If you’re one of the many humans resolving to be healthier in 2016, I have a tip for you: don’t diet. Don’t cut out gluten, don’t go on a juice cleanse, don’t avoid carbs and don’t go vegan or Paleo just because you think it’ll help you drop a couple pounds fast. Eat food and enjoy it.
I’ve been studying nutrition for three and a half years and if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that nutrition is really simple. Seriously. For most people, being healthy isn’t as difficult as you might think.
Usually when people find out I’m a nutrition major (and subsequently call me a “nutritionist” — I’m not, really, but I’ll take it) they ask me the same questions: “Do you follow a diet?” “Do you always eat healthy?” “What should I eat?” “What do you think about gluten?” “Did you hear about the red meat and cancer thing?”
To which I respond: no, definitely not, anything you want, I love gluten and yes I have, but that doesn’t mean you should never eat bacon again.
Everywhere on the Internet, there are so many people singing praises of special diets or certain ingredients that can make you instantly healthier, and it’s confusing as hell. “Eat clean,” they say. “You can cleanse your body by eating tacos.” “Keep “bad food” out of your diet.” “Sugar is bad, Stevia is better.” All of these things, plus the whole gluten-will-kill-you fad and the juice cleansing madness, are generally unsubstantiated facts promoted by viral posts and enticing headlines.
In reality, there’s no magic ingredient that will make you healthy or live to be three hundred, and there’s no one food you should cut out of your diet that could help you avoid chronic illness or get a “bikini body.” Unless, of course, you’re actually intolerant or allergic.
My biggest piece of advice for people who are generally healthy is to eat what you want, but don’t go crazy. Like Oscar Wilde once said, “everything in moderation, including moderation.” Many of my fellow nutrition majors have pretty liberal attitudes about food. We go out, we drink beer, we indulge in a burger every now and then.
But we also make sure to include a good amount of vegetables and whole grains into our diets, get adequate exercise and drink plenty of water. Sure, you might lose tons of weight eating raw vegetables or trying a juice cleanse for a week, but how enjoyable is that?
I often tell people that they should enjoy food and that anything in excess can be harmful to health. As long as you eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, not too much dessert, soda or fast food, you’re more or less going to be okay.
If you feel better eating a vegan diet or never eating sugar, then fine, that’s awesome. But we’re all humans with completely different digestive systems; what works for one person might not work for another. Don’t deprive yourself of anything because you think it’s “bad” — food should be both a source of enjoyment and nourishment.