How to keep – and stay – fit in 2021

New years are often filled with thoughts of a fresh start, trying new things and getting fit in the twelve months ahead, and staying healthy in 2021 is more important than ever with Covid-19 still snapping at our heels.

A healthy immune system is key to fighting nasty bugs and viruses, and dose of moderate exercise taken regularly will help to boost this all-important network which helps to keep you well.

What’s more, exercise will not only benefit your body but your mind, too. Exercise is a bit like mindfulness. Whether you’re jogging, enjoying the feeling of blood pulsing through your veins and the wind on your face, or pedalling furiously on an exercise bike aware only of the feeling of your heart pumping and remembering the joy of just being alive, exercising will help you forget your worries and focus on simply ‘being’.

However, many people start their new year on a health kick but find it impossible to follow through with those good intentions. If you struggle to follow a regular exercise regime, keep reading for some suggestions to help you keep – and stay – fit in 2021!

Choose a workout you enjoy

Exercising doesn’t have to be boring or particularly gruelling. With a little creativity there’s an exercise to suit every level of fitness, personal target or budget, and you don’t need to break social distancing regulations to benefit from them either.

Why not find a hill (it doesn’t have to be a mini-Everest) and walk up it – several times if you want to increase the intensity of the workout? (You’ll also benefit from the extra vitamin D due to being outdoors – and bear in mind that vitamin D is also key to a healthy immune system.)

Of if you like to move your feet but don’t fancy pounding the pavements, try a dance workout. There are plenty of them online to suit every style of dance. Just use a search engine to find one that you like.

Perhaps strenuous exercise isn’t an option right now, so why not have a go at Tai Chi? Tai Chi might look like a strange slow-dance but regular practice can help keep your heart healthy, and those funny-looking movements are actually a slowed down sequence of self-defence moves. Tai Chi Chuan is in fact a very effective martial art that has been honed over many centuries. You can get started with the basics of Tai Chi at home online.

For an exercise that’s relaxing and therapeutic, try your hand at yoga, which offers a range of different workouts that will tone your body and soothe your nerves at the same time. Contrary to what you might believe, a yoga session can provide a good cardiovascular workout – it doesn’t have to mean sitting in lotus position for an hour.

Online yoga workouts have proliferated during lockdown restrictions; a popular free resource is Yoga With Adriene, where you can pick and choose from a huge selection of sessions including Yoga at Your Desk, Yoga Poses for Beginners – Where to Start? and Breath: a 30-Day Yoga Journey.

Here are some exercise ideas (all of which can be carried out indoors):

– Boxercise

– Dancercise

– Yoga

– Tai Chi

Step workout (with or without a step!)

If none of these suggestions hit the spot, why not stick on some of your favourite music and simply pump your arms and legs at your own pace? Or put together your own exercise programme of squats and lungs for some cardio exercise combined with some baked bean can weights for toning the arms?

Alternatively, buy yourself a digital tool called a pedometer, which will count the number of steps you walk per day, or you can download a free app for your smartphone such as Fitbit.  Try to increase the number of steps you walk each day, building up your fitness in a gentle way. According to Australian organisation 10,000 Steps, the ideal number of steps to walk per day is approximately 10,000; those considered to have a sedentary lifestyle walk less than 5,000 steps daily; and the hyper-fit types walk 12,500.

Remember to take care while exercising at home. If you’re new to exercise, start off slowly and build up your stamina.

Ask your GP if you’re unsure about how to exercise safely and within your limits, or if you have any underlying health issues seek their advice before you start your new exercise regime.

Exercise at the same time of day

Research has shown that exercising at the same time each day will help you keep on track with your workouts because you’re establishing a routine. So whether you’re a morning bird or you prefer to exercise in the afternoon or after work, pick a time and stick to it – it’s more likely your exercise session will become an exercise regime that will help you to keep fit throughout 2021 and beyond!

Start off slowly

Lots of people start a new fitness regime with the best of intentions but the zeal wears off because they push themselves too far. The biggest turn-off when it comes to exercising is sustaining an injury the first time you work out because you overdid it. Likewise, if your body isn’t used to regular exercise the post-exercise burn could deter you from trying again. Remember that these aches and pains will ease the more you keep working at it.

Be kind to yourself. There’s no rush. View building exercise into your daily routine as more of a marathon than a sprint. Aim for long-term health and lifestyle benefits rather than exercising in order to achieve a short-term weight goal or doing it to prove something to yourself or others. By starting slowly and gradually increasing your body’s tolerance to exercise, you’ll soon find yourself looking forward to that after-workout glow.

Don’t beat yourself up

Although it’s essential to establish a fitness habit, it’s equally important not to be too hard on yourself if you miss a workout. Perceiving yourself as having failed and punishing yourself with negative self-talk is a sure route to throwing in the towel. Simply reset yourself, focus on your next session and don’t let feelings of guilt deter you from your fitness path. Everybody is busy and has competing priorities; missing one session once in a while can’t be helped and it really is not a big deal on the odd occasion.

Thank your body (your body will thank you back)

Pay your body its dues in sweat. Remember that your body works overtime, never sleeping, in order to keep you alive; in other words, it really loves you!

Keeping this in mind as well as the huge range of benefits you gain from being kind to your body, even when you really don’t feel like exercising, will help you move from the sofa to moving around and working up a sweat. It’s time to give some love back to your body by thanking it for everything it does for you. If your mind tries to push back against a healthier way of life, remember that you’re simply rewarding it for its service to you. Pay back your body by choosing a healthier lifestyle in 2021!

Do you love health and wellbeing? If you’re an expert in a wellness topic and want to share your insights in a book, we can help. Contact Wellness Books to find out how we support writers who want to publish a non-fiction book about wellbeing:

5 Reasons to be happy RIGHT NOW!

The start of the new year can be tough even under ordinary circumstances. We have just the tonic to the January blues: some of the internet’s best – FREE – wellbeing resources from top experts in the field of wellness, health and new science.

We’ve listed 5 events that can help you de-stress, improve your mood and adopt a don’t-care-less attitude – even though the world has seemingly lost its mind.

Do let us know if you enjoy them!

1. Monthly healing sessions

The wonderful energy medicine expert Dr Sue Morter has extended her free monthly energy healing transmissions into 2021. If you’re new to tools such as energy healing, this might seem a bit strange but each session offers an hour’s worth of discussion about energy, specific breathing techniques to help clear any energy blockages and open up to new energy, and meditation designed to calm the mind and connect you to a powerful healing frequency.


Every month for the next year, usually on the last Wednesday (you can listen at any time).


Sign up at Dr Sue’s website:

2. Take a relaxing sound bath

If you’re receptive to the cadences of music and sound, then this sound healing session from singer, musician and sounder healer Jeralyn Glass is for you. During the hour, you’ll experience a ‘sound bath’, which will immerse you in the soothing tones of a crystal singing bowl. The energies of sound have been used to heal or create a certain mood or ambience since time began. Try it for yourself with this super-relaxing online event!


Saturday 9 January (don’t worry – if you sign up but miss the event, you’ll be sent a recording).


Head to

3. Joy to the world!

Oh joy! Top energy medicine expert Donna Eden and her daughters Dondi and Titanya Dahlin are challenging people to join their 10-Day Joy Challenge! You’ll learn tricks to help you rediscover life’s joy through simple exercises to rebalance and revitalise your body’s energy stores. Don’t worry if you show up a little late as you can catch up with previous sessions on YouTube at any time.




Visit the page on YouTube:

4. Discover the secrets of our ancestors with Gregg Braden

Through Gaia TV, Gregg Braden is hosting an incredible series – and anyone can watch it for free, for a limited period. Called Ancient Civilizations: The Lost Knowledge, best-selling author, speaker and human potential pioneer Gregg and a host of other experts will uncover some of the ancient tools and best-kept secrets of our lost ancestors. This promises to be a fascinating event.


Tune in from 11 January 2021.


Go to

5. Coping with Covid: join the Mental Wellness Connection event!

The online Mental Wellness Connection brings together health experts in a series of interviews aimed at empowering people to cope with, and hopefully learn to thrive in, the current, extraordinary world we find ourselves in. Topics include diet and its links with mental health, brain performance, energy medicine, PTSD, trauma and healing, the power of nature, and the power of NOW.


The event runs from 25-31 January 2021.


Go to

We’re looking for experts from the UK and beyond who want to publish a book on wellbeing. Speak to our team to find out how to self-publish your book by contacting us at

Can kinesiology help heal emotional and physical pain?

Muscle testing

This week’s blog, about kinesiology – the study of the body’s movements, which often includes a technique called muscle testing, was written for us by kinesiology expert and founder of Balanced Wellness clinic, Claire Snowdon-Darling.

Keep reading to find out what is kinesiology, how it works, and how this great all-round alternative therapy can help heal physical and emotional issues.

Intro to kinesiology

Kinesiology was discovered by Dr. George Goodheart in the 1960s. He was the first to identify that there were muscles that were not ‘locking’ or working, which meant other muscles became painful and overused. Where traditional therapies focus on the painful muscle, kinesiology identifies the root cause of the problem – the muscles that are not functioning and uses techniques to turn those muscles on.

What is kinesiology?

Kinesiology uses the theory of muscle testing (technique used to assess the strength of a muscle or group of muscles in the body) to discover the underlying causes contributing to various health issues. The causes are usually rooted in one or more of what we call the four “realms” or “The BEES”, which are:

Biochemical – This can include food we are intolerant to, chemical toxicity such as household chemicals, pesticides or pollution, and also vitamins and minerals we are depleted in.

Emotional – These can be old trauma or anxieties that are causing issues in our day-to-day life and creating physical symptoms.

Electrical – The body works by electricity, so we use electrical techniques such as acupuncture points and meridians to rebalance the energy fields of the body.

Structural – Our posture affects our health, and making sure our entire system is working properly eliminates many symptoms. For example, when we are stressed, we can have a malfunctioning ileo-cecal valve (a valve that links the small intestine and large intestine), which structurally interferes with digestion.

How does a kinesiologist work?

Once the root cause is identified, we support you with solutions that include kinesiology techniques to strengthen the muscles, nutritional recommendations, structural work, energy reflexes and emotional coaching to guide you back to your full health potential.

Nutritionally – because of today’s unnatural farming methods and our tendency to eat processed and microwaved foods – most people in the UK are deficient in vital nutrients. During an appointment, it is likely that you will be recommended a programme of supplements to aid your recovery.

Standards in kinesiology

Many studies in kinesiology are carried out by The International College of Applied Kinesiology, to ensure that we are working with tried-and-tested, effective tools.

Why is kinesiology unique?

A skilled kinesiologist uses a toolbox of techniques, because we work with all of the four “realms”. This allows us to offer a broader range of support and to fully support you on your health journey.

How many sessions will I need?

The number of kinesiology sessions varies on the person, their problems and how well they follow any changes recommended to their diet and lifestyle. Generally, people feel a significant improvement within their first one to three appointments. Once optimum health has been attained, regular appointments keep the body balanced and prevent further ill health.

What is Functional Kinesiology and how is it different?

There are many different types of kinesiology. Functional kinesiology takes kinesiology a little further; it was created as a reaction to the global health crisis we are facing.

In functional kinesiology we focus on six pillars of health:

  • Blood sugars stability
  • Adrenal and thyroid stress
  • Hormone balancing
  • The digestive system and gut microbiome
  • The immune system
  • Emotional transformation.

About the contributor:

Claire is an expert in menopause, digestion and emotional transformation and is the visionary founder of Balanced Wellness, where she has worked with thousands of clients since 2007. Through this work, she has developed a series of protocols which have been accredited as a new therapy and are taught through The College Of Functional Kinesiology, of which she is the Head. This training focuses on the six pillars of health: blood sugars, stress, hormones, digestion, immune and emotional transformation. She is also the co-host of the popular podcast Consciously Healthy.

Contact & links:

General information:

Free health advice:

Free emotional support:

Training information:

Facebook & Instagram: ClaireSnowdon-Darling & @balancedwellnessuk

How to boost your energy without resorting to caffeine

Do you ever wake up feeling as if you never slept at all and have very little energy? Keep reading for some handy tips to help boost your energy without hitting the caffeine.

Be sure to eat at regular times

The food you eat can have a huge effect on your energy, as can the portion sizes and when the time that you consume them.

If you start to flag during the day, it could be because, unlike your muscles, the brain doesn’t have the ability to store up the energy it needs. Instead, it relies on a steady supply of oxygen and energy (glucose), which is delivered through the blood.

To regulate the amount of energy reaching your brain (too much and you might feel more tired, since the brain will shut down to try and process it), try eating smaller meals and snacks to help boost your energy throughout the day.

A well-balanced meal should keep your energy levels up for about four hours. In between, try some energy-boosting snacks to keep your body and brain ticking over. Great foods to get you through the mid-afternoon slump include bananas, nuts, oatmeal and dark chocolate. Yes, dark chocolate!

Get up and move about

Move your body! Get your blood circulating around your body with some simple exercise – as counter-intuitive as it might sound, it can really boost your energy. This doesn’t necessarily mean sporting some Lycra and heading to the gym; a short 10-minute walk can be just as effective if you can keep up a fairly brisk pace.

Exercise circulates oxygen around the body for a welcome energy boost and helps you sleep more soundly – uplifting your mood and improving your overall wellbeing. What’s more, the fresh air will help you to feel more alive and alert, too.

Drink water

Tired? Could you be dehydrated? It can be easy to forget to top up your body’s fluid levels when you’re busy but if you’re beginning to flag it could be time to quench your thirst.

When the body isn’t getting enough water, it slows down blood circulation, limiting the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the brain. In mild dehydration, you might feel more tired and listless, but in extreme cases of dehydration, after only a short period of two hours, researchers in the U.S. reported a decline in brain function, including the reduced ability to perform complex problem-solving and carry out tasks that require a lot of attention.

Remembering to drink plenty of water can help fight feelings of fatigue and reduced mental (and physical) capacity.

Try to drink a glass first thing in the morning as it will stimulate the organs and systems in the body to wake up – this is a great way to start the day.

If water’s not your thing, then you can also benefit from other drinks, such as green tea or fruit tea, and eating foods with a high water content such as fruit and vegetables, eggs and fish.

Remember not to overfill your system with water, though. Keep to a sensible water intake and listen to your body’s needs.

Be grateful

There’s a lot of talk about gratitude these days but did you know that it can actually help boost your energy?

Some studies have seen a correlation between being grateful and increased productivity, and other findings include better sleep. What is for sure is that gratitude increases dopamine in the brain, which is also known as the “motivation molecule”. This neurotransmitter is implicated in learning and motivation, while low dopamine levels are associated with low-energy diseases such as depression.

What does this mean? Consciously focusing on gratitude will not only boost the chemicals linked to higher energy levels but will put you in a more positive frame of mind, boost the energy you have available and make all those mountainous tasks seem more like molehills.

Tap into your body’s energy system

If you’ve been following our posts on energy medicine, you’ll be beginning to understand that the body has a system of energy pathways that run like rivers throughout the entire system. You can use these pathways to increase (or decrease) energy as required.

The queen of energy medicine is Donna Eden, a leading figure in the field and someone whose radiant smile never fails to energise. Donna is an author, lecturer and one of the foremost experts on the subject of the human energy system. Try this quick energy hack on YouTube and see if it doesn’t give you an immediate energy boost – in under a minute!  

Get some daylight

If you’re feeling sleepy, you might benefit from some extra sunlight. A lack of sunlight makes your brain produce more of the sleep hormone, melatonin. Getting more natural daylight will lift your mood and give you a much-needed energy burst (thanks to increased vitamin D, known to boost energy and muscle efficiency). So let as much light into your home or office as possible, and get outside and expose yourself to that wonderful, free mood-busting energy source in the sky!

Could you write a book about wellbeing? We want to help wellness experts self-publish uplifting, informative books on health and wellbeing. Email us at to discuss self-publishing with us.


Everybody can suffer from fatigue from time to time but please remember to consult your GP if you suffer from low energy for a sustained length of time, which has no obvious cause such as late nights; your medical practitioner will be able to rule out any underlying health issues or even food intolerances that could be affecting your energy levels.

Energy medicine: myth or miracle? Can energy healing really improve wellbeing?

The term energy medicine is growing in popularity and credibility, with celebrities and scientists alike beginning to take the phenomenon more seriously.

Today’s blog tackles the vast subject of energy medicine: its potential for promoting wellbeing, how it works, and some of the techniques that are in use around the world today.

Keep reading to find out more about this incredible branch of complementary healthcare and whether it could increase your wellbeing.

Energy and the human body

Before we talk about energy medicine, let’s talk about the energy in our body. The body needs energy in order to operate – called bioelectricity. Often, when we spare a thought for how our body works, we think about the heart pumping blood and oxygen around, keeping us alive, but we fail to remember the role that energy plays in the amazing symphony of life that is the human body.

What is the heart rhythm? It’s an electrical current. Chemical interplay within the cells of the heart creates a positive charge; a current which discharges down the nerves and causes the muscles to contract, creating our heartbeat.

Likewise, the digestive system is powered by energy. The food we eat creates a chemical reaction which produces an electrical charge. What are calories? Calories are a unit of energy!

Energy means everything to brain function, too, since the brain’s primary job is to process and transmit information through electrical signals. In fact, the brain uses huge amount of energy, consuming about 20% – a fifth – of the entire body’s energy resources.

Hearing, for example, consumes a great deal of energy. As part of our survival mechanism, any delay in auditory processing could mean life or death – so the brain works hard to process electrical signals speedily and with the utmost precision, allowing you to take the appropriate action should there be a threat nearby.

Even at rest, the brain continues to process information, the neurons in constant communication. It’s our internal, ever-watchful sentry system.

In his book The Genie In Your Genes: Epigenetic Medicine And The New Biology Of Intention, Dawson Church PhD, leading-edge scientist and award-winning author, says:

“A normal cell has an electrical potential of about 90 millivolts. An inflamed cell has a potential of about 120 millivolts, and a cell in a state of degeneration may drop to 30 millivolts. By entraining the electrical fields of the cells within its range to the magnetic pulses emitted by the PMS machine, cells can be brought back into a healthy range.”

What is energy medicine?

Since energy plays such a huge role in the healthy functioning of the human body, it makes sense that energy medicine is becoming a popular adjunct to traditional Western medicine.

Practitioners of energy medicine believe that our health and wellbeing is linked to the flow of energy within our bodies. The ‘New-Age’ tool works with the body’s natural energies and is thought to hold the potential not only to treat ill health but also to prevent it – although science is yet to prove this indisputably.   

The term ‘energy medicine’ is a broad description for alternative therapies such as energy psychology, Reiki, reflexology, EFT (also known as tapping), acupuncture and acupressure, and vibrational healing methods such as sound healing, crystal healing.

The ancient arts of yoga and qi gong also fall under this term, as they are rooted in the belief that energy alignment can heal the body, and their movements are designed to promote this.

How does it work?

There is growing evidence that a system of channels and vortices exist within the body which serve to transport and regulate the energy flow around our system. These have been documented for thousands of years within traditional Chinese medicine; the idea is that these channels can be accessed and the energies manipulated for the benefit of our health and wellbeing.

Many people have heard of the chakras: these are vortices of energy which form part of this network of energy. There are also meridians, which are channels through which energy flows.

Complementary therapies such as acupuncture and acupressure work on the theory that these energy flows in the body, when unimpeded, promote good health. Reiki, a Japanese healing technique, EFT etc. also work on this principle.

Western science is finally beginning to indicate that these subtle energy channels do, indeed, exist. They have now been identified and termed the ‘primo vascular system’, and research into the meridians, their functions and the validity of energy medicine continues.

Is there any proof?

Research into the efficacy of energy medicine is in its nascent stages, relatively speaking; however, there is increasing evidence around its benefits.

Only recently, a U.S. study by the Indiana University School of Medicine, in collaboration with the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, showed that addressing the energy levels within the nerve fibres of people suffering from spinal cord injury could boost regeneration and functional recovery – this could have a profound impact on patients who suffer spinal cord injury in the future.  

A scientific paper published in 2010 found that biofield therapies, as energy medicine is also known as, showed strong evidence for reducing pain intensity in pain populations and moderate evidence for decreasing negative behavioural symptoms in dementia, as well as decreasing anxiety in hospitalised populations and also, potentially, in cardiovascular patients.

And a more recent 2019 trial into the large-scale effectiveness of Reiki found that there were significant improvements in depression, anxiety, pain and tiredness in subjects who received the treatment.

You can find lots of anecdotal evidence, as well as scientific papers on the subject of energy medicine on the internet.


We often talk of having low or no energy, feeling good or bad vibes, and of feeling “drained” (of energy).

The English language often references energy, perhaps as a reflection of our innate but long-forgotten knowledge of the significance of energy in supporting good health.

Western and Eastern views of the human body and models of healing have historically been poles apart. Now, it seems, that the chasm is beginning to close.

While we’re used to taking care of aspects of our health such as our heart and cardiovascular system; perhaps it’s time to spare a thought for the health of our energy system?

Energy medicine is a huge subject and this article only skims the surface. Donna Eden is a leading authority on energy medicine; along with her spouse, David Feinstein, PhD – a clinical psychologist – she has designed world-leading courses and a wealth of resources on the subject of energy medicine. You can find out more about the subject at her website.

Look out for more blogs in the coming weeks on energy medicine and the different modalities you could use alongside your regular healthcare practices and support your health.

Note: this is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Do refer to your GP if you have any health concerns, and seek the advice of a qualified health professional before trying any new treatments and/or if you have any doubts.

Could you write a book that inspires wellbeing in others? Self-publish with Wellness Books.

We offer a friendly and professional service that includes support with writing your book, editing, design and full print management to help you navigate the self-publishing process.

Get started today. Contact the team at

The food we put into our body can affect how we feel

healthy food

Nutritionist Helen Darracott talks digestive health, ‘rabbit food’, and how we can improve the way we treat – and think about – our gut.

Keep reading to find out how our diet helps our body to repair and maintain itself, plus simple things we can do to help our digestive system do its job.

Best thing about being a nutritionist?

What I really love is applying scientific knowledge and information to help support various health problems in order to help people feel better and to provide solutions in an easy to understand (and implement) way. I’ve had health issues myself and have focussed on making the best food and lifestyle choices I can to help with this. Diet is not the answer to everything but considering what we put into our body can really make a difference to how you feel.

One thing everyone should know about nutrition?

Nutrition is not about only eating ‘rabbit food’! Good nutrition is not only about restriction, it is about variety, taste and enjoyment. Whichever dietary pattern you choose – vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian or omnivorous – food should be a source of pleasure, an enriching experience, literally and figuratively. 

We have to balance out what we eat.

There are certainly foods that we should eat more of and those that we should eat much less of, but there should be place for everything, in the right proportion, in a balanced and healthy eating pattern.

I also think it’s important for people who work in the nutritional field to remember that “people eat food not nutrients” and we need to demystify what nutrition means and talk about it in a practical and accessible way.

I can remember talking to one of my clients about increasing the amount of protein she was including in her meals, which she agreed to do – only she hadn’t fully understood what I meant by protein and her diet didn’t change in that respect at all – a key lesson learned!

Why does diet matter so much?

So much about diet is focussed on its effect on weight, particularly with regard to becoming overweight or obese. Of course this is important, but we need to think more holistically about what our diet is for.

Diet is not only about energy, but putting the right food in to support growth and development, and to enable repair and maintenance. 

The body is constantly adapting to what we subject it to – movement, exercise, the environment we live in and just the daily processes of life. We need to ensure that we provide the right raw materials to keep us in the best health.

A whole range of different nutrients are required to support the different body systems. For example, if we consider our immune system, (and we’ve certainly been hearing more about that in the last few months with the COVID 19 pandemic), this is our personal defence mechanism against pathogens – and it needs to be kept in the best condition, requiring, amongst others Vitamins A, C D, and E, along with minerals such as zinc and selenium and a correct balance of essential fatty acids (Omega 3 and 6) to enable it to function correctly. Other body systems will require a range of different nutrients for optimal functioning.

It’s not just the health of our bodies either, good nutrition is essential for mental health too,  we used to consider the body and mind separately but they are two parts of the whole – so we need to consider how we nurture our brain and neurological functions too.  Good quality protein sources are key to supply the essential amino acids, tyrosine, tryptophan and choline that are required for production of the neuro transmitters dopamine, adrenaline, noradrenaline, serotonin and acetylcholine, these chemical messengers are used for communication throughout the body but we also require the B group of vitamins, vitamin C, zinc, iron and magnesium, and the essential fatty acids to enable neurotransmission to occur in the correct way. 

Unfortunately, a lot of these essential nutrients can be in short supply or absent from many diets that are heavily reliant upon highly processed foods and fast foods. There can be a place for these foods occasionally as long as the overall dietary pattern supplies the nutrients needed in sufficient quantities.

What are the effects of having a bad diet?

A bad diet can influence our health negatively in many ways. We already understand the link between high levels of saturated and trans fats (those produced via various manufacturing processes and through cooking processes such as frying), and heart disease and stroke; we also know that an excess of calories leads to weight gain, being overweight and obesity, and that these conditions are implicated in a range of chronic conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.

Research continues to provide information as to the effect of over- or under-consumption of various nutrients on different disease states and health in general.

Why do you think food allergies are on the rise?

This is a complicated one! No one knows for sure, and there is a lot of research on this topic and great debate, too. There may be a genetic pre-disposition to allergy, and certain types do appear to be common within families, but this does not account for all cases of allergy, or explain the increase in cases over the last few years.

One well-known theory is that we are now too ‘clean’ – the so-called ‘hygiene hypothesis’. 

The suggestion is that by reducing exposure to bacteria, especially in early life, by use of anti-bacterial cleaning agents etc., affects the development of the immune system as it is not ‘challenged’ to allow it to build a natural response. This can then lead to an over-reaction to otherwise harmless agents, including the proteins found in certain foods.

It’s interesting to note that levels of allergy in the developing world are currently low, with proponents of the hygiene hypothesis suggesting that this is due to ongoing exposure to bacteria and parasites, especially as the immune system is developing in the early years.

More recent discussion surrounds the role of the gut microbiota, not just with regard to allergy, but also general health.

The majority of the human immune system can be found in the gut, and the resident gut microbiota population communicates and helps shape immune integrity and action, so having a balanced gut population can really help with our overall health and fitness.

It may follow then, that having an unbalanced gut population, often referred to as dysbiosis, can affect the way certain individuals react to food allergens, and set up the allergic response that causes so much distress and, in some cases, severe consequences.

How do we ensure that our gut microbiota is balanced?

A diet with lots of fruit, vegetables and fibre from unrefined cereals! As well as these foods, there is some evidence that certain additives e.g. emulsifiers, in processed foods can affect the microbiota, so a diet with fewer processed foods may be of benefit.

Why is junk food so tempting?

I met someone last year who referred to junk food as ‘drug food’ as it appears to have the same effect on our brains that some controlled drugs have – the most well-known being sugar, which appears to fire the same reward centres in our brain as cocaine.

Sugar appears to fire the same reward centres in our brain as cocaine.

On a more basic note, the combination of flavours is designed to be recognised by the different taste receptors in our mouth (sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami) so no one taste bud is overwhelmed and we don’t experience flavour fatigue, and we excite the different flavour receptors in each mouthful.  

The fat content adds a particular ‘mouth feel’ to the food, which we respond to, both in the mouth and via neurosensory pathways – and it can be responsible for making other flavours in foods more intense or to delay the release of the flavours, which all adds to the enjoyment of the food. 

In addition to this, we may, as a result of evolutionary forces, have an innate preference for foods high in fat (preservation against famine) and for sweet foods (energy), making the combinations we find in fast foods so irresistible.

Have we fallen out of love with good food?

I think that we have probably lost perspective of what a healthy and balanced eating pattern should be, one in which fast food is an occasional treat and not first choice at meal times. 

This is a complex area, and it can’t just be considered as a matter of taste preference (despite everything mentioned in the question above).

In the UK, we have now had two generations denied the chance to develop basic cooking skills following removal of Home Economics from the school curriculum in 1988, and if these skills weren’t learnt in the home, a life skills gap emerges. 

Removal of Home Economics from the school curriculum occurred against a backdrop of increased numbers of women working, expansion of domestic ownership and use of freezers and microwaves, and hence the use of ready meals and other convenience options such as fast food and takeaways. 

Also we have to consider other demographic and socio-economic information; for example, the increase in single households, whether that be the never-marrieds, as a result of divorce or the increasing ageing population, may have influenced the increased use of fast food as it is convenient, cheap and comes in single-serve portions. Fast food can be seen as a cheap way to feed the family if on a limited budget – fruit and vegetables, and good quality protein can appear quite expensive in comparison – and then there is the time to procure, prepare and cook foods, alongside the requirement for appropriate cooking and eating facilities.  Even when people have the facilities, resources and knowledge to choose the best nutritious food, it can be a matter of perceived time scarcity, that can make people turn to fast food.

It has been interesting to see a return to more meals prepared from scratch during the recent lockdown.

Whether this continues once the majority of the nation returns to pre-COVID working patterns, is yet to be determined.

What changes can we make to improve our diet?

Make sure you are getting at least the recommended ‘five a day’ of fruit and vegetables – more if possible! This isn’t as hard as it seems when you look at what the portion size is – a single apple, pear or orange, a couple of plums or apricots, or three tablespoons of vegetables; plus, you can include dried fruit, a small glass (150ml) of fruit juice and also one portion of pulses or lentils. 

The phrase ‘eat the rainbow’ is good guidance.

Different coloured fruits and vegetables contain different nutrients (vitamins and minerals) and also different phytonutrients – such as flavonoids, carotenoids and phyto-oestrogens – which we believe have different properties beneficial to our health, such as acting as dietary anti-oxidants, acting in tandem with hormones or having anti-bacterial/viral effects. 

Along with the nutrients and phyto nutrients, fruit and vegetables include fibre and water, so make a good choice for snacks as well as an essential part of main meals.

Say something about veggie/vegan diets…

Personally, I don’t follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, but I don’t have a problem with people who choose to. Even though I include animal products within my diet, I balance this out with plenty of plant-based food. I love most vegetables and fruit, and aim to eat in excess of the recommended five a day; and I regularly swap animal protein for plant-based alternatives, including beans and lentils. 

It’s important to remember that any dietary pattern can be unhealthy if there is an over-reliance on heavily processed foods, and foods high in fats and sugars.

I would suggest that anyone who is wanting to follow a vegan or vegetarian dietary pattern should take advice from a registered nutritionist to ensure that they will be able to get all essential vitamins and minerals, and sufficient protein. Some people may have trouble obtaining Vitamin B12, iron and Omega 3 fatty acids, particularly on a vegan diet, but with some planning and appropriate supplementation, this shouldn’t be an issue.

There is some evidence that following a balanced plant-based diet has certain health effects, with lower rates of cardiovascular disease, lower blood pressure and reduced risk of certain cancers, but as with any research, it can be quite conflicting, so it’s important to find quality research studies.

How can you teach people to love their gut more?

I think it’s a challenge – the gut and its functions can all too often fall into the ‘unmentionable’ category in polite conversation – unless it’s between a group of nutritionists, who tend to be obsessed with anything gut related!

Hippocrates was said to have stated that “all disease starts in the gut”, and I think it’s a pretty good place to look to when we aren’t feeling quite right. 

We know that the majority of our immune system resides in the gut – this is the interface between the external environment and our bodies, and what travels through needs to be thoroughly checked out by our internal defences.

Think of it as one continuous tube: open at the one end via the mouth, and the opposite, literally at the bottom, via the anus.

So, things can start to go wrong if we allow some of the bad stuff to get into our systems via some breach of integrity here, and that’s where a robust gut microbiota population can help.

Again, it comes down to the quality of what we put in. Many plant-based foods contain fibre, which can’t be broken down by our digestive system but provide food for our gut bacteria, keeping it in balance and healthy. It’s not even necessary to know about our microbiota population, but we can certainly start to notice the improvements in both body and mind if we start to eat a little better.

I would encourage people to understand their gut more, and to get it checked out if they get the feeling that things aren’t right.

A lot of people put up with uncomfortable symptoms – bloating, excessive and/or foul-smelling gas, indigestion and heartburn, regular diarrhoea or constipation, either because they think it’s normal or they feel embarrassed about speaking about it. However, such problems are more common than people think and may be rectified by making some simple changes to diet and lifestyle. 

Helen Darracott is an independent Nutritionist and Trainer, and also works with Reed Wellbeing delivering their NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme. She is in the process of setting up her own Nutritional Therapy clinic, and hopes to be up and running in a few weeks – helping women over 40 who want to recover their lost energy, maybe lose some of the weight that has crept on, and deal with the changes in hormones that occur at that life stage.  

She has spent the last five years working as a lecturer at University College Birmingham, developing and delivering the BSc (Hons) Food and Nutrition Programme. Previously, she worked in licensed retail and hospitality, in both operations and training and development. Helen gained her BSc (Hons) in Human Nutrition at The University of Worcester, where she won a few academic prizes and also completed a Post Graduate Diploma in Diet, Nutrition and Health (including Nutritional Therapy) there. She is a Registered Nutritionist (Nutrition Science) with the Association for Nutrition.

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Tips to keep cool in hot weather

One thing that distinguishes the Brits apart is often the fact that we talk about the weather. A lot. This year has been no exception, with parts of the UK experiencing a record-breaking heatwave, complete with tropical nights and the mercury hitting the mid-thirties for prolonged periods.

If you are feeling hot, hot, hot, try a few of these tricks to help you cool off and stay safe.

  1. Eat smaller portions of food to help you keep cool. The body produces heat when it breaks down your meals, which also uses more water; help your body by making it easier to digest your food. Do, however, keep eating, even if the heat has zapped your appetite – you need to replace the salt lost through sweating. A good idea is to up your fruit intake, and other foods that contain lots of water.
  2. Try a cooling foot bath with cool water (you can even add some soothing essential/fragrance oils; if you’re using essential oils, please remember to stay safe and follow the instructions, as they can be quite potent!). Rinsing your hands and feet in cool water can also help you feel cool and refreshed, especially just before bed.
  3. If you don’t have the luxury of air conditioning but you do own a fan, try putting a bowl of ice in front of the fan for a refreshing breeze. You can also try this with a cold bottle of water instead of ice.
  4. Turn your hot-water bottle into a cold-water bottle! Cool it in the fridge at bedtime, then slip it under the covers just before bed for a welcome relief prior to sleeping.
  5. We all know that dogs pant when they’re hot, but did you know that humans can use breathwork to keep cool, too? When you inhale through the mouth, the air remains cooler as it’s entering the body than if you breathe through your nose. Try inhaling through your mouth and exhaling through your nose. Do this a few times. Never force the breath, do stop if you feel any discomfort, and do consult a doctor first if you have any medical issues such as a heart or lung condition.

Remember to do whatever feels comfortable for you! Take care of yourselves in the hot weather, look after elderly relatives and neighbours, and keep an eye on pets!

Do you have expertise in breathwork? Know some more tips to help you keep cool? Let us know in the comments section.

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