I have mentioned recently that I am much more mindful of my diet now than I was in recent years. This shift in my eating habits has been a slow, steady change over many months. I was influenced significantly by my wife's research into this field, various books I have read, things learnt from visiting a few food festivals and building on each little positive experience and benefit felt from testing out different options. But the final tipping point that really helped me consciously adopt this lifestyle was the act of filling out a diet diary.
I decided to complete a diet diary while reading Dave Asprey's book Head Strong which goes into great detail about using food as fuel and seeking out high quality fuel to avoid things that will slow down your body and brain.
In my experience I found that the act of recording everything I ate did two things:
1) It helped me to realise how much better my diet already was compared to what I was consuming last year.
2) It made it easy for me to see the relatively few areas where my routine could be easily improved and thus improve my diet further.
Combined those two points gave me the impetus to make a much stronger mental commitment to my new improved routine and I must say that I am loving it.
I'm not saying my diet is perfect, far from it. Like everything else I write about, the key is to relish in the continual improvement and then look back in a few months and realise how much progress has been achieved.
If you are interested in making your own personal improvements to your diet and well-being then I think you may find that completing a diet diary could really help. Alternatively if you have never considered this at all you may get a similar feeling to what patients would feel when they complete a diet diary at your request. Rather than feeling satisfaction from seeing a generally very healthy picture, you might get a bit of a shock when you actually see in stark reality the quantity and frequency with which you are putting things into your body that you know really aren't good for you. And when you get that realisation there are only 2 options: bury your head in the sand or admit the scale of the problem and start on the journey towards a better routine.
I like using a 4 day diet diary. It is a long enough period to get a good idea of an individual's normal routine but I feel that asking someone to record all meals for 7 days is likely to get poor compliance (or a lot of the info being fabricated) because it is too long.
Here are the key ways in which my diet is different now to how it was this time last year:
Refined sugar intake - Previously I would regularly have biscuits, chocolate, the odd sweet and lots of processed foods and condiments containing refined sugar. Now I have cut my refined sugar intake to literally just a few grams per week. I feel so much clearer in my head without the sugar highs and lows and am able to function physically at a higher level too.
Processed food - Up until recently, convenience foods ruled for me. My weekly shop would contain a couple of frozen ready meals to take to work. And at weekends I would resort to frozen pizzas. Now with a bit more forward planning those things are all in the past. At the evening meal we generally make better use of the food we have to provide a "leftovers" portion for the following day and at weekends I will make a healthy meal from scratch and put extra in the fridge or freezer for the next week.
Organic produce - almost all of the food we eat at home is organic. Yes it is more expensive, but not that much more than we used to spend. A big proportion of our food comes delivered from Riverford (https://www.riverford.co.uk) and we have been very impressed with them.
Good fats - we cook with coconut oil and ghee. We add high quality olive oil to salads and I also take an omega 3 supplement most mornings.
Increased vegetable intake - almost all evening meals are accompanied by a variety of steamed veg. This is quick, simple and as healthy as it gets.
Better snacks - gone are the chocolate bars and malt loaf. Instead I routinely take to work mixed nuts, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, oatcakes, fruit, homemade cakes free from refined sugar. Again this takes forward planning but I feel so much better for it.
Supplements and "superfoods" - a few years ago I subscribed to the idea that dietary supplements were a waste of time. But more recently I have accepted the advice of many health professionals that we probably don't get enough vitamin D so have started to take an Omega D3 supplement. I also take 1g of Spirulina and Chlorella at that time. These are "tablets" of compressed algae naturally very high in Iron and vitamin D and B12. Chlorella is also meant to be very good at absorbing free mercury which is useful in our profession. I have also started to add small quantities of various foods often given the label of "superfood". Things like chia seeds, goji berries, manuka honey, bee pollen, garlic, turmeric. I do it mainly because I like the tastes but all of these things together with my better diet hopefully means that I am likely to be getting a better overall balance of vitamins and minerals etc.
Here is a copy of a diet diary for me showing my diet over the past 4 days. I have provided a key giving more detail about many of the foods at the top of the page. The only thing mentioned that has any refined sugar is the Sunday morning treat of croissants. The croissants (and the jam) are also the only thing on that diet dairy that isn't organic. Absolutely all ingredients in the other meals are organic. My diet is far from perfect but as you can see there is a variety of healthy foods and even treats such as the apple-oattie. A healthy diet doesn't have to be a boring diet! I am very fortunate to have a wife who has inspired me in this interest and she has put a lot of time into finding new interesting and healthy meals for us to enjoy.
If any of this has made you think you would like to experiment with these ideas for yourself by all means download a diet diary sheet to fill in from my shared google drive via my useful resources page: http://www.drchrisharper.co.uk/useful-resources.html
Or instead I recommend further reading about diet and sustained energy levels in books such as how to have a good day, the miracle morning, head strong. Links to many of these resources and more can also be found via the link above.
Dr Chris Harper