It’s been a while since we did a blog on the practical application of a healthy diet, so I thought I would do one. We can bang on about 24-hour energy balance, calories in versus calories out, the benefits of consuming a bolus of protein every 4 hours to stimulate muscle protein synthesis or why the carbs in your diet aren’t what’s making you fat. But then we have our nutrition academy which covers all that so if you want to become an expert on your nutrition or the nutrition of your clients sign-up for that here. But how do you put it to practice?
Speed is safety
The thing is, it doesn’t matter how much you know about the technical stuff you still have to implement it and this is where most dieters fail. Let me use a mountain biking analogy to illustrate this.
You go to your local trail park and you try the black run for the first time but it’s steep, fast and winding, with very technical terrain. You are intimidated by the fact that you are facing down a steep hill, on a very narrow singletrack with loose rocks under your wheels. You come to a bend, instinctively pull your brakes and stack it hard, hurting yourself.
You knew all along that you would have been safer keeping your speed up, shifting your weight over the front wheel, leaning into the turn while sighting the exit and then just roll over the rocks. But, every sense of safety and sanity in your being told you to pull the brakes. It takes you several attempts to overcome your superstitious thinking, the fear but when you eventually do it right, by overriding your instincts, you take the bend easily and then wonder why you didn’t just do that in the first place.
Dieting is a bit like this. You have been led to believe that eating certain foods will make you fat, that you have to have certain foods and supplements to burn fat, that you need to do fat burning exercises (whatever they are) and whatever you do, don’t enjoy it because if you don’t feel like you are restricting and punishing yourself you surely aren’t dieting.
So, here’s 10 simple fixes that you can implement from today to improve your diet for better health and body composition.
1. Put yourself first
This one is hard for lots of people, especially parents who have grown so used to prioritising their child that they actually feel guilty doing something for themselves. You often find that a person goes through their youth with a really bad sense of worthiness, they meet someone who makes them feel wanted and they believe that this makes them worthier. It doesn’t and they still don’t value themselves. Then they have a child and suddenly their whole life revolves around protected, educating, nourishing and developing this little miracle. But, this whole time they still don’t approve of themselves and if they treated their child the way they treat or think about themselves they would have that child taken away from them. So, if you want to get healthy and lose weight you need to work on the relationship you have with yourself. Look yourself in the mirror and tell yourself how much you care, do it every day until it feels natural. Nurture yourself with the same love and devotion you would your child.
2. Manage your stress
Stress isn’t something that happens to you, it’s the way you think about the things that happen. The world doesn’t happen to you, random events happen and you just personalise them and make them about you. Some things in life aren’t easy to change, your job, your family, etc. So, if you can’t change or remove the thing that’s causing you stress, change the way you think about it. This then leads on to point number 3.
Sleep is really important, if you aren’t getting a good night’s sleep you will be less motivated, you will be more susceptible to stress and anxiety, you’ll have less energy and your mood won’t be great. Poor sleep affects your levels of insulin sensitivity and lowers leptin while increasing ghrelin production (1). Leptin and ghrelin are the hormones which regulate appetite so if these are out of sync you will feel more need to eat and find it harder to stop. Couple that with reduced insulin sensitivity and there’s no wonder that poor sleep is strongly associated with increased BMI. Stress is one of the main causes of insomnia so learning to chill out and switch off from life is a game changer.
4. Be more productive
An easy excuse to not take control of your own destiny is to say that you don’t have time. There’s always time for the things that matter, so if being well nourished, well hydrated, being fit and strong and getting a good night’s sleep. Plan your days and weeks. MAKE time for the things that are important to be achieve better health. Waste less time on social media or watching nonsensical TV programs for the sake of it. If you have a couple of programs you really enjoy watching then record them and watch them at a time that you have planned to allow to organise your time better and be more productive. Delegate, if you are a parent, you don’t have to make everyone’s packed lunch, everyone’s breakfast and do everyone’s washing, teach your kids to do it for themselves, teach your husband (or wife) if needs be. You are not a bad person if you aren’t obsequiously serving everyone in your life ahead of yourself.
5. Drink more water
Hydration is important, even a mild state of dehydration can have a negative effect on cognitive function (2) including one’s mood, sense of motivation, anger and fatigue. Most people, in my experience at least, don’t drink enough water. They drink plenty of coffee or tea, plenty of diet cola or caffeinated ‘energy’ drinks but they drink very little water. Many people claim to never feel thirsty yet they can’t go two hours without a caffeine hit. My tip is to have a pint of water before each meal. Have one first thing before your morning caffeine hit. Have one with lunch and one with dinner. This way you get onto the habit of drinking water at set times and, before long, you will start to feel thirsty more often. This, I believe, is because you have subconsciously started to recognise the enhanced sense of wellbeing and vigour and you now recognise that being adequately hydrated is less about thirst or taste and more about how healthy you feel.
6. Eat more vegetables
Everyone knows that eating vegetables is important for your health, it doesn’t take a nutrition coach to tell you this. Consuming plenty of fruits and vegetables is protective against adiposity (3) this means that people who eat more fruits and vegetables may be of lower risk of developing obesity. Not because fruits and veg magically burn fat or anything like that, it’s more likely that those who make an effort to eat more vegetables are just more focused on health and eating to nourish their body rather than eating their emotions. Furthermore, eating more vegetables is associated with many important health benefits including lower risk of heart disease, reduced blood pressure and can provide protection against some types of cancer and all-cause mortality (4). Quite simply, eating as many vegetables and fruits as you can, is the most important thing you can do for your physiological health. Try to have a couple of different types of veg on your plate at each meal, have a couple of pieces of fruit as a snack and, if you really want loads of micronutrient goodness, have yourself a green smoothie packed full of different vegetables and fruits as a snack in the day. Maybe you can grow your own, my parents and grandparents always grew vegetables and fresh seasonal veg tastes amazing, but it also saves you money.
7. Eat more protein
One area that people are often confused about when looking to eat healthier is protein. Those who are fit and active, who go to the gym regularly probably don’t have an issue with this, they have become conditioned to believe that protein is god, in fact a shaker cup is an essential fashion accessory in most gyms, make sure it has a brand name on it and I don’t mean Lighter life! But, many members of the general population forget about protein, they may eat more salads and think that’s all they need to do but protein is important, not least of all because it increases feelings of satiety so if you eat more protein you get less hungry and eat less food throughout the day. Focus on lean meats and fish, rather than processed meats. Your typical unhealthy individual who eats on the go will have bacon sandwiches and sausage rolls but the only one of their 5-a-day is the tomato ketchup in the bacon sarnie. Have eggs or Greek yoghurt with your breakfast if you don’t want steak. Have some chicken or tuna with your lunch and some lean mince in your dinner. But don’t forget your pulses too, chickpeas and lentils are a great source of carbs and fibre that also contains protein, so you don’t have to fill up on just meat if you don’t want to. The micronutrients and the fibre from all that veg and the protein from the lean meats will really nourish your body and make you feel so much better in yourself.
8. Stop cutting out entire food groups
Unless you have very specific health reasons to cut out a food group, like if you have been diagnosed with Coeliac disease and you have to avoid Gluten grains, or you are lactose intolerant and can’t have dairy, there’s no benefit to cutting out food groups. Sure, you may have a preference for a certain type of food so eat more of that and less of other things. But, ideally you will consume a reasonable amount of many different types of foods. You want a good amount of healthy fatty acids from fish, nuts, seeds, you want protein, fibre, lots of vitamins and minerals and they best way to do this is eat lots of different types of food. Wholegrains are an important source of essential micronutrients so going keto because some ripped dude on Facebook said it’s the only way to get ripped is bollocks. Likewise, eating only foods that are low in fat is likely to lead to nutrient deficiencies. You just need to be sensible in how you portion your foods. Oh, and that thing about inflammatory foods? No one is saying that sweets, cakes, icre cream, beer and the like are good for you so eat less of that stuff. But, if you’ve been told to avoid citrus fruit because of acid or something then you have my permission to ignore that advice, unless it was given to you by a clinician for a specific medical reason.
9. Portion controls
Eating lots of healthy food is great but, like anything, you can have too much of a good thing. This is why portion control is important. There’s a tone of ways that you can manage this. Track what you eat using an app. This works for those of you who love numbers and get OCD about micromanagement. Personally, I’m too laid back for all that shizzle so I do this instead. You could use smaller plates or simply eat until you are 80% full and then stop, you’ll feel completely full about 20-minutes later. To avoid making bad choices and bingeing on unhealthy foods my advice is to plan your meals, for most people eating about every 4-hours means that you eat just before hunger really sets in, this means that you will be more likely to eat less and not want to binge on energy dense foods.
10. Try new things
Experimenting with foods serves a number of purposes. It ensures that you get a wide variety of different nutrients from different foods. It keeps things fresh and interesting so that you don’t get bored with your diet. Variety is the spice of life but spice is the variety of life… no, that doesn’t work. Sod it, just use different herbs and spices to flavour your food, experiment with flavour combinations. When you go out for a meal don’t just order the steak like you always do, try something exotic and unusual. I was lucky growing up, my mum was always trying new foreign foods, different recipes and new flavours so I didn’t grow up only liking pie mash and gravy or fried bread and bacon. If you find vegetables unpalatable find ways of changing the flavour, cabbage and butter is a winning taste combination. Cinnamon and sweet potato? That one’s a winner! Marinated meats, tarragon in your scrambled eggs, figs in a salad, Lebanese, Korean, Bengali, Ethiopian, these cuisines are amazing, try them.
If you want to finally get everything right, to improve your mindset, health and fitness and to learn how to create a lifestyle that will see you achieve long-term change rather than yo-yoing up and down and never really changing anything then sign-up for my 6-month fat loss coaching program. If you have any questions follow my page and drop me a message. If you prefer a group/community approach to fat loss then join Ben Coomber on his Fat Loss For Life group.
- Taheri S, Lin L, Austin D, Young T, Mignot E. Short Sleep Duration Is Associated with Reduced Leptin, Elevated Ghrelin, and Increased Body Mass Index. Froguel P, ed. PLoS Medicine. 2004;1(3):e62. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0010062.
- Popkin BM, D’Anci KE, Rosenberg IH. Water, Hydration and Health. Nutrition reviews. 2010;68(8):439-458. doi:10.1111/j.1753-4887.2010.00304.x.
- PEM D, JEEWON R. Fruit and Vegetable Intake: Benefits and Progress of Nutrition Education Interventions- Narrative Review Article. Iranian Journal of Public Health. 2015;44(10):1309-1321.
- Wang Xia, Ouyang Yingying, Liu Jun, Zhu Minmin, Zhao Gang, Bao Wei et al. Fruit and vegetable consumption and mortality from all causes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies BMJ 2014; 349 :g4490