This was originally written as a guest post for the Awaken Your CAREERPreneur blog, but I liked it so much, I wanted to share it here as well!
Most everyone has the potential to become a healthy eater. I say “most everyone” because, unfortunately, millions of Americans live in what are known as “food deserts” (vast areas in low-income neighborhoods that are absolutely saturated with fast food chains and severely lack access to fresh produce and basic healthful foods).
I point that out as a reminder that the opportunity to become a healthy eater is one we should truly cherish and be grateful for. All it takes is awareness and time to hone certain abilities and skills. Below, I list what I consider to be seven must-have qualities in order to improve your relationship with food.
1) Focus on Processing, Not Nutrients: “Low-cal”, “low-carb”, and “low-fat” are Healthy Eating 1.0. Take it to the next level (“2.0″) by focusing on “low-processed”. The less processed your diet, the more nutrition you are getting. This means eating actual potatoes rather than Pringles, oatmeal with blueberries rather than a NutriGrain bar, and enjoying an olive-oil based dressing rather than a fat-free one loaded with fake flavors and more chemicals than the Draino bottle in your bathroom. By focusing on low processed, you get to enjoy carbs (think brown rice, quinoa, and oats) and fat (think nuts, seeds, avocado, salmon) that not only taste great, but also impart many health benefits.
2) Always Be Prepared: One part of this tenant involves having healthy snacks and foods at your disposal when traveling and at work. However, this also refers to having certain strategies on hand when dining out. For example, avoid going to restaurants on an empty stomach, make a concerted effort to nourish yourself throughout the day to prevent extreme hunger at any given meal, and know which foods to munch on first at a cocktail party (head for the protein-rich foods first).
3) Understand Nutrition Is One Part of a Large Puzzle: Most healthy eaters value other important factors, like physical activity, sufficient sleep, deriving enjoyment from daily tasks, and surrounding themselves with individuals who contribute positive energy to their lives.. Zinc supplements may help worsen a cold, but a healthy eating champ knows these tablets are no substitute for adequate sleep and respecting their body’s boundaries.
4) Feel Okay Turning Down Food: A slice of generic yellow cake at a coworker’s office party. Two rolls of semi-decent bread from a restaurant’s bread basket. An extra slice of pie at the in-laws’. For many people, these are foods they “can’t turn down”. A successful healthy eater is able to differentiate between a true desire to eat in these situations as opposed to a social expectation that is more about obligation than hunger.
5) Define Your Own Eating Style: Rather than be pigeonholed by existing dietary “-isms”, successful healthy eaters make their own rules. For instance, their only intake of red meat may be from local farms that they can keep tabs on. Others may focus on a particular type of food (ie: they are omnivores, but when it comes to desserts, they only go for raw vegan options). Others may be mostly vegan, but choose to make an exception — and feel okay doing so — when it comes to a family member’s amazing mac and cheese served every Thanksgiving.
6) Seek out knowledge and information: Not satisfied with simply being told “what is healthy”, successful healthy eaters seek out information from reputable sources and decipher it (or turn to trusted individuals to help decipher it for them). A talk show host declaring “don’t eat after 7 pm” does not lead a successful healthy eater to lock down their kitchen after sunset. Rather, they question where that advice may come from and whether it makes actual sense. Most successful healthy eaters include — or shun — certain foods based on what works for them, not on what an official government document or a celebrity magazine details.
7) View healthy eating as a lifestyle, not a feat. A successful healthy eater doesn’t fear going on vacation for two weeks or being away from their kitchen for an extended period of time. They don’t need to be dependent on Jenny Craig dinners or Jillian Michaels’ detox pills to achieve their goals. These healthy eaters possess habits and skills that can be transferred to any situation. Something as simple as portion control, making vegetables take up half the plate, and limiting liquid calories are successful techniques that can be applied at home, at your favorite downtown restaurant, or in another continent.