Hello and welcome to this little blog spot where I will be looking at a variety of topics from a nutrition perspective. Going forward I will cover all sorts of subjects so if there are any you would like to see please do get in touch.
As this is the first one I’d like to start with a virtual straw poll – hands on buzzers! Who feels ready to come out of lockdown?
I know on the surface of it we are all desperate to regain normality and see our loved ones, friends, family and colleagues properly again but are you also starting to feel slightly anxious about what the new ‘normal’ will look and feel like?
If, like me, you’re feeling a little bit apprehensive about emerging from the comfort of wearing loungewear every day, working from your sofa (let’s be honest, sometimes bed) and stepping back into society then I think now is a good time to take stock and get ahead of the game in order to feel energetic, motivated and prepared when the time comes.
It helps that we are now coming out of the gloomy, dark days of winter and, at this time of year, our thoughts naturally turn to shedding the winter layers and looking and feeling more energetic, fit and healthy. So for me this feels like a good time to refocus on bringing a little structure and routine back into our lives and to consider how our diets can be positively part of that. So this time I’m thinking about focusing in particular on timings of eating and our habits around food and mealtimes.
Over the past year I have worked remotely with many clients and one of the most common themes that has cropped up the deeper we get into lockdown, has been that our eating habits have become more and more unstructured and erratic. People have anecdotally cited a variety of reasons for this including boredom, stress, anxiety and sometimes just because they have access to the fridge all day when otherwise they would be away from home and their brains and hands would be occupied elsewhere.
So, when Heather asked me to write a piece about nutrition for the BC website, I thought that I would start by tapping into the current feelings that I’m hearing from people at the moment and talk about why it’s so important to regain structure to our eating habits in order to not only keep our energy levels stable but also to get the most nourishment out of the foods we eat throughout the day. We can start putting this into practice now so that when we do finally regain some kind of normality we’re prepared for juggling work, classes, home life and a social life again.
Take a few minutes to consider the following:
- When have you been eating breakfast?
- Have you even been eating breakfast?
- What time do you eat your evening meal?
- Are you bothering to have lunch?
- Do you find yourself snacking in the evening or all evening?
- What about afternoon treats?
- Is your day one long graze?
- Have you adopted an ‘’Oh go on I deserve it there’s nothing else to look forward to’’ approach?
- Are you bored by the meals you’ve been eating or preparing for yourself?
Do any of these resonate for you? The questions above are just some of the things I’ve been discussing with clients and one of the key things I’ve found is that it’s not that people don’t know how to choose healthy options it’s just that maintaining a routine has become increasingly difficult over the past year and, whether you’re working from home or still going out to work, the usual ways of eating have changed; the daily sandwich take outs and restaurants are no longer on hand and the opportunity to pop to the supermarket is not such an easy option as it was. The flip side of that is we can make it easy to eat more healthily from home and this can be made even easier by thinking a few days ahead to plan meals and snacks.
So why is a structured eating routine so important?
Through lockdown many people have expressed a variety of concerns which fall under common themes, such as:
- Low energy or fatigue
- Insomnia, difficulty sleeping, altered sleep patterns
- Low mood, stress, anxiety
- Weight gain
All the above may be influenced by our eating habits and adopting a structured eating routine can have a very positive impact on improving some of these issues. When we get out of routine or our energy levels become disrupted we may find ourselves reaching for a sugary snack, consciously or unconsciously, to relieve boredom, stress, anxiety, low mood or as an overall pick me up.
When we do this too often it can impact on our energy levels by putting us onto a rollercoaster of energy highs and lows. We may find ourselves in a cycle of frequent peaks and troughs (energy slumps) throughout the day which can result in cravings for more sugary snacks to keep us going.
You may recognise some of the following signs:
- The need to eat frequently and craving sweet or sugary foods or snacks
- Feeling dizzy or shaky
- Feeling ‘HANGRY!’ and irritable between meals or snacks
- The afternoon slump
Generally speaking, sugary and refined food is utilised by our body more rapidly than unprocessed and high fibre food and we can be left feeling shaky, irritable, and unable to function or perform as well as we need to when we rely on these.
Ultimately eating too many sugary snacks can result in weight gain over time. If we aren’t utilising the energy from our food efficiently our bodies will store the excess for ‘future use’ or leaner times. As we don’t really need to store for leaner times anymore we may find ourselves gaining weight.
Poor sleep and lack of sleep can result in us unconsciously eating more throughout the day in order to maintain our energy. So if we start the day tired, we may find ourselves grazing and snacking at all the wrong times of day just to keep our energy levels up.
Furthermore, eating at irregular times of day can affect sleep patterns and contribute to poor sleep. Going to bed hungry can keep us mentally alert; equally going to bed with a full stomach can cause insomnia because of reflux or indigestion and both of these situations can keep us awake at night.
You can see how one small habit can cause a cascade that can influence so many other things.
Getting back on track
The main thing we are looking to achieve is balanced energy levels through the day in line with our body clock that enables to sleep well at night and wake refreshed the following day.
It’s become rather a cliché but the phrase “eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper” has been used as the basis for several scientific studies and there is still some debate about the health benefits of this however eating in line with our circadian rhythms does have some health benefits.
Eating a large breakfast isn’t practical for everyone and doesn’t fit with their lifestyle; we don’t all have time in the morning and many people wouldn’t be able to face sitting down to a large breakfast; some of us work shifts and this impacts on our natural body clock. Additionally, at the end of a long day we look forward to eating a nourishing meal. However if we adopt the general principle of keeping meal times regular and in line with our sleeping patterns, it can help put maintain structure into our day and enable us to keep our energy levels nice and balanced.
Consider these seven practical and simple strategies that can be adopted to help structure eating habits more easily:
- Keep your store cupboard stocked. Having a good selection of food in the cupboard and fridge that can be pulled together to create meals and snacks quickly can make it really easy to maintain a balanced diet with a good variety of foods. Keep a selection of store cupboard essentials such as tinned fish, tinned pulses, frozen and tinned vegetables and fruit, packets of mixed grains and pulses, a selection of condiments and jars of dried herbs and spices to use alongside your fresh items.
- Make it colourful. Eating as wide a variety of foods as possible not only keeps things interesting but also provides a wider variety of nutrients to maximise health. Eating the same thing day in and day out is a sure fire way to create cravings for the wrong things.
- Stick to a consistent eating pattern. Getting into the habit of a regular eating pattern will help keep energy levels stable and prevent cravings for those sugary snacks that keep us reaching for the biscuit tin. Starting the day with breakfast in some form or another can help prevent us from jumping on to the energy rollercoaster right from the start and prevent those mid-morning sugar cravings; you may find you need to eat less through the day as well.. It doesn’t have to be a huge meal if you’re not used to eating breakfast at all but eating the right thing as the first thing will kick start the day in a positive way.
Some go to breakfast ideas include:
- Low sugar wholegrain cereal eg Weetabix or Shredded Wheat. Don’t add sugar but if you need some sweetness chop a banana or a sprinkle on a few raisins.
- Poached egg on wholegrain toast.
- Overnight oats (*include link or see recipe below) or porridge served with berries
- Mushroom and tomatoes on wholegrain toast.
- Scrambled eggs and ham on wholegrain muffin
- Banana and oatmeal smoothie (*include link or see recipe below)
- Smoked salmon on wholemeal bagel with avocado
- Enjoy healthier snacks. Keep the cravings at bay by having some healthy options for snacks to hand. Keep them to around 100kcal and include some fibre rich foods as these will not only keep you fuller for longer but are a great way to keep your digestive system running smoothly. Some quick, easy delicious and healthy snacks include:
- A piece of fruit with a small handful of plain unsalted nuts and/or seeds
- Veg sticks with cottage cheese or houmous
- Wholegrain crackers, rice cakes or oatcakes with cottage cheese or houmous
- Nut butter with sliced apple or banana
- Natural yoghurt with fresh fruit salad, berries or sliced banana
- Marmite on a slice of wholemeal toast
- Hard-boiled egg with some cherry tomatoes
- Small amount of dried fruit with unsalted nuts or seeds
- A couple of pieces of dark chocolate with a small handful of nuts or seeds.
- 2 small slices of malt loaf
- Take time out when you eat. Don’t multitask while eating. Aim to be fully present and be aware of what you’re eating. Enjoy savouring the meal, snack or drink as you will feel more satisfied by it and will remember what you’ve had. Sometimes if we are focused on something else while eating it can feel like we haven’t had anything and may lead to unconscious snacking.
- Keep your fluid intake up and structure drinks into your day. This will help to maintain energy levels. The Eat Well guide recommends 6 to 8 glasses of fluid a day and for variety you can include water, lower fat milk, sugar free drinks, herbal and fruit infusions and tea and coffee. Avoid sugary drinks as these not only affect energy levels but they are also bad for our teeth! Limit the amount of fruit juice and smoothies to a maximum of 150ml per day as they also count as one of your five a day portions of fruit and vegetables.
Try making your own flavoured water. Slice fruit or herbs into a jug of cold water and keep in the fridge. Good options to try are lemon, lime, orange, strawberries, fresh mint & cucumber.
- Keep a regular wake/sleep routine. Create a sleep ritual to help develop a bedtime routine that works for you. Of course it helps to stop using your phone, tablet etc. at least an hour before bed but experts also recommend trying to go to bed and get up at the same time each day as far as possible to optimise sleep.
Try the following quick and easy breakfast ideas to add a little variety into the week:
Banana & Oat Smoothie (Makes 2 servings)
- ½ a cup of rolled oats
- 1 cup plain natural yoghurt
- 1 medium chopped banana
- 1 cup milk or non-dairy milk alternative
- ½ a teaspoon cinnamon
Combine all ingredients in a blender and whizz until smooth. Serve immediately
Overnight oats (Makes 1 serving)
- 45 g porridge oats
- 120ml semi skimmed/skimmed milk or plain natural yoghurt
Place oats in a dish and pour over the milk.
Place in the fridge overnight. Add your own flavours with your favourite fruits and nuts.
- 80g (handful) of blueberries or other mixed berries
- 1 small sliced banana
- Sprinkle of chopped hazelnuts or flaked almonds
- Add a tablespoon of natural yoghurt just before serving if desired.
I hope you find some of these hints and tips useful. I’ve spent the past week putting some of my own advice into practice and in truth it’s work in progress but I’m feeling more motivated and energetic and that’s got to be a good start!
Until next time – be healthy and go well x