To explain: this post is not about diets, it isn’t a set of rules or even guidelines covering what to eat or how much or when. You won’t find anything here about low fat, low salt, low carbohydrate, low sugar. . .
Good nutrition is important for everyone, and it’s one of the big things discussed when you get diagnosed with ME/CFS. Probably because poor nutrition can cause similar symptoms, loss of appetite can lead to poor nutrition, and there’s a theory that the condition is linked to deficiencies in certain vitamins or minerals.
If you eat properly you should get all the vitamins and minerals your body needs from your food, which means there shouldn’t be any need to take supplements. Moreover, taking an excess of certain vitamins can actually be harmful. Vitamins and supplements are best kept for when you think you’re not eating so well, such as if you’re ill and have lost your appetite, and then you can take a general multivitamin. (Check percentages of vitamins included – some give you ridiculous amounts like 500% of the GDA)
I found the above image here while searching for what was called (back when I was in school) a ‘food plate’. This is not a food plate. It looks very much like some sort of propaganda poster, though what for I’m not entirely certain. . . Anyway, although it’s heavily biased toward fruit and veg (perhaps because it’s for the department of agriculture?) it does have several features I find very interesting.
- None of the food groups are bigger than any others. It’s suggesting you eat from these groups but isn’t placing more importance on any one.
- Butter is a separate group from milk products, meaning that after the fruit and veg dairy is the most represented.
- There’s no low fat, no red meat, only certain fruit and veg, listed. The only thing like that it says is in the bread, flour and cereals group, telling you to eat whole grain.
- At the bottom of the poster it tells you to go ahead and eat any other food you want.
Now I’ve changed my mind, I am going to include a few guidelines I go by. I’m not suggesting anyone else should follow them, but during my (admittedly brief) life, I haven’t had a weight problem, my blood tests show I have all the vitamins and minerals a body’s supposed to need, and I get to eat food that I like. How do I do this? Simple. Sort of.
- Work out if you’re a grazer and try to change the habit. Eating little bits all the time isn’t so good for you, but you might need to have smaller meals more often if you really can’t eat a lot at one sitting.
- Eat from all the food groups (meat, fish, dairy, fruit, veg, grains) because you need all the building blocks – protein, fat, carbohydrates, sugars, fibre, etc.
- Reduce portion sizes before cutting out types of food. A simple way to do this is by using a smaller plate.
- Eat well at set mealtimes so you can cut out snacking in between. This doesn’t mean you can’t have any sweet things – once you’ve eaten a decent meal, if you still have room then you have your pudding.
- If possible avoid processed food and ready-meals; prepare from scratch as much as possible so you know what’s going into your food. You can always make up bigger portions then freeze some or keep it in the fridge and take out a bit at a time.
- A little of what you like does no harm – all things in moderation.
- Your body often knows what it needs. If you’re craving something it could be for a reason. E.g. sometimes I crave crisps, and since I know I don’t get a lot of salt elsewhere in my diet, I have them.
- Sometimes eating something is more important than eating healthily. E.g. if you’ve been ill or have no appetite. Just make sure you get back to normal sometime.
Ok, so that’s not really ‘a few’ guidelines, but I kept thinking of more as I went so. . . Anyway, as far as I’m concerned, good nutrition and eating healthily isn’t necessarily about cutting things from your diet. It’s more about balance. Having said that, one of the healthiest people I know eats not much else but meat.
I’m afraid it’s another of those things where in the end you just have to work out what works for you, and a good place to start is by ignoring fad diets, ‘super-foods’, and other people’s recommendations.