The daffodils are out; there’s a stretch in the evening; my energy levels are climbing with the extra bit of light. Being hit with the snow (twice!) this year made it more challenging to eat healthily – I know I certainly reached for the carbs more often than usual (and as a result, put on a few pounds that I’m now trying to shift!). But now that there is a stretch in the evenings, I have a great feeling of anticipation, as this time of year offers up the chance to get outside more often. Here are 7 top tips to spring clean your diet and habits. You’ll find that you’ll get the best out of this great season and that you will head into summer leaner and fitter than last year.

1. Eyeball Portions Again
This is essential. Serve yourself dinner on a smaller plate and EAT SLOWLY – this is key to weight control. If your portion sizes have crept upwards recently, this may explain why your weight loss has slowed down and, in some cases, getting out the weighing scales once more is a good idea. The other crucial factor related to portion control is blood sugar; are you making sure to stabilize your blood sugars continually so that, when you do sit down to eat, you are more likely to eat less? This means – yes, I know you’ve heard it before but it can never be said to often – eating protein every 3-4 hours and following a low sugar/low carb plan like the Boost or Accelerator. Also reduce alcohol, or better still, cut it out altogether for a week or two.

2. Get on Top of your Water
To optimise weight loss, your two litres or more each day needs to be consistent. If you feel you aren’t on top of this, start tracking your water – either with a water tracking app or in your food diary. Most people tend to do best when they consume the majority of their water before lunch-time, so try to start the day with a pint of water. Notice how your skin and energy levels improve, and remember that water is a natural appetite suppressant. Scientists also believe that the metabolism slows down if an individual is dehydrated – even just slightly. To boost the attractiveness of your glass of water, serve it in a nice glass with lots of ice and strawberries or mint leaves. Or check out our Contigo water bottles – available in your local clinic.

3. Ditch the Sugar (Again!)
We all know that fizzy drinks and sweets are full of added sugar, but we may not pay attention to the sugar lurking in our favorite yoghurts, salad dressing or wholegrain cereal (and alcohol which is loaded with the stuff). A really useful calculation is to firstly find the ‘of which are sugars’ line on your food label (under ‘per serving’, usually the line under ‘carbohydrates’) and then divide that figure by four to find out the number of teaspoons of sugar per serving (and be wary of what manufacturers deem a serving, as some of us have double or triple.

Eating a low sugar diet is a challenge unless you ban processed and sugar snack foods and cook your meals from scratch, but the benefits are many. Not only will you find it easier to manage your weight, but also your mood becomes more stable and your skin improves – in fact, did you know that sugar damages collagen and elastin? These both determine how firm and tight our skin is, meaning that going sugar-free will have a much bigger impact on how our skin ages than any pot of the most expensive cream.

4. Could you go Greener?
Consider adding more dark green vegetables into the mix – either cooked or raw in a smoothie or juice. I know one thing I’m looking forward to is getting back into salads.  Spinach, broccoli, pak choi and kale (so tasty when stir fried with garlic and onion!) are all useful sources of folate, which raises homocysteine (a mood hormone) that helps fight depression and elevate mood, and are packed full of fibre to keep us full (therefore less likely to snack on poor choices later in the day). Asparagus is another veg that is now in season and is chock full of fiber, folate, vitamin K, and iron, making it a nutrition powerhouse. Try it steamed, and serve with lemon juice, some parmesan shavings and olive oil – delicious!

5. Put a (Non-Food) Reward System in Place
We know that a reward system is a crucial part of motivation, so what’s yours? Is it relaxing rewards, that help you switch off or ‘natural high’ rewards, that get you turned on? Alcohol and unhealthy food are off the table…believe it or not, they actually diminish reward in the longer term. A friend of mine swims in the sea every morning after dropping her children to school (yes, even in winter!) and she says it gives her a major reward and mood boost. Check out 50 ideas to reward yourself here.

Epsom salt baths, a massage, meditation, lying on a beach listening to the sounds, or hiking in the Wicklow mountains boost my own feelgood chemicals. And nothing beats a great family day out – when everyone gets on well together (mostly!) and the phones are put away for a few hours, to just ‘be’ and enjoy each other. These are the things that make us feel alive, and tap into the dopamine reward chemicals in our brain, making us less likely to reach for unhealthy foods.

6. Get Moving – Consistency is Key
With the stretch in the evening, if feels like we’ve literally ‘won back’ time – meaning an evening walk after dinner is highly possible. Exercising regularly (that means at least three times each week, but ideally up to four or five) offers up many benefits — from helping us shed pounds, boost our moods, and even keep our minds sharp. In the springtime, we have the added benefit of more sunlight, a perfect time to get moving outdoors. Research shows that exercising outdoors may also help to alleviate stress and depression. But we also know that building muslce mass is a good idea for long term weight control – more muscle means a faster metabolism, even while we are sleeping, never mind the feelgood factor in our clothes as we tone up and lose the flab.

7. Tap into the Power of Gratitude
When the warmer season eventually comes in, most of us find there’s a lot to be grateful for – improved weather, family celebrations (such as communions, confirmations and birthdays), great holidays and the children playing outdoors. So what better time to start integrating the skill of regular gratitude? Some people write a list into a journal, detailing five things they are grateful for that day. Others just list things off in their heard, either first thing in the morning or last thing at night. It’s a wonderful habit to get into as it literally rewires the brain to look for the positives, which is particularly useful when making changes to your diet and lifestyle. And even if you don’t feel it at first, just keep at it and you’ll soon notice an improved mood.

There you have them – 7 top tips to spring clean your diet and habits. As we always advise, ease yourself gently into the spring clean. Get one or two under your belt and you’ll feel fantastic; ready to take the remaining tips in your stride.

Here come’s the summer!!

Blog Post by Maebh Coyle