More than two-thirds of Australians are now overweight or obese according to the National Health Survey (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2017-18). So, many of us will be wanting to shed excess fat and start the new decade off on a heathier note. Most experts say it all starts with diet, with most agreeing weight loss is about 80 per cent determined by what you eat and 20 per cent by how active you are. No amount of exercise is going to undo the effects of a bad diet.
The most common sense piece of diet advice you will ever read comes from Michael Pollan, a US author and journalist whose work explores the socio-cultural impacts of food. After many years of research on the healthiest diets around the world, he said his understanding of optimal nutrition could be summarised as: Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants.
By ‘eat food’ he means eat real food, not processed food. While experts around the world disagree on the perfect diet, all agree that fresh, minimally processed whole foods are best. The ‘eat too much’ part is self-explanatory, yet many of us overeat out of boredom, emotional disturbances, addiction or just plain old gluttony. Make 2020 the year you reduce your portion sizes, stop going back for seconds and cut out unnecessary snacking. It will make a world of difference.
Eating mostly plants makes a lot of sense, too. Plant foods provide antioxidants, phytochemicals, fibre, enzymes, prebiotics, probiotics, essential fatty acids, proteins, vitamins and minerals. Aim to eat the freshest fruit and vegetables you can buy, as they have more flavour and nutrition. It doesn’t have to be organic. If you buy fresh produce from a farmers’ market, it will mostly likely have been pulled out of the ground only hours before.
If you’re keen to lose weight, there are numerous diet plans doing the rounds: intermittent fasting, paleo, keto, the CSIRO diet, Atkins, veganism or the one most experts vouch for as the healthiest way to drop kilos while getting all the nutrients you need: the Mediterranean diet.
It’s rich in fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, olive oil, seafood, poultry, a moderate amount of dairy and minimal amounts of red meat. Other important elements of the Mediterranean lifestyle are sharing meals with family and friends, enjoying a glass of red wine and being physically active.
According to Harvard Medical School, the Mediterranean diet can help lower cholesterol, aid weight loss, improve rheumatoid arthritis and reduce the risk of dementia, diabetes and cancer.
The Mediterranean diet in a nutshell
- Base every meal on fruits, vegetables, whole grains (whole-wheat bread, brown rice, quinoa and bulgur), olive oil, beans, nuts, legumes (lentils, dried peas and beans), seeds, herbs and spices.
- Eat fish at least twice a week.
- Eat moderate portions of cheese and yoghurt daily to weekly.
- Eat moderate portions of poultry and eggs every two days or weekly.
- Eat red meat sparingly or limit to 85-gram portions.
- Drink plenty of water each day, and drink wine in moderation — no more than one (140-gram) glass a day for women, two glasses per day for men.
Did you know?
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, fewer than one in 10 adults met the recommendations for daily vegetable consumption in 2017-18.
5 Quick tips
- Sauté food in olive oil, not butter.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables by having them as a snack or adding them to other recipes.
- Choose whole grains instead of refined breads and pastas.
- Substitute a fish meal for red meat at least twice per week.
- Limit high-fat dairy by switching to skim or low-fat varieties.
It’s no secret Australians like a drink. Beer is our favourite tipple, with wine a close second – of the alcohol available in Australia for consumption, 39 per cent is beer, 38.6 per cent is wine, 19.9 per cent is spirits and 2.5 per cent is cider.
There’s nothing wrong with the occasional drink but many of us are overdoing it on a regular basis. Around 16 per cent of Australians consume more than two standard drinks per day (the recommended maximum) and men are more likely to exceed alcohol consumption guidelines than women. However, if women do overindulge, it’s by a larger amount than men (ABS, 2017-2018).
If you’d like to get a handle on your drinking this year, there are some great apps and online support groups available. Hello Sunday Morning is a Sydney organisation founded in 2009 when CEO Chris Raine took a year off drinking. He began blogging about what it was like to wake up without a hangover on a Sunday morning and sparked a movement that now helps people around the world change their drinking habits one day at a time. It has more than 40,000 people on its Facebook page and people can access its Daybreak service through the app or website. This is an anonymous support group where users can set alcohol change goals and work with health professionals to achieve them.
This Naked Mind is a great app by US author Annie Grace, an executive who was downing two bottles of wine a night before she became sober and wrote a book of the same name. Ms Grace presents the psychological and neurological components of alcohol use based on the latest science, and reveals the cultural, social, and industry factors that support alcohol dependence.
She posts inspirational videos on Instagram and Facebook and the app has a very supportive community.
There are also numerous community organisations such as Alcoholic Anonymous that can also help. If you think you may have a problem, consult your doctor.
Rethinking drinking: 5 tips
- Have at least two alcohol-free days a week.
- If you’re having an alcohol craving on a day you have decided not to drink, set a timer on your phone for 20 minutes. Meditate, go for a walk, listen to music – do anything to distract yourself and see if the craving passes.
- If you like to keep alcohol at home, buy mid-strength beer, low-alcohol wine or mini-bottles of wine.
- Have plenty of delicious alcohol-free alternatives at home. Sometimes a cold sugar-free lemonade with ice will hit the spot just as well as a beer. For a wine substitute, try elderflower cordial with soda water and ice.
- If you want to quit for good, try reading one of Allen Carr’s Easyway books on quitting alcohol.
In theory, we all know we need to exercise for physical, mental and emotional wellbeing, but in practice, not enough of
us do. We know lack of exercise contributes to a higher risk of things like obesity and osteoporosis, but did you know it also contributes to your risk of cancer and diabetes? According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, physical inactivity contributed 10 to 20 per cent of the individual disease burden from diabetes, bowel cancer, uterine cancer, dementia, breast cancer, coronary heart disease and stroke (AIHW, 2019).
The Australian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend children and young people (aged five to 17) accumulate at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day. The most recent data shows in 2011-12, only 17 per cent of children aged two to five met both the physical activity and sedentary behaviour guidelines on all seven days. Adults fared a little better, with just over one in two adults (55 per cent) not doing enough exercise. The rate of insufficient physical activity increases with age. For those over 65, 69 per cent of men and 75 per cent of women were insufficiently active.
If you want to make 2020 the year you get fit again, just about anything that increases your heart rate and strengthens your muscles is good. The key is to choose something you enjoy and that you’ll stick to – walking, swimming, cycling, gym, yoga and pilates are all great. But if you’re wanting to burn fat and lose weight, is it better to exercise for longer periods more moderately, or shorter more intense bursts that accompany things like high intensity interval training (HIIT)?
According to the British Journal of Sports Medicine (June 2019), both are effective, with a slight advantage towards HIIT. British and Brazilian researchers studied 1000 people who participated in interval training and moderate-intensity continuous training (MOD), which was usually walking, jogging, cycling or swimming for about 40 minutes.
The researchers found both the moderate exercisers and the interval trainers achieved a reduction in body fat, however, those doing interval training dropped an average of 3.5 pounds (about 1.6 kilos) of fat versus 2.5 pounds (about 900 grams) for moderate exercisers.
The message was that it’s fine to be flexible with your workout approach. If you prefer to exercise for longer but go a bit easier, that’s fine. If you like going hardcore and fast, do that. The most important thing is to do something regularly.
Tips for reducing sedentary behaviour
- When tidying up, put things away in multiple small trips rather than one big haul.
- Preset the timer on your TV to turn off after an hour to remind you to get up and move more.
- Walk around when talking on your mobile phone.
- Stand up and move during your favourite TV shows.
- Instead of sitting and reading, listen to recorded books while you walk, clean or work in the garden.
- Stand on public transport and get off one stop earlier than your destination.
If you work in an office:
- Take your lunch break outside or in another location instead of sitting and eating at your desk.
- Stand while you read at work.
- Get a standing desk.
- Move your rubbish bin away from your desk so you have to get up to use it.
- Use the speakerphone for conference calls, and walk around the room during the conference.
Did you know?
Australian adults aged 18 to 64 should be active on most, preferably all, days of the week. They should do 150 minutes to 300 minutes (five hours) of moderate-intensity physical activity or 75 minutes to 150 minutes of vigorous intensity activity each week. Do muscle strengthening activities at least two days a week.
Try the 7-Minute Workout app. Don’t think you’ll work up a sweat in seven minutes? Think again!
The Australian Psychological Society’s document Stress & Wellbeing: How Australians Are Coping with Life 2015 found Australians are faring worse than they were in 2011 when the survey began, reporting lower levels of wellbeing and workplace wellbeing and higher levels of stress, depression and anxiety symptoms. The majority of Australians (72 per cent) feel stress is having at least some impact on their physical health, while 64 per cent believe it is having an effect on their mental health.
Money, family issues, personal health, trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and issues with the health of loved ones are the biggest causes of stress. Increasingly, social media use and FOMO (fear of missing out) is adding to our stress burden, though many of us turn to social media to relieve stress. About a quarter of all Australian adults, irrespective of the frequency of their social media use, feel a sense of burnout from the constant connectivity to social media.
5 tips for managing stress
- Change the way you think about your stressors through cognitive behavioural therapy or mindfulness meditation. You may be able to change the situation that’s causing you stress by dropping some responsibility, relaxing your standards
and expectations or delegating.
- When confronted with a stressor, the central nervous system releases adrenaline and cortisol, which affects the digestive tract, among other physiological changes. Acute stress can kill the appetite, but the release of the hormone cortisol during chronic stress can cause fat and sugar cravings. When you’re stressed, it’s even more important to increase your intake of vegetables and nutrient-rich foods, drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and avoid alcohol.
- Spend time in nature. Multiple studies have found that green space improves mood and we Sunny Coasters know there’s nothing like a day at the beach to wash away stress.
- Get enough sleep. If you have a heavy workload, don’t skimp on sleep to get it all done. Avoid screens at night as the blue light can suppress melatonin, which helps you sleep. Aim for seven to eight hours a night.
- Stay connected. Numerous studies confirm social support helps alleviate stress and Harvard Medical School reports that volunteering can also help lower stress. A 2012 study in the Journal of Health Psychology found participants who volunteered with some regularity lived longer, but only if their intentions were truly altruistic. In other words, they had to be volunteering to help others, not to make themselves feel better.
Did you know?
Of those reporting severe levels of distress, 61 per cent drink alcohol, 41 per cent gamble, 40 per cent smoke and 31 per cent take recreational drugs to manage stress (Australian Psychological Society).