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5 easy tips to help you beat the January sugar blues

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The word sugar written into a pile of white granulated sugar

Welcome to January, the month where we find ourselves taking stock of what we want to achieve in the coming 12 months. For many of us, this will include aspiring to a slimmer/fitter/healthier body. This is all very commendable, but let’s be honest, it isn’t always easy.

As a nutritionist and health coach I usually don’t have to think twice about how to make healthy choices but even I get seriously challenged by the onslaught of sugary festive fare. By the time January rolls around I find that my taste buds have changed and now that I am reverting to my normal eating patterns I am definitely craving sugar and not always wining – let the sugar battle commence! A few weeks of “relaxed eating” was all it took for healthy choices to no longer be automatic for me….so now I have to programme healthiness back in. Which, I suppose is no surprise since sugar is known to be so addictive, but even so, I do think that I really ought to know better by now.

Sugar, it seems, is as much a part of Christmas as Santa Claus himself. Even if you’re not prone to stirring it into your tea or adding it to your breakfast cereal most of us increase our sugar intake in the month of December – mince pies, pudding, chocolate, alcohol and the rest of our holiday indulgences make a recipe for a very sugary festive season.

So, what can you do about it? Well, firstly decide if you want to cut back on sugar or cut it out altogether. I have done both options at various stages of my life and both have helped so I am not a hard core advocate of one route or the other. A quick internet search on “beating sugar blues” will lead you into a world of advice which can involve very dramatic changes to your diet and may involve buying supplements. The advice in this post focuses on changes you can start making today without having to spend lots of money (which can only be a good thing in the lean month of January).

5 Top Tips

  1. Make sure you are drinking enough water. There’s nothing quite like water to remind you of how your body feels when you give it clean fuel. 1.5-2 litres per day should be enough to help you feel a difference. If you are exercising heavily or are lucky enough to live in a hot country then you may need more than this.
  2. Start your day with half a squeezed lemon in warm water. There are several reported benefits of starting your day with lemon in warm water (including supporting your liver which is good news after December’s excesses) but more than that the act of starting your day with a healthy habit sets the tone for the rest of the day. Starting well puts you in a better mind-set to make good choices through the rest of the day.
  3. Figure out what your “trigger” foods are. Some foods/drinks are just designed to go together – cheese & wine, beer & crisps, cola & chocolate, tea & biscuits – if you ever venture to try beer with cheese or crisps with wine you will know exactly what I am talking about. So, when it comes to sugar, what are your trigger foods? Do you need to avoid tea to be able to avoid biscuits? Do you find that ketchup triggers a desire for a cola drink? Does wine at dinner make you more or less likely to want a dessert? Sometimes to give up one food we have to give up something else as well.
  4. Don’t be tempted by “sugar free” options. Switching to sugar free options will not change your taste preferences for sweet foods. So, even if you are giving up sugar to reduce calories, I would strongly advise against sugar free foods. The best way to change your taste preferences is to eat different foods that are not sweetened – artificially or otherwise.
  5. Box up all your sweet treats & either give them away or let your supplies run down. I hate wasting money as much as the next person and even though the foods left over from Christmas are unhealthy I understand that it’s not easy to just throw them away (never mind the fact that it would cause a riot in many households – my own included). What works for me is to box everything up into one container and to store it in our laundry room. It’s a lovely feeling to have only good foods in your kitchen, happy in the knowledge that if things get desperate there is still the box of emergency supplies. Seeing all your sweet foods together certainly helps you avoid buying more sweet stuff when you go shopping.

The first step to losing weight is to start eating REAL FOOD

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upgrade your diet2

When you think about weight loss you usually think about all the foods that you are NOT going to eat. Really it’s time to think about all the foods that you can and should be eating…REAL FOOD that will give you energy, keep you feeling full and provide you with the nutrients that you need for daily life. It’s much easier to lose weight when you are fueling your body with healthy foods.

Our bodies know what to do with real food. They know how to process real food – fats, proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and a vast array of phytochemicals that keep our bodies working as they should. Unfortunately for us, the food industry has created a wide range of “diet” “sugar free” “ fat free” “low in sugar/fat” products aimed at dieters who want to have their cake and eat it (so to speak). These foods are full of chemical ingredients that don’t really feed us – and leave us hungry for more.

We are so accustomed to eating whatever the food industry throws at us that the lines between REAL FOOD and processed foods have blurred. I’m not suggesting that you start baking your own bread and churning your own butter but eating foods that someone could “theoretically” make at home, grow themselves or raise themselves is a good rule of thumb for a diet that leans in favour of REAL FOOD. I love the quote by Michael Pollan in his book “In defence of food” in which he says “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” He promotes the idea that we should only eat foods that our great grandmother would recognise as food.

Real foods are foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, meat, fish, poultry, beans, eggs and minimally processed foods including dairy products and grain products. Of course life without flavour would be boring so it’s good to enhance the taste experience of our foods with items like herbs & spices, oil, vinegars etc.

It’s not always easy for clients to make a wholesale leap from eating heavily processed foods to eating a more natural diet – it can be a lot to take on. It takes time and commitment to reshape your taste buds so that you get excited about the prospect of eating salmon served with butter & lemon spinach and brown rice!

If you are used to making dinner in a few short steps that involve opening the freezer and turning on the oven, then the transition to cooking from scratch can be daunting. Start gradually if that feels better for you. Take a good honest look at the contents of your kitchen cupboard and start reading the ingredients – you may be quite shocked by how much they sound like a chemistry experiment. Also look at how many supermarket items you still have in your fridge/freezer/cupboards when you do your weekly shop. The more natural foods you eat, the less items you will have in your kitchen when you go to the supermarket….you should find that you can’t get from one end of the week without two trips to the supermarket….fruits and vegetables just don’t keep the way a pack of chocolate biscuits do!

Start wherever feels right for you. My starting point was to refuse to buy pre-made bolognaise sauce – I now make my own with roasted vegetables, making my own white sauce quickly followed. I haven’t yet mastered my own from scratch curry but it’s on my list! There are other things that have changed in our house too – I don’t buy ice cream, fruit juice is a rare purchase and I have greatly reduced the number of cereals in our house. No more coco pops for my kids (sorry kids) but I do let them put sugar or honey on their porridge. It’s a journey, one that I am still on….start yours today by eating more real food and less processed food – your body will thank you for it.

Enjoy!

Is lack of sleep preventing your weight loss?

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Sleeping during workout

 

It may sound obvious but sleep and rest are very important when it comes to helping you to be a healthier weight. It has been suggested that not getting enough sleep could impact the hormones that regulate appetite. But even if you just think about your own experiences – which mid morning snack you are more likely to have if you are feeling sleep deprived – a coffee with two (maybe more) chocolate digestives or a herbal tea and an apple? Okay, maybe you’d never normally opt for a herbal tea and an apple regardless of sleep or tiredness, but let’s suppose that you have decided to make some changes to stimulate weight loss – are you more likely to have a healthy snack on a day when you are feeling fully charged and energetic or on a day when you’re tired because you went to bed too late or one of your children had you up in the night?

 

Leaving aside the food choices you make when you are tired I think it’s also fair to say that most people who are not habitual exercisers are less likely to exercise when they are feeling tired. Think about it – you have planned to go to a Zumba class or hit the gym or maybe you have just planned to go for a walk. Whatever activities you had in mind, you are more likely to defer them to another time if you are feeling really tired.

 

How much sleep is enough depends on the individual. The average sleep requirement for an adult is about 8 hours an night. You may fair well on less or you may need more. You may find that you can get by fine on 6 hours so long as you have power naps or a longer night sleep at some other point during the week. There’s no hard and fast rule but it’s very important that you know what you need and that you make sleep a priority.

 

There are lots of tips and strategies that will help you develop good sleep practices. Here are my top 5:

 

#1 The number one tip is to switch off from technology 2 hours before bedtime. The blue light from these devices may affect some people’s sleep wake cycles. Making it difficult to fall asleep and affecting your ability to stay asleep all night

 

#2 It’s also really important to have routine around your bedtime…if you need to be up by 6:30am then there’s no logic into going to bed at midnight and then wondering why you are so tired. Pick a regular time each time to start your bedtime routine – an make sure it’s early enough to achieve the sleep you need.

 

#3 Be aware of the foods and drinks that you are consuming. Sugar, caffeine and alcohol are all stimulants which are likely to be negatively impacting on the duration and quality of your sleep.

 

#4 Be mindful of how much you are drinking (and that’s any fluid – not alcohol) that you are drinking in the evening. There’s nothing more likely to wake you in the middle of the night then needing to pee!

 

#5 Be wary of old wives tales – I took it as gossip that camomile tea is good for sleep because it relaxes you. What I didn’t realise is that it’s a mild diuretic, so it’s quite likely to cause night time waking for the loo…I learnt that one the hard way.

Boost your kids 5 a day with the nutri-bullet

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With the long summer holidays and lots of hours to fill, the words “I’m bored” and “I’m hungry” seem to be said a lot more often (in spite of my best efforts to keep them entertained)

Turning food into a fun activity is  a great way to get your children smiling and bouncing around – with the added bonus that you are doing something good for their health.

The nutribullet is termed a “nutrition extractor” – I usually describe it in plain English as a cross between a juicer and a blender.  It can blitz it’s way through skin and pith that normal blenders just wouldn’t be able to handle.  Unlike a regular juicers you don’t lose any of the fibre.  Another benefit is that you have to add in water when you make your drinks – so it’s not as concentrated a source of sugar as the same quantity of a drink from a regular juicer would be.

We have started our older children out on fruit based jucies but soon we will be adding in sweeter vegetables like carrot and cucumber before moving on to some less sweet vegetables (like spinach and kale).  Our 19 month old son (who has not been exposed to added sugars) will happily drink from our adult drinks with ingredients like kale, brocolli, spinach, carrot and cucumber- but his sisters need time to adjust their taste buds.

There are so many combinations of drinks that you can make that you really don’t need to follow a recipe.  My personal favourite is watermelon, kale, strawberry and mint whilst my children love the drink in the picture above (banana, apple, strawberries and grapes).

Is snacking ruining my weight loss plan?

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good v bad snacks

I often get asked snacking is good or if snacking is a bad habit that slows down weight loss. The short answer is that “it depends” and the longer answer is what you are going to read next.

There are two school of thought when it comes to weight loss and snacking. The first school of thought is that eating snacks helps to regulate your appetite and helps to stabilise your blood sugars through the day. This, it is argued, stops you from over eating at meal times and makes it easier for you to make good choices at your main meals

The other school of thought is that snacking actually wreaks havoc with your blood sugar control – leaving you needing a constant food source to prevent sugar dips (hypoglycaemia) – you know that feeling you get when you “have to eat” when you feel so hungry that you feel shaky. This argument also goes on to say that unless you are leaving 5 hours between meals then there is little opportunity for your body to go into fat burning mode.

So, what’s the answer then? To snack or to power through to the next meal? The advice that I give to my clients is to let their own bodies be their guide. Some people fair better when they snack and others do much better when they drop snacking altogether. So, with that in mind here are my top snacking tips:

  1. Pick your snacks based on their nutritional value – not on their calories. A snack bar aimed at dieters may offer a chocolate fix for a mere 120 calories but it will be packed full of artificial non-food ingredients.
  2. Check in with why you are snacking? Is it habit or hunger? Are you tired and using snacks to get you through? Are you feeding an emotion rather than hunger?
  3. Most of your snacks should be low in calories and high in nutrients. Fruit is an excellent choice. If you like crudities then they are a great choice too (but skip the dips).
  4. Limit higher calorie snacks to once per day or less. This could include nuts, seeds, nut/seed bars, rice cakes, dark chocolate, natural unsweetened yoghurt.
  5. Check your hydration levels – are you hungry or just thirsty?
  6. Snacking needs to fit in with your overall calorie intake. So any calories taken up by snacks need to be offset by the calorie content of your other meals. The larger your main meals, the less room there is for snacking – the choice of how to balance out your days calories is up to you.

As a final note, if you can get through the day without snacks then I tend to recommend that you do this. It’s a quick and easy way to reduce your calorie intake without making lots of changes to your diet. BUT, for some people they are more successful at losing weight when they snack – just make sure that they are healthy nutritious snacks that are not tripping up your weight loss efforts.

Break the habit of mindless eating

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mindless eating

I got thinking about how easy it is to fall into the habit of mindless eating.  We all do it – some more than others.  I could talk about the psychology of food choices; the physiology of hunger; the potential nutritional consequences of mindless eating and the impact on your waistline, but really I want to inspire you to stand back and think about how you could become more connected with the food you are eating.

Just to clarify, when I say mindless eating, I’m not just talking about sitting in front of the tv/computer knocking back chocolate biscuits – that’s obviously not good for your body.  But even healthy choices can become mindless when you make the same food choices day in/day out.  I have improved my diet a lot over the years but I notice that many of my food choices are made on virtual auto pilot.  Here’s an example – although I eat, what I consider to be a healthy breakfast (porridge, almond milk and milled nuts/seeds), I eat the same thing every day.  More than that, it seems to set me up for a day of fixed routine eating.  So, even though I am eating good foods most of the time, I am relying on a narrow range of foods – I’m so busy eating apples, blueberries, strawberries and watermelon – that grapes, plums, pears and many other fruits never get a look in.  The same goes for veg – no problems on my intakes of onions, garlic, carrots, sweetcorn, butternut squash, brocolli, spinach & kale – but I rarely eat radish, cauliflower, cabbage, bok choy and serveral other veg.  I love all fish/seafood but all I ever seem to eat is salmon, tuna and prawns. And don’t get me started on all those herbs and spices that never seem to make it near my food.

I realise that with our increasingly busy lives, it’s easier if we don’t have to think about what we are eating – we can dash around the supermarket quickly and get on with our lives.  But I believe that when we eat mindlessly, we are disconnected with the deeper role of food in our lives.  It’s not just fuel to keep us going – any source of calories will do that in the short to medium term.  How we eat is an expression of our self worth and its a means through which we can show our families how much we care for them.  Change doesn’t have to happen over night – I am still on my journey and there are still foods in our home that I plan to phase out and other foods that I haven’t managed to phase in yet.

So, here are the words I wrote down to inspire me to become more connected with what I eat.  I hope that they inspire you too:

 

VARIETY        FLAVOUR           COLOUR       HERBS      SPICES        FRUITS         NUTS       SEEDS      PLANT FOODS      WHOLEGRAINS       PULSES

NUTRITION         ENERGY         VIBRANT              REAL FOOD        NOURISH       FIBRE        WATER       ANTIOXIDANTS    

SEASONAL       CLOSE TO SOURCE            FOOD MILES         DE-TOXIFY           CLEANSE       VITALITY      SUPER FOODS

NATURAL          UN-PROCESSED       MINIMALLY PROCESSED      FREE RANGE      LISTEN TO YOUR BODY       ORGANIC

I encourage you to write your own list and to start to become more connected with what you are eating.  It may just be small changes – like switching from white to whole grains but it’s a step towards better health and becoming more mindful about what you eat.  Your list may be very different to mine – better health starts one change at a time so it doesn’t need to be a long list.

Wishing you all the best on your journey to better health

 

 

 

 

5 reasons why you should personalise your weight loss plan

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It always amazes me how each year there are more and more diet books and diet systems. A new craze hits the book shelves and we find ourselves drawn into testing out the latest and greatest trend in weight loss. With my long standing interest in food and nutrition, I admit to having dabbled in some of these. Not everything about dieting and diet books is bad but they are very limited in their ability to truly transform your relationship with food. They often help you lose some weight in the short term but they rarely help you to be slimmer and healthier in the longer term.

Personalised weight loss is a different approach. I take account of the fact that you are an individual with a unique body and a unique set of habits and circumstances that have led you to gain weight.

Here are 5 very important reasons why you should choose a personalised approach to weight loss:

1. My mission is to transform your relationship with food so that you don’t feel like you are dieting

2. You will gain a more in-depth understanding of why you have gained weight

3. You will be eating healthy foods that match your taste preferences and fit in with your lifestyle

4. You will learn how to be a healthy weight for the rest of your life

5. You will be coached on how to take better care of yourself beyond food because food is just one aspect of wellness. If you are not taking care of yourself you are more likely to turn to less healthy foods

8 reasons to love the Nutribullet

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There are so many things I could say to explain why my Nutribullet is as central to my kitchen as my kettle, but in the interest of keeping this brief I have summarised its key features below.

The Nutribullet is termed a “nutrition extractor” – in plain English it’s like a juicer and a smoothie maker combined – BUT it’s better than that. All juicers and smoothie makers make great tasting drinks – so why is the Nutribullet better? Keep reading to find out why…

  • Firstly, it’s compact – so you can just keep it on the kitchen counter all the time (if you’re like me, putting something away means you’ll fall out of the habit of using it).
  • It’s easy to clean – there’s just the lid and the cup, both of which can go in the dishwasher…cleaning couldn’t be easier.
  • There’s no waste – traditional juicers gather the pulp to be thrown away. Why would you want to throw away all that fibre?? Fibre is essential to good digestive health and most of us are not getting enough of it.  The fibre stays in the drink with with Nutribullet
  • They are filling – thanks to that fibre that’s not going in the bin.
  • It’s powerful – the twin set of blades, combined with the high speed cyclonic action mean that it can pulverise its way through a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds.
  • You add water (or another liquid) to it – that means that you are not consuming the high amounts of fruit sugar that are usually in fresh fruit juices.
  • You can make a wide variety of drinks – you can even make your own protein shakes. Commercial protein shake powders are full of sweeteners and flavour enhancers. Use the Nutribullet for a healthier version where you get to control the ingredients.
  • You’ll notice the benefits in your digestion, your skin and your mental alertness. There is also a weight loss programme outlined in their recipe book with great healthy recipes.
  • You can follow recipes or just make what feels right – in our house our current favourite is spinach, watermelon and mint leaves. We had mint in the garden and wanted to use some up – it’s delicious and packed full of goodness.  Use the recipes or get creative – either way your body will thank you for it.

Is 3 percent weight loss enough. Government tell us to Lose a Little

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“Lose a little and keep it off” – today the BBC have reported on the new Government strategy for weight loss (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-27586149). According to the BBC report, the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) wants to see more overweight and obese people referred by their GP (or other health care providers) to local weight management services. The new NICE guidance maintains that average weight losses of 3% will set people on the right path provided that they keep the weight off. This should, in theory, reduce some of the health care expenses associated with the nation’s bulging waist lines.

What’s not so clear in the BBC news report is how they arrived at the figure of 3%. For those of us who have studied and worked in the world of nutrition and weight loss, the Holy Grail for weight loss is 5% (preferably 10%). 5% is associated with meaningful changes in health outcomes and markers for disease. Leaving aside the science of health and the economics of health care costs, 5% is also more likely to produce visible changes in their appearance for the individual. To put things into context a person with a start weight of 13st (or 82.55 kilos) would lose 3% of their body weight by losing 5lb 7oz (2.47 kilos) – which is good but 5% would equate to a weight loss of just over 9lbs (4.13 kilos).

Having read the NICE guidelines (Overweight and obese adults – lifestyle weight management: guidance) it would seem that 3% is the average amount of weight lost in lifestyle weight management programmes and that it was concluded that 3% was “likely” to bring health benefits (assuming that the weight is kept off for many years). So, in effect, they have reversed engineered it. Having found that 3% is the average weight lost, they have set that as the target.

On a positive note, many people do lose more that 3%. NICE state that 30% of participants in weight management programmes lose 5% and from our personal experience we will all have met someone who was considerably more successful than that. On another positive note the guidance also promotes re-referral into weight loss programmes. So for people who didn’t quite manage to get it right the first time there is a chance to go again. It’s also positive to see that access to services won’t be restricted to people who are in the obese category (although they caveat this by saying “where capacity allows”;) and that overweight people can also be referred.

On a final note, what’s my take on it? I am with those who believe that targets of 3% don’t go far enough but I am happy to see steps taken towards greater access to weight management services.

Link to the BBC article http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-27586149

 

Calorie counting and weight loss

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It seems ironic that in a world where food manufacturers are required to label foods with calorie information that people’s waistlines are still expanding. Even restaurant foods are now starting to list the calories in their food. Surely with all this information we would be better at losing weight??

BUT… it’s just not popular to count calories – many diets systems even use this as a selling feature. You’ll even see “no calorie counting” on my website for the Metabolic Balance programme that I offer (so I am not immune to the trend). Check out the major slimming companies and you’ll see their websites touting “no counting”…as if counting calories is the route of all evil. What’s that all about? Why wouldn’t we want to be more aware and conscious about the calories in our food?

Love it or hate it calorie counting reveals the food habits that are causing you to gain weight. I am not proposing that you count the calories in your food for the rest of your life but doing it for a few weeks will reveal some interesting information about where you have been going wrong until now. It can help you make food swaps so that you feel full and satisfied whilst still losing weight.

If you’re not convinced, here’s my challenge to you. For the next three days just count the calories in your snacks, drinks and desserts. Don’t worry about your other meals for now. Why snacks, drinks and desserts? Well, these are usually the best place to start cutting back on calories to lose weight. The key to start losing weight is to consume less calories than you are eating now.

Give it a go and share your experience with others :)