What to eat for inner strength
We all want to be our strongest, most resilient and energised selves. A new year can be a natural time to tune in to how our bodies feel and to think about ways to be healthier in the year ahead. But the pressure to keep resolutions can feel overwhelming.
Instead, here are six principles to incorporate into daily life to help you feel more balanced. Think of them more as a guide for new habits than as resolutions. And because our bodies and minds do not work in isolation, these principles can positively impact on both.
Honor your body's natural rhythm
Sleep is when our bodies and minds rest, repair and regenerate, so getting enough good quality sleep is vital for our physical and mental health.
We are designed to be awake and active when it's light and to wind down and sleep when it's dark. The hormone melatonin regulates our circadian rhythm (the 24 hour wake and sleep cycle), and levels peak at night, signalling our bodies to sleep.
Melatonin is easily disrupted by sedentary days indoors, late nights, stimulants and blue light. Here are four simple ways boost it:
- Get outside and move in the daylight every day
- Keep your bedroom dark at night (blackout blinds and eye masks at the ready)
- Avoid screens for at least an hour before bed
- Eat melatonin supporting foods, including almonds, walnuts, turkey, salmon, eggs, bananas, oats, yoghurt and cherries. If you need an after dinner snack, a handful of almonds or a banana are sleep-friendly choices
Get your Vitamin D
As well as its importance for bone health and the immune system, Vitamin D also plays a role in skeletal muscle function (this includes the muscles that make up your pelvic floor).
Vitamin D is best obtained by exposure to sunlight - another reason to get outside. Some foods also contain vitamin D, including pasture raised eggs, liver and wild fatty fish, like salmon, mackerel and herring.
In the winter months, consider taking a Vitamin D supplement.
Relax those muscles
Magnesium can help to soothe muscles, setting you up for a good night's sleep. It's relaxing effect can also benefit the pelvic floor by relieving constipation and reducing spasms to help the bladder to fully empty.
To make sure you're getting enough, eat magnesium rich foods daily, such as pumpkin seeds, almonds, spinach, chard, kale, black beans, quinoa and avocado.
Epsom salt baths or foot soaks are a great way to absorb extra magnesium through your skin - plus they're a lovely addition to a calming bedtime routine.
Stability over stimulants
Our energy levels and mood are closely linked to our blood sugar balance. Spikes in blood sugar from refined sugars and grains (like those in soda, candy, chocolate, cookies and white flour) result in an initial high, followed by a dip in energy. This unhelpfully sets off cravings for more sugary foods… and so the cycle continues.
Caffeine can have a similar effect, increasing cortisol (stress hormone) levels to make you more alert, followed by fatigue once the high wears off. Caffeine is also a diuretic, meaning it increases the kidneys' production of urine which can lead to an over-active bladder.
So how do you reduce sugar and caffeine, which we so often crave and rely on as quick energy fixes when we're tired and stressed?
Switching refined carbs and sugary treats for combinations of complex carbs, healthy fats and proteins satisfies hunger and gives a more sustained release of energy.
- Try porridge with berries and mixed nuts
- Snack on avocado or hummus on whole grain bread or homemade energy balls
- Try green tea or matcha lattes as lower caffeine alternatives to black tea and coffee
- Cinnamon - as a tea or added to food - is deliciously warming and helps satisfy sugar cravings
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
Drinking enough water not only benefits energy levels and has a positive impact on concentration and mood, but it also plays an important role in bladder health.
One and a half to two litres of water is recommended for the average adult, more if exercising intensively or in a hot climate. Aim to drink enough that your urine is a pale straw colour.
Lettuce, melon, kiwi and cucumber are all high water-content foods so include these in snacks and salads too. Non-caffeinated herbal teas and water infusions (try these) can bump up your fluid intake.
Eat your greens (and reds, yellows and purples)
Aim for seven to ten fist-sized portions of fruit and veggies per day for the greatest benefits. As a guide, make two thirds of these vegetables and go for a range of colours and varieties. While it can feel daunting to reach this number, there are some simple tricks to make it easier.
- Add greens and berries to a morning smoothie or stewed apples and pears to porridge
- Include a handful of arugula or watercress with lunch and dinner
- Snack on carrot and pepper sticks with homemade guacamole or a beetroot dip
- Add roasted veggies to soups and warm salads (like this) or serve as a side
These principles can be the start of new food and lifestyle habits. But take it slow. First grow your awareness of how what you eat and drink makes you feel. Then you can start to make small changes, one day at a time.