Quick Fixes and Shortcuts
All too frequently the nutrition headlines that grab our attention relate to quick fixes or short term solutions for our health, sports performance or appearance. We never get tired of hearing that there is a new, faster and easier way to achieve our health goals, be it lose fat, gain muscle or “tone up”. If you are serious about your health and you want realistic strategies to achieve your goals then you need to accept that it requires effort, planning and consistency. There is no such thing as the perfect diet or the perfect plan. We are all different and we all struggle with different elements of our lifestyle. The key is understanding how we can improve, and sticking to that consistent plan without becoming distracted with what others are doing or trying for something for a week and getting frustrated with your results due to unrealistic expectations.
Here are some practical ways that can help build long lasting healthy eating habits:
- Log your food intake for a week in a food diary
By logging everything you eat for week you can more clearly see how much you are eating, what you are eating and when you are eating. This will give you a much better understanding of what areas you need to work on most. For example this will help to identify if you are eating too many / too little calories? People are always surprised when they write down what they eat because we tend to forget a lot of the food we eat day to day. It will also identify if there are gaps in your diet and help you to plan meals more appropriately to your schedule.
- Start by focusing on one area to improve
Rather than aiming to overhaul your diet, target one specific area for improvement first. This should be something that is most relevant to you and is the easiest thing to change. For example, this could be your breakfast. If you don’t eat a healthy breakfast start by prioritising a healthy breakfast in the morning and build on that. As you become more consistent with that meal you can work on the next key area of your diet that needs improving. If you can’t consistently get basic areas of your diet right like eating a healthy breakfast, there is no point in thinking you can overhaul every deficit in your diet and realistically stick to it.
- Set realistic targets
Be realistic about what you want to achieve and give yourself plenty of time to achieve your goal. This could be related to losing or gaining weight or simply eating more fruit and vegetables. Judge your progress over a number of weeks rather than in days or 1-2 weeks as new habits take time to form. For example, if you only eat 2 portions of vegetables a day at the moment, eating an additional 1-2 portions of vegetables a day consistently in a big improvement in overall nutrient intake.
- Plan your meals every week rather than creating a rigid meal plan
People love the idea of meal plans and often think if they have the perfect meal plan they can follow it for their desired results. However, in reality it never really turns out like that because people love variety and don’t like to stick to the same food for long periods. However, creating a personal meal plan of different meals you enjoy for breakfast, snacks, lunch and dinner and swapping in new ideas every week is a great way to create a healthy eating pattern. By writing down your own meal plan at the beginning of each week you are far more likely to stick to eating healthy meals. What we need is meal ideas to help us stay focused on healthy foods and of course a treat should also be included as part of your plan too from time to time.
- Plan your exercise days
Good habits don’t work in isolation, they usually work hand in hand with other good habits. Exercise is another hugely important aspect of a healthy lifestyle that will also help to reinforce good eating habits. Plan what days you are going to get your workouts done and eat accordingly around it. The athletes and clients I work with always say it is so much easier to stay on track with their diet when training is going well or if they have a regular exercise routine.
- Make sure you have quality cooking utensils
If you have poor quality cooking utensils that are not fit for purpose like blunt knives and pots and pans that are constantly burning when you are cooking foods you are more likely to think of cooking as a stressful chore. However, if you have sharp knives and a good set of pots and pans your meal preparation and cooking will run a lot smoother making it a much more enjoyable experience to prepare your own meals.
- Always have healthy food in the fridge and get out of jail food / meals in the freezer
All too often people go to their fridge or cupboard and realise they have no healthy food to prepare leading to poor food choices. Make sure you have frozen fruits, frozen vegetables, yogurt, milk, cottage cheese and some left over or prepared meals in the fridge and freezer that you can use if you are too tired or short on time to cook.
- Pick a suitable shopping day
It is better to have a specific day or days that you do your shopping. If you buy your shopping day to day or after work or college you are more likely to get delayed and either pick up a convenience meal or buy unhealthy foods. Setting a day / days that you do your shopping will further strengthen a healthy routine. Online shopping is another efficient method of getting the ingredients you need to make your meals. Not only does it save time it will also help you to resist much of the temptation associated with marketing claims and other unhealthy foods you will see when doing your weekly shop.
- Create a shopping list
It sounds so simple and it is, but it’s also very effective for keeping you focused on buying what you need rather than getting distracted by advertising and marketing claims when you are out shopping. Base your shopping list ingredients off your weekly meal plan and systematically move through the grocery store getting what you need and avoid the junk food aisles.
- Experiment in the kitchen
Don’t stick to the same flavours and meals every week. Try new recipes and new flavours by using different herbs and spices. An easy way to approach this is by trying a new recipe. Ask a friend to recommend one or do a quick search online for something that suits your taste. Aim to build a new meal or idea into your diet every week or two- this will not only keep your diet varied and interesting it will also boost your nutrient intake by using a variety of foods.
- Learn a new skill or technique
Let’s not over complicate this one, it can be something really simple like learning how to peel vegetables properly, cut a pineapple or chop an onion. We can all improve one aspect of our cooking or baking skills which will make like in the kitchen more efficient. If you are looking for demonstrations, there are loads of infographics and videos online that demonstrate various cooking skills. All of these new things help to build a better mind-set towards good eating habits.
- Stay positive
We are hearing more and more about the importance of a positive mind-set and how that can impact all aspects of our professional or personal lives. Remember that with any goal you are trying to achieve there will be ups and downs, it is rarely straightforward. When you do hit a sticky patch or make a few mistakes with your diet stay positive, make sure that your next action is one that helps you focus and get back on track. This can be as easy as going for a walk, making a healthy meal or speaking to a friend who you know will give you some support.