Health & Fitness

5 small changes you can make to improve your diet

Old habits die hard, especially if you're trying to adopt healthier eating practices. But it's really the little changes that matter and former luxury PR firm owner and fitness enthusiast Marie Choo shares with us her simple tips to stick to a healthy diet (and score rock-hard abs)
 

Marie Choo

Photo: mariechoo / Instagram

I have often been asked how is it possible that I look better and younger now in my 40s than when I was in my 30s. Many were baffled when they found out my real age, and the million dollar question I usually get is how I managed to get my defined abs.

There’s truth in the saying “you are what you eat” and beauty is literally more than skin deep. Eating isn’t just about satisfying your hunger but is also something that can make you more beautiful, from the inside out. I am not joking when I say abs are made in the kitchen and not just at the gym. Many trainers will attest to that, because a good diet is what helps you achieve the six-pack, in addition to working out regularly.

I don’t believe in extreme diets, and I indulge in moderation. I believe that sustainability is the key to longevity of any habit. Here are 5 simple habits that I adhere to as part of my lifestyle.

 

1. Drink enough water

drink water

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The human body is made up of 60% water. This makes it a vital element for survival, and it’s important to replenish it. Water is essential for cell maintenance, body temperature regulation, digestion, transportation of nutrients, and removal of waste. A sedentary, healthy adult needs at least 1.5 litres of water daily, which means we need even more if we participate in sports, or spend time outdoors in our hot and humid climate. Some may find water too bland to drink in large amounts.

To make my water more palatable, I add in fruit and vegetable slices such as lemon, apple, orange, and cucumber, as well as herbs such as mint, rosemary, and basil. I prefer bubbles in my water and if you like sparkling water like I do, you can make your own using a SodaStream. I drink from my reusable SodaStream bottle as a way to keep track of my daily water intake, as well as do my part to reduce the number of plastic bottles that I throw away.

 

2. Watch your sugar intake

sugary snacks

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Not all sugars are created equal but all types of sugar contain calories, with the exception of artificial sweeteners. Sugar is a carbohydrate which is found in naturally-occurring sources in whole foods (honey, fructose in fruit, lactose in milk); and processed and refined sources (agave syrup, maple syrup, white sugar, brown sugar). Research has shown that a high intake of refined sugar is linked to accelerated ageing of the skin, in addition to risks of weight gain and type 2 diabetes. Sugar is a source of fuel with no nutritional value on its own. It won’t cause many problems if you are active and burn it off. The issue is if you take in more than the average daily recommendation of six teaspoons, and lead a sedentary lifestyle.

The pitfall in our modern society is that sugar isn’t found in just desserts and sweet drinks. It is hidden everywhere, and can be found even in savoury foods. I want to have my cake and eat it too, so I manage my sugar quota by sticking to these simple habits.

  • I drink my coffee and tea without sugar and milk.
  • I generally avoid sodas and sugary drinks, with the exception of during my training sessions, when I need sugar as a quick fuel source.
  • I allow myself to have desserts but I watch my portions.
  • I eat my local shaved ice desserts with little or no added syrup.
  • When I do drink the occasional bubble tea, I asked for 0% sugar, as the pearls or aloe vera cubes are already sweetened.

 

3. Eat fruits instead of drinking fruit juices

eat fruits

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Although fruit juices contain vitamins and minerals, it is still a sugary drink, albeit a natural one. It is easy to over-indulge in fructose when drinking fruit juices. Think of it this way — we can pack in more fruits into a glass of juice, versus actually eating an apple or two. Juicing a fruit removes all its pulp, which contains fibre. The absence of fibre means we don’t feel full. It also causes the body to absorb the fructose more quickly.

This can lead to a spike in blood sugar levels, which can overwhelm the liver and cause health problems, if you’re not drinking your juices in moderation. It is one thing if you are doing a juice fast by drinking juices as meal replacements, and another if you’re drinking fruit juices in addition to your meals. A good alternative to a juice is to switch to fruit smoothies (which blend the entire fruit, keeping the pulp) as a meal. This way, you can drink your fruits and still keep the fibre content.

 

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4. Avoid late dinners and snacks

avoid late dinners

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You may have come across many articles about not eating after 8pm, or even earlier like 7pm or 6pm. The truth in this rule is somewhat linked to the fact that a normal adult needs about 8 hours of sleep, and experts recommend not eating 3 hours before bedtime to allow for optimum digestion. Research has shown that late dinners and snacking is detrimental to the waistline and overall health, and can increase the risk of diabetes and heart disease.

Assuming you have to get up at 7am, that would mean you should be in bed by 11pm to ensure you get your 8 hours of sleep. Thus, you would need to stop eating by 8pm. Your body needing to process food consumed late in the evening can interfere with proper digestion — and thus can have an effect on good sleep. Sleep is the time when the body repairs itself, and insufficient slumber will show on your face, leading to dull skin and bloodshot eyes. They don’t call it beauty sleep for nothing, so keep your dinners to a regular, early time, and skip the late night snacks.

 

5. Avoid processed food

avoid processed food

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What you eat can also help optimise your beauty quotient, as what you put into your body is processed, and will show on your skin. As a general rule (and as clichéd as it may sound), I avoid what is cheap, easy, fast and fake. What is generally cheap usually contains little nutritional value, as compared to nutrient-dense, quality whole foods. These may be pricier, but better for overall health, and if you’re talking about looks, will lead to better skin, nails, teeth and hair.

Convenience foods are an easy choice when we are busy, but these options are usually laden with sodium, sugar, preservatives and artificial ingredients with names that are straight out of a chemistry textbook. If you really must, have the happy meals as a once-in-a-blue moon indulgence. For your main meals, opt for whole foods over processed ones (which include things like sausages, ham, and nuggets). You wouldn’t put diesel in a Ferrari, so choose your fuel source wisely if you want to be a high-performance workhorse with radiant skin.

 

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