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How to Eat Healthily, Be Mindful and Simplify Your Life

 , Nikki Marshall and Merran Hitchick, guardian.co.uk  |  Updated: January 30, 2015 12:42 IST

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How to Eat Healthily, Be Mindful and Simplify Your Life

Struggling with your new year's resolutions? Our team advises you how to stick to your goals



In the third part of our series about how to make those new year resolutions work, we look at how to eat well, be more mindful and have less stuff.

How to eat healthily by Patrick Keneally

Firstly, a disclaimer: see a GP or a nutritionist for proper diet advice. I'm the last person you should trust for advice. Until recently, I survived on a diet of chicken schnitzel sandwiches and two-minute noodles, washed down with reasonably-priced lager, but recently I have begun to turn my diet around. Here are my tips.



Where to start?



Start by working out whether you need to change your diet simply to eat better with more nutritious foods, or whether you need to lose weight. The usual method is the body mass index, or BMI . There are obvious flaws with this measurement, but it's the easiest to conduct at home.



It's also useful to establish a baseline through a food diary: write down everything you eat and drink for a week, then at the end of each day, work out how many calories (or kilojoules if you're so minded) you have consumed. Just type 'How many calories in ...' into Google to find out. There are also apps that will do this for you with varying degrees of success. When you add it all up, you'll find some interesting things, like that a flat white has far more calories than a schooner of full-strength beer.

Maybe stick with tea... a flat white can have more calories than a beer.

Maybe stick with tea ... a flat white can have more calories than a beer.Photograph: Alamy

Getting serious



Make it easy for yourself by increasing opportunities to eat better and reduce temptation. At the beginning of your pledge, you should clear out cupboards of junk, eg two-minute noodles, biscuits, chocolate Yowies, or whatever. Seek out alternatives to your usual lunch spots that may have healthier options.



The daily grind



For breakfast, ditch the cereal - it's mostly a scam. Instead, have oats or an omelette with a couple of eggs, mushrooms and spinach. Also, cut out juice at breakfast time; water, tea and coffee are all fine - or fresh fruit. You should be eating at least two portions of fruit and five of vegetables each day, according to nutrition guidelines, and breakfast is the place to start. If you're trying to lose weight, you can do away with breakfast altogether.



Lunch is easy. Replace your sandwich with a salad. Vegetables and protein are the building blocks - mix leaves, cucumber, radishes, tomato or whatever takes your fancy, with tinned tuna, smoked salmon, poached chicken or tofu. Buy two salad sandwiches and throw away the bread if you are working somewhere where you are stuck for choice.



Dinner is much harder. You are hungry, it's the end of the day and all you want is a large beer and a veal schnitzel (maybe that's just me), but instead you have salad and tofu again. Some people find it easier to make sacrifices earlier in the day in terms of diet so that they can eat more liberally in the evening. A good tip, though, is to start your meal plan with vegetables in mind, then add the protein and the carbohydrates afterwards. Dessert is for children.



Eating better is not just about willpower - it's about changing habits until you don't have to think about it.

How to be mindful by Nikki Marshall

The word "meditation" comes with a lot of baggage. It's rooted in thousands of years of religious tradition, shrouded by incense clouds of new age mystique.



Of course, the lotus position and the wisdom of ages work for a lot of people. And if you want to fork out for a guru who'll summon your dolphin spirit guides or reveal your "secret" Sanskrit mantra, fair play to you. But it's possible to reap the profound health benefits of this ultimate brain-training technique without donning saffron or stumping up a stack of cash.

You don't have to be a monk to meditate.

You don't have to be a monk to meditate.Photograph: PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL/AFP/Getty Images

In 2015, the answers you seek may be on that device that can pile on the stress the rest of the time - your phone. There are apps that offer guided meditations, the waking dream state of yoga nidra, ocean sounds and chiming bells.



Andy Puddicombe, a former Buddhist monk with a degree in circus arts, is in the vanguard of meditation's image overhaul. He's the face (and voice) of Headspace, which pitches itself as a gym membership for the mind. It offers a free 10-day program that's an engaging introduction to mindfulness - as many are now rebranding entry-level meditation.



But there's no need to rely on technology to defrag your brain. Sit right where you are ... and breathe. There's not much more to it than that. Mindfulness comes when you focus your awareness on the present moment and simply observe it.



Ten breaths



Here's a starter you can try right now. Sit with your back straight and your feet on the floor. Close your eyes and count 10 breaths. Try to think of nothing but your breathing. You will have thoughts, of course. You can't really empty your mind. Calmly acknowledge any thoughts, feelings and sensations that come along then bring your attention back to the breath.



And that's it. You're meditating! The constant redirection of your attention is the thing. Those "experts" who've been at it for years? This is what they're doing.



Taking 10 breaths is a handy stress buster. Now try extending them to 100. Just 10 mindful minutes can markedly affect how you feel the other 23 hours and 50 minutes of each day.



Stretch your awareness



Here's an easy, three-step technique that might appeal to those not keen on counting.



1. Think about your body. Feel its weight in the chair, where your feet touch the ground, where your hands rest on your knees or lap. Spend time scanning through every part of it, checking in on how it's feeling. Start at the top of your head and work your way down to your toes.



2. Shift your focus to what is happening outside your body. Listen for sounds. Don't dwell on them, just identify them and move on. Listen for noises inside the room, then outside and far away. Try to extend your awareness as far as you can imagine, to the horizon curving away from you.



3. Now draw all that awareness back inside yourself. Concentrate on your breathing, on the sensations as your chest rises and falls. Don't try to control it, just observe. You might prefer to repeat a word or phrase to yourself, or just listen to your heartbeat. There's no "one thing" you must focus on, what matters is that you constantly shift your attention back to whatever it is you've chosen.



Easy, right? Learning meditation is a snap. What's difficult is making it a habit. It helps to set aside the same time each day, even if it's wearing headphones on the morning commute. You'll feel frustrated at first by the incessant chatter of your brain. All very normal. Just try not to get carried away by these thoughts or the feelings they trigger. Have them, notice them, then return to the breath. You can dwell on anything you want to after your 10 minutes is up. Soon you'll find the spaces between your thoughts growing longer. It's time to meet your calm, still self.

How to have less "stuff" by Merran Hitchick

Perhaps your budget only stretches to a studio apartment or you aspire to more simple living for its own sake - or maybe your friends have finally staged an intervention over your endless knick-knacks and cupboards stuffed with unused thighmasters, steam mops and ice-cream-makers. Whatever the reason, if you have resolved to simplify your possessions this year, with a little work you can kick back in an organised, decluttered home, ever so slightly smug in the knowledge that you can locate any given possession within 30 seconds.



Sort it out



Sorting is a painful but necessary step. Start with the cupboards, garage and other storage space. Create as much room as you can - you will be rotating some of your possessions in and out of storage. Be ruthless and only keep things you really love, or really need. Pace yourself but set goals for when you want to have each room finished. Divide your excess possessions into things to sell, things to donate and things to store and bring out later. Resist the urge to keep anything "just in case".



Give stuff away



Try to give specific items to someone you know needs them for a hit of the warm fuzzies. Or arrange for a charity to do a free pick-up of bulky items. Offer items for sale online or in your workplace but keep yourself from spending your resulting profits on more "stuff" at all costs.



Rotate your things



For a truly streamlined home, store and rotate any surplus possessions. If too many CDs have survived your ruthless cull, put a selection out for use for a set period of time, say a month or two, and store the rest. After the month, rotate your selection. Not only does this save you shelf space, it will mean you always have "fresh" listening options. It's also a test of how much you like each CD - it has to earn its place. You may even discover a new favourite that's been lurking at the bottom of your shelves for years. It works for the wardrobe (swap clothes in and out each season); the kitchen (put away the slow cooker in summer); the walls (halve your pictures on display and swap them over every few months), and books, DVDs and other entertainment options.



Meditation will help keep you in the Now. Photograph: mb art studios/Etsy/Supplied.



Next week: running a marathon, starting your own business, living sustainably, getting more sleep





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