Every year, one of the most common New Year’s Resolutions is to “eat healthier”. But what does that even mean? It all depends on what your body needs for your particular goals.
There are lots of different ways to eat healthier, and it can take some time to figure out what it means for you. For me, it started with taking a look at how my food choices affected my body.
Many people take an extreme approach; they decide to go 100% gluten-free vegan without warning, or they start eating nothing but kale, quinoa, and chia seeds. While those approaches might be trendy, they probably aren’t sustainable.
Healthy eating is different for everybody. It depends on a million different criteria, like lifestyle and health goals. It takes observation and practice to get it right.
Learning what to eat
For me, one of the biggest surprises about leaving home for university was realizing that I needed to figure out how to eat well. My parents had always just fed me. I never really thought about what I was eating—because I never had to.
Even with (or especially with) a residence cafeteria, figuring out what a healthy meal looked like was difficult. There were too many options, and the nutritious choices weren’t exactly front and centre.
It was easy to fall into bad habits, like emotional eating or eating for convenience. During my first finals season at UBC, I ate an entire bag of chocolate-covered almonds almost every night. I was stressed out, so I binged on sugar and ended up feeling awful all the time.
When I returned home to Winnipeg at winter break that year, I begged my mom to make all of her signature veggie dishes. It felt like my body was telling me to stock up on nutrients.
Listening to your body
I knew I needed to make a change. I was no longer the super energetic teen who could subsist on A&W fries eaten in the car on the way to a three-hour dance class. After years of relying on being active to keep me feeling good, I was suddenly a more-or-less sedentary university student who spent more time at a desk than in the gym. I could feel the effects in my mind, body, and energy levels.
I started paying more attention to how my meals made me feel. Not while I was eating them (no one ever feels anything but great while chowing down on Magda’s chicken strips), but an hour later, or throughout the day, or the next morning.
I noticed patterns. Eating cereal for breakfast left me lethargic and starving by 11:00 am, while fruit and yoghurt kept me going.
After meat-based dinners, I felt bloated and slept poorly. On days when I managed to get in lots of greens, I felt alert and energized.
Over the years, I’ve learned to eat lots of different kinds of foods—veggies, fruit, whole grains, different proteins…the list goes on—which not only provide different kinds of nutrients, but have also helped me learn to cook! I’m a vegetarian now (not only for health-based reasons, although they do play a role), and I add greens to basically every meal because I know it’ll make me feel better overall.
Not all bodies work the same
As we all know, the media loves to talk about fad diets. But no one diet or big lifestyle change will work for everyone. While eating paleo or tracking macros might be productive for some, it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution.
And just to be clear, “dieting” and “eating healthy” are two completely different things. A big revelation for me (and for many women, I think) is that “healthy” is not the same as “skinny”. You can be healthy and still eat the foods you like. Restrictions are rarely a route to happiness (or health)!
That said, I have had a lot of fun learning to “healthify” my biggest cravings.
I’ve made buckets of banana ice cream, roasted more than my fair share of sweet potatoes, and learned to add flavour to my food with a full range of spices and herbs, instead of just salt. For the most part, my meals taste good and make me feel good. This makes me want to eat healthy meals.
So now, I eat healthier foods, but I also have a healthier outlook on how food fits into my life. I feel better, sleep better, and focus better. I look forward to my meals and I don’t feel guilty after finishing them.
As you embark on your own health journey this year, keep in mind that food is about fuelling your body, but it’s also about enjoying yourself. Find foods that make you healthy and happy. “Eating healthy” doesn’t just affect physical health, it can also be about making choices that bring you joy.
If you’re actually enjoying your new regimen, you’re much more likely to stick to it. Consider how different foods affect the way your body feels.