I love a good spring clean. I feel enormous satisfaction getting rid of junk from my cupboards that I never use, cleaning the places that are usually ignored and throwing open my windows to let in the fresh spring air at the winter. It feels cathartic and somehow, the order in my house translates into order in many other aspects of my life. So my suggestion is to do the same thing with your diet and lifestyle.
A healthy lifestyle is an ongoing process. None of us, including everyone involved in the health and wellbeing industry, are perfect all of the time. Other things in life derail us or make it more difficult to do what we know to be best for our health. You may just have been incredibly busy at work, making it difficult to get your usual exercise in. A relationship break up may have rattled your emotional stability and perhaps you turned to food or drink as a coping strategy. You may have been traveling frequently of late, making it hard to eat healthily and stick to a routine. Or you may just have had other priorities in your life that have taken your attention, so that your own health and wellbeing went to the bottom of the list. This is life and this is normal. But this is also why a healthy lifestyle is always a work in progress. It is not something you achieve and then forget about. We all benefit from stopping, evaluating and priortising the changes we need to make every now and again. Spring is a terrific time to do just that. Spring clean your home, and spring clean your lifestyle at the same time and you’ll be firing on all cylinders come summer.
So where do you start? Sit down with a sheet of paper, or for the tech lovers do it electronically, and note down first a self-evaluation of your health and wellbeing. Are you a healthy weight? Have you lost or gained weight in the last year? How much exercise are you currently doing and how has this changed in the last year? How many hours are you spending sitting at work or in your leisure time? How well are you eating? Do you eat leafy greens everyday? Do you eat breakfast every day? Do you choose wholegrains and legumes over refined products? Do you go to the bathroom regularly? Are you drinking enough water? How often and how much alcohol are you drinking? Do you smoke? How many hours do you sleep most nights? How are your energy levels? Do you feel you have stress under control or are you frequently snappy and short tempered? Are you excited about the year ahead?
I could go on and on with such questions, but you get the idea. Essentially this is an evaluation of 5 key areas: activity levels, diet, sleep, stress and mental health. They all interlink in that they affect each other, and are all equally important. Think of them as a graphic equalizer where you need to make adjustments to one or more of them to get the overall sound just right.
You may find that you are doing well in some areas, but that others stand out as clearly needing some work. You may be eating fairly well, but you’re drinking too much. Or you may have your exercise down pat, but your stress levels are through the roof and you sleep only 4 hours a night. Whatever comes out top, work on that area first to get the best overall improvement in your health and well-being.
Next write down your goals and an action plan of how you will improve that area. If your primary concern is your weight, be realistic about what needs to change. Rather than googling for the latest fat loss supplement, be honest about how, what and why you eat and drink. Then write down what changes you plan to put into place. If you need help to do this, look for a dietitian in your area who can help. If exercise and activity needs priority, look for help. Training with a buddy is a huge help, or join your local gym and book some sessions with a trainer to get you started. If you’re exhausted all the time because you don’t sleep well, give that your priority and read up on good sleep hygiene practices. There is much that you can do to improve your sleep and once that improves, you’ll most likely find it easier to eat well and with more energy hitting the gym won’t be such an uphill battle either.
When it comes to your diet, you can do a physical spring clean as well as a mental one. Go through your pantry, your fridge and your freezer. Throw out everything that is past its use by date, or that you simply don’t want to be eating. Ditch all the rubbish and the temptations, and give everything a good clean. Organise your shelves so that the foods you want to be eating on a daily basis are those you see at eye level the minute you open the door. Then make a shopping list and add the foods that are missing for a healthy everyday plan. Don’t get side tracked and confused with extreme diets or faddy approaches. You are simply aiming for a minimally processed, whole food diet. That means vegetables, fruit, nuts, legumes, wholegrains, lean meats, fish, seafood, dairy foods or alternatives. Be judicious in the packet foods that you buy and learn to read labels to make the best choices. My best advice is to read the ingredients list first – if it reads as a list of foods you could buy yourself you’re probably onto a good thing. If it reads like a chemistry textbook index, put it back.
You’re now ready to put your plan into action. By priortising your changes you can be more strategic and make the biggest impact. It won’t seem so daunting to get onto the right path, and you can add to those changes as you move along. But remember your work is never done. Just as your house will need another spring clean next year, the same is true of your lifestyle. Mini cleans throughout the year will keep you from slipping back into your old ways and come next spring the clean up will be more like a fine tune.