Very few of us bounce into January feeling fabulous and for many of us it’s a case of dragging ourselves into the New Year feeling a bit sluggish, bloated and lacking in energy. The after effects of the festive season are undoubtedly worth it given the enjoyment and general sense of abandonment with friends and family, but many of us look back at overindulgence with a slight sense of regret, hoping to start the new year a little healthier. Health and fitness rank consistently highly among our New Year’s resolutions, however, only 12 per cent of us make new habits stick according to a survey carried out for Bupa in 2016 .
My approach, and one which I find produces more lasting results, is to keep things realistic, simple and achievable.
The ‘restore, reenergise, reboot’ plan focuses on three key areas of your health- restoring good digestion, reviving your energy levels and rebooting your mental health. I’ve suggested small changes that are easy to stick to.
Restore your gut
The bedrock of good health starts with your gut. Your digestive system is like a sorting office where food gets delivered, nutrients are assimilated and deposited around the body and then waste is sent out. If this is working efficiently then everything else follows suit.
Too much rich food, sugar and alcohol, lack of sleep, dehydration and stress can all take their toll on your gut and you can encounter problems such as constipation, diarrhea, bloating , indigestion and heartburn, which can all impact on wellness, vitality and mood. So to reboot try the following:
Start the new year eating well
It can be simple- honest. Choose foods that are easy to digest and get in plenty of lean proteins, healthy fats and plenty of vegetables.
Eat more fibre
It’s a key player in gut health , but most of us don’t eat enough. The current recommendation is 30g of fibre per day, but the average intake in the UK is only about 75 per cent of this. Fibre not only promotes gut health but helps to keep you full between meals and balances blood sugar levels to help stave off cravings. Oats, seeds, nuts, apples, wholegrains, vegetables and dried fruit all contain fibre, but the biggest hitters are beans, pulses and lentils. Chickpeas, for example, contain 5.2g of fibre per half can.
To up your fibre intake, add a handful of canned pulses or beans to dishes such as spaghetti bolognese, salads or even sandwich mixes such as tuna mayonnaise. Try including dips to your daily diet made from chickpeas (hooray for hummus) or white beans. Get into the habit of adding one more fruit or vegetable to your meal and, keep seeds and nuts to hand as a snack or throw into stir-fries, salads and smoothies. Switch to wholegrain carbohydrates such as pasta, rice, noodles and bread and boost your smoothies with oats and linseeds.
Seed and feed your good gut bacteria
These essential employees of the gut “sorting office” break down food to extract nutrients that we need for our survival. They also help to synthesize B vitamins including B12, folic acid and thiamin that we need for energy metabolism, red blood cell production and a healthy nervous system. A poor diet and stress can cause the gut to become overrun with bad bacteria and yeasts that add to digestive issues, so put more of the good guys in by with probiotic yoghurts and fermented foods . That said, the most effective way to add these healthy bugs to your gut is with a supplement. Probiotic supplements have been shown to help ease bloating, diarrhea and constipation. Choose a supplement containing at least 10 billion bacteria and look for those containing Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains such as Healthspan Super20 Pro (£17.95 for 60 capsules).
Eat prebiotic foods
Good bacteria have a symbiotic relationship with prebiotics, found in certain foods with high amounts of indigestible fibres such as inulin and resistant starch . They are fermented by bacteria in the gut and help good bacteria to flourish. Prebiotic foods include Jerusalem artichokes, bananas, asparagus, onions, garlic, leeks, pulses, potatoes and rice. These last two starchy foods must be cooked then cooled to produce resistant starch.
Revive your energy levels
Getting your diet back on track can help to revive flagging energy levels. Avoid extreme diets and don’t start skipping meals in an attempt to lose weight.
Eat three nutritious meals throughout the day, when you are hungry.
Skipping meals will just leave you hungry and cause cravings as soon as blood sugar levels drop, which could mean reaching for unhealthy snacks. Choose foods that promote satiety to keep you feeling full and energized between meals. Use the simple meal equation of protein + healthy fats + vegetables to retain energy levels.
Cut back on sugar
Sugar is broken down to glucose (simple sugar) very quickly in the body and may give you the energy boost you’re looking for but will likely be followed by a slump and hunger for more quick-energy foods. Remember to team any sugary foods with meals to lessen the effect on blood glucose levels.
Eat foods rich in B vitamins and magnesium
These play a key role in energy metabolism and low levels may leave you feeling low too. B vitamins can also become depleted as a result of stress so top up with foods such as wholegrains, oily fish, dark green leafy vegetables, nuts, eggs and poultry. These foods are also a great source of magnesium , which helps to regulate everything from mood to blood pressure and energy metabolism.
Up your iron
Low iron stores can leave you feeling tired and fatigued, which can contribute to low mood too. Women are more likely than men to have low levels of this mineral. Up your intake with summer salads by adding in green vegetables, nuts, seeds, lean meats, quinoa, tofu, beans, lentils and dried fruits.
Take vitamin D
Low levels have been associated with poor mood and seasonal depression. You can get a little vitamin D from foods such as eggs, mushrooms and fortified products, but the amount that your body can absorb through your diet is limited. Take a supplement to keep levels topped up- try Healthspan Super D Vitamin Gummies (£10.95 for 90 gummies).
Reboot your mental health
Healthspan psychologist Dr Meg Arroll underlines that stress and impaired mood at this time of year is common- you’re not alone if you feel under the weather:
“The festive period can leave you mentally and emotionally drained so concentrate on getting back to you in the New Year.”
Each morning, ask yourself “what can I do today to serve my emotional wellbeing?”
“By starting the day with a focus on you, not others, you’ll be primed to take steps aligned with self-care. It can help to write this question on a note and place the prompt on your mirror, so that you can focus on taking care of your mind each day.”
Revisit what you loved as a child
“Reinvigorate your sense of curiosity by remembering what engulfed our imaginations as children. Use a journal and write down those things that you used to be passionate about, whether it was a sport, type of toy or music. Explore once again how this made you feel. The very act of writing is a boost for our emotional wellbeing, but you can also do these things too. Connecting with our childhood revives our sense of fun and adventure- the world is still a magical place, even though we’ve grown up.”
Let go of unhelpful things and people
“Rebooting also means letting going of things. You can start with something very simple, for instance if you’ve been struggling to finish a book because you think you should (or that it might get better), ditch it! If you’re not captivated by now, chances are it’s simply not for you. This can be applied to relationships too if needs be. If there’s someone in your life who constantly drains you or makes you feel anxious, down or not good enough, consider taking steps to either limit their impact on your life or move on from them. Kind, generous, intuitive people will find this hardest but will undoubtedly benefit the most from distancing themselves and from letting go of negative relationships.”
Rediscover your core values
“Rank from one to ten the importance of the following values- art, music, fitness, money, helping others, creativity, independence, spontaneity, relationships, religion, humour etc. Look at your ‘number one’ value and ask yourself why it is important to you, then remind yourself of a time in your life when this value was particularly pertinent. Then, score this value out of ten once again to reaffirm it. By reminding ourselves of exactly what we value in life, we can live authentically as who we really are, not what we think we should be.”