We will be removing all previous Healthy Diet Plans in the coming weeks. You will still be able to access all of the recipes online but please do save any related pages, shopping lists or emails if you'd like to keep them for your reference.
After working with our food writer Sarah Buenfeld and nutritional therapist Kerry Torrens on the concept for our 7-day plan I was really excited to try it out. Based on whole foods and healthy eating principles, the philosophy really made sense to me. Reducing processed foods in your diet and eating nourishing snacks and meals that negate the need to count calories is a sustainable, healthy way to live. Plus, having experts produce a plan with delicious recipes that have been rigorously analysed to provide optimum nutrition every day isn't something you come across often - especially for free!
I have to admit it wasn't all giddy excitement. I was looking forward to trying out new recipes and being challenged in the kitchen, but I was also a little apprehensive about the amount of time it would take to prep all the dishes. There were also a couple of recipes I wasn't yet convinced would see me through the day – the peanut hummus and soup in particular looked a lot lighter than the lunches I usually wolfed down at midday, and I was worried I might feel hungry at times. Concerns in check, here's how I actually got on during those seven days...
- Curbing cravings
The week before the plan, I took Kerry's advice and started to look for ways I could reduce my sugar and caffeine intake in preparation. I eat relatively healthily most of the time, but chocolate is my downfall, so fighting my 4pm sugar craving was priority number one. I breezed through the beginning of the week but my resolve wasn't strong enough to resist Good Food's chocolate cupboard on Friday afternoon, so I was a little nervous that my willpower would crumble during the seven days on the plan.
- Stocking the cupboards
I had most of the spices and storecupboard essentials required for the plan, so while the shopping list looked long, it actually whittled down to about the same amount I'd normally buy for a week - minus the biscuits and crisps. Having tested our diet plans before, I knew making my life as easy as possible early on would pay dividends later in the week. I had a rejig of my cupboards and fridge and allocated diet plan ingredients their own shelves to minimise any rummaging.
- Commit to cooking
Having an inside look on how these plans are created, I knew Sarah and Kerry had worked wonders to keep costs and cooking times down, while still creating recipes that are healthy, balanced and delicious. However, there's no getting away from the fact that you'll be in the kitchen a lot. I love the opportunity to experiment with recipes and find new favourites. Getting ahead is key - read through the plan thoroughly and work out what you can do in advance. The true beauty of this plan is that you can tailor it to your needs, which I did in spades. Yes, I forgot to soak my freekeh for Tuesday, I made extra soup and had it instead of Sunday's lunch so I could see friends the night before. This way of eating isn't about punishment and restriction, it's about finding a way to make it work for you - but the structure is there if you want it.
I set myself up in the kitchen with a box set on my laptop and set about making as much as I could in advance. I soaked quinoa for the porridge, buckwheat for the granola and made the pistou for Monday's lunch. I also kicked off the week with the wholewheat flatbreads in the morning, as we had a friend staying and it looked to be the most substantial breakfast of the three. It was utterly delicious and a huge portion.
I also decided, as I was making it anyway, to do extra soup and have that for lunch as the prawns would freeze and we could get to enjoying our Sunday that bit quicker. That evening, I headed back to the kitchen to make the roast lamb. It was so quick to prepare I was able to crack on with making the granola with my soaked buckwheat while the meat cooked. The result was a super-healthy, super-tasty Sunday supper that we'll definitely be making again!
I'm not particularly a morning person, so I decided to spend 20 minutes longer in bed on Monday and have my pre-made granola for breakfast rather than the coconut porridge. I normally blitz a smoothie in the morning, or am sometimes guilty of missing breakfast altogether, so eating something so full of flavour and texture was a real treat.
I had the deliciously cheesy pistou soup again for lunch, and then that evening I was back in the kitchen making the quinoa porridge and having my first encounter with freekeh for the pilau. I piled the spices in and it was thumbs up all round when dished up. Back to the stove, I put the cooled porridge in the fridge for the next couple of days then set about making the herby pancakes. I had my doubts as to how this would hold together, but leaving the egg pancakes and warm fillings to cool made it easy to wrap and pack for the next day.
I woke up on Tuesday morning with my alarm, but bright and ready for the day - a significant departure from my usual snooze button obsession. I did however slightly fluff the heating of the porridge, I was so excited about it that I took it off the hob before thoroughly heated through - I wouldn't recommend eating it cold! Noted for next time, I then wedged my wrap into my rucksack, dubious of its ability to hold together, and cycled to work. Peeling back the foil at lunch however proved my doubts unfounded and, although small in stature, lunch was surprisingly filling. In the afternoon I snacked on fruit and olives.
I shuffled dishes around again this evening as I was getting home a bit too late to roast a chicken. I doubled up the veggie meatballs that I served with DIY courgetti. No spiralizer? No problem! I used a standard grater to create long, ribbon-like strips that did the job perfectly. It might take a little longer than the designated gadget, but if you don't want to buy specific kit then this works just as well.
This was the first day I really noticed the benefits of this way of eating. Apart from finding it significantly easier to get up in the morning, I was able to concentrate better at work and I felt energised, making the ride in a cinch. I also felt a little lighter, but was still attributing that to my chocolate avoidance. Breakfast was granola and lunch the pistou - I really didn't mind the repetition of meals, it made life a little easier having already prepared the dishes in advance and they were so delicious I was happy to eat them again.
That evening, I popped the chicken in the oven as soon as I got home, prepped the other ingredients for the salad... and that was pretty much it! The idea of roasting a whole chicken on a weeknight would have seemed ludicrous before, but of course, it's super simple and much more economical than buying portions of poultry. We popped the leftovers in the fridge for the next day and I whizzed up the peanut butter hummus for Thursday's lunch.
Not to show off, but I actually woke up before my alarm today! I therefore took no issue with having to chop up veg and fruit for lunch to go with the hummus, and we had the porridge for breakfast instead of the scheduled granola. I heated it through thoroughly this time and can confirm it is amazing hot!
This was the lunch I was most unsure about – I love hummus, but just that and some crudities for lunch!? Again, fears be calmed, it was probably more filling than my usual midday meals. It could have been the fact I'd been eating slightly less than normal this week and therefore didn't need as much food. I was also managing to hold off my sweet tooth every afternoon - I can't say I wasn't tempted, but there's no way I could have said no to rocky road flapjacks the week before. Now they were sat inches from my face and I wasn't biting.
Tonight's chicken salad dinner was the speediest to prepare yet, and provided another massive portion. There was certainly no credence in my concerns that I would go hungry on the plan. If I needed a snack or my sweet tooth showed up, my kitchen was so full of fresh fruit and veg that I could quickly abate any cravings.
This morning, I dished up our last portion of granola and thought back to the mild inconvenience of having to make up so many dishes on Sunday. Having a balanced, energy-boosting breakfast every morning had made such a massive difference to my working days that I was determined to keep up the habit beyond the plan. Lunch was a simple but again substantial and flavourful asparagus salad and in the afternoon I ate fruit by the fistful and tried to ignore the inevitable circulation of Friday chocolate.
That evening, we went out to dinner with friends. Being so close to the finish line I was actually a bit anxious about falling at the final hurdle, but we went to a lovely local restaurant where they were more than accommodating. I had fish and sweet potato chips, baked not fried, and while broccoli mash wasn't on the menu, they served me up seasonal greens on the side. I had a couple of drinks I must admit, but now I was completely sold on this way of eating I knew I was playing the long game - it's all about balance after all.
The final day! We had the last of the quinoa porridge for breakfast, another batch of peanut hummus for lunch and then stuck our salmon fillets on the barbecue in the evening as it was such a beautiful day. One of my favourite things about the week had been finding ways to fit the plan around my life, not the other way round, so this felt like an appropriate final supper.
While I hadn't particularly noticed any weight loss to speak of, far more important changes had occurred. The promise of improved clarity of thought, better sleep and loads of energy weren't empty, I experienced them all. I felt healthy and happy, which in turn made me want to make healthier choices and find a better balance in my life for the things I love and the things that will do me good. In my opinion, this is the future of healthy eating. Restriction and guilt are boring and harmful, balance and mindfulness are the key to everything from weight loss to a more fulfilling life.
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