Monday, 25 November 2013

Health & Fitness | 11 Ways to Adopt Healthy Eating Habits

11 Ways To Adopt Healthy Eating Habits
This post about healthy eating habits is the second part to last week's 10 Ways To Keep Fit In Your 40s post, where I didn't write about weight loss, but instead talked about how to keep fit as you get older to make it a habit for life.

These tips follow the same pattern - not tips for losing weight, but tips that have helped me improve my diet to accompany the exercise I'm doing. Losing some weight, if you have weight to lose, is often the result of better eating habits; if you suffer from general ailments such as lethargy, headaches and lack of energy, for example, then I'm pretty sure those problems will ease with a new approach to your diet.

(Something to note: when I talk about diet, I'm referring to what we eat, not "a diet" as in a plan devised to make you lose weight.)


So prepare to get your head in the right place - here's my top tips for adopting healthy eating habits:



1. Be prepared to train your brain

Realise that the way to gain a strong, healthy body is 70% attitude, 30% action (sound familiar?). If you have the attitude that you want to get skinny rather than get fit, or you want to know what low-calorie cakes you can eat rather than eating a balanced diet, then you need to stop and think about your attitude. Your whole approach needs to change if you're looking for short cuts or easy ways to lose weight fast. It's not about tricking your brain, it's about training it. You need to make changes to your eating habits gradually for healthy eating to become second nature, and learn from each change that you make.


2. Recognise that your body is a machine requiring quality fuel to function

Appreciate how important food is for the body, and that a wide variety of unprocessed, fresh food is vital for it to work properly. You may have heard the expression that you wouldn't put the wrong fuel into a car because you want it to run properly? Your body is the same: it needs fuel to run, and it needs the right fuel to run well. If you're lucky enough to have a fully functioning body with all the bits in the right places - two arms, two legs, etc. - then treat it with the respect it deserves as you're a very lucky person. As I said in the fitness post: you're in control of your body, no one else.

IF YOU'RE LUCKY ENOUGH TO HAVE A FULLY FUNCTIONING BODY, THEN TREAT IT WITH THE RESPECT IT DESERVES.

3. Portion control: Realise how much you're actually eating

I think the biggest unrealised contributor to weight gain - or failure to shift the pounds - is the fact that most of us are unaware how much we're actually eating, and that we're consuming much bigger portions than we actually need. I honestly had no idea that my portions were so large until I started following a healthy eating plan which made me measure out my portions. Don't think that measuring portions is something you'll have to do forever - you will get to know after a while what a sensible portion looks like. However, be prepared to be shocked at how much you're actually (over)eating. As well as studying your portion sizes, a good thing to try at first is to make a note of everything you eat to realise how much you actually consume in a day. Again, be ready for what may come as a shock to you.


4. Stop making excuses

Ever said any of these things?

I can't possibly drink tea without sugar.

I can't stand skimmed milk, it tastes like water.
I can't stand the thought of counting calories, it's so boring.
I can't see the problem with low-cal fizzy drinks - there's no calories in them. 
I can't eat breakfast, it makes me feel sick.

Can't, can't, can't....! Until you're willing to try new things and make a few sacrifices for a while, you'll never get anywhere with your switch to healthy eating habits; this is where your 70% attitude comes in. If your head is constantly thinking that you "can't" make these changes, then you simply won't make the changes. 


So - sugar in your tea? Skimmed milk tastes like water? There is no need to have sugar in your tea or coffee, or on your cereal. Cut out foods that you don't need - ones that don't have any nutritional value whatsoever. Your tea will taste horrible for a while, but eventually you will get used to it - the same goes for switching to skimmed milk.


These are the EASIEST changes to make to your diet; you just have to be prepared to stick with it. If you're not prepared to make these simple changes, the rest is going to be near impossible.

SUGAR IN YOUR TEA? CUT OUT FOODS THAT DON'T HAVE ANY NUTRITIONAL VALUE WHATSOEVER.

Counting calories: I'm not suggesting you count calories unless you like a regimented plan to follow, but make yourself aware of the calorific content of foods. Many "healthy" foods are high in calories, so read labels and become calorie-savvy.


Low-cal fizzy drinks are evil - at least that's how I perceive them now. Healthy eating is not just about calories, so consuming gallons of low-cal fizzy drink instead of water is doing nothing for your health. It'll also rot your teeth, encourage your sweet tooth and make you bloated from all the gases. Is that enough to convince you...?


Breakfast... I would say that the majority of people I've ever had a conversation with about breakfast have said that they can't eat it because they feel sick in the morning. Your body going for that long without food can't be right. I have a theory: if you eat a heavy meal in the evenings, do you tend to skip breakfast?


I think that many people are simply eating too much late at night, leading to a lack of hunger in the morning. I cannot function without a hearty breakfast - and even after that I'm usually ravenous by mid morning. Stop eating so much in the evenings to see if that makes a difference, because eating a large breakfast is key to stopping cravings for sugary foods during the day.


5. Ask friends, family and colleagues to support you

There's nothing worse than being offered doughnuts that someone has kindly bought at work when you're trying to change to healthier eating habits. Or your mum plying you with chocolate biscuits when you're round for elevenses. You're both tempted and feel rude for turning them down, so you give in. What you need to do is stop the temptation presenting itself in the first place by asking everyone you know to be kind enough not to offer you any naughty treats. Say you'd like their support and you won't be offended when they forgo asking you if you'd like a chocolate muffin or a doughnut. They'll probably point out that they're deliberately not offering you one as you asked (just to be nice!) and you'll feel left out at first, but you'll get used to it. Eventually you'll recognise that daily muffins and doughnuts are neither doing you any good, nor do you actually need them.


6. Take obvious steps to avoid temptation

If you find it hard to avoid eating the snacks in the kitchen cupboards, then I could be really harsh and just say Don't buy them. But everyone has different lives, different family situations, different jobs, so it isn't always that simple. But if, like me for example, you don't have children - and you live with a partner, flatmate or by yourself, then the Don't buy them rule can apply. This is one temptation that can be easily removed, if you're prepared to do it.

If you're constantly exposing yourself to unhealthy foods, then it will be very easy to constantly give in to temptation. Put measures in place to stop the "I just couldn't help it" scenarios:

  • Shop for groceries online so you don't pass by the special offers on cakes and biscuits (you'll save money by not impulse-buying too).
  • If you can, pay for petrol at the pump so you're not tempted by the sweets and chocolate bars in the kiosk.
  • Keep lots of healthy alternatives in your cupboards at home for the times when you "have" to have a snack (plain popcorn, sultanas, fresh fruit, etc.)
  • Don't take small change into work if there is a chocolate box or vending machine.

Avoid The Temptation Of Unhealthy Foods
Temptation is a constant battle I'll be honest and say I don't win very often. But if you can get yourself in the right frame of mind where you don't automatically reach for unhealthy snacks every time you're out grocery shopping - instead you only get them occasionally - then that's most of the battle won.


7. Be more adventurous with your food choices

Can you say you've tried all of these foods?

Chickpeas, rye bread, avocado, quinoa, agave nectar, tofu, figs, sushi, butternut squash, pastrami, feta, cous cous, persimmon, Chinese lettuce, hummus, fennel, macadamia nuts, crab, pearl barley, artichoke, falafel (I could go on).


Changing your eating habits is not about being denied everything you love, it's about finding a whole variety of delicious foods to eat that make you wonder why you ever craved that sickly chocolate doughnut in the first place. All the foods I've listed above are things I'd never eaten as a child, and in the last 23 years since leaving home I've just been curious to try them all - and to my delight I found out there are very few I didn't find delicious. If I'd insisted on being as fussy as I thought I was as a kid, I'd never have found the most enjoyable, nutritious foods to eat that are just regular foods to me now.


AT LEAST ONCE A MONTH BUY A FOODSTUFF YOU'VE NEVER TRIED BEFORE - YOU MIGHT ABSOLUTELY LOVE IT.

This is a great tip to help you become more adventurous in your food choices: set yourself this task when you're out grocery shopping. At least once a month, buy a foodstuff that you've never eaten before - this is the time to be brave! You may or may not have heard of it, but make sure it's new to you. Buy it and look up a recipe online, should it require one, or eat it straight away if it's a new fruit or similar. You never know - you might absolutely love it.

I did this with halloumi [cheese]; I'd heard of it but didn't have a clue what it was. In fact I didn't even know it was a cheese - yet it's now one of my favourite foods to cook. By broadening your tastes, you'll be less likely to get bored of salad because your salads will no longer be boring.


8. Don't be afraid to change your eating patterns

In the last two to three years, I have switched from eating breakfast, lunch and dinner to eating breakfast, a large lunch, lots of healthy snacks throughout the day and a very light snack in the evening (usually a protein smoothie after a workout). I never, ever go hungry, in fact I'm pretty much grazing throughout the day, and I've had comments from colleagues that I somehow eat all day and "never put weight on".

What they don't realise is that I exercise regularly and don't go home and have a huge meal in the evening like they do. I stopped trying to cook and eat a large evening meal because in my old routine (pre-full time blogging), once I'd got in from work, done a workout or been for a run, then thought about what to have for dinner, cooked it and sat down to eat... it was never earlier than 9pm and that was far too late for me.

JUST BECAUSE EVERYONE ELSE EATS A LARGE EVENING MEAL DOESN'T MEAN YOU HAVE TO. EAT A LOT EARLY ON THEN WIND IT DOWN AS THE DAY GOES ON.

Just because everyone else eats a large meal in the evening doesn't mean you have to. I find it hard to explain to people that are amazed I don't have an evening meal, but quite often these are people who have no breakfast, a sandwich with a bag of crisps at lunchtime and ten cups of coffee during the day. I simply eat a lot early on, then wind it down as the day goes on. I do this because it suits my lifestyle, when I choose to exercise, and when I have the most time to prepare and eat food.

I found that my metabolism changed almost back to what it was when I was in my 20s once I stopped with the heavy evening meals. I'm not saying that this will work for everyone, but I've stopped thinking that I have to eat in the ways that is accepted as the norm.


9. Drink water

I hear many people complain that they couldn't possibly drink water because they don't like it. I don't think you need to be a doctor to realise that drinking water is the fundamental thing that keeps us alive - our bodies are made up of over 50% water, and that has to be replaced because we are constantly losing it through sweating. It's one of those facts that most people seem to know, but it still amazes me how so few drink it.

Drinking water should be an automatic, everyday thing that we all do. It has no taste, so I don't buy the excuse that someone doesn't like it - you'd just be indifferent. I won't list the benefits - they've been listed a billion times on the internet - but drinking water is plain common sense. Train yourself to have a certain amount at a certain time of the day; for example, I pour myself a pint in the morning and make sure it's drunk by midday, then do the same in the afternoon. Work it into your routine in a way that suits you - I know someone who drinks a pint as soon as she's got up in the morning (she says she's too sleepy to notice how boring it is).



10. Use tricks to stop yourself snacking when you're not hungry

I'm a great one for snacking in the evenings, thinking I'm hungry when I'm not. At all. I know I don't need food after 9pm, yet I still raid the kitchen cupboards looking for things to eat. One day I thought that if I were to clean my teeth early on in the evening, it might stop me munching necessarily; amazingly it worked a treat. Something about having brushed teeth stopped the phantom hunger, and a cup of herbal tea was all I wanted (and needed) until bed.

Work out tricks like that to stop yourself thinking you're hungry. Obviously if you're actually hungry and have been without any significant food to eat for a while then that's different and you should eat, but make the snacks wholesome ones (a sugar rush isn't going to help much).



11. Stop thinking it's all about denying yourself

I'm sure you've heard the cry of But you only live once! We should enjoy it! This is undeniably true, but I don't see why enjoying your food means only eating processed crap that we think is tasty but know to be unhealthy. Put it this way: I love food. No, I ADORE food. I'm the easiest person to please if I'm invited to dinner; there's very, very little I won't eat. If I had the choice of going to MacDonalds (I have to say it: yum!) or going for great sushi, the sushi wins every time.

I've learnt to appreciate clean food over the years; I've been brave and tried things I thought I didn't like - I'm so glad I was proved wrong nearly every time.

Healthy Eating is not about denying yourself

The ideal stage you want to reach is where you find yourself salivating at the mere thought of all the new and delicious foods you've discovered since improving your eating habits. Healthy eating is not about denying yourself and having nothing nice to eat - it's exactly the opposite.

When I've got back on track with my diet after a long period of too many unhealthy foods and bad habits, I always enjoy my food so much more. I've taken the time to prepare foods that are delicious, full of goodness and so much more colourful than all the carb-heavy processed foods (I call it "brown food") that we think are so appealing. 

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So while I'm not suggesting foods to eat or recipes to try, I simply want to make the point that it's about attitude. In fact, I could have written this post in one sentence flat: Get your head in the right place by changing your attitude - but that needed a little explanation! If you would like some actual food inspiration, there are two blogs I can thoroughly recommend: Keeping Healthy Getting Stylish by Laura, who writes healthy living articles mixed with fashion and beauty; and Hungry, Healthy, Happy written by the inspirational Dannii, who lost 98lbs and now blogs about recipes, health and weight loss tips.


I hope you've enjoyed this two-part series, and that the tips have helped you decide to make changes for the better. Let me know what you found helpful, and do please share your own tips that have helped you say NO to that second chocolate doughnut...!

Catherine x
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25 comments

  1. Fantastic post Catherine. beautifully writter and so acurate.
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  2. i LOVE this Catherine… after having Andrew my eating habits changed drastically because you can't eat junk and chase a toddler…its just not possible. You are so right, it can't be a "diet" it has to be a lifestyle change! I love trying new things and never thought to do it at least once a month…as a matter of fact I'm going to try a new food tomorrow….this is just awesome!!!!

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    1. Thanks so much, Brooke! I love that you loved the tip - it's actually a really fun thing to do. I've tried so many yummy things doing it :))

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  3. Nice post, Catherine!
    I have a project for December (which I will do starting this week, Officialy). it's about having a healthier life. I plan to eat more fresh fruits, vegetables, and so on. And, of course, these tips will help me. Thank you for sharing.

    http://ristlicious.blogspot.com/2013/11/colorfest-persunmall-midweek-outfits.html#.UpPZu3BOIUE

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    1. Now that's a great project... summed up in a beautiful sentence!! Good for you, I hope to hear more!! x

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  4. Now THIS is something I have a bit of experience with, Catherine!! I have an autoimmune problem that was seriously affecting the health of my gums and teeth; I've had gum grafts, bone grafts in my jaw, repeated rounds of antibiotics, and "root planing" (don't ask!) every three months...and NOTHING seemed to be helping. Then I saw a naturopath who put me on an anti-inflammatory diet; and within two months, I started getting good check-ups!! It was really challenging at first, but after four years I can honestly say that my cravings for processed and "junk" food are gone...the prospect of losing my teeth was my incentive, and now a healthy diet is truly second nature!! I NEVER cheat, because I honestly don't want to!! And I have my own personal proof of the importance of good food for the best health!!

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    1. Wow that IS an incentive, Monika... talk about a scary thing to happen! Well good for you for reacting so positively - though why older gals like myself don't realise unhealthy eating will cause horrendous health problems I don't know - all can be as bad as your teeth thing!! Goes to show how much our diet affects our health and well being, doesn't it... Thanks for sharing your story! x

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  5. Great tips, Catherine! I love how practical, relevant and immediately applicable the whole list is - puts things in perspective and helps change the mindset behind healthy eating.
    Thanks for sharing!
    -Carley
    xx

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    1. Thank you Carley - I wanted the post to be about so much more than ways to lose weight, and I'm glad you found it inspiring! xoxo

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  6. Another great post Catherine! I totally agree that it's all about a can do attitude! I just started a weekly series on my blog to find my own path to back to a healthy life style. I know what to eat and have the tools to make it happen - it was just making that mental adjustment to make it happen.

    Alice
    www.happinessatmidlife.com

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    1. Mental adjustment - you're absolutely right, Alice!! As I mentioned in the post: getting your head in the right place is most of the battle won. Without that a healthy attitude is never gonna happen. Good for you for your positive attitude, I love it (and thank you for your lovely comments too) xx

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  7. Awesome post! And thank you for the lovely shout out :-) I think the fact that healthy eating is just the opposite of eating un appealing food is the big take home message - I enjoy my food now more than ever before!

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    1. Laura you're more than welcome!! I love the food pictures on Instagram especially, they always look sooooo delicious but so wholesome and healthy! So glad you liked the post, thank you xx

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  8. This has been a constant want lately to change my diet and I finally feel like it's "go time." You did talk about portion control, have any advice on how to figure out what portions we should have?

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  9. Forgot to check the notify so I'm commenting again hehe

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    1. I'm not really the best person to ask Brandi as I didn't want to give specific advice on diet plans or recipes (it was a post more about changing your attitude) - but it is of course a valid question as I did mention it! My best advice is to find a suitable plan where you follow healthy eating recipes to start with - I did this at first and followed them to the letter so that I knew what measurements to use. It was calorie-controlled to some extent, not where I was counting calories but where I followed recipes as part of daily meal plans that *were* calorie-controlled. I did this at first because I'd put on about 25lbs gradually over the course of several years, and had to "go on a diet" because my weight kept creeping up and I wanted to nip it in the bud, so to speak.

      My suggestion is to get a recommended book that gives you healthy, delicious recipes to cook, and by following them you'll get to know what normal portion sizes are meant to be. That's how I realised that I was putting FAR too much on my plate and would always eat until I was totally stuffed. Eventually I cut down my portions and now know how much is too much on my plate, and freeze leftovers or save them for lunch the next day.

      If you really want a recommendation, this is the best healthy eating recipes book I've ever bought: http://amzn.to/1b3kjhU - I can guarantee that every single recipe I've tried is DELICIOUS - and I've tried a lot of them for that reason. Don't worry about it being a "summer" book, it's just an update of the "normal" book I've got. The tips for changing your attitude to healthy habits are great, too.

      Hope that all helps...!
      xoxo

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    2. Sorry - forgot to make the link to the book an actual link - here it is: http://amzn.to/1b3kjhU

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  10. So much good information! I mentioned before that I have been eating clean for 6 months now and besides having energy, a clear mind, the thing that has been most astounding to me is that my sugar cravings are GONE! I don't think about sweets nor do I miss them. Unless I see something or someone mentions dessert or a treat it's not even on my radar. Talk about freedom! I think the chocolate in my house may grow mold or dust.

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    1. Wow Lori - that's amazing!! I go through phases... I'm not completely at the "no sweet tooth" stage but when I cut them out I do see how I could give them up. Trouble is I have a mother who loves cooking puddings and dishing out chocolate biscuits, so the temptation thing always comes into play!! Thanks so much for sharing, you're my guru of clean eating! x

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  11. Great post, but I'd have to disagree about water having no taste. Your own tap water at home probably tastes fairly nothingy to you, but different areas of the country will have slightly different tastes, I guess due to the differences in the soil?
    When I moved, I found the water in my new county really odd tasting, but I'm used to it now.

    That said, no excuse not to drink it. If it tastes weird, you'll get used to it, and if you really can't, there are ways to get around it; like buying a decent water filter, or plonking some lemon, cucumber, or some fruit in your water. Tasty, and good for you!

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    1. I think when I said it has no taste, I meant that water isn't flavoured - no sugar or fat content. So yes I know what you mean about different areas having different tastes, but by its very nature it is essentially a tasteless drink. And I LOVE lemon in hot water! I have it every morning instead of tea. Thanks G! x

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  12. Fab tips, we've always followed a healthy mediterranean diet here and after reading Eat Pretty recently, I decided to go pescatarian before Christmas (my husband doesn't eat meat so made sense on that level too)-finding a way of eating that makes me feel good inside and out has been amazing. Good fats, substituting coconut dairy for standard or goat's milk, eliminating wheat and eating lots of fruit, vegetables, pulses-basically a varied diet with a few treats is the way forward for me. I love your point about respecting your body, it's so important to treat yourself as you would your best friend (and that includes our inner voice and how to speak to ourselves as much as the food we eat is crucial). What a fab post for the NY, Happy New Year beautiful lady x

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    1. I often about Mediterranean diets being so healthy, Vicki! My diet sounds very similar to yours... my weakness is that I eat biscuits and chocolate on top of the good stuff. It's just about finding the willpower to say no to the choccie biccies for me ;))

      Thank you so much for your lovely comment - and YES to us respecting our bodies...!! xx

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  13. Great article! Personally, I can tell that changing my eating habits is one of the most hard things I have ever done. But as you say - you should train - you should train your brain, your body, your thoughts. I think the most important thing is to make healthy eating a habit (as eating junk food once was). Once you start feeling the positive effects, you will never return to your old self.

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