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What am I supposed to eat?!



I spent a lot (30+) of years not actually understanding anything about one of the things that we all do every single day and have done every single day of our lives. Eating food.


Don't get me wrong, I have understood the foods I like the taste of, foods I don't like, foods freak me out (fruit), foods I like too much of (sweets).


I don't think there are many people who aren't aware that the food we consume is what our bodies use to function. So when you think about it, the better the food you consume, the better your body functions. It's fairly logical isn't it?


However, it is only since I started to adopt changes to my own eating habits when I was losing weight (for good, not as part of a fad), and then even further when I undertook my PT training; that I began to understand fully the relationship between food and our body's performance.


Nutrition is a minefield and there are a lot of people and organisations out there working to tell us what's right, what's not right, what we should and shouldn't have and then to top it all the majority often totally contradict one another and it's no wonder that people end up switching off and just carrying on as they have, not entirely sure what they should or shouldn't be eating and drinking.


Having been someone who was fat, who liked nothing more than steak and mashed potato for dinner and profiteroles for pudding, or Chicken Fried Rice from the Chinese on a Saturday, or Chicken Kebab Meat and Chips in a Tray on a Friday and a McDonalds on a Sunday. Someone who'd think nothing of chomping away on a bag or 2 of Midget Gems every day, or whose idea of cooking was to cook some meat and put it in a pan with a jar of Chicken Tikka Sauce (occasionally Weightwatchers if I was being good) and throw in some Microwave Rice, well I figure I'm suitably equipped to explain enough about food to perhaps help you make some positive changes to your eating habits, if, of course, they are needed.


So here goes...

CALORIES - a calorie is simply a measurement of food...it's actually the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of a kilogram of water by one degree Celsius! That's the science bit, but that's super technical!


We need energy to function and because we are all different shapes and sizes we all need a different amount of calories a day to simply exist.


If you look on food labels it's the kCal that you are looking at...usually shown broken down into calories per 100g of that item, or if you're lucky (or unlucky depending how you look at it) it tells you the amount of calories in whatever it is you're about to consume...bread 90cals per slice, 67cals per egg, 131cals for Low Sugar Baked Beans or 159 if you go "full-fat"! 35 calories for 1 humbug, 94cals for a mini bag of Maltesers, 34cals in a dollop of chutney.


Calories are in everything...some foods contain fewer calories, some a lot more than you'd realise. Even fruit and vegetables have calories...it's just they contain a lot more vitamins and minerals which really means that they are "better" calories.


But they're there, in everything.


Guidelines have existed for years suggest men need 2,500 calories per day and women around 2,000 calories per day...that's not taking in to account any other factors...it's just a guide based on the "average male and female". That number is the number of calories that we, as human beings, need to simply exist every day.


If that is the case if you are a woman and you need 2,000 calories to exist every day, well then you could just go to the supermarket and buy 17 Curly Wurlys and eat them across the day and by the end of it you'll have eaten (just over) 2,000 calories. Or maybe you don't have a sweet tooth...ok, so to get 2,000 calories in you could go to McDonalds and buy 6.6 Cheeseburgers and eat those. Except that's just not right, we could all agree that those options would not really be sustainable or a healthy option and in the longer term wouldn't be doing ourselves any good. No, because we need to be consuming nutritious food.



So with that in mind we can get on to actual nutrition...in its simplistic form, but enough to understand why we need what we do and why cutting out food groups isn't necessary, let alone healthy!


For our body to function we need nutrients and we get these from what we consume.


You may be familiar with the term "Macronutrients" - this refers to Protein-Fat-Carbohydrates.

Macro means large - so it is these basic nutrients that we need in large quantities to sustain our growth, metabolism and a whole heap of bodily functions.


Carbohydrates

First thing that springs to mind? Yep, bread, rice, pasta, potatoes are the obvious, but they are in other things too:

- Bread, rice, pasta, oats, couscous, quinoa

- Starchy veg - potato, corn, pumpkin

- Fruit

- Sugar and honey

- Beans and pulses - chickpeas, lentils, baked beans

- Some dairy - milk, yoghurts

Your body actually prefers to use carbohydrates as it's source of energy of any of the other nutrients...so cutting them out isn't doing yourself any favours.

TIPS

- choose wholegrain and wholewheat options when you can - the products are "cleaner" they haven't been over-processed at this point. Calories don't actually differ greatly, but less processed is better for your body

- include a good variety of fruit and vegetables into your diet each day

- enjoy treats like cakes, crisps, biscuits - just smaller portions of them



Protein

Your body uses protein mainly to build and repair muscle and tissue (explains why a lot of hardcore weightlifters fill up on protein shakes and bars). Unless you're training intensely and using a lot of weights then all of these fads on packaging about added protein isn't necessary, they simply add £s to your shopping bill, though don't aid lbs off!

You can find protein in:

- Meat and meat products

- Fish and seafood

- Eggs

- Dairy

- Beans and pulses (yep protein & carb friendly)

- Nuts

- Soy and Tofu

TIPS

- opt for lean cuts of meat - why choose 20% fat beef mince when there's 5% on the shelf?

- include fish in your diet 1-2 times per week, even if it's a can of tuna on a jacket potato

- add legumes to other dishes like a curry and Bolognese for added protein



Fat

Gets a lot of bad press, so it's a little misunderstood. Your body uses fat as energy, helps with storing vitamins, production of hormones and protection of organs - so it's no good cutting it out of your diet completely, you just need to be aware of the different types and choose wisely!

Saturated Fats - these should be limited, but not avoided

- Meat fat

- Butter

- Full-fat dairy

- Coconut oil

- Peanut, palm, cottonseed oil

- "Treat" food - think chips, biscuits, cakes

Unsaturated Fats - include these in your diet, can be beneficial to your health eaten in sensible portions.

- Fish

- Nuts

- Avocado

- Vegetable Oil

TIPS

- swap to reduced fat dairy

- trim your meat before cooking rather than after

- limit coconut oil - it became a little fashionable with celebrity chefs, but it's actually 92% saturated fat!

- snack on a handful of nuts (not entire packets)


In a nutshell those are the basics. Vitamins and Minerals also form part of our diet and they are in a lot of the food we eat...if you look, they tend to be in fruit and vegetables...makes sense that the most colourful food has all of the good stuff!


Most things that we do on a daily basis are habitual...even what we eat. To see a change you have to make a change. It doesn't all happen overnight.


The variety of food that I eat now...that I choose to eat, that I love to eat, is so huge compared to what it was when I was 5 stone heavier. Of course I still have sweets, I eat chocolate, I have ice cream for pudding (most nights), I eat potatoes, I eat rice. I also do my best to get my portions of fruit and vegetables in every day, I eat more fish compared to red meat, I try food that I think I don't like because then I'm pleasantly surprised when I find something new that I do like!


NHS Eatwell Guide - in an ideal world this is what we should try to aim for when we can.

So start slowly, take a look at what you eat, keep a diary of what you have any when you look back you can perhaps see where improvements/changes can be made. I would never tell anyone to deprive themselves of something if they really want it, but sometimes it's worth asking whether you really want it or whether there is something better for you to have instead.


When you see results the changes are worthwhile.

x



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