My advice on maintaining a balanced diet
I love food.
Perhaps you do, too. I recently discovered, however, that - shock! Horror! - some people are indifferent, and simply eat because they have to. I mean, what's that all about?! I've never been a particularly fussy eater, and my dad often tells me that I inherited the healthy Hutchings appetite (that must explain it.) Having a 'healthy appetite' implies that, surely, it's beneficial to eat lots of food. It's funny, then, that society seems to have divergent opinions on our eating habits. Eat too much and you're either greedy or on the road to obesity. Eat too little and you most likely have an eating disorder or are just as picky as you were as a child - grow up. Our eating habits also tend to change as we age. The whole thing fascinates me, quite frankly (but I'm not going to make this a blog post on analysing these changes.) Right now, I'm loving life and loving food - I have a healthy relationship with it, and I want to share that with you guys. My friend recently asked me for advice on maintaining a balanced diet which, for the most part, I think is thanks to my upbringing, my time as a skater and my keen awareness on how I can make my body feel because of what I put inside it. I'm going to share five fundamental things that influence my eating habits. (Please note, I am not a scientist or dietician, blah, blah, blah...you get it.)
Preparation I'm not referring to food prep here. I'm talking about what you do before you even set foot in the kitchen.
Preparation is probably the most important step, even though making a shopping list and thinking up meal plans don't seem like very significant actions. But preparation is crucial because:
- it helps you to focus on what you are investing into your body.
- by looking at the bigger picture (i.e. a week's worth of meal planning) it can give you a solid overview of how you can incorporate a variety of different nutrients into your diet. It also allows you to really think about what's best for you and your lifestyle.
- it helps to reduce food waste, making less of a negative environmental impact.
- it empowers you to make decisions, giving you a sense of fulfilment when you carry out what you want to achieve.
Let's quickly go back to the second bullet point. Preparation is going to be slightly different for everyone. You may live alone or be cooking for a family, you may have a job which requires a lot of physical energy or you may spend the majority of your work using a computer (the reality for a lot of us right now.) You may be someone with more of a disposable income than most or you may be a student with not as much disposable income. All of these factors and more contribute to how you plan what you purchase - and for my final point, doing your own cooking is always most beneficial, but that's something I'll delve into more in due course.
How many times have you heard the saying 'variety is the spice of life'? Probably quite a lot. It rings true in every sense - food included. Our body is incredible and capable of many, many things - some of which we aren't even aware of! - and having these large brains and complex bodies requires a lot of energy. Our bodies are busy fighting disease, renewing themselves, growing, grinding on the daily...we need a range of food groups to keep it in check because no single food contains all the nutrients we need.
- Fruit and vegetables
We are so fortunate to be able to get our hands on a huge variety of food in 2020, and we should make the most of that. Variety makes eating enjoyable, and in my opinion that's how it should be.
How does one achieve variety daily?
My top tips:
- Try to remember what you eat throughout the day. Taking fruit and veg as an example, I try to achieve 1-2 pieces of fruit or veg with every meal, and maybe even have a piece as a snack. I always mix it up: a banana and blueberries for breakfast, carrot, cucumber and an apple for lunch and broccoli for dinner, say. If I've had some chocolate or other treats in the middle of the day, I'll refrain in the evening. If I've had fish one day, I'll have beans the next. You get my drift.
- Learn or record a wide range of recipes so you can easily mix up your weekly meals.
- Don't obsess over achieving variety to the point where you aren't enjoying your food. One day might end up being less balanced than you would have liked, but that's okay. Sometimes you can't always plan, which is totally fine. We aren't machines, we're human, and this means that our feelings often guide our actions.
Variety is possibly my favourite thing about eating. It's exciting and above all invaluable to maintaining a healthy diet. Some people do meal prep and eat the same thing all week, but I believe each food brings something different to the table (pun clearly intended.)
We're getting down to the nitty-gritty now!
Fresh produce is so, so important to maintaining a healthy and nutritious diet. What I think is super key to eating right is cooking things from scratch; by putting the ingredients together yourself you are in control of the process and channeling your own energy into what you are consuming. It's almost like you're exerting energy to then consume a different type of energy!
Fresh produce on my list always includes:
- Nuts and seeds
- Ginger, garlic, turmeric and other fresh herbs
- Grains such as rice, couscous and bulgur wheat
- Fresh fish every so often
I get so much enjoyment from playing with different flavours, peeling, chopping, grinding - getting messy with food, basically! And I believe it's true that when you put your heart and love into a dish, it always tastes better.
Keep in mind that not everything you eat has to be 100% raw! I don't ship this idea at all. It's all about balance, but I like to prioritise freshness to remind myself of how important it is. It's obviously not possible to cook things from scratch every day of the week - this is where the planning and forethought that I already talked about comes in. You have to decide what is right for your lifestyle, but fresh food is always going to be better. How can you incorporate it into your diet straightforwardly?
I promise that focusing on using fresh ingredients will help you appreciate eating a lot more...but obviously treat yourself to a takeaway every once in a while, damn. Deliveroo and Just Eat are godsends.
So I've talked about how preparation is important for setting you on the right track, how variety and freshness are what you should bear in mind whilst doing your food shopping and coming up with meal ideas, but what ties everything together? The answer is consistency, and this is where your decision to make a healthy shift in your diet becomes a lifestyle.
What does consistency look like?
Consistency is about doing the same things over time for the good. Planning, mixing up what you eat and prioritising fresh produce will only be beneficial if you do these things over and over. You might have to allow yourself time to adjust at first. Notice the difference between these two attitudes...
1. I really regret that piece of cake I had - it's ruined this day and basically the whole week, so I might as well just binge on junk food until Monday.
2. I'd been looking forward to that slice of cake and it was delicious! It felt especially good because I haven't really had any treats this week and I've been training really hard for that charity run.
Balance, balance, balance...shout it from the rooftops, people! I know this seems painstakingly obvious but I honestly believe it's the way forward. There are hundreds of different diets out there but in my eyes, the simplicity of balance is the best and I also think it makes the most sense. There's really no need to complicate eating.
If your eating habits are consistently balanced then you won't ever - and you should never - feel bad and 'punish' yourself. This will in turn trigger feelings of regret and possibly self-loathing, and you will end up giving up a lot quicker. I'll talk about that more in the final bit of this post. The main thing to remember is that it will take some willpower and effort to put consistency into practice. Be conscious of the decisions you're making throughout the week and how your body feels, and you won't go wrong.The more you plan and focus on variety and freshness, the easier it will be to do those things over and over again. Something that I used to help me was keeping a food diary, but I'd only recommend using this short-term. Remember: consistency is key!
Yes, we're channeling a bit of George Michael, but it's not as dramatic as it sounds!
When I talk about freedom in terms of food, I refer to not feeling weighed down by what you eat. It's so important that we don't feel trapped in an unhealthy mindset.
What do I mean by this?
When I was younger I decided that I wanted to start 'eating healthily' (even though I was already pretty healthy.) I was doing a lot of sport so I was very active, and I wanted to make sure I was 'eating clean' alongside that. But it got to a point where I became slightly obsessive and, let me tell you, any obsessive thoughts are the opposite of healthy. I used to write down everything that I ate, but instead of using it as a helpful guide I almost forgot about its initial purpose and it just became routine. If I strayed from what I thought was healthy at any point, I would get so down about it and then 'punish' myself. This wasn't good because I wasn't eating enough food and I was using up a lot of energy - if anything, I should have been eating more.
I learnt that food shouldn't be restrictive or limiting. It's hard when you live in a world that has the power to shame you for doing a simple thing such as fuelling your body. It's crazy but unfortunately this is the reality (and it's all marketing, it's all money! But I digress.) When you let go of labels such as 'good food', 'bad food', 'cheat day' and 'guilty pleasures', you will be able to enjoy what you eat a lot more and just LIVE YOUR BEST LIFE. No-one should make you feel any type of way for what you decide to eat. As long as you recognise that balance is important and you know what you need for yourself, no-one can tell you anything. Period.
There's lots of delicious food out there. We are very lucky in this day and age to have more choices than ever before, so let's make the most of that and explore those choices.