It’s official (or at least I’m making it so). You absolutely should not be cutting food groups out of your diet in order to stay healthy. Even the fitness stars you religiously follow on Instagram are able to eat fully balanced diets that involve carbs, fats, dairy, everything. So if you were thinking of taking on the Whole30 diet or trying out Paleo in order to do the whole “New Year, New Me” thing, put the kale down and back away slowly.
A healthy diet does not involve depriving yourself. In fact, you should be enjoying yourself. A good diet includes colorful plates of food, filling portions, tasty flavor combinations, and treats. Especially treats.
The most important thing, for me, is making sure my meals 1. have variety and 2. look happy. What I mean is, I want to be healthy but I don’t want to eat salad every day. Mind you, I’m not a salad hater, but sometimes, constantly eating leaves gets boring, no matter how much you dress them up. So instead of drowning myself in vegetables in the pursuit of a healthy body, I simply make sure I get the amount I need. The rest of the diet equation can be played with, and when it comes to food groups, I’m v. inclusive.
Of course, a lot of people also think that eating well has to come with a ton of planning and monetary resources. Well, I’m going to be honest with you. I have not used a grocery list in over a year, and, being a college student, money gets tight sometimes. And yet, I can still manage to make healthy meals. How? When I go to the grocery store, I shop by food group. I make sure I have grains, starches, veggies, fruits. proteins, dairy, and something sweet. I also stay stocked with spices, herbs, and oil. Then, when I get home, I find creative ways to combine the items from all the food groups with a sense of balance. I don’t have to buy anything fancy, but I can actually make fairly elegant dishes if I’m willing to search for recipes based on the hodgepodge of things I have on hand.
It also helps to have certain go-to recipes and hacks that you know will contribute to keeping a balanced diet. If I am going to eat a salad, I make an oil infused vinaigrette to ensure I get those extra nutrients. A glass of milk after a workout can be even more beneficial than water (when I was in high school, my cross country coach would even have chocolate milk for us to drink after interval training on hills). Instead of consistently using meat for protein, I’ll sometimes have peanut butter on toast first thing in the morning.
The beauty of eating this way is that you can actually eat more. When you eat mostly processed junk or diet restrict by eliminating food groups, you waste caloric intake on things you don’t need. This is what causes people to gain weight, bloat, and feel sluggish. When you give your body the recommended amounts of each food group, you’ll quickly find that your plate can be twice as full as before and yet you won’t gain weight. This is because you’re being strategic with your food.
Today, for example, I had pasta for lunch. Pasta is one of those dreaded carb foods that a lot of fitness people avoid, but guess what? It’s perfectly fine. Eating grains is normal for the body and expected. I started my day off with an apple before my morning workout. For lunch, a small bowl of leftover chicken alfredo and a cup of Indian chai, which kept me full until a late dinner. Since I wasn’t eating some wimpy salad for lunch, I didn’t experience any lust for sweet and salty snacks around 4pm. For dinner, black bean stuffed sweet potatoes and peas. And after I finish writing this? A cookie wouldn’t hurt. On a day like this, I’m eating fruit, vegetables, dairy, grains, and proteins, along with plenty of water and a workout. And frankly, I feel great!