There’s no denying that this healthy lifestyle game is hard! It’s not a physical thing, it’s a mental thing, and sometimes our head sets us on a path of self-destruction, particularly around food. Eating the wrong things, that are high in fat, sugar and salt, completely at odds with our goals.
There are lots of inspiring stories of how people have changed their lives by eating healthier and becoming more active, and a common thread that runs through a lot of them is that those people started to look at their food as fuel for their body, rather than a form of entertainment or comfort.
How do you see the food you eat? Fuel or comfort?
Why do you eat it? Is it to nourish your body or to appease your emotions?
In the ‘olden days’ when we were hunter gatherers, food was just that – fuel. A means to keep us alive, there were times of scarcity and times of abundance. So we ate to stay alive. Now we use food to fill a hole, but not just the hole in our stomachs. We use it to fill a hole in our souls.
If we try and disassociate from that and start to look at food as fuel to make our body as healthy as possible, and choose food based upon its benefits rather than how it makes us feel in the moment, we will naturally make better choices. Choices that will be lower in calories, and more nutritious, therefore keeping us on track for our goals. Remember, this new healthy lifestyle is going to require you to fuel your body correctly, so that you can perform well in the new activities you are undertaking, so you don’t feel too tired or weak. Like if you put the wrong fuel in your car it wont work properly, you need to put the right fuel into your body to keep it healthy.
Fuel rather than feast!
To try and think of the food you eat, as the fuel your body needs to perform, you need to know more about the foods that you eat. Processed foods will contain some of the nutrients we will discuss here, but quite often are so heavily processed that the micro nutrients are processed out, and we are left with high sugar, fat and salt.
For instance, did you know that the reason that wholemeal bread and pasta and brown rice is better for us than white versions, is because all the goodness is in the husk of the grain, so when that is milled out, it takes all the goodness with it. We will come on to more of this, later.
The term Macros is banded about quite a lot. But do you actually know what it means?
Macros is simply short for macro nutrients, which are carbohydrate, protein and fat. We should have a balance of the Macro nutrients – but why? And do you know what that balance should be?
Carbohydrate is the way our body fuels itself. It’s also the way our body feeds the brain. If you are low on carbs, your brain won’t function the way it should and you will feel foggy and unable to make proper decisions. Nor will your muscles perform, and your limbs will feel like lead, when trying to exercise. Our bodies store carbohydrates in the form of glycogen in our muscles. Once that store is depleted, this is when we hit ‘the wall’ and its when our body has to start burning fat to fuel our activity, which is harder for our body to metabolise, making us feel sluggish. So this is why we absolutely do not advocate eating a keto diet!!
Protein is essential for renewing our bodies tissues and muscles. When we are starting to exercise more and build muscles, we are actually creating little tears in the tissues (that’s why they hurt the day after a good workout) so to repair those tissues, we need to make sure that we eat protein to get the right chemical components in to our body to rebuild those torn fibres. Protein also keeps our metabolism fired up, and burning. When our metabolism is burning, that means it is burning calories. So get protein in at every meal.
Fat – whilst we encourage you to eat less fat when trying to lose weight, some fat is still needed in the diet to keep things functioning properly. Particularly good fats like olive oil, fish oil, and nut oil – i.e non animal sources of fat. However whilst these fats are better for you, they are still highly calorific, so should be kept to a minimum. So we recommend replacing the majority of animal fats (i.e. cheese, fatty meat) used in the diet for non-animal sources, vegetable oils, oily fish, nuts.
Generally speaking we recommend that the macros should be balanced as follows:
Carbohydrates – 50%
Protein – 25%
Fat – 25%
But what does that mean? That means that 50% of our calories should come from carbs, 25% from protein and 25% from fat.
Basically, all macros have a calorific value. So for every gram of carbohydrate, you get 4 Kcal. For every gram of protein you get 4 kcal, and every gram of fat you get 9 kcal, and this then adds up to make your total calories in your food. So you can see now why high fat foods are so calorific.
Using our daily calorie needs we can ascertain how many grams of each macro that we need, but this can get very complicated, and at Be Strong we like to keep things simple. So in the main, it’s just important to eat from all three macronutrient groups and eat to your calories, in order to lose weight.
Micros or micronutrients are vitamins and minerals. We should ensure that we are getting the full spectrum of vitamins and minerals in our diet, because they are the chemicals our bodies need to do all it’s functions at a cellular level. Vitamins and minerals are termed micro nutrients because we need them in tiny amounts.
The good news is that if we eat food based upon the eat well plate, and as the saying goes ‘eat the rainbow’ we will more than likely be achieving our recommended daily intake of vitamin and minerals.
However, just in case you need some convincing, we are going to tell you why you need vitamins and minerals and where you get them from.
Vitamin D – found in eggs, oily fish and margarine – works with calcium to keep our bones strong, prevents rickets in children and osteoperosis/osteomalacia in adults. The most available form of Vitamin D is from sunlight acting on our skin. But due to the health implications of not getting enough vitamin D, and there not always being much sunshine in the UK, foods like margarine and some breakfast cereals have it added to help us out. Vitamin D is also thought to help to keep our mood balanced and ward off depression.
Vitamin A – quite often thought as the vitamin that helps you see in the dark and is found in orange, red and green vegetables like carrots, spinach, peppers and sweet potatoes; or yellow fruits like mangoes and apricots. Benefits of Vitamin A in your diet extend beyond your eyesight, by boosting your immune system and keeping your skin healthy.
Vitamin C – found in red, orange and yellow foods – oranges, peppers, lemons, strawberries, cherries – keeps colds at bay and your skin healthy. Vitamin C prevents the old fashioned disease, scurvy!
Vitamin E – this is a fat-soluble vitamin, which means it is found in vegetable sources of oil like soya and olive oil. It’s also found in nuts and seeds, and in wheatgerm found in cereal products. Vitamin E is another vitamin which helps to keep your skin and nails healthy and your eyes bright. It also strengthens your immune system.
Vitamins A, C and E are also antioxidants, which are thought to mop up cancer causing free radicals in the body and reduce other disease risks.
B Vitamins – B Vitamins are important for people who exercise, as these are the vitamins that break down and release energy from food and repair our DNA. There are 8 B vitamins all doing slightly different jobs – some keep our mental health in balance, some prevent fatigue and others help with our memories and cognitive function. We will find B vitamins in dried and fresh fruit, eggs, wholegrains, cereals, marmite, malt loaf and liver. B Vitamins are water soluble so that means they will come out in your urine, so it’s important to ensure we get this in our diet every day, because if we over eat them one day, the body doesnt store them in our cells, it just gets passed out down the loo.
Calcium – I think we all know that calcium gives us strong bones and teeth. Having strong bones is essential when we are exercising more, as it prevents us from injuring ourselves with high impact exercise. We get calcium from dairy products, milk and yogurt. It doesn’t matter if these are full fat or skimmed versions, as the calcium level stays the same. It’s also found in broccoli and green leafy vegetables like cabbage and green salad leaves. Calcium also keeps our muscles contracting properly and our heart beating regularly and helps with blood clotting.
Iron – Commonly found in red meat and liver, but also in other meats, and in vegetarian sources such as nuts, beans and pulses, and in green leafy vegetables like kale and watercress. Iron keeps our blood healthy, by making red blood cells and carrying the oxygen around our body, keeping us from feeling lethargic and tired. If we don’t get enough iron, we may end up anaemic, which leaves us feeling very tired and weak.
Magnesium – this is another mineral that helps to turn our food into energy, so again really important when we are exercising. It also helps the function of our parathyroid, to ensure proper production of hormones within our body- which control everything from reproduction to hunger signals, so very important. Found in green leafy veg like spinach, nuts, whole grains, fish meat and dairy foods.
Potassium and Sodium work together to keep our cells fluid balance correct and keeps our hearts functioning correctly. Potassium is found in bananas, mushrooms, pulses, meat, fish and shellfish. Most people think that you only get sodium from salt, but it is also readily available in meat and pulses. We don’t need too much sodium in our diet, as it is a risk factor for heart disease, cholesterol and high blood pressure. So because it is readily available in unprocessed foods, and is added to processed foods, we really don’t need to be adding any additional salt in our cooking or at the table.
Zinc – good for wound healing and making new cells and enzymes, this is another essential micronutrient, if we have an active lifestyle. All to help with building and strengthening those muscles and repairing our cells, that may have been damaged by previous unhealthy lifestyles. Zinc is found in all our common foods – meat, fish, dairy products and cereal products, so there shouldn’t be a problem in getting it into our bodies.
Looking back at all the foods listed above, it’s clear why the Eatwell plate says what it says. That we should eat a good variety of foods, based upon the three macro nutrients and then a good quantity of vegetables to meet all those micronutrient needs.
Why is Junk food junk?
Junk food and over processed food lacks a lot of the nutrients we have talked about above; very little fibre due to the processing and high heat cooking processes like frying, just destroy the micro nutrients contained within, so literally all we are left with is calories.
Continuous consumption of this food will make us feel lethargic as stores of the micronutrients our bodies need to function correctly are low, or maybe even gone. When eating junk food, we can get stuck in that cycle of high energy food consumption, then the crash when our blood sugar has come back down again, so we eat more high energy food to feel better, and so on and so on.
Do you remember the documentary ‘Supersize me’ by Morgan Spurlock, in the early 2000’s? The one where the guy ate nothing but McDonalds for a month, he ended up in not very good shape at all.
As a result, after 1 month, the then-32-year-old Spurlock gained 24 lbs, a 13% body mass increase, increased his cholesterol, and experienced mood swings, sexual dysfunction, and fat accumulation in his liver. It then took him fourteen months to lose all the weight gained from his 30 day experiment.
Perhaps, if we became a little more atuned to what our physical bodies are feeling, rather than what our emotions are feeling, we could feed it better. Nowadays, I crave a salad with lots of different vegetables when I have had a bad food day, and I think it’s because my body is telling me I need to replenish the vitamins and minerals that my body has used up. My mantra now is to feed my body not my soul.
Feeding your soul is important, but we can do that in many other ways, not with food.
Start to think about the food you prepare for yourselves, as to what it can do for your body, rather than that just emotional satisfaction. Food is fuel for your body, it is not filling a hole in your emotions.
Make your food look like the Eatwell Plate. Get a rainbow of colours in fruit and vegetables, because not only does it look more appetising, but it also means you will be getting the full range of micro nutrients that are needed to stay healthy.
If you want to know more about foods and what they can do for you, have a look at the following websites:
British Dietetic Association – Food Facts: https://www.bda.uk.com/foodfacts/home
British Nutrition Foundation – https://www.nutrition.org.uk/healthyliving/resources.html