By Sabahat Rahman, Communications Editor
That’s a loaded phrase, and defining it is tricky. Does eating healthy mean going keto, paleo, low-carb, or gluten-free? Is it tracking your macros and calorie intake? Or is it something else?
For a long time, I’ve struggled to define eating healthy. I’ve been confused by the myriad websites and social media platforms surrounding me where one fitness influencer preaches eating foods raw to avoid excess oil, but another drinks “bulletproof coffee” — coffee with butter. Someone eats three chicken breasts at dinner, whereas someone else is vegan. In today’s world, where stockpiles of advice are literally at our fingertips, it can be difficult to sort through conflicting information and arrive at the correct conclusion. But, after years of trying to understand healthy eating, I think I’ve finally managed to create my own definition.
1. Health is primarily about how you feel. Let that sink in.
Eating healthy shouldn’t be making you upset. It also shouldn’t cause you to feel weak or tired. If you’re craving desserts constantly, you’re not emotionally healthy. If you’re struggling to get through your workouts, you’re not physically healthy. Indubitably, any diet that makes you upset, weak, or exhausted is a bad diet.
I define healthy eating as, first and foremost, what keeps you happy and fueled. I have the biggest sweet tooth, but I’m also aware that sugar is not the most nutritious. Therefore, I try to eat plenty of fruits to satisfy my sugar cravings — dates, figs, and mangos are some of my favorite sweet and nutritious fruits. However (and this is the important part), I honor my cravings. Some days, fruit is enough to keep me satisfied. On other days, though, I need some chocolate or ice cream to keep me going! To me, eating healthy is about striving to eat nutrient-dense foods, but also making room for your favorite treats as well.
On a similar note, healthy eating should be making you energized and ready to tackle your day! If you’re consuming too few calories or carbohydrates, for instance, you will likely feel drained and exhausted. Similarly, eating a diet consisting mainly of highly-processed foods will have the same effect. Thus, it’s important to eat what fuels you! I know I need plenty of carbs, fats, and fresh produce to feel good. I also snack often because I get hungry throughout the day. Whenever I study, for instance, I always have nuts, fruit, or a smoothie at my table.
2. Be flexible!
Natacha Oceane is a health and fitness YouTuber who is a wonderful role model. She’s unbelievably strong, and has a positive attitude towards eating. In one video, she says, “Truly achieving balance means being comfortable with moments of imbalance.”
I love this so much. Eating nutrient-dense foods is wonderful, and I definitely think it’s something that all teenagers should work on. On most days, I strive to eat 6-8 servings of fruits and veggies, high-fiber carbohydrates, and lean meats. However, it took me time to learn how to be comfortable with imbalance. For many people, holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas can be stressful. The idea of eating foods high in sugar and fat can be scary, but only if you are too focused on being “perfect.” It took me time to learn this, but eating healthy also means being happy with “unhealthy.” One day, or even one week, of eating less nutrient-dense foods or more calories actually has very little impact on your physical health.
3. Have you thought about intuitive eating?
There is an abundance of diets on the Internet. Which one is best? I suggest intuitive eating.
Essentially, intuitive eating is, well, eating. It’s eating when you’re hungry, and it’s eating until you’re full. It’s eating what you crave, whether it’s a salad or a donut. At first glance, intuitive eating is scary. It sounds like you’ll be stuffing yourself with fries and ice cream at every meal, right?
But, actually, our bodies are really extraordinary. When you eat highly-processed foods continuously, your brain will probably tell you that you’re craving some veggies. Likewise, eating only veggies will trigger intense cravings for other foods. Our bodies are wired to achieve homeostasis, so your body will tell you what it wants. Think about it like this. Imagine you have two slices of cake and a few cookies. Afterwards, would you crave more dessert, or would you feel like eating something refreshing and drinking some water?
Intuitive eating isn’t for everyone. For instance, if you have diabetes, it’s important to follow a low-sugar diet. However, if you are free of medical complications, I think intuitive eating is the first “diet” that you should try out!