In the 40 days between Shrove Tuesday (Pancake Day!) and Easter, many Christians across the globe choose to give something up for Lent in order to test their resolve, not dissimilarly to a new year’s resolution, or undertaking a dry January.
But whether you celebrate Lent or not, giving up an unhealthy habit for a month can do wonders for your health! Studies have shown that it takes around 30 days to break a bad habit, so by going cold turkey for an entire month you are sure to find yourself experiencing considerably fewer cravings.
Today we wanted to go over 5 unhealthy habits that would be great to give up, whether its for Lent or just as a personal challenge to yourself!
Habit 1: Consuming refined sugars
Refined sugars are essentially sugars that are added to food to boost their flavour. They can be sourced by extracting and processing the sugar naturally found in foods like sugar beets, sugar cane and corn. Some examples that you may have heard of include high fructose corn syrup as well as white sugar. This refined sugar is then added to foods for various purposes, including to boost flavour; for example in soft drinks, sweets and desserts such as cakes and cookies to name just a few. The over-consumption of refined sugars has been linked to conditions like obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
Giving up refined sugars for an entire month can work wonders for your health! Reducing the amount of added sugar in your diet can lower levels of triglycerides, which are linked to heart disease. On top of this, ditching refined sugar may help stop weight gain and fat buildup linked to heart problems. If at the moment you are getting over 20% of your daily caloric intake from added sugar (even if you have a healthy weight/BMI) you may be able to lower your risk of heart disease when you cut down on the amount that you are eating.
In addition to the health benefits that eliminating refined sugars will have, it is also key to consider that when you cut out these foods, you will receive additional nutritional benefits on top as you will be replacing them with considerably healthier alternatives! If you usually reach for a bag of sweets when you crave sweetness, you may swap them out for some fresh fruit. Fresh fruit will be packed with considerably more vitamins and minerals, meaning that you will reap many more benefits and your body will thank you!
Habit 2: Mindless eating
It is so important to focus on the food that we are eating, for all sorts of reasons!
Doing things like eating whilst working, watching TV or scrolling through your phone can distract you from what you are eating (and how much!) leading to less of a satisfied feeling overall after finishing your meal.
Try to set aside at least 20 minutes for your mealtimes, as this will allow you to not feel as rushed when eating, and instead be able to truly consider the food that you are eating! On top of this, without external distractions you will be able to fully appreciate the quality of the flavours you are eating. We encourage you to try out new exciting recipes, or exciting meal plans if cooking (or having spare time to cook!) isn’t on the cards for you. This way you know that you will consistently have exciting meals to look forward to, and will be actively excited to give them your full attention at mealtimes!
In addition, when you are focused on your meals you will be more aware of how healthy what you are eating is, and your food choices in general. For example, it’s easy to snack on crisps whilst watching a film and before you know it you will have finished the whole packet without even thinking about it! Whereas if you choose to eat your crisps whilst unoccupied with other distractions, you are less likely to overeat as you will be more aware of how full you are whilst still enjoying a treat and not restricting yourself.
Habit 3: Consuming caffeine
Ditching the caffeine can help your body in so many more ways than you think! By eliminating your morning coffees and afternoon energy drinks you will start to feel considerably more alert overall. This is because excessive caffeine consumption can cause our bodies to go through ‘high highs’ and ‘low lows’ in terms of energy. We wake up tired so have a coffee, and this begins the vicious cycle that caffeine causes. It gives us an initial boost, but this is inevitably followed by a ‘crash’ which will often leave us feeling considerably worse! This causes some to consume additional caffeine in order to counteract these effects, which in turns causes the negative cycle to repeat!
By eliminating caffeine you will start to see improvements in your sleep quality as your brain will not be affected by its stimulant effects, meaning that you will be able to achieve deep, REM sleep with considerably more ease. This will ensure that you wake up feeling more rested, therefore giving you more energy in the long run throughout your day!
In addition to this, ditching caffeine can have a positive impact on your anxiety levels. This is partly as a direct result of the reasons listed above, as increased sleep and balanced energy can work wonders for our mental health, but also for other reasons. Some people notice themselves getting a bit shaky after their second or third cup of coffee, and these effects that caffeine has on your body are actually physiologically similar to those of a frightening event. This is because caffeine’s stimulant effect essentially triggers your “fight or flight” response, and research has shown that this can considerably worsen anxiety in the long run, and can even directly trigger an anxiety attack if too much caffeine is consumed.
Habit 4: Eating red and processed meat
It’s no secret that meat alternatives are all the trend right now, but did you know that eliminating some kinds of meat from your diet can work wonders for your health as well?
Lots of us are eating far too much processed meat within our diets as it can be found in popular foods such as fast food burgers and nuggets, pepperoni pizza, and deli meats. People who eat a lot of these kinds of meats are more likely to develop heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain kinds of cancer as a result of their high levels of salt, fat, and preservatives.
Similarly, doctors have started recommending eliminating red meat from our diets, or at least significantly cutting down our intake of it. This is because in general, red meats have more cholesterol and saturated fat than chicken, fish, and vegetable proteins such as beans. It was found that a 4-oz. cooked steak has 93mg cholesterol and 17g of fat (6.6g of which are saturated), compared to a 4-oz. cooked salmon’s 62mg cholesterol and 7g of fat (1g of which is saturated). Bad cholesterol can wreak havoc on our heart health and even cause artery blockages which can result in strokes!
We recommend swapping out processed and/or red meats for leaner meat options such as organic chicken/turkey, fish high in omega-3 fatty acids such as mackerel or salmon or plant based options such as tofu, beans or chickpeas in order to maintain your levels of protein and feel your best!