Work, Sleep, Repeat… routine can make it difficult to break out of bad habits. Yoga teacher and life coach Tracy Johnson shares her tips on how yoga can help.
One of the toughest environments to stick to healthy eating is the workplace. A whole combination of factors can conspire against our best intentions: whether we’re too busy to prepare a proper lunch, eat ‘al desko’ at our desktops, or the office ‘feeder’ plies us full of homemade cake (you wouldn’t want to offend them by turning down a generous slice).
Many people who practice yoga on a regular basis claim that it has a positive impact on maintaining a balanced diet. But how? As a yoga teacher, I’ve heard from several of my own students that they don’t like to ‘ruin’ a good class by eating junk food afterwards and opt for something they see as a more healthy choice. It’s also a good idea to keep a relatively empty stomach for your practice to avoid the digestive discomfort that can be produced by a deep twist or by venturing upside down!
Beyond your practice, there are several principles you can take away from your yoga mat to help you manage eating well while you’re work. These tips go hand-in-hand with some practical ways to keep your good habits in check.
1. Avoid harming your body
‘Ahimsa‘, or doing no harm, is a key yoga value and one of the ‘Yamas‘, or personal restraints, in the Eight Limbs of Yoga. As well as not doing harm to others, it also means not harming yourself through poor choices.
In the workplace context, this can mean not offering tempting foods to colleagues you know are trying to eat well and respecting their decisions, as well as not accepting food you know will do your energy and digestion no favours. A mid-morning muffin may seem like a good idea when you’re flagging, but the truth is it will send your blood sugar fluctuations on a roller coast ride. This will have you depending on coffee, and more cake, as the day goes on. You can simply say politely, “It looks delicious but I’m not hungry,” and repeat without apology until the person trying to entice you with their cupcakes leaves you alone. When they eventually stop asking, you will have one less battle to fight.
Instead of sugary carbs, drink a green tea and, if you are still genuinely hungry, some Greek yogurt and berries will see you through until lunch.
2. Keep the body clean
One of the ‘Niyamas‘, or observances, in yoga asks that we keep our environment and body clean for our practice as well as everyday life. Referred to as ‘Saucha‘ This can mean being aware of what we put inside our bodies to maintain a healthy digestive tract and fuelling ourselves with the right food.
‘Clean eating’ means consuming foods from natural sources and eating as few processed products as possible. What you see is what you will eat, so make these healthy, whole foods from which your body can gain good nutrients. Start by keeping your desk tidy and adding some glass jars filled with nuts or a bowl designated for fresh fruit. Clean snacks are easy to prepare: try fruit, nuts, a hardboiled egg, and perhaps a little bit of nut butter in a jar in your drawer.
Protein and fats are the best combination to keep you full. If you can’t bring a packed lunch (it doesn’t have to be fancy – last night’s dinner is so easy to double up on and put into a plastic box) then go out of your way to grab some lunch from somewhere that offers simple food where you know what you’re getting. A good rule of thumb when picking your lunch: you want a portion of lean protein, plenty of vegetables, some healthy fats from sources such as avocado or nuts, and a golf ball size portion of whole grains. If you are trying to lose fat, skip the grains.
When it comes to keeping your food simple and clean, Instagram can offer you endless amounts of mouth-watering inspirational ideas. Following some health blogs can be a great way to get daily doses of motivation for healthier eating.
3. Make discipline your friend
In yoga, we practice ‘Tapas‘- which does not suggest heading to the nearest Spanish restaurant for lunch and chowing down on patatas bravas! ‘Tapas’ is another Niyama often translated as ‘burning away the dross’, and it means developing some self-discipline. Over-eating, especially too much of the wrong foods, leaves us tired and lacking in energy on the job. Developing better eating habits can keep you feeling light and energised.
The most straightforward way is simply to avoid snacking, unless you absolutely have to. Rather than ‘stoking your metabolism’ as we were previously led to believe, constant snacking leads to eating too many calories and not giving your digestive system the space to do its job. The more often you eat, the more insulin you produce to clear glucose from the bloodstream and the more sugar gets squirrelled away as fat in your cells.
When you eat, never eat until you’re too full. Listen to your body and stop when you feel pleasantly satisfied. This is easier to do when we eat more mindfully, or don’t multitask by eating in from our computers, for example. If you can, focus on one thing at a time and give yourself a chance to notice that you’ve had enough. A short post-lunch walk will help your digestion and set you up for a productive afternoon.
So, if you can learn to say a polite no, eat only when you’re hungry and keep your diet as unprocessed as possible, you should have a more comfortable day at the desk. Perhaps you’ll even find some extra energy to drop into a yoga class or roll out your mat at home!
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This post was written by Tracy Johnson, the founder of Brainbox Coaching, Empower Yoga Bristol and Stretch+Knead. She trained under Sally Parkes and is a 200 hour RYT with Yoga Alliance. Tracy blends her yoga teaching with confidence coaching and stress management to create a holistic practice, and runs her classes with warmth and humour. She is the author of a careers guide, Working in Science, co-author of The Coaching Gurus, and writes for publications such as OM Yoga Magazine, Globe of Love, Happiness+Wellbeing, MindBodyGreen and has been featured in the Guardian, Body Fit magazine, the Bristol Post and Cardiff Life. She is also a career and confidence coach, self-defence instructor and an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, and is currently writing a book combining yoga with her coaching techniques for stress management. Follow Tracy on Twitter.