Gary 'Smiler' Turner's Blog

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Monday, 5 January 2015

Fat Loss – Time For Some Fresh Thinking?

This is a blog post to get people thinking, no more, no less. I’m putting some ideas out there. I’d love it if you could consider the content, think upon it, and let me know your informed opinions. Obesity is a growing problem, and I believe things need to change. Here are a few of my thoughts for you to consider.

Current fat loss approaches fail

Current advice for weight loss focuses on “eating less and exercising more”. If adhered too, such calorie deficit approaches have similar results at 6 months. In the short term weight can be reduced. The approach for you will be the one you can stick to – overall this should be the deciding factor for an individual. Different people will have different drop-out rates.

Interestingly, exercise/physical activity on its own is not an efficient way to lose weight, though should be a part of everyone’s lives for the physical and psychological benefits alone. Exercise also helps to maintain lean tissue during calorie deficit weight loss approaches. Nutrition is the key element to losing fat – as the saying goes; you can’t train yourself out of bad nutrition.

But long term maintenance of the weight lost is a problem. 8-9/10 people fail to maintain a clinically significant weight loss over 1-2 years. The calorie deficit approach fails over the long term, and worse, many end up larger. There are strong physiological and psychological reasons why. For a calorie deficit approach, for the vast majority of people, results are transient at best.

Behaviours that correlate with the successful few who have long term weight loss are increased levels of exercise/physical activity, weighing themselves every day, and peer support.

Calorie in v calorie out fails long term.

(For those concerned, this does not violate the Laws of Thermodynamics.)

I believe we should operate in evidence based practice. Currently the evidence shows that the calorie deficit approach fails nearly every time. So why are we being advised to follow methods that don’t work?

Time for a change

I believe, and I’m not alone, that we need to change our way of thinking in respect to nutrition, and particularly in respect to fat loss. This will require changes in beliefs, removal of common held misconceptions and perpetuated myths, and a look to the evidence and base science. It will even require a change in the language and phrases we use.  

We need to think fresh, and to move towards accurate science.

When we think fresh our behaviours and actions change. It can open up new directions, new methodologies, and hopefully better results. In this blog I’m just going to touch on a few key areas.

Our bodies have exquisite feedback loops to maintain a healthy body. We should stop working against our bodies and instead work with them. We should eat only when hungry, and stop eating when no longer hungry. We should not eat for emotional needs. We should drink only when thirsty.

The above can be derailed by the wanting and liking, addictive like behaviours from the reward and mood centres in our brain. We need to recognise that psychological interventions are often required to satisfy the reward and mood centres in our brains, in ways that satisfy them in ways which are more beneficial. Other psychological interventions may be appropriate such as motivation and emotional control, and to help drive the right behavioural changes. Teaching people that it is OK to not have three square meals a day, it is OK to leave food on your plate, it is OK to listen to your bodies and not follow the social norms may require such psychological input.

We should eat food that evolution has prepared us for. I believe that we should eat natural whole food, properly prepared. As a generalisation eating natural food is a lot more beneficial than eating man-made food. Natural food generally comes in the right proportions with the right components together, enabling our bodies to absorb and utilise the food correctly.

We should stop thinking about calories and instead thinking about molecules.

Calories are a measure of heat energy. When we think of the mass of a human body, energy is not a consideration. In practice our mass is in the mass of our molecules, not the energy contained within. We eat molecules and we breathe in molecules. We excrete and lose molecules. This balance of molecules, the conservation of mass, dictates our weight. It is perhaps more appropriate to think of molecules in v molecules out (MIMO) rather than calories in v calories out (CICO).

When we utilise fat for energy the fat is broken down into the molecules H20 and CO2 – water and carbon dioxide. The same is true for carbohydrates. The water leaves through sweat and other excretions, the carbon dioxide leaves through our breath. We use terms such as ‘burn fat’, yet this is misdirection. The chemical structure of fat is broken down into water and carbon dioxide and some energy is released. Very little of this energy is in the form of heat. Most of the energy goes to providing kinetic and potential energy to produce movement. A better term might be ‘utilise’ rather than ‘burn’.

 (‘Burning’ in chemical terms refers to explosive oxidisation of substrate, usually with heat sustaining the reaction. Fat is oxidised, yet heat does not sustain the chemical reaction in respect to fat, there is no explosive reaction, and instead it is enzymes that act as catalysts and sustain the reaction. Think of our use of fuel for energy as oxidisation of iron – the process of rust forming – rather than a burning furnace.)

Does energy count? Of course! Yet, the energy is stored in the bonds between atoms forming the molecules. Different molecules are treated differently by the body. A calorie is definitely a calorie in terms of energy, it is just a measurement, but the molecules containing that energy are treated completely differently by our bodies. Glucose molecules have different metabolic pathways to those of amino acids, different again to fat.

Those thinking in calorie terms tend to overlook that the body treats molecules differently. By thinking of molecule metabolism we can look more effectively at how our body utilises the food and oxygen we take in. Instead of looking to 'burn calories' we can look to 'utilise our fat stores as fuel' which enables us to focus our exercise/physical activity more directly on the source of the fuel rather than just the energy itself.

Dropping focus from calories and changing to molecules is far reaching for nutrition. It can lead to new approaches and assist in new thoughts. Talking in molecular terms allows us to talk in respect to amino acids rather than protein, the differing molecular types of fat and carbohydrate, all of which being processed and used by the body in completely different ways. I believe calories are the misdirection, moving our focus from where it should be placed.

We need to look at the environment in which we move. Fresh thinking is coming from Ray Cronise with his ‘Metabolic Winter Hypothesis’, looking at how environmental exposure to temperature fuels obesity and offers a solution. Our look at the environment can be taken further as the unconscious cues are all around us from the media and marketing, everywhere we go, keeping us in the old ways of thinking. Recognising that even the layout of a supermarket is designed to help you buy and eat more is just a small start. Everything from the layout, the positioning, the lighting, the sounds, the smells, the packaging – everything is telling your mind to buy. What would happen if we recognised the impact of the environment around us?

These are just some thoughts that I am putting out there. They are not a complete list of the changes required or a prescription for how to reduce fat. They are not the complete picture for solving the obesity epidemic. I haven’t gone into detail of any of the points, instead just this blog is putting a few ideas out there for discussion.

If we continue doing the same things we will get the same results. Obesity will continue to flourish. Time for some fresh thinking…

Thursday, 23 October 2014


Relaxation is vastly underrated.

I regularly teach my clients how to relax for a whole host of reasons. In the past I have used relaxation to help remove stress, anxiety and negative emotions from a client’s life. It works to remove fears and phobias. I’ve helped them to be free from chronic pain using it. I’ve used it with clients to help with migraines, to bolster the immune system, with heart and breathing arrhythmias, and other medical conditions. Even to produce testable analgesia and anaesthesia in clients.

I even teach clients how to do so in order to allow them time for ‘diffuse thinking’ or rest time from studying, allowing their minds to make the connections to create the ‘neural hooks’ they need to recall their study.

Most importantly by learning to relax you can focus on exactly what you need to focus on, seeing the big picture, moving through life efficiently and positively.

I use a methodology based on physiology, meditation and self-hypnosis. My approach heavily utilises the teachings of consultant cardiologist Dr Steve Murray, and Dr Alan Watkins, professor of Neuroscience and Psychological Medicine. I also heavily rely on the works of the legendary Australian Psychiatrist Ainslie Meares, who carried out pioneering research into the use of relaxation for anxiety and pain relief rather than drugs.

In this blog post I will describe a sample methodology I use, pulling on all of the above. Other hypnotists will be able to take it further, and will recognise some elements of Dave Elman’s work in here too. Interestingly Ainslie Meares was utilising similar techniques to Dave Elman at the same time – an interesting parallel. Everyone though will find this methodology of benefit – please, give it a go, and notice the changes you can make in your life as a result.

Sample Relaxation Methodology

  • Close your eyes and let your body relax.
  • Tell yourself “I’m going to allow my body to easily, effortlessly relax completely now.”
  • Lightly open and close them, increasing the feeling of relaxation each time. Allow your eyelids to relax more completely each time. Each time you close your eyes say to yourself “relax”. Relax the eyelids completely so much so that you just don’t want to open them.
  • Take around 5 deep slow breaths. Every time you breathe out say the word “relax” to yourself, and allow yourself to relax more deeply every time you breathe out.
  • Allow your breathing to return to being automatic, and automatically allow your body to relax more each time you breathe out.
  • Say to yourself “starting right now, everything I hear, every word, every sound, inside or out will just help me relax more easily…everything I feel will just allow me to relax more easily…and nothing will disturb me in any way whatsoever as I relax more deeply…”
  • Regularise your breathing. Don’t speed it up or slow it down, just breathe. Yet breathe equal distance in to equal distance out, equal time in to equal time out, like you’re breathing to a metronome.
  • Breathe smoothly, smooth out your breath in and your breath out.
  • Allow your breathing to come from the centre of the chest, and allow it to slowly lower with each breath.
  • As you do this, take your focus to the heart area. Don’t do anything there, just take your focus there.
  • Once regularised and from the centre of your chest or lower, every time you breathe out imagine your arms becoming heavier and sinking down, every time you breathe out.
  • Every time you breathe out imagine your legs becoming heavier and sinking down, every time you breathe out.
  • Every time you breathe out imagine your body becoming heavier and sinking down, every time you breathe out.
  • Completely imagine yourself becoming heavier and sinking down, every time you breathe out.
  • Now completely relax your eyelids. Relax every nerve, every muscle, and every fibre. Relax until they just don’t want to open, so that as long as you hold onto that relaxation you just won’t be able to open your eyes.
  • Allow that feeling to completely relax the face, spreading out, completely relaxing the face now.  
  • Imagine that your body is totally relaxed. Imagine imagining everything you need to allow your body to totally relax now. Completely imagine it. Imagine it happening continuously so much that with every beat of your heart you just relax more deeply. Imagine it happening automatically so much that nothing you do say think or otherwise will stop you, you’ll just continue relaxing now.
  • Now place your tongue on the roof of your mouth, and drift and dream.

(For hypnotists, at the end I will often use a ‘through the zero’ effect to stabilise the focused attention, and often use a ‘mind’s eye closer’ technique too for the same.)

Once you have practiced relaxing several times it will get easier and easier, and you’ll get more relaxed faster and more efficiently each time. After practicing a few times do it in a hard chair until you can relax equally well in that chair. Then lay on a hard floor and relax. Then practice relaxing on the hard floor with a tennis ball or similar object under you, so you can get used to relaxing despite an ‘obstruction’. Then relax standing up. Then relax standing up and lightly open your eyes. Then practice with your eyes open. Then relax and very gently move. Continue increasing until you can move through life in that relaxed state.

This is just a quick blog post. The more geeky amongst my readers have a treasure trove of learning here – working out exactly why the methodology works, what is happening and when, and will be able to adapt the processes to themselves, and if appropriately their clients.

Learning to relax is important in today’s fast-paced life. I would urge you to practice relaxation – your life will be better as a result. After all, it seems to serve my huskies well!

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Weight Loss, muscle gain, calories and the state of the fitness industry

I've been a bit slow on my blog in the last month as I have been carrying out interviews for podcasts by others, carrying out research, and also giving a few interviews.

Here's one that you'll find interesting. Two professionals asked the same question - and we 'nearly' give the same answers ;)

Enjoy, and remember, question everything you are told!

GaryTurner and Jared Ackerman

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Is wheat actually bad for us?

No. And yes.

Well, it depends.

Let me explain.

Currently there is a lot of talk that wheat is bad for us, and we should avoid wheat and its related products, or even grains completely. Apparently it leads to obesity, many people are intolerant, is toxic, is a source of food allergies, gives rise to bloating – and even is a component of various mental diseases. Here is a quick blog post to discuss.

I’ve been searching for the answers. Despite the scare mongering in books such as Grain Brain and Wheat Belly, it is actually hard to find solid research supporting the claims that they make. I scoured Pubmed and such resources, looking for various meta and systematic reviews first, then individual studies second. I kept coming up short – there is actually very little research out there that shows that wheat is bad for us. But, there is some.

Whether or not wheat is bad for us will be down to our genes, our environment, and how we move through that environment. 

Let’s start with obesity. A major component of obesity is the over-consumption of carbohydrates. Wheat is a carbohydrate. Wheat is a component of bread, pasta, and cakes. These offer little nutritional value beyond the energy that they contain – they are not nutritionally dense. Wheat does contain protein, around 14g for each 100g, however this can cause the problems as with coeliac disease. As a generalisation the only nutritional reason to eat these would be for energy. If you don’t need that energy, it has to go somewhere, and this energy can be stored as fat.

(Edit 14 July 2014: A nutrition professor friend of mine suggested that it might be nice to point out the distinction between milled products and whole grained ones. Whole grained products are more nutritionally dense than their milled alternatives. The also contain ferulic acid and secoiresorcinoids which might be good for heart health. So if you do eat wheat, whole grain products offer more for you nutritionally.)

If your genetics mean you don’t handle carbohydrates that well, such as those who may be termed ‘carbohydrate intolerant’, then you will most likely find that eating lots of wheat will fuel a rapidly expanding waist line.

So, in respect to obesity wheat isn’t actually bad within itself – it is the over-consumption of wheat and wheat related products that lead to obesity. Too much of anything can be bad for us.

Summary: Wheat itself doesn’t lead to obesity, but the over-consumption of it can.

Around 1 in 100 people are intolerant of wheat. Not actually wheat, but most likely intolerant to the gluten that it contains.

Gluten is a composite of two proteins, glutenin and gliadin. When it is hydrated it forms a network of fine and stretchy strands. It is gluten that gives dough elasticity enabling it to be turned into bread, cakes, and pasta, helping them to keep their shape. Gluten comes from the Latin word for 'glue', which gives an idea as to the benefits. Gluten is the major protein element of wheat.

Coeliac disease is caused by the immune system adversely responding to gluten and producing anti-bodies against it. These antibodies unfortunately attack the villi and micro-villi in the intestines,  the hair-like strands that extract the nourishment from our food. Gluten intolerance, or coeliac disease, can therefore lead to malnutrition. People with coeliac disease will obviously find wheat bad for them due to the gluten. Saying this though, many of those with coeliac disease only have mild symptoms and may even be unaware of their condition.

Some people appear to suffer from non-coeliac gluten sensitivity, or NCGS. These unfortunates suffer from bloating, gut pain, headaches and lethargy in response to gluten – but with no adverse immune reaction. There are some small studies that support this.

Summary: Some people are intolerant to the gluten in wheat, which can lead to symptoms such as malnutrition, bloating, gut pain, headaches and lethargy.

Not all intolerances from wheat come from gluten - some may come from FODMAPs. FODMAPs are the fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. These are a set of sugars found in wheat. These are digested lower down the intestines in a process that can produce an abundance of gas, and attract water. This can lead to bloating, wind, and loose faeces. As always, the extent of this in a person depends on their individual genetics. Not everyone will be affected, only the very few.

Summary: Some intolerance may come from the FODMAPs found in wheat, leading to gas, bloating, and loose faeces.

A tiny minority of people can suffer from wheat allergy. There are a number of components of wheat that these people may allergically react to. These are allergic reactions to the various proteins that are found in wheat. People may also be allergic to the contact with wheat, or even its pollen.
Wheat allergies are different to intolerances and coeliac diseases as they involve different immune cells and antibody types.

Common symptoms of a wheat allergy can include exzema, urticarial, asthma, hay fever, abdominal cramps, nausea and vomiting, and tissue swelling (inflammation) caused by fluid leakage from blood vessels. In extreme cases symptoms include mood disorders, headaches, anaphylactic shock, irritable bowel syndrome and psoriasis. 

Summary: Allergies to wheat can lead to a host symptoms ranging from the mild to very severe. Fortunately only a tiny minority of the population have these.  

So is wheat good or bad? It depends.

If your genetics and your behaviour give you a tendency to get fat from eating excessive carbohydrates, then wheat is most definitely bad. We don’t need it in our diets, and therefore it probably would be beneficial to cut it from the diet. Cutting wheat from the diet will mean cutting bread, cakes and pasta amongst more. None of which add much by way of nutrition above pure energy. If you are fat it might be worth cutting out wheat products and seeing the difference it makes.

If you are unfortunately intolerant to wheat, or allergic to it, then yes, wheat is bad. Again, this is just down to the individual and their genetics. If you suffer from some of the symptoms it may be worthwhile cutting wheat from the diet and seeing what happens. If you cut wheat out and feel better, even if it just down to the placebo effect rather than intolerance or allergy, this would still be a good thing.

Otherwise, pass the bread please, especially with that nice salted butter…

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Cortisol - don't blame me for the fat!

Here's a quick blog post about cortisol, that has every right to be stressed!

Cortisol is often blamed for an increase in stomach adipose tissue – fat around our stomachs. But, cortisol does NOT store fat. It has been wrongly accused. Cortisol actually releases fatty acids from our adipocytes (releases fat for energy from our fat stores) so we can use them as energy. Contrary to popular belief cortisol doesn’t store fat – it actually releases it!

Cortisol joins lactic acid and cholesterol as being wrongly accused. Jokingly, on my Facebook feed my friend Tom Barbieri has suggested they should form their own support group for the wrongly hated.

So what is cortisol, and why does it get wrongly accused?

Cortisol is a stress hormone, released into the blood by the adrenal glands. Cortisol can act on nearly every cell in the body. Cortisol acts to raise our metabolic rate, acts as an anti-inflammatory, controls salt and water balance, and influences blood pressure. It also releases energy sources into our blood for use.

These energy sources are glucose and fatty acids. Glucose is released from the liver. Muscle is also broken down into amino acids, and these are converted again to glucose. Fatty acids (fat) become released from adipocytes (fat cells). All of these energy substrates enter our blood stream. This energy allows us to act in the face of a stressor.

With the stressor removed, cortisol falls, and the energy release (from cortisol) stops. Yet, if we don’t use the energy floating around our blood it still has to go somewhere. The muscle and liver stores become replenished with the excess glucose. If these stores are full the glucose is converted and stored in our adipocytes, our fat cells. Any excess fatty acids become absorbed and stored once more in our adipocytes. This may result in more ‘fat’ being stored than before, due to the increase in glucose thanks to the breaking down of the muscles. The effect of this however is nominal, and this is in the absence of cortisol, not because of it.

Cortisol is naturally released in the morning, when we are in a fasted state, at times of stress, and during exercise. But cortisol is most commonly discussed in respect to stress.

Stress affects us psychologically and physiologically. Stress is a major causation of an increase in fat storage. But that isn’t down to cortisol. Cortisol does a good job, ensuring we have energy to respond to threats. It doesn’t deserve the bad press.