Eat Well – Don’t ‘diet’

In Britain many of the population are already overweight or obese and many more are likely to become overweight in the years to come. Our current lifestyles make it easy for us to develop poor health or gain weight, with so much food available to us and little need for physical activity in our day-to-day lives.

We can improve our health if we eat well and undertake some activity on a regular basis. Eating well is not about starting another ‘diet’ and is not just about losing weight. Eating well is not something that you start and then finish in a few weeks. Eating well is about making choices that can be maintained throughout your lifetime.

When we choose to eat well it may be for one of many reasons:

  • to limit further weight gain
  • achieve modest weight loss
  • get into a regular eating pattern, which might make it easier to resist tempting, high calorie foods
  • balance the variety of food that you eat
  • reduce your tendency to overeat

When choosing to eat well, part of the challenge is to overcome the barriers that may make eating well more difficult. For example, you might find it difficult to eat differently to your friends or you might think that healthier choices are more expensive. Look for advice on overcoming your barriers to eating well.

Weight concerns

Generally, overweight results from eating more than we need on a regular basis.

We eat more than we need when we underestimate the amount of calories in our food and overestimate the calories burned during the activity that we do. While factors like genetics, glands, metabolism, and ageing may contribute to weight gain for a small number of people, these factors can still be overcome with careful eating and regular activity. Overweight and obese people are at a greater risk of developing chronic diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), heart disease and more, so eating well can be an important step to long-term health.

Check reliable websites like NHS Choices to determine if you might be overweight – checking your waist measurement or Body Mass Index (BMI) will give you a rough indication in most cases. If weight loss is your aim then it is generally recommended that you aim for 1-2 pounds (0.5-1 kg) a week weight loss with an overall target to lose 5-10% of your current body weight.

Take some time to learn how to Eat Well

Over many years you may have developed habits that have lead you to a point where you are now unhealthy or overweight. Learning new, healthy habits will take time. Make just one change at a time, in order to establish a new habit. For example, choose wholemeal bread instead of white bread and establish that as a permanent change before making another change to your eating habits. There is no need to put a time limit on developing changes that will last a lifetime – the important thing is to keep making changes to your habits with the goal of improving your health in the long term.

Eating well for better health will involve:

  • sticking to a regular eating pattern
  • getting a healthier balance/variety of foods
  • reducing the quantity of food that you eat

Your health may also benefit from:

  • reducing the amount of time you spend sitting down
  • increasing your everyday activity – eg: walking to school or work
  • doing more organised activity – eg: team sports or activity classes

To make changes to your lifestyle, you need to have knowledge, skills and the motivation to change. Look for reliable websites that provide healthy eating advice. Think about the skills you might need to develop to assist with your goals – for example, learning how to avoid ‘comfort eating’.

Consider how motivated you are to change. Is it important to you that changes are made? What happens to your health if you don’t make changes? How confident are you that the changes will be successful?

Goal setting

Consider setting goals that are very specific, rather than a general goal. ‘I want to be healthier’ or ‘I want to lose weight’ are not useful goals because they are too vague.

Think in terms of behaviour change goals rather than a target weight. You can no more guarantee yourself a certain weight than you can a certain blood pressure or cholesterol reading.

Behaviour change goals might look like this:

  • Week 1 – use wholemeal bread instead of white bread
  • Week 2 – use semi-skimmed milk instead of full-fat milk
  • Week 3 – take a walk at least 3 days a week
  • Week 4 – stop putting butter on vegetables
  • Week 5 – stop adding sugar to fruit
  • Week 6 – have one meat-free day every week – Meat-free Monday is easy to remember
  • Continue…and tweak…there are always more changes you could make…

Eating well can be simple and inexpensive. Choose simple, nutrient-rich, everyday foods for better health. Over time you will have established healthier habits that enable you to eat well without really thinking about it.

Choose Good Food for Good Health

Keep a well-being diary for better health

Keeping a well-being diary may help you to track your path to better health. A well-being diary can help you to record progress in many areas of your life, including your eating habits but also improvements in your physical activity achievements, sleep patterns, stress triggers, weight, waist measurement, blood pressure, resting heart rate, your emotions and any other aspects of your general health that you would like to improve. Keeping track of where you started and your progress over weeks and months may help you to maintain your motivation and continue to work towards your goal of a healthier lifestyle.

It’s like a healthy eating diary

A well-being diary is similar to a typical healthy eating diary though with a little more information. Design your own diary (use a notebook or your computer) that will help you to keep track of your overall health. Write down the things that you think affect your well-being. Are you tired? Stressed? Drowning in ironing? Write down anything that you think is affecting your well-being and ways in which you could make improvements. Take advantage of apps on your smart phone that can help you to count calories, monitor your sleep patterns, track how many steps you are walking everyday, and many other things, then write it all down at the end of the day.  When exercising I keep track of the reps I can manage when doing push-ups and sit-ups. I am trying to build my strength so I do an extra rep in each set every week and I have improved over time (eg: week 1 = 5 reps/set, week 2 = 6 reps/set – I am now up to 15 reps/set). When I recognised that looking at a pile of ironing was stressful I made plans to change my wardrobe and now I choose clothe that need little ironing.

If you are concerned about the food you are eating (how much or how often) keeping a diary will help you to identify any areas that may be making it difficult for you to achieve your goals. Consider calories, nutrients and hydration. Perhaps you feel uncomfortable when exercising in the mornings, or you can’t lose that last bit of weight? Keeping a record of what you have eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as snacks and drinks may help you to identify any problems or inconsistencies with your eating habits. For example, if you have reached a plateau with your weight loss progress you might decide that replacing your late night snack with a healthier option is the next step towards your overall goal. If you are always tired you might not be getting enough iron and you could decide to eat more meat or take an iron supplement.

Consider keeping a shopping list of all the foods and drinks that you want to keep to hand and stock up on when you get to the supermarket. Having your favourite healthy choices available will often help you to avoid unhealthy choices. Eating a balanced diet, containing all the nutrients you need is easier when your cupboards and refrigerator contain a wide range of foods – including fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, protein foods and dairy/alternatives. Keep a record of recipes that are your favourites or that you might like to try. Experiment with new foods even if you have to look to the internet to find out how to cook them – I suspect many of us have tried quinoa by now.

Keep track of your activity

Do you want to be fitter? Faster? Stronger? Leaner? Keep track of your daily activity. Consider keeping track of the time of day you are exercising, the time spent exercising, distance, cardio/intensity, weights/sets/reps, strength and performance. Write down your overall thoughts – did it work for you today? Was it a bad day?  Try to do some activity every day and write it all down, so that you can assess your activity levels at the end of each week and each month. Compare your activity with your food intake, your sleep patterns or your stress levels. Can you see any patterns emerging? Do you need to make some changes?

Recent research has identified that our sedentary lifestyles are not healthy, so even keeping track of how many hours you spend sitting down and on your feet might provide useful information. Being more active is as simple as walking 10,000 steps a day, which is easier to achieve if you don’t use the car for short journeys (less than one mile). If you are feeling a bit sluggish in winter maybe it’s because you are a bit less active when the days are shorter and colder. In establishing a reason for the way you are feeling you can make a change and take some action to ensure that you start to feel better again.

Write down your goals, both short-term and long-term. A short-term goal might be to go for a 20 minute walk every day this week and then go for a hike on the weekend. A long-term goal might be to improve your blood pressure, run 5km in three months time, or lose weight. In establishing your long-term goal you can decide on the short-term goals (daily and weekly) that will keep you headed in the right direction.

What inspires you?

It can help you record your inspirations too. Did the Olympians inspire you to be more active? Perhaps your friends marriage inspires you to communicate better with your own family. Look for people who are working towards being happier or more grateful or more committed to their cause. Perhaps you have seen a quote that inspires you to make changes or keep going? Anything that helps you to maintain your focus on your goal is useful. Continue to look for inspiration as the weeks progress. Many people have experiences similar to yours and it can be incredibly useful to know that they continue to make progress, with good days and bad days a part of their journey, just as they will be in all of our journeys.

Your time is precious and you may not want to record everything you do or feel, but if the alternative is to go round-and-round in circles with little progress, then investing time in a well-being diary may be worthwhile. Try to keep a diary for three months and see if it is useful. Monitoring your progress as you work towards improved well-being can be very useful and you will inspire yourself when you can see the changes that you have managed and maintained.

Enjoy Good Food for Good Health

Home-made sports drinks

All athletes know the importance of avoiding dehydration during exercise. When exercising for more than thirty minutes it may be useful to drink something that replaces sweat losses (water and electrolytes) and energy.

Depending on whether it is necessary for an athlete to replace fluid losses, replace energy stores or replace both fluids and energy, the athlete should choose one of three types of drinks – hypotonic, isotonic or hypertonic. These drinks can be made at home using your favourite squash or fruit juice.

Hypotonic drinks

Hypotonic drinks are absorbed into the body more quickly than plain water. They usually contain low levels of carbohydrates (sugars) – less than 3g per 100ml – and may have a little salt added. These drinks are thirst quenching and provide fluid but they do not provide significant amounts of energy.

Hypotonic drinks are useful when it is necessary to replace fluids quickly without a lot of carbohydrate – for example, when activity lasts less than one hour and is of low intensity. They can also  be useful if a high fluid intake and low calorie intake is required – for example, when exercising in a hot climate.

Recipe #1 – 100ml fruit squash, 900 ml water, 1/5th teaspoon salt (1g)

Recipe #2 – 250ml fruit juice, 750ml water, 1/5th teaspoon salt (1g)

Isotonic drinks

Isotonic drinks are absorbed as fast as or faster than plain water. In addition to replacing fluids, isotonic drinks provide carbohydrates – 5-8g per 100ml. These drinks are designed to provide some carbohydrate to fuel the muscles, and have a little salt added to enhance the absorption and retention of fluid in the body. Many commercial sports drinks fall into this category.

Isotonic drinks are good for replacing fluids and providing carbohydrates (sugars) if activity lasts more than an hour, such as team sports or endurance events. Drink before, during and after exercise.

Recipe #1 – 50-70g glucose or sugar, 1 litre water or diluted sugar-free squash, 1/5th teaspoon salt (1g) – dissolve the glucose or sugar and salt in 100ml warm water before adding the remaining 900ml cold water or sugar-free squash

Recipe #2 – 500ml unsweetened fruit juice, 500ml water, 1/5th teaspoon salt (1g)

Recipe #3 – 150ml high juice squash, 850ml water, 1/5th teaspoon salt (1g)

Hypertonic drinks

Hypertonic drinks have a higher carbohydrate content – usually more than 10g per 100ml – which fuels the muscles. Hypertonic drinks are absorbed more slowly than plain water. These drinks replace lost energy rather than replacing fluids and therefore are not an effective or fast way to rehydrate. Hypertonic drinks include pure fruit juice, many canned drinks and energy drinks.

Hypertonic drinks should be taken when energy replacement is a priority – for example after training or after a game. These drinks can be used to top-up your daily carbohydrate intake.

Recipe #1 – 400ml squash, 1 litre water, 1/5th teaspoon salt (1g)

Other drinks

Stimulant drinks – these drinks usually have a high carbohydrate content but also have other additives that supposedly provide more energy – such as herbs, caffeine, guarana, taurine, ginseng, or carnitine amongst others. There is no evidence that these additives have a beneficial effect on sports performance and they should generaly be avoided during sport.

Water – the drink of choice for many people because it is cheap and readily available. Water will replace fluid losses but will not provide any energy. Water is good for non-endurance events of low intensity, where carbohydrate replacement is not the priority. Large intakes of water will dilute the blood, which stimulates urine output and effectively dehydrates the body. Fluid overload can be minimised by adding salt to a drink.

For extreme or endurance events, such as activity in hot weather or marathon events (prolonged moderate to high intensity activity), seek specific advice regarding hydration.

Top tips for athletes

  • Choose a drink that best matches your needs – water, hypotonic, isotonic or hypertonic
  • Always take a full drinks bottle to training and competitions
  • Cool drinks are more refreshing and palatable
  • Start drinking early – about two hours before starting exercise – do not wait until you feel thirsty because by this time you will already be dehydrated
  • Immediately before exercise drink about 150-350ml, then continue taking small amounts of fluid (150-200ml) every 15-20 minutes
  • Start drinking as soon as possible following training or competition – after exercise athletes should aim to replace fluid losses within the first two hours of recovery (this is more important when multiple training sessions occur during the same day)

Even mild dehydration can reduce sporting performance. Dehydration can have physical effects including reduced muscular strength, increased perception of effort, fatigue and slowing of self-selected pace. Dehydration can also affect mental performance including reduced concentration, reduced skill or accuracy and reduced decision making ability.

Athletes should choose a drink they enjoy and which meets their needs to optimize sporting performance.

For more information see

Enjoy Good Food for Good Health