Eating a healthy diet should ideally be something you grow into as a lifestyle choice, but I think it’s really important to acknowledge that it’s not always possible to eat in an optimally healthy way all of the time. I first became aware of the impact of eating for good health in my twenties, as I grew increasingly fascinated in the role nutrition plays in human biology. However, I’ve had ups and downs since then, both in terms of my health, and in understanding the best way to eat for me. I’m the first to admit I’m not perfect, and nor do I want to be to be honest – because that just doesn’t reflect real life.
Over the years I have transitioned, slowly, into someone who chooses to eat a diet that’s based largely on the principles of the Mediterranean style of eating. I enjoy meals that are rich in colourful and varied vegetables and salads. I eat fish and meat (but not in excess), and I love olive oil, garlic, herbs and spices. I eat eggs, beans, legumes, lentils, oats, rice and an array of delicious fruits. And because I’ve identified that dairy and wheat don’t agree me with (I am prone to digestive problems and skin breakouts when I eat them), I choose to avoid them as much as possible. Most of the time I am gluten free, but I prefer not to set restrictions on myself and find life works much better for me if I focus on eating what I enjoy rather than falling into the trap of food related anxiety. I must also state that I love chocolate and wine too! This way of eating works well for me, but we are all totally unique in how our bodies process food, and our relationships with food are also very individual.
There is a lot of confusion around about ‘the right way to eat’. There is also a lot of pressure. This is often compounded by special diets being lauded as great for improving digestion, getting rid of candida, or being terrific for fat loss/weight loss. The frequency of clients coming to my clinic who have had their health and relationship with food compromised by following overly restrictive diets depresses and worries me.
However, sometimes dietary change is necessary to either improve health or facilitate weight loss. But I really relate to the concerns that some of my clients have about becoming ‘that person’. The one who’s turned ‘fussy’ or suddenly can’t eat ‘normal food’; the person making others feel uncomfortable about inviting them over because they don’t know what to feed them! Over the years I have become more confident in staying true to my own personal choices about what I like to eat, but I also want to be a polite guest!
I am also very conscious that I have young children. I have a huge responsibility to raise them as healthy, happy individuals who have a positive relationship with food. It’s a fine balancing act. I don’t want them to fear food at all. I want them to enjoy all foods to be honest, and understand the importance of variety and balance.
So I’m sharing below a little insight into the way I approach eating which I hope you will find useful. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or confused about embarking on dietary change to support your health and wellbeing do get support from a qualified nutritional therapist or nutritionist who’s focus is on food first, and eating in the spirit of happiness rather than deprivation; this is how I work with my clients.
My Approach To Eating For Health (and staying sane)
Firstly, I just love healthy, tasty, satisfying, whole, natural, honest food. It gives me the ultimate amount of satisfaction and pleasure to eat a healthy meal or snack (that’s something made with natural ingredients and balanced in protein, fat and carbohydrate – including vegetables). I love the fact that when I am at home I have all my store cupboard staples around me, so I can knock up pretty much anything healthy I want for most of the week. This might be a warming bowl of porridge, a tasty vibrant salad or omelette or some roasted vegetables with baked salmon. If I fancy something sweet it might include some homemade chocolate (very simple and and fun and dangerously quick to make!). I find the process of creating dishes very fulfilling. I am mindful about the way I eat and how healthy food makes me feel. This way of living and eating makes me very happy, and it’s sustainable.
When I go out to meet friends during the day I am a regular person. This is something I have always wanted to be, and I don’t enjoy people’s eyes on me – especially if they know what I do for a living! I don’t feel comfortable being the centre of attention. But being a regular person doesn’t mean I have to tuck into muffins, cakes or biscuits at the coffee shop if I would rather not; I can just have a cup of black tea or coffee (makes me feel French, which I love!) However, it also means I can decide to have a cake or biscuit (if I choose to) without then feeling like I have done something wrong. It’s my choice. I make my decisions in a mindful and free way, and if I do eat a slice of cake I’m not going to waste the experience by berating myself about it!
In all honesty, I would rather not eat things that make me feel unwell when eaten often, and I do have a keen interest in keeping fit and well, so I adopt little strategies to support myself. If I’m going out for a coffee straight from the school drop-off l make sure I have a balanced and filling breakfast first – it’s not rocket science! If I’ve eaten a lovely breakfast at home I’m in with a fighting chance of genuinely not wanting to eat cake or biscuits and that’s quite empowering.
When I eat out I want to make the most of it. I LOVE FOOD! And socially, I love nothing more than going out for lunch or dinner. When I look at a menu I do make an effort to look for a dish that’s either fish or meat with vegetables, because I enjoy eating that way. I rarely eat pasta dishes or pizzas, but it’s not unheard of. Many restaurants understand how to cater for specific dietary requirements in any case, but in general I find there is something on the menu that fits the bill. I might make the effort to have a lovely, healthy (and very delicious) main meal, but then have a chocolate fondant for desert. And why shouldn’t I? I work hard, I eat well most of the time, and I love chocolate! It’s also much easier to get gluten free deserts these days, which is very welcome. I’ve become much better at sharing deserts as my taste buds and desire for sweet things have reduced over the years!
Finding Your Approach To Eating For Health
When working towards a lifestyle change in the way you eat it might include removing certain foods from your diet and replacing them with others, but to make this achievable and long-lasting it requires some work and patience. It’s really important to recognise that at times you will find yourself in situations where you need to relax things a bit too. That’s fine! That’s life! And when healthy eating is your lifestyle and not a faddy ‘diet’ then you can do so and not feel any sort of anxiety or guilt about it.
Eat well at home. Own your healthy food choices there. Embrace them; love them! Rejoice in your love of good food and home cooked meals and snacks. Look after yourself. Manage situations when you can and when it’s appropriate. And when you eat or drink something that you know doesn’t make you feel good (either physically or emotionally) recognize it as an isolated incident that need not set you off down a different track.
For me, judgement, guilt or anxiety shouldn’t feature in our relationship with food, but all too often it’s what I hear and see from my clients. It’s so easy to pick up messages – often from our formative years – that impose on us a barrier to enjoying and rejoicing in food.
My major food philosophy is to add things in rather than take things out. Get in the good stuff; the foods that make you feel naturally full and satisfied. The foods that help your digestion to work well, your energy levels to remain good and your weight to be balanced. Eat in a way that supports refreshing sleep, and a well functioning immune system. It is possible, and likely to be easier than you think! Sometimes you just need a helping hand to navigate through the stumbling blocks along the way.
I would love to work with you if you’d like help in optimizing your diet to support your health, so do get in touch if you’d like to find out more about becoming a client of mine.