Often getting a healthier diet is not just about what you are eating, but how much of it. For example, there is no real reason to stop eating foods like pasta or cheese – but a mound that fills the plate is always going to be unhealthy.
Many of us make the mistake of eating until it is uncomfortable to eat more. This is never going to work out well because we go on eating after we are satisfied and all of a sudden we have overloaded our digestive system. The digestive system is not like a muscle, that will get more powerful with every workout. We need enzymes to digest food, and when they are overworked it causes a deficiency.
In this respect, eating healthily can be as much a matter of making small changes as doing anything radical. Even a seemingly cosmetic change like using smaller plates can be helpful. We are conditioned to think that empty space on a plate is a bad thing. All that really matters is how we feel after eating. If after a meal you don’t feel hungry, then the meal has done its job.
In France, a country with less of an obesity problem with most, the diet is far from boring. The major difference between there and many English-speaking countries is that they eat less food at a sitting. The French do not eat until they can eat no more – rather they eat until they have eaten enough, and enjoy the food for its taste. In this respect, there is a lot we can learn from them.
Healthy eating is not something that necessarily follows an easy pattern. It would be great if we could simply flick a switch and change our habits to make our diet healthier, but as we have free will and free choice, we will always be tempted to do something that may hurt us long-term. This means that we are reluctant to make a huge change – what if it fails, and we have gone to so much effort for something to fall apart?
Instead of making one big change, there is a lot to be said for starting small and making several little changes that will be easier to maintain. Those smaller changes may seem to be nothing, but they add up. When you get up tomorrow morning and you have a choice between bacon and eggs and toast and cereal, think about what your body actually wants – there are more nutrients in the latter, and they won’t cause a mid-morning crash.
When you are offered “fries with that” if you go for a burger, say “no thanks” and enjoy a small treat that doesn’t cause you to feel like you’ve transgressed. When you are asked how you would like your eggs, don’t say “fried” or “I like mine with a kiss”. The latter is bad for you and the second isn’t funny. Try having them scrambled or poached – in all honesty there is more taste and less fat from having them this way. Small changes like this soon add up.
Few of us can really say that we would not enjoy the chance to eat in a good restaurant more often, and there is no reason that we should turn our backs on restaurant eating once we go on a diet. However, the truth of the matter is that eating in a restaurant is not a risk because there are no healthy options or even that they are limited, but that we know so little about the healthy option.
When we take care of the cooking of food ourselves, we know exactly what is going into it and how it is being prepared. In a restaurant we leave it up to the chef. When you look over the menu in a restaurant, it is a good idea to have a healthy option or two in mind, and then ask the waiter when ordering how exactly the food is prepared.
Different restaurants will have different policies for how the food is cooked. Sauteed vegetables are usually healthy and delicious, but the difference between frying them in vegetable oil and fat is quite marked. Asking a few questions before committing to an order is never a bad idea, as long as you are polite and reasonable in doing so.
There may be some concern that the serving staff will lie to you or tell you what they think you want to hear in order to make you pipe down and order – but if you are reasonable and polite to them, they will be likely to reciprocate, and take on board your specifications on how you would like something to be cooked.
If eating healthily was as easy as it should be, then the diet industry – books, DVDs, diet plans themselves and exercise equipment – would be in the doldrums. The fact that it is thriving to this day is a sign that, as much as we would like to think it, dieting is not easy or straightforward.
We like to think of pasta as being the healthy option – many of us will replace fries with a serving of pasta when we are trying to lose weight – but unless we are careful, we can end up gaining more weight for the addition of pasta to our diet. A lot of it comes down to what we eat with that pasta. In some cases it is a thick, creamy sauce or a salad dressing that contains a bunch of calories. And even plain pasta can be a weight gain nightmare if we don’t get the exercise to work off those carbs.
Very often it is not what we eat but how we cook it that is the issue. Many of us will, for example, quite enjoy a nice steak every once in a while – as long as the fat is trimmed. But how we cook it affects how good it is for us. If you are frying it in oil or butter, then it will become unhealthy very quickly. If, however, you grill it or sear it in a pan, there is certainly no harm to enjoying it.
One of the most enjoyable quick meals is a chicken breast with baby potatoes. Now, boiled potatoes can hardly be a diet destroyer, can they? Again, it depends what is done with them. If they are tipped out of the pan and have a mound of butter melted over them, they’re as much a risk as fries. If they are drizzled with a little olive oil, then they’re more than fine.
It is not at all uncommon to meet a person who cannot understand why they are unable to lose weight, and curses the fact that although they are eating all the right things, their weight hangs around the “few pounds overweight” barrier. They will tell you all of this and wonder what they are doing wrong, and in the next few moments will take a gulp from a can of soda, a glass of beer or something similar, and admit on questioning that it is their third of the day or night.
Now, it is far from impossible to maintain a healthy diet while continuing to enjoy the occasional glass of wine or can of soda. Neither is it unthinkable to stop drinking these things entirely, but it is not compulsory. However, it is important to realize that issues with weight gain or weight loss can often be down to what you drink as much as what you eat. You will not be at a healthy weight if you drink a bottle of wine a day, or get through a family-sized bottle of soda.
If you have to have a drink with food, then often a glass of water will be the best option. There are more reasons for this than just the weight issue. A glass of water will keep you from getting thirsty and will help you enjoy the meal, but will not interfere with the taste. And if you are thirsty, a glass of water is the best thing you can drink – it replenishes the body’s hydration levels and allows you to enjoy the occasional glass of wine or soda more, because you get to really savor the taste.
When people embark upon a diet, they are often given to mention that the big test for them will be how much they miss a certain food. For a diet to be effective it needs to be stuck to – often to the extent that people who have lost weight on a diet put it all back on in weeks once they revert to their old ways. So it can be hard to stick to a diet if you tell yourself that it’s over between you and your favorite chocolate bar, or that you can never again eat cheese.
If a crash diet is required for health reasons, it must be stuck to. But if you simply want to lose weight and keep it off for your own reasons, the best way of sticking to a diet may be to allow yourself to relax it at certain points. If you eat chocolate every day, and often several times a day, then you’re not going to lose weight. But only a diet fascist will say that the occasional bar as a treat is off limits.
This is not to say that you can carry on eating chocolate as regularly as you wish, or having fried food every few days. For a diet to mean anything, the healthy options have to be the norm. However, a small treat once or twice a week as a reward for sticking to the diet is not going to be the end of the world – and it can enable you to keep to that diet indefinitely, aiding you to lose weight in the long run, which is what you want.
There has for some time been an impression that healthy food is tasteless, boring and even off-putting. We all know that a salad is better for us than a hamburger, but we go for the burger because it has more taste – or so goes the theory, anyway. But there is no reason that this needs to be the case. With the addition of a little spice, any food can become more interesting.
There will always be people keen to point out that, although a grilled chicken breast may contain fewer calories than a family bucket from a fried chicken outlet, it doesn’t taste as good. And while this is a matter of opinion, the fact of the matter is that perceptions matter. If you marinade that chicken breast with herbs and spices, though, the taste can change considerably, and be a lot more fun.
You may get bored with eating tuna salad in your sandwiches, even though tuna is far from tasteless. But if you add a little spice when you make the tuna mix you will find that there are a range of different tastes that add very little if anything in the way of calories. Paprika, pepper, cayenne… the list goes on. The addition of some chopped jalapenos can make it even more interesting, if you have the stomach for them. And these days, the bottles of sauce on the supermarket shelves goes beyond steak sauce and ketchup – additions like piri-piri and teriyaki are a welcome break from the norm.
Although our attitudes to food and drink have changed subtly over the years, there will always be truisms that hold out against logic, reason and our own benefit. One of these truisms is that if it is good for you, it cannot possibly be fun. Hence we are tempted by the hamburger and fries because it is more “fun” than the healthier options. Of course, it must be – why would we eat the less healthy option if it were not superior in some other way?
In many ways, we stick to the less healthy food because it is what we are used to. Take as an example someone on holiday in a foreign country. There is always a sense that someone who holidays to another country will look for home comforts – in the UK it is a cliché born out of truth that a “Brit abroad” will book into their hotel and unpack then look for the nearest British-style eating and drinking establishments.
If we widen our range, we will usually find that the things we have ignored out of habit are actually quite good. Whether it be a salad with light dressing, or an element of international cuisine, there are some healthy options that have plenty of taste and enough of a “wow” factor to remain part of our diet going forward. Less fat doesn’t mean less fun, unless you have such a low imagination that you can’t bear to be parted from what you are used to.
Part of eating a healthy diet is in looking at what you eat now and making the necessary changes to turn it into something healthy. Although this may initially seem like deprivation, it allows you to keep a similar eating pattern but improve what it gives you in terms of nutrition. It is as much about a shift in mindset as anything else.
For example, if you are used to having a burger for lunch, it may be a good idea to switch to a tuna or chicken sandwich on granary bread. The principle is the same – meat, bread, seasoning – and if it seems a little tasteless in comparison then there is a lot you can do with pepper, paprika or a range of other light spices.
For many people, the idea of replacing a chocolate bar with an apple or a packet of crisps with a handful of fruit and nuts is tantamount to replacing a swimming pool with a small puddle. However, if apples aren’t for you there is a wide range of fruit that is packed with taste and nutrients. And none of this means you can never eat chocolate again. In fact, an occasional bar may make it easier to stick to the diet long-term.
Also think about the part that soft drinks play in your diet. If you can replace a few soft drinks every week with a glass of water or fruit juice, then you will benefit from the change that this brings. It may seem boring, but there really is no better taste on a hot day than an ice-cold glass of water.