Starting (and sticking to) a healthy diet is hard. If you’re used to eating Big Macs and hot chips, the thought of subsisting on salad leaves and green smoothies for the rest of your life can overwhelm you and completely throw you off -- perhaps before you even properly got started.
But moving towards a more nutritious diet is not only essential for good health, it’s also doable.
As accredited practising dietitian Chloe McLeod told The Huffington Post Australia, healthy, balanced eating is not about throwing out every product in your fridge and pantry that contains sugar and replacing it with only kale and cacao nibs, it’s about easing into eating more nutritious foods (and still having your favourite meals, too).
“Healthy eating is not about depriving yourself or never having anything unhealthy, it’s about taking small steps at a time,” McLeod said.
We live in a time where social media is full of ‘perfect’ bodies, meals and diets, so it’s no wonder that our approach towards healthy eating is extreme.
“It doesn’t have to be that ‘all or nothing’ approach, which I see for a lot of people,” McLeod said.
“People say, ‘If I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it properly’, but that version of ‘properly’ is to be super strict and restrictive, which is just not sustainable in the long term.
“It’s not about being perfect all the time, it’s about making the best choice in the situation you’re in -- even if it’s getting a grilled chicken burger from McDonald’s. Yes, it’s not going to be healthiest thing you could eat, but it’s still not too bad and it’s a better choice than some of the other options that are out there.”
While popular diets (for example, low carb, low fat and low calorie) can give results fast, the weight loss is not sustainable. A balanced approach, on the other hand, is the way to go. That means fruit and veggies, whole grains, healthy fats and protein, regular exercise but, of course, also treating yourself along the way.
“Yes, you might see changes more slowly, but you’re more likely to be able to maintain the changes than if you go really, really strict and not enjoy eating at all,” McLeod told HuffPost Australia.
Just ate a whole pizza and feel an overwhelming sense of guilt? Are you telling yourself how awful you and your body are, and how much you’re failing? Stop it. Right now.
“So many people feel guilty after eating. If we spoke to our friends the way we speak to ourselves around food, we would be horrified,” McLeod said.
“If you’re going to have it, enjoy it, then just go back to eating healthy. You will have probably eaten less because you haven’t tried to sneakily eat lots of it and felt guilty -- you’ve enjoyed it more so you’re going to feel a lot more satisfied. I think it’s a much healthier way of doing it and looking at it.”
Instead of punishing yourself, focus on building a positive relationship towards food.
“Being conscious in relation to the choices you make and doing the best that you can is all you can ask of yourself,” McLeod said.
“Ease into it, make small changes over time and give yourself a bit of a break.
"Small changes at a time add up to big changes down the track.”
Here are 10 hacks to ease yourself into having more healthy meals and snacks. Before you know it you might be craving that Big Mac less and less.
“I think this approach is not just for the people who are trying to ease into it, I think this can work for everyone, at whatever stage you’re at,” McLeod said.
“Maybe you’re just going out for dinner and know you’re not going to be able to eat super healthily but want to know the best option you can get in those situations.”
Burgers -- “Rather than going to a burger chain, get your burger fix from a local store and choose to have it with salad rather than fries,” McLeod said.
McDonald’s -- “If you are going to eat McDonald’s, go for a grilled chicken option to make it a bit better than a Big Mac."
Chips -- “And if you are going to have fries, choose sweet potato wedges instead of French Fries.”
Cake and other baked goods -- “Instead of having a brownie with chocolate ice cream, try fruit salad with yoghurt, cream or ice cream,” McLeod said.
Fried chicken -- “Instead of a whole bucket of fried chicken, have just one or two pieces of fried chicken.”
Fish and chips -- “Rather than battered fish, go for grilled fish and chips from the fish store.”
Chocolate -- “Have one small chocolate bar instead of one whole family block,” McLeod said.
Fruit Pie -- “Instead of eating apple pie with ice cream or cream, try it with yoghurt.”
Alcohol -- “If you’re drinking, have vodka, gin or scotch with soda instead of soft drink mixer.”
Pizza -- “Instead of getting the takeaway pizza that has the deep crust with heaps of processed meat on it, get a thin crust vegetarian one," McLeod said. "You’re still having your pizza, you’re just getting the better option of it.
“And, occasionally, if you just want to get the unhealthy option of these, well then do it, enjoy it and get back to healthy eating the next day or meal."