Fat Foods – the 4 C’s
Our knowledge of the human body is forever growing and over the last few hundred years scientists have been able to unravel even the most intimate details of how the body is put together, how it functions, what makes us tick and how our life eventually comes to an end. There will be of course many more great discoveries made and deeper understanding to come. As it stands right now our understanding of anatomy, physiology and pathology is immense. Despite this we live in an age with growing prevalence from often preventible diseases.
In the UK the biggest cause of death continues to be circulatory diseases such as heart disease and strokes contributing to 32 per cent of deaths followed by cancers responsible for 29 per cent of deaths (2010 figures, office for national statistics).
Lack of nutrition and poor diet is often highlighted as a common cause for many diseases and is also often the reason many feel tired, demotivated and depressed. Of course drugs, alcohol and certain foods are a great pick me ups and distraction from these issues for many. Our understanding of a healthy diet is better than it’s ever been, however as a nation we still struggle to hit simple health targets such as eating 5 fruit and vegetables per day which currently averages 2.6 portions per day (ONS 2009).
Many blame poor education for our lack of ability to live with what’s considered a healthy diet. After being in the fitness industry for over a decade I have discussed food with thousands of personal trainers, PT clients, gym members and others within my circle of influence. It’s my belief that the overwhelming majority of people do understand what a healthy diet is, they know that a salad is a healthier choice than a pizza and an apple is a more nourishing snack than a chocolate bar. They have this knowledge yet they still make the less healthy choice!
For the record I am a big believer in eating from mother natures bosom. I believe that if anyone was to cut out foods that have been processed or produced by man that their health would see significant improvements. Humans have walked the earth for hundreds of thousands of years and have eaten animals and plants, modern day staples such as bread and pasta were impossible. Our bodies developed on this natural diet and are programmed to run on these fuels.
So many make such poor diet choices even though they are informed of the healthy choice and the benefits and value that go with it. As a personal trainer this is my biggest challenge, I know that if all my clients ate everything I told them to eat they would achieve the goals they desire. Getting them to do this however is the hard part. I have identified 4 major barriers to healthy food choices which I think are the key to helping people make the right diet choices.
They are the 4 C’s…
According to the Office of National Statistics – in 2009 food prices had risen 5% on the previous year and consumers spent 3.6% more on food and drink. Sales of fresh fruit and vegetables were down 3.2% and sales on alcohol were up 7.7%. The nation was buying less fruit, veg and fish than the previous year and buying more sweets, chocolate and cheese.
These figures are not surprising to me as healthy natural food is considerably more expensive in comparison to processed foods low in nutritional value. As a child I would have between £3 & £5 to spend each day at school, my friends and I would meet at the shops on the way to class and stock up to tie us over until lunch time. I would typically buy a pint of milk, an apple and a banana and spend approx. £1.30. My friends would typically buy a packet of crisps, a packet of biscuits and a chocolate bar, a can of pop and spend about the same! Needless to say they got a much greater bang for their buck and would still be eating biscuits on the way home whilst I would be starving.
Even by today’s standards if I wanted a snack I could buy a superfood punnet of blueberries for £2.99 but for the equivalent money I could buy 8 packets of cookies. Is it any wonder why families that are struggling financially tend to have diets with less fruits and vegetables. Organic food of course being healthier comes at an even greater price.
So there are no two ways about it if you make the decision to eat healthy food it is going to cost you more money. Obviously this is a huge barrier to anyone that has financial burden or in some cases a barrier to individuals who don’t value the health and vitality properties of good food. Here’s a few tips that can help you get the most out of your food budget and eat healthy:
1. Smart people budget
Of course there are things that you can do to try to prevent a food budget spiraling out of control. The first port of call is to decide how much you can afford to spend on food each week and set a strict budget. Firstly consider how much you value your health, good food is probably the best preventative action you can take against disease. From a personal perspective as a self employed personal trainer and sports therapist – if I am unwell I can not work and therefore lose income. That means my health is not only important to me for feeling great but it is integral to my business. I need to be able to work with lots of energy and to be a role model for my family, friends and clients. If money is tight you should re-assess your spending and try to identify where you could cut back to free up finances for life giving foods. If you want to check just how much food you can get for your budget use an online supermarket site, fill your basket and just don’t check out.
2. Learn to list
Once you have your budget, make a list for a weeks shopping. Shopping weekly means it is easier to have a tight control on your budget and your food is fresher. Natural food slowly loses it’s nutritional value over time so the longer it sits about on supermarket shelves or in your cupboards the less it has to offer in the way of vitamins and minerals (micronutrients).
Once you have your list stick to it! Many of us spend £££’s more on food being drawn in by big bright labels with bold lettering stating things like 2 for £2. Few work out the value of such offers and assume they are getting a bargain whereas in most cases you are saving a few pence and spending a few pounds more. If you’re a sucker for these offers you may want to shop online?
3. Shop late (whoops!)
Towards the end of the day (usually after 8pm) many supermarkets will reduce fresh foods to clear them before they pass their best before dates. There are usually a few places that you can find such “whoops!” labels including sections of the fridges, hot food counters, vegetable shelves, freezers and usually one designated area for general foods.
4. Shop on edge
Many supermarkets have the same set up. You will walk in to the fruits and vegetables first and hopefully be spending plenty of time there. If you continue around the edge you will encounter the fridges, cold delis, hot meats, fish counter and finally the freezers. These sections of the supermarket will satisfy your search for natural foods. The greatest floor space, the middle of the supermarket is where you will find the majority of manmade processed rubbish mostly comprising of modern grains. You might notice that this is where you will find the cheapest foods and the most special offers that are all fast tickets to a rounder and more unwell you. If you can avoid this section of the shop you will avoid foods you maybe craving and the offers designed to compel you to buy them bumping your food bills.
5. More from markets
Shopping at traditional markets not only supports the local economy but can also be a good place to grab a bargain. The stalls try and compete with supermarket prices but not only that, many traders will be willing to barter and will usually look after repeat customers. If you find a trader you like learn their name and begin to build a friendly relationship with them. As with supermarkets rocking up before closing time hugely increases you chances of a bargain, market traders in particular don’t want to lumbar lots of stock back home.
6. Green Fingers
Of course once upon a time food was free and it’s one of the few things that costs money but does actually grow on trees. Planting and growing your own foods can be very rewarding. It also encourages healthy traits such as being active, disciplined and committed and can also be a nice family activity.
7. Eat Budget Stretching foods
Several foods you buy can be used for more than one meal and so can be more cost effective and offer more stretch to your food budget. This is often the case with meats and fish. For example, if you were to have chicken breast for dinner you could buy and cook a whole chicken. The chicken breast could be used for the evening meal, the legs and wings could make a salad for lunch the next day and the carcass could be boiled to make a batch of soup. Another fruit example could be a lemon. You could use the juice to create a dressing, the flesh as a garnish and the zest and a flavouring.
So a low food budget does not have to mean an unhealthy diet. In the past I’ve had to half my food budget when money has been tight. This did not mean that I had to eat poor food but did mean I had to change the times and places I bought my food, eat slightly less meat / fish whilst increasing the amount of carbohydrates I ate. I found myself eating more brown rice, wholemeal wraps, quinoa, oats and soups. I ate more common fruits and vegetables that were in season and made my meat and fish last. Of course if your food budget is higher so are the quality of your meals, eventually putting steak on the table is a real reward for the hard work you put in during the week.
There we have it, although price for some people may seem like a barrier to eating more health giving foods, there are ways to get real value from the food budget you have.
I’m sure that at some point you have found yourself sitting next to a bowl of food and picking and nibbling away at it. You might even admit to yourself that you’re not hungry or not really enjoying it but find that you can’t leave it alone. I have had several clients in the past put their struggles with weight down to living with others claiming that their partners or children buy bad food in and they eat it just because “it’s there”. Many large corporations have an office culture of cakes or donuts in an afternoon as a “pick me up” for their staff, when it’s put in front of you it’s difficult not to eat it.
As humans we have a natural programming to be economical with our energy output and so we are programmed to use as little energy as possible (exercise & activity) and to gain as much energy as possible (food). This is one of the fundamental reasons why fast food is so popular in our modern culture, it’s no fuss, no effort, it’s fast and tastes good. Of course we all know it’s not good for us but we still eat it right!?
When trying to coach people to make long term changes the first factor I draw their attention to is convenience. Convenience is king. If you are going to make a commitment to eating a healthy diet long term you need to learn the tricks that make it easy to eat healthy food.
Create a healthy kitchen
Our kitchens are where the majority of our meals are born and the way your kitchen is set up will undoubtedly influence what you eat. You need to identify all of your kitchen based gadgets and put them onto one of two lists, keep or kick. If you don’t have enough gadgets on the keep list you may need to buy some that will make it easier for you to make good nutritious food. Items on the kick list should be thrown out, given away or put into storage as they will do nothing but hinder your efforts to be healthy. Below is an example of common items on the keep and kick lists.
- Food processor
- Smoothie maker
- Soup maker
- Slow cooker
- Water filter
- Egg poacher
- Food / drink flasks
- Tupperware set
- Cool Box
- Grilling machine
- Deep fat fryer
- Sandwich maker
- Bread maker
- Ice cream maker
- Donut maker
- Chocolate fountain
- Soda stream
Once you have kitted out a kitchen that steers you towards healthier choices you need to limit the situations outside of the home where healthier food becomes difficult to get hold of. These situations include the office / work place, the car, hotels, on the go and more.
Picture the scene: it’s been a manic day at work, you managed to find time to grab a quick sandwich from the high street for a working lunch. It hasn’t satisfied you and now it’s gone 3:00 and your stomach is making a distracting grumbling sound. You race to grab an afternoon snack but all you can find is chocolate, flapjacks and muffins at the canteen. You know it won’t help your weight loss regime but you gotta eat right? With limited time you say “to hell with it” and grab and go.
So many poor diet choices are made when there is limited choice and limited time available. It’s difficult to find a fast healthy snack on the High St, sandwiches and salads are often laced with calorific sauces and sometimes fruit is just not substantial enough. Convenience is king. If you’re hungry and it’s there, you’ll eat it.
Fail to prepare, prepare to fail
The simple answer is that you need to prepare food and take it with you. This might sound like a lot of hard work but it doesn’t have to be that way. An easy answer to this is to make extra portions for all your evening meals and store them in the fridge or freezer so that you can choose one and take it with you in a Tupperware dish on a daily basis.
You can throw together a salad in no time. If you always have a fresh stock of leaves and meats / fish / eggs in the fridge, it will take minutes to knock up a salad for the next day. Salads are instantly made more interesting by adding some tasty oils, fruits and seasonings. If you want to add extra satisfaction to your salad try adding a double portion of protein or some pulses such as mixed beans or chickpeas.
If you are the kind of person that doesn’t mind eating the same meal a few days on the trot, why not try batch cooking and enjoy eating a healthy meal over a few days.
When making attempts to switch to a healthier style of eating there will be times when you are caught short. I’m not talking toilet habits here but situations will occur where you find yourself starving hungry and / or craving, especially if you’re following an exercise regime. In this situation its easy to just eat anything within arms reach. If you are going to change your ways and achieve long term success, you must be prepared for these situations and keeping healthy food convenient is of upmost importance.
I recommend surrounding yourself with healthy snacks. This ensures that good food is never too far away and removes any excuses for you to throw away your efforts to change. Emergency snacks should be placed in strategic places, places where you spend a lot of time or frequently find yourself getting “caught short”. Example hiding places for emergency snacks include:
- Your office draw
- The middle shelf of your fridge
- Your glove box
- Your handbag / laptop bag
- Your gym locker
- Your portable mini cool box
- Your coat pocket
- Coffee table
Of course these snacks ideally need to be long lasting and healthy. Here is a list of foods I have used as emergency snacks in the past:
- Raw nuts
- Raw seeds
- Beef jerky
- Bil tongue
- Protein shakes
- Vegetables such as carrot batons or celery sticks
- Boiled eggs
One scenario that often makes it difficult to maintain a nutritious diet is whilst working away from home. I myself have often worked away and spent several nights in hotels where finding healthy snacks seems impossible. You are often faced with limited room service or a vending machine whilst your stomach is screaming “feed me!”.
I found that the best solution was to take 10 mins prior to the trip to scout ahead for places to eat. Most hotels will display sample menus on their website that will help you assess the quality of the food. It is also very easy now to search for restaurants and cafe’s local to your hotel where again you can view sample menus and prices.
If I have been in a restaurant where I couldn’t find a dish I considered completely healthy in the past, they have adapted to my needs on request with no fuss. For instance – in any pub that serves food you will likely find steak and chips or chicken and chips on the menu. In nearly all cases they are happy to replace the chips with a side salad and replace a pint with a fruit juice. In cases where they were not flexible, I simply went somewhere else.
Fast food fallback
There may well be occasions where fast food is the only option, the last resort. In that situation you have to go with the “least worst” options. In the past I have always managed to find the following in large cities:
- Nando’s: 1/2 chicken with a side of green salad and corn on the cob.
- Subway: Custom salad bowl.
- Indian takeaway: tandoori mixed grill with salad.
- Public Houses: steak with salad.
So – I hope it’s clear how much our nutritional choices are governed by convenience. If you make the effort to apply the above advice and make good food convenient and bad food inconvenient, you hugely reduce the amount of excuses you can use on yourself to justify bad choices.
You already know what to eat, so why don’t you eat it?
Culture plays a huge part in health. You only need to look around the various parts of the globe to see that some countries have particularly healthy populations. The Mediterranean and oriental regions for example have particularly good reputations to the point that fad diets have been named after them and try to replicate their nutritional principles. Western culture is often recognised as being the most unhealthy with high death rates from avoidable diseases many of which are put down to a fast food (convenience food) culture and lack of exercise.
As an Englishman brought up in the heart of the midlands I had to oppose many cultural norms that I was exposed to throughout my upbringing. My passion and belief in health and fitness is what led me to go against the grain and be proud of it. Here are some of the cultural behaviours I’m talking about that may also be familiar to you:
- Cereal and toast for breakfast
- Tea, white with sugar
- Sweet food and/ or alcohol as a reward
- Drive EVERYWHERE
- Birthday cake
- Going to the pub after work
- Chocolate Easter eggs
- Sandwiches, crisps and chocolate packed lunch
- Binge drinking
- Fish and Chips on a Friday
- Relax with a glass of wine
- Hotdogs and candy floss at the fair
- Stare at the TV every evening
- Dunk biscuits in your tea
- Go to bed late and get up early
I could go on and on with examples but just looking at the list above you can see how it’s so easy to fall into the trap of doing what everybody else is doing without thinking about the long term consequences. This is the reason that creating change is so hard, as soon as you do something different you stand out from the crowd and questions are asked.
Have you ever been in a situation when you have decided to turn down a sugary treat with the words “no thanks I’m on a diet”, what happens next? Often you’re hit back immediately with a torrent of abuse, “diet, you don’t need to be on a diet!”, “it won’t hurt you”, ” come on, have one with me”, ” live a little”. Likewise you may have gone on an evening out with friends and announced you’re not drinking, once again you are met with remarks such as “yes you are”, “don’t be ridiculous”. This is known as peer pressure.
Peer pressure is something we have all had to put up with throughout life, particularly in our teenage years in an attempt to “fit in”. You are more likely to give into peer pressure if you have low confidence or self esteem, are uncertain about your place amongst your peers, have an absence of close trusted friends or family, have had limited academic success or have a feeling friends might turn on you.
I’m without doubt that this is a big reason many people decide to take steps to change their health but fail to do so. If you are going to make long term change you will come up against saboteurs that put peer pressure on you. For many seeing you do the right thing makes them feel guilty and so they try to drag you down. If you can overcome that not only will you be successful but you will begin to inspire others.
Here are some simple tips on how to overcome peer pressure:
First off don’t be afraid to be different and stand up for what you believe in, many people will respect you for that. I can remember my school friends trying to push me to try a cigarette, I told them the story of how my great uncle had recently passed away of lung cancer. They quickly recognised I was immovable on the smoking issue. Be head strong and help people to see your reasoning behind your new changes.
Grow an alliance
Brief your trusted friends and family on the changes you plan to make and why. Ask them for their help and support to keep you on the straight and narrow. They may be there to help when your will power is low.
Prepare for saboteurs
You may already know who is likely to lead you astray. Rehearse a script in your head of how you plan to deal with the saboteurs, imagine how conversation might flow and be prepared with an answer. Expect and be prepared for the pressure they may put you under. You may decide to stand up to them or try and win them over and join you? Alternatively white lies may be a less painful option such as “I can’t eat that I’m intolerant” or “I’m not drinking, I’m driving”. Personally I believe honesty is the best policy and I’ve proved to myself and others that although I like a drink I certainly don’t rely on alcohol to have a good time. You’re in control of your own choices, nobody else.
Find positive influence
Try to spend more time with people you know are going to support you and lead you towards success. You may want to mix into new social circles and try to meet people that will inspire you and become positive peers. Tell positive peers that you’re trying to change and they will naturally want to support you.
Motivate yourself by giving yourself reward for fighting your corner and sticking to your ground rules. For example if you decide to go alcohol free for a month and you achieve it be sure to reward yourself for your efforts. You might decide to buy yourself a new pair of shoes as recognition for what you achieved.
Our society generally speaking isn’t geared toward optimum health and you have to work hard to break the mould and make the healthy choices. Although you may come up against resistance from those that can’t or won’t change, once you become successful that resistance often turns to admiration. You can exercise your right to making the right choices and in the process inspire others with your ability to change. Be Strong.
When you start to cut out foods you are used to eating, particularly those containing stimulants you may find that you have an addiction. The addiction maybe physiological, emotional or behavioural, even all three.
I have encountered common dietary addictions that crop up time after time…
When you cut such foods out you may find to begin with you feel unwell. This is especially true with caffeine, many suffer very nasty headaches and report feeling groggy and lethargic. You may find that you start to visualise yourself eating or drinking the food in question. You will imagine the taste, feel and texture of the food and more importantly the way it makes you feel. This is when the craving really takes hold and most people give in. This is especially true for those who were given food as a reward in childhood such as a lollipop for going to the hair dressers.
Unfortunately when it comes to remembering the effects of such foods our subconscious tends to be selective with the memories. It’s common for people to think back to how the food made them feel during and immediately after eating. Our subconscious often chooses to help us forget how we feel 20, 30 or 60 mins afterwards. This is often the period when many feel sick, bloated, unsatisfied, have mild stomach ache and feel guilty or depressed about eating something they were trying to avoid.
From experience it takes 3-4 weeks of going cold turkey before a food addiction has completely passed. Many clients have then tried the foods further down the line and report that it wasn’t as amazing as they remember. This is because they are no longer addicted and pallets can change over time to adapt to what you eat.
To defeat cravings you need to have the presence of mind to see the bigger picture. You need to be able to think of the longer term effects of the foods and drinks you know are not good for your health and fitness. Cravings generally stop and start but last for approximately 20 – 30 mins at a time, if you can get through that window it will pass. Here are some tips to get you through that crucial 30 min window of success or failure.
If you think you are hungry but know its very unlikely then you are probably craving certain foods out of habit or through emotion. Drinking a large glass of water can sometimes help to pass this feeling.
If you find yourself sitting and thinking about a particular food it’s time to occupy your mind. Get up and do some work or chores, play a game or call a friend for a chat.
If your addicted to sugar or caffeine you may start to wean yourself by initially using alternatives. If sugar is your big problem fruit may help at first, sugary fruits such as grapes may satisfy your cravings but have greater nutritional value. If caffeine is the issue go decaf, this is not caffeine free but a step closer to taking the cold turkey plunge.
If you find the particular food within touching distance try to think about the consequences of eating it. Ask yourself the following questions and give yourself an answer out loud…
- How will it make me feel 30 – 60 mins after eating it?
- How will it influence my health and fitness efforts long term?
- Do I really need this, really?
Don’t get caught up in the short term highs and excitement of eating addictive foods.
After being brought up on tea with sugar trying tea without it was enough to make me shudder. Today if you were to put sugar in my tea I would be unable to drink it and think it totally masks the flavour of a good cuppa.
Once you have overcome such addictions not only will you feel fitter, slimmer and healthier but when you go back to trying them in the future you will wonder what all he fuss was about. You don’t need to ban any food or drink forever but you do need to earn the right to enjoy them in a healthy balance.