Isn’t it odd that from the moment clocks chime midnight and the old year turns into a new one, there’s an expectation to ditch festive jolliness in exchange for stoic deprivation. New Year, New You is the rallying cry; drop everything that makes January bearable, shake off that festive weight gain; join a gym; sign up for a marathon; fling treats in the bin.
Since when did any of this carry on make you feel delighted with yourself?
In a world of half-filled cups, I’m the person that enjoys the opportunity January serves up. Still in winters’ grip, it’s the perfect time to relish the stillness of the season and our instinct to reflect and set ambitions for the year ahead.
Small actions every day reminds us to move a little more, eat a little better, feel a little stronger, think a little more positively, and make time for the things that feed our souls as well as our bodies.
Today is the first day of a new year – breathe that in! Wrap up and go for a walk on a beach, up a hill, among the trees. Going for walks cost nothing, challenge yourself to get outside – even if the weather isn’t great, you will be after.
Ever notice how often a dog stretches? They never miss an opportunity to have a good stretch from their nose to their tail! Stretch in bed, in the shower, during a walk. If work involves a lot of sitting down, stand up, stretch and move around every hour. It’ll loosen out muscles and improve flexibility.
Check in with how you feel
Winter takes its toll – the cold, long nights, dark days and iffy weather can leave us feeling a bit meh. Pay attention to that feeling, you might need a seasonal edible energy boost. Red meat and leafy greens are great sources of iron, apples and oranges for vitamin C, fish for Omega’s and B vitamins; seaweeds for just about everything.
Drink more water
The recommended amount daily is just under 3 litres for women and 4 litres for men. This includes tea, coffee, juice etc, but water is the best source for pure, simple hydration. Drinking water daily aids digestion, improves brain function (our brains are 75% water), is essential for good muscle function, and, if love is on your mind, hydration keeps breath fresh too!
Get to grips with eating habits
It’s easy to remember the main meals and easy to forget snacks, a latte here, glass of wine there. Suddenly, we’ve lost track of how much we are eating and when. Keep an honest daily food diary to identify what is eaten and how it can be easily adapted. Knowing when you’re eating will nudge to eat at optimal times of the day when energy is needed, and the body is primed to metabolise it.
Do a food audit
Chuck out old food past its use-by date. Condiments pile up in my larder and I end up with multiples of same or similar things. Gift away to a friend or neighbour (ask first, though) or donate unopened and in date items to food banks.
The deep freeze can harbour more random bits of food than you may realise, especially if you grow some of your own food. Check in with what you have stashed away and plan to use up what is there ahead of the new growing season or before grocery shopping.
Planning your weekly menu helps with eating well during the working week without resorting to takeaways or highly processed ready meals. Use the plan to compile your shopping list and save money too – just stick to the list! Check what you have on hand before heading to the shops to avoid double buying or left with food to be thrown in the bin.
Reduce food waste
Learn to love leftovers and how to incorporate them into your weekly menu plan. Channel your inner-American when eating out – can’t finish what you’ve ordered? Take it home with you! You’ve paid for it anyway and it won’t end up in the restaurant bin.
Walk before you eat
Going for a short walk before you sit down to lunch or dinner will increase appetite and get your body primed to receive food. It will help with digestion and metabolism and a five-minute stroll will get you a free shot of vitamin D, too.
Sushi, salads, vegetables, nuts, fruits, sprouted grains, legumes, nut milks and butters, seaweeds, kimchi and kraut – all come under the raw food banner. Whilst a pure raw food diet does have drawbacks (some foods only unlock their full range of nutrients when cooked), eating more raw foods creates variety of flavour and texture on the palate and colour on the plate.
For those who eat meat, some of the most nutritious cuts are often overlooked. Offal meats – liver, kidneys, heart, sweetbreads and blood puddings, are packed with protein, amino acids, and micronutrients iron, zinc, selenium, vitamins A, D, and B12. They are cheap, delicious and plentiful. Seek out your local butcher, supermarkets tend not to sell offal.
Choosing foods grown without pesticides, herbicides and industrial fertilisers are always going to be better for overall health. They can be more expensive than conventionally grown so it’s not always possible to transition to all organic. But something is better than nothing, and if there are one or two vegetables you eat a lot of, that’s a good place to start.
If the thought of going entirely caffeine free sends you into a panic, limit how much you drink and when. No caffeine after 3pm or eight hours before bed, but it depends how receptive you are to caffeine and how quickly you metabolise it out of your system. Reduce intake by substituting with herbal tea or drinking a glass of water with every caffeinated drink.
It’s not possible to have a sugar-free diet. All foods, even green leafy veg, contain natural sugars. This is about addictive highly processed sugars and reducing their intake. It’s not easy; socialising is a sweet minefield to navigate, and you’ll become proficient reading labels to identify hidden sugars on ingredient lists. Start gradually, soon small steps will have big impacts.
Eat at the table
Try to eat sat at the table at least three times a week. Avoid couch dining and be mindful about what you’re eating. Ban mobile phones, set nice lighting, lay the table and put on some music to create a social environment. What otherwise would be a rushed 15 minute gobbling of food becomes a social high point of the day catching up, sharing news, cracking jokes.
One more veg
We should all be eating more vegetables with every meal – good for us, good for the planet – but this can be challenging if veg are not a favourite. Every week pick a veg to get to know and like better. Choosing seasonal veggies will always taste better, and experiment cooking with them. Eventually, you’ll hit upon a veg you love cooked in a favourite way and, hey presto, everything becomes tastier.
Change up your protein
For meat, chose quality over quantity – meat that is raised better will taste better and be more nutritious. For fish, explore what’s seasonal and try something new to you. Fish is the only wild food we still eat regularly, embrace that, and avoid farmed fish if possible. If you have eggs, you have a meal – any time of the day. Keep a stock of tinned beans (kidney, cannellini, butter, black, aduki) ready to add a nutritious protein hit to any meal, or change it up with tofu.
Not all of us can be Nigella in the kitchen, but learning to cook, learn a new skill or cuisine is a great way to better the at-home eating experience. Cookery is a life skill; you can feed yourself and others, entertain, even set you up for a career! You’ll learn how to taste, alchemy of flavour, science of cookery, and good home economy. Cookery schools are online and in person all over the country – no time like the present!
It doesn’t matter if the only growing space you have is a window box, there’s nothing quite like growing your own food. Experience the magic once of seed to plant to crop to plate and you’ll be hooked. Cook it, preserve it, pickle it – whatever you do, don’t waste it! It’s free exercise, and it’s a great practice for mindfulness, too.
In recent years, there has been an explosion in the ancient skill of fermenting food. Originally to preserve stocks during lean times, these days the buzz is all around increasing bioavailability of nutrients in food to deliver probiotic and gut friendly bacteria to the stomach. They add extra funky flavours that don’t show up in any other kind of food preparation, look pretty and taste great – all while doing you good.
Seek out local growers, farmers and suppliers of locally grown seasonal foods. It supports vital Irish farming jobs, keeps them growing food for us and reduces our reliance on imported food. Eating seasonally means we eat foods growing right at the time our bodies need their nutrients and we learn to appreciate foods available at certain times of the year. Seek out local co-ops, farmer’s markets, or Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Veg Box schemes.
Men and women eat differently, and portion size should be different, too. Appropriate portion size is better for us: it makes meals easier to digest, we consume less excess calories, and makes food (and budgets) go further.
Food as goodness
What we eat, how we eat, even where we eat are charged and emotive issues. Food and eating have become loaded concepts: too much, not enough, too cheap, too expensive, healthy, unhealthy, and on it goes. Cooking and the joy of eating are intrinsically human experiences. Look upon that as a positive and see food for what it is – a way to nourish our bodies.
Happiness is the ultimate life goal: it costs nothing, and it comes from within. Each day of #100happydays challenge, find something to post that gifted a moment of happiness – small, big, every day or extraordinary. January can be a massive drag from start to finish, so make it lighter and bearable by finding something in each of its 31 days to smile about, including delicious things!