Personal trainer, Lauren Kent, with Kelly Davis. Photo: Florence Charvin

With Covid-19 restrictions lifted, lockdowns firmly in the rear view, and life (largely) back to normal, we asked local health experts for their advice on building good daily habits for your body that will help you thrive in the new year.

The pandemic has taken its toll on us all. As well as suffering the effects of the virus, lockdowns, social distancing, and separation from family and friends have impacted people’s emotional and physical wellbeing. Reduced physical activity and changed eating habits became the norm for many over the past two years, leading to diminished physical health. 

With this in mind, registered dietitian, Diane Stride and personal trainer, Lauren Kent offer some simple, practical ways you can take back control of your wellbeing by making small changes that will have a significant impact. And two locals share their journeys back to better health after several challenges.

Registered dietitian, Diane Stride

Since the start of the pandemic, Hastings-based Stride has seen an increase in clients struggling with the effects of long Covid, stress, and disordered eating, all of which have taken a toll on their general health. 

Working one-on-one with clients, her main focus is to help people restore their relationship with food. Good nutrition is one of the keys to achieving optimum health, and it’s very much within our control, says Stride. “Nutrition plays a role in every aspect of our body. If I’m not having the full range of nutrients that I need then I’m missing out on key functions” – think immune system, brain health, nerve function, hormone production, gut bacteria, among a raft of others. 

For some, the pandemic had a positive impact on food choices. With fast food options unavailable and people working from home, fresh food and home cooked meals increased in some households. For others it had a negative effect on dietary choices. When you’re not getting the right nutrition on board, the list of symptoms is “endless”, says Stride. Early signs however, are low energy and difficulty concentrating. 

How to improve wellbeing through nutrition

There are some simple steps we can take to start rebuilding our overall wellbeing.

1. Eat regularly. 

Aim for three meals and two snacks a day. The body likes it if you’re eating regularly but also having breaks in between. This gives you the opportunity to include a wide range of foods in your diet that will provide the vitamins and minerals it needs to function. Having breaks between eating gives your body a chance to begin the digestion process.

2. Keep it simple.

A lot of people put too much pressure on themselves, thinking they need to cook for hours and create elaborate meals, which simply isn’t necessary, says Stride. You can prepare a nutritious meal in 20 minutes or less.

3. Eat the rainbow

Different coloured foods provide different benefits, so aim for variety in your diet. “If we think of the rainbow and the colours and fruits and vegetables, they’re all providing some of those different vitamins and minerals.” Look at ways to get additional foods into your meals, for example add lentils to a beef bolognese to up the fibre content. 

4. Don’t be afraid of flavour

You don’t have to steam everything! The more flavour there is in a meal, the more fullness and satisfaction you’ll feel, so you’re less likely to reach for that packet of biscuits in half an hour. The bottom line is, you can’t trick your body into thinking it’s content with a plate of tasteless vegetables. “My gut has the ability to know if I’m eating foods that satisfy me,” says Stride. 

5. Proteins, carbs, and fats 

Try to incorporate each of these elements into every meal. They all have an important role to play in our nutrition. Planning ahead helps to ensure you always have nutritious food on hand, so your glucose levels don’t drop, causing you to reach for convenience foods. 

A word on “healthy eating”

It’s a term Stride doesn’t use –  “what does it actually mean?”. For some people the pandemic caused unwanted weight gain, which can lead to an unhealthy approach to food, says Stride. Again and again, she’s seen clients stuck in a pattern of yoyo dieting because they place restrictions on themselves. 

Weight is a complex issue and can be the result of numerous factors, specific to that person. Rules around food are unnecessary and dangerous, as they lead to a disconnection with our bodies and can trigger eating disorders, says Stride. “Rules are a very external thing and eating is a very internal, personal thing. It should be something we actually enjoy.”

Stride advocates taking the focus off weight loss and instead turning it towards adding nutrition. “If we focus on the details, we forget about the big picture.” Through taking small steps to change our attitude and behaviour around eating, we can reconnect with our bodies and improve our wellbeing. “All food has a place.”

From fear and fatigue to empowerment

Bridget McClure left with registered dietitian Diane Stride Photo Florence Charvin

Bridget McClure knew something had to change when it came to her nutrition, but like many of us, she felt lost amid a sea of options and advice about eating. The 38-year-old Hastings woman was grateful to have kept her job in the shipping container industry through the pandemic. But as an essential worker she was putting in 12-hour days for months on end – “It was pretty manic for a long time’”. Adding to this was the stress of settling on a new home on the first day of lockdown.

Understandably, McClure’s nutrition and exercise levels took a nosedive as a result. “I wasn’t eating properly at all – just going and grabbing convenience food. And I didn’t go outside because I didn’t want to catch the virus,” she says. McClure also suffered from food intolerances for years and as a result she’d stopped eating many foods, from fear she would react to them.

Once work and the impact of the virus subsided, McClure decided to take action. After speaking to her GP about her concerns she made an appointment with Diane Stride. Her goals were to gain more education and support around food management. “The last few years have just been ridiculous, and work was definitely taking up way too much of my time and headspace … I wasn’t focusing on me and I was feeling so tired and so I wanted to stop, refresh and get some help.”

Through a gentle process of elimination and Diane’s support, they were able to work out what McClure’s issues were. She discovered she is intolerant to garlic powder, fresh onion, white bread and lactose – fewer foods than she originally thought. Now that she has clarity around which foods to avoid, intense stomach pains and cramps after eating are a thing of the past.

The process has been refreshing and enlightening, says McClure, as it has given her the freedom and confidence to enjoy a more varied diet and to try new recipes. Her meals are also more nutritious as McClure feels empowered to make informed choices about how she fuels her body. “Food is fun, enjoyable and a priority.”

Most of all, it’s the reconnection to her body that McClure values most. Tuning into her body’s needs, recognising she’s hungry and responding. “The biggest takeaway has been psychological. It’s the holistic approach and that’s what I’m enjoying; focusing on my wellbeing.”

Personal trainer, Lauren Kent

Lauren Kent’s fitness journey started with a love of outdoor bootcamps. From there, she started going to the gym regularly, building her strength and confidence in and out of the gym. “I started looking after myself from a place of care and improvement”, she says. 

Kent realised she wanted to help others do the same, so six years ago she became a personal trainer and started Impact Health and Fitness. Since then, she’s worked with clients in their homes, in gyms and throughout the pandemic, via Zoom. It provided some much-needed routine, while supporting their physical and mental wellbeing during a challenging time, says Kent.

Yet, the pandemic left many of Kent’s clients feeling stressed, tired and worn down. As they adjusted to post-pandemic life and returned to their fitness journey, some found that old exercise routines were no longer a realistic option. Kent recommends looking at your lifestyle and working out what you can do in the time you have. “Start small and really reflect on the habits you can build. The small changes are so underrated.”

Whether you’re starting your own from scratch or returning to an active lifestyle after a hiatus, there are some simple steps everybody can take that will have long-term benefits.

1. Start with four movements at home – e.g., push up, squat, lunge and plank. Start with two days per week, doing three sets of 10 for each movement. Doing so will improve your overall strength and functionality. You might notice it’s easier to get up and down off the floor, you only have to make one trip from the car to the house with the shopping bags or your body feels less stiff. “It’s about keeping that long-term functionality, which helps with longevity and independence.”

2. Increase the intensity of the movements by doing more repetitions or slowing the movements down.

3. Add weights. This can be as simple as filling a 1.5 litre bottle of water and holding it while you squat, wearing a backpack filled with books or using free weights if you have some at home. 

4. To push yourself further, increase your workouts to three or four times per week, focusing on two upper body and two lower body exercises each time. You can also add in a light daily walk or other activities you enjoy. And don’t forget to rest. “You want to make sure you’re not hammering yourself seven days a week. It’s important to give your body time to rest and recover.”

Kent has seen the impact small changes can have on her clients’ physical and mental wellbeing. One client, whom she’s worked with for more than two years was struggling with consistency in her workouts. Kent trains her at her home three days a week, and her client also does one session a week at home by herself. 

Since they started working together, Kent’s seen a mindshift in the woman’s approach to herself that’s had a significant impact on all aspects of her life. “She’s been working on looking after herself and it is helping with her confidence 100%.” As her ability to lift heavier weights has grown, so too has her belief in herself, says Kent. “She’s more confident and comfortable, it’s helped her sleep, manage stress and improve resilience.”

You don’t need to work out for hours a day or include lots of cardio in your workouts to see results, says Kent. You simply need to make it a priority and focus on consistency. Choosing activities you enjoy, working out what you can realistically do, and keeping goals small and achievable will all keep up your motivation. The long-term benefits of being more active are well worth it, as ultimately it will give you the ability to do the things you enjoy. 

Most importantly, just get started, says Kent. “If you’re holding off, waiting for the perfect time, there’s never going to be a perfect time.”

Stronger, healthier and happier

Hastings woman Kelly Davis says she has always been a “gentle exerciser”. The 48-year-old mum of three loves yoga and walking. But like all of us, the pandemic brought her regular exercise to a standstill as she dealt with the challenges of ongoing cases of Covid-19 in her household, along with the demands of juggling work and her family’s needs. “It felt like a never-ending battle… with three kids someone was always at home,” she says. “It was a really difficult time.” 

Last year she connected with Kent and decided to make her physical health a priority again. “I knew that it was time to do something a bit more substantial.” Since then, Kent has arrived at her house at 6am twice a week with equipment, to do a workout session with Davis, which typically includes weights, boxing and strength training.

It’s been the ideal option for Davis. The sessions have become a part of her routine that she looks forward to and the convenience and one-on-one guidance are hugely motivating, she says. “Lauren’s just such a ball of happiness, such good energy…You’ve got someone who’s constantly saying, ‘well done, good on you!’.”

As well as improving her physical health, especially core strength, the workouts have had an impact on Davis’ overall wellbeing. “Just having more energy, feeling good in my body on a daily level. I’m much stronger and that transpires into other areas of your life.”

Her next goals are to increase the weights she’s lifting and to continue to target her core. This is a long-term focus as she suffered an abdominal split when she had her twin boys 14 years ago and continues to work on rebuilding her core strength. 

Davis urges others to push themselves outside their comfort zone and reap the benefits of improved fitness. If, like her, you prefer to exercise alone and the idea of stepping into a gym makes you uncomfortable, personal training sessions at home could be the perfect option. 


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