What is Healthy Eating?

img_0925-1Ask 100 people what it means to “eat healthy,” and you’ll probably get about 99 answers that say something about fruits and vegetables. You might hear something about a balanced diet, which is better. But you probably won’t hear much about eating enough to fuel your body, or eating a variety of foods, or about mental health, or about eating foods that make you feel good physically and emotionally.

Healthy, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, means:

  1. In a good physical or mental condition; in good health.
  2. (of a part of the body) not diseased.
  3. Indicating or promoting good health.
  4. Normal, natural, and desirable.
  5. Of a very satisfactory size or amount.

Firstly, we’ve appropriated the word healthy, repurposing it from a word that describes our bodies and minds to a word that describes food. Which, you can see, based on the definitions above, doesn’t even make sense.

A better term would be healthful eating. Healthful means, “having or conducive to good health.” Can we eat healthfully? Yes.

So, what does a healthful diet look like?

If a healthful diet doesn’t mean only eating raw vegetables, undressed salad greens, and other foods that the diet industry has deemed “good for us,” then what does it look like?

For me, healthful eating embodies the following principles:

  • This food nourishes my mind and body, and makes me feel good both physically and mentally
  • I enjoy this food, and I eat it without guilt, and without conviction
  • I eat what sounds good, when it sounds good
  • My diet is made up of a variety of foods
  • My diet and food choices fluctuate
  • I trust my body to tell me what it needs, and I honor it’s hunger and fullness cues

What’s wrong with what we’ve been told about healthy diets?

We’ve been sold an idea that a healthy diet is often counterintuitive to what your body wants. Do you want a cupcake? No way, that’s not healthy. Have this raw vegan flaxseed, date and molasses energy ball instead!

The problem here is multi-faceted. There’s nothing wrong with cupcakes. There’s nothing wrong with raw vegan flaxseed, date and molasses energy balls either, if that’s truly what you feel like eating. The diet industry has told us though that one is better than the other, that one is bad for you and one is good for you, and that you’re being good if you eat one and bad if you’re eating the other.

We’ve been taught that foods fall into two groups: healthy and unhealthy. Good for you and bad for you. If you want to be healthy or lose weight, you’d better only eat the “good for you foods.”

Where has this led us? It’s led us to eating all the “good for us foods” and pretending we don’t want anything else (which, yes, we do) until we eventually cave and gobble down six cupcakes, then start restricting again and vow to never do it again.

What’s the alternative?

For me, Intuitive Eating is the alternative eating to “eating healthy.” Intuitive eating means eating what sounds good, and eating whatever you want whenever you want. It means trusting your body to tell you what it needs. Sometimes, the cupcake is what you need. Other times, it’s the raw vegan energy ball. This sounds like a recipe for disaster (won’t I just eat cupcakes all day???), but once you remove the “unhealthy bad for you foods” from their pedestal, and once these are a regular part of your diet, you find that you don’t want them nearly as much as you’d think. Cupcakes aren’t special anymore. There are no more forbidden foods. You might find that you don’t even like cupcakes as much as you think you do. Maybe you actually prefer brownies. Or pie.

Challenge: Remove “Healthy” from your food lexicon

Here’s a challenge: from now on, when you think of food or what you want to eat, try to completely remove the word healthy from the equation. When deciding what to eat, instead of asking “Is this healthy?” try asking “Does this sound good right now? Is there something else I want more? Will this make me feel good in both my mind and body?” 

It’s a real game changer. Give it a try. And tell all your friends. Intuitive is the new healthy.