The path to a healthier diet starts with the very next food choice you make. One better option each day will transform how you eat over the course of a month, six-months, a year, and onwards for life. The secret to success is realising there’s no secret at all. It’s all about making one good choice at a time, and prioritizing foods that pack a high nutritional content over energy-dense foods that are limited in essential micronutrients.
Why diets don’t work
Traditionally, when people come to evaluate their diet, the common approach is to list what snacks, treats, and take-away meals need to be eliminated or dramatically reduced. Or they take the calorie-counting road; scrutinising the back of every packet to find out how many calories lurk within, and then follow a regime that only permits a limited amount of total calories per-day to induce weight-loss.
Approaches such as these often work in the short term but fail tremendously over the long-term. One of the reasons why they fail is due to the sheer addictiveness of the snack and convenience foods out there. These high-sugar, high-fat, high-salt, combinations elicit a wash of dopamine (the feel-good chemical) throughout the brain, involved in reward and motivation. This is why we feel a temporary ‘high’ when we eat these foods. As such, removing them from the diet causes cravings, leading us all the way back to those foods that made us feel good by stimulating dopamine. Once a person ‘breaks’ their diet they typically then quit their diet, and gradually shift back to how they ate, and what they weighed, before.
Similarly, extreme calorie restriction diets generally lead to cravings, as we simply aren’t getting enough vitamins and minerals daily, or energy to meet with our lifestyle needs. While the logic behind a very restricted calorie diet seems sound (less energy in / more energy out), research and practice consistently reveal that over time, success is short-lived. This is largely because people don’t change the type of food they eat, merely the amount, and after a while they gravitate back to eating more of the same foods that made them overweight, or ill, in the first place.
What to do instead
The first change we need to make is how we think about food. What makes it to our home makes it to our plates. We need to change how we shop and the best way to achieve this is to learn what positive impact better food choices can make on our health and waistline. Make a plan, a shopping list, before you go to the shop, and stick to it once you’re there. Think about the meals you want to create, and shop accordingly. Also, the time we spend preparing our meals plays a significant part in determining the quality of the meal. Convenience foods are quick, but quality ingredients take time. Take your time while preparing your meals, it’s one of the biggest differences you can make.
Add before you subtract
The notion that by adding food you can facilitate weight-loss, or support weight-management, may sound like the exact opposite of what makes sense. However, this is actually a great way to succeed and to change how we think about food.
The premise is truly simple: target two new foods to add to your shopping list and snacks/meals per-week. Then, commit to make the change. Some foods will prove to be more challenging than others, for example introducing blueberries to the diet is relatively easy as they are small and sweet, and most people like sweet tasting foods. As such, you need a plan of action, and we encourage the following framework for accommodating new foods.
1. The two-for-ten rule: Select two nutrient-rich foods that currently don’t feature as part of your diet, one sweet and the other non-sweet, and you commit to consuming them daily for ten-days. Add a palm-full of raspberries to your breakfast each morning and include broccoli as part of every lunch or evening meal for the ten-days. Our tastebuds can be re-educated, it just takes time and repetition. When the nutritional benefits of including a certain food are compelling enough, then overcoming what we think of the initial taste is a battle worth fighting.
2. The one-for-two rule: This is a simple trade-off. Once you have completed ten-days of introducing a new food to your diet, it’s time to identify one of the foods that’s holding your health back. Maybe it’s that mid-morning chocolate bar at the office, or that pre-packaged sandwich for lunch. Simply reduce the number of times you have it. Instead of a chocolate bar a day, have just one or two per-week. Instead of a bought sandwich, make your own. By doing this, you have swapped one less healthy food from your diet for two new nutritious options.
The application of these two simple rules will gradually transform your diet over time, and as you progress a world of new and nutritious opportunities will open-up to you.
As you gradually reduce your inclusion and reliance of high-sugar, high-fat, high-salt processed foods your desire for them will naturally lessen, and the outcome of this journey is that some of them will eliminate themselves over time. Most importantly, by taking this longer road you will learn more about food, and you will change the most important factor: your mindset!
Here's a list of nutrient-packed foods to get you started:
Blueberries: One 10.5-ounce portion significantly reduces cell damage – after only one hour of consumption Add a palm-full of them to porridge in the morning for a powerful bowl of cell supporting goodness.
Watercress: ¾ of a Cup per Day is scientifically proven to reduce cell damage. Make it a regular feature by throwing them in your salad, layer them into your sandwich or wrap, or add as a main meal garnish.
Broccoli: A rich source of vitamins (C, K), fibre, minerals, and antioxidants. Add it fresh and uncooked to salads, toss them in a stir fry, or mix them into your smoothie.
Fruit Juice: Polyphenol-Rich and Scientifically proven to protect and repair your cell. Avoid the pasteurized cartons on the supermarket shelves and go for Cold Pressed fruit juices in the cooler – 100% of the nutrients are intact!
Spinach and Tomato: This dynamic duo is proven to assist your cell in resisting oxidative damage. A warm bowl of Spinach and Tomato soup on a chilly day is a winning winter warmer.
Nuts and Seeds: packed with essential fats and protein, and proven to alter gene expression, nuts should be a go-to snack option. Seeds add vitamins B1, B2, B3, and Vitamin E.
Turmeric (Curcumin): Add it to your Scrambled Eggs, Curries, Smoothies, or Soups – also, adding Black Pepper to your meals boosts bioavailability by 2,000%!
Some general nutrition tips:
1. Eat a Rainbow – 4 vegetables and 2 fruit, per day. Aim to get as much colour on your plate as possible in the form of fruits and vegetables. They are also full of fibre which will help you stay full and satisfied for longer.
2. Choose whole, natural foods, and seek to reduce your reliance on ultra-processed foods; anything in a box, bag, can, or package. Whilst there are always a few exceptions to the rule (like a bag of fresh green beans/sweetcorn), make sure most of your foods are fresh.
Tip! If it didn’t come from something that ran, swam, flew, or grew in the ground or on a tree, limit your intake.
3. Choose unrefined over refined foods. While it may not be possible all the time, generally you should aim to increase your intake of whole grains (like brown rice, millet, and quinoa). Beans and legumes are also important. Cut down on ‘clean sugars’ such as non-pasteurised honey, maple syrup, and dehydrated sugar cane juice.
4. Include some protein, carbohydrate, and fat at every meal. Most people have little problem with getting carbohydrates and fat in the diet, but often protein is lacking. This is a vital component in muscle repair and building. IWhen eaten throughout the day, protein keeps you feeling full for longer.
5. Look out for saturated fat, salt, and sugar. It’s easier than you might think, particularly if you’ve cut out processed foods, which are responsible for most of our excess calories and high levels of fat, sugar, and salt. ‘Clean’ foods are usually naturally low in all these ingredients.
6. Consume three to five small meals throughout the day. This usually equates to three main meals, along with two snacks (fruit, nuts, or a source of protein). Eating in this manner keeps your blood sugar levels nice and steady, so energy doesn’t lag.
7. Don’t drink your calories. High calorie drinks (like specialty coffees and soft drinks) add – on average – an additional 400 to 500 kcal per day. Choose water first, or peppermint tea, unsweetened tea (any flavour), or a simple black coffee.
8. Remember the 80/20 Rule: it’s a lifestyle not a diet so sustainability is king! 80% of the time follow the below guidelines and 20% of the time enjoy a guilt free treat.
9. Protein provides the building blocks for muscle so will help you recover from exercise as well as keeping you fuller for longer. So, plan each meal around a wholefood source of protein such as chicken, fish, eggs, or dairy.