Keep a well-being diary for better health

Keeping a well-being diary may help you to track your path to better health. A well-being diary can help you to record progress in many areas of your life, including your eating habits but also improvements in your physical activity achievements, sleep patterns, stress triggers, weight, waist measurement, blood pressure, resting heart rate, your emotions and any other aspects of your general health that you would like to improve. Keeping track of where you started and your progress over weeks and months may help you to maintain your motivation and continue to work towards your goal of a healthier lifestyle.

It’s like a healthy eating diary

A well-being diary is similar to a typical healthy eating diary though with a little more information. Design your own diary (use a notebook or your computer) that will help you to keep track of your overall health. Write down the things that you think affect your well-being. Are you tired? Stressed? Drowning in ironing? Write down anything that you think is affecting your well-being and ways in which you could make improvements. Take advantage of apps on your smart phone that can help you to count calories, monitor your sleep patterns, track how many steps you are walking everyday, and many other things, then write it all down at the end of the day.  When exercising I keep track of the reps I can manage when doing push-ups and sit-ups. I am trying to build my strength so I do an extra rep in each set every week and I have improved over time (eg: week 1 = 5 reps/set, week 2 = 6 reps/set – I am now up to 15 reps/set). When I recognised that looking at a pile of ironing was stressful I made plans to change my wardrobe and now I choose clothe that need little ironing.

If you are concerned about the food you are eating (how much or how often) keeping a diary will help you to identify any areas that may be making it difficult for you to achieve your goals. Consider calories, nutrients and hydration. Perhaps you feel uncomfortable when exercising in the mornings, or you can’t lose that last bit of weight? Keeping a record of what you have eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as snacks and drinks may help you to identify any problems or inconsistencies with your eating habits. For example, if you have reached a plateau with your weight loss progress you might decide that replacing your late night snack with a healthier option is the next step towards your overall goal. If you are always tired you might not be getting enough iron and you could decide to eat more meat or take an iron supplement.

Consider keeping a shopping list of all the foods and drinks that you want to keep to hand and stock up on when you get to the supermarket. Having your favourite healthy choices available will often help you to avoid unhealthy choices. Eating a balanced diet, containing all the nutrients you need is easier when your cupboards and refrigerator contain a wide range of foods – including fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, protein foods and dairy/alternatives. Keep a record of recipes that are your favourites or that you might like to try. Experiment with new foods even if you have to look to the internet to find out how to cook them – I suspect many of us have tried quinoa by now.

Keep track of your activity

Do you want to be fitter? Faster? Stronger? Leaner? Keep track of your daily activity. Consider keeping track of the time of day you are exercising, the time spent exercising, distance, cardio/intensity, weights/sets/reps, strength and performance. Write down your overall thoughts – did it work for you today? Was it a bad day?  Try to do some activity every day and write it all down, so that you can assess your activity levels at the end of each week and each month. Compare your activity with your food intake, your sleep patterns or your stress levels. Can you see any patterns emerging? Do you need to make some changes?

Recent research has identified that our sedentary lifestyles are not healthy, so even keeping track of how many hours you spend sitting down and on your feet might provide useful information. Being more active is as simple as walking 10,000 steps a day, which is easier to achieve if you don’t use the car for short journeys (less than one mile). If you are feeling a bit sluggish in winter maybe it’s because you are a bit less active when the days are shorter and colder. In establishing a reason for the way you are feeling you can make a change and take some action to ensure that you start to feel better again.

Write down your goals, both short-term and long-term. A short-term goal might be to go for a 20 minute walk every day this week and then go for a hike on the weekend. A long-term goal might be to improve your blood pressure, run 5km in three months time, or lose weight. In establishing your long-term goal you can decide on the short-term goals (daily and weekly) that will keep you headed in the right direction.

What inspires you?

It can help you record your inspirations too. Did the Olympians inspire you to be more active? Perhaps your friends marriage inspires you to communicate better with your own family. Look for people who are working towards being happier or more grateful or more committed to their cause. Perhaps you have seen a quote that inspires you to make changes or keep going? Anything that helps you to maintain your focus on your goal is useful. Continue to look for inspiration as the weeks progress. Many people have experiences similar to yours and it can be incredibly useful to know that they continue to make progress, with good days and bad days a part of their journey, just as they will be in all of our journeys.

Your time is precious and you may not want to record everything you do or feel, but if the alternative is to go round-and-round in circles with little progress, then investing time in a well-being diary may be worthwhile. Try to keep a diary for three months and see if it is useful. Monitoring your progress as you work towards improved well-being can be very useful and you will inspire yourself when you can see the changes that you have managed and maintained.

Enjoy Good Food for Good Health

The Mexican Diet is changing

Researchers investigating the nutritional adequacy of the Mexican diet have found that Mexican’s are not getting all of the nutrients they need to be healthy and that most Mexican’s are consuming more energy (calories) than they need. Of particular concern is the stunting and micronutrient deficiencies in young children, iron deficiency in pregnant women and the high incidence of obesity and diabetes in Mexico.

Across the world the consumption of high-energy, nutrient-poor foods has increased and in recent years the average Mexican diet has changed. Traditionally, the Mexican diet contained cereals and legumes (common beans), but now most people are eating less of these foods and eating more sugars, animal products and vegetable fats.

Diets containing too many corn tortillas, refined grains, high fat foods, sugary soft drinks and alcohol can be harmful to our health – in particular because these foods may not provide important micronutrients, like calcium and vitamin D, and can contribute to tooth decay. In addition, smoking and a sedentary lifestyle (little physical activity) may also contribute to health problems.

A recent study (López-Olmedo et al, 2016)  found that more than 50% of the Mexican population (aged over 1 year) are eating more than the recommended amount of added sugar and saturated fat. It also found that intakes of saturated fat and added sugars were higher in urban compared with rural areas, in the North compared with South regions, and among those with higher socio-economic status (compared with low socio-economic status).

Diets rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and oils are the healthiest diets. Diets containing red meat, processed meat, eggs, fish, poultry and milk are OK. Foods with a high fibre content are a healthy choice.

However, many Mexican do not meet dietary recommendations for good health:

  • Infant formula was consumed by almost half of infants aged <6 months (not meeting breastfeeding and complementary feeding recommendations)
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages were consumed by two-thirds of children aged 12-23 months
  • Less than 23% of adults met recommendations for legumes, seafood, fruit, vegetables, and dairy foods
  • Foods high in saturated fats and/or added sugars contributed 26% of the population’s total energy intake
  • Across various age groups there was found to be excessive intakes of added sugars and saturated fats and insufficient intakes of fibre, vitamin A, folates, calcium, iron, vitamin D, vitamin E, magnesium and zinc. Some age groups need more B vitamins and vitamin C

Barriers to making healthier choices

Making healthy choices may be difficult in some circumstances, but identifying the difficulties that some people experience may help individuals and health professionals to overcome these barriers:

  • women experience difficulties related to personal, family and work-related circumstances
  • men have established food preferences and lack familiarity with fruits and vegetables
  • physical activity may be limited due to stress/depressed mood, lack of motivation and concern for physical well-being (will I hurt myself?)
  • physical activity is usually performed within the context of work and domestic responsibilities

Behaviours or routines involving eating, activity and smoking are often well established and intertwined and can be difficult to change. High fat/high sugar foods are more likely to be eaten when watching television, or when eating on the street, at work or at school.  Individuals can try to make healthier choices when snacking and watching television and interested parties could lobby for healthier food environments at work, school, and on the street.

Children’s diets

Children’s snack choices have been found to include fruit, salty snacks, candy sweetened breads and cookies. Among older children, whole milk as a snack was partially replaced with soda and sweetened fruit drinks (Taillie et al, 2015). Children are particularly at risk of malnutrition if they are not eating a diet that provides them with the various nutrients that they require for growth and good health.

Recommendations

  • eat more legumes/beans and fruit and vegetables
  • practice healthy cooking habits
  • eat enjoyable meals with family and friends
  • drink water
  • avoiding the consumption of sweetened beverages, grain-based desserts, and highly processed foods

Improvement’s in children’s diets could be achieved with healthier snack choices.  For young children, parents should follow recommendations regarding breastfeeding and complementary feeding.

For further information

Look for El Plato del Bien Comer

See Mexican Dietary and Physical Activity Guidelines: Moving Public Nutrition Forward in a Globalized World.

References

Taillie LS, Afeiche MC, Eldridge AL, Popkin BM (2015)  Increased Snacking and Eating Occasions Are Associated with Higher Energy Intake among Mexican Children Aged 2-13 Years. J Nutr 2015 Nov; 145(11): 2570-7.

López-Olmedo N, Carriquiry AL, Rodríguez-Ramírez S, Ramírez-Silva I, Espinosa-Montero J, Hernández-Barrera L, Campirano F, Martínez-Tapia B, Rivera JA (2016) Usual Intake of Added Sugars and Saturated Fats Is High while Dietary Fiber Is Low in the Mexican Population. J Nutr. 2016 Aug

 

 

 

A look back at ‘Tackling Obesities: Future Choices’ (Foresight 2007)

In 2007 the UK Government’s Foresight programme published a report called ‘Tackling Obesities: Future Choices’ which pointed out that more and more of the population would become obese in the coming decades and that the economic implications of an obese population were likely to be substantial.

In 2007, about 23% of adults and about 10% of children were obese with another 20-25% of children overweight. Foresight extrapolated that by 2025 some 40% of Britons could be obese and that by 2050 Britain would be a mainly obese society.

As expected the numbers of obese adults and children have increased in the intervening years and are likely to continue to do so. In 2014, about a quarter of adults (24% men, 27% women) were obese, and nearly 22% of reception age children and 33% of year 6 children were overweight or obese. The statistics on the children are most concerning because researchers have found that overweight children are more likely to become overweight adults.

The Foresight report identified many and varied factors that are a part of our modern lifestyle and contribute to the obesity epidemic, including our work patterns, transport, food production and food sales. It concluded that it would take several decades to reverse the factors that drive the current obesity trends, since a comprehensive, long-term strategy would be required to make changes to our societal framework.

Overall, the Foresight report agued for a sustained commitment across all sections of society, including individuals, families, communities, business and government. It specified that urgent action would be required to halt the increase in numbers of obese people and to develop a sustainable response.

Unfortunately, nearly ten years after the Foresight report was published, the government’s latest offering does not scream ‘Urgent! Urgent!’.

In the last ten years various Government policies have not worked (remember the Responsibility Deal?) or have caused confusion – responsibility for public health, including obesity prevention, now rests with local government, while responsibility for obesity treatment (like gastric bands) rests with the NHS.

The Government’s latest policy called ‘Childhood Obesity: A Plan for Action’ asks various stakeholders to please, please consider making changes that might prevent future tots from becoming obese. There will be a sugar tax of some sort, though the specifics are still to be decided (will the specifics be influenced by interested parties?). Food manufacturers are asked to reduce the amount of sugar in their products and businesses are asked to develop ‘healthier’ products using new technology. The public sector is asked to provide healthier food options for staff and service users, schools are asked to provide children with healthy food options and some physical activity, and early years settings are asked to provide healthier food choices. Various health professionals (like doctors and nurses) are asked to cover everyone else.

Surely many of these changes should have been explored and implemented by now? Wasn’t  Jamie Oliver’s school food crusade supposed to have inspired change? While the new policy does reach across various sectors of society there is no sense of urgency since there are no urgent deadlines to meet. Some of the proposals might be actioned by 2020. Most can be acted on if and when the stakeholders fancy a change – for example, primary schools can opt to join a voluntary healthy rating scheme from late 2017. See! No urgency. The schools can opt in, at some point in the future, if it’s not too much bother for them.

Taking responsibility for our own health has never been so important. Making healthier choices, choices that benefit our health, are essential. Despite our obesogenic environment poor health is not inevitable. Being overweight or obese can impact on our quality of life and it can contribute to chronic disease, such as type 2 diabetes, stroke, chronic heart disease and some cancers.

Even if you are not overly concerned about your weight, choosing good food (full of nutrients) is beneficial to your well-being in so many ways. The government wants us to eat well (including plenty of fruit and veg), do some exercise everyday and get some sunshine, but there is no way for it to monitor or enforce our choices. It is up to us to decide that we want to live a long and happy life, with good health now and well into old age.

Enjoy Good Food for Good Health