One of the questions I get asked regularly is “What do you eat?”
I’m always reluctant to answer this, simply because I’m not you, and so unless you happen to be 5ft 2”, 48 years old with a passion for triathlon, Zwift or running with a faithful four-legged furbaby, our nutrition requirements will likely be different.
That said, we all need an example of what putting healthy habits into practice looks like to help and inspire us to stay on track.
And I know it's easy to look at Personal Trainers and Health Coaches, perhaps even me, and think we have the secret formula that somehow you missed. But, if you were to look at the playback of my life, you'd learn that I'm just like everyone else, I've struggled with being a healthy weight and felt too guilty to spend money on the gym membership I desperately needed because our finances were tight. I used to numb painful emotions with food, wine, coffee and a regular trip to Dunkin Doughnuts because I didn't know anything different.
Here's what I've learned, I've got to where am today, the same way you will, I changed my routine to build new habits one small step at a time. I called it my 1% project. I decided if I could change my daily routine and make a 1% improvement each week, then eventually I'd see results. And it worked!
So, that’s why I’ve decided to post up what I’m currently doing to give you some ideas on how to structure what you eat day-to-day.
Of course, if you are really keen to develop a truly flourishing life, then there’s more to it than just getting what you eat right. You’ll need to also be working towards increasing positive emotions, surrounding yourself with great relationships, finding meaning and engaging in fulfilling work and accomplishments, but for today let’s address that first question, “What do you eat?” and include a few thoughts about why I choose this approach.
A large glass of hot water with lemon (and occasionally a few rasps of fresh ginger)
Overnight, our bodies turn over a certain amount of fluid and after eight hours without water, we are likely to be somewhat dehydrated, so a large glass of water is perfect. There are a lot of myths out there about the health benefits of including lemon, everything from weight loss and detoxes to fighting cancer and raising IQ. There is little hard science behind these claims. I include lemon and ginger because I enjoy the taste and on the odd occasion when I’ve forgotten to buy lemons, you won’t find me crying in my breakfast -excuse the pun, because it’s missing.
Creating a list of “go-to’ meals takes the difficulty out of planning meals everyday. It’s a method I use all the time to help clients simplify their healthy eating choices. Simply select three breakfasts, three lunches and seven dinner dishes that on the average week will become “go-to”s. Mine, are all foods I love and every dish includes a whole protein source and vegetables (or berries). I also have rules for when I eat out (unless it’s a special celebration) as follows:
Breakfast out: Eggs or Omelette with sides of tomatoes, mushroom, spinach or avocado
Lunch out: Soup or Chicken Salad
Dinner out: Fish with Market Vegetables or Steak with Salad
Weekly Meal Plan
Stop the 5pm panic! Planning my main meal each night takes away all the stress of driving home and wondering what I’ll cook and if I’ve got the ingredients. Sunday evening, I plan my week, write the grocery list and order whatever I need online.
I fast from dinner until dinner (24 hours) on Sunday and Monday. Fasting can be incredibly effective for people who want to lose body fat and regulate their calorie intake. There are other benefits too, but I find this the easiest way to regulate not overeating. Remember, I started out in hospitality, so I’m a foodie in the true sense of the word, I enjoy cooking, have a robust appetite and therefore under-eating isn’t a big challenge for me.
Typically, I drop fasting to one day per week, when I’m in a season of high training, such as for triathlon or half marathons.
And occasionally, a warning flag goes on if I notice that at dinner on the second day I begin to overeat. Overeating for me looks like a combination of randomly grabbing a handful of almonds, nibbling on cheese and crackers before my meal, having yoghurt, berries and a sprinkling of seeds after my main course and then breaking out the dark Ghana chocolate. All of these things would likely be OK in a small amount separately but when I eat them in combination it typically means I’m not getting my daily nutrition needs right and my hormones are taking the reins.
Which is a great Segway into saying, be honest with yourself about what you are eating, reality really is your friend and use those guilty feeling to motivate yourself to find a strategy for success.
Having said this, remember guilt = good, shame = bad. You have not become inherently bad for overeating, your behaviour in overeating has left you feeling guilty.
Coconut Scrambled Eggs with berries
Carrot Protein Porridge
Protein Pancakes with berries and yoghurt
I like to include a good balance of protein, healthy fats and either vegetables or berries.
Salad with a complete protein, such as salmon, hard-boiled eggs, meat or chicken
Vegetable soup or Bone Broth with two eggs or a homemade LCHF bread roll
Two egg omelette with any combination of ham, spinach, tomatoes, spring onions, mozzarella, mushrooms and sprinkled with pumpkin seeds.
Lunches are based around the protein source and I try to include two handfuls of vegetables or salad. I sometimes also have left-overs from the previous night’s dinner.
Creamy chicken with sun-dried tomatoes, and lots of greens (green beans, baby spinach, chard, broccoli)
Lamb with Asparagus or Green Beans, on a Pea & Feta mash
Salmon parcels with a Green salad with walnuts, blue cheese or avocado
Smoked fish pie with Cauliflower Mash
Again, the focus is a protein with lots of above-ground vegetables and healthy fats. Once or twice a week we may have some extra carbs in the form of root vegetables and occasionally rice, if my husband’s cooked a curry.
After dinner, sometimes I’ll have yoghurt, berries and a sprinkle of nuts & seeds or a few squares of dark Ghana chocolate. My husband has a bit of a weakness for a bowl of cornflakes with hot milk too.
We may have a treat like a bag of popcorn (me), crisps (hubby), once a month and cheese with crackers and a glass of wine, once a week.
Here’s an interesting fact, the linguistic origins of protein — from the Greek proteios, meaning “first place” or “primary” — are fitting for a substance that is one of life's chief components.
I will typically work out six days a week and during triathlon season, twice a day for 3-4 days.
My first workout is always done first thing and fasted. The second workout usually at around 2pm in the afternoon, which is incidentally when our circadian rhythm and hormones give us our best co-ordination and fastest reaction time.
Here’s how my workout week is broken down:
2 - 3 Sessions Resistance workouts (usually weights, body weight or TRX)
3 - 6 Sessions Swim, bike, run (usually 2 of each and sometimes two disciplines combined into one workout)
Pruvit Ketones before long endurance sessions (60 mins +) and when training twice a day. They reduce perceived exertion, help to reduce inflammation and I definitely don’t ache so much in the mornings :)
Pea protein shake/smoothie bowl after workouts when training twice a day. I’m not trying to bulk muscle but I don’t want to lose any either —age is not on my side here. And because the body uses protein for repair it’s important not to under-eat on protein. I find pea protein rather than whey more easily digestible.
MAF (Maximal Aerobic Fitness) training, like most people who have taken part in endurance events, in the past I’ve fallen into the trap of over-training. This can easily happen as duration and/or intensity increases, and/or recovery is inadequate. One goal of the exercise is to increase workout stress above a normal level to promote improved health and fitness that leads to better competitive performance; this state is referred to as functional overreaching. Exceeding the body’s stress threshold, with excess training and/or reduced recovery (an imbalanced training equation) can induce excess exercise stress and maladaptation. Basically, I now spend a lot of time going slow to race fast, which feels counterintuitive, but works. [see reference]
Dog walking, there are few joys in life greater than playing fetch with a dog. And on days when I’m tired and know I need more recovery but are keen to do something, I find taking my dog for a walk is better than sitting around.