Our resident Nutrionist, Nick Owen – who holds a Diploma in Nutrition – gives his guidance in helping you make healthy food choices.
So, post summer, what's your verdict on your health and fitness?
Some of us will have been pleased with the progress we have made, and grateful for the renewed vigour with which we have been able to enjoy the summer months. But others may be less pleased with our progress - that last minute blitz didn't get the results we wanted, even though the magazine cover of the Clean Eating Diet Plan promised us that we could!
So now having gained some experience of what doesn't work for us, it's time to review and re-boot. It's about 12 weeks to Christmas and you'll be surprised just how much you can achieve before then with focus and consistency.
Remember, it is the regular food choices that we make hour by hour, meal by meal, week by week that determine how we look and feel every day. Our body shape, appearance, mental agility, body fat, concentration and physical ability are all a reflection of these regular choices.
The same is true with activity - are we consciously active; do we make time in our schedule for exercise, for walking, taking the stairs, regularly getting up from our desk, and moving around both in the day and the evening?
Our diets should be enjoyable, tasty, and predominantly filled with foods we know to be healthy and which we consume in moderation. It is about making healthier choices most of the time - of course there is room for cheat meals, nights out and drinks in moderation - that is part of a healthy, balanced and social life.
Chasing this quick fix isn't the way to go about things, which is why I share below eight steps that I think I think will enable you to adopt a 'Healthy Consistency' and will have a far greater successful long term impact on your mental and physical health.
So here are eight tips to help you make the most of this period.
Step 1: Avoid 'Low-Fat' and Processed Foods
The healthiest diet is one that incorporates real food – whether a meat-eater or a vegetarian – you can’t go wrong if you eat a predominantly plant-based diet.
Your top foods to avoid are as follows:
- Processed, packaged or marketed as low-fat or diet etc
- Products that talk calorie restriction
- Food products with 'traffic light labelling' – this usually means it is processed
Step 2: Eat Proper Meals
As the most important meal of the day, you must ensure that you eat a proper breakfast that gives you a mixture of protein, carbohydrate and fat.
Something like eggs or peanut butter on whole grain toast is a great choice, and if you accompany it with some fruit or veggies on the side even better still. For example, with eggs how about some mushrooms, spinach, rocket or tomato?
For the evening meal, the reverse is true. We often eat 50% of our daily energy at our evening meal – this is too much, and will be detrimental to any fat loss objective. Throughout the day, remember to fuel your body in line with your energy needs, especially if you are exercising.
Step 3: Embrace Variety
The best way to stay healthy is to incorporate variety into your diet. It’s a good rule of thumb to apply the same logic to your daily intake of fruit and vegetables: different colours will give you different health benefits.
Eating organic fruit and vegetables isn’t always essential. Instead, try eating fruit and vegetables that are in season, and grown on home soil. Luckily for us, the UK provides a fantastic selection of home-grown greens to suit every taste, and these are particularly good for getting your metabolism to function in the way it should.
Step 4: Don't Leave Out Food Groups
Many fad diets talk about cutting out food groups such as dairy or grains; don’t – unless there is a medical need.
The key to maintaining a healthy weight and diet is to integrate a varied amount of each food group into your meals, that way you will get all the main nutrients - fat, carbohydrate and protein. These provide energy, build muscle, and maintain the constant 24/7 repair and growth of your body.
Step 5: Fruit and Vegetables
As a general rule, vegetables offer an even wider variety of vitamins and minerals than fruit so make sure they make up a large proportion of your plate. Try to eat a variety of colours, with reds and greens being particularly important (white potato doesn’t count!). Aim for 7-10 portions a day – with only 2-3 being fruit.
Step 6: Plan Your Meals
Think of your new regime not as a diet, but as change – a change is a long-term commitment which will bring long-term success to your life. Change isn’t easy, so accept that there will have to be some sacrifices. You will need to plan your meals, make time to order and buy the ingredients, make time to prepare the meals – but factor this into your schedule and it’ll soon become part of your everyday routine.
Step 7: Accept yourself
We are all genetically different and for some of us, it will be easier to lose fat than for others, likewise with muscle building. Listen to your body, and see how it reacts to the changes you make – you may find it easier or harder than a friend or a colleague, even though you are doing exactly the same thing. The reality is some of us may have to work harder depending on our body-type and genetics.
Step 8: Think Consistently Healthy with a Healthy Consistency
Health comes from a level of consistency every day, and not from perfection from once or twice a week. Health is attained over weeks, months and even years – we can chose to move steadily towards it, or away from it.
Health is hugely influenced by food, activity levels, sleep, stress, our environment. Focus on the things we can control, remembering that health comes from having a routine that works for us – and that fits in with our lifestyle as much as possible. Get it right 80% to 85% of the time, and you will be looking after yourself in a realistic and healthy way.
About the author
Nick Owen is a qualified nutritional adviser and holds a Diploma in Non-Medical Nutritional Advice. Nick uses nutrition to support a wide variety of client goals. These include weight management, fat loss and muscle building, general health and well-being, improved energy levels, concentration and complexion.