It’s me with more advice to bestow upon you. Today is all about getting started on that healthy eating thing people keep doing. First things first, it’s doesn’t have to be all avocados on toast and green smoothies if you don’t want it to. Second of all it’s easy as pie (which isn’t actually that easy to make) but it’s not going to seem easy for the first part of this post. Just stay with me though, all will become clear.
So you want to eat healthy. Good for you. This post is for those who want to start and aren’t sure where to begin or why things are ‘done’ the way they are. Think of it as a little catalogue of go-to snippets of information to help you make better food choices. It may surprise you to know that the most important things you will need in the first 4 weeks are not a ready and never-ending supply of various lettuces, but willpower and drive. Changing the habits of a lifetime is a hard task but it is 100% possible. You’re likely going to get sugar withdrawal headaches, mood swings and cravings but getting through those first few weeks is totally worth it and it’s plain sailing from there.
Now don’t assume that’s a detox period. There’s no such thing as a detox. Bolded for emphasis. Your liver very kindly does this job for you and unless you have liver disease or are a heavy drinker your liver needs no assistance from you or any juices/laxative laced teas (shade thrown), what a great organ. Eat healthy and provide your body with the nutrients it needs and all preexisting medical conditions aside, you’ll run like clockwork.
Now. Salad. Salad is a blight upon this planet and needs to be eradicated. It is uninspired, lackluster, unsatisfying and several other synonyms for ‘crap’. You know the type of salad I mean, the ones with no quinoa or grains or carbs or eggs or fun. Salad shall make no appearance in this article other than to be shamed. Just thought I should get that out of the way because HEALTHY EATING CAN BE AS DELICIOUS AND SALAD FREE AS YOU LIKE. I like cake ok, I like coffee, I like carbs, I love carbs actually, I like pasta and crisps and chocolate. And I still eat all those things, I’m never hungry, I always look forward to my meals and yet I still mostly eat healthy and I hit my macros (more on this later). It’s all about that word you probably see a lot – moderation. Disclaimer: If you like salad that’s great cause veg is awesome but also please don’t invite me for dinner.
I’m gonna lay this out for you real simple so bear with me but let’s just assume you have zero knowledge of nutrition. First of all your body needs stuff to keep going right? It needs energy. What do we measure this energy in? Calories. Ok, so do not run away screaming or conversely, get fixated on this word and crack out the calculator. Calories exist and yes, basic science tells us that if you consume less calories than you burn per day (i.e. a calorie deficit), you will lose weight. But we do not care about these numbers right now. You do not need to ‘count’ anything to begin your weight loss/healthy eating journey. If you want to start later you can but there is simply no need from the get go, you don’t need that hassle in your life.
You see, not all calories were created equal. So before you even think of looking for that calculator, sit down and have a learn of this. I’m not going to go into too much detail here but all of our calories come from our major food groups which are split into macronutrients. These are Proteins, Fats and Carbohydrates (Also Alcohol is the less talked about 4th macro, we will be ignoring it in this post because despite it’s social benefits, it’s health benefits are a bit non-existent and this is kind of a health blog so y’know).
1g Carbs provides 4 calories. 1g of Protein provides 4 calories and 1g of fat provides 9 calories.
With me so far? You can see straight away that depending on what you’re eating, the composition of that food is going to have a big impact on calorie intake.
Now many people who have been on their journeys for a while track their macros, I’ve dabbled in it myself. This can be done by working out how many calories you burn per day and then making sure your calorie intake is less than this (putting you in that deficit we were talking about), allocating your allowed calories for the day to all three macronutrient groups in a percentage weighting of your choice, tailored to your goals. Long story short, maths.
I keep saying you don’t have to track/count these numbers and that’s very true but if you want to eat healthy you should be aware of them. So ignoring all these ‘specialist diets’ you may have tried/heard of (low carb, low fat, only carb, ketogenic whatever) here are some hard and fast science-based ‘rules’ to get your head in the game.
- On days you work out, you’re going to burn more energy. You’re going to need energy to burn in the first place so: more carbs.
- On rest days you’re burning less energy, so, you got it, less carbs, as an excess will not be burned off and will instead be stored as fat (note I didn’t say ‘no carbs’, unless you want your attitude to resemble that of a dinosaur with a sore head).
- On work out days, particularly strength training or anything working your muscles, you’re going to need more protein to help repair those muscle fibers.
So now we have that out of the way let’s talk misconceptions. There are more than you can shake a rib of celery at, instead you should throw the celery at them with the rest of the bunch because celery is disgusting and pointless.
I’m going to emphasise this one a fair bit as it’s important but if I’m not being clear enough, please let me know in the comments. Fat is not bad. Okay? One more time, FAT IS NOT BAD. And just for those in the back with bad wifi connection, FAT IS NOT BAD. It is very good and you need it for your brain to function properly and for vitamin absorption. Fats do not make you fat. Eating too many fats will indeed make you fat, as with everything in the world ever. It’s just that Fat the macronutrient unfortunately shares a name with fat the adjective. Here’s some more science coming at you, 3 types of fat:
- poly unsaturated
- mono unsaturated
And I can bet most of you will be sat there like yeah ok so saturated = bad, the others = not as bad. Wrong. You do want less saturated fats, granted, but you definitely don’t want to cut them out and here is why. Let me introduce you to my life partner, coconut oil. Coconut oil is almost entirely saturated fat (over 90% of it’s calories come from sat fat) and yet I and several million other health conscious people make the very deliberate action of cooking our food in it wherever possible. Why? Well saturated fat is not as bad as the media would have you believe, in fact it is no longer believed that sat fat is associated with heart disease. It’s an excellent cooking oil for high heat processes and the high amount of Medium Chain Triglycerides it contains mean that the liver can do it’s thing quickly and provide you with a quick source of energy. There’s also loads of other health benefits which you can check out here.
Speaking of which, S-S-S-STOP buying low-fat/fat-reduced/light/skinny versions of products. This stuff is like the holy grail to those trying to lose weight, you mean I can still have Philadelphia cheese AND be healthy?! Yes, you can, IF you buy the full fat version. You see all of these low fat products have had the fat removed, but what have they replaced it with? Celery? Lettuce? Water? No cause that would be disgusting. It’s sugar! ‘OK, and what?’ I’ll tell you what. You get fat storage. The exact opposite of what you were going for there. More science now:
- You eat low-fat product with added sugars (Carbs) and sweeteners
- Blood sugar levels spike
- Your body releases insulin to regulate your blood sugar levels
- Rapid decrease in blood sugar levels and an abundance of insulin
- This insulin will inhibit the break down of fat stores and glucose and instead store them as body fat
- Your body craves the lost sugary high so you crave more sugary foods
- Leaving yourself prone to unplanned snacking
Whereas if you’d eaten a small amount of the full fat version, you’d have some healthy fats under your belt for the day and you’d feel fuller, longer.
This blends nicely onto our next topic, sugar. Sweet , sweet, sugar. Many of us are unknowingly addicted to sugar and god damn is it addictive. If you try and go sugar free prepare to behave like a rudely awoken badger with a grudge and a withdrawal headache for the first few days. That aside, as with everything in this post, moderation is key and you don’t have to completely cut sugar if you don’t want to. Sugar is a Carb and it’s effects were explained in the bulleted list above when we talked about low-fat products.
To delve a little deeper into this, sugar has a high Glycemic Index (GI), a value of 56 and upwards depending on the type of sugar. In layman’s terms, GI is a number that represents how much a particular substance affects your blood sugar levels, which we want to keep low to avoid the huge insulin dump we talked about earlier. Excellent alternatives to cane sugar include Stevia and Xylitol, a glycoside and a sugar alcohol respectively, and both plant derived with the same texture and appearance of sugar and taste very similar. The difference being that they have a much lower GI.
Watch out however, as many big brands have caught on to this health ‘trend’ and are marketing ‘Stevia’ on their products but a quick check of the ingredients shows you it’s ‘steviol glycosdies’ (the stuff we want) mixed with ‘maltodextrin’ (the stuff we do not want – that’s good old fashioned sugar). Sugar comes under MANY names, see below for a few that it can be hiding under on your food packets. I’m in no way a believer of ritualistic packet obsessing but a quick scan of the Sat Fat, Carbs of which Sugar and the Ingredients list can never go amiss, especially when you’re unsure.
There’s an awful lot to be said about sugar and a vast array of wildly differing opinions. With that in mind, fructose (fruit sugar which shockingly, comes from fruits) is often demonised in the health community and in my opinion, wrongly so. There is nothing wrong with a banana and an orange a day. The truth is, the sugar in these fruits WILL be processed the same as any other sugar and will have the same effects, HOWEVER unlike the maltodextrin from chocolate or the corn syrup from a can of fizzy drink, you’re getting a metric butt-tonne of vitamins and other micronutrients from that piece of fruit. Fructose also has a lower GI than refined sugar so it will not spike your blood sugar levels as badly as chocolate. You gotta take the good with the bad sometimes and fruit is a great source for the good. Like I said, it’s sensible to have about 2 pieces per day and as always, some fruits contain more sugar than others, check out the handy infographic below.
Another misconception is that Carbs are bad and a low carb diet is the only way to lose weight. Low Carb can be super effective but it doesn’t work for everyone (myself included) and it’s especially difficult for veggies and vegans whose main sources of protein come from delicious Carbs. There is no need to fear the Carb, you just need to be aware of the different types. There are complex Carbs and simple Carbs. Simple Carbs such as bread, pasta, sugar and white rice raise your blood sugar quite quickly, complex carbs release their energy more slowly and thus, blood sugar levels don’t spike and you don’t get the insulin dump and consequent fat storage. Complex carbs include sweet potato, brown rice, whole grains, beans and quinoa. That’s not to say you can’t have the simple Carbs of course, it’s just about watching how many of them you eat, as with anything.
There’s a saying floating round the internet that if you can’t pronounce it/don’t recognise it then you shouldn’t eat it. Same goes for ingredients lists with more than 4 things but in my humble opinion that is utter BS. Di-Hydrogen Oxide sounds pretty ominous but it’s just plain old water, articles online can really twist statistics and facts to suit their cause (see here for a hilarious joke webpage) so make sure you keep an open mind when it comes to nutrition and always look for cited, peer-reviewed sources, preferably scientific papers. This aspect of healthy eating comes with time, research and education. Y’know, don’t eat things with artifical flavours and preservatives, that’s common sense, but also don’t become obsessive. Find the balance. Be aware but not scared.
The best way to incorporate all the information above, know exactly what is in your food and to have a good idea of the proportions of the food groups you’re eating per day is to #eatclean. Yes, Instagram is partially representative of the real world (I know,shocking). Eating clean is actually super easy and I’ll be doing a small listicle style post soon on how to get started but for now let me just say it’s all about using fresh ingredients, as little out of a packet as possible and you make almost everything from scratch. Sounds annoying and time consuming but I promise it doesn’t have to be.
For the purposes of not getting embroiled in a royal sh*t storm I will not be going into he health benefits of going dairy-free, gluten-free, meat-free, animal by-product-free or any other kind of free in this instance. You are however, free to do your own research and make your own decisions on these things but it is worth knowing the pros and cons to each of them regardless.
This post is already long enough to wallpaper a small house so I’ll end Part 1 here however keep a look out for further installments in the ‘Healthy Eating is Not as Annoying as You Think’ series. Like I mentioned earlier, the next post will be a list of things you can do to make eating clean/healthy super easy for yourself. From an ex-beginner to a beginner.
Have a happy Thursday!