It’s really bloody easy to get stressed out about food and exercise, isn’t it? I don’t like to follow diets, be it Dukan, 5:2 or GI, as I don’t think they lead to long-term healthy eating habits – more quick fix, less life change. However, I’ve found it so hard to find information on what I ACTUALLY need to eat to be healthy and looking at the huge range of nutrition books, sites and blogs is no help at all.

fitness

The advice is so conflicting: I should eat only vegetables, I should eat mostly fat and no vegetables, I shouldn’t cook my food, I should juice everything, I should detox, I shouldn’t detox, I should eat like a caveman, I should fast two days a week, I shouldn’t ever fast, I should eat all of the protein that ever existed, I should never eat sugar, ever and fruit is bad for me. Sometimes, I really hate the internet and its indecisive ways. Except when it’s providing me with images of Ryan Gosling, of course.

The same thing happens when you start researching exercise and fitness. There’s a lot of conflicting advice about working out and seemingly achieving the same results. Should I do lots of low impact cardio to reduce strain on my joints, or lots of quick bursts to get my heart rate soaring and burn fat quicker? Or, should I do no cardio at all and only ever do weights? Low weight and high reps, or high weight and low reps? Will the 30-day shred work or just make me hurt for a month and then go back to sitting on the sofa eating cake? If I do that work out DVD, will I look just like the Pussycat Dolls?

Well, screw that. Eating well and exercising shouldn’t make life stressful; it’s supposed to improve our quality of life. Let’s cut through the crap: there are simple, long-term changes we can make to our eating and exercise habits without raising stress levels through the roof.

treat day

Don’t keep bad food in the house

Just stop buying chocolate. Simples. If there’s no chocolate, crisps or cake in the house when we fancy a treat/are bored, we’ll be forced to either not have a snack or find something healthier.

Eat less processed food

We don’t need to fill our bodies with chemicals, especially when home-cooked food is much nicer. If you’re a ready meal person, there are plenty of quick, tasty, healthy meals that can be made in less time and probably for less money, too. If we’re buying snacks, we should choose options that have a) fewer ingredients and b) ingredients that we can actually pronounce.

Mix up our exercise

If you’re like me, rigid exercise plans won’t do much for you. Fancy a run instead of the weights you’d planned to do today? Go for it. Want to do a class instead of that 20 minutes on the cross trainer you had planned? The choice is yours. As long as we work hard and don’t let ourselves off too lightly, mixing up our exercise will keep us both fit and interested.

Allow ourselves treats

If we deny ourselves all of our favourite foods, we’ll go crazy with the cravings. Instead, we can make sure we have one naughty day a week when we can eat those things we’ve been wanting. Well. Not all of them. But some, at least. There’s even a lot of research that suggests that if you’re eating healthily most of the time, having a bit of a calorie hit will give your metabolism a little kick-start. I find it easier to say no to treats during the week when I know that there’s a little tub of Half Baked Ben & Jerry’s with my name on it come Saturday.

vegetables

Cut down on sugar

I know, I know, you’ve heard it before and it’s boring. But sugar really is a tricksy little beast and sneaks its way in to more food than most people would realise. I’ve been cutting down on sugar recently and I’ve noticed that my taste buds are adapting – things that didn’t taste particularly sweet before, like bananas, now taste nice and sugary and seem like more of a treat. Watch out for “low-fat” foods in particular, as most manufacturers pump them full of chemicals and sweeteners to make up for the lack of fat. And anyway, our bodies need fat (or good fats, at least) to digest some of the other things we eat more easily.

Sit down less

Easier said than done when there are desk jobs involved, yes? There are still plenty of options. We can go for a walk on our lunch breaks. We can stand on the bus/tube/train. We can get up and stretch our legs as much as possible during the day. We can make sure that when we get home we don’t just sit our asses back down. Sitting down for extended periods of time is really quite bad for us, and getting up every now and then isn’t too much effort, really…

Eat slightly smaller portions

Us Westerners eat quite a lot of food. We’ve become acclimatised to huge portions that we don’t reeeally need. A meal should, apparently, be around the size of your two clenched fists held together – doesn’t look like much, does it? But if our meals are covering our huge plates, even reducing portion sizes a tiny bit can help us in the long run.

healthy dinner

Ramp up the veg

I used to be a really fussy eater and viewed most vegetables (especially green ones) with suspicion. However, several years on and many successful tasting sessions later, I love a lot of vegetables and try to eat as many as possible. When we’re making dinner, we should try reducing the size of our portions of rice/pasta/noodles/potatoes and adding a few more vegetables instead, We can add fresh tomatoes to our Bolognese as well as tinned ones, or roast broccoli with olive oil and garlic and add it to pasta and couscous dishes. We can also create a lovely tray bake with root vegetables or sprinkle a large handful of spinach on to omelettes or in scrambled egg. Learning to love the green stuff will add plenty of nutrients to our diets, and can replace some of the less beneficial foods.

These tips should help you to kickstart your healthy lifestyle – once you’re used to it, you’ll find more and more ways to incorporate healthy changes until you’re some kind of super-human healthy being who doesn’t need sleep. Or something.

Just remember: everything in moderation!

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