Healthy Eating Made Easy
Healthy eating can be as confusing as trying to buy a new pair of sneakers — with so many different options available, how do you choose?
Getting your nutrition right can help you to maximise the benefits of your fitness routine. The good news? While nutrition is individual, figuring out how to eat healthy doesn’t have to be complicated.
Once you understand the basics, it’s all about creating healthy eating habits that can help to give your body the nutrition it needs, consistently. This overview of what it means to be healthy can help you to get started.
How to eat healthy
First of all, it’s important to understand what your body needs to get from the food you eat. If you can get the balance right, it’ll be easier to maintain a healthy lifestyle and fuel your training, work, home life and social life.
To eat healthy, there are three things to consider: the types of foods you eat, how much, and how often you should eat. Once you understand the best way to eat for yourself, you can be confident that you are providing your body with optimal nutrition to fuel your daily activities, as well as your training.
Variety is key
Eating healthy means including a wide variety of foods, from each of the five food groups.
Choosing a variety of nutritious foods throughout the week can help to ensure sufficient intake of all the macronutrients and micronutrients the body needs. Eating a variety of foods will provide you with the energy to get through your day, increase your quality of life and even help you to live longer as it reduces your risk of developing chronic diseases.
So what are the five food groups? Vegetables and legumes (beans and lentils); fruit; grains (ideally wholegrain or high fibre varieties); lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds and legumes/beans; and dairy and alternatives.
The groups represent foods that provide similar amounts of the key nutrients the body needs to be healthy. For example, vegetables provide lots of vitamins and minerals as well as fibre for very little calories, and dairy foods (and their alternatives) are a good source of protein, calcium and vitamin D.
Depending on your age, basal metabolic rate and activity levels, you’ll need different amounts of each food group. However, generally speaking, most of us need 2 serves of fruit, 5 serves of vegetables, 4-6 serves of grains, 2-3 serves of protein and 3-4 serves of dairy each day.
Balance your plate
The simplest way to eat the correct servings of the five food groups each day is to think about the balance of your plate and portion size.
Ideally, at each meal, half the plate should be filled with vegetables (put these on the plate first!), one quarter for starch or carbohydrate, and the remaining quarter for protein. If you can do this, you’ll be on track to getting the nutrients you need — all without having to count or log anything into a food tracker app.
Hydration matters too
The human body is made up of 50-80 percent water, depending on lean body mass. Research shows if you’re dehydrated, you’re more likely to feel mentally foggy, lack energy, or struggle with concentration — and more likely to reach for processed foods when you need a snack.
A 2016 mini-review, by Université de Lorraine in France, looked at studies investigating the link between hydration and weight loss, and found that there is a likely link between increased hydration and weight loss due to lower calorie intake throughout the day, and increased fat burning.
Most women should aim to drink at least 1.5L of fluid each day. However, if you’re training or the weather is hot, you will need to drink more. If you struggle, try flavouring your water with a fresh squeeze of lemon, carrying around a drink bottle, using a water tracker (there's one in the SWEAT app you can use), or set yourself a goal to drink one glass of water between each meal and snack.
Healthy eating means listening to your body
Now that you know what foods you need to include, and how much you need, it's time to consider your eating habits — when and how you eat each day.
Use intuitive eating to break through less healthy habits
Nurturing a healthy relationship with food is so important in forming healthy eating habits. Eating mindfully and intuitively can help to restore a positive and reciprocal relationship between the body, mind and the food that we eat. An important part of this is to step away from dieting or restrictive eating, and allowing yourself to listen to what your body really needs by tuning in to your natural hunger signalling system.
The aim of eating intuitively is to tap into your appetite so that you eat when you are hungry, until you are satisfied. This means learning not to turn to food for comfort, or to cope with difficult emotions.
Learning to eat intuitively is about more than just the food you eat. To be successful with intuitive eating, you may benefit from addressing stressors in your life using tools like exercise and mindfulness that help you to feel more in control and manage emotions in a healthy way.
A 2016 review by Monash University in Australia found that intuitive eating was associated with a better relationship with food, less fad dieting and a more positive body image in women. In fact, several studies have shown a correlation between intuitive eating and healthy eating, weight loss and positive psychological outcomes.
You can start with intuitive eating right away. Here are some steps to getting started:
1. Check in before you eat and ask yourself a simple question: “Am I actually hungry?”
2. While you eat, pay attention to how you feel. This will help you to know when you are full.
3. Eat more slowly, and without distraction (turn the TV off!)
4. Notice the taste and textures of your food.
5. Enjoy the experience and allow yourself to be satisfied!
Make time to plan ahead
Planning your meals and snacks is a key healthy eating habit. Having healthy meals and snacks pre-purchased and prepared removes the temptation to grab readily available food that is often less nutritious, just to get you through the day. Planning meals for the week, or even just a couple of days, can help to ensure that you're getting plenty of variety, and including servings from each of the five food groups.
If you can, set a regular time aside each week to plan, shop and prepare meals. Make the most of your fridge and freezer by preparing ready-made portions that are easy to grab when you need them. It can help to keep healthy snacks — like fresh fruit or nuts — visible, so you are more likely to choose them when you feel a little hungry.
Everything in moderation
Healthy eating is all about being realistic. This means allowing some flexibility and balance in your diet to accomodate your lifestyle. It’s perfectly okay to eat less nutritious comfort foods or have a treat, especially if it’s part of a celebration or social occasion. Don’t feel guilty about enjoying less healthy food! Savour it, and you’ll be satisfied without overeating.
Living a healthy lifestyle should be enjoyable and not restrictive. Being comfortable eating all different types of food is part of a balanced mindset and will help you to have a positive relationship with food.
You can eat healthy without overhauling your lifestyle
So how do you put all of this together? Simple — find what works for you! You don't have to be perfect at it, you can start by making small changes towards an eating pattern that is overall much healthier. Try small changes like drinking more water each day, or adding an extra serve of vegetables into your meals.
Healthy eating looks different for everyone. Understanding the principles of healthy eating can help you to develop habits that fit into your lifestyle, and to adapt them over time as your life evolves.
Our bodies, minds, lifestyles, and goals are all different so why should your diet be the same as everyone else’s? Like that perfect pair of runners – your choice won’t be the same as the person next to you in the store and that’s okay. Tread your own path!
* Results may vary. Strict adherence to the nutrition and exercise guide are required for best results.