By James Staring – founder and lead fitness coach at Fit to Last Personal Trainers.
The word ‘nutrition’ can conjure up images of counting calories, weighing food and general misery associated with eating. It can feel like a complex process that sucks the life out of meals and any enjoyment associated with food.
Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be this way. Getting your nutrition right can be simplified, making it effective and easy to follow, so you can still enjoy your meals. By changing the focus away from counting and weighing, and towards building effective habits, you can develop routines so that you eat healthily without worrying about calories or having 10 grams too many carrots.
Here are five simple ways you can improve your nutrition, all without complicated calorie formulas or weigh scales. Follow these steps and you’ll feel better and have more energy, you’ll maintain a healthy weight, and you’ll get more out of your exercise.
1. A handy portion control tip
Measuring portions of macronutrients (proteins, carbs and fats) with your hands is the simplest way to get all the nutrients you need without under- or over-eating.
The measurements are simple:
- Palms measure protein
- Cupped handfuls measure carbohydrate (try to consume this only after a workout)
- Thumbs to measure fats like nuts and butter
- Non-starchy veggies – eat as much as you want
By following this simple format, you’ll instantly know your meals are portioned correctly for you, as your own hands are the perfect measure for your own body.
These portions represent a personalised way to consume enough nutrients to eat healthily, every day.
So, rather than weighing your food or counting calories, this method of working out how much protein, carbohydrate and fats to eat is much simpler and easier.
2. Prioritise protein
There’s always a lot of talk about how managing carbohydrate intake is the key to changing your body. However, regular protein intake can be a much more effective option to getting great results.
When you have protein with each meal, you will be able to:
Manage your cravings – Protein helps to manage blood sugar levels. Protein takes longer to digest, so it slows down energy release into your blood stream. This means your blood sugar levels remain consistent as opposed to dramatic spikes in energy caused by meals without protein. Dramatic spikes lead to equally dramatic fluctuations in blood sugar levels, which lead to cravings.
Maintain lean muscle mass – Protein is a foundational element that’s necessary to build and maintain muscle mass. The more lean muscle mass you maintain, the more effective you’ll be at maintaining a healthy weight.
3. At least 2 different colours of fruit and/or vegetables with each meal
Your mother was right – eat your (fruits and) vegetables!
Different colours of vegetables mean different types of nutrients. The more colours (and therefore varieties) of nutrients you get, the better off you’ll be for two reasons:
Increased protection from chronic diseases: Different colours of vegetables and fruits have been associated with a variety of health benefits.
Improved gut health through the development of healthy gut bacteria: The healthier your gut bacteria is, the more likely you’ll fully digest the healthy things you eat.
Also, by improving your healthy gut bacteria you reduce the risk of inflammation. Inflammation is the foundation for a host of chronic diseases including Alzheimer’s, cancer, and heart disease. By fortifying your diet with colourful fruit and veg, you can help mitigate the risk of these illnesses.
And while it is true that it is ‘the more the merrier’ when it comes to varieties of fruit and veg, it’s best to start with two portions on your plate and build up.
4. Smaller portions of full-fat items instead of low-fat
Low-fat choices are still widely considered to be a healthy option.
The problem is that fat is also a source of flavour (to test this theory, take a spoonful of low-fat yogurt versus a spoonful of full-fat yogurt…after you’ve finished off the full-fat version you’ll know what I mean). To counteract this lack of flavour, sugar is often added.
In addition to improving flavour, fat (and by this, I mean good fats like olive oil, nuts, seeds, and butter) is an essential part of a healthy diet. It is not the enemy.
Healthy fats help your body produce hormones, as well as lowering the risk of heart disease, controlling blood cholesterol levels, and helping balance blood sugar levels.
But despite these benefits, fats are still high in calorie content and thus should be consumed in smaller quantities. By choosing a smaller quantity of full fat instead of a low-fat option, you’ll be reaping more long-term benefits while at the same time managing your portions – Win-win all around.
5. Allow yourself the occasional cheat
Diets focus on depravation, whether it’s calories or food groups. The assumption is that with just a little willpower, you can hold off on consuming the targeted items and achieve the goals you want.
This theory is flawed due to its unsustainability. Not only is willpower a finite resource that is extremely unreliable, but unless you plan on giving up the targeted food or the additional calories forever, the losses you achieve will eventually return with interest.
The reason why the occasional cheat is an easy method to improving nutrition is because it will save your sanity. By allowing yourself the occasional indulgence you’ll appreciate the healthy choices (and possible sacrifices) you’re making. By keeping things in balance and planning to give yourself something you enjoy occasionally, you’ll appreciate the journey you’re on and you’ll be more likely to stick to it.
These five easy to follow and simple to implement approaches are designed to help you improve your eating habits easily and without a lot of thought. By giving them a try you’ll feel heathier with just a few really small changes. So, take it easy, keep it simple, small steps, and don’t stress yourself by trying to do it all at once. Small changes are the easiest to make, and the easiest to stick to.
About the expert
James Staring is the founder and lead fitness coach at Fit to Last Personal Trainers, which offers a high-end, all-inclusive fitness solution for those who’ve tried everything in the past; crash diets, exercise fads, regular gyms etc., all with little to no success or results. Fit to Last works in partnership with you to create a personalised programme of exercise, nutrition (no calorie counting or weighing) and small, simple lifestyle changes, to keep you on track to your goals, injury free and bursting with energy. Find out more at www.fittolast.co.uk