What should I eat?
Paleo? Primal? Low carb, low fat, low carb +low fat (NO!) high fat +low carb, Atkins, raw, vegan, GI, Macro-tracking, calorie-counting, intermittent fasting??????
No wonder we are confused. Conflicting messages and TOO MUCH INFORMATION. While trying to absorb it all and follow plans and diets, in reality our daily food choices are based mostly on what we see around us (meal deals, chocolate at the till!), convenience and ease. Staying highly motivated on ridiculous eating plans is unsustainable and soon enough our old habits take over, especially when we are stressed or sleep-deprived.
There is no “right diet” and what works for one person, may cause havoc in the body of another. But the worst thing I feel is that the food (and fitness) industries have destroyed our natural ability to understand and love food. To enjoy it, savour it and yet know instinctively what’s good for us and when to stop.
Let’s be honest here, to lose excess weight there must be a calorie deficit over time. But be aware that it’s not as easy as calories in and calories out. Eating less and exercising more does not work over the long term. Why? Because metabolism is adaptive. It changes and responds to what is going on in our lives: stress levels, sleep disturbance, exercise and movement, our thoughts, our feelings, illness, hormones; these all affect our metabolism. It’s not just about food and exercise.
The thing is we though, we can use food to help us stabilise. And we can do this by simplifying! Doesn’t that sound good? Let me say it again. Simplifying. Not just the “rules” of nutrition but also our relationship to food.
Michael Pollen, in his fabulous book FOOD RULES has said it beautifully, in this simple formula
EAT REAL FOOD, MOSTLY PLANTS AND NOT TOO MUCH
For a life-changing A-ha moment, please read this book! But here are some things to bear in mind:
THE WHOLE TRUTH
Base most of your food intake on real food! Vegetables (frozen, fresh, even canned), fruit, real meat, fish, nuts, seeds, full-fat dairy, whole grains. Make a shift from PROCESSED foods to UNPROCESSED. it’s simple. Think about whether the product you are eating is made in a factory or comes directly from the Earth. How much raw food do you put in your mouth. I’m not advocating a raw food diet, but really, think about it. Its the most natural form of food, so it should be a part of our daily diet.
THE PLANT SLANT
Try and base your meals on whole foods especially vegetables. Traditionally we see refined carbs as our base and that often means they form the biggest portion of our plate. This has been the guideline from Public Health for years. Ask yourself, has this reversed or even slowed down the rate of obesity or diabetes??
So change your mindset. Vegetables are your base and add the other bits around them. Plants are amazing drugs, full of a concoction of phytochemicals and nutrients that we cannot and recreate in any supplement.
Protein means a busy stomach and when tummy is busy we feel satiated. This prevents us overeating. So try including more protein in your diet. Have a source of protein with your meals. Swap your higher carb and sugar snacks with those high in protein; handful of almonds or seeds, half an avocado, some green veg, some fruit and nuts. Most women don’t eat enough protein and those who exercise regularly need more!
EAT REAL FAT
Choose natural sources of fat: butter, coconut oil, oily fish, nuts, whole seeds, olive oil, ghee, plant fats (avocado). We have been so brain washed about fat that this change its often hard to get your head around. Be sensible about how much you eat, especially if you still have a lot of refined carbs in your diet, but be aware that fat is not evil.
Firstly, there is actually conficting and contradictory evidence linking saturated fat to high cholesterol and heart disease and that a low fat diet leads to a healthier heart. In fact recently cardiologists are questioning the Diet Heart Theory.and challenging the link between saturated fat and heart disease. Studies suggest a high carbohydrate intake is far worse for our health than previously thought. Certainly many health and fitness gurus follow low carb high fat diets themselves and are in fantastic health but it is only very recently filtering through to the GPs and nurses we may see in our lives.BAsically, health is complicated and we still dont know for certain what causes all disease.
And lets be cynical here: Big Food has had a major influence in government guidelines for decades and even now, looking at the Childhood Obesity Plan we can see that profits often trump health!
We need fat! Our low fat diets have meant we eat more sugar than ever. Our bodies are craving good nutrition and fat is part of that. Fat is involved in most processes in our bodies, providing energy, keeping systems regulated, making hormones and is so vital for brain function and mood.
Think about how much processed oils are in your diet (seed oils, vegetable oil, margarine, oils in processed foods) and shift to a more natural source of fat. This will naturally start to drop your Omega 6 intake which is known for its inflammatory effects on the body.
The worst type of fat is unnatural trans-fat and the saturated fat-refined sugar combo – Avoid!
So complicated! But I like to split carbs into 4 types
- Simple/refined (sugar, sweets, soda)
- Simple/natural (fruit,dairy, raw honey)
- Complex/Refined (bread, pasta, rice, crakers, cakes pies)
- Complex/Natural (vegetables, potatoes, sweet potato, whole grains, legumes, beans)
Simple refined products have no benefit at all and by avoiding them we can stop wasting time and energy on these fake foods. These are Once-In-A-Blue-Moon products. Sugar is hidden in most food products so by reducing processed foods you will reduce your refined sugar intake.
Complex refined products have some nutritional benefit and we should vary our intake according to our activity levels. If you train hard and exercise most days, you will need more carbohydrate. If you are sitting most of the day, you really do not need to base your diet on refined carbs! Stick to natural when you do choose carbs. If you decide to reduce carbs do it gradually, and soon you will find a tipping point- when you can no longer lower your carb intake without it backfiring. It is unique to each individual. Some people can happily survive on very small amounts of carbs, others get moody, tired, feel yucky and need more.
Whatever you feel about carbs, the more natural they are the better.
FOOD AS HORMONES
Think of food as hormones not as calories. Every single thing you put in your mouth affects your hormones and hormones control our bodies and mind. From fat-storage to mood and sleep, we need to have a well-balanced hormonal system. Processed foods send us way out of whack! So, Eat to stabilise hormones and not to lose weight. When hormones are in sync you will lose weight.
Check what you are eating. What is in the ingredient list. Look at it. Own your choices.
Its ok to eat a bar of chocolate once in a while but when you know what’s in it (in fact you realise you do not know what actually half the ingredients are, and that’s the scary thing!) then you are more in control and less likely to make it a part of your diet regularly.
The only way you can truly know what is going into your mouth is by cooking your own food. And it’s a wonderful skill. One that gives you pleasure, that you can share with others, comforting, nurturing and connects you with your loved ones, yourself and the earth. What a shame we don’t value this skill and instead see it as a time-sucking chore.
Be Aware of the quantities you are eating. Even though we want to eat lots of good food, we don’t want to go overboard. If the waistline is expanding, we need to have a rethink, perhaps adjust the quantities, perhaps do some tracking for a period (My fitness pal etc?).
It is easy to let things slip especially when other things in life seem to take over. Work stress, family, relationships, trauma, sleep problems, illness- all these can play havoc with our lives. Before you know it, you are back to choosing the easiest most convenient “foods” available.
Be Aware. Start to really zone in to what’s going on when you do eat, how you feel and what happens after. Its only when you are mindful that you can understand what is good for YOU, what portion sizes work for YOU, when the best time to eat is for YOU. Listen to your body, trust yourself and don’t make food the enemy.
When you start to change you diet, be aware that there may be a transition period where your weight may go up a little, just as you are trying to figure out what is good for you . Don’t freak out and hit the low-fat yoghurt! Relax,Trust yourself and make good choices and you will lose weight but more importantly you will begin to feel awesome. You know your metabolism has reset when your hunger, cravings and energy levels are all in check.
Once you have got some control back, you can easily change the way you eat and experiment with different ways of eating. Remeber that we are always changing as we get older or during different phases in our lives so the way we move and eat should change with us . Thats why keeping it simple works!