“The food you eat can either be the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.” Dr. Ann Whigmore
Food is powerful. Right from birth we have an emotional connection with food. We eat our feelings, using food to celebrate in happy times and for comfort in times of hardship. In return, what we eat can also evoke an emotional response. Clean, nutritious food can make us feel strong, in control of our health and content. But all too often the feelings associated with food are that of guilt and regret.
The most common nutrition question is “What should I eat and how much?” The right amount of the right foods can make us happy, healthy, strong and lean for life. It seems simple, but with the constant stream of conflicting information coming from the media, combined with quick weight loss promises on fitness magazines whose pages are filled with advertisements for diet pills and celebrities that seem to drop weight overnight, it’s easy to get confused. Who do you listen to? What is the right answer?
The answer is there is no single right answer. We are all different and our bodies react differently to the food we eat. I would advise most people to go to a Nutritionist or Dietician and get a personalized diet plan that takes into account your goals and lifestyle. That being said, there are some basic guidelines you can use to take control of your health without the guidance of a professional.
1. Eat real food. This may mean that you need to learn to cook, but I think being able to make simple dishes is a skill everyone should have. Your food should be consumed as close to its original form as possible. Nothing packaged or processed. Fresh is best, but frozen is a great budget friendly option as well. Read food labels. Stay away from foods with long lists of ingredients. Also, if you don’t know what an ingredient is, then that product should stay on the shelf.
2. Eat a variety of foods. Lean protein, low-fat dairy, unrefined carbs, healthy fats, fruits and vegetables should be included in your diet daily.
3. Eat regularly. Have breakfast within 45 minutes of waking up to kickstart your metabolism and then eat every two or three hours after that. Think of your metabolism like a fire that you want to keep burning steadily. This will save you from the blood sugar spikes and dives that cause cravings and hunger and fatigue.
4. Limit sugar. This may be hard at first. If you are used to eating sugar on a daily basis you may go through withdrawal and experience cravings. This is a sign you really need to get sugar out of your system. Some people need to go off sugar entirely for up to three weeks before cravings subside. When you add it back in only consume it occasionally as a treat.
5. Drink plenty of water. Aim for two to four litres of water a day. If you are drinking very little water right now then add a litre a week until you build up to four litres.
6. Track what you eat and how you feel. If you don’t keep a record of what you are doing then you won’t know what works and what doesn’t!
7. Have an occasional splurge! Depending on your metabolism and your goals, most people can afford to have one or two “cheat” meals a week where they can eat whatever they want. Plan your treat in advance and fully enjoy and savour it with no guilt! Then get right back on plan.
8. Be consistent. Don’t expect results overnight or even in a week or two. Change takes time. This isn’t about finding the next great fad diet, this is about finding a nutrition plan you can maintain for the rest of your life. When you make a change to your diet give yourself four to six weeks to see a difference. If it’s working, then great! Leave well enough alone. If it’s not working, then change something.
Following these guidelines will help you make positive changes to your diet and your body, but the most important change you need to make is in your mind. Stop thinking of food in terms of “good” and “bad”. This all or nothing mentality is the root cause of many failed diet plans. You eat nothing but “good” foods for a while, but as soon as you give in and eat some “bad” foods you figure you have messed it all up so you may as well eat whatever you want and start again next Monday, or next month, or after work calms down, or after the holidays are over or (insert excuse here).
Our brain is a funny thing and it often works against us. As soon as we label a food “bad” or “off-limits” it’s all we can think about. So I challenge you to think about food differently. Healthy, clean food is “most of the time” food. We should be eating it 80 to 90 percent of the time. Everything else is “once in a while” food, to be enjoyed in moderation the other 10 to 20 percent of the time.
The good news is, the more you eat the “most of the time” food, the better it tastes. If you are used to eating lots of sugar and processed foods, then your taste buds have been barraged by too much sugar and artificial flavoring. When you remove these from the diet you become more sensitive to the flavors of real food and if you do have junk food again, you will find it too rich or too sweet. This process may take months or years, so be patient as you won’t undo years of poor eating in just a few weeks.
Follow me every week for more information on what foods are “most of the time” foods and even some “once in a while” foods (I’m human too!). I will write about how to plan and prepare healthy meals and share strategies for eating clean in a fast food world. A healthy, lean, fit body is possible for everyone!
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