Why Eating Healthy Has Become So Complicated and How to Eat in a Way That’s Healthy for You
What Is Healthy Eating?
“Healthy eating” sounds simple, right? But our bodies are different, and what’s healthy for one person may not be so ideal for someone else.
"Healthy eating is less of a diet and more of a mindset, and it involves more than what goes into your mouth."
With approximately 45 million Americans starting a diet every year, you may be one of many trying to choose “good” foods while avoiding “bad” ones, struggling with cravings, and indulging in “cheat days” when you feel like you’ve failed. It’s a cycle that’s doomed to fail and can even lead to dysfunctional eating.
Healthy eating is less of a diet and more of a mindset, and it involves more than what goes into your mouth. While it may take some time and some trial and error to find what’s right for you, healthy eating should feel good both mentally and physically.
What Healthy Eating IS NOT
When you hear the word “diet,” chances are you think of restrictive eating to help you lose weight. You’re not alone if that word makes you cringe.
Consider fad diets. Often designed to help you lose weight right away, fad diets can ultimately be harmful. You often miss out on essential nutrients while those pounds are melting off, and you’re not developing lifelong healthy eating habits. And because your body is smart and makes adjustments when calories are restricted, dieting is known to slow the body’s metabolism, too, making it harder to lose weight.
"And when you put food into “good” and “bad” categories — what you’re allowed to eat in restricted amounts, and what you absolutely must not touch — you can develop an unhealthy dynamic that may instead lead to unwanted weight gain."
Once the diet is over and you go back to regular eating patterns, it’s no wonder those lost pounds start to creep back on — the majority of people who lose weight on a diet will regain the same weight in 1-5 years. This can be a gateway to “yo-yo dieting” and related health problems like disordered eating.
And when you put food into “good” and “bad” categories — what you’re allowed to eat in restricted amounts, and what you absolutely must not touch — you can develop an unhealthy dynamic that may instead lead to unwanted weight gain.
In short, restrictive diets can do the opposite of setting you up for a lifelong, healthy relationship with food.
How to Eat in a Way That Is Healthy and Fulfilling for You
Most of us picked up our eating habits in childhood, whether we learned to clean our plates or reach for a bag of chips before the big game on TV. For better or worse, these habits become an unconscious, automatic part of our adult experience. But it’s never too late to make a healthy change.
"We need to start putting more trust back in our body, that our body will tell us what resonates with our system and what does not.”
Healthy eating is a lifelong approach that involves listening to your body and savoring your experience.
"We need to start putting more trust back in our body, that our body will tell us what resonates with our system and what does not,” says Somatic Nutritional Counselor Stephanie Mara Fox. “The foods and eating experiences that leave us feeling vibrant, energetic, mentally clear, and digestively at ease will be the ‘healthy’ way of eating for you, and what provides you with those sensations in your body will be unique to you." That sounds great, but how do you actually do that? A fundamental shift is to lose the diet mindset. Healthy eating is a lifelong goal, met by examining and adjusting your habits over the long-term rather than a more immediate weight-loss goal. That begins with a commitment to your health and well-being and being open to greater self-acceptance and forgiveness, while letting go of an ideal dress size or body shape. It will also probably require some experimentation along the way. It’s all about finding what works for you individually.
You’ve probably heard terms like “mindful eating” and “intuitive eating,” but what’s the difference?
"While there are many similarities, mindful eating centers on being present and non-judgmental while you eat, and intuitive eating extends further to include a fundamental change to your relationship with food."
While there are many similarities, mindful eating centers on being present and non-judgmental while you eat, and intuitive eating extends further to include a fundamental change to your relationship with food.
Most of us eat too quickly. Worse yet, we’re eating at our desks or in front of the television, making it almost impossible to register that our stomachs reached capacity about 20 minutes ago.
"Mindful eating puts you back in control and can promote weight loss and reduce disordered eating. "
Mindful eating means being present. That means turning off the television, putting down your smartphone, and closing that book or magazine. It may sound like a simple thing to pay attention to your eating, without judgment, but it can be a real adjustment. Mindful eating puts you back in control and can promote weight loss and reduce disordered eating.
So what is mindfulness? This Buddhist concept is a form of meditation that helps you identify and come to terms with physical sensations and emotions. Mindful eating harnesses this focus as you eat slowly and without distraction. You listen to your body, learn your triggers for eating when you’re not hungry, address any food-related anxiety or guilt, and engage all five senses when you eat. It might sound like a lot, but getting into a mindful eating practice allows you to make healthier choices rather than being stuck in unhelpful habits, and it should reduce your overall stress, too.
"By fundamentally changing your relationship to food, mindfulness gives you the freedom of conscious choice and reduces negative feelings about food, all while boosting your health and self-confidence."
By paying more attention to what you’re eating and when, you’re relearning what hunger feels like. You’re allowing yourself the space to recognize when other cues — like boredom or upset, or because you’re standing at a buffet — are urging you toward food. By fundamentally changing your relationship to food, mindfulness gives you the freedom of conscious choice and reduces negative feelings about food, all while boosting your health and self-confidence.
While there are workshops and online courses to help you learn more about mindful eating, here are some simple steps to get started right away: eat slowly, chew thoroughly, and eliminate distractions (e.g., screens, music). Ask yourself if you’re really hungry, or if you’re responding to a non-hunger trigger. Try paying attention to every sensation as you eat — the ruby color of the apple, the crisp sound when you bite into it, as well as the texture and taste — and how the food makes you feel. And then stop eating when you’re full.
Try this with one meal per day to start, and gauge how you feel about it. As you get the hang of it, mindful eating might become you new best habit.
According to the IntuitiveEating.Org, intuitive eating is an “attunement of mind, body, and food.”
Nourishment is the priority. Basically, you eat what you want and as much as you want while monitoring and honoring your body’s feedback. When you’re hungry, you eat what appeals to you — with an eye toward meeting your body’s nutritional needs — and stop when you’re full.
“Give yourself permission to eat when you’re hungry, but take notice when you’re full.”
“Give yourself permission to eat when you’re hungry, but take notice when you’re full,” says Mercy Cedar Rapids in their article, Why Diets Don’t Work: How to Avoid the Dieting Cycle & Eat for Your Health. “Even though that second helping sounds good, do you really need it? If you’re not really hungry, your body is telling you it is satisfied.”
You’re giving yourself unconditional permission to eat; no foods are off-limits, so there’s no deprivation. And there’s no self-judgment, either — no moral superiority for denying yourself that piece of chocolate, and no abject personal failure when you do reach for it. Intuitive eating makes room for you to enjoy your meals again.
Intuitive eating also extends beyond food by encouraging you to move your body, not just for exercise but to discover what feels good to you. Instead of calculating how many calories you’ll burn from an hour of yoga or an evening jog, focus instead on how you feel after your workout. Do you feel energized? Stronger? Let this positive reinforcement be what motivates you to unroll your yoga mat or slip on your running shoes.
In the end, healthy eating is about honoring yourself, respecting your body — and the shape and size it wants to be — and making a lasting peace with food.