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Why small changes in your diet can make a big difference


Elsa Jones nutritionist

Elsa Jones nutritionist

Sarah Jane after

Sarah Jane after

Sarah Jane before

Sarah Jane before


Elsa Jones nutritionist

This week, our collective weight has been making headlines, as it has been predicted that over the next 15 years, our waistlines will bulge. The World Health Organisation's estimation that by 2030, over 85pc of Irish adults will have weight problems is a sobering thought.

The figure is an extrapolation based on current trends, and is a frightening one. Ireland is at the top of the table in relation to overweight men, matched only by Uzbekistan.

Professor Donal O'Shea, head of weight management services at St Colmcille's and at St Vincent's Hospital, and co-chair of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland Policy Group on Obesity, says the HSE is struggling to cope with obesity and the impact it has on a person's life now. He adds that the obesity epidemic could be worse than cholera or AIDS for our health services if the WHO's predictions become reality.

It's not surprising really, considering the way we eat as a nation. It's difficult to go in to a supermarket or convenience store without being assaulted by bright packaging on junk food, special offers on sweets and chocolates and alluring displays of all the sweetest, most crave-worthy nibbles at the tills.

Tesco has made its tills a lot healthier in recent times, with water, nuts and rice cakes in place of crisps and confectionary - unfortunately that's not the case everywhere.

Of course, personal responsibility plays a huge part, and the onus is on every one of us to make sure our weight and that of our children is in the healthy zone.

But losing weight can be incredibly daunting, especially when it feels like "eating clean" or giving up a particular food group altogether are the only options.

The healthy eating trends that dominate social media can make an ordinary person feel like achieving weight loss is nigh on impossible.

It's easy to worry that dieting means starving, or giving up the things we love. But extreme diet changes and eliminating food groups are not the only answer. In fact, making small switches and better choices day-to-day can mean better health for all the family.

"I think we've lost sight of the basics," says Elsa Jones, a qualified nutritional therapist.

"And that is normal, healthy, balanced eating. You don't need to invest in expensive equipment, or radically change what you eat - I don't think that works well for people who have families. Small changes can make a big difference, and that's a brilliant message to put across - your every day choices count."

With that in mind, here are some healthy swap suggestions that prove healthy eating can really be for everyone - and waistlines needn't bulge to the point of chaos.

Try not to eat processed foods

We all know fresh produce is better for us than the alternatives, but it's so much easier to rely on preservative- packed frozen foods and ready meals. Keep a stash of things like turkey mince, chicken fillets and hake in the freezer, stock the fridge with smoked salmon, eggs, prawns and longer-life veggies like courgettes and carrots, and keep nuts in your handbag for nibbling emergencies.

Watch the milky coffees

Did you know that every latte you drink has around 200 calories? When you have more than one a day, that really adds up.

"I encourage people to reduce their consumption of tea and coffee for different reasons," says Elsa. "Firstly, caffeine. One or two cups work fine for most, but caffeine can rev-up stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, so limit them.

"Secondly, we don't often count calories in beverages, and aren't conscious of the amount we're taking in. And also, if you have tea or coffee, you're more likely to reach for the biccies!"

The same desire to nibble isn't there with green or herbal teas. And believe me, they don't all taste like grass. Try Twining's new Salted Caramel flavoured green tea. All the antioxidants, none of the empty calories.

Eat some protein at breakfast time

It's easy to grab cereal on the way out the door, but eating sugary refined carbohydrates isn't great for your waistline.

"What you choose to eat for breakfast sets the stage for controlling your blood sugar for the day," explains Elsa.

So try some protein in the morning - perhaps some scrambled eggs and smoked salmon, poached egg on a slice of wholegrain toast or natural yoghurt and berries.

Aim to get more colour in your diet

Experts say you should eat a rainbow to get all the best nutrients from fruit and veg, so don't just rely on your greens. Mix it up with all the colours across the spectrum for maximum benefits.

Choose brown or wholegrain carbs

One of the simplest swaps you can make is switching white carbs (bread, potatoes, pasta and rice) for the wholegrain kind, and sweet potatoes. Normal potatoes are fine in moderation, but they're starchy so don't eat them every day.

Make better decisions with booze

Elsa says that staying within the government's recommended allowance of alcohol for the week (14 units for women, 21 for men) should mean we can't go far wrong, but we all know what can happen when a bottle of wine is opened on a Friday.

Switch to spirits and soda water with fresh lime, make your wine a spritzer by adding sparkling water, and always practice moderation. Your body will thank you.

Try fakeaways, not takeaways

Why not whip up a stirfry or make your own oven chips before reaching for the phone? Making a dish from scratch is satisfying, plus you're in control of everything that goes in to it.

Portion control is key

I was eating healthily and wondering how I'd gained weight, until I realised I was matching my 6'2'' boyfriend's portions at every meal.

A fist-sized portion of protein, filling your plate with two-thirds veg or salad and a palm-sized helping of carbs is a good idea. See www.safefood.eu for more.

Give Meat-Free Mondays and Fishy Fridays a chance

"This is a good idea because it's easy, appealing, and gives people a chance to experiment with plant proteins like beans and lentils, which are so good for you," says Elsa. Try swapping out meat products one day a week, and going pescatarian on another to mix things up and broaden your foodie horizons.

Try shopping online

Temptation can always grab us when we're hungry and weak in the biscuit aisle. Schedule an online shop to be delivered to avoid the lure of the chocolate and frozen pizzas that always find their way in to your trolley.

Most supermarkets offer this service, and it's a great way to make sure the house is only stocked with healthy, fresh goods. Plus, you don't have to make time for the supermarket - ideal!

'I feel great! I'm so glad I did this'

Sarah Jane Coogan, 24, has lost five stone by making little changes and is blogging her way to a healthier life

"I was always a bit overwight, or at least felt that way. All through school I made bad decisions, because I didn't have a lot of education around food. At lunch I ate chicken fillet rolls and wedges and all the wrong things. Other girls would eat the same thing and get away with it, but I was getting bigger and bigger. 

Then I went to college in Galway. I was living away from home, surviving on convenience food and going out drinking and socialising, and I just ballooned.

I finished college last April, and when I saw the pictures of myself from my college graduation ball, I just thought 'how is that me?' I was disgusted, and I said enough is enough. I decided that when I moved home, I was going to make a change, otherwise I would just keep getting bigger.

I started blogging on livelaughlove andlose. wordpress.com to chronicle my journey. I downloaded MyFitnessPal, an app that tracks your calorie consumption, and I now swear by it. I checked online to see what amount of calories I should be eating for my weight and height to lose weight, and it said 1200. So every day I logged what I ate. It was great, because it meant I wasn't cutting anything out exactly, just eating smaller portions with healthier choices.

I also joined a gym that was aimed more at weight-lifting, rather than the gym I'd been in with treadmills. It was so hard at first, I wanted to give up and really didn't think I could do it. But I persevered, and tried to go three times a week.

When I started this journey a year ago, I weighed 16 stone 11lbs, and at 5'6'', that is significantly overweight. Now I have lost almost five stone, and gone from a dress size 22 to a 14.

It really is all about the little changes. For example, I eat off a smaller plate now to control my portions. Everyone else in the family has one size plate, but mine is different and it really helps psychologically to stop me over-eating.

Now instead of cereal, I might have yoghurt and an apple for breakfast, a wrap or sandwich for lunch and meat and vegetables for dinner. I only eat carbs with one meal, so some days I have salad for lunch and potatoes with dinner. I'm not a big drinker, but now I drink wine spritzers, or vodka and soda. I'm conscious of not drinking calories on a daily basis, so I switched to peppermint tea.

I feel great! It's unreal, actually. I'm able to do so much more than I used to, and even though it was so tough at the start I now enjoy the exercise. I can go for a run with the dog, I'm not out of breath on the stairs and I'm so glad I did this."

Irish Independent