If the holidays or extended family bonding sessions have left you bloated and in need to regain your energy levels and vitality, then join me and challenge yourself to cook and eat healthy for 30 days. You may find that after thirty days you choose to cook and eat healthy on a regular basis because you feel better and like knowing what goes into every meal.
I grew up in the glory days of diets and radical fitness regimes, when fat was the enemy and carbohydrates were the mainstay of every balanced meal. The diet industry flourished on the insecurities of millions of us who were fat shamed and belittled for being plumper than our svelte friends.
Diets, deprivation and disordered eating
Over the years I have gained and lost weight on more diets than I care to remember; from diet pills to the Atkins diet, to very very low carb and calorie restriction. What I learned from all these diets is that the results are temporary, and the constant gnawing hunger and restriction is probably why dieters always look miserable. The very restrictive nature of a diet causes disordered eating and cravings that sooner or later, result in binge eating.
I remember the very first time I went on a diet. I was 12 years old and a normal weight for my age and height, but because I always had fat cheeks and was bigger boned than my cousins and school friends, I felt like an elephant among gazelles. A week of some weird blue drops that evacuated my bowls within 30 minutes of taking it left my school dress a bit looser at the chest and waist, but my insides in turmoil. That was the start of teen years of occasional yo-yo dieting, followed by a short bout of bulimia during my first year at university when I felt like my life was out of my control.
At the end of that year my dermatologist prescribed a hormone contraceptive therapy for acne that had become progressively worse over the course of the year. He asked whether I was satisfied with my weight but didn’t explain why he asked. I weighed about 60 kg at the time which was normal for my height. Within 6 months of starting the treatment I gained 12 kgs, despite walking at least 5 km’s per day to and from the university campus. Many years later a specialist mentioned that the specific group of hormone therapies permanently disrupted the body’s ability to metabolise lipids, especially when administered at a young age like 18.
I enjoy tasty well seasoned food and find that when I cook and eat healthy unprocessed foods, my energy levels are higher and I feel less sluggish. Although I kept my goal weight (60kg) in mind, I never made any serious attempt to achieve it until about five years ago. I embarked on a very low carb, low calorie diet that became synonymous in my mind with deprivation, constant gnawing hunger and extreme disordered eating. After reading some of the comments in various online diet groups I came to realise that it is a common trait of highly restrictive diets. That, and the almost manic judgmental attitudes of dieters towards others who are not as strict or precise in their diet methodology.
The only benefit of the diet was that the restriction made me aware of my food allergies and intolerances. These have become more numerous the longer I am on the Rheumatoid Arthritis treatment.
Additional reading: Rheumatoid Arthritis – My journey into the light
The Moderation Movement and Intuitive Eating
A few years ago I came upon a facebook group that was strictly non-diet, non-shaming and encouraged intuitive eating, enjoyable movement and being healthy at every size. Nothing is restricted and members are encouraged to exercise balance in every aspect of life and to listen to the messages from their bodies. Whether it needs feeding, watering, exercising or sleep.
I realised that I had no one to please except my own self and that eating good healthy food is something that should be enjoyable, not fraught with tensions and guilt. Every single dieter I have ever known becomes the worst version of themselves while they were on their mission to lose weight.
Whether it is becoming preachy and self-righteous about what is healthy or unhealthy or what others should and shouldn’t eat, it all goes to pot when they themselves fall off the wagon. The sad reality is that a diet is seldom a lifestyle change and returning to bad habits results in all those kilograms piling back on and more.
I much prefer not depriving myself of anything and eating fresh healthy food as often as possible, but only when I actually feel hungry. When I stopped the diet merry go round I discovered that I don’t particularly crave things like cookies, cakes, chocolate, crisps except when I have PMS. A big obstacle to good health is lack of adequate movement for many of us who have sedentary lives and jobs.
What I struggle with most is finding the inclination to make meals for myself and then eat it after I reach home. This requires effort and focused attention, so starting from the first of the week I am going to be preparing, cooking and eating a healthy breakfast, lunch and/or dinner daily, for 30 days (at least). I’m calling it the #EatHealthy30 and you can follow my daily creations on Instagram and Twitter.
How to cook and eat healthy for 30 days
The most important thing to remember during this challenge is the goal: to increase the consumption of healthy foods by eating home made meals where we know exactly what we put in.
I watched this video by Professor Tim Noakes explaining the reason why some people get fat from carbs. Even though I knew the headlines of what he was talking about, knowing the science behind it put it in a completely new light and gave me a greater understanding of how carbohydrate intolerance affects health and weight.
- For 30 days prepare most of your meals from scratch (excluding stocks and the occasional rotisserie chicken) because I know it will be healthier and more economical than eating out or ordering in. The goal is to improve our general well being and health through simple and wholesome cooking and meal preparation and reduce our intake of processed foods.
- Try to reduce food wastage by reusing leftovers and buying produce that can be utilized in many different ways.
- Cook at least one new recipe every week to ensure we learn and share something new.
- Try new cooking methods, cuisines or dietary regimes that I have little or no experience of (like Banting – low carb, high fat).
- Get organised and plan the first 3 days meals before hitting the supermarket to stock up on fresh fruit, vegetables and your chosen proteins, snacks and treats.
Challenges to cooking and eating healthy for 30 days
- The lack of motivation to change unhealthy eating habits is often the most active challenge to establishing long term healthy eating habits. Focus on why you want or need to make the change to a healthier way of living.
- Do you have a family history of diabetes, high cholesterol or hypertension?
- Are you at risk of developing these chronic diseases?
- Do you have any other illness that would benefit from healthy eating and an anti-inflammatory diet?
- I know how hard it is to eat healthy when you have deadlines and are used to self-sabotage or friends who love to eat junk food. Find a buddy (or two or three) to encourage you when you are feeling lazy or craving an unhealthy snack or drink a glass of herb and fruit infused water.
- An active social life often means being exposed unhealthy food choices, especially when there are large family dinners with desserts and cakes. Moderation is the key so indulge in that slice of chocolate cake if you feel inclined and don’t feel guilty afterward.
- The lack of money is often cited as a reason to delay healthy eating. Buying fresh foods on sale, frozen foods and re-purposing leftovers will make it last for multiple meals and will be cheaper than take out a few times a week. Stick to simple meals that do not require fancy or hard to find ingredients that you won’t use again.
- Unexpected delays at work or sitting in traffic impact on the desire to cook at night after reaching home. Look at ways to address this in a useful and constructive manner, as it is something that impacts on the lives of most working women.
- Eating out or indulging in too much fast food often means that you drown your taste buds in high fat and high carb options. It is often easier and more convenient to grab a meal or order a delivery but eventually you feel it in your pocket and on your waistline.
- Skipping breakfast and/or lunch may leave you feeling like a starving zombie who can eat a horse. Resist the urge to go food shopping at this time because you may end up with a trolley full of food you don’t need.
Tips for cooking and eating healthy for 30 days
- Eat only when you feel hungry. Listen to your body and give it what it needs when it needs it.
- Incorporate healthy fats from avocado and nuts and eat proteins like fish and chicken. This keeps me satiated and reduces cravings for junk and processed foods.
- Remove inflammatory foods like legumes, potatoes, wheat and sugar from your diet if it affects you adversely. For many on plant based diets beans, lentils and chickpeas are essential protein sources but they may result in an unwanted inflammatory response if you have an immune system disease.
- Include eggs and cheese in breakfast or lunch as the protein is not too heavy and helps keep you fuller for longer than cereals or toast.
- Have soup or salad to ensure lots of green leafy vegetables are included for your daily nutrient intake.
- Have berries to snack on as they will reduce the sweet cravings during the day.
- Low Carb Healthy Berry Smoothie
- Homemade Toasted Luxury Berry Nut Muesli
- Overnight Dairy Free Muesli and Oats
- Easy Homemade Granola
- Greek yogurt and Granola breakfast bowl
- Gluten Free Keto Almond Coconut bread
- 30 day Raisin Bran muffins
- Moist blueberry muffins
- Almond and Coconut breakfast pancakes
- Easy Banana pancakes with mixed berries
- Shakshuka – Poached eggs in spicy tomato sauce
- Chili Garlic Prawn Pasta with lemon butter sauce
- Thai fish cakes with cucumber salad
- Chicken salad with olives and artichokes
- Crayfish salad with avocado, red cabbage and cucumber
- Tricolor Quinoa Salad with pomegranate, walnuts and feta
- Baked salmon steak with spinach salad
- Citrus salad with pistachios and pomegranate
- Red fruit salad with rose scented cream
- Ultimate Summer Salad with strawberries
- Macerated Strawberries and Mascarpone Cream with Balsamic vinegar
This post was first published on 28 January 2016 and has since been updated.
If you want to join me in this challenge to cook and eat healthy for 30 days please use #EatHealthy30 on your social media posts. You are also welcome to submit your pictures of your #EatHealthy30 meals to the Facebook page.
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