Laurann O'Reilly: Six things to give up or take up for Lent this year

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Laurann O’Reilly


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Laurann O'Reilly

Now that the pancakes have been eaten, many of us are ready to make some diet and lifestyle adjustments.

Whether you are religious and treating Lent as a sacrifice for 40 days and even if you’re not, it is a fantastic opportunity to make some healthy changes, often with the support of people around you doing the same.

Whilst we often see Lent as a time of abstinence or giving something up it can also be a great time to take something on.

Here, Laurann O’Reilly, nutritionist and owner of Nutrition by Laurann provides us with her six top ideas of things you can give up or this Lent season.

1) Sugar, Sweets & Chocolate - Give It Up
The Challenge: The old classics and the most common, although it’s harder than it seems. The stresses of the past year have definitely taken its toll, with many turning to high sugar foods for energy and comfort.
With most of us working from home, access to our fridges and cupboards has never been easier, but resisting that temptation may have been difficult.
Remember if it’s not there you can’t have it (control your environment).
Prepare to have your will power tested, it may be difficult initially, but it definitely will be worth it.
The Benefits: Just think about how amazing you’ll feel.
You may be surprised by removing sugar from the diet how quickly you’ll begin to lose weight, your sugar cravings subside, your complexion and skin improves and energy levels begin to normalise.
Tips: For those of you with a really sweet tooth or who get sugar cravings chromium is an amazing supplement, just one a day keeps cravings at bay.

2) Alcohol - Give It Up
The Challenge: For those of you who have done dry January, you may have a little practice here. Whilst some may have a drink or two at the weekend, others may have gotten into the habit of having a drink or three a night during lockdown.
We don’t realise it, but it’s easy to consume more than your daily allowance of calories in one night. Constant exposure to alcohol can also put a huge amount of pressure on our liver, so it’s good to give it a little break.
The Benefits: There are many benefits to giving up alcohol for instance there is a huge amount of energy and sugar in beer, cider, and mixers. We can often forget how the “liquid calories” add up to our waistline.
By taking a good break from it we allow our bodies to detoxify and our livers to breathe again.
There’s also the feeling of clarity and how amazing is it to wake up the next day feeling totally fresh and able to take on the day.
Tips: Why not try the amazing alcohol free alternatives such as the alcohol free gin from Silk Tree Botanicals, alcohol free beers, alcohol free sparkling wine as well as many other alcohol free alternatives.

3) Social Media - Give It Up/Ease It Up
The Challenge: We have seen a huge surge in social media use as means of communication and entertainment over the past year and understandably so, with many individuals being isolated from friends and family.
According to the Deloitte Digital consumer trend report for 2020, one third of people check their smart phone within five minutes of waking up and 87% within the first hour. They also found that one third of respondents check their phone more than 50 times a day, with it being closer to 200 times a day for 18-24 year olds (nearly 8 times an hour or every 7.2 minutes).
Let’s face it we have a huge problem when it comes to social media with an increasing number of young adults feeling addicted. Researcher Doctor Mark Griffiths describes in an article within Psychology Today, how in some individuals, social media use has been associated with a number of psychological problems including anxiety, depression and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
He also states how it can be a major problem when it “spills over into other areas of their lives” which could include driving and even socialising with friends.
The Benefits: Many of us use technology constantly each day, looking at computer screens along with our phones without knowing the consequences and that there are so many benefits from a “technological detox”, outside of work and school of course.
Firstly, we are exposed to huge amounts of stimulating blue light through computers and phones which according to studies at Harvard University suppress the production of our melatonin (sleep hormone).
This hormone is meant to increase throughout the day gradually preparing us to sleep at night as it gets darker, do you look at your phone hours before going to bed? Next our eyesight can deteriorate from constantly looking at text up close with another study from University of Toledo having found that constant phone exposure can damage the retina and lead to degeneration of one’s eyesight. It’s definitely a good idea to give those eyes a break.
Tips: Try getting in touch with nature, go for a walk, run or read a real book.
You can also spend this valuable time preparing nutritious meals and snacks.

4) Exercise - Take it Up
The Challenge: Okay we’ve had crazy weather but the bright side is we’re almost out the other side now with longer evenings and brighter mornings.
Not only is exercise good for our health and for weight maintenance but with many of us working from home it also provides a very important change of scenery and improves our mental health. Also, with summer just around the corner, now is your time to go for it.
Benefits: Exercise can help in the prevention and management of many health conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and obesity.
Also remember as long as you are moving you are burning energy and every little counts so it’s a great way to get or stay in shape.
You would be surprised once you get into a routine, how you learn to love it.
For those with high amounts of stress, that would be most of us, exercise really is a great way to work it off, be it intense endurance training or gentle yoga.
Exercise has a huge impact on how you feel, secreting mood enhancing endorphins and decreasing the stress hormone cortisol.
Tip: Try get out in nature for a walk or run for at least 20-30 minutes per day, weather permitting of course.
There also has never been a better time to exercise with all sorts of online classes now available at our finger tips such as social dance classes, pilates, yoga, cardio exercises and bootcamps.

5) Giving Back - Take It Up
The Challenge: Let’s face it, it’s been a challenging year for many, from working from home or on the front line, home schooling as well as not being able to see friends and family.
Life is definitely busy, time is short and whilst it’s important to focus on ourselves and our own self-care, wouldn’t it be nice to give something back, no matter how big or small.
Tip: It could be as simple as a text or phone call to elderly family or your friends to check-in on them, sending a small gift or card.

6) Cooking & Trying New Recipes - Take it Up
The Challenge: With many of us eating on the go, for the sake of eating, for comfort and out of boredom, we may have gotten into an unhealthy relationship with food. Know that you’re not alone and that it is possible to bring the joy and benefits of healthy eating back into your life. Why not take this as an opportunity to change your relationship with food, with a whole new mindset.
Benefits: Think about it, if we put the wrong fuel into a car it won’t work efficiently, the same goes for our bodies. The food we eat should supply us with the right type ingredients to provide us with energy and promote healing. It’s time to unlock some of the amazing benefits of food and how we can use it in our favour to improve our health. I always say that “every meal is an opportunity to nourish”.
Tips: 1) Start exploring new recipes. There’s no need to fear trying these as there are plenty of easy to follow healthy recipes out there. 2) When purchasing your ingredients, try to buy fresh where possible. The more ingredients on the label, the more processed it is. Remember the ingredient listing goes in order of that which is the highest quantity first (so if you see sugar listed first steer clear). 3) Set up an eating schedule for your meals and snacks. This is particularly important with many of us working from home and prevents us constantly grazing. The body also loves routine, and by having your meals at the same time every day, it allows your digestive system to synchronise. Your eating schedule is also your designated time for taking a break from tasks and focusing on your meal or snack, allowing you to properly digest and savour your foods. 4) Try to get into the habit of meal planning. That is planning out your meals for the week (or working week) in advance, cooking up in batch, freezing and taking them out as you need them.

You can download you free meal planning guide here:  

For further information contact Laurann at 

Laurann O’Reilly is a qualified and experienced Nutritionist with a BSc. Degree in Human Nutrition from University of Nottingham and a Master’s in Public Health Nutrition from University College Dublin. She has over 10 years’ experience including working community and clinical care, research, personalised nutrition consultations (dealing in healthy eating, weight loss, digestive health and sports nutrition), teaching and developing nutrition courses at FETEC level, nutrition education talks and workshops (corporate wellness, schools, sports teams, public and private talks) and previous food manager of the Coeliac Society of Ireland.