We all get into habits when eating no matter how hard we try to keep our diet consistent and with lots of variation - but some habits can hold your health back so it's worth casting a critical eye over your daily eating habits. We're going to work our way through the day and highlight some common habit areas that you might not have thought about - I'm not going to touch on binge eating or sugar foods like chocolate, cookies and candy because i feel like we all know to avoid these foods for our health anyway - or at least I hope!
So starting with breakfast the most common issue I see here is eating a meal totally void of any nutrients. It can be tough to stay organised early morning but grabbing a piece of toast is not a good way to start the day for two reasons. Firstly if you're eating white bread it will have a profound impact on your blood sugar levels and increase the likelihood you have a mid morning crash and cause you to snack. If you're eating whole meal bread although this is better than white, it has nutrient blocking qualities that mean regardless of what else you eat with it, your absorption of these nutrients will be suppressed. On top of this grains usually feature heavily in most peoples diet, and if there is one rule for nutrition it is to eat everything in moderation but that means EVERYTHING. I can appreciate eating animal sources of protein doesn't appeal to everyone that early but if you can at least get in some fruits and maybe some natural yoghurt this is an improvement on eating the same wheat /cereal oriented breakfast every morning.
Totally skipping breakfast is another mistake to make. I have come across some people who don't eat breakfast and don't suffer at all from it, however all of these individuals still eat three meals a day and have a good appetite so I don't see too much of a problem with it. Providing you are getting the meals in throughout the day I wouldn't worry too much about what time your first meal is, but for me - breakfast is an important meal.
Obviously the big one in the morning is tea and coffee being the first liquid you have of the day. I'm not so sure there is any hard evidence for this but I have always been a firm believer that making water your first fluids of the day goes a long way. Coffee deserves its own blog post so that is on the way for all you coffee fans, but providing you're drinking fresh espresso and not powered instant coffee then it isn't nearly so harmful as you might expect. In fact there are some instances that it is an effective health supplement, but I don't want to ruin the surprise in that article so let's move on to mid morning eating habits.
The first time of day people tend to start snacking is mid morning and this can be due to an insufficient breakfast, an early rise or perhaps office routine that you feel obliged to adhere to. Though there isn't any great problem with snacking or eating smaller meals through the day it's important to ensure that whatever goes in is nutrient dense and of benefit to your body. The typical mid morning snack usually consists of a coffee and pastry - for some this is the second portion of grains (wheat, rye, barley)!in their day and further reinforces what I have already spoken about with regard it's nutrient blocking quality and reducing the variation in your diet. The ideal mid morning snack is one that meets the demands of whatever you plan to do for lunch time be that exercise, running errands or perhaps you know you'll struggle to eat a larger meal. Conversely if you know you have a lunch engagement and will be eating a large lunch consider whether or not you can hold out in the morning to avoid consuming excessive calories. If you are going to snack and convenience is of paramount importance go for nut & seed bars over pastries, cookies and other carbohydrate hits. Nut & seed bars are packed with valuable fats that help regulate our hunger by stimulating release of the hormone CCK, a major player in telling us when we are adequately full.
For some reason when people decide to diet this seems to be the meal that they target to reduce calories. It's an odd one really as most working people will have a good 6 hours between lunch time and their evening meals so stripping calories here is setting yourself up to over snacking through the afternoon with sugary pick me ups to handle your hunger. If we compare that with breakfast typically the period of time between breakfast and lunch is a little shorter. When planning your lunch ensure that you are keeping a good balance of protein, carbohydrates and fats - this will reduce the likelihood of you snacking in the middle of the afternoon. Equally, if you are having a workout after you leave the office you need to make sure you have more fruit and vegetables than you might normally have so that you have energy for your workout. If you're a morning exerciser then you will need to make sure your lunchtime meal is heavier in protein to aid recovery and encourage repair to cover your bases.
I find this is so dictated by how busy your working day is, we all look for things to pass the time and very often we do this by distracting ourselves with food. By now you are probably getting the hang of what I like to see as a snack - pure sources of fat such as nuts and seeds, fresh, antioxidant rich fruit and mineral rich vegetables. I'm more of a fruit eater in the morning and in the afternoon I really like carrots and houmous - the carrots provide me with an energy lift and the houmous not only tastes great but has enough good fat to satisfy my hunger. This is also the time of day when, if you have neglected hydration, thirst can also manifest itself as hunger. Next time you experience hunger in the afternoon try drinking a glass of water and leave it half an hour to work its way around your body - it isn't always the case but it can help with hunger pangs in the afternoon.
Your last meal of the day needs to put back it what you have taken from your body throughout the day if you have not already done so. If you have eaten well during the day then don't be scared to have a more modest portion in the evening and likewise if you have been run off your feet all day don't feel guilty if you consume larger evening portions. Be careful though with the composition your meals because foods that are harder to digest (wheat products like pasta and bread) can leave you bloated just before you need to lie down and sleep for 6-8 hours, not ideal. For most people this is the largest meal of the day and is more likely to be dictated by others that you eat with - if you have a family this is a great way to motivate you to make healthy changes because the food you eat becomes the food your kids and spouse eat, and healthy tissues cannot be built on deficient nutrition. Plan your meals well with the whole family - what have your kids eaten today? What have you eaten today? If you have eaten red meat at lunch time then why not eat a lighter white meat like chicken or cod. If you haven't eaten any vegetables yet then why not have a vegetarian meal? As I have already reiterated, everything in moderation but that means EVERYTHING in moderation.
- Be careful not to eat the same foods everyday.
- Plan your meals around what you are doing that day be it with work, socially or your own leisure time.
- Establish some nutrient rich, healthy snacks that you can rely on when you haven't got sufficient nutrients from your meals.
- Breakfast is an important meal so try and make time for both eating it and preparing it, eating the same meal every morning will limit variation in your diet.