Every diet and supplement protocol needs to be grounded in solid nutrition principles. Why? Because they keep us focussed on what’s important and curb our appetite for fads and fiction.
Most people are looking for a magic bullet when it comes to their health – they want the quick and the easy. A diet that will magically melt belly fat. A supplement that will alleviate chronic stress overnight. A pill that will miraculously reverse years of self-abuse.
But while diets, tips and ‘hacks’ CAN make a difference to your health, we need much more than that to ensure significant and lasting improvements. Especially when we have chronic health conditions that are making our lives less enjoyable.
We need a set of holistic nutrition principles that we can build our health habits around.
Principles are fundamental truths that serve as the foundations of a healthy lifestyle. They can be applied again and again to help you achieve your goals. If you master them, you’ll make the strides you want, but if you don’t, you’ll find yourself frustrated with a lack of progress – no matter what diet plan you follow.
It all starts with principles.
Over the last 26 years I’ve been developing, practicing and fine-tuning my nutrition principles so that everyone I work with can nourish themselves, heal and thrive. If you want to gain vibrant health please memorise them, follow them and make them a habit:
- Drink lots of water
- Drink frequently
- Drink bottled or filtered water
- Avoid fluids with meals
- Avoid certain drinks
- Eat before you get hungry
- Eat at the right time
- Eat snacks
- Eat in peace
- Chew well
- Test, Don’t Guess
1. Drink lots of water
I thought this was the most obvious so I decided to start with it and get it out the way but I also think it can be the most important and beneficial. For those still working with old money you should drink ½ of your body weight in lbs, in ounces of water, plus 8 oz (250ml) for every vice (coffee, for example), and an additional 8 oz for every hour of exercise.
So if you weigh 10stone that’s 140lbs and therefore 70 ounces or 2litres of water per day and that’s before you add sugary drinks, coffee, alcohol or sweaty exercise. Most people are aware that the recommendation is 2-3 litres of water per day but it needs to change according to your bodyweight and lifestyle.
2. Drink frequently
Your body needs four ounces or 120ml of water every half hour just for basic functions. Your digestive system can only absorb this amount under normal conditions, so drinking two quarts all at once won’t help. Drinking less will thwart your body’s attempts to heal or recover.
Eight ounces every hour is a good guideline. Drink eight ounces of water every morning upon rising, eight ounces five more times during the day, and eight ounces of water half an hour before both lunch and dinner.
If you work in an office with a water cooler then it’s a double whammy health benefit regular water intake because you got to walk for it and the dose is about the size of a couple of those plastic cups, so knock one back and then take the other with you back to your desk. You also get the benefit of switching off your brain for 30seconds and when you get back to your desk hydrated you may also benefit from the extra oxygen from the wee trip there and back but also feel refreshed and already to get tore back into that report you were writing.
The additional benefit to your eyes and your posture from chin-poking at the screen also adds value to the trip and you thought it was just about the water!
3. Drink bottled or filtered water
This can be a contentious one. Avoid tap water and be wary of well water. Fluoride and chlorine found in tap water, and iron, manganese, calcium and other minerals found in well water can be harmful. Admittedly well water is not as common in the UK but some folks do have it.
When using a filter, make sure it eliminates heavy metals, chemicals, bacteria, and a good percent of all minerals. Drinking water that is pure is much better than water that is impure.
I have used a Brita filter at work that largely removes the chlorine but at the moment I use a water bottle fitted with a filter from Wellness Enterprises that I just think is a great idea and very convenient as well as inexpensive.
4. Avoid fluids with meals
Drinking fluids with meals can compromise your digestion. Sip warm fluids with meals if needed and never ingest cold fluids, as they inhibit digestion. If you drink a glass of water twenty minutes before a meal you will probably find that you won’t feel the need to drink during the meal.
The problem with the suggestion above on getting water whilst at work is that water coolers are typically by their very nature cold. So maybe try letting the water sit for a few minutes before drinking. Avoiding cold water is a tricky one, if you buy bottled water it is invariably stored in the fridge and wouldn’t advise sitting the plastic bottle in the sun to heat it up.
5. Avoid certain drinks
Coffee, black tea, soft drinks, beer, alcohol and wine all require that you drink additional water to process them. I do have coffee (I ain’t no angel!) but prefer to have it as early in the day as possible not for hydration reasons but to reduce the stress on my adrenal glands and so that I am not wired all day long.
I also typically have it with food, it would be an espresso so small in quantity but if having it at home will add cream to slow down the absorption and help my body cope with the caffeine. So I am seldom “wired” from the caffeine which obviously isn’t good.
6. Eat before you get hungry
Hunger is usually a sign that your blood sugar is dropping. If your blood sugar is running low your body will have to ask its hormones to respond to raise blood sugar and give you the energy to keep going. This is a survival mechanism and one that uses your adrenal glands to secrete a hormone called cortisol and it is this hormone that if you repeatedly force your body to release it no longer becomes protective but encourages your body to lay down fat to protect you from the ravages of starvation.
However, in our world the Starbucks across the road that your body had no idea exists or is only 2 minutes away will come to the rescue with muffins, bagels, croissants and sandwiches but your little hormones didn’t know this so you get fat.
And where do you get fat from all this low blood sugar and not eating frequently, your belly! So that is obviously a disaster and all the calorie counting in the world won’t save you from that disaster.
7. Eat at the right time
Eat breakfast within one to two hours of rising, lunch approximately four hours later, and dinner within six hours of lunch. If you have a day job, eat dinner before 7pm.
Ironically, you should not skip meals if you are trying to lose weight. Eating properly increases your metabolism, which burns more calories. Eating to lose weight is a tough concept I know. But it does work. Your body has to waste energy to chew up and hide the food in the right places.
If you don’t eat your body saves energy and when it saves energy it is storing fat!
8. Eat snacks
If you tend to get hungry before or between meals, have a snack. A protein snack just before bed can often help you sleep better. If you are prone to getting up in the middle of the night and snaffle packets of KitKats, as a client I used to see did, then try a handful of nuts and chunk or two of cheese.
As well as sleeping better you won’t be getting as fat from overeating bad food choices in the middle of the night or waking up ravenous and overeating the wrong foods again.
You may have problems with your adrenals and possibly an infection that needs further investigating if you repeatedly wake up during the night so it can be very worthwhile to get it checked out.
9. Eat in peace
Distractions such as reading, watching TV, noisy environments and dinner table arguments have very harmful effects on digestion. If you are upset, calm yourself and relax before eating.
Try abdominally breathing. I know it sounds mad but if you can abdominally breathe you are not that stressed and as you try to abdominally breathe the effect of stress can reduce in minutes.
To abdominally breathe, breathe in through your nose for 3-4 seconds inflating your stomach area and then under control exhale through your mouth drawing your abdominals inwards for 8-9seconds and repeat. If you keep repeating that cycle for a few rounds you should not get light headed but definitely relaxed and ready to eat and digest your food.
For some people going out for food with friends and having a good time with relaxed conversation can help whereas sitting in on your own causes you to focus on your stresses so its a case of different strokes for different folks.
10. Chew well
Some famous nutritionist once said “Chew your soup and drink your sandwiches”.
Chewing is perhaps the most important part of the digestive process, so chew more than you think is necessary and avoid swallowing un-chewed food. If you talk whilst you are eating or shouting at your child to eat up or sit down then you can be swallowing food without even knowing you are eating which affects how much you eat, your enjoyment of food and the benefits to your health from the complete digestion of it.
I am well aware there are times when meals are nothing but a battleground and stress-less eating seems like a joke, but if you want to get healthy some of your meals have to be eaten without stress. If this is not possible you have to factor the amount of stress you are under into the equation.
Trying to lose fat and become healthy whilst your life is a battle can create even more stress. Eating a few bowls of salad whilst you are under immense stress is not conducive to weight loss and I think this has to be remembered. So much so that stress management techniques may be more important than the high carb versus low carb debate.
Also, many people have a poor relationship with food that the stress of meal times added to your beliefs and then multiplied by the wrong food choices even apparently healthy ones can condemn your best intentions to failure.
11. Test, don’t guess
With all the incredible resources available online these days many of us want to be our own doctors. That’s great. Taking responsibility for our health is a big step forward, but instead of actually running a lab test to get to the root of any problems we are having, we try to guess what’s wrong based on the symptoms.
We jump online and look for the closest possible disease that describes what we’re experiencing… “Yeh, that’s it!”
We can do a lot more harm than good taking this approach and ultimately delay the healing process, so I advise you test regularly and use the data (not your imagination) to make informed lifestyle choices.
I recommend an annual health screen along with individual tests for specific problems when they arise.