It’s not all about food
So you’re drinking green smoothies and kombucha, avoiding gluten and maybe dairy and trying to ‘quit sugar’. You seem to be eating all the right things, but you’re not achieving your weight goals or seeing changes in energy and positive outlook. Why?
Because it’s not all about food. There is so much focus on what to eat and what not to eat these days and so many debates that it’s hard to know what the ‘right’ thing is. Do you go high fat- low carb? Paleo? Ketogenic? Vegan? The answer is: it doesn’t matter!
If other aspects of your life are in disarray, the food is not going to be a big enough influence to get you well. So I’m here to tell you as a food obsessed clinical nutritionist that there are also other important things in life besides food. As I regularly do with my clients, let’s spend a bit of time focusing on other aspects of life that determine health and disease.
In this blog post I’ll focus on 2 key areas: stress and sleep
Stress- this is the big one.
I’m seeing people who are so stressed out they have trouble ‘turning off’ their brain at night, having a restful sleep and going through the day without the need for caffeine and sugar to relieve some of the stress.
Stress puts our body into a permanent ‘fight or flight’ mode- when we are in this mode, it is physiologically impossible for our digestive system to function properly- it needs to be switched to ‘rest and digest’. Is it surprising that there is an epidemic of digestive disorders? Yes, gluten will make things worse, but for many people it is the real or perceived stress of life that is by far the biggest deal breaker in health.
What to do? Numerous outlets for stress exist, however addressing stress is challenging for many people because we program ourselves to keep reacting to situations in a certain way. Here are a few strategies I use with clients to address stress that work providing the person has decided it’s time for change:
1. Meditation practice- it’s called ‘practice’ for a reason- if you tried it once and decided ‘I can’t do this’ you will need to try again. And again and again. It’s like saying ‘oh yes, I tried exercise once and it didn’t work, my muscles were too sore’. Try it again and again and eventually your brain will find that quiet space in which there is no judgement, deadlines and worries. It’s called bliss:)
2. Exercise– we all know it’s good for us but how many of us actually dedicate the time to consistently exercise? I’ve been the biggest exercise procrastinator during many periods of my life. I don’t have an athletic body and exercise has never come naturally to me, it’s always been hard work.
But it’s hard work that definitely pays off- 3 months ago I’ve quit my ‘big gym’ membership (I got sick of paying money for it and going once a month) and joined an outdoor high intensity interval training (HIIT) boot camp in the park. I’ve blocked out 3 mornings per week to do these challenging workouts and after getting over very sore legs in the first week have felt absolutely fantastic. HIIT is the best exercise for burning fat quickly and boosting ‘happy’ neurotransmitters in the brain. It’s short and sharp and I highly recommend it.
3. Breathing– this is really obvious, but so many people spend their day not getting in enough oxygen for their body to function well. Breathing deeply, all the way into the belly (like they do at yoga) is really important because- it relaxes the entire body and puts us into that lovely ‘rest and digest’ mode. Spend some time in your day (maybe on the hour every hour or at every red light whilst in the car) taking 10 slow deep breaths and see if this helps you relax. It will also enable food to be digested better in a more calm state.
Now, onto sleep- another massive factor that if not done right, prevents us from achieving our health goals.
Good sleep is very important. So many people don’t get enough especially at the crucial times at night. So many of my clients are completely amazed that it’s actually important to sleep at the right time, not just ‘for 8 hours’. The source of the information escapes me, but it was definitely a medical journal: basically, the body does its physical repair from 9pm till midnight and it does its mental repair in the early hours of the morning from 3-5am. So if you are a night owl (which I also have a tendency for) and you regularly go to sleep between 11pm-midnight, you are missing out on a lot of repair.
This I find is also very important for weight loss- often poor sleep will stop people from achieving their weight loss goals because it’s also been proven that even 1 night of poor sleep increases our intake of sugar, stimulants like caffeine and refined carbs the next day.
So for quality sleep:
- Go to sleep ‘on time’: 9:30-10pm is ideal to maximise repair and fat burning
- Do not use screens for up to 1 hour before sleep time: the blue screen light disrupts the brain’s production of melatonin (the sleep hormone that is required for mental and physical repair). Studies have shown that people with cancer have low melatonin levels. When we lived in caves there were no I-pads:)
- Make sure your room is pitch black and cool- this is again how we used to sleep in caves
- Take out all electronic devices from the room- anything that is plugged in. Turn all devices off- don’t use your phone as an alarm! Buy a battery operated alarm clock from a $2 shop if you need an alarm to wake up (if you get your health on track and follow these tips you won’t need an alarm clock)
- Stop taking in stimulants like coffee, chocolate an alcohol during the day- it may seem relaxing at the time, but if you are sensitive to this stuff, it will ruin your sleep.
I find that even people who eat fantastically but struggle with these 2 areas of stress and sleep have trouble losing weight and getting healthy. However, when they apply just as much effort to these areas as they do to their diet, amazing shifts can happen.