What you can do to support your immune system

Our immune system is a very complex system with numerous tissues, cells, chemicals and substances involved. The different defense mechanisms need to be well balanced to be able to respond in a way that protects our bodies. We do not want to boost our immune system in a certain direction from time to time, because a hyperactive or misdirected immune response can cause more harm than it does good, making us more susceptible to other types of infections or disease. What we do want is supporting our immune system so that it is well balanced and works effectively. In this video I talk about four factors that have a big impact on your immune functioning; stress, sleep, exercise and nutrition. For every one of these I give some practical tips on how to make improvements.

Nutrition & Lifestyle choices that support your immune system

How to spot a fad diet

Personally, I don’t like the term ‘diet’. When people say they’re on a fat loss diet they often say it with a painful expression on their face. I associate it with feelings of deprivation, missing out on socializing when it involves food, cravings and feeling guilty when a ‘forbidden’ food is eaten or when the ‘diet’ food is cutting too much into the family’s food budget. When the ‘diet’ is not strictly followed this can add tension to an often already stressful life. On top of that, it can negatively influence (future) eating behaviours and self-perception of younger members of the family, especially girls. But then why are weight loss diets ever so popular? When it comes to weight loss, often so-called diets initially do work, simply because they usually ‘prescribe’ to cut out all refined sugars and junk foods what means that foods and drinks known to increase body fat are off the table. If you’d like to take a leaf out of those diet books, then start with swapping these foods for green vegetables of any type and notice what happens. You’ll see that even though you’re still eating things you’re not supposed to according to the fad, or not taking their promoted supplements, you’ll already see some results just by doing that. However, everything else about the diet is often not sustainable. After an initial weight loss people often bounce back to their previous weight or even add more to it. Why? Because, when you want to lose body fat (and not water or even muscle!) there is more to it than just food and supplements… Fad diets entice by offering new solutions that are supposed to work through too-good-to-be-true simple solutions. However, mindset, emotions, gut function, hormones and physique to name a few factors, should be considered next to calories to make a difference that lasts. The whole body, mind and environment needs to be dealt with. Promise yourself right here and now that you’re done with unrealistic quick fixes, magic bullets and short cuts. Stop depriving and start nourishing to give yourself and your family the gift of a normal relationship with food for great physical and mental health for years to come!

Photo by Natasha Spencer

Unfortunately, fad diets have an enormous marketing budget and often popular influencers that do get compensated for their advocacy. They get into your head and make you jump onboard while often digging deep in your wallet. Be aware of marketing strategies and the use of famous faces that trick you into buying into it. Before you jump into the next diet trend try to stop and think about the following;

  1. Does it promise quick fixes with minimal effort?
  2. Does it all sound too good to be true?
  3. Does it passionately warn not to consume certain foods but instead buy their food products and supplements?
  4. Are recommendations made by a celebrity that receives a financial compensation for their advocacy?
  5. Do the recommendations conflict with those of reputable scientific organizations?
  6. Is the theory behind the diet not in line with our current knowledge of physiology?  
  7. Do reviews of the work point out inaccuracies in its theory or warn for negative side effects?
  8. Does it give recommendations based on only one scientific study or is there no scientifically tested background at all?
  9. Does it give recommendations that are simplistically drawn from a complex scientific study, ignoring that the study maybe was not on humans and differences between people or other limitations?
  10. Is the published work not peer reviewed?

If you can answer with “yes” to any of these questions you’re likely dealing with a fad diet that is not worth your efforts, time and money. Instead, I’d like to suggest to first explore your emotional and hormonal landscape, your physical health status and physique, environment and related eating behaviours that stand in the way of achieving and maintaining your preferred physique. This means you’ll likely have to let the focus on your scales go and instead focus more on achieving health (both physical and mental health). A qualified nutritionist can guide you in getting a clear picture of how your current lifestyle and beliefs stand in the way of body fat loss and can show you how nutrition, tailored to you, can benefit your mind and body. By working on improving these aspects in your life your weight often follows. Oh, and scrap the word ‘diet’ from your vocabulary 😊

Don’t let a fad diet stand in the way of your relationships. Rather enjoy REAL food together and fuel your body and mind with food that nourishes you. Photo by fauxels.

Here is to New Year resolutions!

A very happy New Year to you all! The start of a new year inspires many to improve some aspects in their lives. Eating healthier and being more active is a recurrent theme for many. However, often these new habits don’t even last till February! If this resonates with you, let’s look at some key tactics to make it really happen this year.

Motivation + Reminders + Action plan + Know-how + Support = Success

How do you want to live your life?

Photo by Gerd Altmann

First, have a good think about WHY you want to change something. You may have to ask yourself a few times “Why?” to get to the core of your true motivation. For example; “I’ll do more exercise”, why? “I want to be more fit”, why? “I want to be able to join my friend’s walking club”, why? “I feel left out and miss the social interaction” BAM…. So, the reason for you wanting to do more exercise is not just for the sake of feeling fit, but because of the underlying desire to keep up with others and feel socially more connected. Question yourself how you want to live your life and keep this picture in mind while setting up your new habit. Visualizing this with a photo or text placed where you often see it (e.g. phone or computer screen) reminds you to stick to it. Making a vision board can be fun and useful if you enjoy being creative.

Know-how? Action!

The next crucial step is to make an action plan that is realistic and fits in your daily life. Think of what is more achievable for you; making small changes step-by-step or turn things over in a more radical way? Think of possible barriers and how to tackle them before they even occur. Do you fall back into old habits because healthy options are simply not available, you don’t know how to prepare vegetables in a tasty way or you simply forget to move more? Think ahead what would help you to avoid giving up on your goals. Let your current situation and previous experiences guide you to take action in a way that is easy to sustain long term.

Photo by Ryan McGuire

You’re unique and what works for some may not be beneficial for your body or fits into your lifestyle. If you’d like assistance in drawing a plan, then a qualified health professional can guide you in determining what would be an ideal selection of foods and how to implement new ways of eating, or qualified exercise professionals can show you what exercise routine is most beneficial for your body.

Not ready to immerse yourself in a structured exercise program? Small changes in our daily lives can already have a big impact on the amount of movement we get. Our bodies stay healthy by moving (a lot!) but from a survival perspective our brain tries to prevent unnecessary burning of energy. With modern technology making it less and less necessary to move so that we do most of our work while sitting and getting food requires minimal physical activity, our brain has an easy ‘win’ these days. That means that we mostly have to make a conscious decision to be physically active. Some easy ideas to incorporate more exercise in your day are:

  • Choose the furthest carpark rather than the closest one to the door
  • Take the stairs rather than elevator or escalator
  • Consider walking or biking to run an errand
  • Plan (some days) that you walk or bike to work or the kids to school
  • Hop off the bus a few stops earlier and walk the remaining part of your journey
  • Carry your groceries rather than using a trolley
  • Schedule exercise at home. There are plenty of tutorials from exercise consultants online. Pick some exercises you think you’ll enjoy or find useful and schedule reminders in your phone when to do them.
  • Tackle those weeds in the garden
  • If you have a stationary bicycle or treadmill, use it when you watch TV
  • Have ‘walking’ meetings
  • Dance to music you love
  • At work make coffee breaks walking or stretching breaks, let your co-workers join for company
  • Walk and talk to your co-workers rather than using messaging systems

Who’s with me?

Support from your environment is key in changing habits. Tell the people around you what you’re trying to achieve so they can support you along the way. They may even have the same goals so you can take on the challenge together, remind and support each other!

Most of all: ENJOY your new routine, once you get used to it you won’t want to go back to old habits and you’ll be living a life you love.