In her comprehensive new book Nourish & Glow: The 10-Day Plan, nutritional therapist and bestselling author Amelia Freer shares the secrets of her exclusive practice that includes Victoria Beckham, Sam Smith, James Corden, and many other A-listers as clients.
The plan has been developed and refined over her decade of work as a nutritional therapist. It’s about ‘Positive Nutrition’, not deprivation.
As Amelia explains: “Today we find ourselves facing a whole new set of challenges. The clean eating movement has swept across us as a tidal wave of marketing and media hype, bombarding us with messages about what we supposedly must eat and what we must avoid at all costs. This movement in some ways has been a step in the right direction – with good nutrition taking centre stage and easier access to whole food ingredients – but it has also created a lot of fear, anxiety and confusion.
“So this is where I hope I can help out again. Relaxed nutritional balance is how I approach my own diet and what I help my clients to achieve.
“Nourish & Glow: The 10-Day Plan is therefore not just a diet or recipe book. It is a comprehensive handbook gently guiding you to find your own insights and building up your knowledge and skills, encouraging you to explore a way of eating healthily that is right for you.”
Here Amelia shares the basic principles behind the plan:
Recognising the triggers of emotional eating
I usually suggest trying this for a week or so, to see if you can find any patterns emerging.
The following table might help as a guide to examine and process those thoughts. Remember, as with all of these exercises, there are no right and wrong answers.
I define ‘triggers’ as situations you cannot predict (such as an argument with your partner, a hurtful comment, a bereavement) and ‘cues’ as situations you can predict, which can lead to emotional eating habits (such as walking in through the door after work, the 4pm tea round, watching TV in the evenings). Both triggers and cues are worth thinking about, however minor they seem, because they can both precipitate different types of emotional eating. What are your triggers and cues? Have they changed over time?
Emotional eating is so very important to work on, because fundamentally food is not the solution to difficult emotion. So the sooner we can find alternative strategies to comfort and console ourselves, the better all round.
Food as a source of comfort and love
Sharing food has even played an important role in our evolution, by increasing the closeness of our relationships and helping us to develop social bonds.
As well as using food as an outward sign of love, we may also use food as our go-to gift of comfort. Just as a crying infant is soothed by the offer of milk, so we have all learnt, from the earliest of ages, to associate comfort with the feeling of a full tummy. Add to this years of bribery, treats and “Oh, I deserve it!” moments, and it is no wonder that food is a comfort blanker for many.
Wanting to extend this to others we care about is therefore no surprise. If someone we know is upset, one of our first instincts is often to offer them a cup of tea (or something stronger!) or a slice of cake. By doing so, we are trying to make things a little better for them. But feeling like we are able to do something can make us feel better too.
Giving and receiving messages through food or drink can be a wonderfully loving and caring act, but it shouldn’t end up causing harm in the long term to either ourselves or others. The occasional treat is a joy, but when this becomes a regular habit, then perhaps we need to re-evaluate things a little.
Consider whether there are other ways that you could show your feelings that are not related to ‘treat’ food. And how about showing affection and kindness to ourselves? Self-love through the enjoyment of healthy nourishing foods will feed a virtuous cycle of wellbeing for both mind and body. Here are some non-food treat ideas that I use. I’m sure you can think of others too.
Non food treats
*Flowers, even just a couple of stems picked from the garden
*Physical touch or hugs
*Words of encouragement or comfort
*A walk together
*A listening ear
*Offers of practical help
*A long bath
*A movie, comedy show or box set
*An evening with a good book
Finding your core reasons for healthy eating
We can prepare ourselves to move towards a healthier lifestyle by focusing on, and understanding, the positive reasons why we are putting in such an effort and what our goals are. This makes it much easier to stick with it when the going gets tough. Most of us have one or two primary reasons for trying to lead a healthier life. These are the ‘headline’ titles. Things like ‘because I want to see my kids grow up’, ‘to look drop-dead gorgeous in my wedding dress’, to boost my sports performance’. What are yours?
I suggest you write them down. If they have a negative slant, can you transform them into the positive? So instead of writing, for example, ‘to stop getting any sicker’, write ‘to support my body back to full health’. Keep your list close (take a photo of it to keep on your phone) and in moments when you are struggling to stick with your habits, have a quick read of it to remind yourself when you started this journey in the first place.
Building blocks of a healthy diet – thinking about time frames
I tend to divide what I eat into four time frames. This helps me to plan and maintain a nutritionally-balanced diet over the long term. Remember, consistency is key here. Expecting perfection in every timeframe will inevitably be impossible to maintain.
* Individual meals – In general I try to get at least some protein, healthy fats and either fruit or vegetables at every meal.
* The whole day – Over the course of a whole day, at least when I am able to, I like to make sure that I have got at least my basic foundations covered – things like getting enough protein, fresh fruit, vegetables, water, healthy fats, etc, so that if one meal is a little thin on the ground nutritionally speaking, I will make a bit of an effort to boost my other meals that day. I have developed a tool called the positive nutrition pyramid to help me achieve this (see the next section).
* A week – I use my ‘rule of 2s’: I like to make sure I am getting two portions of fish, ideally, no more than two portions of red meats and smoked/processed meats or fish per week. Simple!
* A year – Overall health, energy levels, digestive function, skin, hair, nails and mood are some of the best feedback mechanisms there are to let us know if our dietary changes are working or not, and these things take a little while to adapt. I am a great believer in eating with seasons, not only because the food is often higher in nutrients but because it is often tastier, more ecologically friendly and brings more variety to my plate.
The basics of healthy eating under my 10-day plan
The plan itself consists of three meals a day, no snacks. This might be hard to start with, especially if you are used to being a bit more of a ‘grazer’ but I promise it does get easier. Make sure you are drinking plenty of water in between meals and rest assured that it is perfectly natural and completely OK to feel a little hunger. So many of us have a real fear of it. The French have a great saying: “Hunger makes the best condiment” – and I really believe this to be true. Food just tastes better when you are a little hungry for it. I have made the meal plan gluten, dairy, and refined sugar free. That is not to say that this is what I advise for everyone, but it allows you the opportunity to see whether you feel better without these ingredients, as many people do.
The positive nutrition food pyramid
The ‘positive nutrition’ pyramid is a simple collection of images, each of which represents a single portion of food. The whole pyramid represents one day, and the aim is to tick off every type of food pictured.
After you’ve had breakfast and lunch, for example, you can then see exactly which foods still need to be ticked for your evening meal. You can then prepare a meal that incorporates those.
Some foods fall into more than one category – for example, a handful of almonds can be either ‘nuts and seeds’ or ‘protein’ or ‘healthy fats’. Half a tin of chickpeas could be both ‘starchy carbohydrates’ or ‘protein’.
It’s up to you to choose whichever food type you most need, and work out the rest of your day accordingly. Importantly, the pyramid doesn’t specify or restrict what you choose to eat on top of the portions recommended. The foods pictured represent a suggested minimum.
In fact, some people struggle to include all the vegetables pictured and work up to this level slowly, starting with just one extra portion a day.
That doesn’t mean I’m encouraging a completely free rein – the pyramid will work only when it’s your first priority. It’s then up to you if you wish to add in foods or drinks that may be nice, but not necessary.
If you don’t manage every food pictured, don’t worry. I don’t want you to be stuffing yourself with all the remaining portions or glugging five glasses of water just before bedtime. Neither should you try to ‘catch up’ the next day; each morning, simply start afresh.
If people could just stick to one golden rule…
Be curious. Rather than following each and every health trend as it passes by, start to listen to what your body wants instead. The trends are often persuasively marketed, but almost by definition, the vast majority of them will not be right for you. If you’re not sure where to begin and are feeling overwhelmed by the sheer volume of conflicting advice out there, don’t be afraid to work alongside a nutrition professional to help guide you in the right direction. It is never a sign of weakness or failure to ask for help.
Tips for ‘good mood food’
Our mood can influence the foods we choose, but the foods we eat can influence our emotions too. So how do we create a virtuous cycle of ‘good mood food’?
* Stabilise your blood sugars.
Cut down on refined carbohydrates and sugar, creating your meals from whole foods instead, like fresh vegetables and a portion of protein.
* Up your omega-3 fats.
Try to eat one to two portions of wild, oily fish a week, or consider taking a high-quality fish oil supplement.
*Reduce your omega-6 fats. Ditch the sunflower and vegetable oils and processed foods and cook from scratch with olive oil and coconut oil instead.
* Eat polyphenols.
Berries, cocoa, green tea and the whole rainbow of fruits and vegetables are great sources of these health-giving compounds. Even a small glass (around 120ml) of red wine can be beneficial.
* Wean yourself off your reliance on caffeine.
Too much caffeine can make us feel more tired, rather than less. This feels counter-intuitive, but over a long period our bodies adapt to what we give them, so we end up needing caffeine just to feel normal.
* Get your B Vitamins.
Eat plenty of green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds and eggs. I encourage whole foods first, but vegans may need to supplement.
* Boost your fibre.
Our gut microflora (friendly bacteria) are now thought to play an important role in our mood. The best way to give them a boost is to eat a minimally processed, varied, high-fibre diet.