How to eat healthy when you have a life

No getting up at 5am to steam kale

Healthy eating
Healthy eating
(Image credit: Rex Features)

No getting up at 5am to steam kale

Most of us know that our diet could do with a little refining. Whether it's the 3pm chocolate to get you through to the end of the day, drinking a whole melted pint of Ben and Jerry's or just skipping breakfast, we're not saints. But it's easy to get disheartened when all of the advice that you read means pre-planning your lunches a week in advance, giving up alcohol and basically checking out of normal life. Eating programs that rely on you changing your whole routine just aren't sustainable. So we've got Ciaran Hegarty, a nutrition expert for, and Matthew Plowman from Cardiff Sports Nutrition to talk us through eating healthy and making good changes, without having to rewrite your entire life.

Ciaran started by explaining that it's not one size fits all, so if something doesn't work for you or feel right, it's fine to change it. 'Eating healthy is about making changes that are specific to you as a person. Some people can give up bread no problem whereas others need their toast in the morning or lunch time sandwiches. By making small changes here and there you can tweak your diet to match your goals, all whilst eating healthily.'

That said, there are some key areas that you can work.


Ciaran isn't taking any excuses on the breakfast front. 'It’s cliché but it is the most important meal of the day as overnight you have been using energy while sleeping and it’s time to break-the-fast of sleep. No time? No problem, grab a protein shake and add some oats to the mix for a on the go protein and carb hit.' Fruit is also a good option, and portable, so you don't find yourself trying to eat with one hand and do your mascara with the other before you run out of the door.

Eating out:

Going out to eat can be one of the most stressful things about making good food choices, and no-one wants to be the person who just orders a side salad and looks longingly at everyone else's food.

Matthew suggests ordering cleverly. 'Try to always opt for the items that are grilled or steamed, that way you know that there isn’t going to be extra fats added during the cooking process.

If you do opt for a salad, ask for the dressing on the side. It’s not uncommon to have a Caesar salad drowned in calorific dressing and even ‘light’ and ‘fat free’ dressings are loaded with sugar and salt. If you want some dressing, try a splash of balsamic vinegar or ask for some avocado to be added for creaminess and try a dash of chilli flakes on top.'

Ciaran suggests thinking about your restaurant choice ahead of time, so that you don't arrive and then feel you can't enjoy your food. 'If you’ve chosen to go out to a fancy restaurant with a set menu of three main dishes, the chances are you’re going to struggle to find an option that fits your dietary needs. Picking somewhere with a large menu means you’ll be able to find a meal that fits into your macro nutrients whether you’re cutting, maintaining or bulking.


Forcing yourself to work out when you're tired after a day at work can be difficult, which is why we've rounded up some of the most fun classes around. They're exciting enough that you might just manage to put your leggings on. If you're more of a runner or a weights person then gyms like Pure Gym are a great option, offering non-contract memberships and 24 hour opening hours, so you can work out whenever you can squeeze it in.


Booze is the big sticking point when it comes to being a beacon of clean living. Yes, it would be nice to glow with health, but you know what else is nice? Wine. So how do you get your drink on without screwing your progress?

'Avoid cocktails where you can' says Matthew 'Because they're packed with sugary fruit juices, which add to the calories you are already consuming from alcohol. Swap your classic cocktail for a mojito made with soda water instead of lemonade or a margarita that often has no mixer at all. If spirits are your drink, focus on swapping out the mixer for soda water or just going ‘on the rocks’ with plenty of ice and flavoured with fresh lemon/lime where possible. Diet coke and slimline tonic are sweetened artificially and are not ‘healthier’ options. If you have too, you are best off going with a dash of the regular mixer.'

Workday eating:

Not letting yourself get to lunch time and feel starving is the first step. 'Eating 3 square meals a day is so last year it is best to eat 5-6 meals per day with small snacks in between the big 3. So try having a Greek yoghurt with some fruit at 11am, then some nuts and a piece of fruit in the afternoon so your constantly topping up with energy rather than eating a huge meal.' says Ciaran. And when you get to lunchtime? Lots of us just don't have it in us to spend our evenings creating perfect nutritionally balanced suppers for the next day. But Matthew says that doesn't have to mean ditching the health kick.

'If you are stuck for time and making lunches aren’t high on the agenda you can still make smart choices at the supermarket – stay away from pre-packaged meals. Start off choosing protein; cooked chicken, mackerel or tinned tuna, lean ham or beef. Then find your carbs; sweet potato can be cut into cubes and cooked in a microwave or at a push you could try a microwave packet of wholemeal rice (though this is not ideal every day!) and then finished with some spinach, which you can buy fresh, avocado, tomatoes etc. For snacks, fresh low GI fruit like strawberries, grapefruit and apples, carrot sticks or nuts.


Again, it's not new news, but it's worth repeating because it's so important. Ciaran recommends desk water. 'No matter what, have a bottle or glass of water on your desk at all times. When you finish it, go and fill it up again (this will give you a nice little desk break as well). Thirst can very easily be mistaken for hunger, leading to mindless snacking and excessive calorie intake, so have a sip of water before reaching for a snack.'

Matthew agrees, saying: 'Drink plenty of water throughout the day, plain is best but it can be flavoured with fruit teabags, lemon slices or fresh mint leaves. As always, steer away from the diet drinks and if you drink tea or coffee, swap out cow’s milk for almond, coconut or hazelnut and swap sugar for honey or agave nectar or go cold turkey!

So there you go. If you want to try and change your eating habits (and the only reason to do it is because you want to) then having a busy social life and a full on job shouldn't stop you from being able to.

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