Diet, healthy eating, nutrition, food and drink...call it what you will, it can seem very complicated. There are countless books on the subject, and the worst thing is that some say the complete opposite to others, they're literally chalk and cheese! Although you won't find any cheese in those lactose-free ones of course!
What makes them all the more confusing of course is that there are lots of stories about how they worked miracles for people. Then there are lots of other stories about how they were terrible for others, and in some cases, dangerous to the extreme. I've spent years fielding questions from clients and PT's in training about whether this diet is any good or if this one is a load of rubbish. And in my world of Personal Training, there's often a blanket response of 'diets don't work' or 'they're a load of rubbish.'
That's not strictly true though, most diets contain an element of fact or useful advice. Some may take it to the extreme, but the principle on which it is founded is has a grain of truth (unless of course it's wheat free, no grains in there)! OK I'll stop with the bad jokes now.
Years ago, I decided that if I was going to try to decode the fact from the fiction, there were two key things I needed to do:
1) Know the science - study the research, stay on top of the latest journal articles and news and come out armed with the best ideas at the time. It'll never be right or wrong as nutrition is so individual, and it'll change over time, but at least I'd know what the consensus thoughts were at any one moment in time.
2) Read all the diet books and information out there! Dr Atkins, Dukan, The Zone, Blood Type, Cambridge, Paleo, 5:2, Weight Watchers, Slimming World, Cabbage Soup, high fat, low-fat, no fat, high carb, no carb, GI, GL, high protein, calorie counting, counting your macros, liquid only, shake plans, you name it, I've read and researched it.
This has done two main things for me; firstly it's allowed me to compare the science to the diets. There's always crossover, something taken from a snippet of science and moulded into a formula for people to follow. `Secondly, it's allowed me to see the commonalities; what are the things that are generally accepted across the board? There's a reason they appear so many times; it's because they're the things that actually work.
Here's an example, albeit not from a diet. I once went into my gym for a workout and they'd installed this miracle device, a treadmill where your lower half is vacuum-packed into a special surround during your workout. Apparently it changed pressure constantly by pumping air in and out of the vacuum and this helped to decrease body fat...amazing! Upon looking at the information on the huge display surrounding the treadmill, it appeared that it was guaranteed to work for me if I paid to use it three times each week for 30-60 minutes (I could walk or run, my choice) and then also ate plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and drank 2 litres of water each day. Now I am not a Professor of Science but something told me that the guaranteed results might have more to do with the consistency of exercise and the healthy dietary changes encouraged alongside it.
The same is true of diets, we just need to be able to cherry-pick the good bits. That's where the Ten Steps to a Balanced Diet were born. They're the things that science currently says there is good evidence for.
So what are they?
Put simply, they can be divided into four sections; what, how much, why and when.
The first steps are all about what you're actually eating, outlining the different types, the affects of these according to the research and which we should focus on or limit.
4) Vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other healthy stuff
What you'll discover is that, unlike many diets, we don't emphasise the importance of one nutrient over another; rather we focus on getting the right balance for you to meet your goals and needs and recognise that all of them have a vital role to play in a balanced diet that keeps you fit, healthy and happy. There's one other 'what' step in the process:
6) Quality control - here we look at all the things that you might like to limit or reduce in your diet. We don't say cut out because that's often an extreme choice and you must decide what's right for you.
Linking this together, we can then focus on how much you're having of these foods.
7) Quantity control - We look at ways to control portion size, working through a range of approaches to find out what suits you best - calorie-counting, weighing and measuring food or simpler tools for gauging how much you're consuming.
The final three steps take different angles on why you eat the foods you do:
8) Planning and preparation - this step focuses on shopping, ordering food, making lists, preparing food to take to work and making meals in healthier ways.
9) Food and mood - here we delve into the impact of psychology on food; just why do you eat certain things and what can you do to change this.
10) Meal timing - the science on this step is weaker than the others, but that's not to say it can't be helpful. Getting yourself into eating routines can be an effective tool to help you ensure you're eating the right things and in the correct amounts.
The underpinning elements
Generally, I'll show a client the Ten Steps and then we'll work through them in one of two ways:
1) They'll have a clear idea of a step or steps they want and need to work on, so we'll start with just one of these, the one they deem most important.
2) If someone isn't sure, they can work through a short questionnaire for each step to help them determine where they think they want and need to focus. They simply then pick a step and we start from there.
We'll review progress regularly and then continue to work on that step, or move onto another if the time is right, all the time setting measurable targets to ensure they're on course.
Whatever changes we agree the client will make, there's always a checklist to go through before committing to it. These are essentially the foundations of the Ten Steps, the things that underpin them and allow the client to embed them into their lifestyle. You should always consider these things when making dietary alterations if you want to ensure they last. They are:
- Cost - are the changes you're looking to make within the budget you wish?
- Time - can you purchase, prepare and consume these foods within your current average day?
- Taste - are you going to enjoy the foods and want to eat them for a sustained period of time?
- Significant others - will the changes work taking into account the important people in your life?
- Ease - can you source the ingredients you'er considering easily? Is it something that can be adapted when work gets busy or you have holidays?
I hope that just by reading through our Ten Steps to a Balanced Diet, it's helped you to think about where you are and the changes you might wish to make. If you're keen to experience the Ten Steps yourself, then here's some exciting news. Very soon you'll be able to sign up and work through them online, asking questions and getting help along the way to ensure you make progress towards your goals. If you can't wait til then, check out our page on the website about one-to-one coaching packages, and we'll help you find your balance.