A shiny new year is here with the annual pressure to take bold steps towards re-making your life. Some people might enjoy the challenge of a radical overhaul in a quest for better health. But it’s also true that doing so can see your efforts start with a sharp burst of action before fizzling away come February. Some research indicates that New Year resolutions are often abandoned within a month.
Might there be a smarter way to go after boosted health and happiness? One that’s more likely to stack up to long-term habit change? In short: yes! Instead, try a handful of tiny tweaks that might lead you towards a 2023 that delivers on your goals. No need for expensive home treadmill purchases or hours spent soaking nuts for DIY plant milk required.
Try a blend of the below, trying one or two a week, and see how they make you feel.
1. INclusion over EXclusion
No matter what a so-called ‘expert’ on TikTok or Instagram says, a restrictive diet (say, Paleo or Atkins) is not a sure-fire route to better health. In fact, from a gut health point of view, swerving entire food groups can do way more harm than good. In 2023, think about the nourishing and delicious foods you can bring into your routine. As opposed to those you can cut out. Enjoy your roast dinner with Yorkshire puddings, but try out a side of grilled veg with it. Try your morning porridge with a teaspoon of nut butter, a handful of mixed seeds and some frozen berries.
2. Cook once, eat twice
You know that home-cooked meals can be beneficial. As well as avoiding the extra salt and sugars found in packaged foods, you’re in control and can pack in the plants. For example, grating carrot into a pasta sauce or throwing a handful of peas into a stew is always a good idea. Finding the time to chop onions and peel garlic every night though can be… tricky. Each time you prep a dish, instead make double and freeze half. In no time, you’ll have a DIY stash of healthy ready meals waiting for those busy days.
3. Try to have dinner earlier rather than later
As you’ve likely experienced, being overly full before bed can mess with your ability to get off to sleep. One reason for this is that it increases your risk of acid reflux, which is a free ticket to a bad night’s sleep. The workaround here is clear. It can take around three hours to digest a meal. So aim to have your dinner three hours before hitting the hay.
4. Breathe through it
A little stress now and then is no bad thing. The release of hormones involved can help you to deliver a big work project to deadline. But chronic stress is linked with abundant health problems, including heart disease and digestive issues.
How might you try and manage stress that shows up in your day-to-day? If you feel yourself getting panicked, one great hack is this simple breathing technique. Take a breath in, hold it for four seconds, before releasing it for four seconds. Hold for four seconds, before taking another breath in, over a four second count. Repeat this for 10 cycles. Doing so activates your parasympathetic nervous system, meaning you get swept over with a feeling of calm.
5. Add a little something extra to your takeaways
The occasional takeaway is something you can absolutely keep in your diet. Help your microbes out when you do have one, by adding an extra plant to your plate. A handful of spinach on top of your pizza means you’re taking care of your gut, while you enjoy your treat.
6. Mix it up
If getting plenty of fibre into your diet is already a priority of yours, you may throw tins of legumes like chickpeas into your basket. Next time you hit the shops, try choosing a mixed tin. For example one that contains a medley of pulses, from haricot to pinto beans. Doing this is a low effort way to increase the diversity of your diet, which comes with big wins for your gut health. Apply this same idea to bags of frozen fruit. Try a summer fruits berry mix, rather than raspberries alone.
7. Try this poop hack
Your body evolved to poop in a squatting position, with your knees raised and your bottom sinking towards the floor. This allows the lower end of your intestine to be straighter and means a smooth exit. This means less chance of developing painful piles or the discomfort of constipation. The bad news is, the loos we use here in the west do not help this. But there are specially designed ‘poop stools’ you can buy to place under your feet to bring you to that squatting shape. An old box will do the job too!
8. Carry snacks with you
Hunger pangs on the move often translate to buying snacks that don’t pack a nutritional punch. When you set off to leave the house in the morning, stash protein-rich mixed nuts in your bag for when you’re peckish. Got a little more time? Prep a snack to enjoy at home, like hummus with crackers, to keep your tastebuds and microbes happy. Win-win.
9. Bulk buy!
Keep your cupboards well-stocked with ingredients for cheap, quick and nourishing meals. This a clever tactic for eating well. Consider buying packs of wholegrains, tins of chickpeas and bags of nuts and seeds in bulk online. You’ll minimise last-minute and expensive dashes to your local shop.
Remember consistency is key. Good luck and do let us know how you get on @theguthealthdoctor.