But if you’re trying to make changes yourself, make healthier choices, cook better meals, and improve your health while losing weight, you’ve probably come up against some challenges that are making this difficult. And they’re not about knowing what to eat – you know fruit and yoghurts are healthier than chocolate biscuits, don’t you?
1. Emotional Eating
This is a big one for us Mums because being a parent is, while magical and wonderful, the hardest and most stressful job in the world. But there will be times when you’re more stressed than others, of when you’re prone to comfort eating. Perhaps it’s once they’ve gone to bed as part of your ‘me time’ evening routine, or sitting at work mid-afternoon, brain frazzled, reaching for a chocolate bar to soothe your way through the last hour.
You need to pinpoint exactly when and where it is for you, then you can make sure you have relaxation techniques or healthy snacks available at those times. It would be a few deep breaths or stepping outside for some fresh air, or keeping ready to eat fruit at home or in your desk at all times.
2. Lack of planning
It’s hard because you’re making it too complicated. Who said you had to knock up Instagram worthy meals every night? And what’s wrong with eating the same meal twice in a week? Cooking in bulk, having foods that produce easy leftovers (such as a whole chicken), and keeping meals simple (omelette, anyone?) will make life a lot simpler than if you’re trying to emulate your favourite TV chef.
The difference between hunger and cravings is hunger comes from the tummy or gut, cravings start in the brain and mouth. Cravings can be emotional (stress eating), situational (wine with your evening meal, popcorn at the cinema), or physiological, such as when your blood sugar and energy levels are a rollercoaster and you’re in a cycle of eat sugar, sugar crash, crave more sugar.
First, listen to your tummy and consider when you last ate. Are you really hungry? If not, then is it an emotional, situational, or physiological craving? Eat once warrants a blog of their own but get in touch if you need more help working it out and fixing your cravings once and for all.
4. Boredom snacking
Eating gives you something to do and is an enjoyable experience that takes you away from mundane or difficult moments in your day. The trick here is to keep busy. If what you’re currently doing is driving you nuts or you need a break then do it, but go and do something else rather than eat.
I know when I’m stuck at the computer for ages I need a break and it’s easy to use a snack as a way of stepping away from the screen, but there’s also lots of other things I could do at home which actually would be more beneficial in the long run, like emptying the dishwasher or putting a few bits of washing away. This is where being a busy Mum is actually handy, there’s never nothing on our to-do list! Pick something, anything, that gives your body and brain a break and a change of scene.
5. Eating too quickly
It takes 20 minutes for the ‘I’m full’ message to get from your gut to your brain, so eating too quickly means you eat more than you need. Look at the clock as you sit down and try and make your meal last at least 15 minutes, preferably more. Put your knife and fork down between meals, and make time to sip water throughout.
6. Sweet tooth
Ah this one I can definitely relate to, I have a terrible sweet tooth! If you’re desperately craving sugary foods it might mean you have blood sugar issues and need to do some work on getting those balanced. More protein and fat in your diet and more fibre from fruit and vegetables, is a good place to start. I’ve got various ways to work with me if you need more support.
Once that’s sorted you have two choices – eat far fewer sweet foods, or eat healthier sweet foods. I choose the later, and often snack on good quality protein bars, dark chocolate covered nuts, drink my magic cocoa drink, and I’d choose protein porridge or pancakes for breakfast over a fry up any day. Sweet tasting doesn’t have to mean high sugar and unhealthy.
7. Eating out
Restaurant and café portions tend to be huge and are often made with more fat and sugar than you would at home. Base meals around protein (e.g chicken or fish) and vegetables or salad. Ask for dressings and rich sauces on the side and use them sparingly. Don’t feel you have to finish your plate– before you start consider how much of that meal you’d have served at home. Ask for swaps such as extra vegetables instead of chips, and careful on the bread and wine.
Most eateries have menus and even calorie content in some venues, on their websites, so have a look online and decide what you’ll order to avoid last minute panic decisions.
8. Large portions
If you’re feeling uncomfortably full after meals, you may be eating too fast (see previous section above), or perhaps you had it drilled into you as a child that you need to finish your plate. For the record, there’s nothing wrong with finishing your plate if it’s an appropriate amount for you, after all throwing away food is wasteful.
Don’t feel you have to use up everything you’ve cooked, in fact leftovers in the fridge are so useful! Add protein to salads, or throw things in an omelette – pretty much everything works in an omelette! Have family meals where not everyone eats the same and you all clear out the fridge together.
If you’ve a naturally big appetite (as I do) that’s fine too, just make sure you fill up on satiating protein, vegetables, beans and some wholegrains, and keep less filling fats (dressings, butter, sauces) and carbs (like mashed or roast potatoes and white rice) to smaller portions.
9. Time to prepare meals
There’s two things you can do here. One is related to the planning section above where you’ll know what you’re eating and have foods ready to hand. The other is doing all your food prep in one go so you’re all ready for when you’re too busy.
Bulk cooking on a Sunday is popular, and many salads and vegetables can be chopped and kept fresh in water, ready to cook or eat. Keep meals simple – those ready to eat cooked whole deli chickens are great, as are bags of ready to cook stir fried vegetables. Stock up on good Tupperware, and don’t feel you have to get every meal perfect at first.
Start with prepping say, 3 evening meals a week, or making your work lunch the night before, then add more meals once this becomes a habit.
Alcohol contains calories while not being filling in any way, so it’s not helpful to dieters. In addition, lowered inhibitions mean you’re less likely to make healthy decisions and suddenly a whole bag of nacho crisps seems like a reasonable idea.
Most people like a drink or three to relax every now and then, but drinking often gets your body used to it so you need more for the same effect. The benefit of drinking less often is that you need less to get the same effect, you become a cheap date and save loads of calories in the process!
If you enjoy wine (or whatever) more regularly then how can you still enjoy it but reduce the quantity or calories? Could you switch to smaller glasses? Use calorie free diet mixers only? Make a bottle last 4 days instead of 2? Treat yourself to an alternative, low calorie adult drink instead if you enjoy them. There are plenty of sugar free fizzy alcohol alternatives in supermarkets these days, or some alcohol free beers taste the same but are very low in calories.