Yes, it’s that time of year when our minds look two ways: at the past and how much we’ve indulged during the festivities and to the future and what we’re going to do about it! One of the first things to go (apart from your waist line) is your energy. This is where we’ve decided to start because if your vitality is high then you’re more likely to make the changes you need to support your wellbeing and health. These are the five things we try and do everyday to help us live fully.
A little bit of biology first
A very simple change you can make to improve your energy levels and help you lose weight is to support your blood sugar metabolism.
Carbohydrates by any other name …
It’s not only sugar but also processed foods and refined carbohydrates (white bread, pasta, rice and fruit juice) that can cause blood sugar levels to rise quickly. As you probably know, all carbohydrates are broken down into glucose and in the old days it was recommended that we eat glucose-rich foods or drinks e.g. Lucozade to boost our energy. We now know that although glucose does increase energy by boosting insulin, this is short-lived and can make you feel sluggish and spaced out in the long term.
Our body has an efficient and highly responsive system in place to deal with an increase in sugary food. It’s called insulin (also known as the fat storage hormone). Insulin lowers sugar rapidly to safe levels within the blood, takes it to the liver to be converted to glycogen for energy release or stored as a fat, usually, around the midriff. This is the reason why you go from feeling top of the world to crashing as your blood sugar level plummets. So, how do you keep your blood sugar on an even keel?
1. Food in the right ratios
Remember these three foods and food groups:
protein, fibre and fat. They will help you control your blood sugar. Because they take longer to digest and slow down the absorption of glucose from food, they don’t cause an insulin spike. Ensure you have all three at each meal and you will feel fuller for longer and awake! The ideal ratio is: 50% vegetables, 25% protein (meat, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, tofu), 20% carbohydrate (rice, potatoes, etc), 5% fat (olive oil, coconut, fat, flaxseed oil). Avoid/cut down on cakes, biscuits, fizzy drinks (even zero sugar drinks), chocolate, white pasta, bread and rice.
2. Cut down on caffeine and alcohol
What goes up must come down. Although caffeine gives you a short term energy burst, it’s short lived and you will be reaching for another shortly after. The same with alcohol which contains sugar. Both just prop you up without giving you the wonderful energy that comes from keeping your blood sugar on an even keel.
3. Go to sleep between 10-11pm
This will ensure the highest amount of quality sleep (REM). Not only does your body use sleep time to regenerate and repair but it also helps to control appetite and blood sugar. Recent studies have shown that even one night of poor sleep can result in changes in appetite and food intake. Others have shown that restricting sleep to 5 hours a night impairs carbohydrate tolerance and insulin sensitivity. Researchers now believe that lack of adequate sleep is the single best predictor of weight problems and obesity in children.
4. Restore yourself
This is as important as eating well, sleeping and moving your body but it is overlooked in our busy lives. To give yourself time to rest your body and mind is deeply restorative and healing (I don’t mean sleeping). The way I like to do this is via mindfulness meditation. I sometimes do this by sitting quietly and observing my breath or by following a guided meditation. My favourite is The Body Scan by Jon Kabat-Zinn. This is available to download or on YouTube. It lasts half an hour and is truly restorative as it focusses on letting go of every part of the body. For something quicker which can be done anytime when you feel very stressed try the 3 minute breathing space www.youtube.com/watch?v=aTCXcxLjNcA.
Breathing deeply is also restorative and releases tension. Just remembering to stop and take deep breaths can ease uncomfortable emotions, centre us and brings clarity. You can find guided deep breathing instructions on YouTube. Find what deeply relaxes you and do it everyday even if you’re too tired or think you haven’t got the time!!
This will be counter to some of the advice you have read about exercise and pushing yourself hard but it is common sense and backed by research.
Many people take their physical fitness (and physique) to an extreme level. While short intense workouts can be good for weight loss, improving aerobic capacity, and reducing the risk of heart disease, excessively intensive exercise can cause a variety of health problems especially for people who feel stressed or are finding life difficult. Extreme exercise increases cortisol (a hormone produced by the adrenal glands) which is released when the body is under any stress. Chronically high levels of cortisol can increase your risk of depression, digestive issues, weight gain, memory impairment and sleep disturbances. If your life is already taxing then cortisol will most likely be elevated. Participating in extreme exercise will elevate it further. We recommend exercising to a level that makes you feel energised but not exhausted.
How do you know if you’re over-exercising? A very simple marker is whether after exercising you feel full of energy AND that energy lasts. However, if you feel high and then crash with exhaustion, you are over-exercising.
One of the health problems we see in our clinic is people who exercise almost every day and don’t lose weight. Helping them to support their adrenal glands is key.
An energising day
On waking: take three deep breaths.
Breakfast: scrambled eggs with tomatoes and half an avocado.
Lunch: tuna salad with small portion of potatoes, primarily focus on dense foods to satisfy you e.g. peppers, tomatoes, spring onions, olives rather than just lettuce.
Dinner: grilled salmon with steamed vegetables and sweet potato.
Snacks: a few almonds.
Sometime during the day or evening: do something restorative other than sleep!
Remember the 3 minute breathing space when things are overwhelming or stressful.
Lastly, there is one thing you can do which will instantly increase your energy but has nothing to do with blood sugar. It is to find your passion! What is it that you are interested in, that makes you sit up, that gets you excited, that you love doing? From experience, that immediately can bring a wonderful burst of vitality and it lasts!
Of course, if you would like some tailored help to a healthier 2015, that’s what we’re good at. Please contact on firstname.lastname@example.org or 01225 332894.
We wish you a healthy, happy and successful new year.
Maria and Emma