Eating is one of the greatest pleasures in life. However, eating too much or not eating correctly can seriously affect our mojo and overall health. The key to changing our relationship with food is an inside job. It can take work.
‘One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.’ — Virginia Woolf
About 5 months ago, I decided to cut down on gluten, meat and dairy and up my vegetables, seeds and pulses. What a difference it has made to my mojo. Last month I decided to add to these new habits and cut down on refined sugar. I have had messages across social to ask how I am getting on with this, so thought I would share with you some of my tips and meal ideas. The days that I have found it easy to cut out the refined sugar involve being organised with lots of tasty options and having no temptations lying around. The chances are that if I have dark chocolate ginger biscuits and ferrero rocher mini eggs in the house, there will be a slip up. I find it hard to eat those little eggs mindfully, oh baby they taste so good. Also – when the kids ask to bake, it can be tough. My daughter did a charity bake sale a couple of weeks ago which was a mega tease. Self control is my weakness.
I have baked some nice refined sugar free recipes with them. A crowd pleaser for sure were the flapjacks made with butter, honey, chopped dates, oats and desiccated coconut. I even attempted homemade biscuits to go on a vanilla cheesecake base, using maple syrup instead of sugar. I got some 100% coco chocolate bars, but found the raw Halo ones that we talk about on mojo injection 119 so much tastier.
Refined sugar free breakfasts have involved gluten free oats with frozen raspberries, seeds, natural greek yogurt and cinnamon or homemade skillet granola that you can see in the image above. I also cook scrambled eggs with a dash of coconut milk and some fresh turmeric. I love using fresh ginger in juices.
If I have an afternoon slump, I snack on fruit, or fruit, greek yogurt, maple syrup and seeds like the image below. Dates dipped in peanut butter are also healthy and tasty.
Lunches have involved aubergine and tomato stews, veggie casseroles, homemade soups, lentils with salad, veggie chilli or fish and veggies.
In the afternoon or late morning, I enjoy a cup of Lions Mane coffee, which is known for lowering cholesterol and boosting up the mojo. This coffee has less caffeine than standard coffee which I like, I find that my mind races if I have too much caffeine.
I always try and add a minimum of 4 veggies to our evening meals and cut down on the meat. A 2 pack of chicken can last us two nights between 4 and this allows me to bulk the meal up with veggies, beans, nuts and lentils. I will share some recipes soon but popular ones at home are:
Baked salmon with potatoes, peas and broccoli with a lemon, caper and creme fresh dressing.
Grilled king prawns with ginger, chilli and garlic served with egg and veggie fried rice or salad.
Spiced chicken, cashew and veggie stir fry with noodles or rice.
Beef chilli (the kids love this and I use one medium pack of mince to make a large pot of chilli and a portion of mince, potatoes, carrots and peas for the kids dinner the following night).
Gnocchi with garlic, chilli and tomatoes.
Roasted veggie risotto.
I have spoken about the gut brain relationship with experts on my podcast, time for a mojo injection, tune in here for some great contact and tips. Our brain and gastrointestinal tract share a close relationship: the gastrointestinal tract houses billions of bacteria that affect the production of neurotransmitters, which are chemical substances that carry special messages (dopamine or serotonin) from the gut to the brain. When we eat the good stuff and mindfully plan a balanced diet, this ensures the growth of “good” bacteria. These bacteria:
Provide protection against toxins and bad bacteria.
Improve nutrient absorption from your food.
Activate neural pathways that travel between the gut and brain.
All of these actions help our brain receive positive messages that are reflected in our mood and emotions. The effects of a bad diet, such as lots of processed foods and refined sugars, will trigger inflammation and harm neurotransmitter production. Sugary foods, as lovely as they are from time to time, feed bad bacteria to the gastrointestinal tract and cause inflammation. They might also trigger a spike in dopamine, known as “feel good” neurotransmitters which brings on a sugar rush, that commonly preludes a drastic downfall that translates into bad moods.
Scientists believe that diets that are high in vegetables, fruits, unprocessed grains, fish and seafood, and contain modest amounts of sugar, lean meat, and dairy are the most beneficial for both our physical and mental health. That’s the case of traditional Japanese and Mediterranian diets. Interestingly, studies show that the risk of depression is 25% to 35% lower in those who eat a traditional diet compared to those who follow the typical Western diet.
Sometimes, even when we know which kinds of foods are better for us, keeping a healthy diet is extremely challenging. In order to change our relationship with food, the first thing we should do is get still, journal and reflect on our eating habits.
Here are some good questions to journal out:
Are there any physical, emotional, or environmental factors that trigger binge eating, overeating, or not eating?
Some of mine – I eat to celebrate so am triggered after I achieve something. I have low self control when there are temptations all around me. Food shopping when I am hungry can be risky.
How does your body let you know when it’s hungry? Do you pay attention to these signs?
I can feel it in my stomach or I feel lightheaded or dizzy. Sometimes I get a headache if I have exercised and not eaten enough fuel after.
Are you distracted whenever you eat? Where does your mind go during meal times?
Sometimes I get sucked into eating mindlessly if I am distracted or I go into auto pilot mode.
Finding the answers to these questions will help you get to know yourself better. This is necessary because no action plan to improve health works without the right mindset. Before listening to what others have to say about nutrition, we must listen to our body. Paying close attention to our body’s many cues widens our understanding of ourselves, giving the kind of insight needed to change behaviour. This is what mindfulness is about. Mindfulness means paying close attention to the present moment. When we are mindful, we are not rushing, multitasking, or worrying about the past or future. Rather, we are calm and focused. Not only does mindfulness help us make better eating choices, but it also supports us in every other aspect of life.
I try to be mindful when I make a shopping list. We are in control and have the ability to choose what is more beneficial for our health. Don’t forget to be kind and patient with yourself. Not everything goes according to plan and changing your eating habits might require time and effort. Instead of beating yourself up and reacting negatively to setbacks, respond with love and compassion. Mindfulness is a skill we master through daily practice, be that planning, shopping, cooking and eating.
You got this.
Jojo Fraser is an award winning author, coach, podcaster and motivational/TEDX speaker. She has been a mental health researcher for the past 7 years and helps to empower, motivate and uplift the leaders she works with. She is known for her straight talking and bold approach. Her mission is simple – to normalise what many see as ‘the hard’ conversations and in breaking the stigma, save many lives.
She is a regular speaker on BBC Radio, a keen foodie, lover of trail running, wild swimming, spa days and she loves to sing. Jojo writes about all things mindfulness, relationships, positive psychology and lifestyle.
You can purchase her first book here.