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Small changes, big results!

HFG nutritionist Claire Turnbull has some new New Year’s resolutions to help you get healthier, easily, next year.

Goal 1: Boost your energy and bust fatigue

Quick quiz

  • Do you find it hard to get to sleep or seem to toss and turn all night?
  • Do you need a coffee every morning to get you going?
  • Do you find yourself feeling stressed about little things?
  • To unwind at the end of the day, does a beer or a glass of wine seem to be the best answer?
  • Do you feel tired during the day even after a long sleep?

If you’ve ticked yes to any of these questions, try these easy changes:

  1. Wind yourself down before you go to bed. Read a magazine (not work related!), have a warm bath or listen to some relaxing, calming music. If your mind is racing with things you need to do tomorrow, keep a note pad at hand and write things down to get them out of your head before you go to bed.
  2. If you need coffee to start your day, it’s time to change your routine. Enjoying coffee is fine in moderation, but requiring it to function is another story. Over time you are likely to need more and more to get the same buzz. Start the day with a walk or exercise – letting your eyes and skin see the daylight will help your body produce serotonin, its own happy hormone! Start with a peppermint tea or water and a slice of lemon, and save your coffee for mid-morning.
  3. On the way to and from work, or when you’re feeling stressed, take 20 deep breaths. Reducing your breathing rate can help calm you down and feel more in control.
  4. Alcohol can certainly help you relax, but when it becomes a routine coping mechanism, at the end of the day, it may end up with you drinking more than is healthy. And although alcohol can ‘help you sleep’, it may affect the quality of your sleep so you don’t wake up so well-recovered and rested even if you have been in bed for hours. Break the routine. Keep Monday to Thursday alcohol free and reach for a non-alcoholic drink when you walk in the door.
  5. If you are always tired, check with the doctor that your iron and vitamin B12 levels are OK and boost the vitamin B in your meals. Start the day with oats or whole grain bread, add snacks such as yoghurt or nuts, and include meat or fish for a vitamin B boost. Limit sweet and sugary foods – they may help in the short term, but they will leave you flat later on.

The pay-off

Making at least two of these regular habits will have you feeling energetic and more able to cope with everyday stresses, without the need to reach for artificial stimulants.

Goal 2: Lose weight

Quick quiz

  • When you serve up big portions, do you eat the lot – even if you’re not hungry?
  • If you go away for the weekend, do you eat more than you need or find yourself making unhealthy choices?
  • When you are feeling flat or you’ve had a bad day, do you reach for junk food or sweet treats for comfort?
  • Do you find yourself raiding the fridge the moment you get home from work?

If you’ve ticked yes to any of these questions, try these easy changes:

  1. When you plate up your evening meal, serve up the carbohydrate and protein portion in the kitchen so you can control your portions. Put vegetables or salad on the table where you are eating so if you do end up nibbling or extras, vegetables are the option you reach for. Serve leftovers straight away into plastic containers, so you are not tempted to pick or have seconds, and you get lunch the next day.
  2. Before you set off for a trip away, plan your journey to go via a supermarket to pick up some favourite healthy foods to take with you.
  3. Eating sweet or salty foods can often seem to be a great answer to a rotten day. If you really feel like a sweet treat, buy a single serve chocolate or chips rather than the family-sized version. Or when you recognise you have had a bad day, find someone to call and meet up for a walk to chat rather than trying to solve the problem with food.
  4. If you know a ‘weak’ time for you is when you get home from work, have a small snack before you leave work to control your hunger when you get home.

The pay off

These simple changes put you in control and help boost self-esteem which can also help with weight-loss.

Goal 3: Get your gut working well

Quick quiz

  • Do you feel bloated after eating?
  • Does your tummy act up when you get stressed?
  • Do you often find it difficult to ‘go’ or do you seem more blocked up than you should be?
  • Is it difficult to motivate yourself to exercise, or you just find it hard to get around to?

If you’ve ticked yes to any of these questions, try these easy changes:

  1. Rather than guess what might be triggering your bloating, start (and keep) a good food diary for at least two weeks, and see if you can track which foods you are responding to. The diary is a tool to take to your doctor or nutritionist to track possible causes.
  2. Consider reducing caffeine, alcohol and carbonated drinks, which can irritate the gut. Then look at the speed you are eating and how well you are chewing your food: both can cause issues.
  3. Stress can be a trigger for a change in bowel habits and irritation. Stress-reducing techniques like yoga, gentle walking and breathing exercises can really help.
  4. To ‘get things moving’, add oats or bran cereal to your breakfast to boost your fibre. Choose brown rice to get extra fibre at dinner, and have lots of water during the day.
  5. Being active can help regulate your gut movements, so if you struggle to ‘go’, get moving on some gentle exercise – try a half hour walk every morning.

The pay off

Getting your gut working efficiently can help protect you from bacteria and disease and you will forget all about the discomfort once it’s gone.

Goal 4: Establish an exercise routine

Quick quiz

  • Does there always seem to be a reason you just don’t get around to exercising?
  • Do you find that even when you do start an exercise programme, you always end up stopping after a few weeks?
  • Are you one of those people who just doesn’t like exercise?
  • Do you feel frustrated you don’t get the results you want even when you do exercise?

If you’ve ticked yes to any of these questions, try these easy changes:

  1. There will always be reasons not to exercise and the only way you will fit it into your day is to start seeing it as a priority. When it’s important enough, you will fit it in. Work out what will motivate you this year: living longer, feeling more energetic, being able to play with your kids or join in a team game with friends.
  2. If you start exercising then stop when you get busy, make exercise an appointment in your diary you have to keep. Start going to classes at set times each week so it becomes part of your routine.
  3. If you just don’t like exercise, start with something which seems almost accidental! Dancing can be great fun and is surprisingly energetic. Or join a social team sport which may help you forget you are exercising. Even gardening can raise the heart rate.
  4. Getting results means focusing on eating and exercise. Mix it up and include a combination of cardio (eg. walking, running, cycling, swimming) and resistance training (eg. weight training, pump classes).

The pay off

There are so many physical and mental benefits to be gained from regular exercise, there just isn’t enough space to list them.

Goal 5: Improve your bone health

Quick quiz

  • Do you have dairy products including milk, yoghurt and cheese at least three times a day?
  • Do you do some form of weight-bearing exercise at least a couple of times a week? (Weight-bearing exercise includes walking, running, tennis and dancing.)
  • Do you manage to get outside and expose your skin to 10-15 minutes of sunlight every day?
  • Do you eat a wide variety of vegetables every day?

If you haven’t ticked any of these questions, try these easy changes:

  1. If you eat toast in the morning, try having a low-fat yoghurt or glass of milk instead of one piece of toast, or as well as the toast, if weight is no issue for you. Smoothies make a great after-work or after-school snack and can tick off two of your servings in one go! Add a pot of yoghurt, a cup of low-fat milk and banana/berries and blend with a little honey for a fabulous sweet snack. For your third serving, try adding a little grated cheese to your dinner or have a yoghurt for dessert.
  2. Keep your exercise interesting and do a variety of things each week. Try different activities: a game of tennis, a walk or a dance class provide useful weight-bearing exercise and they are good for stress relief, too.
  3. If you always seem to be stuck inside and only see the light of day through your window, you could be low on vitamin D. This important vitamin helps your body to absorb calcium to keep your bones healthy and strong. Park your car 15 minutes away from work so you have to walk to get to your destination, getting some sunlight at a safe time of day. Eating dinner al fresco is another enjoyable way to get outside.
  4. When it comes to bones, it is those green, leafy vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and kale which are helpful. Try grating or slicing sprouts and adding to a stir-fry. Have spinach with your eggs on toast at the weekend.

The pay off

Putting these steps into regular practice could help you beat the odds and not be one of the half of women who will suffer an osteoporosis-related fracture in their later years.

Expert advice

What’s the one change you recommend this year for better health?

“Finish lunch each day with a piece of fruit. I see so many people in my workplace having a sandwich or some leftovers for lunch and nothing more. Getting into the habit of finishing with a piece of fruit will help ensure you meet your two+ pieces of fruit a day, fill you up more, contribute to fibre intake and boost intake of vitamins and antioxidants.” – Bronwen King, Nutritionist

“Stay on your feet when you’re on the phone! Simply standing is quite effective at helping to keep you active and healthy, so stand up. And if you’re on a mobile or cordless, walk around the house or office or garden.” – Professor Stuart Warmington, Lecturer in Exercise Physiology, Deakin University

“Eat two cups of vegetables each day. Fresh, frozen and canned are all good. Make sure the two cups are colourful – not just beige potato chips!” – Cindy Williams, Nutritionist

“Eat more homemade meals and snacks. This will not only reduce the amount of sodium, sugar and fat in your diet – because you can control what goes into food at home – it also lowers the risk of consuming trans fatty acids and other unwanted additives found in processed foods. Plus, you will probably get more of other important micronutrients – it is generally a healthier package overall.” – Professor Christine Thomson, Professor of Human Nutrition, University of Otago

“Go retro and replace sweet drinks with water and fruit juice with real fruit. Remember when you were young and sweetened drinks were a rare special occasion or party drink? Evidence suggests we don’t compensate for the energy in soft drinks by reducing our intake of other food. I would also suggest trying to avoid artificially sweetened drinks. Using them as a regular diet item doesn’t retrain us away from the sweet drink desire. Try not to think of drinks as things that come in bottles or cans.” – Celia Murphy,  Health Researcher

“Drink more milk – low fat of course! This applies to all ages – growing kids, active men and women, pregnant and breast-feeding women, and it’s extremely good for older people who so often run low on energy, protein and calcium.” – Julie Dick, Senior Nutritionist Heinz Wattie’s

“If you don’t already grow vegetables yourself, give it a go. Start with easy ones like salad greens and herbs. You don’t need much space. For help, read our gardening section, or you can get advice from your garden centre. Growing your own makes it so much easier to throw together a healthy meal when you haven’t been shopping for a while.” – Rose Carr, HFG Senior Nutritionist

“Make half the evening meal vegetables and salad. If you have a ‘one-pot meal’, it’s common to underestimate the number of vegetables in the meal – if it was dissected, would half be vegetables? Increasing vegetables not only provides valuable vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, but vegetables fill you up so you don’t need to eat as much energy-dense protein and carbohydrate to feel satisfied. Think about getting fewer calories and more nutrition in each mouthful.” – Anna Richards, Dietitian

First published: Jan 2010



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