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How to Find a Healthy Eating Plan That Actually Works for You

How to Find a Healthy Eating Plan That Actually Works for You

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.

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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.

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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.

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    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.

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    Here’s an infographic to show you how to do it:[3]

      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.

      Featured photo credit: Kaboompics via kaboompics.com

      Reference

      [1] (James A.K. Erskine, Division of Mental Health, St George’s, University of London  & George J. Georgiou, School of Psychology, University of Hertfordshire, U.K.: Effects of thought suppression on eating behaviour in restrained and non-restrained eaters.
      [2] My Spoonful of Soul: Weight Loss & Freedom From Obsessive Food Thoughts – Can You Have Both?
      [3] Precision Nutrition: The best calorie control guide. [Infographic]

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      Sai Khanna

      I aspire to help you enjoy food without obsessing over it, deal with stress better and empower you with the mindsets so you can chase your dreams.

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      Last Updated on December 2, 2019

      10 Powerful Ways to Stop Worrying and Start Living Today

      10 Powerful Ways to Stop Worrying and Start Living Today

      Plato knew that the body and mind are intimately linked. And in the late 1800s, the Mayo brothers, famous physicians, estimated that over half of all hospital beds are filled with people suffering from frustration, anxiety, worry and despair. Causes of worry are everywhere, in our relationships and our jobs, so it’s key we find ways to take charge of the stress.

      In his classic book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, Dale Carnegie offers tools to ditch excessive worrying that help you make a worry-free environment for your private and professional life.

      These are the top 10 tips to grab worry by the horns and wrestle it to the ground:

      1. Make Your Decision and Never Look Back

      Have you ever made a decision in life only to second-guess it afterwards? Of course you have! It’s hard not to wonder whether you’ve done the right thing and whether there might still be time to take another path.

      But keep this in mind: you’ve already made your decision, so act decisively on it and dismiss all your anxiety about it.

      Don’t stop to hesitate, to reconsider, or to retrace your steps. Once you’ve chosen a course of action, stick to it and never waver.

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      2. Live for Today, Package Things up in “Day-Tight Compartments”

      You know that feeling: tossing, turning and worrying over something that happened or something that might, well into the wee hours. To avoid this pointless worrying, you need “day-tight compartments”. Much as a ship has different watertight compartments, your own “day-tight” ones are a way to limit your attention to the present day.

      The rule is simple: whatever happened in the past or might happen in the future must not intrude upon today. Everything else has to wait its turn for tomorrow’s box or stay stuck in the past.

      3. Embrace the Worst-Case Scenario and Strategize to Offset It

      If you’re worried about something, ask yourself: “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” Could you lose your job? Be jailed? Get killed?

      Whatever the “worst” might be, it’s probably not so world-ending. You could probably even bounce back from it!

      If, for example, you lose your job, you could always find another. Once you accept the worst-case scenario and get thinking about contingency plans, you’ll feel calmer.

      4. Put a Lid on Your Worrying

      Sometimes we stress endlessly about negative experiences when just walking away from them would serve us far better.

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      To make squashing that worry easier, try this strategy, straight from stock traders: it’s called the “stop-loss” order, where shares are bought at a certain price, and then their price development is observed. If things go badly and the share price hits a certain point, they are sold off immediately. This stops the loss from increasing further.

      In the same manner, you can put a stop-loss order on things that cause you stress and grief.

      5. Fake It ‘Til You Make It – Happiness, That Is

      We can’t directly influence how we feel, but we can nudge ourselves to change through how we think and act.

      If you’re feeling sad or low, slap a big grin on your face and whistle a chipper tune. You’ll find it impossible to be blue when acting cheerful. But you don’t necessarily need to act outwardly happy; you can simply think happier thoughts instead.

      Marcus Aurelius summed it up aptly:

      “Our life is what our thoughts make it.”

      6. Give for the Joy of Giving

      When we perform acts of kindness, we often do so with the expectation of gratitude. But harboring such expectations will probably leave you disappointed.

      One person well aware of this fact was the lawyer Samuel Leibowitz. Over the course of his career, Leibowitz saved 78 people from going to the electric chair. Guess how many thanked him? None.

      So stop expecting gratitude when you’re kind to someone. Instead, take joy from the act yourself.

      7. Dump Envy – Enjoy Being Uniquely You

      Your genes are completely unique. Even if someone had the same parents as you, the likelihood of someone identical to you being born is just one in 300,000 billion.

      Despite this amazing fact, many of us long to be someone else, thinking the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. But living your life this way is pointless. Embrace your uniqueness and get comfortable with who you really are: How to Be True to Yourself and Live the Life You Want

      8. Haters Will Hate — It Just Means You’re Doing It Right

      When you’re criticized, it often means you’re accomplishing something noteworthy. In fact, let’s take it a step further and consider this: the more you’re criticized, the more influential and important a person you likely are.

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      So the next time somebody talks you down, don’t let it get to you. Take it as a compliment!

      9. Chill Out! Learn to Rest Before You Get Tired

      Scientists agree that emotions are the most common cause of fatigue. And it works the other way around, too: fatigue produces more worries and negative emotions.

      It should be clear, therefore, that you’ve got to relax regularly before you feel tired. Otherwise, worries and fatigue will accumulate on top of each other.

      It’s impossible to worry when you are relaxed, and regular rest helps you maintain your ability to work effectively.

      10. Get Organized and Enjoy Your Work

      There are few greater sources of misery in life than having to work, day in, day out, in a job you despise. It would make sense then that you shouldn’t pick a job you hate, or even just dislike doing.

      But say you already have a job. How can you make it more enjoyable and worry-free? One way is to stay organized: a desk full of unanswered mails and memos is sure to breed worries.

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      Better yet, rethink about the job you’re doing: What to Do When You Hate Your Job but Want a Successful Career

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      Featured photo credit: Tyler Nix via unsplash.com

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