Nutrition with Jane McClenaghan: Try not to think of your diet as 'a diet'

If healthy eating meant you'd never have another slice of pizza – or a piece of cake or a couple of scoops of ice cream – you'd never start
Jane McClenaghan

NO-ONE can be healthy all the time but if you get the balance right, you don’t need to be.

When it comes to making healthy choices, I always encourage my clients to think about the 80:20 rule. In other words, if you eat well 80 per cent of the time, there is room for the occasional food that may be a little less nutritious...

But what does the 80:20 rule mean in practice? Does it mean you can eat well all day and then gorge on sweet stuff and junk food at the end of the day, or save your ‘points’, calories or ‘syns’ (I hate that word!) for the weekend? I don’t think so.

Healthy eating will mean different things for different people. One way of eating will suit one person, but not another. It is a case of finding what works for you; working out what food and habits make you feel good.

Of course there are some the basic ground rules like eating lots of vegetables, including a balance of protein and fats, choosing low-GI carbs and less of them and avoiding processed foods and sugar, that are common to any balanced diet.

You are not on a diet!

When you first make changes to your diet and start to eat a little healthier, it can feel like you are “on a diet”. You’re not. You are just eating in a way that promotes health and supports your wellness. You are eating in the way you are supposed to – a healthy, balanced, nutritious diet.

This is a diet for life, not a short-term fix; creating new habits and learning to eat differently for the good of your health.

Say you started to eat better and then after a few weeks you decided to go back to how you ate before – what would happen? You'd go back to how you felt before, of course: sluggish, tired, and overweight.

Think about it, though. In the crazy world of dieting, most diets prescribe that you follow their plan for a few weeks. Most diets do not get you thinking long term, but instead focus on the short-term rewards.

When it comes to nutrition, healthy eating is a diet for life. Does that mean that you’ll never have another slice of cake or another pizza? No more takeaways? Ever? With that prospect, you would never start.

This is where the 80/20 rule comes in. A slice of cake or a couple of scoops of ice cream are not going to kill you. An extra slice of bread or more spuds than usual every now and then is not an issue.

This does NOT mean that you have fallen off the wagon and might as well not bother anymore. It’s one snack, one meal or one day. This happens. You do not have to be perfect to be healthy.

Once you have followed your new way of eating for a while, once you have seen and felt the benefits, once your taste buds have adapted, you may find that you no longer like the foods you couldn’t resist in the past. I see this all the time: sweet stuff tastes too sweet, takeaways too salty.

Cravings will subside and processed, sweet or junk foods will become a lot less appealing. When you get there, you may not even need the 80/20 rule anymore.

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