Those who know me will know I’ve been on a healthier eating journey for around four years now. The reason? Well, diabetes runs in my family and I needed a kick up the backside when it came to what I consumed. So, almost overnight, I made many changes to my diet which I’m still keeping up with four years later. As they say, diets can be fads but if you make lifestyle changes, you can maintain the weight loss and better health. So, here I am!
The first of two things I have to share is that it’s not an easy journey. You need oodles of willpower and discipline. It’s the social settings that will prove difficult but if your mind is always on the goal, you’ll know when you’re able to treat yourself and when you absolutely shouldn’t let yourself slip. Like I said… oodles of willpower and discipline.
The second thing which is important to know is that you will have bad days. As long as you make sure one bad day isn’t followed by numerous bad days, you’ll be fine. Don’t beat yourself up but judge it as you can. Had something unhealthy for lunch? Have a healthy dinner. Had unhealthy food due to social commitments one day of the weekend? Step it up from the day after and onwards. It’s really no big deal and not rocket science. As long as most of your days are win days, the odd bad or “cheat” day is actually allowed!
I thought I’d share some really easy swaps and additions I incorporated into my diet which made big changes for me and the way I thought about food and drink. It also changed the kind of thing my body is now used to, which now doesn’t allow me to be unhealthy too much because I literally feel physically awful when I am!
Swap full-fat sugary, aerated drinks for the zero or sugarfree version
This will sound like the easiest trick in the book but I am constantly surprised by the number of people around me who drink the sugary stuff so easily without thinking about the impact it’s having on their body. Realistically, aerated drinks are not great in any circumstances if consumed on a regular basis. However, if you have the urge to drink something fizzy (which I sometimes do), just drink the zero version. You’ll find it’s not as heavy and will still fulfil that feeling of drinking something fizzy… and tastes pretty much the same as the sugar-loaded version.
Drink water… or sugarfree flavoured water… or “no added sugar” squash
The best thing anyone can do for themselves is drink a good amount of water each day. However, sometimes it can get very boring. So, to change it up, there are some brands which now have a sugarfree version of a flavoured water, which is a good alternative when you want a break from plain water. Aside from this, there are well-known brands which now have “no added sugar” squashes which are also handy when you are bored of water. There are lot of choices with flavours too so that it stops you becoming mundane. However, don’t forget that there’s nothing better than just plain water.
A handful of assorted nuts goes a long way
One of the swaps I made when I changed my diet was to swap the sugary cereal bars for a handful of assorted nuts as a mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack. You need to be careful not to each too many nuts (they can be moreish) that it affects your calorie-intake but otherwise, nuts are a fabulous healthy way of addressing the peckish-ness when you feel it creeping up. You might think that just a handful may not satisfy you but, trust me, it’s just enough to keep you going until the next meal time. And make sure they aren’t salted or honey-roasted!
Consciously incorporate fruits into your diet
This might seem really obvious too but it’s not a conscious thing that many people think about often. I was the same over four years back; I didn’t really think about fruit so much. However, fruit is another great healthy snack to have in-between meals. The one thing I do take care of is the portion size of the fruit I have. Also, if I’ve had fruit (usually berries) with my morning oats, I tend to not eat too much in between meals. The best fruits to not give you a natural sugar spike are berries – blueberries, raspberries, red berries, strawberries, black-berries… there are so many to choose from.
Watch the carbs
Many fad diets limit the intake of carbohydrates, and rightfully so. However, if you can’t completely cut down how much you eat of this food group, you can swap white carbs for brown carbs for a quick win. Brown carbs are higher in fiber and other nutrients and make you feel less bloated. For anyone a little unsure about the taste of brown carbs, just try some rice or pasta and see. I never used to eat any brown carbs before apart from the odd slice of bread/sandwich previously but I now prefer brown rice over white. Also, brown pasta literally tastes the same as white – you won’t notice much of a difference at all.
Make stir-fry your go-to dish
If you’re struggling to cut the carbs and create a filling dish, vegetable stir-fries are unbelievably versatile and quick to make, especially if you have a wok. If you are a non-vegetarian or pescatarian, you can easily add some meat or fish in. I’m a vegetarian so often add in tofu or quorn. You can literally stir fry whatever you like but some of the non-starchy veggies include babycorn, bamboo shoots, beansprouts, bok choy, broccoli, mushrooms, peppers… all the best ones for a stir-fry! What are you waiting for?
When you crave chocolate, go dark
I have a sweet tooth so found cutting out chocolate one of the hardest things. The advantage I have, having said that, is that I really love dark chocolate. If there’s a swap to be had, it’s going from white, plain or milk to dark chocolate. It’ll satisfy you easily with just a few squares and you will acquire the taste soon enough. I now find milk or plain chocolate incredibly sweet but I still crave it occasionally. The majority of the time it’s all about the dark!
The greatness of grains
Aside from brown rice, grains are a great addition to a healthy diet – cous cous, spelt, pearl barley, quinoa, etc. Once again, these are versatile and can be cooked in multiple ways and eaten cold or warm. The bonus for this food group if that it’s hearty and will fill you up easily. There are really so many recipe variations – from salads, stews and much more. It’s all very healthy and tasty once you find a way to cook or consume it that you like.
Don’t be misled by “healthy labels”
Although it happens much more nowadays where people have become more aware of what’s included in the things they buy, it’s a great thing to get into the habit of checking labels. I personally always worry about the amount of fat and sugar in something I buy but you need to not get sucked in by the “fat free”. Less fat in something probably means added other things, like sugar. Sometimes it’s not always the healthily labelled alternative which is the best one to buy. The same goes for “no added sugar”. If you check the label, you’ll often realise that the naturally occurring sugar is quite high anyway, without any more added in.
Understanding it’s a lifestyle thing
This is probably the hardest of this “easy win” list. It is a lifestyle you are changing for yourself and is not just a temporary thing – that’s how you should be feeding your mind. You can be healthy 90% of the time and allow yourself to cheat or be lenient for the rest of the 10%. It’s allowed but you have to be strict with yourself and disciplined in that 90%. You also have to find ways to pick yourself up from the days you’ve let yourself go. That’s the hardest part. I always found it super hard and initially was so tempted to give in. However, perseverance and people around you who notice changes in you and speak to you about them are the best things to keep you motivated.
To conclude, I want to say that I’m no health professional or nutrition expert. However, I did a lot of research to figure out the changes I needed to make to become healthier and the above is just a snapshot of those changes. Some of these feel bigger when you are getting started but once you’re there, it gets easier and it becomes more interesting as time goes on. I’ve found myself trying new foods and recipes, as well as adapting different dishes to my own taste which I never used to even think about before. I feel like I’ve opened a whole new world for myself with endless opportunities and turns to take.
Good luck to anyone on the healthier eating journey!