What is one of the most important rules to remember about healthy eating?
I’m not sure you need me to remind you that fruit loops are not an ideal breakfast. But that doesn’t mean you can’t eat them if your six year old asks you to share a bowl with them on a Sunday morning. I’m also positive you don’t need me to tell you that eating vegetables is good for your health.
So what’s really going on when someone asks a question like this?
Most likely they’re confused about conflicting healthy eating information, and their body, health, or diet isn’t living up to certain expectations. Theirs or someone else’s.
And that’s what we’re diving into today. Setting proper expectations around healthy eating.
Where did you get your healthy eating rules?
How have you established your ideas, values, and beliefs around healthy eating? Were they taught to you by parents, friends, internet searches – maybe Instagram influencers?
If you’re like most people it’s probably from multiple places. One person saying one thing is the best and another person touting something completely different.
There’s not a lack of information or opinions on healthy eating, there’s almost too much, and most of it is wasted debating minutia.
My point is that when we ask questions like what is one of the most important rules to remember about healthy eating. Most of the information we gather is from people who don’t know much about nutrition.
I spent five years as an assistant coach with one of the world’s leading nutrition coaching and research companies. From them I learned to simplify healthy eating by checking to see if it met three criteria.
Is the information, diet, or approach…
- Proven to be successful
Approaching healthy eating this way allows you to clear the clutter and focus on the things that matter most.
Most diets, nutrition experts, and fitness enthusiasts agree on the same set of basics principles when it comes to healthy eating.
Understand calorie balance and create calorie awareness.
This doesn’t mean you need to track your calories. But calories do matter. They are the primary factor in whether you gain or lose weight. There’s no getting around this. Regardless of what you eat if you eat too much you’ll gain weight. If you eat less than you need you’ll lose it.
Eat protein with most of your meals.
You can eat animal protein or plant based. It doesn’t matter much. Whatever your personal preference. How much exactly depends on your weight, goals, and level of activity. Generally, around 1.2 grams per kilogram of bodyweight if you’re sedentary, and 3.3 grams per kilogram of bodyweight if you’re trying to minimize fat while bulking (1). For most men around 2 palms at three meals per day and for most women, 1 palm at three meals per day will do it.
Eat veggies with most of your meals.
Vitamins, minerals, and low calorie high volume foods that keep you full and lean. Research has show that vegetable consumption promotes weight loss and prevents weight gain. When weight is managed chronic health conditions can be reduced (2)
Understand when you’re physically hungry and when you’re full.
You may eat based on external cues rather than inner ones. Emotion, environment, and boredom can influence decision making around eating. Creating awareness around your habits and setting up an environment (physical and social) that helps you is powerful.
Also, eating slowly and stopping at 80% full. Allow yourself time to feel like you’ve had enough at one sitting and leave a little room in the tank for the next meal. Are you so full that you can’t run around and play with your kids or dogs? Or is there enough room where you can do those things?
Eating mostly whole foods and eating fewer processed ones is a good idea.
Look, pizza, wine, and ice cream are delicious. Are you never going to eat these things again? Probably not. Eat whole foods like lean protein, fruits, veggies, and healthy fats most of the time (lets just call it 80-90%) and you’ll be fine.
Create some sort of routine around grocery shopping and planning/prepping meals
I have a rule. If it’s not in my calendar it does not exist. Wanting to eat healthy is great. But all the want in the world isn’t going to make it happen. Most of us operate best with routines so create one around healthy eating. Set aside specific days and times to go grocery shopping and do the same with meal prep (this does not need to take you hours).
Set proper expectations around healthy eating (are you making it impossible to be successful)
What is one of the most important rules to remember about healthy eating? Here’s what most people think healthy eating is.
- No processed food
- Organic and all natural
- No sugar
- No alcohol
- All meals at home (home cooked)
- 100% all the time
Viewing healthy eating this way is making it impossible for you to be successful. Yes, there is some level of discipline and willpower needed when it comes to healthy eating. But we approach it in a terrible way.
We tell ourselves things like I just need to do it. A great slogan but a terrible strategy.
Unless you plan on living under a rock your choices are going to be influenced by your environment, advertisements, social situations, and emotions.
You’re going to have a great meal plan and run out of groceries. You’ll have times where finances are tight and need to budget. You are going to want to eat out, socialize over drinks, and get ice cream on a date. You’re going to prepare meals and forget them as you rush out the door one morning.
All of your meals are not going to look like the recipe you found on Instagram. They’re not going to taste like the meal you had at that restaurant last Saturday night.
You’re probably not going to have the time, energy, or knowledge to make different recipes every single day. Eating more uniform will make more sense.
You’re used to making a phone call, driving up to a window, or tapping an app and having someone else make your meals and bring them to you. These are convenient, easy, and hard habits to break.
When you first step into healthy eating it will probably be hard, hard as fuck. You’ve become accustomed to eating uber tasty foods that have been designed to hit bliss points, keeping us wanting more.
But you know what else is hard?
- Being a husband or a wife
- Raising a family
- Working long hours
- Grinding through school and getting a degree
We do hard things our entire life. You’re doing hard things right now.
Healthy eating. Keep it simple. Keep it basic.
My healthiest friends and most successful clients all have something in common. They don’t care much about the glycemic index of foods, insulin response from eating a banana, or whether or not they’re in ketosis.
Instead, they care about what we talked about earlier. What most diets agree on and they forget about the rest.
They set up their physical environment and social environment to help them be successful. They keep trigger foods out of the house, have difficult conversations about health and fitness with the people they spend the most time with, and are committed to progress and not perfection.
These clients and friends focus on what they’re already doing well and they double down on it. Then they address the one big challenge they’re facing – like stress or bored eating, planning and preparation, sleep, or something else and put their energy into that one thing. It becomes a keystone habit that leads to success in other areas.
We make things way more complicated than they need to be.
Don’t expect yourself to eat healthy all the time. Nor is it all that important. This kind of all-or-nothing thinking leaves us feeling defeated. As Andy said in this article, do you set your savings on fire when you lose your wallet? Then why do we do it with our diets?
Healthy eating is a very ambiguous term and means a lot of different things to a shit ton of people. Spend some time today to define what healthy eating realistically means to you? Decide what you want out of healthy eating and ask yourself if you’re willing to do the work that comes with that.
So what is one of the most important rules to remember about healthy eating?
Set proper exceptions around what healthy eating is and what you’re capable of. Then, make it easier to do. It doesn’t matter the approach. Adherence is the key.
Do you already know what to do but are having a hard time following through?
Learn more about online personal fitness and nutrition coaching. When we work together you’ll get.
- A personalized nutrition guide that tells you exactly how much and what to eat to lose fat and build lean muscle
- Custom training programs built around your goals, preferences, and limitations
- Over 50 simple, healthy, and delicious recipes
- Unlimited communication, support, and accountability from me so you know exactly what to do and when to do.
- Continuing education and lessons so you know how to keep the weight off for good
Arnotti K, Bamber M. Fruit and Vegetable Consumption in Overweight or Obese Individuals: A Meta-Analysis. West J Nurs Res. 2020;42(4):306-314. doi:10.1177/0193945919858699