Orlena Kerek is trained as a pediatric doctor in the UK., Now living in Spain with her husband and 4 kids. Now she teaches busy women in their 40s and 50s how to lead a healthy lifestyle they love so they can lose weight naturally, fix their relationship with food, get bucket loads of energy and lead a long and healthy life. She is the host of the podcast, Fit and Fabulous at 40 and Beyond, as well as the author of Building Simple Habits to a Healthy Me.
She is all about healthy living in a natural and easy way using the 4 pillars of health (healthy eating, exercise that lights you up, healthy sleep, and emotional wellness, including stress levels.) She teaches habits, systems, and routines so you can do it without thinking. She is a believer in creating a lifestyle you love (that works for YOU) so you can truly love your life
AND be healthy at the same time.
In this episode, we break down how to develop healthy habits you can keep and how you can start to structure your life in simple ways to reduce stress, clean up your nutrition, and increase longevity!
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Welcome to the Sugar Solve podcast where we're demystifying health one gram of sugar at a time. From eliminating excess sugar to cutting back on carbs, diving into keto, or becoming a devout vegan, today's diet landscape can give you a sugar crash just thinking about it. Sugar Solve is here to demystify all the nutrition and health trends you're bombarded with on a daily basis, bringing you unbiased insight, research and real world experiences from experts in the field of medicine, nutrition, health and wellness. You'll gain knowledge and clarity around the biggest trends in health and nutrition and leave each week feeling empowered to make informed decisions in your own life to optimize your diet and personal wellness for longevity, long lasting energy immunity, improved focus and performance that will leave you feeling better day in and day out. The truth won't be sugar coated here. Welcome back to the Sugar Solve podcast. Today we'll be speaking with Dr. Urbina, who's a trained paediatric doctor in the UK. But now living in Spain, she has her own podcast called Fit and Fabulous at 40 and a book called Building Simple Habits to a Healthy Mean. She is going to break down how to build healthy habits for the long term and how to lead a healthy lifestyle, even in the face of today's stressors. Hi, Dr. Arena, welcome to the Sugar Solve podcast. Can you give our listeners a little bit of background about yourself?
Of course I can. And firstly, thank you very much for having me. So I am from the UK. I trained as a medical doctor, I specialised in pediatrics and I moved to Spain 11 years ago. At that time I had two young kids and oh, I don't know how far you want me to go into my story, but it was an adventure. It was exciting. But also I kind of felt like I lost my identity because I kind of moved with my eyes wide shut thinking, Oh, I'll just work over there. And that didn't happen to me. So it was an opportunity and a challenge to reinvent myself and discover what I was going to go into. And essentially I started off helping parents of picky eaters because, hey, guess what? Two of my kids were picky, and over the years I really pivoted. And now I help, particularly mothers, lead their most healthy life. So really think about those healthy habits and how you can do it all without thinking so that you can lead an amazing life. And that may include weight loss. For me, if you focus on healthy living, if you're overweight, then weight naturally comes off. But it's also about your energy levels and knowing that you are basically doing everything you can to lead a long and healthy life. And of course, if you're a parent, inspire and teach those people around you, which obviously includes your children, to lead a healthy life. And so that's what I do at the moment, and I absolutely love it.
So what's your own relationship with diet and nutrition and this healthy living like? Did you struggle with that too, and has that inspired your work going forward?
Well, not with weight per se. So I've never I mean, I've had four children, including twins, so I have lost that weight there. But I think for me it was a bit of a transition in that I grew up in what I call the carbohydrate era. So when I was a child it was really normal to eat breakfast cereal for breakfast, to eat a sandwich for lunch and then eat pasta for dinner. And that constantly having what I call white refined carbohydrates. And I was lucky because my mother always served vegetables for dinner. And we grew up in a household where eating vegetables was normal. And that's obviously what I teach my clients. And people who listen to me is that essentially if you have healthy habits, your kids are going to grow up with healthy habits. And so I did have reasonably healthy habits. I went off to university and when I was cooking for myself, I would always cook vegetables. But then when I had my picky eaters, I was serving them what I considered to be relatively healthy foods, pasta with vegetables. And I was realising that they were picking out the pasta. And I remember this one time, my three year old son sitting on the toilet with tears streaming down his face because he was constipated, because he wasn't eating enough vegetables. And it was one of those sort of moments for me where having previously been on the end of treating people in hospital and in clinic, that being a really common problem, parents coming in, going, Oh, my child's got tummy pain and me going, It's okay, it's constipation. Just feed them all vegetables, you'll be fine.
And then realising that it's not as easy as that with kids and that really led me down this path of adventure and really knowing what current nutrition thinking is and what the evidence says and realising that actually I didn't need these white refined carbohydrates and there was definitely resistance there. Like I remember thinking, well, so bread, bread is bad for you, not bad for you. I don't think bad is the right word, but you know that you don't have to be eating lots and lots of bread and having to realise that for 30 or 35 years I must have been around 35 at the time, perhaps 40, you know, that that had been part of my life and that I really had to rethink that and go, okay, so I don't need all these white refined carbohydrates. I have to find a different way of eating now. Luckily, I found a really easy way of eating that I really love. But yeah, it definitely involved rethinking things, and that's why I think we were talking about this a little bit before we started recording. But one of the things I always say is that that mindset piece, the way we think about things, is really foundational. If you want to change habits, because if you're not prepared to look at things with a new light and think, Hey, can I do things slightly differently? You're going to carry on doing the same things. And that includes how we think about things, our emotions, our stress levels, all of those things. They need to change a little bit if you want to make permanent changes to your life.
And it seems like these habits are they're ingrained from childhood. You know, if you grow up eating these refined foods, these processed foods and your parents, they just kind of gave in to your picky eating habits. And then we grow up with these habits and we just keep reinforcing them. How do we eventually break that cycle? Because it's hard. And when you have a habit for that many years, what's the first step someone can take to start cleaning up their diet, living a healthier lifestyle? What should they.
Do? Yeah, well, it's a really interesting conversation, so I spend a lot of time. Thinking about how do we get from where we are to where we want to be. So I always think like where you are, where you're standing now, you've got all these habits. And the thing about habits is they are shortcuts. Like one question to ask is, Well, why do we have habits? And the answer is, Well, because we have two parts of our brain. Essentially, we have more than two parts, but we're going to look at two parts. We've got that thinking part of our brain, which uses a lot of energy and is really discovering new things and making decisions. It's sort of like the powerhouse of our brain and then we've got habits. Now, can you imagine what it would be like if every day you woke up and you thought, Oh, I need to brush my teeth? I've heard that brushing teeth is a really good idea. I'm going to read a book about it and I'm going to discover how to brush my teeth and hey, what's this toothbrush and this toothpaste thing? And, you know, that idea that you're learning to brush your teeth? Well, we wouldn't brush our teeth very often if we left it to our thinking brain. So we have a really efficient system, which is our habit brain, which gets things done. It does things on automation. And that's great because we can offload working out how to brush our teeth. We've learnt now and now we just do it. It's something that we do without thinking pretty much, you know, you might have this thought, Oh yeah, I need to make sure I brush my teeth, but then you sort of take it off the list and it doesn't really impinge on that decision making part of your brain.
Now, the thing about habits is they are like little computer codes, you know, like, hey, I just do this, I just do this, I just do this. And your brain does not care whether it's a good habit or a bad habit. Now, obviously, your body does. So you could have your brain the habit of sitting down after dinner and watching a movie every single night. It's exactly the same habit as going for an evening walk. It doesn't care. Your brain is just like, Yeah, this is what we do. I've got this program, I'm doing this. But there's obviously a big, big implication for your health benefits and how that looks to your body. So how do you get from where you are to everything is automated and I'm doing everything without thinking about it. And the idea is you build up these habits and there are different ways and there's lots of things that you can talk about in terms of building habits. But essentially what you want to do is grow those healthy habits and make those healthy habits stronger than your unhealthy habits so that you are looking forward to exercise. And eating healthy foods is what you do naturally rather than what you think about. And the bottom line is you just repeat, you repeat, you repeat.
Now, there's lots of ways of making yourself repeat these things because you know what happens normally. We'll take January the first as a really good example. People go, right, I am going to give up chocolate, for example, and they get to about the 7th of February and go, Oh my goodness, it didn't work. You know, life is happening. I'm going to eat chocolate. And that's your habit. Brain coming out and going, Hey, it's habit time, it's chocolate time. And really what's happening there is you just haven't made it a habit. And this is what I call ACORN habits. You know, you've taken a little habit and you're trying to grow it, but it's not a strong oak tree habit yet. And people often feel really despondent at that time because they think, Oh, I'm a failure. I can't do this habit change thing. I'm just going to pack it all in. And the answer is, no, no, no, you're perfectly normal. You've got a human body, you've got a human mind. That is just how it works. And instead of doing that, if you can just go, Oh, yes, it's February the seventh. I knew this was going to happen. So now I'm going to eat the chocolate and just carry back on again. And it's fine. I've eaten chocolate once, but I'm still working on this habit of, I don't know, going for a walk instead of eating chocolate. So a lot of it is about self awareness and about keeping going because I answer your question. Yeah.
So it seems like a lot of this though is very emotional to in different time periods in people's lives when they're super stressed, you know, that initial burst of likes that feel good comfort food or that chocolate or something like it's just easier and they know they're going to feel good after. So how's the best way to kind of rework those rewards programs in the brain? Like what should you really do? Because obviously if you had a really stressful, hard day, you're not going to go and reach for those fresh carrots in the fridge.
You're going to go and reach that bag of chips. So how does someone get over that?
So that's a really interesting question. And yes, I think you've hit the nail on the head and what you're basically saying is emotional eating is a habit. And, you know, like the way that you eat when you're eating because you're stressed and not eating to fuel your body or it may be boredom or it may be some other emotion that is emotional eating. Why are you eating? You're eating basically to resolve an emotion in front of you. And yes, that is totally a habit. So it's one of those habits which is not serving your long term health goals. If your goal is to be healthy and fit, that isn't helping. So there's lots of different things that you can do. And the way I teach people how to get over emotional eating is thinking, Well, you need to look at the long picture that everything that you're doing and think about the habits and systems and routines that you have. So. Everything that you're doing impacts that moment, really. So you've got your long term solution and obviously you need an emergency solution for what's happening in the moment. So I'm going to address the long term solution first. And essentially the way I teach it is I have four pillars and they are healthy eating that is easy and fun and that you enjoy exercise that lights you up. Sleep is really important. And then the fourth pillar is emotional wellness, and that includes how you think and your emotions and your stress levels.
And essentially you need to build up in all four of those pillars. And it does depend how you do it. Like if you're working with a health coach, somebody like me, then you can make more changes because you've got somebody who's guiding you and somebody who's motivating you. Whereas if you're doing it totally by yourself, I'm going to plug my book and say I totally recommend getting my book because it will help you do those things. You want to be doing one small thing at a time, but essentially they all impact. So if I go through them, I'll explain how they impact. So mostly people are, as you pointed out, emotionally eating, not so healthy foods. And it's interesting that you talk about this. Do people emotionally eat carrot sticks? Well, the answer is actually yes, they do. I know that I'm a boredom eater. I know that in the morning when I'm working, we were talking about doing social media. But that's one of the things that I find a bit of like, okay, my concentration levels were doing that and then I want to go and do something else and sometimes I'm going to go and eat well, I'm due a snack anyhow, or it's part of my routine to have a snack. But I know that sometimes I'm basically emotionally eating and I'm eating things like nuts and carrots and things like that.
So it doesn't have any great impact on my body because it's all included. But if you're emotionally eating high calorie candies, sweets and things like that, it is going to have an impact on your body and your body weight. So being in the habit of normally eating healthy foods really, really impacts your desire for healthy foods, and particularly looking at sugar and people who talk about carbohydrate cravings. Well, actually, as you wean yourself off those high sugar foods and you eat a much plant based diet, actually your cravings for those foods come down. And there's lots of reasons for this. So one of them is that your tastebuds change. And if you think about the difference in taste between something like chocolate and a strawberry, there's no comparison. It's really difficult for fruit and vegetables to compete against those high sugar, high salt foods that are processed foods. Another reason is once you start eating more healthily, you train your body to understand its hunger cues and to understand that your body can actually get energy from inside. So when you feel hunger, actually, people have this idea of, Oh my goodness, I feel hungry, I need to eat something. But your body is perfectly capable of saying, Yeah, okay, I'm hungry, but I'm just going to go and get some energy. So that's how your body should work. It should be accessing energy and then storing energy and accessing energy and then storing energy as opposed to just storing, storing, storing, which is obviously when you start to put on weight.
So healthy eating really does impact emotional eating now exercise. Exercise as well. We're talking about thinking about our emotions. If you have exercise that you really, really love, it is an amazing way to get those endorphins going to feel good in your body. People always say to me, Oh, I don't have time, I'm too tired to exercise. And I'm like, Oh my goodness, when I'm feeling low, I want to go and exercise to really pick myself up. So exercise that likes you up. The third one is sleep and sleep is super, super important. We know this. We know I know that when I haven't had enough sleep, I'm grumpy, I'm crotchety. I'm so unproductive I want to do anything but work. And hey, guess what? Your appetite goes up and you're far more likely to be reaching for those sort of comfort foods. You kind of want to wrap a blanket around yourself, don't you? And how do we do that? We do it by reaching for food of any type, really. So if you're sleeping well and getting a good night's sleep, that's less likely to happen. And then the fourth pillar is your emotions and understanding how your emotions work. And I will tell you that when I was growing up, I kind of just thought and even going through medical school and being a doctor, we were never taught about emotions.
And I kind of thought emotions just fell from the sky and that I had no control over my own emotions. And happily, I know that that isn't true. Now, we don't have 100% control of our emotions, but we can influence our emotions. And I think it's really important to understand that when we pay attention to our emotions, we can learn to navigate them. It's a bit like if you're in a big fast river and you're being flung from side to side and you're thinking, Great, this is a little bit of a sort of exciting ride. If you've got emotional wellness, it's like. Having a raft. So you're on that same river. All these emotions are coming, but you can now go smoothly and stay in the middle of the river and control your ride a little bit more, as opposed to sort of finding yourself flung from side and nearly drowning and then being thrown onto the beach. So when we think about emotions, essentially there are three things that we can do when we have emotions, and the first thing we can do is distract ourselves, and that is what emotional eating is. So people have an emotion that they don't like and they go, I don't want to feel this emotion. You're not thinking this consciously.
This is just what happens in a split second and I'm going to distract myself. And unfortunately, we build up habits of distracting ourselves in a way that doesn't serve your long term health goals, so that can be reaching for cake or whatever treat it is you want. Or it could be watching lots of television. You know, it depends for different people. It could be shopping. Shopping for things that you don't really need or want, really. So whatever your habit is now, you can actually distract yourself in what I call the positive way. So exercising is one of those things. If you're feeling a little bit like down and lack of energy and think, you know what, I'm going to go for a swim or a run or a walk. Yes, you're distracting yourself, but you're doing it in such a way that you're aware that you're doing it and you're choosing something that is also beneficial to your health to do that. So you're acknowledging, yep, this is a tool that works for me. So that's the first thing you can do. And the second thing you can do is act on your emotion. So what does that look like? It looks like my child is cross and angry. They scream, they shout, they throw things. And that's acting from that place of emotion, which isn't always bad. Like sometimes we want to express our emotions, but sometimes when we're expressing our emotions, we kind of get caught in this rut of this is the emotion that I seem to have put this coat on today and I can't take this coat off.
And I definitely see this with my kids. Oh, my goodness. I don't want to go to school. I don't want to go to school. I don't go to school. I don't do this. I don't want to do this. And it's that kind of negative emotion that really you just want to put on your happy coat and go, okay, I'd rather stay at home, but let's go and see what adventure school has got for me today. And then the third thing that you can do with an emotion is just sit and feel that emotion and just acknowledge that emotion and see it wash over you. And you know what they say that an emotion, the peak of the emotion only lasts a very, very short period of time, like 90 seconds, 2 minutes. And if you can get yourself over that emotion, you know, you could time it and count to minutes just focusing on your breathing. Now, what happens? A lot of people will be saying at this point, that's not true. My emotions last much, much longer than 2 minutes. And what's happening is you're constantly triggering that emotion. So, for example, if something annoys you and you keep thinking, oh, my goodness, this thing annoys me, let me think of an example for me.
We have lots of tourists here at the moment, and I don't like the fact that they hunt the octopus in the sea. And I think that annoys me. So every time I think that thought, oh my goodness, I get this feeling of frustration in my body. And now if I just think it once I can get over that emotion of frustration, but if I keep thinking that thought like a continuous I'm annoyed by it. I'm annoyed it, I'm annoyed. But what happens is it feels like that emotion is going on for a lot longer. So the question then becomes, well, how do we change our emotions and how do we get hold of our emotions? And I think it takes time to build up habits in the way we think. So we can change how we think about things, we can change our emotions. So just sitting and smiling about something is going to put you into a positive place of, Yeah, I feel much happier about this and then we can change our actions as well. So thinking about emotional eating, instead of feeding this emotion and eating, I'm going to feel this emotion and go for a walk instead. And that's showing yourself, that's doing an action and you can change all of those things. Now, it doesn't happen overnight, but that's the long term picture. That's the long term goal.
Now for things that we can do those changes ourselves. But what about all these the outside forces on us? So the environmental factors, the people around us, if we're around a bunch of people who don't follow these like healthy habits, they're eating really bad. They're always stressed and grumpy all the time. And then they're kind of obviously we're going to become more like them because you are who you associate with, the five people that you're always around. So what are some methods people can use to kind of either get those other people on their bandwagon and start practicing these healthy habits and building that support system or some methods to avoid that kind of energy around you.
Yeah, I mean, it is a really good question. And I think two things spring to mind. Number one, and I see this with my clients that they go through this transformation themselves and they start having these habits, these healthy. Habit. And they get to a stage where, for example, food no longer has that hold over them. So they may previously have been someone and the snacks came out and they would dive in and really enjoyed the snacks. And I'm thinking about one of my clients in particular now, and she has made such a big change that that doesn't happen that her family noticed. And they start saying to her, Well, how come you have changed so much? You used to be like us. We all do this together. And now I want to be like you. I can see that this food no longer has a hold of you. You can take it or leave it. And it's not a big deal for you. It's not like you're holding yourself and gripping to the table and going, Oh my goodness, I mustn't eat this food because it's forbidden. No, it's that genuinely I can be in the presence of this food and I'm not triggered by it. And people will notice and people will be inspired by you. In fact, there is a study that shows that if people start to make healthy changes and the partner doesn't, actually 30% of partners do start to make changes. They do get improvements in their healthy living because, well, they do things together and they're inspired by it. Now onto your other point, which was we are the sum of the five people we hang out with. Well, number one, I would say you want to be that person who inspires other people.
But yes, it is true that if you are hanging out with people who are bringing you down, then you want to pick the people that you hang out with. And I know that you can't always do that. So I have four kids and I love my kids to bits, but they are not positive thinkers yet and that's something that I'm teaching them. But the reality of that is it can be hard work and I have to take care of myself so that I can inspire them to lead a healthy life and to change the way that they think about their brothers and sisters mostly. So if you want to make changes. So, for example, a good example is if you want to give up smoking, don't go out and hang out with your smoking friends because they're going to be constantly tempting you. Now, that's particularly true to begin with once you're on that rocky road of I'm not feeling 100% secure in having given up cigarettes, but you do then after a while, get to this place where you're like, I am actually so strong. I've changed my identity. I no longer think of myself as a cigarette smoker. I'm a non smoker and you can then go back into that environment. Like if someone offered me a cigarette, I'd be like, No thanks, I don't smoke. Why would you offer me a cigarette? It's not like, Oh my goodness, all this angst is open up. And once you've made that decision and you're confident in that identity, you can go back and hang out with your smokers if you want to. Smoking's perhaps not a good example because everyone smells of cigarette smoke when they're smoking.
So I'm sure you've inspired many people to make these changes. What are the first steps that someone should take if they're just really in the hole right now and they're not healthy, they're not eating well, they're not exercising. Their sleep is poor, they're so stressed. What is that first step that someone should do? What's that small little step that they can do today that will start leading them down that right path?
Yeah, it's really interesting and I think that small step is a mindset shift too. I can do it because I see so many people who are sat where they are and I often do this thing called the crossroads exercise. So, you know, if you're standing at a crossroads and you carry on doing the things that you're doing, where does that lead? And a lot of times, obviously, you don't know exactly, but it's going to lead to poor health, to putting on more weight, to not feeling happy to all of these things. And then if you make changes, you can be slim and happy and energetic and all of these things. And a lot of people are stuck there. A lot of people don't make changes. Why do they not make changes? Because they don't believe that it will happen to them. I mean, it might be that some people think, okay, it's not worth those changes, but that's because they don't really understand that the changes can be easy and they can be fun and it doesn't have to be really hard and depriving yourself. So I would say the number one step is really to understand that you can do it. And I would say if you're really serious about it, go and get someone to help you. If you look at the world in large, we have a huge epidemic of people not leading healthy lives. And if you look at the statistics of lifestyle illnesses, you look at the causes of death at the moment, a large number of them are lifestyle diseases.
And what does that mean? It means basically if you lead a healthy life, you can avoid getting these diseases, things like diabetes and heart disease. You can avoid these things with a healthy life. Is that worth doing? Yes, of course it's worth doing. It's such an amazing difference and just feel such a long term to a lot of people. But even in the short term, you can get high energy levels, you can increase your happiness levels, you can feel more productive all the things that you want. So go and talk to somebody about how they can help you make those changes. There's so much information of. About how if you have an accountability partner and an accountability like an actual time, you increase your chances of reaching your goal by 90%, which is just amazing. Just having somebody helping you do something will keep you on that road. And I think one of the things is to keep that motivation alive, because if you're not motivated, you're not going to make the changes. You're just going to go, why? Why bother? So my number one step is really to think about your motivation and to really acknowledge that you can do it and that you might need help doing it. But that's perfectly fine. A lot of people, I think, think, Oh, I should be able to do this by myself. And I kind of think, well, why should you? We all have human minds and human bodies, and our bodies are set up to be what I call glucose seeking missiles.
And alcohol is another big thing in the human like evolution. We are designed to enjoy alcohol and to look for sugar. And now we live in a society where sugar is so abundant and we have been trained by big companies to, for example, buy breakfast cereal for breakfast. Who says we need to have breakfast for breakfast? You could eat any food that you want to do. It doesn't have to be breakfast cereal, but it's so ingrained in our society that we think that's what we have to do. And so rewiring ourselves, it takes time and effort. So why should you be able to do it by yourself? And if we look around the world, a lot of people can't do it by themselves. So, you know, I think getting help is really a smart idea if you're really serious about doing it and keeping on track and going, Yeah, I really want to change my life. I really want to get to healthy, amazing me. Of course you can do it. I'm 47 now and I am the healthiest I have ever been and the fittest I've ever been in terms of exercise, you know, I was always a bit exercise phobic when I was younger and now I cycle, I swim, I run. Not because I think, oh my goodness, you know, I have to do it, but because I really, really enjoy it. And that's where you should be aiming for, like leading this healthy life that you actually, really, really enjoy.
Well, thank you so much. And I think you would be a perfect person then for our listeners to get in touch with and help them start this journey. So if you can leave our listeners with your website, I know you have a podcast and we can leave all that in the show notes, but anything you want to shout.
Out, fabulous. Thank you. Well, my podcast is Fit and Fabulous at 40 and beyond, and I have a book called Building Simple Habits to Help Me, which is basically everything that I've just talked about now with the Habit Tracker and my website is CNN.com. And if people are there thinking, yeah, do you know what, I really am ready to make changes and I want help, then I am happy to chat to people. I offer a free chat to begin with and then if people are serious about taking it further, then I explain what programs I have.
Thank you so much. We'll have to have you back on sugar solved thank you.
Thank you so much for having me.
Thank you for tuning in to another episode of the Sugar Solved podcast. As always, if you like what you hear. Share it with a friend. Leave a rating and review on your favorite podcast player and tune in next week for another episode of the Sugar Solved podcast, where we demystify health and nutrition. One gram of sugar at a time.