Although our attitudes to food and drink have changed subtly over the years, there will always be truisms that hold out against logic, reason and our own benefit. One of these truisms is that if it is good for you, it cannot possibly be fun. Hence we are tempted by the hamburger and fries because it is more “fun” than the healthier options. Of course, it must be – why would we eat the less healthy option if it were not superior in some other way?
In many ways, we stick to the less healthy food because it is what we are used to. Take as an example someone on holiday in a foreign country. There is always a sense that someone who holidays to another country will look for home comforts – in the UK it is a cliché born out of truth that a “Brit abroad” will book into their hotel and unpack then look for the nearest British-style eating and drinking establishments.
If we widen our range, we will usually find that the things we have ignored out of habit are actually quite good. Whether it be a salad with light dressing, or an element of international cuisine, there are some healthy options that have plenty of taste and enough of a “wow” factor to remain part of our diet going forward. Less fat doesn't mean less fun, unless you have such a low imagination that you can't bear to be parted from what you are used to.
One of the common misconceptions about eating healthily is that it is difficult, even impossible, to do on a budget. It is easy to understand why people think this – if you look in any health food shop, the prices are usually on the high side. If you walk the fruit and veg aisle at your local supermarket, you will often note that the better produce costs more than it would to buy a bunch of oven-ready meals from the other sections of the store.
However, the truth of the matter is that eating healthily on a budget is not that difficult at all and, in truth, buying healthy food can work out a lot cheaper than spending on the less healthy but more “appealing” products. Undoubtedly, there is a caveat to this. If you want to eat healthily and spend less money, you have to be prepared to do more work in the kitchen than if you were to just buy quick, easy food. But we all have to make sacrifices to achieve our goals.
Ready-made health food is like its less healthy cousins – a false economy. What you may gain in time, you will lose elsewhere. There will always be something you have to take a hit on, and out of the three main areas – health, price and time – time is often the one that we can afford to take a constructive view on. If you have time, it may even be beneficial to cook a few meals at a time and store them in the fridge or the freezer to be eaten later.
Part of eating a healthy diet is in looking at what you eat now and making the necessary changes to turn it into something healthy. Although this may initially seem like deprivation, it allows you to keep a similar eating pattern but improve what it gives you in terms of nutrition. It is as much about a shift in mindset as anything else.
For example, if you are used to having a burger for lunch, it may be a good idea to switch to a tuna or chicken sandwich on granary bread. The principle is the same – meat, bread, seasoning – and if it seems a little tasteless in comparison then there is a lot you can do with pepper, paprika or a range of other light spices.
For many people, the idea of replacing a chocolate bar with an apple or a packet of crisps with a handful of fruit and nuts is tantamount to replacing a swimming pool with a small puddle. However, if apples aren't for you there is a wide range of fruit that is packed with taste and nutrients. And none of this means you can never eat chocolate again. In fact, an occasional bar may make it easier to stick to the diet long-term.
Also think about the part that soft drinks play in your diet. If you can replace a few soft drinks every week with a glass of water or fruit juice, then you will benefit from the change that this brings. It may seem boring, but there really is no better taste on a hot day than an ice-cold glass of water.
There is something strange about the phrase “healthy eating” that allows it to translate between the speaker's mouth and the listener's ear into “eating nothing but vegetables ever again”. This encourages people to think that the healthy option is always the vegetarian option, but is not altogether true. Quick question: what's healthier? A seared tuna steak or a serving of fries? You probably already know the answer, and it's not the one made from potatoes.
The morals of eating meat are a debate for another forum, and there is certainly an argument to be made for a vegetarian diet for a range of reasons – moral, environmental and health-related. However, if you are not to be convinced that vegetarianism is for you – and many people are not – this certainly does not mean that you need eat less healthily.
A diet that includes a lot of red meat is not a healthy diet, never will be and never can be. But an occasional seared or grilled steak is not going to kill you, particularly if you trim the fat before cooking it. A chicken breast is an even healthier option, and if it is correctly seasoned can provide a great tasting healthy meal that will be interesting enough to keep you coming back to it.
Indeed, you can even find a healthy burger if you know what to look for. Check that the burgers are 100% lean beef, ensure that they are always grilled and don't top them with enough cheese to keep the mouse population of the world satisfied for the next year, and you can have the occasional burger without feeling guilty.
The persistent allegation about eating healthily is that it means a boring diet filled with tasteless rabbit food, and no fun ever again. This has been the cause of many a broken diet, and will no doubt continue to dissuade people from healthier lifestyles. And the worst thing about it is that it really is not true. Eating healthily and enjoying it depends on looking a little beyond the obvious options.
At your local supermarket, it is not that hard to spot the unhealthy options, as they are usually packaged excitingly, with pictures designed to make you think that the food inside the packet will be delicious and enthralling. Meanwhile, the healthy options are packaged as you would expect them to be – plain packets and a sober typeface on the label.
But eating healthily is not about just picking out the stuff that is labelled in a boring way. It is about considering what makes a food healthy. Being prepared to be a little more ambitious in the kitchen helps. Many of us don't have much time for cooking, so putting a ready meal in the microwave becomes the easy option. If you cook from natural ingredients you can lose weight and feel better, so making the time to cook is a good idea.
You don't need to stand over a hot stove for hours in order to make a healthy meal. You can make a good sandwich with wholemeal bread, tuna and some salad which, if seasoned correctly, can taste better than anything you'll buy at the deli counter. What's more, it will only take a few minutes to do.
There is no doubt that a healthier diet is a lot easier to achieve if you are willing and able to cook for yourself. It's not the easiest thing in the world, and a lot of people seem to have been born without the gene that makes them comfortable in the kitchen. Having the perseverance to learn, even if it only gets you to a level where you can make simple dishes, will help you eat more healthily.
We've all been in a situation where it seems a lot easier to get on the phone and order a takeaway, or go out to a restaurant. And this is not altogether a bad thing. Sometimes it is nice to have food prepared for you. However, always eating pre-prepared food means that your healthy lifestyle is in someone else's hands, are more often than not forgotten altogether.
If you put your mind to it, it is easy to at least boil an egg. And if you boil a few, then they can be mashed up with light mayo and a little seasoning to make a tasty egg salad, with the addition of a bit of chopped onion, tomato and lettuce. If that doesn't grab you, then what about some pasta with a grilled chicken breast?
Perhaps both of those ideas sound a little boring and unappealing. It's about finding something that you can cook that doesn't involve sticking something in the microwave and waiting for it to go “Ping!”. There are many options out there, and you don't need to be Gordon Ramsay to cook a meal that you and others will enjoy – it just takes a bit of thought.
When it comes to losing weight, there are so many options out there that it is easy to become distracted. There are diets that allow you to eat a whole lot of one thing as long as you steer well clear of something else, and there are exercise regimes that don't involve much actual exercise. There seems to be an industry designed to think up ever more improbable ways of stopping weight gain, but when you come to really consider it, the only sure way to control your weight is to eat healthily.
Every human being has a certain calorific need, and if you exceed that without exercising to burn off the excess calories you will find that you gain weight. There are other considerations too, such as how many calories in a food come from fat, but in the main, it's about getting the right balance of calories. You have to eat healthily to lose weight healthily and keep it off, and there is no getting around that fact.
Deciding on a diet to follow depends on showing common sense. It would be fantastic if we were able to eat what we wanted, do what we wanted and never gain weight. However, sacrifices are necessary if you want to live a healthy lifestyle and after a while they will become second nature. Eating healthily does not mean eating boring food – but we are conditioned to think that if it is good for you it cannot be fun. Breaking that particular mindset is the first key in a weight loss plan.
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