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4 breathing techniques to reduce stress


Step 1: Breathe from your abdomen

To get the most out of each breath, you need to breathe from your belly, says Ros Ben-Moshe, director of Laughlife Wellbeing Programs.

“Optimal breathing stems from the abdomen, where a richer inhalation of oxygen and exhalation of carbon dioxide occurs, slowing the heart rate and easing anxiety.” She says breathing deeper in this way stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which induces feelings of “peace and calm“.

“Interestingly, we begin our lives breathing well, which can be seen watching babies breathing, as they take deep breaths in and out with their abdomen rising and falling, not their chest,” Ben-Moshe notes. Somewhere along the way we lose this vital skill of breathing through our tummies, and rely on shallow breathing instead.

Hot Tip: Place your hand on your belly when breathing. Though it feels counter-intuitive, Ben-Moshe says that when you breathe in, your abdomen should stick out, and when you breathe out, your abdomen is sucked back in.

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Jess Sepel’s FebFast tips



The festive season is over, the January hangover has slowly subsided and it’s time to rekindle the healthy routine you’ve been avoiding so far in 2016.

Lacking motivation? The annual Febfast event encourages a month-long pause from alcohol and sugar, while raising money for underprivileged youth. Enter as a team or go it alone; just use it as an opportunity to give your body a break from the vino and the sweets for a good cause.

We spoke to clinical nutritionist and all-round health guru Jess Sepel to get her tips and tricks on how to stay on track for the challenge.

Stay hydrated

Make sure you’re drinking your two litres of water every day. If this isn’t exciting enough for you, swap to a few glasses of sparkling water with fresh lemon or lime, or freeze your favourite fruits into ice cubes and pop them in your drink. Not only is this refreshing on a hot day, but the fruit infuses as the ice melts for the sweetener taste (minus the calories).

Eat your protein

Protein keeps you fuller for longer, and it doesn’t necessarily have to come in the form of red meat, chicken or eggs. Potatoes, chia seeds, green peas and rice are examples of foods also high in protein.

Snack pre-party

Have a satiating snack before you head out to a celebratory event so that you don’t find yourself starving and turning to foods you wouldn’t normally eat. My favourite snack options before heading out are hummus and vegie sticks, coconut yoghurt or Greek yoghurt topped with berries and sugar-free granola, or chopped apple with almond butter.

Be balanced

If you do indulge, don’t feel it has to be an ‘all or nothing’ affair. Let yourself enjoy a few treats occasionally and remember that your body can handle unhealthy foods in small amounts. Trust yourself.

Get active

Use Febfast as an opportunity to wake up early on the weekend and go for a run, practice yoga outside as the sun rises or even just take the dog for a stroll around the block. Physical activity in the morning before you start your day will kick start your endorphins and leave you feeling awake and energised.

Prioritise your health

Prioritise your physical and mental wellbeing by making a conscious decision to balance your fun – enjoy activities that aren’t centred on drinking or alcohol. Go to brunch with your besties, take a walk along the coast with your family or have a booze-free picnic.

Register and find out more today.

NEXT: Find out how alcohol affects you.



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Detoxing: the good, the bad and the informative



Starving yourself is not the way to go

Most detoxes promote a reduced calorie intake, which can quickly turn into starvation mode. According to GP Dr Fran Bruce of Wesley LifeShape Clinic, most detoxes are “low in protein which can result in fatigue, dehydration, light headedness, headaches, mood swings and constipation.

Our bodies are capable of detoxing on their own

As our liver and kidneys work together to remove toxins from our systems, our bodies naturally go through a detoxification phase. If you’re thinking laxatives are the way to go, think again. Unless discussed with a medical practitioner, they can lead to some serious complications down the track, says Gastroenterologist, Dr Phillip Chang.

Detoxing is not a quick fix

Although detoxing can promote fat loss, this weight loss isn’t always fat loss. “You can expect to lose weight, but mainly due to water and muscle loss after depriving your body of essential nutrients such as protein, says Dietitian Lyndi Polivnick.

Before you ditch the idea of the detox, there are ways to healthily cleanse your body.

Fuel your body with wholesome goodness

There’s even more reason to head to the fresh food aisle of your supermarket because the most simple detox tactic is to avoid highly processed foods, says Dr Bruce. Avoid “foods that are high in fats and sugar, reduce your alcohol intake (if it exceeds the recommended guidelines) and limit caffeine consumption for a week or so.” Keep those energy levels high with nutrient dense wholefoods.  

Go green

While most detoxes miss the mark on fibre and protein, get more from “natural, minimally process foods such as fruit, leafy green vegetables (cabbage or kale) and psyllium (natural insoluble fibre)” in you, says Dr Chang.

Don’t detox for the long haul

When it comes to intense detoxes, short term is better than long term, says Polivnick. Opt for raw foods rather than juices to help out with your fibre intake and befriend water. Lots of it. “Supercharge your body’s natural ability to clear toxins…drink plenty of water, get exercising,” she says.

A little evaluation never hurt anyone

If you’re looking to reassess your habits, you can benefit from a process of elimination. Stewart suggests, eliminating ‘all animal protein products including eggs,” which can slow down the detoxing process. The Liver Cleansing Diet focuses on high quality nutrients including veggies, fruits, grains, nuts and seeds, which are important for your metabolism.

Full article by Hannah Blamey, featured in the January edition of Women’s Health and Fitness Magazine.



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The amazing ‘mind–gut connection’

The directive to ‘go with your gut’ is more than a throwaway line from pseudo-science. Frances Dalton, a nutritionist and medical advisor for the MINDD Foundation, which promotes mind-body approaches in healthcare, says the gut is being recognised as the second brain.

Your second brain

“There are millions of nerve cells around the intestines, almost as many as in the brain,” Dalton says. “This means the gut has the ability to process information about what is going on and put a response into action separate from the brain and central nervous system.”

Intestinal nerve cells have similar conversations to those between neurons in the brain – using neurotransmitters as a kind of phone. There are around 30 neurotransmitters used by the so-called enteric nervous system, the same number as in the brain. The enteric nervous system employs more neurons than the peripheral nervous system and spinal cord respectively.

“Whatever affects the mind will in turn have some impact on gut function,” says naturopath Lyn Craven. She calls this lifelong two-way convo ‘gut instinct’. 

Thus, the belly is also intimately linked to emotions and vice versa.

Mental illnesses linked to the gut

“People who are frightened enough, without question show gut problems,” says the University of Melbourne professor of enteric neuroscience Joel Bornstein.

“That’s the brain talking to the gut and the gut talking back to the brain, saying, ‘I’m uncomfortable’.

Dalton says many conditions thought to be purely anomalies of the mind, like mental illnesses, are now being linked to the gut.

“Many of the so-called psychological problems people are faced with today such as anxiety, depression, and even more serious conditions such as schizophrenia and autism are related to problems in the gut,” she says.

“Programs that work to heal these gut problems and address the resulting deficiencies are very successful in helping the majority of people with these types of disorders.”

Gut bacteria may also improve general brain function , research suggests.

In a UCLA study, women aged 18 to 55 who ate yoghurt containing probiotics twice a day for a month exhibited decreased activity in two brain regions that control central processing of emotion and sensation. They also showed greater connectivity between a region known as the periaqueductal grey and areas of the prefrontal cortex associated with cognition while those who skipped the probiotic showed greater connectivity of a different area.

Drawing on findings that most of the body’s neurotransmitter serotonin resides in the gut, not the brain, Julia Ross’ book and protocol The Mood Cure employs amino acids – the constituents of protein and precursors to neurotransmitters – to correct emotional fallouts.
“Your brain relies on protein – the only food source of amino acids – to make all of its mood-enhancing chemicals,” Ross says.
“If you are not getting enough protein, you won’t be able to manufacture those crucial chemicals.”

Including protein in every meal is a good way to maintain adequate levels of amino acids – many of which the body can’t manufacture (‘essential amino acids’). Fish, eggs, chicken and beef contain all 22 amino acids.

Chronic fatigue

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) has recently been linked to unbalanced gut bacteria.

According to research at the University of Toronto, low levels of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria in the gut could contribute to CFS symptoms. Gut bacteria communicates with the nervous system by way of the vagas nerves, so it makes sense that it can influence mood. The same bacteria also converse with the immune system, which largely resides in the gut.

“Research shows that patients with CFS and other so-called functional somatic disorders have alterations in the intestinal microbial flora,” says Dr A Venket Rao, researcher at the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Toronto. “Emerging studies have suggested that pathogenic and non-pathogenic gut bacteria might influence mood-related symptoms and even behaviour in animals and humans.

“We found a significant rise in both Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria in those taking the Lactobacillus casei strain Shirota (LcS), and there was also a significant decrease in anxiety symptoms among those taking the probiotic vs controls.”

Even certain symptoms of autism are now being linked to disturbances in gut bacteria. “There’s good evidence that gut bacteria can upset behaviour, and that appears to be the case with autism,” says Prof. Bornstein.

So is your diet a factor?

People may experience a ‘gut-wrenching’ feeling from time to time or even ‘butterflies’ in their stomach. These are very common expressions. The gastrointestinal tract is sensitive to emotion. Some feelings – anger, sadness, anxiety, joy – can trigger symptoms in the gut.

The brain has a direct link to the stomach. Particularly true in cases where a person experiences gastrointestinal distress with no apparent physical cause. For such functional GI disorders, it is problematic to attempt to heal an upset stomach without considering stress and emotion.

Responding to stress

Be it mental or physical stress, your internal adrenaline and other organs may strengthen your muscles to give you that extra boost of speed to meet with certain feeling and moods. Our bodies have a self-defence mechanism that is able to fight when there is danger to help you survive. Understanding this, any stress-related factors can possibly affect your body movement. Studies have suggested that going to therapies as well as a better diet can help reduce and overcome stress.

‘You are what you eat’ – Is that true?

Yes, absolutely! We all know that sticking to a nutritional diet is hard. Weight loss programs are good for those who find it difficult to stick to a worthy diet. At Jenny Craig, their menus are tasty and nutritious, with the perfect balance of protein, fibre, carbohydrates and healthy fats. A lot of nutritionists will tell you to avoid eating processed foods. A wise choice would be to take a sufficient high-quality probiotic supplement to help get the nutrients in your diet and help you stay focused with your goals and live a healthier life.



NEXT: Read more health advice from the team at WH&F or check out 15 tummy flattening foods


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A day in the life of Emily Skye



I love how exercising makes me feel – mentally and physically. When you reach a point where you’re happy with your fitness level, you can just maintain it, which is a lot easier than when you’re starting. I encourage people to think of this when they feel like giving up. I love training my legs and glutes because it’s always challenging and has me almost crawling out of the gym – I love that feeling! My favourite exercises are squats, deadlifts, lunges, glute lunges, step-ups, glute bridges, hip thrusts, glute kickbacks and crab walks with an exercise band. Listening to Bullet for My Valentine, Three Days Grace, Alter Bridge, Taylor Swift and Beyoncé motivates me.


I’ve learned that my body is incredible, smart and strong – provided I eat nutritious food and exercise. I eat food that provides my body with enough protein, fats and carbs and plenty of vitamins and minerals; I don’t worry about counting calories or macros. I eat lots of fresh organic vegetables – leafy greens, salmon and blueberries are some of my favourite foods that are anti-inflammatory and full of nutrients. Breakfast and lunch are usually fish or chicken and vegies, dinner might be brown rice or vegies and chicken curry and in the evening I have a green smoothie.


To step back from the crazy pace, I’ll turn off my phone and laptop and go for a walk, visit the steam room, lie on the beach or get a coffee or herbal tea and relax. When I’m my most relaxed and happiest is actually when I’m at the gym training as it takes my mind off everything.


There is no typical day in my life anymore! I wake up, eat and get into creating content; I take photos, film workouts, film motivational videos, write posts, reply to comments on my social media pages, etc. I’ll usually then touch base with my team and discuss upcoming campaigns and products for my business before lunch.Next I’ll meet with my manager and we’ll go over upcoming press, partnerships and travel; I usually fly somewhere once a week. Then I go to the gym, come home and have dinner and try to relax in the steam room for 20 minutes. I do more work at night and wind down by watching TV or a movie. I will usually do some stretches before responding to as many people as I can across my pages before going to bed



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6 ways to manage PMS


1. Food

Stabilising blood sugar will favour consistent energy levels and moods according to dietitian Melanie McGrice ( “Grains that have a low glycaemic index, which means that they provide longer-lasting energy, can also help to increase the hormone serotonin in the brain, so try some chickpeas, brown rice or quinoa,” says McGrice.

2. Diet

According to accredited practising dietitian Lisa Yates, some studies show that PMS may be exacerbated by too much caffeine, sugar and alcohol. To minimise symptoms, she suggests that you reduce your alcohol, caffeine and salt intake, and follow a low-GI diet.

3. Supplements

Professor Kulkarni says supplements such as evening primrose oil can be effective for relieving PMS symptoms and favours these as a primary intervention before resorting to the contraceptive pill. “The two supplements I suggest are vitamin B6 and evening primrose oil, which has healthy essential fatty acids. Both supplements have been shown in studies to help alleviate some symptoms in women with PMS and many women benefit from them,” Prof Kulkarni says. A study published in 2010 found that the combination of magnesium and vitamin B6 was particularly helpful for decreasing PMS symptoms. “Nuts are rich in both magnesium and B6, so I’d recommend taking 30 g unsalted nuts daily in the week prior to your period,” says McGrice.

Correcting iron deficiency may also ease syptoms as women who consume insufficient iron are at higher risk of suffering PMS according to University of Massachusetts research. Women with higher non-heme iron, which comes from plant sources, are 30 to 40 per cent less likely to experience PMS. This is possibly because low iron affects levels of serotonin, the hormone that elevates mood. Good sources of non-heme iron include silverbeet and spinach, broccoli, bok choy, soybeans and lentils.

4. The Pill

Contraceptive pills can help ameliorate symptoms of severe PMS and PMDD, but not all pills are equally effective. “Women should not take older-style progesterone pills as these can actually contribute to emotions like anger and depression,” warns Prof Kulkarni. “Some of the newer varieties of pill such as Zoely, Diane and Juliet can be very beneficial.”

To establish a more stable hormonal pattern, women may take the pill with the active hormones for three cycles then go on to a sugar pill for one week only, so that within a three-month cycle they only have one week of bleeding.

5. Hormone therapy

The next line of defence is hormone therapy according to Prof Kulkarni. Oestrogen patches or oestradiol patches and progesterone can cause a kind of hormone detour. “For some women who are very sensitive to hormones, another alternative is to deliver the progesterone via the Mirena IUD, which is placed in the uterus. This allows the hormones to go directly into the surrounding organs rather than passing through the bloodstream first, where it may cause more side effects,” Prof Kulkarni says.

6. Antidepressants

For women who feel their lives are hijacked by hormones every month, antidepressants can provide enormous relief. “The antidepressants stabilise the level of hormones like serotonin, so some women with PMS or PMDD no longer experience those huge mood swings from hormonal fluctuations,” says Davison. 

A new approach to this treatment is to take the antidepressant intermittently. “It may be taken for one week or 10 days of each month when symptoms occur,” says Prof Kulkarni. “To ensure the dose and type of antidepressant suits your system, speak to your GP about having a blood test or swab to get background on your metabolic system and guide the choice of antidepressant.” 

If antidepressants are not effective, women who suffer severe symptoms of PMS may then choose to undergo a ‘chemical menopause’, where strong hormones are used to stop ovulation and give women a break from the terrible hormonal and mood swings. “This approach sometimes needs to be permanent but can also have a kind of resetting effect on the brain,” Prof Kulkarni explains. “If women choose to come off the hormones, their impact is usually reversible and even when no longer on the therapy, the hormonal-related moods swings may be greatly reduced.” 



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