Well & Good
Feeling a little worse for wear after the break? Chances are you're not alone.
Tiredness, tight waistbands and illnesses that linger can all be signs your health is in need of an overhaul.
The good news is setting yourself up for a year of feeling and looking good needn't be an overwhelming leap. In fact, making bite-size changes will increase the likelihood of lasting success.
For suggestions on how to improve your health for good, we contacted three health practitioners: a doctor, a naturopath and a dietitian. Here's what they had to say.
Naturopath Nicole Farrell says the state of your digestion can reveal a lot about your health. Burping, being bloated or gassy are all signs this may not be working effectively.
"Digestion is strongly linked to your immune system and the king as far as health goes," she says.
"I find a lot of people have digestive issues and don't even realise."
As confronting as it may be, Farrell recommends taking a peek in the toilet bowl.
"Often people have undigested food in their stool, which shows that they're not chewing properly, so are not getting the nutrients they need," she says.
"Really dark stool can indicate it's been sitting in the bowel too long, pellets indicate dehydration, while if it's too loose that can indicate malabsorption."
In terms of regularity, Farrell says everyone is different. "It's quite individual but, for optimum health, at least once a day."
To aid digestion, Farrell recommends starting the day with a glass of warm water mixed with a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar.
"It kick starts your digestive juices for the day so that you can absorb and process food better," she says.
Natural yoghurt with no added sugar is a worthwhile addition to the diet. It contains good bacteria that can help the gut. And don't forget to drink water; every cell and organ in the body needs it. Still water is best as the bubbles in carbonated can be detrimental to digestion.
"It's best around fifteen minutes before or after eating," she says.
"When we drink water while we're eating we dilute the digestive juices."
Longer term solutions
For Farrell food is the key to good health.
"Long-term it's about setting up something you can sustain, not going on a diet," she says.
"My philosophy is to think in terms of whole foods, not calories. Go for food that's in its closest state to nature because your body knows how to recognise it."
She suggests superfoods like berries, chia seeds, linseeds, spirulina and goji berries to boost your nutrient content, particularly when stressed.
"Including some protein with each meal is a good way to keep your blood sugar levels stable and help with energy," she says.
Lacklustre skin, trouble doing up your clothes and difficulty doing things you used to are all signs your body may need attention, according to dietitian and author Tara Diversi.
"Of course as we get older certain things aren't as easy," she says. "But [it's a concern] if you notice a significant difference."
Busy people can make bad food choices in the name of convenience. If there's more packaged food than fresh in the kitchen, it's probably time for a dietary shakeup.
Going too far in your health or weight-loss pursuits is just as worrying.
"Lose weight to improve your lifestyle, but not at the sacrifice of your friends, work and energy," says Diversi.
Try adding non-starchy vegetables like broccoli, capsicums, tomatoes, spinach, cucumber, zucchini and celery to at least two meals a day.
"You're going to feel much better if you're not already doing that ... they're packed with nutrients without the calories," says Diversi.
Cutting out or reducing consumption of sugary beverages may also help.
"Getting too much energy from fast absorping stuff - alcohol, juice and soft drinks - not only puts on weight and makes you feel more fatigued, it leads to visceral fat around your belly ... you get the calories, but not the vitamins and minerals that come from food," she says.
Long term changes
If you don't see instant results from your efforts don't lose hope. Diversi says it can take about four months before you see changes. Keeping the steps small means they will be easier to maintain so the transformation will be sustainable.
"I call it laddering - it's taking one step at a time to get to your goal," she says.
For Dr Ginni Mansberg the alarm bells start going off when a patient says they've had a cold for six weeks.
"That tells me your immune system is not working properly," she says.
Sugar cravings and falling asleep too soon can also indicate your health is out of whack.
"Taking 10 to 15 minutes to settle when you get into bed is normal," she says.
"If you're asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow, that's not normal. Sugar cravings [can also be] a sign of exhaustion."
Exercise is key; it even trumps sleep. Even twenty minutes of fast walking can make you feel much better instantly, Dr Mansberg says.
"Unless you have been told by your doctor not to exercise, there are no excuses," she says.
"Start small and you're more likely to stick with it and like it because you feel good."
Making time for pleasure pitstops can also significantly benefit your health.
"Most people don't realise how much stress takes a toll on them," she says.
"Take time reconnecting with people who make you happy and having a serious think about people who make you unhappy."
Longer term solutions
The odd sweet treat is fine, but most of us struggle to keep it to just that, says Dr Mansberg. Best to head to the pantry and remove the temptation.
"Clear out your pantry of the twisties, jelly snakes and leftover Christmas chocolate," she says.
She also recommends cutting back on the booze, a message that will probably resonate with many this time of year.
"Alcohol creeps up on you," she says.
"Any more than 10 standard drinks a week affects your sleep, liver, heart, blood pressure, not to mention that it's huge on calories."
For those with health or weight problems that have been lingering for some time, make 2012 the year to tackle them.
"If you need professional help to do that, see it as a good investment in your health and wellbeing."
-Sydney Morning Herald
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