Eating healthy is just about on everyone’s lips these days... yet, somehow few people actually know what eating healthy really is and get stuck in a vicious cycle of short-lived diets, which at best, might have you end up where you started, and at worst, have you return to your bad habits with twice the force. Let me paint you a familiar picture... you embark on a new and exciting diet journey after googling numerous creative diets that involve you eating nothing but watermelon for an entire week. Before you ask, yes that is a genuine diet on the internet! For a week (if you last that long) your food is exclusively green, you feel good about your body and feel superior to the average Joe with a burger in his hand. After about a week, you start seeing a massive difference, you wake up feeling light and don’t feel bloated, you fit into your favourite jeans more easily, your skin looks refreshed and glowy and life seems great!
A couple of weeks in, however, you would kill to be that guy with a Five Guys’ burger in their hand, the idea of anything green makes you want to stab your own eyes out and the feeling of lightness is quickly replaced with a painful wail of hunger. So you let yourself go a little wild (you deserve it right?) and two weeks later, you’re eating your 5th slice of Domino’s and washing it down with coke. If you can relate then I’m afraid what you’re doing is simply covering a gun wound with a plaster, that will have you end up with zero progress and worse, a deflated sense of self-esteem.
Instead, why not forget the “creative” diets and hacks (I’m sure you’re as tired of them as we are) and follow a couple of ground rules which are genuinely sustainable and surprisingly enjoyable? Eating healthy is a lifelong commitment and not a sprint and unfortunately, there really are no shortcuts for a long-term solution. However, there’s no reason why adopting a healthy body and mind lifestyle should be difficult or unpleasant. You might find, in fact, that it allows you more freedom, energy and vitality than you could have imagined. Here is the guide:
#1 KNOW WHAT YOUR BODY NEEDS
I’m sure you’re tired of hearing the term “balanced diet” but seriously, there’s a biological reason as to why we need more than one type of food and it’s all linked to our hunter-gatherer ancestors that would be forced to search for food in more than one source. Since then, more scientific explanations will tell you that a balanced diet is key for the maintenance and efficiency of your organs and tissues. Without good nutrition, your body is more prone to disease, infection, fatigue and poor performance. Here are the essentials:
FRUIT | High in natural sugars, many people disagree on the health benefits of fruits. However, when not consumed in excess, they are loaded in fibre, vitamins and minerals, as well as a plethora of antioxidants and other plan compounds, plus when it comes down to sugars, fruits are the best natural alternative to your cravings.
VEGETABLES | A primary source of essential vitamins and minerals. Dark, leafy greens generally contain the most nutrition and can be eaten at every meal.
GRAINS | This is where you have to draw the line. Avoid refined white flour products as this generally has pretty poor nutritional value. Whole grain products, however, are prepared using the entire grain and provide the most nutrition.
PROTEINS | The main sources of protein include meats and beans, nutrients that are vital for your muscles and brain development. “Lean, low fat meats such as chicken, fish, and certain cuts of pork and beef are the best option” (Health Line, 2016). Unfortunately, we live in a world where most meats are treated with all sorts of nasty stuff like antibiotics or growth hormones (we have enough in our bodies as it is!) so do buy organic wherever you can. Finally, nuts and beans are a stellar source of protein, as well as containing a plethora of other health benefits. Try incorporating lentils, beans, peas, almonds, sunflower seeds and walnuts in your diet.
DAIRY | The dairy or no dairy argument will divide many nutritionists and whilst dairy products do contain some essential nutrients such as calcium and Vitamin D, they’re also major sources of fat. If you do decide to go dairy free, make sure you’re getting these nutrients from other sources - mostly fish, leafy green vegetables, tofu or nuts.
FAT | Should be used sparingly - try to opt for low-fat and low-sugar versions of products that contain oil, such as salad dressing and mayonnaise. “Good oils, such as olive oil, can replace fattier vegetable oils in your diet” (Health Line, 2016). Avoid deep-fried foods as they contain lots of empty calories.
#2 UNDERSTAND YOUR HUNGER
A naturopathic approach to eating identifies three types of hunger which once you understand, helps you to identify what’s really stopping you from losing weight and start squashing those bad habits.
Problem : Alternatively called “emotional eating” (Dr Allana Polo, Naturopath), heart hunger is triggered by feelings of overwhelm and exhaustion. This is easier explained by the body’s need for positive associations accessed through eating. Every time you get this type of hunger, ask yourself: Is the food I’m about to eat a reward?
Solution : Acknowledge the times that you’re eating to soothe or silence emotions and find a better outlet for them instead. Finding a hobby that gives you the same feel-good hormones such as exercising is a good way to channel your emotions away from overeating. If you feel your emotional eating has gone too deep, seek the help of counsellor so that you can really untangle the roots of the problem.
Problem: A scheduled eater’s problem. From childhood, our parents teach us to eat every three hours or to never skip meals, which over time strips away our reliance on our body’s natural hunger clock.
Solution: Allow your body to experience the psychological symptoms of hunger. Delay the morning meal until you feel like your body is asking for it. Furthermore, focus on choosing nutrient-dense foods high in protein and healthy fat, as these allow you to feel fuller and less likely to snack between meals! As we said before, ditch the diets, and start listening to your body!
Problem: In the words of a Dr Allana Polo, a naturopathic physician: “This is a kind of mindless eating where you have paired food consumption with a particular activity for so long, it's less a choice and more a repeated action. Eating in front of the television is a classic example”. Yikes, no wonder why we’re compelled to always reach for the chips when watching movies, it’s been pre-programmed in our brains since birth!
Solution: Try break the association completely. Stop eating in front of the television if you can. If you can’t, substitute the calorie, salt and sugar loaded snacks you love oh-so-much with healthier chewy alternatives such as carrot sticks, nuts or even some tea. Replacing the old habit with a new one can speed up the process so find something that satisfied the craving in a new and healthier way!
#3 DRINK WATER
Not much to expand on here, I’m sure you’ve heard it about a million times from just about everyone - so PLEASE for the love of god, drink your 2 (or more) litres of water a day. It doesn’t all have to come from the same source, we automatically intake water from the foods we eat during the day. As a rule of thumb, you should never let your body get to a stage where you crave water and you can usually tell the symptoms of dehydration by the colour of your stool.
#4 DON'T LIMIT YOURSELF
As I’ve said before and will repeat again and again, don’t let your healthy eating become a chore. The more pleasant you make it for yourself, the less you’ll crave the bad food in your diet. If you feel hungry, have some food, never deny your body the nutrition it needs, in fact withdrawing food can lead to your body going into “starvation mode” causing it to store food away as fat as a defensive mechanism! As general rule, it’s better not to limit how much you eat but what you eat! Apart from all that, when you absolutely must have a burger, just go for it.
#5 CUT DOWN SATURATED SUGAR/FAT
Eating foods high in saturated fat and sugar can raise your cholesterol and increase your risk of long term heart disease. If all that isn’t enough, it racks up your daily calorie intake and is most likely responsible for your struggles in losing weight.
SATURATED FAT | Found in butter, lard, coconut oil and palm oil, cakes, biscuits, sausages, bacon, cured meats, cheese, pastries, cream (including sour cream), ice cream and chocolate spreads, the UK health guidelines recommend no more than 30g of saturated fat a day for the average man and no more than 20g for the average woman. Cutting saturated fat doesn’t have to be as hard as you think. Compare food labels when shopping, picking lower fat options where you can, choose reduced fat dairy products, choose leaner cuts of meat such as chicken breasts and grill, bake and poach foods instead of frying or roasting them.
SATURATED SUGAR | The ultimate enemy for most, the average child and adult in the UK is consuming 2-3 times the amount of sugar they should be (British Nutrition Foundation). Although it’s important to stay hydrated, for some bizarre reason, most people binge on overly sweetened drinks as a remedy for thirst. This is probably the worst thing you can do for your diet, yet alone for your long term health and teeth! Thus, avoid fizzy drinks as much as you can, again this is all about breaking your bad habits - the less you have the less you crave! If you must have something besides water, stick to drinks low in artificial sugars such as flavoured teas and juices (preferably fresh). Aside from that, aim to get your sugars from fruits (see point 1) and try stay away from all the junk, your body will thank you for it later!
#6 REDUCE THE SALT
I’m sure you’ve heard the salt horror stories, raising blood pressure, heart disease and failure, strokes and kidney disease. Well, that’s just about right if you continue to intake large amounts of it over your lifetime. In general, health authorities recommend between 1,500 mg (1.5 grams) and 2,300 mg (2.3 grams) of sodium per day for heart health (Health Line, 2017), though these rules don’t apply so much to athletes, people with a very active lifestyle and those constantly exposed to heat and above normal sweating. The reason why you should limit your salt intake is because most processed foods you buy at the supermarket and the dishes you get served at restaurants on their own contain a shocking amount of sodium to begin with! That being said, be reasonable with your salt but don’t neglect it entirely, as it is an essential nutrient that your body needs for many important functions.
#7 EAT MORE FISH
Generally speaking, all types of fish are good for you. As a lean, low calorie and high protein and nutrient food, fish is a good option to go for, as well as chicken. Your body gets the right kind of nutrients when you eat fish, however, be aware that some fish are better for you and are generally fatty fish such as salmon, trout, sardines, tuna and mackerel. Aside from the nutrients, fish has been scientifically connected to increasing grey matter in the brain which protects it from you age-related deterioration. With further studies heavily linking fish to preventing depression, aiding better sleep and vision and more, do you need more reasons to prepare this easy-to-make meal?
DON'T SKIP YOUR FIRST MEAL OF THE DAY | An important meal of the day to wake up your body and kickstart your metabolism, you should have breakfast every morning for the following reasons: it gives you the energy you need for those brutal early morning commutes, it prevents you from getting too hungry later on in the day and thus being more prone to eating large portions for lunch or crave food high in saturated fat. It improves your functionality and thinking (particularly in the mornings) and in general, should be consumed every day. Do make sure your breakfasts are full of protein, fibre and whole grains - protein for weight control, fibre for digestion and whole grains for energy!
BUILD RESISTANCE | No pain, no gain right? Though we all have our cheat codes, ours is the magic LPG Endermologie® that rolls and re-actives our fat cells and boosts our metabolism, really there is no alternative to exercise if you want a slim, lean and toned figure. Exercise does not have to be daunting or something to be dreaded! I’ve always hated running and the thought of Barry’s Bootcamp sends a shiver down my spine. However, cardio of your choice at least once a week coupled with more targeted classes to lean and tone muscles, a good mentality about nutrition we outlined and an occasional Endermologie® boost here and there will give you results like you’ve never seen before, take our word for it! To give an example, I’ve always found spinning (Psycle studio in London is my personal favourite) a fun and effective way to get my cardio out of the way. For the rest of it, I try do at least one or two classes of Pilates (for anyone wondering, it really is a miracle for your body) or Barre and some morning yoga where I can practice mindfulness and reduce the week’s stress. All in all, 4 hours from your 168 in a week is nothing, but truly goes a long way!
SLOW DOWN ON THE BOOZE | Yes, we’re all guilty of enjoying our glass of red at the end of the day, cocktails at the bar with friends and nights out when you would rather forget the amount, but truth is, alcohol can be your biggest downfall even if your diet is great! A glass of wine with lunch, a glass after work and I won’t even mention the weekend, and your calories start racking up! Since most people don’t really associate liquids with significant calories, alcohol can become the deadly assassin in the pursuit of your perfect body. What to do? For one, start being more conscious when drinking, ask yourself whether you actually want a drink or you’re drinking just to complement your food or because someone else is doing it. We all need a drink from time to time, but don’t let it become a habit and something you do just because your mate is doing it, your body is not thanking you for it! Alternatively, opt for drinks low in calorie count. Swap your passionfruit martini for a simple gin and tonic -it breaks my heart too but it must be done. A general rule is the clearer the liquor the less calories in it!
To sum up, eating healthy doesn’t have to be a chore or even a diet, it is quite simply conscious eating! Balance your meals, listen to your body and eat when you’re actually hungry, notice any pesky habits you developed over time, drink your water, cut down your saturated fats, sugars and salts, don’t skip your brekky, get active from time to time and when you want some Five Guys, have some Five Guys to soothe your soul.