Sleep is one of the best things you can do from a self-care perspective but it’s also one of the areas that are most likely to be neglected.
The recommended amount of shut-eye is eight hours a night (preferably more!) but lots of us are falling far short of this and it’s having a massive impact on almost every aspect of wellbeing, from health to weight. You can live healthily in every other area of your life but unfortunately, it’s probably not going to do much to counteract the damaging effects of poor sleep habits.
Here’s a look at why getting enough sleep is so crucial for your health and wellbeing, and why diet alone can’t undo the effects of not sleeping well.
Sleep Duration Versus Sleep Quality
We’re always being told how many hours we should be sleeping each night but is it definitely enough even if we can manage to achieve it?
Sleep quality refers to how well we sleep and is a completely different prospect to how long we sleep. It’s pretty easy to tell how long you sleep but the quality of it is a bit harder to determine.
Poor sleep quality means that you’re not sleeping in line with your circadian rhythm or going through all of the important sleep phases (particularly with REM sleep).
Some of the signs that your sleep quality isn’t as good as it could include:
Waking up during the night
Not waking up naturally e.g. you have to be abruptly awoken by your alarm clock most mornings
Sleep and Health
What exactly does your body experience when you don’t get enough sleep? Pretty much everything is affected but here are some of the more serious effects that poor sleep patterns can have on your health:
Lower immunity. If you seem to get every cough and cold going, your sleep habits may be to blame. In one study, researchers deliberately exposed people to the common cold virus to see how likely they were to go onto develop a cold. Participants who had been sleeping for less than 7 hours per night had lower immunity and were almost 3 times more likely to be impacted. Even a small sleep debt has been linked to lower immunity.
Higher risk of heart disease and stroke. Studies have looked at the link between lack of sleep and developing heart disease and stroke and it’s a scary connection. Getting less than 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night means a higher chance of developing Coronary Heart Disease or having a stroke – and dying from it.
Higher risk of diabetes. A sleep debt can pave the way for developing Type 2 diabetes. In this study, just a week of not sleeping well-reduced insulin sensitivity and raised concerns about whether consistently sleeping badly might open the door to developing health issues linked to insulin resistance.
Increased inflammation. Inflammation is now linked to lots of different health problems and can be increased by sleep loss.
Sleep and Cognition
You’ve no doubt heard that eating the right foods can boost your brain health but it’s not just diet can affect your memory and concentration.
Sleep is an important factor too, and lack of sleep has been shown to impair them. In fact, one study has suggested that even moderate sleep issues can be as damaging as alcohol in affecting performance!
The deeper stages of sleep are particularly vital when it comes to clear thinking, focus, memory and learning. This is when your brain does a lot of its mental ‘sorting’, such as filtering out information that isn’t really needed right now. It doesn’t sound a lot but it all adds up to better cognition and performance.
Sleep and Weight Gain
If you don’t sleep well, it can be a lot harder to maintain a healthy weight. The main problem? It sends your metabolism a little bit crazy and can ruin your good intentions for eating well.
Lack of sleep has a big effect on hormones that are linked to appetite – namely leptin and ghrelin. Leptin helps to keep your appetite in check while ghrelin does the opposite.
Ideally, you want to have more leptin and less ghrelin but not getting enough sleep throws this balance out and effectively switches them around. This means you’re a lot more likely to overeat, even when you’re technically full. And you’ll find it harder to shift stubborn fat on your stomach, as sleep deprivation encourages fat to build up in this area in particular.
Improving Your Sleep Quality
Some of the things you can do to try to get better quality sleep each night include: Making your room as dark as possible to support your circadian rhythm. Pitch black (or as close to it as you can get) is best.
Setting a bedtime routine that involves going to bed at the same time every night and getting up at a specific time each morning.
Switching off electronic devices at least an hour before bed (even your phone!) to reduce the amount of ‘blue light’ you’re exposed to just before bedtime. This ‘blue light’ means your body finds it harder to produce enough of the sleep hormone, melatonin, to help you sleep well.
If you haven’t been seeing sleep as a key part of your wellness routine, it’s definitely time to change that!
If you notice your weight starting to creep up once you hit 30, your lifestyle could be having more effect than you think. We all know the obvious triggers such as eating too much and not doing much exercise but there are some sneakier factors that can play a big part in weight gain. Here are some of the most common ones to avoid so that you can keep your tummy trim and within a healthy weight range.
Too Much Stress
Struggling to keep your stress levels under control? There’s a good chance that it’s affecting your weight – especially for women. Your body releases the stress hormone, cortisol, during stressful periods and this can send your blood sugar levels haywire. According to studies, high cortisol production leaves you craving sweet foods and means you’ll probably eat more calories.
Cortisol also changes how your body uses glucose, makes it harder to burn fat and makes it easier to store fat. Women are more likely to store fat on their stomach but this can also be true for men. Abdominal fat has been linked to health issues so it’s definitely something you want to keep to a minimum!
Falling Into Emotional Eating Habits
Not taking care of your wellbeing can mean that you eat in line with your emotions rather than when you’re genuinely hungry. Feeling sad, stressed, lonely, bored or disappointed can lead you to eat to fill an emotional void and crave particular foods (usually the unhealthy kind!).
You might feel a little bit better in the immediate aftermath but in the longer term, this type of emotional eating can have a big effect on your weight. Most of the time, you won’t get a signal to say that you’re full and it’s all too easy to find that you’ve eaten a lot more than you planned in a very short space of time. And you probably won’t feel any better afterwards. In fact, you may well feel a whole lot worse as it’s common for emotional eating to make you feel guilty and ashamed of your food choices.
Not Sleeping Well
Poor sleep quality makes you more likely to eat more calories and gain weight. This is because it disrupts hormones that control your appetite. Lack of sleep increases production of ghrelin and decreases leptin levels, which means it’s harder to manage your appetite.
Sleeping well is one of the underrated ways to keep your weight in check as your levels of these hormones will be a lot more balanced.
Not Building Muscle Mass
If you spend a lot of time sitting down and aren’t very active, you probably don’t have much muscle mass. This might not seem like a big deal but it’s a common weight gain trigger.
Lean muscle boosts your metabolism and makes it that little bit easier to burn calories. If you don’t have much lean muscle, your metabolism doesn’t get this benefit and it’s harder to burn calories.
One of the best ways to build more muscle mass is through strength training. Don’t worry- you won’t end up looking like a bodybuilder! The idea of strength training is to build a toned body with minimal body fat rather than the bulky look we often associate with weights.
Not Eating Enough
Being on a diet more often than not means you’re definitely going to lose weight, right? Not always! Restricting your calorie intake too much slows down your metabolism and encourages the body to go into “starvation mode” so that it can run on fewer calories. This also means you burn fewer calories too as your body uses most of your intake to survive.
These kind of diets are very hard to stick to in the long term. Chances are, you’ll go back to a less restrictive way of eating but your body can still be more likely to store fat. This is why many people find that they gain weight after coming off a low-calorie diet.
Eating “Low Fat” Foods
Just because a food claims to be “low fat” doesn’t always mean that it’s going to help you to stay in shape. A lot of supposedly “low fat” options are often high in sugar and salt to make them tastier and can also contain a lot of calories. Eat too many of these “low fat” foods and you’re probably going to put weight on!
Tips for Avoiding These Triggers
So, what can you do to avoid these common triggers and get your body in the best shape?
Eat a healthy, balanced diet that isn’t too restrictive on calories and stay away from “low fat” foods that can promote weight gain
Be physically active and help your body to gain a bit more muscle mass
Get plenty of sleep to keep appetite hormones in balance
Make stress reduction a big part of your self-care routine and finding healthier ways to manage your emotions that don’t involve emotional eating
Adopting a more mindful approach to eating so that you don’t eat on autopilot
As a whole, we consume massive amounts of sugar in our diet each day even though it has been linked to a slew of health problems such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer just to name a few.
Sugar is a carb that is naturally found in many foods, including lactose (in milk) and fructose (in fruit). These aren’t necessarily the big problem for your health; it’s the processed and added sugars that pose the biggest dangers and it’s not as easy as you may think to avoid them.
Sugar is in so many foods – much more than you may realise. Soft drinks are the obvious culprits, with just one can of fizzy juice having as much as 7 teaspoons of sugar – but that’s not all you need to watch out for.
Low fat “diet” meals often contain plenty of sugar to make up for the lower fat content and to stop it tasting bland. Processed foods, in general, have added sugar, including tinned soups and ready-made sauces. You may not realise, but even bread can be a victim of sugar! This is why checking your food labels is key to ensure your diet isn’t falling victim to sugar.
What Does Sugar Do to Your Health?
Too much sugar essentially spikes your blood sugar levels and then leads to a big dip. You might get a sugar high in the short term but it’ll be followed by a crash that affects your mood and makes you crave more sugar. This vicious cycle is one of the main reasons why sugar is so heavily linked to obesity as it encourages you to keep eating more sugar.
The health problems associated with sugar can go far beyond this though. One of the main concerns is focused on high fructose corn syrup. Fructose in fruits isn’t all that bad and this can fool you into thinking that high fructose corn syrup can’t be that dangerous either. In reality, it’s one of the worst types of sugar you can consume. It’s a major ingredient in a lot of foods these days as it’s cheap to produce, so it’s definitely one to watch out and stay away from as much as you can.
Why is it a problem?
Our ancestors didn’t eat fructose other than the amount that was naturally included in fruit and some vegetables. Your liver can metabolise fructose to a large extent but when it reaches the tipping point, it starts turning it into fat instead and this is where the health problems begin. In the modern world, a lot of us eat more fructose than the body can handle.
Eating too much fructose can make your liver inflamed and start building up fat. It also encourages uric acid to be produced, which raises your blood pressure and even lead to gout. More worryingly, it also affects blood lipids and cholesterol levels, which can lead to cardiovascular problems and type 2 diabetes.
Even fruit juice can contribute to this as it is high in fructose. According to studies, its fructose content can encourage the body to store abdominal fat, especially the type that surrounds organs.
You’re better off choosing whole fruits (rather than fruit juices) or juice your own fruits as the fructose in these is naturally occurring and in no way a danger to your health. You’ll also get more fibre from whole fruits and you’d have to eat an unrealistic amount for their fructose content to become a cause for concern.
TIP: Mix natural sugars with protein to balance your blood sugar levels and to stop the sugar being absorbed into your bloodstream as quickly. For example, team a piece of fruit with a handful of nuts or some yoghurt. This can also help to curb cravings too.
What to Look For
Sugar often won’t be included on the ingredients as sugar. Food manufacturing companies are getting crafty when it comes to labelling their products. Sugar can be labelled as a long list of other names and it can be hard to really understand what you’re eating. Anything ending in “ose” is an obvious giveaway, including glucose, sucrose (better known as table sugar), fructose and maltose.
Less obvious signs that something contains sugar are syrups such as rice syrup and corn syrup. And then there’s the big one – high fructose corn syrup.
“Sugar-free” foods generally contain artificial sweeteners such as sucralose and aspartame. Studies have suggested that these don’t do a lot to satisfy sugar cravings and may actually make you overeat. There are also concerns that they may pave the way for health problems.
If these type of ingredients are high up on the list, meaning they are in the first few ingredients listed, then you know that there’s a good amount of sugar hiding in the food!
Today, go through your pantry and check your labels. What has hidden sugar in it?
I provide one to one sugar detox and weight loss plans. If you are at a loss as to where to start, or you have tried everything then feel free to book a free telephone consultation with me and let’s discuss your situation in more detail and find out how I can help you. BOOK NOW!
How to fuel your body for better health and more energy even when you have a crazy busy schedule.
One of the biggest struggles that most people face today is a hectic schedule.
We are so busy that it makes eating healthy a real challenge. Quick and convenient foods end up taking the place of healthy, nourishing food when we are on the go, go, go all the time. These less-than-ideal food choices put us on the hamster wheel of experiencing low energy, weight gain, and potential health problems.
What if I told you it didn’t have to be this way? You don’t have to be a slave to your schedule and resort to fast food or processed foods on a regular basis.
It’s possible to eat healthy foods, even with a jam-packed schedule. It just requires a little bit of pre-planning to ensure success. You’ll feel better, have more energy, and your waistline will thank you too.
When you start fuelling your body with healthier choices, you’ll probably also find that you don’t have that 3 PM slump or need that afternoon caffeine boost.
I’ve included a list of healthy snack ideas to get you started, so keep reading.
Eating Healthy When You’re Not Home
There are plenty of circumstances that will take you away from home, and make it more challenging to eat healthy food. Take the time to plan ahead and you can relax knowing that you won’t be derailing your healthy living efforts by consuming empty calories that only make you hungry again a short time later.
Most of us spend several hours in our vehicles every week running errands, stuck in traffic or shuttling kids back and forth between activities. If we don’t plan ahead, it is easy to fall into the trap of swinging through the closest drive through when you (or your family) are hungry.
Don’t wait until the point that you’re starving to make food choices, as this will almost always lead to bad decisions. Instead, plan ahead, so you don’t have to rely on your willpower alone to keep you on track. Pack easy to carry healthy snacks. This way you always have healthy choices right at your fingertips.
Long Car Journeys
Just because you’re on holiday or travelling, doesn’t mean you should take a total hiatus from your health goals. You can still live a healthy lifestyle on road trips by packing healthy foods to eat in the car. You can pack a cooler to keep handy so you have easy access to snacks while on the road. If you’re planning on stopping at rest areas along the way, pack a nutritious picnic lunch to eat before you head back out on the next leg of your trip.
Even though you can’t pack liquids in your carry-on bag, there are still plenty of options for what you can bring. You can pack wrapped whole food snack bars, nuts, seeds or even pieces of fruit in your hand luggage. With a little creative planning, you can keep your nutrition on track, and save yourself a bundle of money you would have otherwise spent on pricey (and often unhealthy) airport food and snacks.
Foods That Are Easy to Pack
The following items are all easy to prepare, and convenient to take on the go. Feel free to experiment, and find out which snacks best fit your preference and lifestyle. Mix and match options to see what works for you. Be sure to keep any perishable foods in a cooler or use an ice pack.
Easy transportable snack ideas:
Sliced or whole apples with peanut butter
Carrot and cucumber sticks with houmous
Clementine or mandarin oranges
Sliced or whole pears
Smoothie (if you plan to drink it within 30 mins or so)
Nuts and raisins (you can make your own trail mix)
Pumpkin seeds and/or sunflower seeds
Low sugar protein bar
Sandwiches or wraps (whole meal)
High quality beef jerky
Cut-up pieces of chicken
Hard boiled eggs
Make Midweek Meals Easy
Just because you have had a busy day doesn’t mean you have to resort to fast food or processed foods for dinner. With a little forethought, you can make sure your family has healthy meals ready to go when you walk in the door.
There are thousands of healthy one pot meal ideas available for free. Do a quick search and see what recipes may interest you and your family. If you prep everything the night before, or even earlier in the morning, you can come home to a delicious home-cooked meal that is ready to serve.
TIME SAVER TIP: Batch cook and plan for leftovers. When you do have time to cook, simply double the recipe and set the extras aside to use later in the week on a particularly busy day. It takes very little extra effort to double the recipe, and you will reap the benefits of time savings later in the week.
Make Healthy Eating Strategies Work for You
Even with a busy schedule, you can still make sure that you are eating healthy, nutritious meals. By putting in a little bit planning, you can ensure that you and your family enjoy healthy foods that support your lifestyle and your goals.
It is that time of year again, the holidays are a distant memory, the kids are all back at school and dare I say it Christmas is fast approaching!! Yes, I did just mention the C word. As wonderful as the summer months are, it becomes more challenging to stay focused on your diet and exercise regime. We all naturally thrive with good routines and habits. I know I am far more efficient when I’m busy and have some proper structure in my day, as the saying goes “If you want something done ask a busy person”
I try very hard to live a healthy balanced lifestyle. I eat well and exercise daily. However, if I am perfectly honest the holidays have taken their toll on me. I enjoyed a few extra glasses of wine, my food choices were not always perfect and fitting in plenty of exercise was tricky. I knew this was not a long-term issue for me and as soon as I felt ready to get back into my routine I would bounce back quickly because for me I much prefer how I feel on the inside when I’m in control of my diet and lifestyle.
Regaining control for me is not about jumping on the new latest food fad, chugging down carrot juice, meal replacements and food supplements in the hope I drop a dress size in three days, because lets be honest we have all been there and know it doesn’t work! It doesn’t have to be so drastic……
I want to share 4 steps with you on how I get focused in the hope it inspires you to regain control and start to feel more energised, motivated and generally healthier while dropping a few pounds along the way.
Don’t set yourself unrealistic weight loss goals. Be honest with yourself based on previous weight loss attempts. Set yourself short, medium and long-term goals. These goals don’t need to be focused purely on the dream number on the dreaded scales. For example, your short-term goal could simply be to eat a healthy breakfast every day, medium goal, to drop a dress size in 6 weeks and long-term goal to run your first 10k in 12 weeks. Research shows that those who write down their goals in a meaningful way increase their chances of achieving them by 30%, this can increase your success ratio by 60%.
So, get planning and smash those goals!
GO BACK TO BASICS
We have all been there, it is Monday and we have started our ‘diet’ once again! This process normally starts with massively reducing calories, fat intake and signing up to every exercise class possible only to crash and burn within a week. This is due to complete exhaustion, boredom at lack of food choices which ultimately zaps your motivation and makes you give up altogether. Going full throttle like this is so common and is one of the reasons many people have such negative feelings associated with healthy eating and being active because they have failed time and time again.
I recommend rather than making massive changes and going full steam ahead, you make simple easy achievable changes that will make a big impact with minimal effort.
Consume good lean sources of protein at every meal
Swap the afternoon biscuit for a piece of fruit
Get some early nights
DON’T OVER RESTRICT
The biggest reason we all fail or give up is we restrict ourselves too much. I’m not saying its ok to carry on eating whatever you like, whenever you like. It is all about balance, 80% good 20% naughty! This can be spread out over the week or saved up for a cheeky curry on a Saturday night, whatever floats your boat. My 20% is a big juicy pizza and a bottle of red!
Too many people in society are tipping the scale in the opposite direction. If you give yourself that treat, own it, enjoy it and commit to making your next food choice as healthy as possible. Don’t let one treat derail your entire weight loss plan, it does not have to be like that. Research shows that banning your favourite treat can cause guilt eating which leads to binging and ultimately more weight gain in the long run. Enjoyment around your food and food choices is essential to lasting weight loss. This strategy is scientifically known as “flexible control.”
Life is too short to never eat cake again!
Lastly – DESTRESS AND MAKE TIME FOR YOU
We all have responsibilities and in this day and age we just don’t stop. We often put our own health and wellbeing at the bottom of our massive to do list, if it even makes an appearance on the it’s at all. Stress is associated with higher cortisol levels, suppressed immune function, decreased sleep, increased consumption of comfort foods, high blood pressure, higher BMI all of these are a massive risk factor for cardiovascular disease. It is important when undertaking any changes in our diet and lifestyle to look at all associated factors. Managing stress levels and reducing triggers to ‘self-medicate’ by using foods as a pacifier. Here are some simple tips to reduce stress.
Undertake some moderate exercise for example go for a brisk walk, do some yoga or take up palates.
Try undertaking some kind of resistance training which will help burn fat and any fatty acids that are released during times of stress. Increasing the levels of serotonin will also help improve mood and help you relax.
Sleep is so important you must aim for a minimum of 8 hours per night, a good night’s sleep reduces cortisol levels, boosts the growth hormone which helps burn fat. If that’s not a reason to hit the sack early every night I don’t know what is.!!
Keep a diary of your emotions, this will help you establish triggers that may result in over eating. Writing down your emotions also helps you release negative feelings while distracting you from your temptations. Getting a good understanding of your behaviours and triggers associated with emotional eating will help you gain some self-control.
As you can see from the above it isn’t just as simple as watching what you eat to lose weight, there are many other factors that come into play. The next time you start a diet remember the steps I have suggested and don’t be so hard on yourself.
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