Easy Steps to Healthy Eating

Lately, I have been hearing a lot of bad news or health scares from friends. I had a few incidents myself. One of them regarding my cholesterol level that you can read about here. Then I hear a lot of friends talking about having to eat more healthily, or try to adopt a healthier lifestyle. What is healthy eating?

Healthy eating is basically eating the right portions of the right food groups. I am not a health freak by any measure, neither do I count calories. But I do try to eat everything in moderation. Just like how you want to pace yourself with work, you gotta pace yourself when it comes to food too. You can’t give your body too much stress by overloading your digestive system and our body basically, in the long term and you gotta give it the right nutrients for it to function well.

I have a lot of bad eating habits and it does not help that I (used to) eat all the time. I am sure many Singaporeans do too. We are surrounded by too much food! A lot of health conditions (diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attack, even cancer) today are linked to over eating or poor eating habits. Basically when you are down with any of these conditions, one of the key advise is to change your eating habits. So why not change it before you are hit with these and have to take more drastic measures? When you have to recover or reverse damage done, you have to work doubly hard.

That was when it slowly dawned on me that it will be very sad if one day I have to stop eating because of my health. So I am starting to make minor changes to my diet and eating habits and unconsciously developed a healthy eating plan to make sure I have a balanced diet.

So these are the changes I made for healthier eating so that I can enjoy eating food I love to a ripe old age. Some takes longer than others as it just needs some getting used to. But generally, these steps are not difficult to follow or achieve. They are just habits that we have to build. Habits of healthy eating.

  • Drink more water and no more sugar in my drinks!

Once upon a time, I never drank anything that is not sweet. I hardly drank plain water till I was 18. For most Singaporeans, our daily source of sugar comes from drinks – coffee, tea, milo, soft drinks, fruit juices, packet drinks…. That is how my dad got his diabetes. Too much Vietnamese coffee during his 1 year stay in Vietnam.

To be fair, I am no longer addicted to any one drink. I started to reduce sugar in my drinks when I realised tea can taste so nice without sugar. Guess I am getting old. For Ed, he started with reducing the sugar in his coffee. Then totally no sugar. I realise there is so many non-sugared and yummy drinks that I can take if I can be bothered to drink more than plain water:

Honey water, floral teas, green teas, Chinese teas, wheat teas, infused teas, fruit juices, infused water with fruits and herbs and spices, apple cider vinegar with honey, milk, ginseng tea, lemon water….. the list goes on.

One glass of water is about 250ml. Recommended water intake per day with no rigorous activities is about 2L, so all you need is 8 glasses. Not too difficult if you just drink 8 glasses of different drinks and basically one glass every 2 hours of if you sleep 7 hours a day. Sounds reasonable yeah?

Cutting down the sugar in drinks makes more space to enjoy sugar in other food – DESSERTS!!!

Changing bad eating habits - sugar free beverages
Some of the sugar free teas that I keep at home. Tastes great even without sugar!
  • Don’t eat before 2 hours before bedtime.

Nothing lulls me to sleep better than a warm filled tummy. Thus, suppers were part of my diet for the longest time. But I cut it down because half the time I eat because I have a craving or it is just a pleasure, not because my body needs it. And this is where the extra strain on the system comes in.

Start by not thinking about it. I fill my night with activities that will distract me from thinking of eating. Be it watching a movie, reading a good book, settling errands, going for walks, going for yoga, or baking. Actually, one way I felt helped was baking bread. Being actually in touch with food and knowing that I will get to eat the bread after, holds me back from eating while waiting for the bread. But usually by the time the bread is done, it is too late to eat or I will only have one small slice as it is still cooling and I need to sleep. Or I will have someone slapping my hand when I go for an extra slice.

If I really need to give in, I have a glass of milk or milo. I know I must be really hungry if I can settle for a glass of warm milk, and not because I am craving for something, usually savoury and rich in carb like wanton noodles or mee sua or instant noodles. If the thought of milk does not appeal to me, then it is a craving, so I will not die. Just go to sleep as fast as you can. The only times I gave in to my hot soup noodle cravings was because I was not hungry at dinner and did not have a full dinner. Give in for a reason. We are reasonable people. =P

Next to eating supper, having a late dinner after 9pm is also a no-no. In fact, having even a large dinner is supposedly not a good idea, but ok, we will leave that for a later stage. When I was much younger, I used to eat at 9 or 10 plus pm as that is the time I reach home after work. So it was dinner, shower and sleep. Can tell how bad that is for health on so many grounds right? I had gastric then from eating late and digestive issues.

So now I make it a point to give priority to my meal times and schedule other activities around it. Stop work, eat then return to work. I cannot work hungry. Yoga classes after work? Either munch on a light dinner like sandwiches 1-2 hours before class in the office or reschedule your yoga class to after dinner. I try not to eat after 8pm. Nothing comes between me and my meals. After all, food and health are both priorities. No point going for yoga then spoiling it with a meal late at night.

bad eating habits - supper
If you are really hungry, you can eat anything. Oatmeal cookies and milo.
  • Eating Breakfasts

Funny how we can take supper, but want to miss on breakfast. I was such a person and used to joke with my mum that I am eating my breakfast before I sleep. I am one of those that refuse to go to bed earlier, but cannot wake up in the morning. So I cannot wake in time for breakfast. And I firmly believe that my stomach cannot wake so early.

Then I started to eat breakfast while at work. It is really too early for me to eat breakfast before rushing to the office and I will be so stressed by the rush that I cannot eat. So I will prepare breakfast to be eaten in the office. I will be reading reports, or having a discussion with my staff or just going through emails while I eat. Not the best solution, but better than skipping totally.

After all, as the saying goes, Breakfast is KING. It is the most important meal of the day. This is when you break fast after a night of sleep and charge your body for the day ahead. I am not sure how true it is. But I take breakfast because a big lunch will make me sleepy and I do know it is not healthy to have too big a dinner. So I need this meal. No time? Read about my easy breakfast recipes here. This is also the best meal to load yourself with the good stuff so you can go easy for the rest of the day. Start the day right, start with healthy eating!

But I must admit that one annoying side effect is that come weekends, I wake because I am starving by 8am. =X

Changing Bad Eating habits - balanced breakfast
Quick and healthy salad that I will pack for breakfast
  • Curbing my big appetite so that I eat in moderation

I have a rather big appetite that is comparable to some teenage boys at times. Gotten better after 30, but still not normal for my age. Over the last 2 years, I have trained myself quite successfully to eat like a normal person, though I usually still eat more than Ed. So how did I do it?

Our stomach is a muscle that can be trained over time. Sometimes people start feeling that they are eating more or less over the years because their stomach got used to the new eating habits. I think how I started was Ed nagging me to eat less and not letting me order my second plate of main at the hawker center.

Then also when eating at Ed’s house, his mum cooks rather small portions compared to my mum (who forgets that we are no longer starving teenagers). When there is less food on the table, natural tendency is just to eat less. I didn’t particularly feel hungry after each meal either.

I watched a documentary on TV once about how long distance truck drivers are very unhealthy and this guy was trying to improve their health by making changes to those highway diners. He did some studies on using smaller white plates instead of large dark coloured plates ( food shows up better on white, so it looks more) for salad bars or the self help counters actually reduced the amount of food they consumed by 30%!

One other way is that I don’t cook extra rice. Only enough for 1 plate per pax. So the carbo queen in me cannot stuff my face with more carbs but eat other stuff like more vegetables or meat instead. Still hungry after meal? Have a fruit or drink more tea. Sometimes I indulge in a yummy sundae of a cake with a scoop of ice cream topped with nuts and chocolate chip. Just whatever I have in the fridge to go with the ice cream. Sometimes it is even egg rolls or pineapple tarts.

  • Don’t snack! Or at least snack healthily if you must.

I don’t settle for chips or cookies when I snack. Wanton mee or at least OCK curry puff + fishball + gyoza was snack for me in the past. Some of my friends claim that this is a full meal. Actually, I usually snack because I have a craving, not because I am really hungry.

So keeping myself busy is one way to minimise snacking or have time to crave for a dish. Some friends will tell me they snack because they are stressed. I actually snack to stay awake. If I really have to snack, I will choose some healthier snacks that I enjoy, for example a mix of figs or cranberries, nuts and dark chocolate buttons or pieces to get a mix of savoury, tangy and sweet.

Once in a while I will snack on the sinful stuff… A good idea is to stock only bite sized or one serving packs.

  • Cutting down on deep fried food.

Some of you reading this must be like… Oi I thought this blog is about enjoying life… Wah… cut this cut that, how to enjoy???!!

Well, if you enjoy food, you enjoy all sorts of food. I love a wide variety of food. In fact, I think I eat the widest range of food compared to most of my friends. Besides beef, and not being able to take too much spice, I eat almost anything so long as it tastes good.

Anyway, not that I don’t take fried food anymore, just that given a choice of deep fried chicken vs bbq chicken, I will pick the bbq chicken unless the fried chicken is really good or a recommended dish, then yeah! Of course I will take that.

One thing that helped me avoid fried food was the thought of how the oil was probably reused countless times. I am quite sensitive to bad oil (being in the food manufacturing line for so long) and food fried in bad oil just leaves a bad after taste and bad feeling. So unless it is a reputable place or a recommended dish, I avoid eating it because I don’t want to waste my money. BTW, frying at home is definitely healthier and no, you don’t have to dump the oil after each fry, but you can judge when is a good time to dump it by looking at the colour and smelling it.

  • Cut down on white rice.

I am a known carb queen amongst my friends. The one that will reach out for that second bowl of white rice at restaurants. Occasionally, even the third. But after my dad came down with diabetes and later eating with my MIL, I was repeatedly exposed to other healthier alternatives that also tastes pretty good compared to regular white rice. So for the sake of my loved ones, I cook white rice replacements at home and so inevitably cut down on my own consumption too. I will not totally cut it because I still eat out and it is the most common variety, but I can greatly reduce it with a wide variety of options at home. Brown rice, basmati rice, quinoa, oats, wholemeal bread, wholemeal pasta, pumpkin, purple sweet potato, millet, vermicelli, wraps, blah blah blah….

Nowadays, Singapore supermarkets and markets does offer a lot variety! You can read about each of these by clicking on the above. I will share some nutritional information and cooking tips and recipes for each.

  • Just eat a variety and in moderation

Basically with all the food scares, of one day saying animal fats are bad and then next day saying oh actually they are not so bad after all. Just think margarine vs butter. I think the best mantra of healthy eating is to eat a little of everything so we do not put all the eggs in one basket. It helps that I love all kinds of food.

So I make sure I eat a variety of greens, reds, purples, yellows and browns for vegetables and a good mix of fish, seafood, chicken and pork with occasional lamb and duck. Some people will ask “How to have so much variety at home??” Well, one way is to plan your meals in advance, this way you can have a clear view of what you are eating and whether you are missing on any particular groups, plus it helps with your shopping.

For those who eat out often, if keeping a food diary is too much work, then just make a mental note that each meal you have your balanced diet and you eat a variety of meats and veg and not always the same food. In fact, you can try taking a “What I eat in 7 Days” challenge and take photos of all that you eat the last 7 days (isn’t half the population doing that now? Hmmm … I don’t so I have to make the effort. Heh!) Then review these photos to have a quick survey of whether you are keeping to a healthy diet or what changes you need to make.

  • Cook from scratch (whenever you can)

I know this is not possible for some out there but well, does not have to be everyday. Even if it is 2 meals a week and it is not so difficult. Don’t have to make pasta from scratch but making your own sauce is much easier, healthier and faster. Fun too, though I know not all people see this as fun.

Point is when you cook something yourself you understand better what goes in there and have full control on how healthy you eat. You can be sure you used Olive oil and not some other oil, or that you used fresh seafood and not some processed or frozen stuff. Say if you get the butcher to grind meat for you, you can see that the cut used was fresh, good quality meat and not a mix of stale leftovers or parts of undesirable cuts or parts. Sometimes cooking it myself makes me realise how unhealthy or how it is actually not that unhealthy.

Start with identifying your bad habits

Everyone has different poison when it comes to food. Most people can identify their bad eating habits. Just that we like to give excuses like “it is ok, I am still so healthy”, or “My body needs so much food or I will starve!” or “Nothing wrong with eating only fruits. Fruits are healthy”.

Be it under or over eating, these are all bad eating habits. The thing about healthy eating is to have a balanced diet. Meaning, not just fruits or fruits and vegetables. If you can tolerate eating oats everyday and only oats, I don’t think you will live very healthily too because our body needs a mix of fibre, proteins, carbs, minerals, fats and sugars to function properly. We are not herbivores or carnivores. I believe in science class, I was taught that humans are omnivores. If you are vegetarian or vegan for whatever reasons, then do consult a doctor, nutritionist or dietician on how you should supplement your diet to ensure sufficient iron, B12, etc.

Be honest with yourself. Or do this with a few family and friends and let them provide feedback on what is wrong with your current diet. And go for a medical check up. A lot of conditions are silent. Furthermore, healthy eating is fundamental to having energy too. This is a critical aspect of our health that we can control.

After this list, I hope you can agree that healthy eating is really not difficult. Rather than not starting on anything at all, set a plan on what you can change by when and then tackle the next issue. I hope you have less issues than me! If you have other issues you feel is holding you back from healthy eating, do share with us below and hopefully we can come up with ways to help. But bear in mind, you need to have the right mindset and really want to make the change! =)

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