There’s a proverb in my hometown that says, "We are what we eat," and I couldn’t agree more. The food we consume affects our body in numerous ways: from our energy to our feelings. Therefore, caring about our diet is the primary self-care act.
I’m from Spain, and believe me, here we take food to another level. The most significant moments in our life happen in front of a filled table, surrounded by our loved ones. For us, eating goes beyond nourishing our body, it’s a sacred moment that we expect all day long, it’s a confession of love to the ones you’re sharing with and yourself.
If I’m telling you this, it is because I’ve seen that eating can become a prison and an anxiety source. We often let food control our lives to the extent of getting ill. Eating disorders are a real problem.
This article is aimed at anyone who wants to make a change in their lifestyle and improve the way they eat. It doesn’t matter if you want to start this journey given that you need to lose/gain weight or because you want to feel energized and have a better lifestyle. This advice applies to everyone.
Avoid the word “diet”. Before I start with the actual tips, there’s something you need to understand: nothing good comes from dieting. Restricting yourself, either because you want to lose or gain weight, is going to affect the way you perceive food. The more you diet, the more it will take control of your life.
Unless you leave some space for joy, your days will become an obsession to control every piece of food that comes into your body and there won’t be space for any other thoughts.
The temporary nature of dieting can motivate you in short term and yeah, if you’re strict, you will be able to see some results in your body, but at what expense? Even more, as soon as you stop dieting, you will go back to your starting point (with serious health damage).
Instead, try to set up a new lifestyle. Stop counting calories and learn how to serve yourself and consume balanced meals. Stop cutting out what you enjoy and try adjusting things back to normal.
If you continue the following steps, you’ll be able to enjoy food while maintaining a healthy eating-style!
1. Don’t cut out foods you like and don’t eat anything you dislike.
Congratulations! You’re now on your way into a healthy relationship with food. And guess what? It doesn’t mean you will have to stop eating what you like.
I don’t care what people say, "bad" foods don’t exist. As a huge foodie, I’ll support this statement until I die. The keyword here is balance. All kinds of food are good for you, as each meal nourishes you in a particular way. And cutting some of your favorites is neither healthy or enjoyable.
Let’s go back to our early education and recover the marvellous “food pyramid.” I never understood why we left it behind in grade school, as it’s such an illustrative way to understand the basis of a healthy diet.
I recommend you print it and maybe post it on your fridge or freezer or somewhere you can see it properly. Important: make sure it has the number of portions written.
I’m not going to re-explain all the food types and the proportions, but you can easily check it out.
Make a list.
Once you have your list, allow yourself some time to figure out what kinds of food you like in each category. Write them down and stick with them. I recommend you experiment with new types of foods, cuisines, and flavours. It’s such a fun thing to do.
Take notice to reduce the amount of meat, especially red meat.
And don’t you dare come to me telling me that veggies taste gross because that means you haven’t eaten them the right way. Why don’t you try out some Asian dishes? They often use a lot of veggies and taste amazing. When it comes to food, there are unlimited options
Find out what you enjoy the most and write them down and order them.
3. No, junk food doesn’t count.
I’m coming ahead of time because quite probably you have written down junk food on your favourite food list.
Let me make this point clear because I think this is essential: "junk food" is not a type of food, neither a food category. It’s a simple way to refer to all kinds of processed food sold in fast-food restaurants. So, stop thinking that you need to stop eating pizza or French fries. As I said before, there aren’t "bad" foods when they are eaten as part of a balanced diet.
What you should do, is stop consuming processed food. The only reason why you keep craving junk food is because of all the additives that are added in it.
If you give yourself some time and let this influence lose its effect, you will soon realize that an Italian restaurant's pizza tastes so much better than a fast-food restaurant’s one.
I know we can’t always afford going out, so what about making them at home? There’s nothing healthier than homemade food. Learning how to cook homemade pizzas has been game-changing in my life.
I used to drink soda all the time until I decided to stop. I didn’t allow myself to ever buy a Coca-Cola. It wasn’t easy, because in my mind I connected drinking soda with going out with my friends. But after a few weeks, I stopped craving it to the point where I didn’t feel like drinking it.
But it wasn’t until I drank it again after all this time, that I realized how dangerous junk food was. As soon as I swallowed it I tasted such a bad flavour that I wasn’t able to finish the glass. The only reason why I used to like soda what because all the additives it had. This helped me cut all kinds of processed food out of my life.
However, I know how difficult it is to make such a drastic change. My advice is to cut one thing at a time and always substitute it by a better alternative. In my case, instead of Cola, I started drinking iced tea and homemade lemonade. Or instead of ordering pizza, I made them. I'll soon publish a series of articles with my favourite recipes that help substitute junk food. (pizza, french fries, breakfasts ideas, snacks,...) Make sure to keep update!
And guess what? The taste can’t be compared to the previous one. It soon becomes easier.
4. Cheat days aren’t a thing.
I’m sorry… but cheat days or even cheat meals are useless. At least they are if you’re just like me and you lack any control. When setting up a day in the week where all foods are allowed without any restrictions, things always go out of control.
And the worst part is that the following day you will relate the word cheating to pleasure and you will hate the rest of the days. As you can see, this is opposite of a healthy mindset.
My advice is to let things happen by coincidence, and let those moments of no-control come to you on special occasions. Maybe a birthday party or a gathering with friends. Allow yourself to relax and take things easier during those moments.
A great idea is to share the kind of foods that you shouldn’t eat frequently with your friends. For instance, instead of regretting not asking for dessert, why don’t you share it with your friends? This will make you enjoy it a lot more and feel better!
And if you are craving chocolate on your period, take a piece of it (preferably choose the healthiest alternative) and enjoy it. Never stop indulging yourself. That’s a big part of self-care.
I’m sure you’ve always been told how important water is. But, it doesn’t matter how many times you’re told unless you put it into practice.
Water is the source of life. My grandma always tells me that a thirsty man will ask for water, but a sad one will ask for beer. The moral from this lesson is quite simple, what your body needs is water, yet your mind might take you the wrong way.
As humans, we’re supposed to drink 2 litres of water each day (minimum) to hydrate your body, which means 8 glasses per day. I know it can be hard, but here are some tips that can help you.
- Get yourself a nice water bottle that you can carry around. My personal favourite is glass bottles because they just feel a lot better and they last longer.
- Always have a bottle of water in hand and leave it in your sight. It might sound silly, but this changed completely changed my drinking habits. Try having your bottle next to you during class. You’ll notice that every time you get bored, you take a sip.
- I recommend, especially in the beginning, to download an app to keep track of your drinks. They also have reminders that can help you get the habit.
- If you don’t like the taste of plain water, try to add some fruit such as lemon or raspberries to it. It will change the taste and will feel a lot more refreshing.
- Instead of asking for a sugary drink, order an infusion, lemonade or tea.
6. Learn how to serve portions.
As I said before, counting calories can become a nightmare where food controls your whole life. When counting calories, you have to plan your day around food and the feeling of guilt every time you exceed your calorie intake makes you force yourself to work out more.
Believe me, I’ve been there and it's such a nonsense game. We aren’t robots that have a determinate amount of gasoline we have to consume to work properly. We’re so much more!
I understand that keeping track of your calories can help you get an approximated idea of what is your average food intake. This allows you to find out if you’re overeating or undereating. But once you surpass this early stage, calorie counting becomes a vicious circle that makes you stop enjoying food.
However, this can be easily solved by learning how to balance your diet. I know it's not as accurate as calorie counting, but this system allows you to enjoy eating and at the same time, find the right balance for a healthy diet.
My personal favourite is the “healthy plate” method, which is pretty famous for its simplicity and effectiveness. This system is used to serve proportioned meals and is specifically aimed at the main meals of the day, whatever they are in your usual lifestyle.
The “healthy plate” method consists of splitting your plate into different sections, assigning to each one an according to food category.
- (1/2) veggies
- (1/4) carbs
- (1/4) protein
This allows you to eat the appropriate proportion of each kind of food, and what’s better, this technique lets you eat whatever you want. You can use the previous list to introduce your favourite veggies, meat, fish, carbs into the plate. The combinations are limited.
When eating a compacted meal, you can apply the same pattern when cooking your dish. In the following link, you’ll find a short video that explains the bases of the “healthy plate” method and its multiple uses. I highly recommend you check this out!
7. How many meals?
I used to ask myself this question a lot. But from my own experience, meals have to adapt to your lifestyle and personal preferences. Each body is a different world. You must start listening to it. Some people wake up hungry, others don’t eat until midday. None of those things are wrong.
I prefer to keep myself filled with the three main meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner) rather than eating small meals all day long, basically because for me eating is a big deal. It’s a moment when we all sit together and talk. I always try to take my time and enjoy the food and avoiding using distractions such as my mobile phone or T.V.
But I know that some people find more practical eating to be smaller portions five times a day. And it works for them! However, my tip is that no matter your meal schedule, learn how to make easy and simple healthy snacks, it’s a life-saver.
8. Why work on your relationship with food?
Because its life-changing, and I’m not exaggerating. We are what we eat. And a healthy diet helps us be the best version of ourselves. Since I started growing a good relationship with food, I noticed a big improvement in my health, I stopped getting ill so easily and my face turned a lot clearer. I naturally lost weight and I felt so much more energized.
And what’s better is to see this result: I never stopped enjoying food. Instead, I’d never loved it as much.