You may already have noticed the change in the air – more of us are choosing to eat seasonally, sustainably and sensibly, rather than dieting. It’s about keeping things simple, saying a happy farewell to strict rules, and embracing a far more flexible approach to food. ‘Ultimately, it’s about finding a healthy way to eat that fits in with your life instead of taking it over,’ says Uxshely Carcamo, founder of The Food Therapy Clinic. ‘When you try to give up loads of different foods, you’re setting yourself up for failure – because the part of your brain that controls willpower can’t cope with too many changes, and what we call “willpower fatigue” always kicks in. Tiny tweaks, made one at a time, are more effective and sustainable in the long-term.’
No more Mr Bad Guy
Demonising certain foods risks making you feel like you’ve fallen off the wagon if you slip up, says Carcamo. ‘Ironically, the resulting sense of guilt can trigger a binge on all the other foods you’d vowed to give up.’ Try increasing the range of foods you eat, rather than cutting out ‘bad’ foods.
Make 10-a-day an easy goal
Use herbs to pack out a plant-based diet, says independent nutritionist Judy Watson. ‘You’ll get a broader range of phytonutrients if you aim to eat 10 varieties of plants in a day. An easy way is to make a hearty soup of cabbage, carrots and onions, spiced up with garlic, ginger and turmeric, and seasoned with a mix of several dried herbs.’ Experiment with fennel for digestive health, and sage and rosemary for a sharper mind.
Veganism is huge right now, but there’s more to it than just cutting out animal products, says Watson. ‘Don’t become a junk-food vegan. You’ll need to be savvy about your choices to meet your nutritional requirements – and you’ll almost certainly need to supplement with B12.’ If you’re thinking of going vegan, do your homework – visit vegansociety.com for advice and info.
Rewrite your schedule
Spending Sunday prepping the week’s dishes is a good way to ensure you stick to a healthy diet – but it’s not for everyone. ‘Pre-planned meals can also lead to feelings of deprivation and obsessing about the foods you can’t eat,’ says Carcamo. Cooking for two days ahead often works better than trying to micromanage your whole week.
Know your naturals
Not all ‘natural’ foods wear a halo and not all processed ones are bad. ‘Veg can be superior if they’re frozen at the point of picking; tinned pulses such as butter beans are a low-fat source of fibre and plant proteins,’ says Frankie Phillips of the British Dietetic Association. ‘And, famously, tomato puree is better than fresh tomatoes as it has more lycopene.’ ‘Remember, too, any fruit or veg blitzed in a blender has its cellular structure altered so releases more “free” sugars – the type we’re supposed to limit.’ Does this mean you should eschew all smoothies and soups? No! The same process also improves the bioavailability of other essential nutrients. Variety is king. You’ll benefit most if you eat a variety of fresh, frozen and tinned fruit and veg.
Put off your breakfast
There’s evidence skipping breakfast facilitates a healthy overnight fast, says Janet Thomson of powertochange.me.uk. ‘Start by eating 30 minutes later than usual, then slowly push it back. Our gut flora need a period of not digesting food to carry out other tasks, such as running a healthy immune system.’ Shrinking your eating window to eight or 10 hours a day will help balance your blood-sugar levels.