You’ll have noticed recently that the media is obsessed with promoting the best way to get healthy. Pick up any newspaper and you’ll be bombarded with advertisements for miracle diets and the new celebrity slimming techniques, but this isn’t the way to go about things. Instead, follow our nutritionist Nick Owen's 7 easy steps for embracing healthy eating alongside your exercise routine and you’ll be feeling great in no time.
Step 1: Eat real food
Trust me, if there was a perfect diet regime, we would all be following it. The healthiest diet is one that incorporates real food – a good dose of plants and animals. 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:
- Anything processed, packaged or marketed as low fat or diet etc.
- Anything that talks about calories or calorie restriction
- Anything with traffic light labelling – this usually means it is processed, and often a green or amber light is achieved by a ridiculously small portion size.
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? The exact same logic applies to lunch – for most of us a salad or a sandwich is nowhere near enough.
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. Exercising on an empty stomach increases stress hormones, eats muscle, and even has the potential to encourage longer term fat storage.
Step 3: Embrace variety
The best way to stay healthy is to incorporate a variety of real foods 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 typical to the season, and grown on home soil. Luckily for us, the UK provides a fantastic selection of home-grown greens to suit every taste bud, and these are particularly good for getting your metabolism to function in the way it should.
If you are meat and dairy fan, go as free range and organic as your pocket allows. Avoid factory farmed fish and cheap chicken – these are usually pumped full of hormones and antibiotics. When it comes to milk, don’t go skimmed or low fat. As a general rule of thumb, low fat yoghurts usually contain more sugar than your standard yoghurt, so it’s best if you avoid these.
Step 4: Go with the 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. And don’t forget the micro nutrients, these are vitamins and minerals and act like the spark plugs in a car in that they are vital to so many different bodily processes.
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. Yes, I know 7-10 is a lot – it won’t be practical every day, but go for it and see the difference it makes.
Step 6: Plan
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 and a change in the way you do things. 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, just like brushing your teeth.
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.
Think of your hands and the fork as some of the most powerful tools to be utilised to achieve your goals; these drive what you pick up in the shops, what you prepare in the kitchen and what actually goes into your mouth. It may be tough at times, but you are in control of this physical movement. Exercise will greatly help your objectives, but is only part of the story. Overall health and success is dependent on your food being part of this too.
About the Author
Nick Owen is a qualified nutritional adviser, holding a Diploma in Non-Medical Nutritional Advice. Nick uses nutrition to support a wide variety of client goals including weight management, fat loss and muscle building, general health and well-being; and improved energy levels, concentration and complexion. Nick’s approach is practical and realistic, starting with an analysis of current eating patterns and lifestyle, making recommendations for change and then working over a series of consultations to support achievement of the desired goals.