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I am Louise O'Driscoll, founder of Natural Balance. I am a Certified Eating Psychology Coach, helping people find their way to a healthy and happy relationship with food and body.

What to eat - some guidelines

By louiseodriscoll, Jun 18 2014 10:34AM

Last week I blogged about intuitive eating. That is how I would like everybody to eat, no rules or restrictions on anything, but from a standing start, I get that people want some help with knowing what to choose as the best thing for their health. Its particularly hard when we eat a diet high in sugar, starchy carbs and processed food as, make no mistake, these foods have the power to mess with our heads and get us to believe that our body actually wants them! So we have to make some effort to get away from them in order to really get to the bottom of what our bodies truly crave.

So what constitutes a healthy diet? It's not surprising that many of us feel confused and frustrated by all the conflicting advice that exists on the subject of nutrition. Fasting, Paleo, low carb, low-fat, low sugar, no dairy, no meat, no caffeine....the contradictory theories and 'good' or 'bad' foods are never ending. It doesn't need to be so complicated though. Here are my guidelines - note the use of the term guidelines, I don't like 'rules' when it comes to food! - for making changes that are practical and sustainable and should make you feel so much more relaxed and healthy.

- make real food your staple diet. If it came from a tree, field or farm then it's probably good. If it has been in a factory, avoid.

- minimise sugar. We are built to love the taste of sweet food. We are not built to process the super-concentrated levels of sugar in the juices, cereals, sauces, snacks and sweets that surround us all the time. Do your body a favour and phase them out, along with any artificial sweeteners.

- get the best quality food you can find and afford, whatever it is you are eating. The fresher and more local and seasonal the veg, the better. Same for meat, the closer the animal's natural life has been to what it would be if it were wild, the better it will taste and the more it will do for your body.

- slow down when it comes to mealtime. The process of digestion and metabolism begins in your head and is optimised by relaxation. Contemplate your meal before you begin to eat, take a few breaths to relax, then eat slowly and enjoy the food. Take time away from work or the TV and pay attention. Really taste every mouthful and when you feel satisfied, stop. Be aware of how you feel after the meal...energised, bloated, sluggish for example? What about during the next 12-48 hours? Any digestive problems, skin reactions or a quick return to hunger? Take note of how different foods make you feel so that you learn what works and what doesn't.

- prioritise vegetables (lots), quality protein (a portion should be the size of a palm or two, depending on your size and activity levels) and good fat at every meal. These will give your body all that it needs to feel satisfied, repair and regenerate itself and keep you alert and energetic. Good things to choose include all kinds of veg (especially the dark green and leafy kind), meat, fish, eggs, tofu, tempeh, full fat dairy products, raw nuts, avocados, nut butter, cold pressed oils and seeds.

- Choose carbohydrates according to the first guideline, so beans, lentils, sweet potatoes, chickpeas and quinoa rather than pasta, mass produced bread and white rice. Make your portions fairly small, again a palm sized serving should be plenty.

- experiment with different foods. For example, ditch caffeine, dairy or wheat for a week or two and note how you feel. Then reintroduce it to see what happens. Often we live with low level health complaints that we don't realise are symptoms of food intolerances, this can enable you to identify them and choose your food accordingly.

- try and eat according to our bio-circadian rhythm, a meal upon waking, another between 12-1.30pm and then dinner in the early evening. Aim to stop eating at least three hours before bedtime. This timing of meals will work with our natural rise and fall in metabolic rate.

- remember to get Vitamin P - PLEASURE. Along with laughter, touch, sex and creative expression and enjoyment, eating is an important part of the pleasure we get from life, but we often forget about this in our efforts to get slim or be healthy. If you apply the guidelines above most of the time, you should be enjoying delicious and nutrient dense food every day, but if you choose to eat a less healthy meal or snack occasionally, it will be fine, that's the difference between guidelines and rules, be a grown up and apply responsibly!

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