How many times have you started a diet with great intentions and then quit because you didn’t like it or didn’t get the results you wanted?
What if you could build “cheating” into your diet? After decades of studying health & wellness, trying, and failing, at a gazillion “diets”, I finally learned to incorporate some “cheat foods” into my routine, which has helped me drop excess pounds and maintain optimum weight and size, even in my mid-60s.
One of the biggest downsides of most healthy diets is they are the restrictions. They eliminate favorite foods and even entire food categories, so only a handful of people can stick to them. Some diets are also confusing and can be dangerous to some with health conditions. Then, don’t get me started on holidays, family and friend gatherings, social events, and eating out. How can one learn to cope with these changes?
When we are talking about the definition of the word “diet”, it’s not about a restrictive kind of eating, but a way of life. Since there is no perfect diet for everyone, so we must start with the basic foods that our bodies need to perform more optimally, eliminate brain fog, and get us to the ideal health and weight that we desire.
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Let’s talk about the 80/20 rule.
The concept is to eat predominantly eat whole nutrient-dense foods from all the basic food groups. It’s about not having to follow something 100% all of the time. It is best accomplished by eating with an emphasis on vegetables, fruit, leafy greens, then whole grains, and smaller amounts of poultry, fish, lean & vegan meats.
Now, let’s talk about dairy.
When it comes to overall health benefits, it seems that dairy is neither a champion nor a criminal. It’s a great idea to reduce dairy in your daily diet, — a splash of milk in your cup of coffee, a small cheese & fruit plate, or eating fermented dairy products like yogurt, kefir (a yogurt-type drink), sour cream, ghee (butter that has had the milk solids removed) and contains high concentrations of monounsaturated Omega-3 fatty acids).
If you skip traditional dairy, as many need to, due to diet (an inability to fully digest the sugars, known as lactose, in milk products), you can get plenty of calcium and protein by eating a well-balanced diet that includes lots of green leafy vegetables and nuts. (1)
There are also plenty of alternative dairy options to choose from like “milk” made from oat, hemp, cashew, tiger nut, coconut, and almonds.
The most important aspect of this whole methodology is to determine which foods are going to give you the most nutritional value. I like to ask these questions,
- Will this food give me more or less energy?
- Is this whole food or a manufactured “fake food?
- Was this made from a plant or manufactured in a plant?
- Will this food eventually rot or can it sit on a shelf (almost) indefinitely?
The author Michael Pollan describes eating well in his book In Defense of Food, in seven words of wisdom: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
I‘d like to add one word to that:
Eat real food, Not too much. Mostly plants.
While there is no one diet that works for everyone, there is one that has proven to be the worst diet on our planet…the Western Diet, now called the SAD or MAD diet (Standard American Diet or Modern American Diet). Whenever we introduce the western diet philosophy to people living on a plant-rich/high-fiber diet, they soon started to see obesity, diabetes, and later on, cancer and other chronic diseases start to skyrocket in their communities.
I have been introduced to this diet, which is loaded with processed foods and meat, lots of added fats and sugar, refined grains, and little to no vegetables, fruits, or whole grains, they start suffering from the chronic diseases that we find in modern societies that have adopted this unhealthy SAD lifestyle.
The Standard American Diet lacks any nutritional fortitude to support our health & wellness. Research has shown that indigenous tribes adopted the high-sugar, high-fat “Western Diet”, for the first time Diabetes and obesity began to appear.
What Can We Do To Protect Ourselves & Loved Ones?
Change your diet from SAD to RAD – the Right American Diet. Start by striving to eat more vegetables, and something green with every meal.
Start your day out right
Add fruit to morning yogurt or kefir, to smoothies or salads, along with nuts and seeds. Or, cut up an apple and eat it with almond or your favorite nut butter. Try adding spinach to your omelet. Maybe even try something new like adding hemp seeds, raw cacao, chia, or flax seeds to yogurt or kefir, mix up well.
The same concept can be done by making overnight oats. Take old-fashioned oats, fruit, nuts, chia or flax seeds, milk of choice, and cinnamon.
Then put it in the refrigerator overnight, for delicious, nutritious, easy breakfasts.
Replace fruit juices with whole fruits
Fruit juices, even organic, as they are just a glass full of sugar, as it takes 3 oranges or apples to make 1 cup of juice. Once the fruit is stripped of the pulp and skin, we lose the fiber content that helps our digestive system work properly, absorbing the sugar from them slower.
Eat whole fruits and eliminate the spike in sugar levels causing the “sugar rush”, where the body increases insulin to try to keep the sugar levels consistent, and then the “sugar crash”, also known as hypoglycemia, comes after drinking a cup of juice or eating a high-sugar snack or treat. Also, when the body releases insulin this fast, it leads to a large amount of sugar in our blood, which the body converts to fat. It also leaves us hungry, so we are prone to eat more as well.
Add more fruit and colors from the food rainbow
Every color has different nutrient values so the more we mix them in, the greater all-around nutrition goes up, with eye appeal. These foods will give your body the nutrients it needs to function properly and keep you looking and feeling great.
- Red fruits and vegetables: tomatoes, strawberries, raspberries, and also red peppers and beans = vitamin C, vitamin A, potassium, lycopene, and antioxidants. The spice of red cinnamon may contain the highest anti-oxidant strength of all food sources in nature. It’s also known for its blood-sugar-lowering properties.
- Yellow/orange fruits and vegetables: carrots, peaches, squash, and pineapple, are also loaded with vitamin C, vitamin A and potassium. They can also boost the immune system and enhance vision. Turmeric, the element that makes mustard bright yellow, is a spice commonly used in curry that is filled with health benefits for your body and brain. Turmeric has emerged in many products due to its antioxidant qualities and how it helps detoxify the body.
- White foods like mushrooms, onions, and other white fruits and vegetables are good for the heart and help to control cholesterol levels.
- Green means lots of heart-protective potassium and vitamin K, which aid the blood clotting process. Green fruits and veggies also help to maintain vision health and strong bones and teeth. Dark green, leafy vegetables have the highest concentration of antioxidants and fiber.
- Blue/purple fruits and vegetables, including such favorites as cranberries, purple grapes, and eggplant, boost urinary tract health and memory function and promote healthy aging.
Opt for organic, local, and seasonal fruit and veggies, when possible. They have more nutrition because they are fresher, as they are in season and usually don’t travel as far…and have a better impact on our planet as well. Win-Win! (2)
If you need to have your animal protein, opt for pasture-raised chicken or wild fish. When it comes to beef, eating high-Omega-3 grass-fed beef is much healthier than traditionally raised beef, which is loaded with chemicals, growth hormones, and antibiotics and is low in Omega-3 fatty acids. A standard serving of grass-fed top sirloin beef has about 65 mg of Omega-3 fats, about 50% more than grain-fed. If you’re vegan, opt for chia (5,050 mg per serving) and flax seeds (2,350 mg per serving).
The SAD Western Diets are quite often deficient in omega-3 fatty acids, and now have excessive amounts of omega-6 fatty acids, which promote the development of many of the prevalent diseases we see in the US.
The Western diet’s Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio is somewhere between a very unhealthy ratio of between 15/1-16.7/1. And a healthy ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 is 6/1. This 6/1 ratio is associated with the prevention of cardiovascular disease, and the ratio of 4/1 was associated with a 70% decrease in total mortality.
For all packaged foods: boxed, bagged, bottled, canned, etc, become a label expert. Watch for levels of sugar, salt, unpronounceable ingredients, and hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated foods. The least amount of ingredients the better
And, for the elephant in the room - snacking
Do your best to opt for healthy snacks & treats. Try out some tasty nuts and dried fruit options.
Go for the small size. Eat part of the dessert. Share it.
Cut it into smaller pieces and separate them into smaller containers.
Freeze some, if possible.
Find a healthier version of that same treat or snack.
Serve in a smaller bowl or plate.
Remember, it’s 10-20%. If you fall off a little, get back on track immediately. We are all human. Don’t beat yourself up. Just think about how you can do it better the next time.
Preparation is key
I love to have as many meals prepped whenever I get a break in my day. This means cutting up veggies and anything else to go into my dish that night, always making for more than one meal so I don’t have to cook every night.
A lot of dishes start with onions, mushrooms, and garlic, as they are a staple in our home. Fresh or dried herbs add flavor as well as nutrition.
Keep in mind that meals don’t always have to be cooked. Veggies with hummus, fruit, and salsa work.
Mix it up! Variety is also the key to helping us get all the nutrients we need to maintain a healthy, strong body. Try new recipes.
It is never too early or too late to begin making good changes in your life, to take better care of your health and wellness.
- Make small changes to your diet and commit to them
- Gradually implement days where you cook meals that are completely healthy and conscientious of your body’s need for nutrition.
- Think about incorporating a Meatless Day.
- Add more fermented foods to your diet slowly – try kimchi, vinegar-based salads and foods, as well as olives. Look for “Bubbies” pickles and sauerkraut…you’ll find them in the refrigerator section.
- Stay focused on your end goal. Whether it’s a goal to repair your body, get leaner or Beach-and-Shorts-Ready, have more energy, more vitality, relieve a foggy brain, look and feel fabulous, or live a longer and healthier life.
- You don’t have to do it 100% of the time. Only 5% of the population does it. And even they fall off the wagon occasionally. 90/10 or 80/20 are great goals!
Poor health is not something that only affects you. It is also something that affects the people around you. Make the choices that will be the best not only for yourself but for your family, and all those around you will also reap the benefits of better health & vitality. Make a healthy lifestyle a top priority.
Everybody wants to achieve their goals, so take the first step you need to change your life today and actively choose a lifestyle that is healthy and rewarding - both mentally and physically!
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Unlike a diet, this 28-day adventure teaches you how to eat foods that are healthy and delicious… and you’ll never have to count a single calorie or weigh your food again. Instead, you’ll learn how to effortlessly meet your health goals over a 28-day period with recipes, weekly suggested meals, and shopping lists for both omnivores and vegans.
About The Author
Sandi Jacobs is a Well Me Right Wellness Expert and a Health Coach with over 25 years of experience. She helps pros on the go get their energy back by creating a personalized healthy lifestyle that sticks.
Book Wellness Expert sessions offered by Sandi on Well Me Right.