IMPORTANT: This blog represents just PART of a WHOLE journey. You'll get the most out of it if you start from the beginning.
I’m still writing this blog as if it were 2013. And at that time, “health” held a different definition for me than it does today. Back then, I’d say a person was healthy if they were free of disease, able to move well, and function as a productive member of society.
As part of the Fitness Industry, I’d also say that someone was healthy if they could maintain a healthy weight. The last blog explained one half of that body weight control dilemma – a calorie deficit – and this time is all about hacking our bodies to make it easier to both stick to that deficit but also eat for the best health.
NB: Remember, this is part of an entire story that explains my journey from d*ckhead personal trainer who only cared about body weight, to the place I’m at now where I have an excellent relationship with movement, food, and my body. These early blogs in NO WAY reflect my current opinion on these subjects, but they are important so as to explain how I got to the place I’m at now and that I hope you can also get to.
And so with that as my compass point, this is how I used to tell my clients to eat back in my gym owning days of 2013…
At this point in my career, I’d moved WAY past teaching the old-school version of dieting that some parts of the Weight Loss Industry still teach their clients: to eat as little as possible, stick to a hardcore exercise schedule, and try to out-discipline and out-willpower through hunger and cravings.
Instead of that crazy b*llocks, I used to give this far more sensible and gentle advice to eating…
1. No food is good or bad – One burger in an overall healthy diet won’t make you unhealthy, and eating one salad a month if the rest of your time is spent nipples-deep in a fried chicken diet. All foods exist as PART of a WHOLE diet. Just make sure the majority of your diet is full of healthy stuff so you can enjoy unhealthier options too.
2. Don’t try to change your whole diet at once – Going from 100% brown frozen food, to salads three times a day is unreasonable and you won’t stick to it. Look at all foodstuffs as existing on a continuum of health and calorie content. Take the potato as an example.
On the healthy/low-calorie end of the continuum might be eating baked or boiled potatoes, whereas on the other end would be eating them as crisps or takeaway chips. Middling options would include mashed, air-fried, salads, gratins, soups, roasted, etc.
Aim to eat 1% better each day. So maybe today, instead of eating fried chips, choose mashed potatoes.
3. Eat slowly – Savour each mouthful. Put down your knife and fork between bites. Enjoy the company, the environment, or you might choose mealtimes as precious moments for yourself.
It takes time for your stomach to send the signals of fullness to your brain that it’s full, so make sure you give it time to catch up.
4. Pay attention to your hunger and fullness – Stop eating when you’re 80% full, instead of bursting at the seams or having meat sweats. And only eat when you’re moderately hungry. Don’t eat just because the clock says it’s lunchtime or because it’s breakfast and you’ve been told it’s the most important meal of the day. Also waiting until you’re ravenous before you eat is likely to lead to overeating or choosing high-calorie options.
5. It’s OK to be a little hungry – Sometimes reminding yourself what hunger feels like is a good thing. It’s a reminder that you’re not going to die, and that feeling a little uncomfortable is OK sometimes.
6. Make sure you’re ready, willing, and able to introduce a change of habits to your life. If you can’t stick to a new habit, try making it easier to stick to (e.g. instead of going from 5 sugars to zero in your coffee, why not start with reducing it to three). Buying 100% organic produce might not actually be do-able if you can’t afford to. And sometimes, you just have to admit that you’re not ready to do something quite yet.
7. Ask why you’re eating – Is it hunger? Or is it boredom, emotions, to stop food from going to waste, or is it because the food just looks delicious? No reason is a bad reason to eat, but conscious awareness of why you’re eating might encourage a different choice now or in the future.
8. Aim for consistency, not perfection – Eating healthily 80% of the time and allowing yourself 20% leeway to eat whatever you choose is going to be easier to stick to long-term than aiming for 100% healthy and failing because you don’t have the willpower.
9. Food isn’t just fuel – Sometimes we eat for social reasons. Sometimes it’s to fit in with a schedule i.e. work or an event, or it’s because we’re happy or sad, or to celebrate festivities like Christmas, and many more reasons besides.
Enjoy eating for all the reasons. It’s a way of showing yourself, your body, and other people respect. No one wants to hang out with the person who can’t eat at restaurants or turns down a homemade birthday cake. And you don’t want to be the person who can’t eat your favourite pasta, or the cupcake your 4-year-old made at pre-school.
10. Calories are king – Eating protein, fibre, and fat from wholefood sources, will fill you up and stop you feeling hungry later better than carbs and processed food will, but remember that in the end, it all comes down to the number of calories you eat.
But Does It Work?
I’m writing this in 2022 and it’s genuinely terrifying how easy it is to rattle off my 2013 industry-standard advice. It’s programmed HARD into us. Whether you’re a nutrition professional or not, most of our society would come up with a list of similar rules if pushed to create a list of healthy eating rules. Yes, we might add a few extra like eating five fruit and veg, drinking 2 litres of water, etc, but on the whole, my advice seems sensible and rational, right? This is probably why it’s so easy for the Weight Loss industry to package and sell.
We know that technically our body weight is dependent on how much food we eat as compared to how much energy we use. And even though our biology is hard against us maintaining a calorie deficit, the rules above should help us “hack” our subconscious into sticking to one.
But do these rules actually work?
The statistics say a big fat (no pun intended) “no”!
If these rules helped and were as easy to stick to as the Weight Loss Industry suggests, then we’d all be thin and frolicking around in tiny pants/crop top combos whilst living to 100 years old with joy and cheesecake aplenty.
So what’s happening?
In the next blog, I’m going to skip forward a few years when I started to realise that maybe it wasn’t just physics and a list of rules we needed for transformation. This is where I started to study the human mindset. And this, my friend, was when everything I thought I knew started to change.