Updated: Jul 13, 2021
As a Nutrition Coach, many of my clients have acquired bad nutritional habits, and they practise these every single day. Some of the most common include:
Constant snacking between meals
Drinking fizzy pop instead of water
Buying takeaways instead of cooking at home
Drinking 2-3 cups of coffee instead of eating
Staying up late and indulging / binge eating
Eating meals that lack one of the three macronutrients [protein, carbs, fats]
We have been conditioned into believing that being fit and healthy comes at cutting calories and increasing exercise even though we can see from the above list that calories is not the biggest issue.
Improving nutrition through good daily habits is essential to get amazing results. By addressing your bad habits and opting for healthier habits the 'numbers' or calories and macro take care of themselves in a way. This shift of focus, away from shakes, strict diets, eliminating a food group and towards habits yields more impressive and sustainable results. From my experience, if you improve the habits, that's the game changer.
Before you focus on a daily caloric number or the perfect ratio of protein, carbs and fats, ingrain some healthy habits and be consistent. So let's go over some easy habits you can try to incorporate into your daily routine. I recommend starting with one-two of these habits that you think will be the easiest to include. Once you nail them (you've been consistently doing these habits for 4-6 weeks then you can choose another habit to take on.
My Top 10 Healthy Habits
1. Eat Breakfast
This is not a time to skip a meal. Eating a breakfast sets you up for the day. Research has shown a healthy balanced breakfast leads to less snacking and overeating later in the day. My best tip is 20 in 20. Eat 20 grams of protein 20 minutes after waking. This can be 2 eggs with smoked salmon or a protein shake or greek yoghurt with some nuts and seeds.
2. Eat Solid Protein at every meal
Many people are drastically under-eating protein, despite it being the key macronutrient for optimal body composition. It helps boost our metabolisms, making us look better, build lean muscle tissue and reduce body fat. To take this a step further, aim to eat 20-30g per meal or 2 palm sized portions of protein (both width and thickness) per meal (1 palm sized portion for females).
3. Beef up the veggies and stop snacking
Snacking can reduce our natural hunger cues and ruin our appetites. This can result in irregular eating patterns and lack of eating routine. For some people, this is the key reason as to why they gain weight.
Instead of grazing throughout the day try to eat 3 solid meals. This means breakfast, lunch and dinner should contain protein, complex carbs (brown rice, sweet potato, pumpkin, potato etc.,), lots of veggies and healthy fats.
If you are eating a white bread sandwich for lunch with ham on it, that's not going to cut it. The white bread will be digested very quickly and you will feel hungry within the next 1-2 hours and probably reach for a snack.
4. Eat healthy fats
Fats get a bad rep and for absolutely no reason other than they contain more calories per gram than carbs and protein (9kcal per gram vs 4kcal per gram) which means people tend to see eating fats as gaining fats. Not to mention the unjustified association between fats and heart disease.
Eating a plentitude of healthy fats (mostly from veg sources; olive oil, coconut, avocado, nuts and seeds) help us to lose fat, improve digestion, increase satiation after a meal and reduce the chances of developing a metabolic disease (for example, type II diabetes)
5. Eat whole foods 80% of the time
This helps people with an all-or-nothing mindset. That means if you eat 28 meals per week (4 meals per day) then you 22 meals come from whole, unprocessed foods. These foods usually do not have an ingredients list, they are fresh and will rot in a few days.
For the other 6 meals you can eat something less whole. This can equal 2 squares of dark chocolate one night, a small serving of ice cream over the weekend.
Just make sure that you aren't "saving up" those treats for a blow out because then we are setting ourselves up for a binge and deprivation mindset.
6. Eat single-ingredient food
This is for those that are already eating whole foods 80% of the time. Here you can take things up a notch and focus on eating hummus that only contains chickpeas, or meat that only contains raw meat (not E-numbers, not sugar, not something-you-can't-pronounce).
The more ingredients something contains, the more likely they have been processed and the chances are they contain more chemicals/calories as a result. Just eat real food. Start putting back in those traditional foods like butter, meat and vegetables instead of the crappy processed junk foods, which has resulted in us becoming fat and sick.
7. Improve sleep routine
Sleep is critical, it's said all the time. And, you know what? It's true.
Bad sleep and a high stress environment alters hormone production such as increasing output of cortisol, which over time can increase blood sugar levels, lower testosterone, suppress the immune function and increase inflammation in the body. It has also been shown to have a direct correlation with increases in belly fat, increased perception of hunger and more cravings.
8. Eat carbs based on your activity level
We have been told to eat carbs, that they are the staple in the diet. In fact, the majority of the population consume a diet that is made up of 50-60% carbs. This percentage is far too high considering that the majority of us do not exercise or move that much.
Carbs serve as energy source to fuel exercise. Quite frankly a sedentary or lightly active person does not need to be consuming high amounts of carbs. Even if you are an active person you should not be getting 60% of your energy from carb-only sources.
Aim to eat more carbs (~30-40%) on the days you are working out or are active. The days you sit around without much movement take that number down to 20-30% which should be eaten from whole sources (sweet potato, brown rice, wild rice, aubergine, yucca etc.,).
9. Ditch all drinks that are not water
Everyone says 'drink more water' so I will forgo the list of benefits and simply state this: most people are dehydrated and most people are consuming unhealthy calories in the form of soda, juices and "healthy" shakes.
You'd be surprised at how much better you'll feel without the coke or Starbucks vanilla latte. Instead, drink water, drink tea (without milk and sugar) and drink coffee (black, yes black, or with a smigen of oat milk if you must)
10. Take out food intolerances
Many of us will have intolerances/allergies/sensitivities to certain food groups, which can suppress hormones and disrupt the digestive system. The gut and the brain communicate with each other, in fact, there is more serotonin produced by the gut than the brain. Since serotonin is a key hormone that stabilises our mood, feelings of well-being, then it's no surprise that a diet rich in junk food or processed carbs can lead to depression, anxiety, mood swings and reduced self-esteem.
Pay attention to how you feel before, during and after each meal. Common food sensitivities and intolerances are usually gluten, dairy, legumes, corn, soy. You could try eliminating gluten for 30 days and assess how you feel.
Nutrition can be overwhelming. Knowing what constitutes a healthy meal isn’t as intuitive as one would hope. Many people have a difficult time reaching their ideal body composition, muscle tone and overall fitness goals and this is largely due to a lack of basic nutritional knowledge.
However, many of the tips I listed above have more to do with habits, convenience, stress and rhythm of life than they do with actual nutritional knowledge. We might know exactly what we should be eating, but sometimes life gets in the way and we end up making choices that are not that good for us.
All of this can't stop us from taking the first steps towards better eating and hydrating choices and, ultimately, a better life.
As I said, take small steps: try with one or two habits to start and add a new one whenever you feel like you have really incorporated the previous ones.
I hope you've found this post helpful,