Is the WAY you eat making you fat?

Thanks to the internet, courses such as the BTN Academy and a rising national interest in health and nutrition, we are all pretty educated these days regarding food sources and how to split them into portion sizes which are helpful in maintaining a healthy weight. We know what foods to limit & how much is too much etc (well, I’d wager that over 99% of the people reading this blog do, anyway).

That’s great, but putting it into practice is different. It’s almost easy for some of us who ‘live’ health and fitness. Coaches, Personal Trainers, Athletes and other fitness types are involved with this world all of the time, and so our habits and thoughts are almost by default designed to keep us on track. Fitness is one of our top priorities.

But what about the people who DON’T live that kind of life? The busy mum who works part time whilst taking care of her kids. The full time business exec who goes through life meeting to meeting and spends more time on the A1 than he does in bed, and who has all of 2 minutes to make and eat a meal, most of the time?

If this is you, or something like you, then it’s not your knowledge that’s holding you back. You know what to do. It’s the ‘HOW’ which is getting in the way. Each day we perform certain tasks, go through certain motions almost without thinking, and these are the things which can either make or break your progress.

By this I mean your day to day habits.

Changing your habitual approach to different situations is key if your life is hectic. Take the decision out of the equation and make things habitual. The way you approach meals, the way you eat them, can have a big impact.

So an example of this would be:

  1. You get up late, are in a rush to get to work and skip having breakfast so you grab a ‘healthy breakfast’ bar and a latte on the way to the office
  2. A stressful morning at work means you need another couple of coffees from the vending machine coupled with some of those posh biscuits a client got you, or Janet’s left over birthday cake
  3. Lunch time rolls around and you’re too busy to have a decent lunch hour so your choices are limited. You’re forced to resort to the work canteen greasefest, a sandwich meal deal from the local shop, or something from the chippy
  4. Soon afterwards you feel that mid- afternoon energy slump coming on so negate that by a couple of cups of strong tea- better than coffee right? Or a refreshing diet coke. You reach into your bottom snack drawer for a couple of handfuls of dried fruit and nuts, take the bag out and put it on your desk
  5. You have to pick up groceries on your way home because the fridge is empty and there’s nothing to cook for dinner. You zoom round the supermarket throwing a couple of ‘on offer’ foods in your basket because, hey, 2 for 1 deals are money saving right?! Grab a bag of crisps as you get to the car to tide you over until dinner
  6. By the time you get out of home and prepared dinner for yourself and partner, maybe also your kids, you NEED a couple of glasses of wine to wind down…
  7. At last you get to sit down in front of the TV for an hour of trivia & your partner brings you a half-eaten bar of chocolate to finish

While this may be a slight exaggeration of a typical day (I’d hope!) – you might be able to identify with a couple of the above points.

The situations aren’t avoidable. You DO have to get up early, the kids DO need looking after, your job ISN’T going to go anywhere and your work colleagues WILL bring junk to the office. We can’t change that, but we CAN change our habitual reactions.

So to expand on the points above:

While intermittent fasting is an option, some people simply like to have something in the morning to ‘set them up’, and that’s great, but you NEED to pay attention. Generally speaking snack bars and breakfast bars aren’t going to get you very far. Even the seemingly healthy options are surprisingly calorie dense, and usually lack any great source of protein. If time is an issue, throwing together some oats, with greek yoghurt, nuts & berries takes literally 5 mins and can be prepped the night before to take with you and eat when you get to work. Simple yet effective. That, or you could grab a protein shake and some fruit, and there’s always the option of getting up a tad earlier.

I know what it’s like to be surrounded by junk food in your workplace. My office kitchen regularly contains the following for general consumption:
Scones, biscuits, muffins, bagels, peanut butter, various jams, some sort of homemade cake or cupcakes, crisps and bowls of fruit.
EVERY DAY this is in the kitchen….

Now I’m not saying I never touch it but planning my daytime meals in advance & having them ready to eat means not having to reach for a couple of slices of toast in desperate hunger.

Have you noticed how the kitchen area in any work place seem to have become the new ‘smokers’ hang-out? An area of congregation where people like to have a chat while making a cup of tea and just having a couple of biscuits. What if you did this 3x a day? This could add up to an extra 426kcal & almost 20g of fat & that just if they were plain digestives!

If you know you’re going to want to indulge, plan a couple of biscuits/cakes/’insert your snack here’ into your day ahead of time and work back from there.

Lunchtime, more and more people don’t take a regular lunch break these days because pressure at work is always mounting and time is a precious commodity, so quick and easy is the general requirement. Most meal deals still contain a packet of crisps, chocolate and a fizzy drink and even if you have a slightly more upmarket lunch from M&S you need to really know what you’re looking for on the label.

Some more upmarket places such as Pret a Manger do some really good healthy options (amongst some less-so, always pay attention) but the best thing you can honestly do is to make something yourself. Batch-cooking some meats and then adding some fresh salad and a pre-cooked jacket potato or some packet rice is a really easy means of getting something quick and easy which costs less, tastes better and will usually keep you on track much easier.

Further to this, at BTN we like to encourage mindful eating. Where you sit down without distractions to eat and savour the food you are eating. Sitting eating at your desk, in front of your computer is the exact opposite of this. If you’re not working while eating lunch most of the time you’ll be scouring the internet or on your smart phone and hey presto – look down and your lunch will have disappeared without you even recalling haven eaten it! So even if you have to just go someplace else for 10 mins to eat – it’s possible if you try.

Mid- afternoon, while nuts and seeds are certainly good foods to include within your diet, portion control is a must as the calories can really add up and it’s best to keep them where you can’t see them. We’ve all experienced this: if a bowl of crisps/tortilla chips or similar are left out on the kitchen worktop, suddenly they are all gone, and just think about those bowls of peanuts that are always decorating side tables at parties – even if you don’t want them, you’re chewing before you even realise. It’s essentially the same thing if you have a large open bag of crisps lying out in your house or a bag of peanuts on your desk and the same goes for grapes or any other small ‘picky food’ which you leave in plain sight.

If you sometimes feel that you can’t make it until dinner then I would suggest making yourself another small meal. This works well with a lot of my female clients who do better on 4x meals that 3. I try to encourage each one being an actual ‘ meal’ as opposed to just a snack- however that could still mean something nutritious and filling like tinned fish with smashed avocado on rice cakes or a bowl of celery and carrot sticks with a small tub of hummus. Something that contains a portion of protein so even a shake with added fruit would suffice if pressed for time.

Also remember that we often confuse hunger with thirst so important to regularly hydrate throughout the day. Make your water delicious with chopped fruit, herbs like mint, cucumber or good old sugar free squash.

"Simple, but hugely effective, and that’s what it’s really about".

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Grocery shopping – your food habits begin in the supermarket. Everyone knows that the worst time you can go food shopping is when you’re hungry, and this it probably true, but it’s also not great to grocery shop when you are in a mad rush; not only because you might be tempted by junk foods, but also because you’re more likely to buy more convenience foods. Making a list is the best way to shop. You’ll always be tempted by offers- that’s why they put them where you can’t miss them. Before you throw them into your trolley pause to think about whether you really want/need them.

Planning ahead and buying enough food for what you need is imperative to staying on track. Eating well, when you first start out, can be a challenge. Think about how hard that challenge is going to be when the fridge is empty and the only thing you have in the freezer is pizza.

Pre-dinner drinks. Whether your goal is body composition, weight loss or general health, at some point calories matter. There’s nothing wrong with drinking wine and most of our coaches love a good beer, but all too often alcohol so consumed in the wrong manner.

If you are sitting down savouring a glass of with a meal that’s great! Or out at a weekend social event and having a few beers with friends, go for it! However if you are downing half a bottle of wine because you are trying to escape from the stress of the day or cracking open a can of lager simply because it’s 8pm and that’s what you do at 8pm, this may not really line up with your goals.

The end of the day is when a lot of people will consume pointless excess calories. My dad does it all the time. He just has this habit of sitting down in the evening to watch the news and having to get out biscuits and chocolate. But that’s exactly what it is – a habit.

If you like to have something sweet after your meal fruit can be awesome, as can a small Danio yoghurt – or if your calorie allowance is really low try having a sweet herbal tea- Pukka Teas do fabulous flavours.

Each one of these points may seem trivial. Buy food, make your own lunch, consider tracking that biscuit at work ahead of time and leaving the kitchen to eat it, put the nuts back in the drawer once you have a few in your hand.

Simple, but hugely effective, and that’s what it’s really about. There aren’t many people, and probably little to no people reading this blog, who need to completely overhaul everything they do all at once. No, it’s these little habit changes which matter, the things which give the most bang for the least buck.

The easier, the better.