Rob Hobson is a registered nutritionist. He’s written two books, The Detox Kitchen Bible and The Art Of Sleeping. He contributes messaging about nutrition on TV and radio, and has done lots of work in public health as well.
Janey Lee Grace is a presenter and an author of several books on holistic living. Her latest, Happy Healthy Sober, has just been published. She ditched the booze two and a half years ago, and we are delighted that she did this interview Rob as part of the summer Mindful Drinking Festival.
Psychology over physiology
If you used to have a glass of wine in the evening, you may not have snacked because you had the wine. Without it, you might start scrambling around for nibbles. Evening is when people are more prone to snacking and taking in excess calories. You may not even realise that the things you’re substituting in place of that drink are more calorific. When we want to eat something sweet after a meal, that’s a habit that is often ingrained in early childhood. Sweets are used to reward, or you can’t have your pudding until you finish your greens. The same could be said with this evening drink, your body could be craving a similar thing as part of that ingrained habit. It’s more psychological than physiological. You’re going to seek out foods that give you pleasure, a hedonic type of eating.
One step at a time
What people tend to do, especially at New Year is say ‘I’m going on a massive health kick, I’m gonna give up sugar, alcohol, everything!’. It just doesn’t work. You need to take small steps. Find out what it is you want to change, think about the reasons why, then work out your strategies. So if it’s alcohol, you need to think of ways that you can fill your life. Achievable ways that are realistic. Maybe that’s ‘as soon as I feel like a drink I’m going to keep myself busy, I’m going to go for a walk’. Bonus for moving your body. Focus on the drink first, and then the nutrition and weight loss.
Understand your appetite
Calorie counting is a really good benchmark, but it’s not for everyone. If you’re looking for something healthy to eat, a calorie label can help you to make a choice. But not all calories are the same. You could go on a diet where you eat 1200 calories a day, and you could eat that in broccoli or you could eat that in marshmallows, but they’re not the same nutritionally. It works for some people that need that structure. If it doesn’t work for you, then you need to understand your appetite. The most difficult thing is knowing when you’re full and when you’re hungry. Then you can think about what you put on your plate. You could try eating more slowly, and eating without distraction, so you can focus on your hunger levels.
Focus on what you need to get in your diet, not on depriving yourself of things. You need protein, and you should choose lean proteins. You need to eat carbohydrates. Choose whole grains, fibre is really important, especially for weight loss. There are good fats, olive oil or oily fish. Explore plant based foods, pulses, nuts, seeds, those kinds of things. Only about 30% of people in the UK eat five servings of fruit and veg a day, and we now know from research that we probably need to be getting more. Eating more veggies is one thing you could probably do to make the most difference to your health. And I’m going beyond weight loss here.
Manage your stress
If you want to stop drinking, you need to address how you cope with stress. Nutritionally stress affects how you eat, and how your body uses certain nutrients such as B vitamins and magnesium.
There are certain nutrients that are important for our brain chemistry, magnesium is often spoken about when it comes to anxiety and mood, and it actually binds together receptors in the brain. That helps to quieten down the activity and sort of calm you down a bit. Nuts, seeds, dark green vegetables, pulses and lentils are good sources of magnesium. And there’s no harm in taking a supplement. So you might want to take a magnesium citrate or malate supplement, 375 milligrams is the recommended daily intake. So that’s a good way to do it. Magnesium sprays are available, they’re absorbed much more easily on the tongue and into the body, or you can use bath salts.
Nutrition, alcohol, and sleep
You often go into really deep sleep when you’ve had too much to drink. You’re not getting enough REM sleep, which is that nice restorative part of your sleep. When the alcohol wears off, you get a lot of jittery REM sleep, when you dream as well. People often say ‘I have nightmares and really vivid dreams after drinking a lot’. Alcohol is affecting your sleep, and it also inhibits the the uptake of certain minerals as well. So that’s important in terms of foods that you can eat. Tryptophan is an amino acid, which can go into the brain and make serotonin. This is then made into melatonin, which is our sleep hormone. So it can help us to increase the amounts of melatonin in our brain to assist with that sleep cycle. Magnesium B vitamins are used to make melatonin as well. So a varied diet with lots of plant based whole foods is going to ensure that you get plenty of those nutrients and minerals in your diet.
Be kind to yourself
You need to consider how you really feel about yourself. Try not to make the weight loss too much of a focus, because it will come with the steps that you take to change your behaviour. Look at your body shape, and what you can achieve with exercise. If you’ve been dieting for many years, your mind is just so focused on needing to lose weight, and it’s not very healthy. Try and change your mindset a bit. Feeling anxious can affect the way that you eat too. So really try and focus on how you want to feel about yourself, focus on healthy eating, enjoying food for once, instead of seeing food as the enemy. You might like to check out The Kindness Method.