effort and it tells you when you are over-doing things.  I did not have one when I first started (because I did not know about it) but if I knew then what I know now I would definitely have used one from the beginning.  By monitoring your heart rate you begin to understand what is happening in your body and, as your fitness levels improve, you have to start making more effort to keep your heart rate up.  This is what got me to start running.  I was no longer able to get my heart rate up enough by just walking so I had to start going faster and faster in order to get the same results. 

I still maintain that going SLOWLY in the beginning is essential.  I went slowly for nearly a year before I started pushing myself more.  To be more precise my body wanted to go faster because by then I had developed an excellent endurance and fitness foundation on which to build.  Without a proper foundation, doing too much too soon and too fast leads to injuries.  Not to mention others risks.  If you are over-weight and have not exercised for yonks, just begin by aiming to take 10,000 steps a day.  It is also a good idea to have a medical exam to make sure everything is ok before you start exercising. 

By the way, both gadgets record all your exercise sessions and so you can keep tabs on how you improve every month.  Exercise records are very important because they help keep you motivated and you are able to observe the improvement trend over time which is incredibly encouraging. 

Whenever I think I am not getting anywhere, I look at how I have progressed and I am very pleased indeed!

Diana Elsmere

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Good Food for Health

I have wittered on about what I refuse to eat because it is bad for the body and now I want to just mention what I do eat because it is good for the body. 

Good nutrition/food is what the body can digest and utilise and contributes to its overall health over time.  Bad food is what the body cannot digest or utilise and harms the body over time. 

Unfortunately, because our bodies are so resilient a bad diet sometimes only becomes apparent over many years and we often don't connect the dots.  Imagine if, after guzzling a piece of chocolate cake, we instantly put on 20 pounds around our waists!  Or if the body refused to take in anything that was harmful and chucked it out every time we had our little 'indulgences'.  I bet we would not be so keen on the 'just this once can't be bad' attitude.

For anyone who has just joined me - use phantasmagoria here - and picture the above scenes....instant ballooning or instant hurling.  Not pretty huh?

Anyway, for the sake of our health, we have to learn to 'see' the long term effects of our eating habits.  Long-term effects of bad eating habits are terrible and sometimes, irreversible.  Keep on picturing that the next time you eat whoppings of saturated fat and sugar.   

Here is what I do eat:
  1. Fresh fruit and vegetables.
  2. Nuts, seeds, olives and avocados (good source of essential fats needed by the body)
  3. Lean meat, chicken, fish and eggs.
  4. Some dairy (very little hard cheese)
  5. Olive, avocado and various seed oils (cold pressed)
  6. Various herbs, spices and vinegars for flavouring.
Cooking methods:  Baking (without oil) using non-stick cookware or steaming. 

We cannot exercise enough to counteract bad eating habits.  A friend of mine once told me that in order to burn off one slice of chocolate cake I would have to run from Johannesburg to Pretoria and back again (a distance of about 100kms).  She also told me (she is a personal trainer) that when people first start exercising they believe that they deserve to go and have a muffin or a piece of cake after their workout and they end up eating more calories than they ate before they started exercising.  The results are obvious - they get even fatter and, they blame it all on the exercise, not what they are stuffing into their faces every day.  Very curious indeed. 

Maybe one day everyone will see the consequences of their actions in time to change them.  That is my hope.

Diana Elsmere

Friday, March 12, 2010

Health, Fitness and Losing Weight

I learnt a new word yesterday and, I must say, I am quite taken up with it.  The word is 'phantasmagoria'.  It means a 'shifting series or succession of things seen or imagined as in a dream'.

I suffer from phantasmagoria a lot!  For instance since my health and fitness levels have improved, I feel so much stronger and faster that I can see myself leaping up into a certain tree that I pass on my morning run ( much like those guys in a Kung Fu movie).  The tree is perfect.  It has just the right bend in its trunk and this is where I will place my foot as I run and leap upon it.  It has a branch at just the right level and just the right size for me to seize as I fly upwards into its branches.  Honestly, this series of images is so strong that I think it is just a matter of time before I carry it out in reality.  Of course, there is a strong possibility that instead of flying up into the tree I will only manage to jump a centimeter off the ground and finish off in a spectacular crash landing.  There is also the possibility that as I crash, a car will drive past and all 20 occupants will be staring at me. 

I play out millions of things in my imagination and most of them start up of their own violtion.  I would never have started the thing with the tree on purpose, so where did it come from?  Phantasmagoria. 

These shifting scenes as seen in my mind have altered considerably since consciously improving both health and fitness levels.  When I was still working full time a more likely scenario would have been a phantasmagoria of a confrontation with someone (usually after the confrontation) telling them all the things I thought about afterwards that I should have said to them.  The difference, when I think about it, is significant.  The tree thing is far more fun and enticing.  The confrontation scene is unpleasant and stress inducing. 

So, losing weight whilst improving both health and fitness levels has made me feel better physically as well as psychologically and a whole new cycle of feeling good has begun.  The cycle of feeling bad has been broken.  Thank goodness for that. 

Diana Elsmere

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Losing Weight or Losing FAT

Losing weight and losing fat are two different things.  Losing weight as measured by the scale could signify loss of water and loss of muscle without any fat loss at all.  Worse, loss of muscle results in an increase in body fat %.  Over time, decreased muscle mass and increased body fat % will result in the body being compromised. 

There are three important facts to remember:

  1. Losing fat happens slowly and is facilitated by proper nutrition and building muscle through exercise. 
  2. Losing weight by means of some crazy, unbalanced diet, may be gratifying in the short term (because the scale will register large amounts of weight being lost) but the results are not sustainable or desirable (because of the increase in body fat % and loss of valuable muscle mass).
  3. Health and fitness are not possible without the right nutrition and exercise. 
  4. Our health is directly affected by the health of our environment.
Trying to achieve this goal I have set myself has resulted in me exploring the way I think and why I think like that.  Wanting instant solutions to situations is really created by the socio/economic society in which we live.  It is attributable in no small measure to the advertising and marketing which imbue us with hidden beliefs on a daily basis.  When these hidden beliefs are confronted by reality we become frustrated.  At some level we believe in magic.  Unfortunately, magic does not work in the real world (not in this dimension anyway!) and it is vital that this is recognised and dealt with consciously.

This vacuous belief in magic (e.g. magical products that will instantly solve our problems) can undo our resolve. Without recognising unconsciously held beliefs, we will remain victims, unable to stay motivated enough to reach our goals. 

Diana Elsmere

 

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Changing pace

When I was about 5 years old I took ballet lessons for about a year.  One of the things that has stayed with me since those very early days is our teacher's voice saying:  'SLOW......SLOW.... quickquickquick' and having to perform various exercises in this rhythm.  The point I want to make is that there is some significance to this constant change of pace in training and, when I see how strong and athletic ballet dancers are it seems pretty obvious to me that it works.

It is not only ballet dancers of course, I can see this methodology at work in other sports from rugby players to runners.  I see them trotting along slowly for a few seconds then exploding into a flat out gallop for a short burst and repeating this cycle over and over again.  This type of training is called high intensity interval training.

Anyway, about 3 weeks ago I changed things up in my exercise regime.   Instead of only slow sessions of long distance I am now doing some intense interval training as well.  I thought it might speed up weight loss but it has not.  What is has done though, is increased my strength, speed and aerobic fitness significantly.   I have also lost an inch off my waist and an inch of my hips.  How it is possible to lose body dimensions without losing any weight is beyond me.  The only explanation I can find is that muscle mass takes up less room than fat.  Yeah, yeah - blah ...blah! 

Well, I will tell anyone this for free - I don't care about explanations and reasons - I am fed up with doing all the right things without any significant results showing on the scale!!  Only one kg in over a month I mean honestly, what the X@#!! is going on?? 

Desperation led me to calculating my body fat index at this site; check it out it is great:  http://www.bmi-calculator.net/   All you need are various body measurements (in inches) and it calculates your BMI.  So, it is possible for body fat to be reducing without any weight loss.

Sigh, I still want to see a significant loss on the scale though.  I wonder why this obsession with kilograms?  It seems that kilograms are the only thing that speak to me!  Every morning I am convinced that I will have lost an amazing amount of weight (something that will take everyones' breath away) and then the scale tells me either that I have stayed the same or I have gained something.  Honestly, it is enough to drive a girl to drink.  Instead, I go jumping - up and down the two stairs in our garage - weird huh?

Diana Elsmere

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Self-effort

This is turning out to be such an interesting exercise.  I am amazed at how little I know about my body and what is going on inside it!  Noting and monitoring various results (like weight, measurements and how the body feels on a daily basis) is helping me become more aware of it, what it needs and what makes it feel good.  Considering that I have spent most of my life taking it for granted, this is certainly a big revelation for me. 

I would not recommend anyone weighing themselves every day unless they are totally focussed and determined because the daily weight fluctuations can be astounding.  I have fluctuated by over 1kg from one day to the next!  At first this used to really *&% me off but fortunately I managed to push through that without going on a major binge.  Looking back over the daily record is very satisfactory, even if I have to admit this myself.  The daily fluctuations iron themselves out and the general trend manifests itself over time.  So I am very pleased to say that the trend is downwards.  It is slow and steady.  No magic pill but then I realised a while ago that there are no magic pills.  It turns out to be all about self-effort; in spite of what those advertisers promise!

Diana Elsmere

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The purpose of health

I have often been asked 'What is the point of always making a 'healthy' choice when we are all going to die anyway?'  In fact, when I think about it, I might get run over by a bus tomorrow and then what would I care about being healthy?

The most compelling reason I have for making healthy choices is how good these choices, accumulatively, make me feel both physically and mentally. As far as I am concerned, there is simply no substitute for feeling well;  there is no drug or magic pill that has the same effect as a simple, healthy lifestyle.  I also know that, as I get older, I want to have a good quality of life and to die healthy and strong and in control of all my faculties.  There are no guarantees of course but the healthier I live the more the odds increase in favour of a healthy old age. 

So, returning to my diet:  along with reducing saturated fat and eliminating trans fats, I also reduced and finally cut out all processed foods including sugar.  I included instead complex carbohydrates like whole grains, brown rice, oats etc. as well as lots of fruit and vegetables.  Gone are the days when I would gorge on a cocktail of saturated fats and refined carbohydrates dished up in fancy-looking confectionery. 

At first I had to exert a certain amount of will power to resist a slice of cake or a baked pudding laced with sugar and refined carbohydrates.  Now, I do not even want to put the stuff into my mouth!  I would much rather have a slice of pineapple or an apple than a slice of cake. 

The increase in my energy levels since I started exercising and eating properly is remarkable.  On a scale of one to ten I would say I used to have an energy level of about 2 - 3 and now it is about 9 - 10!  I am convinced!

Nothing beats regular exercise and eating properly.  By eating properly I mean ensuring that I eat what my body needs in the way of nutrition;  I usually manage to avoid eating empty calories with no nutritional value.

Diana Elsmere

Sunday, February 14, 2010

How can the body deal with this?

Thinking about trans fats put me in mind of the state of my mother's kitchen when I had to move her out of her flat.  Everything in that kitchen was covered with a thick, sticky layer of yellow/brown stuff.  The only way I could remove it was with vinegar and a great deal of scrubbing and scraping.  It came off in skin-like layers, without any sign of dissolving.  This, I suddenly realised, is hydrogenated oil at room temperature.  My mother used to cook everything in lard (hydrogenated oil).  She would even keep the remains in the fridge after cooking.  It used to sit there, in a bowl, hard, greasy and white (with bits stuck in it).    Now if that's  what the stuff can do to walls and tiles how on earth does the body deal with it?  How does the body digest it, utilise it?  I don't see how it can, it just must clog up the body and all its systems  like it clogged up that kitchen.  I experienced exactly the same scenario at our rental property, when the last tenants moved out - they left the kitchen covered in the same stuff. 

These images come to me when I am tempted to think that eating this or that 'just this once' cannot harm me.  I think of my poor body and how it will cope with what I am feeding it.  I think of a thick, sticky layer of yellow/brown stuff lining my arteries and clinging to my internal organs because my body is not equipped to deal with it.  I think of heart attacks, vascular disease, strokes, diabetes and dementia and I think of what an expert says:  " Two thirds of these diseases would be eliminated if we consumed a healthier diet and exercised more"  - Dr Meir Stampfer MD; Professor of Epidemiology & Nutrition; Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

I would never dream of putting sugar or lard or other stuff into my car because I know my car is not equipped to utlise it.  So why on earth did I put stuff into my body that I knew my body was not equipped to utilise?  It was/is absolutely senseless. 

Diana Elsmere

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Trans Fat and Hydrogenated Oil

Even worse than saturated fat, is trans fat. It is estimated that as little as 5g of trans fat can increase the risk of a heart attack by 25%.  If that is not scary then I don't know what is.  The best site I have found in connection with saturated and trans fats is http://www.bantransfats.com/  - thanks to their efforts trans fats have been banned in some countries and awareness of the shocking health risks of these fats has been raised all over the world.  Another interesting site is www.dldewey.com/hydroil.htm

I learnt a long time ago that most manufacturers do not care about health risks; their pecuniary interests are paramount.  So it is vital that consumers take responsibility for their own health and read the labels on all food products.  One of the 'tricks' used by manufacturers is to mention 'partially hydrogenated oil' on the ingredients label but to state that the product contains no trans fat.  Hear this everyone:  if a product contains partially hydrogenated oil then it does contain trans fat.  Never touch hydrogenated oil (even if the label says it is only partially hydrogenated).  The stuff should be banned.

Lecture over!  Trans fats are so bad and I just had to underline the fact.  Obviously, along with drastically reducing all saturated fats, I never touch trans fats.  Believe me, this is all very important information and essential for anyone who wants to blast blubber into eternity and get fit and healthy!  

Diana Elsmere

Friday, February 12, 2010

Saturated fat makes flabby and fat.

After being made to imagine what the body does with saturated fat (after watching one of those BBC programmes),  I cut it out of my diet (and from Stuart's diet as well).  This was no easy task I can tell you because saturated fat is EVERYWHERE!  The UK Government Food Standards recommends a maximum amount of 30g of saturated fat per day for a man and a maximum of 20g per day for a woman (children should eat less than this).  Ingredient labels that reflect a saturated fat content more that 20g per 100g is considered high and low is considered 3g or less per 100g.

So, at about the same time I started exercising on a regular basis I stopped eating saturated fat.  The results were spectacular.  Not only did I start waving goodbye to flab, my risk of heart disease decreased.

Here are the main culprits I eliminated from my diet:
  1. Cakes, pastries, pies, processed meat products (like sausages), biscuits (this includes savoury ones)
  2. Cheese (only low fat cottage cheese in small quantities allowed) 
  3. Cream in any form including ice-cream
  4. Crisps
  5. Butter, lard or ghee
  6. Sweets including chocolates
  7. Coconut oil, milk or cream or palm oil
These were the first steps I took towards better health.  Pretty easy huh?  Every time I am presented with saturated fat in any form I just imagine plastering it onto my hips, thighs, arms, neck etc and that puts me off it immediately.  It is so easy to put it on but it sticks like crazy and to get it off again is a mission; not to mention what damage it may do to the body. 

Eating food that is bad for health is just not worth it, in spite of what advertisers have to say.  I never believe  ads, I always read the the ingredient labels and if the product is not up to speed I don't touch it.  We mostly eat fresh food that I prepare myself; this way I know exactly what goes in to the dish.  It is also easy to make delicious dishes using low fat substitutes so we don't have to eat gruel to stay healthy!

Diana Elsmere