There’s so much information about dieting around these days, it’s hard to keep up. Even if you can follow it all, the messages seem to change constantly. So here are five simple rules which will help you keep on track with a healthy diet permanently, and enjoy the benefits of feeling better, looking better and staying healthy longer. While the stories in the media about diet and health will doubtless keep changing, the following five rules will always remain true.
1. Get ‘into’ food
To eat well we first need to understand and appreciate our food. After all, we literally are what we eat. So the first step to a really healthy diet is to get into food. Appreciate freshness, growing seasons, and the quality of meat, fish, fruit and vegetables. Take time selecting the food you buy and treat yourself to the good stuff! The outcomes of our relationship with food, like any other relationship in life, will depend in large part on making good choices. Obesity and other nutrition related disorders are almost always associated with poor quality food choices. A famous French beauty brand cleverly uses the slogan, “Because you’re worth it!” If this is true about things you put on your body, it should be even more true about things you put in your body.
2. Cook, or prepare for yourself, as many of your meals as possible
With your newfound appreciation of food, it’s time to get busy in the kitchen. It’s known that people who cook from scratch generally tend to be slimmer and healthier. Don’t fool yourself that you don’t have time. Your life depends on what you eat! If we can make time for social media, TV and shopping trips then we must make time to whip something up in the kitchen. There’s loads of brilliant information available online on how to prepare quick, delicious and healthy meals at home. Make food and cooking a priority in life and you’ll gain new skills, eat better, look better, control weight more easily and almost certainly live longer.
3. Never go on a diet
This one is really simple. Diets don’t work – not in the long run. That’s why there’s so many of them, and a new one popping up every few weeks. Rapid weight loss and fad diets can’t take the place of eating well. If you are serious about a long term healthy eating plan, then be very clear on the fact that dieting is a business and business wants repeat customers. Think about it.
4. Let yourself get hungry
In today’s world of busy schedules and endless distractions it is easy not to really ‘listen to our bodies’. We have a natural ability to control ourselves from overeating, rest when we are tired, drink when we are thirsty and so on. When we ignore these signals because we are rushing around for work or family business, it is easy to lose touch with the basics. Letting yourself get hungry does not mean starving yourself for long periods, and does not mean skipping meals. It means tuning in to hunger, which is a natural signal from the body that things are working properly. Adjust your portion sizes at breakfast and lunch so that at your next meal you are genuinely hungry. That way you will enjoy your food much more, and will benefit from the regenerative processes that take place between meals. Snacking on high calorie biscuits, sweets or nuts between meals will only confuse your body and make controlling your weight that much more difficult.
5. Know when you are full
Your body has many ways of telling you not only when you are hungry, but also when you have eaten enough. So listen carefully! Many people eat more than they need due to not listening to their body telling them they are full. This can be often be due to eating too fast, which means we only realise later on that we actually ate too much. You can avoid this by taking time to eat your food and chewing each mouthful well. Don’t overfill your plate when dining, and when you are satisfied, simply stop eating! It’s worth mentioning that those foods which are high in both sugar and fat, and lower in protein (cheesecake, for example), make it very difficult for the body to sense ‘fullness’. So the more you can avoid cakes, pastries and candies which are sugar and fat rich, the easier it will be to know your natural cut off point when eating.
The basis of these rules’ success lies in your natural inborn abilities to know what good food is and how to moderate your intake. Many processed and pre-prepared foods contain ingredients you wouldn’t normally choose eat, so should be avoided. By preparing your own food, where possible, you will naturally select and use better quality ingredients, and can adjust quantities to those which are right for you. Trust your eyes, nose and taste buds when buying fresh food and you won’t go far wrong. By tuning in to your body signals for when to eat and when to stop eating, you will be well on the way to lifelong healthy eating.
Co-written by Dr Adam Cunliffe and Ms Nazli Aytekin