Thanks to work, family and general life stress, healthy eating can often take a back seat in favour of speed and convenience. However, a balanced diet is essential for a positive mindset and to keep you and your family in optimum health.
Lucy Sparkes, the in-house nutritionist at BioCare, offers her expert advice on simple life hacks that will help to improve your diet and get your healthy eating back on track:
1. Set your meal times
Life for most of us is pretty hectic - whether its burning the candles at both ends in terms of working, studying or socialising, or as a busy parent juggling work, social and family commitments, it usually ends up with dinner being last on the list of priorities after the day's duties are over. However, setting a time to eat as a household, in the early evening, is one of the best things you can do for health and weight maintenance.
✔️ Try this: Set your mealtimes and stick to it. You need to have at least four hours between dinner time and bedtime, so that you are still active after eating and the body is in healing mode, as you retire to bed - rather than digesting a heavy meal during this restful phase!
2. Avoid emotional eating
From an early age, most of us have learnt to treat food as an emotional comforter. As children, we may have been rewarded with 'treats', offered food when feeling sad or unwell and therefore unconsciously learnt to reach for food when we feel emotionally unbalanced. We can reduce this propensity by ensuring we are eating enough protein throughout the day to keep our blood sugar stable.
✔️ Try this: Chromium-rich foods are a great way to help stabilise blood sugar levels and therefore dips in energy and mood. Consciously turning to other occupations during times of unrest – such as a walk in the park, hobbies requiring use of the hands such as knitting, painting, mindful colouring or even hypnotherapy and other counselling may help to address any unhealthy relationships with food.
3. Be mindful at mealtimes
It is vital that we connect with food during the preparation it and in readiness for eating. Not only is this a great social exercise, it also prepares our body sensorially for the meal to come. Touching, tasting and smelling food is when digestion begins.
✔️ Try this: Aim to prepare and eat your meals mindfully. Our body prepares itself for the food to come by salivating and releasing essential digestive enzymes, thus reducing those 'IBS' type symptoms that many of us can experience when eating in a hurry such as indigestion, bloating and flatulence. How well prepared do you think your body is if you come out of that stressful meeting and grab a sandwich, while pouring over e-mails?
4. Avoid unnecessary liquid meals
In our café culture, we are inundated with a range of coffees to tempt our taste buds when catching up with friends. Be warned: these delightful treats are regularly calorie-laden puddings masquerading as a drink.
Add a muffin with your coffee choc-o-latte and you can easily blow your week's allowance of sugar in one hit, which is fine if you have one every now and then; not so much if it's a daily occurrence.
5. Manage shift work to meet your needs
Our society is reliant on the special people that do jobs that require shift work. However these working patterns can take a toll on the individual health at the most basic level of disrupting eating times. Eating before sleeping can not only play havoc on digestion leading to IBS symptoms or even worse, but also it inhibits the body's time to heal and repair, thus potentially causing inflammation and leading to chronic health conditions.
✔️ Try this: First of all, try and keep your shift work as regular as possible without chopping and changing shift pattern more often than absolutely essential. Eat sensibly if you do need to eat at irregular times such as soups and light protein-based meals. Sleep nutrients to consider are tryptophan, magnesium, theanine, chamomile and lemon balm.
6. Look after your gut bacteria
We are learning more and more about how beneficial those little organisms that reside in our gut are to us. We need to feed these bacteria in order to reap the benefits of more energy, improved immunity, relieve diarrhoea/constipation, reduced bloating, improved mood and health to mention but a few of their benefits.
✔️ Try this: Reducing refined and processed foods and increasing whole foods and diversity of plant foods, will help these little soldiers to thrive. This diversity of food will provide us with the necessary prebiotics to feed the good bacteria; namely inulin and FOS. For those of us struggling to find balance in our lives, a high strength everyday probiotic containing prebiotics may help relieve these symptoms.
7. Eat home cooked meals
The occasional meal out with loved ones is the perfect feel-good boost. However, if this happens often for convenience or because of lack of structure in your life, it may have a negative impact on your health. Often dining out happens late in the evening and includes alcohol or caffeine which may disrupt sleep, we tend to consume extra food when we dine out.
✔️ Try this: Don't deny yourself precious time with your special people. Instead be clever about the arrangements you make and plan to meet up after an early dinner at home. Or think outside of the box! How about that dance class you always wanted to try, arrange a book club or join your local film society?
💟 Lucy Sparkes is the in-house nutritionist at BioCare.