What is eating well? Clearly, being on a nutritionists blog, one answer would be ‘healthily’. Of course that is true. We need to be eating more fruits, vegetables, wholegrain, pulses, fish and other lean meats and less red and processed meats, foods high in salt, fat and sugar and those energy dense foods that make it so easy to rack up the calories. So many chronic health conditions, like high blood pressure, obesity and its related effects on quality of life, heart disease, type II diabetes and some cancers, are linked to the way we eat. Improve the way we eat then the risks of these things are reduced and quality of life improves, we add quality to our years as well as potentially years to our lives.
But eating well is also about enjoying our food, about the shopping and cooking of our food fitting in with our lives. Food has a big role to play in the quality of life. Most of us enjoy eating. It is not only the pleasure of the eating but in the social aspects of sharing a meal. Food is often central to celebrations and links us to our roots and our childhood – how many meals make us feel good because it is a dish that mum made when we were little.
Food can also be a source of stress – the shopping for it (particularly if there isn’t much cash around), faddy eaters in the house and I don’t just mean the kids, if you are not a confident cook then changing the way you cook can seem daunting and not very much fun. Food choices can be hard as we are marketed to and there is so much conflicting information about the food we eat in magazines and on websites. Then there are all the other issues around food which can be really important to us, like environmental issues, ethics and fairtrade, waste and packaging. All of these things can make changing the way we eat extremely hard.
Generally speaking, when we try to eat healthily rarely do we take all those things in. We go on a ‘diet’ or a ‘health kick’ with healthy eating being the complete focus, all other aspects of the way we eat cast by the wayside. Suddenly, foods we love are deemed banned, what we eat becomes prescriptive, the foods that we ‘allow’ ourselves to eat seem boring and worthy. In addition, cooking and shopping become more time consuming and often the new regime doesn’t fit well with our lifestyle. This is particularly so if just one person in the household is changing the way they eat and everyone else is sticking with their eating habits. The ‘health kick’ is unsustainable!!
If we want to eat better for our health then we have to approach changing the way we eat in a sustainable way. Small changes that we make that are sustained for the long term are generally far more effective in improving our health than a short lived full on ‘change everything’ style health kick. If the small changes are to become part of our habits then they need to be realistic goals that don’t go against the grain of the way we live.
We often think eating better is changing one habit like giving up smoking. When we attempt to change the way we eat we have to appreciate that we are trying to change lots of habits at the same time – the way we shop, the way we cook, the way we snack, possibly our meal patterns. With life getting in the way that can be too much and so all to often we end up back at where we were – but worse than that, we feel like we have failed and then the next time we try to change the way we eat we are already expecting to fail.
It doesn’t have to be like that. There are lots of quick wins – easy swaps that although small if they are sustained for a long time make a big difference. Seeing opportunities to make anything you eat a little healthier is the game and also trying new things – new vegetables, new methods of cooking, new products and brands. Seeing improving the way we eat as a long term step by step challenge instead of the ‘all or nothing’ approach is SMART – you must have come across SMART objective setting at work. If not, google it (other search engines are available). Be open minded – making what you eat healthier can mean easy, tasty and cheap and doesn’t mean banning things that you love. Honest!
At my brothers request, I am going to do eating well posts that are tips, recipes and challenges that help towards eating well. Their aim is better weight management and a focus on improving heart health (the men in our family have a history of early heart attacks and high blood pressure). I hope that these will be useful and acheivable, tasty and enjoyable. Some things will be simple swaps, others will be more of a challenge but every small step is worth it.