One of my favorite parts of my day is going through my newsfeeds and seeing what strikes me—new articles, new recipes, new perspectives. I love being challenged to see a different perspective and being inspired by a new flavor combination or cooking technique. But every once in a while I come across an article or a trend that I think is damaging or dangerous when it comes to having a healthy relationship with food. This week that happened and so I wanted to share my thoughts on the term “healthy-ish.”
This all started when I excitedly clicked on an article highlighting the story of a reality TV star who had become “healthy-ish” in his eating and exercising habits and was pleased with the results. As I started reading I thought to myself, “healthy-ish is the way to go! I’m so glad someone is talking about this openly” but within seconds I realized that I had been duped by a catchy headline. The article went on to highlight how he had signed on with a personal trainer who he saw multiple times a week (nice for him but not realistic for most people) and had dramatically changed his diet to the point where he was utterly miserable and wondered if he could keep it going. As I was reading this I thought, “how is this extreme diet and exercise regimen healthy-ish??” That’s when the kicker came: the reason that he was “healthy-ish” was that he gave himself a sundown to sunup cheat window on Saturday nights when he could eat and drink anything he wanted. ARG!!!
As many of you know, I firmly believe that the best path to healthy is to take the time to build a healthy and happy relationship with food and exercise that leaves you feeling motivated, nourished and satisfied. That can mean different things for different people—for some it is working out every day and eating mostly vegetables and lean proteins, for others it is naturally fitting movement into your day and having a daily treat, for others it is cutting out a food that is making you feeling sluggish or miserable in some way. The goal is to find the right set up for you so that you can feel at peace with your food and your body, while also feeling as energized and focused as possible. One thing that is not healthy, though, is living in misery for most of the week and then binging for one night. That is setting up a deprivation and binging cycle that not only is hard on your emotions and body, but is, in most cases, unsustainable.
So then what does “healthy-ish” look like? For me, it is first and foremost, relaxing about food. That doesn’t mean you just throw up your hands and eat whatever you want, whenever you want, but it does mean letting go of the rules mindset that often leaves many of us feeling constrained or deprived, and instead being mindful of choices and forgiving yourself when things don’t go as planned. The following are some guidelines that I like for being healthy-ish:
- Try to eat fruits and/or vegetables with every meal, including snacks.
- Slow down your eating! Put. the. fork. down. Don’t start loading up your next bite as you chew. Slowing down allows time for your brain to catch up with your stomach so that you can know when you are actually full.
- Start small, check in, have more if desired OR limit yourself to one helping. For some people, going back for seconds is part of what makes a meal a happy occasion. If that describes you, then serve your first helping with the seconds to come in mind. If, on the other hand, you are someone who can’t control the seconds, thirds, fourths, then commit to one helping and stick with that.
- Figure out the best strategy for your weaknesses. Got a sweet tooth that can’t be controlled or a soft spot for fries? That’s fine and you absolutely should honor those cravings from time to time, but figuring out the best strategy can make all the difference. This is where things get personal. Ask yourself, why do I crave these foods when I do? Is it stress, exhaustion, emotions, hunger? Then make a plan for how to handle the cravings as they come. For some people it is making space for those foods—having one sweet treat a day/week or downsizing the portion size. For other people it is finding an alternative that satisfies—maybe it is a non-food action like a walk around the block or deep breathing when stress strikes, or maybe it is a food substitute like a handful of chocolate chips instead of a candy bar or popcorn instead of potato chips. In any case, give yourself time to experiment and figure out a system that will work for you.
- Get moving! Our lives are very sedentary so most of us need to find ways to incorporate movement into our busy lives. Find what works for you—for some that is joining a gym or getting a personal trainer, for others it is carving out time to take walks during the day, for others it is doing a fun activity like dancing or horse back riding. Find yours and do it!
- Drink water. Most of us need to drink more water (myself included!). Often our low-grade hunger is actually a sign of dehydration, so starting with a glass of water and waiting 20 minutes can be a great first step.
- Stop comparing yourself to others. Everyone has their own version of healthy-ish, you’ve just got to find yours.
- Be kind to yourself. We all slip up. We all have bad days. When those moments come, accept them, brush yourself off, and move on. Beating yourself up is just going to leave you with guilt and regret, never healthy emotions to have.
I’d love to hear your thoughts! Do you struggle with being healthy-ish or have you found the way that works for you?