A new year brings with it feelings of wanting change. This is often focused towards weight, but if the mindset shifts slightly to the goal of feeling good and the other goals being secondary, those goals can come in a more sustainable way. The reason I say this, is that when people go about with a weight focus, they cut out x, y and z. Feel miserable and do this ‘diet’ for a time period. lose the weight, delighted with themselves, goal accomplished and revert to old ways, piling up more weight than before as the metabolism has slowed to the calorie deficit you’ve subjected your body to for the last couple of weeks.
Instead of doing this I would suggest a few simple changes, gradually building on this each week with the focus being about feeling good, having more energy and the other goals will come. You’ll feel healthier and happier in yourself and the shift will have been gradual and new habits will have been formed,
1. Prioritise sleep– sleep often gets overlooked but sleep is vital to good health. It is during this time that the body heals and repairs. If you don’t get sufficient sleep ( ideally 8 hours) then all systems are out of kilter and you wake up feeling lousy, make poor food choices, upset the hormone balance in the body and this viscous cycle continues, until you make a conscious decision to address your sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene basically is having a good routine around bedtime so you can reset your circadian rhythm. What I would suggest here is winding down 1-2 hours prior to sleep. This could involve dimming the lights, putting on relaxing music, practicing gentle yoga movements or deep breath work. If you are stressed and this is what’s disrupting your sleep, you will benefit from all of this but writing down what’s stressing you will also help or writing down all the jobs/tasks that need to be done and prioritise them. This exercise will help you dump those thoughts on paper so they don’t negatively impact your sleep. All helping slow the body down and put the body in a more restful state so that falling asleep is not an issue and staying asleep is improved. Other good sleep hygiene practices could involve having a bath. Get away from screens and devices as the blue light upsets melatonin production which is a necessary hormone for sleep. bright lights at night disrupt the production of melatonin so this is why getting away from screens and devices is so important. When you wake in the morning, exposing yourself to natural light is just as important to help get the circadian rhythm get into a healthy rhythm. This is why routine around sleep is so important. Once the body is exposed to bright light, melatonin production shuts down and cortisol ( the fight or flight hormone) increases.
2. Exercise-the recommendations around exercise is 30 mins daily for adults. Try and find a routine around this. If you are starting out and are unsure where to start, walking is always a good option. This can be slowly built up to walk/jog and over time you may be able to do the full 30 mins jogging. You want to be able to find something you can commit to and enjoy. So if you can rope in friends or family fantastic, but don’t be reliant on others to ensure you meet your exercise goals. Some people think walking is boring but if you throw on some music or a few podcasts it can be very enjoyable. I would also recommend joining clubs and there are so many options out there soccer, tennis, running club, tri club, cycling club, sea swimming, pool swimming, G.A.A., hiking, rowing. Find something that you enjoy and mix up the exercises. Perhaps walking 2 days, swimming 1 day, group exercise class 2 days and club activity 1/2 days a week
3. Eat real food– you are what you eat, so be sure to consider what you are putting into your mouth. There is so much convenience food out there and it is tempting to buy. It saves on cooking, it looks and probably is tasty but nutritionally deplete and can be very upsetting to your gut. Your body needs vitamins and minerals to function properly and you will get these from eating a large variety of fruit, vegetables, beans, pulses, dairy and meat. If cooking at home is something you don’t do. start off ensuring you cook at least 1 meal from scratch per week. build this to 2 per week and so on. wean yourself off the processed food and feed your body real food. This will put you on the road to much improved health and you will feel the benefits.
4. Get protein and fibre in at every meal– protein is an important for growth and repair and is important for so many functions of the body. Quality protein is overlooked in so many peoples diets. Choices are towards bars, powders etc but what about protein from food?? eggs, meat, fish, milk, yoghurts, soya, tempeh, miso, tofu, hemp, beans. chia seeds. The list goes on. Eating protein from good food sources brings with several other nutritional benefits that aren’t found in bars or powders. Alot of the bars out there are laced with sugar, not to mention other nasties that have inflammatory effects on the gut, impacting how you feel. I’m not against protein powders, personally I don’t use them. They do have their place for those that find it difficult to meet protein requirements from food due to intensive exercise, you’re wanting to grow more muscle or perhaps you’re switching to a vegetarian/vegan diet and aren’t meeting your protein needs. Food first however. You can track your protein consumption by entering into different apps like my fitness pal. If you came to me with your food diary I would give a full analysis of your nutrient profile and what areas you need to address to improve your overall diet. As regards fibre, this is in fruit and vegetables, and wholegrains. Having a focus on protein and fibre for each meal will ensure you are more satisfied after each meal, reducing your need to pick and feed on food that’s not serving your health any benefit. Fibre is also so important for your gut, acting as a prebiotic. This helps the good bacteria in your gut flourish. The gut is considered the second brain, Gut bacteria are so important for controlling digestion, improving the immune system, sleep as the gut microbiome also produce melatonin!!, mood, and also contribute to the control of blood sugar, cholesterol and other inflammatory conditions.
5. Eat the rainbow- eating the rainbow in terms of fruit and vegetable ensures you are eating not only a full compliment of the vast range of vitamins and minerals important in the diet, but also a diverse range of phytonutrients and antioxidants that will boost your health. For the next few days I challenge you to write down all the fruit and vegetables you consume daily. Next I want you to group them in terms of colour. Red eg Tomatoes, peppers, berries; Orange eg peppers, carrots oranges, ;Yellow eg lemons, peppers, bananas, ;Green, eg kale, spinach, broccoli, Purple eg blueberries, aubergine, red cabbage, grapes; white/brown eg onions, leeks, cauliflower. this will highlight your gaps and areas you can improve on. Aim for 7 portions of fruit and veg per day, 2 of those being fruit!
6. Feed your gut– a good microbiome is crucial to good health. Feeding your gut with fruit and veggies will give it several types of fibre to thrive. Other food items worth eating are kefir, live natural yoghurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh and miso.
7. Self care- carve time out for yourself. this can be anything. time to paint your nails, meet your friend, read a book, get a massage etc.in the fast paced lives we lead, rushing here and there not allowing the brain relax as it thinks of all the tasks ahead driving the stress hormone cortisol up which impacts other hormones in the body and can put systems out of kilter. In order to ‘Feel Good’ you need to look at the 4 pillars of health which are physical, emotional, mental an spiritual. Some of these overlap but making these 7 core changes will make a big difference to how you feel.
I hope all the above has been of help and should you need further help with your journey, I do take 1:1 Personal training, 1:1 Nutrition coaching and I also do combined packages