So many of us want to lose a little bit of that extra weight and maybe fit into those pants from a couple of years ago. Every year, we make a resolution to eat healthier but somehow each time we end up losing our motivation.So many of us want to lose a little bit of that extra weight and maybe fit into those pants from a couple of years ago. Every year, we make a resolution to eat healthier but somehow each time we end up losing our motivation.
This is not a question of our willpower or discipline though. The biggest reason we are not able to stick to our resolutions is because we make change too hard for ourselves.
I understand first-hand how hard this can be. I yo-yo dieted for years, each time seemingly gaining more weight than I had lost. I finally found success when I realized that I had to find a way of eating that personally worked for me, not just some diet program in the news or a cleanse that my friend was doing.
In this article, I’ll show you the 4-step process to design your own personalized healthy eating plan, one that actually works for you.
What is a healthy eating plan?
The first step in designing your personalized eating plan is to understand what “healthy” looks and feels like.
Eating healthy should help us feel stronger, happier and more vibrant. A healthy eating plan should help us feel good in our bodies and at peace in our relationship with food.
Feel good physically
When we eat in a way that is right for us, we feel more energetic and satisfied.
Eating healthy gives us the fuel to sustain our energy levels on a busy day. It makes us feel mentally alert with no mid-afternoon slumps making our mind feel foggy or clouded.
We feel satisfied with the food we eat and have no cravings. We also feel strong without any physical or mental lethargy. It gives us the energy to move in a way that we love, be it walking, dancing or lifting weights.
Feel good mentally
Healthy eating also means having a healthy relationship with food.
We feel happy when we eat instead of worrying about gaining weight or feeling guilty for eating “bad” foods.
We stop trying to have the perfect diet days where we eat only “good” foods and try to control ourselves from eating sweets, chips or chocolates.
We have a healthy love-love relationship with food. We find eating to be an intuitive, easy and natural process – just a part of our day – not something to fight with ourselves over.
We feel relaxed and at peace around food, without any obsessive or intrusive cravings popping into our mind.
Feel healthy overall
People with a healthy relationship with food talk about eating healthy in a completely different way versus dieters. They say:
- “I just don’t obsess about the number on the scale any more. I just try to eat well, live healthy and go by the fit of my clothes.”
- “I try to focus more on giving myself what I need than on how much I weigh.”
- “I’m not very intense about food anymore. I still eat candy and drink sodas sometimes. It’s not good for me but I enjoy eating it and I like it this way because it is stress free.”
Notice how this is not about just weight – more of what successful people address is how they feel free and relaxed around food. This, more than fitting into a certain size, makes them happy and healthy from the inside out.
What is NOT a healthy eating plan?
A plan that prioritizes physical well-being at any cost is not healthy. Many people do this by going on restrictive diets again and again until they develop a love-hate relationship with food.
This leads to:
Emotional or binge eating
When we severely restrict foods like many diets do, our minds start to crave the foods we cannot have (like chocolate, chips and cookies). Studies have shown how cravings are a result of dieting and how dieters crave foods they cannot eat (like chocolate) more than non-dieters.1
When our cravings get too strong, they take over our minds and we end up binging on sweets or chips. This hurts our confidence and makes us feel guilty. When this happens over and over again, we risk it becoming a habit that we feel like we have no control over.
P.S.: A lot of us today don’t diet but we try to eat healthy – in doing so, we are still engaging in the same restrictive behaviors and labelling food as “good” and “bad”. This is why we end up binging on the foods we cannot have and feel like we are sabotaging ourselves.
Judging our self-worth based on our body size or weight
Because we struggle so much with staying at our happy weight, we make weight loss our most important life project. We get so involved and think about it so much that it starts to take over our lives.
We judge ourselves based on how much weight we lost, we punish ourselves if we don’t and our self-esteem revolves around the size of our clothes rather than our life’s achievements.
Thinking about food this way takes away our mental peace. We lose confidence in our own abilities and we get depressed – the complete opposite of the happiness we were aiming for in the first place.
A healthy eating plan focuses equally on how you look and how you feel – it doesn’t involve eating boring foods or cutting out the foods we love. It doesn’t promise magical weight loss results like “lose 40 lbs in 4 weeks”.
Eating healthy is a way of living life, and we need to love it to make it a part of our lives.
3 principles of a healthy eating plan
Bringing together all that we know about physical and mental health, there are 3 key principles to keep in mind as we build your healthy eating plan.
Principle #1 – Balance physical and mental health
The first principle is to prioritize mental happiness over physical happiness. We can think of our relationship with food as a spectrum between a hate-hate relationship and a love-love relationship.
At one end, we might be feeling anxious and guilty around food, questioning our eating choices all the time. We may binge eat once in a while and overeating to soothe ourselves may be common. If you are at this end of the spectrum, focus on developing a healthier emotional connection with food before embarking on your weight loss journey.2
If you feel like you have an okay relationship with food but are letting your weight or clothes size determine your happiness, you may be more susceptible to developing binge or emotional eating. Before making health all about weight loss, realistically assess how important weight loss is in your overall happiness – if you had an amazing family, friends and career, should losing weight determine how you feel about yourself so much? If not, then why are you letting your weight lower your self-worth?
If you have a positive relationship with food, then you are ready to move onto the next step.
Principle #2 – Long term and sustainable
The second principle is to design a plan that you can incorporate into your day to day life that is easy to do and doesn’t require too much willpower.
None of us want to keep dieting for the rest of our lives. We just want to find a way of eating and living that works for us. The only way to do this is to fit it into our already busy lives instead of trying to re-design our entire lives around food. This is why following a weight loss plan off the internet isn’t sustainable. Creating a customized plan for yourself is your best shot of finding a method that actually works for you.
We’ve learned to expect that eating right has to be difficult and that without a lot of effort, we can never succeed. Weight loss companies and social media have made millions of dollars selling us these beliefs (the diet industry is worth $70 billion in the United States alone).
In fact, the key to successfully eating healthy now and forever is to make it so simple that it fits right into our everyday lives.
Principle #3 – Minimize deprivation
The third and one of the most important principles is to minimize feelings of deprivation. This means eating everything we love like cookies, chocolates and chips without any restrictions and without feeling guilty. It means eating out at restaurants, going out with friends and having Friday night drinks.
Food is so much more than physical fuel for the body. Food brings people together and using food in this way helps us feel happier. Food that we love (like grandma’s apple pie for instance) refreshes us emotionally and makes us happier. It’s only by embracing all the loving aspects of food can we be successful in having a healthy and happy life.
Your personalized healthy eating plan
Putting the 3 principles to use, let’s design a healthy eating plan that works for you.
1. Rate your relationship with food with the following questions:
- Do you think about food — what to eat, what not to eat and have cravings more times than not?
- Do you feel guilty when you eat cake, chocolate or chips and do you try to punish yourself by trying to diet even more strictly the next day?
- Do you feel out of control around food and regularly overeat past fullness?
- Do you wake up wondering when you can lose that tummy and does your mood depend on how well your pants fit for the day?
If you answered yes to 2 or more of these questions, then learn how to feel more relaxed and happy around food first before you move onto the following steps.
2. To feel good in your body and eat healthy, use the ancient principle of “Hara hachi Bu” or “Eat up to 80% full”.
Many Asian cultures like Japanese, Chinese and Indian practice this habit of eating until they are just satisfied. Transition from where you are today to 80% full by getting in touch with your physical hunger and fullness cues. Start by eating slowly and noticing how full your stomach feels and stop before you are too full (or until just satisfied).
P.S.: This can be difficult when you start out and will be even more so for emotional or binge eaters who use food to soothe themselves. Trying to practice 80% full before establishing peace with food will only worsen the binge eating.
3. Build a healthy and happy diet with foods you love.
Start with a balanced plate for main meals consisting of:
- 1-2 palm-sized servings of protein
- 2 fist-size portions colorful vegetables
- 1-2 cupped-hand size portion of grains or fruits.
Women can start at the lower number while men can start at the higher end. If you get to 80% full before being able to finish the food in your plate, then just pack them up as leftovers.
Here’s an infographic to show you how to do it:3
Precision Nutrition Guidelines
Allow room for snacks depending on your fullness – feel like eating a muffin? Go for it. Craving some chocolate – don’t hold yourself back. Enjoy what you’re eating instead of feeling guilty and you’ll automatically find yourself feeling satisfied with fewer bites.
P.S.: Eating this way does two things. First, getting sufficient protein and vegetables helps you stay alert and avoid the fogginess so common after 3pm. Second, when you stop trying to control the so-called “bad” foods, you stop craving them and you are not likely to binge.
4. Start small and build on
If transitioning to step 2 and step 3 is a huge jump from where you are, don’t try to make the leap in one step. The key to successful healthy living is to add on small healthy habits that slowly build on each other.
Start with adding some vegetables next to your lunch sandwich and two weeks later, start eating some eggs with your breakfast instead of muffins. Don’t force yourself to cook, just buy a chopped salad at the supermarket instead.
Remember, make healthy living easy and it will become part of your daily life.
Summing it up
Eating healthy doesn’t have to be difficult or complicated. Health is not about eating the latest super foods or enjoying avocado toast while doing yoga. The basics of healthy living are simple, things even our grandparents can do.
Make change easy for yourself and fit healthy eating into your everyday life. Focus on feeling good physically and mentally, eat all the foods you want (vegetables and cake alike!) and live your life happy with who you are.
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