Small changes still count

Small changes still count

February 2021

Photo by Utsav Shah on Unsplash

However persuasively sold to us, it simply isn’t true that we need to radically change everything about our lifestyle and somehow becomes a new, ‘better’ person to be healthy. You would certainly be forgiven for thinking that was the case, given the plethora of advice, books, programmes and media noise surrounding health and wellbeing. Yet so often, grand gestures of renewal end up with a dejected retreat back into our old ways and we enter that familiar cycle of feeling like we have somehow ‘failed’ at the diet or regime we had so positively set out to maintain. Then the shame, guilt and need for comfort can creep back in and we find ourselves right back where we started.

So firstly, I would like to offer a collective wave of compassion to anyone and everyone who has ever been in this position. It’s tough, it’s confusing and I want you to know that you are most definitely not alone. Secondly, I would like to make a plea that this dichotomy we’ve inadvertently created, between being ‘good’ and ‘bad’, on-a-diet or off-a-diet, being entirely healthy or being wholly indulgent, is unrealistic and certainly unsustainable for the long run. We exist in shades of grey – where some parts of our days, myself included, are inevitably slightly healthier than others. Some whole days are more balanced, with more movement, more vegetables and more sleep. Others are a rollercoaster of stress, eating-on-the-go and late nights. That is real life and I would suggest that no restrictive or rules-based lifestyle will ever really be able to flex enough to meet all of these inevitable challenges.

There are, however, certain aspects of healthy living that are important not only to our current sense of energy and wellbeing, but also to our longer-term health. Whilst in the broadest terms, many of these factors are important for all of us (not smoking, restorative sleep, connection to others, a nourishing diet, stress reduction etc.), the combination, nuances and degree to which we need to be consistent, will vary between us and over time. We don’t need to do it all, and especially not in one go, in fact just making some small habit changes can add up to achievable and sustainable lifestyle improvements,

Photo by Susan Bell

Instead, I am an advocate of taking mini steps. And if those mini steps are too big, then make them micro ones instead. You want to feel like it is laughably easy to instigate the change you’re proposing. And even with my (pretty full-on) support, I would never ask a client to make more than 3 small changes at a time. If you’re doing it without professional input, I suggest that just 1-2 changes are enough. We are all busy, with numerous other things taking up our time and headspace.

But don’t be lulled into thinking that these little shifts are not important. My colleague, Rozzie, talks about the power of ‘1-degree course corrections’. If you set a ship just 1 degree off-course, it will end up in a completely different city by the time it crosses an ocean. The same principle applies to our wellbeing: shifting behaviour just 1 degree, maintained over the course of decades, can lead us into a completely different health space than if we’d stayed on the same bearing. One extra serving of vegetables per day adds up to 3650 more portions over a decade (and that’s a lot of fibre, phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals). Just 30 minutes extra activity per week is 520 hours more heart-healthy movement over 20 years. Micro changes do add up. The fable of the hare and the tortoise come to mind here – big changes that burn out over weeks will ultimately be overtaken by incremental achievable changes that we just keep plugging away at.

I guess this could also be expressed as an equation, for those who are mathematically minded, that would look something like this:

Size of lifestyle shift x length of time change is maintained = degree of potential benefit

So remember, you don’t have to do it all to be healthy. You just need to do enough, on a relatively consistent basis, to feel well.

Photo by Jen Rich

Little shift ideas

  • Meditate or practice some mindful breathing for 2 minutes every morning, before getting out of bed
  • Eat one extra portion of vegetables per day
  • Drink a glass of water before lunchtime
  • Always take the stairs when you can. Park the far side of each car park.
  • Switch off your mobile phone before going to sleep
  • Have some protein with breakfast (nuts, seeds, nut butter, eggs, natural yoghurt etc.)
  • Avoid drinking caffeine after 3pm
  • Have three alcohol-free days per week
  • Eat a portion of oily fish once a week (mackerel, salmon, trout, sardines)
  • Have a small portion of (unsalted) nuts or seeds once a day – they are packed full of various essential vitamins and minerals. A portion is roughly 30g / a small handful.
  • Arrange one phone call per month with a friend who makes you laugh, rather than just texting
  • Briskly walk for 10 minutes at lunchtime
  • Sit down to eat your evening meal, leaving your phone and TV off

Other articles you might enjoy reading: Non-Food Treats; The Power of Positive Nutrition; Is Joy a missing piece of the healthy puzzle


This article was commissioned by Natural Health Magazine


9 tips for a great night’s sleep

9 tips for a great night’s sleep

July 2020

Photo by Samuel Myles on Unsplash

Sleep, or the lack of it, can influence so many different aspects of our health and wellbeing. Many of us know the joy that comes from waking up after a wholly uninterrupted and blissfully restorative night, but also how profoundly a bad night can affect the following days.

I admit that I fall in to the latter camp lately, mostly due to the needs of my little one. And that is a key point I really want to make here.  Good quality sleep is not always in our personal control – from frequent trips to the bathroom to caring responsibilities, longstanding health problems or medication side effects – we can’t solve all sleep issues with a more comfortable bed and technological ‘sun-down’.

BUT, I often work with clients who have more general sleep troubles, yet don’t do these basic things consistently. ‘Sleep hygiene’ is a great first step to help improve the amount and quality of sleep you get.

I thought it might therefore be helpful to share my 9 most frequently recommended sleep tips, in case it helps any of you get an extra hour or two of restorative shut-eye. For more significant concerns, or if there are medical issues affecting your sleep, please do speak to your healthcare provider. There is often support available.

1. set realistic expectations.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends that most adults aim for 7-9 hours sleep a night, although anywhere between 6-10 may be appropriate, depending on your personal requirements and circumstances. Generally speaking, sleeping for <6 hours, or >10 is not recommend.

It’s therefore sensible to set realistic expectations. Some people do need less sleep, but if you’re someone who needs a little more, allow for this in your schedule and don’t try to burn the candle at both ends every night.

2.  minimise the 5 key sleep disruptions.

These are light, noise, heat, alcohol and caffeine. Minimise as necessary, according to your personal tolerance for each. Some people are more sensitive than others, either to individual factors, or a combination of them.

Light
Most of us sleep best in a very dark room. That might require installing black-out blinds or hook-on curtain liners , particularly in the summer months, and making sure that ambient light (from alarm clocks, chargers, hallways etc.) is also reduced. Recent research has found that light receptors are not only found in our eyes, but in our skin too . These may also influence our sleep-wake cycles, so aiming for a dark room, rather than just an eye mask, may be beneficial for some people.

Noise
Background noise can be a real sleep disruptor. Sometimes, this can’t be helped (such as hearing your baby crying), but when it is safe to do so, ear plugs or a white noise machine can be really helpful. If it is external or traffic noise that is most problematic, then investing in some sound-insulating windows, shutters or extra-heavy curtains may also be worthwhile.

Heat
A hot bedroom can reduce your ability to get off to sleep, and causes frequent night waking. Aim for a comfortably cool bedroom and breathable layers of clothing / bedding. I have this fan, which has been a real lifesaver on super hot summer nights.

Alcohol
Alcohol might feel like a sleep aid, in that it can help us to relax and perhaps temporarily quiet racing thoughts, but actually, it impairs the quality of our sleep later in the night, so that overall, we get less rest and restoration. Stick to a sensible alcohol intake and try not to consume it after your evening meal has finished. For more info, check out my longer article on alcohol here.

Caffeine
Many of us are cautious about the amount of caffeine we consume in the late afternoon and evening, but for some people, caffeine consumed much earlier in the day may still be affecting sleep. If sleep is a challenge for you, try gradually reducing your caffeine intake over a couple of weeks (I don’t recommend going ‘cold-turkey’), to see if it has a positive impact. Also, don’t forget to check the ingredients on some medications (particularly for colds), which may also contain caffeine.

3. include magnesium containing foods in your diet.

Magnesium is an essential dietary mineral that is thought to play an important role in sleep regulation. Magnesium-rich foods include green leafy vegetables, legumes and pulses, nuts (especially almonds, cashews, peanuts), seeds, whole grains and yoghurt. Getting magnesium from whole foods is always my initial recommendation. Supplements of any kind should be discussed first with a qualified nutrition or health professional.

4. stick to a consistent sleep schedule.

You’ll probably have read this one many times before, but it is still a good tip. Try (although I know this is impossible if you are working shifts) sticking to a consistent bed time and waking-up time, even at weekends, as it helps our bodies to get into a good rhythm of knowing when to be wakeful, and when to start getting sleepy.

5. sleep books.

The Sleep Book by Dr Guy Meadows is my top self-help recommendation for anyone suffering from chronic sleep troubles. I’ve suggested it to many clients, as I often find that sleep difficulties make new habits (especially dietary ones) much harder to stick to. It suggests a different way of looking at insomnia, using the principles of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), which might offer a new approach to those you’ve read of in the past.

Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker is also an excellent book, although I would suggest being cautious about reading it if you are already struggling with insomnia, as it might potentially increase anxiety around sleep – which is inevitably unhelpful and may exacerbate the problem.

6. observe a technological sun-down.

This tip is most often suggested due to the potentially stimulatory effects of artificial light in the evenings. When technology use is essential in the evenings, the effects may be reduced through warm tint settings or blue-light blocking glasses. If technology use is not essential, however, then switching to other forms of unwinding (such as a creative activity, warm bath, relaxing music, journaling or reading) might be an alternative strategy. I generally recommend doing this for somewhere between 30 minutes to 2 hours before you want to fall asleep. See what works best for you.

I think, however, that there is another aspect to this tip that is not so often discussed. It is recommended that we go to bed when we feel tired, but certainly in my own experience, it can be really hard to recognise this cue if we are engrossed in those magical shiny light boxes we are now so familiar with (phones, TV, computers, tablets etc.).  The automatic play function of online streaming services is, I think, a real culprit for our collective lack of sleep. Pushing through (or not observing) the cues to sleep can sometimes result in a ‘second wind’, where wakefulness returns and the ability to drift off to sleep is harder again. Furthermore, the content of the media we consume before bed can potentially trigger anxiety or wakefulness – I don’t recommend regularly watching late-night news programmes, for example – they are often full of anxiety-provoking stories that we might be better able to process in the morning.

Again though, as always, it is very much down to our individual experience. None of this affects us all in the same way. We need to work out what does matter for us and act accordingly.

Photo: Amelia Freer

7. avoid large meals just before bedtime.

Where possible, I generally suggest my clients aim to have their main evening meal at least 2-3 hours before going to bed, which allows our stomach time to start digesting and processing the meal before we lie flat. This can also sometimes help reflux-type symptoms, too.

You may find, however, that eating your meal many hours before bed leaves you a little hungry. That can also negatively impact sleep. A small snack, such as a handful or almonds and an apple, or a slice of rye toast with a dollop of nut butter and some squished blueberries, might be beneficial.

8. get some early morning sunlight.

Our natural wake-sleep cycle (called the Circadian Rhythm) is basically an internal body clock and influences all sorts of biological functions. One of the ways to help regulate this clock is to get some bright light, ideally sunlight in the morning. Even better if you can combine it with a little exercise, such as a quick walk. Even a minute or two is better than nothing.

Photo: Susan Bell

9. leave your phone out of the bedroom.

Last, but by no means least, this is my little plea. If you always go to sleep with your phone by your head, please consider either turning it off, or leaving it in another room.

I often wonder if never turning our phones off means that we don’t get a chance to switch off either – there’s always that possibility that it might ring or beep at any moment and demand our attention. Perhaps that keeps us engaged, and on edge, more than we are quite aware of? Or try using the sleep cycle which means you won’t get any distractions between set hours.

NB., If you’re used to using your phone to wake you up, consider buying a standalone alarm. This sunrise alarm clock is what I now have by my bedside and am a big fan.

Wishing you all a very good nights sleep.

 

Amelia x

Please note: If you buy something through these links, I might earn an affiliate commission – at no cost to you. I only recommend products my team and I genuinely use or like, but it all helps to keep my website running and advert free for all to access. Thank you so much.

SHOP THE EDIT

Wild Nutrition Magnesium

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Sunday Of London Sleepy Mist

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Sunrise Alarm Clock

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The Sleep Book

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Why We Sleep

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Is Joy a missing piece of the healthy puzzle?

Is Joy a missing piece of the healthy puzzle?

June 2020

Photo by Fuu J on Unsplash

Practicing good nutrition, healthy living, regular exercise or frankly, any aspect of wellness can, at least to some people, be deeply associated with joylessness and parsimony.

It seems, on occasion to have become equal to holding back, setting rules and abstaining from the pleasures of life for the sake of discipline. ‘Living the good life’, on the other hand, is hedonistic, freeing and allows us to do as we please as we throw caution to the wind.

Thankfully, however, this constructed dichotomy of healthy vs. joyful is simply untrue.

For healthy so often is joyful. Not in a superficial or aesthetic sense. That, I fear, is transitory at most and relies too heavily on comparison with others. No, I am much more interested in the very immediate and sensory joys that can be found in great food, enjoyable exercise and the sense of mental peace that comes from embracing self-compassionate practices.

The joyfulness to be found in healthy practices is an essential but missing piece of the puzzle and despite it’s crucial role, is one that is mostly disregarded. I think this oversight is often where the mocking, scoffing and even, sometimes, anger leveled against this industry comes from too. It is all part of the same misconception – in our own minds as much as anyone else’s – that we can either choose to enjoy ourselves (and be fun to be around) or we can choose to be ‘good’ and boring. What rubbish!

For how could it ever be possible to eat well for life, if that way of eating is not utterly filled with joyful moments? Even fear can’t keep us on the path of a bland and unpalatable diet for long. Food is, afterall, one if the most important simple pleasures in life. Take that away, and what are we left with?

But finding the joy in eating well, now that is where the magic happens.

It becomes effortlessly easy to sustain, as the reward is adequate for the effort we are putting in. What, specifically, is joyful about our food will be as varied as we are, but I’m not sure there are many dishes that can beat an incredible bowl of sun-ripened cherries, of beautifully slow-cooked ratatouille drizzled in tangy olive oil, of incredibly fresh fish straight off the grill, or greens lightly sautéed in garlic and ginger. It’s far from abstemious or boring. It’s a delight and one that is amplified if enjoyed in the company of loved ones.

But good food is rarely just about eating. It needs to be sourced and cooked first. Again, this can so often conjur up negativity and images of being enslaved to the kitchen. Of hours spent chopping, washing, stirring and working. There is little fun in that, particularly if the whole thing is done anxiously or grudgingly.

Finding the pleasure in these necessary culinary activities comes from reframing our approach. The joy of cooking is found in the creation of something from seemingly disparate ingredients. The alchemy is intriguing and blending flavours is like mixing colours. More brightness, more depth, more tang or more body. You’re an artist of the saucepan, mixing and tweaking until you’re happy with the end result. It does take a modest amount of kitchen confidence, but with the immense volume of free resources now available online, is thankfully an almost universally accessible skill to learn.

Photo by Henry Be on Unsplash

The same idea applies to all aspects of wellness. Take regular exercise, for example. If you want to participate consistently, surely either the exercise itself needs to be enjoyable, social or at the very least satisfying, or so-called ‘Type 2 fun’ – when you get to bask in the benefits after completing the activity. The ‘runners high” for example. You might not love the feeling of the run, but the euphoria that comes afterwards makes it all worthwhile. These are the reasons we keep at it. Ask a keen runner why they run and inevitably the answer is ‘because I love it’. Not ‘because I should do it or because it burns xxx calories’. Ask an enthusiastic dancer, or swimmer, or yogi, or someone who loves to walk, or gym goer the same question and you’ll often hear the same response. They have found the joy and that is why they continue. They no longer do it from a sense of duty or requirement, but an intrinsic motivation for pleasure is what drives them out of the door.

I always find it fascinating to watch young children move just for the joy of moving. They can’t help it – the happiness simply has to burst out of them. I guess we have learnt to inhibit ourselves from doing the same as we have grown up. But it was clearly an innate need inside of us. We just need to find what lights that spark again.

Ultimately, I believe that we are all motivated more deeply by our drive to find joy than we ever could be from logical reasoning. Of behaving in a certain way because we have been told to, or because we think we should. So perhaps that should be the ultimate aim of us all wellness professionals – to help people find their joy. When this overlaps with healthy living, that is the sweet spot of life where taking care of ourselves and enjoying ourselves, becomes easy.

 

Written by my colleague Rosamund Yoxall BMBS BSc


How to enjoy cooking for one

How to enjoy cooking for one

A theme that has popped up a number of times from this lovely community is the challenge (and possibly also the opportunity) of shopping, cooking and eating for one.

First, I want to extend a validating hug to anyone struggling with the potential loneliness of cooking and eating alone, especially if this is a new experience, or you are finding it hard to adjust to a quiet house when in the past it has been a bubbling, chaotic and chatty time of your day. The connection that comes from sharing a meal is something that can be sorely missed when mealtimes become a more silent affair.

So please know that it’s OK to find this a rocky transition to make. Just like it is OK if finding the motivation to shop and nourish yourself properly is sometimes difficult. You are absolutely NOT alone. I get many messages from people struggling with these exact worries every week.

But, bear with me here. It is not all doom-and-gloom, I promise! I cooked and ate alone for many years. I think we might therefore have an opportunity here, to re-frame the challenge into a chance to practice mindful self-compassion and self-care. Cooking and eating alone could even be seen as a blessing.

Why? Because you don’t need to cater for other people’s moods, whims, tastes or meal timings. You can eat what you love, when you want, and do so whilst dancing madly around the kitchen listening to slightly-too-loud jazz, if you so wish. There is a freedom in cooking for one that can be something to relish. A chance to practice being your own best friend. To make mealtimes a moment of joy in your day.

This starts by accepting that you, alone, are absolutely worthy of the time and (often minimal) effort it takes to eat proper meals. Even if that is just a couple of times a week to begin with. And then perhaps try to get into the habit of properly laying the table for yourself. Complete with your best china, candles and a sneaky glass of wine if you wish. You’re having dinner with the most important person in your world, afterall.

And if you’d like a little more inspiration or ideas, do take a look at the tips below. I’ve also included an example shopping list and a handful of meal ideas (there are hundreds of recipes available online for each of these meals, if a recipe is needed at all) using the ingredients. It’s not a meal plan to follow, but rather a selection of ways to make simple meals for one, without endless leftovers, and a few ideas that flowed from my imagination to hopefully inspire yours.

Here are a few extra suggestions

1. Don’t cook in silence, if you don’t like it.

Find an engaging podcast series, put the radio on, play some great music or download some cheery audiobooks. You could even use hands-free or video calling to chat to a loved one while you potter about the kitchen. You don’t have to be having a constant conversation, but it means you can cook ‘together’, apart if you’d like.

2. Similarly, don’t always eat alone, if you don’t like it.

Start a supper club (I love the idea of a soup club – you simply take it in turns to provide soup, bread and cheese, so the cost and preparation is minimal, leaving everyone free to focus on the conversation), eat with your friends once a week, eat lunch with your co-workers, find local meet-ups, or simply eat in a café or restaurant occasionally (there is something rather romantic about a table for one, I’ve always felt). If you have housemates, arrange to take it in turns to cook once a week for everyone. If this is tricky for any reason, then perhaps arrange a group video call, so you can enjoy a virtual dinner party once in a while.

3. Meal planning

I’m a big fan of meal planning. It helps reduce food waste (as your plan can also include leftovers), makes shopping easier (you know exactly what you need, buying ingredients for actual meals, rather than a motley collection of ‘things that were on offer / looked nice’) and reduces the mental dialogue of ‘should I bother to cook tonight, or just have cheese on toast again?’, because there is a clear plan to follow. Try it for a week with this free printable planner.

4. Get a small freezer, if at all possible

Minimising food waste and making speedy meals is much easier with a small freezer and some nifty containers. Frozen fruit and veg is no less nutritious than fresh, and means you can use exactly the right amount for one portion at a time. It’s also a good idea to keep an odds-and-ends tub of leftover vegetables. Once your tub gets filled, defrost it, add some decent stock and make it into a thick soup. You can then use this as a base for stews, sauces and casseroles as well as a hearty soup. You could do the same with fruit, and turn it into a delicious mixed-fruit compote.

5. Buy meat, fish or cheese from independent shops, or the counter

That way, you can get single portions (as packaged produce always seem to come in multiple quantities), saving both money and potential waste.

6. Don’t worry about eating simply

Good, nutritious food doesn’t have to be fancy. A simple omelette with some mushrooms, tomatoes and a side salad is wonderfully filling and nutrient dense. Steamed fish, grains and greens is both delicious and speedy. Also try my ‘Hero Toppings’ section in Simply Good For You for a whole load of ideas on ways to transform basic toast into a more nourishing meal.

7. Set goals

Have a think about what you feel your ‘baseline’ nutrition or self-care goals might be each day. Perhaps that might be cooking one proper meal a day from scratch, having three portions of vegetables, or always having a portion of protein with breakfast. It could also be non-foodie, such as getting outside for 10 minutes, having a conversation with a friend, or doing 5 press-ups.

It doesn’t really matter exactly what these goals are, so long as they are sensible and achievable, but they offer us a framework to ensure we are taking proper care of ourselves, without worrying about being ‘perfect’.

Illustrations by Ryn Frank

EXAMPLE WEEKLY SHOPPING LIST FOR 1:
  • 6 eggs
  • Milk of choice
  • Yoghurt of choice
  • 1 fillet salmon (fresh or frozen)
  • 2 chicken thighs / chicken breasts
  • 1 – 2 bags washed salad / spinach
  • 1 small head broccoli
  • 1 punnet tomatoes
  • 2 courgettes
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 punnet mushrooms
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 bunch bananas (peel & freeze any ripe leftovers for smoothies / banana ice cream)
  • 1 bag apples
  • 1 bag new potatoes
  • 1 bag carrots
  • Onions / garlic
  • Great quality bread – sliced, and frozen (toasting straight from frozen as required)
  • Oats
  • Mixed seeds
  • Almonds
  • Red lentil / chickpea pasta
  • 2 tins chickpeas / cannellini beans
  • 2 jars chopped tomatoes
  • Olive oil
  • Tahini
  • Frozen peas or beans

*This total basket cost (calculated using an online supermarket delivery), came to approximately £45, with some leftover dried goods for another week.


Illustrations by Ryn Frank

A FEW MEAL IDEAS TO USE UP THESE INGREDIENTS:

Breakfast ideas

  • Porridge with seeds
  • Yoghurt with fruit & almonds
  • Bircher muesli (oats, yoghurt, seeds & grated apple mixed and left to soak overnight in fridge)
  • Fritatta with mushrooms & spinach / tomatoes & grated courgettes (good for lunch and/or supper too).
  • Mashed banana and tahini on toast (nicer than it sounds!)
  • Poached / scrambled / boiled egg on toast with spinach
  • Smoothie of banana, soaked almonds, spinach and milk.

Lunch ideas

  • Vegetable soup with roasted chickpea croutons and/or toast
  • Simple salad with chickpea croutons, olive oil and seeds
  • Salad with leftover cold chicken / salmon and new potatoes
  • Pea & chickpea hummus, toast, cherry tomatoes & salad
  • Leftover pasta in tomato sauce with extra salad and olive oil
  • Tomato & cannellini bean soup (there’s a great ‘instant’ recipe for this in Simply Good For You)

Supper ideas

  • Salmon, new potatoes, broccoli & peas / beans, tahini dressing
  • Chicken with sautéed courgettes, onion & garlic, and new potatoes.
  • Lentil pasta with homemade tomato sauce
  • Lentil pasta with mushrooms, peas, onions and wilted spinach
  • Chicken with leftover tomato sauce, broccoli & new potatoes
  • Simple ratatouille with peppers, courgettes, onions, garlic and chopped tomatoes, served with chicken, or made into an omelette, or spooned over pasta.
  • Chickpea & vegetable stew, served with a dollop of yoghurt
  • Chicken, tomato & pepper stew with new potatoes


Self-care practices for our changing world

Self-care practices for our changing world

We are in this together.

I feel passionately that NOW is the time when self care matters most. Access to support systems and professional resources may be harder than it has been in the past. So instead, we may turn to ourselves and call on the reserves of strength, resilience and courage that we all have inside of us.

Having a regular and robust self-care strategy is going to be so important over the next few weeks or months. Exactly what this means will look different for each of us, but it is likely to be necessary to help us cope and contribute. While coronavirus is a big old stress that feels front-and-centre of our lives and is inevitably taking up a vast amount of bandwidth, life is still happening around it – both the ups and downs. I realise all of the information can feel overwhelming so where do we start when it all feels so big?

I have always found it helpful to divide ‘wellbeing’ into separate zones or areas. It’s too homogenous to lump it all together and ends up leaving me feeling paralysed with all the different things I feel I could be doing. So instead, I want to take it right back to basics here and focus on the things I think probably matter the most.

Sleep. Movement. Mind.
Food. Connection. Health.

It is crucial that as we think about these things, we remember that we cannot do it ‘all’ at the moment (if ever!). We cannot eat a “perfect” diet (not any time actually), not least because access to ingredients is likely to be sporadic. We cannot exercise in the way we might have been used to. We are unlikely to have long stretches of quiet time to ourselves for mindfulness practices (especially if we have little ones at home). Stress levels are high enough already. So, please, please don’t pile any extra guilt onto yourselves at the moment. We can all afford to let a few things go. Focus instead on being good enough. This is not a time for strict wellness rules (bar the obvious importance of public health advice). Flexibility is going to be key over the next few months.

Here are some things that my team and I have come up with that we hope might provide a little inspiration to help you care for yourselves during these uncertain times.

Wishing you all courage and compassion.

 

amelia freer

FdSc, Dip ION

Click below to explore each zone of wellbeing

Disclaimer: As always, the information contained within these articles is in no way a substitute for professional health, nutritional or medical advice. Please be mindful of your own needs and seek professional support as necessary. The situation surrounding coronavirus is rapidly changing, so current public health or legal guidelines may be different from when this article was written or last updated. The same goes for any of the resource links that we have shared. Please stay informed and stay safe.

There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about.


Salmon Soba Noodle Salad by Amelia Freer

Food & Mood

Amelia Freer Good Mood Food

food & mood

Good food is, for me, a huge source of comfort. That includes the process of cooking as well as sharing the resulting meal. Perhaps the most powerful impact that food can have on our mood is not always what we eat, but who we eat it with. I sometimes feel that the best medicine for melancholy is a simple meal enjoyed with good company. Simplicity is essential though – a relaxed informality from everyday dishes seems to open people up to intimate conversation more than a fancy meal ever can (although there is always a place for feasting).

 

If, however, we consider food from a nutritional science lens for a moment, there are certain nutrients that research suggests may be beneficial to mood. Though I am cautious to make it clear that nutrition is a useful adjunct – not a replacement for other forms of mental health support. For some people, however, it can be really helpful. Not just as the result of digesting and absorbing brain-healthy nourishment, but also from the mindset of self-care and the gentle creative process required to bring a meal to the table. It’s a holistic experience in the truest sense.

I thought I’d share 6 of my favourite good-mood dishes from my website, some of which I’ve included because of their nutritional value and some because they are just quick and deliciously comforting.

DIARY-FREE, GLUTEN-FREE, VEGAN

carrot & turmeric soup

Increasingly, the link between body inflammation and low mood is being examined. While we are quite a long way off knowing whether or not dietary changes can specifically manipulate mood by reducing inflammation, there’s no harm in enjoying this vibrant and comforting soup in the meantime – complete with turmeric, a spice long recognized for its potential anti-inflammatory benefits (Hewlings and Kalman, 2017). Do be generous with the black pepper though – it helps to increase absorption of the bioactive components of turmeric.

VIEW RECIPE

DIARY-FREE, GLUTEN-FREE

salmon soba noodle salad

It is thought that a low intake of omega-3 fatty acids (such as those found in oily fish) may predispose some people to depression and anxiety (Larrieu and Layé, 2018). General dietary advice is therefore to include at least one portion of oily fish into our diets each week – such as salmon, mackerel, trout or sardines (NHS Choices, 2018) (which also happen to be one of the key dietary sources of vitamin D).

I love this bright and beautiful salad – and any leftovers make a really good lunch the next day too. Soba noodles are easily found in supermarkets or online these days, although do make sure you rinse them well under cold water to wash away the starch before cooking or they tend to clump together.

VIEW RECIPE

DIARY-FREE, GLUTEN-FREE

crab cakes with
homemade mayo

Shellfish tends to be a good source of zinc (particularly oysters – although I know they’re not necessarily everyone’s favourite food, hence why I’ve gone for crab here!). Zinc deficiency has been linked to a potentially increased risk of depression, so it’s sensible to ensure we have varied sources of this essential nutrient in our diet. Alongside shellfish, it is also found in beef, pork, chicken, fortified cereals, nuts, seeds and yoghurt – although soaking or sprouting nuts, seeds & grains before consuming them can help make the zinc more readily absorbed by our bodies.

I love crab and these quick and easy fritters make a really delicious light meal. I would serve them with a big pile of steamed tenderstem broccoli, plenty of lemon and perhaps a few roasted sweet potato wedges.

VIEW RECIPE

DIARY-FREE, GLUTEN-FREE, VEGAN

spiced apple sauce

There has recently been an explosion of research looking into the effect that our gut microbiota – the complex ecosystem of microbes that co-exists inside us – have on our mood. While there is still a lot to be discovered, we do know that there is constant communication between our gut, brain and these microbes and that people suffering with depression may show changes to the makeup of their microbiota (Jiang et al., 2015) (Slyepchenko et al., 2016).

A good way to support the health of this diverse microbial community is to eat a varied diet, with plentiful high-fibre foods. Stewed apples contain pectin, a type of soluble fibre and are thought to be a particularly beneficial prebiotic food. Serve them with some bio-live yoghurt (a dietary probiotic) and you have a deliciously quick, gut-friendly breakfast.

VIEW RECIPE
This Vegan & Dairy Free Banana Nutty Nice Cream is a wonderful healthy alternative to ice-cream but just as satisfying

DIARY-FREE, GLUTEN-FREE, VEGAN

nutty banana nice cream

The emotional associations between sweet foods and ‘comfort’ can be pretty strong, so if you find those cravings come calling, this incredibly creamy and delicious bowl of ice cream should hit the spot. As well as being one of our 5-a-day, the addition of a little nut butter boosts the protein and healthy fat content, slows down the absorption of fruit sugars into our blood and provides us with some additional vitamins and minerals.

I tend to peel, roughly chop and freeze any bananas going a bit over-ripe in our fruit bowl, so I always have a supply ready frozen for those moments of ‘need’.

VIEW RECIPE

DIARY-FREE, GLUTEN-FREE, VEGAN

coconut breakfast pancakes

Sometimes, it’s more about the way we eat food that brings its mood-boosting properties. And to me, a lie-in (even if that’s just an extra 10 minutes from hitting the snooze button) followed by a pile of pancakes with my family, is a lovely treat. These are deliciously crisp on the outside and fluffy and soft on the inside. They are lovely for a wintery morning served with a pop of summery colour and flavour from the berry sauce.

VIEW RECIPE

A note on vitamin D….

Low vitamin D levels have been linked to a low mood over the winter months (Sarkar, 2017). Here in the UK, particularly from October to late March, we can’t make enough vitamin D in our skin from sunlight. Whilst there are some food sources of vitamin D (such as oily fish, red meat, egg yolks and fortified food), these tend to only have small amounts of the vitamin in them, so it is now recommended that all adults consider taking a daily supplement of 10 micrograms (400IU) vitamin D3 during the autumn and winter months.

Do take a look at the NHS choices website or have a chat with your GP or pharmacist for more information.

References & Bibliography:

Hewlings, S. and Kalman, D. (2017). Curcumin: A Review of Its’ Effects on Human Health. Foods, 6(10), p.92.

Jiang, H., Ling, Z., Zhang, Y., Mao, H., Ma, Z., Yin, Y., Wang, W., Tang, W., Tan, Z., Shi, J., Li, L. and Ruan, B. (2015). Altered fecal microbiota composition in patients with major depressive disorder. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 48, pp.186-194.

Larrieu, T. and Layé, S. (2018). Food for Mood: Relevance of Nutritional Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Depression and Anxiety. Frontiers in Physiology, 9.

Lindseth, G., Helland, B. and Caspers, J. (2015). The Effects of Dietary Tryptophan on Affective Disorders. Archives of Psychiatric Nursing, 29(2), pp.102-107.

NHS Choices (2018). Fish and shellfish. [online] nhs.uk. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/fish-and-shellfish-nutrition/ [Accessed 4 Dec. 2019].

Sarkar, S. (2017). Vitamin D for Depression with a Seasonal Pattern: an Effective Treatment Strategy. International Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation Journal, 1(4).

Slyepchenko, A., Maes, M., Jacka, F., Köhler, C., Barichello, T., McIntyre, R., Berk, M., Grande, I., Foster, J., Vieta, E. and Carvalho, A. (2016). Gut Microbiota, Bacterial Translocation, and Interactions with Diet: Pathophysiological Links between Major Depressive Disorder and Non-Communicable Medical Comorbidities. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 86(1), pp.31-46.


Mindful Self Compassion: how to be kinder to yourself

A Kinder Approach to Healthy Living

A Kinder Approach
to Healthy Living

Mindful self-compassion is a beautiful concept and a radical shift for those of us used to having a particularly active and harsh inner critic – that internal voice that undermines us, criticises us, shames us and otherwise makes our life feel like a battleground rather than a place of ease and joy. Would I be right in feeling that most of us know that voice well?

Mindful Self Compassion: how to be kinder to yourself

Disclaimer. I am not a psychologist, therapist, nor a teacher of mindful self-compassion. These are simply my thoughts and ramblings about developing a kinder approach to healthy living than the one I have seen so often in clients (and myself).  So, please take responsibility for feeling safe when reading the following content, and as always, do ask for professional support if there is anything worrying you about your relationship to food. That itself is a wonderful act of self-compassion.

Mindfulness means that we are aware when that critical voice starts to chatter. We notice when we are having a hard time, while we are still experiencing it and can stay with those challenging feelings in a non-judgmental way. Common humanity recognises that every human has difficult times, unpleasant feelings and things that don’t go to plan. It reminds us that nobody is perfect (however much they try to portray it on social media!) and imperfection, mistakes and failures are a universal part of the human experience.

Self-kindness is the ability to turn to ourselves with exactly the same attitude, thoughts, words and deeds that we would offer a dear friend going through the same thing. It is the opposite of self-judgement.

Mindful self-compassion is defined by Kristin Neff, PhD, as having three components (Neff, 2003):

1. Mindfulness (vs. over-identification or rumination over our worries and challenges)
2. Common humanity (vs. a sense of isolation)
3. Self-kindness (vs. self-judgement)

Developing a self-compassion practice is like kryptonite to our internal critic and having spent the past few months on a mission to develop more self-compassion in my own life, I can attest that it certainly helps quieten, comfort and reassure the unkind internal monologue. However, it has not been an overnight shift. It takes practice and repetition to make the new neuronal connections in our brains that allow this kinder response to become automatic.

Studies suggest that developing self-compassion can also be very helpful for improving our relationship to food, eating and other aspects of a healthy lifestyle – as well as our body image (Rahimi-Ardabili et al., 2017). It allows space for imperfection, as this is to be expected by the simple fact that we are human. It therefore does not mean we have ‘failed’ if we don’t stick 100% to our plans to eat better, exercise daily, be more organised or whatever behaviour we’re trying to instigate – it simply means we are part of humanity. I find this concept incredibly reassuring and grounding, particularly if I find myself inadvertently slipping into perfectionism or comparison.

Including ourselves in this experience of imperfection also relates to body image. Almost everyone has aspects of their body they don’t love all the time (yes, even supermodels and Hollywood stars, trust me!). Therefore, aiming for an idealised body image (and then beating ourselves up for not achieving it) is another thankless task that can be let go when we start to cultivate this approach. We can’t expect to attain perfection, so why hold it as the standard against which to judge ourselves?

If we do ‘fall off the wagon’, mindful self-compassion encourages us to meet ourselves there with forgiveness and understanding, rather than recrimination or shame. It’s OK. We are doing our best. It’s not the end of the world. It’s been a tough week and it’s alright to just aim for ‘good enough’ right now. Offering ourselves some kind words – even if we don’t completely believe them – out loud or in our head, can be a delicious balm to the soul. If you struggle to think of the kind words to offer yourself, pretend you are speaking to a friend or child. Many of us find it easier to be kind to others than we do to ourselves

Cultivating kindness and self-compassion around food can, happily, spill beyond our nutritional choices. It can seep into work, relationships and all aspects of our thinking. This is no bad thing – I can’t think of a single area of life where being just a little nicer to ourselves would go amiss. And if you’re reading this, thinking – “I can’t possibly be kind to myself, everything will fall apart” – know that this isn’t backed up by the science. We may feel like we need our harsh inner critic to motivate, cajole and hold us to account, people who develop self-compassion are actually more likely to stick with healthy behaviours, less likely to feel low, anxious or stressed and more likely to feel connected, satisfied and happy with life. And, as part of a positive cycle, fewer feelings of stress, anxiety and depression may mean less need to emotionally eat – particularly of those foods that may not nourish our physical health quite so much.

I have often worked with clients who struggle with such emotional eating. They have learnt to numb difficult emotions with food or drink. Boredom, anger, stress, loneliness, sadness, grief, fear, anxiety – whatever the negative feeling, the response is to consume. This can, on occasion, be an entirely appropriate response (food is after-all, a particularly strong message of love for many – including self-love), but it is not necessarily beneficial for us in the longer term to use as our main, or only, self-soothing strategy.

When we learn to be more accepting of our emotions, asking the question ‘what do I really need right now?’ in response to psychological distress, we will rarely find that the answer is ‘ice cream’! However, it also means that when we do consume the ice cream, we can do so with wholehearted enjoyment, or kindness if we feel we have over-consumed – without the shame that can follow an indulgent moment.

Having said that, we do need to consider a more holistic view of self-compassion when it comes to indulgence. For many people, self-kindness is strongly linked to treats, drinks and other fun foods. While ‘treating’ ourselves or others is a concept I understand, we need to widen the net a little to include more than eating or drinking. I have written a whole separate article My Guide to Non-Food Treats, in case you’d like some inspiration.

The intention behind ‘treating’ is good – to make someone feel loved, seen, heard and comforted. To show them that their efforts are not without acknowledgement. But within self-compassion, we need to hold the needs of our longer-term wellbeing alongside our need for in-the-moment comfort. Again, this can again be easier to understand if we imagine we are talking to someone else – perhaps a young child.

If, for example, this child had experienced a long and challenging day at school, they may come home feeling tired and sad. Mindfulness would help us to recognise it was a tricky day and they were not feeling their best this evening. Common humanity would reassure them that everyone has difficult days and they are not alone in their feelings. Kindness would, perhaps, include spending more time with them, letting them share their thoughts (or letting them have some space), playing or reading together or perhaps cooking a favourite supper. It is unlikely to involve encouraging them eat an entire box of chocolates or wolf down two pizzas. I know I’m being a bit facetious – I am trying to make a point with this example – but I am sure you get the idea.

So it’s not about white-knuckle resisting those occasions where eating or drinking certain things may benefit our social or emotional health, but it is about making such choices consciously, with compassion to ourselves at the core of our decision making.

 

There are two powerful questions we can ask ourselves to help access this self-compassion. You may just be surprised at the kindness in the answers you learn to offer yourself:

1. What is the kindest thing I can do for myself right now? Note: This a different question to ‘what is the most indulgent thing I can do in this moment?’
2. What do I really need?

Resources: If this is something you’d like to learn more about, take a look at the resources below for lots more information and further reading.

Diagram: Cycle of Negativity
Diagram: Cycle of Self-Compassion

Recommended books on this topic:

Compassionate eating exercise

1. Cultivate mindfulness at the start of each meal (or snack).

You could try using a hunger scale rating (give a number to how hungry you feel on a scale of 1 (not at all hungry) to 10 (absolutely ravenous), or a simple thought of ‘May I be grateful for this food’.

Take time to notice the smell, sight, and even sound of the food on your plate. As you take your first bite, try to really savour it – notice the flavours: sweet, sour, salty, bitter. What are the textures like? How does it change as you chew?

Take a moment to think of all the people who have been involved in bringing it to your table, from the farmers to the shopkeepers and the cook.

2. Try to meet any thoughts and feelings that arise around food or meals with kindness, acceptance and understanding.

Think of what you’d say to a dear friend, or a beloved child. Use gentle and supportive language – even if you don’t 100% believe yourself yet.

3. Remember that nobody is perfect.

I do not eat a perfect diet, no social media personality does, no health professional or even nutritionist. We just need to aim for good enough, consistently. The idea of common humanity is a grounding and deeply reassuring concept.

4. Focus on what you really need.

Being compassionate to our whole selves (both emotional and physical) does not just mean eating ‘comfort’ foods to excess. We need to care for both mind and body equally. Relying on unhealthy behaviours as a coping strategy is not consistent with the concept of self-compassion overall. If in doubt, simply ask ‘What is the kindest thing I can do for myself right now?’

 

When things don’t go quite to plan…

 …it might be the perfect opportunity to practice some of the kindness we’ve been cultivating.

1. Recognise that things haven’t quite gone right, and that it feels uncomfortable. That is the mindfulness component. Validate yourself.
2. Remind yourself that nobody is perfect. Everyone slips up sometimes, and that is absolutely OK.
3. Offer yourself some kind words. What would you say to a dear friend in this moment?
4. Ask yourself what you need, to support your overall sense of wellbeing.

To learn more about mindful self-compassion:

VIDEOS

The space between self-esteem and self compassion: Kristin Neff at TEDx
youtube.com/watch?v=IvtZBUSplr4

Self-Compassion with Dr Kristin Neff
youtube.com/watch?v=rUMF5R7DoOA&t=1188s

 Self Compassion – The School of Life
youtube.com/watch?v=-kfUE41-JFw

How to be a friend to yourself – The School of Life
youtube.com/watch?v=wFUxiIjp-Nk

 . . . . .

COURSES

The Centre for Mindful Self-Compassion runs courses, both in-person and live online (where you log into a learning platform at a set time every week, and are lead through the 10-week course by a trained facilitator, with the opportunity to listen, learn and share your thoughts with other online attendees): centerformsc.org/

. . . . .

Academic papers (for professionals):

self-compassion.org/SCtheoryarticle.pdf

self-compassion.org/Rahimi-Ardabili2017.pdf

researchgate.net/

. . . . .

REFERENCES

Neff, K (2003). Self-Compassion: An alternative conceptualisation of a healthy attitude toward oneself. Self and Identity 2. Pp. 85-101.

Rahimi-Ardabili, H., Reynolds, R., Vartanian, L., McLeod, L. and Zwar, N. (2017). A Systematic Review of the Efficacy of Interventions that Aim to Increase Self-Compassion on Nutrition Habits, Eating Behaviours, Body Weight and Body Image. Mindfulness, 9(2), pp.388-400.

RECOMMENDED BOOKS


meal planning tips

14 Meal-planning Tips

14 Meal-planning tips for a cheaper, simpler and more nutritious diet

1. Get a workable system in place

Get a meal planning system in place. Buy a pad of tear-off sheets, print out a few copies of my free meal planner & shopping list PDF, write your own outline on a blank page, or perhaps download a meal planning app if you prefer to do it digitally. The most important thing is to make it easy and to make it enjoyable (I do mine on Sunday nights, with a big mug of tea, using a lovely pen – it’s the small things!).

A little hint: I keep all my old meal plans in a folder on my cook book shelf. I can then quickly flick back through a few past menus and use one of those if I am tight for time (usually with a few quick adaptations).

2. Do a ‘stock-check’

If you get a weekly vegetable box delivered, shop at a farmer’s market or grow-your-own, the first step is to jot down what fresh produce you will be getting this week. Also do a quick ‘stock-check’ of your fridge, freezer, fruit-bowl & cupboards and note any ingredients that need to be used. This will minimise food waste and give you a list of ingredients you know you’ll need to include.

3. Note your busiest days

Next, think about the days that you know you’re going to be busy or stretched for time. Star or highlight these mealtimes on your planner so you know not to put a preparation-heavy option on that day. I aim to have leftovers ready to go on busy days or something very simple like pasta, soup or a quick stew (salad in warmer months).

4. Investment dishes

Then find 1-2 days where you will have a couple of hours here and there to cook and use these to make some investment dishes. Perhaps a big tray of roasted vegetables, a chopped salad or coleslaw, a roast chicken, fish pie, chilli, curry or vegetable stew. Take a look at my batch cooking recipes and also my last two books – Nourish & Glow: The 10 Day Plan and Simply Good For You. Double up quantities if necessary so you’ve got plenty of leftovers to enjoy on busier days. Maybe you can freeze a few portions too.

5. Multi-task meals

If you know you’re going to have a dish in the oven for a while, use this opportunity to be energy-efficient and also put in some jacket potatoes, other roasted vegetables, or a simple casserole. It doesn’t take more than a few minutes to ‘piggy-back’ a few dishes together like this and can save a lot of time later in the week.

6. Think about protein

Once you know the days where you’ll have a little more time, think about the key protein sources you want to use – depending on your personal preferences and tastes. As an example, I tend to work with a few of the following different sources per week and find different recipes to jazz them up a bit;

  1. Legumes: Pulses / Chickpeas / Cannellini or Butter beans / Lentils / Broad beans / Hummus (legumes are my commonest protein choice – they are cheap, sustainable and speedy).
  2. Nuts & seeds: / Nut butters / Chia seeds / Hulled hemp seeds / Flaxseeds / Almonds / Cashews / Walnuts
  3. Soy products: Tofu / Tempeh / Edamame beans
  4. Poultry – Chicken or Turkey
  5. Oily fish – Mackerel / Salmon / Trout / Sardines
  6. White fish – Hake / Haddock / Pollock / Cod / Whiting
  7. Red meat – Beef / Lamb / Venison or other game (We tend not to eat so much red meat these days, but might have it twice a month or so)
  8. Dairy – Eggs / Cheese / Natural yoghurt

Jot a selection (perhaps 3-5 different options) of dishes using your preferred protein into your meal plan. We often have fish on a Thursday evening, for example, as that’s when a local fishmonger gets his fresh stock in. Try to keep possible use-by dates in mind.

7. Seek out inspiration

If you’re feeling stuck for ideas, have a flick through some recipe books, social media accounts, Pinterest or websites to get some inspiration. Instagram has the save option so you can create a file called recipes and whenever you see something lovely, save it there for another time and Pinterest is great for this (have you checked out my Pinterest page yet?). Save recipes or dishes you’d like to try, as you see them, so you’ve got a bank of ideas at your fingertips when they are needed. Keep a list (on the fridge or inside a kitchen cupboard door) of speedy, easy meal ideas that you know have worked well in the past (especially if you are cooking for a number of different people with varying dietary requirements or desires!).

8. ‘Cook once, eat twice’

Work on the basic principle of ‘cook once, eat twice’. When you’ve gone to the effort of preparing a dish from scratch, it’s a reasonable plan to eat it for lunch and/or supper the following day too. Just follow common-sense food hygiene practices and ensure things are heated thoroughly before serving as necessary. I have a selection of clip-top glass containers that are perfect for storing leftovers and oven and freezer safe too. They are a great investment.

9. Make breakfast an easy affair

Don’t worry about trying to ‘plan’ breakfast. It’s the one meal of the day where having a simple, go-to dish can serve you well, without being detrimental to your overall nutritional intake. It takes a lot of thinking (and shopping) out of the equation if you stick to 2 or 3 breakfast recipes on rotation. Just ensure your everyday choices contain some source of protein and are not too high in refined carbohydrates, saturated fat or sugar. There are lots of healthy, quick & easy breakfast ideas here and in my latest book Simply Good For You.

10. At the bottom of the fridge, lurks a good meal

Make a ‘bottom-of-the-fridge’ vegetable stew, curry or soup towards the end of the week to use up left over vegetables. It’s also a great thing to do if you’re going away and want to leave the fridge empty. They will all freeze well and mean you’ve got a home-cooked meal ready made when you get home. See my article on How to Build a Healthy Plate if you don’t have specific recipes.

how to build a healthy plate

11. Simple puds

I don’t bother with desserts day-to-day. I’ll have a piece of fresh seasonal fruit, a couple of squares of dark chocolate, or a dollop of natural yoghurt with a handful of chopped nuts and berries if I fancy something sweet. None of these need to be included in your meal plan.

12. Revisit your plan

Once you’re happy with the key dishes you’re planning to make this week, quickly skim back over your plan and fill in any gaps, adding vegetables and side dishes (even if you change these on the day) and make any tweaks. Frittatas, soups, pasta dishes or a quick dahl / chickpea & vegetable stew tend to be my gap-fillers, if you’re looking for simple inspiration (remember that I have lots of easy dishes here on my site: see Recipes).

13. A plan is just a plan

It doesn’t matter if you don’t actually stick to your plan 100%. I rarely stick to it precisely, but the process certainly helps reduce the amount of time I have to spend thinking about cooking and meals during the mayhem of the working week. It really has been a game-changer for me, as a little time invested upfront in planning (it takes no longer than 10 minutes to do all of this with a little practice), pays off hugely over the course of the whole week. Plus, it has reduced my food wastage (and therefore expenditure), as well as expanded my cooking repertoire (and thus dietary variety). It’s also easier to stick to a healthy eating plan if you know what you’re aiming for – it’s a proactive rather than reactive response to the fact that we all have to eat every day, regardless of how tired and busy we are!

14. Write a list

Finally, write your shopping list and put in your order. I mostly shop online for things that don’t come from the organic delivery company, or in bulk. This saves me time and money, as I am less tempted to buy extra things on a ‘whim’.

For those with a copy of my latest book, Simply Good For You, I have put together a free meal plan & shopping list.

Happy planning!

nourish & glow: the 10 day plan

My comprehensive 10-day plan that celebrates Positive Nutrition and which will help you look and feel better, now and forever.
BUY HERE

Food & Symptom diary

The Benefits of Keeping a Food & Symptom Diary

Food & Symptom diary

CLICK HERE FOR A PRINTABLE WEEKLY DIARY (PDF)

In amongst the busyness of everyday life, it’s easy to fall into repetitive, unconscious patterns of consumption – that might inadvertently be contributing to, for example, fatigue or gastrointestinal discomfort. Writing it all down can be the first step in increasing awareness of the feedback our body is trying to send us.

Once we become conscious of our current food, lifestyle and symptoms, we can then start to think about some simple, gentle adjustments that we might try making, to support our overall wellbeing. For example, reducing our caffeine consumption if we realise that drinking more than 2-3 cups a day is negatively affecting our sleep, or noticing that we feel hungrier in the afternoons if we haven’t had a balanced breakfast. Often, it is the simplest tweaks that can make the biggest difference. And don’t forget that it’s not all about the food – relaxation, stress reduction, appropriate movement, social connection and restorative sleep are all vitally important contributors to how we feel. You can include notes on these aspects of wellbeing in the diary too, if you wish.

Please note: Completing any sort of food and/or symptom diary without appropriate professional support is NOT recommended if you have or have had an eating disorder, or any sort of excessive worry or anxiety around food. Please be compassionate to yourself and avoid using this resource if you feel it may not be beneficial for any reason.

If you have any concerns about your symptoms, it goes without saying that this should always be discussed with a healthcare professional. This diary serves as a useful piece of information to share with them if you’re happy to.

How to complete

CLICK HERE FOR A PRINTABLE WEEKLY DIARY (PDF)

1. I recommend that you print the diary off and keep it with you throughout your day. It’s usually more accurate to fill in ‘as you go’, rather than trying to remember everything that happened come the evening. If you’d prefer, keep notes on your phone or computer instead (using the headings suggested), and then transcribe or print them in the evening.

2. Write down absolutely everything you eat and drink, including rough timings and quantities (don’t worry too much about being accurate to the last gram; a handful of spinach, 2 slices of toast, 1 large mug of coffee etc. is fine).

3. Next, note any symptoms you might experience throughout the day and what time they started / ended. See the list below for common symptoms people might experience (although anything goes, so feel free to just write what you feel – it is not an exhaustive list).

4. Finally, you can record anything else that might have had an impact on your food intake or symptoms, such as how well you slept, whether you were feeling particularly stressed or relaxed, how your mood was, what sort of activity or exercise you completed, how rushed you felt whilst eating, supplements or medications you took, even the weather etc. The final column is yours, so add as much additional detail as you wish to give colour and detail to your diary.

Possible symptoms*

Gastrointestinal: Bloating, gas, abdominal discomfort or cramping, diarrhoea or constipation, nausea, tongue or mouth ulcer

Appetite: Cravings, hunger, excessive fullness, loss of appetite.

Energy & mood: Fatigue or low energy levels, ‘foggy’ head, lack of concentration or focus, low mood, anxiety or jitters, insomnia or disturbed sleep.

Skin: Rash, itching, flushing, skin irritations, spots, dry skin.

Other: Headaches, head pressure, general pain, muscle or joint aches, sinus congestion or runny nose, cough, bladder or urinary changes, libido.

*Not all of these symptoms are related to the food we consume – they can arise from myriad different causes. However, it can still be helpful to note when and how we notice them, even if just to provide ourselves with a more complete picture of our current state of health.

Food & Symptom Diary

What to do with your completed diary

Completing a food and symptom diary is NOT about doing an elimination diet or identifying foods to cut out. In fact, I highly recommend avoiding any unnecessary dietary restrictions, because enjoying a widely varied diet is really important to maximise our intake of different essential nutrients and to minimise stress around food.

If, however, you feel that you might be having symptoms related to a specific food group, it’s always a good idea to speak to a nutrition or healthcare professional about your concerns. They will help you identify if there might be an underlying medical condition triggering your reaction – and can then provide the appropriate testing, support and follow-up if required.

What this diary can help us to do, however, is to identify if there are any small, manageable tweaks that we could make to what or how we are eating, that might help us feel our best. Nobody eats ‘perfectly’ or is entirely symptom free all of the time. We all have off days – and that’s both normal and OK.  So, with an enquiring and compassionate mind, take some time to re-read your completed diary and see if there are any obvious and consistent patterns. There is space on the final page to make observations and notes as you do so. Try to think about what is going well, as much as what you would like to improve upon.

While maintaining that sense of kindness towards yourself, have a think about some simple, achievable steps that might be beneficial to your overall nutritional balance or wellbeing. I generally suggest focussing on no more than three small changes at a time, as we all have limited bandwidth for making lifestyle changes. Again, there is space on the last page for these ideas.

For more information and support

While I am a nutritional therapist, I am not your nutritional therapist, so unfortunately I cannot tell you specifically what to look out for in your completed diary, nor exactly what changes to make. We are all unique individuals and will have hugely varied diaries by the end of the week.

I have, however, written extensively about my general approach to nutrition and wellbeing, so please do take a look at my books, Eat. Nourish. Glow and Nourish & Glow: The 10-day plan for lots more nutritional information and advice. Cook. Nourish. Glow and my latest book, Simply Good For You, both contain plenty of delicious recipes too, in case you’d like a little extra culinary inspiration.

For advice on how to find a nutrition practitioner to work alongside, please take a look at the FAQ pages.

 

 


My Guide To Non-Food Treats

My Guide To: Non-Food Treats

This is a concept that I have shared many times, but I realised I had never really compiled a list of ideas and suggestions on my website – so here they are.

What do I mean by non-food treats?

‘Non-food treats’ are really just another way of thinking about self-care, a way to nourish our souls and comfort frayed emotions or exhaustion with strategies that go beyond food or drink. That’s not to say that there is anything wrong with turning to good food as a form of solace, particularly when shared with loved ones, but I’ve noticed it can be easy to fall into a bit of a rut of reaching for the same old comfort foods or drinks (which may only provide a short-term boost), rather than engaging in varied activities that replenish us in other ways.

Here are a few ideas to get you started. Remember we are all unique, so many of these might not work for you. Therefore, just take any you think you might enjoy and simply leave the rest.

This is not in any way an exhaustive list, merely some suggestions that I hope will inspire and resonant with you:

  • Listen to a few favourite tracks of music. Ideally loudly!
  • Take a bath or long shower and use the ‘fancy’ products or scented candles you have been saving
  • Enjoy flicking through a magazine or a new book
  • Take a cup of tea / coffee back to bed in the morning for 5 minutes of peace
  • Practice an online yoga class (or head out to a studio if there is one nearby)
  • Turn phone to airplane mode for an hour and just read, doodle or create
  • A 10-minute guided meditation

  • Join a creative workshop (painting, flower-arranging, photography)
  • Put together a dreamy Pinterest board – your life dreams, goals, ideal home, garden design – whatever you fancy. Just let your imagination run wild
  • Take a power nap (set a timer for 25 minutes)
  • Get outside and go for a walk. If that isn’t an option, open a window and stick your head out into the fresh air for a minute or two
  • Be with your feelings, accepting them simply as they are
  • Write a letter to yourself that you will open one year from now
  • Ignore emails for an entire day
  • Go to bed early, or stay in bed late
  • Ignore social media for an entire day
  • Book a beauty treatment, or team up with a friend to do them for each other
  • Browse a charity shop for a frivolous treat – for yourself or someone else
  • Paint your nails
  • Draw something – perhaps a card for someone you care about
  • Do some journaling, or free-write whatever comes into your head
  • Watch an inspirational TED talk or video from the School of Life on YouTube
  • Play a board / card game

Kew Gardens

palm house, kew gardens

  • Plan a day out – somewhere you’ve been meaning to go for a while
  • Remember you’re only human. Validate your feelings and accept that anyone else would feel the same way given these circumstances
  • Buy or pick some flowers (or a pot plant)
  • Play, wholeheartedly, with your children / godchildren / nieces & nephews / children of friends
  • Spend a day just pottering about, letting go of the need to ‘achieve’ or fix anything
  • Look at the stars. Or watch the clouds / birds float by
  • Watch the sunrise or sunset, without trying to do anything else at the same time
  • Listen to a funny podcast
  • Arrange to call or meet up with a good friend or family member
  • Plan a mini-break or holiday (even if it is just a fantasy trip)
  • Buy some new pyjamas
  • Go to a beach, river or lake. There’s always something calming about being near water

  • Play with your pets or walk a dog.
  • Do some gardening (even if it’s just on a windowsill or in a sprouter)
  • Comforting touch (get a hug, stroke your own arm, give your hands a squeeze)
  • Do a small act of kindness for someone else – simply paying a complement can make someone else’s day
  • Ask yourself what you’d say to a dear friend in the same situation as you currently find yourself in

most importantly  . .  cherish these moments x