Dr Joanna McMillan My healthy eating plan
A flexible eating and lifestyle plan is the key to weight control, writes nutritionist Dr Joanna McMillan.
The problem with most popular diets or the latest exercise regimen is that they don’t consider a holistic approach to health and wellbeing. A short-sighted goal of weight loss over a few weeks isn’t going to help you with long-term weight control, let alone your total body health. We must move away from the crazy diets, the impossible-tokeep-up exercise regimens and instead embrace true lifestyle change. This is the only way we can not only get lean if we have weight to lose, but prevent weight gain over time so that we stay lean.
Eat delicious food that nourishes your body in appropriate portions to lose body fat if you need to, or stay lean if you are already a healthy body composition. Knowledge continues to grow in science and research, linking what, how and when we eat with how we feel today, but also how our bodies age and our health fares decades into the future. Real food means food that is close to the way nature intended. That is food that is full of beneficial nutrients, phytochemicals and zoochemicals, which our bodies need to function at their best. Real food is vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, wholegrains, legumes, seafood, meat, dairy, eggs and certain food made directly from these, such as extra virgin olive oil (the juice squeezed from olives) or tofu (made from soy beans). This doesn’t mean no processed foods at all. I keep hearing people say that processed food is bad. But this is a far too simplistic statement. Processing can, in fact, be beneficial for certain foods. Processing tomatoes to make tomato paste, for example, not only gives us a food with a conveniently long shelf life, it also dramatically increases the levels of the powerful antioxidant lycopene.
Drink water as your main drink to stay well hydrated. Have a glass of water with your meals and on average try to have a glass every hour through the day. Water has no kilojoules, no undesirable additives and serves the purpose of hydration. You can also enjoy coffee and tea, with milk if you like, but without added sugar. Veggie-based smoothies are also fabulous additions to your daily menu plan to boost your intake of plant foods. Soft drinks and juices are out – you don’t need those extra kilojoules and it’s much better to get them from whole foods. If you enjoy an alcoholic drink, then you still can. Just try to stick to no more than two a day, particularly while actively trying to get lean.
Exercise is a non-negotiable for long-term good health and weight control. It changes the way your body works, making you a better fat burner and, with a little extra muscle, you’ll burn more kilojoules at rest. Aim for a minimum of a 30-minute walk every day and add two or three more formal exercise sessions into your week – such as fitness classes, yoga, Pilates, dancing, cycling or running.
Aside from the formal exercise you do, how active you are for the rest of the day also matters. Count up how many hours you sit on an average day. Especially if you work at a desk, you’ll be amazed how these add up. Set yourself goals to break up sitting times, so that you never sit for more than a couple of hours without a break for at least a few minutes of activity. If your office has a standing desk, use it for some of the time; stand on the bus or train; stand when you are on a long phone call; walk the escalators and grab other opportunities for movement.
Stress can lead you to sleep badly; you’re then tired so skip your exercise. Many find they turn to food, often unhealthy food, when stressed, while elevated levels of stress hormones direct your body to lay down those extra kilojoules as fat around your middle – the worst kind of fat for health. Others may find they turn to alcohol to blunt a stressful day. Learning how to manage your stress more effectively really can make a major difference to your ability to get and stay lean.
Being tired all the time erodes your ability to eat well, move more and manage your stress. Aim for seven to eight hours sleep on most nights and you’ll be amazed how much better you look, feel and perform. If you’re tossing and turning in the night or you struggle to get to sleep, think about what sleep researchers call “sleep hygiene”. This includes things like going to bed and getting up at
roughly the same time, avoiding caffeine after lunchtime, having at least two hours before bed without food, avoiding more than one or two alcoholic drinks, and having no screen time (especially tablets and smartphones) for an hour before bed – try reading a book or having a bath instead to help you wind down.
Monitoring your progress
We need to be able to measure our progress in a tangible way. Listening to your body and feelings of wellbeing are terrific, but they are also subject to our emotions and mood.
BODY FAT: You may have heard over the past few years that weighing yourself is passé, and what is really important is body fat percentage. I couldn’t agree more. The most accurate and easily accessible way to have your body fat and muscle levels measured is to go and have a DEXA scan. There are a number of companies that offer this.
WAIST MEASUREMENT: The latest scientific research clearly shows that the fat most detrimental to health is that around your middle. The ideal range for women is under 80cm
– with greatly increased risk over 88cm. For men, these cut-offs are 94cm and 102cm, respectively.
WEIGHT: Recording your weight has its pros and cons. It’s entirely up to you as to whether you hop on the scales or not, and your decision should be based on what is motivating to you. Firstly, understand what your weight tells you. It’s not just a measure of body fat changes. Weight is affected by fluid changes, such as dehydration and fluid retention, when you last ate, when you went to the bathroom, and change to your muscle mass.>>