As a society, we are all becoming increasingly aware of our diets – but often it is not for the right reasons. As size zero creeps on to high street rails, it is our image and not our health that is influencing our diet decisions. Health is seen as a more long-term issue, and for many a healthy diet translates into losing weight. But, while being a healthy weight is important, are we ignoring the short-term effect our diets are having on us?

Damien Maher, fitness guru and creator of the befit4life programme (www. bfit4life. ie), believes that the problem for most people starts in the morning.

“A lot of people skip breakfast, and blood sugar levels become really low. Some haven’t eaten since 6.00 or 7.00 the night before, so by the time they do, it’s lunchtime, ” he said. “On the other hand, there are people who eat their breakfast on the way to work; a cup of coffee and a bit of toast.”

Either one of these scenarios is a bad start to any work day.

However many people believe they are eating healthily, as that is what they are led to believe by many advertisers, but this, as Maher clarifies is a myth.

“It’s always sugary cereal and wheat and dairy, which a lot of people are allergic to, ” he said.

“Irish people, in fact, have the highest rate of coeliac disease in the world, and yet this is considered a healthy breakfast.”

The problem is we are all thinking of what will get us from A to B, from bed into the office.

So a quick sugary kick will get us out of bed and a shot of caffeine will bring us to the office, but it’s only a matter of time before the sugar crash and dehydrating effects of caffeine take control. It is a vicious circle, all day we are constantly battling the effects of a bad diet. Our bodies are craving protein and real energy that can sustain us through our busy work days, not sugar highs and lows.

Maher describes what we put our bodies through as a roller coaster.

“We go up Everest, we get a big high, then a crash, we have a level line but the next crash goes below that, ” he said. “So we need something to pick us back up again, but we don’t go as high as Everest, and the next crash is even lower, and then comes the ‘afternoon slump’.

So you’re basically going up and down all day and this lack of protein means you crave sugar.”

While our bodies are going through all of this, how can we possibly expect ourselves to perform to our best potential in the workplace? We need to listen to what our bodies are telling us – when we are tired it doesn’t mean that we need an extra-strong espresso, it means we are not feeding our bodies the proper fuel needed to complete the day and also that we are not getting adequate, uninterrupted sleep.

Headaches are one of the most common complaints from office workers. Maher believes this is caused by the amount of sugar in the diet, and also the long gaps left between meals.

“The blood sugar level just drops so much, it’s like coming down off a high, ” he said. “Think of coffee – when someone is trying to come off coffee they get awful headaches, it’s addictive, it’s a drug.”

In an attempt to illustrate to people the false energies they are using to sustain their bodies, Maher invites people to eliminate dairy, sugar and wheat from their diets for two weeks, and let the results speak for themselves.

“They get a feeling of what it’s like to have energy, and on day 15 they eat what they want and it wrecks them, ” he said. “It’s a learning process, if you change your diet for two weeks and feel better, then obviously the problem is diet related.”

Having a healthy diet means adopting a healthy lifestyle. For many people it is simply a matter of not understanding their own bodies. Maher believes that many people are unaware of their own food allergies and may even be making a conscious effort to eat healthy, but are choosing the wrong foods for a healthy diet to suit their body’s needs.

“There are two simple rules to achieve a healthy diet, ” he said. “There is the 10,000 year old rule; if it wasn’t around 10,000 years ago your liver won’t like it. Secondly if it didn’t run, swim, fly and it’s not green, don’t eat it. The DNA of man has changed 0.02% in the last 10,000 years, so we haven’t evolved to digest a lot of the foods we’re eating today. A lot of it is logic; the more something has changed from its original state the less nutritious it is.”

It is difficult to know where to start in making the right lifestyle changes. Over the years many bad eating habits have been picked up and integrated into our work and personal lives; eating late, low protein, high sugar and caffeine intake.

But Maher believes that it is a good idea to keep a diary of exactly what you’re putting into your body.

“This is a good way of acknowledging your bad habits, the extent of some you may find has even gone unnoticed to you, ” he said. “By having written proof of your daily diet, the reality of it may even help shock you into action.” So listen to your body and take heed of the warnings. Although it may seem like your body is distracting you from working to your full potential it is in fact trying to draw your attention to a problem that could grow to be a far greater worry in the future.

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