There is a lot of information on all media sources about nutrition and what constitutes healthy eating! The rule of thumb is that there is no rule of thumb that works for every person. To think that there is a “one size fits all” regarding nutrition is simply nonsense. Like what we have heard about water consumption – “Every person should consume eight, 8oz glasses of water every day.” The only time I ever drink that much liquid in 1 day is when I play beach volleyball on Saturdays for 4 hours. Does a 110-pound woman have the same water needs as a 250-pound male football player? Clearly, we must take an individualized approach about what we eat and drink. Healthy eating - like most things that are important in our life – usually requires a lifestyle change.
Listen to your body. Most people have heard this many times before but we all still ignore this critically important factor! You may have also heard that your body has the wisdom to know what is good for it or what is not so good for it – if we would just take the time to listen. For many people, their emotions are what strongly interferes with their eating choices. The more we examine these emotions, and talk about them, and process through them – the less and less they will override our natural (yes natural) healthy eating choices. Since none of us can simply drop our poor habits and choices overnight, we can prepare ahead for when our emotions are calling the shots. If you know your weakness is sweets or chocolate, you can prepare ahead to have healthier sweets available so you can be assisted in making better choices. The other day I wanted a piece of chocolate but did not have any and did not feel like going to the store to get some. I had 2 raw, organic dates which were incredibly sweet and very satisfying and the craving for chocolate subsided. For many of us we have been very well trained NOT to listen to our bodies - like when children are required to finish all the food on their plate before getting up from the dinner table. Or when children are given additional servings of food after saying they are full and are guilted into eating it due to other children who may be starving or issues our caretakers may have had. We should stop eating when we feel slightly full or when our body says we have had enough – for most people for most meals this would be approximately 2 handfuls (not piled high) of food. If you are going to get good at any aspect of your body wisdom – listening to when your body says it has had enough, is very important.
Getting back to listening to your body – practice this technique when you are not emotionally triggered: when you notice you are hungry, ask your body what it would like to eat. Give it the healthy eating choices you have at your disposal. Sit quiet and listen. See how your body feels as you run through the choices you have. Listen to what your body is asking for. If you only have junk food at home this is not going to help the cause. It is critically important to take the time in advance to have healthy food at your disposal. Comfort foods like breads, cake, candy, sweets, etc. are generally extremely low in nutrition so our body will try to eat more of them to gain the nutrition it is craving. Preparing ahead may also mean making your meals to bring with you when you are away from home. While this may be a pain in the butt for many (including me) it will help with better choices. If you must run to fast food, make a healthier choice like a salad at Subway or a salad at Chipolte, both are very good!
Eat more fruits and vegetables every day. For many people, again like me as well, this is a real challenge. However, this can be a real game changer for many people struggling with healthy eating choices. If you are starting out towards the beginning on this step, start by buying fruits and vegetables you already like! Eat them as a snack and try to eat veggies at one meal at least. For most people, eating fruits alone or at least 1 hour before or 2 hours after a meal, will help with many gastric issues you may experience. Buy washed and bagged veggies if you are like me and dislike the tedious washing of the veggies. If you like salads but don’t like the process involved in making a salad – buy bagged and washed lettuce and spinach – Trader Joes has a great selection at very good prices! Always try to buy organic if you will be eating the skin of the fruit and organic for all veggies. Yes, it is usually more expensive, but it is worth it to not expose you and your family to GMOs and the toxic chemicals sprayed on all non-organic fruits and vegetables. By eating more fruit and veggies you will be getting the vitamins and critically important minerals that are hard to get in other food sources. Plus, you will naturally eat less of the foods that are not healthy for you.
Limit the bad foods you consume. I wish there was an easy way to achieve this step, but unfortunately there is not. At some point you just have to bite the bullet and make the choice for a healthier you. When you do that, enroll the support of family, friends, nutritionists, dieticians, anyone who can support you in your goal. It is great to do this process together with a trusted friend so you can get the support and accountability you will need until healthy eating is a habit. If you are at the beginning of this step, start by limiting your bad food choices to once per day. Then commit to once every other day, then once per week. When you can eat a bad food only once per month, you already have a healthy eating habit firmly established! It is important to process and change your mind set on what foods mean to you and what they can do for you. If you claim to be the now popular “Foodie” you are already undermining your goal of healthy eating habits. You can certainly enjoy all the foods you eat, but eating is a means to an end, it is not an end itself. You eat healthy foods so you have a healthy body, so you have the energy to do the things you love to do and those things that are important to you. This is likely going to ruffle some feathers as food is often deeply intertwined in family, cultural, religious, and ceremonial activities. But rest assured, you can still enjoy all those activities and still maintain your healthy eating choices. But that is a much longer discussion beyond the scope of this introductory healthy eating overview.
Everything in Moderation. Although this quote has been attributed to many people over the centuries, when it comes to eating, it is very true. The reality is that your body just does not need that much healthy food to be healthy. Your body is a healing machine! It is designed for healing and regeneration! Every second you are alive your body is tirelessly creating new cells to take over the ones that naturally die off. Every 3-5 days you have a completely new stomach lining and every 27 days every skin cell is turned over. We all have genetic dispositions for many diseases that our ancestors had. What current research is showing is that diet and lifestyle have a huge influence on whether these genetic predispositions are expressed in our lifetime. When we consume more food than our body needs, even healthy foods, we make our body work much harder than it should. When we add into the mix unhealthy food, think of how hard the body has to work to process all that excess food! When you see interviews of centenarians (people over 100 years old) what do you always see in common? They are all slim. That is living proof that moderation is the way to go with regard to food. If you have an issue with overeating, pay attention to your body signals that it has had enough to eat and honor that message it gives you. Always let your doctor know you are starting a new nutritional program. And always get the right professional help when starting any nutritional program such as a certified dietician or a certified nutritionist. These are just my opinions; I strongly encourage you to find the facts yourself from independent sources (those sources not paid to come up with a particular outcome) and find out what works best for your body.
Good luck to all in this process!