If you can afford it, it's always a good idea to add salmon to your diet. It's a good source of heart-protecting Omega-3 fatty acids. Photo: Harvard Health

As a slightly chubby teen, I became obsessed with diets when I was just in grade 10. I devoured diet literature, because I badly wanted a six-pack. Since, I’ve gone through various cycles of losing and picking up weight, but alas, still no six-pack.

It was in December 2006, whilst on holiday in George on the Garden Route, that I came across The Beverly Hills Diet by Judy Mazel at my uncle’s house. I read the book in three days and believed it was going to be the answer to my weight loss (and six-pack!) goals.

Leagan Phillips-Laws

The controversial diet didn’t prohibit me from eating specific things. It was just the order in which you ate things that counted, and what things you could or could not eat together. Want to eat bread? Sure! Just don’t eat it with any protein. Or something like that.

The only snag was that for the first week of the diet you could only eat specific fruit in a very specific order.

Yip, for seven days you were only allowed to eat fruit. Nothing else. Not a garlic bread or a slaptjip (deep-fried potato chips) to speak of. Now I love a fruit salad as much as the next person, but for a whole week?

Eventually I made peace with the first seven days of fruit and veg. I knew it was a worthy sacrifice to getting to those glorious, washboard abs. So, I dragged my parents out to the shops and we filled our trolley with pineapples, blackberries, pawpaws and mangoes.

As I picked up each fruit, I couldn’t help but catch a glimpse of my future Baywatch body. I was going to go back to high school looking like a whole snack.

The first morning, I set about my week of fruit with earnest, starting with the pawpaws and cup of sugarless green tea. It was all going according to plan until I bit into the pawpaw.  You see, I had up until that point never had a pawpaw before in my life, and no one warned me that the fruit’s skin was not edible. I think I managed to keep it down for about 30 seconds.

Needless to say, I didn’t even manage one day on the Beverly Hills diet and I never did get that six-pack.

The following year, however, over the course of eight months, I did manage to lose about 10kg. It wasn’t through a radical diet or starvation, but just a fundamental shift in my relationship with food. Instead of taking two sandwiches to school per day, I took one. I cut out things like rice and mayonnaise, reduced the sugar in my tea and coffee from three to one and changed all my portions from a dinner plate to a side plate. If I was still hungry, 20 minutes after eating, I’d have another portion. It was just a very holistic way of changing my relationship with food.

Now as we’ve entered a brand-new year, it’s inevitable that after the excessive eating and drinking of the festive season, we start contemplating our New Year’s Food Resolutions. For many of us, this would include shedding a few kilos and generally trying to be the best, healthiest version of ourselves. I’ve decided to share some of my healthy eating habits. This is not a diet or a quick, weight-loss solution. It’s merely my insights on how to maintain your resolutions beyond the first few weeks of January.

Flavour

One of the best things I’ve learned in 2018 is that an eating plan is so much easier to stick to if it’s packed with flavour. I mean, would you rather have a steamed chicken or a nice, spicy grilled chicken? Both can be super healthy. The one just has more flavour through the addition of spices.

Chili cayenne in bowl and fresh chili on the wooden table.

When you consider adding flavour, be mindful of not adding too much salt. A little goes a long way and too much salt causes water retention and bloating. Cayenne pepper, low sodium soy sauce, Cajun spice, chillies and herbs all add great flavour to dishes.

I’m personally not a big fan of green salads, especially not when I’m on an eating plan and I can’t drench it in creamy salad dressing. I’ve recently, however, discovered a lekker way to jazz it up. Chuck in roughly chopped peppadews, gherkins and avo. The creaminess of the avo mixes wonderfully with the slight tang of the gherkins and peppadews. Drizzle some of the brine from the gherkins and peppadews over your salad.

If you want to make sure you stick to your eating habits, flavour is your biggest friend. Experiment, make it fun and customize it to your preference.

Preparation

One of the biggest obstacles for many people sticking to their eating plans is not always having the time to prepare and eat healthily. Yes, it happens to all of us. You’ve overslept. You have to rush out the door without breakfast or you’ll be late for work. Sometimes, quite simply, we forget to pack in lunch. So, mid-morning when those hunger pangs hit, you quickly nip to the shop and getting something fast and easy, diet be damned! Or you come home after a long, hard day and the last thing you want to do is cook, so you get a take-away. We’ve all been there.

Chickpea vegetable stir-fry.

The best way to combat this is preparation. One of the things I like to prepare on a Sunday is a huge bowl of fresh vegetable stir-fry, packed with garlic, ginger and olives. This I keep in the fridge for the days I don’t feel like being celeb chef Reuben Riffel or that I’m in a hurry. Dish into container and just add soy sauce. It’s even nice and cold.

Another hack is grilling all your chicken for the week in one go and keeping it in the fridge. You can then just add it to your stir-fry or even that yummy green salad I told you about earlier.  Have these staples in your fridge and you’ll get through even the craziest week.

Spoil yourself… in moderation

Listen, no matter how yummy or flavourful you’re eating plan, we all have our guilty pleasure that makes life worth living. You like cake? It’s someone’s birthday at work? Go ahead. Have a slice. But just one, thin slice.

Don’t deny yourself simple pleasures because that will just make you unhappy and then you will never stick to your resolutions. But also, do not go overboard. Stick to the one slice and if someone else has a birthday the following day, skip the cake. Treating yourself to something unhealthy every now and then is all groovy, it’s when those treats become a daily habit that bad eating patterns become cemented.

Lastly, a six-pack is great, but does it really look as good as garlic bread tastes?