Joys, challenges and three things you can do

If you ask a group of people what healthy eating means to them, you’ll likely get a different answer each time.

For some, eating healthy means curbing the junk food habit or consuming more fruits and vegetables, while for others it may mean enjoying a piece of cake without feeling guilty.

However, those with certain medical conditions and even food allergies may conceptualize healthy eating in their own unique way.

In short, there is no one right answer to what healthy eating means.

Eating healthy is human, and as a human being, we all have different wants and needs, which inevitably influence our food choices.

Furthermore, what healthy eating means to you may change during the different stages of your life as you grow and adapt to your ever-changing needs.

This article explores the human side of healthy eating, and I offer my own tips to make it easier.

The definition of healthy eating has changed for me several times in the past few years.

By the time I was in college, healthy eating was all about following dietary guidelines and doing everything according to the book. However, it does mean that my view of the food on my plate has changed. I went from seeing the meals I enjoyed to just seeing the nutrients.

Suddenly, I went from seeing traditional Costa Rican gallo pinto – or rice and beans – to seeing complex carbohydrates and plant-based proteins.

Then, when I started practicing as a nutritionist, the idea that a dietitian had to look a certain way or fit a certain body type led me to believe that healthy eating means measuring my food to see exactly what I was eating. I would eat whatever I wanted, as long as the nutrients I needed were counted.

I’ve given my body everything it needs to be healthy, but healthy eating goes beyond nutrients. It’s also about how you feel, and with food being such an essential part of culture and social events, eating should be something we enjoy.

Today I have a different approach to healthy eating. I am more flexible with my meals, and realize that balance is key to being nourished and happy with food.

Healthy eating now means that, most of the time, I make sure to eat food from all the food groups on my plate without measuring anything or thinking about plant protein versus animal protein or simple versus complex carbs.

It also means that I enjoy a little bit of everything — including sweets, fast food, and sweets — in moderation and without having to measure or count it.

You see, finding the balance that works for me didn’t happen overnight. On the contrary, my definition of healthy eating has changed as I have gone through different phases of my life.

As long as you aim to nourish your body and listen to what it needs, you can also give meaning to healthy eating, because healthy eating is for everyone.

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For me, healthy eating is about nourishing your body and being at peace with food at the same time. Your definition of healthy eating may change over time as you mature and your priorities change.

As with many things in life, eating healthy doesn’t always end as you planned.

You might find yourself stuck at work late at night or too tired to prepare a home-cooked dinner, which doesn’t mean you shouldn’t order takeaway and actually enjoy it.

If healthy eating means being flexible with what you eat, you will need to learn to adapt to circumstances, which can often happen.

In cases where I suddenly choose food, I try to choose the best option from what is given to me. Whenever I can, I try to order the closest thing to a home-cooked meal or go for a sandwich, salad, or bowl.

However, sometimes I crave some pizza – so I eat and enjoy that too!

At times like these, I remember seeing the bigger picture. That is, healthy eating is determined not by individual meals but by the choices we make day in and day out.

A close friend once told me, “One bad meal will not make you sick, just as one good meal will not make you healthy.”

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When it comes to eating healthy, one meal doesn’t define your habits – your food choices in general do.

When you are a dietitian, many people believe that eating healthy food comes naturally to you. However, we are human too, and we love sweets and crave foods like everyone else.

In my case, one of the biggest challenges I faced was when I had to give up most carbohydrate-containing foods to manage recurring infections.

Carbohydrates are found in many food groups, including grains, starchy vegetables, legumes, fruits, and dairy products. It is also found in processed foods and sweets.

Experts often classify them into two groups according to their fiber content (1):

  • All grains: Retains natural fibers
  • Refined carbohydrates: Processed to remove fiber and contain added sugar

In theory, I was supposed to cut out refined carbs, which some might argue is the healthiest thing to do.

However, in practice, I ended up giving up all kinds of processed carbs, including whole wheat bread and pasta, along with starchy veggies, grains, and dairy.

Thus, the list of carbohydrate-rich foods I could eat was limited to fruits, oats, quinoa, and legumes – lentils, beans, chickpeas, and edamame.

Some people have told me that this transition wouldn’t be too difficult for me as a nutritionist. However, it did take a while to adjust to my new eating pattern, especially when planning snacks on the go or eating out.

I learned that organization and creativity are key to managing my nutritional needs.

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Regardless of the reason, changing eating habits is a challenge for everyone.

As I mentioned above, organization and creativity help me make the best food choices every day. This is because, the way I see it, healthy eating is a choice we make every time we eat.

For this reason, I try to make the decision-making process as easy as possible when I choose a meal or snack. This way, I can continue to choose the best for me.

Here are three things I do daily or weekly to make it easier to eat healthy.

meal prep

Although this may sound cliched, prepping my food for this week really does the trick.

Cooking can take a lot of time, but having food that just needs to be heated and served allows me to have a nutritious meal ready in a matter of minutes.

One of my meal prep tips is to cook a batch of proteins – usually chicken or lean meats – which I can break up and freeze for over a week and only thaw when needed.

I also make sure to prepare vegetables for the week. That way, I don’t think twice before eating some salad or cooking a side of veggies with every meal.

I try to prepare it in different ways to avoid boredom and choose not to eat it.

For example, when it comes to carrots or zucchini, I will either slice, slice, grate or spiralize them, all of which help me incorporate them into my meals with ease.

Keep fruit on hand

Keeping my fruit visible reminds me to eat fruit during the day.

Research shows that you’re likely to eat more of the foods you put near you, regardless of whether it’s fruit or sweets ( 2Trusted , 3And 4).

I apply this principle daily and choose to display my fruit on a table and store my snacks and sweets away.

follow a routine

Although I don’t officially plan a weekly menu, I do have a specific set of dishes that I stick to at every meal.

For example, my breakfast options usually include:

  • Costa Rica classic of gallo bento and eggs
  • Toast with peanut butter and a side of eggs
  • Oatmeal with fruit
  • Oatmeal pancakes

The same goes for the rest of my meals and snacks, as I have at least three different options to choose from without thinking too much.

Having a predetermined set of dishes that I know I like saves me time having to decide what to eat, and allows me to change up my meals depending on whether I crave something sweet or savory.

It’s also very convenient for grocery shopping, because you already know what you’re likely to have at each meal.

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Preparing meals, keeping fruit handy, and following a routine are three things I do for healthy eating that you can also do.

We are all human beings who are constantly growing and adapting to change, as is our concept of healthy eating.

I’ve shared with you here how the definition of healthy eating has changed for me over the years, the biggest challenge in my healthy eating journey, and my tips and tricks to make healthy eating easier.

However, my way is definitely not the “right way” – or the only way – to eat healthy. It’s just what works for me, and it may or may not work for you.

Eating healthy is human, and it looks different to each of us. Consider what you can do in your own routine to set yourself up for success with healthy eating.

If you’re not sure where to start, consider working with a registered dietitian, who can help you visualize a sustainable, nutritious food plan that fits your specific needs and lifestyle.

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