One of the most useful ways to think about food and nutrition is that it’s “fuel” for your body. In the same way that the performance of your car varies depending on what fuel and oil you use, the performance of your body and mind will vary according to what you eat (and don’t eat!)
From a nutrition perspective, food is divided into macronutrients and micronutrients. Macronutrients are Carbohydrates, Proteins and Fats and Micronutrients are vitamins, minerals and other trace elements.
If you are a healthy adult and have no underlying medical conditions, then your diet should consist of foods selected from a variety of food groups as you’ll see described in the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) guidelines in the links below. If you have a medical condition, or are pregnant, or breastfeeding or even recovering from surgery, your nutrition needs will vary and you should keep in touch with your GP or Dietitian about what you need.
If you’re gaining or losing weight and not trying to do it, that could indicate that your diet is not matched to your nutrition needs or it could also indicate an underlying medical condition. Some endocrine (hormonal) disorders can result in weight changes and so can some psychological conditions like depression and anxiety. The important thing to do is take action if you notice a change – see your GP straight away to chat about what might be going on.
A key part of nutrition is also what you drink – the best thing to drink, without doubt, is plain old water! Avoid sugary drinks (soft drinks, fruit juices and “energy drinks”), minimize alcohol and drink enough water so that your urine has a pale colour – that’s the best indicator of good hydration for most people.
BMI is a good general indicator of whether or not your weight is in a healthy range – it’s not perfect but it works well for most people. If you don’t know your own BMI, use the links below to an online calculator. If you’re concerned about it, go and see your GP and chat about the result and what you can do to make some changes.
Things that might help you identify if you’re not eating to your body’s requirements can vary widely from person to person but they may include:
- Frequently feeling tired or sluggish
- Feeling thirsty or often having deeply coloured urine
- Not being regular
- Gaining or losing weight without trying
- Clothes not fitting so well anymore
- Finding it harder to get up the energy to do things you used to do easily
- Skipping meals or eating on the run
- Knowing that you’re making poor food choices (even if you haven’t noticed some of the other signs above)
It’s important to eat to your body’s requirements – if you only need to drive from home to the shops, you don’t need to fill up the tank. If you’re driving interstate, you probably do. If you have a sedentary job and don’t do much daily or weekly exercise, your body will have lower energy requirements than someone who goes to the gym everyday and works on their feet all day. So think about what you do and plan what you eat accordingly.
If you recognize that you need to make a change to your diet, here are some tips to get you started:
Record everything you eat for a two to three week period. Do it honestly. It’s not an exercise in shaming or embarrassing – it’s a way of getting accurate data about what you might need to change. Then chat with your GP about it.
Fitness trackers are very popular – they won’t make you lose weight or change your diet but they will help you build awareness about what you’re eating (and not eating) and what your daily activity level is actually like.
Think about portion size when you eat – just because a supermarket sells something in a bag or a box, doesn’t mean you need to eat it all in one go. Listen to your body. If you start to feel full, stop eating!
Use a bread and butter plate (rather than a dinner plate) to make yourself serve smaller portions.
Don’t watch TV or do other things that draw your attention while you’re eating – have a few meals each week at least where you pay close attention to the act of eating – look at your food, smell it, taste it, feel what it feels like in your mouth and enjoy it. Good food is enjoyable!!
If you’re trying to make some changes and getting frustrated because you don’t seem to be having success, see your GP and consider a referral to a Dietitian who can advise on what you should be eating or a Psychologist who can help you manage some of the difficulties you might be having with motivation or cravings.