Health, Lifestyle, Mens Health, Opinion

Why the moustache? Movember and men’s health in 2018

At its peak, my moustache resembled a cross between a 70s porn star and Fu Manchu. Not necessarily a bad combination yet it itched and I could not resist stroking it like a Bond villain. This is my seventh year as a Mo Bro, essentially the seventh time I have spent November growing a moustache to raise funds and awareness of men’s health. I may look ridiculous, the effect may be off-putting and I don’t care as it is such a worthy cause.

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So far over 1,200 projects have been launched for the benefit of men’s health which includes vital funding for prostate and testicular cancer. However, men’s health is not just physical and of great personal interest is their research into mental health and suicide prevention. Considering that I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, and in the past year have firsthand knowledge of the pitfalls from depression and anxiety, it needs to be said that men have to talk. Recently, public awareness has improved regarding the need to get mental health out into the open. This includes some thoughtfully made, thought provoking TV adverts and a plethora of academic studies as well as column inches. There is still work to be done.

Research conducted by the Movember Foundation is both staggering and alarming. Just in the UK;

One in eight men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime

Three out of four suicides are men.

That last statistic really jumped out at me. Men seem adept at holding in their emotions amid an effort to keep it together but to what end? To impress the opposite sex? To keep in line with what their father told them how to act? Whatever the reasons may be, such reluctance appears flawed, even tragic.

Thankfully, the taboo surrounding mental health is being lifted and men are starting to make their feelings known. On another personal note I can vouch for discussing emotional well-being to close friends and family to open up and let people know what’s going on. Support can be sought from those individuals as well as professional help in the form of therapy. The suffering can only be prolonged if left to manifest and though it takes courage and bravery to tell people, the pros far outweigh the cons.

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My own personal effort in growing a moustache has presented me with an insider account of the benefits of tackling men’s health head on. Sure, the fuzz around my upper lip has meant bus drivers and bar staff have to stifle a laugh. The Half Mo Mast provoked one snide comment, one bemused conversion and several confused glances at The Good Food Show yet I have been quick to point to my 5 Year Mo Bro badge to explain that it’s for charidee. If growing an itchy, embarrassing moustache then shaving half of it off for a day means that more men talk, and even raises money to help the cause, then I’ve done my bit.

If you know someone who’s doing Movember then please donate what you can and search for their fundraising page at https://uk.movember.com/mospace/

If you’d like to donate to myself then you can at https://mobro.co/omarsoliman

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Lifestyle, Opinion, Travel

New Years Resolutions 2018

At some point after posting this I’ll take a look at last year’s list and accept that there are several things I want to change in my life and I simply haven’t bothered putting them into action for another year. I know it is shameful so I’ll try a bit harder this time I promise.

  1. Lose some weight by eating well and exercising more. Simple really and I have begun the New Year by starting Dry January (though I won’t be doing it for sponsorship because that’s pretty lame), walking more and starting to plan my weekly eating.
  2. At least two runs a week, fitness permitting. Obviously when I begin half marathon training this will be pretty simple to follow yet it’s the weeks after that when I need to kick on.
  3. Go out on more dates. This will likely follow the correct implementation of the above two resolutions yet it is galling that I again spent a large amount of the festive period wishing I had someone special to spend it with, especially considering how easy it is seeing how happy couples are on social media. This has to change and I’m determined that I can conquer my shyness and at least ask a few girls out so I don’t face the ignominy of telling my Mum/boss/friends that ‘Operation Tibbles (where I end up living alone with a cat called Tibbles) is going really well.
  4. Eat out more. Again, this will hopefully follow the above resolution. Sheffield has some really fantastic restaurants and I’ve barely been to any of them. Yes, I’m aware I’m a more than half decent cook but it’ll be nice to try some new eateries.
  5. Read at least one book every month. Better still, join a reading club.
  6. Get my ‘Films To Watch’ list down to at least 50 (https://letterboxd.com/wiz52/list/films-i-need-to-watch/)
  7. Limit the time I spend on my phone. After 10pm I should have it off and spend my time in bed reading
  8. Meditate every morning. It only takes ten minutes and has certainly helped my SAD as well as help manage my thinking at work, plus the Headspace app is free thanks to my work.
  9. Participate more in the arts. In December I took part in a ten day study with the University of Sheffield which measured my wellbeing against how much I participated in the arts. One of the points I soon realised was that I really need to go to the theatre more, especially as Sheffield has the Lyceum and Crucible.
  10. Take more care of my herb garden
  11. Smile more
  12. Drink more water
  13. Learn a new skill, possibly a new language such as Arabic
  14. Visit two new countries as I have the holiday days to spare; this could include Iceland, Poland, Turkey, Egypt (yes, I’ve never been) or Cuba
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Health, Lifestyle, Mens Health, Opinion

Movember. The Importance of asking ‘how are you’?

This will be the fifth occasion I have participated in Movember and it gets more important every year. Some might say the growing of a moustache is some gimmicky, hipster tradition to show the world ‘Hey, I’ll grow some ridiculous facial hair and get away with it for charity’. If you do think that, you are grossly missing the point.

I truly grasped the importance of Movember in the country where the movement originates, Australia. Over there hipsters seemingly lurk on every corner and moustaches are far more readily spotted. There does not seem to be a taboo over comical upper facial hair, but there does seem to be a taboo over men’s health.

Whenever I think of an Australian, I think of the men I met while doing my farmwork. Tough men who would work in the field all day and come in to a steak dinner. One of the phrases I often heard (though barely aimed at me) was ‘Take a spoonful of concrete and harden the fuck up’. Down under, readily talking about men’s health was frowned upon. Men would not discuss how they were feeling, they’d get their head down and carry on. This is largely the case in the UK where suffering alone is a tangible concern.

Few people ask that simple question, ‘how are you?’ My boss asks me that every so often as she knows there are times when I am struggling, whether that be with my workload or battling Seasonal Affective Disorder. She will take me a quiet area and we will have a ten minute chat where I can offload. It makes a huge difference to know that there is someone checking in on you. When was the last time you asked someone ‘how are you?’ and got a truthful response? ‘I’m alright ta’, when really you have just seen them walk in looking as if they have the world on their shoulders.

Getting men to talk emotionally is a huge challenge and admittedly there are few men I speak to whom I know I can truly offload to. Ask yourself, if you were having a hard time mentally, who would you admit that to? The statistics make for distressing reading –

. One in eight men have experienced a mental health problem

. The biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK is suicide

Men cannot afford to keep it all in and to borrow one of the foundations slogans, ‘Suicide notes talk too late’. Aside from mental health, there are two physical illnesses which Stand Up To Cancer thankfully highlighted last week; prostate and testicular cancer.

. One in eight men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point

. Testicular cancer is the most common form of cancer in men aged 25-49

And yet, do men talk about this? Not really, which is why the Movember Foundation is so vital. Simply talking about men’s health is one huge step and if that means me growing a moustache to raise awareness then great. Happy to.

 

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Polling Station
Lifestyle

Vote. Choose your party. Just please don’t announce it

“Opinions are like arseholes. Everyone’s got one”.

As with the right to vote, everybody has a right to an opinion though at times it is best not to air it in public. Especially not an allegiance, especially not on social media.

Before I was even allowed to vote I knew what a responsible duty it is. That I should do my best to ignore smear campaigns and never waver in my choice. I still base my decision on issues that matter to me making my vote so intimate I become passionately secretive over it, like many others. It says a lot about my own personal preferences and as such I want to keep it to myself. Everyone has the right to vote for the party that they believe best represents them yet please do not try to persuade others to follow suit.

Do not get me wrong, there is a distinct difference in persuading people to go out and vote (OK) than persuading people to vote a certain way (NOT OK). There is also a difference in sparking political debate (OK) and sparking arguments against people who are not voting the same way (NOT OK).

After convincing myself for weeks of how I would vote I still found myself staring at the voting slip. For each of us it is one of the most important decisions you can make yet we still make a compromise. No party’s policies will ever perfectly align with what we, as individuals, want to see set in place. So voting for a specific party does not mean you should be guilt tripped because someone else disagrees with a certain policy. “Oh, you’re voting FGDFSDFS. Have you seen their stance on RGSDFSDFSDF!?” STOP IT.

In an ‘Age of Disclosure’ I already know what you had for dinner and which Instagram filter you used to make it look magnificent. I already know if you’re engaged/expecting as I’ve seen the ring/ultrasound on Facebook. I already know where you’ve been on holiday, I’ve seen your Foursquare check-ins. Knowing which party you have voted for is just another detail I’d prefer you kept to yourself.

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Thai-infused haddock
Fitness, Lifestyle

New year, new diet. Is the Harcombe Diet ‘the one’?

Guess what. It is the start of the year and like so many others I have decided to go on a diet. This is not as daring as you may think, over a decade ago I did the Atkins diet and lost a couple of stone. This gives me prior experience into the rigours of a high protein, low carbohydrate regime and this year’s diet du jour seems to be the Harcombe Diet.

After half a bag of Haribo, a bottle of treacle toffee stout and a hot chocolate to keep me awake on Sunday night for the Superbowl, my diet started in earnest on Tuesday. A mere five days in and I have already experienced a few positive changes from Phase 1. Increased energy levels, few hunger pangs, few cravings and, more importantly, looser clothes. That is the main reason we diet, isn’t it? To simply lose weight. Whether it is to lose those Christmas pounds or fit into a wedding dress, it seems pretty endemic of society to wish you looked better than you do. But what if you wanted to lose the weight and feel better as part of a healthier lifestyle. You know, keep the weight off and function better, that is what I am hoping for with the Harcombe Diet.

At the start of every year it is hard to ignore the fad diets; the soup, milkshake or cabbage plans. The quick fix diets that shed the weight yet leave you starving. In short, they seem like a one night stand when you really want a marriage. Thanks to my Auntie I have been made aware of the benefits of keeping food simple; of adopting wholegrains and avoiding processed foods. Anyone that knows me would likely say I’m a food snob, I’m not, I simply enjoy making my meals from scratch knowing full well what goes in. In this sense, the diet isn’t that drastic a change, it is simply a case of buying different foods and putting others to the back of the cupboard. I have always tried to watch what I eat, now I am really paying attention.

That is what makes the Harcombe Diet so simple. Instead of calorie counting you work out what you are allowed and eradicate what you are forbidden. Every human body needs energy and the genius lies in knowing what the body requires to function, primarily in this case protein from meat and eggs. Also, instead of largely drawing your calories (arguably as much as 70%) from carbohydrates and vegetables you demand that your body extracts the energy from fats. Let it be known, ‘five a day’ is propaganda. While it remains important to eat your greens, the body can function on less than what many would want you to believe.

Aside from the weight loss one of the bonuses I have noticed is an improved brain function and this is no coincidence. The brain is composed of 60% fat yet it still needs energy. This can come from two sources; glucose from sugar and carbohydrates (BAD) or glycogen from fats broken down by the liver (GOOD). You can argue that a diet mainly composed of meat and vegetables is how a caveman would get his fill yet maybe, just maybe, this is ultimately how our bodies have been designed.

It is only in the last couple of centuries or so that we have adopted more extravagant means of cooking which, in turn, has introduced processed foods and a higher intake of sugar. Incidentally, today’s society is not only nutrient starved but time starved. Without distractions we could find the time to cook a meal from scratch yet we now grab ready meals and cereal bars. These may fill us up but soon enough we get hungry again and snack away, riding the emotional highs and lows of a sugar rollercoaster.

It may just be the pleasing glow that looser clothes gives anyone yet I feel calmer, more emotionally in control. I doubt that this is a coincidence either as only so much quickfix joy can come from a pack of Haribo before your mood turns as the sugar hit fades away. During the past five days I have strolled past open packets of biscuits in the office, added Stevia to my brew with no real qualms and decided against a bag of popcorn to accompany a Friday night film. Even my beloved weekend beers and spirits haven’t really been missed, even if it did mean turning an invite down on Friday evening. One thing I have noticed is that falling asleep has been harder yet with lesser kip I am yet to notice a drop in alertness.

The last few days have been difficult but not as tough as I imagined. Once you have got through the first day you know you can do it again. Once you have dismissed the easy option of a chocolate bar you know it is doing you good. I even managed a boxing class on Wednesday night and could have gone longer. Yet it has not been plain sailing; I have noted that the black coffee from the vending machine at work is barely fit for human consumption and I have really missed fruit and dairy. Apart from that, it is relatively simpler to follow. Just remember, stick to eggs, meat, vegetables (apart from white potatoes and mushrooms), natural live yogurt and a portion of oats or rice. I know what you are wondering so here is what I have had during Phase 1.

Green salad with salami and honey mustard dressing

Green salad with salami and honey mustard dressing

Day 1.
Breakfast – Porridge with water and cinnamon
Lunch – Salad of little gem lettuce, baby tomatoes, red onion, red pepper and salami coated with a honey mustard dressing (yogurt, honey, wholegrain mustard and lemon juice). Half a carrot, cut into strips, and a pepperami
Dinner – Gammon steak with brown rice and steamed red cabbage. Six tbsp. yogurt

Lamb chops with rice and wilted spinach

Lamb chops with rice and wilted spinach

Day 2.
Breakfast – Two rashers of smoked bacon with a fried egg
Lunch – Same as Day 1
Dinner – Two lamb chops with brown rice and steamed spinach

Scrambled Eggs

Scrambled Eggs

Day 3.
Breakfast – Two scrambled eggs (oil instead of butter)
Lunch – Same as Days 1 and 2
Dinner – Chicken breast with steamed spinach, red cabbage and roasted sweet potato. Six tbsp. yogurt

Chicken breast with steamed red cabbage, wilted spinach and roasted sweet potatoes

Chicken breast with steamed red cabbage, wilted spinach and roasted sweet potatoes

Day 4.
Breakfast – Porridge with water and cinnamon
Lunch – Salad nicoise (green salad with a tin of tuna and olives). Half a carrot, cut into strips, and a pepperami
Dinner – Chicken breast with steamed spinach, red cabbage and roasted sweet potato. Six tbsp. yogurt.

Thai-infused haddock

Thai-infused haddock

Day 5.
Breakfast – Two rashers of bacon and two fried eggs
Lunch – Small green salad with a balsamic vinaigrette and a pepperami
Dinner – Thai-infused haddock, steamed with lemongrass, chilli flakes, soy sauce, ginger powder and lime juice.
A glass of red wine

And on the sixth day, Lord Harcombe said let there be fruit and low fat dairy and there was. Hallelujah.

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Lifestyle, Opinion

Katie Hopkins – The High School Bully Given The Airtime She Desperately Craves

Let it be known that this has proven to be one of the hardest things I have ever committed to page. Put bluntly, there are certain people that should never be given the oxygen of publicity, the banteriffic Dapper Laughs as a recent example. Katie Hopkins also falls into this category and I am reminded of that luminous pink slime in Ghostbusters 2 which gets stronger the more hate it receives. I really do not want her to be an inspiration for anything, let alone my own writing, yet the poisonous witch is on her own personal crusade to inspire people to lose weight. Or so she thinks.

Any publicity is good publicity but I really do not want to help promote her dangerous new show, ‘Katie Hopkins: My Fat Story’. This is a woman who craves attention like The Daily Mail designs hate-fuelled headlines. A brief synopsis then; woman goes from 8st 12lb to 11st 13lb and back again to prove how easy it is to lose weight. No surprises that this is due to air in the first week of January when many are ruing those extra treats during the festive period. To have Hopkins choose to pile on the pounds to then smugly declare how easy it is to lose the weight is close to insulting yet she has history here.

Alarm bells should be ringing that her initial claim to fame came from The Apprentice, a show that rewards selfish, egotistical behaviour with a bumper business deal. This is a woman who really does not care what people think of her and seems to revel in the hatred that her poisonous views provoke. Anyone that can anger Holly Willoughby has to be a special case.

Let’s just check out some quotes from the show shall we –
Re: putting the weight on she said, “After I put on my first stone, I stopped having sex with my husband. As a fat bird, I stuck to my pyjamas and getting naked in the dark. A fat belly is not an attractive thing, fat people aren’t sexy”. This is to paint a poisonous picture of what the ‘universally perfect body’ is (hint, it doesn’t exist). There is a significant proportion of men who fail to find skinny girls sexy, are you going to try and persuade them otherwise Katie?

Later on she said, “It is just ridiculous what people do to themselves. Fat people, I mean I really I don’t know how they look at themselves in the mirror.” So ‘fat-shaming is in and beauty is not in the eye of the beholder then apparently. What this also spectacularly fails to note is that despite what Hopkins may hope, a significant amount of obese people are actually comfortable in their own skins, presumably by the support of their loved ones who actually do like seeing them naked.

According to Hopkins; “Being fat is hard work. You can’t be that fat and happy. If you’re too lazy to make a change then you’re going to be fat.” This is a mercilessly naïve statement which fails to address those that really do want to lose weight but for various reasons struggle. Some suffer from low metabolism rates as well as low self-esteem after trying various diets and not losing much weight. Some are suffering from crippling bouts of depression and find it hard to face the world, let alone go out for a run. Some lack the skills and time to cook healthy, nutritious meals for themselves.

If Hopkins really wanted to encourage obese people to lose weight she would, hopefully, be displaying a modicum of compassion. She would at least be trying to be helpful and sympathetic to obese people, maybe come up with a few healthy eating recipes of her own. Presumably we have seen this before and gotten bored of such noble behaviour from the likes of Jamie Oliver. Yet however disturbing her views on obese people are her methods are worryingly flawed, rapid fluctuations in weight have been proven as dangerous on the body, particularly the heart. Following Hopkins’ example is certainly not encouraged by any health practitioner.

Hopkins has the assumption that obesity is caused by apathy. In 2012 she told an obese woman that she wouldn’t employ her because fat people are lazy. This documentary is her chance to prove the misguided view that obese people are unwilling to lose weight. That is disputable, it can be incredibly difficult for a lot of people, it was for me.

Back in 2005 I was forced off alcohol and decided to go on a diet to lose some much needed weight. I had the time and know-how to cook my own meals but the most important thing was that I had the moral support of friends and family. The last thing I would have wanted was to see some smug TV personality tell me it’s easy. This isn’t an attack on freedom of speech, rather an attack on the editors and TV executives that allow her to be heard. Everyone is entitled to their view yet Hopkins is the high-school bully gifted a dangerous amount of publicity. The real contempt should not be aimed directly at her but at the media that continues to give her airtime.

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Lifestyle

Where have all the gentlemen gone?

I admit it, I hold doors and I’m proud of it. While that may not sound impressive it goes against a worrying trend, that gentlemen are becoming an endangered species. Let me explain.

At the main entrance of the office where I work there are three doors. A revolving door flanked by two which are opened by a security pass. I always opt for the one on the right and take a look back to see if I can hold it for anyone. Granted, this won’t win me any favours with the security staff yet I see it as a necessary, painless gesture of goodwill. I would like to say that I’ve received a smile and a thank you every time I’ve done this but half of the time it barely gets noticed.

This is my problem. I was brought up to be a gentleman, Ps and Q’s are a given. When you hold a door, especially for a few seconds, and it goes unnoticed you wonder what the point is. You begin to question your own good intentions, no wonder gentlemen are in short supply. I won’t change yet so many men find it easier to act like a douchebag and there is a market to be tapped.

There is a wider issue at hand here, the worrying growth of ‘lad culture’. A few weeks ago there was an encouraging response to the sexually violent preaching of Julien Blanc and the irksome, misogynist comedy of Dapper Laughs. However, a video from Blanc teaching men how to sexually assault women in Japan amassed over 50,000 views while 364, 454 followers of @dapperlaughs cannot all be wrong.

The two gained notoriety as they were so popular and had found a willing audience. While those two have grabbed the headlines it’s the cheeky memes of a woman’s place in the house is in the kitchen, etc. that are becoming dangerous. Funny? Not really. Frivolous? Certainly. The underlying message of disrespect towards women remains the same and there are men who find this sort of ‘banter’ acceptable. It isn’t.

The main worry is that acting as a gentleman is now seen as weak. When I go out to a pub or club I see a fair amount of ‘peacocks’; lads dressed to impress, necking shots, being loud and proud of it. Simply getting served is now a challenge in itself with various vexing techniques employed. From waving notes to grab attention to forcing an arm between other patrons so you can squeeze in the gap.

Alpha male culture is in, gentlemen are on the way out.

Mums' Days



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