Eat your way to better sleep

We are all aware of the impact nutrition has on fuelling our bodies to take on the day, but what about the influence nutrition has on getting a good night sleep?

Sleep deprivation is not only leaving us feeling more tired, looking drained or with dark circles under our eyes – it is having a significant impact on our overall health.

Sleep is arguably the most undervalued component of health in modern society. It’s the first thing disregarded during times of stress or high pressure such as hitting that project deadline or juggling work and social life. We’ve all found ourselves up until the small hours cramming for an exam or preparing a presentation when in fact, improved concentration, a greater capacity to learn, as well as reduced stress levels are just a few of the potential benefits of a good night’s sleep.

Research suggests that impaired sleep can contribute to a number of health issues including weight gain, diabetes risk, impaired hormonal function and increased cravings for high sugar high fat foods to name a few.  Good sleep management has also been shown to convincingly reduce the prevalence of pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes – even without weight loss.

So, what can you do to improve sleep quality?

  1. Eat a fibre-rich dinner
    Supporting your gut is essential for improving your sleep as melatonin (a hormone that regulates night and day cycles, so your body knows when to sleep and wake) is not only released in the brain but in the gut too. A healthy gut will help to absorb more melatonin and promote better sleep. Foods rich in fibre include: fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, pulses and legumes.
  2. Eat foods containing tryptophan
    Tryptophan is an amino acid which is converted into serotonin (a natural mood stabiliser) and contributes to improved sleep. Foods rich in tryptophan include: eggs, nuts, dates, tofu, chickpeas, buckwheat and fish.
  3. Ensure adequate magnesium status
    Magnesium plays a key role in muscle and nerve relaxation. Food sources include quinoa, nuts, green leafy vegetables, black beans and dark chocolate. Bathing in an Epsom salt or magnesium chloride bath can also raise magnesium levels in the body while relaxing and relieving soreness.
  4. Limit caffeine intake
    This one may not be revolutionary news, but it’s important nonetheless.

    The stimulating effect of caffeine will persist for several hours – it takes around six hours for just half of the caffeine ingested to be eliminated, with this in mind, it’s not so surprising that one study found consuming caffeine even six hours before bedtime reduced total sleep time by an hour. Caffeine works as a stimulant by delaying the onset of adenosine, a molecule which signals the brain to relax. It also delays the onset of GABA a neurotransmitter that has a calming effect on the nervous system. In addition, caffeine has also been shown to influence other chemicals such as dopamine, leading to increased brain activity and feeling alert…all in all not a great recipe for sleep!

    While caffeine affects us all differently depending on a number of factors including: age, habitual intake and genetic makeup to name a few, if you are struggling to get consistently good quality sleep it is worth abstaining from caffeine after 2pm switching to caffeine-free herbal teas in the evening instead.

  5. Opt for a lighter evening meal
    Eating a large meal before you hit the hay has been shown to delay sleep latency, meaning it will take you longer to fall asleep. This could be due to a delayed secretion of melatonin and/or your gut still working to digest your food well past bed time. To encourage the onset of sleep aim to eat your evening meal no less than two hours before bed, if that’s not possible opt for a light, easily digestible dinner such as a simple salad or soup.
  6. Limit screen time
    The light omitted from phone and television screens inhibits melatonin release so try switching off an hour before bed to aid a restful sleep.

In modern society, time is a precious commodity – so why not protect your downtime, enable an earlier dinner, and free-up all breakfast and lunch preparation by letting our chefs do the hard work giving you your evenings back to relax, exercise and spend time with your family – all of which promoting a good night’s sleep.

The Truth About Carbs & Weight Loss

‘Carbs’ have been a hot topic in the world of weight loss over the last few years. With many diet plans banishing them completely and others claiming we can only eat them at certain times, many of us have been left feeling confused and even guilty about consuming this essential food group.

To us at Balance Box, healthy eating is about balance and never deprivation or fads – we don’t neglect any food groups and believe that a healthy diet should be made up of healthy fats, lean proteins and complex carbohydrates. In this blog, we will examine exactly what carbohydrates are and why we believe they are key to happy, healthy, long-term weight loss results.

What are carbs and complex carbs?

When people talk about ‘carbs’ they are typically referring to foods such as rice, pasta, bread, sweets and starchy vegetables like potatoes. However technically, carbs are the sugars, starches and fibres found in fruits, grains, vegetables and milk products. They are broken down into glycogen (sugar) before being absorbed into the blood stream. Glycogen is used by your body for energy, fuelling all your activities, from going for a run to having a cup of tea!

You may have heard of the terms ‘simple carbs’ and ‘complex carbs’. Simple carbs include foods such as pastries, white bread, white pasta and other white floury foods, they are usually highly processed, high in sugar and calories with minimum nutritional value. These types of foods are what have given ‘carbs’ their bad name! On the other hand, complex carbohydrates such as whole grain breads and pasta, starchy vegetables and oats are nutrient dense. Foods containing complex carbs are digested by the body much more slowly – this can help maintain stable blood sugar levels, help you feel fuller for longer and potentially reduce your cravings for sugary foods and snacks, which can all contribute to us shedding a few pounds!

Why do we need carbs in our diet and how they can aid weight loss?

Carbohydrates are important to our health for a variety of reasons.

According to the NHS, carbohydrates should be the body’s main source of energy in a healthy balanced diet. In the absence of carbohydrates, your body will use protein (and fat) into glycogen for energy, however this isn’t ideal as the body needs protein to repair muscle.

Fibre is a type of carbohydrate which is extremely important for our digestive health and for regular bowel movements. Fibre can help improve cholesterol and blood sugar levels and can assist in preventing some diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and bowel cancer, it also helps you to feel full – meaning less cravings (and biscuits) later!

By avoiding carbs or eating a diet very low in carbohydrates you could well become deficient in essential nutrients like B vitamins, zinc and iron, which are all essential in maintaining good health, good skin and feeling energised and well in our bodies. Interestingly, research has shown how important bacteria in our gut may be for our health, and it has been suggested that a fibre rich diet can help improve your good bacteria levels!

Studies have also shown that carbohydrates can make us happy! Carbohydrates are extremely important in the synthesis of serotonin, a chemical made in the body that contributes to wellbeing and happiness. Serotonin is also nature‘s own appetite suppressant! A well-balanced diet inclusive of carbohydrates is also found to improve sleep patterns, thanks again to serotonin and even improve brain performance and concentration!

Often when people try and cut out carbs to lose weight, they’re cutting out other high calorie ingredients that are mixed in with them such as butter, cheese, cream and oil and therefore it’s not necessarily the removal of carbohydrates alone that has caused weight loss. If we take a portion of mashed potato for example, usually you’d add a knob of butter and half a small cup of cream which can really rack up the number of calories. Eating too many calories – whether they are carbs, protein or fat – will contribute to weight gain. However, interestingly carbohydrates contain fewer calories gram for gram than fat, and starchy foods can be a good source of fibre as we mentioned earlier, which means they can be a useful tool for weight loss. Therefore, instead of removing the side of potato from your meal, a better solution would be to have a side of boiled new potatoes or sweet potato wedges, helping to satisfy your hunger and providing you with an abundance of nutrients.

How to eat the right kind of carbs for weight loss

At Balance Box we are passionate about creating yummy balanced meals. We love to take a classic comfort food dish, like a chicken curry, and give it a healthy twist by removing the traditional stodgy ‘simple’ carbs and replacing them with low GI grains like brown rice, or barley to keep you feeling energised, strong and happy in your body!

Making simple swaps for nutrient dense, healthy carbohydrates can be easy for example instead of using classic white pasta opt for spelt or brown rice pasta. Quinoa or brown rice taste delicious with curries or stews and if your feeling a little more creative, oats or polenta can be great swap for traditional fish or chicken with bread crumbs. Find more great swaps in our cook book – The Balance Diet (Available from

Although we are huge advocates of including carbs in our diets, we do also believe that moderation is key. Remember that eating too many calories – whether they are carbs, protein or fat – will contribute to weight gain. As a rule, we try and stick to around 4 tablespoons of wholegrains or pulses with each meal, half the plate filled with veggies and a piece of protein per meal – this will help to keep hunger at bay and it’s a practical tip to help with portion control, it’s also something our chefs and nutritionists stick to whilst prepping our meals!

Sustainable Weight Loss

When embarking on any new diet plan, the chances are you will lose a couple of pounds. The hard thing is keeping this weight off in the long term – the problem with ‘faddy diets’ is when you stop the program it is easy to go back to potentially bad habits. If a diet is very restrictive it’s much easier to fail and then reach for something calorific. If you choose a balanced diet, you’re more likely to be able to stick to the plan and change some of your habits for healthy ones in the long term meaning you’re less likely to put any weight back on.

Some of the healthiest cultures in the world such as the Japanese, Nordic and Mediterranean countries incorporate lots of complex carbohydrates into their diets. These cultures typically eat lots of whole grains, beans, fresh fruit and vegetables, eggs, oils and seafood while meat, sugary foods and refined carbohydrates take a back seat. This healthy way of life has influenced our programs here at Balance Box including recipes filled with these wonderful ingredients.

The Balance Box Philosophy

We are forever guilty of being too busy. How many times have you used lack of time as an excuse for not exercising or eating properly?

At Balance Box, we understand the demands of working long hours, family pressures or simply not having the motivation to cook. We take away the pressure of your meal times and do it all for you – the shopping, chopping, cooking and the delivery to your doorstep PLUS we give you a bit of motivation to keep going along the way.

Our approach – It’s about Balance

Staying on track with your healthy eating can be hard. With so much conflicting nutrition information, poor dietary advice and quick-fix promises, it can all be truly overwhelming.

The good news is that you don’t have to crash diet or do anything extreme in order to achieve your weight loss target. With Balance Box, you get delicious, ready-made food delivered straight to your door. Each day has its own nutritionally-balanced and calorie-controlled healthy eating plan designed by our expert nutritionists, helping you lose weight the easy (and tasty) way. No more deprivation diets, stress or setbacks.

The Balance Box Philosophy

Healthy Weight Loss

If your goal is weight loss, we believe that reducing calories by altering the portion sizes of your meals rather than restricting whole food groups is the most sustainable way of achieving long term results. This is why our boxes come in two different calorie options: the Lighter Plan (1200 calories/day) and the Market Plan (1800 calories/day). These two boxes contain the same food but served in different portion sizes to suit different individual goals. We want you to think of it as eating real, wholesome food and not simply consuming calories!

By making sure that the diet is balanced, you are not skipping on essential nutrients and you will not experience extreme hunger – quite the opposite! Our clients are always surprised to find how satisfied they feel even on the Lighter Plan.

Removing all carbohydrates altogether (even healthy options), for example, is a very common mistake some people make when trying to lose weight. Such extremes can lead to severe feelings of hunger if the diet is not carefully tailored to suit the individual’s needs. With all the added frustration this will eventually lead to over eating or not being able to stick to a diet plan long term. The end result: all the pain without the gain – all the hunger of a diet without the benefits of weight loss! We wonder how many of us can relate to this?

The Balance Box Philosophy

At Balance Box we approach weight loss in a much more complex way than simply counting calories. This is why we have a team of nutritionists that will acknowledge your individual needs and will be able to advise you accordingly. Cutting your calories too low may actually lead to weight loss plateaus, something we see very often.

The type of food you eat will make a huge difference to your total daily calorie intake. The calories in processed sugar, for example, will be digested quickly – this will in turn cause a quick rise in your blood sugar levels and it will make you crash soon after eating leaving you hungry, moody and tired! Our food excludes all processed ingredients and refined sugar. We look at the plans as a whole – including vegetables, fruits, healthy wholegrains, lean proteins and essential fats. All portioned adequately to leave you satisfied and energised.

The Balance Box Philosophy

We created our Balance Boxes with confidence that most of our clients will not only find it easy to follow but will also educate them about portion control and help them find a way of eating that they can keep up for good.

You might be interested in tips to help you overcome your weight loss plateau.

Tips to help you overcome your weight loss plateau

It’s All About Balance

As our name suggests, here at Balance Box, we are all about exactly that – BALANCE. We are not advocates for extreme calorie restrictions… far from it. We believe that long-term change and healthy living is the way to achieving a healthy body and more importantly, a healthy mind.

Extreme calorie restrictions have not only been shown to be unhealthy, cause muscle loss and disrupt hormonal balance, they can also affect your metabolism and often result in greater weight gain when you start eating ‘normally’ again!

Food vs Calories

It’s important to consider that ‘FOOD’ is not the same as ‘CALORIES’. By this we mean that an increase in food doesn’t necessarily mean an increase in calories and vice versa.

When our clients start on their Balance Box programme, they usually start eating more nutrient dense foods in higher volumes (more vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats and wholegrains) but less overall calories than they did before. Ditching processed foods, high salt foods, sugary snacks and drinks – the result? Healthy, sustainable weight loss that will not leave you feeling moody or deprived!

Tips to help you overcome your weight loss plateau

Let us help you!
What have you been doing wrong if you are not getting the desired results?

Here are some of our qualified nutritionists’ tips and considerations to help you reach your goals!

  • Are you measuring the wrong results?
    Looking for proof in the scales can often be disappointing! If you are exercising you could be improving the tone of your muscles and losing fat, but most scales don’t provide information about body composition (and muscle weighs more than fat!). Try other ways to measure your progress including: measuring body fat percentage, waist measurements, tracking your heart rate, measuring the distance you can run without getting out of breath, amount of weight you can lift or measuring your blood pressure. Based solely on weight, many professional athletes would be considered obese!
  • Your workout intensity has dropped.
    Following a structured training programme that includes a mix of resistance training and cardio is often a great option. The problem comes when you follow the same routine over and over again. You will eventually stop seeing the same results. Think about the time when, for example, you ran your first 5km! It might have been a struggle in the beginning but if you did it consistently you would’ve got comfortable with it and would eventually require an extra push. Whatever your form of staying active is, ask yourself if you are ready to push yourself a bit more or perhaps try something new to mix up the routine and avoid boredom!
  • Your NEAT is too low!
    Without getting too scientific, NEAT stands for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis – it accounts for all the short bursts of unplanned exercise we do throughout the day. Think about your daily walk to work, walking up the stairs or walking the dog in the evening. The problem is that we are leading more and more sedentary lifestyles each day and our NEAT is dropping as we sit staring at our computer screens all day. Ask yourself how much you move around throughout the day – it’s not just those 45 minutes sweating at the gym that count, it all adds up. The good news? NEAT can account for on average 300 calories a day in healthy individuals!
  • You are binge eating, even on healthy food!
    Binge eating is a very common side effect of dieting. With severe dietary restrictions come extreme food cravings. While some of us binge on junk food, others can binge on relatively healthy foods which could still have the same result overtime – weight gain! Even if something is healthy, the calories and nutritional value of those foods all add up – peanut butter, dark chocolate, rice cakes, nuts or fruit smoothies are just a few examples of foods that can easily undo a few days of healthy eating if eaten in excess. Listen to your body’s hunger cues and try eating mindfully – one of today’s most powerful weight loss tools. Slow down at meal times, eat without distractions and enjoy each bite!
  • Are you indulging in too many ‘cheat’ days?
    Monday to Friday most of us are pretty set into our routine. Some healthier than others but this is when most of us who are trying to lose weight really make an effort to ‘be good’! But… what happens at the weekend? All our good efforts can easily be undone by breaking even a fairly healthy routine. Saturday night and it’s ‘cheat’ day so we order a take away pizza, a couple of glasses of wine finishing off with some ice cream and there goes the weekly calorie deficit, that easy! Having too many ‘cheat days’ makes getting back on track very hard. And just to clarify, we’re not against downtime, ‘cheat meals’ and indulging in our favourite treats every now and then, however, if you are really struggling to lose weight and do this regularly, it is just going to be quite a frustrating (and long) journey. Maybe a better option would be to have one treat and not a whole day of treats! Our Balance Boxes include a variety of snacks from salty to sweet options so that you still feel satisfied. Our home-made fruit and nut bars, for example, are the ideal snack for that 4pm sugar craving (without the refined sugar!).
  • You are not getting enough good quality sleep Zzzz
    For years we have known that good quality sleep is crucial for our wellbeing but can lack of sleep make us fat? Well… it is a complex link and there are many factors that need to be considered but there is so much evidence supporting the link between poor sleep and an increased risk of becoming overweight or even obese. Inadequate sleep seems to stimulate the production of a particular hormone that increases our appetite.
  • You’ve been very restrictive with your diet for too long…
    It’s also important to realise that a bigger calorie deficit doesn’t necessarily result in faster or better results. Consuming the right amount of calories, even for weight loss, is crucial to sustain your metabolism, optimum training performance, minimise loss of lean muscle mass and prevent hunger. If you have been losing weight for a while now and find yourself reaching a ‘plateau’, perhaps you just need to re-evaluate your diet and mix-up your training routine a bit so your body gets a boost again.
  • You’re stressed…
    Hectic schedules, bills, family, deadlines – whatever the underlying reason of your stress is, it may be hindering your weight loss efforts. Although this is inevitable, there are numerous studies showing how cortisol (our stress hormone) may increase the amount of fat we store – especially affecting the unhealthy fat around our torso.
  • You don’t have a solid support-system.
    If you are trying to lose weight, you know that straight from the beginning there will be many challenges you will have to face and overcome. Having a support system in place will help you through your journey, when things become difficult or when you’re tempted to quit! Involving your family and close friends is always a good way to feel included. Meal times don’t need to be stressful if you are trying to lose weight – Our Balance Box plans offer great healthy meals and controlled portion sizes that are perfect for the whole family too! At Balance Box our team of qualified nutritionists understand that beginning a weight-loss journey, especially if you’ve tried before and failed, is difficult and just by having someone there for support can make such a big difference. They will be able to help you and support you if you have any questions along the way.
  • You have unrealistic expectations
    Unfortunately weight loss is a much slower process than most of us want it to be! We do wish we had a secret that would make things easier… but we don’t! All we can do in the meantime is give you some supportive advice.
    Try and set up yourself a challenging but not impossible goal. Unrealistic goal setting can contribute to you not following a plan in the long-term. The key is to establish a personal health goal that is specific and appropriate for you and that fits with your own lifestyle. As a guide, if you are looking at setting a goal, write down your SMART goals. These are: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-framed.
    As a word of encouragement, at some point, your weight is going to reach a healthy set point where your body feels comfortable. Trying to go beyond that may not be worth the effort, and may even be impossible for your body shape. At this point, trying to maintain that healthy body weight you have worked hard for is also a very positive goal and you should be proud of your efforts!

Balance Box – Pescatarian and Free From Boxes

Due to popular demand, our team of expert chefs and nutritionists have created two delicious new boxes which we are so excited about.

As with our standard boxes, our newer pescatarian and free from boxes are made using fresh, ethically sourced and free-range ingredients all served up into nutritionally balanced sized portions ready for you to eat.

The Pescatarian Program

Our pescatarian program is perfect for those who avoid eating meat but like to enjoy eating fish and for those who’d like to cut down on their meat consumption for a variety of reasons, and this box is a great starting point for people who want to do just that.

Health Benefits
Lots of research supports the health benefits of eating more fish and less meat. Whilst we all know that red meat and processed meat have been linked to an increased risk of developing various diseases, fish and seafood boast a huge amount of vitamins and minerals, including the B-complex vitamins, vitamin A and vitamin D all of which are essential for a healthy nervous system, vision and bone health. Fish also contains far less saturated fats compared to meat yet still contains similar levels of protein. Seafood is also the best source of omega – 3 fatty acids which are great for your heart, reducing inflammation in the body and improving brain function. Not only that but Omega 3 has also been linked to weight loss in recent studies, which is just another added bonus that we favour here at Balance Box.

Mediterranean Diet
Pescatarian based diets have been around for thousands of years and some of the healthiest cultures in the world such as the Japanese, Nordic and Mediterranean countries rely heavily on fish for their protein and nutrient intake. These cultures typically eat lots of whole grains, beans, fresh fruit and vegetables, eggs, oils and seafood while meat, sugary foods and alcohol take a back seat. We’ve modelled our pescatarian box on this healthy way of life and we’ve included recipes that contain an abundance of these wonderful healthy ingredients. Including a variety of beans and pulses in your diet is not only an excellent source of plant based protein but they’re also packed with healthy nutrients like iron, calcium, magnesium and fibre, which can help to keep you feeling fuller for longer.

The production of meat and the effect on the environment has become a very topical subject in the last few years, and although we only use sustainable and ethically sourced meat and fish in the Balance Box kitchen, reducing your meat consumption is an excellent way to reduce your carbon foot print. A study by the University of Oxford found that meat-rich diets resulted in an average of 7.2kg of carbon dioxide emissions in contrast to both vegetarian and pescatarian diets which caused an average of 3.8kg of CO2 per day.

The Free-From Program

Our free-from program is free from meat, fish, dairy and gluten and ideal for those with an allergy or intolerance to one or more of these ingredients, and also for those who want to cut down on these ingredients to give their digestion a bit of a rest.

Health Benefits
We don’t use any refined carbs in our meal plans here at Balance Box and instead opt for unprocessed complex carbohydrates such as sweet potato, brown rice and rye which are high in nutrients and fibre and provide a steady energy release, essential for weight loss and keeping those pesky hunger pangs at bay. In our new free-from program we’ve gone a step further than this and we’ve removed any grains that contain gluten such as barley and rye and replaced them with some delicious gluten free grains such as millet and quinoa. Quinoa is higher in nutrients than most other grains, amazingly it also supplies all the essential amino acids needed by the human body and is therefore considered to be a ‘complete’ protein source.

We’ve also removed any cows dairy from this plan and we’ve replaced it with sheep’s and goats products such as sheeps yoghurt, goats cheese, feta and halloumi cheese. Many of those who have an allergy to cows dairy are able to tolerate goats milk because it contains less lactose than cows milk. Goats and sheeps products are therefore easier for the body to digest and they are also higher in calcium and many other minerals and vitamins.
This plan is also free from meat and fish and contains a variety of beans and pulses, eggs, cheeses, tofu, grains, nuts and seeds and of course a vast array of wonderful fruit and vegetables. A vegetarian diet rich in these ingredients is low in saturated fat and cholesterol and high in fibre and as a result those who adopt this type of diet are likely to have lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure and a lower BMI, all of which are associated with longevity and a reduced risk of many chronic diseases.

The livestock industry is thought to be responsible for a huge 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions and cutting out meat or reducing your meat consumption is a great way to do your bit to help reduce this impact on the environment. Our ‘free from’ program is a great way to help you cut down on your meat consumption without missing out on any vital nutrients.

It’s All About Balance

We are all about ‘balance’ – it’s the core of our business.

There are 5 core principles that we consider to be essential in order to have a balanced life; the trick is maintaining good balance in each of these areas.

  • Relationships
  • Your mind
  • Your body
  • Mindfullness
  • Work

Do a short exercise to think how many of these principles you value in your life, and which you need to work on. It may be worth writing these down and even plan some time in your calendar to make time and achieve balance.

This can be a partner, a family member, or a friend. Ensuring you make time to nurture the important relationships in your life will help with ultimate balance. Even when you think you have no time, remember that feeling of having a great night out with your friends, that special impromptu date night, or that lovely Sunday dinner with your family.

Your Mind
This is an important one and can manifest itself in many ways. Think about the ways this is relevant to you and your life stage. This could be additional learning to improve a skill or clearing your mind and delving into a great novel. Just giving yourself an allocated time to STOP and focus on something to cleanse or power your mind.

Your Body
This is the area we are experts in and the foundation of our business. We believe that your body is the most important element to ultimate life balance. Making sure you give enough time to respect your body through healthy eating and exercise, you will soon feel all the benefits and be a healthier version of yourself. At Balance Box, we understand that it is hard to always make the time to focus on you and your body, that’s why our diet food delivery service makes it easier – you don’t need to plan your meals, we do that all for you.

Mindfulness can provide us with clarity in times of stress. When you are feeling wound up about an event or something going wrong at work or home, just stop and take a moment to breathe and take in your environment before you act. You may find this helps to bring your stress levels down.

We often hear the phase ‘work-life balance’ and it is the most understood area that we should take the time to manage and not let work fill up all of our time, taking focus away from all of the other areas above.

It’s always best to take a step back and where possible see if you can plan out a few ground rules (even if it is to test the water). These could include leaving the office on time at least twice a week. Not taking work home with you at least 3 times a week. Planning in your annual leave for the rest of the year.

We hope this article has helped to give you some ideas on how to manage and maintain a balanced life. We would love to hear your experiences, so please contact us on our social media or email us.
Good luck in your venture for life balance!