I don’t know about you, but I spent the first couple of weeks of lockdown raiding my cupboards out of pure boredom. My routine had changed and I compensated by eating more of what I wanted and less of what I ought to. One treat turned into another and, as the panic buy frenzy continued, my kitchen started to fill with items that satiated my sugar cravings.
As an athlete nutrition is incredibly important to get right. It fuels your body, which allows you to train harder, focus better and keep your energy levels high. Get this just a tiny bit wrong and it could spell disaster on the competition field. The first time I represented the Yorkshire County Team I got so nervous that the thought of eating made me feel sick. Trying to get through a full day on minimal fuel was not the best approach and towards the end I was running on fumes. I won, but my strong start got chipped away by my competitors towards the end. This was a great motivator to learn from my mistakes and make sure I got nutrition right.
Outside of sport healthy eating is just as important. The body still needs fuel, our brain needs feeding and we need to maintain our energy levels. Whether you’re working out , spending a day behind a desk, or running around after children it’s important that you fuel yourself properly.
We’ve also heard (and perhaps experienced?) horror stories about children being weighed when they got back to school. This sets a terrible precedent for many, many reasons as it has links to body shaming, which in turn encourages restrictive diets. A far more effective approach is to promote, support and develop a good relationship with our diet so we fuel our body in the right way.
As we teeter on the edge of the unknown once more, here are a few of my tips to getting this right:
A positive habit that I’m taking with me out of the last lockdown is planning my meals ahead. I’ve gone from visiting the supermarket almost every day to doing a big weekly shop. It’s saved so much time on the ‘what are we having for dinner?’ dilemmas that cropped up far too frequently and has stopped me from taking shortcuts and reverting to quick fixes that aren’t as nutrient-dense.
GROW YOUR OWN
When I was eight years old my grandma set aside a little patch in her garden for me to grow vegetables. There was something spectacularly rewarding about nurturing tiny seeds and watching my hard work
grow into fresh produce. The best part, of course, was eating it. Home grown fruit and veggies taste far nicer than the stuff you can buy at the supermarket. It also gave me a bit more of an adventurous streak. I hated courgettes, but because I’d grown them I was willing to give them a try.
A few packets of seeds can keep young people entertained for hours, educate them about where food comes from and allow them to take responsibility for looking after them. You can even join in the fun by growing herbs and certain vegetables in window-ledge planters if you’re struggling to access the outdoors. And even though we’re
heading into winter now there are still a few veggies that thrive in the cold and damp.
Rainbows are the new in thing. I still see many brightly coloured paintings in windows, on my daily walk. Our diet should be as colourful as these rainbows, as this makes sure we get the biggest number of nutrients and vitamins. For younger children, keeping tabs of all the different colours and running a mini competition to see who can eat the most colours can be a really fun way of ensuring they get a healthy mix of nutrients.
Cooking is often seen as a chore – a task borne of necessity rather than enjoyment, with success hinging on how quickly we can whip something up. I use cooking time as quality time. It’s brilliant to get together, talk about our day and complete something as a team. Turning how I saw cooking from an inconvenience to an essential part of the meal process was a strong enough incentive that helped transform this into a positive habit over the long-term.
When the fun of this starts to stagnate it’s time to start mixing things up. Cooking foods from different cultures and learning about these, setting the dinner table with handmade menus, or creating healthier versions of restaurant favourites all go down well.
We’re all motivated by different things and I find that logging what I eat helps me stay on track and ensure that I eat a nicely balanced diet. I use MyNetDiary. They have a fantastic free version of their App that allows you to log what you eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. This breaks my meals down into the different food groups so I understand what I’m eating, it’s helped me get my portion size right, and it encourages me to make better choices especially when it comes to snacking.
I’ve found the App to be an invaluable tool particularly around enabling me to be consistent with my approach to food. There is absolutely nothing wrong with going off track every now and again, providing it doesn’t devolve into a bad habit that quickly becomes the norm. Returning to the App can help turn these little blips around and get back in the healthy eating lane. At the beginning of lockdown I splashed out on chocolate, cookies and pizza – my go to comfort foods. After a few days my App wasn’t looking too healthy, which encouraged me to make better food choices.
Apps are brilliant if used correctly – the purpose is to develop a positive relationship with food. This isn’t about obsessing over calories, but helping you get a better balance if this is an area that you struggle with. ◆