With the New Year, many of us resolved to eat healthier. Maybe healthy eating is a complete lifestyle change for you; or, like myself, you are resetting to normal healthy habits after a couple indulgent weeks over the holidays. The blog and social media world, magazines, and diet industry are currently all abuzz with tips and diets for healthy eating. You see people hashtagging Whole30 on Instagram, tweets about vegan recipes, and articles offering detailed grocery lists and complex meal plans for how to lose 10 or 15 pounds this month.
It’s easy to get caught up in all the trends each year and try a new diet like Paleo, Vegan Before 6, veganism, no-sugar/no-grain, or gluten-free. There’s nothing inherently wrong these diets, and for some people a 30-day or so trial helps them reset sugar and alcohol cravings. I specifically remember when, after I returned from a semester full of beers, brats, and breads in Germany, I cut out white flour, sweets, and alcohol to quickly get back in shape for teaching Pilates. However, while these diets have good intentions (less sugar, more whole foods), it’s easy to think that less is more and the more you eliminate, the better your diet is. However, healthy-eating does not have to be complicated in order to be effective.
I personally don’t adhere to any specific diet. Some meals are Paleo-esque with meat, sweet potatoes, and vegetables; other meals are vegan-friendly salads with beans, greens, and olive oil. If I want sweets, I usually bake them so I can control the ingredients and then eat them in moderation. I drink in moderation. I try to fill my plate with a healthy dose of colorful fruits and veggies at each meal, along with whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. I don’t shy from using small amounts of butter or bacon, because research indicates that saturated fat, in moderation, is not the villain we once thought it was. My diet is by no means perfect, but it’s healthy and balanced. Most of all, it’s not complicated. I don’t get discouraged from eating healthy because we’re eating out a restaurant that doesn’t have vegan options or fall off track because I ate a piece of bread with my meal.
To use the term from Matt Fitzgerald’s Diet Cults, I’m an agnostic healthy eater. My diet does not have a particular name, nor does it have hard and fast rules. Yes, there are some foods I never eat because of their poor nutritional quality, but there are also foods that I eat that aren’t the best for me (I’m totally of guilty of having deep-dish pizza and cake within the past two weeks). Fitzgerald notes that diet cults tend to share the same characteristics: a specific name, sense of superiority, emotionally-attached followers, demonization of particular foods or nutrients, and fear as a motivator (which means these diets state that carbs/meat/sugar is slowly killing you). Fitzgerald does concede (and I completely agree with him) that many of these diets are healthy; but no diet is made for everyone. Just because Paleo or veganism works for you, does not mean it will work for everyone.
Fitzgerald also importantly points out that many elite endurance athletes (Fitzgerald also writes a ton of great books on running and is a running coach) do not subscribe to particular diets. Rather, they eat healthy foods and indulge in moderation, and thus they receive a wide variety of nutrients in their diets. If that’s good enough for Shalane Flanagan and Meb Keflezighi, then it’s more than good enough for me.
To make healthy eating uncomplicated and sustainable, make it something that works for you within the common knowledge of what’s healthy (fruits, vegetables, lean meats, healthy fats, whole grains) and what’s not (processed foods). Paleo will never work for me because I personally have found that oatmeal and Greek yogurt are great foods for me; veganism will never work for me because it would require a break-up with bacon. When you find a healthy eating routine that isn’t complicated, that you can easily incorporate into your life, and that makes you feel energized and healthy, that’s the type of healthy eating that is right for you.
Healthy eating habits are formed when your diet is not complicated. If you find yourself slipping up, spending hours preparing meals, or spending your whole paycheck on your groceries, your diet is too complicated to become a sustainable healthy lifestyle. Lots of diets feature expensive ingredients, complicated recipes, and lots of preparation time. It’s better to develop healthy eating that works for you and your schedule, even if it isn’t trendy or your meals aren’t always Instagram-worthy.
For example, the photo in this post are a lunch I’ve been enjoying recently—recipe at the bottom of this post. It’s so simple to make and adaptable, it’s barely a recipe, but that’s my point about healthy eating: you don’t need to always follow a fancy recipe. Some of the healthiest meals are the simplest.
This meal keeps me full for hours and includes a couple servings of vegetables with a healthy dose of protein. It’s not a super pretty meal, it’s not a complicated meal to prepare, and all the ingredients were items we always have in our fridge. It’s not vegan or Paleo, but it’s still healthy.
I’m not saying any of this to hate on diets like Whole30 or vegetarianism; if that’s what helps you eat healthy, that’s great. What I am saying is that if those diets make healthy eating too complicated for you, you want to revise your vision of healthy eating to make it more sustainable.
Healthy eating does not have to be complicated: eat more whole foods, less foods from a box. Eat lots of fruit and vegetables in a variety of colors. Eat protein from meat and non-meat sources. Eat whole grains. Drink more water. Choose the foods that work for you and avoid foods that affect your body negatively. Indulge in moderation so you don’t deprive yourself.
- 1 medium flour or whole wheat tortilla
- 1 teaspoon of olive oil
- 2 large eggs
- 1 stalk of celery, rinsed and diced
- 1 large handful of spinach, coarsely chopped
- 1 slice of Muenster cheese
- Salt and pepper as desired
- Heat the tortilla in the microwave or over the stove to make it more pliable.
- In a pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Crack the eggs into the pan and use a spatula to break apart the yolks and gently scramble. Cook until there are no runny bits.
- Top the tortilla with the spinach, eggs, cheese, and celery; salt and pepper as desired.