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Relax The Rules Around Food – Guilt Free!

As a Nutritional Therapist, I always try to give my clients realistic, sustainable advice about improving their health through their food choices. And as a busy mother of 3, I know it is not realistic to eat ‘perfectly’ all the time. It is very common, especially for women, to have an all-or-nothing relationship with food, when we are either on a strict, quick-fix diet, depriving ourselves of certain foods, or eating rubbish and feeling guilty about it.

However, I am a big fan of the 80-20 approach to eating, which is a much more long-term, sustainable way to eat. Best of all it’s a guilt-free way to feed yourself and your family well.

Put simply, it means eating healthy, whole foods 80% of the time, and then allow yourself a treat 20% of the time without feeling guilty about it.

The 80% should include the following:

  • Fresh vegetables and fruit – try to eat seasonally and in a rainbow of colours to ensure a variety of flavours and nutrients.

  • Wholegrains – unprocessed carbohydrates such as oats, quinoa and brown rice

  • Lean protein – eggs, chicken, oily fish, organic meat, beans and pulses

  • Good fats – oily fish, nuts and seeds

  • Water – aim to drink around 2 litres a day of filtered water, with a squeeze of lemon or some mint and cucumber added if you fancy a bit more flavour

  • Limit or avoid alcohol and caffeine

So, what about the 20%?

Some people worry that if you allow yourself to eat treat foods at all, then you will eat too many of them. Here are a few tips to help you stay on track:

  • Focus your treat meals on one or two days of the week, perhaps the weekend or a planned special occasion, rather than 20% each day, which can easily slip into more

  • As a guide, out of 21 meals in a week, 4-5 of them can contain ‘treat’ foods, for example, an ice cream or pudding, fish and chips, a takeaway, or a couple of glasses of wine

  • Choose your very favourite indulgence, rather than going mad on everything!

  • Eat slowly and learn to listen to your body’s hunger or fullness signals

  • When you have a treat, try to really enjoy it and eat it without feeling guilty.

Studies have shown that having a balanced, guilt-free relationship with food can reduce the likelihood of emotional eating, and improve the likelihood of weight loss if that is the desired outcome. I say, ‘let them eat cake!’, just not all the time.


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