Whether you are dealing with the impact of the recent weather events or stressed out by some other sort of family or financial crisis, it’s important not to slip into bad food habits. Being out of routine or dealing with adversity does seem to present a few challenges to our commitment to wellbeing. We asked nutritionist Kate Walker fromLifespark for her advice on why it’s so tough and what we can do to maintain a healthy approach to eating and exercise.
Why does it feel so hard to stay on track when our life changes? Our body and mind like routines, patterns and structure. It's a way we can help feel in control and organized and make sense of our surroundings. When routine changes there is a sense of losing control or feeling disorganized which brings negative emotions or feelings of frustration, depression, anxiousness and worry. It's really important to be resilient and adaptable.
What are some simple tools to stay in a healthy eating routine? Some important tips I have been navigating with my clients when it comes to food are:
Keep to your normal times for food (to make you feel like you still have a little bit of your old routine) or, if you need to create new timings for meals and snacks, stick to them every day! This will reduce grazing. Healthy grazing can be ok but we want to make sure we are getting all the nutrients we need over the day and sometimes grazing spoils our appetite.
Write everything down. This is a great tool for mindfulness. It is also excellent to ensure you are not over or under eating and that you are eating the right things. It's very hard to remember what you had a few days ago so keeping track also helps you feel in control. Many people see that they actually haven't been 'that bad'.
Write up a menu planner for the week or at least for a few days at a time. This takes the hassle out of deciding what to have for lunch or dinner when you have had a hectic day trying to juggle kids and work. It really helps the feeling of control and a routine.
Think about the scientific benefits of healthy eating. It helps you de-stress or manage stressful situations e.g. increasing magnesium by eating lots of fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds. Magnesium is so important, playing a part in more than 300 functions in the body including calming muscles, influencing several neurotransmitter pathways associated with mood, reducing anxiety and fatigue and maintaining healthy energy supply to the cells.
What are some healthier alternatives to satisfy carb and sugar cravings? The best way to manage carb or sugar cravings is not to have temptation in the house. You are then forced to come up with plan B! For example, no ice cream, chocolate or biscuits in the house? Then you might take your Greek yoghurt, add some cocoa powder, a touch of honey and mix it together, sprinkle over some frozen berries or chopped nuts and you have an easy chocolate mousse!
My other favourite is doing Banana Pops or banana ice cream - kids love making these too and I find they really hit the spot. I also love making bliss balls with real fruit and these are a great one for curbing sugar cravings
I also have the Avalanche Sugar Free Drinking Chocolate or Chai Latte always on hand. My favourite healthy carb alternatives include Explore Cuisine Edamame Fettuccine and the Explore Black Bean Spaghetti. Its low carb but high protein.
I also love the Gerry's low-carb spinach wraps or the Farrah's low-carb wraps for very easy lunches.
Dark chocolate (75 per cent cocoa or higher) is another option, in moderation of course!
What else can I do to support my wellbeing? Think about your own health goals. Just because the rest of the family is eating ice cream or your partner is drinking wine every night, doesn't mean you have to. Particularly if it's going to make you feel guilty, affect your mood, your sleep or change your weight, which may ultimately make you feel worse about yourself. Remember that eating healthy is a treat to your body - ice cream, chocolate and alcohol are not treats. It’s best to set yourself realistic goal, especially when you are stressed. I know after a long day, it’s tempting to have a wine but keep it to one or two nights only and avoid binge drinking (ie not a bottle at a time). Same with desserts – it’s best to have for example a herbal tea or an Avalanche Sugar Free Drinking Chocolate after dinner during the week, then on the weekend enjoy a chocolate mousse, banana ice cream or banana pop. Or make some fruit kebabs.
Exercise daily - this will help with mental health and mood too. Many people find that if they exercise (even a bike ride with the kids), they are likely to eat healthier during the day.
Get enough sunlight on some exposed skin around midday for Vitamin D. This is hugely important for your immune system too, particularly after covering up through winter.
Try listening to upbeat music, keep in touch with friends and family and reach out if you need support. I see many people who are feeling anxious, worried and depressed and find good nutrition, lifestyle changes and, in some cases, supplements such as magnesium, B and D vitamins, zinc, or herbal remedies for worry, fatigue or sleep help build resilience.
Nutritionist Kate Walker set up Lifespark to support people from different ages, backgrounds and ethnicities to be able to make the healthy lifestyle changes they want to see and address health concerns such as weight loss, digestive issues, stress and anxiety, and hormonal issues. She prides herself on being friendly, approachable and non-judgmental. She is an expert in coaching clients to navigate stressful situations by encouraging them to improve their mental, physical and immune health through nutrition, mindset and exercise.