I've had quite a journey to finding what healthy eating looks like for me. It took years of fighting through an eating disorder and trial and error to reach a point where I feel confident about intuitively choosing what to eat every day. And to be honest, it's still a journey, but I'd like to think that I have a pretty good hold on what is good for my body and mind and what isn't.
In our society, we've been socialized to have a really strict idea of what is and isn't "healthy." There's a widespread implicit bias that labels foods like salads and fruits as healthy and candy bars and cookies as detrimental to our health. However, this isn't accurate on the basis of nutritional, mental or emotional health. Like most things, it's a lot more complex than that.
But if what we've learned since birth isn't true, then what exactly is healthy eating? While there isn't a clear definition that applies across the board, here are some practices that are involved in healthy eating:
1. Eating nutrient-dense foodsGiphy
While foods aren't inherently healthy or unhealthy, there are foods that have more of certain nutrients than others. Healthy eating looks like eating protein-dense foods like eggs and almonds when your body needs it, or lots of carbohydrates like bananas and whole grains before working out.
2. Eating foods without regards to nutrientsGiphy
But! Healthy eating is also eating the foods you crave like pizza, ice cream and chocolate! No matter what the front of different magazines tell you, eating a variety of foods, including "junk" foods, is healthy.
3. Separating food from moral valueGiphy
Food has absolutely no moral value. You aren't 'bad' or 'good' for eating or not eating certain foods. Period. Food is simply food.
4. Eating what makes you feel good mentally and physicallyGiphy
Of course, not everyone can eat everything and that's okay! Some people are lactose intolerant, have celiac disease or just don't agree with certain foods. Healthy eating means working around this and eating things that you enjoy and make your body feel good.
5. Meal prepping or taking a long time to prepare foods to ensure that you'll be nourished and satisfiedGiphy
Cooking is fun and it can allow us to really be conscious and mindful about what we eat!
6. ...while still being flexible enough to be able to spontaneously go out to eat!Giphy
Sometimes you just have to save that meal prep for another day if you just ~really~ want pizza or get invited out by friends! Honor your cravings and your social life, not fake rules around food.
7. Eating while on-the-go to fuel yourself to move on to the next thingGiphy
Yes, mindful eating is wonderful. But our lives are busy and we still need fuel! Sometimes we simply don't have the time to sit down to a full meal. So yes, it's okay to take that food to go and fuel your body for the next task.
8. Enjoying food and using it for celebration!Usher Raymond Birthday GIF by USHER - Find & Share on GIPHY Giphy
Birthday cake? Yes! Celebrating that new job with ice cream? Of course! Pizza because it's your fav? Go for it! Food isn't always just for fuel—it's cultural and social too!
Healthy eating encompasses a lot, right? But there definitely are still things to look out for that aren't included in a healthy diet. Here are eight things that aren't healthy eating:
1. Spending a considerable amount of your time and energy focusing on food and your bodyGiphy
Our lives are so much more than what food we eat and the way our bodies look. If those things are taking up most of your mental energy, it's not healthy.
2. Eating based on other people's needs or rules rather than your ownGiphy
There are some interesting trends out there where people will go gluten free or adopt other food rules without any real personal need. This isn't healthy either—in fact, it's just a lot of extra unnecessary work.
3. Following a fad dietGiphy
Similarly, fad-diets aren't nutritionally sound or helpful in any way. They're simply a tactic to induce self-consciousness and make money for big companies. Not to mention, diets are the single greatest predictor of developing an eating disorder.
4. Ignoring your hungerGiphy
Big no no. If your body is hungry, you need food!
5. Associating food with self-worthGiphy
Eating specific things doesn't make you any better or worse of a person! It bears repeating over and over again. Ingrain it into your head and your life will become a million times better, I promise.
6. Refraining from attending social events because of the foodGiphy
Staying home from events because "there will be too much temptation" is a really unhealthy way of viewing food. If you're feeding your body healthily—honoring your hunger, cravings and wants—"temptation" around food shouldn't be an issue.
7. Labeling food as 'good' or 'bad' or placing any other rules around foodGiphy
The only bad food is food that is rotten and that's the tea
8. Eating in a way that doesn't make you feel good
Any food that doesn't make you feel good mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually or in any way at all shouldn't be eaten!
Like I said, healthy eating is really complex and this barely scratches the surface—I'm not a nutritionist. But this lays a basic groundwork for what healthy eating really is. If you're worried your eating habits might be unhealthy, the National Eating Disorders Association has wonderful resources to check out.