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Nutrition Challenge: Alcohol

Photo by Scott Warman on Unsplash

This Saturday the nutrition class asked if we could talk about alcohol.

It gets over consumed, particularly this time of year, with so many social events going on. You don’t want to turn down the invitation to come over for a glass of wine – because you don’t want to turn down the company of your friends and family. You don’t want to miss out on those memories, and that’s completely understandable.

But the concern is when you start over consuming alcohol – and that looks different for everyone. Perhaps the 2 or 3 glasses a night to take the edge off makes you feel a little apprehensive. Or maybe you’re strictly tee total all week, but once Friday night hits, you’re more of a binge drinker.

Alcohol can be tricky but not impossible to include in a healthy diet. The main issues are that it stimulates appetite, usually leads to you making less than desirable choices because your judgement is impaired, and definitely will be making it harder for you to enter the deepest stages of sleep.

Like anything, I think the solution lies in what we can do to move the needle just a little bit. You don’t have to give up alcohol entirely – that might not be the right option for you. Instead could you drink 2 glasses instead of 3? Could you include a soft drink in-between alcoholic drinks? Or could you sip the drink so it lasts longer?

Like so many things we do nutritionally, noticing where you’re at right now is the first step. Studies suggest that our own estimations of our alcohol consumption is often under reported. Alcohol is about making trades – it’s one factor which can affect physical performance, health and fitness and it’s linked with others. But giving up the weekend happy hour with your colleagues, or the beers with the rugby may or may not be worth it for you. You’re an adult and you know what’s best for your body.

It might make it harder to get to the gym on Saturday morning if you’ve been out on Friday night. It could make it harder to say no to food which isn’t in line with your goals that night and the next day. It is also likely to make it harder to sleep well and wake up rested.

There’s no best answer because the research on booze isn’t super clear, just like what counts as “moderate” consumption is unclear. Instead of a right answer, let’s try finding an answer that’s right for you.

Figure out your current drinking habits by keeping an accurate record for the next week or two. We’re just collecting data, and this is just for you to look at – no judgement, and no need to share it with anyone.

Review your data, and consider whether it’s what you expected. Are you drinking more or less than you thought you were? Is your drinking slow, social and savoured or do you tend to be alone, and slamming it back? Can you spot any triggers – such as always drinking after a particular shift in work? Does alcohol actually enrich your life, or does it cause you stress and unnecessary worry? And is your drinking okay, but all the other behaviours that come with it (eating choices, smoking, texting toxic people, possible drug use) could do with being looked at?

Notice how alcohol feels in your body. This is such an astonishingly simple test. “Does this feel good?” was the question that allowed us to figure out that my husband was actually allergic to alcohol!

Aside from the physical test, does it put you in a good place emotionally, mindset and general perspective? Remember, alcohol is a depressant. That’s why people use it to take the edge off a difficult day. Do you like who you are when you’re drinking?

You’re a grown up, and you’re in charge of what you put in your own body. What you say yes and no to, as well as what you’re prepared to say yes and no to – is your choice. But it can be a useful exercise to make drinking alcohol mindful again: Delay having that drink by 10 minutes, when you do choose it – savour it, and keep the quality high. Ditch the firewater for the good stuff, remember, it’s going in your body so quality matters.

If you’re concerned about your alcohol consumption, it might be worth talking to your doctor or other healthcare professional about your consumption, habits and choices.

Nutrition Challenge: I’ve Got a Sweet Tooth!

Image by Hans Braxmeier from Pixabay

Each week on a Saturday I run a diet and nutrition class in the gym I work at. Each Sunday I put up a question box on instagram stories to encourage people to make requests for the following Saturday’s topic.

People every week identify that they have a sweet tooth, and consider this a barrier to them losing weight. Of my own in-person clients, over 50% of women consider themselves to have a sweet tooth when asked in a survey.

High sugar foods alone aren’t the problem though, it’s the combination of sugar with fats which make foods super delicious and difficult to say no to. A highly engineered result we call “hyper-paletable foods”.

So, if you can’t resist the Halloween treats in the supermarket this week, or you are drawn to the snack baskets in your house – you’re not alone and you’re not to blame. These foods are manufactured to be almost impossible to resist. Pretty sneaky.

Even people who have got very healthy relationships with food have a hard time saying no to certain “trigger foods”. These are different for everyone, but they’re almost always highly processed, high sugar, high fat, high salt – and highly available.

Food manufacturers have revealed Big 5 stimuli stacking elements of foods.

  1. Calorie dense – often high in sugar, fat & salt
  2. Intense flavours – often combining flavours in ways that psychologists call “supernormal stimuli
  3. Immediately delicious – the big flavours pack and immediate punch
  4. Easy to eat – this relates to the texture and ‘mouth feel’ of foods which don’t need to be heavily chewed
  5. Melts in the mouth – these foods disappear quickly from the mouth, making it hard to eat slowly, and very easy to eat more than you intended to. Specifically, these manufactured foods should be broken down in no more than 10 chews. Compared with around 25 chews per mouthful of whole foods.

These Big 5 components are what food manufactorers look for when designing foods for marketability and they are even more important than how foods actually taste!

Clearly, the solution to overeating these foods shouldn’t rely on willpower alone. There are some things you can do to stop overeating these hyperpaletable foods.

  • Observe as you chew how things feel and taste in your mouth. How long it takes to chew and swallow the foods, and do you feel satisfied after eating it? These things might influence whether we keep eating.
  • Pay attention to the less healthy foods that you buy and consider cutting down on the variety. By allowing yourself some ‘treats’ it can help adherence to a calorie controlled diet and by limiting your choices, that can take some of the temptation out of the picture.
  • Pay attention to the craving. This is likely to have been triggered by something – and it can help to keep a note book on your observations for a week or two to get to the bottom of what’s causing them.

Common triggers include:

Thoughts and feelings: thinking of food as a reward, or something that you’ve earned. Feeling bored, lonely or sad. Food can be something you’re using to fill the void.

Times of day: lots of my in-person clients recognise this one – so much so, that the “2pm twix” had become a running joke. These snacks are part of your routine.

Social settings: it’s my colleague’s birthday, and there are cakes in the staffroom again. It’s happy hour and I always have a bag of crisps with my pint.

Places: your parents’ house, a dark movie theatre, or the automated way you order at a familiar restaurant can all be triggers to eat without really thinking about it.

Once you’ve spotted the pattern, we can put other behaviours in place instead – behaviours which support your goals instead of sabotaging them. Then it’s a case of practicing.

You might not get it right first time – and the act of practicing can take a while, but you are able to make those changes that you want in your life.

If you’d like me to help you, fill out the form below and let’s have a chat.

You’re Not Too Busy

You’ve moved house. You’ve got a new job. And holy smokes, you just realised you have a family!

How can you fit your gym routine around your life that you’ve only just realised is hectic?!

OK first of all – you don’t have a “gym routine”. You have a commitment to your health. That’s not frivolous, or shallow, or vain. You’re working on being the healthiest version of you possible because there are people in your life who love you – and they are trusting you to keep yourself as healthy as possible. You have a responsibility. It’s not selfish – your health is held on trust for all those who adore you.

Secondly; all that shit that’s keeping you busy? Almost all of it is not temporary. Your busy life is permanent – and the vast majority of the things you’re dealing with, you’re going to be continuing to deal with for the foreseeable future. So making anything fit into your lifestyle needs to be carefully planned and considered.

All the reasons why you’re too busy to train are all the reasons why you should be training regularly.

Your family need your focus – so get in the gym early, get yourself sorted out, and go home to be with them. You can’t pour from an empty vessel so being energised and strong ready to play around with your kids and be present and comfortable with your husband or wife – that needs to happen first.

Your work keeps you busy – so being strong and focused and healthy would only benefit your professional commitments, right?

You can’t find the time – so work out early in the morning with a trainer that can accommodate you (me!) or late at night when the gym is empty. These “anti social” time slots are great because the facilities are quiet and you can get your work out done without interruptions.

Here are some of the things you can do to make exercise fit into your life:

Have a plan to follow.

This doesn’t have to mean hiring a personal trainer; there are lots of options. You could get remote support from an online coach. You could follow a programme you have downloaded online or access via an app. If you’re into it, you could even write your own plan. But don’t hop around from programme to programme too much. More important than the specific exercises that you’ll be doing is having a plan of when you’re going to fit training into your week.

Early morning exercise.

“I don’t want to get out of my warm bed to train at 6am” you cry, as though everyone else is sleeping in horribly uncomfortable beds and 6am happens at some other time of day for the rest of us. If you’re genuinely stuck at finding 30 minutes in your day to work on your health, you’re almost definitely wasting a lot of time, and time can be found for most people if you’re looking for it.

Workout during lunch.

One of my clients always uses her lunch hour to walk. She goes around her workplace, clocking up several miles a week and remains focused on that as a priority. This is super smart because walking is awesome exercise, obviously – but even better, if you’re on the move, your terrible colleagues can’t find you and give you stupid shit to do.


One of my favourite methods of the time poor is a quick walk around the block. Doing this once every hour, or before & after meals can be an easy way to prompt a positive habit that doesn’t take very long. If you have a dog, this becomes even more fun – and your dog will love you for it.

Exercising at home.

There are bodyweight programmes that you can follow online, on YouTube, or even my own 60 day core challenge if you need more structure and support. There are fitness DVDs to suit all abilities – you can even get your family joining in with you.

Working out with a group.

One of the most popular options among my guys is working out in a small group. The Tribe – as we call it – look forward to these sessions because it becomes a social event as well as a health consideration, you see one another progress and it’s a chance to support each other. This might be in a structured setting like a gym, or in an outdoors event like a running club, or even a team sport in your area.

Doing something is better than nothing. If you’re looking for a way to make exercise part of your life, please don’t wait for conditions to be perfect. Think about it – when was the last time you weren’t busy?

The Outrageous Benefits of Eating Mindfully

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

“How soon after exercise should I consume my protein shake?”

“What percentage of my calories should come from fats?”

“What about ketones?!”

These questions come from well intentioned people who just want to lose some weight. They are – understandably – baffled by the amount of information about the “right way” to lose body fat and spend a great deal of time worrying about what they should be eating.

There’s a step you can take before changing anything in your diet.

Something that’s so monumentally simple and straight forward it almost seems not worth bothering with.

Eating slowly.

Whatever you’re having to eat, eat it slowly. Chew it thoroughly. Put your knife & fork down while you chew, and really be mindful about the flavours, textures and temperatures of your food.

Sure, there are way more complicated things you can be doing. But why start with something complex when you are able to get results with something more simple?

Slow down, pay attention, and stop when you’re no longer hungry.

This works for 2 reasons:

  1. It gives your body a chance to feel physically full.
  2. You feel psychologically more satisfied with what you’ve had and feel less deprived.

If you’re prone to digestive issues such as bloating or stomach cramps after eating, this can help some people. Physiologically, it stops you taking great big bites of food and gulping it down – because when you eat more slowly, you chew more thoroughly and that digestive process is helped along. This too has a psychological effect by making you feel sluggish or out of shape.

Eating should be a response to internal hunger cues – not because it’s a certain time of day, or Karen has brought snacks to the break room (again?! Damn it, Karen!)

Slowing down your eating can help you with your appetite awareness, helping you to tune into when you’re feeling hungry and when you’re getting full. This ability to listen to those internal cues are the start of the intuitive eating that could make up the rest of your life.

When it comes to binge eating, slowing down can help you to recognise what’s happening. It allows you to pause and catch hold of the panic which can accompany an episode. It can also allow you to become aware of the triggers that lead to binge eating, and help you to interrupt these patterns and feel more in control of your decisions.

It works even in circumstances where we might not have control over what we eat. How we eat is something that’s always in our control and doesn’t need any fancy diet foods or equipment.

Like everything, eating more slowly can be measured on a continuum.

At its most basic level, take one breath before you eat. Allow yourself to pause and savour the smells and colours of your meal. Feel gratitude for the food, and giving thanks to the people who were involved in making it is a really nice way to do this. Continue – one pause and one breath at a time.  

Try to move the needle by eating without distractions. Put your phone away, don’t eat in front of the TV and make sure you eat at a table where possible. This is an opportunity to put down your fork, take a sip of water, or speak to your dining companions if you have company.

Remember this is a practice that takes time and can be refined. Honestly, this is something that I still really struggle with. I sometimes ask whoever I’m eating with to remind me to slow down.

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All Diets Work: an infographic

And what’s more, they all work the same way: by limiting calories.

The only factor that actually contributes to whether or not you lose fat is if you’re in a calorie deficit.

There are a ton of ways you can make this work in your life, but actually it all comes down to 3 things:

  1. You eat fewer calories than you expend. You diet.
  2. You expend more calories than you eat. You exercise.
  3. A combination of these things. Through diet & exercise.

That’s it. Astonishing, isn’t it?

Regardless of which diet you choose to use, that’s how it works. That’s their magic formula: calorie restriction.

They might restrict your calories in different ways though:

  1. By limiting what sorts of foods you can choose to eat.
  2. By limiting what times of the day you can eat.
  3. By limiting how much food you can eat.
  4. By limiting choices about what you eat by making choices for you.

I made an infographic to help clarify this.

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Nutrition Challenge: I CBA to Plan Meals

It’s no secret that I have struggled with meal planning.

In times of high stress, it’s always the first thing to get binned off for me. 

In fact, you could probably take a pretty good inventory of my current stress level at any given time by opening my fridge and seeing how out of date any fresh food is – or if there’s any in there at all.

It’s an embarrassing thing for a personal trainer and nutrition coach to admit. 

I sometimes feel like this is something I should have cracked 100% by now.

I remember telling my mother that one of the interventions that I use with clients when they’re feeling overwhelmed with their diets is the simple question, “have you got any proper food at home right now?”

She looked at me like I was daft. 

People pay you for that?! 

But I know that it’s not as straight forward as it sounds. That loads of people struggle with their food. Probably more than they struggle with their training. 

Myself included. Which is why I can say with confidence that if you struggle with this too – it’s not your fault. It’s a common issue.

When clients tell me that they are struggling, we’ll actually solve the problem. I’ll stop their training session to go with them to do a quick food shop.

It’s a problem we can make progress on pretty simply.

You see, nothing needs to be perfect to be good.

You don’t need a perfect training plan. You don’t need a perfect diet. You just need one that works for you.

Meal planning – like literally everything – works on a continuum.

On the one hand, you put absolutely no thought whatsoever into what you’ll be eating next, let alone the rest of the day, or the rest of the week. The decision about what to eat doesn’t occur to you until you’re already hungry and might involve grabbing something from a fast food drive-through because right now you’re ravenous. 

On the other hand, you might spend one whole morning out of your weekend food shopping, writing family menus for the week, and batch cooking food to store in little labelled tupperware pots. You leave nothing to chance. Nothing passes your lips without it being weighed, measured, and tracked in MyFitnessPal. 

Between these two extremes though, there is so much room for progress. 

It could mean browsing the restaurant menu before you arrive and making a choice before you get to be screaming hungry. 

For more on this, ask me about my high street survival guides

It might mean ordering a side salad as well as your regular meal. When this gets easy, maybe order it instead of your chips.

It might mean prepping your breakfasts for the week in advance and just winging it for the other meals. 

It might mean including steam bags of veg that you can tolerate and mixing them through each time you cook rice. Don’t worry about the variety of veg for now, and don’t worry about not cooking everything with dirt on that takes a month to peel.

This is about removing barriers and doing just a little bit better. These choices can really add up, but individually they don’t take a great deal of planning or effort. 

This week, I am working on an old classic for me: I want to eat at home more often than I eat out. I am such a lazy cook that I’ll buy a Subway on my way into Tesco.

I want to know what you’re going to do this week – what 1 change you can make that isn’t going to take a heap of effort – to move the needle just a tiny bit on that continuum. 

Beginner’s Guide: Actually Executing Your Meal Prep

Photo by Emma Matthews Content Production on Unsplash

One of the most overlooked parts of meal prep for the week is how you actually sit down and execute your plan. People ignore this when they set their intentions for the week because they feel confused and overwhelmed about how it can fit into their lives.

That’s why I am taking all the confusion out of how you take action! It’s much simpler than you might think.

Step 1: Have a plan.

Start with a meal planner. I have one of these stuck to my fridge that I bought from Wilko but here’s a simple one you can download. It’s not fancy – download this and print it off.

Step 2: Plan when you aren’t going to cook that week.

I find starting with known meals out, birthdays, or other celebrations is a good one. So if you know you have your anniversary meal on Tuesday night and you’ll be working late on Thursday, and will be ordering a takeaway to your office – put those things in first.

This can help you to keep these things in mind so that you don’t over eat that day, and can help you to look forward to those special events.

Step 3: Protein inventory.

Go into your kitchen, and figure out what you’ve already got by way of proteins.

Proteins usually come from animals and animal products but for vegetarians and vegans you’re looking at things like Quorn, tempeh and legumes.

Start with things in your fridge because they’re going to have a shorter date than the stuff in your freezer. The use by date is a massive stressor in my cooking life, and we’ll have to make sure these items are eaten first so we don’t waste food.

I had an awesome tip yesterday from my in person client, Clare: when you’re putting your shopping away, write the day it needs to be eaten by on the product in a sharpie. I think this is simple and so useful. Far easier to connect with than a date.

Step 4: What proteins do you need to buy?

Here’s a downloadable cheat sheet to help you figure out what else you like. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but one of the problems I have when I sit down to do this task is that I get a total mind blank on what foods I’ve ever eaten in my whole life and enjoyed.

Have a look at that – go through it with a highlighter, or a sharpie, and highlight the stuff you enjoy, or would be curious to try – or cross out anything that you know you don’t like, or are allergic to.

Step 5: The smart move! Reusing proteins.

Where can you cook raw ingredients and use them more than once? So if you know you’re cooking up 1kg of mince beef for pasta bolognese, after it’s cooked, take half of it and add kidney beans and spices to turn that into chilli for the next day. I am definitely a lazier cook than you so any time I can cook once and eat twice, I am up for that!

This take a little bit of thought and if it’s too challenging for where you’re at with your cooking right now, don’t worry about it. An easier alternative is just to cook loads of one thing, and portion it into Tupperware to freeze.

Step 6: Adding carbs and veg.

The cheat sheet from before includes carb and vegetable sources, but all we’re doing really is adding these in quantities which support our diet goals. And the great news is that you can’t get this wrong! Just pick whatever you enjoy eating.

Looking to lose weight – add more veg than carbs to keep calories lower.

Looking to gain weight – be a bit more generous with your carbs to increase your calories overall.

Carbs are things like potatoes, rice, pasta, cous cous (sounds pretentious but really it’s ridiculously easy to make so it’s good with me), quinoa, oats, noodles, wraps…

Vegetables – there’s no difference between fresh and frozen really so the choice is one of budget and convenience.

I particularly like frozen fruit – things like pineapple, mango and berries which can be really expensive bought fresh, prone to going off before you can use them, and often only in season for a short while. These are awesome in a smoothie.

Bonus tip!

Like re-using our ingredients in different meals (beef becomes bolognese and also chilli), think about repeating one meal a day or even cycling between 2 meals.

So for example, breakfast A could be eggs, and breakfast B could be a protein smoothie. Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday could be A, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday could be B.

This can sometimes be prepared ahead of time but even if it isn’t, it takes away a lot of the thinking needed – which I find is the part of the process which gets tiring.

If you used the resources, I’d love to know about it! Please leave a comment to tell me if you found this useful.

Getting organised with food is probably the biggest barrier for most people, and there’s no one way to get this exactly right.

It’s a continuous process, and we’re all just doing out best not to eat like knobheads all of the time.

Trigger foods

Photo by Aliona Gumeniuk on Unsplash

What are they?

A trigger food is something that you eat (or drink) and struggle to control yourself. Once you start eating it, you find it difficult to stop and as a result you’re prone to eating more of it than you wanted to. With trigger foods, it’s common to eat more than you intended, or want to. It’s also common to eat trigger foods past the point of comfort – physical and emotional. 

For you this might be a particular brand of chocolate, or a flavour of crisps that you just can’t keep your hands off. But usually, it’s not just any chocolate, or just any flavour of crisps. They are quite specific. 

Why does it matter?

We care about trigger foods because we care about self sabotaging our goals. It can feel like you’re making progress with your diet and then you’re scuppered by these particularly tasty morsels, and things go off the rails. It’s not easy to make progress with your diet at the best of times, but if you believe that these foods cause you to lose control it can be especially challenging when they are introduced into your environment.

The overeating can have a negative impact on diet because through overeating you’re likely going to push yourself into a calorie surplus where you won’t lose body fat. But possibly more important is the impact on self control and therefore self talk – which has much longer lasting effects than one afternoon binging on Pringles. 

Six things you can do to manage trigger foods

1. Don’t eat the thing at all.

This might be the right choice for you under certain circumstances. For example, a zero tolerance to alcohol might be a good idea if you’re regularly drinking too much and it’s having a negative effect on your life. The benefit of this option is that you can start saying “no thanks, I don’t eat/ drink [the trigger food]” and sometimes just saying this can take the choice out of the decision. That’s really powerful, since often the thing that fatigues your self control is considering each time you’re offered what decision you want to make in the moment.

2. Buy them pre portioned.

This is really useful for crisps in particular. Rather than buying a single large ‘grab bag’ and relying on self control to stop after you’ve had a few – buy a multipack of pre-portioned crisps. You’ve got the same amount of food, but because you’d have to get back up and go to the cupboard to fetch bags 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 you’re likely to stop before you’ve eaten the same number of calories. 

3. Buy an alternative which you aren’t excited about.

Not all snacks are created equally. Finding a version of your trigger food which is okay but not great can be a natural way to self regulate. For example, if your trigger is a big bar of Galaxy chocolate – you could try buying an alternative brand, or even a supermarket own brand which you find less tasty. That way you can have some chocolate but you’re unlikely to go mad and eat it all in one go. 

4. Buy the absolute best best version – pay full price, savour it and practice 80% full.

The opposite strategy to the one above. Buy the most delicious, palatable top of the range snack you want. Pay full price for it and don’t buy it on offer. Sit down, savour it and give it your full attention. Then practice eating to 80% full, meaning you pay attention to how full you are while eating and eat slowly enough to take the edge off your hunger, and not stuff yourself full. As soon as you stop savouring the food, stop eating. This sounds simple, but takes a great deal of awareness and is very challenging. 

5. Put your fork down while you eat.

Another super difficult behaviour which on the face of it seems incredibly simple. We’re all so used to eating while busy – doing other things, rushing our food to get back to our work or whatever we were doing before it that this one is a challenge. While your mouth is full, put your fork down. Chew and savour your food, be aware of the flavours, temperatures and textures. Chew thoroughly before swallowing. It sounds simple but this is something I can’t do for an entire meal.

6. Practice self control like training a muscle.

Finally, the belief that “I just can’t control myself around [trigger foods] is just something that you’re telling yourself. You absolutely can control yourself, and it might just take practice. Control is a behaviour like anything else, and it might take a little practice to get to a standard that you’re happy with – but you won’t get there by telling yourself you can’t, and then never trying.

Start your practice with something easier – foods that you don’t especially like – and know that you can finish the meal later. You can just delay starting your snack for a minute, or five – and build your time up. 

Staying Full on a Diet

Image by Aline Ponce from Pixabay

This morning’s workshop on nutrition was requested by a member who had been dieting for a while, but struggled to feel full on the foods she was choosing. When she started to feel hungry, she’d overeat and that made it difficult for her to achieve her weight loss goals.

The request came in last week. As I always do, I took a week to think about the problem and start to suggest some solutions. The ideas I had seemed to be grouped into two camps; those relating directly to food choices, and those which did not.

Stuff that isn’t about food

Indirectly, much of the content of last’ week’s article on mindful and emotional eating seemed to apply – particularly with regard to not eating while distracted, such as while watching TV or on your phone.

Increasingly, people feel pressured to eat lunch at their desks and take a working lunch. I’d encourage you to avoid that if at all possible. Your work is almost definitely not so indispensable that you can’t spare 10 minutes to walk away from it for a snack and a break!

*If your job actually is life and death then obviously don’t bin it off for a sandwich and a prolonged bathroom break. Don’t be a dick.

Actually planning meals, and becoming organised with cooking helps. It also helps to know when you’re getting to eat next, so you don’t eat like an arsehole out of hunger because you don’t know when the next meal will be coming & you’re panicking. 

Remember when you were a kid, and you’d be told “don’t eat that now, you’ll spoil your tea” – same principle applies. Except now you’re the responsible adult… but also the hungry and impatient kid.

Noticing when you get physically hungry during the day and planning a snack for that time can be a great strategy for some. I’ve had a few clients talk about the 2pm chocolate bar fix, or the bag of nuts on the bus ride home that could – if they weren’t careful – spoil their deficit for the day. 

Rely on diet drinks, and zero calorie pop to satisfy that sweet craving instead. Some people may also feel fuller and less hungry by selecting a fizzy, carbonated drink. There is absolutely no reason why you should be avoiding aspartame, no matter what your colleagues told you.

Last week, we talked about the good old Precision Nutrition strategy of eating to 80% full, and putting down your fork as you chew. An incredibly difficult, albeit super simple, target. Even managing this for one meal a day can make a huge difference to how much you appreciate your meals. 

The actual food choices

Regarding the food itself, last week we talked about drinking a big glass of water before and during the meal to feel fuller & help your food digest more easily. 

This week I’d add that avoiding heavily processed foods can help feelings of fullness. This is one that I have relied on in the past, and it’s related to the point about getting organised and preparing food. If you aren’t prepared the chances are you’re going to end up with something processed, which probably won’t fill you, and will probably cost more than you want to be spending. These foods get expensive quickly and are of variable quality. It’s not the end of the world now and again, but it better suits your diet, and your pocket, if you can be a little bit better prepared.

Selecting a lean source of protein at every meal will be a good start, as protein helps you to feel fuller for longer – it’s highly “satiating”. If you’d like a list of possible protein sources, check out this infographic I made, about the bang for your buck you get with different protein sources. 

Finally, adding volume to your meals by adding as many vegetables as possible – a low calorie, high fibre option which makes it seem like you’re eating loads of food, even when the calories remain low. 

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Emotional Eating

“I can’t stop emotionally eating!”

If this is you, you aren’t alone. Around 60% of my clients list this as a “major challenge”, with over 50% saying they have “intense cravings” and “snack when not hungry”.

This doesn’t just mean when things are negative either. Celebrations and social events are emotional too. 

The goal is simply to notice and name each time these episodes of emotional eating happen. 

  • Sunday evenings when getting ready for a new work week
  • Each time you make arrangements to see certain friends or family members
  • Communicating with your ex about the kids

The first step in regaining control is becoming aware of when the behaviour happens. Identifying the trigger means you can disrupt automatic behaviours and make different choices.

Sitting there at the end of your meal, bloated, thinking “how on earth did I let this happen again?!” is not uncommon, and you definitely aren’t alone. 

But what can you do to make sure next time you’re more in control of your choices?

Get to the root of the craving.

First comes the urge, then comes the eating behaviour. Finally, the reward is the big hit of dopamine you get for eating the food you wanted. But the more often you give in to the behaviours, the stronger that craving can become.

So – we notice and name to find the trigger. 

This is often something in the environment, such as sights, smells, tastes, locations or the company you’re in. If we track when and where these urges occur, we can adjust our environment and disrupt the cycle. 

Keeping a cravings journal might be as simple as keeping a document on your phone. Each time you feel the urge, you open up the document and record the follwing:

  1. What are you craving? Specific foods, or certain flavours or textures.
  2. Where are you? Location is important, but also other environmental cues like smells or visual information – adverts, billboards, etc.
  3. What are you doing? Driving, watching TV, working on something repetitive?
  4. What are you feeling physically? Actually hungry, shaky, tense, lightheaded?
  5. What are you feeling emotionally? Anxious, rushed, upset?
  6. What are you thinking? “I’ve already messed up the diet, I might as well go for it now!”
  7. Who is around you? Be specific about the people.

What. Where. Task. Body. Heart. Mind. Who.

You can keep a journal like this for a few days, or a few weeks. There are almost always patterns to how you’re feeling before you start craving. Once you’ve found the pattern, here are some things you can do to combat them:

  1. Put it into a time out. Notice the urge, sit with it for 5 minutes without taking any action. This is about making an active choice, rather than mindlessly hoovering up delicious things in your immediate area. Your choice is more likely to be rational rather than reactionary. Consider whether you’re actually hungry – I like to do this by checking “would I eat ham, jacket potato and a big salad now?” if the answer is yes, I’m probably hungry. If I answer no – I do just want that ice cream, I might be procrastinating, bored, stressed, or otherwise emotional – and that’s okay. I still might choose to have it. But then it will be a choice – and then I’m less likely to feel bad about it afterwards.
  2. Do something else which doesn’t involve chewing. Walk around the block, go wash your hands, spend 10 minutes cleaning up, or delete the random photos out of your phone for a while. By doing something engaging for a little while, you might chase that urge away. This is because your cravings are almost always psychological rather than physical and most feelings are pretty fleeting. If you’re actually hungry, the craving will still be there in 15 minutes. If you aren’t, it will probably have gone by then. You’re just trying to occupy yourself for a short period – a little buffer to divert your attention.
  3. Try fasting. This won’t be right for everyone, and it shouldn’t be something you consider if you have any health issues. But it can be useful to feel real hunger, and to learn to listen to your body’s actual physical hunger pangs. Lots of people treat hunger as an emergency – and one that requires immediate attention and action: it isn’t an emergency to be hungry for a short while. You will find that hunger comes and goes in waves – usually in relation to external cues like mealtimes, socialising or environmental stimuli. You’ll get hungry, you’ll get a chance to really feel it and then it will fade. It can be quite empowering to know that you won’t collapse and the sky doesn’t fall in if you don’t eat for a few hours.
  4. Eat right during the day. It’s way more common to overeat during the evenings rather than during the day time, possibly because you’re restricting what you eat during the daytime, or making less filling choices. Protein and fibre from low calorie veggies help to fill you up, and can help you to feel fuller for longer. So if you’re prone to wanting a little extra something after your evening meal, it might be that what you’ve eaten during the day could do with a look. Nourishing your body throughout the day with lean protein and high fibre can quieten that evening voice that encourages you to go on the hunt for “something nice”.
  5. Have the snack. There are several strategies you can use if you still want the snack. 
    1. You could have a rule that whatever you want, you have to make yourself. Want cake? OK, you can have it, but it’s got to be home made. Can’t be bothered? Good. You don’t want it badly enough.
    2. You could have a rule that you can have the snack, but it’s got to be bought immediately before eating from a shop that’s over 15 minutes away, or that you walk to. You don’t keep it in the house. Remember the importance of your environment. Can’t be bothered? Good. You don’t want it badly enough.
    3. You could have a rule that you can have the chocolate, but it’s got to be super expensive, premium chocolate – like £5 a bar – and then savour every piece. You’re less likely to wolf it down, and less likely to do this every day. Can’t be bothered? Good. You don’t want it badly enough.

Get the idea? You want to put some buffers in between the urge and the behaviour to make sure you really want to do it rather than doing it mindlessly, or before you’ve really considered if this is what you want.

If you still feel like you need some help with what to eat, you can jump over onto the free e-book I have, which has plenty of ideas on how to structure your meals for the week, the day, and by macronutrient. It’s super easy to follow, and it’s FREE.