In these first weeks of January, we are all are enthusiastic about becoming a happier, healthier, fitter, leaner version of our former selves, with promises to eat well, exercise more and drink less booze but sometimes picking up a few new everyday healthy habits is best strategy.
If at this early stage of the month you are still sticking to your resolutions, then keep on trucking, but if you are still trying to balance eating well with those leftover mince pies, then perhaps rather than thinking about a complete makeover, all we need are a few wee tweaks and changes to our daily routine.
Finding a way to look after yourself that makes you feel good does not have to mean restriction, denial and guilt. For me, it is the simple things in life that usually make the biggest impression, and that goes for our wellbeing as much as for anything else. It’s the little daily habits that build a healthy body and mind, rather than the quick-fix diets, January gym memberships and one-off yoga classes.
If you are stuck for inspiration, then here are a few easy ideas to get your new year off to a good start.
:: Think about your starting point. It is a good idea to keep a food diary for a week or so, to see what you really eat. Do you reach for a sugary snack at 3pm because you haven’t eaten enough for lunch and are hungry, or do you snack simply because you are bored?
:: What time do you eat at? The mindset that we should always eat breakfast, eat little and often and not leave too long between meals has left us as a generation of snackers who eat from when we get up until bedtime most days. Try giving your body (and digestion) a rest. See how it feels to wait an hour after getting up before you eat breakfast, and stop eating after your evening meal. There is now plenty of evidence to show that eating within a 10-12 hour window is better for our health (and waistline) than grazing all day – even if our grazing is healthy stuff.
:: How much water do you drink? Rather than thirst, remember that one of the first signs of dehydration can be fatigue or headaches, so keep your water bottle topped up and set it on your desk as a reminder to keep drinking. If you find it hard to remember to drink water, a good idea is to get into the habit of drinking a glass of water with each meal. Keep a water bottle in the fridge, and pop some herbs (rosemary or mint work well), sliced cucumber or citrus wedges in it for a dash of flavour. Herbal tea counts towards your water intake too.
:: Get into the habit of checking what’s in your fridge, freezer and cupboards before you go shopping. If you have some red kidney beans, tinned tomatoes and half a red pepper, then add a few extra veg, some spices and brown rice and it’s chilli on the menu tonight.
:: Pack as much healthy stuff into your shopping trolley as you like. This is the food that will end up in your breakfast bowl, lunch box and dinner plate, so prioritise colourful vegetables and fruit, wholegrains and pulses, some fish and good quality meat.
:: Move your body. Walk around the block at lunchtime, dance around the kitchen or get out on your bike at the weekends. Aim for 30 minutes of physical activity every day and do something that you enjoy. If you hate the gym, get outside.
This blog post first appeared as my column in The Irish News on Saturday 11 January 2020.