What Does "Eating Healthy" Actually Mean?
How to build a sustainable, effective perspective on nutrition.
What does eating healthy mean to you? This answer will typically vary from person to person and it's tough to create proper perspective when we have so much variability. We all know that nutrition has a lot of individual application due to food intolerances, activity level, stress level, goals, body composition, diet history, and exercise history to name a few. However, I do believe there is a right answer when it comes to what health actually means in the nutrition space. If we can agree on the bigger picture it will help you navigate through the individual application of your nutrition. Throughout this blog, I want to help you piece together the proper perspective that is going to create a healthy relationships with food, effective protocols, and empower you to leverage nutrition to your benefit.
The first component is teaching yourself how to eat around the level of calories (quantity) that supports your goal WHILE feeling satisfied. If you are "eating healthy" but consuming more calories than your body is burning then you will gain weight. If you are "eating healthy" but consuming less calories than your body is burning you will lose weight. If you are "eating healthy" and eating the same amount of calories that your body is burning you will sustain your weight. We can't bypass the law of thermodynamics and it's important to start here. With that being said, you can control quantity in good ways and bad ways. Just like anything in this world there are good ways to handle things and bad ways to handle things. You can control quantity (calories) with restriction, will power, and grit... or you can control quantity with healthy habits, water, nutrient dense foods, and balance. The first way is only going to work in the short-term and will usually have a negative rebound effect. The second way is going to help you feel satisfied, energetic, motivated, and thriving! Let's talk about how we build the latter.
The second component to "eating healthy" should revolve around nutrient density. That is to say, 80% of the foods you eat should be whole, non-processed foods (usually foods with 5 ingredients or less). This is going to help control cravings, energy, prevent deficiencies, and help you thrive! This makes your calories go further. You can eat 2,000 calories of pop tarts, fast food, trail mix and feel starving! Or you can eat 2,000 calories of lean meats, vegetables, complex carbs, fruits, and some desserts while feeling full and satisfied.
Foods You Love
If 80% of our foods are coming from nutrient dense sources the other 20% should come from foods we love (ice cream, cookies, desserts etc). This sounds backwards right? Why would we suggest that you actually make room for these foods. Thanks for asking. First, no food is inherently bad for you assuming quantity is accounted for and you are sticking to the 80/20 ratio. No food is going to inherently make you fat or cause you to gain weight overnight. With that being said there are some things to stay away from because they are so genetically modified (these being trans fats and high fructose corn syrups). When you look at the randomized human control trials, almost everything is okay in moderation (everything else you have heard about is created by biased studies and companies trying to pitch you their products). There is so much fear mongering in the nutrition space and instead of looking at the bigger picture we demonize and hyper focus on specific foods or ingredients to blame. This does nothing but exacerbate the problem. This creates negative relationships with food, stress, anxiety, and minimizes focus on balance and maximizes focus on "right versus wrong". Now with that being said, of course there will be some individual cases here. If you don't do well with gluten, dairy, or specific foods then take that into account.
Side Note: Only limit these foods due to individual intolerances or allergies. DO NOT eliminate foods due to fear. If you totally get rid of a food from your diet, be prepared to eliminate that food for life! When you get rid of a food in your diet, you create the potential to down-regulate the enzyme responsible for digesting that food. When you go back to re-introduce it to the diet, that enzyme has the possibility of never recovering. This is why I'm not a fan of elimination diets even for a brief period of time.
Find the foods you love that you do well with and intentionally put those in your diet. This creates sustainability and creates positive feedback loops in your brain to help build healthy relationships with food based on moderation and not fear. If you have the 20% in your diet you will always feel on track because you will realize you aren't "bad" when you have that food and you aren't "good" when you stay away from that food. You will create freedom and that brings amazing results.
The next component to "eating healthy" should revolve around protein. The most important macro-nutrient that majority of people under consume. This will help control cravings, build/maintain lean muscle mass (which in turn stimulates metabolism) and helps burn more calories through the thermic effect of digestion. Aim for at least .7 grams per pound of bodyweight and make sure you consume protein with every meal. The consistency of protein feedings will help control energy and cravings through creating a favorable glycemic load of your meal. In my experience over the last decade, this is the most simple but challenging hack that could completely change your fitness. Men, there isn't such thing as eating too much protein... it's not bad for your kidneys. Women, protein doesn't make you bulky, it actually makes you look more toned.
Meals That Work Together
Eating healthy means looking at the entirety of your meals during the day and week. How do they function as a whole? Let's look at two different lenses.
Daily Lens: Does your breakfast help you create a favorable lunch? Does your lunch help you create an effective dinner? In other words, your current meal should help you create an effective quality, quality, and protein profile for your next meal. If you are restricting throughout the day which leads to intense cravings at night time this won't be a healthy long-term approach. If you are consuming too many carbohydrates during one meal causing you to feel lethargic and bloated then this won't create sustainable energy throughout the day.
Weekly Lens: In the same manner, does your Monday-Friday meals lead to success during your Saturday-Sunday meals. Are you eating too "strict" during the week which causes intense cravings and bingeing on the weekend? Or are you constructing your week day meals to give you energy, balance, and freedom so you don't feel ravenous on the weekends?
Construct your meals/foods to work together to provide a steady consistent approach throughout the day and week. Focus on how you feel before and after your meals (energy, mood, stress, bloating, motivation) and adjust depending on biofeedback.
Lastly, eating healthy shouldn't feel like you are on a diet. This should feel like a lifestyle that you can could sustain for the next 20-30 years. When constructing your nutritional lifestyle think in decades not days. Is this something that I could actually enjoy? If it's not, I could argue that it's not the right approach for you. Whatever you do to create results is what you will need to do to sustain results. This is why we have a yo-yo diet culture. We follow intense, restrictive, rigid, unsustainable diets and lose 20 pounds only to gain back 30 pounds after we inevitably exit the diet. Instead, we need to take the minimum dose effect. Create the smallest amount of structure that gets you moving in the direction of your goal. Once we have that, we can begin to build habits in place that put this structure on auto-pilot so it won't actually feel like a diet. Once you find that balance, things will begin to shift. You will begin to experience nutritional freedom instead of fear, anxiety, and stress.
I hope this provides a framework to start from. Nutrition has the power to drastically enhance your life but it also has the power to create lots of negative emotions. Start building these components into your lifestyle and watch everything change. If you need some individual suggestions or guidance please don't hesitate to reach out to us. We are here to help. Remember, your best is yet to come!