Build healthy habits

Written by
Changeboard Team

03 Jan 2014

03 Jan 2014 • by Changeboard Team

New energised you?

It’s the start of a new year, are you looking for a new energised you? Are you fed up of not being able to function first thing in the morning without your grande cappuccino? Do you tend to hit the wall by early afternoon?

You may not have considered changing your nutritional habits to improve your performance, but consider for a moment those days when you’ve skipped lunch because of back-to-back meetings. You find yourself hungry, thirsty, and struggling to concentrate. On those afternoons, what is your decision making like? Do you tend to make more mistakes? Are you a little snappy? What is your communication with colleagues like?

The right nutritional habits can powerfully influence your mood, your energy levels and your performance.

Olympic athletes think of food as their fuel and it should be no different for the ‘corporate athlete’; if you want to perform at your best, it’s imperative that you fuel your body and brain in the right way.

Building habits

You’ve probably made New Year’s resolutions in the past and been highly motivated to stick with them, but come the end of January you’ve already failed. Motivation alone is not enough; the secret lies in building habits. Remember, building new habits takes repetition over time – it takes an average of sixty-six days for new behaviours to become automatic.
“Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.” – Jim Ryun

Always eat breakfast

The body wants to be energised when it awakens. Eating breakfast gives your body a jump-start and gets your metabolism going. The brain works on two things: oxygen and glucose; so with no glucose (breakfast) you will function cognitively way below your best.

If you struggle to eat first thing in the morning, start with something small and light e.g. a piece of fruit and yoghurt. Be consistent about eating breakfast, if you do it some mornings and not others you will not form a habit.

Avoid high-sugar foods

Sugary foods cause a spike in blood sugar level leading to an energy jolt. It doesn’t last long because your body metabolises it quickly. The energy rise is rapidly followed by an energy slump.

Craving sugary foods signals that you may have gone too long without fuel and your blood sugar levels are so low that you need a pick me up. Prevent this by eating little and often (see tip 3).

If you can’t help yourself, don’t beat yourself up and give up on your mission altogether, instead share your goal with someone so that they can support you the next time you are tempted by the sweeter option.

Eat regularly

Three smaller meals a day plus strategic snacking – by eating little and often you will keep you blood sugar levels constant and hence your energy levels constant. Missing a meal means that you’ll be more likely to indulge in mindless snacking, in larger portions and overeating, all of which can zap your energy. Our brains function better on small meals and snacks eaten every 2 ½ to 3 hours.

Healthy snack ideas:

  • A piece of fresh fruit or dried fruit with a handful of nuts
  • Plain yoghurt and fruit
  • Vegetable sticks and hummus, yoghurt dip, guacamole or fresh salsa
  • Slice of fruit loaf with light cream cheese
  • Mini pitta with hummus
  • Wholemeal toast with peanut/almond/hazelnut butter

Make sure these foods are available to you i.e. have a fruit bowl on your desk; nuts or cereal bars in your desk drawer. If they are not readily available you are more likely to reach for whatever is in the vending machine. Make a habit of putting your preferred snacks on the shopping list.

Choose low glycemic index foods

The glycemic index is a measure of the time it takes for the energy in a food to be released and made available in the body. Low GI choices will give you sustained and steady energy release and they are likely to leave you feeling satiated for a number of hours. High GI foods are likely to give you a burst of energy and then leave you feeling hungry.

BUY: LOWER GI                                          BIN: HIGHER GI

Sugar-free muesli

Crunchy-style muesli

Pitta bread

White bread

Fresh apricots

Apricot puree made with sugar

Under-ripe or medium-ripe banana

Over-ripe banana


Rich Tea biscuits

Fruit loaf


Plain yoghurt & fresh strawberries

Strawberry-flavoured yoghurt




Canned grapefruit in syrup

New potatoes

Mashed potatoes

Small square dark chocolate

Chocolate biscuits

Tortilla wrap


Be consistent with your new food choices so that over time you automatically make the right choices.

Combine carbohydrates and protein

Planning meals and snacks that combine protein and carbohydrates such as cottage cheese on wholemeal toast or natural yoghurt and fresh fruit; these will give you a good balance of low and high GI foods.

The carbohydrates (in the fruit) will give the more immediate energy boost, while the protein (in the yoghurt) will have real staying power as your body uses its energy over time.

Avoid high-fat foods

If you eat a high fat, large heavy meal you will feel bloated and sluggish afterwards. Food that is high in fat content will be harder to break down than a low fat option. Your digestion will also slow down considerably, placing another strain on your energy levels.

Stay hydrated

Drink little and often. If you force your body to function without giving it enough water, it cannot perform to its highest level. Aim to drink around 2-2 ½ litres of liquid a day or the equivalent of four 500ml bottles of water per day.

Herbal/fruit teas and fruit juice all count towards this total. Keep a water bottle with you, take it to meetings and sip regularly. Make it a habit.

Limit intake of high caffeine foods/drinks

Drinks that contain caffeine (such as coffee and cola) can make your body lose greater volumes of water than usual. A small amount (2-4 cups of coffee per day) can be hydrating, but any more than this and the net effect is generally dehydratiion.

Caffeine also heightens the roller coaster effect of blood sugar swings, producing a quick high after a morning cup of coffee followed by a downturn later on.