A hot topic in today’s world for sure.
But what does this phrase actually mean?
If you were to stroll into Waterstones and head over to the Diet Section, you wouldn’t be any closer to the answer.
You’d be surrounded by books all quoting another source as the biggest problem to health and obesity.
The Atkins Diet sitting there right next to the Paleo Diet, the Low Fat Diet, the Peanut-Butter Diet, the Warrior Diet…
It all gets a bit over-whelming really.
The issue here is that all of these books are just approaches that help people lose weight.
And why do people lose weight following these books?
Because it helps them lower their calorie intake.
But that’s only part of the equation of eating healthily.
Eating healthily is more about the weight on the scale or how good you look naked (though these are consequences from good nutrition).
No, healthy eating involves far more.
Finding the definition of Healthy Eating
A good nutritional approach follows the following 4 criteria:
- It controls energy balance and thereby maintains a healthy bodyweight.
- It provides nutrient density
- It supports health, body composition and performance goals
- It is outcome based
Let’s look at these points in greater detail.
1. Controls Energy Balance
This is the relationship between calories in and calories out and is the sole driver of weight loss/gain.
Energy balance affects much more than just bodyweight, including your metabolism, hormone function, mood and performance.
Healthy nutrition manages energy balance and prevents major swings in either direction, ensuring weight is either maintained, or lost/gained in a slow and sustainable manner.
If you’re unsure what a ‘healthy’ bodyweight is, I think we could all agree that using a combination of the BMI chart, body fat levels, and other health markers would help clear that up.
2. Provides Nutrient Density
The term nutrient density refers to how many nutrients are present relative to the total calories of the food.
For instance, vegetables are very high in nutrient density as they have a lot of vitamins and minerals for very few calories.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, doughnuts (though delicious) are low nutrient density and high calorie dense foods (a lot of calories per 100g of food).
The ideal combination is including mostly low calorie, high nutrient foods, as this helps naturally control our intake (without the need to count calories), gives us longer periods of fullness between meals, and makes over-eating very difficult.
Try to over-eat fish and vegetables and let me know how far you get (compared to the Chinese Buffet).
3. Supports Health, Body Composition, and Performance Goals
Healthy Eating supports all 3 of these goals equally.
Looking great naked can be a powerful motivator and lead people to the use of crash diets, steroids, and risky procedures.
However, the methods above can cause a risk to your overall health, so really can’t be used in a definition of ‘healthy eating’.
Sure, 4 slimming shakes a day totalling only 500 calories will make you lose weight, but will also cause a whole host of body issues alongside it.
Performance goals don’t just apply to those of us who are athletes or trying to compete.
This can mean generic performance in the gym (increasing weights or distances) as well as energy levels during the day and at work.
Providing plenty of nutrients in your daily diet will improve these.
4. Outcome Based
How many times have you heard the following: “I eat really well…but I still want to lose 1/2 a stone.”
Or: “My diet is great…but I often feel knackered around 2pm and that’s when the biscuits get brought out.”
Either the plan for these two people is great and isn’t being executed very well, or the plan is just terrible.
Base your approach on results and what really happens.
If you’re losing weight but feel terrible and low in energy, maybe you need to eat slightly more, or improve your overall nutrient intake.
If you’re gaining weight slowly, then you are over-eating, unless muscle gain is the goal.
This is where tracking your progress is so important, if you don’t actually know what’s going on with your weight or your performance, you have no markers to base your nutritional approach of at all.
Stay vigilant and stay outcome based, does that peanut butter diet REALLY work for you?
So Where Do We Start?
I’ve outlined the criteria for what “Healthy Eating” really means.
So now it’s time to follow these points.
If you’re wondering “what do I eat”, I find focusing on point number 2 the best.
Focus on foods that provide plenty of nutrients.
These are lean proteins such as poultry, fish, lean red meat, and naturally low fat dairy.
Vegetables, fruits, and legumes which provide vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals.
Wholegrain, fibrous carbohydrates such as brown rice/pasta, potatoes and starchy tubers.
A mixture of natural fats like nuts, seeds, avocados, oils, olives etc.
Focus on getting plenty of these foods in and pay attention to what happens.
Indulge in your cravings 10-15% of the time (depending on what changes you’re looking to make). Having a small chocolate bar or a pizza every now and then will stop you from binge episodes and falling off the wagon.
An 85% approach followed 100% of the time will beat the 100% approach followed 50% of the time.
Stay focused and play the long game. Don’t give up after 4 days if the scale barely budges. Focus on your health and longevity and the scale will play the game
Reach out if you need help or have questions