In the final of our series, we explore how to make improvements to your life in 2015. Spend less money on takeaway food, worry less and banish screens from your bedroom – our experts advise
Saman Shad Shalailah Medhora and Fred McConnell
Thu 22 Jan 2015 03.25 GMTLast modified on Mon 13 Aug 2018 12.41 BST
Stop eating so many takeaways in 2015.
Stop eating so many takeaways in 2015. Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty Images
How to stop eating so many take-aways, by Saman Shad
There’s no doubt about it, Australians love dining out. The average Aussie spends about $70 a week on eating out in cafes, takeaways and restaurants. And we love our fast food. Most of us will eat fast food four times a month – that’s 51.5m visits to fast food joints every month. The driving force behind these statistics is convenience – we are increasingly short on time, spending longer at work and activities outside the home, which naturally means that we will grab something while we are out and about.
I understand this. I, like many people, juggle bringing up kids while working and coordinating various activities of the people in my family. Takeaways and fast food joints are often conveniently placed as you’re driving from one place to another – their bright signs like beacons signalling ease and convenience. But I’ve made a conscious choice to not fall into their trap too often, because while it’s easy to eat fast food, they do also call it junk food for a reason. And why on earth would I want to feed junk to my children?
How to stick to your 2015 new year’s resolutions
Cooking and eating at home can be as convenient as a takeaway, if not much more healthier, but it does require some pre-planning.
For me, the main way to do this is by batch cooking when I have some free time – usually on the weekends or in the evening when the kids are in bed. Batch cooking basically means making big portions of meals in advance, before freezing in portion sizes. It also means that you can get most of your cooking out of the way, and the rest of the week when you are short on time you just pop something out of the freezer and reheat it. My batch cooking favourites are homemade bolognaise sauce with hidden grated veggies, casseroles, soups and curries. You can batch cook meals for up to a month if you’re really keen.
Plan your meals
Another way to cook and eat more at home is to meal plan. This basically means working out what you want to eat for the rest of the week, and shopping for these meals in advance so you’re not out of any ingredients. Unclutterer have created a very basic meal plan template for you to use here.
If even meal planning is too much trouble, there are subscription food services such as Hello Fresh that will plan your meals and deliver all the ingredients you need to cook them every week.
Eating out should be something to be enjoyed as a treat – if nothing else because fast food and takeaways are generally high in fat and salt and have low nutritional value. So make this a year where you commit to cooking and eating more at home – you’ll feel better for it.
How to stress less in 2015 by Shalailah Medhora
It’s easy to get stressed in a job like mine. It’s desk-based with frequent deadlines and unpredictable hours. Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do and I’m not complaining, but coping with stress is just part of my day to day life.
Here are some popular coping mechanisms.
For me, building up the will to actually exercise is so much harder than the exercise itself. That pesky voice that tells me it’s OK to sleep in rather than get up and go for a walk, or that it’s OK to skip an exercise class in order to go for a drink with friends – that voice gets way too much airtime with me.
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Getting into the routine of exercising is a brilliant way of controlling stress. It seems obvious, but when you’re moving your body, you’re less focused on the persistent thoughts swirling in your mind. Regular exercise helps counteract the effects of adrenalin, one of the hormones released when your body is stressed. Exercise also helps you sleep better, and helps regulate your appetite, two functions that are very much affected by high levels of stress.
Yoga or meditation
I’m a big yoga devotee. I find the stretching and strengthening incredibly beneficial after sitting at a desk all day. It releases tension in my muscles, and the focus on breath and movement is incredibly calming. The meditation at the end of the class is an excellent way of letting go of negative or nagging thoughts.
Life sometimes gets in the way of going to classes, but it is super easy to just take a few minutes to meditate. At home, I like to copy yoga meditations, where you focus on one part of your body for a few seconds before moving to the next part. You can close your eyes and do that one anywhere, at anytime.
Yoga: is it the key to calm?
Yoga: is it the key to calm? Photograph: Alamy
Mindfulness was the buzzword of 2014, though it’s a concept that has been popular with yoga devotees for years.
Essentially, it’s a concept that tells you to process what’s happening now rather than worry about what’s coming. Worrying about things that haven’t happened – and may never actually happen – is a major cause of stress, so mindfulness is incredibly valuable. Living in the here and now can mitigate stress to a great degree.
Mindfulness is also useful for helping me see the big picture. “Is this thing I’m worried about today going to be an issue tomorrow, next week, next year?” People who are prone to drama (not me, of course) tend to blow things out of proportion so putting things in perspective is also an effective way of controlling stress.
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It’s incredibly tough for a journalist to disconnect from technology. My mobile phone means work documents, Twitter and news sites are just a few seconds away. The temptation to constantly check what’s happening in the news is real and persistent.
I’m generally really bad at disengaging with technology, but 2015 will be the year that I make a conscious effort to do it. Constantly checking my phone not only makes me bad company (sorry friends), but it makes me worry that there’s something I’m missing or something I’ve failed to cover in one of my stories.
No more. Me time should be me time. I’m going to pick up a book or a magazine, or go for a walk and leave my phone behind, to try and reduce some of the constant anxiety. Which will in turn cause anxiety, so let’s see how that goes…
How I plan to get more sleep, by Fred McConnell
I’ve been in Australia for less than a month but I think it’s already improved my quality of life as promised. At least, I’ve new-year-resolved that it will.
Last week I camped at the foot of Mount Arapiles in country Victoria and must have seen more stars in one night than in my combined 28 years spent in Britain. I was also knackered from climbing, so I fell asleep early. The next morning I felt amazing. Then I realised that a good night’s sleep shouldn’t be as novel as that stunning canopy.
I decided to make a two-pronged new year’s resolution: fewer screens at bedtime and more sleep.
Woman asleep in eye-mask
Could sleeping soundly be key to a happy 2015? Photograph: Kelvin Murray/Getty Images
I’ve already nailed a gym habit that I enjoy, but wonder if breaking a very old habit will prove harder than adopting a new one. I enjoy it because it makes me feel great, so I’m hoping that more sleep will be an equally persuasive revelation.
Healthy sleep habits have eluded me since childhood. Back then, the less insidious audio tape helped. Thanks to the tech revolution that means all forms of media come encased in their own aesthetically pleasing lightbox, my habits need to change too.
Working long and unpredictable hours means getting home earlier is not an option. If it were, I’d have my pick of going out or to the gym, traveling home, cooking and still have a window of time to escape through a screen into whatever imaginary medieval/criminal/ New York-ad-industry world takes my fancy.
As it is, when I can finally start to wind down, I’m so tired that I just want to crash into bed. But if I go straight to sleep, I have a sense of missing out (whether or not this is a wider symptom of the sickness of modern life is a question for another time).
So, I usually end up falling asleep in bed around midnight, with a bright screen flickering not far from my closed eyes and dribbling mouth. The things I watch tend to have huge plot holes, coinciding with the stretches I’ve slept through.
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Sometimes I spend the whole night in front of this glare or a sudden loud noise wakes me up when I’ve just drifted off. Occasionally, the mass killing spree I’ve just seen in Game of Thrones, Walking Dead or Breaking Bad (really, so many killing sprees) leaks into my dreams. Clearly, neither the quality of my sleep nor my escapism comes out of this unscathed.
But, like I said, hopefully the benefits of screen-less, earlier nights will be too obvious to ignore. If I can go a week with no screens around my head, who knows, I might feel born again and never want to revert.
I suspect it’ll be harder than that though. The key will be to power through until a habit is formed. When I started a fitness program, it meant a huge shift in my eating and exercise habits, but once they were bedded in – after about a month – they felt routine. Not doing it all felt weirder than doing it. By that point the rewards had started to show, which was the ultimate motivation to keep going.
Also, having rubbish internet at home can help, as I can’t waste time browsing the paralysing number of online streaming services. Since cassette tapes helped when I was a kid, I might make an exception for quiet, non-light emitting podcasts. That is, if the silence of trying to fall asleep the old fashioned way proves deafening.