Starting a healthy diet can be tough. The abundance of choice when it comes to what we eat and drink can be overwhelming when you’re trying to find the healthiest option at an affordable price.
Maintaining a healthy diet can be even more of a challenge. Not only do you need to consider the food and drink you consume daily, but you need to exercise regularly to keep fit and in shape.
But you can overcome these obstacles! By understanding what makes up a healthy diet and how to maintain it, you can transform your current diet into a balanced diet that thrives in the long term.
What is a healthy diet?
One reason we eat is to provide energy for our body. A healthy diet balances the energy we consume with the energy we use.
The amount of energy you consume will have an impact on your weight:
- If you consume more energy than you use, the unused energy will be stored as fat = this will cause weight gain
- If you consume less energy than you use, all your energy is used up = this will cause weight loss
The amount of energy in a particular food or drink is measured in calories (kcal). Therefore, eating the right amount of calories to balance your active lifestyle will help maintain a healthy weight, which is important to your overall health.
What kinds of food should you be eating?
The body also requires a wide range of nutrients from a variety of food to remain healthy.
To build a balanced diet, The Eatwell Guide by Public Health England recommends eating food from these five main food groups:
- Starchy carbohydrates – e.g. potatoes, bread, rice and pasta
- Fruit and vegetables – e.g. carrots, avocados, tomatoes
- Proteins – e.g. beans, pulses, fish, eggs and meat
- Dairy products or alternatives – e.g. milk/soya milk, cheese, yoghurt
- Oil and spreads – e.g. vegetable oil
You don’t need to fulfil all five food groups in every single meal. Instead, you can space the food groups out over a day or even a week.
The healthy eating model that appears in the Eatwell Guide is a practical way to make healthy choices about your diet.
How often (and in what proportions) should you be eating?
Moderation is essential to a healthy diet; you should only consume as many calories as your body requires.
On average, men need 2500kcal a day while women need 2000kcal a day to sustain a healthy body weight, but this varies with each individual. Other factors that can impact your daily caloric intake are age, body size and how active your lifestyle is.
Most of our food should be part of the two biggest food groups: starchy carbohydrates and fruit and vegetables.
The 5 A Day campaign, outlined in a report by the World Health Organisation (WHO), recommends eating at least 5 portions of different fruit and veg a day so your body receives a range of nutrients. In 2017/18, only 54.8% of adults (aged 16 and over) had 5 or more portions of fruit and veg a day.
The smaller food groups, like proteins and dairy products or alternatives, should be consumed in moderate amounts.
Oils and spreads, preferably unsaturated, should only be eaten in small amounts as it is high in calories.
While foods that are high in saturated fat, salt and added sugars are not required for a balanced diet, eating them in small amounts occasionally will help if you are craving your comfort foods.
Healthy eating focuses on retaining a balanced diet that works for you. If something isn’t working, don’t be afraid to alter your diet so you are happy with the food you’re eating.
Here are a few ways to help you maintain a healthy diet:
Think about the food you eat:
- Plan and prepare your meals: By cooking your meals, you will be aware of what goes into your food, which will help figure out whether you’re eating food from all five food groups.
- Replace unhealthy food with healthy alternatives: Slowly substituting the food you currently eat with healthier options will make a significant difference to your diet.
Take into account when you eat:
- Remember to have a well-balanced breakfast: A healthy breakfast replenishes energy and nutrients in your body. By regulating your blood glucose levels, breakfast helps control your appetite for the rest of the day.
- Eat healthy snacks between meals: Having a healthy snack, like mixed nuts or dark chocolate, when you’re hungry can help keep your appetite in check until your next meal.
- Avoid eating dinner right before you sleep: The timing of your last meal has an impact on how many calories you consume. According to a study, higher caloric intake was associated with eating a later last meal and eating closer to sleep.
Consider your overall dieting approach:
- Set modest and achievable goals around your healthy diet: Manage realistic expectations of what your diet will entail so you remain motivated and become less discouraged to quit.
- Exercise while changing your diet: Making both dietary and fitness changes simultaneously can help maintain a healthier lifestyle in the long term. A study showed that 92% of participants who combined dieting and physical activity were able to retain their healthy behaviours for 12 months.
- Track your progress: Keeping track of what you eat daily through a food diary can help cultivate eating habits that ensure you stick to a healthy diet.
When it comes to maintaining a healthy diet, a few small changes are easier than one big change. Take your time with this process, and don’t be hard on yourself when you occasionally break your diet.
The most effective diet is one you can stick to in the long run. As a healthy diet is unique to each individual, spending time finding a sustainable way that works for you and that you enjoy, will make it easier to keep up your diet in the future.
Ready to start working towards a healthy diet? Speak to a life coach at Ceed, who will assist you in your health and fitness goals.