A global pandemic brings with it many unprecedented challenges with changes in both circumstances and environment.
The need to shield loved ones and the enhanced focus on the health and well-being means our priorities and needs may have changed.
A study conducted by financial services business Appreciate Group in November has shown that Covid-19 has already transformed the way we are thinking about New Years resolutions.
As part of a top ten list, many Brits have pledged to do things they’d previously taken for granted such as getting together physically with family and friends (22 per cent), shopping local (18 per cent) and performing random acts of kindness (17 per cent) which came in eighth in the poll.
Topping the list at number one however was eating more healthy (36 per cent) and ‘losing my “COVID” tummy’ at number 3 (24%).
Healthy eating and exercise is usually at the forefront of people’s minds just after the festive period, however now, perhaps more than ever, is the best time to reassess our diet and look at what’s good and bad for us.
Finding sensible, practical and evidence-based nutrition advice can be hard to find so we spoke to Nick Wall, an AfN (Association for Nutrition) approved nutritionist from Blackpool.
At 35, Nick is a top professional in his field and enjoys a healthy and sporting lifestyle. Holding a Bachelor of Science degree in Sport and Exercise Physiology and a Master’s Degree in Food and Nutritional Sciences, he can regularly be found in the gym as well as participating in many sports including football, cricket, golf, table tennis and skiing.
Throughout his career he has produced successful dietary evaluations and nutrition plans for professional cricket players, amateur rugby players as well as countless gym goers.
He regularly appears on BBC Radio to discuss all things health an nutrition and has also appeared on the MTV show ‘Teen Mum’ as well working with many famous and professional athletes such as Team GB’s triathlete Mark Dempsey and the England Ladies U21s football team.
Reflecting on 2020, Nick said: “The coronavirus has meant that people have been stuck in and can eat lots more than when they have had their normal routine. In some ways, however, it has made people more mindful about nutrition and what they’re eating.
“Due a lot of gyms being closed, people have actually been quite good at working out at home. This may be due to the fact that they don’t need to get up and drive and can get going a lot quicker.”
Nick also cleared up some misconceptions around health and nutrition and gave us his expert tips for going forward into 2020 stressing the importance of removing any harsh or unhealthy attitudes towards food.
The concept of a balanced diet can be overwhelming however Nick’s advice is to keep it simple.
Nick said: “A healthy balanced diet should include at least two portions of fish a week including one oily fish. This is because fish are great sources of lots of vitamins and minerals. Oily fish such as salmon are high in long chain omega-3 fatty acids that can keep the heart healthy.
“Also, for the majority of the time, choose lean cuts of meats and cut the visible fat off. Adding fruit and vegetables will also have a wide range of health benefits. “
Many switching to a healthier diet may struggle with feeling hungry if their portions aren’t managed well or they restrict themselves too much.
Nick said: “Be mindful of portions; don’t have too much or too little. If you get too hungry you may binge.
“Choose more wholegrain foods as they’re more nutrient dense and include B vitamins, trace minerals (iron, copper, magnesium and zinc) and are high fibre which lowers cholesterol and helps to keep you fuller for longer. They are also shown to reduce the risk of many health complications.
“Also, and this is very important, don’t skip breakfast as it sets you up for the day and will give you the energy to start your day more productive.”
Food in between main meals may be blamed for weight gain however if managed correctly, these can still be incorporated into a healthy diet.
Nick said: “You don’t have to cut out snacking, just have three to four healthy ones.
“Nuts are great for a snack. They contain unsaturated fats, both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats that can lower bad cholesterol levels. Many are rich in omega-3 fatty acids which are healthy fatty acids that can help your heart.
“All nuts contain fibre and vitamin E which may help stop the development of plaques in your arteries which can narrow them. Some nuts contain plant sterols, a substance that can help lower your cholesterol and have many more benefits.”
Takeaways, fast food and processed foods are often seen as the “enemy” to dieters. Nick suggests changing how we think of them however.
He said: “You don’t need to cut out junk food completely however do limit unhealthy foods and processed foods by having odd times a week. Aim for a good balanced diet as if you punish and restrict yourself too much, this can be counter productive.”
The concept of “detoxing” has become very popular over the last decade however Nick asserts that people don’t need to actively detox as your body will do that itself.
He added: “People can look into pro/prebiotics and it can appear very scientific and overwhelming so they don’t bother. It’s very simple however – good bacteria, pro and prebiotics, yoghurts etc are all great for your digestive system and studies show good bacteria in the gut helps with diseases. There are also supplements out there too if you don’t like probiotics or yogurts.”
Water has often been attributed to helping with weight loss and we’re regularly encouraged to drink more as your average person is believed to not drink their recommended six to eight glasses a day. This can prove difficult to fit in however and for many the bland taste of water may make it feel like a chore.
Nick said: “Drinking water heals. To begin with, I encourage clients to drink water with meals however, if you can, before meals is also good.”
One of the barriers to a healthier lifestyle can be finding the time to fit in exercise however there are simple ways to begin.
Nick said: “I try to encourage people to go for a ten minute walk after breakfast, lunch and dinner. That way you get half an hour’s exercise in and the walk can help ease the digestion of food better than sitting down.”
It’s an all too common by-product of dieting to feel like you are doing well and then you may slip, eat something not-so-good for you (or too much of it) and then feel terribly bad about it.
Nick said: “Don’t feel bad, particularly after the Christmas period. The time that you may have over indulged will be the same time that you can get it back. It’s important that you relaxed and enjoyed yourself and you can always get back to it.
“Too many people go to the extreme to punish themselves after periods like this, and that will do more harm than good in the long run. Go back to what you usually do. If you have left off in December, you will get it back In January.
“For example If you gained a few lbs over Christmas, so what? You can lose the temporary weight just by going back to a good balance. That weight gain is almost all temporary food weight and no need to panic.”
Comfort eating is a very real concept and a bad day could you see you making unhealthier food choices.
Nick said: “The evenings are a more likely time that people will eat less nutrient dense foods. To deal with this, it may be a case of limiting and being sensible with what you eat, for example a chocolate bar instead of a box of chocolates.
“The healthier the food you eat the better you will feel and it’s less likely to play with your emotions. Wholesome foods improve your mood, your sleep and your energy levels so less need for a temporary ‘pick me up’.”
As an expert nutritionist, Nick urges people to research into who they are taking advice from.
He said: “Too many people go on plans created by the self-proclaimed or unqualified people who don’t have the relevant qualifications or knowledge to support them though these times that seem challenging.
“Some of these may be anywhere between 700-1200 calories a day which is too restrictive and is just bland typical meals with no variation and the same foods daily. This is too restrictive and you don’t want to focus on how little you’re eating.
“You want food that nourishes your body, to see that you’re making progress as well as enjoying what you are eating. Otherwise it is not sustainable.
Nick’s overall philosophy when it comes to nutrition and healthy eating is that many people over complicate it. Guilt, over punishment and harsh restrictions can create a negative attitude towards food which can be demotivating and overwhelming.
Nick said: “It almost seems a cop out to say but it is a lot simpler than people think. Healthy eating is a case of swapping for healthier options and for the majority of the time, being aware of portion sizes. It’s motivation and desire that’s the hard part however moderation and balance is key.”