Eating a healthy diet contributes to our physical and mental wellbeing and is good for the planet too. The trick is actually eating a healthy diet.
While reading about diet and nutrition I was struck by the plethora of advice telling me what to eat when, how to eat, and what foods I must banish from my fridge and pantry.
These recommendations seemed to make eating about deprivation, schedules, and rules. After deciding to ignore this negative advice, I felt relieved and able to focus on giving my diet a healthy makeover and sometimes splurging without feeling guilty.
My story about gaining weight, transitioning to a healthier diet, and choosing more environmentally friendly foods and beverages began in the post, A Healthy Diet is Good for You and the Planet.
In this post, I will share what worked for me and might work for you. These ideas are simple and free (except for the pedometer).
A Healthy Diet is Forever
The reason to eat a healthy diet is, um, to be healthy. It requires a lifelong commitment. I did not really get the lifelong commitment thing until after a few months of trial and error. Once I realized and accepted that I needed to make changes I could live with forever, I knew I was on the right path.
Information is Important
Reading a variety of books taught me how food works in my body and broadened my perspective to include the environmental and ethical aspects of food. Over a period of months, I learned how many calories were in the food I was eating and how many I was working off by walking, doing yard work, cleaning house, etc.
Now I can make informed choices, like since my favorite chocolate bar contains almost as many calories as a meal, I either need to eat less or exercise more if want to eat my candy bar and maintain a healthy weight.
Calories In vs. Calories Out
Fortunately, I have a realistic approach to exercise, meaning I know you actually have to do it to get the benefit.
After putting off joining a local gym for months, I admitted to myself that I did not want to have to change my clothes and go to a gym to work out. My exercise solution is to walk and work in my yard. Wearing a pedometer helps me track my steps and calories burned, which is a fun way to make sure I am getting enough exercise.
Food and Exercise Journal
Recording what I eat and drink and how much exercise I do helps me measure how many calories I take in and expend each day, but more importantly, it keeps me accountable to myself. It is crucial, to be honest and record everything, including a handful of jellybeans.
One of the benefits of an online journal is that websites and apps offer huge databases of calorie, nutrition, and exercise information and allow users to add their own food, drink, and exercises. I use a free smartphone app called MyFitnessPal.
Perhaps the most valuable concept I read in any book is the notion of making a U-turn from You on a Diet.
Here is the scenario. Your healthy eating plan is going okay until you eat an entire half-gallon of ice cream or a whole pizza in one sitting. You immediately deem yourself a failure and give up, sound familiar?
In the U-turn scenario, instead of beating yourself up for making an unhealthy food choice or overindulging, you give yourself permission to make a U-turn and get back on track.
Making a U-turn is a simple yet powerful idea that I have employed many times on my healthy eating journey.
Not in My House
Diet and nutrition books devote a fair amount of page real estate to strategies they claim will help us overcome our lack of willpower, such as eating foods that help us feel full, controlling portion sizes, and closing our kitchens at 8:00 p.m. These are not necessarily bad ideas, but they require a certain amount of regimentation and yes, willpower.
We still live in bodies suited to the feast or famine days of our ancestors, where fat, salt, and sugar was rare, thus we craved it. Unfortunately, nowadays, these substances are readily available and in large quantities in many of the foods and beverages available at grocery markets, convenience stores, and restaurants.
As I attempted to transition to a healthier diet, my greatest struggle was the battle between my willpower and my ancestry. For instance, I would purchase a box of salty crackers or honey-roasted nuts and attempt to portion them out. This went well for a day or two, but then I would scarf down the rest. One ginger snap cookie led to a handful. I could hear chocolate bars calling me from the pantry. You get the picture.
Fortunately, I had learned early on about making U-turns so was not defeated, but the issue remained unsolved.
My Aha Moment
My “aha” moment came when I decided to give up battling my willpower and try a new strategy, not bringing my danger foods into the house, except occasionally.
If it is not in the house, I cannot eat it. It is simple and it works!
I am most likely to have a yen for a salty or sweet snack at night, but now since we do not keep stuff like in the house, I do not need any willpower. On the rare occasion that I am actually hungry, I cut up a piece of fruit or eat a handful of nuts or raisins.
It took me a few months to adopt the “not in my house” strategy because instead of going all in I made incremental adjustments like purchasing a smaller box of crackers or only two chocolate bars. I finally admitted to myself this tactic was not working, so I stopped buying and bringing my danger foods into the house.
For me, it takes far less willpower to avoid buying stuff at the store than it does to not eat it once it is in the house. Sure, I know I can hop in my car and go buy whatever I might be craving, but I do not because it is just not worth it.
Since I believe deprivation is not successful over the long run and because I am a chocolate lover, I indulge in a weekly chocolate bar (a really good one) but I only buy one.
I feel healthy and well and completely committed to eating a healthy diet for the rest of my life. If you are trying to get on a healthier eating path, I hope one or more of the ideas above will help you too. Please share your ideas and tips with other readers.
- 5 Reasons to Try Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
- A Healthy Diet is Good for You and the Planet
- Bringing Your Own Lunch to School or Work is Green
- Composting Made Easy – Tips from an Unlikely Composter
- Dine In – Cooking and Eating Meals at Home is Green
- Environmental Impact of Eating Meat
- Food Rules – Book Review
- Meatless Monday – More Fruits and Veggies Monday
- Organic Food – USDA National Organic Program
- The Sheer Ecstasy of being a Lunatic Farmer – Book Review
- Wheatless Wednesday – Whole Wheat Wednesday
Diet, Nutrition, and Food Industry Book List
A list of my ten favorite books and a couple of videos is included in the post, A Healthy Diet is Good for You and the Planet.