Living a healthier life is easier said than done. Two days into a diet and most of us find ourselves nibbling on sweets, chips and other processed snacks. Despite what various fad diet programmes like to claim, healthy eating is a change of lifestyle and not a simple quick fix. With the right mindset, a good daily routine and enough information about dieting – you’re far more likely to achieve your long-term body goals and keep a healthy relationship with food as well.
Food scientist Steven Witherly says that there are two determining factors that affect our relationship with food. Firstly, there’s orosensation, which refers to the sensation of what food tastes, smells and feels like when you eat it. Basically, your brain learns to associate a certain food or drink with an emotion. A good example of this is when you uncap a fizzy drink: that hissing sound it emits can provoke a relaxing, satisfying sensation. The second (and most dangerous) factor is product optimization. This is the process whereby foods are filled with addictive elements such as unhealthy sugars, fats, and chemicals like MSG while they’re being manufactured.
Food manufacturers spend large amounts of money trying to improve the efficacy of these two factors, as they are known to increase your likelihood of purchasing their products. So yes, this can make the journey into healthy eating a lot harder. But if you’re following the right steps, you should be able to breeze through the transition. Here are seven tips we recommend:
1. Mental preparation
You need to be conscious of how open you are to change. One of the reasons why people fail to follow through on their diets is because they do not properly prepare themselves for the change. Your outlook on the situation is very important. In this case, you’re not punishing your body for the foods it has consumed; you are introducing it to a better, healthier way of living.
Secondly, our eating habits can be influenced by external factors – stress being the main example. By finding alternative ways of dealing with stress and other emotions, you can help sever the link between your emotions and food.
2. Stop with the fad diets
Fad diets are weight loss programmes that supposedly promise quick and ‘great’ results. In reality, these diets have the potential to negatively affect your health without any long-lasting positive weight loss effects. If you’re trying to differentiate fad from fact – just remember a fad diet will usually ask you to completely remove a food group from your diet, and sometimes even claim that exercise isn’t an essential part of your regime. Another common tactic is to use celebrities with no medical or nutritional qualifications to do product promotion.
3. Make small changes
One of the main reasons why fad diets fail is because they require you to make too big a change too soon. Although a drastic change can potentially generate quicker results – the risk of failure is higher as well. It’s always better to start with small changes and find healthier alternatives to your favourite fast foods. This way, you don’t have to give up what you enjoy, and before you know it, a small change becomes a habit, and eventually part of your lifestyle. I can’t promise it will be easy all the time – so don’t feel bad if you misstep sometimes. It’s important to find a pace that works best for you and take it from there.
Some healthy eating alternatives we suggest include:
- Try plain yogurt with fresh fruit instead of pre-flavoured yoghurt
Flavoured yoghurts are often packed with an unnecessary amount of added sugars and preservatives. To avoid these sugar-packed treats without losing the the taste – we suggest adding fresh fruit with a drizzle of honey to plain yogurt.
- Switch salt for herbs, citrus juice or garlic powder
Salt is another ingredient that many processed foods seem to overuse. To avoid excess sodium intake, try using fresh herbs, citrus juice or garlic powder to flavour your foods.
- Go for brown rice instead of white rice
When rice is picked and goes through its initial refining process, the outermost layer of the grain is removed, and you’re left with brown rice. To produce white rice, the next bran layers have to be stripped away. While there’s nothing chemically wrong with white rice – it no longer contains as many essential nutrients, like fibre, that brown rice has.
4. Plan your menu ahead of time
Planning what you’re going to eat ahead of time by creating a weekly menu can keep you from ordering in at the last minute when you get home to an empty fridge. A menu plan can also help you keep track of what groceries you need to buy and avoid wastage.
5. Meal Time
Learning to be conscious of portion control is another step towards healthier eating. According to Dr Brian Wansink and Dr Koert van Ittersum of The Perils of Large Plates: Waist, Waste, and Wallet study; eating food off smaller plates, as opposed to bigger ones, can trick the brain into feeling satiated much faster.
6. Pace your Eating
Cara Stewart is a registered dietician. In her Penn Metabolic and Bariatric News article, she stated that your brain actually needs about 20 minutes to process what you’ve eaten before your digestive system tells it that you’re full – this is basically why rushing through a meal can result in overeating. A good piece of advice is to take a sip of water between bites, chew properly and speak to whoever is around you so that you lengthen the time spent eating.
7. Say no to temptation
Most people usually eat what’s easy and close by – so surround yourself with healthy food and avoid storing your bag or filling up your house with unhealthy snacks. A good idea is to try carrying packed lunches to work and keep processed foods far from your peripheral vision. We know, it’s not easy to say no to a treat – but if it’s out of sight; it’s out of mind.
As simple as these steps are, nothing will change until you take the first one. Make it small, unintimidating and convenient. Embarking on this journey is an accomplishment in itself, and once you’ve begun, you’ll probably find the rest of the steps a lot easier to follow.