Posted in goal setting, life hacks, lifestyle, Planning and journaling, productivity, Setting goals and intentions

Monday Matters: A guide to the Pomodoro Technique and how it’s helping me to increase my productivity

It’s been over two months now since I bought a countdown timer from Amazon to use for the Pomodoro Technique which aims to increase productivity. I already felt that I got plenty done each day but I loved the idea of breaking down work into intervals, having regular breaks and knowing how long I’d been hard at it for. I’ve been consistently using the time management method, apart from a week off for Christmas and I thought I’d share what it is and how I feel it’s helping me.

Those of you who have never heard of this technique may be wondering if it is named after a particular person, but you might be surprised to know that pomodoro is actually Italian for tomato. What does a tomato have to do with productivity? Read on and you’ll find out!

What is The Pomodoro Technique?

The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method which was developed by Italian Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. At this time, Cirillo was a university student and was struggling to stay focused on his studies. He challenged himself and posed the question ‘Can you stay focused for two minutes without distraction?’. To check if he could, he grabbed his countdown timer from the kitchen which was red and shaped like a pomodoro, or, in English, a tomato. He set the timer, and after two minutes of focused activity, the timer rang and he had achieved his mission. After this, he considered why the use of a timer had worked and he experimented with gradually upping the time and reducing it when it became too much. In the end, he decided that 25 minutes was perfect and that a short break (5 minutes) was required before continuing.

Cirillo carried on experimenting and came up with some basic principles. The timer was an important part but only one element of the method. He suggests the following:

  • Pick one task you want to work on.
  • Set your timer for 25 minutes and place it somewhere highly visible (so you can see how much time remains).
  • When the buzzer goes off, have a 5 minute break.
  • Repeat this with 3 more periods of 25 minutes and 5 minute breaks.
  • Mark each pomodoro with an X when you’ve completed it (this could be on a mini whiteboard, a post-it note or in your planner.
  • After 4 ‘pomodoros’ (work periods of 25 minutes and 5 minute breaks), take a longer break of 20-30 minutes.
  • Once your longer break is finished, go back to step 1.

But what if I have a really long project or lots of short tasks to do?

For complex projects, you should break things down into smaller actionable steps. This will help you avoid overwhelm and ensure you make good progress towards your end goal.

Any tasks which will take less than one pomodoro should be combined with other quick tasks. This might include a range of admin such as book a hairdressers appointment, reply to an email, making a shopping list for the supermarket and reviewing your bank statement.

If you finish your chosen task before the pomodoro timer rings, you should continue to use the rest of your time in a productive manner e.g. by going over what you’ve just learned, making a list of next steps, reading up on a related topic etc.

What should I do during my 5 minute breaks?

When the timer goes off, it’s sometimes tempting to continue working, especially if you’re in a flow state. However, taking breaks is really important if you want to stay productive. What you do during your short breaks is up to you but here are some suggestions that you might find helpful. For me, taking time away from screens such as my computer or my phone is super important and gives my eyes a good rest.

  • Do a short guided meditation
  • Get out in the garden and reap the benefits of fresh air
  • Do some stretches
  • Put on an upbeat track and dance about your kitchen / living room or anywhere with some space to move
  • Take a quick walk for a serotonin hit
  • Drink some water, squash or a flavoured tea
  • Sit in a comfy chair and read a good book
  • Do a mindful activity such as a spot of doodling, a word puzzle, jigsaw or some colouring in.
  • Listen to some music – trying closing your eyes so you really tune in.
  • Watch birds in your garden.

How is the Pomodoro Technique working for me so far?

So far, I’ve found the method to be incredibly effective. I bought my timer hoping that it might help in some small way but I didn’t realise how beneficial it would be as it’s such a simple idea. Here are some of the advantages I’ve experienced so far:

  • Makes it easy for me to get started. When you have a big project to do, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by its size and this can often lead to procrastination AKA putting things off. Contrary to popular belief, for most people, procrastinating is less about laziness and lack of self control, and more about fears of failure or feelings of self doubt. Knowing that I can do things in baby steps where I only have to do 25 minutes before being allowed a break is all the encouragement I need to get started.
  • Increasing my awareness of time. Using the timer makes you really aware of time going by and this encourages you to really focus in on your chosen tasks.
  • One thing at a time. The method encourages you to work on one specific task or a group of related tasks at one time and this helps to prevent the urge to multitask or context switching (where you jump from one task to another) which studies show is detrimental to productivity.
  • Great for avoiding distractions. In some ways, 25 minutes feels like plenty of time but if you don’t use it wisely, it can soon be gone. Because of this, I’ve taken steps to avoid anything which might interrupt my work flow. Depending on the type of work I’m doing, this might include putting my mobile phone in another room, adopting pen and paper methods for recording, switching off notifications and playing background music to block out other sounds.
  • Encourages me to plan my day. Before you start work, you’re encouraged to plan your tasks in advance. This helps you to decide what you want to get done, at what time and how long you think an activity is likely to take. At the end of your working day, you can evaluate your progress and consider if you overestimated or underestimated how much time tasks took. This can then inform your future planning.
  • Ensures I take regular breaks. Taking regular mental breaks from your work helps you to stay focused and remain efficient and productive during your 25 minute time blocks. If you’re working at a desk, it’s really beneficial to get up and move around as this improves your circulation and helps to combat fatigue.
  • Helps me maintain motivation. Seeing the time counting down on the timer in front of you is great for ensuring you work at a good pace. Also, after each session, I mark my progress in my bullet journal and this in itself makes me feel good and gives me the encouragement I need to keep going.
  • Encourages me to be self-evaluative. On days when I feel like I haven’t been super productive, despite using the Pomodoro Technique, I always question why. Common culprits include distractions from notifications or social media (especially if I’m researching something online), working in an untidy environment (meaning I can’t find things I needed) not taking my 5 minute break (or unconsciously extending them), deviating from my plan when I get back to work (because I found something else much more appealing, or when taking a break, engaging in something which didn’t allow me to relax and recharge (e.g. reading news articles online). When I’ve established what the issues are, I can develop strategies to combat them.

Final words…

I hope you have found today’s blog post useful, especially if you are looking for ways to beat procrastination, become more time savvy, and generally work more productively each day. If you want to know even more about the Pomodoro Technique you will find Francesco Cirillo’s book available in e-book format or paperback on Amazon. Also, feel free to ask any questions you may have in the comments and if you already use the Pomodoro Technique, let me know how it’s working out for you.

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Posted in goal setting, lifestyle, Planning and journaling, Setting goals and intentions

Monday Matters: An introduction to the lunar cycle and using its magic to transform yourself and your life

Last month, I mentioned that I’d started to learn about the moon cycle, the impact it can have on mind and body and how we can work with the energy of the moon to make positive changes to ourselves and our lives. I’ve now finished reading my book, the bestselling Lunar Living by Kirsty Gallagher and feel ready to share a basic introduction to this spiritual practice which makes use of some of my favourite transformative strategies such as making vision boards, setting goals and intentions, creating affirmations, shadow work, reflecting on what you are grateful for and journalling your thoughts, feelings and ideas for self-improvement.

The basic premise

Rather than setting new year’s resolutions at the beginning of the year and forgetting about them by the end of January, working with the power of the moon and her phases involves practices such as regularly reflecting on what you want, setting intentions and working on creating an action plan that helps you to manifest your desires each month. It also includes regularly assessing your progress, thinking about things that are standing in your way and what you can do about these barriers. By doing this, you become clearer about what you see as important to you and what you want to prioritise in your life (based on your values, wants and needs), whilst having a framework of guidance which teaches you what, specifically, to focus on during each phase of the moon to fully utilise her lunar magic. And, of course, by spending time thinking about and visualising your goals along with using supportive and encouraging affirmations, research has shown that these desired results are more likely to come into fruition.

Although I’ve only recently begun to use the moon and her phases as a guide, I’ve always recognised the importance of setting aside time to slow down and reflect on my life including the aspects I want to work on and changes and improvements I would like to make. I’ve regularly made vision boards for my personal life and also one for my business which I have on display in my craft room / office. I’ve also done plenty of journaling about my progress towards goals and any difficulties I’ve faced, plus written my own affirmations to repeat each day. What I found particularly interesting was how, according to ‘moon magic’, our energy levels change throughout the cycle, meaning that there are optimum times for self-care, resting and recharging, periods of great wisdom and clarity which enable us to set our intentions and make plans for working on them, higher energy times when we can celebrate our achievements and show gratitude for what we have in our lives whilst also evaluating our position with a view to recognising what is holding us back and then finally, opportunities for releasing and letting go ready to start the new cycle.

The quote below, which I’ve taken from Kirsty’s book, also emphasizes the control we have over our lives if we tune in to the cyclic and flowing nature of life.

Lunar Living brings us home to ourselves, our dreams and visions and goals, month after month. Working with the magic of the moon is a tool of immense self-awareness, self-care, nourishment, empowerment, manifestation and purpose.

Kirsty Gallagher, Lunar Living

Waxing and waning moon – the science bit

The moon is always whole in the sky but the part that we can see changes throughout each month according to the position of The Sun. When the moon is waxing, the illuminated part is getting bigger in the sky. The moon appears to grow until it becomes full – when the whole of its shape can be seen clearly. Following a full moon, the moon begins to wane, which means the visible surface area gets smaller and smaller until it can no longer been seen in the sky. When the moon is completely invisible it is referred to as a new moon.

The eight phases of the lunar cycle

The new moon marks the beginning of the lunar cycle and is often referred to as the first phase. Throughout the month, our view of the moon changes and we describe this using eight phases or shapes as follows:

  • new moon
  • waxing crescent
  • first quarter
  • waxing gibbous
  • full moon
  • waning gibbous
  • last quarter (also known as third quarter)
  • waning crescent

The New Moon

As I said earlier, this is generally considered to be the first moon phase and is a time for new beginnings and starting afresh. Energy levels will be low right now so it’s important to take time to rest and do self-care activities (I like to write a list of these in my bullet journal that I can choose from). Tune in to your inner world with some quiet meditation and reflective journalling. Set goals and intentions for the weeks ahead, visualising and imagining your inner desires, hopes and dreams. You might also like to spend a few hours creating a vision board of images and words which represent the direction you wish to take as inspiration and motivation. Another good activity is to create a small number of affirmations (3 is ideal) which are based on your intentions and use them daily during the waxing moon. Some examples could be:

  • I release what no longer serves me to make space for new beginnings
  • I am successful and fill my potential
  • I am grateful for everything I have in my life right now

The waxing crescent moon

Spend time looking at your vision board, visualising and contemplating what life will feel like when your hopes and dreams become a reality. Depending on how much work is involved in reaching your goals, you might just choose one or two of your intentions to focus on, writing them down clearly and succinctly. Start to make plans and points of action to work towards your intention(s) – try identifying and writing down small and achievable steps to help you on your way. Gather the necessary resources and gain the knowledge you need to enable you to make a start. Water your seeds of intention and repeat your affirmations daily.

The first quarter

Pause and take stock – are you moving in the right direction towards the intention(s) that you are currently focusing on? Do you need to tweak your plans? Recommit to your visions and dreams and continue with the strength and determination that this moon phase brings. Be open to whatever comes your way. Face adversity with a resolute mind – you can do this! Think about any challenges you are facing – what are they teaching you? Remember, the moon doesn’t do the work for you, it merely guides you on your way and gives you the energy you need to get to where you want to be.

Waxing gibbous moon

The moon is now almost full and becoming more so each night. This is a time of high energy which helps you give that final push towards your goal(s), making the last steps needed to get there. Meditate and reflect on the process so far – what is working? what isn’t? what last minute changes might you need to make? Continue documenting the process in your journal. Practice patience and trust in your ability to succeed.

Full Moon

Photo credit: Mike Petrucci for Unsplash

The moon is completely full in the sky once again – if it’s a clear night go outside and bathe in her light. This is the time of the month where your energy levels are at their peak. If you’ve been working hard towards your goal(s) you should feel a huge sense of achievement. Remember to celebrate every single one of your successes no matter how small. If some things have stood in your way and held you back, make a list of them and think about what you want to let go of or release as the moon wanes. Remember, some new moon intentions take time and lots of work, but as long as you’re heading in the right direction and are trying to increase your awareness of what needs to change then this is a huge positive. Use the full moon creative energy and vibes combined with your intuition to reflect, evaluate progress and maybe come up with new ideas and ways of working.

There are some interesting full-moon rituals in Kirty’s book which sound like they could be really helpful and I’m definitely going to try them at this point in the next cycle.

Waning gibbous moon

This is the start of the second half of the cycle, when the moon loses a little of her fullness each night. Continue to develop your understanding of what holds you back and begin the process of releasing them. Consider your experiences so far and think about what you can learn from them. Are there any difficult conversations that you need to have with particular individuals to discuss what you have learnt, how you feel about something or any changes you intend to make and why.

Last quarter

The last quarter moon falls exactly one week after the full moon. This is the time to work on things you want to release to make way for new beginnings. Think about what or who is holding you back such as illness, negative people or situations, bad habits, self-doubts, fears, procrastination, people pleasing or unclear boundaries etc. Currently, your energy levels will be getting lower so your attention should be directed inwardly so you can rest and quietly reflect on everything that has happened in the process so far.

Waning crescent

The waning crescent is considered to be the last phase of the moon. This is when a small slither of moon is visible in the sky and it is nearly time for a new moon. During this phase, you should consider if there is anything else that does not serve you which you need to release in preparation to start anew. This is a time to slow down, rest and refresh. You might also begin to contemplate what you would like to focus on next.

And then it’s back round to the new moon to continue the cycle.

This is just a small part of what I learnt from reading Kirsty’s book. I also developed my knowledge of the 12 signs of the zodiac and their impact on the moon. According to Kirsty,

Each zodiac sign brings different influences, lessons, opportunities, challenges, positive and testing aspects, traits and a different focus and life area into the moonlight. This helps us to keep flowing with the rhythm of life as we use the different energies, characteristics and symbols of each sign to help us explore, heal and delve deeper into the relevant areas in our own lives.

Kirsty Gallagher, Lunar Living, 2020.

Final words…

I must admit that life has kind of got in the way of some aspects of using the magic of the moon this month as my husband and I went away for a short holiday and I’ve had lots going on in my life. However, I have been working towards my goals and I have made progress, I just haven’t documented it or reflected on how I’m doing. I think it might be time to create a new vision board which includes the spiritual practices I hope to develop so that following the lunar cycle becomes part of my focus every day. I think I might also benefit from setting aside a small amount of time each evening to check in with myself and consider how things are going – creating a dedicated space in my bullet journal would aid this and adding the activity to my running task list for each day of the week will help to cement the habit. Kirsty includes some questions to reflect on during each phase and these would be really useful to answer as part of my journalling. I definitely think if you’re interested in learning more than the very basics of moon magic, then her book is well worth a read and a good one to regularly refer to as you develop your practice.

Previously I’ve been rather skeptical about the information contain in horoscopes and the idea of The Zodiac but I’m trying to be more open-minded with this too. I would love to hear from anyone who is involved in using the lunar cycle to good effect and also anyone who has doubts or reservations about the ideas contained in today’s post.

Posted in art, bullet journal, Bullet journaling, creativity, goal setting, lifestyle, Planning and journaling, productivity

My new slightly later than mid year BuJo and Setting up for August – birthday balloons theme

I’ve just finished my previous bullet journal and I’m excited to be moving in to a brand new notebook. This one is again from Notebook Therapy but the cover is white vegan leather with a beautiful butterfly on the front and gilded edges to the pages. I’m already wondering how long it will stay mark free for!

As we’re off on holiday shortly I’m going to keep this post picture heavy with minimal explanation. If you want to know anything about the spreads you can always ask in the comments.

Key and index pages

Future log

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping It Creative blog

Grid spacing cheat sheet

Vision board

I love how my vision board turned out. Some of the goals are ongoing from earlier in the year, some are new aspirations.

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping It Creative blog

August front cover

For my theme for August, I went for birthday balloons as my niece and our share our birthdays on the 3rd August. I completed my cover page on return from our holiday to Amsterdam. To make it quicker and easier, I used a tracing paper balloon shape to create the balloons but slightly altered them when I inked them in for a hand-drawn look. I used a 0.3 Pigma micron for each balloon and a 0.1 for the strings.

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping It Creative blog

August calendar pages

I haven’t managed to get chance to do the front cover page yet but it will feature lots of colourful balloons in the colour palette used for the calendar.

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping It Creative blog

Reading log

A space for me to record books read in August and September and rate them out of 5 hearts.

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping It Creative blog

When did I last? spread

I found this really useful in my previous bullet journal, particularly for stuff that doesn’t get done that often so I’ve created a slightly more compact version.

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping It Creative blog

Packing list

I do one of these every time we go away and refer back to previous ones each time. Obviously things depend on the season where we’re going and how long for but there are some items I take on each holiday. The lists help me feel more organised and mean I don’t forget things.

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping It Creative blog

Final words…

I hope you’ve enjoyed looking at my new bullet journal and my spreads. I always find it exciting to start a new notebook but at the same time I worry about making mistakes (which I inevitably do!). However, then you have the opportunity to get creative with how you fix the problem(s). Wishing you all a wonderful August.

Posted in Bullet journaling, goal setting, Health and Nutrition, Planning and journaling, Setting goals and intentions

Monday Matters: A mini guide to keeping a food journal to help with diet and weight loss

Earlier this month, I talked about how I might start a food journal to help me track my eating and drinking. Before starting, I researched the benefits of this practice and spent time learning about what I should include. A number of studies have shown that people who keep a food journal or diary are more likely to be successful in losing weight and keeping it off. According to my reading, the simple act of recording everything that you eat and drink each day can help you consume less calories and make healthier choices which aids weight loss.

What are the benefits of keeping a food journal?

Writing down what you eat and drink and how you feel at regular points during the day can help in a number of ways including:

  • Increased awareness of what you eat
  • Shows you how much you eat and drink in a typical day
  • Highlights reasons why you eat and drink e.g. boredom, stress, mid-afternoon slump, feeling sad etc
  • Begin to see if you’re eating too little or too much
  • Able to roughly track your calorie consumption and make comparisons between this and calories burnt each day
  • Able to check hydration levels – some people mistake thirst for hunger
  • Increased mindfulness i.e. awareness of eating, drinking and any patterns
  • Able to see where you could tweak your diet to make it more healthy and balanced

What do I need to start a food journal?

As many of you will know, I prefer pen and paper methods so I decided to use my bullet journal to record everything. I kept it simple with a title and a bit of washi tape and I used double page spreads to give me plenty of writing room. Any notebook and pen will do but it’s helpful if it’s something you can take out with you in your bag so you can record on the go – recording everything at the end of a long and busy day is quite an onerous task!

If you prefer to keep digital records you could create journalling pages in Notion or MS Word on your phone or tablet. You could also set up a simple spreadsheet to include date, time, foodstuff and how you’re feeling. Another option is to use an app like My Fitness Pal which can help you measure calorie consumption – beware though that it will keep trying to persuade you to sign up for a free trial or pay a monthly fee! I tried logging things on My Fitness Pal to see if I liked it and I found it really quick and easy. You can scan the barcode on your food packets and it shows the calorie content. You can also see and record other nutritional information but some details are only accessible on the paid for premium version.

Tips for getting the most out of your food journal

  • Log absolutely everything you eat and drink even if it’s something small or very low in calories e.g. one biscuit, a square of chocolate or a single boiled sweet. In doing this, you’ll have a full picture of your current diet.
  • When you log a food or drink, consider why you are eating and how you’re feeling e.g. a glass of wine to wind down after a long and busy day, feeling shattered etc.
  • Make sure you record how specific foods are cooked e.g. boiled, fried, roasted, steamed etc.
  • Include information about dressings, sauces and toppings and the amount e.g. 2 tsps of French dressing on salad.
  • Think about adding information about where you’re eating / drinking and who you are eating with e.g. at the dining table with family, at my desk, in XX restaurant, in a cafĂ© with my partner etc.
  • Jot down what you are doing at the time e.g. watching TV, at the computer, having a catch up with a friend etc.
  • Be really specific about the type of drinks e.g. half a pint of beer, caramel macchiato, small mug, 200ml of orange juice etc.
  • Don’t forget to include alcoholic beverages and the amount e.g. one shot glass of vodka with 100ml of coke etc.
  • Think about logging the calories of meals at a restaurant if this information is on the menu, or check out the packaging of foodstuffs and drinks consumed at home.
  • Write down if you get any cravings and if you gave in to them or distracted yourself with an activity.
  • Note down how hungry you are when you eat.
  • Record your food and drink as soon as possible after eating/drinking so you don’t forget things. If you use a notebook or paper and don’t want to take it out with you, try making a quick note on your phone to transfer to your journal when you get home.

Analysing your food and drink log

Once you’ve recorded your food and drink for 5 days or so, consider what it tells you. So, for example:

  • Am I getting my five portions of fruit and veg each day?
  • How healthy is my diet overall?
  • Does my diet include wholegrains?
  • Does my mood affect my eating and drinking habits?
  • How balanced is my diet – am I eating too much or too little of something?
  • Do I have snacks and how healthy are they?
  • Am I paying full attention when I eat or am I often busy doing something else? (how mindful am I?)
  • Which areas of my diet could be improved upon? e.g. I could eat more vegetables, I could cut down on takeaways and try to do more cooking from scratch, I could eat a piece of fruit as a snack instead of a chocolate bar in the afternoon etc.

Setting some healthy eating goals

When you’ve identified areas for improvement, you could have a go at setting a couple of healthy eating goals for yourself. I recommend using the SMART framework for this so you can measure your progress easily. So, for example, when I was depressed, I struggled to eat breakfast and got into the habit of having a bowl of Crunchy Nut Cornflakes each morning as they’re easy to eat. When I started to feel better, I continued to eat this cereal as it had become a habit and one which I enjoyed. My husband suggested I try eating a healthier cereal every other day so I’m now having a portion of Shreddies four days a week. Here’s how it looks using the SMART goal system:

S = specific. Eat a wholegrain cereal every other day – a portion of Shreddies (or possibly Weetabix as an even better alternative according to someone in the know about healthy eating)

M = measurable. Does my food journal show that I’m doing this consistently?

A = achievable. Start small, do it every other day for the time being. Eating wholegrain cereal every day will make it a lot harder and I might start craving the Crunchy Nut Cornflakes and give up!

R = relevant. Does it fit with what I want in my life? Yes, I want to break the habit of eating a sugary cereal each day. I also want to tweak my diet to make it more healthy.

T = timely. Do the above consistently for two weeks to meet the initial goal and then increase to wholegrain cereal 5 days + a week.

Other goals include breaking the habit of having a packet of sweets every Friday / Saturday and finding alternative and less calorific desserts for during the week. I intend to work towards a couple of goals at a time so that I don’t feel that I’m denying myself too much.

Final words…

Although keeping a food and drink journal can be really helpful for improving your diet and eating more healthily, I wouldn’t recommend keeping records in the long term as it can be a time consuming habit to continue and you don’t want to feel like it’s a huge chore with no benefit. After 3 or 4 days, you should start to see patterns and be able to identify a few tweaks you could make to your diet to aid weight loss and ensure better balance between the different food groups and recommended consumption of foods in the different groups such as fruit and vegetables, protein and carbohydrates. For further information about your daily eating and drinking habits, you might want to consider logging things for a couple of weeks and setting yourself some mini goals to work towards.

I had a meeting this week with one of the weight management team ladies and she suggested some ideas for tweaking my diet to increase my success. She also mentioned that she didn’t advocate calorie counting or weighing food in the long term, instead she suggested educating myself about different foods and drinks using the traffic light system on packets and developing better understanding about portion size.

Nutritional information on the Shreddies packet

Let me know in the comments if keeping a food and drink log is something you’ve done in the past, considered doing or something you definitely want to try. If you’ve given it a go, I would love to hear about your experiences whether positive or negative.

In the end, I decided that I actually prefer using the My Fitness Pal app for recording as it’s much quicker than writing it all down. I’m still learning how to use all the features but so far I’ve managed to sync my Fitbit with the app and I’ve found that you can search for recipes you found online and retrieve the nutritional information (although you can’t include any changes you made to the ingredients.

Screenshot of my diary on My Fitness Pal

Thank you for reading,

Posted in goal setting, Health and Nutrition, lifestyle, Planning and journaling, self care, wellbeing, wellness

Monday Matters: 5 main barriers to eating healthily and ideas to overcome them

As regular readers of my blog will know, I’m currently signed up to a weight management programme, where, for 12 weeks, I have free access to my local wellness centre including the gym and fitness classes and also receive tips on developing a more healthy lifestyle through exercise and diet. I was already quite active and have now upped my exercise levels significantly so that I’m burning more calories due to more steps and more active minutes each day. I’ve made some changes to what I eat but I need to continue to work on this so I thought that for today’s Monday Matters, I’d consider the barriers to eating healthily and ways in which they can be overcome.

Information overload

There’s so much information online, in magazines and in books about diets and ways to lose weight that it can seem really overwhelming and leave you feeling like you don’t know what to do for the best. There are a great number of ‘fad diets’ which promise super quick results in terms of weight loss with little scientific evidence to back up their claims. They’re also often very restrictive encouraging you to only eat at certain times or to dramatically cut down or cut out certain foods. Then there are adverts for diet pills and meal replacement drinks which make all sorts of claims about awesome results and feature images of slim, smiley, glowing women to go with the emotive and persuasive language used in the words.

Realistically, your goal should not be to lose weight at a rate of knots, but instead, should be about making gradual changes to your diet to make it balanced and more healthy. Here’s some ideas to help you:

  • Ignore ‘fad’ diets and read reliable information from reputable sources such as the government or the NHS (in the UK).
  • Check out a healthy eating plate like the one below to establish how much of each food group to should be eating.
  • Avoid listening to dietary advice from friends or family members, unless they’re a registered dietician or expert nutritionalist!
  • Remember that even diets which sound healthy, like vegetarian or vegan can still be highly calorific if certain choices are made e.g. eating lots of cheese and butter or consuming too much soya milk and other dairy alternatives.

There’s a wealth of accurate and reliable information provided by the (UK) government which includes a PDF version of the above and a comprehensive guide to eating well. Click here to go there now.

Lack of time

It takes time to develop a healthy lifestyle, including eating better and ensuring you have a balanced diet. Many people lead very busy lives and if improving your health isn’t currently one of your top priorities, you may feel that you haven’t got the time or energy to devote to making dietary changes.

The first thing I would suggest doing is spending about half an hour considering the different areas of your life and assessing which you’d like to focus on more. I use Hal Elrod’s Level 10 life sections to rate the different aspects of my life. The following aspects are given a score out of 10 (with 10 being near perfect and 1 being an area which requires lots of work):

  • Family and Friends
  • Personal growth and development
  • Spirituality
  • Finances
  • Career/business
  • Significant other/romance
  • Fun and recreation
  • Contribution/giving
  • Health/fitness
  • Physical environment (home/office)

If you figure you could make improvements in the area ‘health/fitness’ then it’s a good idea to identify some small changes you could make to your life to enable you to work on some related goals e.g. preparing a healthy packed lunch to take to work each day, cooking from scratch more often so you can enjoy the benefits of home cooked meals or creating a meal plan so that you can work on having a balanced diet with healthier snacks.

When most people say ‘I haven’t got time’, what they actually mean is that they don’t want to dedicate time to a particular venture, that they are actively making a choice to do something else or that the particular thing that they ‘haven’t got time for’ isn’t important enough to them or high enough up their agenda.

If you want to eat healthily but need help with motivating yourself to start changing your eating habits, you might want to do a little research on the benefits of a healthy diet and record your findings. I created a spread in my Bullet Journal as a great reminder of why healthy eating should be a priority.

A motivational page from my current bullet journal

A few time saving tips:

  • make twice the amount when cooking a favourite dish and save the rest to enjoy quick and easy leftovers later in the week
  • buy canned pulses so you don’t have to remember to soak them
  • have some pre-cooked packets of couscous, rice and grains to accompany your dishes
  • if you can afford it, buy pre-prepared veggies when you’re super busy
  • do a quick weekly meal plan over coffee on a Sunday morning and then make a list of groceries for the supermarket shop
  • have some frozen veggies in your freezer e.g. petit pois, spinach, green beans, mixed pre-chopped veg etc
  • batch cook and freeze soups and stews

Lack of confidence with cooking

Pre-prepared dishes or ‘ready meals’ as they are known, make it easy to enjoy a main meal but often these items are highly calorific and contain lots of sugar and salt. They’re also usually seriously lacking in vegetables which, as shown on the food plate above, should, along with fruit, make up a large portion of your daily food.

Home cooked meals might require a little more effort, but, you can find a range of simple, healthy recipes online or in cook books and if you specifically look for those which contain minimal or basic ingredients or label themselves as ‘one pot’ or ‘quick and easy’ then there’s no excuse to give it a go. You could also treat yourself to a few new tools and gadgets such as a set of cooks knives for speedy dicing of veggies, a food processor for chopping, mixing, grating and shredding, a blender for soups and smoothies or even a slow cooker for setting the dinner off at a simmer whilst you’re busy working so it’s ready to eat when you return home or get back to your kitchen.

My husband and I have found that each time we make a tasty and healthy dish we appreciate our efforts and the positive feelings it evokes prompt us to try more new recipes and boosts our confidence in the kitchen. We’re now more willing to try new ingredients and will give anything a go.

Feeling deprived

When you start working towards leading a more healthy lifestyle, you might give up some of the foods you like such as chocolate, crisps, salad dressings, sauces, ice cream and Friday night takeaways. Doing this may make you feel like you are being deprived of all of your favourites and can lead to lack of motivation to continue. Eating healthily doesn’t mean you have to stop eating everything you love. You just need to moderate the amount of sugary, fatty and highly calorific foods you have so that you eat then in small amounts and less often.

A popular way of achieving a healthy diet without feeling deprived is to apply the 80/20 mindset. This means that 80% of the time, you eat ‘clean’, choosing foods that are natural, whole and unprocessed e.g. fruit and vegetables, wholegrains such as wholemeal bread, brown rice, quinoa and wholemeal pasta, nuts and seeds, no-calorie beverages such as water, unsweetened tea. For the other 20% of the time, you can enjoy less-nutritious foods and treats. For example, on one day during the week, you might have an ice cream on a particularly hot afternoon or cake and coffee for a friend’s birthday etc. If you have several snacks a day over the period of a week, 11 or 12 of them would be healthy choices such as fruit, unflavoured nuts or low fat cheese on a wholewheat cracker, and 2 or 3 times you could enjoy a favourite treat such as a cookie or a small amount of chocolate.

Difficulty changing unhealthy or unhelpful eating habits and beliefs

Changing your eating habits to make them more healthy can be incredibly difficult, especially when many of them were established a long time ago, sometimes as far back as childhood. Some examples of unhelpful habits include:

  • eating whilst watching tv / YouTube videos etc (eating whilst performing other tasks)
  • piling your plate high with food at the buffet table (eyes bigger than your belly anyone?) because it all looks good / is free etc
  • eating a dessert even if you’re already full
  • emotional eating e.g. when bored, agitated, angry, stressed, upset etc. as a form of comfort
  • making your portion size the same as your partner who may have a much higher recommended daily calorie intake
  • believing that you have to eat everything on your plate, otherwise it’s wasteful
  • eating late at night, especially snacking just before bed
  • giving in to sugar cravings
  • believing you are hungry when really you’re actually thirsty
  • skipping breakfast
  • eating far too quickly

Even if you’ve had the same eating habits for years, it is possible to make improvements. I would suggest that the first step is to take time for some reflection. Consider what you good habits are e.g. always ensuring you get your 5 a day and your not so wonderful habits e.g. having a highly calorific dessert each evening after your main meal. If you’re not exactly sure what your habits are, try keeping a food diary, recording everything you eat and drink throughout one week. Also, think about what triggers your unhealthy eating such as a stressful day, a mid-afternoon energy slump etc.

Following your reflection and analysis, give yourself a congratulatory pat on the back for your healthy habits and then choose one of your bad habits to replace. So, for example, you might choose to focus on ‘eating too quickly’ and work on a plan to replace this with eating slowly and mindfully. Just as a bad habit does not evolve overnight, new and improved habits take time to develop too. But if you work on cementing one healthy habit at a time and continually reflect on how things are going, you can get there as long as a) you’re patient with yourself and take it one day at a time and b) you remember that there may be slip ups along the way and this does not mean that you’ve failed and should give up.

Tackling negative core beliefs about food and eating e.g. once I start eating, I can’t stop, I need to eat to make myself feel better, food is just fuel etc. can be extremely difficult. In this case, it is usually best to seek the help and advice of a trained professional such a dietician or a CBT therapist. These can be accessed via your GP.

Final words…

I hope you have enjoyed reading today’s blog post and it has helped to explain some of the main barriers to eating healthily. If you are planning on making changes to your diet, it’s best to make small changes rather than doing anything drastic. It might also be a good idea to do a little journalling and reflection on the process, for example, recording any improvements you notice such as clearer skin, better sleep and feeling more attentive when working etc. You could also reward your progress by giving yourself little treats (non-foodie ones preferably!) such as a bath bomb, a gorgeously scented hand cream, new stationery or a potted plant for your room.