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This week we’re back to Dr Chatterjee’s Four Pillar Plan and the pillar I’m looking at is ‘Eat’. It seems quite relevant to be writing about food at this point as Mr Simple and I have started the 5:2 diet today. Actually, he is starting it, bullied into it by me and I am keeping him company. He keeps saying that he will cut out beer and crisps or just eat a calorie-controlled diet every day, but it never happens. I think that the 5:2 diet, although it is difficult on the fast days (I know I have tried it before) the good thing is that on the other days you can eat normally, including the occasional bowl of crisps, and it is still effective.
So what does Dr Chatterjee saying about eating…
Dr Chatterjee does not believe that there’s one true diet that’s optimal for everyone. According to him we are capable of thriving on a whole range of diets. Have you heard of blue zones? These are magical areas where the proportion of people who live past 100 is up to ten times higher than the average rate. If you go back to my previous posts by Dr John Day you will see that he studied one in China.
The broad and basic principles that are consistent among all the blue-zone diets are:
- None has a processed-food culture. By and large they eat fresh, unprocessed, local produce.
- They all sit down and eat meals together.
- They eat what’s in season.
- They have treats, but only at very special festival times such as Christmas and Easter, not every day after school or every Friday and Saturday.
Dr Chatterjee recommends the following:
Retrain your taste buds by removing all sugars from your cupboards and get into the habit of always reading the label on your food to check the sugar content. It is really surprising where manufacturers hide sugar e.g. mango chutney, which I love with curry, is full of sugar – it is the main ingredient.
A new definition of ‘five a day’
Aim to eat at least five portions of vegetables every day – ideally of five different colours. Dr Chatterjee says that one of the reasons for this is that variety is good for the bugs that live in our gut and their associated genes collectively known as our microbiome.
How to increase your colours:
- Print out the rainbow chart from drchatterjee.com (link) and put it on your fridge. Tick off all the colours you have consumed in one day.
- Get into the habit of snacking on veg – carrots with hummus, cucumber with tahini, celery sticks with almond butter.
- Leave colourful appealing vegetables on the kitchen worktop or your desk so that you see them regularly: bright orange carrots, red and yellow peppers, green olives.
- Add two vegetables to every meal, including breakfast. If you’re having eggs in the morning try adding spinach and avocado. This is one of my favourite ways of increasing the amount of vegetables that you eat. So many people eat cereals and toast for breakfast, missing out on the opportunity to get in one or two of their five a day.
- Roast a whole baking tray of colourful vegetables drizzled with olive oil; eat some with your evening meal and save the left-overs in the fridge. They can form the basis of lunch the next day.
Introduce daily micro-fasts
Get into the habit of eating all of your food within a twelve-hour time window. Our bodies are designed for going without food for certain periods of time. As soon as you start to give your body a break from all the gorging, incredible things start to happen. Eating all your food in a restricted time window allows your body to repair cells and the immune system. I heard a great analogy on one of Dr Chatterjee’s podcasts – your body trying to repair cells with food still passing through your gut is like workmen trying to resurface the motorway with cars still driving up and down it.
Six tips to help you micro-fast:
- Choose a twelve-hour period that suits your lifestyle. Note that your twelve-hour eating window is from the beginning of your first meal to the end of your last meal.
- Your body likes rhythm so try and keep to the same times every day, even at weekends. Occasionally you may need to change your eating window – this is absolutely fine.
- Outside your eating window stick to water, herbal tea or black tea and coffee. Be careful with caffeine so you don’t adversely affect your sleep.
- Try to involve other members of your household or even work colleagues. This will help to keep you motivated and increase your chances of success.
- Don’t be disheartened if you miss a day or even two. It really doesn’t matter. When you feel ready, try again and see how you get on.
- When you are feeling comfortable with twelve hours, you may choose to experiment with short eating windows on different days. If you do this pay attention to how the change makes you feed and adjust accordingly.
Drink more water – aim to drink eight small glasses of water per day (approx. 1.2 litres)
Tips to help you increase your water intake:
- Have two glasses of water when you wake up each morning
- If you’re hungry mid-morning or mid-afternoon, try having a glass of water instead of a snack
- Once every hour get up from your desk and go to the water cooler
- Drink a glass of water thirty minutes before each meal
- Set an alarm three times per day to remind you to have a drink
- Try adding lemon or orange slices for flavour – I add fresh mint leaves
Unprocess your diet
There’s no need to count calories, fat, carbs, weight watchers’ points, slimmer’s world sins. Simply focus on avoiding highly processed foods. It’s a pretty safe bet that any food product that contains more than five ingredients is highly processed. Dr Chatterjee believes that the major problem is not that we’re simply eating too much food; it’s actually that we’re eating the wrong type of food. We are now eating large quantities of low-quality food.
Tips to unprocess your diet and eat more real food
- Start your day with a meal containing some protein as well as some healthy, natural fat. This will help you stay full for longer, stabilise your blood sugar and help you avoid the mid-morning crash e.g. those eggs and vegetables, not cereals and toast.
- Keep an emergency snack pack with you at all times. It can live in your back-pack, your car and even your office. Dr Chatterjee’s includes a tin of wild salmon, almonds and nut butter.
- Write a meal planner – many people find it useful to plan out their meals for the whole week so that they can plan their weekly shop.
- Remove all highly-processed food from your house – if it’s not there you are much less likely to eat it.
- Healthy food is available to buy in every supermarket. Find out where it lives and only shop those aisles.
- Come up with five simple meals that you can whip up in fifteen minutes or less. These will become your go to staples.
- Keep frozen vegetables in the house at all times. Easy to steam, they can be a quick, healthy snack or form part of a meal. I think that there is a snootiness around frozen veg i.e. they are seen as only eaten by the lower classes, except maybe frozen peas. In fact they have more nutrients than fresh veg that have taken days or weeks to get from the field to your plate. They are also cheaper than fresh. In particular I like frozen spinach to put in curries and have recently bought broccoli and cauliflower for this purpose as well.
- Keep pre-chopped garlic and onions in the fridge at all times.
- Make sure you always have a healthy protein source such as fish or eggs in the house. Protein is the macronutrient that keeps you most full. It takes little time to boil an egg or pan-fry a salmon fillet.
- Herbs and spices are your friends – use them freely as they are a great way to add new and exciting flavours to a meal. Many, such as turmeric, ginger and black pepper, have powerful health benefits. Mr Simple and I eat curry several times a week. I think that you can curry almost any vegetable.
- Make your kitchen area desirable. You want to love being in your kitchen.
So that’s it. Do you want to change your eating habits? I think that it’s so easy to overeat and our society makes it easier to be fat than it is to be thin, which takes real effort and a great deal of willpower. As Dr Chatterjee’s suggestions show, you have to make it easier to make healthy choices. What are your tricks for doing this? I would love to know. Or are you struggling with food? Need some help? I would love to give you some more tips to try. Let me know in the comments below and don’t forget to check out ‘The Four Pillar Plan’.