Sustainable healthy eating.
Sounds like a bit of a magical unicorn, doesn’t it? I definitely used to think so.
But I’m here to tell you it is, in fact, not a magical unicorn. It’s a real possibility and attainable goal. You can find a way to make your eating habits become a way of life, forever. Of course this requires effort, diligence, and constant refinement, but if you put in the effort, it will happen!
I typically recommend following an 80/20% split when it comes to eating healthy foods. What that means is prioritizing health for about 80% of your food choices and using the other 20% to enjoy your food in a way that will make it sustainable for you.
Many people get confused as to what this looks like exactly or how to apply this principle in real life, so below are a 5 easy-to-follow recommendations and examples on what this can look like. They are by no means requirements or hard-and-fast rules. They are merely guidelines to set you in the right direction to finding what sustainable healthy eating looks like for you. Because in the end, it looks quite differently for everyonei!
1. Don’t stress about the condiments.
Is it better to make your own olive oil and lemon juice dressing? Obviously, yes! BUT, what if you allowed yourself to have ranch with your salad, and that kept you satisfied and eating salads every day of the week? In the end, isn’t that better for you than creating your own salad dressing that you don’t really enjoy, resulting in you trying for about a week and then giving up salads all together? Getting your raw veggies in with a small amount of dressing that may be less than optimal will help you feel satisfied and get your healthy foods in for a lifetime.
This applies to sauces as well. Yes, there is always more optimal sauce or salsa you can buy, but sometimes stores offer a limited selection. Or your budget only allows for a limited selection. My recommendation? Do your best. Put the effort in to look at the ingredients and read the labels. Find the one with the least amount of ingredients and the least amount of inflammatory ingredients that your budget allows. Don’t sweat making your own from scratch or buying organic only.
Remember: it’s not all-or-nothing. BETTER IS BETTER!
2. Save your carbs for something you really enjoy.
This one is confusing for many people. We usually think that we should eat the “healthier” version of everything, at all times, when eating healthy. This is just simply not the case. Sometimes eating the less healthy version that contains approximately the same amount of macronturients will be enough to keep us satisfied but also not enough to derail us away from our goals.
The focus here is on carbohydrates because most of the “treats” or foods we enjoy that aren’t necessarily the best for us are higher in carbohydrates, which promote fat gain in many people. So to manage this, reserve your carbohydrate intake for something such as a piece of chocolate or a banana and almond butter with your protein shake or some ice cream. A small addition to your meal or food for the day that will keep you feeling satisfied.
For example, instead of eating a sweet potato with your meal just because it’s supposed to be “healthier”, replace the potato with something that has the same amount (or less) carbohydrates and is way higher on your personal satisfaction scale. Personally, I would rather have a small bowl of fruit. Or a chocolate chunk cookie. Or if we are out at a restuarant, I usually opt for regular french fries. The latter foods rate much higher on my satisfaction scale and help keep me from feeling overly restricted.
Make sure you are being smart about your carbohydrate intake, but use it to play around with what makes you feel the most satisfied. Sometimes the small switch in foods makes the biggest difference in your satisfaction level, warding off the feelings of the need to binge or “fall off the wagon”.
3. Ensure that each of your meals is at least a 7/10* on the satisfaction scale.
This is especially important for those of you like myself who have a difficult time with your relationship with food. My husband will eat almost anything, and as long as it filled his tummy, he’s satisfied- for the most part. I, on the other hand, am a little more high maintenance with how easily I feel satsfied. I used to give myself a hard time, but of course realized that was not productive. Instead, I use this to guide my meal selections. I purposefully plan majority of my meals around food I actually enjoy!
Also, just because a food or meal is healthy, doesn’t mean you have to eat it! There are healthy foods that I don’t really like. That’s perfectly okay. I still eat foods that are lower on my satisfaction scale if they are healthy, but they are counterbalanced with foods I love, like bacon.
*It obviously doesn’t need to be exactly 7/10, but they should definitely be above a 5. Life is too short to eat less than 5/10 meals :).
4. Eat food you enjoy throughout the week.
One of the biggest mistakes women often make when pursuing optimal health and happiness is restricting themselves all week, using willpower to make it through the week so that come Friday or Saturday they could start their weekend binge. In the end this restrict then binge habit is so hard on our bodies. Instead, normalize the food you’re eating on the weekends.
How do you do that? Start by eating pizza on a Tuesday. Or enjoying a burger on a Wednesday, instead of eating chicken and broccoli all week knowing that you just have to make it to Friday because Friday is pizza day. And if you are working to avoid refined carbs, try a healthier pizza crust or skip the bun for big romaine lettuce leaves. Dissociating your more enjoyable meals with the weekends is one of the biggest steps to overcoming the restricting and binge eating cycle.
Plus, bingeing Friday-Sunday night is 30% of your week, more than enough to totally wreck your goals!
5. Set priorities for each meal.
First and foremost, priotize your protein source. Protein is what keeps us full and satisfied, which is the purpose of food, so wouldn’t it make sense to prioritize this part of your meals? Even in restaurants, one of the first questions I ask myself when looking at the options is, “What protein is in this meal?” OR “What protein can be added?”. If there isn’t enough protein in a meal, I know I will be hungry later, which can lead to poor food choices.
Secondly, prioritize vegetables for every single meal. Of course, this isn’t always possible. BUT it should still remain a priority.
Finally, add in something that will help you enjoy the meal. Sometimes this is something simple like butter on your vegetables. Sometimes it’s potatoes. Personally, this often looks like a glass of wine with a piece of chocolate or sweet treat to finish out my evening meals.
These are guidelines, not concrete rules. Everything should be adaptable when it comes to nutrition because we are rarely in a perfect routine with everything we need or want at our finger tips. These are, however, great starting points making the transformation from yo-yo dieting to sustainable healthy eating for a lifetime.
Diets and routines of meal prepping may last a few weeks or months. BUT, working on the skills to put together your own meals no matter your resources or current situation? Those are skills that will help you eat healthy for a lifetime!