What Healthy Eating Really Is

There are so many “diets” and healthy trends out there, it can be hard to cut through the noise. So we tapped into certified nutritionist and wellness coach, Kara Stout, to share what it truly means to eat healthy and live a well-balanced, nourishing lifestyle. She breaks the basics down for us, but also inspires us to strive for a deeper commitment of self-care and self-love. See her eight indicators of what healthy eating really is below! 

Let me begin by saying this is my philosophy on a genuinely healthy lifestyle considering my background in holistic health, nutrition and as a previous counselor and therapist. There are many dietary theories out there, many of which are wonderful and beneficial. I would say I’ve combined several theories and have adapted my view on healthy eating through working with women over the last ten years to see what really works for them and makes a healthy lifestyle sustainable and enjoyable. Enjoying your health journey is key! Otherwise, you won’t want to make the changes and you might just feel like giving up.

I’m not about calorie counting, obsessions or too many restrictions. Disordered eating can happen on both ends—unhealthy eating and also being too obsessive about eating healthy. Balance, freedom and the enjoyment of food are so important. The real focus should be on how to feel healthy physically, emotionally and mentally rather than how to be skinny. Food is meant to nourish us and to be enjoyed.

Here’s one of my favorite quotes from Dr. Mark Hyman:

“Food is not just calories, it is information. It talks to your DNA and tells it what to do. The most powerful tool to change your health, environment and entire world is your fork.”

8 Indicators of What Healthy Eating Really Is:

Starting with the basics

Focus on adding in more water, dark leafy green veggies, vegetables, fruit, whole grains if your body tolerates them well, either plant-based or high-quality animal protein depending on your preference, and healthy fats. I have to take a second to say that I love fruit, and it makes me sad that I have clients afraid of eating fruit because that’s trending now (the idea to now avoid fruit because it has too much sugar). Here’s the thing, it’s natural sugar, and fruit contains vitamins, fiber and antioxidants—so many awesome benefits for our health. I think in this time when sugar is in so many unhealthy foods, it’s too much for people to hear now they have to be scared of fruit. This adds too much unnecessary pressure in my opinion, and I definitely think fruit has a healthy place in our diets.

What you want to avoid

I would recommend avoiding anything artificial, like artificial sweeteners and artificial coloring, fried foods, sodas and foods with high-fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated oils (aka trans fat). Make sure to read the ingredients list to avoid these foods. If you’re not sure what all the artificial sweeteners are, here’s a quick list:

  • Aspartame (Equal)
  • Saccharin (Sweet’N Low)
  • Sucralose (Splenda)
  • Acesulfame K (or acesulfame potassium).

What you want to decrease

I would also recommend limiting your added refined sugar consumption. The American Heart Association recommends women consume no more than 25 grams or 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day and men consume no more than 36 grams or 9 teaspoons per day. Obviously, less is best. If you’re not sure how much sugar you are consuming, I would start tracking it because sugar can negatively affect our health in so many ways. You also want to decrease heavily processed foods and try to stick mostly with whole, unprocessed or minimally processed foods. When you do eat processed foods, you want to look for ingredients you actually understand and can read.

Listen to your body

We are all unique with different bodies that are affected differently by different foods and drinks. What works great for me, may not work for you at all. Try to really tune into your body and the reactions it has to certain foods. Instead of focusing on numbers like calories or the scale, I encourage my clients to focus on how they are feeling or how their energy level is. Keeping a food log to jot down what they notice—if any foods cause any excitability or calming effects, digestion improvement or bloating, and so on. This is such an amazing way for them to tune into their individual bodies to see what foods are ideal and which foods are not ideal. I encourage you to do the same if you find you’re unsure of your power foods, basically the foods that create energy and happiness in your body.

Take it step-by-step

I always suggest taking it step-by-step, instead of telling yourself you have to change all of these habits overnight. Start by working on one to three things max for two to three weeks (it can be as simple as drinking more water or adding in more green leafy veggies). Allow yourself to add that in and once you feel you have turned that into a habit, go to the next thing—like cutting back on added sugars. This might be a tougher one, but work on it, don’t beat yourself up if you slip up and just keep trying. I find that oftentimes when people take on too many changes it becomes overwhelming and miserable, so they just say forget it and go back to how they were eating before. The goal is to enjoy this process and make it a sustainable lifestyle—not a quick fix. Certain habits were created over years, so you have to give yourself grace and kindness while making healthy changes.

No guilt in treating yourself

I like to encourage clients that this lifestyle change does not mean you can never have your favorite pizza or ice cream or donut again. As you start changing your eating habits to be healthier, your taste buds will change and your cravings for “unhealthy” choices will decrease, which is so helpful in this becoming a sustainable lifestyle. But there will be times you want to treat yourself, and honestly, I’m all for that. I’m all for you enjoying that treat, savoring it, but absolutely not feeling guilty afterward. When you’re eating healthy the majority of the time and have a healthy exercise routine, I think adding in treats can be a positive thing. This leads into my next point of not wanting to become obsessive about healthy eating.

Don’t take healthy eating to the extreme

A term coined by Dr. Steven Bratman, “orthorexia nervosa,” refers to when people become obsessive about healthy eating. Yes, this is a real thing, unfortunately. They only allow themselves to eat certain perceived foods that contain a certain amount of calories, health composition or are of the highest quality. This behavior can lead to being unhealthy, which is not what we are going for. Usually people with this disorder are anxious, ritualistic and excessively picky when it comes to food.

Love yourself through your health journey

This whole process of becoming healthier is an act of self-love. Like I mentioned, you want to enjoy this journey and be kind and gentle to yourself along the way. Don’t put too much pressure or too many expectations on yourself. Try also not to compare yourself to others around you and those on social media. This can make you feel really bad about your body and yourself, especially when looking at health, wellness and fitness bloggers. We don’t know how many photos it took to get that perfect angle or how much time they have to dedicate to exercise and healthy eating. Catch yourself if you feel like you’re going down that path, and remember that you are beautiful and on your own special journey.

This post was updated and adapted from this article originally published on Glitter Guide in 2017. 

Main + featured image via our home tour with Leslie Antonoff.

Coastal Carolina University Life