If you want this to be the year you finally get fit and healthy, here's the column for you. The fourth step is upgrading your diet...

By personal trainer Mareike Bout

Step #1 was taking stock of your current health and fitness

Step #2 was addressing any issues that were uncovered during step #1.

Step #3 was moving more (by increasing your amount of exercise).

So let's move on to Step #4: Upgrading your diet.

I encourage you to be more aware of what are healthy versus unhealthy foods, to change your mindset around food, and to make better food choices for you and your family. So, here are my tips to help build better health through your diet:

  • Replace "I should" with "I choose". So instead of "I should be eating more fruits and vegetables" it's "I choose to eat more fruits and vegetables" or "I choose not to". This is more powerful language that shows you're making the choice and you’re in control. So if you choose to or you choose not to, you make the choice and you move on.
  • Skip the guilt. Usually, whenever someone feels guilty about something, it feeds right back to the behaviour that they're trying to get rid of. So if you are an emotional eater and say "I know I shouldn't be eating this" it implies more guilt and judgment on yourself, which makes you feel worse, which then feeds the emotional eating roller-coaster. Stop judging yourself and your behaviour, and start owning your choices instead. This switch in mindset gives all your power and control back to you to make more conscious choices. 
  • Try not to think of certain foods as “off-limits.” When you ban certain foods or food groups, it is natural to want those foods more, and then feel like a failure if you give in to temptation. If you are drawn towards sweet, salty or unhealthy foods, start by reducing portion sizes and not eating them as often. If the rest of your diet is healthy, eating a burger and fries once a week probably won’t have too much of a detrimental effect on your health. Eating junk food just once a month will have even less of an impact. As you reduce your intake of unhealthy foods, you may find yourself craving them less or thinking of them as only occasional indulgences.
  • Choose to plan. Stock your fridge with healthy food and bring healthy snacks with you so you're prepared when you get hungry and not forced to eat whatever is available.
  • Slow down and savour your food. Don't watch TV, work or drive while you're eating. You're much more likely to feel psychologically satisfied if you don't multitask while you're eating.
  • Shoot for five to nine daily servings of varied fruits and vegetables. Cover the rainbow of fruit and vegetable colours to get a good mix of nutrients. 
  • If you are trying to lose weight, limit your fruit intake to one to two servings per day.
  • Ensure you’re eating enough fibre. Fibre aids digestion, prevents constipation, helps lower cholesterol, and keeps you full, which can help with weight loss as you tend to eat less. We should be aiming for 30-40 grams daily. Good fibre sources include oats, legumes, whole grain foods and a variety of fruits and vegetables. 
  • Remove the temptation to eat unhealthy snacks and clear out the cupboards of fattening foods. If you have chips in the pantry and ice-cream in the freezer, trying to stick to a healthy eating regime will be harder than it has to be. Want an occasional treat? Make sure you have to leave the house to get it, preferably by walking.
  • Drink plenty of water. At least two litres every day and more if you exercise. We need adequate hydration to keep our body systems running smoothly, optimise metabolism, boost energy levels, and promote good digestion, just to name a few benefits.
  • Limit processed foods. Read labels and ingredient lists carefully. Make homemade versions of store-bought foods. 
  • Include healthy fats in your diet. Eating fat doesn’t necessarily make you fat! Many immune supportive vitamins like Vitamin E, Vitamin D, and beta-carotene require some fat in the diet for absorption. Adequate dietary fat is also essential for healthy hormone production and function.

Every change you make to improve your diet matters. You don’t have to be perfect and you don’t have to completely eliminate foods you enjoy to have a healthy diet. The long-term goal is to feel good, have more energy and reduce the risk of disease. Don’t let your setbacks derail you. Every healthy food choice you make counts!

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