How to put a meal plan into action

In this newsletter, our resident nutritionist Dr Carlotta Petti provides some straightforward advice about how you can turn your meal plan into a reality.

BE PREPARED

Preparation is the key to maintaining a healthy diet. You always need to have the foods ready a day ahead of time. Depending on your schedule it may work best to shop and prep a few days at a time (twice a week) or on a Sunday so that you have your meals ready to go for the week. The first step is to select the recipes you plan to follow, then to plan your shopping list. For the meals that require cooking, you can prep the veg in advance to make the cooking process faster.

BUILD HEALTHY HABITS

The goal is to follow a healthy portion-controlled diet that you can maintain over time. Try to make small changes and move in the direction that you want to go without being too hard on yourself. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, first focus on making two out of three meals healthy, and then once the quantities and meals become more familiar, work on making the third meal healthy too.

BE FLEXIBLE

Listen to what your body is telling you and plan your meals and snacks according to your day. If you know that you’ll want to eat after exercise, save your snacks until then. If you feel full before you’ve finished a meal or snack, stop.

TACTICS FOR DEALING WITH HUNGER

If you’ve been used to eating more, you may be concerned about feeling hungry. If you follow the balanced meals as recommended you’re more likely to feel satisfied and energetic. If you do find yourself hungry, wait a while to see if you feel food after digesting your food. You can check to see how long it is until your next meal or snack – can you wait another two hours until then? You can also try drinking water or herbal tea, as dehydration can sometimes be mistaken for hunger.

FORGET COUNTING CALORIES

Try not to stress about calories. If you stick to your meal plan you should be eating enough healthy satisfying foods that you won’t be tempted to overeat. Trust that your meal plan will work for you.

EMBRACE VARIETY

Try to keep your meals varied. If you have eggs for breakfast, don’t eat them again that day, likewise for bread. Eating a wide variety of foods will help you to get all the micronutrients that your body needs, and it can also keep things interesting and fun! If you are a creature of routine, that’s fine but still try to ensure your meals are varied across the week and throughout a day.

BE SNACK READY

Use the myDNA meal planner to select some healthy snacks, which you can have ready in advance – portioned nuts, yoghurt or a piece of fruit can be good options.

WHAT ABOUT TREATS?

Indulgences are allowed – the 80/20 rule is a good one to follow. Just make sure that you aren’t allowing yourself treats daily as that will create unhealthy habits that will become the norm. Practice saying no thanks to sweet treats.

EATING OUT

The more you eat out the less likely you are to be able to make healthy changes, so try to prepare your own food as much as possible. If you are eating out, look for the healthiest options (e.g. grilled fish rather than fried) and salads. Be mindful of portion sizes and try not to overeat. Two starters may be better than one main course. If possible, look at the menu before you go out and decide what option will be healthiest so that you don’t have to choose under pressure. Make sure you still eat your healthy snacks that day as you’ll be more likely to overeat if you arrive really hungry.

AVOID TEMPTATION

If you’re planning to be healthy its best to get rid of any junk or snack foods that may lead to temptation. If other family members or housemates want them, try to make sure they are out of sight.

TUNE INTO HOW YOU FEEL

When you eat a healthy balanced diet, you will feel energetic and satisfied. Tune into how you feel when you eat nutritious food. Try to notice how you feel after eating unhealthy food. If you become more aware of how you feel when you fuel your body well it’ll be easier to stick to the plan.

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Dr Carlotta Petti

Nutrigenomics Specialist

About the author:

Dr Carlotta Petti is a Nutrition and Medical Scientist. She holds a Master’s Degree in Molecular Genetics and a PhD in Cancer Genetics awarded at the National Cancer Institute in Milan (Italy) in collaboration with the Imperial Cancer Research Institute in London (UK). She completed two subsequent Postgraduate qualifications in Public Health and Human Nutrition at the Curtin University and Deakin University (Australia). She has authored scientific publications in high profile journals including Nature, Cancer Research and Oncogene.