If you let nutrition take a backseat over the holidays that’s ok. What’s done is done and you’ve got little to gain from ruminating on what you coulda, woulda, shoulda done. So, with mince pies but a distant memory, it’s time to get serious in the kitchen: planning, prepping and eating in a way that nourishes your body, mind and soul.
Why is nutrition so important?
What you eat and drink has a massive impact on your physical and mental wellbeing. Eating a varied, nutritious diet:
- provides your body with essential macro and micro nutrients
- helps build and repair muscle, bone and tissues
- enables your bodily systems to function efficiently
- has a positive impact on your energy and mood.
Micronutrients: Vitamins and minerals are known as micronutrients. For example, leafy green vegetables are rich in Vitamin B, Iron, Calcium and Magnesium.
Macronutrients: Carbohydrates, protein and fat provide energy and large quantities of nutrients to the body. These are known as macronutrients.
You can find recommended daily macro and micro-nutrient intake at Nutrition Australia but, with an overwhelming number of diets and superfoods being touted as the NEXT BIG THING, it can be hard to figure out what to eat and when. It may be useful to work with a nutritionist, naturopath or dietician who will work with you to determine appropriate nutritional intake based on your current body composition, lifestyle and goals.
A word about water
Your body is made up of approximately 60-70% water so adequate hydration is critical to good health. Water:
- regulates your internal and external body temperature
- transports oxygen and nutrients around your body
- lubricates your joints and cushions your organs
- supports metabolic and digestive processes.
Aim to drink 2-3 litres water per day, more if you are active. And, if you exercise for an extended period or during hot weather, add salt or electrolytes to replace lost minerals and balance out sodium levels. Signs of dehydration include thirst, headache and fatigue. If in doubt, check the colour of your urine which should be pale yellow or clear; if it is dark and odorous, you need to drink more.
Tools to manage and monitor your nutrition
1. Track what you eat
Whatever your goal, tracking what you eat and drink can help you:
- stay within daily nutritional guidelines
- manage portion size
- stay accountable
- identify the time/s of the day or week when you’re likely to overeat, undereat or eat less nourishing foods
- monitor liquid consumption so you are properly hydrated
- monitor medication and nutritional supplements
When it’s written in black and white, it’s easy to see if your eating habits are at odds with your goal and you are more likely to make mindful choices as a result. Perhaps you didn’t realise how often you snacked, how late you eat or that you have a habit of skipping breakfast or eating lunch at your desk.
Download this food diary template to track. Be sure to include specific details about:
- serving size (g, ml) and brand (eg. 100g lean chicken breast; 1 cup TRIM milk; 1 tbsp Kraft peanut butter)
- time of day
- liquids consumed, including water, juice, coffee, soft drinks and alcohol
- medication and nutritional supplements such as protein shakes, creatine, pre and probiotic powders.
Alternatively, free apps make it easy to track wherever you are. My favourites are My Fitness Pal and Easy Diet Diary.
Even easier is sending photos of everything you eat and drink to a partner, family member or friend. I find this tool particularly effective for clients who tell me they don’t have time to track; it takes a couple of seconds take a photo and another couple to hit send. If you notice that you are resisting sending photos or not sending them regularly, chances are you’re not eating the way you know you should be. No excuses!
2. Meal planning and food preparation
If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail – Benjamin Franklin
Although he was wasn’t talking about nutrition, Franklin was definitely onto something (if only all political soundbites were as eloquent!).
For Georgina and I, planning and preparation:
- keeps us on track
- ensures we know exactly what’s in the food we eat
- saves time during the week
- removes the temptation to buy processed, packaged food or takeaway.
On Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning, we sit down with our diaries and a mountain of cookbooks to plan our meals for the week, focusing on freshness, variety and balance. And, because we believe food can be both nutritious and enjoyable, we try to experiment with new recipes and ingredients as often as possible. Life is too short to eat bad food!
We write the menu on the kitchen whiteboard, make a list of ingredients and then it’s off to the local farmers market and supermarket to stock up. When we return, we prepare a couple of meals to save time during the week, cooking more than we need and freezing the rest. The entire process takes a couple of hours and honestly, there are times we’d rather be doing something/anything else. But the effort is rewarded when we’re short on time during the week or are too tired to cook a meal from scratch.