I am often asked what are my top tips for implementing a healthy eating regime. Especially at this time of year when people feel like they’ve overdone it and need to shift some excess lard.

So I’m just going to come out and say it:
There is no magical solution nor one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to eating healthily.

This is because TRULY eating healthily, means eating well for life, and being able to make choices that both nourish your body and make you happy.

Nobody ever kept to a diet or any kind of healthy eating plan, if following it made them miserable.  Sure they might have stuck it out in a bid to get into a smaller pair of jeans, but if they spent 4 / 8 / 12 weeks feeling deprived and lacklustre, there’s no way that they made a change for life.

Whilst there are certain things that I genuinely believe would benefit everybody (see below), the key lies in working out what actually makes you feel good.  Honestly, the moment you start to enjoy your meals (rather than seeing food as the enemy) and feel more energetic and less bloated, you’ll start to make the right choices automatically.  What’s more, your body will naturally start to adapt when it feels like it’s getting the right nutrition.  For some people the response might be weight loss, for others it’s weight gain.  Those who participate in sport might notice improved performance such as being able to run faster, jump higher or lift more weight.  One thing that should be consistent in all cases is that you feel good.  Energetic.  Happy!

I suppose it therefore figures that there is actually nothing wrong with following a really restrictive diet if doing so actually makes you happy.  Any of you who have read my blog for a long time will know that diets are not my favourite thing.  By diet I mean the traditional image conjured up when someone mentions “dieting”:  Starvation, calorie counting, meal replacement shakes, crappy energy bars with 73 unpronounceable ingredients.  Yeah, that.  But if you have followed such a regimen and felt great doing it, so much so that your habits changed for life and you’ve never looked back, then keep doing it.  Like I said:  It all comes down to feeling good, energetic, and – most importantly – happy.

So if I had to go out on a limb and say “DO THIS” then these would be my top tips for eating more healthily in 2015, and beyond:

1) Drink more water.
Water is absolutely essential for your body to function optimally.  Even minor dehydration (signalled by feeling thirsty) can cause headaches, muscle cramps, brain fog, not to mention fat and fluid retention.  Water also carries nutrients to the cells in your body and helps with the removal of waste.  The exact amount of water you ought to consume depends on your weight, activity levels and temperature (amongst other things) but if you’re not already getting through 2L daily, then that would be a good place to start.

2) Consume foods that make you feel good after eating them.
In essence this boils down to eating real food.  Cooking your meals from scratch doesn’t have to be time-consuming, nor complicated, so forget the ready meals and pasta sauces and stock your kitchen with fresh produce that doesn’t come out of a packet.  Yes a pizza delivered to your door might taste good for the first few mouthfuls, but I bet you’ve experienced that stodgy feeling afterwards and I’d put money on the fact that you’ve never eaten a whole pizza and then thought “wow I feel amazing” after finishing.

3) Stop eating when you’re 80% full.
Getting in tune with your body’s hunger signals is crucial.  Rather than eating to the point where you have to undo the top button on your jeans (!) stop when you no longer feel hungry.  If you’re tempted by a second helping, wait 20 minutes and if you still want more after a bit of patience, then go for it.  More often than not, 20 minutes later the brain has received satiety signals (courtesy of the hormone leptin) and you realise you’re actually quite full.

4) Focus primarily on what to have MORE of, rather than what you feel you should be eating LESS of.
It goes without saying that the less sugar and highly processed rubbish we eat, the better.  But from a psychological point of view, living life saying “I can’t have that”, “I shouldn’t” or “that’s not allowed” instantly makes you feel deprived which, more often than not, results in a binge on said prohibited item.  Instead, aim to have MORE of the following:
Vegetables.  Especially greens, greens and more greens.
Water.  Yes I know this was in point 1 but it’s worth saying twice – it’s that important!
Good fats.  Think coconut oil, olive oil, avocado, nuts, oily fish / fish oil supplements.
Lean protein.  Protein massively improves satiety and fuels your muscles.

5) Only eat food that you REALLY enjoy. 
Often the idea of eating something is far more fulfilling than the actual experience, such as the pizza example in point 2.  I can vouch for this.  There have been countless occasions where I have fantasised about the cupcake or vanilla latte I’m going to treat myself to when I meet a friend later that day.  Only to be disappointed by the disproportionate sickly icing to cake ratio and the dry sponge.  My point?  You don’t have to abstain from every takeaway, every glass of wine, every birthday cake.  Just make sure you really want it, rather than just eating it on autopilot.  If you take a bite and it’s not delicious, stop eating!

It all boils down to the choices that make you happy.  The below two photographs are from two different holidays.  The first one, was the morning after a wonderful, but very heavy meal, which left me still bloated the following morning.  Despite a tantalising menu at our breakfast stop, featuring eggs benedict and toblerone hot chocolate (I kid you not!), what actually made me feel good was a fresh carrot juice.  The second picture was after a busy day exploring Turkey’s Lycian coast.  That ice cream made me VERY happy – I think it shows 🙂

 

Sometimes it's all about the carrot juice

Sometimes it’s all about the carrot juice

Other times it just has to be ice cream!

Other times it just has to be ice cream!