How to give yourself a healthy start to the new year
As part of our regular Lunch and Learn series, we kicked off the new year by asking registered nutritional therapist Jackie Lynch to join us. Our challenge to Jackie was to help us start off the new year in the right way, getting our healthy eating habits back on track without leaving us feeling deprived.
Henpicked: As we’re in another lockdown many of us are inside more and moving less. But none of us wants to start cutting things out when we’re already missing out on so much. Is this possible?
Jackie Lynch: Absolutely. The feeling of deprivation is why so many diets don’t work. We can all starve ourselves for a few weeks but it’s not sustainable. Now more than ever with the latest announcement we’re all feeling low. We want some comfort, and a lot of people turn to food. I’ve come up with some suggestions for achievable healthy eating. You don’t have to do them all, but whatever you do, you will feel full, which is really important for sustainable weight management. I’d rather help you support your health in different ways and help you feel positive rather than leave everyone thinking ‘it’s January and I’m having a grim time’.
Henpicked: Self care is so important, even more so now we’re in another big lockdown.
Jackie Lynch: It’s hugely important. We’re in it for the long haul now. I think it’s tougher than last time, as we know what to expect. Plus it’s January, we’ve got shorter days and not so much time can be spent in the garden. Now it’s about digging deep and looking yourself is crucial. Women are often so busy looking after everybody else. But in many cases you’re the heart of your household and if you collapse so will they.
Henpicked: One question we’re often asked is ‘is my weight gain purely due to menopause?’
Jackie Lynch: Well it’s nice and easy to blame the menopause. To be fair there is a hormonal aspect to weight management in mid life, as the body encourages storage of fat as these cells contain oestrogen. But it tends to be other things too. A loss of body confidence can stop women doing the same exercise, as they don’t want to be at the gym. Pelvic floor urinary stress incontinence can start to put you off exercising too. This past year, we’ve all been more sedentary. If you live in small flat or house you’re just not getting same level of movement as before.
Henpicked: Let’s look at the first of your top three tips.
1. Time-restricted approach
Jackie Lynch: I’ve included this as many people may have tried multiple diets over the years. Some may have been yo-yo dieters. If that’s the case your metabolism won’t know if it’s coming or going. If your metabolism slows down you can eat very little and still not lose weight. I wanted something that would be sustainable and reassure your metabolism that actually you are in good shape and it can trust you to feed yourself regularly. Constant deprivation can cause you to go into ‘camel mode’ where your body holds onto stuff.
Time-restricted healthy eating can come in different guises. You may have heard of the 5:2 diet. I’m not a massive fan of this as I don’t think it’s helpful for people who have been yo-yo dieting. But I often recommend the 16:8 approach. Here, you eat within an eight-hour window and fast for 16 hours. You’ll be asleep for a good part of that so you won’t always notice that you’re technically fasting. One reason I like this is it allows you to eat a good, balanced healthy diet within the eight-hour window. You’re not doing anything weird, eliminating food or going onto a radical regime.
Nobody is in the mood for that. What you’re simply doing is aiming for healthy eating within that time frame. Breakfast at 10.30am and finish your evening meal at 6.30pm. Around that you can drink water and herbal teas and sleep lots, so you don’t feel deprived. This has been proven to be really effective for weight management. It allows the body to move into repair rather than growth mode, where hormones are encouraging you to grow. It also helps with digestion, bloating or IBS due to the longer window for digestion. You tend to feel fuller, and find you’re not eating as much as you’re not quite ready for your next meal.
Henpicked: That sounds great and very manageable. What’s your second tip?
2. Manage your portion size
Jackie Lynch: Managing portions is also really important. Make a fist. We’re all different sizes but our fist size relates to us and our build. Most of us are eating more than we should. Look at how much is on your plate.
For breakfast, if you’re having cereal, muesli or porridge, weigh it out. A portion is 30g. If you’re filling your bowl you’re probably having double that! Then look at your plate for lunch and dinner. You need a fist size of protein. Protein is all about growth and repair, it balances blood sugar and keeps you fuller longer. Protein is found in things like meat, fish, eggs, peas, beans, quinoa, hummus, nuts and seeds. If you’re having starch, you probably don’t need it at both main meals. Try a fistful of wholegrain carbs, such as brown rice or pasta. And finish your plate with two fistfuls of vegetable – one of leafy greens, one of other veg. If you’re not having carbs with your evening meal, try three fistfuls of veg and one of protein. This will leave you feeling comfortable and full.
Henpicked: Next up is your fruit and veg challenge. What does this entail?
3. The 40 fruit and veg challenge
Jackie Lynch: This is a bit of fun, I like to do it once a year. It’s very simple. Look at having 40 different fruit and veg in seven days. This is totally possible as there are loads of them. Ideally skew towards veg, so two portions of fruit a day and the rest is veg. A portion is a fist apart from things like garlic or chilli! You can eat something twice but it doesn’t count towards the tally. This absolutely isn’t a ‘detox’ so don’t just eat fruit and veg. The point is that it’s underpinning a balanced diet and healthy eating. Like it or not, potatoes and pulses don’t count towards your daily tally.
It’s a great challenge as we’re putting stuff in and not taking stuff out. We’re all fed up now being told we can’t have things. Veg is full of fibre and will fill you up, so you won’t be looking round for biscuits. And especially important at the moment, all these fruit and veg are packed with antioxidants and will support your immune system. It helps to mix your diet up, too. We all get into a rut – spinach, broccoli and tomatoes are my go-to veg, they are brilliant but this challenge gets me expanding my repertoire.
Henpicked: And really, it’s only just over five a day?
Jackie Lynch: Yes, the first few days I do seven or eight a day but then I start running out of veg so I start adding stuff back, but putting other veg on top.
Don’t do the ’40’ challenge for weeks and weeks. One week is enough. It wakes you up a bit, introduces you to new recipes and things you may have never tried before. I always lose a couple of pounds when I do this, there just isn’t room for biscuits etc. It’s all in the planning before you start. I’d also recommend frozen veg to broaden your options at this time of year. We often feel if it’s not fresh it’s not healthy, but often they’ve been frozen within an hour of being picked, which means it’s still packed with vitamins and minerals, compared to something that has been stored for a long time or travelled a long way. Farm shops and farmers’ markets often have a really good range of stuff, too.
Henpicked: What about soups and smoothies?
Jackie Lynch: This is a really cunning way to bump up your tally. If you get to day four and can’t face another salad a juice or soup or smoothie is a great way of chucking more things in. For instance, I’m not a fan of celery but I know it’s really good for me. I shove it in a juice with other things, so I can’t taste it but I’m still getting the benefits. Don’t beat yourself up if you get to 22 or 36, you’ll still be broadening your range, 40 is my chosen target, but whatever you do will be brilliant.
And one last thing – always remember to hydrate. This is important all year round.
Henpicked: Do you have any particular advice for someone going onto HRT?
Jackie Lynch: HRT can be a brilliant thing for you, but it will work better if you give it the tools via a balanced diet. Again, it’s all about blood sugar. The big issue with hormones is they can get out of balance. Every time our blood sugar crashes our body creates more cortisol and adrenaline. Protein and fibre with every meal and snack stops these crashes. Look at the fists: protein, fibre and veg and you won’t go far wrong.
And blood sugar balance works for the whole family so you don’t have to slink off to eat alone. Everyone will benefit from better sleep, digestion and weight management.
Henpicked: Any advice about carbs?
Jackie Lynch: We do need some starchy carbs as a source of energy, but have them at lunchtime rather than your evening meal as there’s less hope of burning them off overnight. We often fill the plate with rice or pasta, but we just don’t need that much, unless we’re in a particularly active job.
Henpicked: Do you recommend three meals in the eight-hour window?
Jackie Lynch: Probably not. I find I’m quite hungry by 10.30am for breakfast, then about 2pm I’ll have hummus and carrots as a snack. Then I’m ready for my evening meal by about 6.30pm. Be honest with yourself about what you need. Listen to your body, chew your food and take the time to eat slowly and mindfully.
Henpicked: Thank you, I strongly believe you’ve achieved your objective of giving us something that helps with achievable healthy eating this new year.
Watch the video here:
And you can download ‘40 Fruit & Veg a Week Challenge’ here:
There’s more information on Jackie Lynch’s website: