Good health begins as a thought

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Have you considered that what you 'feed' your mind may have as much of an impact on your health outcomes, as the food and supplements you consume to feed your body?

For centuries, healers have pondered the interconnections between mental and physical health, matter and spirit, thought and action. And now in recent years, science is catching up in the recognition of emotional, spiritual, and behavioural factors in contributing to biochemical imbalances within the body, and directly affecting overall health and wellness. 

You may well have made a connection between eating sugar and toxins and feeling anxious, overly emotional, tired or not thinking so clearly, and may be well aware that consuming a daily diet based on wholesome food is an essential and powerful tool to feed great health. But, how should you deal with the consequences of negative thinking and stress on your mind-body health?

What we know for sure is that a positive attitude works - we just need to remember and take time to nurture it.

Experts rate exercise, sufficient sleep, meditation, yoga, controlling negative thoughts and building a strong social support as some of the best ways to decrease stress and boost immunity – so paying attention to your feelings and needs is as vital as drinking enough water and avoiding junk food.

Achieving long-term health and energy can, therefore, be seen as a mind-body balancing act. 

So, how are you 'feeding' your own mind? Here are five winning ways to promote good mind-body health:

1. Exercise

If you feel like you have an aversion to exercise, or struggle to prioritise it, please think again. The release of endorphins during exercise has been shown to promote a sense of wellbeing, which has also the added benefit of boosting your immune system.

During exercise, the lymphatic system – a network of tissues and organs that helps your body to eliminate toxins and waste – is mobilised. Its main role is to transport lymph fluid, which contains infection-fighting white blood cells. Unlike the blood, which is transported by the heart, lymph fluid only moves if you do. 

A recent study from a North Carolina university showed that people who exercised for five or more days weekly experienced 43% fewer days of upper respiratory infections.

Walking, running or any other muscle-moving activity also dramatically reduces stress by ‘working off steam’ when you are upset or angry. With the release of endorphins, your body receives a natural mood boost, resulting in reduced stress levels, which in turn puts less pressure on your immune system.

2. Get enough sleep 

According to an American Psychological Association study, stress is what keeps more than 40% of adults awake at night. To aim for the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep per night, avoid caffeine, digital screens and try to turn in at the same time each evening. 

3. Focus on some self-care 

Make an effort to do something nice for yourself every day. Neglecting your own needs adds unnecessary stress to the system, resulting in increased vulnerability to illness. 

Women, in particular, tend to put their own needs last, especially if they’re caring for children and/or elderly parents.  If you battle with guilt when you take an hour off to read, go for a manicure or have a coffee with a friend. Remind yourself that if your bucket is empty, you’ll have nothing left to give anyone else. Simple, but effective. 

4. Mindfulness

Did you know that you cut in half the chances of catching a cold by meditating?

A University of Wisconsin study showed that people who practised mindfulness – a type of meditation or mental state achieved by focusing your awareness on the present moment, while accepting feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations – noted 13 fewer illnesses and took 51 fewer sick days.

Researchers concluded that this reduced the physical effects of stress, which is known to weaken the immune system.

5. It takes a village...  

Building strong social connections has proven psychological and physiological benefits. Whether you are an introvert or extrovert, having a ‘support group’ – no matter how big or small – boosts immunity by creating ‘stress buffers’.

Being able to share stress or concerns with close family or friends provides an opportunity for outside support and advice, which alleviates a sense of being alone in your situation. 

Ongoing stress is also a contributing factor to many chronic diseases, and the stress hormone cortisol may be a serious barrier if you are trying to lose weight. 

“When we get too caught up in the busyness of the world, we lose connection with one another – and ourselves.” – Jack Kornfield, American author and Buddhist mindfulness pioneer. 

What could you do differently straight-away to harness your mind and help you heal your body? 

9 ways to avoid Christmas weight gain (and still have plenty of fun!)

As we enter the festive season, I reveal the top reasons why you may be prone to piling on the pounds at Christmas, as well as my favourite tips for avoiding weight gain – whilst still enjoying yourself. 

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It’s normal to want to indulge over Christmas, after all it's a wonderful time of celebration, but unfortunately the number of people joining diet clubs and gyms in January speaks volumes about how many regret their festive binges.

Is this a familiar pattern for you? Perhaps you’ve grown up associating food with pleasure and fun, so subconsciously you fear that if you don’t eat everything available, somehow you won’t have a such a ‘happy Christmas’. Or perhaps it's too easy to slip into a ‘one more won’t hurt’ mind-set, when you know that one more, is really one too many. 

When working with clients on weight management programmes, I am always keen to help my clients understand what kind of things have tripped them up or blocked their success in the past. These are a few of the things that often come up:

Portion control – have you ever felt you’ve waited all year for Christmas, so you’re not about the hold back?  The extra roasties or chocolates don’t seem to matter.

Social life – family commitments, work lunches and endless parties mean that you are literally overloaded with temptation, sometimes on a daily basis. And hangovers add to the urge to eat junk food and veg out on the sofa.

Sedentary lifestyle – a busy social life means exercise routines get put on the back burner as we swap dumbbells for the remote control. The average family spends 3.5 hours watching TV on Christmas Day. Swap that for some gym time and you’ll have done the hard work of actually making a start come the New Year!

Mental ‘hall pass’ – willpower goes out the window at this time of year. It’s almost as if you tell yourself that it’s fine to binge on everything in sight as you’ll lose it all when you go on a January diet / detox.

But the fact is, you really can still enjoy the festive season and not gain weight. As a qualified nutritional therapist, I work with clients to take control of their relationship with food and plan how to get through times when over-indulgence might feel hard to resist. Here are my 9 favourite simple strategies you could put in place before the festive season. Follow these and there is no reason why you can’t start the New Year looking and feeling fantastic:

1 SET A FESTIVE FOOD GOAL

It’s unrealistic to try and avoid all temptation over Christmas, but by setting a specific goal – say, limiting yourself to one treat a day, or scheduling in a quick workout once or twice a week to offset your increased calorie intake – will help you stay on track. You could even make it into a fun game and get the whole family involved. 

2 EAT SMART

If you don’t have a plan (for parties, going out, visiting friends, having family over and so on) you are setting yourself up to fail. Be clear in your mind what your healthy options are, and if you know you’re going somewhere you won’t be able to eat the right foods, take some nutritious snacks or meals with you.

Fill up on some protein-rich ham or leftover turkey, or keep sugar cravings at bay with a homemade energy ball before you hit the party circuit.

3 PORTION CONTROL

Eating from a smaller dish causes you to eat less, because the food itself looks more substantial. If you transfer food from a 12-inch plate to a 9-inch plate, it looks like more food and you, therefore, feel more satisfied.

4 AVOID EXCESS

Christmas excess can lead to hangovers, and hangovers often lead to poor food choices, especially a tendency to seek out sugar and starchy carbs. Research reveals that fat from certain foods, including ice cream and roast potatoes, goes straight to the brain and tells you to eat more! It triggers messages that are sent to the body’s cells, warning them to ignore appetite-suppressing hormones that regulate our weight.

The effect can last for a few days, sabotaging efforts to get back to a healthy diet afterwards. Dr Deborah Clegg, who conducted the research, explains: “Normally our body is primed to say when we’ve had enough, but that doesn’t always happen. When you eat something high in fat, your brain gets ‘hit’ with the fatty acids and you become resistant to insulin (which regulates blood sugar levels) and leptin (the hormone that suppresses hunger). Since you are not being told by the brain to stop eating, you overeat.”

5 OUT OF SIGHT

If you want a Quality Street chocolate and all you have to do is reach to the tin and help yourself, chances are you’ll end up eating a handful. But if you have to get your shoes on, walk to the shop in the cold to buy some chocolate, you probably wouldn’t bother.

Ever heard yourself say “take this away from me, so I stop eating?” With food directly in front of you, it’s easy to overindulge. Once it’s removed, you realise you aren’t even hungry – you were just eating because it was there. So, make a decision to keep unhealthy foods out of sight in cupboards or better still, don’t buy them. 

6 LOAD THE VEG

Veggies don’t need to be doused in oil and roasted to within an inch of their lives to taste good. One of my favourite festive side dishes are thinly sliced Brussels sprouts, which I flash-fry with garlic, pine nuts and a dash of white wine. It’s so tasty, I make it all year round. Slow-cooked red cabbage and apple is another fantastic way to get some much-needed nutrients.

7 SLOW DOWN

It takes around 20 minutes for your body to tell your brain that you’re full. If you eat quickly, you’re more likely to eat more. Slowing down gives you time to recognise and assess how hungry you really are.

One trick I use is counting chews (it’s tedious but it works). If you chew a bite 10 times, you’ll eat slower. I also found myself enjoying food more, as there’s more time to actually taste what I’m eating. Eventually it becomes second nature to chew more.

If you’re in a group, try to be the first person to start eating and the last to stop. Pacing your eating like this will get you to eat more slowly without getting in your head about the specific amount that you eat.

8 CIRCLE OF SUPPORT

Emotional support is crucial to some people when they are trying to focus on eating healthily. Research shows that people who felt supported by their friends and family were 50% more likely to stick to a healthy eating plan.

So ask your loved ones to help you avoid temptation by not to offering you sugary treats. Buddy up with a family member who is also trying to lose or maintain their weight. Having that moral support will boost your chances of success (and you won’t be riddled with that horrible feeling of regret the next day).

9 BE KIND TO YOURSELF

It is the season of goodwill, after all. If you slip up, don’t beat yourself up or see it as an excuse to write off the rest of the day and eat everything in sight. Just chalk it up as one bad decision and move on. You can get back on track tomorrow.

Now... relax, have fun and focus on what's REALLY important about the festive period - spending quality time with your loved ones and friends. 

Gut intuition - follow it!

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Last time, we looked at the gut-brain connection and the impact of food on mindset and emotions. Eating to support mood is key in my book in terms of promoting a happier outlook in all aspects of life, as well as fuelling our motivation to continue to eat well. 

Now in my last post in this series, we’ll take the concept of the gut as ‘second brain’ a step further and explore a different take on ‘Gut feelings’ and how it can help support a more ‘intuitive’ approach to eating.

Researchers have determined that the enteric nervous system is constantly providing information to our brains regarding our nutritional needs. But most of us learn to eat by listening to messages coming from outside of ourselves - messages from our parents, teachers, friends, or the media including health claims and marketing messages.

In this context, it is all to easy to overlook, or override, the messages that your own inner source of knowledge is telling you. 

Yet the body is actually very clever at giving us signals about its general health and what it actually needs. For example, food cravings are an example of how the body might be hinting to us to correct a nutritional deficiency. Specifically, cravings for chocolate can be due to the need for more magnesium, while a desire for fatty foods may reflect a need for increased omega 3 fatty acids.

The condition of our skin, hair and nails may signal other nutritional deficiencies; urine colour will flag potential dehydration or possible liver stress; and bowel movements provide all sorts of clues to the functioning of our digestion system. 

So, how to tune in and trust your body’s wisdoms and learn to eat intuitively?

The first state is observation. It’s by starting to notice how your body is really feeling, the messages it’s giving you, and distinguishing the difference between physical and emotional hungers, so that you can more easily recognise your own eating patterns and how well your food choices are actually serving you. 

From this point of recognition, you can start to develop trust in your body’s inner cues regarding hunger and fullness, which sets you up to start making great choices around eating.

To support this, do give yourself a health dose of vitamin T - that’s Time! When you eat while in a rush or being absorbed with other thoughts and activities, this may lead to overeating, bloating, poor digestion and missing out on some of the true pleasure of eating. When you slow down you will be more ‘present’ and able to eat with more awareness of what’s going on in your body as well as savour the sensory experience. 

Undeniably, there may be certain emotions, situations, events which you may find throw your ability to trust your intuition around food including how, what and when you eat. In this case underlying beliefs, habits, or emotions may be getting the better of your gut, and some additional work may be required in order to address them and move forward.

So, do you need to slow down and tune-in? The simple act of listening to, trusting and following gut feelings, can lead to weight loss, improved energy and a better experience of life. What’s your gut telling you?

The single most important thing you can do to support your wellbeing this Christmas...

... R E L A X

For one day (at least!), this beats any diet, supplement or exercise routine. Christmas is a crazy, joyful and delicious time - and it’s about being in the moment with the people you are with.

So, relax - soak up every memory, laugh your socks off and savour every yummy mouthful.

If you do choose to overindulge, then enjoy it mindfully, anxiety free and without regret. Simply wake up the next day and move on - without restriction, quick fix detoxes, or double work-outs to ‘burn off’ extra calories.

And if you do want to maintain some kind of healthy balance between now and into the new year, my top tips are:

  • Eat your greens – what better time of year to enjoy a spectrum of tasty nutrient, folate and fibre rich foods which naturally support your body’s ability to detoxify.  

  • Choose some fun, inclusive options to keep active such as long or brisk walk with the family. Or grab some relatives and try a yoga routine at home - yoga stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system through breath awareness, slow mindful movement and repetitive flows which allows the mind to quieten.

  • Keep really well hydrated. You won’t regret alternating a glass of water between alcoholic drinks. 

  • Get your rest - between all the excitement and merriment, make time for pure relaxation and sofa time, and some good nights’ sleep to turn off those overactive adrenals and help the body rest, digest and recover.  

 Have a wonderful Christmas and here's to a happy and healthful 2017