1. Embrace whole foods and cut the junk
The essence of how to best feed us humans is well understood. It's only the details we continue to debate and research grows at a rapid pace to sort these intricacies out. Meantime here's the deal - we need to eat a wide variety of whole foods, including plenty of plant foods, while minimising the junk. It really is that simple.
Focus therefore on limiting your intake of fast food, ultra-processed food, foods with loads of added sugar and refined fats (e.g. vegetable oil) and refined carbs (e.g. biscuits, cakes, burger buns and pastries).
Enjoy instead meals and snacks based on veggies, fruit, wholegrains, legumes, nuts, seeds, fresh meat, seafood, dairy or dairy alternatives, and use unrefined oils such as extra virgin olive oil with proven health benefits.
Do this and you'll find it easier to control how much you eat as the food will be nutrient packed. If you do have to lose weight consider adding one or two fast days into your week, or follow the more conventional means of restricting your food intake by a little every day. Cutting out snacks might be all you need to do.
2. Make water your principal drink
We do not need fancy hydrating drinks, nor are our bodies designed to get a significant number of our kilojoules from fluids. Chewing solid foods is important to trigger appetite controls and so getting too many of them in fluid form messes with the system and makes it harder to turn down the cues to eat.
We are designed to drink water and always have done. Aim to drink a glass of water on waking and then at least one every hour - more when it's hot and when exercising.
You can of course drink too much. If you're having to run to the loo every half hour then you are drinking too much! The goal is pale straw-coloured urine - that's your signal that you are well hydrated.
3. Move more and sit less
Unfortunately, today's world is more challenging on our brains than our bodies, at least for most of us. Unless you have an active job you need to consciously build activity and movement into your day. Sitting for more than 8 hours a day is highly detrimental to health and wellbeing.
Think of ways to break up your time spent sitting and build more movement instead. Invest in a standing desk where you can alternate between sitting and standing. Walk at least part of the way to and from work. Get a half hour or 45-minute exercise class into lunchtime. Meet a colleague for a walk instead of a coffee. Spring clean the house or spend an afternoon gardening on the weekend. Join a dance class or take up yoga. It all adds up to a healthier, happier you.
4. Ensure good quality, sufficient sleep
Sleep is so often overlooked. One of the most common questions I am asked is 'what can I eat to have more energy?', yet when I ask how that person sleeps they haven't considered that might be the problem! It sounds blindingly obvious yet it slips under the radar as we are all pushed to maximise how much we can get done in a day.
Most adults need 7-9 hours sleep a night. You can cope with a night or two that falls short, but if this happens chronically your health - both physical and mental - will suffer.
Better sleep habits are key. Turn off your smart phone and all screens at least an hour before bed to allow your brain time to wind down. Make sure your bedroom is quiet and dark. Deal with a snoring partner! Avoid eating for at least two hours before bed. And get to bed at a time that will allow you roughly 8 hours before the alarm goes off.
5. Keep stress levels under control
A certain level of stress is a good thing and that level varies between us. The right amount of stress keeps life interesting and exciting, but too much tips us over into anxiety, poor sleep and ultimately poorer performance at work and in our free time.
Learn to recognise your warning signs. If you're snapping at your partner and/or the kids over small things that's a pretty clear sign you are in stress overload. Tossing and turning in the night, drinking too much alcohol, turning to bad food as a mood lifter (it doesn't work long term) or just feeling as if you can never reach the end of your to-do list are all alarm bells.
You may not be able to alter the external stressors, but work out which ones you can. Then think about how you deal with your stress. You may feel you are too busy to get to an exercise class, but make the time and you might well find the other hours in the day are more productive. You may think your mind is far too buzzy to meditate, but learn the skill and suddenly stilling your mind becomes second nature.