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I'm an intelligent grown-up, so why can't I eat like one?

Nutrition is complicated.

The rules change all the time. One minute we are told a food is bad, the next it's good. It's like scientists can't make their minds up!

Fat does't make you fat. Sugar is toxic. Undereating puts you in starvation mode. But you can "hack" your metabolism with this one weird trick.....

Of course all of this is false, or at least such a gross reduction of the truth that it is open to extreme misinterpretation. Put it out in plain sight and it becomes very clear that it doesn't hold water. So why are we believing this? Why are people telling us this, and most importantly; why as educated, intelligent adults who are perfectly capable of identifying a healthy plate of food, are we still struggling to consistently eat well?

The rules of healthy eating.

Healthy eating is not at all complicated. It's actually so obscenely simple that when I spell it out you're going to go "well tell me something I didn't know" and reach to click away. Stick with me because I am going somewhere with this. You can be healthy, maintain (or sustainably lose) weight and perform well in sport by following these basic rules:

  • Consume an appropriate amount of food for your needs. Eat when you are hungry, stop when you are satisfied.
  • Eat mostly minimally processed foods.
  • Eat vegetables
  • Eat balanced meals that include protein, carbohydrate and healthy fats in proportions that work for you.
  • Drink enough water.
  • Consume calorie dense, nutrient light foods in moderation.
Some of these rules are more important than others, but all of them are important. None of these rules can be overridden with weird tricks, diet hacks or elite level nutrition strategies.

There's no secrets, there are published guides to good nutrition that every child is taught in school, and despite what some diet peddlers will tell you, they work. They are also the exact same guidelines that trainers and nutritionists are supposed to recommend. In fact recommending anything else is outside of our scope of practice (though we can also advise and support people who make an informed choice otherwise).

Dan John has an even simpler way of putting it "eat like an adult". It sounds like a horribly patronising piece of advice, but on reflection, I know I've been through times of eating in the way my 7 year old self swore she would; once she didn't have parents limiting her to one glass of fizzy pop a day...

My ideal lunch, by Claire aged 7. Also Claire aged 37.

But I'm not here to judge you if you can't do that right now. You aren't alone. It's wrong for people in the fitness industry to presume that every person seeking help with nutrition simply doesn't know what to eat. In my experience most people are very well clued in. They just find it difficult to implement, and stick with in the long term.

Healthy eating is also hard

So now we are getting to the crux of the problem. Just because something is simple in theory, doesn't mean that it is going to be easy to action.

There are a lot of things that get in the way of our intentions to nourish our bodies in the best way possible. Stuff like:

I could go on. But I won't [incidentally, every one of the links in that list is to a previous article I have written on that topic. Go ahead and check them out if that sounds like you.]

Eating healthy is a skill.

I know how to make amazing cakes. I have watched the YouTube videos and every season of Bake Off. I have looked at, and eaten, many cakes so I know what I am aiming for. I have sat and watched my mother make beautiful sugar roses. Could I make an amazing wedding cake tomorrow? No. Because knowing how something happens is not the same as being able to actually do it. I haven't practiced the skills. I haven't made hundreds of failed or mediocre cakes and learned from my mistakes. You can't read a recipe book and become an amazing baker. 

So why do we expect to be able to read a book on exercise nutrition and suddenly eat like an elite athlete? You have to work at it. Practice. Fail. Try again. Until it starts working for you.

This is also why crash diets, and even weight loss clubs don't work in the long term - we don't learn the skills necessary to eat appropriately once we hit that target weight. The goal becomes a point in time, a finish line after which we can ditch the diet - but we are no more skilled than previously at eating healthily. In fact often, we are worse at it, because things like counting, deprivation, cheat days... they all confuse our natural weight maintenance mechanisms.

Simple, but hard.

Healthy eating is deliciously simple, but for many of us it requires a near total overhaul of many aspects of our lifestyle.

If we do this overnight, it is overwhelming, uncomfortable and as a result, unsustainable. If we break it down, one skill at a time, and give ourselves enough time, and self-compassion, to work at it - it sticks.

This is why I work with nutrition coaching clients for a minimum of 12 months. The first couple of months feel slow. 3 or 4 months in, there's change, they start to notice that they are really getting a handle on things. 6-7 months in the real magic happens. By 12, they are experts at their own nutrition. Not because they have learned a lot of complicated facts, but because they have practiced hard at a few simple skills.

But what about.. [insert diet plan]?

There's a lot of chatter from the fitness industry about different diets and different tricks. It's really easy to get swept up in that, because it's designed to sweep you up.

It's incredibly seductive to think about being your goal weight in 12 weeks. Or to fit into *that* dress while still eating all your favourite treat foods. That is so much sexier sounding than "take 12 months to learn how to eat well". 

It's also really exciting to think about eating like our sports idols, even though common sense tells us that if you aren't following their training and diet, with their genetics, taking the supplement they recommend isn't going to give you their looks and performance.

I would never stand in the way of someone who made an informed choice to follow any particular eating plan. Do what works for you, but before you start, consider this checklist:

Is it sustainable? 

Many programmes give great results while you are on programme, but if you stop and go back to your previous habits, you will lose those results. So you need a programme you are prepared to commit to for life.

Does it promote good, physical health?

Cutting major food groups is potentially problematic. Replacing food with highly processed alternatives breaks our "minimally processed" rule. You need your micronutrients, you need fibre. You need to eat food. If your programme prizes aesthetics or scale weight over long-term health, you need to ditch it.

Is it psychologically healthy?

If your diet club involves body shaming, or your trainer is a bully, it's not doing you any favours. Good self care is rooted in self love, and you get that by being positive and building confidence, not knocking yourself down based on the number on the scale. Plans that promote unhealthy eating behaviours should be avoided. If the thought of having to grab a sandwich "off plan" sends you into a cold sweat or you are carrying a mini scale like some kind of drug dealer to measure out your snacks, this isn't doing you any good.

Healthy eating is simple, but life is complicated.

Playing around with your food intake often looks like the easiest way to reach your goals, but by messing with the healthy diet blueprint we are trying to fix something that isn't broken.

If you want to make a change, consider what you know about healthy lifestyle - because, if you are anything like the people I work with, you are an intelligent and educated individual and you actually know this stuff already. Then take an honest step back and consider how many of those factors you are incorporating into your life, consistently. 

Consistently adhering to the most simple principles of healthy living is in fact the only "secret", the only "weird trick" - you just need to practice, and learn how to do it.

Need a kick start?

You can start out with my completely FREE reset, by signing up to my mailing list. In this 7 day programme I take you through some of the most important changes you can make to your lifestyle, to make you feel better, through building healthy habits into your lifestyle.

Making big changes is scary, Lotus Bloom coaching is nutrition and lifestyle coaching for long term, sustainable change. I take on a small number of clients who I support through a life changing 12 month process. Claim your spot now.


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