Dear 100 Hour Board,
What does eating well mean to you? If you were interested in being as healthy as possible, what kind of diet would you eat?
I've become very unhealthy over the last several years and have gained a lot of weight. I'm trying to begin eating healthier but I find myself struggling to understand what that even looks like. Everywhere I look, I find a different nutritional philosophy. Some say eating lots of meat is a good thing. Other say eating meat is awful and will cause cancer and all sorts of horrible things. Some say eating vegan is the right thing. Drinking green smoothies is good. Drinking them is bad. Calories and fat matter. Calories and fat don't matter. I don't even know what to aspire to!
So... What do you think?
Personally, I think it means getting lots of vitamins and nutrients (aka eating fruits and vegetables), making sure you get enough protein, and being measured in your carbs and fat consumption.
Carbs and fat aren't bad by default, and your body needs them, just don't go overboard on them. And if you do, that's fine, one day of eating nothing but pizza and donuts won't kill you. Just make sure that your overall trend of what foods you tend to eat is healthy and sustainable. For example, for me it's not sustainable to say that I'll never eat ice cream or go to fast food places, so instead I just try to plan for those things in my diet. If I'm planning on getting Chick-Fil-A for dinner, I'll eat something like a salad and some cottage cheese for lunch, because that will fill me up, but leave me with plenty of room for some fried goodness. But it's also not sustainable to say that I only want to eat pizza and hamburgers from here on out if I want to maintain any semblance of health (or any money in my wallet, for that matter), so I would also avoid that.
Going back to my protein point, though, it's actually really important for your body, and at least from my personal experience with several roommates who only eat dry cold cereal for every meal, there are lots of people who don't get enough of it. (On the other hand, there are definitely those who get too much because all they eat is meat, so again, my point about balance is applicable here.) Protein does all sorts of cool stuff for the body that carbs and fat don't, so making sure that you get a decent amount of protein every day will help with general health. There are also a lot of good ways of getting protein that don't involve meat (tofu, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, nuts, certain types of beans, etc), so it should be possible for everyone no matter the price of meat or their personal views on eating animals.
Finally, moderation is key. If I take getting lots of protein to mean that I should eat nothing but meat, I'm going to run into some problems. If I only eat kale and arugula for the rest of my life, I'll probably also have problems. Having an overall balanced diet, where you usually make at least somewhat healthy decisions, is much better than going to an extreme where you try a fad diet for two days and then drop it.
A lot of what I just said is the gospel of eating right according to Alta, so I can't guarantee that it will work wonders for you. I can say that it works for me, but really, just try out whatever you like best, and if you don't love it or the results, switch to something else. Eventually you'll find something that works for you, even if it takes a little trial and error.
Van Goff has written a terrific answer about maintaining balance in your diet as you try to eat more healthily. I have a problem with people saying that they avoid eating "processed" foods, because I actually know what happens to food when it's processed, but I won't get into that. The only thing I would add to Van Goff's answer is to eat food you enjoy. It's a lot easier to be satisfied by what you eat when you eat delicious, high quality, soul-satisfying food, so my advice would be to not go for the cheapest calorie you can find.
I try to live by the motto, "The closer to the ground, the better." Buying fresh vegetables is better than canned, growing them in your own garden is better than buying them, etc. Obviously you can't grow everything you eat, but the less processed the better. I try to avoid anything with long ingredients lists, and I feel it really helps.
Diets are more about the overall balance rather than the individual foods. Saying, "I'll never eat dessert again," is completely unsustainable. What actually works is to decide how much dessert/fats/carbs you'll have each day and stick to it. Make sure your one dessert a day is worth it, and be happy about it.
That is a tough situation to be in, especially at the beginning. Lifestyle changes are hard and really frustrating when there's so much unknown and conflicting advice. As for which nutritional philosophy is the best one that everyone should follow, I'm not a dietician, but maybe there isn't one. Everyone's body works differently, and everyone has different dietary needs beyond just basic food group stuff. Some people swear by Paleo, some feel excellent following a Mediterranean diet, some go vegan because they enjoy suffering, and so on.
Any balanced diet is probably beneficial: which one you choose might just come down to your personal needs. It might be good to look through some nutritional philosophies and see if any work well with your lifestyle, personal goals, and medical history. Or it might be good to borrow a little from one nutritional habit and a little from another to make it more individualized. Maybe you could try a Paleo recipe one night and have a green smoothie for breakfast the next, as both have health benefits. They're just different ones. Because there are so many nutritional philosophies, it might be good to focus less on which is "best" and just adapt the results to your lifestyle, however you want to do that.
As for some overall ideas, these are still more ideas than any sort of authoritative advice, but it's what has worked for me in the past little while. I started a medication over the past couple of months that can cause increased appetite (and thus weight gain), so I've had to be more conscious about eating habits and make some changes as needed, which was difficult. Some of them might apply in your situation while you are new to starting a new dietary lifestyle and may have a hard time at the beginning:
- Everything in moderation! This is something I actually learned from my AP Literature teacher about life in general, but she always used to say that extremes in anything is unhealthy and that, like Kirito says, balance in life is important. Trying to go health nut overnight and cutting out old eating habits will probably just lead to long-term disappointment. It's good to push yourself, but try to make little goals as you go along. Like maybe if you stay within your dietary goals throughout the week, you could reward yourself with a dessert from somewhere you enjoy. That way, it's a little more balanced and sustainable than a sudden life shift.
- Snacking is okay in-between meals, but try to keep snacks on hand that a) have nutritional value and b) are filling enough to keep you satisfied. Filling is important because even if a food is low calorie (like baked potato chips or something), it might not be sustainable enough and you'll still end up eating more as a result. Here are a few ideas for some healthy, filling snacks.
- Try to stay in tune with your body's signals for hunger or thirst. It's easy to mistake one for the other and keep eating without feeling "full" when what you really need is water. Keeping hydrated throughout the day could also prevent any misperceptions.
- It's helped me also to pay attention to hunger in general and eat when hungry, as opposed to emotional or stress-related eating. Sometimes it's easy to eat in the hopes of filling some kind of void, like loneliness or being overwhelmed. This generally isn't satisfying and won't fix the problem, either. Instead of eating when not hungry, I've found it helpful to do something that directly helps the problem (ie: studying to reduce stress, talking to a friend, etc.) and eat later when really hungry.
- Diet is a good foundation to a healthy lifestyle, but exercise can be beneficial, too. Pairing new nutritional habits with an easy-to-maintain exercise plan could help you feel like your lifestyle changes are making a difference and give you more energy to get through the day.
Hopefully this helps at least a little in giving you some ideas! Keep in mind that everything I said is coming from someone who a) is not a dietician or nutritionist and b) has will-power around food that somewhat resembles this:
Good luck! You can do this.
Well, there's the USDA's ChooseMyPlate.gov, which is made by dietitians and represents a balanced diet. I think it's probably your best option.
For additional fun reading, check out Food Rules by food writer Michael Pollan. It is a short book (it takes maybe 10 minutes to read) that basically says "Eat food, mostly plants, not too much." Michael Pollan can explain what he means best in that statement with a few more pages of nutritional research and information.