It's a challenging time for everyone. Our lives have all changed. For some people it may feel like their day-to-day life is similar to how it once was, others may have more time for themselves than ever before, while for some, life has become so incredibly busy that every second counts.
The following advice is tailored to all scenarios, regardless of which category you fit into. Eating and living well is important for supporting mental and physical well-being. We know that eating a healthy, balanced diet and remaining active supports better mood, the optimal functioning of our immune system and it helps to keep our body feeling healthy. Perhaps you have lost your natural healthy rhythm. Here are my tips for getting back on track.
1 Stay hydrated with at least 1.5 litres of fluids each day
Hydration is the foundation of health and incredibly important for our energy levels and gut function. We need about 35ml for every kg that we weigh each day. This target reduces to 25 to 30ml per kg if you have a BMI in the overweight category. Most women will require about two litres per day. Most men will require about 2.5 litres per day. Despite common misconception, coffee and tea do count towards fluid intake as they are hydrating. Another benefit to drinking enough water is that it can help to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. A study showed that one pint of water consumed 30 minutes before eating helped people who were overweight lose 9.5lbs over a 12-week period.
2 Try to avoid large gaps between meals
Large gaps between meals can play havoc with energy levels and lead to more severe hunger episodes. When hungry, people can eat too fast, hampering digestion and leading to less healthy food choices. People may be prone to overeating at these times, particularly on carbohydrate. Aim to eat every three to five hours to keep hunger at bay. The added bonus is that your level of satiety across the day may increase. A study found that eating three meals compared with two meals with the same amount of calories provided more satiation over a 24-hour period.
3 Eat more fruit and vegetables
A great aim is to ensure you are eating colour at each meal. A portion of fruit and vegetables is about a handful or, to be more precise, 80g. Aim to eat all the colours and at least two at each meal. We know that Irish people are not hitting their five-a-day, which is unfortunate as the aim is actually seven a day!
To help manage your hunger levels, why not aim to eat more crunchy fruit and vegetables as this has been shown to reduce overall calorie intake in a meal, when compared to juices or softer varieties.
Other options are starting your evening meal with salad or soup. A study discovered that eating a large low-calorie salad of less than 100kcal before a meal reduced calorie intake by 12pc, while another study showed that having soup before your meal reduced how much you ate in the follow-up meal by 20pc. This shows that sometimes we need to eat more, to eat less.
4 Aim to eat protein regularly
Although it's not necessary to eat every two hours to keep your metabolism going, which is a common diet myth, it might be helpful to eat protein every three to five hours. This helps support the function of muscles and bones, which are live tissues responsible for a large chunk of your metabolism. There are other benefits of eating enough protein regularly. Eating a rich protein source at every meal helps to keep our blood energy levels stable. It can also help us to feel full and to stay feeling fuller for longer.
5 Ensure adequate fibre intake
It's estimated that 80pc of Irish people are not eating enough fibre. Fibre is filling, which is why increasing your fibre intake by 14g has been shown to reduce your overall calorie intake by 10pc.
This highlights the need to improve the quality of food choice within your diet to support meaningful, and sustainable, weight-loss and to help maintain a healthy weight. Fibre-rich foods include beans, peas, lentils, chia seeds, flaxseeds and berries.
6 Focus on sleep
Poor sleep can lead to poor food choices. When assessing how good your sleep is, focus on quantity as well as quality. Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep each day and to feel at least seven out of 10 rested in the morning.
One way to improve both quality and quantity of sleep is to focus on your caffeine intake. Caffeine has a half-life of about six hours, meaning that the caffeine will be half gone from your system in that time. Aim to avoid coffee, tea and cola at least six hours before bed. If you're sensitive to caffeine, you may benefit from keeping overall intake to less than 200mg a day. A rough rule of thumb is that coffee provides 100mg of caffeine per cup while tea provides 50mg per cup.
You may also improve your sleep by staying away from your laptop, tablet or phone in the two hours before bed. Additionally, ensure the room you sleep in is cool and dark.
7 Counting calories
Some people find it helpful to track their calorie intake. Others find it extremely unhelpful and unhealthy. You do not need to count calories to lose weight or stay weight stable. However, if you are someone who does count calories, please note that your calorie requirements will differ from the next persons for many reasons, including body size and activity levels.
Men tend to need to eat more than females as they are regularly taller with more muscle mass. However, an active female can require more calories than an inactive male. When considering the general public, 2,000 calories is seen as the average requirements for a woman, while 2,500 calories is seen as the average requirements for a man.
Some apps will suggest sticking to a 1,200 calorie diet. This is the calorie requirements of a two-year-old child. If you are able to read this article, you need to eat more calories than this. If counting calories with the aim of losing weight, it is important to achieve a calorie deficit. However, it is a Goldilocks scenario as a large deficit is detrimental for weight-loss and weight-maintenance in the longer term. Generally speaking, a 500-calorie deficit is sufficient for weight loss, without compromising health too much. When cutting calories, research suggests that keeping protein intake at meal times adequate, while cutting calories from either fat or carbohydrate is a sustainable, healthier option.
Whether you choose to cut calories from carbohydrates or fat depends on lots of factors, including food preference.
Research suggests that the main thing to focus on is what is sustainable for you. The calorie and macronutrient table below is an example of your starting off point.
1. Two slices of wholegrain toast, 2 eggs, 1 tbsp olive oil, mushrooms and tomatoes
2. 150g Greek yoghurt, 40g muesli, 1 apple and 1 pear
3. 35g porridge oats, made with milk, 1 tbsp peanut butter, 1 banana
Sandwich: Two slices of bread with one of the following fillings:
1. 1 tbsp pesto, ½ ball mozzarella, roasted peppers, black olives, red onion
2. 1 tin tuna, 1 tbsp mayonnaise, cucumber, rocket, cherry tomatoes
3. 100g of smoked salmon, 1 tbsp cream cheese, cucumber, spinach, scallions
1. One large potato with 1 tbsp of butter or 20g cheese, as well as a side of vegetables such as
broccoli & cauliflower
2. Spaghetti bolognese with 60g of pasta (dry weight) and 1 tbsp oil to cook 100g lean mince, onion, garlic, tomatoes and basil
3. Vegetarian stir fry with 60g (dry weight) of brown rice and 1 tbsp sesame oil, to cook 100g of tofu and your stir-fry vegetables
⬤ Weight-loss may not make you more confident. Untying your worth from your weight, body neutrality, listening to your body and healing your own body image might.
⬤ Take note of how full you are.
If it were a scale of one to five:
One may be content ; two comfortably full; three full; four uncomfortably full; five stuffed.
⬤ Take note of where you naturally stop with the aim of working towards where you would prefer to stop.
⬤ I have to drink more water/I would have more energy if I drank more water.
⬤ I should avoid processed carbohydrates/My gut would function better if I ate more wholegrain carbohydrates.
⬤ I have to eat more vegetables/I can choose to eat more vegetables to better support my immune system.
⬤ I can't give up chocolate and wine/I will focus on foods that I could eat for better health, rather than foods I feel I shouldn't eat for better health.
⬤ I should eat smaller portions/I will focus on eating foods that have a lower calorie density so that I feel satisfied from my meals.
2,000 calorie diet
45% carbohydrate 225g or 900 calories
20% protein 100g or 400 calories
35% fat 77g or 700 calories
2,500 calorie diet
45% carbohydrate 280g or 1,125 calories
20% protein 125g or 500 calories
35% fat 97g or 875 calories
Health & Living