1) Healthy living is not about restriction.
This is probably the most valuable lesson I took away from my CPD diploma in Personal Nutrition. Having battled with endless diets and binges throughout my teenage years and into my twenties, it was hard for me to believe that weight loss never has to be associated with restriction.
To put this into perspective a little, when I was “dieting” back in my teens I would never DREAM of eating a stack of pancakes like the one below for breakfast. I would put on a couple of pounds just sitting down to devour it, and then have guilty fits of rage throughout the day and eat nothing but carrot sticks until bedtime. Now that I’ve identified a few food intolerances and adopted a healthier lifestyle, I eat stacks of pancakes like this two or three times a week…! And I definitely don’t live on carrot sticks. Seeing food as something that exists to nourish and cleanse you is the first step to changing your food habits.
2) Habits are ridiculously hard to break.
A habit is a learned behaviour put in place by your brain, which is attempting to make life as easy as possible for you. Learned behaviour takes a minimum of 21 days to be re-programmed, so if you don’t commit to your goal for at least that amount of time, you significantly decrease your chances of success.
Your habits, such as snacking on chocolate after dinner or having a cheeky takeaway once a week, become learned behaviours if you do them over and over again. It’s almost like your body is on autopilot, and you may not even realise you have these habits. Your brain can’t differentiate between good and bad habits, it’s only forming them because these are easy responses. After at least 21 days of a new habit, your brain has a chance to register the new behaviour and accept it. And then viola, your healthy habit becomes part of your life.
Unhealthy habits should be tackled one at a time. If you try and do too much at once, or you feel overwhelmed then your brain will snap straight back to what’s comfortable and you’ll be crying into your takeaway feeling like you’ve failed. If you push through those 21 days, you are more likely to succeed.
3) Your body is craving nutrients and goodness.
When you start to feed your body the nutrients it needs, you will start to notice things. Your skin will feel softer, your nails will be stronger, your energy levels will increase, you’ll sleep better and you’ll find that healthy glow you’ve always wanted.
4) Diet’s don’t work.
I hate hate hate hate hate the word diet. Diets will never do what healthy eating does. Most diets will cut out major food groups without a second thought, willing you to cut out the carbs in order to reach your optimum weight! If we cut out carbs (our main energy source and 1 of 3 macro-nutrients in our diets) and don’t replace them with other energy sources, then of course we’ll lose weight because our bodies are desperately breaking down stored fat to use as energy. This process is dangerous, and will more than likely cause us to suffer from headaches, lethargy, dehydration, nausea and weakness. We may also find it really difficult to get sufficient amounts of fibre when limiting our carbohydrate intake, which as we know is essential for a healthy digestive system.
Diets are based on restriction, which we’ve already established I don’t tolerate. There is a reason that the health experts have been telling us to eat “balanced diets” for our entire lives – because a balanced plate of nutrients will decrease the food’s overall GI, turning it into a healthy meal that will be absorbed slowly without spiking your blood glucose levels. For example, eating a plate of white potatoes will be absorbed quickly into the blood stream and spike your blood sugar levels as white potatoes have a high glycemic index, Eat those same potatoes with a piece of lean protein and some vegetables and the glycemic load will decrease, resulting in a slower release of energy. Cool, huh?
5) Fat is not the enemy.
FAT has become a dirty word in the world of health. Let’s start with saturated fat!!
It’s true that too much saturated fat can raise your bad cholesterol and increase your risk of heart disease, but even saturated fat is getting a new rep now, with some studies saying it’s not as bad for us as originally thought. The thing is, there are two types of saturated fat; hydrogenated fats like vegetable and seed oils that have been altered through a man-made process, and naturally-occurring saturated fat like that found in coconut oil. The trans fats, or fats that have gone through the hydrogenation process (junk food and processed food) should be avoided at all costs as they don’t add any nutritional value to your diet. Coconut oil on the other hand has been shown to have amazing effects on the body; keeping your skin healthy, stabalising your metabolism and promoting heart health.
Unsaturated fats are the fats that you should be eating more of because they promote your good cholesterol and are also high in antioxidants. It might be hard to believe, but unsaturated fat (nuts, avocados, olive oil, natural peanut butter) can actually help you lose weight. They provide a great hit of energy without spiking your blood sugar levels too much, which will keep you fuller for longer and reduce the risk of fatigue and hunger throughout the day. Fat is essential for the brain, heart, muscle and nervous system. It’s unfairly blamed for weight gain, when in fact overeating from any source can result in weight gain if you’re consuming more energy than you burn.
6) Healthy food is not more expensive.
This is a common misconception among healthy eating skeptics. Whilst I accept that the “organic” options in supermarkets are more expensive, there are ways around this extra cost. For example, I don’t believe it’s necessary to buy everything organic. Fruit and veg with thicker skins like avocados, kiwi, mangoes, sweet potatoes, pineapples, bananas etc are part of a foodie list called the The Clean Fifteen, which basically means they have fewer pesticides. Foods like apples, celery, cucumber, spinach and tomatoes are more affected by nasty pesticides and are labelled as part of the The Dirty Dozen, so where possible i’d advice to buy these organic from the supermarket or from your local farmer’s market. Giving your shopping list a total overhaul and buying all fresh, whole ingredients to cook from scratch is so much cheaper than buying jars of pasta sauce and packaged meals in bulk.
7) Food labelling is very clever.
…and you need to outsmart it. If a food has more ingredients than you can be bothered to read on the label, don’t buy it. Similarly, if it contains an ingredient you can’t pronounce, move away! I was so shocked to learn that it is not required by law to have all of a product’s nutritional information on the label. It’s only required if a nutritional claim has been made on the food – such as the “crab pate” above for example. The name suggests the product is pure crab meat. The reality is, the main ingredient is Hoki at 40%, followed by water and then finally we see white crab meat at 20%, and brown crab meat at 11%. So food industries do not have your best interests at heart, choosing to exploit legislation where possible. There is no requirement for a specific percentage of one ingredient for that product to be named after said ingredient.
8) The more rubbish you eat, the more rubbish you crave.
It works the same way for healthy food. Once I broke the habit of binge eating and making unhealthy food choices, I stopped craving sugary food. I swear – it just stopped! I crave things like sweet potatoes, avocado mash and raw fudge! Plus, there are a ton of sweet treats on here that will prove there’s a healthy alternative for ALL your favourite sugary treats.
9) Grass fed meat is the right choice.
This is really important guys. Grass fed meat is not a luxury option, it’s just high-quality meat. It’s the meat we should be eating, the meat we have a right to eat. Unfortunately, factory meat like the stuff we pick off supermarket shelves contain traces of added hormones, antibiotics and other drugs. Not to mention grass-fed meat is higher in good fat and lower in bad fat. Every system in our body will respond better when we eat animals raised on grass. It also has unlimited benefits for the environment, our farmers and our animals.
I have a monthly meat delivery from Field and Flower, which includes an abundance of quality, organic grass fed meat for around £50 per month. When added to our monthly fruit and veg and kitchen essentials shopping list, our total spend is around £90 per month on food for the house. I understand that it isn’t always possible to eat grass-fed meat and that’s okay. I am not going to refuse a meal at my mum’s house or scrutinise the waiter when out for dinner. I am happy knowing that my diet is mostly made up of grass fed meat – and I feel better for it.
10) Gluten-free is not healthier.
Gluten is getting a seriously bad rep at the moment, with many dieters jumping on the gluten-free bandwagon believing that it’s healthier. Is it bad for you? What is it? Or in the words of my very best friend in the world, how do you extract gluten from food to make it okay for those who are intolerant? I can’t answer the last one as I’m not a rocket scientist, however I can tell you that gluten is the word used for a group of proteins found in things like wheat, barley and rye. It is the stuff that makes bread elastic and doughy – it’s what holds the stuff together. It’s also used as a stabalising agent in a lot of processed food, making food choices for a coeliac very limited!
The problem is, today’s wheat goes through a process called deamidation, which allows it to be water-soluble and capable of being mixed with almost any processed food. Research shows that this process has caused negative immune responses in many people, and a rise in those with gluten intolerances. I totally understand the frustration of coeliacs surrounding the sudden gluten-free diet craze, feeling that their lifestyle is being labelled as a fad. In fact, one of my favourite blogging gals The Elle Next Door voiced her opinion of the gluten-free fad having lived with the disease since she was 17 and it’s a great read. (here)
However, whilst I understand that the symptoms of coeliac disease are unmistakable and there are those who are wrongly advertising gluten-free diets as healthier, I don’t think enough research has been done into non-coeliac gluten sensitivity – and I think it’s important to highlight that it does exist and it’s something many people suffer with. NCGS can manifest itself in anything from headaches and tiredness to abdominal pain, constipation and diarrhoea. To understand it a little better, it’s important to explore the body’s reaction to gluten.
When gluten reaches your digestive tract and is exposed to the cells of the immune system, in those with a gluten sensitivity the immune system will treat gluten like a foreign body and create antibodies to attack it, which can cause nasty abdominal symptoms. With coeliac disease, which is the most extreme version of gluten sensitivity, the immune system doesn’t just attack the proteins in the gluten but it attacks the lining of the gut making it extremely difficult to absorb nutrients from food, and is considered a serious autoimmune disease because the body is attacking itself. Those with NCGS often complain that their diet of gluten-based grains causes inflammation and painful reactions, which I believe is reason enough to avoid it.
In instances when coeliac disease is ruled out but symptoms persist, it’s difficult to know exactly what is causing the discomfort because there are so many other components and non-gluten proteins that are removed when gluten is removed from the diet, so even if your symptoms improve after removing gluten for 30 days, there’s no real way of knowing if gluten was to blame.
That’s why I’m a firm believer in listening to your body; what it reacts badly to and adjusting your diet accordingly. For those who believe gluten-free = healthier, you couldn’t be more wrong. A lot of gluten-free alternatives are packed with sugar and added rubbish to mimic gluten, and are far unhealthier choices than a simple slice of wholewheat bread.
11) Sugar is the enemy.
Thanks to Jamie Oliver diving headfirst into the food industry again, I truly believe something will be done about the disgusting levels of sugar that make their way into our food and drink. If you didn’t watch Channel 4’s Sugar Rush last night, I highly recommend it. I don’t need to tell you how bad sugar is, you only have to check the back of ANYTHING in your kitchen to know it’s added to everything. You’ll be surprised at how much your body will change when you quit it. Promise.
12) Healthy eating is not enough.
Whilst quitting sugar and eating a more balanced diet will no doubt see excess weight drop off, some form of exercise is essential for a healthy mind and body. It all comes down to your energy balance; if you are eating more energy than you burn, you’ll gain weight. Simples!
Good nutrition should come hand-in-hand with exercise. As well as aerobic activity it’s important to couple this with body-resistance work such as yoga or Pilates – anything that uses your body’s strength against you. This type of muscle-building work is often overlooked in the weight loss journey, but it’s actually essential because the more muscle you have, the more calories your body is able to burn. It basically works by increasing your metabolism, even at rest! So when you DO eat something a bit naughty, it’s more effective at burning and using the calories rather than storing them as fat. WHO recommends that adults aged 18 – 64 should be doing one of the following per week:
150 minutes moderate – high intensity activity (30 minutes per day) plus muscle strengthening (yoga or Pilates) on two of those days.
75 minutes (which is only an hour an 15 minutes over the week!) of intensive activity (like interval training) plus muscle building on two of those days.
Does any of this information surprise you? Do you have a gluten sensitivity that you’re learning to manage? Do you think you could make any healthy changes in your life or are you already a health nut? I’d love to hear from you.