Forming Healthy Habits

Making sustainable changes and reaching the healthy goals you set for yourself means that new lifestyle habits need to be formed and sometimes it’s the simplest things that can make an impact. Nutritional therapy is a very individual and personalised practice, but there are some general healthy habits that we can all pursue if we want to be healthier and perhaps shed some excess weight.

Good food and nutrition is of course vital for weight loss, but it also promotes sleep, mental wellbeing, digestive health and immune health, amongst other things. So the first step is to think about changing habits for long term health reasons rather than focusing the attention all on calories in vs. calories out. Focusing solely on appearance isn’t always that helpful. I recommend thinking about habits in relation to the health benefits they give you – and then when you feel better, healthy choices start to become much easier.

These recommendations are general and top line, but they serve as a starting point to help inspire change.

Plan Your Meals
Write down what you ate last week and see where you can make some healthy changes. Think about when you are planning to exercise – how does this impact your meal times? Do you need to batch cook some meals so you don’t get tempted by fast food? Maybe try a new healthy recipe at the weekend when you have a bit more time, so you can build it into your weekly routine; quick recipes with ingredients that you know are a good place to start.

When planning meals, you will be more thoughtful and are more likely to make healthier choices. Look at your meals and see how you can make them healthier. This maybe to do with the ratio of carbohydrates to vegetables, or cooking methods.  How could you reduce the consumption of processed and/or fast foods which have too much sugar, salt and saturated fat? Cooking from scratch is a good rule to live by.

A couple of easy swaps:
– Swap white pasta for brown. It’s higher in fibre, and contains more vitamin E, B vitamins and antioxidants than white.
– Swap white potatoes for sweet potatoes. They count as one of your five a day and contain vitamin A, C, fibre and the anti-oxidant beta-carotene.

When people trip up it’s often down to snacks, especially when you are exercising early or late. Try these homemade snacks, they can be made in batches and frozen so you can eat them over the following month.

Digestive Health
Hitting the recommended 30g a day fibre target is so important for digestive health. In the UK the average adult is only eating about 18g, and because important sources of fibre come from whole-grain carbohydrates, the demonising of carbohydrates with faddy diets hasn’t help the humble carbs plight. If you take any healthy diet, 40% to 60% of the calories should come from unprocessed carbohydrates. So in a 2,000 calorie-a-day diet, 40% would be 800 calories or 200 grams of carbohydrates from fresh fruits, vegetables and whole-grains. But, not all carbohydrates are created equal – you can find out more about ‘the good and the bad’ here.  Eating the wrong kind of processed carbohydrates can lead to a myriad of health conditions such as type2 diabetes, poor digestive health and weight gain.
Disclaimer – some people need a low fibre diet for certain health conditions.

We are 60-80% water and need around 2 litres, which is roughly six to eight glasses a day. But 20-30% of the recommended daily water intake should come from food so it becomes around 1.2 litres a day.  Of course you then have make sure you are hitting your 5 a day fruit and vegetable portion target. As well as keeping you hydrated, water helps to carry nutrients to vital organs, keeps joints lubricated and helps with satiety. Not drinking enough can lead to tiredness and lack of concentration which may also have a negative knock on effect when you are trying to make food and lifestyle decisions.

Keep a reusable bottle with you at all times. Know how much water it contains and monitor how much you are drinking during the day, and only fill up when you have finished. This way you can see if you are drinking enough.

Dinner Time
In the evening the body’s metabolism naturally slows down along with the production of insulin as the body prepares for sleep.  Eating later means that the body is less capable of processing the foods as insulin is low, so sugars from food and drink stay in the blood stream longer. This can affect sleep and is how weight is more readily gained when food is consumed later into the evening.

This research is based around the natural rhythms of our body clock and hormones. Over time we have adapted to eat later and later, but really our digestive system needs a rest as we prepare for sleep. It may not always be possible to eat early – this is why sometimes it can be beneficial to work with a qualified nutritional practitioner who can offer support and suggestions which suit your particular needs and lifestyle.