With the bulbs peeping through in the garden and the longer days beginning to emerge, there’s a real sense of spring in the air isn’t there? March is the perfect time to think ahead and prepare your body and mindset for summer.
So why procrastinate? Take the time now to dust off the winter layers and get onboard with some healthy habits of eating and drinking so you can look and feel your very best by the time summer is upon us.
I’m thrilled to say that Love French Style’s new well-being expert Lucy Thompson from French Yoga Garden in Charroux, Vienne is back with us to guide us through this important time of transformation.
Over to you Lucy…
If you’re someone who always sets out into the new year with the best intentions regarding weight loss and exercise, why not make a conscious change this spring for good and reap the reward in plenty of time for summer?
It’s often hard to commit to a new way of eating, drinking and exercising without support so I’m including some tips on getting your house in order ready to help your body be it’s best version of itself…
So let’s all be realistic for a moment – diets don’t really work! Yes we can all make some drastic changes to what we eat and drink in the short term, usually after some big blowouts but really the key to a healthy body, healthy life is eating well and in consistent moderation. The body and mind needs sustenance, respect and nourishment – it’s good for us! A body that is continually drained through working too hard, cutting corners, not enough proper rest and eating inappropriately is much more likely to feel the strains of life, and lead to suffering on the inside and signs of neglect on the outside.
The human body is a vibrant, pulsating, fascinating living universe all in itself! Imagine if you can for a moment the more than 50,000 million cells – the body’s microscopic building blocks – some of which form tissues and organs which then coordinate to become body systems. You have around 206 bones and more than 600 individual muscles, all of which need a constant supply of energy to power your body. You are an amazing powerhouse! But let’s not think of the body as a separate machine – we’re more self-organising jungle – think living, breathing, adaptive being with an interconnected mind that has to be flexible in response to it’s environment. And you hold the key to this amazing jungle – you are the guardian with many responsibilities. Yes this all sounds very dramatic but really what I am trying to stress is that particularly over the last 30 years – foods have become commodities, we dine out, we order in, we eat on the run and often simply for fuel – to fill the tank and we’ve forgotten our responsibilities to ourselves. We have become a world comprising millions of mindless eaters and commerce continues to support this trend with cheap fast food available all over the world. Along the way many of us have forgotten that we hold the key to our own health, that we are responsible for our own nutrition, for feeding the jungle – so any way forward, in my mind, has to start with respect for ourselves and our bodies and taking back control.
We might be complicated beings but eating doesn’t need to be. So here are a few foundational guiding principles to help shape the way you eat for life:-
⁃Respect your body – this means meeting the demands of your body to maintain and optimise all it’s complex systems…so be nice to your body – it deserves it and if you look after your body it will better look after you
⁃Understanding that if you only eat nutrient poor fast foods you will end up consuming vast amounts of fat, sugar and grossly over-processed ingredients – non of which the body can effectively use. It’s like feeding that jungle monkey milkshake – crazy right!
⁃Develop a positive relationship with food – it’s not just what you eat that matters but how you eat. Approached positively food can provide you with an amazing foundation and continued joy in life but if caught up in angst and guilt things can go awry. So have a think if eating gets caught up in affection and rewards to yourself and others, whether eating patterns intertwine with emotions and reactions and be honest with when and what you eat. Awareness of how you eat is the first step to a better more sustainable approach to eating
⁃We are often so mindless in eating that we don’t remember or realise what we eat – keeping an honest food diary is a great place to start, simply tracking what you eat for each meal and any snacking you do. Also keeping tabs of emotions, moods or reactions is useful to see if there is any correlation or trigger pattern emerging
⁃When you do eat – eat mindfully. Look, taste, chew, take your time over meals as much as you can then the signals of satiety have time to register with the belly and brain, stopping you from over-eating and under digesting.
⁃Eat well most of the time and without guilt. So as a general rule try to eat healthily for at least 80% of the time and then allow yourself some weekly slack time for some of the treats you enjoy; denying yourself will only make the likelihood of bingeing increase. And if you fall off the band wagon of healthy eating – don’t beat yourself up and throw it all out of the window – just start afresh the next day. Like anything eating healthily takes time and practice for it to become the norm
⁃You’ve probably all heard of the 5:2 diet or intermittent fasting – the results of this can be great for some people but it requires a lot of focus and planning and just simply isn’t the right thing for many people. A great place to start is to shorten your eating window – this can be transformational in itself. So for example – do you eat between 7.00am and 8.00pm – that’s a 13 hour eating window. If you adjust this to say 8.30 am and 7.00pm, or even shorter then you are well on your way to using more calories and fasting over night without you even realising
⁃Grasp the fact that eating well is down to you….if someone else cooks your food and isn’t aligned with what you need to eat then perhaps it’s time to intervene. Whether that’s taking control more often in the kitchen or in the supermarket, learning to cook a handful of delicious go-to recipes or being a better sous-chef at home – being able to feed-yourself well is an essential life skill, it’s all doable and more often than not enjoyable.
⁃The same applies to alcohol – one of the most common reasons for drinking too much is simply doing so without really thinking because it’s a habit. We all like a drink – the effects can be a welcome little lift at the end of a day as alcohol has effects on many neurotransmitters in the brain. We feel the sedative effects and the euphoric effects of an increase in dopamine and endorphins. And so we begin craving that hit over and over again. If we can just break the cycle and bring a little mindfulness into our actions then we are well on our way to being in control again. Mindful drinking is exactly what it says on the tin and you don’t need to sit on a yoga mat for 20 minutes a day to bring mindfulness into your life. If you want to really get your head around moderate drinking I recommend the book ‘Mindful Drinking’ by Rosamund Dean.
So what’s this month really all about – well balance is the word I have in mind. March feels like a transitionary month – bridging the gap between winter, introverted behaviour and let’s face it social restrictions, and summer – a season of bbs, outdoor activities and socialising. I am sure many of us let our inner-sloth reign during winter but now that Spring is springing we are looking to emerge and start living more fully again. So March is a great time to start adjusting your compass….move a little more, get a little fitter, do that walk in nature, make the effort to meet a friend and put some tentative plans in the diary to give you hope and focus, lifting the spirits and not just the gin and tonic kind!
Take a look back and see how much we have all had to curb our behaviour this year. And then think about what good habits you can take from this period – be that daily exercise, drinking less, being more involved with family. And then think about which habits don’t serve you anymore, habits you’d like to change or drop so you can bring more balance into your life. As we sit on the cusp of feeling like we need to throw the mother of all parties, think about how sweet life will feel anyways just being allowed to be fully human again – when we can enjoy it in its full glory – seeing friends, remembering hugs and parties and weekends away – that will be euphoria enough!
For some – I know – the thought of emerging into a spring butterfly is a little daunting in itself, especially if you’ve gotten used to isolating, not really socialising and spending time on your own. This has been tough year for all those who live alone and it’s perfectly normal after this year to feel withdrawn – a little anxious and agoraphobic and it can be hard to break free. If this is the case do reach out to a confidant and get help in making tentative steps to talk and socialise a little more as things open up. As the buddha says – everything passes and nothing stays the same.
So to help keep the nervous system in check – to help balance mind and body here’s a breathing exercise – a balancing breath to calm nerves and settle thoughts. You can do this anytime of day that you feel anxious and just want to take a pause. In my line of work it’s a practice I come back to time and time again as it’s simple but effective and safe, and it just serves as a reset button that you control.
So it’s a 4 x 4 breath – where the inhales equal the exhales both for a steady count of four. It’s a nasal breath both on the inhale and exhale and it helps if you can just hear your breath too – the calming sound has an amplified effect on the nervous system. And finally it’s a diaphragmatic breath – so the diaphragm will push down to the belly – forcing the belly to rise on the inhale and depress on the exhale. It’s useful to have a little practice just doing the belly breaths like this before hand.
So sit comfortably upright, either on the floor or a chair, your bed etc., wherever you are taking a moment – and close the eyes. Focus on the belly breaths to start with, make sure you are breathing with the nose and then in your mind’s eye start to count the breaths – counting to 4 on the inhale and a slight pause, then to 4 on the exhale and pause before starting again. Try to continue breathing like this for maybe 10-15 rounds or just a few minutes.
Using this balancing breath over time on a regular basis as a kind of mindful intervention can help you live more harmoniously with stress and anxiety – as it signals to the vagus nerve to elicit a parasympathetic nervous response – basically signalling to the lungs, heart and digestive tract to calm down, to rest, digest and relax, allowing you to feel calmer and more grounded – try it for yourself, it really works!
So to summarise – I kind of feel that everything about health and happiness is about finding balance, starting with knowing what’s important to you to balance in your life. For example – my key pillars are health and fitness, my work and doing what I love, family and friends. Once you have this you can carve up your time and energy to keep all of these things alive and well and nourished; anything else you can let come and go.
So I’ll leave you thinking about what your four key pillars are in your life. Think about where your energy goes, is it balanced, do your actions bring you your desired outcomes or it is time to do a little soul searching into what kind of spring butterfly you’ll be this year?
Thank you so much lovely Lucy and to all of you – I hope you enjoyed reading X
You can follow Lucy on Instagram @frenchyogagarden