The Convoluted Path To Healthy Eating – What Doesn’t Work

I’ve been interested in nutrition and its effect on your health since I was around 10 or 11.

26 years later and I’ve tried (and failed) countless times to have what I consider a good, healthy diet.

However, with 2 children to run around after, the hopes of creating a third, and the fact that I feel the beginning of old-age twinges in my joints, motivation to eat well is much higher now that it’s ever been.

I’ve had no sugar (save one breakfast style biscuit that I ate without thinking) for 7 whole days. Today is day 8 and I feel smaller – my jeans have a teeny bit of extra room over the hips. I feel happier – my mood and patience have levelled out and I am in control, even dealing with a vomiting baby and manic toddler. I feel calmer – the highs and lows have gone, and have been replaced with a more steady, measured approach to everything. I feel physically softer – my skin feels smoother and my joints are not aching as much as they usually do.

I’ve tried to cut out sugar so many times before, but this time I think I’ve finally got all the pieces of the puzzle in place to make it work.

Before I talk about how I’ve finally got everything to come together, I want to first run through all the things that have failed and my take on why.

1. Focusing on exercise, not food

I’ve tried this millions of times. I think: “I need to be healthy, I need to get fit!” so I plunge into a new regime, or join a gym, or buy a heart-rate monitor, or sign up to a new class, or buy a bike, or buy some exercise DVDs (notice how much buying takes place, compared to doing?).

Two, maybe three weeks in. It grinds to a halt. I make excuses. My muscles are sore. I’m more tired than when I started.

Why is this doomed to fail?

Someone wise once said “You can’t out-exercise a bad diet.”

If your intake isn’t what your body needs, you are never going to get decent performance out of it. Your muscles won’t be able to build strength, your body will protest with exhaustion because it doesn’t have the protein, the fuel, the vitamins and minerals to adjust to the increase in physical activity. Result? Failure.

2. Going cold turkey on everything

No caffeine. No sugar. No bread. No meat. No milk. Er… what the hell am I gonna eat?

I’ve cut out all sorts of things from my diet over the years, and a couple of times I have tried a full-on Gillian McKeith style detox. Oh. My. God. Why doesn’t anyone ever talk about how shit you feel for the first three days? The headaches, the tiredness, the grumpiness. And then the cravings start – wine, chocolate, burgers, ANYTHING with some sustenance.

No – this is never gonna work. Yes, you can make changes, but 99% of us can’t do it overnight like that.

3. Trying a “diet”

This is something I’ve only really done since I’ve had children – the baby belly drives my purchases of diet books promising you’ll never need another diet plan again.

I’ve tried a couple but seriously – following someone else’s plan of what to eat? I can’t get past the first few days. Your shopping bill trebles and you end up throwing away half of everything because the recipes don’t account for all the leftovers. And then there’s cooking separately for me, the kids, the husband (or leaving him to fend for himself, which isn’t very sociable)… I end up in the kitchen all day long.

Nope – this isn’t gonna work because it’s not my eating plan, it’s theirs.

4. Meal planning a week’s worth of healthy meals you’ve never eaten before

I’m guilty of doing this a lot. Meal planning is great – it focuses your shopping, clears your mind of constantly thinking “what are we all gonna eat?” and helps prevent desperate takeaway dinners. However, the way to do meal planning is to plan to eat things you would normally eat.

Using it as a tool to improve your diet takes time.

By day four of a brand new menu plan, you’re sick of cooking and at least one meal was awful. Do you really want to plod through three more nights of cooking dinners you don’t know if you’re going to like? Nope. You order a takeaway pizza instead because you’ve used up your weeks worth of meal energy in four days.

I repeat – meal planning is great, and is something I really want to master (I’m working up to it).

But meal planning IS NOT healthy eating. They are two separate beings. Meal planning AND eating healthily is one change too many for most busy people to stick with.

So.

These are my big four – the things I have tried over and over, with tweaks and additions and alterations. But they haven’t really worked.

I just need to find what does.

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