So after a couple of weeks of nourishing your adrenals and recharging the batteries, you’re hopefully feeling more energised and have a new zest for life. The combination of more sleep, less caffeine and alcohol and drinking plenty of water each has hopefully released some of the stress and anxiety and you are now thinking with more clarity and feel a sense of calm as you approach each day. With this new sense of control and enthusiasm, you are in the best position to start tackling some changes to your routine. The introduction of some new healthy behaviours will get you on track to feeling even better – so this week we are going to focus on FOOD!!
You are still going to be active every day, but we are keeping it at the lower end of the intensity spectrum. If you use a heart rate monitor, it shouldn’t be ticking over 65-70% of your maximum HR; you are aiming to feel slightly breathless and breaking a sweat, but could still hold a conversation if you needed too. If you are feeling exhausted, then scale it back a bit and opt for something a little more gentle – a swim, yoga class or power walk would be ideal.
Before you introduce any new behaviours into your lifestyle, it’s always a good idea to allow yourself some time to prepare. We can have the best intensions but if we aren’t prepared, it’s more challenging to stick with them. Make sure you have time to get to the shops, farmers market or do your online shopping – you want to start this week with a fridge/ pantry full of yummy and appealing food. Set yourself up for the next 5-7 days so you can avoid the last minute panic of trying to decide what to eat for dinner. This week is all about getting more nutrients into the body and swapping out the foods that drag us down. These 5 simple steps are going to get you on your way……….
1. Eat more fruit and vegetables – it’s not going to be the first time you’ve heard this. ‘5 a day’ is the recommendation based on WHO guidelines (400g per day for the prevention of chronic diseases), however just under a 3rd of the UK adult population actually achieve this. Not only do fruits and vegetables provide us with a range of nutrients and antioxidants, they are also a vital source of fibre that helps support digestive function and the elimination of waste and toxins. If you know that your intake of colour is lacking, then this week you are going to aim to have some fruit and/ or vegetable with every meal and snack (if you eat 5 times a day that should be easy). The more vibrant and colourful the fruit and vegetable, the more nutrient dense it’s likely to be, so sprinkle some blueberries or strawberries over your yogurt or porridge in the morning, grab a side salad with your sandwich at lunchtime or have an extra serving of vegetables from the canteen if you are at work. If you have the freedom to make your own lunch and dinner, then aim to serve up 50% of your plate with leafy green and colourful vegetables (remember white potatoes don’t count). Whilst fresh, organic and locally sources is the ‘gold standard’ of veggie consumption, it’s not always feasible – so have a bag of mixed frozen vegetables in the freezer as these are quick and easy to steam up and add to your meal in the evening. Frozen berries are also a great alternative and if you like to blend your greens into a smoothie they can be a good addition (though watch the sugar content of smoothies……read more about that here!)
2. Oily fish and omega 3 – for many of us, eating fish is something we do on a Friday and it tends to be coated in batter and wrapped up with a large portion of chips. White fish is a great source of protein, however it’s the oily varieties that we need each week to help support our intake of essential Omega 3 fats (vital for protecting the heart, reducing inflammation and regulating our cholesterol levels). If you aren’t already eating fish, then now is the time to start. Aim for at least 2 portions of oily fish each week and that can include the likes of salmon, mackerel, sardines, herrings, tuna and ideally the fresher the better. Tinned fish sadly doesn’t retain all that much Omega 3, but if you do opt for a tinned version then mackerel is your best bet. If you can’t eat fish, then you can get your Omega 3s from other sources – avocados are brilliant, as are nuts and seeds (walnuts, brazilnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, sunflower, pumpkin and flaxseed). Sprinkling seeds over your soup, salad or cereal in the morning is a great way to sneak them in, or blitz half an avocado into your smoothie if you can’t stomach the texture!
3. Protein with breakfast – we have a carb culture when it comes to breakfast – many of us opt for a slice of toast or a bowl of cereal to give us energy before we rush out the door, however these carbohydrate heavy options will leave us feeling peckish, lethargic and reaching for the coffee by mid-morning. To help stabilise our blood sugar levels more effectively it’s important to include a form of protein with every meal, particularly breakfast. You will feel fuller for longer and will stave off those mid-morning and mid-afternoon energy slumps. An omelette or some scrambled/ boiled eggs in the morning are a great start to the day, though other good toast toppings would be a thin spread of peanut or almond butter (or tahini paste if you can’t eat nuts) a tablespoon of cottage cheese, smoked salmon or some mashed avocado. Yogurt can also be a good addition to porridge or granola, though try and watch the sugar content of fruit yogurts and opt for full fat natural or Greek yogurt (you don’t want to miss out on the added vitamins and nutrients that get stripped out of the low fat varieties).
4. Support your digestion – it takes the body longer to digest meat (particularly red meat) than it does vegetables, fruits and grains, so aim to support your digestive system and go easy on the meats over the next few weeks. If you are a steak fiend and are having red meat more than 3 times per week then try and cut back to no more than 2 servings and aim to have a couple of vegetarian days each week. It takes up to an hour to digest most vegetables, pulses and grains (compared to 3-4 hours for meat) so if you are feeling bloated and sluggish it may help to get things moving along by swapping red meat and choosing either fish or eggs as your main source of protein. The added fibre from all the beans, vegetables and pulses will also help support the liver and eliminate excess waste.
5. 4pm snack – avoid the energy slump! Leaving long gaps between meals can cause havoc to our energy levels, blood glucose control and metabolism. We need glucose to function and concentrate and if it’s been over 6 hours since we last ate then we are bound to start feeling a little fuzzy and cross eyed. The longer we go between meals the more likely we are to make poor food choices when we do eat (such as reaching for the pre-dinner crisps, pizza and takeaways), so try and avoid this dip by introducing a little snack at 4pm. It doesn’t have to be huge, but it needs to include some protein, fat and carbohydrate to help regulate and support energy levels through till dinner. An apple with a handful of almonds, or some ryevittas with hummus and cucumber would be ideal!
The habits you have adopted from week one should be embedded in your everyday ‘norm’ so these new additional tweaks shouldn’t be too daunting – it’s all about making small but achievable changes and not tackling it all at once!