The way I view food and “healthy” eating has changed a lot over the years. At one point, I didn’t care about eating healthy at all. Then, I wanted to lose weight, so restriction and crash diets became the fast track to achieving an unattainable “perfect” body. Neither side of the spectrum was really health promoting. It’s taken years, but I’ve finally found a way of eating that I believe is balanced and works for me. The way I eat today not only nourishes me physically, it also doesn’t focus on restriction which is so important for me mentally. Even though I’ve come a long way, I’m still learning and growing in this area. I know as my life changes over the next few years, and beyond, the way I view food and my health will continue to evolve as well. But, no matter the change, these are some core principals I plan to always return to. They are the 5 most important things I consider when choosing how to fuel my body and for the past couple of years, they’ve served me well.
1. I Eat Real Food
If there’s one phrase that could sum up how I eat, it would be “I eat real food.” Out of all the things that I’ve ever tried, eating a variety of “real” food is the only thing that has ever truly worked for me. I don’t care how many crash diets, smoothie/juice cleanses, or “skinny” teas you try, there is no substitute for eating real food and making sure you eat enough of it.
When I say “real” food I mean a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, seafood, eggs, and high quality cooking fats like avocado or coconut oil. I also include grass-fed dairy, gluten-free grains (white rice, oatmeal, corn) and unrefined sugars (maple syrup, honey, coconut sugar) on occasion as well. I avoid processed foods with low quality oils, added chemical preservatives and sweeteners, refined sugar, and do most of my grocery shopping around the perimeter of the store where the fresh foods are located. After eating this way for a few years now, I don’t even crave some of the foods I used to eat and my taste buds have definitely changed (I used to have a HUGE sweet tooth). This shift didn’t happen overnight, but now choosing real food over “junk” food is second nature to me.
2. I Focus on Nutrient-Density
One thing that has shifted for me over the past few years is the emphasis I place on micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) in my diet. Before switching to paleo, I was more concerned with the number of calories in my food than anything else. I knew food contained vitamins and minerals, but if I’m being honest, my only real goal was to not eat too much because I didn’t want to gain weight.
Now that I truly understand the importance of eating nutrient-dense food, my entire perspective has changed. I’m no longer focused on how many foods I can eliminate from my diet, or eating low fat or low carb. Instead, I try make sure that my diet contains a wide variety of fruits, veggies, meat, and seafood. All of these foods provide my body with different kinds of nutrients, and, in my opinion, they’re all important.
3. I Listen To MY Body (and no one else’s)
I don’t avoid certain foods just because that’s what everyone else is doing or it’s trendy. I’ve seen disparaging comments from people about all sorts of diets. Whether it’s paleo, gluten free, vegetarian, or vegan everyone has their two cents about how people should eat. But honestly, when it comes to how to fuel MY body the only opinion that really matters is mine. I’ll say this forever and ever, but the best thing I ever did for my health was to pay attention to my body and stop fighting the signals it was trying to give me. When it comes to choosing which foods I eat, I’m constantly checking in with my body to see how certain foods make me feel. Not anyone else’s body, either. Just MINE. Because different diets can, and will, affect different people differently.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with choosing to stick to a certain “diet”, but it can become a problem when you’re so caught up in following something, or someone, that you neglect the way you feel. I’ve shared this before, but part of the reason I waited so long to let go of eating a vegetarian diet (even though I didn’t feel well) was because I refused to really listen to my own body. I heard so many things about how meat was “bad” for me, that I didn’t acknowledge that my body was signaling for me to eat more animal protein. Now, I’m not so tied to a certain way of eating that I refuse to try new things.
4. I Don’t View Eating and Working Out As a Transactional Relationship
I used to think that I had to “earn” certain foods by working out. I thought that I could only enjoy ice cream if I hit the gym five days that week, or if I went out for pizza that night I had to make sure that I worked out that morning. This skewed way of thinking lead to me feeling a lot of guilt around certain foods and treats. That guilt lead to a lot of negative thoughts and self-talk about my body’s appearance. Not to mention, I felt like I was doing something “wrong” whenever I put a french fry in mouth.
At some point over the last few years, I just got tired of having such a skewed relationship with food and my body. Also, it seems kind of far off now, but I thought about my future kids. The last thing I want to do is raise children who have a negative relationship with food and their body like I did, so I committed to changing my perspective. It didn’t happen instantly and there are still days where that old way of thinking tries to creep back in, but now, I view food as a form of nourishment for my physical body. It is 100 percent fact that I need the vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, fat, and protein I get from food in order to keep my body healthy, strong, and nourished. If I enjoy things like ice cream, cookies, or donuts, without exercising, that fact does not change. If I enjoy pizza, fries, or a burger, without exercising, that fact does not change. If I don’t exercise for a whole 2 weeks, that fact does not change. I don’t deserve less food just because I didn’t hit the gym that day. My body deserves the right amount of nourishment it needs each and every day to thrive regardless of other outside factors.
5. I Prioritize Balance
Balance is important to me. I don’t believe in being “perfect” with my diet. Never eating ice cream, chips, trying new foods while traveling, or enjoying homemade macaroni and cheese is just not the kind of life I want to live. My goal is to eat real nutrient-dense food MOST of the time. For me, that means eating 3 meals a day with healthy fat, good quality protein, and plenty of veggies/fruits. It also means treating myself with dark chocolate a couple of times a week or a dessert on the weekend when it’s what I really want. I used to live my life constantly worried that a treat here or there would instantly make me gain 5 pounds and so I would restrict myself from eating them. Because of that, I had constant cravings for foods I thought I “shouldn’t” eat. When I finally stopped obsessing, and began to treat myself in moderation, those constant cravings slowly went away.
I also prioritize balance in my food budget. As much as I would like to buy all organic, grass fed, and pasture raised food, right now it just isn’t an option. Instead, I just make the best choices I can with the budget I have. Sometimes that means a little sacrifice, like not eating out or buying that $5 coffee shop drink (you can get a whole dozen pasture raised eggs for that price) so I can have more room in my grocery budget. I also do things like meal plan, make the most of my leftovers, buy things in bulk at places like Costco or Sams and I always, always, always shop the sales at my local stores. I don’t believe that a healthy diet has to be a “perfect” diet to be beneficial, so I work with and make the best use of what I’ve got.
This post contains affiliate links.