Eating healthily can be tough with temptation everywhere and tight time schedules. However, there are easy little changes you can make to help transform the big picture.
First, have a quick think about what you would say if I asked you to define the word “diet”. If you Google a definition you’ll find these results:
The kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats.
A special course of food to which a person restricts themselves, either to lose weight or for medical reasons.
Most people think something similar to number 2; a short-term extreme option that is hard to stick to, rather than looking at diet as a long term lifestyle choice. Often this is because weight-loss diets are too restrictive or don’t have the right structure in place to succeed.
There are many types of diet. What works for one person won’t work for another, so experiment and find what works for you. I believe in keeping it simple and keeping it balanced. Outlined below are 10 simple tips for eating healthier (outside of the standard ‘eat less processed food, switch to wholegrain, etc.’) – they definitely work for me!
1. Include a small daily treat and a weekly cheat meal. To avoid creating such an extreme structure that you won’t stick to it, it is important to include the things you like. The key is identifying what treats or cheat meals are and keeping the portion size sensible. Treats and cheat meals are anything that is over processed, deep fat fried, really high in calories, high in added sugar, high in artificial additives – the types of food that generally have no nutritional value other than energy. Below are some examples…
Some "healthy" yoghurts
Anything with a jarred sauce
Full English fry up
First, set yourself the target of achieving this for 2 weeks. If you make it through you’ll find you crave those thing less. Then look at portion control; if you’re having a Mars Bar a day, look to reduce it to a fun size Mars Bar. Obviously the healthier the treat the better but find what works for you. Just make sure that the cheat meal doesn’t turn into a cheat day. My daily treat at the moment is peanut butter on caramel rice cakes and my girlfriend’s is 4 squares of dark chocolate!
2. Plan your meals as best you can. We quite often go for the ready meal when we need to get food quick, but if you are prepared you can avoid this. Sit down and write what meals you are going to eat for the week ahead. It’s also a good idea to have a couple of leftovers in the freezer just in case your plans change and you need a quick fix.
3. Write a shopping list. Once you’ve planned your meals write a shopping list for that meal plan. By getting just the right amount of food each week you’ll not only save money but you’ll be less likely to overeat. Sticking to the list will also help reduce the amount of ‘extras’ you buy.
4. Shop online. I started doing my weekly shop online recently and have benefitted straightaway! Shops are designed to make you wander around the entire store ending up in purchases that are often unhealthy and not needed. By shopping online the unhealthy choices are less visible because it takes you to only what you’ve searched for. You’ll also save a lot of time, especially after the first shop as it saves your shopping list from the previous week. The money you spend on delivery is similar to the money you would spend getting to the shop.
5. Never shop when you are hungry. You are more likely to make bad/impulse food choices when you’re hungry!
6. Aim to avoid extreme hunger and eat more slowly. This one is not for everyone, some people find intermittent fasting works for them and others find sticking to 3 meals a day works for them but if they’re not working for you then give it a go. If we eat when we are really hungry we are more likely to overeat. Similarly if we eat really quickly then our body doesn’t have time to let us know we are full and we overeat. Spreading your food out over 3 meals and 2 snacks will help give a constant supply of energy and reduce feelings of hunger. But be careful not to eat too much; it’s not bad to feel a little hungry!
7. Eat at least 5 portions of fruit and veg a day. I know, I know! But this one is really important! The government’s Eatwell guide recommends that we eat AT LEAST 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day in order to get the vitamins, minerals and fibre we need. They will help to lower the risk of heart disease, strokes and some cancers, improve your immune system, help skin health, keep bones strong and slow the ageing process. Try to eat more vegetables than fruit as they tend to contain more nutrients (in particular green leafy vegetables) and try to get a wide range of colours (as different colours tend to have different health benefits). I find having a blender and making smoothies is a great, easy way to up your daily intake. Spinach works great as it’s packed with nutrients and doesn’t have a particularly strong taste. For more information on portion sizes read this:
8. Balance your meals. Macronutrients (proteins, fats and carbohydrates) each have their own properties and advantages so apart from in extreme medical cases I wouldn’t recommend cutting any out completely. Try to be smart and use your macronutrients to your advantage. For example, proteins and fats take longer to digest so will help stave off hunger. Therefore, if you find you get really hungry after your bowl of cereal in the morning try switching it with a couple of eggs on a slice of wholemeal toast. Carbohydrates and proteins are great for recovery so try getting a meal high in both after your workouts.
9. Go easy on the alcohol. There are differing opinions as to whether alcohol is healthy or not. The Mediterranean diet seems to work well but bear in mind that it only recommends a SMALL glass of wine (around 150ml). One thing we do know for sure is that alcohol contains a lot of calories. Here are some examples of the calorie content of different drinks. Alcohol could be the difference between you reaching your weight loss goal or not.
10. Don’t keep the bad stuff at home. It can be really difficult to resist the temptation of foods high in sugar and fat. Having them easily accessible doesn’t help. Try to keep just the exact number of treats to last you a week in the cupboard. That way if you want more you’ll have to go out of your way to get them – this is often enough to help you stay on track.
Implement some of these tips and see how you feel. Power through the first 2 weeks and you should notice reduced cravings, more energy and generally feeling better. Really focus on how you’re feeling and remember it. Inevitably we all have the odd binge, go on holiday, go on a stag/hen do, but the key is how we bounce back. By remembering how you felt eating healthily you’ll be back on the wagon in no time!