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Whether it’s the London Marathon or there are other events in the diary, this is the point in your training when you’re ranking up the miles and getting some long runs under your belt before you start to taper. I felt truly inspired by all the Bath Half completers and know that many of you were using that as a bit of a warm up for longer events.

When it comes to marathon nutrition you may have been winging it up to now, but as the miles rank up, the time comes to use it to your advantage.

Marathon Nutrition – what to eat

You will need more carbohydrate in your day to meet the fuel demands of the longer runs. If you notice training gets harder as the week progresses, it could be a sign you are slowly getting more carbohydrate depleted.

Make sure you’ve got enough carb going in at lunch – boxed salads often neglect the grain and whilst protein is important to fill you up, it’s not going to fuel your muscles. Consider supplementing your lunch with oatcakes or additional grains such as couscous or rice pouches. And following lunch with fruit, yogurt, smoothies etc helps to top you up.

Snacks

Getting at least 20g carb per snack and aiming for 2 a day helps to top you up – so move away from nuts as these don’t contain any. Foods such as malt loaf, banana bread and granola yogurt pots will serve you well. Don’t fear additional sugar in the diet at this stage – the body is simply using it as fuel.

Marathon Nutrition – what to drink

One of the most common causes of cramps and stomach upset is dehydration – and unfortunately necking lots of water in a few hours leading up to a run or race won’t do, so for a week or so before the event, make a concerted effort to drink regularly throughout the day. Take water with you wherever you go as those meetings can drag on. You can also hydrate with tea and coffee as long as you space them out across the day. Milk is a great slow release carbohydrate source and also provides the body with calcium. Calcium is essential for muscle function and contraction as well as the making and breaking down of glycogen fuel stores in muscles so make it a latte!

Avoiding ‘runner’s gut’

When blood flow is transported away from the stomach to muscles needing maximum oxygen, the stomach can get a little unhappy. You can ‘train’ it to cope better under these circumstances, but individual tolerance will vary greatly. Some people prefer to take on carbohydrate fuel and fluid separately (for example gels and water) and others prefer to take both together (sports drinks). See what works best for you. There are over 700 sports drinks on the market so there’s bound to be one to suit. Concentrations of between 4-8% are associated with the least gastro intestinal stress but get practising now.

More tips to follow but if you’d like individualised advice, give me a shout.

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Dairy free living is gaining in popularity with the supermarket aisles making room for many plant-based alternatives to milk. Undoubtedly beneficial to the planet but what about from a nutritional perspective when there are many mouths to feed?

You may have a child with a diagnosed cow’s milk protein allergy or lactose intolerance and be under a healthcare professional*. Or as a parent you may suffer with irritable bowel syndrome or have a sensitivity to dairy for another reason. Or dairy alternatives may have simply caught your eye and you’re wondering where they fit in. Let’s take a look.  

A glass of milk is a source of protein, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, iodine, vitamin B2, B1 and B12. So, you’re basically drinking the periodic table! A 200mls glass (or much-needed latte) provides around 30% of our calcium for the day. Interestingly this same glass will provide 40% of our iodine needs. Iodine makes our thyroid hormones which regulate our metabolism and growth. So, it’s vital for children and adults alike and worryingly, iodine deficiency has re-emerged in the UK with 15% of potentially impressionable teenagers not meeting their requirements. Pregnant women are also susceptible as needs are higher.

Plant based alternatives will usually be fortified with B2, B12, vitamin D and calcium which is great. It’s worth knowing that organic varieties cannot legally be fortified. The calcium present won’t be as available to the body so keep in mind other calcium sources in the diet – pulses and lentils, dried apricots, fortified breakfast cereals and dark green leafy vegetables, tinned fish with edible bones and of course animal dairy products if appropriate.

So, the main differences between dairy and plant-based options lie in the iodine contents, bone minerals such as phosphorus and of course protein and calorie contents. Vegans in particular need to be conscious of iodine and may benefit from a supplement, as the other main iodine source in the diet is white fish.

Protein quality is lower with plant-based milk – soya milk is the most similar to cow’s milk in terms of protein and is similar in calories to semi-skimmed milk. Sweetened varieties will have added sugar though so watch out for this.

Almond milk has become very popular although it is more of a nut water than a milk as the content of actual nuts can be as little as 2%. Protein contents are very low (0.4g/ 100g compared to 3.3g for cow’s milk). This isn’t ideal at breakfast time, where protein can play a vital role in regulating blood sugar levels and keeping you full for longer. It’s a tasty milk for flavour but I would be cautious to give this and other nut milks as a main milk drink for young children as milk is a major energy and protein source in their diets.

Rice milk is also lacking in protein and should not be given to children under 5 years of age due to its arsenic levels.

Oat milk fairs slightly better for protein and is suitable as a main milk drink aged 2 and over. It is also useful for parents with high cholesterol as it contains a third of your beta-glucan requirements which has been shown to reduce cholesterol levels.

Plant based milks are naturally lactose free so can be a good alternative for those with lactose intolerance but there are also lactose-free cow’s milk alternatives available. 1 in 20 people may suffer from lactose intolerance due to not having enough of the enzyme lactase to break it down. Undigested lactose passes into the large bowel where it becomes food for our trillions of bacteria and as they merrily digest away they release gas causing wind, bloating and diarrhoea. In IBS, lactose can contribute to the symptoms caused by other fermentable carbs in the diet (known as fodmaps) but in many cases is not the culprit at all so it’s worth seeking advice from a registered dietitian if you have IBS.

Milk purchase checklist

  • Double check plant-based milk is fortified.
  • Consider whose drinking it and therefore the importance of energy and protein contents. For comparison semi -skimmed cow’s milk contains 46 calories and 3.5g per 100mls.
  • Children need 2-3 serves of dairy or suitable plant-based alternatives per day.
  • Remember plant-based milks are not nutritionally superior but can provide a balanced nutritious addition to the diet whatever your reasons for choosing.

*The information in this article is designed for general family advice and is not intended to replace the advice given by your specialist team. Most children with diagnosed milk protein allergy or lactose intolerance will remain on specialist milks until at least 2 years of age.

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Nutrition is always an interesting subject to talk about with the older generation for many reasons.

Our nutrition knowledge has come on in leaps and bounds in the last 20- 30 years. When I was a child we didn’t know as much about nutrition as we do now and maybe with all the controversy and eating problems that arise from scrutinising our every mouthful that was no bad thing.

However, we do know so much more now and we can and should use this to our advantage.

Nutrition in the older generation doesn’t get talked about as much on social media – perhaps because they’re not as vocal as others are. Nevertheless as our longevity improves, nutrition will continue to play a vital role in our healthy aging and it pays to get it right.

Food availability and dietary traditions were different ‘in the olden days’. When you first give solid food to your baby there’s often a relative in the wings marvelling at the variety of foods around these days, baulking at all the equipment we have access to or itching to impart their own special remedy to settle your little one in seconds (apparently).

When we talk about the older generation those aged 60 and over can find the whole thing rather patronising – I have just spent the first half of the Easter holidays with a group of 60 somethings who have far more stamina than me that’s for sure. But as the decades roll on, the composition of our body undeniably changes and with it comes different nutritional needs. Today I wanted to put the spotlight on protein and flag to Grandma that ‘just having a bit of toast’ at any meal of the day might not be a good idea…

Protein requirements increase as we get older due to age related sarcopenia. Basically this means our muscle mass declines with age which reduces strength, function and flexibility and increases risk of falls and fractures and loss of physical function generally. To combat this loss, Grandma needs to include adequate protein in the diet and if she can keep as active as possible this will increase the preservation of muscle mass further.

To eat enough protein in a way which is of most use to the body it should be included at every meal and as I’ve yet to find a protein fortified marmalade, breakfast definitely has a gaping hole. It’s not just breakfast though – tomato soups, apple on toast, even marmite won’t support these higher protein needs.

Good options at breakfast would be eggs in any form, Greek yoghurts which are traditionally higher in protein, milky drinks as well as the usual meat, fishes and pulses at other meals.

Snacks also provide a valuable opportunity to top up on intakes – peanut butter, cheese, nuts and seeds. Sometimes it’s simple swaps that can make all the difference. Seeded bread will have slightly more protein for example, and mixed nuts would provide a useful afternoon snack. Pulses and lentils should be used in soups and skimmed milk powder can be used to give a protein boost to a wide variety of foods and drinks include milk itself.

It’s also important to keep going with the sunshine vitamin. We are coming into the season where our bodies can begin to make enough vitamin D through the action of the sun’s rays on our skin and the general population no longer needs a supplement but this is not the case for older people. 10 micrograms per day as a supplement should continue for those over 65 as their skin isn’t as efficient at converting it, and daily routines may mean less time outdoors. Vitamin D preserves muscle strength and functional ability especially in older people so is a really important part of the puzzle.

Vitamin D don’t necessarily need to be accompanied with calcium though if the diet contains good sources and they haven’t been identified as in need of additional calcium for bone density reasons.

Please help spread the word to all the Grandma’s and Granddad’s out there!

P.s. My recent appearance on Holding Back the Years got me thinking about nutrition and the older generation. here’s my behind the scenes chat with good old Ainsley!

Chatting with Ainsley Harriott - YouTube
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Snack Guide

When it comes to children and snacking fresh fruit will always be an ideal choice. But let’s face it sometimes it just won’t cut it. The snack market is forever expanding and as parents we are eagerly searching for the perfect snack that strikes the balance between healthy and child friendly.

Children have high energy needs and snacking provides a valuable opportunity to fuel them and top up on other nutrients but what snacks are best, what should you choose and what should you avoid? Here’s my guide:

Energy givers

Carbohydrates form the bulk of our energy requirements – they are also easy to transport and keep fresh.

Top favourites for dietitians include pretzels, savoury popcorn, oat cakes, corn crackers and rice cakes.

In the bread aisle, malt loaf, mini pancakes, brioche are also good options. They provide around a tsp sugar but not a bad trade- off for a snack which normally goes down well.

Tummy fillers

Protein is a nutrient known for helping us to feel full. It best serves us when eaten as part of a balanced meal. They body utilises it best when spread out across the day. For children who complain of always being hungry, incorporating protein into their snacks is useful.

If your children are over five nuts are great. Dietitian’s favourites include unsalted peanuts, walnuts, almonds and cashew nuts.

Hummus is a good dipper for veggie sticks. I particularly like the beetroot variety I found recently. Hummus hasn’t got that much protein in it because of the oil to chickpea ratio. Homemade varieties will contain less salt, but on the whole an egg cup full is ideal to jazz up snack time and get more veggies in as a result.

Cheese portions are great – a calcium boost alongside a protein portion. Despite the level of processing the string types are no different nutritionally to something like a babybel. Salt is something to watch with cheese but in these pre- determined portion sizes the salt doesn’t contribute too much to the diet.

The South Africans among us may also want to consider biltong!

However, edamame beans are a personal favourite of mine – quick to defrost and packed full of protein and fibre.

Health boosters

In this category I would of course place fresh fruit. Keeping portions to what they can hold in their cupped hand is a useful guide. Packed full of fibre, fruit supports their fibre requirements but in some cases if it’s overdone you may notice their bowels become a little over active!

Dried fruit – a good alternative for when a neater, portable package is required. Dried fruit leathers made from the whole fruit are best. Have a quick scan of the label to make sure there are no additional sugars or stabilising agents added during the processing.

Dried fruit covered in yoghurt is really just code for sugar and dried fruit snacks made to look and feel like sweets may have a lower vitamin and mineral content because of the processing methods used. The 5 a day message is an ambiguous one. It is not tightly regulated and thus can be a little misleading.

All of these dried fruit snacks should be washed down with plenty of water and ideally served as part of a meal to protect the teeth although the reality of tooth decay incidence in this country is not to do with us over dosing on dried fruit.

Cereal bars – where to start!

Navigating this selection is enough to give every parent a headache. Have a think about what you want the cereal bar to be for. If there’s a long gap between meals or this is becoming a bit of a meal replacer (e.g. If you’re unsure how much of lunch they may eat for whatever reason) cereal bars with nuts and seeds will boost protein intakes and be a little more filling.

If it’s just an energy giver the aim is to get the maximum amount of fibre for the lowest amount of added sugar. The ‘of which sugars’ label should ideally be less than 15g/100g and if it’s 3g fibre/ 100g it counts as a source so that’s pretty good.

Hope this helps a little! Let’s also not kid ourselves that snacks are sometimes in the form of biscuits, sweets or chocolate, especially with Easter approaching. You may find my Easter Bunny Survival Guide a useful read and remember with these sorts of foods, portion size is key.

For main meal inspiration check out what time poor dietitians feed their kids.

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Plant Power

Today is plant power day; an opportunity to put plants in the lime light and raise their profile for the goodness that they provide. There has been a lot of hype recently about plant based eating and whether you go full vegan, or vegetarian or simply incorporate more of a flexitarian style of eating, there are many nutritional benefits (not to mention environmental ones) to be gained from plant based foods.

And yet, many of us eye up those tins of lentils and pulses suspiciously, we’re not sure how to cook ‘em, what to put with them and whether we actually like them enough to care about their health benefits.

Here are some top tips to get you started.

Lentil lowdown

Lentils – red lentils are flavour absorbers. So they can be made to taste really delicious.

My favourite recipe can be found below.

Another potential advantage is they go mushy when you cook them so they can be disguised well. You can use ½ cup for every 500g of mince you use if you want to make a dish go further or use a cup and 250g mince for more of a 50/50 approach.

They can also be used to bulk out a soup – when blended you’d never know they were there and yet

the protein and fibre gains are well worth having.

The Puy lentil has a bit more of a bite to it. It goes really well with fish or as a sole protein source in a salad. A personal favourite of mine is left over roasted veggies (or cook more so you deliberately create left overs). Butternut squash, beetroot, garlic and peppers for example. Mix with some a few cubes of goat’s cheese or feta then add 120g cooked puy lentils. A little lemon juice and a dash of balsamic vinegar finish it off.

Keeping your finger on the pulse

A little harder to disguise but good for babies to develop their pincer grip (thank you edamame beans at Wagamamas).

Mixed tinned pulses are ideal for throwing into salads – when you realise there are no rules you can build confidence that they go with everything.

Kidney beans are ideal in a chilli or spaghetti bolognaise or to mix into Tuesday Taco Surprise! For a good chilli you can’t beat a bit of Jamie

Chickpeas are fab – working really well in a tagine or stew in their own right or as an accompaniment for a Moroccan style dish. I was amazed when a chickpea stew was eaten by both my children without complaint – recipe below.

Giving lentils a life

Heat some oil and saute one onion and garlic. Add 1 tsp cumin, 1tsp coriander and cook for one minute. Add 120g red lentils, one veg stock cube and water to cover the lentils with about 2cm above them. Throw in whatever veg you want but carrots or sugar snap peas work well. Cover and simmer for about 20 mins until water is absorbed. Stir in 1 tbsp lemon juice, massive handful of chopped coriander and season to taste. Finally sprinkle with a couple of handfuls of nuts of your choice e.g. cashews or almonds or a mixture. Serve with brown rice or a wholemeal chapatti or just a normal chapatti – wholemeal doesn’t always feature all the time I confess.

Chickpea stew just for you

Heat a little oil and add an onion and plenty of carrots (about 4 -6) and cook for about 4 minutes. Add ½ tsp cumin, 1 tsp coriander and 2 tbsp flour. Coat all the veg and cook for another minute. Add in sliced courgette, a can sweetcorn, 400g tin chickpeas, 2tbsp tomato puree and 200mls vegetable stock. Cook for 10 minutes stirring frequently. Goes well with mashed potato.

If all the veg feels a little ambitious for those about to taste it you can scale them back or choose others. Sometimes I use the stew as a basis to then add in leftover chicken. This normally makes them happy because I have been known to slightly od on the broccoli some weeks.

Just a few ideas to help you have the power of plants in your life. Hope it helps.

These recipe books are also highly recommended if you want some more inspiration.

Vegetarian Athlete by Anita Bean (you don’t have to be an athlete).

Izy Hossack – Savvy Cook

Anna Jones – A modern Way to Eat

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When it comes to feeding my children, I sometimes feel like I spend much of my time stuck between a rock and a hard place. The rock is the wealth of nutrition knowledge I have at my finger tips and the hard place is the children and that kitchen table EVERY SINGLE DAY.

So I cast the net wide and quizzed my dietitian friends on the other side of the world – this can’t just be an issue in London, England. Hell no, there must be rocks and hard places in kitchens everywhere and I want to cheer myself up! I wondered what is there go to meal when pushed for time and what nutrition gem will they continue to plug no matter what resistance they come against? Let’s find out.

Quick meals that work

Pasta bake

With a quick and easy cheese sauce you can really go places. Mix with tuna and veg or any fish that you want to try. Vary the pasta shapes and types of veg used and use it as an opportunity to throw some pulses in too. Fry some onion and garlic (which you could blitz first) or use frozen garlic. Cook the pasta and steam veg above it, make the sauce, throw together with veg and fish (cook first or take from a tin already cooked) and a tin of mixed pulses. A teaspoon of oregano works well too. Scatter with cheese and bake for around 20 mins.

Or the sauce can be more tomato based – using a tin of chopped tomatoes and little puree instead of making a cheese sauce.

The bake works for Catherine and her lively son in Australia

Chicken stir-fry

Use roast leftovers or pan fry some chicken pieces.

Toss carrot sticks, pepper sticks, sugar snap peas, peas, sweetcorn (frozen) broccoliany veg you fancy with a little nut oil for flavour. Keep veg raw if preferred.

Serve with drizzle of reduced salt soya sauce and honey (allow them to self- pour from an egg cup if this aids compliance) Add wholewheat noodles (mine can’t taste the difference) or rice.

Could also put some chicken pieces on a skewer – marinade in the honey and soya sauce and then grill turning until done. If it’s on a skewer it is somehow more ‘fun’ – whatever.

The stir fry works well for Claire and Laura and their clans in South Africa

Taco self- serve

Choose you meat – chicken leftovers, turkey mince, beef mince. Pick your pulse: red kidney beans, black beans, decide on your crunch: red peppers, carrots, lettuce, cucumber, spinach, shredded beetroot, tomato, avocado, top with low fat sour cream, crème fraiche or natural/ greek yoghurt or tzatziki and grated cheese.

Other variations: swap the taco for a wholewheat wrap or pitta.

This one was a top choice and took on various forms for Jenny in America, Catherine in Australia and Jess in Dubai. A global hit!

The simple chicken curry

Definitely a chicken theme forming here! Fry an onion (likely mine would pull it out but worth it for flavour!) Add a tsp turmeric and a couple tsps of mild curry powder, reduced salt stock and a little cornflour to thicken to chicken leftovers or pan fried pieces. Allow the sauce to bubble and thicken before adding around 100mls low fat cream. This mild flavoursome sauce helps plenty of steamed veg on the side slide down alongside some rice.

This works for all 4 children in Lindy’s crazy household, Australia.

Frittata – don’t underestimate the nutritional value of an egg!

Great for Monday after a roast dinner. Use leftover potatoes and veg (make extra to guarantee useful leftovers for the pain of a Monday night). Stir fry them up in a little oil and add about 6 eggs – allow to set, sprinkle with grated cheese and put under the grill until bubbling and cooked on top. Also scrambled egg with frozen spinach mixed in with a slice of toast is probably one of the most nutritious meals I manage to get into Sam.

Prawn pasta (my masterpiece)!

Cook some wholewheat or white with added fibre pasta. Take frozen prawns which are quick to defrost under a tap. Heat them through by stir frying with some garlic and ginger paste or just butter/ oil if preferred. Defrost 1-2 cubes frozen spinach and mix together with a little crème fraiche and a squeeze of lemon juice if feeling fancy.

Variations: Could use any fish it doesn’t have to be prawns.

So as I say this one is mine, the day they first tried prawns and liked them I wept tears of joy I think.

And finally…

What we continue to make our mission

Oily fish – Definitely get them on a supplement if they’re not keen on fish. Interestingly not many of our quick go to meals were fish based so need to work on that for next time!

Pulses – feeding them, feeding their bacteria, providing protein, fibre and iron. Keep throwing them in. They may pick them out and try flicking them in their sister’s eye but keep on giving them.

Water – keep normalising it because drinks don’t have to taste sweet, liquid calories do not turn on appetite regulation and because there’s not much juice that can be consumed before it doesn’t count towards fruit and veg targets.

Normalise – this is what healthy looks like, it’s important to feed our bodies the stuff it needs to make it grow and glow and give context to the treat foods. This is what we’re all doing little Jonny, join in if you fancy because the world (no matter which corner of it) doesn’t revolve around you (theoretically).

Hopefully this post has shown that even for dietitians, meals aren’t particularly ground breaking or fancy but that key health eating messages can still come through under time pressure. Thanks for the inspiration and reassurance ladies! For more advice to keep you sane you could always check out my 7 habits of highly nutritious parenting!

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I’m not even sure my husband really gets what I actually do, let alone the people hitting google in search of nutrition advice so thought it might be helpful to explain.

Historically, dietitians seem synonymous with diet plans – strict calculated plans telling you what to eat along with a wagging finger if you dare stray from it. At social events, people eat nervously around us, show horror when we tuck into a brownie and frequently ask us to ‘put them on a diet’.

The images of dietitians on google are quite frankly horrifying – we seem to have clipboards, stethoscopes round our necks and are surrounded by mounds of fruit. Oh lordy, I would not want to see her.

So who are dietitians? And what do we do if it’s not this?

Well firstly we have studied in a faculty of biomedical sciences so we like the science bit…

The science of nutrition is ever evolving – it’s a very young science compared to medicine with new research contributing new parts of the jigsaw puzzle all the time. There’s a huge amount we do know but people who make it out to be very black and white don’t know the half of it. The correct interpretation of research is key and combining results from different places to draw conclusions is helpful – one study will not hold the ‘secret’ (despite what the newspaper headline says).

Of course food can’t be tested in the same way as new drugs. It’s harder to blind people to what they’re being given (especially out of a lab in the real world). There are also a huge number of variables – from food-gene interactions, to the hundreds of hormones which govern appetite and metabolism. We also know how nutrients interact with each other at a cellular level is different to how they respond when you stick them in a test tube and watch them through safety specs. And of course when testing things on free living individuals there are other factors to consider such as everything else that influences our food choices, from our environments, to our upbringings to our moods.

The psychology of our food behaviours and choices is massive and behavioural science research and how it relates to what we put in our mouths is really interesting and evolving.

So come on, what do I do?

Well, firstly I bring the science to life and make it relevant for the individual. It’s not about broad public health recommendations or what the tabloid reckons we should ‘all’ do. It’s about you and what’s going to fit with you. Pulling together all of the factors which influence your food choices and of course your nutritional needs. If I assumed you were 2 dimensional I might be persuaded that an off the shelf diet plan taking the control out of your hands and dictating your every food decision might work.

But in reality life is more varied and often throws curve balls. I am interested in what’s sustainable and what facilitates you to have a happy, healthy relationship with food to give symptom improvement, or help you achieve that health or well-being goal.

Of course we talk food, and meal plans designed together can come to life with meal ideas, guidance on balance and portions, snack options, or a hunt through the online supermarket shelves to shed light on ideal choices for your shopping basket. I want you to feel empowered to make the right choices for you, not over whelmed by conflicting information and stuff that doesn’t make sense. It may be appropriate to talk body composition, or to delve deeper into your thoughts around food. Other professionals may come in handy if different expertise is required.

The role of blood tests

Yes, often these may form part of the picture and such tests may be carried out by your GP or at your own instigation through blood testing companies. It is important though to consider what is clinically relevant to test when assessing the value of blood tests.

The role of supplements

At times there may be a need for a particular supplement if your diet can not supply the necessary nutrient you need. But my priority is considering what is at the very core of your nutritional needs and how this can be achieved primarily through food, not to sell you supplements and big promises that aren’t stacked up with evidence.

The role of genetic testing

An exciting development in nutrigenomics – what do our genes indicate we should do differently diet wise? We’re some way off this being as specific and therefore as useful as it might first appear to be but that time will come. Meanwhile if a look beneath the surface is of interest to, it may help to form part of your motivation to make lifestyle changes.

So when working with you on a one to one basis think of me like a food coach – on your side and working holistically with you to get the best outcome. Besides dietitian sounds so strict and I have no idea what to do with a stethoscope!

P.s. This is what I do on a one to one basis. I do other stuff too, from workshops, to working with brands, to vlogging with my 4 year old. And today I filmed a programme for the BBC with Ainsley Harriott!

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Gaining weight over Christmas is common and I think part of the problem is that ‘Christmas’ starts sometime in November. The extended festive period gives us ample opportunity to indulge and whilst it falls under the umbrella of ‘Christmas’ it’s out of our hands, right?

For many it is often approached with a certain inevitability that one will be starting the New Year heavier than before. Christmas is a wonderful opportunity to catch up with friends and family and relax after a busy year and the indulgence that goes along with this is both delicious and completely understandable.

However, how would we feel if we indulged and enjoyed but didn’t feel quite so ‘weighed down’ come Jan 2nd? Is it the thoughts in our head, rather than our actions that ultimately lead to the outcome we predicted? The ‘what the heck’ effect is very powerful at this time of year and less favourable food decisions can snowball.

We are complex creatures. If we look at the science of our behaviour – there are some really small things we can do to help ease the calorie load of the festive period whilst still enjoying all it has to offer.

Top tips for coping with the Christmas buffet.
  • Research into leaner people finds they have different behaviours to those that are more overweight. For example, they are less likely to sit facing the food – if you do your brain is more likely to be picking up all sorts of EAT ME, EAT ME messages which will be hard to ignore.
  • They sit further away from the food which again reduces their cues to eat.
  • The buffet is not there as a bush tucker trial – you do not have to include something from every dish. Instead, survey the scene before hand and pick out what really appeals.
  • Try to choose a smaller plate – and remember you’re not building a mole hill.
Top tips for the Christmas drinks party.
  • Ask for your drink in a tall, thin glass. Research shows you’ll drink less if it’s presented in this way.
  • Insist you finish your glass first before it’s topped up so you can keep a bit more of a track on how much you’ve had.
  • Talk to really boring people. We need to maintain mindfulness when we eat – excited chatter means you’re caught up in the fun paying less attention to what you’re eating. Enjoy every morsel of the canape created just for you and allow your brain to register its yumminess.
  • Have a really healthy lunch before hand – when we eat well we’re more inclined to want to keep this going. I know you’re probably scoffing at this but healthy does breed healthy according to behavioural scientists. If you think Christmas cancels this out, then think of the benefits of regulated blood sugar levels to prevent diving into the peanut bowl on arrival.
Top tips for Christmas day.

Ironically Christmas dinner can be one of the healthiest meals eaten together as a family; with lean turkey, plenty of fresh vegetables and fruity pudding for dessert. Much of our expanding January waist line is down to the permission we give ourselves to keep going even when we know we’re full and the influence of others around us. Fab, Uncle Albert is having a 4th mince pie that means I can too! Why not tell Uncle Albert to have a doze and get out the satsumas instead.

No healthy eating plan should be about perfection – but neither should the Christmas flood gates leave you feeling powerless. There are small things you can do which make a big difference, keeping you positive and looking ahead to 2018 with confidence!

If you enjoyed this you may also enjoy  stopping fad diets and making healthy happen.

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With Christmas approaching and the dreaded January ‘diet’ I’m continuing on my mission to support people to think about managing their weight differently. One of my Christmas wishes is that no one embarks on a fad diet come Jan 1st. Full of fake promises and bad science they are truly a really depressing way to start the year. And I think the same should go for exercise – too many people link it directly to losing weight through burning calories – not only is this misleading but we’re also missing the bigger picture!

I’ve previously discussed the benefits of viewing habits separately in eating and training terms rather than diet and exercise. This month I’m continuing my quest for sound fitness information with some insights from personal trainer and owner of  Fit Shack Jacqui Sechiari. Jacqui is passionate about keeping the body moving for optimal strength, flexibility and health.

Jacqui, it’s great to hear someone so enthusiastic about the body and how it is designed to move. Why is it so important to move away from using exercise as a way to lose weight? 

In my opinion, the two things should be kept separate if you want to be “healthy” (I don’t really use the term lose weight). We should exercise because of the beneficial effects that is has on the body, primarily the cardiovascular and neuromuscular systems. In laymans terms this means a healthy heart, blood vessels (affecting blood pressure), increased lung capacity, stronger muscles and bones, increased flexibility and mobility, not to mention the psychological factors. This is about MOVEMENT! However, we also have to be mindful of what we put into our bodies – you cannot out train an unhealthy diet! Unfortunately, many clients only exercise so that they can go home and not feel guilty about eating a Mars bar, hence the perceived relationship between the two things.

What would you say to someone who has never embarked on strength training before?

I would say start slowly with bodyweight training, preferably with a Personal Trainer for at least the first 3 months. You need to make sure that you have the correct form before you start loading with weights or you are likely to get an injury. Women need to be educated about the benefits of strength training, especially as they get older. One of the main benefits is that bigger muscles increase your metabolism and help to burn fat. As women get older, strength training can help to prevent osteoporosis, which will be of concern as we move into our older years.  I have written an article on 10 reasons why women should strength train for more info.

And it’s NEVER too late to start.

Thanks Jacqui, I’m really interested in the behavioural science research that looks into how we form habits. It takes an average of 66 days for a new habit to become the norm. When it comes to training and eating we are far more likely to succeed if we design our lives to make these good habits easier to follow.

Interestingly, it is the thinking of the habit that takes the work, once the actually habit is underway we are likely to see it through (for example we won’t walk out of an exercise class once it’s started!)

So this brings us to the thoughts in our head. Jacqui you always seem to be in the right mind set – how do you ‘do’ that?!

It’s about having a goal, visualise yourself getting to that end point, then go for it. As the saying goes, ‘we are what we eat’ I also believe that ‘we become what we think’. Have positive thoughts, these will turn into positive attitudes and behaviours which will naturally draw you towards healthy habits. Spend time with positive people who bring out the best in you and will spur you on. Keep pressing on towards that goal, and make sure you are checking your progress!

Excellent advice and I agree. I’m off to find my tribe (with my trainers on)!

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I am a really good dinner guest, honest! I don’t take my work home with me, and consider myself to have a very normal attitude to food. I enjoy all things – healthy or otherwise. I don’t get preachy about nutrition most of the time but if you serve me the following I reserve the right to give you my evidence based, matter of fact opinion with a smile!

Coconut oil

This has been cruising on a wave for quite some time and despite a barrage of evidence the wave doesn’t seem to be crashing. Fact: if we decrease our saturated fat intake and substitute for polyunsaturates and monounsaturates we will reduce our risk of high cholesterol and heart disease. Coconut oil is full of saturated fat -13g per tablespoon to be precise (which is 65% of our recommended maximum intake) and unlike the saturated fat in dairy which has been shown to have a protective effect, this is not the case for coconut oil. I’d rather my saturated fat quota go on something else and stick to rapeseed or olive oils – these are stable when heated and boost healthy fats in the diet.

A detox antioxidant juice

Firstly I am not on a dialysis machine – my liver and kidneys are working fine, I’m detoxing all the time even as I type this, I am that good at multi- tasking. Secondly, antioxidants are indeed very powerful but as yet we cannot demonstrate that higher levels taken in the form of a drink translate into higher levels at cellular level where all the magic actually happens. Nutrient- nutrient reactions within foods are very complex and this is where there are gains to be made. Isolating one of thousands of disease fighting compounds, sticking it in a drink and charging £4 for it doesn’t unfortunately improve our health.

Fake carbs

48% of people attribute weight gain to carbs and this has led to a rise in ‘fake carbs’. I’m not against noodling my courgettes or whizzing up my cauliflower – we don’t have to eat carb at every meal in order to be healthy but if we’re deliberately avoiding them because we think they’re bad for us I think that is misguided. Wholegrain carbs help us to meet our fibre requirements – I don’t utilise this fibre of course – my bacteria do. You’re feeding all trillion of them as well as me! Wholegrains lower risk of diabetes, support healthy weight management and help me feel full so I don’t snack endlessly between meals. I should be eating 2-3 serves a day so if they’re missing at dinner I won’t hit the target.

Broccoli

Broccoli is a staple in my household and thanks to the online food order, it’s common to buy the same veg week in, week out. That’s not what my bacteria like though. To keep them healthy and diverse they like lots of variety. Gut health experts recommend we aim for 20 different fruits and veg per week. So come on help me out…

Why am I so bothered about my bacteria? Well 70% of my immune system is in my gut – there’s more of them than there is me (in cells) and they are really powerful in regulating my appetite, protecting my health and lowering my disease risk.

Chia seed pudding

As you may have seen in my vlogging series with my son Sam, seeds aren’t popular with all the family. I love them though, sprinkling them onto salads and into stir fries really does boost my micronutrient intake but in a pudding I’m just not convinced. With puddings for me it’s all about the taste. If it’s gluten or dairy free I couldn’t care less because this doesn’t define its healthiness. Some puddings we know full well are loaded with fat and sugar but this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t eat them occassionally. I don’t come to your house very often, so let’s have a small portion and savour every mouthful (perhaps with some berries on the side)?

I feel confident now that those invitations will come flooding in!

Photo by Alireza Etemadi on Unsplash

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