Resolutions reset

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Resolutions reset

With a feeling Spring isn’t too far away, if you feel like you’re slipping on your resolutions you’re not alone. Around one in five people who set a resolution don’t make it past the one-month point. I put myself in that category, I wanted to play my guitar more regularly and I’ve barely picked it up this year!

Improving their diet is a resolution chosen by around a third of people who commit to making improvements in the new year. However, it can be difficult when the reality of life bites on the cold evenings, and time is short between work, ferrying the kids around and maintaining your relationships. I’m a fan of setting small, short term, manageable goals to help us build our way to larger more ambitious targets. James Clear, author of Atomic Habits says, if you want to create a lasting habit, it helps to do 4 things:

  1. Make it obvious
  2. Make it attractive
  3. Make it Easy
  4. Make it satisfying

If you’re one of the people that wanted to improve your diet, but your resolve is wavering now New Year’s Day is a distance memory, or perhaps you didn’t lose the weight you gained during December, here’s some fundamental principles to help you reset.

Prioritise protein

Protein is the macronutrient which gives us the highest satiety signal, meaning when we eat it we feel fuller for longer compared to fat and carbohydrate-based foods. Also, unlike fat and carbohydrates we don’t store protein for energy therefore it doesn’t contribute to our fat mass. Of course, we don’t only eat when we’re hungry, there are other cues that affect different people to varying degrees like habit, boredom, and comfort, but if we feel full that’s one less thing sucking our willpower. Protein also comes with minerals and helps maintain muscle mass, which is critically important as we age – more on that later.

Fill with fibre

We all know vegetables and fruit are good for us due to their vitamin and nutrient content, but they also contribute to satiety due to their fibre and water content. Vegetables provide fuel for our gut bacteria – the microbes that reside in our intestines – which have a huge impact on our health, not just digestion.

Avoid high carb + high fat together

The combination of high carb AND high fat come together to create high energy density foods. This combination is rarely found in nature. Often these foods taste great (think donuts, pastries, ice cream, chips, cake, etc) but are high in calories, and for many of us are highly addictive. Food scientists calls this combination the ‘bliss point’. To compound matters they’re almost always devoid of protein and fibre which means we don’t get the signal we’re full and end up overeating these foods.

This isn’t to say all processed foods are problematic; you could class dairy as a processed food, or protein powder, and these can certainly be part of a healthy diet. It’s the concentration of fat + carb = high energy density + overeating.

It’s not about never eating these foods, just being realistic that the more of these foods you eat (the more you’ll crave them) and the longer it’ll take you to reach your health goals. However, if you have a meal that afterwards you wish had been different, try not to let it spiral into a ‘bad’ day or weekend. The next meal becomes the most important one. Get back on the horse. Consistency is key.

Sleep

Over recent years sleep has finally been getting the attention is deserves as part of a healthy lifestyle. The manta of ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead’ has been truly debunked. Consistent poor-quality sleep plays a detrimental role in all major chronic diseases. It raises blood pressure, reduces our ability to regulate blood sugar, negatively effects mood and next day food choices, and increases the risk of all mental health disorders.

Some people, particularly those with young children, may struggle with sleep, but where possible give yourself an 8-hour sleep opportunity with the hope of getting 7+ hours of sleep.

Believe it or not setting yourself up for a good night of sleep starts in the morning by getting outside and exposing yourself to daylight. This helps set our body clock and begins the process of building ‘sleep pressure’ (the thing caffeine temporarily relives). Not eating too close to bedtime (within 2-3 hours) and establishing a wind-down routine can also help to ensure a good night’s sleep. An evening sauna (a hot bath or shower also works) plus avoiding caffeine in the afternoon/evening can increase the likelihood of a restful night.

Movement

Exercise is probably the most important aspect of health if we’re interested in living well into old age. However, we must balance that with a critical consideration; not getting injured. A period of inactivity increases the rate at which we lose muscle mass, this becomes more pronounced the older we get. Interestingly it’s been shown high doses (5g/day) of omega 3 aka fish oil, reduces muscle loss during inactively and can help recovery when active again.

If you have time to exercise it’s worth splitting your time between load bearing resistance exercise, i.e. lifting heavy things or body weight exercises, and ‘cardio’ endurance-type exercise, which depending on your level can simply be walking, hiking, biking, running, swimming, rowing, whatever’s your jam. It also worth adding that taking the stairs rather than the lift or escalator, if you’re able, is a great way of increasing your heart rate and adding a bout of exercise to your day.

Summary

Focus on increasing intake of protein (meat, fish, eggs, tofu, beans, lentils) and fibre (colourful vegetables and fruit)

Reduce foods that combine carbs and fat

Set yourself up for an 8-hour sleep opportunity where possible

Movement is critical if we want to age well. The more the better but listen to your body and reduce the load when things get busy. And try not to get injured.

Consistency is key. If you can build habits around cues that make them obvious, easy, attractive and satisfying you stand a greater chance of making them stick. This is about a long-term positive change that can be maintained over time. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Going back to James Clear’s principles, there is no destination therefore the process of improving your health must be enjoyable.

I’m James Dunham a nutritionist based across Market Harborough and Oakham, Leicestershire. I also do online consultations. If you’d like personalised support with your health you can book a free discovery call by clicking here.

Photo by Eric Rothermel on Unsplash

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