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Do People Really Want Birthday Gifts?

Do People Really Want Birthday Gifts?

Birthdays are instantly associated with gifts and paying special attention to the one celebrating. For one day a year, each of us becomes the center of attention and our wishes are fulfilled. But that might not always be the case, surprisingly. While as kids most of us liked throwing a big birthday party and looked forward to the colorful wrapped packages our friends would carry, some of us have changed a little or ended up disliking birthday traditions. Some people don’t like to celebrate their birthday after a certain age, but still appreciate gifts. Others have established a strict no-gift policy in their lives. Or they might prefer activities and spending time with friends and family more than a packaged object. Remember the friend who has been traveling the world this past year? He can’t use a fancy decorative bowl. Mothers of young kids have no space to store another toy, so no wonder they seem terrified at the site of a big plush bear. Everyone is different, and everyone is continually changing because of personal choices or unexpected happenings. So next time you think about mailing a fun birthday gift to your friend who you haven’t seen in two years, stop and think how much things could have changed in their life. Ask yourself if it is what they need or if it is the best you could give them right now.

Statistics and examples

While there are no official statistics that reflect people’s preferences when it comes to receiving birthday gifts, I am pretty sure the results would be widely varying if everyone told the truth. Many times we really need a particular thing or have a long wish list, but telling others that feels selfish and uncomfortable. Even if you say you need new clothes, for example, no one can ensure that you won’t end up with five floral dresses and two hand knitted beanies when you actually wear black suits everyday.

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For me, the most difficult person to choose a gift for will always be my mother. It’s because she is very selective when buying for herself, and she rarely likes what others get her. Deep down I know she doesn’t want us to spend money and that’s why she tells us she wants nothing every year. There were some success stories, but mostly it has been a miss with the presents I have made/bought for her. My dad hands her an envelope and she can get herself whatever she likes. Such an easy way to go, but I think it just works better with certain people.

As for my father, he really appreciates my thoughtful presents, the handmade ones or the ones I have been planning for a long time. However, he would never admit he didn’t like anything, so he is the easiest kind of guy to choose a gift for.

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A friend of mine from university would make a wish list a month before her birthday and show it to everyone. Items in the list ranged from eyeliner to a mobile phone, so I guess the first ones to choose were the luckiest.

My husband and I, after many stressful years spent thinking of creative ideas, have agreed that the best gifts are the ones we need. We don’t really expect anything else besides spending our birthdays with each other, but if there has to be a gift, it will be something from our wish list or “need” list that we will use all the time. I got him a gadget and he got me sunglasses this year. They are things we’ve been using daily and now carry extra value, making us take better care of them. A different case is my brother, who doesn’t expect gifts, but asks for them strategically (from our parents, obviously). He won’t gift others anything either, unless he finds something really cool or he can afford an expensive present. I like that he doesn’t put too much stress on the topic and goes with his own flow.

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My rule of thumb

If you asked me what I like for my birthday, I would always tell you there’s nothing I need. You could get me anything and I would be content. That doesn’t mean I’d keep it forever and not re-gift it though. All I can promise is that I’d be genuinely happy with your gesture of thinking of me on my special day. Although I get more joy from giving presents to others, receiving them feels awesome too. The best presents I can remember, were from people I didn’t expect a gift from and the ones I had asked for. On the same note, I always feel the need to give others birthdays presents, because it’s their day and I need to remind them that. For people like my best friend, birthdays are grumpy days, with no celebrations. That doesn’t stop me from giving her something small when I meet her a few days later. After all, it’s a way of celebrating her and expressing my gratitude for her being in my life. As a rule of thumb, I go with something small when the birthday girl/boy is not expecting any gifts and for something really meaningful or what they asked for, in case it’s a family member or close friend (who’d be secretly sad/disappointed if I didn’t give them anything).

Why birthday gifts disappoint

While Christmas gifts are usually the hardest to shop for, birthday gifts are no better. You may only have one person to focus on, instead of 20, but it doesn’t make it any less difficult. Chances are you often forget about birthdays, unless you put them on the calendar, phone alarm or are reminded by social media alerts. The lack of time rushes you to get something last minute just for the sake of it, spending more money than you can afford or choosing something totally unrelated to the birthday person. Sometimes you have literally run out of gift ideas after many years of getting presents for him/her. Also, we all know that dreadful person who already has everything and what we get should be nothing short of spectacular. It happens though, that people change and what you thought would make your high school friend jump of joy, fails to give her the slightest smile. Or there is a particular current intention in their life, such as going clutter free or living a more meaningful life. No matter how appropriate or expensive your gift is, it will end up trashed/sold/donated because it doesn’t sync with their intention.

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How to prepare better gifts

To make things easy for yourself, get back to basics and write this down if you need to. “No one should expect gifts for their birthday and you don’t have to get every one something. But every present should be chosen with a purpose and received with gratitude.” To ensure this, do your homework. Here are some simple tips to help you get it right every time:

  • First of all, go on and ask them. They might not tell you what they really want, but they will for sure let you know if they don’t want gifts for any reason.If they are just being thankful and reflective on what they already have in their lives, it’s up to you to decide on a gift or not. Make sure it adds value to what they are doing. Spending time together or sharing a special activity is always unforgettable. Donating to a cause they care about is a nice pick too (you can also apply this to kids/teenagers).
  • If the reason they don’t want gifts is because they are not celebrating this year, ask why. For cases of loss or illnesses, go with flowers and a short note. Reading heartfelt and encouraging words during difficult times is comforting
  • When you have decided to buy something, set a budget and find the best your money can get you.
  • Consider their interests and likes. The less generic the gift, the more chances they will like it.
  • Whenever you can, choose a “package” gift, something you can share together, like going out for dinner or taking a weekend trip.
  • If you know them well, get them something  they love, but would never buy for themselves.
  • When you can only afford small or cheap things, make sure they are either beautiful or useful.
  • Edibles make perfect gifts, as long as they fall in the range of that persons favorites. They can be easily shared, which makes things more fun. Also, no clutter left behind.
  • If the person has an expensive item on their wish list, offer cash or gift certificates towards it. They will remember you as one of the people that made it possible for them to buy it.
  • When you live far away from each other or don’t communicate often, rely on the internet to find possible hints for what they like. Social media platforms and website where people share their wish lists make it easy to see a pattern of what they care for.
  • Sometimes you have to go the other way round. Start from yourself and think about what it is that you really want to say to them through your gift. If you want to express love or appreciation, choose something that best reflects what love or appreciation means for you. When you want them to be surprised or laugh out loud, put your skills to work and deliver that. It might not work well in every case, but at least you had an intention behind your gift and you can always explain that to any confused or disappointed gift receiver.You might be surprised at how many people will react differently after a short explanation note or a verbal story, telling you “It totally makes sense now!”
  • If nothing helps and you are short on time and ideas, try your luck with a fun quiz. Don’t expect much though. The best it can give you is a hint (or a good laugh) and maybe spark a better idea eventually. Also, here are links to a horoscope gift guide, DIY gift ideas and free meaningful gifts to inspire you further.

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Last Updated on November 15, 2019

Expert Advice That Will Teach You How to Increase Your Metabolism

Expert Advice That Will Teach You How to Increase Your Metabolism

Wouldn’t you like to be able to eat twice as much as you do now without gaining weight? If so, I have good news for you because this is possible when you learn how to increase metabolism.

How Much Do You Know About Metabolism?

Before we get to the meat, let me say that metabolism is a term that describes all the chemical reactions in your body.[1] These chemical reactions keep your body alive and functioning, however, the word metabolism is often used interchangeably with the metabolic rate or the number of calories you burn.

The metabolic rate is a rough estimate of how much energy your body needs to simply stay alive and perform all its biochemical reactions. These reactions require energy, aka burn calories.

Imagine that your brain alone consumes nearly 20% of your TDEE (total daily energy expenditure at rest),[2] your digestion and the detoxifying system come second, repairing tissues third and so on.

Staying alive is expensive for your body and its two main currencies are fats and sugars.

When I am talking about improving your metabolic rate (metabolism), I mean improving the amount of energy, your body requires to (pretty much) lay down in bed and do nothing for 24 hours.

Extra physical activity, extra thinking or fighting illness are things that require a lot of energy (burn a lot of calories) but they don’t really increase metabolism… actually they can decrease it.

Can You Naturally Change the Speed of Your Basal Metabolism?

The answer to this question is yes and you can also achieve an increase in metabolism and a drop in body fat by eating more.

Shocked? Well, I was too.

The way I came across this phenomenon is quite funny. Over my 10 years as a coach, I helped many busy professionals to naturally increase their metabolism by getting them leaner, fitter and stronger but, at the beginning of my career, I actually had no idea whether they were losing weight because of an increase in metabolism or because we created a calorie deficit with diet and exercise.

When I was training my clients regularly, they would lose weight. Every time I would take a few weeks of vacation, I would come back to London and find out that most of them gained back a generous amount of weight despite the fact that they were following their diet and they swapped our weight training sessions with cardio.

On the contrary, when they were going on vacation, they would do zero exercises and binge like there was no tomorrow but come back either lighter or weighing the same (but looking more muscular).

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Observing this phenomenon happening over and over again, got me curious about the mechanics of our metabolism and the ways to hack it.

Was it really possible that by relaxing and eating more food, someone could actually maintain his/her current weight or even be losing fat?

Driven by the desire to answer this question, I spent a good amount of years researching and testing different food strategies until I finally cracked the code to an improved metabolism that allows you to eat like a king and look like a Greek God.

Does Eating More Increase Metabolism?

Before I explain why eating more increases your metabolism, let me dig into something that I see people doing much more often: “eating less and moving more.”

It is quite common to see people embarking their yearly weight loss journey (usually after Christmas or Easter) by following very restrictive diets and bombarding their body with several hours of exercise per day.

Despite the short-term effectiveness of this approach, in the long run, if the goal is to increase metabolism and lose a lot of fat over an extended period of time, this simply won’t work.

As I have mentioned before, eating fewer calories and exercising more are energy-consuming activities for your body. In the first case, your body needs to use its own energy reserves to top up the missing energy it needs to fully function; and in the second, it takes your body extra energy to contract your muscles.

In both cases, your TDEE (Total daily energy expenditure at rest) doesn’t vary much; therefore your metabolism stays unchanged.[3]

A different scenario happens when you eat less and move more for an extended period of time (weeks or months). In that case, your metabolism will slow down because your body is receiving a “we have little access to food and we need to run away from threats” signal.

Your metabolism is like your bank account.

To understand this concept, let’s imagine that you have $4,000 coming into your bank account each and every month. The money you spend on housing, transport, food and leisure are calibrated according to this monthly income.

Now, imagine that a rich uncle starts to send you $1,000 each day. What would you do? Probably, you would save that money for the first two or three days but, when you notice that $1,000 keep on coming every single day, you would likely start to spend more right?

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What if, instead of a rich uncle sending you money, a poor uncle needed your financial help to pay for the treatments of his illness? You would probably try your best to adjust your spending according to your old $4,000 monthly budget.

That’s exactly how your body reasons:

More Resources Coming in = More Energy Released (Improved Metabolism)

Fewer Resources Coming in = Less Energy Released (Decreased Metabolism)

Note that activities like weight training[4] and high-intensity interval training (HIIT),[5] when combined with an increase in nutrient-rich foods, will also improve your metabolism.

For this reason, today, when I coach a new client, I always start by increasing their daily food intake and their physical activities. Usually, people are quite confused because they come to me to lose weight and I tell them to eat more but, without fail, the next weekly weight-check shows a lower number.

Be aware that not all foods are equal and only certain foods have the power to increase metabolism to a noticeable extent.

Foods That Increase Metabolism

Doubling up on Snickers bars won’t improve your metabolism and you know that. What you may not know is that certain foods that are marked as “healthy” doesn’t help you with increasing your metabolism. They also make you gain weight.

Before giving you a list of foods to eat or avoid, let me explain a simple principle of human biochemistry.

Your body uses energy from three (or four) main sources:

  • Sugars: whether you eat a Snickers bar or a banana, the carbohydrates contained in both get absorbed in the gut and become blood glucose (the basic form of sugar our body utilizes as a source of energy).[6]
    When blood glucose is present in the bloodstream (elevated levels), the body always uses it as its primary source of energy. When blood glucose levels drop (this phenomenon happens when you’re using these sugars to fuel a physical activity or when your pancreas produced a spike of insulin and stores that glucose into fat and muscles), your body starts to release fatty acids into the bloodstream to use as a source of energy.
  • Fatty acids: either from your own fat cells (adipocytes) or from whatever fat-containing foods you ate in the past 2-3 hours. Fatty acids are a slower and more consistent form of energy than sugars that your body can utilise.
  • Amino acids: Amino acids are the broken-down form of proteins. Proteins cannot be used by the body as a source of energy, not even in their broken-down form. Your body can transform amino acids into glucose with a process called gluconeogenesis.[7] This is a very inefficient process where a decent amount of energy gets wasted (and that’s a good thing for us but I’ll get to that later).
  • Ketones: when you don’t feed your body any source of carbs (or proteins in excess), your liver produces an alternative source of energy called Ketones. It can replace the need for glucose (most of it at least).[8]

Now that you know the four energy sources the body can use to fuel its metabolism, let’s get to the meat (quite literally).

To make this simple for you, I am going to divide foods into three categories:

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  1. Red Flags – Avoid the red foods because they slow your metabolism. They are usually extremely low in micronutrients and high in antinutrients (agents that are highly toxic). They are highly processed or spike your insulin levels (therefore stopping your fat burning process).
  2. Orange Foods – Limit your consumption of orange foods. The orange foods on the list are suboptimal choices but they don’t have a negative impact on your metabolism when consumed in moderation. In fact, they contain a decent amount of micronutrients and, if eaten in small amounts, they shouldn’t stop your fat burning process.
  3. Green Foods – These are foods to consume most. Green foods will improve your metabolism and should be the main bulk of your diet.

Next, I’ll get into details exactly what foods to eat and avoid:

Sugars and Carbs

Sugars do not directly improve metabolism because they stop the process of fat utilisation. There is an exception to this rule though. When you eat a diet extremely low in carbohydrates and sugars for an extended period of time (two to six days onwards), introducing carbohydrates and sugars can actually improve metabolism quite a bit.

Unfortunately, for most of us that love eating bread, pasta, fruit and yoghurt, unless we were on a low-carb diet for the past few days, these foods are not an optimal choice.

Sugars like fructose (found in fruit or commercial sugar) actually decrease metabolism and should be limited. Heavily processed sugars and carbohydrates should be also limited. Here is the colour list of sugars and carbs that affect metabolism:

Red Flag Sugary Foods You Should Avoid:
  • Dried fruit
  • Commercial and packaged corn
  • High fructose corn syrup
  • All sorts of candies and lookalike
  • Packaged fruit juices and purees
  • Sugary dairy products like flavoured yoghurt, condensed milk etc
Orange Sugary Foods You Should Limit:
  • Bread and flour-based products
  • Milk and also vegan milk alternatives that are sweetened
  • Most fruit (exceptions are in the green list below)
  • Potatoes and potato starch products
  • Oatmeals and other grains
Green Sugary and Carb-Containing Foods That Improve Metabolism
  • All berries except strawberries
  • Tubers like squash, carrots, parsnips etc
  • Sweet potatoes
  • White rice
  • All green vegetables

Fats

Fatty acids and fats, in general, can improve or decrease metabolism depending on their composition.

Red Flag Fatty Foods You Should Avoid:
  • Margarine and hydrogenated fat
  • Lard
  • Gmo oils
  • Most vegetable oils from seeds and peanut oil
Orange Fatty Foods You Should Limit:
  • Nuts
  • Meat fat
  • Nut oils (macadamia, almond, cashew etc..)
  • Seeds
Green Fatty Foods You Should Eat Daily
  • Extra virgin olive oil (non-heated)
  • Avocado
  • Coconut oil
  • Butter (organic)
  • Egg yolks (free-range)
  • Bone marrow

The fatty foods in the green section tend to be very effective in increasing metabolism, especially in the absence of carbohydrates because they stimulate the production of ketones (I’ll talk about this later).

Bear in mind that 1 gram of fat has 2.5 times the calories of a gram of protein or carbohydrates; therefore “eating more fats” to increase metabolism should be done very gradually to avoid weight gain.

Proteins

Eating food not only sends regulatory signals to your brain about abundance vs scarcity of resources, but it can also increase your metabolism for a few hours. This is called the thermic effect of food (TEF).[9] It’s caused by the extra calories required to digest, absorb and process the nutrients in your meal.

Protein causes the largest rise in TEF.[10] It increases your metabolic rate by 15-30%, compared to 5-10% for carbs and 0-3% for fats

Eating protein has also been shown to help you feel more full and prevent you from overeating, in fact, a study found that people were likely to eat around 441 fewer calories per day when protein made up 30% of their diet.[11]

Also, proteins help preserve muscle mass.[12] The more muscle mass we have, the higher our basal metabolism is.

For these reasons, the first nutritional advice I usually give to clients is to reduce sugars and increase proteins. This quick swap is often enough to kickstart their metabolism and commence the fat burning process.

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Red Protein Sources That Should Be Avoided
  • Cheap whey proteins
  • Soy proteins
  • GMO meat
  • GMO eggs
  • Packaged meat
Orange Protein Source to Be Limited
  • Canned tuna
  • Canned fish
  • Canned meat
  • Gluten-rich products like Seitan
  • Farmed fish
Green Protein Sources to Have Daily
  • Free-range meat
  • Free-range eggs
  • Wild meat and fish
  • Whey protein isolate
  • Collagen and beef protein hydrolyzed

Note that this is a general categorisation of the foods that, when added to your diet, have the power to increase or decrease metabolism. There are some specific foods and supplements worth mentioning because they have been proven to improve metabolism by increasing thyroid output or resting heart rate, they are as follows.

Other Foods and Supplements

Cold water

Drinking water may temporarily speed up your metabolism. Studies have shown that drinking 17 ounces (0.5 litres) of water increases resting metabolism by 10-30% for about an hour.[13]

This is not a surprise since our body is made up mainly by water and proper hydration is key to a fast metabolism. This calorie-burning effect may be even greater if you drink cold water, as your body uses energy to heat it up to body temperature.

MCT Oils or Powders

Medium-chain triglycerides or MCT have been shown to improve metabolism by stimulating Ketone production.[14] Coconut oil contains MCT fats and, when used as a replacement for cooking oil can help you improve metabolism.

You can buy the concentrated version of MCT oils and eat it separately to further enhance this effect. Either way, coconut oil or pure MCT oil can be a great addition to your diet if you’re following a ketogenic or intermittent fasting protocol.

Caffeine

Caffeine and coffee have been shown to improve metabolism by improving heart rate and, therefore improving calorie consumption.[15]

Green Tea

Green tea

is thought to increase energy expenditure and fat oxidation, and to reduce fat production and absorption.[16]

Bottom Line

In this article, I just covered the basics of food and metabolism but, there are many other non-food related things you can do to improve your metabolism, like improving your sleep quality and following certain exercise routines.

For now, just know that making small and gradual changes to your diet can increase your metabolism and improve your general health. Starting from changing one habit at a time is always the best strategy to accomplish any goal.

Once you improve your diet, your hydration and your supplementation you can think about testing more advanced “bio-hacks” or techniques like ice baths and fasted HIIT training.

And remember, having a higher metabolism doesn’t only help you lose weight and keep it off but it also give you more energy and a feeling of vibrancy. If you give it time, it really is worth the investment.

Featured photo credit: Fitsum Admasu via unsplash.com

Reference

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