Category Archives: Health

10 minimalist reasons to start cycling today

This year, I discovered the wonders of cycling. I saw a poster that advertised a cheap bike hire scheme and I spontaneously decided to take the plunge. Before that, I hadn’t ridden a bike for over a year, let alone on the road. At first, I was slow and a bit wobbly, but by the end of the year I was faster and fitter. Now I wonder how I ever got anywhere without my trusty bike. Here are 10 minimalist reasons to start cycling today:

1. Quit the gym. I used to go the gym for two reasons. For the treadmill and for the exercise bikes. When I started running outside I halved the usefulness of the gym. And when I took up cycling at the beginning of the academic year, I found myself unable to take out that expensive membership. It just wasn’t worth it any more. Cycling burns an enormous amount of calories, and takes you places whilst you’re doing it.

2. No need for cars. Cars are expensive. There are multiple taxes, insurance, maintenance fees, not to mention gas, parking tickets, and the initial cost of the car itself. In fact, the cost for me to hire a bike for a whole year was less than the cost of a tank of gas. I realise that there are a few times when cars come in handy, such as twice a year when move my stuff from home to dorm (I’m lucky enough to have parents that would drive me), but for the rest of the year, a bike is more than enough to get me from A to B, even with all my shopping and books in tow.

3. Green. Speaking of cars, apart from the CO2 from your breathing, bikes don’t release toxic gases. And they don’t take that much energy to make and transport. They run on good old clean human energy – extra calories and a bit of elbow grease.

4. Takes up less space. An average bike takes less than 15% of the space an average car takes. Bikes can fit in doorways, in the front garden, in alleyways, and in sheds. They can be parked on lamp posts, fences and railings. They’re great for city dwellers, studio flats, apartments, not to mention minimalists!

5. Easier to maintain. Cars are needy. When you fix one thing, sooner or later another thing will break. And when you fix that, soon enough another part needs to be replaced. When you’ve done almost everything, the cycle starts again. Yes bikes do need to be maintained too, but not to that extent. Plus, the pieces are cheaper and a lot of bike shops will help you out for free if you buy the parts from them.

6. Faster. Have you ever been stuck in a traffic jam and watched the cyclists weave between the cars? Things go even faster when there’s a cycling lane. In the early mornings and evenings, it’s quite normal for me to zip past all of the stuck traffic and get to uni/home before the cars do. Sure, it’s not faster all of the time, but it’s always faster than walking, so it’s a great compromise.

7. Versatile. There are places you can’t drive, and there are places you can’t walk. But a lot of these places allow cycling. So if you want to get close into a busy town centre, take a bike. If you want to go for a leisurely ride through the park, take a bike. Unlike cars, which are restricted to roads and parking lots, bikes can get through pedestrian short cuts but can also be parked almost anywhere, for free.

8. Portable. If you have a longer distance to cover, you can cycle to the station and take bikes on buses and trains, and when you arrive, cycle the rest of the way. I’ve found this to be a really efficient way to travel, not to mention cheap! And if you know how to take them apart, they’re surprisingly compact-able, making them great to take in the backs of cars for road trips.

9. Quieter. What can be more Zen than a bit of silence? Imagine the morning rush with no horns or beeps, engine hums and roars or people venting their road rage. Just a few cyclist’s bell tings and the quiet clicks of the pedals running. I bet people will arrive at work or school much less stressed! (see video below)

10. More mindful. Some people spend too much time boxed up from the outside world. They go from their houses, to the inside of a car, to the inside of an office. A grand total of a few minutes spent in the outside world, even when the weather is good. And so what if it’s raining? It’s just water. It’s natural, embrace it!

I’m just going to go all out and say it. Cycling is awesome. Sure there’s walking (which is great too!), but cycling is much faster, and contrary to popular belief, very safe. I’ve mostly compared bikes to cars here, but whilst I’m not exactly a tree-hugger, I would love to live in a city where people cycled more than they drove. Can you imagine how great that would be? Check out this video for inspiration (notice how peaceful it is):

Cycling feeds my minimalist fetish. Do you cycle? Do you have any more reasons why we should start? Please share them in the comments!

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5 steps to get started with barefoot running

Lately, barefoot running has become a new craze in what I like to ‘The Minimalist Circle’ 🙂 It sounded so interesting, that I decided to give it a try a couple of weeks ago and have been doing it regularly ever since.

what is barefoot running?

Barefoot running is what it says on the tin. It’s running without expensive trainers because that’s how humans have run for thousands of years. It’s getting back to nature by ditching shoes (a modern invention) that have changed how we step as we run. Originally, humans ran by stepping with the ball of the foot first and then the heel would follow. Nowadays, the design of shoes mean that we all tend to step heel to toe (the opposite way around). When you’re running, if your heel touches the ground first, your entire weight is impacted upwards into your knees with every step.

Try running around at home barefooted for a few minutes. Notice how quickly you revert back to the ‘natural’ way of running (ball of foot first).

If you tried that exercise, and found it to be true, your body is aching to go barefoot running!

When I first tried it, I was living in a city, and there was no way I wanted to have broken glass jammed up my feet, so I decided to mix it up a bit.  I would run in trainers to the park and then run wearing socks on the grass. The park is huge, and kept very clean, so there was little chance I would step on something unpleasant.

Fortunately, at home, I live by a beach. From experience, I’ve found that running on sand is a completely different kind of running, because the ground is so soft. So I had always run in trainers on the concrete pavement parallel to the sea. But, having grown up by the ocean, I know that for a certain time after the tide has gone out, the sand is solid from the moisture and is more suitable for running, so I run barefoot there often too.

the benefits

According to Wikipedia (take that as you like) there is some research evidence that found that:

barefoot running is healthier for feet and reduces risk of chronic injuries, notably repetitive stress injuries due to the impact of heel striking in padded running shoes, in addition to other purported benefits.

However, I should give a word of warning. Although there are a few medical authorities advocating barefoot running, it may not be for everyone. It depends on a number of factors, such as where you live and what your own body is like. Personally, I’ve experienced a lot of benefits from running barefoot, and have heard other positive accounts, but that doesn’t mean that it will be the same for everyone.

The best thing to do is to just try it out a couple of times and see for yourself. I’m not saying you have to make a complete switch and do it all the time, maybe you can just sprinkle it between your normal runs.

5 beginner’s tips for barefoot running

1. You don’t have to go barefoot all the way. Actually, you don’t have to be barefoot at all! If you feel uncomfortable, try running in socks on grass. I’ve found it to be just as effective as running barefooted anyway.

2. Keep in mind, you don’t look as silly as you think. To be honest, at first I did feel a bit silly, and I was really concious of people ‘looking’ at me as I ran in the park. But after a while, I got used to it and realised that nobody was really ‘looking’ at all – it was just in my head. And anyway, so what if they look? It’s not illegal, and who knows, they could really be thinking ‘that looks fun!’ and want to try it themselves!

3. It doesn’t just feel different, it feels better. I couldn’t believe it at first, but it really does feel more natural. By just taking off those (expensive yet) encumbering shoes, I felt really free, just like a kid again. Although I’m not quite ready to throw away my running shoes, I definitely use them a lot less now.

4. Realize you don’t need expensive running gear. Apart from regular running shoes, I also found that I don’t need expensive barefoot running shoes. There are a few options available, such as the Vibram brand, but in my opinion, that’s just buying more running shoes! I know that for a lot of people, the shoes are great because it means they can run barefoot on concrete/roads etc. but I think it’s much better for people to just try out barefoot running with socks on grass than using the shoes as an ‘I-don’t-want-to-commit-because-it’s-expensive‘ excuse not to do it.

5. It’s hard at first, but don’t give up, because it’s worth it. It may not be as cushioned and lovely to run on grass, soil and twigs but then again, why not try something different? If everything was easy, it wouldn’t be exciting now would it? For me, doing things differently and outside my comfort zone gives me a rush, and is much more fun than doing the same things the same way over and over again.

Please don’t just read this post and think ‘that sounds nice‘ and leave it at that, why not try it today?

And if you’ve already tried it, how did it go? I would love to hear what you think about barefoot running in the comments!

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Life as chopsticks

Chopsticks. Right now, millions of people are digging into their food with two sticks that have stood the test of time as a utensil for humans, even when countless thousands of other tools, gadgets and products haven’t. But what’s so special about them?

What can we learn from mere chopsticks?

Personally, I have used them all my life, but it was only recently I realised the depth of influence they had in many people’s way of life. They teach us the importance of:

1. Simplicity. They can come in all kinds of colours and sizes but essentially they are just two long sticks. There’s hardly anything more simple than two bits of wood being pushed together. With new technology being released everyday and adverts bombarding us with the need to be able to do more with less, multi-tasking and multiple-use devices, it is sort of refreshing to still have something which has just one use – simply to eat. Chopsticks are a living example that simplicity simply works, and we don’t need to keep developing, improving and fixing things all the time.

2. Versatility. Chopsticks can be used for picking up all kinds of food; meat, veg, rice, even the bones from fish, because by nature, their simplicity means that they are adaptable. Instead of aiming for a niche in an attempt to find a ‘gap in the market’, or to fill a hole that probably doesn’t need filling, they cater to a wide range purposes. Imagine being like chopsticks in this way, able to appeal to many people because you are useful, without worrying about being ‘more innovative’ or ‘better’ in anyway. They just do what they are made to do, they just are.

3. Aim. If you’ve ever tried using them, you know that you can’t get what you want by just haphazardly stabbing at the plate. To be able to get what you want, you have to aim for it. There’s no way you can pick up everything in one go. Know what you want, and just do it. Sometimes, a little bit of focus makes the difference between failure and success.

4. Practice. Using chopsticks doesn’t come naturally. You have to learn to use them and practice it. But how will you learn? Should you just read about it? Most would agree that there’s no better way to practice than to look at the delicious food in front of you and tell yourself  that you can’t have any until you can use the chopstick to get it. In real life, you can read as much as you like about all the things you want to do, but it will just amount to dreams and theory if you don’t try actually doing it. Don’t just watch others eating, put yourself out there and give the chopsticks a go.

5. Slowing Down. A common health tip is to try to eat with chopsticks when you can. Why? Because it slows you down and allows your stomach to tell your brain your’re full before you overeat. Eating with chopsticks is a slower process, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes we need to slow down and take things one step at a time, break it down at each stage so that we have time to think, to realise that we’re actually full and that we don’t have to keep charging full speed through life.

Sometimes it’s nice to enjoy each morsel of life as it comes.

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My Minimalist Kitchen

When I first began my minimalist journey, one of the first places I began ‘decluttering’ in my life was my diet. It wasn’t until I moved away to university and was able to take full control of what I bought and ate that I really got things started. I’ve always been interested in food, cooking, and nutrition and since I’ve studied Food technology for just over five years, it’s been a big part of my life for a long time.

I’ve talked about minimalist diets in a previous post in detail, but here I want to talk about what I do specifically to stick to it:

1. Eat simply. Despite my dedication to food, when it comes to actual cooking, sometimes there’s not enough time or I just get a little bit lazy. This doesn’t mean I should pick up the phone and call in a takeaway straight away, instead, I’ll just throw together some simple fresh ingredients and make a meal out of that. I think one of the advantages I have is that I am not in the least bit fussy about what I eat, and I am perfectly happy eating the same thing three nights in a row. For example, if I don’t feel like cooking, I’ll just make a salad out of some spinach and rocket, and flavour it with a spicy dressing and some butter beans. Total time 2 minutes.

2. Cook simply. On the same note, I don’t enjoy excessive cooking as I can be a little bit impatient sometimes. I prefer to only eat things that can be cooked either in less than 10 minutes or by steaming or boiling (or microwaving). This is one of the reasons why I became pescetarian as meat took too long to cook (except when making burger patties). It’s not all to do with laziness however, because by cooking simply and quickly you preserve more of the goodness in the food as heat destroys a lot of the vitamins and washes out the minerals in it.

3. Drink simply. I almost never drink fizzy drinks, mostly because I don’t feel they quench my thirst! Also, they are completely full of empty calories and processed stuff, I just don’t feel comfortable fuelling my body with dirty oil so to speak. However, I do have the occasional alcoholic drink every now and again (I am a student after all) but only occasionally. Normally, I drink water, but I also have a collection of teas that I like to make everyday, including green tea, jasmine tea, orange tea, pomegranate tea, white tea, lotus leaf tea(!), and camomile tea for night time. Tea has almost no calories, is refreshing and is full of anti-oxidants.

4. Eating less. About three times a week, I try intermittent fasting. I found out about it through my research about diets about a year ago. I read some of the studies and to me, the results sound credible. Now, I don’t intend to give anyone dietary advice here, this is post is about what I feel works for me. Intermittent fasting, in short, is going through short periods of not eating. At first, I was skeptical, but then I realised that by doing so, one can reduce the amount of calories they eat in a day, and basically it’s another way of saying eat less. You can find out more about it through this great ebook.

5. Simplify the kitchen. The kitchen is one of the places where mess and clutter can build up quickly if you’re not careful. I share a kitchen with my flatmates, so there is limited space which fits me all the better. I don’t buy equipment I don’t need, I have just enough plates and cups that I use all of them and I only buy ingredients I know I will use before the expiry date. The last point is really important because that where a bunch of money can be saved. I don’t write it out or anything, but I tend to have a plan in my head about what I will eat during the following week and I shop accordingly so I use up everything before it goes off.

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The Recipe for Student Success – Ingredient Three : Great Health

Whenever I fill in a form that asks for my occupation, the answer I always put is ‘student’. That’s because being a student is a full time job. Unlike a ‘real job’ where you do what you’re paid for within set hours, as a student from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to bed almost everything I do is somehow related somehow to university.

My job as a student comes with a job description. Part of my job as a student is to socialize, to make friends and connections with dorm-mates, course-mates and professors. Another requirement is being frugal, (depending on your financial circumstances) since most students don’t have piles of money under their beds. Finally, it is also my job as a student to do all of the assignments and reading and attend of lectures and so on. These requirements can create pitfalls that keep me from being as healthy as possible.

obstacles to great health

1. Drinking too much. For some reason, it has become a cultural rule that the best way to make friends is to have a drink with them. Personally, I am not opposed to this, and actually I think it’s a great way to bond with people. However, I do think there is a line between just a social ‘drink’ and a social ‘binge’. Of course, there are some special nights where it’s sometimes nice to drink ourselves silly, but most of the time is that really necessary? There was once a time when I would have gone past the line far enough that I would barely remember the entire night. Looking back at it now, not only was that extremely dangerous, as well as expensive, I probably would have had way more fun if I knew what I was doing and perhaps didn’t make such a moron of myself.

2. Giving into peer-pressure. Now, this may sound like something we were told not to do in high school, but unfortunately I still see it happening at college level. It may be disguised as a ‘suggestion’ or whatnot, but it is what it is. Sometimes when we’re trying to impress people, we do what they say against our better judgement. I’m all for the ‘try-everything-once’ mantra, but for me there are just a few things that are a little too risky, and I don’t think I’ll gain much ‘experience’ from trying them anyway.

3. Buying cheap food. I can’t speak for everyone here but I would say I fit into the usual ‘student’ financial bracket if there is such a thing. I’m not exactly loaded, but I’m not struggling either. There shouldn’t be much reason for me to skimp on food, even though it is tempting. The cheapest food, especially cheap meals, most of the time aren’t good for you. They are filled with additives and flavourings to make up for their lack of real taste and nutrition.

4. Not cooking at home. Every now and again there comes a time when you are absolutely swamped with work and you just don’t have time. Occasionally ordering a take-out is fine, but having three or four a week is bordering on lazy. Not cooking at home is a pitfall to good health because unless you’re ordering salads etc. it’s unlikely that what you get in a polystyrene box is good for you.

Most of these pitfalls can be helped. Almost all of these aren’t forced on you, you can choose the better alternative if you want to. All you need is a little willpower plus the want to be a healthier, more productive and happier person.

3 ways to great health

1. Get enough sleep. Getting enough sleep is crucial to your success as a student. Even a 20 minute nap will boost your concentration and therefore your understanding and retention levels. At night, try to calm your mind down before going to bed by doing some meditation or light stretches. Alternatively, drink a cup of camomile tea or listen to some soothing music. Make sure you’ve packed everything you needed for the next day so that you’re not tossing an turning at night in the vain hope you’ll remember to grab something in the morning. Try to go to bed at the same time every night, even if you only have an afternoon lecture the next day. By maintaining a routine, your body will be able to relax easier when it comes to bedtime and you’ll be able to sleep deeper and wake up feeling more refreshed.

2. Eat a minimalist diet. A minimalist diet doesn’t mean you don’t eat much. It means that instead of choosing processed ready meals or fatty takeaways, replace them with fresh and simple ingredients in a home-made dish. A lot of minimalist recipes only require a few minutes to prepare. Even the cooking process is quick and minimal, such as just steaming or quickly boiling, which means that it shouldn’t take you a lot of time to prepare even the most satisfying meals. A minimalist diet can also save you money, especially if you spend a few bucks each week on junk food. On top of that, it can help you boost your concentration and energy levels throughout the day.

3.  Plan exercise time and do it. Eating healthily is only half of the battle. The other half is exercising, and there’s no getting away from it. Student life means that your body can spend hours at a time sitting at a desk. If you don’t really do any exercise, don’t start out with something extreme like jogging everyday. Instead, just take a walk or do some stretches. Schedule time out to do exercise and actually do it. If you can’t find the time to fit it in, don’t give up. There are many exercises you can do even whilst at your desk. You don’t have to aim to have a model’s body or to be able to run a marathon. Just getting your heart pumped a little releases happy hormones which will lift your mood and make you more willing and able to learn.

Depending on your academic course, you could have it easy. You could have a few days off a week, long weekends and generous deadlines. Or you could be on the other end of the spectrum, the one with library marathons and late-night cramming. Either way (or if you’re somewhere in between) it’s easy for your mind to be full about your job as a student, instead of thinking about what you are apart from that.

Above the outer label, you are a human being, with a real body that hopes and dreams. But without your body, can you accomplish those dreams? You may not want to be a pro-star athlete, but essentially in order for you to achieve your best, your body needs to be at it’s best. Without it being at optimum levels, it becomes something that can hinder your potential. Think about any time when you didn’t get enough sleep, your body probably felt tired and you might have found it difficult to concentrate. Because you didn’t take care of it, your body stopped you from doing your best. Take good care of your body, and it will take care of you.

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A Student’s Guide to a Minimalist Diet in 5 Steps

what is a minimalist’s diet?

True to the minimalist mind-set, a MD (Minimalist Diet) is about reducing food down to what is essential. Although I refer to it as a diet here, in this case I mean diet in the case of ‘a way of eating’ or a long-term lifestyle, not a fad diet that claims you can lose several pounds in 30 days.

When it comes to diets, the important thing is to find a balance and to keep trying new things until you find what is best for you. Our bodies are all different in a thousand subtle ways; we all react to food a little differently. I am not a nutritionist, so please don’t take this as medical advice. I have also taken into account my current lifestyle, I am a student, with very little money to spend, so some of the steps have come out of necessity rather than choice.

For me, an ideal model for a MD is the traditional Japanese diet. Japanese cuisine is well known for the little cooking that is applied to the food. A lot of food is eaten raw or lightly vinegared, such as Sashimi, or otherwise just steamed or boiled. As for flavouring, the Japanese tend to season lightly, or use simple dipping sauces such as soy sauce. This doesn’t mean the food is bland and tasteless, it simply means that food is eaten the way it is, as close as possible to how it occurs in nature.

My take on a good MD is cutting down on too many foods that are processed and cooked for long periods of time. A lot of people cut out meat as well, and although a vegetarian or even vegan diet is definitely very ‘minimal’, you don’t have to abandon meat if you don’t want to.

what are the benefits?

Some of the advantages of a Minimalist Diet are that:

You spend less money. You’re on a student budget, which, unless you’re very lucky, isn’t much. Processed food tend to cost more because the manufacturer needs to make a profit over all of the ingredients and chemicals they used to make it. Buying carrots and chopping them up yourself makes a much cheaper side dish than oven chips which the food company had to grow, chop, flavour, process, package, market, distribute and store whilst making money to stay in business.

It is healthier. Most food companies, and restaurants, don’t care about your health. They care about money. So, they make their food products tasty and convenient because that is what will encourage you to buy them again. But at what cost? The tastiest foods are packed full of sugars and fats. And the most ‘convenient’ foods are sprayed full of chemicals so that they can be stored longer and cooked in less time. Cutting out processed foods means you’ll be filling your body with natural foods, so there are fewer ‘sugar rushes’ or ‘oily breakouts’, which leaves you in a much happier mood and better able to focus and concentrate.

Moreover, I was in the supermarket one day and I noticed that a burger costs £1, whereas a bag of salad was about £1.50. The question occurred to me: What is in that burger that makes it cost less than a bag of leaves to make? A bag of leaves!?

It’s better for the environment. Eating foods that don’t come with copious amounts of packaging saves from adding to landfill. Plus, eating fresh food means it probably spent less time travelling, which saves enormous amounts of oil and carbon dioxide emissions. If you cut down on meat, you will be ‘saving food’, since raising livestock costs more plant material than the energy and nutrition you would get from eating the plants themselves. There is already a global food shortage problem, and although realistically you won’t make much of a difference by yourself, at least you would know you are doing you best not to make it worse.

how to get started

Here are a few steps you can take towards a Minimalist Diet:

1. Make your own. Takeaways are extremely expensive compared to the cost of making a meal for yourself. You don’t have to make a profit over the effort you put into making your own dinner. Of course, there is a need for one every now and again, but if you make meals in bulk then all you have to do is heat up a portion for the next night. One of the biggest money-saving things you can do is making your own sandwiches for lunch. A quick price comparison shows how much you can save, the average cost of a sandwich is £2.00, if you buy 4-5 a week that comes to almost £10. But a supermarket loaf of bread is only about £0.60 and even adding the cost of most fillings like tomatoes, cheese, salads and butter that will last you more than one loaf still makes bringing your own much cheaper.

2. Cut out junk. If you know you eat a lot of chips, biscuits, crisps, cakes, pastries and drink a lot of fizzy drinks, you don’t have get rid of it all straight away, otherwise the chances are you won’t last very long and you’ll be tempted to switch back. Instead, you can just cut down little by little, and substitute foods at the same time (see below) to make up for it. This step can be difficult, and I know it is easier said than done but it is one of the quickest to implement and the results can be very rewarding.

3. Substitute. Replace the junk you left out with healthier snacks. If you can cut out fries as a side part of you main dish, replace it with vegetables. Perhaps replace your morning cup of coffee with green tea instead.  Try stirring honey into your tea instead of sugar. If you really feel like something sweet, try a handful of grapes, they’re packed full of the fruit sugar fructose. Instead of taking a bag of crisps for lunch, switch it for an apple. Get creative!

4. Think simple. If you’re not very good at cooking, or can’t afford to buy much (I mean, we are students), why not just make something simple? Buy simple ingredients. When cooking, instead of going for complicated recipes, why not try methods like steaming and boiling? These procedures are fairly easy and usually don’t take very long either. One of my favourite tricks is steaming practically any vegetable, or even fish in a sieve over boiling water with a lid on top, what is more simple/frugal/MacGyver than that?

5. Eat less. Now, I’m not suggesting you go anorexic here. But if you are overweight, it may be worth calculating a rough estimate of how much you eat in terms of calories and seeing if you’re over your Recommended Daily Allowance. If there’s one thing that remains consistent between all diets, even those dreaded fad diets, it is that in order to lose weight, you should replace junky carbohydrate heavy foods with simple, protein rich foods. Consuming minimally can help you slim down, reduce landfill, save money and improve your overall well-being.

Please remember that all of these tips are just suggestions. There isn’t an ‘Official Minimalist Diet’ rulebook that states you should not eat meat, or that you must eat less than you do now and so on. These steps are a result of combining some of the things I have learnt as a result of having an interest in health, nutrition and of course minimalism. I do realise that some of these points apply to a healthier diet in general, but I guess that is what a MD really breaks down to. This is an approach to food that I have found to work for me, I hope it will help others but of course anyone can change it around as they like.

What does a ‘Minimalist Diet’ mean to you? Do you have any ideas about how to be more minimal when it comes to food?