With the start of a new year and a new month we often get sucked into the January fad diets, trends, detox diets and the new membership at the gym to try and lose those Christmas pounds but that can often lead to depriving our body of essential calories and nutrients and if we end up eating what we have set out to avoid, can lead to feelings of failure often resulting in overeating.
But I’m here to tell you to step away from the fad diets, the fasting, the detox diets and even the treadmill and make January a time to relax and restore.
January is the time that people make resolutions for big changes, take on more things, try to create healthier habits which are spurred on by social media and celebrities.
But January should be a time to slow down, take some time for yourself, introduce some habits that support your mental health and include some mindfulness.
Remember that Christmas was a pretty hectic month and I could probably say that there wasn’t much time to slow down and relax, and yes you may have eaten a few extra mince pies or ate a huge Christmas dinner and the pudding after and had a few too many glasses of vino, but dieting, slugging it out at the gym is self-punishment for the extra Christmas pounds. But isn’t life all about balance?
One thing is for sure, we shouldn’t exercise to be able to eat certain foods or even detox for the month to then fall back into poor habits, in fact we want to be looking at supporting our body with rest and repair but also to ensure that we nourish our body with good food and movement.
Setting ourselves simple yet achievable goals through rest and repair, movement of our body each day and including nourishing foods should be the focus.
Relax and restore
This is vital for our health and mental health. January is often associated with higher incidences of depression and including blue Monday can often be a hard time for many. So restrictive eating, low calorie diets and high intensity training can be detrimental to our wellbeing. Our mental health relies on many things including nourishing foods, gentle movement, and rest.
Rest is needed for the body to recuperate. Sleep deprivation can have a major impact on your functioning, quality of life, and overall health. Loss of sleep can also trigger anxiety at night, creating a vicious cycle. Sleep is absolutely vital for bodily repair, cognitive function, and general all-round health.
Ways to support sleep:
Avoid excess caffeine especially at night. So if you rely on caffeine to function look at ways to support your bodies energy levels through blood sugar balance
Limit alcohol as this can have a detrimental effect on sleep.
Try to ensure you have fresh air flowing through your room. A closed bedroom increases CO2 levels during the night which can disrupt sleep, having an open window can actually help to improve sleep quality.
Staying away from our phones before bed can really help by reducing the effects of blue light on our melatonin levels which ultimately effects our circadian rhythm. It is advisable to put down the phone at least an hour before bed, ideally two.
Activities such as yoga, meditation, light gentle exercise can also help to reduce stress levels and help you calm down before bed.
Did you know there are also many foods that can help to support and aid sleep?
Magnesium helps to convert an amino acid called tryptophan into the important mood-boosting hormone serotonin. Serotonin also makes melatonin, which is needed for good quality sleep. Melatonin helps control sleep patterns. Its production increases with evening darkness, promoting healthy sleeping support our circadian rhythm. Certain foods can help to increase melatonin within the brain.
Melatonin rich foods such as cherries, oats and almonds actually induces sleep making for a restful nights rest.
Magnesium also acts as a stress regulator by helping to regulate adrenaline and cortisol and actually helps to relax the nervous system, think leafy green vegetables , quinoa, dark chocolate, nuts and seeds, whole grains, beans and legumes are all fantastic sources of magnesium that can help to support stress levels and improve sleep quality.
Tryptophan rich foods have a great impact on our sleep and can actually help to induce sleep!
Tryptophan is the precursor for serotonin and can be found in foods such as oats, bananas, and yoghurt.
But one very important rule is to maintain blood sugar balance!
Have you ever found yourself waking up during the night or early in the morning or feeling too energised to fall asleep, this maybe due to blood sugar imbalances.
If our blood sugar levels are too high our body tries to remove it through the kidneys via urination which can result in several bathroom trips during the night. Plus these high blood sugar levels can cause irritability and unsettledness before bed.
Even low blood sugar levels can cause waking during the night as every cell in the body needs sugar and when the levels fall too low, it causes the release of adrenalin, cortisol and growth hormones which stimulates the brain even at 3-4am in the morning.
So eating an unprocessed whole food meal at night that allows your body to break down any carbohydrates slowly with added protein, can help to support those blood sugar levels.
On days after a poor nights sleep, have you found yourself eating everything in sight? This is down to our body requiring that extra energy to keep us going through the day, this is where supporting blood sugar levels and energy levels is vital. Opt for a good quality breakfast packed with protein, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats and antioxidant rich vegetables and fruit which will all help to stabilise those blood sugar levels to avoid those mid morning and afternoon energy slumps where more often than not, caffeine and chocolate is often consumed to keep energy levels boosted.
Remember that sleep is just as important as what we eat and the exercise we do...make sure to prioritise it and get in some wonderful restful nights sleep.
Resting our body and mind can help to support our body.
Ensure ‘me time’, not just TV but real quality time that makes you feel good, visiting friends, walking, etc.
Each day write a list of things you want to do and another list of things you have to do. This way you ensure you are doing things that are supporting your health and reducing the pressures of deadlines.
Support and increase vagus nerve stimulation
A low vagal tone means the vagus nerve isn't functioning as it should. This may lead to a heightened stress response which becomes chronic, possibly resulting in, anxiety, gut issues and inflammation.
Vagus nerve stimulation can be achieved naturally by following these steps.
Deep and Slow Breathing. ...
Singing, Humming, Chanting and Gargling. ...
Omega-3 Fatty Acids.
This does not mean slugging it out at the gym, but the complete opposite. Movement can be anything from swimming, yoga, dancing, walking in nature, bouncing on a trampoline…whatever you enjoy and gets your body moving without the pressure of hitting calorie goals or step counts.
Did you know that being in nature has been linked to a host of benefits, including improved attention, lower stress, better mood, reduced risk of depression, better digestion and gut health and even supports the bodies immune system?
So what are you waiting for…get some fresh air and spend time walking in nature with loved ones, its really is the best way to unwind and restore.
Yes food is important for our health but that’s not to say we should be eliminating food groups or restricting calorie intake. Did you know that these kind of diets and trends can lead to hormonal imbalances, gut microbiome imbalances, increased anxiety and weight gain.
As I always say, eating is about balance. Our body needs nutrients from all types of food to function, support brain and hormonal health and support energy levels and gut health.
Our brain is made up of 60% fat and our own bodies cells lining are made of lipids (fats), so we need to ensure that we maintain good cell membrane integrity, gut integrity (all those epithelial cells that line the gut wall) as well as supporting the health of our brain. Healthy fats include extra virgin olive oil, eggs, nuts and seeds, oily fish, olives which can be incorporated into each meal. Aim for up to 25% of the meal to ensure adequate intake to maintain gut and brain health. Healthy fats also aid absorption of fat soluble nutrients such as Vitamin C, D, E and K and we all know that Vitamin C is vital for our immune system.
B vitamins are essential for energy levels as well as hormonal balance, they help create energy in our cells so making sure to include Green leafy veg, grass fed meat, fish, poultry, eggs.
Probiotics help to colonise the gut with live bacteria that help to heal and restore gut function, coconut kefir, miso, tempeh, kimchi, sauerkraut, help restore gut integrity as well as immune support and this is especially important after Christmas when our gut function may not be optimal.
Omega 3 is essential for maintaining and supporting gut health and brain health. Omega 3 can help to normalize dopamine levels in the body, helping to regulate the amygdala. Serotonin is the chemical that is responsible for regulating our moods, and therefore affects our anxiety levels. Serotonin transmits messages from neuron to neuron.
Studies have shown that if cell membranes do not get enough Omega-3 fatty acids, serotonin is blocked. Serotonin is blocked because Omega-3 fatty acids are used to strengthen cell membranes, and if they are not strong, they cannot accept the serotonin as well as they could otherwise. As serotonin has a huge effect on anxiety, the strengthening of cell membranes is extremely important.
Omega 3 also has powerful anti-inflammatory properties. Think Oily fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel. You will also get some omega 3 from eggs (fortified eggs) walnuts and chia seeds although this is in a different form (ALA) which isn’t as easily absorbed and has to be converted to the active EPA and DHA but they are still good to include in your diet.
Magnesium rich foods can help to support energy levels, it’s also a cofactor in more than 300 enzyme systems that regulate diverse biochemical reactions in the body, including protein synthesis, muscle and nerve function, blood glucose control, and blood pressure regulation. Magnesium is required for energy production, oxidative phosphorylation, and glycolysis. It is essential for supporting moods. We can get a good source of magnesium naturally through foods such as green leafy veg, avocado, nuts and seeds, dark chocolate/raw cacao powder (which actually has the highest amount of magnesium).
Raw cacao and dark chocolate (85% or higher) is packed with 4 amazing mood boosting chemicals- serotonin, tryptophan, tyrosine and phenylethylamine, which can help with support moods and help to reduce anxiety. Phenylethylamine (known as the love drug) is thought to boost levels of the feel-good hormone’s dopamine and serotonin, can also help to enhance mental focus and concentration, counter anxiety, and improve our moods in general. Cacao also increases blood flow to the brain and enhances connections between neurons. Cacao is also packed with tryptophan, an amino acid that is linked to serotonin production. Cacao has the highest plant based source of magnesium which helps to convert the amino acid tryptophan into the mood-boosting hormone serotonin. Serotonin also makes melatonin, which is needed for good quality sleep.
Antioxidant rich foods help to reduce inflammation within the body often associated with high sugar diets and they help to optimise nutrients, think vegetables that are loaded with antioxidants, oats, berries, raw cacao, quinoa, oily fish.
High fibre foods help to encourage uptake of probiotics and improve gut flora. Remember that our gut flora can impact on nutrient absorption, gut function and integrity, also our brain health so we need to ensure that we are feeding the good bacteria rather than the bad bacteria.
So that does mean we need to avoid the calorie counting and restrictive diets as these can lead to poor nutrient intake, poor nutrient status, hormonal imbalances, poor energy levels and even anxiety and depression.
Include a nourishing breakfast- this well help to set you up for the day, help to balance blood sugar levels, support energy levels and improve gut function.
Why not start the day with some delicious baked oats with low sugar berries and some delicious nut butter, or plain yoghurt with berries, homemade nutty granola and dark chocolate. A veggie filled omelette, sourdough bread topped with avocado and egg or some sweet potato toasts with hummus and avocado.
Include nourishing snacks. Include protein rich snacks such as nuts/seeds, dark chocolate (melt dark chocolate and add nuts seeds, dried fruit and make small chocolate bites and allow to harden) Oatcakes with hummus/peanut butter/guacamole, brown rice cakes, Popcorn, Seaweed, Fava bean snacks, make your own trail mix.
Remember that Fruit should be eaten with a protein or healthy fats such as apple dipped in peanut butter/almond butter.
Why not try a Banana split with peanut butter, a sprinkle of nuts and seeds and some dark chocolate. Adding protein and healthy fats to fruit helps to slow down the breakdown of sugar avoiding that rise in blood sugar levels and avoid those dips in blood sugar and energy that often leads to cravings and binge eating.
Its important to maintain good hydration throughout the day. Include Filtered water up to 8 glasses. Why not include some herbal teas such as Green tea which can boost metabolism. Mint, chai, rooibos are all fantastic caffeine free options too.
And my personal favourite… Hot chocolate made with raw cacao, a little tahini, some Ceylon cinnamon, some milk and a squeeze of honey.
The take home message is don’t fret over diets, don’t use January as a time for punishment but instead use the time to create new and heathy habits that involves rest and restore, movement, and nourishment.
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