If you have followed me for a while, you know that I am not a big fan of rigid rules, dieting or counting calories when it comes to healthy eating and weight-loss. This is because it simply does not work. At least not on the long run. What it does do, however, it sets you up for an unhealthy relationship with yourself: for low self-esteem, self-worth and a bad body image. Yuk. Not what I want for you. So, let me share with you instead my 5 Pillars of Healthful Eating which I know do and will work and this not only for a short period of time.
It is essential for you to be able to outshine your gorgeous self and jumpstart your days with tons of good, radiant energy, that you eat a diet that is as varied as possible. With this I mean that you try to eat always of all the 3 food-groups that your body needs for best health: lean animal and / or plant protein, healthy fats and wholesome carbohydrates. Yes, you have read right, I want you to put carbs back into your daily meals. I know carbs have received an incredibly bad reputation over the last few years with the result that pretty much every woman who is trying to lose weight is totally cutting down on carbs…. However, we do need carbohydrates to be able to feel energised and live up to our full potential. The key is to eat the right ones. So, stay away from any carbs that are refined, processed and white. Instead learn to love and trust again those that are unprocessed, wholesome and brown.
Eating a diet that bursts of variety also means that you make an effort to nourish yourself with lots of different foods from the same food groups. Think of all the different colours of the rainbow. Eating this way will ensure your body gets of all the different nutrients and minerals it needs for best health and outstanding beauty. At the same time, this also minimises exposure to any not so healthful substances that might come with your favourite food. Remember: no single food is totally free of by-products that in large amounts, or accumulated over time, can be toxic for your body. So, instead of eating mainly brown rice or mostly quinoa, I am asking you to try lots of different wholegrains. Make Monday your quinoa day, Tuesday is for sweet potatoes, Wednesday calls for brown rice, Thursday for teff, Friday for whole wheat, Saturday for Amaranth and Sunday for buckwheat! Of course, make this fit to your taste buds and into your busy world.
Another example of variety is to eat as many different vegetables as possible over your week. We do tend to buy and make over and over the same things. It is easy, we know how to do it, on which shelf of the super-market to find it, it all happens almost effortless and we simply know the family likes it and will eat it. I am totally guilty of this too. But if we are serious about putting our gorgeous selves first and giving us the best shot of feeling and looking the best versions of ourselves, we have to take this leap of faith and try out lots of different, amazing new foods and ways of nurturing ourselves. You will see it is actually more fun and less work than you think.
Make it your rule of thumb that you buy, cook and eat only foods that are as close to their original state as possible. That is foods that look like food. That do not necessarily come in a package. That do not have long lists of ingredients. Don’t eat any foods that your grandparents would not have recognised as such. If you do not understand the labelling of a package because it sounds more like a chemistry balance, it is very unlikely that this food or mixture of chemicals is also good for you.
So, here is the deal: shop for real foods. Have the courage to be old-fashioned again in a very modern and emancipated way of course. Nurture your beautiful self with vast amounts of different vegetables, wholegrains, healthy fats (like olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocado, tahini, nut-butter, fatty fish etc), and healthful protein (like lean animal protein such as chicken, turkey, fatty fish, eggs and even more plant protein such as lentils, beans, seeds etc). If you think cooking with real foods is super boring, you have obviously not spiced your dishes up enough. And what about herbs? Don’t forget about those secret antioxidant superpowers. I promise you, you will be surprised by the taste explosion wholesome foods can create! However, what I love most about cooking with and eating real wholefoods is that while they taste amazing, they at the same time beautify me and are my best age-defendant!!!! Seriously, how much better can it get???!
So, now that you are cooking up a healthy, inspired storm with real, wholesome ingredients in lots of different colours, forms and shapes, you have totally taken off on your journey towards vibrant health, radiant beauty and well-being. To make sure you stay also on the right track though, it will be important to individualise your tasteful dish according to your individual needs and make-up. With this I mean, eat in accordance to your gender, age, genetic make-up / family history of disease, allergies or sensitivities, liking and activity level. This bit can be tricky, especially when you are catering for your entire family where your husband will have different needs to you as will your teenage daughter or 3-year-old toddler. No, this does not mean you have to cook 4 different dishes to support everyone’s best health. This would definitely not be in line with working towards your healthiest self, but instead up your very own stress levels enormously and horrendously.
So, don’t despair and hear me out. Even though all or most of the different members in your family might have different needs and probably likings too, you can still cook for everybody the same meal. There is nothing wrong with going generic such as with brown rice, vegetables, a salad and tofu for example.
You can start catering to everyone’s individual needs when it comes to serving. Your husband will for example have a slightly higher need for protein and healthy carbs than you do, unless you are very active and fit. The reason for this is that men have by nature more muscle mass than we do, which is metabolically active and needs to be fed. If his co-workers smoke and he is regularly exposed to this smoke he has higher needs for vitamin C too. If you have heart disease or cancer in your line of ancestry you want to make sure you dish up extra plant power and antioxidant super-powers with every dish. Your teenage daughter will need an even bigger portion than your husband – especially if he is not very active – to supply her with everything she needs while so quickly developing and growing. In order to satisfy your daughter’s body’s demands, sprinkle the larger portions with nuts, seeds or cheese or all of it for extra energy. And as for your toddler: of course, she or he wants plain foods in line with the latest allergy recommendations and will need much smaller servings of it. So, how about having those sauces, fun condiments and hot sides sitting at the table, so everyone can spice up their meal to their liking as they go along without anyone missing out on their individual requirements to look and feel their best selves or you going crazy with cooking.
- Set yourself up for success
This one should be a no-brainer really. However, it is my experience that setting yourself up for success is not always as easy as it sounds. Let’s be totally realistic. Establishing new healthful routines and over-riding old less wholesome habits, does not happen overnight and demands quite some energy and effort. So, in order for you to make this work and be able to follow-through with those still new to you principles, it will be important that you are willing to kiss-good-bye the perfectionist within you. Instead be kind to your beautiful self. This will create room to flourish while you are adjusting and transitioning. Perfect is unachievable and the more you push for it, the further you will grow away from a happy, healthy you. True health sits somewhere in a middle-zone. Think of 80% smashing your healthful eating goals and 20% you don’t. You don’t because there are still those foods you really love and want to have but they are not providing you with any health-boosting or beautifying minerals, vitamins and other phyto-nutrients. As long, as you keep these foods in your 20% ratio, this is totally okay. Even more than okay. It keeps you sane and any cravings at bay. Don’t be surprised though if the healthier you eat, the more accustomed you become to your new blissful ways, the less you might desire those old, once so desirable foods void of nutrients.
Keeping it real also means that you don’t smash out a complicated new dish on a Monday night where you have little time and nerves for it. Instead start to plan ahead. Make a meal plan for your week. Then create your shopping list in accordance with that plan and do one huge shopping to stock up your empty cupboards and fridge with wholesome fresh goodness when you have time. Prep your snacks for the week. If your mornings are particularly tricky or rushed, prep as much as you can in the evenings. Have your jar with overnight oats in the fridge, your lunches, lemon juice and snacks for the next day ready to grab. While this might not sound like much spontaneous, sexy fun, it provides you with a beautiful secure sense of control and when hunger strikes because your day got crazy, you have got a plan. And ideally more than a plan. You have got delicious, beautifying and waist-slimming foods at hand that will leave you feeling satisfied, energised and happy without any guilty aftermath. Trust me, if I did not plan ahead and set myself up for delicious, wholesome success, every week, every day, I would not be able to keep my beloved healthy up either!!!
- Don’t fall in the diet trap
Even though I have mentioned this already before, I feel this is such an important principle – maybe the most important principle of all of them – that I want to say it again. Please don’t fall in the trap of dieting, counting calories or depriving yourself. I know we used to believe that this is how you lose weight; we thought our bodies would function in accordance with this simple equation: less calories in than put out equals weight-loss. Unfortunately, or should I rather say luckily for us, our bodies are much more complex than this. When we restrict our calories, our bodies adjust by burning less calories or by lowering their rate of metabolic activity. True physical magic. But this means for you that in order to lose more weight you have to restrict your calories further and further which is not very sustainable. Eventually your body will have had enough of all this deprivation and fight back. Your need, desire and urge for food and calories will be so strong that all of this barely eating will totally backfire and result in you eating more than you should and probably, on top of it, of all the wrong foods. Not because you are weak or your willpower is not strong enough. But because your body is trying to keep you alive and do what’s best for you – always. Feasting on only a few calories per day is obviously not what brings the best out in you, your body knows this and is on this one as on many others so many steps ahead of you…I would even go as far as to argue, it totally does the opposite in that dieting brings the worst out in you.
So, dieting does not work. This is not only my very own painful experience and what I see in my daily practice as a nutrition coach with so many desperate clients who feel they have tried it all but nothing works – but research backs me up on this too. As the language itself implies, going on a diet means that eventually you will have to go of it, so is not doable on the long run. So, what happens once you stop with your crazy calorie restriction and counting? Not only will you put very quickly all those kilos back on, you are very likely to put on also more fat than you did before because your body wants to outsmart your unfortunate circumstances and wants to see you covered against this famine, you are apparently under. Thus, it down-regulates your ability to burn fat and up-regulates your hormones that cause you to eat more. If this was not enough, with all these unwanted painfully gained new fat reserves on your body, come also nagging feelings of guilt, a self-esteem that is more than just a little beaten up and self-worth that has just plummeted into new depth. Needless to say, that all this negativity is not exactly going to spiral more self-love, self-acceptance, positive self-talk or any other healthy thoughts or behaviours. Not the most fun vicious cycle to be in. Trust me.
Try my pillars for yourself and see your healthy world develop. You will notice for yourself that following them is not only easier than you thought it would be, it is also so much fun. Feeling amazing, beautiful, confident and energised in your glowing self comes as a welcome side effect. All without the guilt which yo-yo dieting and calorie counting brings. Instead you are nurturing your wonderful self with everything YOU really need to be the best version of yourself and live up to your full potential. Yes, losing your weight-for-good through healthy eating is just as simple as that! It’s about time you started living and eating healthy and stopped restricting yourself!!!