Every new year, people talk about resolutions they will definitely stick to. However, how about forgetting these and just opting for a healthier lifestyle in 2019 instead? I am not talking about a spur-of-the-moment decision, but a commitment to an ongoing process; a lifestyle change and a plan that you can live by. Since it’s the beginning of a new year, what better time to kick off with some optimism and decisiveness?
My 10-step action plan is a great lifestyle strategy to make you feel healthier, energised and promote longevity. It’s not a New Year’s Resolution but an undertaking to commit to a wholesome life from now onwards. It’s about small changes that can make a huge difference – choosing to live slightly differently and somewhat better so that in the end you feel contented and in good health.
Here’s how you can do it!
1. Cut out sugar and refined carbohydrates
Cutting out sugar and refined carbohydrates means eliminating processed foods, especially ultra-processed meals such as pizza, chicken nuggets, chips and other salty, sweet and savoury snacks, packaged baked goods, microwave-ready meals, instant soups and sauces. Recently, French researchers have warned that ultra-processed foods such as these can raise your risk of cancer; plus the more you eat, the greater your risk.
In addition, health conditions such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease, liver damage, kidney disease, acid reflux and osteoporosis are linked to the consumption of these foods. When you consume them, your body increases the amount of dopamine it produces, which stimulates the pleasure centre of the brain making them addictive. This explains why many people find it hard to give them up. But it is possible to quit and you will feel much better for it.
- Cut out sugar completely, or if you find this difficult, start by swapping it for natural alternatives (see my blog on alternative sweeteners and ‘Sugar Safe’ recipes on my website).
- Substitute refined carbohydrates for unrefined natural carbohydrates, such as brown basmati rice, quinoa, beans, nuts and seeds.
- Replace sugary drinks with healthier beverages such as water and herbal teas.
- Eat a diet consisting of at least 90% real food directly sourced from nature.
- Avoid foods that come in packages, cans and bottles with a list of ingredients.
- Limit the amount of times you go out to eat in a week unless the menu and cooking ingredients are totally transparent.
2. Eat twice a day within a window of 8 hours
Restricting your eating in this way has many health benefits, including weight loss, balancing blood sugar levels, disease prevention, improving sleep and optimising energy production. Once you get used to it, you will feel energised and start to thrive. If you are diabetic, hypoglycaemic pregnant or breastfeeding, it is best to do this under the guidance of a health professional.
- Restrict your eating to a window of 8 hours a day and have your last meal at least 3 hours before you go to sleep.
- Choose between having breakfast and lunch, breakfast and dinner or lunch and dinner.
- Do not snack between meals. See my blog on intermittent fasting for more information and to download a daily planner.
3. Avoid unhealthy fats and oils
Transfats, which are also known as hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, are fats that have been treated to make them easier to work with. They are cheap, malleable and help products seem fresher for longer and taste nicer. They are the least healthy of all fats because they are difficult for our bodies to process and are associated with type 2 diabetes, heart disease and strokes.
Processed vegetable oils, such as sunflower oil or corn oil, are also unhealthy. The processing of them results in the destruction of all nutrients. When they are heated, their molecular structure changes, producing chemicals that may cause heart disease and cancer.
- If you are buying anything in a packet, check the back for the words “trans fat”, “hydrogenated vegetable oil” or “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil” – or any version of that and avoid these fats completely.
- Avoid processed vegetable oils and cook instead with butter, olive oil or coconut oil. See my blog on ‘The Verdict on Coconut Oil’ for more information about fats.
4. Eat more fibre
A high fibre diet may reduce your risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
- Focus on eating more vegetables (including fermented ones), nuts and seeds, ground organic linseed, organic whole husk psyllium, sunflower sprouts and chia seeds.
5. Eat more fermented foods
Fermented foods contain high levels of beneficial bacteria (much higher than in a probiotic supplement) and are powerful detoxifiers, making them perfect for optimising your gut health. They produce nutrients such as B vitamins and vitamin K2, plus help with mineral absorption.
- Make sure you have at least a portion of one fermented food a day. Fermented foods include kefir, kombucha, yoghurt, tempeh, sauerkraut or kimchi. You can find these to buy in most health stores.
- Try making your own fermented food. Here is a video of me making sauerkraut, which is quick and easy, and one of me demonstrating how to make fermented vegan cheese. Here is also a recipe for tempeh (fermented soya).
6. Eat good quality protein
Whilst protein is essential for health, eating excessive amounts of it can be harmful. The right amount of protein for any one individual depends on many factors, including the person’s activity level, age, muscle mass, physique goals and current state of health.
- Eat good quality protein and avoid processed meats completely. Research has linked processed meats like sausages and sandwich meats to an increased risk of cancer. The American Institute for Cancer Research has warned that “there is no safe threshold” for them. Generally speaking, animal protein – such as that derived from organic meat, poultry, eggs, dairy, wild Alaskan salmon and anchovies – is the best source of protein.
- Good alternative sources of protein for those who don’t eat animal foods are seitan, tofu, tempeh, edamame, lentils, chickpeas, most varieties of beans, nutritional yeast, spelt, teff, hemp seed, green peas, spirulina, amaranth, quinoa, breads made from sprouted grains, oats, oatmeal, wild rice, chia seeds, nuts, nut butters, broccoli, spinach, asparagus, guava, mulberries, blackberries and banana.
Consult a health professional if you are unsure how much protein you should be consuming in a day.
7. Eat good quality fats
- Eat healthy saturated and unsaturated fats from whole food, animal and plant sources.
- Good sources of healthy fats include avocado, unrefined coconut oil, organic butter and ghee, extra virgin olive oil, organic eggs, nuts, especially macadamia and pecans.
- Marine-based omega-3 is one of the most important fats in the human diet. Increase your intake of these fats. Ideal sources are small fatty fish such as sardines, herring and anchovies. Wild Alaskan salmon is also an excellent source of omega-3.
8. Get more sleep
Good sleep is vital to our health, wellbeing and performance. It plays a major role in weight management, ageing and mental health.
Sleep deprivation has the same effect on our immune system as physical illness or stress. Try these tips to improve your sleep starting first thing in the morning and continuing throughout the day.
- Open your blinds and expose yourself to sunlight first thing in the morning.
- Exercise in the morning if you can, but if not, do some quick stretching.
- Take a walk outside at some point during the day for exposure to sunlight. If you are in darkness all day, your body will not appreciate the difference between light and darkness and will not optimise melatonin production.
- Drink your last caffeinated drink before lunchtime.
- If you haven’t exercised in the morning, do so later in the day but not too late as for some people exercising too late can keep them awake.
- Unwind if you are stressed by meditating, listening to music or whatever suits you best.
- Eat a light dinner no later than 3 hours before bedtime.
- Turn off electronic devices by 9pm and dim lights. Install blue light-blocking software if using a computer or smartphone.
- Take a warm bath if you can.
- Make sure the temperature in your room is cooler, rather than warmer.
- Sip a cup of herbal tea like chamomile.
- Sleep in complete darkness – the slightest bit of light can disrupt your body’s melatonin production.
Most people spend nine to 10 hours a day sitting, which may seem natural but it is actually contrary to nature. Our bodies are designed to be active and important negative changes occur when we spend most of the day sedentary.
- Download the “Pacer” app and set a goal of at least 10,000 steps a day over and above any exercise regimen you may have.
- Rather than sitting at your desk, try standing up.
- Have a go at yoga or pilates, which are great options to increase flexibility.
Meditation and mindfulness are excellent for stress relief and relaxation.
- Meditate first thing in the morning or later in the day for five to ten minutes. Try Emotional Freedom Technique, which is a simple way to incorporate a relaxation technique into your life – or any other meditation technique that may work for you.
Remember that once you make these lifestyle changes, they will become second nature to you and will become routine. Most of them are simple and go hand-in-hand, such as avoiding sugar and processed foods and eating real foods, eating healthy fats and avoiding harmful ones. I hope you are encouraged and inspired by this action plan to make some of these small changes in your life that may have a huge impact on your health and happiness.
Let me know @sugardoctoruk how you get along!