With the best of intentions, previous stints of me trying to become fit and healthy (AKA ‘lose weight’) have come unstuck during periods of ‘Tribal Celebrations’, enjoying other people’s company with too much good food and other indulgences. Typically when the weight returned (as it inevitably did), I would feel like a failure and give up.
I needed a system that allowed me to improve my health yet allowed celebrations with family and friends – so important for my well being. This time with my H.E.A.L.T.H.plan no food is forbidden. Instead I focus on foods to include every day, foods to include weekly in moderation (with family and friends) and foods only for monthly ‘Tribal Celebrations’. There are also foods and drinks I do not specifically exclude but I do not consider any occasion worthy of their inclusion (and therefore never have them). This is my strategy:
The Fabulous Five
(foods I eat daily)
These foods are low in energy density (calories).
- Green, yellow and orange vegetables.
- Starchy water-based vegetables: potato, peas, corn.
- Wholegrain water-based cereals ie cooked oats, barley, rice and pasta.
- Legumes (peas, beans, lentils, soy).
The Moderate Middle
(skim milk I include daily, the others weekly with family and friends)
These foods are moderate in energy density.
- Skim or low-fat dairy foods
- Lean chicken, fish, eggs (at lunch or dinner with family or friends).
- Bread (ditto).
- Dry cereals or crackers (sometimes).
- Nuts, seeds and oily fruit (olives/avocados) as snacks thrice weekly.
My Limit List
Condiments and high-calorie non-foods which add to the enjoyment of food
- Alcohol twice weekly.
- Sugar (small amounts twice weekly).
- ‘Healthy’ oils (twice weekly, in small amounts).
- Salt (occasionally).
The Terrible Ten
Tribal celebrations (monthly indulgences)
- Full cream milk and dairy foods.
- Red meat.
- Sweet foods: ice-cream (my weakness), celebratory cakes, sweetened yoghurt.
- ‘Healthy’ oils in higher amounts.
Foods I avoid
- Deep fried foods
- Baked fatty foods – cakes, biscuits, muffins, pastry, pies, croissants, doughnuts, ‘health’ and energy bars, crisps, corn chips, pizza, other snack foods
- Confectionery, chocolate, dried fruit, jam
- Margarine, coconut oil, palm oil, lard, butter, cream
- Sweet beverages including soft drink, fruit juice, fruit smoothies, sports drinks
- Processed meat, fatty meats
The reasons behind my choices
1. My ‘fabulous five’ are plant-based foods which are lowest in energy density and, in my opinion, foods to predominantly eat in order to maintain a healthy weight. However, I am not vegetarian and enjoy dairy foods, chicken and fish when eating with my tribe.
2. I include starchy vegetables and wholegrain cereals daily. These water-based foods are filling and low in energy density. While many lay-books advocate a ‘low carbohydrate diet’ for weight control, there is a lack of logic in that when you consider that countries with very low rates of obesity such as Asian cultures have high carbohydrate diets based on rice. I have lost weight including water-based cereals or starchy vegetables at meals every day.
3. In contrast processed dry cereals and breads are moderately high in energy density and I only include them weekly, basically socially. Being refined they are digested quickly which spikes blood glucose levels. Sugar is highly refined and high in calories. Thus I limit its use but there are small amounts in some processed foods I have such as soymilk and canned kidney beans. Typically about twice monthly I have a sweet dessert.
4. ‘Healthy’ fats (in nuts, seeds, oily fruit and oils) are not so healthy for me as they are high in calories and slither down easily, adding unwanted inches to my waistline. The concept fats supposedly blunt the appetite does not work for me. I put most of my weight on following a ‘healthy’ Mediterranean diet high in olive oil. I now limit their intake to an extreme but do enjoy snacking on nuts a few times a week, and the odd weekly stir-fry.
5. High-protein animal foods are moderately high in calories. In my heart I feel I should go vegan, but my tribe does not. Thus, I enjoy these foods as social indulgences.
6. Ditto for alcohol.
7. I do actually very occasionally have margarine, butter or cream, typically about six times a year at Tribal Celebrations. At those times, I enjoy those indulgences without guilt.
Everyone should seek advice from a doctor or dietitian as to what is best for them, so please do not take this as advice to follow. However, what has worked for me is the strategy of being strict, ultra-healthy and eating foods low in energy density (although I do not count calories) when on my own and having moderate and high calories foods only as indulgences when with family and friends. Using those techniques, I have steadily lost 20 kilograms in fifteen months and am feeling really fit and healthy. However, I do not feel deprived, am never hungry and I am enjoying my tribal celebrations without guilt.
Enjoy this scene from chocolate. Celebrations are, in the end, about people.