Optimizing diet & lifestyle choices as we return to the office
September is a busy time every year, without the added layer of the world ‘getting back to normal’, post pandemic. I feel as though the country is collectively preparing – whether it’s back to school for the kids, and/or back to the office after working from home for over a year. I’m betting a lot of us have a massive case of the ‘Sunday scaries.’
One of the best tools for resilience during stressful transitions is planning ahead. Actively taking a few minutes to think about our approach; to the next month, week, even day ahead, is a great way to reduce anxiety and feel more grounded as we navigate change.
As an integrative nutrition health coach, I help people learn how to prioritize healthier food and lifestyle choices, or in other words, form better habits. And what better time to create new habits than when we have a global opportunity to rewrite how we do things? I strongly believe that healthy habits are the foundation of emotional and mental wellbeing. So in the spirit of a more grounded September, I’m sharing some tips on how we can optimize our food and lifestyle choices for resiliency this month.
1. Clean up your sleep routine
Consistency is key when it comes to getting good sleep. If you’ve been on a late night bender this past year and a half, now is the time to get into better sleep habits to avoid burnout in the busy months ahead. This means going to bed and getting up at the same time every day and keeping a sleep routine, ideally on weekends as well, though you could push both an hour later.
It means shutting down any screens (TV included) at least one hour before bed so your body has a chance to understand it’s night and start secreting melatonin, our natural sleep hormone. I also recommend cutting late night snacking, which can interrupt sleep and keep the body digesting vs. doing more important things like healing and fighting off sickness.
Wondering what to do for that hour or so before bed without screens? I suggest something tactical such as preparing your family’s lunches, folding laundry, tidying up, or saving the dinner dishes for that time. This, followed by a little self care ritual such as skin care routine, brushing your teeth and a few pages of a good book and you’ll be in a better position to ease back into earlier nights and wakeups.
2. Plan greener dinners
If my personal health journey has taught me anything, it’s that food is 100 percent medicine. Particularly plant foods, which have powerful health benefits, including; helping to reduce inflammation, fight off sickness and disease, detox the body, and reduce stress and ease feelings of anxiety.
Cooking real food that includes a diversity of plants is one of the best things we can do for our health. Taking a few minutes to plan dinners for the week is the best way to ensure you’re getting in your greens and eating healthy most of the time. Without it, it’s easy to default to takeout when things get busy, which they inevitably will. I plan four meals for the week, leaving room for takeout once as well as leftovers. Takeout is great as a treat once or twice a week but can drive harmful inflammation when eaten too often, as it’s full of refined sugars and vegetable oils; pesticide heavy and genetically modified ingredients, and low quality meats. To avoid this and ensure you have healthy leftovers for most nights, up the quantities in your recipes as needed to ensure you’re cooking once at eating at least twice,
Because the healthiest guts are those who eat the most diverse array of plant foods, I always recommend incorporating a wide variety of vegetables into meals. A simple way to do this is to ensure that at least half of every plate I plan is vegetables, at least half of which are green. Getting out of our comfort zones and trying new foods can be challenging but Google is our friend! There are a million resources online for how to deliciously prepare any type of vegetable. Give that gut of yours some plant based TLC and your body and mind will thank you by keeping you feeling good.
3. Prep balanced lunches
Meal prepping healthy lunches is your best defence against a busy week! I spend a few hours on Sunday prepping Buddha Bowls for the week ahead so we’re not scrambling to make lunch in the morning, which let’s be honest, never really works. I love Buddha Bowls (another name for a fancy salad bowl) because they make it easy to incorporate all of the macro and micronutrients anyone needs in a meal – and you can add dinner leftovers so easily for added flavour!
The process is simple: Roast a sheet full of veggies drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and salt and pepper. Then prepare at least two protein sources. I like a few chicken breasts in the instant pot (a game changer for busy people!) and sauteed wild shrimp. Grass fed beef, roasted chickpeas, crispy tofu, tempeh or sausage are all great options. While the veggies roast, prepare a large garden salad. I love a mix of arugula, organic spinach and boston lettuce, alongside any fresh veggies we have in the fridge. I make a little container of mixed seeds and nuts to sprinkle on top for added protein and heart healthy Omega 3 fats. Pumpkin, hemp, sunflower seeds and slivered almonds are my favorites. For dressing, I make two options so I don’t get bored of the same flavour all week. Currently, I’m obsessed with a simple drizzle of toasted sesame oil and ume plum vinegar. So addictive! Adding olives or a scoop of kimchi or sauerkraut will give your Buddha Bowl a natural probiotic boost for a very happy gut!
4. Plan your week
My biggest hack for avoiding the ‘Sunday scaries’, or in this case the ‘September scaries’ is to plan my week ahead on paper. I’m a total A type, but I feel ‘to do’ lists can bring anyone a sense of order in a busy week. I simply spend a few minutes on Sunday jotting down anything I ‘must do’ that week, alongside any ‘nice to do’s’. Go easy on yourself. You likely have a lot going on this month, so ask yourself whether there are any ‘must do’s’ that can actually wait.
5. Morning mindfulness
The biggest argument I hear against practicing mindfulness is a lack of time to do it. People see it as another thing on their to do list without knowing it can actually help them be more effective at getting the rest of the list completed. Taking just a few mindful minutes in the morning helps set you on a more grounded path for the day ahead.
Personally, I love meditation. It’s been proven to help reduce stress and inflammation and improve our ability to react to external stimuli with more awareness. Since becoming a mom, I have less time to myself so I combine meditation with my morning stretch using a routine on my favourite free meditation app, InsightTimer. I get up ten minutes earlier to do it but the emotional benefits I experience of feeling more grounded and less frazzled throughout my day, are well worth ten minutes less sleep. If you aren’t into mediation; journaling, a few conscious deep breaths or a little yoga session are all great ways to be mindful and you only need five minutes to reap the benefits.
6. Move your body
Our bodies are made to move and we know movement has immense mental, emotional and physical benefits. Unfortunately, for so many of us, our jobs keep us sedentary. I try to wake up 30 mins early a few times a week to get my daily movement in before work when my motivation is highest. It also gets it out of the way so it’s one less thing to think about in the evening when family responsibilities tend to take over. On days when you can’t swing the earlier wake up, you can try walking or biking to work- or even parking further from your usual spot or getting off of transit earlier to walk the rest of the way. Taking the stairs, a brisk walk after lunch or coordinating a five minute afternoon stretch with your coworkers are all great ways to inject little bits of movement into your day.
7. Establish healthier work boundaries
I strongly believe the silver lining to the pandemic has been the opportunity it’s given us to rewrite the guidebook, so to speak. Establishing healthier habits this time around; such as leaving work on time, shutting off at a certain time in the evening, building healthy bedtime routines, taking weekends truly off, taking breaks at work to connect with coworkers, and eating lunch away from your desk are healthy habits that we can put into place this time around to help us feel more balanced and ultimately make us more productive.
Creating sustainable change can be challenging (that’s where health coaches can help!) but it always begins with one small step in the right direction – one ‘better for you’ choice. Try choosing one of these new habits and do it every day for one week to see if it resonates. If after one full week you don’t enjoy it – or the feeling you get from it – try another. We won’t do what we don’t see benefit from so there’s no use trying to force it.
Making positive change takes a commitment to yourself. It requires a conscious effort to prioritize positive choices again and again until they become habitual. Start small and work your way up. And remember that some is always better than none so don’t be hard on yourself! If you feel some accountability and support in making the change you want to see would be helpful, I’d be happy to chat about how I can help you create sustainable diet and lifestyle improvements over a complimentary Discovery Call.
Lisa’s health journey began five years ago, when she discovered a bald spot on her scalp the size of a loonie. After about a month, she’d lost most of her hair to a massive Autoimmune induced, Alopecia Areata flare.
Fast forward to today and Lisa’s living her best life – with hair! Something told her to reject the traditional “treatment” of steroid injections in the scalp and to see an ND instead. From there, Lisa healed her gut and made healthy changes to both her diet and lifestyle.
The total health transformation that followed was incredible to Lisa. Chronic symptoms she’d been dealing with for years disappeared and she had regrowth across her entire scalp!
Lisa’s amazing health transformation inspired her to attend the Institute of Integrative Nutrition to become an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach so she can empower others to harness the power of food and lifestyle, in order to truly thrive.
Lisa believes (and is living proof) that a healthy gut along with healthy diet and lifestyle habits are the foundation for good health. When used correctly, they have the power to heal the body and completely transform our health.
Click below to get started with the Integrative Nutrition Coaching Program.
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