Health & Wellbeing 2018.  Make 2018 the year that you ditch those TV, magazine and social media diets and start eating a healthy balanced diet and increasing your activity.

We caught up with the Halcyon Life’s Consultant Dietitian and Specialist in Digestive Health Marion O’Connor on how to achieve a healthier lifestyle in 2018.  Here are her top tips.

1.     Energy intake v energy expenditure

If you are trying to lose weight, then many of the diets we are bombarded with will not help us achieve a long term reduction in body weight.   They often fail because they focus on drastically changing aspects of our daily dietary intake.  This often does not take into account our particular life situation and therefore is not sustainable in the long term.

“In my experience, the most effective way to lose weight and keep it off is to focus on energy intake (food) and energy expenditure (activity).   When using this strategy and concentrating on both, you become more aware of the energy content of foods and how much activity you have to do to burn it off” advises Marion.

So think twice before reaching for the Mars Bar, Twix or Kit Kat when you know what you will have to lose 200-300 kcals per bar from your food allowance or work 1-2 hours in the gym to work it off.  Is it really worth it?

There are plenty of calories within our ‘daily allowance’ to enjoy food, it’s just that we often chose to use up some of this ‘allowance’ on high calorie, high fat convenience processed foods or snacks.  Think “Do I really need this snack?” or “have I enough left in my daily ‘allowance’ to have this?”

2.    A healthy diet no matter what your weight

Eating healthily is not just for those who want to lose weight.  Eating a healthy diet and being more active will benefit everyone!  We all need to take responsibility for our health and making the right diet choices is one way we can achieve this.  It’s true that we’re living longer, but are we going to be living longer in chronic illness?  The answer is yes, if our incidence of obesity, diabetes, cancer and other chronic illnesses continue to rise.  Diet is a factor in all of these.

3.  How can I make my diet healthier?

Reduce your intake of fat especially animal fats.  Reduce your intake of processed foods.  Choose healthier vegetable fats such as olive oil and avocados.  Increase your intake of fruit and vegetables.  Include oily fish, meat and eggs as a source of protein.  Have a moderate amount of carbohydrate in the form of cereals, potato, wholegrain bread.  Snack on fruit, nuts, seeds or other low sugar, low calorie snacks.  And it goes without saying that you should avoid snacking on cakes, biscuits and chocolate.  Fill up on the good stuff so you don’t reach for the biscuits!   This doesn’t mean that you can’t have any treats as we all need a treat every now and then, but try to keep the treat for the weekend or on a particular day.

Challenge those habits of picking up a bar of chocolate when you get fuel at the services or the piece of cake you always get with your latte at the cafe.  Ask yourself  “Do I really need this, will it add valuable nutrients to my diet?”.

THE GOLDEN RULE:  Don’t go shopping on an empty stomach.  Don’t buy the tempting high calorie foodS, if they’re not in the cupboard you can’t eat them!

4.    Increase your intake of fluids especially water.  

So many people don’t drink enough fluids to hydrate their body.   It’s something that we seem to forget to do, especially if we are busy or stressed as we so often are nowadays.  It can take a lot of effort to reach even a 1000ml per day of water, which is usually much less than we need in a day.  (Fluid requirements are base don weight and this is usually 25-30ml per kg).

Poor fluid intake can affect your concentration and also make you feel tired.  In order to maintain healthy functioning kidneys we need to be hydrated.  This allows us to remove the toxins and waste chemicals from our bodies.

“To increase your fluid intake, I would get into the habit of having a water bottle with you in the office, at home or when you go for a run or a walk.  It can also be helpful to use a food and activity app, such as My Fitness Pal, which records fluid intake” suggests Marion.

This can help you keep account of how much you should be having and how much you are actually having.  You will feel better if you’re better hydrated and your body is getting the fluid it needs to function optimally.

5.    Reduce your caffeine intake

We seem to be drinking much more coffee and tea. The emergence of many coffee shops on the high street, at service stations and at events is likely to be contributing to this.  It’s great for the social aspect but more and more people are using coffee to ‘keep them going’ as they work long hours or cope with stressful jobs or family life.

At the end of the day coffee is a stimulant.  It will affect your ability to be able to sleep if you have it too late in the evening which then will deplete your energy levels further.  Try and alternate your coffee and tea intake with water and/or decaffeinated drinks.

6.    Get active

You don’t have to go to the gym or plan to run a marathon to get active.  Use the space around you.   Do what you enjoy doing.  If that’s walking then plan to start walking 2 or 3 times a week and aim to increase this to daily.  If you enjoy the gym then make sure you are doing a combination of aerobic and resistance training.   We are all very stressed and trying to factor exercise into our busy day is often difficult but a necessity.

We will not live longer because we stayed in the office an extra 2 hours or came in early to be ahead of the paperwork but we will live longer and have a healthier heart if we spent that time doing some form of regular activity.   Change your focus – focus on your health and make time for exercise!

“I would recommend using an activity tracker, such as Fitbit, which will allow you to set goals.  You may want to track how many steps you take each day.  The recommendation is that we should be aiming for at least 10,000 steps per day and 15,000 if we are trying to lose weight.   If you are in a sedentary job you are probably only getting approximately 3000 steps per day which is a huge deficit every day”.

If you don’t have a tracker use your smartphone as it can monitor steps but may not be as accurate.

7.    Take care of your gut bacteria

There is a plethora of research emerging looking at the importance to health of maintaining a good balance of bacteria in the gut.  We can achieve this by eating a diet low in processed foods, low in sugar and high in fibre.  In addition, fermented foods, such as live yoghurts, sauerkraut, kefir and miso soup should be included in the diet and antibiotics should be avoided if possible.  Antibiotics will kill the ‘bad’ bacteria causing the infection but will also kill a good number of the ‘good’ beneficial bacteria.  If you need several courses of antibiotics you should take a probiotic alongside to try and counteract the effect of losing lots of good bacteria.


What foods are you adding to your diet this year?  What foods are you cutting out?  It would be great to hear your health plans for 2018 so that we can support you though the hard times and celebrate the successes.

And if you know you need to make some changes but are struggling to put a plan in place do let us know.  Marion is one of the Halcyon Life experts who will be presenting on nutrition at our wellbeing workshops throughout 2018 so please do get in touch to find out how we can help you in achieving your goals.


About Halcyon Life Expert Marion O’Connor.

Marion runs a successful private practice in Oxford, Reading and Northern Ireland where she provides nutrition advice for a variety of clinical conditions. She lectures on various aspects of nutrition at local, national and international level.   Marion recently gave the opening keynote speech at the annual Medicine X Conference in Stanford University, USA.  She is as qualified sports dietitian and was the UK’s lead dietitian in intestinal transplant at Oxford Transplant Centre.  With an interest in the role of gut bacteria, she is exploring the role of gut health in general health and diseases.

Marion has an honours degree in Physiology and an MSc in Human Nutrition and Dietetics.  Marion is a full member of the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) and British Dietetic Association (BDA).

She has over 16 years clinical experience working within the NHS where she specialised primarily in gastrointestinal disorders.