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'I did 10 diets in 50 days and found one that really worked'

Tue, 27/01/2015 - 10:25
'I did 10 diets in 50 days and found one that really worked'

Andy Leeks set out to lose weight by doing 10 diets in 50 days, and found the only one that really worked was the NHS weight loss plan.

The father-of-two came up with the pick-and-mix diet idea to see if it would help him remain motivated to keep losing weight.

“By changing my diet regularly, the idea was I’d never get bored, thereby giving myself every chance of success,” says Andy, 35, from Kent.

His starting weight was 16 stone (101kg) and over the course of the 50-day experiment, he lost 30.5 pounds (nearly 14kg).

Behind Andy’s search for the perfect weight loss method was the desire to put an end to 15 years of yo-yo dieting.

While he lost weight on all of the diets, he felt that the NHS weight loss plan was the only one designed as a plan for life.

“There was only one way of eating out of the 10 that I could stick to long term – and that's the weight loss plan set out by the NHS,” he says.

To fit it in with his 50-day timescale, Andy applied the principles of the NHS 12-week weight loss plan, instead of following it to the letter.

The plan is designed to help you lose weight at a safe rate of 0.5kg to 1kg (1lb to 2lb) each week.

“The NHS weight loss plan is basically all the NHS’s healthy eating and exercise advice distilled into one handy little structured plan,” says Andy.

“It isn’t so much a diet as a healthy lifestyle plan that helps you lose weight, but at the same time helps you to develop new, healthier habits.”

Diet and exercise

Andy, with the advice of a nutritionist, selected 10 diets that could be easily researched on the internet and did not involve payment. They were the:

  • 5:2 diet
  • Special K diet
  • NHS weight loss plan
  • Juice fast
  • Atkins diet
  • Raw food diet
  • Baby food diet
  • Calorie counting
  • Grapefruit diet
  • Cabbage soup diet

Andy followed each diet for five days before moving on to the next one – hoping the approach would keep him interested.

The exercise component of his weight loss journey was to run 5km during each five-day diet phase. “I ended up running 50km in total and my time improved by just under seven minutes from the first run to the last,” he says.

During his five days following the NHS advice, Andy applied the weight loss plan’s healthy eating principles, which include:

He says that the NHS advice helped him get a better understanding of food labels – which proved useful when trying to make healthier choices at the supermarket.

Some of the meals Andy ate while on the NHS regime included:

For more healthy meal ideas, check out Change4Life's Smart Recipes.

'No more guilt'

Andy says that following the NHS advice had minimal impact on the rest of his family, because he was eating the same food they were. “Unlike many of the diets I tried, no foods were banned,” he says. “You simply eat the same meals – healthy, balanced meals – but in smaller portions.

“If I had a craving for something sweet, I would give in to that craving, but I’d only eat a small amount. I never felt guilty about it.”

Apart from the NHS advice, many of the diets he tried involved avoiding certain foods or eating the same type of food over and over.

“By restricting anything, it leads to resentment and anxiety, and makes you crave the very food you’re trying to avoid,” he says.

“While these diets were easy to stick to for five days, I just couldn’t see myself following them for very long.

“For me it was clear that for long-term success, the NHS weight loss advice is the diet that should be followed.

“The beauty is that once you’ve reached your desired weight, you carry on eating this way. There’s nothing to change.”

A plan for life

Underpinning Andy’s experiment was a desire to find a lifelong healthy eating plan to manage his weight without the need for crash diets.

“I was forever losing weight by dieting and then subsequently regaining it, because once I came off the diet I was back to square one,” he says.

“I was still the same person with the same sweet tooth, the same appetite, but no better equipped to manage my weight.”

After completing his 50-day weight loss adventure, Andy says he is now managing his weight by applying the principles of the NHS weight loss plan.

“The NHS plan equips you with the skills to keep the weight off by helping you to develop healthier habits and teaching you to make healthier choices.”

He has recorded his dieting tribulations in detail in his book Minimize Me – 10 Diets to Lose 25 lbs in 50 Days.

Categories: NHS Choices

How a well-fitted sports bra can reduce breast pain

Mon, 19/01/2015 - 16:32
How a well-fitted sports bra can reduce breast pain

Movement of a woman’s breasts during exercise can range from 4cm during a walk to 15cm when running, researchers have found.

This multi-directional movement can cause breast pain, which affects one in three women, according to a University of Portsmouth study.

Not only can exercising with poorly supported breasts cause pain and sagging, it can cause embarrassment and put women off physical activity.

A survey by the university’s Research Group in Breast Health (RGBH) found that breasts were the fourth biggest barrier to exercise for women, after lack of motivation, time and poor health.

The RGBH uses state-of-the-art imaging technology to analyse breast movement during physical activity, with the aim of improving breast health and bra design.

Professor Joanna Scurr, who heads the RGBH, says exercising with a well-fitted sports bra is just as important as running in the right type of trainers.

“You wouldn’t go running without a decent pair of trainers, so don’t exercise without a sports bra to protect your breasts.

“Regardless of breast size, a well-fitted sports bra can make the world of difference to your workout, as well as your general health and well-being.”

What’s the problem with bras?

Research suggests that most women, perhaps over 70%, wear the wrong bra size, which may result in pain, discomfort and irreversible sagging. Dr Jenny White, from the RGBH, says that women need better advice on getting the right fit. “The most common mistake is to wear the underband too loose and the cup size too small,” she says. “It’s important to advise women on the best fit, rather than using a tape measure to dictate their bra size.”

How common is exercise-related breast pain?

In a survey of 1,285 female runners at the 2012 London Marathon, one in three said they had experienced breast pain. Half of the women (54%) with breast pain said it was brought on by moderate exercise, and 64% said their breasts hurt during vigorous exercise. “Despite these findings, the majority of women did nothing to overcome their pain,” says study lead Dr Nicola Brown, a senior lecturer at St Mary’s University, Twickenham and RGBH member.

Why does exercise cause breast pain?

The exact mechanics are not entirely understood, but it is thought that exercise, especially high-impact exercise such as running or jumping, places tension on the supporting structures of the breast, which can result in pain.

Why do breasts sag?

There are no muscles in the breast. The only supporting structures are the skin and the Coopers ligaments – thin, paper-like tissues that weave throughout the breast and attach to the chest wall. It is thought that sagging, which is irreversible, occurs when these ligaments are overstretched.

What are the implications for physical activity?

A study of 249 women found that breasts ranked fourth among barriers to physical activity, after lack of motivation, time and poor health. Breast discomfort, breast pain and feeling self-conscious about their breasts were some of the reasons almost one in five women gave for not exercising or changing the type of exercise they did. Choosing a well-fitted sports bra may help to increase levels of physical activity among women.

How do breasts move during exercise?

The breast has limited natural support, and any unsupported movement causes the breasts to move: up-down, in-out, and side-to-side. This multi-directional movement has been shown to increase from 4cm during walking to 15cm during running in a study of women exercising without a bra. Breast motion is not only an issue for larger-breasted women. "A good sports bra for A cup-sized women will reduce breast movement by 53% when compared to not wearing a bra," says Dr Brown.

What’s the importance of a well-fitted bra?

Whether it’s for exercise or not, a correctly fitting and supportive bra can alleviate breast pain, and help to prevent back and neck pain, as well as irreversible breast sag. Wearing a well-fitted bra may also potentially reduce the need for breast reduction surgery. “It can also help women to look and feel their best,” says Dr Brown. 

Should bras be age-specific?

Research shows that younger breasts tend to move up and down during exercise, whereas mature breasts tend to move evenly in all directions. Dr Debbie Risius, from the RGBH, says this has implications for bra design. "Most current bras are designed for young breasts," she says. Her research suggests the need for sports bras designed specifically for women aged over 45.

Which sports bra is right for me?

There are three types of sports bra: compression (pushing the breast against the chest), encapsulation (lifting and separating each breast) and the third style is a combination of both. Not every bra suits every person and wearing the wrong size or style can reduce support. Dr Brown says: “You should always try on a sports bra before you buy it. Jump around in the fitting room to make sure it is giving you the support you need for your chosen activity.”

How often should I replace my sports bra?

It’s important to regularly replace your sports bra to make sure it is still giving you the best support it can. How often you need to replace your bra will depend on a number of factors, including how often you wear it and how often you wash it. The RGBH recommends that you replace your sports bra when you replace your running shoes.

When should I wear a sports bra?

A well-fitted, supportive sports bra is just as important for occasional exercise as it is for regular exercise. It is also important for all types of physical activity, including both low- and high-impact activities, and exercise of short and long duration.

How do I get the right fit?

It’s essential that a sports bra fits properly for it to be effective. The RGBH recommends these simple steps to choosing the right sports bra:

Underband: the band should fit firmly around the chest. It should not slide around as you move, but it should not be too tight as to be uncomfortable, affect breathing or make flesh bulge over the band. The band should be level all the way around the chest.

Cup: the breasts should be enclosed within the cups, with no bulging or gaping at the top or sides. If the cup material is puckering, then the cup size is probably too big.

Shoulder straps: the shoulder straps should be adjusted to comfortably provide breast support without being too tight (i.e. digging into the skin). The main support for the breast should come from a firm band, not tight shoulder straps.

Underwire: for sports bras that are underwired, the underwire should follow the natural crease of the breasts and not rest on any breast tissue. If the underwire is resting too far down the ribcage (i.e. where the rib cage gets slightly narrower), the band size is probably too small.

Categories: NHS Choices

Healthy breakfast cereals

Wed, 14/01/2015 - 15:59
Healthy breakfast cereals

With shelves stacked top to bottom with hundreds of brightly coloured boxes competing for your attention, the supermarket aisle of breakfast cereals can sometimes feel like walking through a minefield.

Make the wrong choice and you or your child could end up with a breakfast cereal high in sugar, fat or salt, which if eaten too often can contribute to weight gain and health problems, including tooth decay and high blood pressure.

But whether it's puffed, baked or flaked, cereal can still form part of a healthy balanced diet. We've enlisted dietitian Azmina Govindji to sort the shredded wheat from the chaff to help you make a healthier choice. 

"While it's important to make healthier choices when it comes to breakfast, it's equally just as important to make sure you eat breakfast regularly and that you enjoy it," says Govindji.

What's a healthy breakfast cereal?

For a healthier option, choose breakfast cereals that contain wholegrains and are lower in sugar, fat and salt. Examples include:

  • wholewheat cereal biscuits
  • shredded wholegrain pillows
  • porridge oats

Wholegrains contain fibre and B vitamins, among other nutrients. Fibre helps keep our digestive systems healthy, and research suggests a diet high in fibre may help reduce the risk of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

"Avoid always going for the same brand as manufacturers regularly modify their recipes," says Govindji. "Try looking at the nutrition label, and compare brands so you opt for the healthier version."

Mueslis, which usually contain wholegrains and fruit, are often seen as a healthier option, but check the label first – many can be relatively high in fat, added sugar and, in some cases, salt.

Reading nutrition labels

Food labels can help you choose between brands and avoid breakfast cereals high in sugar, fat and salt. All nutrition information is provided per 100g and "per serving", which can be helpful when comparing one cereal with another.

Some brands also use red, amber and green colour coding on the front of the packet, sometimes known as traffic lights. The more greens on the label, the healthier the choice. Find out more about food labels.

Sugar, fat and salt levels

You can use the per 100g information on the nutrition label to identify breakfast cereals that are:

High in sugar, fat or salt

  • High in sugar: more than 22.5g of total sugars per 100g
  • High in fat: more than 17.5g of fat per 100g
  • High in salt: more than 1.5g of salt per 100g

Low in sugar, fat or salt

  • Low in sugars: 5g of total sugars or less per 100g
  • Low in fat: 3g of saturated fat or less per 100g
  • Low in salt: 0.3g of salt or less per 100g
Serving cereal with milk or yoghurt

Having breakfast cereal is a good opportunity to add calcium to the diet if you serve it with milk or yoghurt. Go for semi-skimmed, 1% or skimmed milk, or lower-fat yoghurt. "Milk and yoghurt are good sources of calcium and protein," says Govindji. Find out what types of milk are suitable for young children.

Adding fruit to cereal

Having cereal is also a good opportunity to get some fruit in the diet. Raisins, dried apricots, bananas and strawberries are popular choices, and can be added to any cereal, depending on your tastes.

"Adding fruit to cereals is a great way to get kids to eat more fruit," says Govindji. "It also helps them enjoy less sugary cereals, as you get sweetness from the fruit."

You could wash down breakfast with a small glass (150ml) of 100% fruit juice, which also counts towards your 5 A DAY.

How many calories should breakfast provide?

A helpful rule of thumb to maintain a healthy weight is to follow the 400-600-600 approach. That means having about:

  • 400kcal for breakfast (including any drinks and accompaniments)
  • 600kcal for lunch (including any drinks and accompaniments)
  • 600kcal for dinner (including any drinks and accompaniments)

That leaves you with just enough left over to enjoy a few healthy drinks and snacks throughout the day. This advice is based on a woman's daily recommended calorie intake of 2,000kcal.

"You might get about 150kcal from a 40g serving of cereal," says Govindji. "You could add a medium sliced banana and 200ml of semi-skimmed milk, which all together would provide about 350kcals. 

"You need fuel in the morning, and starting the day with a filling breakfast can help you avoid reaching for a less healthy mid-morning snack to keep you going until lunch."

'My child is hooked on sugary cereals'

If you want to get your child off sugary cereals, Govindji recommends mixing sugary cereals with similar looking lower-sugar ones. You could then gradually increase the amount of lower-sugar cereal over time to get kids used to them. Or you could let your child pick from a selection of, say, three healthier cereals.

"The fact that your child wants to have breakfast is already a healthy habit," says Govindji. "You don't want to jeopardise that by making breakfast seem suddenly unappealing." 

'I don't have time to sit down for breakfast'

It's a sign of the times that people are increasingly abandoning breakfast cereals, one of the earliest convenience foods, for more convenient "on-the-go" options, such as a breakfast muffin and a latte.

If you're short on time in the morning, how about setting the table the night before? You could also grab a pot of porridge on your way to work or have your cereal when you get in.

"Cereals are still one of the best value breakfasts out there," says Govindji. "A bowl of fortified breakfast cereal with milk gives you more nutrients for your penny when compared to most on-the-go breakfast options."

Find out how to get into breakfast.

Categories: NHS Choices