What does it mean to “eat well”?
On my quest to live a healthier lifestyle this question has been on my mind a lot. I feel like, yes, we all know we shouldn’t eat sweets for dinner, and yes, a little bit of what you fancy in moderation is good for the soul, but what do we actually mean by “eating well”?
I was dumbfounded when I first started trying to eat healthy, and even now with all the information out there it is quite overwhelming. I read up a lot on nutrition and health in general, and it seems there is a mountain of conflicting advice. Should we be eating meat, or dairy? Should we be eating low fat foods to keep the calories down, or should we embrace a high fat, low carbohydrate and low sugar diet? Do we cut out fruit and starchy vegetables to reduce our sugar and carbohydrate intake? Is sugar the “enemy”? Are we no longer concerned with foods that contain a lot of cholesterol?
It’s enough to send anyone’s head in a spin, and it seems like the experts even disagree. So I thought I’d share what works for me in maintaining a healthy lifestyle and ensuring I have enough go in me to fuel my workouts.
1. Keep chocolate / sweet intake to a minimum. This includes sugar in tea, sweet dressings, refined carbohydrates, sweet alcoholic drinks, sugary cereal and even natural sweeteners such as honey. I love chocolate and sweeties and would happily binge on them all day long. But I’ve found that after about an hour I start to feel light headed and ravenous again. They cause a massive spike in sugar levels and the comedown feels terrible. Sometimes if I’m really craving it I’ll have half a KitKat or something, but sugary things make up about 5% of my overall diet.
2. Be mindful of added sugar and natural sugar. Sugar is sugar, I feel like the only difference is fruit has other nutritional benefits (and therefore make sure most of my sugar intake comes from fruit). They still give me a bad comedown though after the sugar rush, so I usually only take a bit of fruit and compensate with lots of leafy green vegetables.
3. Watch what you drink. Everyone likes a drink now and then, but that late night drinking session on Friday followed by cheesy chips and gravy seriously damages the progress I make at the gym. I tend to eat something healthy before I go out, and limit my drinks. I still have fun, but without the hangover the next day (and my bank balance likes me a lot more).
Following on from that, it isn’t just alcoholic drinks. Those lattes you get at Starbucks, that smoothie, that can of coke consumed before cracking on with work in the afternoon. They all add up. I’d much rather eat something than waste those calories on a fizzy drink. I have an unsweetened coffee in the morning and then stick to water, then I usually have a hot chocolate (made with water) at night time.
4. Make sure you’re getting enough protein and fibre. Protein tends to make me feel fuller for longer and helps with repairing damaged muscles, so I usually buy Greek yoghurts that are high in protein and fill up on eggs, pulses, peanut butter and chicken. Fibre also helps make me feel fuller for longer so I make sure to eat foods high in fibre such as brown rice and bran based cereals.
5, Start small. It’s almost impossible to go from a lifestyle of not really considering what you are eating, to spiralising courgettes, counting macros and weighing out oatmeal portions. I don’t think I’d ever want to spend my time ensuring that every ingredient I add to my breakfast, lunch and dinner is precisely weighed out.
I just started by becoming mindful of how much fuel my body needs to achieve day-to-day tasks. I started using MyFitnessPal and Pacer (they integrate with each other), so I could see how much exercise I was getting and how many calories I needed vs how many I was actually eating. This really opened my eyes, as I was thinking “woah ok, I’m not burning off 400 calories on that 30 minute walk, so I will be overeating if I eat this snickers bar and this 700 calorie bacon baguette for lunch, followed by a bag of crisps for an afternoon snack”. I feel like those two apps really helped put into perspective how much food our bodies actually need, which in turn then made me more mindful of my food choices.
Is eating well important to you? What small tips do you have for anyone trying to eat healthy?