Eat Your Way to Better Health - Tip 1 - Eat Regularly
Over the past few years there’s been a big shift in my life that’s involved prioritising my health. It seems crazy to me now that I hadn’t done this sooner, but I really hadn’t. Then five years ago almost to the day of writing this I had to have major surgery. It confirmed the toll that previous neglect of my health had taken. There’s been a major ‘clean up’ operation going on ever since. Along the way I’ve learnt a lot about nutrition and how to listen to my body, and I’ve found things that absolutely work for me. After years of fluctuating weight, yo-yo dieting, and a complete lack of connection with my body’s needs, I’m now at my natural weight and have maintained that for over 5 years.
When I tell women this, they want to know how. Especially at menopausal age, when many women find it increasingly hard to do so. (I was 49 when I started this process, in peri-menopause, and at least 20 kilograms overweight.) Part of me doesn’t want to buy into the whole weight conversation, because we as women are so much more than our weight. But a big part of me is equally as passionate about helping women to live healthier and happier lives. I’m not saying that losing weight is the magic key to happiness – far from it. If you continue to tie your happiness to your size and weight, you’re likely to develop some pretty unhealthy behaviours. But changing what you eat can have an enormously positive impact not just on your physical self, but also your mental and emotional health. I didn’t really factor that in when I started making changes, but I can certainly attest to it now. If you need more convincing, look at the work of Dr Kelly Brogan who uses dietary changes to completely turn around the lives of women with depression. Her protocol is very similar to what I outline here, but I'd never heard of her until recently.
Let’s face it, for many women weight has been an ongoing issue. Unfortunately our weight issues have been taken advantage of by the very companies that offer us weight-loss solutions. It’s big business after all. They play on our insecurities and desires and convince us their program will work. And maybe it does for a while. But the reality is many of these programs are designed to fail in the long run, or to keep you on the hook forever. After all, that works well for an industry that thrives on your fears and needs overweight people to survive. Most often people come unstuck when the program ends. I know – I’ve been there myself in the past. Lost all the weight only to put it back on. But not this time. Not following the suggestions I’ll reveal here.
I’m going to give you information about the changes I made to reach and maintain my natural weight. What I mean by ‘natural weight’ is the weight my body defaults to and plateaus at when I’m feeding it well long term. For me this is pretty stable, but can fluctuate by about 2 to 3 kilos. I’m not a great believer in the BMI (Body Mass Index) and it concerns me that people may be striving for unrealistic weight goals because of it. To use myself as an example, the lower end of my healthy range according to the BMI is 60 kilograms. Well let me tell you that even when I came out of hospital with lots of muscle wastage and being the thinnest I’ve ever been, I was 68 kilograms. I’ve never been less than that in my adult life. I looked so underweight at 68 kilograms that one of my friends insisted I address this with my GP, who promptly told me I was still in the healthy weight range! I currently sit right in the middle of that apparently 'healthy weight' range. The reality is that the BMI does not address all the factors involved or indicators of true health. We are now learning that even people at a so called ‘healthy weight’ according to the BMI can actually be unhealthy, and people of an apparently ‘unhealthy weight’ can actually be healthy.
The tips I’m going to give you are long term lifestyle changes, not quick fix solutions. These are things that have worked for me, remembering that we’re all different and need to get in tune with our own bodies. These are things that worked for me when no other so-called 'diet' seemed to work anymore. And what might surprise you is that none of these tips are about exercise. Why? Because although I believe in the incredible health benefits of moving your body, and am certainly an advocate of it for our physical and mental well-being, I did not exercise to lose weight. I exercise now as I have so much more energy, but I can honestly say that it’s what and how you eat that will make the biggest difference to your waistline. This way of eating will also have a positive impact on your gut microbiomes. Gut health is increasingly being seen as vitally important to our overall health, and it’s certainly become a popular topic lately. Did you see the two part Catalyst special – Gut Reaction? The impact on gut health could explain many of the great outcomes I’ve experienced since changing what I eat.
I’m writing a separate post for each of my suggestions because if they’re not things you’re doing already you’ll need time to process the information. And because I’m passionate about this so I know I’ll get a little carried away. I want to give you the ‘whys’ because if you really understand the differences these changes can make in your life, you might just get motivated to give them a try. None of this is rocket science or some big new thing. It’s just a few lifestyle choices that combined set me up for better health, and could do the same for you. The strategies are based on my own personal experiences, and increasingly there’s more science to back them up, but I’m not a health professional or scientist, so please seek professional medical advice before making any changes yourself. Oh, and if you haven’t done so already, I strongly suggest you read my blog on emotional eating if you’re keen to lose weight. You can find it here.
Tip 1 - Eat Regularly
The simple habit of eating regularly is something women can really easily lose sight of, particularly when there are so many demands on their time, and they’re often busy putting everyone else first. They’ll make breakfast for the kids, but skip it themselves. They’ll make lunches for everyone else, but not for themselves. They’ll get so busy at work that they barely have time to grab a snack on the go. And I think some women are OK with this deep down, partly because they inherently feel it’s their duty to be at the bottom of the priority list, particularly as Mums. It could also be because they already see food as the enemy that might make them OMG - FAT, so skipping it here and there can only be a good thing, right?
It also amazes me how often I still hear women say things like ‘I had such a huge lunch I won’t need any dinner tonight.’ And then there are those shocker diets most of us have done at some time or another that restrict food so much that you barely eat a lettuce leaf for each meal. Look, portion size and exactly what you're eating might be something you need to look at, but being continually hungry works for no one, and is the number one reason people give up on 'diets'. And in my opinion it doesn't work for your body, your weight, or how you feel.
I've seen female friends over the years cut back the amount of food they were eating to barely nothing and complain because they still weren't losing weight. I firmly believe it's because they weren't eating enough. (Now that goes against the grain of all the 'diets' we've tried in the past, doesn't it!) When you don’t eat, or don’t eat enough, your body goes into starvation mode and your metabolism slows to a crawl. Your blood sugar levels can also run amuck, which might lead to you choosing food that may not be the best fuel for your body. It doesn’t matter how much you ate in your previous meal, you should eat again. Eat less perhaps, but keep your metabolism firing by eating something. It’s absolutely crucial to eat regularly to gain and maintain your natural weight and feel great. Of course I’m not talking about eating food that has little nutritional value or is high in sugar, as this does nothing to satisfy your body’s real needs. (There’s more on this in my next tip.) Three healthful meals a day is the absolute minimum in my view.
For as long as I can remember, I always felt hungry at around 11am every morning. I could practically set a clock to it. My tummy rumbled and I started getting ‘hangry’. This was regardless of when I ate breakfast, and I always ate breakfast. It took me a long time to realize that I should’ve been working with this signal from my body, not against it. That I should feed my metabolism to keep it firing, and give my body the nutrients it needs. These days I try to eat every three hours approximately. This can pretty much equate to three main meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner) with a morning and afternoon snack. This fits in with most people’s ‘work’ days. If I have flexibility in my routine, I’ll eat at roughly 7am, 10:30am, 2pm, 5pm and 7:30pm. If I’m on the move during the day, I carry healthy snacks with me so I don’t miss the time window. (Mums, when you’re making that snack for the kids, pack one for yourself!)
I also ensure that there’s some protein in every meal or snack I eat – 20 to 100 grams each time. Consuming protein helps keep hunger at bay and can boost your metabolism, and I know that my body and mind need a good level of protein each day to perform well. I’m not advocating a high protein diet here – that’s a very different thing. It’s important to be aware, though, that most of us don’t eat enough protein from good sources, and as the body doesn’t store protein, it relies on getting its new supply from food. Protein is an important component of every cell in the body. Your body uses protein to build and repair tissues as well as to make enzymes, hormones, and other body chemicals. It’s an important building block for bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood.
As I will always say, we need to listen to our bodies and do what works for us. I now eat routinely and don’t always wait until I feel really hungry, because I know my body well enough to know how it reacts when it’s hungry. My blood sugar levels go out of whack and this affects my energy levels and my mood, amongst other things. Eating regularly really works for me on so many levels. I swear my metabolism has completely rewired. It’s no longer the sluggish beast it once was. Eating regularly also works for those around me because I don’t get the lack-of-food grumpies!
Now I realize most of what I've said so far seems to contradict the concept of 'intermittent fasting' that has become popular recently as a weight loss tool. I'm aware that many people have found this very successful. It isn't something that I've tried, although I don't usually eat close to bedtime, so am realistically fasting for approximately 11 hours a day anyway. I also tend to eat more food earlier in the day and less at night because this works well for my digestion. Limiting calories to 600 a day two days a week (one way to fast intermittently) sounds ghastly to me, but I've never needed to do that because I lost weight eating lots of food and eating regularly. If you are considering fasting, please ensure it's part of a whole healthy eating regime. You'll definitely need to ensure your body is getting enough good fuel when you are feeding it.
The next time you think you’re too busy to eat, or think you’ve already eaten too much in the day and you shouldn’t eat any more, I urge you to reconsider. Trust me. It might mean that you need to be a little better prepared, so you have a snack or meal at the ready, but you deserve to put your health first. Food is not the enemy. It’s what keeps your body and mind fuelled and ready for action. Eat regularly for your mind, body and soul.
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(Please note, the content of this blog is based on personal experience and is for informational purposes only. It’s not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your doctor or other qualified health care provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, dietary supplement, exercise, or other health program.)