I hate the word “healthy.”
People say they want to eat healthier all the time, but what do they actually mean?
For some people, it means eating gluten-free. Or grain-free. Or vegetarian. Vegan. Organic. No added sugars. Minimally processed. Plant-based. Whole food. Raw. Low fat. Low carb. High protein. High fat. Locally sourced. In season. Non-GMO.
We’ve all heard at one point or another that following any of the above guidelines is good for you. But there are so many contradictions! The food pyramid says we should eat a lot of grains, but the Paleo diet says we shouldn’t eat any grains at all. Is it okay to eat meat? Potatoes are a vegetable, which means they’re minimally processed, but aren’t they supposed to be bad for you?
So many people equate losing weight with eating healthier, but we have no idea what that means. So we turn to the food industry to tell us what to think. And we want them to give us wonderfully unambiguous labels. This food is healthy. That food is unhealthy.
It would be so nice if the world actually worked that way.
Not only is there no universal agreement on what constitutes the perfect diet, “healthy” is pretty subjective and based on context. Is a Snickers bar healthy? Most people would say it isn’t. Is a Snickers bar healthy if it’s the only candy you eat all day, and it keeps you from late-night binges? Maybe. The line between healthy and unhealthy starts to blur.
How you should eat really depends on where you are and where you want to go. Are you trying to gain muscle? Then you’ll focus on getting a lot of protein. Are you wanting to be a long-distance runner? Then you’ll want a lot of carbohydrates. Are you just trying to get a little slimmer? Then maybe you could eat normally, but make small changes and make sure you aren’t eating too many calories.
What You’re Really Supposed to Eat
Here’s the thing. Eating healthier is in the name. Healthi-er. As in more healthy than you, personally, were before. If you ate one less potato chip today than you did yesterday, then you did it! You’re healthier.
Getting healthier is a series of progressions. Even the smallest forward is a step in the right direction.
You may not wake up one day and switch out all your store-bought snacks for organic produce from your local farmer’s market. And that is totally, 100% fine. It might take you months or years to progress from regularly consuming an unhealthy option to the healthiest option (whatever that means).
Your progression may look like this:
Soda —> Diet soda —> La Croix —> Water
Diet soda isn’t the most nutritional drink in the world, but it’s a good option if you’re trying to wean yourself off the full-sugar stuff or trying to drink fewer calories. And you absolutely should not feel guilty about drinking it.
Yes, there are some commonly accepted guidelines about healthy eating habits. But they are very broad. Generally, you want to consume the right amount of calories, to limit highly processed food, eat your fruit, veg, and whole grains, and try not to drown in sugar. But you knew that.
Don’t get caught up in comparing your healthy to someone else’s. Your diet may not look like that fitness Instagram model’s. But are you better than you were before? And you’re making progress on your goals? Then you’re right on track.