If you're following a diet plan, it's reasonable to assume that each meal of the day should be tailored for optimal nutrition. However, there are many, often unconscious, dietary habits that hold us back from making real progress on any weight-loss (or muscle-building) programme.
Breakfast is the prime example. As the first meal of the day after waking up, bear in mind that your body has been starving from anywhere from six to 18 hours depending on your eating window and how much sleep you got (literally, ‘breaking fast').
It's the longest time between meals, and so your body is most sensitive to what you're fuelling it with first thing in the morning. This is about the only real difference between breakfast, lunch and dinner.
However, suggest a selection of vegetables for breakfast, and you'll get some funny looks, hard stares, maybe even some angry words. Avocado seems to be the only acceptable ‘green', and the rest of the menu looks very beige: cereal, pastries, bread, bananas, instant oats, and so on.
These are mostly simple carbohydrates with little proper nutritional value - comfort foods, basically. They also contain little fibre, so your starving stomach quickly digests them.
We discussed the importance of insulin sensitivity to your health in another article. Essentially, shocking your insulin receptors with sugar when they're at their most sensitive in the morning. In fact, you don't need sugars at this point in the day, because your body releases stored sugars for energy when you wake up.
The only reason for a breakfast of simple carbs is if you've just completed a workout so tough that your glycogen stores are completely depleted. Otherwise, maybe consider a more colourful plate, and try starting your day with some vegetables!
A while back, green smoothies came into fashion; packed with colourful fruits and vegetables and loaded with nutrients, vitamins and minerals. There was hope! However, blending only broccoli, cucumber, kale and an apple isn't exactly the tastiest beverage.
So people started to use juicers, which removes most of the fibre from the ingredients, and adding pineapple juice, coconut water and spoonfuls of honey. Sure, “natural” ingredients, but full of sucrose and free from fibre. “But it's fine, they're superfoods!” was the cry.
The next cry came an hour later, when they were at the office snacking on biscuits and crackers, because their 200-calorie breakfast smoothie had bloated them, but hadn't really filled them.
Green smoothies are great if you make them properly (don't get rid of the fibre) and in the right proportions. Apples, pears and kiwi will balance the taste of celery and kale if you get the mix right, and you don't need to add extra fruit juices that are full of sugars.
No other meal consists entirely of simple sugars and sweet foods - but tradition apparently dictates that breakfast should. Time to break with tradition, we think.
We get it - mornings can be crazy, with the rush to get the kids ready for school or yourself ready for work. But no meal should be rushed.
Get to bed 15 minutes earlier the night before and use those 15 minutes in the morning to make yourself a proper breakfast. It doesn't have to be complicated, and you should savour it, slowly.
If you've got other things to do, like get reluctant children into school uniforms, then skip breakfast until you can eat it when you have some time to yourself. Real food isn't meant to be “fast”.
This applies to other situations too. How many people keep sweets and candies in their car for long journeys - but would never eat them on a hike because then they're in “healthy mode”? So why not put the healthy foods from the hike in the car as well?
Popcorn at the cinema is practically compulsory - but it doesn't seem to be very common anywhere else. If it really is that good, why is that the case? Instead, sneak your own snacks into the cinema, such as low-calorie seaweed or rice cakes with a bottle of water. You're still happily munching away to the latest blockbuster, but now there's a dramatic drop in your sugar and calorie intake.
These simple, but subtle changes in our lifestyle habits and food intake can make a massive difference over time.
Of course, there are many reasons - culture, family, religion - why you might have picked up particular habits or favourite foods. And we're not saying you shouldn't indulge in a festive treat, or a cake on a special occasion, and so on.
But, if you apply a more disciplined view to your day-to-day dietary habits, you will find that in the long run, you can control your calorie intake much better.