I’m a dietitian, and I love food. I love salad. I love chocolate bars (Kit Kat Chunky, I’m talking about you). I love fish. I love cake. It’s not like I sit around eating kale all day just because of what I do for a living.
I keep my diet healthy overall, though, by following a few “rules” I have established over the years. In nutrition, there is no such thing as perfection, but I try to hold myself to these eating guidelines. They help me feel healthy, but they also help keep things balanced so I can sometimes have my Kit Kat…and eat it, too.
Rule 1: Have one sweet thing every day.
I’m starting with this rule because I know most of you have your vices, and many of them are sweet. Same here, and I indulge in mine almost every day. Ice cream and chocolate, anyone? If your overall eating habits are healthy and you practice proper portion control, there’s nothing wrong with that.
I try to keep my indulgences to around 200 calories a day, which fits right in with my dietary lifestyle. I don’t count calories overall, but if I watch my sugary (or salty) “extra” calories and keep them to around the 200 mark each day, I know I’m on track, not going overboard.
Of course, there are days like yesterday when I ate a whole bag of Doritos, but I make sure that doesn’t happen all the time. (Yup, dietitians eat Doritos.)
Rule 2: Every day, one meal must be mainly vegetables.
I literally get cranky if I go too long without vegetables, probably as a function of making them a habit in my life.
A serving of vegetables is 1 cup of leafy greens or a ½ cup of non-leafy vegetables. You should be getting at least 2½ cups of vegetables per day, but I like to go above and beyond that. To ensure I get all my vegetable servings, I make one of my meals based on vegetables, like a huge salad. Of course, I put other stuff into the meal, but my salads are legendary because they’re massive.
If I run out of salad, I try to get my vegetables in other ways, like snacking on raw carrots, making a stir fry, or even barbecuing broccoli. I loathe green drinks, so those don’t happen in my life; I prefer to chew my food. Also, depending on how they’re made, green drinks and most smoothies don’t have the fiber of whole vegetables, so they go right through you instead of filling you up.
Rule 3: Bring lunch and snacks everywhere—work, in the car, to the airport. Seriously, everywhere.
I’m always prepared. I’m that person who eats a homemade sandwich on the airplane, who always has a piece of fruit in her purse, who brings lunch to work every day, and who stocks her hotel room with cut vegetable platters and Greek yogurt. Finding yourself without healthy options is more likely to lead to making poor food choices, especially when you’re hungry.
I know it can be tough to bring lunch to work, but it’s worth it. Even “healthy” takeout choices near your office will most likely be a lot more food (and more expensive, too) than you would otherwise eat if you had brought your lunch from home.
Don’t have a lot of time in the morning? Nobody does! You can throw pre-washed greens, ¼ avocado, some crumbled feta, a can of drained Italian-style tuna in olive oil, and a handful of croutons into a Tupperware, then add some whole fruits on the side. If you keep some balsamic and a container of nuts in your desk at work, it’s not so hard. But for added ease, you can make your meals beforehand—here are eight genius meal prep tips you can try.
Rule 4: Limit caloric beverages, including juice, booze, and fruit-packed smoothies.
Most drinks go right by your satiety mechanisms, not even registering in your brain, so if you’re drinking calorie-laden options, they’re an easy way to pack on pounds. That’s why I never drink juice (too sugary) or smoothies (again, I’m a fan of chewing my food), and I really limit my alcohol intake as well (I’m still fun, I swear).
Your body absorbs calories from sugary drinks very efficiently because there’s really not much breaking-down of nutrients happening. So, if you’re drinking a 150-calorie glass of juice or pop every day, you’re taking in over extra 1,000 calories a week that aren’t filling, aren’t as nutritious as they seem (juice), or are even completely devoid of nutrients (pop).
When it comes to smoothies, I’m not saying you have to give them up. But try to make them yourself so you can keep track of the ingredients, and do your best to limit fruit in them to ½ cup (aka one serving) so you don’t take in too much sugar at once. Also make sure you have a source of protein for satiety and to slow your body’s absorption of the sugar. You can use 2 percent Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, tofu, or protein powder for that purpose. Tossing in some chia or flax seeds will also boost the fiber and protein of your drink, which will only further enhance satiety!
In terms of alcohol, there’s nothing wrong with having the occasional drink (moderate alcohol consumption is one drink per day for women). But routinely going beyond a nightly glass of wine or blowing the doors off every weekend can have negative implications for your health (and your weight, if you’re keeping track of it—even one glass of wine a night can add up). While some alcohol may be OK for your health, you want to stay within the safe drinking guidelines.
Rule 5: Never feel guilty.
There’s no such thing as a life without indulgence, nor would I want there to be. So when I do go over the top—darn those peanut butter cups on Halloween—I don’t use it as an excuse to feel guilty or let my healthy eating slide more. I know that having a big night out or eating too much cake isn’t likely to result in any perceptible weight gain or health effects, especially if I just go right back to my regular eating habits.
In fact, letting yourself have some treats may actually help, not harm, your overall diet. I don’t cut way back on calories or force myself to run 10 miles to burn off those extra calories, because I know my body will take care of them itself. Guilt doesn’t make anyone feel good, and indulgence is a normal—and necessary—part of living a happy, healthy life.