I don’t know about you but I’ve had a slow start to 2022, it’s taking me a bit of time to take stock of what I’ve achieved and what I intend to do over the next year.  

How about you?  Have you had more stodgy food recently than you normally would? 

Have you felt bad about it? Or would you just like to move forwards in a healthier way?

Last week I talked to my Healthy Habits Members’ Club about all that they had achieved last year and we also discussed the things that were now established as good habits in their daily life.  It was amazing to listen to so many stories about how people are drinking more water, eating fewer snacks and feeling so much better about themselves, with more energy to do the things they love.

So this article is about just that:  How do we get ourselves into those habits that we can just do naturally and instinctively, without worrying and habits that we can get back to after times like Christmas and celebrations or holidays when we are not in our normal routine.

Just a little about me.  I started my working life as a nurse and specialised in Diabetes.  Fast forward to 2011 when I got sick myself and I did not respond to the medication that should have helped me.  I was exhausted and wired all at the same time, my body was not using the drug the way it was meant to.  

I was 50, I wasn’t ready to be old, so I started looking at other ways to improve my health.  

I am now 60 and feel better than I have for years, loads of energy to do all the things that I enjoy.  It was a tough journey but it has taken me into a field that I am truly passionate about and I feel blessed to have made the decision now, to help others to improve their health, so they can enjoy the life they want.  

Nutrition and lifestyle changes have been a fundamental part of this recovery and maintaining habits that keep me well is a really important part of my life.

It’s these kinds of habits that help us to stay healthy for longer and have the energy to do the things that we really love to do when we have the chance to do them.

I don’t know if you are diabetic or pre-diabetic or even have a relative that has diabetes and it’s something that concerns you.  Even if you’re not staying healthy keeping disease at bay is important for everyone.

I’m not one for New Year Resolutions, I kind of have to stay on track with my healthy habits otherwise I would feel rubbish and find it hard to do what I love.  I love helping people to have loads of energy to enjoy life and I love to have that as well.  I am a keen cold water swimmer, outdoors in January is perfect for me, the sun shining on the water first thing in the morning is my idea of bliss.  As I said earlier, it’s a choice that’s worth making for me.  What about you?

What is it that you love?  Do you have the energy for it?  

It’s not actually that hard to change your lifestyle, it’s just something that takes a bit of time and focus.

So here goes with a few ideas that might help you to do just that.  I suggest you try doing just one of these until it’s become fully established and has become second nature and only then introducing another.  You might manage 2, but don’t set the bar too high, as you are more likely to fail, and be demoralised, which makes you less likely to try again.

1. First and most important is drinking water.

When I’m talking to clients I suggest having a glass of water (250ml) when you wake up in the morning, if you don’t like it cold then have it warm and if you don’t like it plain add some lemon juice.

Then during the day, have a glass every time you make a cup of tea or coffee.

I also ask if they have a bottle to carry their water with them, the answer is often, “I think I do somewhere” or “Yes it’s in the cupboard”!

Get the bottle out, take it with you wherever you go and sip from it constantly, take it in the car when you go out, take it to the gym with you, have a smaller one to take on the bus or train, etc. and for definite always make sure you have water to drink on your desk if you are working and take a water bottle into meetings (if you are lucky enough to be doing that right now).

The next suggestion is to have a glass before each meal while you are preparing it or just before you eat and sit for a moment to let it go down before you start eating.

Let’s say you have one coffee in the morning and a tea in the afternoon, with these habits in place you are already drinking 1.5 litres, if you then carry water around with you, you can easily increase that to 2 litres.  See what I mean, it’s not hard, it’s just a habit.

The idea is that you attach the drinking of water to something you do regularly each day and that way you are more likely to remember to do it.

If you have headaches, constipation, aching joints, a sore back, congestion, indigestion, heartburn, high blood pressure, diabetes or most other conditions apart from existing kidney disease, you need plenty of water.

A woman of about 5’6” weighing 60-70 kg needs 1.8-2 litres each day without taking account of central heating, air conditioning, exercise or underlying health conditions.

A man of 5’10” weighing 80-90 kg needs more like 2.5 litres a day.

Anybody who suffers from headaches will need to have more than that to get them rehydrated which might take 3-4 weeks and a diabetic with blood sugars over 9mmol/mol will also need more.

It sounds boring but I can tell you, you will feel so so much better if you do this.  It might take 3-4 weeks to really notice the difference, I can tell you, it’s truly worth it.

2. Movement

Everyone talks about the importance of exercise, I like to call it movement, somehow it feels a bit less daunting to those that aren’t keen.

Movement is anything that gets your blood going round a little bit faster than sitting still. 

If you are someone that sits most of the day then start gently.  All of us need to get up to go to the toilet, particularly when we start drinking more water so when you get up please make sure you move at least 100 steps each time, if you have a staircase go upstairs to go to the toilet (even if you don’t have to!).  It’s a start.

When you’ve achieved that for about a week or ten days, try to get outside at least once a day if you possibly can.  Make that your goal, try to do it early in the day so that you can keep your resolve and so that you feel better for the rest of the day.  Getting outside will improve your mood and so will moving more during the day.

For those of you that do move more but only when necessary, think about something you love that involves movement, it could be dancing, swimming like me, going to see a friend, walking to a coffee shop, going to the park.  It needs to be something that ignites some passion in you.  Once you’ve decided, introduce it just once a week to start with, once you are regularly doing it once a week that is the moment to introduce it a second time.  Set yourself an achievable target and go for it.

For those of you that move all the time, and exercise or play sport, remember to do the things you love, enjoy what you’re doing.  We often put music on in the kitchen at home and start dancing, it feels so good, particularly at the end of a working day or when you’ve been sitting for a long period.  Try it, it’s worth it.

Remember, for those that exercise a lot, your body also needs variety and rest periods.  One full day during the week with no strenuous exercise and ring the changes, resistance, walking, HIIT, swimming, cardio, you know. And also, of course, plenty of water.

Ok so what else is there?

3. Vegetables

Some people who come to see me don’t really eat vegetables at all, a few peas maybe and a tomato occasionally but certainly not anywhere near the 5 a day that is recommended.

If you are one of those people then start small, try to eat at least one portion every day, a portion is equivalent to the size of your fist.  Once you are consistently managing one portion then and only then, introduce another one and so on.

If you are already eating 2 portions then increase it to 3 and be sure to be eating 3 consistently before you increase to 4.

A great way to introduce more veg is by drinking a smoothie, you’ll notice I am talking about vegetables and not fruit.  My morning smoothie has a ton of vegetables, kale, celery, cucumber, rocket, garlic and avocado as well as apple, lemon, lime and ginger with a bit of protein to keep me fuller for longer.  My recommendation to you is 5 portions of vegetables a day with fruit as an add on.  This is because of the sugar content in fruit.  We need vegetables for our liver health, our gut health, for vitamins and minerals.  They help our skin, our eyes, our blood pressure, our blood sugar, they improve our immune health, reduce our risk of cancer and help us to maintain a stable blood sugar – pause to draw breath – so you see if you don’t eat them then it’s worth giving it a go and if you do, you could probably do with eating more.  I know that if I’m away from home and not eating my normal amount of veg, which is masses! My body starts to tell me.

Ok, so the last thing I am going to talk about is…

4. Protein

Protein is also really important for our health, whether you eat meat and fish or not it’s vital to make sure that your body is getting enough protein.  It keeps you fuller for longer and is needed for growth and repair.  That means it helps us to grow new cells all the time, did you know that our body replaces billions of cells every day it also helps us to repair damaged cells and to synthesise hormones.  That means that it is part of the process that makes hormones and hormones are our messengers, so if they are not made properly the messages don’t get through.  They include mood hormones like serotonin, stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, thyroid hormones that make our metabolism work and nerve hormones like dopamine which sends messages between nerve cells.

What is protein? 

So the obvious ones are meat and fish, eggs and cheese, and non-animal protein including pulses, lentils and beans, nuts and seeds and meat alternatives like tofu and tempeh.

How much do we need? 

My suggestion is that you try to eat about 1g per kg of your ideal body weight every day.  You can easily check your BMI online and see where your healthy range is for your height and then work out your protein consumption.  There are plenty of sources to find out the protein content of food, just take a look.  It might take a little time the first time, then you will know what you need moving forwards.

This may sound daunting for some, it’s really important to do what you can, just take it one step at a time.  

If you’d like some help I’m running a 5 Days Of Change Challenge starting on the 7th of February which could just be what you need to get on track.  It’s all about your sugar habits, not about giving up sugar, when to eat it and how to make it less of a problem for you, to help you lose weight (if you are ready to) and get more energy but even more important for long term health to reduce the production of insulin and therefore the possibility of developing diabetes. Find out more here.