If you ask a group of people what eating healthy means to them, you're likely to get different answers each time.
For some, healthy eating entails cutting back on fast food or eating more fruits and vegetables, whereas for others, it may entail occasionally indulging in a piece of cake without feeling guilty.
Those with specific medical conditions or food allergies, on the other hand, may interpret the concept of healthy eating
in their own unique way.
In short, there is no single correct answer to the question of what healthy eating entails.
Healthy eating is human, and as humans, we all have different wants and needs that influence our food choices.
Furthermore, what healthy eating means to you may change throughout your life as you grow and adapt to your ever-changing needs.
This article delves into the human side of healthy eating, as well as my personal go-to tips for making it easier.
What does healthy eating imply for me?
In the last few years, my definition of healthy eating has shifted several times.
When I was in college, healthy eating meant adhering to nutritional guidelines and doing everything by the book. However, it meant that my perspective on the food on my plate had shifted. I went from seeing meals I liked to seeing only nutrients.
Suddenly, I was looking at complex carbs and plant-based proteins instead of traditional Costa Rican gallo pinto — or rice and beans.
When I first started working as a nutritionist, the idea that a dietitian should look a certain way or fit into a specific body type led me to believe that healthy eating meant measuring my food so that I knew exactly what I was eating. I would eat whatever I wanted as long as the nutrients I required were met.
I provided my body with everything it required to be healthy, but healthy eating extends beyond nutrients. It's also about how it makes you feel, and because food is such an important part of culture and social events, we should enjoy eating.
Today, I take a different approach to eating healthy. I'm much more flexible with my meals now, and I understand that balance is essential for feeling nourished and content with food.
Healthy eating now means that I make sure to have food from all food groups on my plate most of the time, without measuring or thinking about plant-based vs. animal-based protein or simple vs. complex carbs.
It also means I can eat a little bit of everything — including sweets, fast food, and desserts — in moderation and without having to measure or account for it.
As you can see, finding the right balance for me did not happen overnight. On the contrary, as I've progressed through the stages of my life, my definition of healthy eating has evolved.
You can give healthy eating your own meaning as long as you aim to nourish your body and listen to what it needs, because healthy eating is for everyone.
It can be a difficult time
Many people believe that eating healthy comes naturally to a dietitian. We are, however, human beings, and we enjoy dessert and crave foods just like everyone else.
In my case, one of the most difficult challenges I've had was having to give up most carbohydrate-containing foods in order to manage recurring infections.
Carbohydrates can be found in a variety of foods, including grains, starchy vegetables, legumes, fruit, and dairy. They can also be found in processed foods and sweets.
Experts frequently divide them into two groups based on their fibre content.
Whole grains keep their naturally occurring fibre.
Refined carbohydrates are processed to remove fibre and contain added sugar.
In theory, I was supposed to avoid refined carbohydrates, which some argue is the healthiest option.
In practise, however, I gave up all types of processed carbs, including whole wheat bread and pasta, as well as starchy vegetables, grains, and dairy.
As a result, the only carbohydrate-rich foods I could eat were fruits, oats, quinoa, and legumes — lentils, beans, chickpeas, and edamame.
Some people told me that as a dietitian, this transition would be easier for me. However, it took some time for me to adjust to my new eating habits, especially when it came to planning on-the-go snacks or eating out.
I discovered that organisation and creativity are essential for managing my nutritional requirements.
3 things I do that you could do as well
As I previously stated, organisation and creativity assist me in making the best food choices every day. This is because, in my opinion, healthy eating is a decision we make every time we eat.
As a result, when selecting a meal or snack, I try to make the decision-making process as simple as possible. That way, I'll be able to continue to do what's best for me.
Here are three things I do on a daily or weekly basis to help me eat healthily.
While it may sound cliche, preparing my food for the week ahead of time works wonders for me.
Cooking can be time-consuming, but having food that only needs to be heated and served allows me to have a nutritious meal ready in minutes.
One of my favourite meal-prepping tricks is to cook a large batch of proteins — usually chicken or another lean meat — that I can portion and freeze for up to a week and simply defrost as needed.
I also make it a point to prepare vegetables for the week. This way, I don't have to think twice about having a salad or cooking a side of vegetables with each meal.
To avoid becoming bored and choosing not to eat them, I try to prepare them in a variety of ways.
For example, when it comes to carrots or zucchini, I'll slice, dice, grate, or spiralize them, which allows me to easily incorporate them into my meals.
Keep fruit within easy reach
Having my fruit visible reminds me to eat it throughout the day.
According to research, you are more likely to eat whatever foods you keep near you, whether they are fruits or sweets.
This principle is something I live by every day, and I keep my fruit on display on a table and my snacks and sweets hidden away.
Maintain a routine
While I don't have an official weekly menu, I do have a set of dishes that I serve at every meal.
For example, my breakfast menu usually consists of the following items:
gallo pinto and eggs toast with peanut butter, with a side of eggs oatmeal with fruit oatmeal pancakes
The same is true for the rest of my meals and snacks, where I have at least three options to choose from without much thought.
Having a set of dishes that I know I like saves me time from having to decide what to eat, and it allows me to vary my meals depending on whether I want something sweet or savoury.
It's also very convenient for grocery shopping because you already know what you'll be eating at each meal.