Why you’re never too busy to be healthy

For 15 years wellness coach Alex Pedley has been working with some of the busiest people in the country – think CEOs, bankers and lawyers – and helping them to stay in control of their health and wellbeing

This is an edited version of an article which originally appeared in the Evening Standard

Despite all the, seemingly constant, talk of wellness trends these days, Alex says he has found that, in the business sector generally, wellbeing is getting worse. “Over the years I have witnessed how the business world has changed from the hard partying times of the early 2000s, through one of the biggest banking crises in modern memory, to the more recent challenge of Brexit. A lot has changed, but there is one trend which has flowed through this whole period; wellness is declining instead of improving.”

Alex has found that it’s the super-busy who tend to be the most ineffective in taking charge of their health by turning to quick fixes and pushing themselves too hard, too soon. “The wellness practices that many professionals are following can be ineffective and ill-suited to their needs,” he says. “This can lead to poor results and a feeling of being overwhelmed.”

We’ve all been there; you are in a rush and need to grab a bite to eat. Time is against you, so you find the nearest take out store, looking through the options available before making your choice. You consume the contents of your purchase while on your ‘phone without taking much notice of the food you are eating.

When life is busy, just finding the time to eat can be a bonus. Rushed purchases often lead to unhealthy choices and this can become habitual. The accumulation of poor choices, plus the sedentary nature of many work roles, can lead to weight gain.

Then you decide that it is time to get in shape.

The first port of call is to go on a calorie-restricted diet. This would seem logical – eat less food and you will lose weight – but research suggests otherwise.

In a review of 31 published weight loss studies, a team of researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) found that, over a period of two to five years, dieters initially lost between five to ten percent of their bodyweight, before the majority rebounded and regained all of the lost weight, with some even gaining more than they began with. UCLA researcher, Traci Mann, believes that the results of their data were conclusive. “Diets do not lead to sustained weight loss, or health benefits, for the majority of people.”

Extreme calorie-restriction works, but only for a short period of time. Not only does dieting cause a rebound affect, but your ‘hunger hormones’ – leptin and ghrelin, which stimulate appetite – continue to send out ‘eat more’ signals leaving you craving calorie rich food. All in all this is far from the desired outcome.

There is, however, an easier approach that doesn’t require you to ‘go on a diet’. It’s called the ‘ESI method’ – evaluate, structure and implement.

Step one

Begin by evaluating your daily habits, including your morning routine, how you travel to the office, all meetings and your bedtime ritual. You are looking for general trends that run through your day and how you react to them.

At the same time keep a diary of everything you are eating including snacks, drinks and anything else that enters your mouth. There are many apps that you can use, making this process much easier.

A study of more than 1700 participants, found that keeping a food diary can double a person’s weight loss; the knowledge of what you eat can make a massive impact on how you eat.

Step two

With the information from step one you can begin to add structure to your diet. The aim is to plan your diet around your day instead of planning your day around your diet.

A Cornell Study found that the average person makes more than 200 food choices each day. The aim is to reduce this number – saving you time, money and wasted calories.

At the start of your week plan your meals into your diary in the same way that you would plan any other important event. Keep making adjustments until you find a solution that works for you.

Step three

It’s time to gradually replace the unhealthy food choices highlighted in your food diary with real, whole food. This way of eating is similar to the traditional Mediterranean diet. The main components of the diet are vegetables, fruit, fish, nuts, olive oil and legumes with a moderate amount of red wine and low consumption of meat.

According to the Harvard School of Public Health, “Together with regular physical activity and not smoking, our analyses suggests that over 80% of coronary heart disease, 70% of stroke and 90% of type 2 diabetes can be avoided by healthy food choices that are consistent with the traditional Mediterranean diet.”

Before long you will habitually search out healthier options and enjoy eating in abundance without a second thought of calorie counting – and you will be healthier, happier and leaner to boot.

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