Although I am at the very start of this journey I’m already making some initial diet changes. Some aspects appear to be no-brainers (such as cutting out takeaways where possible), but other elements will be trial and error and will require digging deeper into the research and science behind some of the claims made, which often seem far too good to be true.
What I was eating before…
I am not coming into this healthy lifestyle approach completely afresh. Don’t think of me as having a ‘Supersize Me’ style diet where the weight would automatically fall off with the help of any healthy diet changes. I have tried to eat healthily before and due to my fondness of cycling, this has typically centered around carbohydrates. I have grown up with the understanding and assumption that carbs are the best source of fuel for endurance, so common sense would say that I should be eating a lot of carbs – the world was a simpler place then. I can’t pinpoint where I learned this information, but it just seems to be in the public consciousness, carbs = fuel. As a result, I would say a typical day would comprise of the following options:
Porridge (instant sachets)
Pre-workout shake and porridge and/or a protein shake after.
Store bought pizza
Nuts and seeds
Biscuits and cakes from people at work
A common theme of the best books, films, blogs and podcasts I have looked at so far is the point that we should be eating FOOD. Not food like products and certainly not ‘foods’ that have an ingredients list longer than my arm with words that I struggle to even pronounce, let alone spell.
So that is my number one place to start, eat more real food. I think this point should be emphasized. Eat MORE real food. By cutting more of the processed aspects of my diet I am able to eat much larger quantities of real food. I’m making a conscious effort to eat not only more vegetables but also a greater range of vegetables than I have in the past. This has meant carrying out research online and cracking open the recipe books. My knowledge on how to prepare a lot of vegetables was limited at best and it’s a great way to discover new recipes. When it is the right type of food, it seems it is much harder to over eat to the same degree as it is with processed and manufactured products and therefore not only feel full but stay fuller for longer.
I’m actively trying to steer clear of defining the way I’m eating with any particular phrase. It seems this can lead to more confusion and controversy. Let’s take the traditional reference to ‘low carb’. What does this actually mean? Low compared to what is in the government guidance? Are we referencing a specific percentage? Are we into a ketogenic stage? I have even seen references to low-carb just actually referring to refined carbohydrates. Don’t even get me started on the differences between Paleo and Ancestral diets. For this, as well as a host of many other reasons, I’m not putting a label on it.
My current thinking is that there is no one complete, perfect diet out there that will be all things to all people. The dogma that is associated with some of those that believe their way is the only right way is not what being healthy and eating well should be about. It implies that if you can’t succeed in their way of thinking that it is something that you are doing wrong, it couldn’t possibly be the diet that is at fault. It doesn’t even attempt to consider the genetic differences between us and our intolerances or reactions to certain foods. As I will demonstrate in future posts, I think it is far more rewarding to find the commonalities between all the different diets and believe me, there are commonalities between even the most extreme contradictory diets.
Michael Pollan summarized it in one of the simplest ways I have seen in his book ‘In Defence of Food’:
“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
For time being, I just want to eat REAL FOOD.
To help me achieve the increased intake of vegetables I have purchased two products. The first of which I use every day is the Nutri Bullet. I carried out a fair amount of research before spending the money on this product, but I’m very glad I did. Every morning I blitz a whole host of vegetables (and some fruit) to kick start the day. The second product is a spiralizer which is much cheaper and is a fun product that creates ‘spaghetti-like’ foods out of vegetables (my favorite being courgette!).
Foods I’m trying to avoid…
Word of warning, I’m using the word ‘processed’ very loosely. It’s more of an umbrella term to denote the highly processed variants rather than the dictionary definition that would include everything that has been altered from their natural state. In reality, there are a number of these foods that are actually good for you and very beneficial to modern lifestyles, such as frozen vegetables that lock in the high level of nutrients at the best point. The types of foods that I am actively trying to avoid are:
• fast food;
• instant/microwavable meals;
• vegetable oils;
• breakfast cereals;
• bread and most pasta;
• soda and sugary drinks (including ‘sports’ drinks);
• sweets and most chocolate bars; and
• savory snacks like crisps and biscuits.
I will be doing a separate post on the reasons behind me cutting these types of processed foods, but in the meantime, a few of the key reasons are:
• low nutritional value;
• high quantities of refined carbohydrates;
• typically high in sugar; and
• can become addictive.
At first sight, this may appear as a bit of ‘carb bashing’, but it is not as simple as that. Although some of the research does seem to be suggesting a link with the effect on insulin and subsequent fat storage, it needs to be looked at in respect of the wider metabolic system rather than vilifying one particular element.
One great piece of advice that is easy to remember when deciding what to buy is to typically ignore products that are making health claims. This can be a strong indication that it is not REAL FOOD, but is likely to have been manipulated and re-engineered to add extra of whatever ingredient is the media’s latest hot topic in the nutrition world.
Healthy reminder (to myself)…
Finally, I just want to reiterate that this is a goal. It is not an absolute. I’m not restricting my diet to the degree that it could become an issue socially or so that I end up spending too much time and effort thinking through all of my efforts to be healthy. I do not want to be (or promote) orthorexia. The resulting stress would be counterproductive. I’m just trying to make better choices whenever I can and understand what other options are available that might make me feel better (and fuller). I’m also encouraged by the idea of having a ‘cheat meal’ every so often. Whilst some seem to suggest it’s better to go cold turkey and cut the products from your diet to stop future cravings, I’m not yet sufficiently convinced by what I have read that it’s necessarily a bad thing not to include some elements every so often. Especially seeing as I’m trying to increase my cycling endurance, which has traditionally been based on a carb heavy diet.