Self Help Skills

Recipe for Better Health: Food, Water and Weight Change

Updated: Apr 11

There are not enough letters in the alphabet to list all the helpful tips that assist in developing a healthy eating regime! That’s right ‘regime’, not diet. While the word diet can describe the kinds of food a person or community habitually eats, it has also come to mean something quite different. ‘Diet’ can also refer to a special course of food to which a person restricts themselves, either to lose weight or for medical reasons. There are so many gurus promoting various fad diets which at best give false hope, and at worst can lead to further health issues.

Rapid and radical changes in eating are not the right solution. Your goal should be to commit to a plan, be consistent, and make small adjustments in a stepwise (or incremental) and sustainable manner.

Below is an A-to-Z list of helpful tips that you can implement over time to assist you on the journey of establishing healthy eating habits.

Healthy diet

Act: The biggest issue I find with healthy eating is people lacking a willingness to act. Change will not happen unless you act. Complaining about your health is surrendering. It is saying ‘I am unhappy with my health; I am a victim, and I cannot change my circumstances’. If you believe you can or you can’t, then you are right! Belief is the key to action. Don’t set your goals high. Just take small steps towards improving your eating habits. Often the first step is as simple as booking an appointment to seek professional help.

Behaviour: Behaviour is the key to change. You are master of your fate. Once you know what to do, you just have to implement it. Start by reflecting on your behaviour. Where do you shop? What do you buy? Do you plan your weekly meals? How much junk food and takeaway do you buy? How much salt, sugar and so on, is in the foods you eat? Do you stock readily available healthy food choices in the home? The list is endless. Planning and preparation is important.

Commit, change (incremental), consistency and a Counselling Psychologist: If you really want to achieve weight loss then commit, change and be consistent! Change takes time.

It helps to engage a Counselling Psychologist to support you through your journey. A counselling psychologist can provide a supportive, non-judgmental environment where you can explore your feelings and thoughts and strategies to change your habits. A counselling psychologist can also address any underlying mental health issues. A counselling psychologist can support you through those times when you feel like giving up, and problem solve when you are not achieving the outcomes you expect. Psychologists specialise in behavioural change, and it is much easier to achieve your goals when you have the support of an empathic professional with a background in science and evidence-based treatments.

Colour: Healthy food is generally colourful. No, not lollies! I am not referring to foods with artificial colours. Avoid the beige and brown diets as that usually means you are consuming carbohydrates in the form of bread, pastries, pizza dough, chips, and deep-fried food. Refined, processed, and revolting! Healthy food is cheerful food!

Fresh food

Doctor: Visit your doctor and have a chat about your health concerns. Ask your doctor to screen for any possible underlying health conditions such as diabetes, hypothyroidism, and so on. Your doctor will also check other aspects of your health including your cholesterol and blood pressure. Ask your doctor for dietary advice and check if they recommend any specific dietary changes.

Exercise: Don’t exercise to lose weight, exercise just to maintain your physical health and feel good. While exercise is important, it is not an ideal weight loss strategy as eating a single muffin can offset one hour of moderate exercise. Exercise is important, however, to maintain muscle tone, body functioning and is good for mood and mental health.

Engage in an activity, or activities, you enjoy. Establish a regular routine. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, or walk up the escalator instead of standing still, when shopping. Changing small habits can make a big difference over time. Park further away from your destination when you go out so that you must walk and carry your groceries further.

Flow: Engaging in your flow activities is the best way to achieve a hyper-focus in an activity you enjoy and avoid boredom. This prevents eating from boredom. Flow activities also improve mood and reduce stress which also helps prevent comfort eating. Learn more about flow at iflow psychology.

Grocery shopping: This is the most strategic point in your healthy eating plan. Do not shop when hungry and avoid impulse buying. Write a list of healthy foods prior to grocery shopping. Avoid temptation. You might even avoid the soft drink, candy, and snack aisles in the supermarket altogether! Buy raw fresh unprocessed ingredients where possible, especially vegetables including plenty of greens. Limit fruit to a maximum of two pieces a day. If you find your fruit goes off, then try buying frozen fruit. See Judging food below.

Homeostasis: Our bodies are physiological systems that have evolved to maintain a balance. If you have a lot of salty foods, for instance, you will crave fluids. Sometimes when we crave specific foods our body is trying to fulfill a need. Ensuring we drink enough water and eat a balanced healthy diet means we can satisfy our bodies needs and address hunger. A balanced diet can help prevent cravings and hunger.

Hydration: Always stay well hydrated. Don't confuse thirst with hunger. Water is also important for helping your body remove toxins from your system. See more information on hydration in the iflow psychology blog: Why hydrate? The secret health benefits of water.

Keeping hydrated is very important.

Information Technology: We use our smart phones for everything, so why not try a food tracking app? I use MyNetDiary. The free version allows you enter your height and weight, set a target weight, record your fluid intake, track your daily calorie consumption, and even monitor your intake of carbohydrates, protein, and fat. After three weeks of using the free version, I paid the monthly fee so I could also track my daily intake of vitamins and minerals. You will also find great recipes, and plenty of handy hints. If you pair it with a smart watch, you will also be able to track your steps and energy expenditure. After making many of the other adjustment suggested in this list, using an app to track food consumption is the most objective way to gain insight into your energy consumption. Maintaining an energy deficit will allow your body to burn energy reserves.

Judge: Limit processed foods that have sugar, fats, salts, and other unnecessary ingredients. Have you ever noticed the star ratings on food products? The star ratings can be a great way of choosing healthier options. I generally only buy food with a star rating of at least four but always aim for the highest star rating possible. This also encourages the food industry to provide healthier food options.

Kilojoules: OK! I admit, I prefer to work with calories, but I needed a K for the list, OK, I confess! To achieve weight loss, you need to consume less energy (kilojoules or calories) than your body will burn. For example, if an individual needs 8,700 kilojoules per day to maintain weight, reducing daily intake to 6,600 kilojoules (assuming exercise stays the same), should provide around 500g per week weight loss. The best way to track your energy consumption is to use a well-designed app. See IT (above) for more information.

Liquify: Did you know food should be broken down mechanically by chewing into a liquid before swallowing? When food is crushed and ground by the teeth, it increases the surface area of the food being swallowed which allows the food to be broken down more efficiently by enzymes. Not chewing your food properly could lead to weight gain and gastrointestinal issues. The same quantity of food will not satisfy you for as long as it would if it had been properly chewed. So, masticate!

Microbes: Did you know your lower bowel has various bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms? It is now believed the health of your gut environment can influence your overall well-being by modulating metabolism, immune function, and mental health. Your gut health is important in processing the food you eat. Gut microbes influence energy metabolism by regulating glucose metabolism, appetite, and fat storage. Changes in the composition and function of gut microorganisms have been found to be associated with obesity and diabetes. In simple terms, stop eating for your taste buds and eat for your gut bacteria. Eat foods that promote growth and diversity in gut bacteria. Foods that are high in starch resistant fibre are particularly helpful as they act as prebiotics (food for the probiotics in your gut). Vegetables are particularly important, especially green vegetables like broccoli, asparagus, and lettuce. See the CSIRO dietary information for more information.

Mindfulness: Mindfulness is critical for weight management for many reasons. Firstly, through engaging in mindfulness you will learn to be more relaxed. This will help avoid eating due to stress and anxiety. Secondly, mindfulness will allow you to observe your thoughts, feelings, cravings, and behaviour, and you will gain more insight into what triggers you to eat. Thirdly, engaging in mindfulness before eating allows you to slow down and enjoy the food more. Slowing down and chewing your food properly also means the stomach needs to do less work and you will delay hunger for longer. Lastly, eating slowly allows satiation signals to alert your brain you have consumed enough food and helps prevent overindulging thus reducing calorie intake. If you would like to learn mindfulness iflow psychology can help.

Take time out to be mindful

Nutrition: Ensure you have a balanced diet. If you have special dietary needs, or have concerns about your health or diet, then consult your treating doctor, or an appropriately trained dietician or nutritionist. The CSIRO diet can assist in learning what a balanced diet looks like. If you are limiting animal products in your diet, just be sure to substitute foods that can provide important vitamins and minerals like protein, and iron. Consider adding a multivitamin to your daily regime. Speak to your doctor about whether your diet is providing sufficient iron, vitamin B, Vitamin D and so on.

Obsess! No! Don't. Becoming too obsessed with food can be a dangerous path. Being too controlling about food can lead to increased anxiety and overly rigid approaches to dietary change and management. Food should be enjoyable, colourful, nutritious, and tasty and not a source of anxiety. If you eat the right foods and the right quantities each day you can enjoy your food without stress.

Plant-based: There are plenty of diets you can consider. Before starting a diet, however, research the pros and cons. Also consult your treating doctor before making any significant changes. While any effective weight loss program should aim to ensure you are not consuming too many calories, it is also important to ensure a balanced diet.

A diet based on plenty of whole, minimally processed plant-based foods is beneficial for overall health. Plant foods like vegetables, fruit, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds are low in saturated fat, contain heart-healthy fats and are a great source of fibre. Plant-based diets can lower body weight, improve insulin function, and increase the regulation of blood sugar, which can assist manage type 2 diabetes.

vegetables are important for starch resistant fibre.

Poo: Let’s talk shit. Ever heard of the Bristol Stool Chart? Not something you want to post on your kitchen wall but very useful. The Bristol Stool Chart is a medical aid designed to classify faeces (poop!) into seven groups from constipation to diarrhoea. The form of your poop can help you gain insight into whether your diet is appropriate. Ideally you want to be able to hold on, pass a bowel motion within one minute of sitting down, without pain or needing to strain, and completely empty your bowel without having to return. Your poop should be like a sausage, not lumpy or runny.