24 Jan

We need food for energy so that our bodies can function optimally.  Sounds simple, right?  But if it were that simple we wouldn’t have the obesity crisis that we are currently faced with.  Somehow, through our lifestyles, learned habits, stress and emotions we have focused off of what our bodies need, and instead have moved toward being too busy to eat and grabbing the nearest convenience foods when we are starving.  And whether this comes with a weight issue or not, people are generally tired, have energy dips later in the day, and their bodies are just not functioning at their best.

It is possible to come back from this!  There are some simple habits and behaviours that you can start implementing to get your body feeling its best again.  An important point is that you have to be aware and conscious of your eating habits and behaviours at all times.  It takes time to make changes, so you have to think about when, how, why and what you are doing, especially at the beginning.  

Let’s take a look at some of the habits and behaviours that you can work on. 

Have Breakfast Every Day 

If we look at people who have been successful at losing weight and keeping that weight off, one of the healthy habits that they have is that they eat breakfast every day.  When you eat breakfast, you kick start your metabolism for the day, get your digestive system going, and give your body energy for the first part of the day.  Generally, those people who struggle with energy levels and overeating later in the day are those who under eat during the first part of the day, and specifically those that skip breakfast.  It is important that you eat breakfast within 1-2 hours of getting up, so that you don’t end up eating too little during the day. 

Eat Small Regular Meals Regularly in the Day 

Eating small regular meals allows your blood sugar levels and thereby your energy levels to be more constant and stable.  Regular meals mean having meals/snacks every 3-5 hours.  The key is to eat when your body needs energy (although initially, when you are not in tune with your body it is best just to eat every 3 hours) and to construct a meal/snack that is nutrient dense instead of energy dense.  Ideally meals/snacks should contain healthy carbs together with some lean protein and/or plant fat.  Studies have also shown that those people who keep their weight in check generally stick to a similar menu every day (eat the same breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks – well one of about three choices!), and this routine may be what helps keep them in their healthy routines. 

Learn to Listen to your Body 

Many people do not know what their bodies or stomachs are signalling.  They focus on what their minds and mouths want and eat because they want food, not because they need energy.  Try to make sure that you know what your body wants as well as how it feels when you eat certain foods.  If you want to eat, take a step back and reflect on why you want the food.  I always tell my clients to check who wants the food – the mouth or the stomach.  From there you can decide whether you are going to have the food or not.  If it is stomach hunger it is important to eat, but if it is mouth hunger, then it is good to learn how to move away from the food and rather distract yourself with something else!  Similarly it is important to learn to stop eating when the stomach has had enough, not just because the plate or the pots are empty.  Satiety is better heard when you eat mindfully (see below). 

Eat Mindfully 

Eating mindfully is about being more aware of what you are eating; enjoying every bite.  What do you do while you are eating?  Most people are so busy in their heads or in conversation that they don’t properly taste their food.  Here are some tips to help you become more mindful: 

  • Always sit down to eat 
  • Do nothing else while eating (such as watching TV, reading the paper, etc.) 
  • Eat slowly – take small bites and put your knife and fork down in between bites 
  • Be curious about your food – focus on the look, smell, texture and flavour – use all your senses to explore savour and taste your food 

These strategies help to break the habitual triggers to eating and ensure that when you eat you focus on doing just that. 

Always Plate your Food 

This may seem like a strange habit, but it makes the world of difference as you can see what you are eating.  Remember this rule for when you are at a braai and want to have some snacks or at a finger food function.  If you plate what you can eat at that time and then sit down and enjoy what you have served, you will be less likely to overeat.  It is important to remember that once you have finished eating the plated food not to go back for more! 

Drink Water 

This is an important habit to get into.  Water is necessary for many body functions and is therefore vital to keep the body functioning at its best.  The body’s thirst signal also only works correctly when you drink enough water (the body will send out a hunger signal if it needs fluid when you don’t drink enough water).  Remember that water is always best.  You can enjoy it plain or sparkling, or lightly infused with some flavours such as mint, lemon, cucumber, berries etc. 

Keep a Food Diary 

A food diary can really help to get you into good eating habits.  Initially, when you document all that you are eating and drinking you can see your patterns and trends.  This will show you when you are struggling with food and can inform you what is happening to cause this.  Keeping a diary can also help to make you more mindful of your choices (who wants to write down they ate a chocolate!), and thereby help you to make the better choices.    

The Key to Success is Preparation 

Everybody always wants a magic bullet, and this is it: being prepared.  There are 3 ways to be prepared: 

  • Pack a lunch bag for the day so that you have enough healthy foods on you for the day
  • Keep food on you at all times.  If you spend the day in an office, keep a stash of non-perishable foods in your drawer, just in case your lunch box didn’t make it or you are hungrier than you anticipated.  Similarly, if you spend a lot of time in your car, keep some non-perishable foods in the boot.  And always take some food with you if you are going out for the day – you never know if you are going to get to the shops/restaurant as you had planned
  • Know your options for eating out, be it a shop where you can get a healthy lunch or a restaurant where you can have a healthy meal 

Habit changes take time, so be kind to yourself in the process.   I always get clients to choose 3 habits that they are going to work on for 1 or 2 weeks – use a check list if it helps motivate you and keep the daily consciousness of the habits in play.  By thinking about what you are doing you can make the changes.  In time they do become the new habits, and you’ll wonder how you ever survived a day without them! 

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