Can I start by saying that I hate 'How To Get Thin' articles. They're on the same list as 'Be His Dream Lover' articles, and 'How To Have It All' articles: the list that people should stop publishing.
Instead I would like to venture an attempt to create a guide for a healthy lifestyle, because so much of food advertising, labelling, and teaching are contrary to what science would recommend, and would make the nutrition lecturers at my alma mater shudder. (Bonus reading: Fat Is A Feminist Issue and The Real Me Is Thin.)
So what is healthy? Healthy is eating the right number of calories, doing the right amount of exercise, getting the right amount of sleep, drinking the right amount of water, having the right amount of fun and social time, etc. I anticipate a chorus of, “And when will I have time for my life? You know, the stuff I'm doing while avoiding thinking about all of that” in response to that definition of healthy. However, being healthy isn't about making huge changes all at once and causing stress, it's about slowly streamlining your living routine so you have the energy to make changes.
This is where we get down to it. We humans tend to live by default; we're creatures of habit. We do things because it's convenient, and rarely research other options. Keep in mind, any achievement is the result of thousands of tiny, baby steps; every meal, drink, nap, and exercise bout (that's the official name for a period of exercise; I'm not likening a marathon to a fit of sneezing) is a step on the road to either being a lively pensioner, or constantly aching in places you didn't know existed. I'm sorry to scare you, but with medicine going the way it is, it's likely we'll live to be in pain if we persist with sugary and preservative-filled food. I don't know about you, but the thought of spending my later years connected to a dialysis machine isn't appealing.
To quote a very scary chef I once met, perfection is many small steps done well. Now, I'm not suggesting we all be perfect – evidence would suggest that we need to spend twenty percent of our time and calories on stuff that's not on the agenda – but I'd like to talk you through making a system that will allow you to reach health/weight goals without being a drain on your time, budget, and energy.
the thought of spending my later years connected to a dialysis machine isn't appealing.
Sleep deprivation is a form of torture – something Obama disapproves of. Lifestyle related sleep deprivation has been linked to depression, hair-loss (usually in men), wrinkles (your skin needs sleep time to re-build the damaged collagen), bad eating habits (as it turns out, we eat more when we're tired, and we go for comforting, high-calorie foods), and a host of other ills. Some even go as far as suggesting that it increases your likelihood of getting cancer, because sleep deprivation affects the immune system. So give yourself some Obamacare and make an effort to get a good night's rest.
Step 1: No light
If you have many lights in your bedroom – including those from TV and computer screen buttons – switch them off. We evolved to sleep at night time in dark caves; having light in your bedroom while you're sleeping sends mixed signals to your brain. If your bedroom gets a lot of light from street lamps, consider getting black-out curtain liners or wearing airline blindfolds in bed.
Step 2: No distractions
You want your bedroom to be as quiet as possible. If you have noisy housemates/children, I'm sorry to hear that; next time you go to a motor sport event (or pharmacy for the less effective option), pick up a stash of earplugs to get you through the night. If you have noisy neighbours or live near a busy road, look at better insulation; it cuts down on noise and saves money on heating – win-win! If that doesn't work, you could try installing a sonic crystal like in this sound booth to dampen the noise.
Also under this heading: be aware that alcohol, caffeine, cannabis, nicotine, and sucrose affect sleep patterns. Avoid them for at least three hours before you sleep.
Step 3: The right amount of time
The human brain sleeps in a cycle approximately 1.5 hours long. If you wake up in the wrong part of that, you'll probably wake up feeling groggy. If you wake up feeling groggy often, chances are you're either not sleeping for long enough, or you're waking up mid-cycle. Note: over-sleeping can also cause grogginess, but most people are too busy to over-sleep.
Keep a sleep journal. Write down approximately how many hours you slept for, and how you felt when you woke up. Record dreams if you remember them, and room temperature if available. If you want this exercise to be properly effective, write down everything you consume by mouth (eat, drink, smoke, etc.), so you know how many calories corresponds with how much sleep.
Take into account how long it takes you to fall asleep when you set your alarm clock. Where possible, plan to sleep for multiples of 1.5hrs.
Start a routine that incorporates your optimal amount of sleep (after a few weeks with the journal, it should be clear from calorific intake and reported alertness levels whether your body likes 6, 7.5 or 9 hours of sleep) so you wake up spontaneously, rather than needing an alarm clock.
Step 4: Breathe
Surprisingly, brains need oxygen in the same way as they need sleep, water, and appropriate food. Take a while – I find 30mins right before bed is best – to breathe. Sit/lie in a position that keeps your airway open, and shut your eyes. Let the air all the way into the bottom of your lungs, and let it out. Count that as 1. Repeat until you get to 4 (as you get better, you'll be able to count higher, but 4 is a good starting point), then zero. Do until you no longer have other thoughts crowding the numbers out and you feel relaxed.
I'll see you back next week to talk about the Food and Drink part of your journal!
Bridget Schuil - Lover of science, plants, tea, wine, peaceful pursuits and fast cars. You can follow Bridget on Twitter and read her blog here