"Oh I bet you don't eat that". If I had a quid for how many times I've heard that saying I'd be a rich woman but no doubt still doing all my food shopping at the standard supermarkets rather than organic grocers and health food stores.
The truth is we dietitians often have less complex and over-thought diets than assumed. We understand it's certainly a jungle out there and you probably can't keep up with what's going to lower your blood pressure and what's going to increase your cancer risk but (wait for the cliche) moderation truly is the key. We have the knowledge to pick apart the fact from the fiction when it comes to nutrition information so I'm bursting your diet bubble and assuring you with these 10 principles that there is nothing special that myself and most dietitians are doing that we haven't already told you about.
1. I never skip breakfast. 'It's the most important meal of the day blah blah blah' I hear you say. So why aren't we all doing it? There is ample research demonstrating the importance of breakfast, and when I introduce an appropriate breakfast to a breakfast skipper trying to slim down, 9 times out of 10 they sustainably lose weight and feel more satisfied during the day. Your metabolism is like a log fire, if you don't put anything on it in the morning it's going to be a measly flame burning very little calories during the day plus energy lulls will resort in cravings for high calorie foods. My go-to's are rolled oats with low fat milk or yoghurt, or 2 eggs poached or leanly scrambled with a piece of whole grain toast and tomato.
2. I never shop on an empty stomach. Not only do I return home with a substantial amount of junk if I do, but I also find my purse is lighter. I also often do an online grocery shop which allows me to uninterruptedly meal plan for the week and prevents the end of isle specials from accidentally 'falling' into my trolley. Funny how less appealing the freshly baked pastries are when they're on your screen and not under your nose.
3. Carbs are my friend. No you won't find me tucking into a giant bowl of pasta carbonara and a white bread baguette every night, but you will find a quarter of my lunch and dinner consisting of a low GI, often whole grain form of carbohydrate to keep my brain functioning and to fuel my day. The rest of my plate consists of half vegetables and a quarter lean protein with a preference for fish and chicken.
4. Ready-made foods are also my friend sometimes. 'You don't eat a raw, or paleo diet?' acquaintances ask in horror. There is no evidence behind these concepts and in most cases lead to nutritional deficiencies. Whilst many, but not all packaged foods are high in fat, salt and sugar, nutrition information panels and the traffic light system these days give us no excuse to make the wrong choice. A ready-made low fat tuna sandwich or chicken wrap when I'm on the run during the day prevents overindulging when the clock hits 5pm and I find myself walking past a certain donut store at London Bridge tube station.
5. Biscuits do not have permanent residency on my shopping list. I know my weaknesses. If the digestives are in the cupboard I'm going to inhale a packet impressively fast. I meet too many people who think that biscuits, cakes, crisps and chocolates all belong on the shopping list together and require replenishing each week. I recommend one treat food for yourself on the list per week, in my case a bar of dark chocolate. Sound harsh? We all know that other forms of 'treats' creep in over the week with eating out, social occasions and alcohol so I've accounted for that in my rule.
6. I snack, but sensibly. Some of you may not turn into a ravenous grumpy witch like me when you've gone more than 3 hours without food- that's enviable, but if you do I recommend always having a piece of fruit or small pack of raw nuts in your bag, a stash of cup-a-soups in your desk draw or a tray of low fat yoghurts in your staff fridge to curb the cravings. For the weight conscious, as a general rule each 'snack' should be around the 100 calorie mark.
7. My fridge will never be free of 3 things. Milk, eggs and a versatile vegetable. A + B + C = the world easiest lean meal, an omelette. If you've overdone it on the eggs lately and are watching the cholesterol just leave out the yolks. Milk also functions in a tea or coffee to fill any additional voids throughout the day.
8. I don't bother with fancy fats. Yes there are a number of healthy oils available that are high in poly and monounsaturated fats, but if you're keeping it simple and affordable like me, make friends with olive oil and do without the butter, coconut and palm oils which contain bad fats for your heart. For the weight conscious remember all oils/fats have the same amount of calories per gram so use sparingly no matter what type.
9. I eat out too. Fact: dietitians study food because they love it. We live and breathe food and are usually the first ones to jump at trying out a new restaurant, cafe or the new vendor at the Borough Market. And you heard it here first folks- we don't always order the salad!
10. I don't sit still. Neither do most of my dietetic colleagues. At the end of a working day one is off to Spin, others ran or rode to work and I'm off to a Pump class. We know what role diet can play in health but we also know of the significant benefits physical activity can bring about. Plus, despite best intentions we may have the tendency to get a little stuck into the box of chocolates that resides in our office. We are believe it or not, only human.