Can animal therapy help us to heal? That’s my question. Yours may be ‘why is Nutritious Lolly, a qualified nutritionist and exercise consultant writing a blog on animal therapy? I thought she was all about inch loss.’ That’s a perfectly reasonable question so here’s why.

The Nutritious Lolly 6-week Whole-Body Plan is designed to encourage you to explore good nutrition and adopt new habits for optimum health that will last a lifetime. No fad diets or short term results at the expense of long term gains. However, the term ‘whole-body’ has a wide range of connotations and can therefore cover mental wellbeing too. Now, I’m not an expert in mental health, but I do know that some activities we engage in can trigger chemical changes within our bodies that will have a positive effect on our physical and mental wellbeing. One of these activities involves being close to, and building relationships with animals.

Animal therapy – more than just a fuzzy feeling

We all know the positive and relaxing feeling we get when we stroke an animal’s fur – allergies excepted of course! But, there are more benefits to be had than just a warm, fuzzy feeling. For example, the State Hospital in Scotland has produced a document giving positive evidence for animals being included in therapy for patients with mental health issues. You can read the hospital’s findings by clicking here. There was also a recent news report about Shetland ponies visiting Havencourt care home for elderly people in Stonehaven.

Therapy ponies visit Havencourt Care Home

Animal therapy programmes have been around since the 1960’s but have gained greater exposure in recent years as we find out more about the benefits which include lower stress levels and reduced anxiety. I strongly believe in the benefits of animal therapy which is why I’m keen to support the work being done by Sunnyside Karele, a family-run, registered charity in East Lothian close to where I live.

The brilliant work of Sunnyside Karele

Sunnyside Karele promotes EFAL – Equine Facilitated Activity Learning – a range of practical activities involving horses and their environment. One of Sunnyside Karele’s programmes, called Up Close, is about building a close relationship with one of the horses. This involves building trust with the horse, learning to groom her and leading her into the school. The benefits are amazing and include reducing cortisol which causes stress, and increasing serotonin – which is found mostly in the gut. Serotonin controls our anxiety levels and can increase our feelings of happiness and wellbeing so I can’t recommend animal therapy highly enough as a welcome addition to your ‘be kind to yourself’ list.

Sunnyside Karele helps children in the local community who are disabled or disadvantaged; or people who are marginalised or socially isolated. If you live near East Lothian then pop along and see their work for yourself. If you live elsewhere, then seek out an animal therapy centre near you and pay it a visit. What’s not to like?

Life is a marathon, not a sprint and while we all set ourselves goals it’s important to bear in mind that if we don’t quite achieve what we want to from time to time, we need to cut ourselves some slack. Here are 6 tips for being kinder to yourself.

Count your blessings

It may be a cliché but it’s still one of life’s great lessons. If things aren’t going well take a few moments to make a list of the good things in your life, many of which will be down to you. Then congratulate yourself on a job well done.

Doing something is often good enough

“No matter how slowly you go, you’re still lapping the person on the coach.” I love this mantra! It also ties in with my other blogs on walking for fitness and goal-setting. If you can only manage to go out for five or ten minutes one night, at least you’re still making progress in your quest for a fitter and more active life.

Find your special talent

Some people are talented at sports…but most people aren’t. Some people are talented artists…but most people aren’t. Everyone has a special talent but maybe you don’t know what yours is yet. Take time to explore what it is, because once you’ve found it guess what? You’ll be in that special group of people who are talented at it…because most people aren’t.

Reward yourself…often!

Rewarding yourself when you achieve a small goal is really important for your self-esteem and motivation and it needn’t be expensive. Even setting aside some time for a small treat is good enough. The point is that it should be personal to you…something that you really enjoy. So, whether it’s a visit to an art gallery, lunch with friends or a chilled glass of prosecco, you’ve earned it…so enjoy that victory sip!

Relax, de-stress and re-charge those batteries

This super-charged world we live in can sometimes place impossible demands on us. We’re humans not machines and humans need time to recharge our biological batteries. But, maybe you find it difficult to switch off sometimes. Worse still – do you feel guilty about taking some time just for you? If so, you might want to change your thought process. Put it this way, how useful are you going to be to your family, your friends or your boss (in that order), if you burn yourself out? So, now that you’ve recognised that you need to take some ‘me-time’ what can you do to relax and de-stress? Here are some suggestions:

Go for a walk in the woods– Trees are amazing. I’ve mentioned them before in my walking blog but ‘forest bathing’ is just the most wonderful thing for experiencing the healing power of nature. Invest in an inexpensive (but waterproof) pair of walking shoes or boots and get out there with your family, partner or a friend. There will be forests not far from where you live and certainly within a short drive away.

Have a spa, massage or a float – A spa or a hot-stone massage is a brilliant way to help you unwind and there will be a reputable spa somewhere near you so check it out. I’ve also heard about floating as a means of de-stressing. I’ve never tried it yet, but it’s supposed to be amazing. I’ve been invited to try the new Zero-G Float Therapy Centre in Portobello, East Edinburgh, so I’ll give it a shot and let you know how I get on.

Read or listen more – Reading is a great way to unwind and relax…even if it’s the latest thriller. The point is it can take you to another place – even for just a short while. A library card is a great way to choose a new book, or buy a pre-owned one from a charity shop. If you really can’t get something off your mind you could try audio-books. The beauty about audio-books is that they just wash over you and you don’t even have to turn the pages. Get a good narrator and you’ll soon get caught up in the story.

Be patient

The final tip on the list is to be patient. We all want things to happen now whether it’s losing a few inches or just getting our main course served that bit quicker in a restaurant. The problem with instant gratification, especially when it comes to fat-loss, is that we forget to live in the present and enjoy the journey. However, if you stick to the path, everything will happen in time and, like the main course which has been slow-cooked and brought to your table with a smile, the victory will taste all the better for it.

cajun-chicken

We throw away an obscene amount of perfectly good leftovers every year in the UK and I’m on a mission to do my bit to change that and I want you to help.

Instead of automatically scraping leftovers into the food recycling after meal times we should all try to think about how we can turn leftovers into another meal. The great part is that it’s actually a lot easier than you would think.

So, here are a couple of super easy, super tasty meals you can make for you and your family from common leftovers you’ll likely have from meal times. Try them this week and let me know how you get on.

Leftovers idea 1: Cajun chicken and crispy slaw

Chicken in the freezer that you want to use up to make space? Try this Cajun chicken recipe and if you don’t have the ingredients for the crispy slaw then go for mixed roasted veggies and use up what you have.

Ingredients (serves 1)

140g lean chicken breast

90ml low fat natural yoghurt

¼ lemon

½ carrot

¼ red cabbage

1.5 tomatoes

¼ cucumber

6 sprigs fresh parsley

2 tsp Cajun spice

1 tsp wholegrain mustard

1 tsp paprika

Method

Cut the chicken breast into thin slices and toss with a little oil.

Mix the paprika and Cajun spice and coat the chicken in the spice mixture.

Place the chicken slices onto a hot grill pan, or frying pan and grill for 3-4 minutes each side until fully cooked.

Meanwhile make the coleslaw by mixing the yoghurt and mustard together.

Chop the onion, carrot, cucumber, tomato and red cabbage into very small chunks or thin slices and mix with the yoghurt mixture and chopped parsley.

Serve the chicken with the coleslaw and a wedge of lemon to squeeze over if desired.

Homemade spinach pesto

Leftovers idea 2: Basil and spinach pesto

Ingredients

2 handfuls spinach leaves

55g/2oz pine nuts, toasted

Small bunch fresh basil leaves

5 tbsp olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method

Blend all of the pesto ingredients in a food processor to a paste. Add more olive oil as necessary to loosen the mixture.

To serve, place in a bowl with a plate of crudites on the side.

Freshly squeezed fruit juicesElectrolyte Drinks can Help Boost Performance

Electrolyte drinks can help boost performance, giving you an energy hit and replacing vital minerals supporting optimal hydration and recovery.

The science behind it is complex (but fascinating). The key thing to remember is that low electrolyte levels after a workout can actually have a detrimental effect on physical recovery.

As you’ll probably know, I put a lot of focus into recovery after a hard workout because it’s absolutely vital! So, here’s some electrolyte recipes for you to try:

Himalayan Honey

  • 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 cups of raw coconut water
  • 2 tbsp organic raw honey or organic maple syrup
  • 1/8 tsp Himalayan pink salt or Celtic sea salt (I like Himalayan better – it has 84 trace minerals)

And, here’s another!

Coco-Berry

  • A handful of your favourite berries – blueberries; strawberries; raspberries for a fab colour!
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 cups of raw coconut water
  • 2 tbsp organic raw honey or organic maple syrup
  • 1/8 tsp Himalayan pink salt or Celtic sea salt

Experiment with my recipes. You might find that your personal preference is to have a little more honey and a little less salt. The coconut water contains potassium and sodium and raw honey is great for an instant energy hit. Freshly squeezed juice like lemons, limes and oranges contain vitamins, enzymes and easily digested sugars. Pink Himalayan Rock Salt is just fantastic so I have outlined a few of the benefits for you here:


The benefits of Himalayan salt include:

Himalayan salt can be used for many things
Himalayan salt has numerous health benefits
  • Detoxifies the body by balancing systemic pH
  • Improves hydration by providing trace minerals
  • Improves mineral status of the body
  • Reduces muscle cramps by improving minerals and hydration
  • Helps balance blood sugar
  • Supports hormone balance for everyone, no matter what hormonal issues you face
  • Helps balance blood pressure because it provides unrefined, mineral-rich salt in an ionic solution
  • Improves sleep by supporting blood sugar and hormone balance
  • Acts as a powerful antihistamine
  • Supports weight loss by balancing hormones and improving energy
  • Supports thyroid and adrenal function

Walking is a great way to get fitter, healthier and lose body fat. It also has a whole host of other benefits going for it. According to the NHS, regular walking can reduce the risk of chronic illnesses such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, asthma, stroke and some cancers. Furthermore, walking can lead to some great times and fantastic adventures with new, like-minded friends. According to the old Chinese proverb, ‘A journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step.’ Here are 5 Reasons to take your first step on the road to better health and fitness simply by walking more.

Walking is better for long term health than running

If your aim is overall health and longevity rather than entering events like a 10k or marathon, then walking at a moderate pace is better for you than running, according to some medical research. Also, it can be gentler on the knees than pounding concrete for long periods of time. Start off slowly and work up to 10,000 steps a day. Invest in a pedometer or a fitbit to track your activity and it’ll spur you on to achieve more.

Walking is free

It costs nothing to get out into the open air and simply walk. If you’re just starting off, you don’t need to buy any special gear. A comfortable pair of shoes or trainers, some layered clothing and a decent waterproof jacket is pretty much all you’ll need to get you going.

Walking allows you to enjoy your surroundings

If you’ve ever taken up running, you may have found that you either focus on beating your PB time, or losing yourself in your thoughts in a bid to simply get the job done. On the other hand, walking at a moderate pace shouldn’t involve you trying to get to a certain point faster than the day before. Instead, just take the time to enjoy your surroundings. If you live in town, look up now and again. Not only will you see some amazing architecture you’ve never noticed before, you’ll also be able to avoid the pigeon droppings when walking under a low-level bridge!

Hiking it up a gear

After you’ve started walking in town you may well get the urge to step things up a gear and hiking is perfect for getting away from it all – even for a few hours. Coastal walks are perfect if you like to walk on flat ground but it’s great to get into the country every now and again. Walking among trees – the Japanese call it ‘forest bathing’ – can give tremendous health benefits with science to back it up. Then there are the hills and mountains if you fancy building up your calf muscles and glutes while really getting your heart pumping. In Scotland, where I live, there are a huge number of hills and mountains to tackle.

A Munro is a mountain over 3,000 feet high (of which Ben Nevis is the highest) although if you only go for Munros you’ll miss out on some great smaller mountains such as Corbetts which are between 2.500 and 3,000 feet. The views from Scottish mountains are well worth the effort but you need to invest in some decent footwear and clothing and make sure you go with an experienced ‘Munro Bagger’ who can lead the way – and take you to the best pub for a well-earned drink and a bite to eat when you come back down.

Tackle the West Highland Way with a tailor-made walking holiday.

Walking holidays and challenges

Thousands of people go abroad for their holidays but very few take the time to explore their own country. A walking holiday is a great way to see the sites of Great Britain and Ireland coupled with sumptuous local food. Absolute Escapes are experts in tailor-made walking holidays across the British Isles. You can experience walks like the West Highland Way and Wainwright’s Coast to Coast but with all the little details taken care of.

Image courtesy of soldierscharity.org

With a bit more practice you can even enter a walking challenge to combine your new-found passion with raising money for your chosen charity. How does a stroll across a section of the Sahara Desert appeal to you? Or maybe a hike to Everest Base Camp? A journey of 1,000 miles starts with a single step. You can start yours tomorrow with a moderate stroll around the block and see what happens from there.

Dark chocolate has a host of nutritional benefits
Nutritional benefits – great news for dark chocolate lovers!

Chocolate! Even the word just melts on my tongue. Yes, it might contain sugar and vegetable oil, but it’s not all bad news. In fact, there are some major nutritional benefits in good-quality chocolate – and that’s your key – good-quality. Here are some reasons to add chocolate to your diet…what’s not to like?

Milk or dark – what’s the difference?

Milk chocolate is great as an occasional treat but it can contain as little as 25% cocoa solids. This means there’s more milk, sugar, fats and less nutritional benefits from the cocoa. By comparison, the cocoa solids in the dark stuff range from 70% to a whopping 100% However, anyone not used to dark chocolate should start at the 70% end. You’ll find it bitter at first but as your taste buds become accustomed to it you may find yourself looking for a stronger flavour.

What are the nutritional benefits of dark chocolate?

Restores flexibility to arteries

According to the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology dark chocolate prevents white blood cells from sticking to arterial walls – a known cause of atherosclerosis.

Reduces the risk of a stroke

Researchers in Finland have discovered that chocolate consumption can reduce the likelihood of a stroke by 17% based on their tests on a specific group of men.

Packed with minerals and can lower cholesterol

Dark chocolate contains iron, copper and manganese among other minerals beneficial to our health. It can also lower LDL cholesterol (the bad stuff) and may even improve brain function. Read this article by authority nutrition to find out more.

Ok I’m sold but how should I eat dark chocolate?

Allow a square to melt slowly on your tongue. If it melts too quickly this means it has too much cocoa butter. Chewing can also give you that acidic, bitter flavour so just leave it alone and let it do its thing which releases all the contrasting flavours. Soon you’ll be experimenting with excellent single-origin bars from good quality local chocolatiers.

Cocoa farmers get a fair deal from fair trade companies
Fairtrade chocolate means a fair deal for cocoa farmers

What brands should I choose?

There are loads of great brands out there apart from the most obvious mainstream ones owned by global companies. If you’re concerned about fair trade and the impact on our environment always check the labels. Look for those which support a good deal for cocoa farmers and steer clear of bars containing palm oil unless you know it’s from certified sustainable sources. Click here to find out why. If you prefer organic products check with your local chocolatier or go for a brand such as Divine.

It’s time to ditch the scales. If you’re trying to become slimmer this might seem rash; after all, how are you going to know when you’ve reached your magic number if you can’t hop on every now and again? The answer is…you won’t. But that’s okay because, it’s time to forget about how much you weigh and focus on how you look and feel instead. So, here’s why Nutritious Lolly recommends that unless you’re a boxer, jockey or other professional sportsperson – you need to ditch the scales fast!

Continue reading “4 Reasons to Ditch the Scales Fast if You Want to Become Slimmer!”

Goal-setting lessons rom Nike
“That day, for no particular reason, I decided to go for a little run.”

Goal-setting is the key to success whether it’s related to sport, business or any other walk of life. Yet most of us aren’t very good at setting goals – probably because we’ve never really had to. So, if you’re finding goal-setting daunting, how do you get your goal up and running, so to speak? Here’s my take on it. I hope it helps.

Goal-setting – the Forrest Gump way

If you’ve seen Forrest Gump, you might remember this quote. “That day, for no particular reason, I decided to go for a little run. So, I ran to the end of the road. And, when I got there, I thought maybe I’d run to the end of town.”  Before we knew it, Forrest had covered the United States twice and ran for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days and 16 hours before he decided to go home again. Of course, that’s just a story but it contains one of the best lessons in goal-setting ever!

Just one more lamp-post

Then there’s the story of a friend of mine who is also doing the Plan. He told me that, a few years ago, he went through a stage of not really keeping himself fit and had difficulty sleeping. So, one morning he got up at 6am and, like Forrest, decided to go for a run – ‘for no particular reason’ except boredom. It was the middle of winter, dark and snowing, but he stuck on his old trainers and went for it. He ran to the first lamp-post across the street and home again, before going back to bed where he fell asleep for another hour. He did the same thing the next day but ran to the second lamp-post and back. Soon he was running further and further while saying to himself, “Just one more lamp-post.”

Mount Kilimanjaro rising above the African plain
Kilimanjaro, the world’s highest freestanding mountain

Within a few months, he wasn’t counting lamp-posts any more but miles instead. He ran 11 miles on a Friday night after work when his friends were in the pub. 10ks and half-marathons were next on the list but my friend didn’t want to do the full version, so decided to go walking instead. First up were 10-mile hill-walks, then 20 miles. It wasn’t long before he completed walking challenges like the 54-mile Caledonian Challenge, the 64-mile coast-to-coast hike ‘Across Ross’ and a section of the Sahara Desert before finally tackling Kilimanjaro. All from one simple decision.

The hardest part about training

Putting on trainers
The hardest part of training

Olympic medallist Steve Cram once said the hardest part about training was putting his running shoes on. We all know that we should be doing regular exercise but we sometimes struggle with our reason why and putting our ‘running shoes on’ is just too difficult. If this sounds familiar and you’re finding goal-setting a challenge, why not follow Nike’s (and Forrest’s) advice and ‘Just Do It’?

Everyone knows how important it is to stay hydrated but what happens when we get dehydrated?

What happens when we get dehydrated

Dehydration is a massive problem in society – far bigger than many might imagine – with research suggesting that one in five people in the UK don’t know how much water to drink.

When it comes to health and nutrition, good hydration is key and, for those on the Nutritious Lolly 6-Week Whole-Body Plan, you’ll know how much I encourage you to drink enough water.

You might feel like you’re peeing like a racehorse in the beginning but this will settle down!

The importance of good hydration becomes even more crucial when you add in physical activity. The more intense your activity, the more fluids you will lose and the more you need to drink to replace them.

Of course, none of this is rocket science. But I’ll say it again, please ensure you’re drinking enough water and this is around two to three litres a day on average, but should be more if you’re doing intense physical activity.

If you are somebody who does any form of cardio exercise at high intensity for 60 minutes or more at a time then you should have an electrolyte drink.

What happens when we get dehydrated?

So, what happens when we get dehydrated? Well, the first sign of dehydration is normally feeling thirsty. We all get this from time to time and we don’t think too much about it. We just have a drink and forget about it.

But really, we shouldn’t let it get to that stage. Our body is telling us that it’s already becoming dehydrated. If we’re really looking after our hydration, we should never really feel thirsty.

Other more severe symptoms of dehydration include feeling dizzy or light headed, feeling faint, tired and even headaches.

You might also notice that your pee is darker or more strong smelling than usual. If you notice that you’re peeing less than usual, that’s another signal that you’re dehydrated.

Most of us will have experienced these symptoms before; we’re all guilty of letting ourselves get dehydrated from time to time. But, if we’re letting this happen regularly then there’s a serious risk of causing long term damage to our bodies.

Why do we need to stay hydrated?

At face value, we all know that we NEED water to survive. But what many don’t know is that our bodies require good hydration for everything from maintaining temperature and blood pressure, lubricating joints, aiding digestion, maintaining organ performance (including our brain!)… and the list goes on and on and on.

In short, if we’re not properly hydrated our bodies cannot perform these functions the way they were intended to and the result is we end up feeling unwell from it.

Have I made this clear enough yet? Please, please ensure you are drinking enough water every day!

What good nutrition can do for you

You’ve probably read lots of ‘weight loss secrets’ online. Well, here’s one that shouldn’t be a secret but I sometimes feel like it is, good hydration can help you to maintain a healthy weight!

As well as that, good hydration can improve sleep, our skin and even improve joint and cartilage repair.

Good habits, just like bad habits, are developed over time so start your good habit of drinking more water today and give your body what it needs to perform the way it should.

Organic foods are a hot topic and there’s a lot of debate around whether they’re healthier for you so let’s delve in and examine some hard facts!

Firstly,
what is organic food?

This is a biggie because so many people assume that ‘organic’ is just a byword for ‘fruit and vegetables’ but that is completely wrong. Organic foods have a strict definition (even if there are some nuances from country to country). Essentially organic foods must be grown or raised without the use of synthetic pesticides, bioengineered genes (GMOs) or petroleum-based fertilisers.

Are organic – foods really any better for you?

This one is a real hot potato (see what I did there?), and much of that is down to a few studies which have suggested that there are only limited health benefits to eating organic foods over intensively grown and raised produce. BUT…
There’s also a torrent of data which suggests that organic foods do have significant health benefits so it really comes down to how you feel about it.
Personally, for me, it’s an easy choice to make. I’d rather that my family and I eat foods that don’t have lots of chemicals used in their production and that are kinder to the environment. Those two reasons alone are massive!
Here are some other reasons to eat organic foods:

Organic meats and milk are richer in nutrients

A 2016 European study found that organically raised meats and organically produced milk had up to 50 per cent more nutrients including Omega 3 fatty acids!

Organic foods have fewer pesticides

Pesticides are used in conventional farming processes. The reality of this is that residual chemicals can make their way into what we are eating. Do you want a side of fungicides, herbicides and insecticides with your salad? Nah, me neither.

Organically-raised animals are probably happier and healthier

This is an extremely contentious one… but the fact is that organically-raised animals are given far more space to move around and do what comes naturally to them (think cows out to pasture and chickens foraging). The use of antibiotics in intensively-farmed animals can create antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria.

Organic food is fresher 

Organic food doesn’t usually contain preservatives that are designed to make them last longer. So, that cauliflower that you thought was harvested from a farm a few days ago might actually be far, far older than that. Yuk. Organic produce is often produced on smaller farms near to where it is sold, so as well as being better for you and your family, you could actually be helping the local economy too!
For Nutritious Lolly, organic food is ALWAYS better.