Ask the average person to describe healthy eating, and it’s likely they’ll cite at least a couple of snippets they learned from diets. Diet rules have become so ingrained in our thinking, we may not even realize we’re parroting advice that often isn’t based on fact and can create more problems than it solves.
Here’s our list at Green Mountain at Fox Run of the top “rules” to forget when it comes to healthy eating.
Don’t eat after dinner. When you eat generally isn’t as important as how much you eat. The only time that’s not true is when you go too long between meals, letting yourself get too hungry. That almost certainly leads to overeating. If you’ve eaten balanced meals throughout the day, you may not be hungry after dinner. But if you are, the only problem eating might cause is uncomfortable sleep if you eat too close to bedtime. Keeping it light at night works best for many folks.
If you’re not hungry, don’t eat. This rule ignores our emotional connection to food and the important role food plays in our traditions. It’s normal to eat sometimes because we’re happy, sad or bored. Not letting ourselves do that can create feelings of deprivation and eventually rebellion. The key is not to use food as our only way to celebrate or manage emotions.
Eat at the same time every day. The best time to eat is when you feel hungry, and that can vary according to what’s going on in your life. Although you’ll probably find you get hungry around the same time most days, brunches, birthday cake at the office in the afternoon, dinner parties, etc., all represent periodic eating opportunities that a rigid eating schedule doesn’t allow for. Who wants to miss out on all the fun?
A calorie is a calorie. There’s a world of nutrition difference in 100 calories of fruit and 100 calories of hard candy. True, the calories in both come solely from carbohydrates, but vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and fiber that help the body digest, absorb and metabolize the carbohydrates in a healthy way accompany those in fruit.
Don’t eat anything white. You won’t find bigger supporters of a rainbow of naturally colorful food on your plate than our chefs at Green Mountain at Fox Run. Besides the great nutrition it provides, colorful food also means a variety of wonderful flavors to delight the taste buds. Still, there’s nothing wrong with an occasional white bread baguette (think brie and baguette – yum!), a good old-fashioned white-flour pancake, or white potatoes sautéed with onions, garlic and olive oil, if you enjoy such foods. It’s how often we eat them, not whether we eat them at all, that makes the difference between healthy and not-so-healthy eating.
Drink 8 glasses of water a day. It is important to get plenty of fluid daily, but just how much any of us needs is individual and can vary according to our activity level and the temperature outside. Also notice I said fluid, not water. We get fluid from vegetables and fruits as well as milk, soups and other foods. Many weight strugglers also use water to fill up before a meal. The problem with that strategy is that it may fill our stomachs but it doesn’t satisfy hunger.
If you’re hungry, fill up on vegetables. Have you ever eaten a vegetable-only salad with low-fat dressing for lunch? How long did it take you to get hungry again? Just like water, filling up on vegetables doesn’t truly satisfy hunger. Eating plenty of vegetables is a crucial part of eating well but they don’t take the place of a balanced meal that also features protein foods and starchy foods like potatoes, rice or pasta, all prepared with a healthy amounts of good-for-you fats like olive oil.
Make these simple swaps and you’ll save X calories a year, which adds up to X pounds lost. If you’re just as happy eating a hamburger instead of a cheeseburger, which could save you 100 calories or so, the hamburger can be a great choice. But if you need the extra 100 calories to feel satisfied, you’ll probably make them up somewhere else. The best way to save calories is to only eat as much as you need to feel satisfied. Then you won’t be overeating.
Don’t go over your calorie limit for the day. The trouble with this rule is that calorie limits often don’t allow for times when we’re a little hungrier than usual or enjoying food at a social event. And when we do eat more than we think we should, we often spiral downwards into feelings of guilt and defeat, believing we failed once again. While calorie awareness may help some people, being rigid about how many we are allowed to eat doesn’t work.
If you’re too fat, just change what you eat. Is it the amount of fat on your body or is it your weight that you want to change? Body fat is about body composition. Focusing on exercise — both aerobic and strength training — is a crucial part of changing body composition. Changing what you eat won’t do it alone. If it’s your weight you want to change, remember that a focus on weight can backfire when we think we’re not making the progress we should. Instead, think about adopting healthy behaviors along with an attitude of self-acceptance that truly supports you in making those behaviors a permanent lifestyle.