self-delusionRead enough books or websites that claim to have the secret to how to eat and you’ll feel like you have whiplash. That’s because the truth is nowhere and everywhere. Last week I talked about how we tend to think we are above average, and how that self-delusion probably extends to our assessment of our eating habits (that has certainly applied to me). Ask yourself these questions (and answer them honestly, of course):

  • Do you eat at least five servings of vegetables and fruits a day?
  • Are most of your meals and snacks prepared at home from scratch?
  • Do you move your body in a way that gives you joy several times a week?
  • Do you have healthy outlets for relieving stress? (i.e., not involving food, drugs, alcohol, or screaming at your kids/pets/partner/strangers.)
  • Do you get at least seven hours of sleep most nights…and wake feeling rested?
  • Do you have any health concerns that you could be caring for with nutrition and physical activity, such as diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol, but aren’t (or don’t know how to)?
  • Does the way you eat energize you and keep you satisfied between meals?

Self-Assessment and Next Steps

If you answered “no” to any of these questions, consider whether you might benefit from making some changes so your future answer can be “yes.”

If you have health problems in which nutrition and physical activity play a role, I suggest talking to your doctor and getting a referral to a registered dietitian nutritionist, stat. However, if you are free of major health concerns but want to feel your best, then any eating plan that includes a variety of healthy foods and meets your body’s energy needs will help you maintain—or enhance—your health and vitality will work. True, it’s not always easy to change your eating habits, but you still have a lot of freedom.

A Two-Step, No-Nonsense Plan to Better Health

If you examine the must successful eating plans, the ones that have been shown to promote for good health, they may seem very different on the surface. But most of them are in fact very similar at their core. They will pretty much have these two points in common:

  1. Eat lots of vegetables and fruits. Vegetables have priority. Fresh or frozen is best.
  2. Keep highly processed foods as a relatively small proportion of your eating plan, especially if they are low in nutrients. (This doesn’t include minimally processed foods like bread, yogurt, cheese, canned beans and tuna, etc.) Avoid foods with trans fats (hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils) at all costs.

From there, you will find different recommendations about the other nourishing foods like meat, poultry, fish, whole grains, milk and other dairy, healthy fats (nuts, avocados, olives, olive and nut oils), and pulses (beans and lentils).

Stop the Self-Delusion

This is a solid starting point, but I see so many people who have failure to launch: They don’t get started with adding more veggies and cutting back on the uber-processed foods that don’t nourish them because they are perpetually searching for a magic bullet, perpetually being seduced by diet gurus (and there are more and more of them on the internet lately, with their e-newsletters and webinars) who claim that they have the secret to weight loss, fat loss, better health or whatnot. The only secret is that if their claims were true, legitimate nutrition researchers would be all over it and it wouldn’t BE a secret.

Getting Off the Ground

If you eat lots of veggies at lunch and dinner, include some fruit, and limit the food that’s lacking in nutritional value, you can enjoy rounding out the rest of your calories by plucking from the many types of nourishing carbohydrates, proteins and fats as you see fit. Some people feel better when they eat more protein, other people feel best with more whole grains. Some people thrive on a vegetarian diet, others need animal protein.

If you feel irritable, shaky, heavy, bloated, tired or hungry after a meal, then you may need to take a hard look at whether your meals are carb heavy or protein heavy, and experiment with shifting them the other way.

Here’s The Bottom Line

For the vast majority of people, eating more vegetables, fewer nutrient-poor foods and upping their time spent in at least light physical activity will contribute to improved health and better energy. Of course, eating isn’t just about nutrition…if you find yourself struggling with cravings or emotional eating, those are issues worth addressing on their own.

Next week, I’ll expand on these ideas by talking about my personal food guidelines.