8 simple steps to eating better

I recently ran a new workshop on my three essential weight-loss skills (click here for my video about it).  I didn’t cover information on healthy eating or portion size in this workshop, which some people may find strange.  As I explained to the group, I can talk about healthy eating until I’m blue in the face, but without getting your mindset sorted first, knowing about portion sizes is not going to help you lose weight for life.  However, it got me thinking that a run-through of healthy eating would be the perfect topic for this month’s blog post.  With all the conflicting information we get bombarded with from the media it can be very confusing to know what healthy eating really means.  Also the previous pictorial representation of a healthy diet ‘The Eatwell Plate’ has been updated by British Public Health authorities this year to ‘The Eatwell Guide’.  So I thought I would share with you my simple guide to what healthy eating really means.

The old 'Eatwell Plate'
The old ‘Eatwell Plate’

First of all, I just want to clarify that just because the Eatwell Plate has been updated doesn’t mean that the overall advice on healthy eating has changed.  The changes really just emphasise certain things.  You may notice that the ‘purple’ section has been reduced in size and the treat foods such as crisps, chocolate and sauces have been put outside the main circle.  This is to emphasise the fact that these foods should really only be eaten occasionally as we are still eating too many of them.  Another thing is that the name of the ‘protein’ group has been changed to list beans, pulses etc first – this is to emphasise the need to focus on sustainable eating and getting good sources of fibre.  There is also clearer advice on fluid intake including limiting fruit juice, where the previous Eatwell Plate had no guidance on fluid.

Anyway, to make it easier to understand healthy eating, I’ve broken it down into my eight top tips for eating a balanced diet.

1 – Always start your day with breakfast.

We need to eat regularly throughout every day to give ourselves the best chance of getting all the nutrients we need.  This starts with breakfast – no matter what time of day you wake up whether it’s 2pm or 4am – try to have something as soon as possible after waking up.  Having something small like a piece of fruit or yoghurt is better than nothing at all.  Many of my clients have found that introducing breakfast reduces their snacking later on in the day.

Always make the effort to start the day with breakfast.
Always make the effort to start the day with breakfast.

2 – Base each meal on starchy carbohydrate foods.

Don’t believe the hype about high-protein diets, no food group is better than the other as they all provide valuable nutrients.  If you miss out your starchy carbs, you’ll likely be left feeling tired, constipated and irritable.   Starchy foods such as bread, potatoes, rice and pasta give us energy and a variety of important nutrients, not to mention providing bulk to aid bowel movements.  These foods aren’t ‘fattening’ – the key is portion size – try to include at least a handful or two at each meal e.g. 1-2 slices of bread.   You may need more if you are quite tall (particularly men) or if you are very active.  Most people won’t need more than three portions (handfuls) at their main meal.

3 – Try to include wholegrain foods

Including moderate portions of starchy foods at each meal will give you a nice steady stream of energy throughout the day.  Trying to opt for the wholegrain versions e.g. granary bread rather than white, will increase your fibre intake.  More fibre helps you feel more satisfied and therefore less likely to snack or pick at foods between meals.  Fibre is also important for keeping your gut healthy – combined with plenty of fluid, it’s all the ‘cleansing’ your gut needs!

Try to get at least 5 portions of fruit & veg per day

4 – Get your 5-a-day

We should all hopefully know what this means by now!  In case you’re wondering why they’re so important – fruit & veg give us vitamins, minerals and fibre.  We should be aiming to get at least five handfuls each day.  Have a think now – how many have you had so far today?  The average intake in the UK is about three portions per day, which is why the recommendations aren’t as many as they recommend in other countries (in Japan it’s apparently a whopping 17 portions/day!).  Don’t forget juice needs to be 100% pure and should be limited to 150ml/day due to having less fibre and more ‘free’ sugars (that’s not so good for your teeth).

5 – Try to include a decent source of protein twice a day

We don’t actually need a huge amount of protein, most foods contain at least a little bit of protein and it all adds up over the day.  Protein, fat and carbohydrate all provide a source of energy and any excess energy no matter where it comes from will be converted to fat for storage.  Aiming for a couple of portions of protein-rich foods will ensure you’re getting the essential amino acids.  Pulses like lentils or kidney beans are a cheap, high-fibre way of getting protein.  Think about your portion size; again a portion is about a handful and watch out for how you cook it – added fats or sugary sauces will add excess energy.

6 – Include calcium-rich foods such as dairy or alternatives

The easiest way to get enough calcium is to have a pint of milk or equivalent each day.  This means three portions of dairy foods, e.g. a 200ml glass of milk, a yoghurt and a matchbox sized piece of cheese.  If you don’t eat dairy foods there are plenty of calcium-fortified alternatives out there e.g. soya or rice ‘milk’.  Remember that more than three portions each day is not necessary for most people so if you regularly have more than that, it could be contributing to excess weight.

Limit the goodies to occasional treats - you'll appreciate them more!
Limit the goodies to occasional treats – you’ll appreciate them more!

7 – Limit the treat foods

If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram then you’ll know that I’m a big fan of treats.  Most of us need to reduce our intake of goodies like crisps, chips, chocolate, cakes/biscuits, puddings, ice-cream and sweets.  However, it’s not necessary to completely cut out these foods and feeling guilty about eating them can just lead to issues with binge-eating; something I often have to work on with my clients.  Try just having a think about how often you have them and how much you have and try to reduce them gradually.  Don’t forget foods such as cooking oil (even olive), butters/spreads, jam and sauces such as mayo or ketchup also need to be kept to a minimum too as they also provide only fat and/or sugar and little else.  If you have these foods every day, you’re not leaving much room for the obvious treats.

8 – Drink plenty of fluids

Most people will need to aim for around two litres (four pints) per day – you may need more if you are bigger, more active and depending on the temperature!  This doesn’t have to be just water though; sugar-free squash, herb/fruit teas and even a few teas or coffees per day can contribute too.  Try to sip regularly throughout the day rather than downing large quantities at once.  Also don’t forget to think about the energy content – sugary/alcoholic drinks unaccounted for, could be the cause of excess weight.  We can confuse hunger and thirst as the feelings can be similar – next time you think you are hungry try having a drink first.

Have you ever kept a diet diary to record everything you eat and drink?  Give it a go and see how it compares to these key points.  You might be surprised by the results!

If you’re struggling to know where to start with improving your diet, why not get in touch to find out how you can get your Personalised Dietary Analysis from me.  Click here to send me a message.

Louise Tanner-Stokes
Hi I'm Louise, a Food Relationship Coach and registered Dietitian with a passion for helping mums to ditch the diets for good. I want to help you feel good about yourself, feel in control of your eating and enjoy your food again - normal food and especially the cake and chocolate!

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