Let's face it, eating healthily can be a daunting task.
On one hand it should be easy - after all, we all know that eating a balanced diet with a variety of foods, the majority of which should be fresh and unprocessed, is key to maintaining good health.
Working from home as freelancers should make it easier in that we have control over our day - we can schedule in time for a decent lunch, there’s no-one bringing cakes into work to tempt us (most of us have at some time worked in an office where there is a serial feeder!)
Yet on the other hand, with busy schedules and tight deadlines, it can be all too easy to grab the nearest convenience food or order takeout instead of preparing a nutritious meal.
I’m not the first freelancer to just make a slice of toast for lunch when a deadline is looming.
Sadly, the abundance of ‘nutritional advice’ out there often adds to the confusion.
There seems to be a cyclical process where certain foods are demonised as bad, then they come back into fashion again. First it was fats, then carbohydrates, now it’s sugar.
The cumulative effect is that healthy eating is seen as something hard rather than being something that should form part of our daily routine.
So how do we incorporate good habits into our lifestyle?
The key is to incorporate small but consistent changes that are easy to follow and offer little or no resistance.
Start with one or two small changes
Instead of trying to overhaul your entire diet overnight, start with small, manageable changes.
Swap out food items for healthier alternatives, like swapping white bread for whole wheat bread, or changing to fat-free versions. Over time, these small changes will add up and make a big difference.
Once a habit is established, move on to another small change.
Remember that negative habits develop over time, so give yourself a break and realise that positive habits take time to develop too.
Planning ahead can help you stay on track with healthy eating.
Take some time each week to plan out your meals and snacks. This can include preparing meals in advance or making a grocery list before heading to the store.
By doing so, you'll be less likely to reach for unhealthy options when you're in a rush or don't have anything else prepared.
Planning also involves thinking how you’ll handle different situations that could derail your progress.
If you know you have a few events planned over the weekend, think about ways to compensate for that during the week. For example, if you’re eating out, can you swap a side dish for a healthier option?
Focus on whole foods
Filling your plate with whole, unprocessed foods is one of the easiest ways to ensure you're eating a healthy diet.
These foods are typically rich in nutrients and free of added sugars and unhealthy fats.
Examples of whole foods include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and nuts and seeds. Adding an extra portion of fruit or veg to your daily diet will also help you stay full for longer and perhaps help you resist the biscuits in the afternoon.
Incorporate healthy fats
Healthy fats are an essential part of a healthy diet and can help keep you feeling full and satisfied. The Eatwell Guide for the UK suggests that fats should make up just under 35% of our diet.
Examples of healthy fats include avocado, nuts and seeds, olive oil, and fatty fish like salmon. Cheese and eggs also provide a good supply of fats and proteins.
Don't deprive yourself
Depriving yourself of your favourite foods can lead to binge eating and ultimately, falling off track with healthy eating.
Instead of completely cutting out your favourite indulgences, try incorporating them into your diet in moderation. For example, if you love chocolate, allow yourself a small piece of dark chocolate after dinner (just don’t eat the whole bar!).
Try to avoid attaching value judgements to foods, labelling them as good or bad. Instead aim for having a healthy diet 80% of the time and allow yourself to eat what you like the other 20% of the time.
It’s good to give yourself permission to indulge once in a while as long as you recognise and appreciate the effect this will have if you overdo it.
Overall, these small indulgences will help you stay focused on eating healthily the rest of the time.
Drinking enough water is essential for physical and mental performance. If you’re mildly dehydrated you’ll feel greater fatigue, hunger and irritability.
The recommendation is to drink at least eight glasses of water per day, but that might not be enough if you’re exercising, or in exceptionally warm weather.
As a rule of thumb, have a water bottle with you at all times, and make sure you drink regularly. Investing in a good water filter, if necessary, can make drinking water more palatable.
If you’re feeling thirsty, then you’re not drinking enough.
Consider swapping sugary drinks like soda and juice for water or herbal tea. Really it's a case of finding what suits you - personally I find herbal teas quite insipid but I have no problem drinking water.
You can also add something calorie-free to water to give it some flavour - fruit, mint, cordial. Drinking tea and coffee is included in the eight glass recommendation, but you have to think of the amount of caffeine you consume since this might disturb your sleep.
One step at a time
In conclusion, making small changes combined with good planning can contribute to healthier habits, making it easier to improve your eating habits and overall health.
The goal is to eat guilt-free without labelling foods as good or bad but recognising that a balanced healthy diet is important for optimal health. So a few changes and sacrifices along the way are worth it.