What does eating healthy really mean?


Healthy eating. We all know we need to do it right? Eat your vegetables. Incorporate fish twice a week. Eat three meals and two snacks a day. Eat more whole grains. I could go on and on regarding the “definition” of healthy eating. Even as a dietitian I feel bombarded with this statement and find that it’s generality really doesn’t help anyone in the long term. Therefore, I wanted to take just a couple minutes of your time and look at healthy eating without the “food recommendation” angle. But rather the humanistic side of “healthy eating.” Take a step back with me and look at it from a non “food obsessed – eat this not that” mentality but rather a way that will hopefully put you at a little more ease.

Healthy eating is:

1)      Individualized.

I often ask my clients what their goals are when coming to seek nutrition counseling from me. One common response is, “I just want to eat healthier.” I then go one step further and ask them to identify what healthy eating is to them. They often reply with responses like “more fruits and vegetables”, “less bread and pasta”, “more fish”, “no more chocolate”, “drinking more water.” I find that although there are some stark similarities, everyone’s definition is a little different.

Yes – there are foods which are considered healthy that all individuals should eat. However, there is   one size fits all “diet approach” when it comes to figuring out what is considered healthy for YOU. Everyone’s body and life circumstance are uniquely different. If your friend finds she feels better when she cuts gluten out of her diet, that doesn’t mean it will have the same effect on you. Or, your friend told you need to eat chicken breast for dinner every night to lose weight, but the thought of meat makes you sick, then that is not considered a part of a “healthy” diet for you. Do you understand my point here? Listening to your own body and identifying what makes you feel your best is the type of healthy eating pattern that works for YOU; not the one your next-door neighbor tells you to follow.

My point is this, eating healthy looks a little different to everyone. If you feel great on a vegan diet – got for it. If meat makes you sick, don’t eat it. If food containing gluten doesn’t make you feel any different you can keep eating it. Experiment with your own body and how certain foods make YOU feel before completely adopting a trendy diet lifestyle that may not be best suited for you.

With that said – I am not by any means discrediting anyone who does feel better following a specific diet. As a dietitian, I understand that certain individuals need to follow specialized diets for a variety of reasons. I have counseled many clients through elimination diets, to help them realize what works best for their body. I just think the movement of these specialized diets has been removed by why individuals actually “need” them vs people who want to jump on the band wagon of the next diet trend or quick fix.

2)      The type of eating you can live with forever.

The best healthy eating pattern for you, is whichever diet you can sustain long term, while at the same time being successful in your health goals and (gasp) be a normal human being who can enjoy pizza and chocolate chip cookies.  For example, we all know that one person who cut out all the bread, pasta, cheese and chocolate (you name it) in their diet in hopes it will bring them closer to their weight loss goals. They tried it, lost some weight, and now you are interested in trying the same strategy. Do you really want to commit to never having that after dinner piece of chocolate again? I didn’t think so.

Don’t try to fit yourself into a certain “diet trend box” if you can’t see yourself following that “healthy” eating pattern long term. Don’t swear off pasta if it’s one of your favorite foods. You will just end up on the complete end of the spectrum and back to square one. You feel me?

3)      Respecting your body.

Now – this is where we are going to get into the “traditional” way of eating healthy a little but stay with me.

As we all know, there are obvious foods which are considered healthy. We (dietitians) counsel you into eating more of these foods not to be the “food police” (which some people have called me before and I hate it); but because they hold very important benefits to your body and the longevity of your life. That is important! The food we eat directly impacts how we feel and function every single day. So, if you want to have more energy, get off some medication, live longer, have better skin, get sick less, be active, and just FEEL BETTER then guess what – you must put quality fuel into your body in order to produce a better product (YOU!).

Eating healthy means nourishing and taking care of your body so it can optimally function for you. Your health starts on the inside, and if you are consistently putting junk into it, you are likely feeling like junk yourself.

4)      Having a healthy relationship with food.

This is a topic I plan to write more about in the future. It is an area I am very passionate about as a dietitian and a human. I believe so much of the issues our nation has around food and dieting stems from our very own unhealthy relationship with food. We have gotten out of touch with our eating behaviors, and therefore created a nation that is obsessed with dieting, labeling foods as “good” and “bad”, identifying eating as “black and white.” This mindset around food drags us further away from reaching our healthiest self.

Although I plan to expand on this “diet” mentality in the future, let’s first start here; becoming too restrictive starts a very unhealthy relationship and eating pattern with food. One that eliminates the joy and obvious delicious taste of food that we as humans are lucky enough to experience!

As I mentioned above, there is a clear benefit between eating the obvious health foods and the positive effects it has on our health. However, “healthy eating” is also having a healthy relationship with food where we don’t “shame” ourselves for enjoying pizza or an ice cream cone from time to time. A healthy eating pattern includes these delicious foods we all love, without the thought “Oh no why did I eat that.” “I was supposed to be good today” mentality. Having those conversations with yourself continues to cultivate an unhealthy, diet obsessed, relationship around food that leads individuals falling “on” and “off” overly restrictive/trendy diets.

My point is, create your own version of what “eating healthy” is to you. Experiment and try new things, but keep in mind that not one body or lifestyle is alike. Eating healthy is way more than trying to lose 10 pounds in one week or following the newest fad diet. You need to find an eating pattern that will make you feel your best forever!

If you need guidance on finding a healthy eating pattern for you, head on over to my website now and send me a message so we can talk!

Till then, answer this question below; “Eating healthy to me means….”

See you all soon!