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

Am I ‘healthy’ enough?

With magazines, newspapers, television, radio and social media providing constant reminders to make healthy choices, it is easy for us to doubt our own efforts and question our choices.

“If I don’t eat chia seeds and kale, am I healthy enough?’

‘Healthy enough?’ For what. What would be your reason for making healthier choices? To feel better? To have more energy? To have better skin or hair? To stop those niggly coughs and colds from visiting so often? We will all have different goals and therefore a different idea of what ‘healthy’ might mean. The best idea is probably to decide on some health priorities and make choices that suit our own circumstances.

Most of us are probably honest enough to admit that we could make improvements to our lifestyle, by way of healthier foods, more activity or less stress, but what are the basics? Can we establish a healthy baseline and move on from there, little by little?

The ‘5-a-day’ message (eat more fruits and vegetables) might be an easy and obvious place for many of us to start, as fruits and vegetables provide vitamins, minerals and fibre that bring a range of health benefits. But what if we have more specific concerns?

Digestion – digestive problems can affect the absorption of nutrients and our immune systems. Some foods are gut-friendly, meaning that they can improve the functioning of the digestive tract. Fibre-rich foods, like oats and beans, probiotics (‘good’ bacteria), like yoghurt, and prebiotics (that feed the ‘good’ bacteria), like onion, garlic and bananas, can all contribute to a healthier digestive system that uses nutrients effectively and is less likely to experience other discomforts, like bloating or constipation.

Blood-sugar balance – with more and more people at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes (previously known as adult-onset diabetes) it is important to maintain a healthy weight, since overweight can be a factor in increasing the risks of diabetes. While having sugary foods and drinks is not directly responsible for the development of diabetes, excess calorie intake in the form of sugary foods and drinks may lead to overweight, which can put us at risk of developing diabetes. Eating foods that make us feel fuller for longer, like fibre-rich and protein-rich foods, may contribute to weight maintenance and reduce diabetes risk factors. Checking your waist measurement to determine if you might need to lose weight (aim for a waist measurement that is less than half your height measurement). Your GP can assess your diabetes risk with a simple blood test.

Bone and joints – children, teenagers and older adults should all be aware of the importance of building healthy bones and maintaining them throughout our lives. Foods containing calcium, including dairy foods and calcium-enriched products, should be a part of our diets. Vitamin D also helps us to maintain healthy bones and the government has recommended vitamin D supplements for all in the UK, especially in the winter months, because we don’t get enough sunshine (and therefore vitamin D) for healthy bones.

Heart health – our blood pressure and cholesterol levels are indicators of our health as we age and we can eat heart-healthy foods such as healthy fats, fibre and nutrient-rich foods, like fruit and vegetables, for improved heart health. Your GP can check your cholesterol with a simple blood test and a blood pressure check is often available in pharmacies around the country.

When we discern which aspect of our health is the priority then it is possible to decide where to start looking for answers to the question ‘Am I healthy enough?’ Is my heart healthy? Is my blood-sugar OK? With a starting point we can move towards our own ‘healthy’ baseline.

Healthy choices can be simple and inexpensive choices. Walking more often. Eating less salt. Drinking more water. It is not necessary to eat chia seeds and kale to be healthy. It is necessary to be aware of our health status, so that we may establish a baseline, decide on our goals and then make healthier choices as and when we can.

For more information about checking your health status and improving your health look for information from

Our health: Are we a nation addicted to excess?

It’s time for each of us to take control of our own health and weight, but can we control our excesses? Too much food. Too much snacking. Too many soft drinks and energy drinks. Too many coffee-shop visits. Too much convenience food. Too many take-aways. Too much alcohol. Too much sitting around – at work, in the car, in front of the TV, computer or games console.

I recently came across an opinion piece regarding obesity written in 2004. The author, Janet Street-Porter, thought that Britain as a nation was addicted to excess. Apparently Tessa Jowell MP had asked advertising executives to encourage consumers to eat a balanced diet and to promote “everything in moderation” (presumably the advertising executives worked for large companies producing all manner of calorie-laden products). The author opined that Britain is not a nation where people are the slightest bit interested in moderation, that nowhere is the addiction to excess more apparent than in the area of eating and that the idea that as a nation we would start to eat sensibly and “in moderation” was doomed; she concluded that  that there should be tough measures to deal with the public health crisis that was obesity.

Public health in 2015 

In 2015 the foods we eat (and the way we eat) continues to contribute to poor health, including obesity, heart disease, diabetes and other chronic diseases. More than half of the adult population is now overweight or obese and there is no indication that the situation is likely to improve anytime soon. So where are the ‘tough measures’ required to overcome this public health crisis?

The obesity epidemic, affecting many people simultaneously and continuing to spread throughout our communities, cannot be contained through government efforts. In the last 10 years there have been countless reports and recommendations written and initiatives instigated, all aimed at containing and reversing the obesity epidemic but these seem to have made little impact.

Recently ‘public health’ in the UK was off-loaded to local councils who were asked to manage all public health issues according to the needs of their local population. So ‘stop eating kebabs’ competes for funding alongside ‘stop smoking’, ‘containing the spread of diseases in schools’ and many other public health issues. How much attention do you think that preventative healthy eating is really receiving? Do you recall the ‘Responsibility deal’, an attempt to get manufacturers to make healthier foods for us all (voluntarily)? It was concluded recently that mandatory guidelines for food manufacturers may be required. Oh, you think?

It’s time to take control

The government has not been able to implement a coherent policy to deal with obesity because there are so many factors contributing to the nation’s growing waistline – convenience, excess, wealth, changing family lifestyles and the media all play a part in turning us into the fat man of Europe (Careless eating costs lives).

When it comes to food and activity more than half of the population ‘could do better’. It is time to choose healthier foods for our families. It is time for more of us to become familiar with the benefits of eating a range of nutrients that are required for a long, healthy and enjoyable life. It is time to be more active and appreciate having a strong and capable body that can walk up a hill or run around the park with the kids and grandkids.

Most of us know that obesity and related diseases cost the NHS billions of pounds every year. That means it costs us, the taxpayers, billions of pounds every year. But more than that…it is costing many of us a chance to spend time with our families and friends. Obesity can contribute to mobility problems and has been linked with depression. In short, it can suck the joy out of life for many people.

It’s time to take control of our own health and think about our excesses. If we don’t I think we will be waiting a long time for government policy to make us healthier and, perhaps, happier.