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Knowing what and how to eat can be a can be a daunting and confusing prospect. Whether your goal is to eat well for health, fat loss, muscle gain, athletic performance, or anything else, there are a vast range of options available to you.
I have clients who have tried dieting with the Atkins diet, carb cycling, the Jane Plan, feast and famine, fasting with the 5-2 method, juicing... the list goes on! Some of them saw good results, some none at all, but all of them went back to nutritional "freestyling" once they felt they'd completed their diets. In my experience, this was the real issue. These people felt like they needed to be "on a diet" to have any control over what they were eating. In reality, all they needed to do was take a more structured and mindful approach.
Most people just want to feel healthier, get fitter/stronger and look better. If you're not a competitive athlete, you absolutely do not have to use complicated diet plans or expensive supplements!
Here are some essential factors we should all be taking into consideration in order to fuel our bodies with the nutrients we need to stay healthy:
1. Get to know your body
You can't make a plan if you don't take into account your starting point. I always recommend my clients keep a food diary, or use fitness trackers like MyFitnessPal to help monitor how the food they're eating is affecting their health, energy levels and mood. Simply being mindful of the short term effects of your diet can help to filter out any food intolerances causing bloating or other unwanted symptoms, too. From here, you can pinpoint the easy, initial changes you should make.
2. Monitor your portion sizes
It's important to have a general idea of how much you're eating. Your energy requirements can vary daily or even hourly dependent on your activity levels, but as long as you're not under-eating or over-eating to any excessive degree you will be fine overall. Calories are not the be all and end all, but if you're eating too many you will gain unnecessary body fat! Precision nutrition offer a great guide to portion sizing using just your hands.
3. Calculate your macronutrient requirements
Just roughly calculate the balance of carbohydrates, fats and proteins (macronutrients) you need from your diet. Online calculators like If It Fits Your Macros can help give you a good estimate. Specific requirements will vary from person to person dependent on body type, activity levels and body composition/performance goals. You don't even have to stick to these to the letter - you will benefit simply from knowing and acknowledging what it is your body needs.
4. Stay hydrated
Obvious, but hugely important. Almost all of your body's thousands of processes require water to function efficiently, and if you're not well hydrated you're not your best. It is also common for our bodies to mistake thirst for hunger, prompting us to overeat or make poor food choices.
5. Consume good quality, real food
Your body requires vitamins and minerals (micronutrients) to perform all of its functions. A wide variety of ingredients from fresh produce, meat, fish, grains, herbs and spices will provide these better than a bland diet of pasta, chicken and cheese! A commonly used method to ensure maximum micronutrient intake is to eat a variety of coloured foods. Typically in nature, different colours represent different nutrient content.
6. Create and follow a realistic, sustainable plan
Sometimes it can seem like there just aren't enough hours in the day. Modern lifestyles juggling work, family and friends mean that it can be difficult to organise your nutrition to optimal levels. However, what you're eating is one of the most important aspects of your health and life, and some basic planning can make all the difference. Use any time you have to prepare as much as you can. This could mean stocking up your fridge with everything you will need until you can get to the shops again, or food prepping and freezing your meals on a Sunday for the week ahead. Even cooking a little extra at dinner time will mean your lunch is ready for the following day. If something is important to you, you will find the time for it.
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