What does eating well mean to you?
It could be:
- Keeping your blood test results in check
- Eating adequate serves of food from each of the
- food groups
- Feeling energetic and clear-minded
- Recovering well from your physical activity/training
I am very aware that as a dietitian, I could ask 10 different people and get 10 different answers to this all important question!
Despite the differing views, one thing is for certain – eating well goes beyond maintaining a particular weight or dress size. A healthy weight (one that allows you to move without restriction and keep you free of any lifestyle diseases, such as type 2 diabetes) is just one important part of the bigger health picture. Even though it might feel great to fit into your favourite pair of jeans, simultaneously feeling sluggish, lethargic and weak means that there is probably some further work to be done. In the quest of maintaining physical appearances, it can be easy to forget about how we’re feeling on the inside.
To me, helping a client eat well needs to incorporate specific strategies that help them look, feel and function at their best. Unfortunately, the most difficult part about this is knowing if what you’re eating is actually having a positive impact on your health, and whether you are making any progress. So, what sorts of things can you be implementing today? Here are my 5 top tips to eating well.
1. Choose foods from each of the food groups every day.
On an almost daily basis I will get asked, “Can I eat bread?” “Is potato bad for me?” “Should I stop eating fruit because it contains too much sugar?” “Which nuts should I eat, and which nuts should I avoid?” These are all whole, nutritious foods that are for some reason feared, but shouldn’t be avoided. You might not exactly hit your recommended intakes on 7 out of 7 days, but ensure your day is as balanced as possible with a wide variety of foods including veggies, fruits, wholegrains, lean proteins, low fat dairy (or alternatives), nuts, seeds and legumes, and unsaturated fats. Follow this link for a visual representation of the components of a healthy diet: https://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/guidelines/australian-guide-healthy-eating.
2. Eat a wide variety of foods to get in a variety of micronutrients.
Sure, you might eat salad every night. But if you always eat the same iceberg lettuce and cucumber combo, you’re probably missing out on a whole range of other vitamins, minerals, fibres, antioxidants and phytonutrients that other vegetables could provide (and that’s not to say that you shouldn’t eat iceberg lettuce and cucumber, just not every night for the rest of your life). As a good rule of thumb, try to aim for 3 different colours of fruits and veggies at each meal. Each colour is generally associated with high concentrations of different micronutrients and antioxidants. So, 3 different colours means you’re getting a wide range of health benefits!3. Keep your portions in check.
There are some really simple tricks that you can use to determine whether your meal is appropriately portioned:
- ¼ of a plate or a palm sized piece of protein per meal
- ¼ of a plate or a fist sized portion of carbohydrate per meal
- ½ a plate or 2 fistfuls of veggies per meal
4. Don't be overly restrictiveI'm all for giving yourself permission to eat foods (that might not be so nutritionally dense) in moderation. The more you deny yourself of foods that you enjoy eating, the more you will crave them. Being mindful whilst eating your favourite foods slowly and really savouring the flavour means that you are less likely to over-indulge. Follow the 80/20 rule – if you can incorporate whole, nutritious foods into your diet 80% of the time, there is still some room left for treats in moderation.
5. Stay hydratedIt’s easy to forget to drink water, and once you’re thirsty, you’re probably already dehydrated. Dehydration can make you feel tired, sluggish, unable to concentrate, give you a headache and even muscle cramps. Keep a bottle of water on you at all times – in your bag, at your desk, at your bedside table – so that when it’s right in front of you, you have no excuse not to have a sip every so often.
Here is a quiz I have developed to get you thinking about your own eating habits, and whether there might be some room for improvement. There’s no right or wrong answer – answer truthfully to give yourself some honest insights about what you could be doing to find the food balance that is right for you!