Although it is true that we are what we eat, it is also true that there’s more to it than that. It is also about how we eat and other factors. In a nation that is overfed but under nourished it’s clear that we no longer eat because we are hungry, so what others reasons could there be? There are in fact many factors impacting what we eat, for example; our emotions play a role in our food choices, our lifestyles, environment, education, food cost and availability, the habits we’ve grown up with, convenience and time.I don’t think we can underestimate the role our emotions play in our food choices but our food choices also play a massive part in our emotions; we all know what it’s like to reach for comfort food on a cold wet day when you’re not feeling happy and likewise we’ve seen the effects too much sugar has on the kids behaviour and the sluggish feeling we get ourselves when we’ve over indulged on the wrong things. We may eat for boredom, sadness, fear or just because those around us are eating, we may not even be hungry. I used to eat to fill a gap in my soul but I’ve found other things in my life that fill that gap now.Stress also has a big role to play in our diet with studies now evidencing the role of the hormone cortisol in weight gain. Cortisol is produced when we are stressed and this helps us react in times of stress by activating the fight or flight response, this worked well in times gone by when stress normally meant you were being hunted by an animal or there was a famine occurring, the body would release adrenalin to activate the fight of flight response and would also hold onto its fat reserves, this is good if we still lived in past times but in today’s modern world our stressors are different; they are work emails, traffic jams, forgetting someone’s birthday, the supermarket car park being full and unfortunately ‘stress’ occurs far more frequently, the result being that are bodies are awash with cortisol and reducing fat is the last thing it wants to do, even if we’re eating all the right things.The body doesn’t shape our health it is the mirror of our inner health and how we live our life. Whilst it’s important to look after our body (eating right, exercise etc) there’s more to it than that and the fundamental part is if we look after how we live our health will be better.As well as what we are eating we should consider how we are eating it. How often do we sit around the table and focus on our meals, chewing slowly and waiting a few minutes afterwards to see if we’re full before we dive in for seconds? Many of our meals now are rushed and on the go. I’ve found it helpful using smaller plates to control portion size and only eating until I’m 80% full, once you’ve allowed time after the meal for it to settle you find that you’re no longer hungry, but without allowing this time the temptation is to continue to eat until we can’t fit anymore in and by doing this we are eating more than we need to. When you eat soley for hunger it’s surprising how little you need. Drinking water also ensures we do not feel so hungry and then accidentally overeat. In fact some of our hunger pains can actually be a sign from the body that it is thirsty and needs more water. Many of us are not drinking enough water throughout the day and this is contributing to our eating habits.My food journey has made me realise how much of what we eat is through habit. You're used to what you grow up on or what those around you eat, this becomes your habit pattern. As I began to travel I experienced many different foods I’d never eaten before and began to eat more real food and enjoyed it so brought the cook books. One day a friend asked me what are the best recipes from it I’d tried and I realised I hadn’t actually done any, it decorated the kitchen saying ‘look how healthy I am’, in the same way I’d take fruit to work and it would decorate my desk until it went off and I threw it away! Only when I put myself in an environment of eating this kind of food everyday (ashrams and yoga retreats) did I become used to it, realised how god it made me feel and my body started to crave it, even after I left. Now I use the cookbooks, my body actually wants to eat this food not just because I think I should, I have experienced it and it’s become a habit, it’s no longer a tough choice of what I think I ought to be doing versus what I want to do they are now the same thing.This is the big turning point; putting what we know into practice, putting the education into action. There are thousands of books and articles relating to food and diet available and it’s become and muti million dollar industry but still we make bad choices. To me there’s more to it than understanding the educational elements of diet, there’s a big difference between knowing what we should be eating and putting that into action. We know that fast food is not good for us but it doesn’t stop temptation giving way to take aways, so how do we make the shift from what we know to be true to putting it into practice?I think it starts by looking at why we make these choices; is it because of how we feel (emotions), is it because of convenience (time), maybe it’s because of our lifestyle or the environment in which we live. If we have a very social lifestyle that involves being at pubs and restaurants often we may find this is impacting our diet; alcohol in particular is not just responsible for weight gain itself it also leads to us making poor food choices later that night and even the next day, it dehydrates us and disturbs our sleep, also things that impact our diets.It’s not easy and it requires a change that’s why we can find many excuses that prevent change from occurring, here are two of the most popular ones and some antidotes;“I don’t have the time”; plan ahead and find the time; thinking about a menu for the week when you do your shopping ensures you have all the things you need in the house to make the right choices and if something tempts you (chocolate, biscuits etc), don’t buy it, save it for a special occasion, if it’s not there you can’t eat it. By making meals ahead of time on the weekends or the night before work it makes it much quicker and easier when you’re short on time.“I can’t afford good food and take away is so cheap”; Deals in supermarkets now mean that making good meals for cheap is possible, there are also lots of free recipes available for inspiration on making healthy meals out of a few ingredients. If you have the land and climate try to grow your own from seed, this is a cheaper, healthier alternative. The question you need to ask yourself is what price do you put on your health?Some of the biggest diseases in present times are diet and lifestyle related; obesity, heart disease, diabetes, depression and they are still on the rise. When the cost of being unhealthy outweighs the effort of being healthy we find that people adjust to making the change, for some the motivation to change comes in the form of a health scare, but don’t wait for this to happen, take your health into your own hands, put what we know into practice and consider the bigger picture when it comes to what we are eating to ensure we eat for our health. It not only helps you lose weight it also makes you fitter, healthier and happier and weighed up with the alternatives the choice is clear.
I brought my first size 8 clothes just recently and it came as a bit of a shock, I had to check the label to make sure it wasn’t a misprint, I’d taken a size 12 into the changing rooms so that shows how far off I was. I’d not really noticed myself, my clothes were all baggy but I’d been travelling for 4 months and thought it was just a side effect of washing and wearing the same things over and over again but when I returned home my friends all remarked on the weight I’d lost and asked me how so this made me think; how did I do this without really knowing I had?I’ve dieted all my life, not because I’m fat but because I’m short (at least that’s the reason that’s always sat well with me), I am ‘stocky’ as my granddad would say and I love my food too which has never helped. This has lead me to try all the diet fads going over the years but never to any avail so how had I managed it all these years later without even trying. I’ve come to the conclusion that any diet that restricts too many food groups is doomed to fail, it’s just not sustainable or balanced, it makes you miserable and only works for as long as you’re sticking to the regime, I needed to find something that was part of everyday life that I could do forever not just whilst I was ‘on a diet’Now I’m not going to sit here and tell you I was sat on the sofa eating chips when 10 kg disappeared down one of the back cushions and you’re not expecting to read that either (although you were secretly hoping I had discovered some quick fix that required little effort). It’s hard work and it takes discipline and it requires moderating some of the things you love the most but you knew that already didn’t you!There has never been a truer word spoken about diet than the phrase “we are what we eat”. There’s so much temptation around these days and the less healthy stuff is often more convenient and cheaper which makes it even harder for us to do the right thing, as a result we are living in a nation that is over fed but under nourished.Before processed foods were so plentiful and widely available what did we eat? We ate real food and coincidently during these times there was less obesity, depression and disease. Real food is food that has lived, things our grandparents would recognise as food and preferably the sort we can grow in our gardens (or someone else can grow in their gardens for us)! We need to eat far more fruit and veg than we currently do and we need to know that it is clean, the drive to mass produce cheap, plentiful, pretty food that can travel miles and last weeks has meant an increase in chemicals and preservatives used on food that is best eaten in its natural state. This is why organic produce is my choice or home grown is even better (and cheaper).When we talk about the price of good quality food what we’re really talking about is the price we’re putting on our health and nothing puts it into context like a comparison to the millions of dollars our health system spends on fixing diet related disease. There can in fact be a high price for cheap food.I’ve also found over the last few months that when I’ve not been eating meat I’ve felt better, due to the nature of the places I’ve been staying at my diet has been mostly vegetarian. Meat has become cheap and plentiful and has increased in our diets with the popularity of Atkins and Paleo diets. Now I’m not a vegetarian and I also believe meat has a fundamental role in our diet to provide us with iron and protein but I do think we eat too much of it in the western world. I think this impacts on our health in the increase in heart disease and digestive disorders we are seeing and the impact on the environment is just as significant. Take the mass deforestation occurring to make more room for livestock and places to grow the feed for the stock, there are now more livestock on the planet than people, this is contributing to an increase in water use and decreases in water quality due to the pollution from farms. There is also the increase in green house gas emissions associated with producing meat and the impacts on soil quality due to the large amount of feed that needs to be cultivated to feed our meat before we eat it.The importance of eating real food is not just for diet, it contributes to our health and our happiness. People tell me my eyes are bright and my skin clear as well as looking slimmer, the weight is a bonus, the best thing about this for me is the way it makes me feel. Food has such an impact on our moods, eating the right things makes us feel better, we can all relate to that sluggish sad feeling we get when we’ve indulged in all the wrong things and if we’re feeling down we’re more likely to reach for the less healthy foods to comfort us, it can be a vicious circle.I still have fish and chips by the beach and enjoy the odd glass of wine with dinner. I don’t have a gym membership, nor do I pound the pavement in my jogging gear. So how did I shed my additional kilos and how do I stay healthy? For me it wasn’t so much about diet, more about a healthy lifestyle, the weight loss was just a bonus.I have chosen exercise that I enjoy, sometimes this is a simple as a gentle stroll along the beach, it could be a bike to work or regular yoga classes. I also noticed that once I no longer had a car I was walking much more everyday and this has also played a part. Just remember the two key points for exercise; do it everyday for at least 30 minutes and make sure it’s something you enjoy, if it’s not fun you’re not going to want to do it. It needs to be something you look forward to not something on your to do list that you’d really rather wasn’t there. It’s not just the calorie burning, toning, sweat busting endorphin inducing plus of exercise, it can also be a great social activity too, it becomes more than something you’re doing for your health, it’s a valuable part of your life.I eat real food, mostly fruit and veg with the occasional fish and meat, I drink lots of water and I exercise everyday. I have also reduced the amount of alcohol I have when I socialise. I don’t often snack between meals but if I do it’s healthy (fruit, veg, nuts etc). The key for me is balance and moderation, that way you don’t have to go without and when you do indulge it tastes so much better. I still have the odd treat, a chocolate bar or some ice cream but it’s reserved for special occasions.I meditate to keep my stress levels down and I try to spend time doing things I enjoy and living happily. I give gratitude everyday, there is always something to be grateful for even if it’s just that the sun is shining. I make sure I have enough sleep and prioritise early nights. I have also learned to distinguish between hunger and emotional eating, eating for boredom, sadness, fear, or simply because others are eating.By eating and exercising for health not diet we are making sustainable, long lasting changes to our lifestyles which can lead to happier, healthier, longer lives. I believe there’s more to it than just what we eat though and we’ll explore that in part 2 to come…….