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Good Habits: How to eat properly

Teaching you how to eat might seem like an odd topic for The Office Diet – but don’t worry, you’ve not stumbled onto a parenting blog, and there won’t be any child-sized cutlery here.

Most people have some bad habits when it comes to eating – especially when they’re busy. Paying attention to the process of putting food into your mouth can really help when it comes to forming habits that will see you losing weight effortlessly and easily.

Bad eating habits

Here are some bad eating habits that you’ll want to break:

  • Eating whilst standing up. This is a dieting no-no – you won’t register that you’ve eaten, and it won’t satisfy you. (Plus, most standing-up eating is bits and pieces out of the fridge, or “little tastes” while cooking…)
  • Eating too fast. Digestion begins in the mouth, when you chew your food. Bolting it down is likely to give you stomach-ache. Plus, since it takes about 20 minutes for the stomach to register a feeling of fullness, you’re more likely to overeat if you go too quickly.
  • Eating while watching television. This is a bad habit to get into (I should know, it’s one of mine…) because you’ll start associating “watching TV” with “having a snack” – even when you’ve just eaten a meal.
  • Eating at your desk. Take a proper lunch-break and get away from work – for the sake of your mind as well as your body.

Good eating habits

The best way to get rid of a bad habit is to replace it with a new one. Don’t try to transform your eating into a model of perfection (especially if you currently eat on the run, snack constantly and never sit down at a table). Try to work one of these tips in every few days:

  • Eat with a knife and fork. Shovelling food in with a fork or spoon on its own means you’re likely to eat too fast.
  • Put your knife and fork down between mouthfuls, until you’ve chewed and swallowed. Apparently, this is one of Paul McKenna’s tips – and it is definitely a good way to prevent yourself from shovelling food non-stop into your mouth.
  • Sit at a table to eat. Even if you’re on your own, get into the habit of making meal time an occasion. Turn off the television and sit down at a table to really enjoy and savour your food.
  • Concentrate on eating. While you’re eating, don’t get distracted with that latest page-turner of a novel, or a magazine of new gadgets. It’s all to easy to stuff food in without really noticing that you’ve eaten it … and you’ll end up feeling unsatisfied and wanting more.
  • Eat with your partner or friend. The best way to eat is with another person: you can chat whilst eating, which helps to make your meal last longer, and makes it more of a break in your busy day. Sharing food together is a great way to get closer to a friend.

Good luck breaking those bad eating habits and getting those good ones started. If you want more tips and advice from The Office Diet, make sure you’re getting our RSS feed straight to your feed reader – or pop your email address in below to get the latest post delivered to your inbox each day:

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Good Habits: Keeping a food diary

Study after study has found that dieters who keep a food diary are much more likely to lose weight successfully than those who don’t. From personal experience, I can say that food diaries work – I lost 50lbs by keeping one!

Last year, I posted some food diary templates – and that post has turned out to be one of the top ten most popular ones on The Office Diet.

But, let’s face it, recording everything you eat is a bit of a hassle – and most of us are busy people with plenty of better things to do! So if you need a bit of convincing, here are some reasons why food diaries really do work:

  • You’re more likely to resist that slab of cake or second cookie if you know you’ll be writing it down in black-and-white.
  • If you’re kidding yourself that you’re getting your five-a-day, or that you “usually” have wholegrain bread, your food diary might reveal a different story … encouraging you to really make those healthy changes to your eating habits.
  • After a couple of weeks, you’ll be able to spot patterns in your food diary, and make simple changes. If you realise that you always grab a sugary snack around 4pm, you might think about taking extra lunch, or making sure you have something a bit healthier on hand.

Keeping a paper diary

If you’re someone who prefers pen-and-paper to a computer screen, you might want to buy a small diary with enough space to write down what you’ve eaten during each day. Another good option is to keep a sheet of paper, ruled into days of the week and meals, stuck to your fridge or kitchen noticeboard at home (you can print out one of the food diary templates to use in this way.)

Keeping an online diary

For those of you who, like me, are rarely separated from a computer, you might find that an online diary suits you better. I’ve uploaded my food diary template into Google Docs so that I can access it from anywhere – you might prefer to keep yours on your work computer’s hard drive, or on a USB pen.

Whether you keep your food diary online or on paper, get into the habit of filling it in every single day. It’s hard to remember everything you ate after more than 24 hours has gone by – and “little snacks” that slip your mind can really add up.

If you do end up missing a couple of days, get back to keeping your diary as quickly as possible.

Most people will lose weight just by keeping track of their eating, but if you’ve not got much weight to lose, you might want to pay closer attention to the fat and/or calorie content of your food. If so, check out my post on the recommended daily calorie allowance for men and women.

For lots of tips on food diaries, calorie counting and more, check out my Dieting Basics ebook – just $4 until the end of January!

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Good Habits: Exercising daily

Last week, I gave you a simple good habit to adopt – eating five pieces of fruit and veg a day. How’s it going? If you’re struggling, try making a big pan of vegetable soup, or a vat of vegetable curry, and have it for dinner a couple of times this week. A large bowlful can give you five different vegetable portions in a single hit.

Today’s good habit is getting some exercise every day. Adults should be getting five sessions of 30 minutes moderate exercise each week to meet government recommendations. I find it easiest to sustain habits that are seven days a week – otherwise it’s all too easy to let one skipped day become two, then three…

Method 1: The active commute

The most straightforward way to make exercise a daily habit is to have an active commute to work and back. This isn’t possible for everyone (maybe your office is actually the spare bedroom, or perhaps you have to drive for two hours to get to work), but if you can even adjust your routine to walk a bit further to your train station or bus stop, ten – twenty minutes of daily exercise will add up over the course of a week.

Method 2: Walk during your lunch break

Another great habit to get into is taking a walk during your lunch-hour. Most of us should be able to manage that (and if you always grab a sandwich at your desk, you need to read about how to take your full lunch hour).

Method 3: Head to the gym

High intensity exercise (such as jogging or swimming) is better for you than just walking at a moderate pace. How about going straight to the gym on your way home from work – 30-40 minutes exercise then won’t take much time out of your evening. If you go home intending to head out to the gym later, chances are you’ll stay stuck on the sofa. Alternatively, if you’re a morning person, why not go for a quick swim or gym session before work?

Weekends

Once you’ve built daily exercise into your weekday routine, it’s worth also tackling the weekends. Studies have shown that most of us eat more at the weekend than during the week, and doing some extra exercise can help to counter any over-indulgences. It’s also a great way to have fun! How about joining a sports team or club, trying out a new activity with your family, or simply kicking a ball around in the park?

And if your weekend seems packed with chores, take heart: housework (especially hovering, mopping floors and other more strenuous activities) burns calories too. If you have to make a trip to the shops, cycle or walk instead of driving.

Once you’ve got into the habit of doing at least thirty minutes of exercise a day, it’s hard to break it: I know I get a bit “stir crazy” if I haven’t left the flat for a walk by lunchtime. Good luck with your exercising!

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Good Habits: Five-a-day

Whether you’ve resolved to eat more healthily in 2009, to finally lose those extra pounds, or to improve your mood and energy levels, getting five or more portions of fruit or veg per day will really help you towards your goal.

To make it easy to read, I’ve split this post into three sections: the first explains why fruit and veggies are so good for you, the second explains what a “portion” counts as, and the third gives you some practical tips and guidance on meeting that five-a-day target every single day.

Why are fruit and vegetables important?

Most governments and health authorities recommend a minimum target of five portions of fruit and vegetables per day (and some countries suggest seven or even nine!) Fruit and vegetables are an important food group because they typically contain:

  • A wide range of vitamins, which you need to stay healthy
  • Minerals, which are essential for keeping your body running smoothly
  • Fibre, to help with digestion and to keep you full for longer (very useful for dieters!)

Most fruits and veggies are also very low in fat and contain a lot of water – meaning they have a low calorie-density. For example, a 100g apple contains 50 calories. A 100g chocolate bar contains eleven times as many – about 550!

What counts as a “portion” of fruit or vegetables?

All fruits and vegetables except for potatoes (considered a starch) count towards your five-a-day target: fresh, frozen, or tinned. One portion is 80g. That’s:

  • One small apple
  • Two clementines or satsumas
  • Half a tin (drained) of canned fruit
  • About seven strawberries
  • Three tablespoons of peas

Fruit juice counts towards your “five a day” target, but you can only count one glass of juice per day. This is because most of the fibre is stripped from fruit and veggies during the juicing process.

Dried fruit also counts, but you only need one tablespoon for one portion (as the water has been removed so the fruit is much more concentrated). Dried fruits are high in fibre, but it’s better to eat fresh whole fruits if you’re trying to lose weight, as the water will help fill you up.

You can find some handy lists of fruit and vegetable portions here.

How can I reach my five a day target?

If you don’t usually eat five portions of fruit and veggies, here’s how to make it easy to hit that target every day:

Breakfast:

  • Add dried fruit or sliced banana or berries to your cereal.
  • Make a big bowl of fruit salad to keep in the fridge for an easy no-preparation breakfast.
  • Have a glass of fresh fruit juice at breakfast time.

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Lunch:

  • Have a side salad with your usual sandwich, or choose a pasta salad with lots of veggies instead.
  • Fill up on­­ a mixed bean salad (pulses count towards your five-a-day).
  • Have a bowl of vegetable soup – lovely and warming in winter.

Dinner:

  • Try a tomato-based pasta dish, or a vegetable curry – you may be able to pack all five-a-day into one meal!
  • If you want a starter, have melon, salad or a small bowl of soup.
  • Cook twice as many vegetables as usual – fill half your plate with them.

Snacks:

  • Keep a couple of pieces of fresh fruit on your desk at work, to snack on during the day.
  • Try crudities – raw vegetable sticks – celery, carrot and peppers (capsicums) work well. Dip them into salsa or guacamole for extra veggie goodness.

If you want to know more about eating healthily and losing weight, grab a copy of my Dieting Basics ebook. I’ve cut the price to just $4 this January to help out determined dieters during these credit-crunch times, and it gives you all the facts on which vitamins and minerals you need, and which fruit and veggies you’ll find them in … along with much, much more! Find out about the Dieting Basics ebook here and download your free sample here.