I believe in realistic nutrition. In today’s world where we don’t have the luxury of time, the (multi million dollar) food industry makes sure we DO have the luxury of endless ‘quick-fix’ food options. However, I am here to encourage you to see that actually your own ‘quick fix’ solutions are sooo much healthier, and so much more fun – if you get in the right mind set!
I am NOT ‘holier than thou’ when it comes to nutrition. In fact, I am a firm believer that if I tell myself (or my kids, or my clients) to “never” eat a bar of chocolate / a packet of Jelly Babies / a packet of crisps that is likely to be a road to disaster! Human nature is such that when we are told “no!” invariably we want to rebel, so instead, let’s get a little more realistic…
MY FOOD HISTORY…
I believe that if it’s good food, it could have been cooked in your grandma’s kitchen. That is to say without preservatives, food colouring, microwaves and all the other myriad of gimmicks that have come along since grandma’s time. I was brought up entirely on home cooked food until the age of 18. This was not because I (or my parents) were some picture of “pure health”, but was actually entirely due to circumstance. I was diagnosed as Coeliac at the age of 6 months, and therefore put on a strict gluten free diet. Back in the 70’s (whoops, just gave away my age!) there was no such thing as a “Free From” aisle in the supermarkets. Next to no-one knew what “gluten free” meant, and the only option was bread (ordered on prescription) and tasting of cardboard. Hence, my parents had no choice but to learn to home-cook gluten free food, and to find their own alternatives to this strange substance called “gluten”! This obviously meant that I didn’t eat biscuits, pizzas, bread etc, but it also meant that I rarely took in food colourings, preservatives and all the other things that were gradually creeping in to the ever-more easily available “ready meals” (which in those days were NEVER gluten free).
I absolutely believe that this “real” nutrition turned my life around, and gave me the perfect stepping stones back towards health. I had been a desperately poorly baby (‘Coeliac’ was little known in those days even amongst the medical profession, so I was hospitalised for severe weight loss and then constantly fed bread as a ‘bland’ and ‘safe’ option – and therefore got steadily worse!) Once the diagnosis was reached though, I became strictly “GF” (and therefore strictly “real” food) and as the years passed my growth and development more than caught up. Subsequently, my system has proved well able to fight off various other (unrelated) health conditions, and once again, I do believe that simple, wholesome nutrition was a large part of the reason for this.
MY FOOD PHILOSOPHY
And so the truth is that my own philosophy on ‘healthy eating’ is very definitely rooted in my own upbringing (if only by chance!) When it comes to advising clients, the specifics will obviously depend on what someone is trying to achieve (weight loss, deciphering food sensitivities etc), but the basic philosophy I try to convey to ALL clients is the same: eat a variety of food types, a variety of colour, & try to always keep food fun & interesting…THAT is what will encourage a healthy relationship with food (for yourself & your kids).
MY TOP TIPS:
- Always work within your LIKES & DISLIKES. I would never insist a client who hates skipping should do a daily skipping rope workout to lose weight when there are soooo many other options out there, & I would never insist a client eats broccoli if s/he hates it!! All this will do is alienate rather than motivate, and when there is such a wealth of food choices out there, there are always ways of staying healthy whilst working within your likes & dislikes
- Really open your mind to the VARIETY of food that is out there. The loveliest way to do this is to visit a good food market and just drink in all the options, but if that’s a little unrealistic just log into your fave online supermarket & drink in the variety that they offer.
- So often the word ‘diet’ or ‘nutrition’ tends to imply limiting both intake and variety. Instead, CHALLENGE YOURSELF to find (& taste) a vegetable that’s an unusual colour; a fruit you’ve never heard of; a type of fish or meat you’ve never actually tried before. Finally, always aim for as much variety of COLOUR as possible (in very simple terms, each differently coloured food offers a different nutritional benefit).If you open your mind to the huge variety of foods that are available, this will help you to choose healthy, balanced options that are suited to your individual likes and needs.
- Prepare HOME COOKED food whenever possible – & this doesn’t have to mean a cordon bleu meal every day. There are so many simple dishes to make: I think back to my teenage years when I first ventured into cooking, and I was proud to be able to manage an omelette, a stir fry or chicken breasts in yoghurt sauce! Home cooked dishes really needn’t be any more complicated than this, and you can always add to them by experimenting with herbs and spices for a little extra zing (and many herbs and spices are also fabulously good for your health on many levels).
- Remember that food should be A PLEASURABLE, SOCIAL EXPERIENCE, not a number. (You might guess, I am not in favour of calorie counting!) Although I accept that for some counting calories can be a great way to get weight loss underway, I would love to see us all move away from the number of calories, the number on the scales, and the number of carbs you are allowed! Getting back to enjoying food – and indeed truly noticing the food we eat – is a far more positive way forwards (did you ‘notice’ your lunch today, or did you just grab a quick sandwich and eat it ‘on the hoof’…?)
- The basis of managing our weight should be REGULATING APPETITE. We can only do this if we are genuinely aware of our satiety levels (by the way, eating processed foods is the perfect way to sabotage this. Various ‘natural’ flavourings and colours are scientifically proven to interfere with appetite mechanisms – especially potent is monosodium glutamate – MSG). If we actually stop to enjoy our food – notice the scents, relish the flavours, sense the textures – we will consequently eat slower, and this will help us to eat the amount we need, and not mindlessly ‘stuff ourselves’. Quite simply, eating mindfully will help us understand when we have had enough.
- Try to extend this AWARENESS of food to the way you feel after your food. Keeping a “Food-Mood Diary”, whereby you record how you feel 1 to 2 hours after eating (smiley face or sad face; full of energy or a little low; satiated or bloated) can be a great way to start to uncover possible food sensitivities. It is also often a good motivator: if you start to actually see the pattern whereby whenever you eat something sugary you feel low an hour or so afterwards, this can be a good wake-up call, and a very positive way to start to cut back on that deadly white powder…
- Don’t set yourself up for a fall. Whatever your nutritional goals may be, MAKING SMALL CHANGES that you can realistically stick to will ensure you progress bit by bit in the right direction. Conversely, if you set yourself up to go “all in” with a Paleo Diet (even though you don’t really like the idea) or to become Vegan (even though you love meat), you will feel you are going uphill in reverse gear, and you almost definitely won’t stick it through
THE BENEFITS ARE ENDLESS…
An overhaul of nutritional habits can have a positive effect in such a huge number of areas: weight loss, improved energy levels, muscle hypertrophy, skin complaints, respiratory issues, joint pain. Meanwhile the impact on mental health can be immense. Eating the right foods can ease stress and anxiety, and scientific evidence is even increasingly in favour of utilising nutrition to aid depression. According to the Indian Journal of Psychiatry
“nutrition can play a key role in the onset as well as severity and duration of depression”
If you are keen to make nutritional changes, or perhaps just to get “back on track”, starting with a positive mindset (as opposed to viewing it as “restricting” your diet, or eating “boring things”) is key. I suggest you starting by looking at your current nutritional patterns: consider a ‘snapshot’ of your typical daily intake, then based on this, make a list of as wide a variety as possible of alternative (healthy) food options that you actually like. Food choices have to be inspired by individual goals, but also must be true to your likes and dislikes: only then can the plan become a reality, and this can then become habitual.
Whatever your personal goals, IMPROVING YOUR NUTRITIONAL INTAKE WILL IMPROVE THE WAY YOU FEEL. We are what we eat (& drink), and the more we realise and respect that, the more we will start valuing what ‘fuel’ we put into our bodies. This in turn will provide inspiration to explore different nutritional options, and to rejoice in the huge variety that is out there.
A very simple yet effective idea which can help adults and children alike is to fill in a Food Colour Chart, and also a Food/Mood Chart. You can download my Shaw Lifestyle Charts here. Pop them up somewhere easily visible such as on the fridge or near the coat rack and pop in a sad or smiley face to record your moods, and a tick against each colour to check your variety. You could even offer rewards for improvements from week to week (and don’t forget to reward yourself too, and not just the kids!)