It’s not what you eat between Christmas and New Year…. it’s what you eat between New Year and Christmas!

Now that all the festivities are out of the way, and yet another New Year falls upon us, you might find yourself feeling bloated, lethargic and a little unhealthy?

Firstly, please don’t feel so bad – the festive season is a time for winding down and enjoying all that goes with it – with usually includes enjoying richer foods, toasting with family and friends, and possibly not getting time for exercise as you normally would.

If you are feeling to need a fresh start (like most of us do!), you’ve possibly committed to a ‘diet’ of some sort to rectify the damage done over the holiday season. However, Chinese 🇨🇳 New Year celebrations come around way too fast, then there’s Valentine’s day ❤️, St Patrick’s day ☘️(I’m Irish), next is Easter…all jeopardizing your best intentions.

We can’t continually put off our health kick/weight loss initiative until the next celebration has come and gone – because there is always another reason to party just around the corner. This is particularly the case here in Singapore where we tend to go on our fair share of holidays, entertain visitors year round, and celebrate many cross-cultural festivities. We are social creatures, and of course, eating and enjoying food is very much part of how we socialise. However, we need to find that balance of having fun while enjoying good food and drinks but ensuring that we stay healthy. This includes maintaining high energy levels, feeling good about ourselves inside and out, and maintaining a strong immunity.

The challenge is to find a way of marrying these two, often conflicting scenarios, on an ongoing basis – being as sociable as we’d like to be, whilst also staying healthy. We know that diets, or any fads, don’t work — yes, weight may be lost (if that’s a goal) when we restrict certain foods or an entire food group (e.g. carbs). However, on diets we feel deprived, become obsessed, and often lack energy — forcing us to eventually throw in the towel. So, we end up putting all the weight back on, and then some!

Therefore, let’s stop ‘dieting’ and focus on being healthy, period. This means no more swings in the state of your health, in your energy levels, or your weight.

Here are my top 20 guidelines to work through and then practice daily, to keep you on track

1. Start each day with a good breakfast — fresh fruit, followed by a complex carbs and protein; e.g. oatmeal with nuts/seeds; a low-sugar/high fibre cereal; eggs with wholegrain toast; or omelette with vegetables.

2. Cut out all ‘white stuff’ — white carbs (sugar, bread, pasta, flours) and white oils (refined, processed oils and fats). These are often termed ‘white poisons’ and contribute in no way to your good health.

3. Increase your intake whole grains — experiment with the wide offerings of wild rice, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, wheat berries, bulgur, and amaranth. Each has a unique flavour and offers varied nutrient content.

Photo credits to @adam.jason via Twenty20

4. Enjoy a ‘rainbow’ of vegetables with meals; be that in salads, soups, curries, stir-fries, stews, roasts — these are your true powerhouses of nutrients, and critical for your better health.

5. Enjoy a few portions of fruit daily — berries offer high anti-oxidants and fibre while being sweet and low in fat. Bear in mind that fruit is rich in natural sugars, so limit to 2-3 portions of different varieties each day.

6. Monitor intake of saturated fats from animal meats, poultry, and dairy. Understand the source of these foods, as animals are often treated with hormones and antibiotics. Organic versions are certainly not cheap (especially here in Singapore), so consider choosing other options — e.g. replace some of the milk you use with non-dairy sources; this also brings a wider variety of nutrients to your diet.

7. Increase beans and legumes in your diet — these are a great source of protein and fibre, and very versatile while being inexpensive. Aim for a few meatless days during the week, and invest in quality meats and poultry when you do consume these foods. Think quality over quantity.

8. Essential Fatty acids (EFAs; Omega 3 and 6) are so important for our immunity, rejuvenation and mental health. The best food sources are seeds, especially flax, chia and pumpkin, walnuts, leafy greens and cold-water fish; wild salmon, trout, sardines, mackerel. Ideally, consume these Omega 3-rich fish 2-3 times weekly.
9. Spice up your dishes and taste buds with a range of herbs and spices — these also provide specific health properties e.g. cinnamon helps controls blood sugars and turmeric as an anti-inflammatory.

10. Avoid artificial flavourings, additives, and preservatives, along with artificial sweeteners. These are chemicals, many of which are irritants, and some of which are implicated in cancer and other diseases.

11. Grill, steam and roast foods without added fats, or use just a little butter, coconut oil or olive. For high heat, e.g. stir-frying, use a little of these more stable fats and add stock or water as required. This helps keep the temperatures lower, while also avoiding having to add additional fat to your meal.  

12.  Purchase and stock only healthy food in your kitchen, and keep pre-prepared healthy snacks on hand. You can eat only healthy food if you purchase and stock only healthy items.

13. Experiment with healthier substitutes when cooking and baking — e.g. natural or Greek yoghurt in place of mayonnaise, soaked dried fruits syrup for sweetness when baking.

14. Cook in bulk to save time – boil extra eggs, roast extra fillets of salmon – to have on hand for quick lunches or snacks. Make extra marinades and sauces and store in the freezer for future use.

15. Freeze fruits, fruit juices, and yoghurts for quick healthy desserts    

16. Limit caffeine intake, particularly later in the day if you are sensitive – a few good quality espresso based coffee are fine to enjoy daily, along with black, green and herbal teas.
17. Save your alcohol units for special occasions or dining out – plan your units before you leave and keep sipping water.
18. Dine at home, or take a packed lunch, as often as possible. This keeps you in control of the quality and quantity of your food intake.

19. Eat mindfully; take your time to enjoy meals so that food is digested properly and you minimize the risk of overeating. It takes 20 minutes for satiety to register, whereas we often rush through a meal in much less time.

20. Plan and indulge mindfully in your treats — be that some good quality chocolate, a glass of wine, or a shared dessert. We all need a little ‘sweetness’ in our lives, so park the guilt.  

Remember Tracy Chapman’s famous hit ‘If not now, then when..? 

We all want to live life to the full, which includes being happy and healthy now while hoping to live a long enriched life. Health is truly the foundation of our happiness — and we need to chip away at building and maintaining our very best selves every day. There is no better time to start than right now…

Wishing you your Healthiest Happiest year yet, and all the best for 2018.

To our health!

Liza Rowan

Holistic Nutritionist

When not busy in my favourite role as mother to my two boys,  I dedicate my time to educate, motivate and inspire us all to lead healthier, happier lives. This involves hosting Nutrition courses (in class and online), corporate wellness talks, workshops and private wellness programs

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