People talk about healthy eating as if it brings back memories of their mothers forcing them to finish their peas.
And let’s face it – we can all think of health foods that we don’t like. Some of us might even be embarrassed about some failed ‘healthy cooking’ experiments. It’s natural to hone in on these outliers.
But once you dig deeper, it’s clear that healthy eating beats out unhealthy eating, before, during, and after.
It’s Not About Being Perfect – It’s About Being Happy
After a healthy meal – or better yet, after a month of eating healthy – you feel ready to take on the world. And that feeling is not an illusion. It’s a fact that eating well reduces stress (Kiecolt-Glaser) and prevents all sorts of diseases (DiNicolantonio). Simply put, if you eat healthy, you’ll feel better. It’s that simple.
Still, many people think that healthy eating is all about following rules. You might remember a family Thanksgiving or Christmas with your health-obsessed aunt (or uncle) ranting about the dangers of stuffing. Luckily, that’s not the only way to live a healthy lifestyle. You don’t have to shoot for 100% perfection to improve your diet. The goal is to remove stress, not create it.
Eating well is not about following rules. It’s about feeling good. Health advocate Kevin Gianni put it this way: instead of trying to be 100% perfect, start asking yourself positive questions. If you’re trying to eat paleo, you might ask yourself, “what would the paleo meal be in this situation?” If you follow through 95% of the time, your health is bound to improve.
Time to Play
Healthy eating is kind of like a game – and the best part is, it never ends. All games have boundaries, incentives, and opponents. In the healthy eating game, the opponent is often yourself. The incentives are the mental and physical benefits of eating healthy, and the boundaries are set by your goals. Want to follow the keto diet 90% of the time? It’s time to play.
Just like a game, healthy eating encourages experimentation. For example, when my wife and I get in a health rut, we often set challenges for ourselves. Since we don’t eat enough fish, a recent challenge was to go a week without eating any meat other than fish. Along the way, we discovered new recipes that have become regulars for us. Finding new foods is about as close as it gets to going on a treasure hunt in your own home.
Alright, But What About Flavor?
Even though I understand arguments for healthy eating, I can’t help but listen to my taste buds. The days when I thought that greasy hamburgers had more appeal than fresh vegetables aren’t too far behind me.
If you’re like me, your main concern is the actual experience of eating.
I’m no expert, but I do know of a few healthy meals that taste good. Does grilled chicken with tart dried cranberries, tangy apples, radishes, and green onion sound like a boring meal? How about BBQ salmon with mashed sweet potatoes and steamed green beans? Or spiced lamb with brussels sprouts? There are too many healthy, tasty meals out there to count.
The idea that healthy eating can’t be fun is perhaps the greatest victory of fast-food advertising. Try a few recipes, play with some boundaries for a month, and you’ll see that being healthy makes you happier.