The following blog post is an article I originally wrote on behalf of ReachOut for the 15 July 2012 edition of the Sunday Business Post.

Over the past decade, the rate of obesity in Ireland has increased dramatically. Today, approximately 25 per cent of adults are considered obese. Eating a balanced diet ensures that our bodies are supplied with the nutrients they need, and reduces our risk for chronic diseases and obesity.

Unfortunately, when we’re stressed, tired, and busy, a well-balanced diet is usually one of the first things we sacrifice.

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Importance of a healthy diet

Balanced diets are important; they provide our bodies with the nutrients and energy it needs to stay alive and healthy, and to deal with stress or hard work. When our diet is not balanced, our body is unable to maintain healthy brain and nervous system function.

Our sleeping patterns, physical health and sense of wellbeing can all be impaired by a poor diet.

Our bodies are also unable to properly maintain body tissues, and provide for healthy growth and development. In addition, an unbalanced diet can cause problems with maintenance of our bones and muscles.

Last month, the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute (INDI) came out with a new, updated food pyramid. It states that, each day, our diet should consist of the following:

  • six or more servings of wholegrain bread, cereals, potatoes, pasta, and rice
  • five or more servings of fruits and vegetables
  • three servings of preferably lower in fat milk, yogurt, and cheese
  • two servings of either meat, fish, eggs, nuts or beans and pulses
  • two servings of reduced fat spreads and oils
  • maximum one serving of foods or drinks high in fat, sugar and salt
  • 2.5 litres of water

While a new fad diet seems to appear every week, most of them do not work. Diets usually involve cutting something out of your daily intake, when the best way to stay healthy is to make sure you are getting the right number of nutrients.

For more information on what is classified as a serving, see www.indi.ie.

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Make the effort

Eating healthily does not have to be about sticking to a strict diet or depriving yourself of food. When you eat a healthy diet, you will stay full and probably find yourself in a better mood. When we are tired and hungry, grabbing takeaways or microwaving processed, pre-packaged food might seem like an easier way to satisfy your hunger pangs. In the end, however, this will not satisfy your body’s need for vitamins and nutrients.

Setting yourself up for success is the key to making any change. There are a few things you can do to start eating a balanced diet.

  • Try making snacks and meals in advance; this will help when you are hungry and need something quick. Also, remember that it’s okay to eat the odd snack that’s not so good for you, on occasion. The key is moderation. Instead of getting a whole side of chips with lunch, try splitting them with a friend.
  • We can often mistake thirst for hunger, so when you’re feeling hungry and want a snack, try a glass of water with one of your five-a-day instead.
  • Make sure you eat something for breakfast every day. Eating in the morning allows us to refuel our bodies for the day ahead, and reduces the urge to snack later.
  • Lastly, combine a balanced diet with regular exercise. Exercise can be a good motivator to continue on a healthy diet.

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While it is important to eat healthily, becoming too focused on your diet can lead to negative thinking. Try not to view food as the enemy. If you eat something unhealthy, it is not the end of the world, just aim to do better tomorrow.

For more tips on healthy eating, you can find additional resources at www.nutrition.ie and www.greatfood.ie

Nicole Paulie is a Counselling Psychologist, and co-author of “How to be Happy and Healthy – The seven natural elements of mental health.” She provides therapy in the Dublin city area. Contact us to learn more or to book an appointment.

Learn the Value of Balanced Nutrition
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