Step 1 Follow these Healthy Eating Principles

Whilst most health professionals, dieticians, doctors and nutritionists tend to differ in the finer details of what they think constitutes a healthy diet, there are some general healthy eating principles that most people agree upon on. The following were developed in conjunction with my nutritional therapist colleague Christine Bailey and are meant to provide the foundations upon which the remaining three steps are built.

Bring Awareness to Your Eating Habits

One of the best ways to kick-start a change and improvement to your diet is to make a detailed record of everything that you eat and drink immediately after eating and drinking for the next seven days. Whilst this might not sound that appealing most people who do this gain a lot of insight into their existing eating patterns, not only in terms of what they eat, but also when they eat and how it relates to the way they feel and other symptoms that they might have. It can be very illuminating, especially when it shows up discrepancies between what you think you and what you actually eat. Take for example a client of mine called Lorraine who told me that she had a good varied diet. After going through her food diary, five things jumped out of the pages 1) she often skipped breakfast 2) she had tuna sandwiches and crisps pretty much every lunchtime 3) she ate her dinner late in the evening (at about 21.00) 4) she hardly had any fruits and vegetables and 5) she snacked on chocolate and caffeinated drinks throughout the day. It was only by keeping the diary that Lorraine was able to see the truth about her diet. She then went on, using the same suggestions I am sharing with you, to transform and improve her diet.
When it comes to keeping a diary I recommend that your purchase a note course in which you record information under five different categories: Time (what time you are eating), What (specifically what it is you are eating), Quantity (how much), Feelings (what you are feeling prior to eating) & Symptoms (any physical or emotional symptoms). Make sure you include things like snacks, added sugar, salt, cups of coffee and tea, confectionary – leave nothing out! I have found that my clients who include these extra categories do much better than those who just record what they eat. Identifying your feelings prior to eating is very useful when it comes to breaking emotional eating patterns.
At the end of the 7 days and having read through the suggestions in this chapter, take an objective, not judgmental look at your food diary and ask yourself the following:
  • What I have discovered that surprises me?
  • Which foods do I eat out of habit?
  • What foods are not that healthy?
  • Do I skip meals?
  • In what way does how I feel, influences what I eat or how I eat?
  • How much variety do I have?
  • Do I tend to overeat sometimes?
  • Do I eat three main meals and two snacks a day?
The key is not to beat yourself up about what you have discussed, but to use the information as a platform for making positive changes. If you haven’t done already I would encourage you to now read the section on commitment and motivation in

Eat Three Meals & Two Snacks a Day

One of the most important ways to ensure that you are enjoying the best possible mental health is ensure that your body and brain is supplied with enough glucose (fuel) throughout the day. By ensuring that you have three meals a day and two snacks, one mid-am and one mid-pm, and that you include protein with each of these, you can prevent the blood-sugar dips that often occur without these. Whilst the amount of protein you need will depend on you, including protein helps to slow the rate at which your blood sugar levels go up in response to food, plus they provide the body and brain with the valuable amino acids its needs. It’s also important to avoid skipping meal, whilst it might seem like a good idea, especially if you are trying to lose weight, your brain will actually think that you are entering a period of starvation and it will automatically increase cravings for high calorie foods. If you miss a meal therefore you are at much greater risk of eating more calories and less healthy food at the next meal time.

Keep hydrated

Whilst there is no firm, hard evidence that we need to drink 6 to 8 glasses equivalent of clean water a day, in my experience, most people experience and improvement in their energy, mood and well-being when they do so. In physical need 9 – healthy environment, I talked about the need for the water that we drink to be clean, that is free, or relatively free from toxins and chemicals. I also mention in step two about the importance of limiting or avoiding caffeine and alcohol. You can read more about these two by reading about them in those two steps.
  • Swap caffeinated products for herbal teas, decaffeinated coffee (choose brands that use a non-chemical decaffeination process), or coffee. If you do drink caffeinated products stick to one cup of coffee, two cups of tea, two cans of caffeinated drink (such as Pepsi, Coke, Diet Coke, Pepsi or Red Bull) or three cups of green tea or earl grey tea a day.
  • Aim for between two and three litres of clean water a day. The best water is filtered, mineral or from a reverse osmosis machine.
  • Red bush tea (Rooibos) is a good alternative to regular tea. In addition to being caffeine free, it is also very high in antioxidants. 
  • Green tea and white tea although does contain some caffeine is also high in antioxidants known as polyphenols which can protect against certain diseases including cancer. When using these or red bush tea its important to use freshly boiled water that has been allowed to cool for a few minutes, otherwise the temperature damages the antioxidants.

Go organic

Because organic foods have less chemicals than non-organic foods, and tend to taste better I recommend, when my clients can afford it to choose organic produce when they can. Of course organic produce tends to be much more expensive, so if cost is an issue (which it is for most of us), I would recommend following the guidance provided by the Environmental Working Groups who suggest purchasing organic versions of those fruits and vegetables that are known, on average, to have highest levels of pesticides.
  • Highest in pesticides: peach, apple, bell pepper, celery, nectarine, strawberries, cherries, kale, lettuce, grapes (imported), carrot and pear
  • Lowest in pesticides: onion, avocado, sweetcorn, pineapple, mango, asparagus, kiwi, cabbage, eggplant, watermelon, broccoli, tomato and sweet potato.
Washing fruits and vegetables can also to help reduce the pesticide load by a small amount. Wherever possible choose locally produced food that is in season. When it comes to meat, my recommendation is to invest in quality. The gold standard is organic meat. This way you avoid eating meat laden with the hormones, steroids, antibiotics and difficult living conditions that non-organically raised animals can endure. Another good alternative is grass-fed meat, which tends to be higher in healthy fats, such as omega-3’s and conjugated linoleic acid and vitamins E and beta-carotene and lower in total fat and calories.

Follow the 80 / 20 Rule

Essentially this rule says make the majority of what you eat health-promoting food, but, as long as you are essentially fit and well, eat what you like the other 20 per cent. The idea behind this is that it’s important that we are flexible when it comes to eating and that we don’t enter a self-deprivation consciousness in which we get too up tight or restrictive about what food we eat. Lets face it there are some exquisite tasting foods out their laden with sugar that should be enjoyed. It’s a question of balance. That said if you have a significant health issue, such as cancer, then that ratio of healthy / unhealthy food needs to be nearer 90/10 or even 100 per cent healthy food.

Use Healthy Cooking Methods

You can eat all of the wonderful fresh produce that you want, but if you then go and use an unhealthy cooking method to prepare it the nutrient value of that food will get diminished considerably.  Healthy cooking methods are designed to capture and enhance the taste and nutritional value of the food that you are cooking. Here are just a couple of suggestions
  • Replace vegetable oils with organic extra-virgin olive oil or coconut oil. Use the smallest amount you need and use them below the smoking point.
  • In addition to baking bread, cakes and biscuits, why not try baking or roasting your vegetables, meats and poultry and fish. You can drizzle olive oil on them to stop them getting dehydrated
  • Steaming is a great way to cook vegetables, fish and grains, whilst minimizing the nutritional loss. Either use a steamer or place a pan with holes on top of another pan containing boiling water. Place the vegetables/grains/fish in the top pan.
  • Sir frying vegetables, noodles and/or meat seafood, requires only a little oil and a relatively short cooking time
  • Swap frying food for grilling, but make sure you avoid charring.
  • Avoid using deep fat fryers, as it not only saturates the food with unhealthy fats but the heated oil can create a toxic chemical called acrylamide, which is a non carcinogen
  • Consider braising your meat. Sear it at a high heat, and then transfer to a covered pot containing liquid. Place this in and cook in your oven
  • If you use a barbecue, avoid/limit using charcoal and briquettes and lighter fuel as these can leave residues for chemicals on your food. A gas-lighted barbecue is a better option
  • Use anti-inflammatory herbs such as turmeric, rosemary and ginger in your cooking.

Eat Consciously

How often do you really take the time to enjoy a meal? For many of us, our modern lifestyles and hectic schedules means eating on the run, grabbing a bite to eat between work or family commitments rather than sitting down with the family and having a leisurely meal together.  Placing food into your mouth without taking any time to chew and taste the food properly can put a strain on the digestive system, reduces the enjoyment of food and increases the risk of overeating. It also upsets your blood sugar balance by stimulating the release of our stress hormone cortisol. When you are under stress your digestion system will shut down leaving you feeling bloated and uncomfortable after your meal. If this busy lifestyle sounds familiar you will need to make changes to allow yourself to eat in a relaxed manner taking time over your meal.  Reduce the speed at which you eat, and chew your food well – the first stage of digestion takes place in the mouth so by chewing well you are preparing the rest of your digestive system to receive the food.  Try putting your knife and fork down in between mouthfuls, as this also helps to slow the pace of eating. Eat slowly, consciously and stop when you are full. It may sound simple but this conscious approach to eating not only increases your enjoyment of food, lowers your levels of stress hormones but is likely to stop you from overeating!
If you are prone to eating on the go, rushing your food or eating whilst being stressed, try the following suggestions:
  • Take a couple of deep belly breaths before eating your food. This will help your bodymind to relax.
  • Add five minutes onto your usual eating time. For example if you normally eat breakfast in 5 minutes, give yourself 10 minutes, if you give yourself 15 minutes for lunch, make it 20 minutes. Giving yourself more time to eat, will automatically reduce the stress you are under.
  • When you cook food (if you cook food), really take time to enjoy the experience of preparing the food.
  • When you sit down to eat, focus completely on what you are eating. Become aware of how your body is feeling. When you put food into your mouth, chew on it for much longer than you normally would do – at least 10 times per mouthful is good. This will also help with the process of digestion
  • When you eat, eat slowly and allow yourself to enjoy each mouthful. When you feel satisfied or you feel that your energy levels are at their highest, stop eating. Spend a moment enjoying the pleasurable sensations inside of you
  • Once conscious eating becomes a habit – it usually takes a couple of weeks – try and use it whenever you remember to – especially if you are feeling stressed.

Eat Until Satisfied and then Stop

Portion size and calorie intake is an important part of healthy eating. Most women need about 2,000 calories and men 2,500 calories a day. Obviously men and women who are smaller and less physically active will need less, while larger and/or physically active women will need more. As a general rule of thumb I encourage my clients to eat until they sense they are satisfied, to put their knives and forks down between mouthfuls, to eat off small plates, eat soup (this keeps you feeling fuller for longer), and to choose smaller portion sizes, particularly when eating out at a restaurant. Another good rule of thumb is to eat no more than you can fit into your cupped hands. Using a hunger scale is also very useful and can help you to not overeat.
One way to prevent overeating is to eat until you are satisfied and then stop. One way to do this is to consciously breathe in and out of your stomach area as you eat and to tune in to how you are feeling. Using the hunger scale below, give yourself a score:
  1. Weak and light-headed. Your stomach acid is churning.
  2. Very uncomfortable. You feel irritable and unable to concentrate.
  3. Uncomfortably hungry. Your stomach is rumbling.
  4. Slightly uncomfortable. You’re just beginning to feel signs of hunger.
  5. Comfortable. You’re more or less satisfied, but could eat a little more.
  6. Perfectly comfortable. You feel satisfied.
  7. Full. A little bit uncomfortable.
  8. Uncomfortably full. You feel bloated.
  9. Very uncomfortably full. You need to loosen your clothes.
  10. Stuffed. You are so full you feel nauseous.
As a general rule of thumb you should only eat when you are feeling 1, 2, 3 or 4. You should put down your fork down at 5 or 6 and wait until the next scheduled meal or snack. And if you’re trying to lose weight, stop at 5, the point at which you’re eating a little less than your body is burning. Because it can take up to 20 minutes for your body to register as full, try waiting for this time period after having your main meal before deciding to have dessert! If you always eat everything on your plate – try always leaving some – this helps to break the habit of eating everything and of course it reduces your calorie consumption.

Identify & Address Emotional Eating

If you regularly use food to manage stress, sadness, boredom, anger, fear, agitation, shame, guilt or frustration then you are probably an emotional eater. Emotional eating is a strategy that we use in order to change and improve the way we feel. Whilst in the moment it works well, shortly afterwards it often brings on feelings of guilt and shame. At least 80% of the people who come to me as clients are emotional eaters. You can have the best of intentions and all the knowledge you need about a healthy diet, but if you use food to manage your stress, it will almost certainly sabotage your healthy eating programme.
One of the keys to overcoming emotional eating is to learn new ways of managing your emotions and even more importantly to address the issues that are giving rise to the emotions that you are feeling. This will work for the majority of emotional eaters – however if you have an eating disorder, then this will require additional help.
If you think that you could be an emotional eater, here’s what I suggest:
  • Starting now and for the next 24 hours, observe your eating patterns without judging yourself
  • Notice how you use food to change the way you feel
  • Write down a list of your favourite comfort foods, for example bread, chocolate, biscuits
  • Write down a list of the events and experiences, thoughts or images that trigger you to eat your comfort foods
  • Reflect on the past and work out how long have you been using food in this way
  • Write a list of how emotional eating has restricted your life and health


LinkedIn Facebook
To contact us call +44 20 3239 4118
or e-mail us at