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Food for Life

Written by Shamala Ratnesar

Most of us want to become healthier, manage a chronic disease effectively or lose weight. We set ourselves goals and make countless resolutions to lose weight. We often start a ‘diet’ on a Monday or on the first day of the month – and we make the perennial New Years’ resolutions year in and year out! Many of us go on diets in time for our sister/friend’s wedding, a class reunion or a summer holiday.

Despite all our good intentions and the hundreds of diets, supplements and gimmicks that have been bombarding us for the last few decades, as a society, we are becoming sicker and heavier.

However, we don’t need to lose heart. The good news is that we can combat the epidemics of obesity, diabetes and other diet-related diseases that are plaguing us – but we need to do it the right way.

So let’s clarify all the confusion, leave the FAD diets and gimmicks behind us, make a fresh new start and commence our journey towards a long, lean, healthy and happy life.

Let’s clear the confusion

While there are multiple factors that are contributing to the obesity and diabetes (diabesity) epidemics, one of the first steps in solving this crisis is to clear all the confusion. I’ve found that many people are confused about what constitutes a healthy, balanced diet, how to lose weight the healthy way, or how to manage conditions like high blood cholesterol levels or pre-diabetes as there are so many conflicting messages out there in the public arena.

As a qualified dietitian with 20 years of experience, I want to share with you the truth about good nutrition, lasting weight loss and lifelong health. The good news is that most of us don’t need any shakes, supplements or gimmicks; pills, potions or surgery. All we need is good healthy food eaten in the right quantities and at the right times.

And yet food and life are not that simple. What we eat, how we eat and how much we eat are much more than nutrients and foods. Our eating habits are affected by social, cultural, philosophical, psychological, religious, health, time, financial and seasonal factors. I understand and respect that.

A new way of eating for life

While we are all similar in many ways – and share the same hopes, dreams and aspirations in life – we are also different in many ways – and our eating habits are one of those areas where we can be different.

What I have tried to do in The Total LIFE Diet is create a new way of eating for life with eating principles, menus and recipes suitable for almost anyone. It includes a variety of foods – breads and cereals, vegetables, fruit, fish and other seafood, lean chicken, lean red meat, omega-3 eggs, all kinds of legumes (peas, beans and lentils), low fat dairy products, good fats – and even the occasional treat!

Yes – to be lean, healthy and happy, we don’t need to starve or deprive ourselves of our favourite foods. While high-calorie indulgences like chips and chocolate can be enjoyed occasionally, we really need to cut down or even cut out the processed meats (bacon, ham and salami), regular soft drinks and glucose-based sweets/candy.

In this article, I have shared with you the key concepts of The Total Life Diet. I have called them The 10 commandments for a long, lean, healthy and happy life.

The 10 commandments for a long, lean, healthy and happy life

  1. Know what healthy is

    First of all, we need a good understanding of the basics. We need to know which foods contain carbohydrates (carbs), proteins and fats, and which foods are considered to be ‘free’. For example, did you know that carbohydrates are not only breads and cereals; they also include fruit, milk and milk products (except for butter and cheese)?

    We also need to avoid or cut down the saturated fats found in foods such as processed meat, butter, coconut and many takeaway (takeout) foods.

  2. Understand food quantities

    Next, we need to develop a thorough understanding of food quantities. I have found that many people pour the olive oil onto their salads or eat too many low glycaemic index (GI) carbohydrate foods and wonder why they are gaining weight!

    As fat has more than double the calories of carbohydrate or protein, doesn’t it make sense to watch out for the fat in our diets? We do need to use small amounts of good fats and oils like extra virgin olive oil, canola oil and canola spread.

    Understanding carbohydrate quantities is very important too. It can free you up as you realise that a slice of bread is equivalent to a medium fruit, potato or 1/3 cup of cooked rice – and bread is not “fattening”. Eating bread can actually help you to lose weight.

  3. Make healthy food tasty

    Another secret to lifelong health and lasting weight loss is to make healthy food tasty. If we are happy and satisfied with good, healthy food, we will be less likely to be tempted by high-calorie and unhealthy foods. We can use lots of herbs, spices and low-fat flavourings to make healthy food taste delicious – and yes – we can enjoy great food and great health at the same time!

  4. Make your meals and snacks as filling as possible

    Hunger pangs can sabotage all good intentions, so I devised a diet that will keep you full and satisfied. You won’t be hungry on The Total LIFE Diet, as this plan includes regular eating with moderate quantities of carbohydrate, higher quantities of protein and plenty of ‘free’ vegetables to keep you full and satisfied.

  5. Sprinkle on some omega-3 magic!

    Omega-3 fatty acids are vital nutrients – essential for every one of us – from unborn babies to seniors. So we all need to eat plenty of omega-3s from fish, seafood (prawns, mussels, oysters) and omega-3 eggs. We do need to avoid fish high in mercury such as shark, sword fish, deep sea perch and catfish. We can enjoy all other fish and seafood to our heart’s content! While supplements can be very useful, it’s always best to first try and meet our needs through foods rather than supplements.

  6. Learn how to read food labels on packaged foods

    In our busy world, we need to take advantage of healthy convenience foods. There are many healthy foods in supermarkets; we just need to know how to read food labels. Both the ingredients list and the nutrition information panel are important. Understanding all this information can be quite tricky, so I have written whole chapters in my books and devote a whole session in my private practice to reading labels on packaged foods.

  7. Pick yourself up even if you slip up and keep going

    It’s okay to slip up. We are only human, so if you overindulge or even binge-eat, don’t beat yourself up. You haven’t blown your diet and you shouldn’t give up. Just put that episode behind you, and make a fresh new start at the next meal.

  8. Make exercise fun

    Regular activity is good for us – not as the main weight loss strategy – but as a health strategy. We all need to be active – whether we are overweight or underweight. Just keep moving and do anything you enjoy – walking, dancing, playing sport, cycling, swimming or gardening.

  9. De-stress, have a good night’s sleep and keep yourself happy

    We can’t avoid stress as long as we are alive, so we need to learn to handle stress, relax and have fun. A good night’s sleep is important too. We also need to find happiness in simple pleasures such as enjoying a gorgeous sunset, a lovely flower in the garden, beautiful music or simply sleeping in on a Saturday morning!

  10. Never give up

    Winston Churchill said, “Never, never, never give up”. Even if our weight loss goals or any other goals take longer than we envisaged, if we don’t give up, we will eventually succeed.

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