Eat, October 21, 2018

My Straight Up, No Faff Guide To Healthy Eating

Right, this is the magic; here is my no nonsense, straightforward guide on how to eat to nourish your body, feel energised, reduce food cravings and build a healthy relationship with food.

There is literally HEAPS of health info out there, and it can get very overwhelming with all the conflicting opinions and opposing dietary philosophies.

For some people it almost feels easier to do nothing at all than to try to make healthy changes. What if what you try is ‘wrong’? What if it makes you more miserable, fat, grouchy, tired, frustrated, confused, bloated, constipated or anxious?? Then what? Then you are back to where you started but possibly a bit more confused, a little more grouchy, and maybe even a few kilograms heavier.

So Let’s Start With Why It’s Important To Eat Well.

Yes, yes, we all know we should eat better but what does that even mean? Food isn’t just calories, it’s information for our bodies. It affects our hormones (the messenger service of our bodies), our immune system, our gut health, our gene expression (the process where instructions in our DNA are converted into a functional product), our mood, brain function, energy levels, sleep and even our relationships. How we feel when we wake up in the morning, when we attend meetings, make decisions, interact with our kids, speak to the ones we love is SO important. Catch me on a day where my IBS is playing up or I’ve got a migraine and I feel like a shadow of myself – a grumpy, irritable, exhausted, emotional shadow. The energy you put out into the world comes right back at you; sometimes like a big warm hug, sometimes like a slap in the face and sometimes like an annoying dripping tap, just slowing chipping away at the light that used to shine brightly inside you. The food we put in our mouth everyday has a massive impact on how we feel and how we interact with others.  If you want to make any sort of positive change in your life, start with your plate.

Food isn’t just calories, it’s information for our bodies.

There is a little scenario that goes something like this – you restrict your carbs because that’s what the latest blog article you read said to do. You fast in the morning, have a small salad for lunch and by mid afternoon your body is craving nutrients so you have a tub of flavoured yoghurt, a latte and some dried fruit – all fairly healthy stuff, right? By dinner you have crashed again but make a stir-fry like you had planned to, but decide to also have wedges from the freezer on the side. You then realise that you have completely failed at reducing your carb intake for the day, feel guilty about it and decide to grab a few pieces of dark chocolate to make yourself feel better. But it doesn’t. You grab a couple of spoonfuls of ice-cream, that then turns into 1/3 of the tub. You can’t switch off the negative internal dialogue that’s telling you you’re a failure, you’re are fat, you’ve failed at every diet you have tried and you will never lose weight and feel healthy and energised. Your subconscious picks up on this story and boom; there it is – you have successfully just programmed your “fat and lazy” self to believe this story and consequentially, how to approach tomorrow, and the next day and the one after that. You have successfully programmed yourself to think, move, eat, talk, love like a person who can’t lose weight and feel happy in their body.

So Why Is It So Difficult And Confusing?

Nutrition science gets muddied and manipulated to benefit whatever industry is paying the bills. Food policies are unfortunately controlled in part by the food industries, food is scientifically designed to make us crave more and more of it, and marketing is all about finding clever and innovative ways to sell products at any costs. When I was in advertising, I remember coming back early from a vacation to join an important meeting. Heinz wanted to meet with us so we could pitch for their new campaign. At one point the Marketing Director stood up and launched into a very passionate speech about how the focus of our pitch shouldn’t be on how to win more of the market share of ketchup, because Heinz was already the market leader by far, but it was about making people EAT MORE KETCHUP – we need everyone to eat more ketchup. He was so passionate, and emotional and driven to get this message across to everyone, especially to the kiddies (“kids love ketchup, we just need them to love more of it”) and all I could think was if only his energy was focused on eradicating childhood obesity, or educating families on how to manage their child’s behaviour through diet. But is wasn’t, it was focused on how to make kids eat more sugar and preservatives. I left the meeting feeling a little numb. Luckily we declined the offer to work on the pitch.

Another reason why eating healthy is confusing is the “healthy” food pyramid isn’t the authority on nutrition we once thought it was. I remember my Grandma questioning it when I was in my teens – pointing out that she used to eat lard; fresh eggs and vegetables from the garden daily; and fruit only on special occasions, and comparing it to the low fat, high carb diet that was recommended in the 80’s and 90’s, and to a degree still is today.  Her shape changed from a long green bean to a pear once her diet focused on getting in the 5-8 servings of breads and grains that were recommended daily.  There is a long, and interesting history on what shaped the American Dietary recommendations and if you are keen to know more have a read of Death by Food Pyramid: How Shoddy Science, Sketchy Politics and Shady Special Interests Have Ruined Our Health

How & What To Eat – What Are The Principles Of Healthy Eating 

So, let’s get to it. Below are my no-nonsense guidelines on how to nourish your body, feel energised, reduce food cravings and build a healthy relationship with food. This is a guide only because every body is different and our bodies also need different nutrients at different stages of our lives, but these are general guidelines that will help with selecting foods that create a positive psychological response, and get you on your way to feeling like the best, healthiest and strongest version of yourself.

  • Each meal meal should contain good fats, protein and fibre.
  • Make vegetables the majority of your plate
  • Take. Your. Time.  Start your meal with a simple ritual like moving your phone away from you and taking 2 deep breaths in and out to ground yourself and connect with the present moment.

Hydration

Start your day with a big glass of warm water, even better if you add freshly squeezed lemon, but plain warm water is great. This one is such an easy win, and we all need to start our day with easy wins.

Drink lots of water during the day but also pay attention to how you feel; do you need to pee 9 times each night, do you feel thirsty in the evenings, do you feel like your body is saying enough; because as important as it is to hydrate, you can also drink too much water and dilute the amount of salt and electrolytes in your body. So just keep an eye on it and drink until you feel hydrated. Herbal tea counts, just not drinks like coffee or grubby builders tea with milk and sugar.

Sugar

Speaking of sugar – please politely tell it to bugger off. This one is a no-brainer – too much sugar makes us fat. When we eat too much sugar our glucose levels go up. Excess glucose is toxic in our bodies so insulin increases to move the glucose from the blood system and into our cells. When our bodies are not functioning optimally, or when we have too much glucose circulating in our blood system, our cells become resistant to insulin, which makes the pancreas secrete more insulin to drive the glucose into the cells, and ultimately deposits this excess energy into fat cells. It even sounds exhausting right?! But, the important thing here to focus on is to remove all added sugar from your diet – even when the sugar is in “healthy” products – flavoured waters, flavoured yoghurts, sweetened milk alternatives (almond milk, oat milk), spreads, bottled sauces (eg: stir-fry sauce, pasta sauce), cereals, muesli bars, smoothies.

Processed Foods

Processed food / junk food / food-like substances / frankenfood. Any food that doesn’t nourish your body basically isn’t actually food.

Processed food might start out resembling food but once the fibre, nutrients and water are removed, and a whole pile of grub like MSG, artificial sugar, seed oils, artificial colours and flavours are added in, it becomes a food-like substance that is very low in nutrients, and very addictive. Think how easy it is to over eat a packet of chips, compared to a plate of salmon and broccoli.

I remember hearing once that a cockroach is more nutritious for us than a pop-tart. Yep, eating a cockroach is gross (or so I assume) but it’s a comparison that really stuck with me. Have a look next time you are in the supermarket or flicking through a supermarket circular and see how much of it is actually ‘non-food’. I don’t mean the shampoo and toilet paper, I mean the chips, chocolate, biscuits, ice cream, processed bread, baked goods, sauces, cereals, meat substitutes, yoghurts, frozen pizzas, ready meals…I don’t know the actually percentage but I’d bet our mainstream supermarkets are stacked only around 5% actual, real, whole food.

Field to Fork

You want to eat as close to nature as possible. If you are in doubt, think about how many steps are needed from the field to the fork. Take olive oil for example – the process to extract oil from olives is simple – you basically press it! But compare it to refined vegetable and seeds oils like canola, cottonseed and sunflower oils – the seeds don’t want to give up their oils as easily so the process to extract the oil is a lot more complicated. Extraction is usually done through a chemical solvent and then often refined further, purified and sometimes chemically altered. For breakfast eat eggs with fresh spinach and avocado, as opposed to cereal out of a box and yoghurt out of a tub. Choose an apple as opposed to buying a smoothie from the supermarket when you need some sustenance on the run. If you need something to munch on grab something like linseed (flax) crackers that list only a couple of ingredients on the back of the packet as opposed to grubby rice crackers that contain lots of marketing hype like ‘low fat’, ‘baked not fried’, or ‘no artificial flavours’. In general, the more the product needs to convince you its healthy, the more likely it isn’t.

You want to eat as close to nature as possible. If you are in doubt, think about how many steps are needed from the field to the fork.

Plant Rich Diet – Eat Your Vegetables

It doesn’t matter if you are a meat eater or a vegan, you need to eat a majority plant-based diet. That might sounds like conflicting advice, because meat obviously isn’t a plant… but you want to fill your plate with veggies, and then have your protein – in whatever form as a side-kick. Aim for 5-10 cups of veggies a day. Yep – that many! Focus on non-starchy veg – spinach, kale, broccoli, silver beet, bok choy, leeks, asparagus, celery, rocket, sprouts, capsicums etc. Veggies are packed with nutrients, and contain lots of fibre which is important to help remove toxins, keep us regular and remove things like excess oestrogen from our bodies.

Fruit is great – but don’t eat 19 bananas and bowls of fruit salad all day (unless you are The Wiggles…) – aim for around 2 pieces and if you are trying to lose weight options like berries and citrus are great because they are lower in sugar so won’t spike your blood sugar levels.

Fats

Eat moderate amounts of good fats.

This advice is still a bit freaky for those of us who grew up in the 80’s and 90’s during the low-fat craze. I deprived my body of fats for most of my ballet career because I thought at the time that was what I needed to do for optimum health and energy. I often wonder how much better I would have felt if I was eating a good amount of healthy fats each day. When I finally did increase my fats a few years back I almost instantly noticed how satiated I was after meals and no longer needing to snack every couple of hours; which is what happens on a high carb, low fat diet because you are constantly spiking your insulin levels.

New research indicates that eating dietary cholesterol doesn’t make you fat and cholesterol is only a problem in our bodies when it’s damaged by the oxidisation process that happens in our bodies through inflammation. Our bodies need healthy fats to thrive – think olive oil, avocado, salmon, seeds, coconut products and ghee.

When I finally did increase my fats a few years back I almost instantly noticed how satiated I was after meals and no longer needing to snack every couple of hours.

Dairy

This one isn’t quite as straightforward as “avoid sugar” or “don’t eat processed foods”

Most experts advise avoiding conventional dairy, which I agree with, and opting for full-fat, organic dairy products instead of low-fat commercial varieties.

Goat or sheep products are considered a better choice because they only contain A2 protein (which is easier to digest) but we can get all the nutrients our bodies need, including calcium, from other sources. Here is a list of foods, including dairy products, that contain calcium.

I usually advise most of my clients to do a period of around a month off dairy, and then slowly reintroduce to see how their body responds. I eat very little dairy myself because my tummy bloats up like a balloon when I get stuck in, but when I do eat it, I go for small amounts of grass-fed or organic dairy products – like some feta sprinkled over a salad or eggs cooked in ghee and I can usually tolerate this amount just fine.

If you feel like you crave dairy and simply can’t live without it (a sign that you might be intolerant), or if you have any sort of IBS, irritability, skin issues, weight problems I’d advise doing a period of time dairy free and monitor yourself how you feel and play close attention to see if there are any changes in your health and symptoms.

Carbohydrates

Every body needs a different amounts of carbohydrates, and this will change over time depending on energy output, stress levels, age, disease, pregnancy and breastfeeding. Carbohydrates are essentially sugar molecules which our bodies breaks down into energy. They are comprised of three main categories: sugars, starches, and dietary fibre.

Not all carbohydrates are made the same – a sweet potato is a carbohydrate, but so is a donut.

When I’m talking about carbohydrates here I mean ‘healthy carbohydrates’ – think; fruit, starchy vegetables, brown rice, quinoa and lentils.

In general, we all eat more carbohydrates than our bodies need but its not entirely our own fault when the standard “healthy” diet pyramid promotes around 5 or more servings of bread, baked goods, cereals, pasta and fruit juice daily. When we eat carbohydrates our body releases insulin to regulate our blood sugar levels, but if you eat too much carbohydrate our bodies develop insulin resistance, which over time can lead to pre-diabeties and type 2 diabetes, food cravings, emotional eating, weight gain, moodiness and contributes to that awful feeling of not being in control of what you putting in your mouth.

As a guide, go for a couple of servings of carbohydrates a day and pay attention to your own energy levels, digestion, sleep and general wellbeing to try and work out what your body needs. I find that if I haven’t eaten enough during the day I’m searching for the dates or a fruit smoothie by the afternoon, when I have too much a feel heavy and sluggish and often moody.

Be careful with things like brown rice flour because although it is wheat and gluten free, it is still processed food, and is high GI, which spikes insulin.

As a very general rule, women tend to need a bit more carbohydrate than men.

Protein

Eat moderate amounts of protein.

If you are a meat eater that’s great, just don’t eat grubby factory-farmed meat. It might look the same as a piece of grass-fed, organic beef but it is packed with growth hormones, antibiotics and has been fed on a diet of corn and soy to fatten it up as quickly as possible. I’m a big fan of the term ‘condi-meat’, coined by Dr Mark Hyman – incase it isn’t obvious, its a play on the word condiment and the idea is to make meat the side kick and not the hero on your plate.

Beans and lentils rock if you can digest them. They are a great source of protein and fibre, and are really cheap and easy, but for some people they can wreck havoc on their digestive system. So again just test and see for yourself how you feel after you eat them.

Eat fresh sustainable fish and seafood.

So what if you can’t afford, or can’t always get free range / grass-fed / organic / line caught / been blessed by a mermaid protein? The best advice I have here is just to chill and take a bit of a reality check on this stuff. If your budget doesn’t allow for it right now then maybe look at a more plant based diet and occasionally buy a really nice piece of grass-fed beef or line caught fish when you can, or if you are at a BBQ and the only option is grubby meat from the local supermarket – just have it and enjoy it. One piece here and there is totally fine – just enjoy the moment and don’t stress.

Gluten

Gluten is in a lot of products and is unfortunately difficult to digest for a lot of people. If you suspect your body might not like digesting gluten too much then try avoiding it for a week and see how you feel. Make sure you do your research to find out where gluten is lurking; you might not realise that gluten is in products like oats, spelt, processed foods, soy sauce, deli meats, some supplements and medications, store bought soup bases and beer (just to name a few). If you notice a big difference (reduced IBS symptoms, better energy or sleep, better skin, less irritable) then it might be worth testing for gluten intolerance, or simply cutting it out of your diet for a period of time.

Organic vs Non Organic

Buy organic when your budget allows, it’s as simple as that. If you can only afford to buy some organic foods then put that money towards produce on the Environmental Working Groups’s Dirty Dozen (the products with the most pesticide residue), and buy non-organic produce from the Clean 15 list.

Buy Local 

Buying from local suppliers and farmers markets is such a winner – it feels great to be putting back into the community; is a great way to connect with your local famers; you will be buying in season; is often more affordable and the produce should be organic and non-GMO. If you are in the fortunate position to grow your own fruit and veggies – even better!

And, if you don’t have a backyard but there are a bunch of clever solutions now-days for growing your own vegetables in your apartment. 

Intermittent Fasting

This is another one that has slightly blurry lines. In general, if you do it, do it intentionally. Don’t just skip breakfast and then eat whatever, whenever later in the day. Make sure your first meal of the day is full of protein, good fats and fibre. Don’t do it everyday – pick a couple of days a week to fast, and most importantly see how you feel – fasting can raise your cortisol levels so if you find you are getting even more stressed and waking in the wee hours of the morning and not able to get back to sleep, consider stopping it for awhile or only doing it occasionally.

In general, men tend to manage a bit better, and get better results with IF.

Stimulants – Tea, Coffee, Alcohol

If you love a good cup of coffee or English Breakfast tea then go for it and enjoy it, but limit yourself to 2 cups a day and make sure you don’t have any after lunch. I’m not saying this to be mean, it is simply because any stimulants after lunch have the potential to affect your sleep.

Alcohol I think is a funny one – I love a good night with mates chatting over a bottle of red, but I know I will feel absolutely rubbish the next day. If you enjoy alcohol then include it but if you are having trouble sleeping, are in a particularly stressful time of your life, if you are trying to lose weight, get healthy, reduce ISB symptoms or are having issues with anxiety, then consider doing a period of time off alcohol and just assess how you feel. When (if?) you re-introduce it, treat it with the respect it needs.

I’m not even going to include cigarettes in this list of stimulants because if you still smoke someone needs to let you know it isn’t the 80’s,- that shit just ain’t cool anymore. Stop reading this and go and sort out your nicotine addiction first.

What It Looks Like On A Plate

Right, are you still confused about what to eat? Let’s take a look at what a healthy day looks like.

For each meal try to set up your plate (bowl / glass) so it is majority non starchy veg, add some protein and healthy fats and some healthy carbohydrates.

Breakfast

Green Smoothie

1/2 – 1 cup of spinach or kale, add some cucumber as well if you have it
1/4 avocado
1 cup unsweetened almond milk
1/2 banana (or more depending on your current carbohydrate needs)
1 tbs chia seeds / protein powder / LSA
Optional: raw cacao powder, vegan protein powder (like pea powder for example) – but be careful here as some can irritate already inflamed digestive systems, tbs of almond butter or tahini, cinnamon, tbs of coconut oil

or

Green veggies sautéed in ghee and coconut oil with eggs, topped with avocado, nutritional yeast and chia seeds

Herbal tea / green tea / white tea

Lunch

Big ‘everything’ salad – rocket, iceberg, grated carrot, grated beetroot, spring onions, celery, sliced apple, avocado.
Protein options – tinned tuna /  grilled chicken / sliced grass-fed beef / grilled halloumi / flaked baked salmon
Toppings:linseeds (flaxseeds), feta, olives, kimchi, walnuts, sunflower seeds
Dressing: lemon and extra virgin olive oil / balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil

or

Roast Veggie Salad – prepare a big pile of roasties – parsnip, carrots, sweet potato, swede, garlic, cauliflower. Add to a base of mixed greens, top with chickpeas, pumpkin seeds and pine-nuts, dress with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar

Dinner

Grilled salmon with broccoli, sautéed leeks in ghee and sweet potato mash

or

Lamb with asparagus, roast carrots and sautéed kale in coconut oil

or

Eggs with spinach, tomato, silverbeet and brown lentils cooked in coconut oil and ghee

or

Easy Green Curry – add a pile of frozen green veggies to a steaming pot – kale, spinach, broccoli, pean, broad-beans. Fry an onion in ghee, turmeric and cumin, add then add the steamed green veggies. Add coconut milk, salt and pepper and a sprinkle of desiccated coconut. Top with slivered almonds.

Snacks

Use snacks if you need – each meal should keep you full for 4-6 hours, but if you need to snack go for things like:

  • Handful of walnuts / brasil nuts / almonds
  • Olives
  • Kimchi
  • Caveman balls
  • Fruit
  • Veggie sticks and hummus
  • Spoonful of almond butter
  • Smashed avocado with chill flakes, sea salt and lemon
  • Dark chocolate (aim for 85%)
  • Herbal teas

Tracking Progress

There are two ways to go about tracking your progress. I suggest weighing yourself and taking a few key measurements (waist, hips, top of arm, top of leg) when you kick off your healthy eating but from here I have found that different approaches work better for different people.

One theory suggests that what you measure improves, so the idea here is to equip yourself with a bunch of tools and apps to track your progress at regular intervals. For example – food diary, daily steps tracker, weekly weight and measurements, sleep trackers, testing fasting glucose levels daily. I find this approach works best for more analytical folk who get a bit of a buzz out of the data and being able to check all the stats.

For others this approach feels restrictive and annoying and for them I recommend recording your starting stats so you know where you came from – so that might just be weight, measurement of a few key areas of your body, and a photo if you want, but then forgetting it. You will know when you are sleeping better, moving easier and your clothes start to feel looser so don’t worry about missing the fact that you are getting healthy!

Both philosophies work, but it is about working out what will work best for you.

Accountability

Find a way to make yourself accountable. Find a buddy to help keep you on track, or a health coach or even just by posting on social media (but be careful here – if you are bragging you will sound like a bit of a tool).

This might sound like the last point on a long list and you can just gloss over it, but this one is really important. It will get tough, you will want to just eat grubby food because, well, we all need that dopamine hit at times so having someone there to say ‘mate, you’re OK, wipe that bit of chocolate sauce off your chin and get back on the plan’, will make life a lot more fun.

…having someone there to say ‘mate, you’re OK, wipe that bit of chocolate sauce off your chin and get back on the plan’, will make life a lot more fun.

So, To Wrap Up

The very best thing you can do for yourself when it comes to making positive changes with your diet is to be the observer; how does the food make you feel, when do you feel like you need that piece of chocolate (/tub of ice cream) – what happened just prior, how do you feel after you eat dairy / gluten / pizza? Be aware of the physical feelings (bloating, energy levels, headaches) your mood (irritable, happy, lonely) but also be aware of the emotional side of things – the ups and downs and especially the internal negative self talk.

And lastly, do I follow this to the tee everyday day?

Nooooooooo….

And that’s ok.

But I do try to follow these principles as much as I can and for me, that means my body is healthy and resilient enough to deal with the occasional blow outs because, well, they are fun, and it’s super important to feel great from eating well, but its also equally important to connect with people we love over a big meal and a glass of red, laugh – especially at ourselves, move, dance, experience amazing things, travel and yep, dare I say it…even party; and if we are too focused on our macros and green juices and getting in that 3rd portion of kale for the day then life will get out of balance and we miss the whole darn point of what it means to be healthy.

Now go and conquer your health – today is the day. Right now. Yes it’s hard to make a positive change, but its also uplifting, inspiring and friggen awesome.

You’ve got this.

Wanting to dive even deeper – here is some further reading I recommend:

Food: What The Heck Should I Eat
The Hormone Cure
How To Be Well

…if we are too focused on our macros and green juices and getting in that 3rd portion of kale for the day then life will get out of balance and we miss the whole darn point of what it means to be healthy.

Ready to make positive changes with your diet and lifestyle but need guidance, accountability and a step by step plan to get you there? Check out my coaching page for how we can work together.

Image credits:  Thought Catalog, Brooke Lark, Anh Nguye, Dominik Martin, Stijn Te Strake, Christine Siracusa, Anne Preble, Thomas Kelley, Kelly Sikkema, Anna Pelzer, Jehoots,  Karl Fredrickson
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