The amount of diets, health plans and eating advice has entered the ridiculous; every week a new, fashionable fad earns headlines, only to be replaced with a successor the following week which often, entirely contradicts the first. Clearly, many scientists/dieticians/nutritionists (delete as applicable) have their own philosophies as to staying skinny, but honestly, who knows which are filled with fact and which are essentially padded-out rubbish?
Journalist and author A J Jacobs of Esquire magazine conducted an experiment wherein he himself was the guinea pig. The aim? To be the healthiest person alive. He narrates his escapades in an amusing manner but the gist is, that his head was so full of healthy advise, he became stressed trying to follow it all. The counter productiveness of too much information lead me to discuss this with various nutritionists. There emerged only one (yes, ONE) answer to achieving physical and mental health: balance. Surely, everyone is already aware of this but for some reason ignoring it in search of a magical and, certainly mythical, cure or solution. Sorry folks, there isn’t one.
In short, we should be striving for health over becoming thin, but can achieve both by adapting certain lifestyles and eating habits. Firstly, to exercise regularly and secondly, to avoid indulging on foods but instead limiting our treats and ingesting a wide range of food groups throughout the day. Last but not least, do not underestimate the power of sleep. Most of us aren’t getting enough, which effects not only our appearance but also metabolism and brain power.
Exercise is the simpler area of the two, so we will begin there. Exercise is widely recognised as physical activity over 30 minutes that will increase your heart rate and evoke that ‘out of breath’ feeling, known as cardio. Everyone should aim to exercise every day, but at least five times a week. Of course, depending on your body type/physical issues/aims , etc., certain activity will benefit you over others but, essentially, everyone should be moving, and often.
Onto eating, by far a more complex subject, largely due to the sheer amount of literature on the topic which has, in recent years, become a get-rich-quick scheme, achieved by inventing the wackiest diet imaginable and attributing some vague, scientific research to it then feeding it to the masses.
There are some easy rules to help you onto the right track:
1. Eat 5 Portions of Fruit and Vegetables Each Day.
This has received it’s fair share of challenges and, perhaps the amounts are debatable but it is definitely a good place to start. Ensure you mix both fruit and vegetables.
2. Drink 8 Cups of Water a Day.
Again, people nitpick the amount but the point it, staying hydrated has unending benefits, from beautiful skin to avoiding headaches and fatigue.
3. Eat the Rainbow.
When it comes to vegetables, brighter is better; greens are not the only healthy option. Try orange butternut squash, or purple beetroot for variation.
4. Go Natural.
All dieticians agree upon the fact that processed food is pretty terrible for you. Various studies have been conducted based on a ‘typical’ Western diet which includes takeouts, pre-packaged meals and processed meats, and none of the results are good. This diet is linked to stress, anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder, in addition to perhaps leading to developing mental health disorders such as suicide, ADHD and schizophrenia. Even if such results are disputed, logic tells us that eating food jam packed with conservatives, unfamiliar numbers and initials and with unnatural colours and smells can’t be very good for us.
Many celebrity chefs from Jamie Oliver to Nigella Lawson have attempted to tackle this problem by demonstrating how easy it can be to prepare your own food, with all natural ingredients. Don’t use the Time Excuse, healthy meals such as noodles with vegetables and chicken breasts, or Indian Daal (made with lentils) are fast to cook and low on preparation.
I’ve refrained from including what many may consider to be the Fifth Food Commandment, on the grounds that it is such a flurry of fashionable food advise, I can’t make heads or tails of it. Sugar: to eat, or not to eat? Erring on the side of caution, everyone agrees that too much sugar is bad for you, with many advising to cut it out altogether. This does not fit into the ‘everything in moderation’ advise I have received from professionals so, decide for yourself. For those attempting to dismiss all sugar from your diet, begin slowly with only eating natural sugars such as those found in fruit, and sweeteners such as honey.
Please don’t, however, beat yourself up for having a slice of cake – this does not mean that you are a bad person, nor that you have failed your diet. Feel free to treat yourself on special occassions, just not all the time. Instead, snack on nuts, cheese or olives for gratifying and filling foods to tide you over between meals.
Lastly, be sensible: it is not a good idea to eat a large bowl of heavy, rich pasta with a cream sauce before bed, as you will simply lay there full and uncomfortable. If, however, you eat such a meal at lunch time with the remainder of an active day ahead of you to burn off all the energy you’re digesting, that seems alright to me! And if you feel really guilty, sub in some wholegrain pasta. There, you’re trying.