“If a healthy diet means cutting out all of the things I love you can count me out.” I can’t even begin to count the number of times I have heard this phrase or something very similar to it. My heart sinks pretty quick when I learn someone doesn’t believe they can find joy in healthy eating habits.
I grew up passionate about nutrition. One of my first Girl Scout projects was titled, “You Are What You Eat.” I gave a speech in high school speech class on why schools should get rid of vending machines (and my naive self had no idea why I got such looks of dismay during the speech). In middle school, my science fair project involved testing the content of vitamin C in different juices.
However, I have come to realize most of us didn’t grow up with a burning desire to tell other people what they should eat. And unfortunately, millions of Americans have developed stigmas and ideas related to nutrition that aren’t even true. All of these thoughts, feelings, fad diets, media articles, food marketing ploys, and unsuccessful weight loss attempts can leave you feeling beat about healthy living.
However, the elusive key to being okay with the foods you choose, good or bad, comes down to BALANCE. And unfortunately, I think our culture has this way off when it comes to balance with food. So many Americans seem to think eating healthy requires an all or nothing approach. Either we do or we don’t.
Balance in a Meal
Developing a balanced meal is one of the best ways to improve your overall diet. A balanced meal includes the 3 macronutrients: Protein, Fat, and Carbohydrates (yes, we need these too!) Exactly how much you need of each one depends on a variety of factors, including your activity level (and type) and your goals. And, while it’s helpful for some of us at certain times to “count our macros”, it’s definitely not a requirement of healthy eating. Seeking to create a balanced approach and making sure each meal includes a source of protein, carbs, and fat will help you to feel full and satisfied.
Similarly, you should balance your snacks as well. Do you ever eat an apple and find yourself hungrier than before you ate the apple? This is because an apple is nothing but carbohydrates. Pair the fruit with some greek yogurt (protein) and shredded coconut (healthy fats) and suddenly it lasts longer and gives you a more sustained energy.
Another key to creating balanced meals is including plenty of vegetables. Try to make half your plate vegetables. In fact, if there is one thing all, and I mean all, major diets agree on it’s this – load up on veggies!
Creating balanced meals removes the blame of eating a certain food and helps to shift the focus to the meal as a whole. For example, maybe the cookie after dinner wasn’t stocked full of nutrition. But, the salad with grilled chicken and avocado was delicious and well-balanced, offering you a variety of nutrients. Focus on what you did right.
Balance in a Day
Balance in a day includes working a variety of produce into your diet. Eating good sources of protein with your meals and snacks. Each individual meal may not include the full color spectrum of vegetables, but try to include several different vegetables throughout the day. For example, you could throw some greens and carrots in your smoothie for breakfast; have a variety of cut vegetables for lunch; and only serve broccoli with dinner.
Creating balance in your day helps to foster positive choices at each meal and create a healthy week.
Balance in a Week
Have you ever heard the “Eat healthy 90/10 or even 80/20 rules?” Break it down like this to get a better visualization: There are 21 meals in a week. If you eat 80-90% of them on track this ends up being 17-19 meals. This leaves 2-4 meals for a little more discretion. For me, these are usually the meals I eat out or eat with family/friends. Or, it might be a special treat I bake at home (like these chocolate chip cupcakes or my delicious coconut chickpea cake.) It might even involve a piece of pizza with my coworkers at lunch.
Every week this discretion will look different. Some weeks it might be completely minimal or others it might be more than you’d prefer (Christmas and Thanksgiving?) However, finding balance in your day and your week is what will create an overall balanced approach.
These weeks come together and will create a healthy (or unfortunately, in many cases unhealthy) life.
Balance throughout Life
Food should be a part of celebrations. It brings me such joy to dine out with family and friends or attend the birthday party of a niece or nephew. Personally, I usually choose to enjoy that piece of special cake beside them. However, I should avoid that piece of leftover cake that looks sooooo tempting when I’m feeling stressed and beat from a hard day. Or perhaps it’s a nightly craving for something sweet after dinner. Similarly, we find balance with food when we turn down desserts in moments when we realize we have had enough. Unfortunately, given your social situations you may end up feeling like this often needs to be the case. You can’t give in to daily donuts in the break room or a cookie every night after dinner and still find balance.
Eating healthy doesn’t mean you have to give up all the foods you love. Perhaps you can create a healthier variation of that food you love. You could make a homemade pizza with whole grain or even cauliflower crust at home and load it up with veggies. Maybe it even means still ordering pizza out on Friday night because that’s your tradition, but making sure it doesn’t happen Saturday through Thursday and instead, cooking at home 90% of the time. It means filling up a huge section of your plate with raw veggies at a party, but getting some other treats you enjoy too.
Seeking Balance with Food
Balance with food shouldn’t be an all or nothing approach. It’s finding balance in your meal, your day, and your week. It requires a good hard look at WHY we are choosing to eat something and our feelings associated with it.
Balance is about making better choices each day. It’s about enjoying Sunday dinner with your family, wedding cake with the newlyweds, a healthier entree on date night out, and fresh baked cookies on a snow day.