We are constantly bombarded with messages about healthy eating, dieting and keeping fit. Scares about food appear in the media continually: salmonella, BSE,dioxins, E. coli, GM food, cholesterol, saturated fat, MSG, ... the list goes on.
We are endlessly compelled to listen to what is healthy and unhealthy, and it seems that the advice is constantly changing. The dietary advice offered by doctors a few decades ago would probably be seen as (quite literally) a recipe for disaster today, and perhaps today's advicewill fare no better with the passage of time.
We have, perhaps, gone too far. It seems to me that we are taking 'healthy living' all a bit too seriously. I'm not suggesting that we shouldn't take care of our health, but to worry about it excessively, to spend too much of our time thinking about it and to make ourselves miserable in the process is just as unhealthy as not taking any trouble to look after ourselves.
Let's face it - a lot of people are making big money out of publishing books about health, promoting diets, selling 'healthy' foods (low fat, low sugar, low sodium, added omega-3, fortified with vitamins and iron, etc. etc.) Nothing wrong with making money, of course, but it does seem to be a bit of a bandwagon and we're all too ready to jump right on.
So what are we to do?
Stop trying to make sense of all the information that is coming your way
If you are trying to make sense of everything the media is telling you about health, you're going to be wasting a lot of time which, frankly, could be better spent. The (so called) experts can't seem to agree on a lot of things, and some of the science is so mysterious and opaque that most people cannot hope to decode it and use it sensibly. I have a degree in Chemistry from Oxford University and, while this does not make me an expert, it does give me a fighting chance of trying to understand the science. But to be honest, I can't understand much of it. So I see little point in spending my time trying to figure out in any detailed way what's best for me.
Instead, I just try to live by some general rules of thumb which I suspect will make more of a difference in the long run than embracing the latest fad or getting overly worried about the latest scare.
Eat a balanced diet, containing a range of foods.
You don't need to 'diet' (in the sense of keeping to a very strict eating regime). Diets require effort and anything that involves maintaining effort is usually going to fizzle out after the first flush of enthusiasm. This, of course, is why diets usually fail. Before you know it, you'll be back on the cookies, the chocolate bars, the ice cream and the Coke. And who is to say which diet is best? There are so many, all claiming to be backed up by science, that just choosing one could lead you to have a minor nervous breakdown.
So forget about it, and instead just try to eat a variety of things. Try to eat fruit and vegetables every day. A salad for lunch (or with your lunch) is a good choice. A diet rich in Mediterranean foods is easy to achieve and contains a range of healthy and delicious foods.
What you might try to do is put your diet on autopilot. One good idea is to have a food planner - decide in advance what you're going to have for breakfast, lunch and dinner on each day of the week, and stick to it. This way, you know you're getting variety. And do build in some treats - I'm sure the odd chocolate bar and ice cream isn't going to kill you.
It seems to me that we eat too much. The portions that restaurants offer are usually are too big, but we just get used to them. But I will not overeat - when I am just full, I stop. Take less food, don't go back for seconds, cook half the amount you usually would. If you get used to eating like this, you could save money too.
Incidentally, I don't think there is anything wrong with snacking - just don't snack on chocolate bars and chips all the time - what about nuts or dried fruit - sultanas, dates, figs?
The same sort of concept applies to other things - drink less, smoke less. I know it's not politically correct to say it, but I'm sure that the odd cigarette won't kill you, so long as it really is just the odd one. The same goes for drinking - it can be dangerous and terribly unhealthy, but moderate drinking won't do you much harm, and might even help you.
Don't skip breakfast.
For me, breakfast is the most difficult meal of the day. I have to get up early to go to work, so the thought of getting up even earlier to make breakfast does not appeal to me at all. Even so, breakfast is really important - when you get up, you haven't eaten for maybe 12 hours, so if you don't eat something, your body will start to 'think' that food is getting scarce and that it needs to conserve energy. This will lower your metabolic rate and decrease the number of calories you burn.
So with the importance of breakfast in mind, I make my life a bit easier by having a simple breakfast, usually made up of 'the four Bs' - bananas, broccoli (or any green, leafy vegetable), bean sprouts and berries (or any other fruit). I just throw them in the blender and in a few minutes I have a rather filling and very nutritious drink. I find that after drinking this, I feel full all morning and often don't feel like eating lunch until 1 or 2pm (and for me, breakfast is at 6.30am). Give it a try!
Relax, stop taking it all so seriously
Finally, try to keep in mind that food isn't that important. There are much more important things in life, so keep food and diet in perspective. If you worry about food, then you are making yourself feel bad, and your quality of life has fallen. Why do this to yourself? In the end, life is complex and unpredictable. We've all heard about health fanatics and marathon runners who drop dead in middle age, and guys who drink, smoke and party into advanced old age.
A healthy diet does stack the odds is your favor, but there is a lot more going on which simply cannot be taken into account. So try to be sensible, be moderate and stop taking life so seriously.
By Mark Harrison writes about personal growth, communication, and increasing personal wealth. Check out his new book, Thirty Days to Change Your Life.