At Label, we encourage body positivity and we do our best to stay away from 'diet culture'. This week, Amaan Akhtar shares his thoughts on eating healthfully while maintaining a positive relationship with food.
Whenever the word ‘diet’ is mentioned, its mere sound infects everyone in the surrounding area like a dreadful case of flu. Our thoughts snap to attention and focus on ways to lose weight and to improve our wellbeing – we even consider the idea of enduring meals that consist of bland, mixed heaps of green vegetables and rich protein sources. We think back to the countless times we obsessively planned out small meals and snacks to munch on throughout the day.
None of us like adopting the eating habits of a rabbit (even on a short-term basis). However, we all inevitably do it to avoid re-developing the eating habit of gorging on whatever we can find in our cupboards, on store shelves, or on the local takeaway menu.
Since many of us have tried a diet plan, we will no doubt have gained a decent understanding about good nutrition and are all too familiar with calorie tracking. Yet, do we really consume enough nutritionally-balanced meals to fulfil our daily requirements?
From several sources, the general consensus is that many of the calories consumed from the main food groups should be primarily be from fruit and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and lean proteins.
Although this list of foods can already seem daunting to us, there are general guidelines from this website which highlight rules that make it easier to meet your nutritional needs per week:
- Consume the right amount of calories for your body and activity levels
- Eat 5 portions of fruit and veg a day
- Consume at least two x 140 g of oily fish per week
- 30 g of dietary fibre should be eaten from wholegrain/wholemeal varieties of carbohydrates
- Eat less than 6 g of salt per day
- Do not exceed an intake of 11% saturated fat and an intake of 5% free sugars in our total calorie intake from food
Considering these guidelines, it is still an exhaustive effort to figure out how to structure our own meals based on this. The easiest solution that many people take is frantically calculating their calorie intake, to ensure that they stay on track with their goals. Whether they choose not to meet nutritional guidelines and fit their meals into their macros, or simply restrict certain foods in favour of healthier options – the end result is the same.
We are still left with this neurotic urge to hit the numbers on those calorie tracking apps. And this ultimately makes us miserable. Are we really enjoying life, if we consistently track everything we eat?
But at the same time, we still need to eat in a healthy way to promote a better lifestyle for ourselves. Because in truth, we do feel better when we hit our nutritional goals daily.
So what kinds of things can we do to help us hit these targets with ease?
Fortunately, there are some useful tips that will help us approach these guidelines in a more flexible, relaxed way.
Firstly, we need to get accustomed to consuming the right portion sizes each and every day: by understanding the calorie content of different types of food, we can gradually learn to estimate a good portion size, so we don’t overindulge and eat more calories than we require. The trick here is to use an app such as ‘My Fitness Pal’ and only use it for about a week or so, just to understand what a normal serving size of food actually looks like.
The point here is to only learn how to eyeball and estimate meal portions and the calorie content – not to obsessively count every single calorie per gram, by weighing your food constantly. This is important, so we can maintain a healthy relationship with food.
Next, think about incorporating at least one type of vegetable with each meal you have, and one piece of fruit per day as a snack. Remember that fresh, frozen and canned are all equally acceptable.
When you have spent a week using the previous tips, aim to branch out and eat a wider variety of food. With each day try to have new fruits and vegetables, eat different protein sources and vary your carbohydrates. When you’re stuck for creativity, look through a cookbook and online for healthy nutritious recipes that you have never tried.
Maybe even consider having a vegan or vegetarian meal once a week (if you don’t already do)!
After a while, it becomes really difficult to cook meals from scratch… and it becomes even more tempting to reach for ready-to-eat meals. A good way to prevent this is by doing some meal prep ahead of time: defrost some food overnight or cook and prepare a part of the dish beforehand and store it in the fridge until you need to use it. This time-saving method will actually make things a lot easier – especially if you have a busy week ahead.
If you still feel like you’re not getting all your nutritional needs in, invest in certain supplements to take alongside your meals. For instance, vitamin D is very difficult to gain through a normal diet, so it is best to buy a supplement to prevent a deficiency in it.
Now, we are all human – from socialising, we will inevitably be invited to dine out at a restaurant or café, and maybe the occasional party. In these circumstances, think smartly about your decisions and opt for healthy (but tasty) meals that offer a variety of food groups to suit your needs. Additionally, when drinking alcohol, try to limit how much you drink and consider either switching to spirits and diet mixers or drinking water alongside your usual choice of beverage. At least this way you can prevent yourself from binge eating on junk food at the end of the night.
Finally, with all of these tips in mind, the key is balance – while we are discussing how to have more nutritionally-balanced meals, we are still going to have that odd craving or two. Don’t resist it and belittle yourself for being weak, but instead learn to treat yourself every once in a while. We aren’t perfect, so it is completely acceptable to satisfy the temptation of a dessert or take-away on occasion.
Just remember that you are at least trying to make a difference in your eating habits, and that’s what matters. Eventually, I’m sure you will agree that adopting this lifestyle approach to meet your nutritional requirements does make you feel much better than you have in a while!