How to Eat Healthier Without Going Crazy

Am I the only one bewildered by the mass of (sometimes contradictory) information about what I should eat?

A recent browse of a health magazine turned up one article promising the secret to maintainable weight loss was to eat a low-carb, high protein diet every other day. The very next article promised the same results by eating vegan until 5 pm every day.

A peek into books or blogs about healthy eating, you can easily get overwhelmed by unfamiliar terms (flavonoids, ORAC values) lists of superfoods you ought to be eating (goji berries, quinoa) and dire warnings about foods and additives you should avoid (carrageenan, trans fats, anything ending in ‘ose’).

Does this kind of confusing, conflicting, and alarmist information drive anyone else crazy?

I want to take good care of my body, but every time I start reading about diet and nutrition I feel like I’m trapped in a maze, facing a dozen different pathways that all claim to be the true way to optimum health. It’s enough to make me toss the books in the trash and devour a pint of double chocolate  brownie ice cream.

What’s a poor, bewildered, middle-aged, slightly overweight, guilt-ridden woman to do?

I don’t pretend to be an expert, but here are some suggestions for a sane and successful journey toward healthier eating.

Don’t believe everything you read

There are tons of sites out there making claims for or against certain foods, additives, and supplements. Most of them don’t bother to back up their statements with actual data. Ignore the rants and the too-good-to-be-true promises. Stick with information and websites you have confidence in.

Take small steps

Drastic changes, no matter how healthy, will likely wreak havoc with our bodies. Unless you are following a doctor’s orders, I suggest inching into healthier eating one habit at a time.  Remind yourself that every small improvement is taking you in the right direction. Not only are small changes easier to make, they are easier to maintain in the long run.

Be realistic

Highly restrictive diets may help us feel great in the short term, but how realistic is it to continue to eat like that week after week? For those with medical issues, food restrictions may be a fact of life, but for the rest of us moderation is the key. Those who hop from one fad diet to the next tend to be less healthy than those who stick with a diet they can maintain. And what about the rest of the family? Is it really necessary to cook separate meals for super-healthy-mom and the other meat-and-potatoes family members? Finding common ground for at least some meals will make everyone’s life easier.

Embrace the tension between convenient and healthy

Let’s face it, we love convenience. And marketing people know it. Grocery stores and restaurants offer a plethora of dining options that take little effort or brain power. But how many of those options are good for us? Even the convenient “healthy” options may not as healthy as we think (although still better than a cheese steak with fries).  The inconvenient truth is: the healthiest diet is rarely convenient. We must find the balance between what our schedules allow and what our bodies need.

Don’t let it take over your life

Some people have turned their quest for healthy food into something more than a good habit. There is now a term for this:

Orthorexia – an obsession with eating healthy foods.

What may start as a well-intentioned decision to eat better, cleaner, or greener can lead to a dangerous—and very unhealthy—obsession to follow restrictive or extreme diets. When #eatingclean raises our stress levels, sabotages our enjoyment of social events, or depletes too much of our time and budget, it is no longer healthy. Instead, we should follow the example of some friends who have chosen to eat vegetarian to control cholesterol. (A strategy that worked, by the way.) These friends are intentional about their diet most of the time, but are perfectly comfortable eating meat when it is served, or offering it when hosting a party. They own their diet instead of their diet owning them.

If you have been feeling as bewildered as I have about this whole healthy eating thing, I hope this post has given you some hope. Maybe it still feels like throwing darts blindfolded, but pick a step that seems smart and doable, and make one small change this week.

And don’t forget to be thankful for the abundance of food we enjoy!

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