Nutrition has always been a large part of my life and, in the past year, I have loved seeing the uptake of people cooking more at home and seeing everyone becoming aware of how their lifestyles impact their health.
I started studying nutrition in my 20s after living in New York where I had been working as a fashion model for many years. I quickly realised how nutrition has a large impact on how you feel emotionally and mentally, not just how you look.
The Be Well Collective was born years later, after I became an associate registered nutritionist wanting to implement change within the fashion industry and supporting young adults with their mental and physical health. The Be Well message is not just for people within the fashion industry, but for everyone. We should all be taking time to support our physical and mental health.
2020 shone a light on mental health, and for very good reasons. 2021 seems to be doing the same. Here are my top tips on how you can take care of yourself physically and mentally.
Eat The Rainbow
Nutrition should not be over complicated or boring. Pack your plates with a range of colourful foods which will automatically create diversity in the foods you are eating. Research shows the more diverse your diet is, the more diverse your gut microbiota will be. This is important for a host of reasons as it plays many important roles including immune, metabolic and neurobehavioral traits. Sadly with the increase of excessive added sugars to our foods and economic pressures for greater food production our dietary diversity has been lost.
Try to include 30 different plant based food sources a week to keep your gut happy!
Choose Good Carbs, Not No Carbs
I see many people in the clinic cut out carbohydrates all together in the fear that it is making them gain weight however, this is not a good idea. Weight loss will not happen because you've cut out carbohydrates. Weight loss occurs when you reduce your energy intake and increase your energy output - it's simple science.
Carbohydrates play a very important role in our diet and health. They are the primary energy source for our brains and an important nutrient for our fibre intake, helping keep our digestive system healthy. What we need to be educating ourselves on is which carbohydrates are going to help stabilise our blood sugar levels, fill us up for longer and lead to weight loss if this is your goal.
You want to be choosing complex carbohydrates as opposed to simple carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates contain longer chains of molecules that take longer for your body to break down and also contain more nutrients than simple carbohydrates. These include wholegrains such as pasta and bread, legumes, vegetables, brown rice, bulgur wheat, quinoa, sweet potatoes and oats.
Reduce your refined simple carbohydrates such as white bread and pasta, processed biscuits, crisps, cakes, white rice and sweets. You can of course have these from time to time but they should not make up a staple of your diet.
Load Up On Oily Fish
This is one of the best ways to help support your mental health and cognitive functioning. Oily fish contains two important essential fatty acids know as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These essential fatty acids are essential to include within our diet as we cannot make these in our bodies. DHA is the main fatty acid in our neural membranes and EPA has important anti-inflammatory processes.
Include two portions or more of oily fish a week, unless you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Oily fish includes salmon, herring, trout, mackerel, sardines and kippers.
Say Goodbye To Any Shame
Fad diets set us up for failure and shame. Letting go of food guilt and moving forward to enjoying the food with the people you love should be your goal. Food shame can be exhausting and the more we say no to foods, the more we can’t stop thinking about it. Our brains react strongly to restriction. Secondly, shame leads to depression, anxiety and self-destructive behaviour.
Allow yourself a break and remember we are all human and have days where we may fall off the band wagon. It is during these times that you need to bring in a sense of compassion towards yourself. Tell yourself that you are a pretty awesome person, so you have nothing to apologise for. Speak to a nutritionist or therapist who focuses around healthy relationships with food and reducing the negative self-talk.
Think About What You Can Add In, Instead Of What You Can Take Out
So many of us focus of what we can take out of our diet as opposed to what we can add in. I see many people coming into my clinic with severe food restrictions which has made them feel worse. It is not healthy, unless advised by a doctor for medical reasons to cut out food groups from your diet. Each food group plays an important role in our biochemical and metabolic functioning. Cutting out foods and not replacing them with alternatives quickly leads to nutritional deficiencies and poor health outcomes.
Look at your daily eating habits and decide what could you be adding in more of. Is this more vegetables? Can you swap white pasta for brown pasta? Can you include more water? Focus on what qualities you can add in and this will naturally reduce the foods you want to take out.
Get Better In Bed
I know what you are thinking, sleep? Maybe you weren’t, but poor sleep leads to low moods and heightened cravings. Focusing on a good sleep routine can improve your health outcomes significantly. You are more likely to make healthier food choices because your cravings will be reduced, you will handle stress better and your mood will be lifted.
Try to include a sleep routine every evening, and give yourself time to switch off before bed. Limit your mobile phone use and remove your phone from your room altogether. Invest in an alarm clock if you use your phone for an alarm. Reduce your house lights, using soft lamps and candle which will help increase the production of melatonin your sleep hormone. Journaling can also help. Many of us struggle to sleep due to racing thoughts and worries from our day. Noting these down can simply help shift the worries from our mind to papers, where we can deal with them in the morning.