So last week there was no podcast, all plans were scuppered when at the last minute I was told there was an opportunity to swim the route around Cape Point, I jumped at the chance… I loved it and I will share more about it… but lets get onto to the podcast. In this season we are talking about Habits…


The one Habit that everyone really wants to embrace is healthy eating… and that is why I didn’t talk about it in the first episodes of this season. I had to warm up to it myself, and mentally prepare for what is seen as quite a tricky subject. Honestly, healthy eating is full of hidden obstacles… we all know more or less what is good for us, we all know we should eat more fruit and veg, and that we shouldn’t stop by the local donut store daily. It really is as simple as that and as difficult as that… we know what we should do… and yet we don’t do it. And because we feel we have missed the healthy eating mark, we find ourselves looking for a quick fix, almost as if we catch up with this goal.


But What is Our Actual Goal

And I am going to suggest that when we say we want to eat more healthily that what we really mean is that we would like a certain body type… one that we may or may not ever achieve. It is interesting that when you join a gym and you go for an assessment that they are a lot more interested in what you weigh and your body mass index, than how you feel. Just so that you know right from the start… I am not a professional dietician or sport scientist or even a professional athlete… and I don’t own a scale. Weight is not my goal, but a healthy lifestyle definitely is, and to that end I am prepared to enjoy healthy eating.

We get so distracted by the latest gimmick diet, we get transported by the latest mad scheme, we see incredible “results” on social media and we think to ourselves: That’s it. That’s what we need to do: we need to take out all the “bad food” and replace it with all the “good food”. We need shakes and supplements, we need all sorts of guide books and appointments. We need to stop eating all day and all night (obviously), but that doesn’t mean that we have to get all our nutrition for the day within a half an hour window either. These quick fix diets are there to trap you… and they are (inevitably) selling you something that is not necessarily healthy eating… they are marketing a certain body type: Join our gym and you will be thin, with a photograph of a leafy green salad…” The gym is great, the salad is great… but neither of those will necessarily make you thin. And nothing makes this point clearer, when you consider the opposite, how many lean friends do you have that never exercise, live on soda and take outs and generally do not follow a healthy lifestyle.

We need understand as a culture, that healthy eating does not make you lean, and being lean does not mean that you necessarily eat healthily.

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I’ll say that again… we are led to believe that healthy eating leads to a certain lean body that allows you to perform all sorts of incredible athletic feats. They show you a person lying idly on the beach, while you are washing dishes, hanging laundry, and doing housework; they show you images of ecstatic young adults on a mountain top, while you are stuck in a stuffy office… and naturally, they have been photoshopped to look healthy and you want that. The heady freedom of the great outdoors and trust me you think you want to be lazing all day in the sun rather than doing housework. However, they never show you what those energetic twenty-something year olds fuelled themselves with, to get to the top of their mountain. They never show you how that person on the beach actually got their six pack… in fact was it something they ate or something that was just photo-shopped. You need to be aware of what you are being sold… just because crisp lettuce and sliced tomato is in the image, does not mean that their goal is to provide a healthy meal.

I am going to suggest that we don’t have even the slightest inkling of how ingrained diet culture is in our lives and that we have been sold a lie about healthy eating and we have believed it. Myself, I fervently believed that the reason that I wasn’t a super athlete was because I wasn’t lean enough and I wasn’t lean enough because I didn’t eat healthily enough and I didn’t exercise enough.
I never considered for a second that I hadn’t exercised for about twenty years or that I had had eight children and lost a baby in the space of twelve years. And that my body was reacting to all of that…

In fact I emphatically knew that if I was leaner I would be a fantastic athlete. If I sat on the exercise bike for hours and ate less and less, as long as it was a healthy diet, then I would be ready to ride the 100 km Argus Cycle Race. If I swam a kilometre or two every day and ate a healthy diet, and I mean a minimal diet, I would shed weight and I would be ready to swim the English channel in no time at all.


Now I am all for dreaming big, I love dreaming big, turning dreams into goals and smashing them… and I am going to whisper that I am still not lean, and I do generally eat a healthy diet… BUT there are a lot of factors involved. I have since learned that a couple of months of training, no matter what you eat or what your body type is, will not make you lean and will certainly not make you a super athlete. It takes years and years of training, not months… it takes muscle memory and that means years and years. Also your body type is very much determined by your genetics, a glance at my parents will tell you that I am never ever going to be either a tall, or lean.

That being said, when I changed my mindset from someone who was constantly trying to be lean, in order to be a better athlete, to someone who fuelled their exercise and ate healthily so that I could perform better as I was… everything changed for me. I discovered the energy that I had been looking for, I discovered that I generally felt better and that with the habit of “getting more sleep” that I had been working on, that not a single exercise or diet professional had mentioned… I actually started to feel well… and that feeling of wellness became my goal. If you want to work on a new habit, then your reason for the habit has to be a good one. Mine reason was that I was seeking after that wellness, no longer trying to look like an olympic athlete… because look again, they don’t look like marketing models either… it turns out that it was wellness that I was after.


What Exactly Is Healthy Eating?

So healthy eating to one person is not necessarily healthy to another, what makes you feel your best might not make another person feel your best… but generally eat more veggies, eat the rainbow and eat a wide variety… of foods. You know, that if you are consistently challenging yourself to eat the rainbow you are doing well.

And then there are several tactics you can use to make the healthy eating habit stick… and you will feel better for it. There is not doubt that plate of roast vegetables or a chicken salad is going to feel over your day, and a lot better than a coffee and a donut. I am speaking from personal experience here, and it is not rocket science.

The thing about making a habit stick is really ease of accessibility. If I have vegetables prepped and ready to go in the fridge then I will happily snack on them. For example, I love a snack when I settle down at my desk to work in the afternoon… its a ritual of mine, I know it but if I still have carrots to peel or cucumbers to slice, I would choose a cup of coffee every single time. That being said, I would rather not be having coffee in the afternoon, remember sleep is my key habit and coffee is not a sleep enabler. The counter example to this is of course, do not have unhealthy snacks available… leave the crisps and treats in the store. Honestly, if I am too lazy to peel a carrot, I am definitely too lazy to walk down the road for a sweet treat.

That being said, don’t deny yourself all the treats, healthy eating isn’t a prison sentence and doesn’t mean you are never allowed any of the fun things in life, honestly a treat is a treat and enjoy it. You don’t have to earn it… you don’t have to swim 10 km for a chocolate bar… you just can’t have a chocolate bar every day. If one of my kids say let’s go for an ice cream together, I am never ever on this earth going to say no, but. I will make sure that the next thing I choose to eat is something healthier.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with treats in general, only when treats become your daily diet that you have a real problem. If you associate your morning trip to gym with a massive muffin to recover then adapt, take your own preprepared snack most days of the week and treat yourself on one day to that muffin. If I had a snack in my gym bag, that I took the time and prepared beforehand, nothing on earth would make me stop and buy another snack. It doesn’t make sense. In fact at my gym they have an app to pay for food and I have no idea how the app works, yes, I am that bad at technology… but I am happy with that. I don’t want to be buying food from a takeout spot, even if it discovered in healthy looking photographs of food and smothered in “healthy lifestyle” marketing. You have to know that just because it is called a salad wrap it doesn’t necessarily have healthier calories than a beef burger from another take out franchise. And because of that I choose not to learn how the app works.

In our culture we are taught from a young age that food is the ultimate reward, you do a great job at school, you get a treat from the tuck shop, you land a great job and you have a celebratory dinner… now there is nothing wrong with that in general, its when those rewards are your daily motivation that they become a problem. Find other rewards for yourself. Reward yourself for that deadline you met with a magazine, a walk on the beach with a friend, an early night… in fact when I realised that I could buy myself stationary for the same price of a coffee out, or a chocolate bar… new notebooks and pens started to pile up on my desk.


Tiny Tweaks are Big Wins

Often healthier choices are just a teeny tiny tweak away… just changing your inner voice, from I can’t to I don’t for example. When I started dropping coffee from my daily rhythm, I began by saying: “I can’t have coffee unless I am out with friends…” That was a limit or a restriction that I found hard to follow up on… but when I changed it to “I don’t drink coffee unless I am out with friends…” That felt like a boundary I had put in place and I was happy with it. I have found this works for so many things, “I can’t” is a limit, I always want to push… but I don’t is a clear boundary and a line I will not cross.

When I started my journey to a healthier lifestyle it was at a stage when I was invited to a lot of media events… and those of course all have platters of wonderful food, it is okay to have tastes as treats, but you don’t have to eat the whole platter or even everything that is served… the same goes for food preparation, if you are only prepping healthy food that is all good and well, but when I was baking for the kids and preparing treats for them I would sample everything… the trick I discovered was delegation, my kids were quite old enough to do their own baking and again I was making the food that I would rather not be eating, a lot less accessible.

Slow Down and Enjoy the Journey

Have you noticed that the faster the food is, the worse it tends to be health wise. The snack you grab at the check out is probably quicker, but even worse for you than that drive through meal that eat distractedly while you are trying to get your hands free again. These fast feasts tend to be very high on the not at all healthy scale of things. Slow down a little bit… family feasts that are prepared together and lingered a little bit longer tend to be the healthiest meals. It is totally possible, in the quest for healthy eating, to slow down and enjoy the journey somewhat. If food is our fuel, and family and friends are our support system, then slowing down for a feast is a win, win.


Let’s Talk About Fuel

A big change in my quest for healthy eating came initially, when I began my fitness journey and I kept a food diary for a week or two… it is amazing how many snacks and treats were creeping into my diet without me noticing. That being said, the biggest change came when I started to train for swimming events. As a complete outsider to the world of sports, I noticed that a lot of athletes really only cared about being lean. Hello: red flag warning. You know if you lose 2 kilograms and then run a marathon, you will notice the difference, you will feel so much lighter… that is not the truth. At the end of any marathon you are going to feel tired. At my beginner stages of running, any kind of fuelling was frowned upon, because who would want to drag a heavily wighted body around a half marathon, a 10km route or even a park run. Think about it, that makes no sense… I am just as tired after an hour on the trails as any other runner and I don’t necessarily need to starve myself because I weigh more than they do.

There is diet culture creeping into sport right there… you have to eat to fuel. There is no point in drinking water throughout a long event when your body is crying out for nutrients. You are going to feel terrible and you recovery is going to be appallingly slow. When I started swimming for longer events, like 8/10 or even 12km I noticed that some swimmers were fuelling themselves much better than I was, they were thinking about what to eat beforehand, during the event and immediately afterwards in order to make sure that they performed well and they recovered quickly. I realised that healthy eating wasn’t just for big event days… but for all those training days. Healthy eating is massive and little changes that you make consistently can make a big difference to how you feel everyday.


The Point of This Podcast

If you can just start to notice that the diet culture doesn’t care about what you eat, they are trying to motivate you by making you feel bad about your appearance… let all that go and concentrate on fuelling yourself for success. Fuel yourself for a good night’s sleep, fuelling yourself for a great workout and a speedy recovery. Provide yourself with a healthy rainbow on a daily basis… and make consistently healthy choices, you will feel better and you want to do more of the same. Make sure you have healthy food at hand, and understand that healthy eating is a journey… there is no instant success, there is no magic trick. There is no powder or special supplement you can take.

It’s a marketers dream that we equate healthy eating with going to gym and wearing designer gym gear and the fact that brands don’t make plus size gym clothing should tell you already that they only want a certain type of athlete wearing their brands. If healthy eating is one of the habits that you have decided to work on this year, then I am suggesting that you start with little steps and make sure that you are working on this habit for the right reasons, to feel better, to have more energy, to sleep better and just generally, live better. If it is wellness you are seeking then healthy eating is a key habit to work on and I wish you all the very best on your journey


Previous Habits in this Podcast Series…

On the Podcast: The Second Great Habit of the Year and it is Relaxing Reading…

Introducing Season 2 of the Podcast: Habits and Sustainable Sleep

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