Have you ever felt that way? We hear it all the time, the assumption that, in order to lead a healthy lifestyle, you also have to lead a lifestyle of restriction when it comes to your favourite foods. Have you ever tried to cut out all of the food that you love and just eat boring salads for a week? How did you get on? Were you successful in your goals? Were you full of energy and excited to start each day?
No, I do not imagine that is how you felt at all. It is not surprising though that many of us go to these extremes and try all of the latest fad diets when they hit the market. The invention of the internet and more specifically social media is amazing and has allowed us all to maintain old connections and build new ones, but it’s also bought an unrealistic lifestyle into our living rooms. What we see on social media is never 100% reality, the before and after photos we see of incredible weight loss transformations are not always what they seem.
It is easy to get sucked into the story that one magic pill, or one special coffee each day, or a week of only cabbage soup can help you to lose ten pounds, but is that actually a healthy way to achieve your goals? Then there are all of the diets that tell you to restrict what you eat – no carbs allowed, no eating after 7pm or before 8am, no having a slice of cake to enjoy a friends birthday, you must create a huge calorie deficit to lose weight so only eat a quarter of what you used to…the list goes on.
What if we told you that there is a much better way to lead a healthy lifestyle? That having a healthy diet does not mean constantly restricting what you eat? That you can lose weight without going hungry? That you can enjoy a slice of cake if you want to? That you can eat more and not less? Would you believe me? Or would you assume there is a catch and you just haven’t found it yet? Well all of these things are true and a focus on ADDING nourishing and nutrient dense foods rather than thinking about what to take away from your diet can be the difference that makes the difference.
Here are the cornerstones of a healthy lifestyle and diet:
- Positive mindset – always try to find the good in every situation, no it is not always easy to do but the more you try, the more often you will see it and the better you will feel. Starting a gratitude journal can be a great way to help you maintain a more positive approach to life. Start with all the small things that you can be grateful for – a comfy bed, clean clothes, fresh running water, and then eventually look more at the specifics of your day and find all the wonderful things you have to be grateful for. Also try adding 3 points every day for things you have achieved – we all tend to focus on the negatives e.g. I had some chocolate mid afternoon, whilst ignoring the positives e.g. I had 7 portions of fruits and veg today, drank 2 litres of water and a high protein breakfast. Acknowledging our achievements can help reduce that destructive cycle of guilt and comfort eating many of us get stuck it.
- The 80:20 rule – it’s an oldie but a goodie. Don’t deprive yourself! Fancy some chocolate? Have it. Just don’t live off it! Eating to nourish your body 80% of the time means that 20% of the time you can indulge in a little bit of what you fancy totally guilt free. And that’s the key to sustaining healthy eating habits – not feeling guilty! When you do have that glass of wine, savour every sip and just know that tomorrow it’s water all the way!
- Eat a rainbow – different colour foods provide the body with different nutrients. For example red foods contain phytonutrients that are supportive of both the cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems, orange foods may help to reduce your risk of cancer, yellow foods are great for your skin, eyes and digestion, green foods support your bones and your digestive system, blue/purple food help with mineral absorption and help maintain a healthy brain, white foods can support your immune and circulatory system. So next time you are shopping be sure to buy a rainbow.
- Aim for 7 – 10 portions of fruit and veg per day – this is how you get to eat more whilst leading a healthy lifestyle. Pack your meals with vegetables. They will fill you up, keep you feeling full for longer and they will support your overall health. Choose the ones you know you like and then try something new each week too. At every meal and snack consider how to get in a piece of fruit or another vegetable – if you do this then hitting 5 a day is a doddle and even 7-10 becomes very easy.
- Variety – eat a variety of foods and meals, cook your veg in different ways, don’t be afraid to experiment. By trying different things you can make sure you do not get bored of the foods you are eating. It also ensures you are getting the variety of nutrients required to keep us healthy. Recent research has shown that the key to healthy gut bacteria…..and therefore a healthy body is variety – with a particular focus on plant foods. We recently ran a challenge for our social media followers to eat 40 different plant foods (including, fruit, veg, herbs, spices, grains and pulses) per week. Give it a try and see how you get on!
- Healthy snacks – we can all get a bit peckish between meals so keep some healthy snacks on hand. Rather than being hungry and unable to think of anything other than when your next meal will be grab some healthy veg sticks and homemade hummus or have a piece of fruit. You may even like to making our Healthy Chocolate Muffins ready for a snack the whole family can enjoy.
- Drink plenty of water – water does more than just keep you hydrated. It also keeps your skin looking youthful, helps to combat headaches and prevents brain fog. In fact, did you know one of the first symptoms of dehydration is the onset of brain fog? We also often mistake thirst for hunger and end up snacking when actually a few sips of water would have staved off our need to reach for food. You can read more about dehydration and its effects here. If you aren’t keen on drinking plain water then also look at herbal teas, there are some great flavours out there and some of them come with their own heath benefits. Chamomile can help relieve anxiety and sooth an upset stomach, citrus based teas can have antibacterial effects and aid digestion, Peppermint is great is you have a cold and also stimulates brain function. There is so much variety to choose from and you can boost your nutrient intake as you drink them.
- Shrinking your eating window – some promising new research is suggesting many health benefits associated with limiting your consumption of food to a set period of time each day. This approach to eating fits into the ‘intermittent fasting’ bracket but does not include any very low calories days, instead focusing on fasting for between 12-16 hours everyday and eating all your daily calories in a period of between 8-12 hours. This means either having breakfast later in the morning or eating your evening meal no later than around 7pm. It is thought that this type of fasting allows a greater period of healing for the body, digestive tract and hormonal system allowing for essential repair and regeneration to occur overnight.
Meal planning and prepping is the key to achieving all of the above. By planning ahead you can ensure you only shop for the items that you actually need, you can end up saving money and reduce your food waste. Spending time upfront to then prep some of your meals can save you time later on in the week and stop you from reaching for a quick fix that doesn’t fuel your body the right way. Our free Survive and Thrive @Home and Stay Well this Winter courses both contain handy meal planning and prepping tools so enrol now to get your hands on those.
Our basic message – by eating more of the healthy and nutritious foods, like fruits and vegetables, you can essentially crowd out all of the junk foods and sugary foods that you might have been craving before. That does not mean that you can not enjoy a slice of cake or a small bar of chocolate. It just means that when you do have it you will actually enjoy it and you will eat it without any guilt.