Eat and Sleep Your Way to Happiness

We all lead very busy lives.

This has most certainly been established, and most people in their young twenties – barreling down the career path, making ends meet, living in a hyper-connected world – would absolutely agree they often have little to no extra time. Following Kaylee’s wise thoughts on prioritizing, I got to thinking about two of the most important things that I try to hold high on my list of priorities – and seeing as they’re vital portions of any healthy life, it’s sad to see how often both of them take a seat on the back burner in terms of importance and necessity.

What are these two gigantic indicators of health that get the boot more often than not? Eat and sleep – the pillars of physical and mental fuel and sustenance. You may be thinking, ‘I eat healthily and don’t feel tired?’ But I suppose what I’m getting at goes a little bit deeper than that. Even if you’re noshing throughout your whirlwind day, grabbing a sandwich to eat on the bus and pounding energy drinks after your five hour sleep, only to wake up feeling fine – it’s just not enough. This might keep you going, but your body only has so much tolerance for this kind of malnourishment – before you’ll inevitably see the effects in your productivity, weight and overall disposition.

Growing more interested in my own health and the idea of holistic nutrition, I’ve spoken with a nutritionist a number of times who re-affirms some of the most simple and important lessons we learned as a child yet have somehow commonly manage to forget between rush hour traffic, drinks with friends and early morning meetings. Behind some of your weight loss, concentration, mood and exercise woes might be a few simple solutions to help with everything from digestion, to your nervous system to overall happiness. Let’s take a look at the basics to start, and even though they might seem obvious, it’s amazing how few people (myself included) can forget to keep them in check:

How much do you sleep?

1. You need at least 7 or 8 hours of sleep: Now, every sleeper is different – but numerous intensive sleep studies have concluded that those who sleep for 7 or 8 hours each night with little to no interruption experience almost no cognitive decline or attention lapses over several weeks of study. Those who slept 4-6 hours slowly declined in concentration and sharpness without their realization. According to a recent article in Women’s Health Magazine, Finnish researchers found that during a 7-year study, women who reported sleep problems or deficiency were also more likely to experience a major weight gain. Why? You burn less calories the fewer hours you sleep, you are hungrier and choose higher-carbohydrate snacks after a bad night’s sleep and you crave more. Insufficient sleep raises the levels of ghrelin, the hormone that tells you to eat – so you might find yourself waking up with a whopping appetite.

2. Think About Your Food While You’re Eating It: I’m incredibly guilty of sitting down to a meal with distractions like a magazine or TV show in the foreground, or grabbing something on the go to toss back before my next engagement. Bad idea. Since speaking with the nutritionist, it’s amazing the difference in my appetite and post-meal satisfaction – and all I have been doing is eating slowly, savouring the taste of my meal and realizing when my brain is telling me that my stomach is getting full. Eating until you are full enough to maybe have one more bite, and then stopping, is a wonderful trick; you’ll be surprised at how often you don’t go back for the rest of your plate.

3. Drink Your Water at Room Temperature and Not During A Meal: This might seem odd, but to be straight up, ice cold water – especially during a meal – will absolutely mess with your digestion. Once thought to be an old wives tale, this little tidbit is extremely beneficial in holistic nutrition. When you’re about to eat, your stomach will start releasing the exact amount of gastric juices that are needed to digest the food you’re putting in. However, if you’re drinking cold water during a meal, not only does the water dilute the digestive juices, but water is also absorbed into the walls of your stomach until the contents are concentrated enough for the digestive juices to act. The concentrated substance then ends up being thicker than the food your stomach was going to digest and you won’t have enough gastric juice to break it down. This could lead to nasty bloating and indigestion and worst of all, the undigested food soaking into the wall of your stomach could lead to some dreaded gradual weight gain.

Chew, chew, chew. Repeat.

4. Chew Your Food!: Grandma’s back, ladies and gentleman – and man, was she right in telling you to chew your steak 25 times before swallowing! This is one of the most incredible – and forgotten – eating tips in the book. To start, your saliva is a courageous tool in digestion – it contains enzymes that break down fats and starches and can only go to work if your food is chewed. If you don’t chew as well and mix it with your enzyme-filled saliva, the enzymes aren’t there to help break down the starches that give you energy or help digest fats, therefore leaving them unprocessed. Secondly and equally as important is in the field of nutrient absorption. Why not help our stomach muscles relax by chewing our meal, and really reap the benefits of everything that sits in each bite. If you think dinner didn’t settle well with you? Maybe it wasn’t the food’s fault – maybe you shovelled it down so fast it didn’t get a chance to settle.

5. Plate Portions: I won’t draw a colourful diagram, I promise. But half of your plate should be veggies, one quarter should be grains and one quarter should be a protein. Boom – kindergarten re-visited. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that eating green salad all day every day – or eating burgers and fries around the clock – is just dumb. Balance, real nutrition and nourishment – paired with physical activity – is the answer to so many weight loss or energy woes.

6. Breathe, baby: Take a break from life in the fast lane, either once or twice a day or in your next yoga class – and breathe in and out. Our minds and bodies are very much interconnected, and we could all benefit from slowing down for a minute to fill our belly, diaphragm and spirit with a little air. Breathe in, breathe out. Easy as pie.

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