Just out of curiosity, I googled the words “healthy eating” to see what would come up. To my amazement, there were 32 million results—in .28 seconds, no less! Then I did the same search on amazon.com and discovered that I could choose from over 19 thousand books. I was stunned. So many different plans, conflicting theories, countless options and tips galore. Way more information than I ever imagined. No wonder people are overwhelmed and confused.
When did eating become so complicated? Did God really intend for us to invest so much brainpower and effort into fueling and nourishing our bodies?
If you cut through all the evidence and advice, the bottom line is that healthy eating means choosing from a variety of foods for meals and snacks, and ultimately learning to trust our hunger and fullness signals to determine how much we should eat. The truth is, nutrition is not an exact science, and no one person—including experts—has all the answers.
What’s a simple way to approach making healthy food choices? I like using the “healthy plate” concept as a guide for putting together meals. There are different variations of it, so pick what best suits you and your tastes. Here are two examples:
The idea is to try to include items from all of the food groups at each meal. Don’t worry about fitting everything exactly on one plate as shown in the diagrams, however. If you have a separate bowl of fruit on the side, for example, imagine that as part of the plate. Also, if you have mixed dishes such as stir-fries, lasagna, burritos or casseroles, picture the main ingredients separated out into the different food group segments. If one of the groups is empty, try supplementing with other foods as needed to round out the meal.
Since each person is a unique combination of age, body type, activity level and metabolism, the amount of food needed to fuel our bodies will vary. For example, my still-growing, lacrosse-playing teenage son is often hungry for two or three times the portions sizes of my meals, necessitating more than one plate. The amount required to satisfy each body’s needs also varies depending on the day. Since the healthy-plate graphics are only general guidelines, don’t take the concept too literally when deciding how much to eat—or even what to eat.
Here at FINDINGbalance, we teach people to strive to make healthy food choices about 90% of the time. That leaves 10% wiggle room for moderate amounts of “fun foods” or “treat foods” that don’t score high on the nutrient value scale, but sure taste good. This could translate into two to three less-healthy meals a week or a less-healthy item once a day. So don’t stress about having a fast-food meal on a hectic day, enjoying a piece of chocolate or celebrating a birthday with cake.
Again, these are simple guidelines and not a strict set of rules or calculations. They are just teaching tools, here to help and serve you.
Along those lines, if you are someone who hardly ever makes healthy food choices, the 90% “healthy food choices” goal is something to aim for over time. Any step in that direction is a positive one, so don’t beat yourself up if you’ve got farther to go than some other folks.
It’s also important to note that those who are recovering from disordered eating, may need to follow a very specific prescribed meal plan for the time being, to restore your health and relearn hunger and fullness cues. If this applies to you, an experienced dietitian can help you with that. Eventually, you will get to the place of freer, simpler eating.