If you’d like to eat healthier or want to lose weight, you’ve probably thought about how restrictive your diet will need to be or which foods you’ll need to give up to reach your goals. But what if I told you the key to success was to take the exact opposite approach?
The path to wellness does not involve deprivation or forbidden foods. Food is a wonderful, delicious part of life—and it shouldn’t stop being so just because you’re eating more healthfully! So let’s go ahead and throw out the notion of strict or perfect diets. Instead, let’s think about eating better as having a balanced plan. One that has a variety of nutritious, delicious foods you can truly enjoy.
I know that a lot of eating plans tend to group foods into extreme categories—all or nothing, good or bad. But I find it more helpful to categorize them into three groups: Usually, sometimes and rarely.
These are foods you can freely say yes to and should be the backbone of your daily diet. Whole fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, lean protein, fish, healthy oils, low-fat dairy products are all “usually” foods.
These foods are somewhat more processed, may contain some added sugar or are higher in saturated fat than “usually” foods, but they do offer some health benefits and it’s fine to include them —in moderation. Think non-whole grains like white rice, fattier meats like chicken thighs or flank steak, and sweets like dark chocolate and frozen yogurt.
These foods are highly processed, or have a lot of saturated fat and refined sugar. Examples are candy, French fries and bacon. Yes, even these indulgences can be part of a healthy diet now and then or in small amounts—just aim to eat no more than five servings per week.
Think of this way of eating as a lifestyle—something you can maintain for the long haul—rather than a quick-fix diet you have to force yourself to stick to. And to be healthier and lose weight for good, you need to be able to make changes you can live with. Thinking about foods as usually, sometimes, or rarely can help you make the small, gradual changes that will eventually add up to larger wellness goals.