Dietitian Susie Burrell reveals her top five rules for weekday eating, and why there is still room to have a drink.
While strict rules can trigger rebellion in some people, generally speaking, rules support behaviour. And specifically in the case of food and diet, clear rules can go a long way in making healthy eating a whole lot easier.
With a myriad of food decisions that need to be made at every single meal and snack, along with plenty of temptation and distraction along the way, is it any wonder so many of us find it tough to keep our diet on track when life gets busy?
Many of us would like to think that self-control is what we need to support dietary adherence, yet emerging research in the area of self-control has shown that individuals who are more likely to resist temptation, develop their own rules and plans to avoid the temptation altogether.
Here, establishing rules and routines that relate to our daily food decisions mean that over time, the healthy or preferred food choices become habitual; and we are less likely to be tempted or distracted by other foods and less healthy options that cross our path.
Developing food rules for structured weekdays instantly eliminates many food decisions, whilst also allowing you more flexibility on weekends.
So, if you know that your weekday food choices could do with an overhaul, here are some easy food rules to make the working week a whole lot healthier:
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1. Have at least four alcohol-free days
There is nothing specifically bad about alcohol as a nutrient. True, it is relatively high in calories with seven calories per gram – but the issue with regular alcohol consumption through the week is the impact it has on self-control, the quality of sleep and the quality of foods we tend to reach for when enjoying a glass (or bottle) of wine.
Plus the amount we drink tends to gradually increase over time, and before you know it you are drinking more than a meals worth of extra calories most nights. For this reason setting yourself a clear rule in relation to weeknight alcohol consumption will make it a whole lot easier to say no when your goal is to drink on just a couple of occasions each week.
2. Pack your lunch
The average lunch meal that we will pick up at the local café or have delivered to home or the office will not only cost a pretty penny, but will likely contain double the calories of the equivalent lunch you would have prepared at home. Planning and packing your lunch most days of each week will literally save you hundreds of extra calories plus hundreds of extra dollars over the course of a year.
3. One light meal each week
With most of us overindulging with much more food and drink than we need on weekends – it makes sense to balance this overconsumption with a light, lower calorie day of eating.
Here, a simple meal swap to a veggie juice, salad or soup will not only boost your intake of veggies, but help to significantly reduce your calorie intake overall. Even one veggie-based meal works wonders, but if you are especially keen you can even opt for an entire day of light eating to help even out your overall calorie intake each week.
4. No treats until Friday
Food, especially sweet foods including cakes, biscuits and chocolate are frequently used as rewards. We’ve had a bad day – we indulge ourselves with ice-cream, or an especially boring afternoon at work warrants a chocolate bar. You know the drill.
The issue with reward-based eating is that it quickly becomes a habit, and the more sweet food you include in your day, the greater blood glucose fluctuations and more frequent the cravings. For this reason committing to a hard rule about how often you include these treat style foods in your diet saves much mental debate about whether you should or should not be having it each day.
5. Only eat at meal times when you are really hungry
This rule may sound pretty silly, but the truth is that very few of us eat because we are hungry; rather, we eat because we are tired, food is available, others around us are eating or because it is a meal time.
Establishing a clear connection between real hunger and the need to eat, as well as committing to balanced meals and snacks at regular intervals will go a long way in eliminating mindless munching and snacking on extras throughout the day. Once you get back in touch with your natural hunger and fullness signals, and stop mindless overeating, weight control becomes a whole lot easier.
Susie Burrell is a dietitian and nutritionist and holds a Master’s degree in coaching psychology. Susie is the resident dietitian on Channel 7’s Sunrise and has been a dietitian in Sydney for more than 20 years.