What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word “diet”? Did you immediately think of a restrictive eating regimen that deprives you of your favorite foods? I think most people look at “diet” that way, and because they see it as depriving, they consider diet a bad thing.
For most people, a diet is a tool for losing weight. And according to a survey spearheaded by the International Food and Information Council, 77 percent of Americans are trying to lose weight. But the sad truth is that most of them will fail to achieve sustaining weight loss if they approach their diets in the traditional way.
The better way to look at diet is in the context of overall nutrition. Nutrition is more than eating healthy food. It’s your total nourishment. And diet is more than an eating plan. It’s what you eat and drink every day, as well as the physical and emotional circumstances connected to eating.
Having a nutritious diet is more than eating good food to fill you up. It’s also getting enough nutrients to keep you healthy and full of energy to perform your daily activities at a high level. A side benefit of good nutrition is that you naturally get to and maintain a healthy body weight. (You get even better results when you add regular exercise!)
A critical feature of good nutrition and a healthy diet is variety. Eating a wide variety of foods helps ensure that you get the important vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients your body needs to function properly.
One recommendation is to keep your plate colorful with foods of a variety of hues. The pigments that produce the color in these foods are actually nutritious substances, and these substances can reduce your risk of cancer and chronic diseases, such as heart disease.
Fruits and vegetables are among the most colorful foods. They provide added protection by decreasing free radicals in the body. Free radicals are unstable molecules that damage cells, which as a result, can lead to the development of many diseases.
A nutritious diet includes plenty of fruits and vegetables. It also includes whole grains, fat-free or low-fat dairy products, and protein in the form of lean meats and seafood. A healthy diet doesn’t eliminate any group of foods, like some popular fad diets today, but instead concentrates on portion sizes.
For help with food choices and portion sizes, consult the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, developed by the US Department of Health and Human Services and the US Department of Agriculture. And don’t’ forget to balance your healthy eating with physical activity.
With a healthy, nutritious diet, you don’t have to deprive yourself of all the foods you love. But think about those foods before you eat them and decide which ones are really important to you.
Consider eating only the foods you absolutely love and avoiding the foods you find mediocre. That way, you can eliminate the foods you can really live without and replace them with healthier options such as fruits and vegetables.
By assessing your eating patterns, you can mindfully include foods you love that might be considered unhealthy. With careful planning, you can eat those foods but in a more controlled manner.
Now you know that diet is not a dirty word, and it’s possible to eat healthy and still have your favorite foods. Here are a few other tips to make eating a positive experience, courtesy of the University of Minnesota:
- Start small. Pick one thing to change and focus on that until you get comfortable with it, then move on.
- Acknowledge and honor your hunger. Pay attention to what your body wants. Allow yourself to feel hunger. It’s very satisfying to eat after experiencing hunger.
- Get rid of distractions. Turn off the televisions, computers, and cells phones. Focus on your food.
- Lose the “good” and “bad” labels. If you’re putting energy into taking better care of yourself, then you deserve treats, snacks, and junk food from time to time without judgment.
- Eat with others. Share the pleasure of the food with others. You get valuable emotional support from family members and friends when you eat together.
- Stop before you feel full. It takes your brain about 20 minutes before it gets the message that your belly is full. But there’s a point before that when your hunger is satiated. Keep in mind that a typical portion is more than you need.
Diets that restrict calories can do more harm than good. Often, people lose weight initially, but the weight loss is usually unsustainable. When they go off of the diet, they generally gain all of the weight back, and sometimes more.
Calorie-restrictive diets are not healthy for your body. You need to eat enough calories for your body to function properly. A nutritious, balanced diet gives you all the calories, vitamins, and nutrients you need. It also helps you, along with exercise, to lose and/or maintain weight by keeping your metabolism operating optimally.
So, eat well and enjoy!