We are being bombarded with contradictory information on a daily basis - which diet is best, what to eat and what not to eat, when to eat and when not to eat… If only there was a simple formula that everyone could follow to live their best life - that would be awesome! Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple. Everyone is different and what works for your friend may not work for you. My advice to you today is – take a few deep breaths and pause for a second. Stop searching for that magic diet, spending a fortune on all the “trendy” superfoods, taking whole food groups out of your diet because you read somewhere that they’re taboo… Forget everything you heard, read and tried time and time again and simply go back to basics.
We have a number of learned behaviours and unhealthy habits that we repeat automatically without sometimes realising. For the next week or so just try to observe those habits. I said it before and I'll say it again - awareness is key and the first step to change.
1. Shopping on autopilot
Going to the same supermarket, walking through the same aisles, placing the same products into your trolley every time you’re going shopping – perhaps try visiting a new supermarket or your local grocery shop that sell fresh fruit and vegetables, local butchers or fishmonger to take your brain out of the autopilot state.
Look around, explore the new aisles, explore the fruit and vegetable area. This way you may discover some new products you haven't tried before, brands you didn't know existed and new local shops that you've never step foot in. There might just be a whole different world out there...
2. Mindless snacking
If you’re worried that your snacking has gotten out of control, design your environment for success. To avoid the temptation simply don’t buy the family bag of M&Ms or crisps next time you’re in the supermarket and move away from a habit of keeping a stash in your cupboard "just in case". It’s easier to avoid temptation than resist it. Instead, keep a bowl of fruit on the kitchen counter instead of pastries, cut some veggies like peppers, cucumber, carrots into strips and keep them in a lidded box in a fridge, ready to have with some humous.
3. Restricting yourself too much
This being said, if you are really craving that cinnamon swirl or brownie, why not go for a walk to your local bakery and treat yourself. Buy one and wait until you get home to eat it, practising delayed gratification. Enjoy your occasional "treat" and eat it without distractions (more on that in point 5 below). Completely avoiding certain products and restricting yourself may lead to binge eating and feeling guilty, creating an unhealthy relationship with food. Adopting an 80/20 rule is a much better way – that’s eating nutritious foods 80% of the time and allowing remaining 20% for those delicious but less nutritious foods.
4. Lacking self-awareness
So, above I shared some healthier snack ideas but do you actually know the true reason behind your snacking? Is it caused by boredom? Stress? Is it your way of dealing with emotions? Or perhaps your meals aren’t balanced/nutritious enough, leaving you feeling hungry or low in energy. Understanding the root cause is the first step to breaking the habits and managing your snacking. Keeping a daily log of your food/water intake, the amount and quality of your sleep, the stress levels and mood can help you spot the patterns and make changes when needed. Your nutrition coach can help you with that.
5. Being out of tune with our bodies
With so many internal and external distractions, we often can’t hear our own bodies and the signals they are sending us. We are such creatures of habit and often find ourselves eating at set times every day. When was the last time you felt the sensation of a physical hunger, the one when your belly rumbles?
Furthermore, how often do you eat in front of the TV? Focusing your attention on what’s on the screen rather than what’s on your plate can cause overeating. We are too distracted to “hear” the body telling us that we are full and don’t need any more food. Studies also show that eating while distracted means that the brain doesn’t fully encode the pleasantness of each bite and it may erase our memory of eating!
Try turning off the TV and eating your next meal without any external distractions. Focus on every forkful, smell the food you prepared, observe the textures and the flavours. Often we spend hours in the kitchen cooking food which then disappears from our plate in minutes, without properly taking the time to enjoy it and appreciating the experience.
6. "Recycling recipes"
I previously mentioned shopping on autopilot which often leads to making the same dishes over and over again, or as I call it - "recycling recipes". This can either be caused by our confidence in the kitchen or simply convenience. Not having a varied and balanced diet means that we are missing out on some essential nutrients that our bodies need.
Research shows that those who lack confidence in the kitchen end up consuming more ready meals. Spending some time looking for some simple and healthy recipes and trying those out will help you get more confident and teach you how to whip up a healthy and well balanced meal in a matter of minutes.
And if a lack of time is the reason, why not try batch cooking? Curries, stews, chilli, soups are all great one pot meals, that don’t take long and can be made in a a big batch to freeze for later. If you want some more tips on batch cooking read one of my previous blog posts.
With so much "noise" about healthy living going on, it is easy to become overwhelmed. It's time we clear the messy cupboard of diets, beliefs and habits, throw away what doesn't serve us and keep what is good. Educate yourself on health and nutrition, question any trendy diets others swear by, do what's best for you and what feels realistic and achievable for you. We are all different, our lifestyles, responsibilities and commitments are different. It is time to start trusting and listening to yourself a little more. Be kind, understanding, compassionate and respectful towards the person that has been hushed for so long - you. Live the life you want and stop fulfilling someone else's expectations.