Why We Need to Rethink Our Definition of Healthy Eating.

When you think about healthy eating, what does it mean to you?

Does it mean you won’t pair potato chips with your lunch today? Does it mean you plan to switch from your regular frozen foods to another brand of pre-prepared foods with healthier ingredients this week? Or does it mean a complete overhaul in the way you shop for and prepare your meals for the foreseeable future?

“Healthy eating” can mean a lot of different things to different people. And more than ever, it feels like “eating healthy” is the diet fad of the season, as if it were a new concept altogether. Grocery stores are expanding the organic aisle faster than the average American’s waistline and using fancy signage to draw attention to vegetables that have been there all along, magically making kale one of the coolest greens to put in your basket since avocados.

But why then does the obesity and diabetes epidemic continue to worsen?

Could it be that one of the biggest reasons we have such difficulty making real change is that our perspective of healthy eating is a little off?

If we do need to rethink our definition of healthy eating, what’s wrong with how we think about it now?

1) We Forget Why We Really Eat In The First Place.

Between my driveaway and the grocery store, I pass over a dozen different quick service restaurants. Whenever I want, I can pick up a plate of Chinese food, Mexican food, Italian food, cheeseburgers, pizza, sub sandwiches, etc., all without a thought beyond their price. Boom, instant hunger satisfaction and my tastebuds are happier than a bear in a bee hive.

There’s such an abundance of choices that we completely forget the real purpose of why we eat food and the role it plays in our body’s health.

Merriam-Webster defines food as a material consisting essentially of protein, carbohydrate, and fat used in the body of an organism to sustain growth, repair, and vital processes and to furnish energy.

The real purpose of food is to provide energy for your body to function at its highest potential. Let’s consider that for just a second.

To function at its highest potential, your body requires a certain amount of nutrients to simultaneously fuel all 100 trillion cells in the complex system that is your body. That big complex system connects a number of smaller complex systems, including the brain, the circulatory system, digestive system, endocrine system, immune system, lymphatic system, nervous system, muscular system, reproductive system, skeletal system, respiratory system, urinary system, and last but not least, the integumentary system (skin). Sorry to make you read all those, but it’s important to emphasize everything your body has to do, all the time. It’s pretty freaking amazing. Not to mention that it also heals itself! And to recap, for our body to do all these amazing things, we have to eat.

How much would our overall health benefit if we could just remember this simple truth when making decisions about what to eat?

What if when deciding on lunch we asked ourselves what our endocrine system needs to do its job today? For dinner, what foods will help my lymphatic system fend off infection?

This simple shift in mindset is a great step towards redefining our definition of healthy eating. For breakfast tomorrow, remember that you’re feeding a complex machine, not just a 9 to 5 workday.

2.) We’re Constantly Being Tricked.

Another reason we need to rethink our definition of healthy eating is that almost everything on the shelf is claiming that it’s healthier than it actually is.

Aesthetically appealing packages boast bold claims for low fat, low sugar, and low salt to distract you from their calorie count and ingredient list. If you believe they’re healthier than they are, you’re more likely to buy it.

And it works.

It works so well, that entire categories have based their marketing strategy around the idea. Contrary to popular belief, milk is not the best source of calcium.

But you can’t control what’s put in front of you, and the bad stuff is probably sitting right next to the good stuff. So how do you navigate this big web of lies?

A good defense is to set a few basic rules for yourself when shopping. One of the most helpful habits to employ is weekly meal planning. If you know what you’re shopping for before you get to the store you’re much less likely to put unhealthy things in your cart.

Another good habit to start is to learn how to read nutrition labels, and be skeptical of everything.

3) We’re Busy.

And we know it. The biggest driver of daily food choices for most adults is… you guessed it, convenience.

And that’s understandable. You might say busyness is as much an epidemic as the health crisis. As a mompreneur (promise not to use that word-combo ever again), I feel the time constraints around dinner time daily. Do I finish this project and order out just this once, or follow my meal plan for the week and set aside an hour to cook? Oh, life is so hard!

But seriously.

To keep up with our healthy eating goals we have to accept that we’ll always be busy, and that it’s just not a good enough excuse to make regular poor food choices. And to support technology that helps us.

Meal kit delivery companies are booming for a reason. We really do need help.

As producers catch up with technology, the farm-to-table movement is available at your fingertips.

More than ever before you can learn anything you want about your food. Who raised it, where they raised it, how they raised it… Small, responsible farmers raising healthier foods are making is possible to shop online, anytime, and get food delivered directly from farm-to-table. (ahem).

The best thing you can do to make sure eating healthy doesn’t fall off your to-do list is to cautiously accept help where possible, and make cooking a mainstay on your schedule.

Do any of these strike a chord with you? If you were to stop and think about any one (or all) of these a few times a week, do you think your healthy eating habits would gain some consistency? Let me know what you think in the comments.