You’ve read about how to be healthy in college, and how to plan healthy meals on a budget. Maybe one of your friends has asserted that, as part of a New Year’s resolution, he or she will “try to be healthier.” There are healthy eating shopping lists, healthy cooking tips, and healthy meal ideas – with so much information out there, and such vague phrases like “healthy eating” and “balanced diets,” it brings up the question of “what is healthy eating?”
It’s hard to pinpoint what healthy eating is, exactly, because it’s not a static thing. Normal, healthy eating is flexible and varies in response to your hunger, your schedule, your proximity to food, as well as your feelings. While the terminology may be a little vague, the basic guidelines for healthy eating are actually quite simple: consume a wide variety of whole, fresh, unprocessed foods in moderate amounts, including lean protein (which could mean anything from tofu, eggs, and beans to fish, poultry, or nuts, depending on what you like), dairy, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. In essence, it’s recommended that you follow a balanced diet.
Healthy eating isn’t an “all or nothing” mindset. The meaning of balance, or moderation, and exactly how much of something is “moderate” varies from person to person (depending on one’s overall eating habits and lifestyle), but it helps to think of moderation in terms of balance. Fad diets would have you believe otherwise, but everyone needs a balance of carbohydrates, protein, fat, fiber, vitamins, and minerals to sustain a healthy body. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to completely eliminate any one food group or essential nutrient in order to be healthy.
Healthy eating also doesn’t mean completely eliminating the foods you love from your diet. Ironic as it may seem, sometimes the “healthier” your diet becomes, the unhealthier you can feel. This is because people eat for all sorts of reasons – for example, hunger or even social or emotional reasons – and sometimes nothing will satisfy one’s appetite quite like a glass of milk and a couple of (real) cookies. Nourishing your body and nourishing your soul are equally important. Food doesn’t have feelings. If you don’t feel like eating one of the cupcakes Bill brought in for the office, or you’re too stuffed to eat any of the pie Aunt Patrice offers you, then that’s okay. There will always be another cupcake, and another slice of pie. But if you do want some dessert on occasion, that’s okay, too: part of healthy eating is learning to eat the higher-calorie and sugar- or fat-laden foods that you love a little less often while balancing them out with healthier foods and more physical activity. Think of it this way: healthy eating doesn’t involve impairment of your emotional, spiritual, or physical health.
If the idea of healthy eating makes you think of all the foods you can’t have, the chances are you probably just need to reframe your way of thinking. Instead of thinking “I can’t have x or y,” try focusing on all the new foods you can eat (this is also a helpful tip for people who are thinking of trying some different vegetarian meals each week). Healthy eating doesn’t have to be difficult or stressful, and it shouldn’t be. There are plenty of tools at your disposal to make healthy eating easier for you.