Eating food is a pretty simple job, but somehow we have managed to make it seem really complicated. What diet is best? Is bread good or bad? Is the keto diet safe? What about fat?
Every week someone asks me for help figuring out their food, and as they begin to tell me their story, I need them to back up and start again from the beginning. They start in the middle, you see, telling me about what they are doing without first telling me why they started doing anything to begin with.
Sometimes, we need to stop, look around, and take a few steps back in order to see the mess we’ve made of things before we can start cleaning it up. If food feels like a mess these days, you can simplify by remembering to prioritize, organize, and compromise.
Prioritize What You Want
You’ve likely heard the adage to begin with the end in mind, right? It’s good advice, because it demands purpose for your actions. The first step to figuring out how to eat healthy is to decide what “eating healthy” means to you. Do you want to eat more vegetables? Drink less soda? Spend fewer meals in restaurants and more at home? Lose weight? Knowing this helps simplify your process because you can focus on meeting a specific goal and choose actions that support it.
Next, think through the to-do list of what it will take to achieve the goal. Let’s say you have a goal to each more vegetables. That seems like a simple objective, but it’s likely that you may need to get out a piece of paper and write out the steps for making that happen:
Going through this process helps you notice the next step: being honest about the obstacles in your way. Maybe you look at that list and think, yeah right, I don’t have time for that. Maybe you have a friend who always invites you to your favorite burger place for lunch.. Maybe eating vegetables is something you just feel like you should do but don’t really want to. You owe it to your future self to be honest about what is standing in the way of you and what you want, so that later on you can have a good answer when your future self asks why you didn’t do something sooner.
Once you’ve come to terms with all of that, decide what you are willing to do (or not do) to achieve the outcome you want. This could mean adding vegetables to meals three days a week rather than every day. Maybe you are so motivated that you’re ready to try a meatless day once a week. This is where the rubber meets the road - you’ve identified what you want, now how much hassle are you willing to put up with to get it?
Alright, you just did a lot of work there, and I told you this was going to be simple. The rest of this is easier, I promise.
Being organized about your food means taking the steps necessary to make healthy food as convenient as junk food. Research shows that you’re more likely to eat fruits and vegetables if they are the first thing you see in your refrigerator. Get them out of the crisper drawers and into a bin, front and center! Take the extra step to chop and package snacks to go, or spend a little more for the pre-cut veggies and remove that time barrier. Learn from the times that you don’t reach your goal and ask, “how can I win next time?” Then, do it!
Be Ready to Compromise
Here’s the truth: food can be healthy, it can be cheap, and it can be really tasty; you can choose two. You have to compromise! Sometimes eating healthier means scrimping on other things so you can spend more on quality food. Sometimes the meal that is going to be the healthiest for you doesn’t taste like Grandma’s macaroni and cheese with two sticks of butter and the crackers crumbled on top. Choose your two biggest priorities...and remember that future self.
It’s okay to grumble about not getting to have everything you want, but it doesn’t change things. It helps to know what you are willing to let go of (and what you are not) in order to feel your best.
So, which way of eating is going to be the best for you? I don’t know. Let’s start from the beginning.