In Defense of ‘Healthy-ish’
When people hear that I’m a dietitian, I suspect most think I spend my life pushing diets full of fruits and vegetables and giving the side-eye to anyone who dares eat a chocolate bar in my presence. They must think I’m a warrior for ‘The Healthy Diet’, a scorner of 7-11 nachos and baseball game hotdogs, and a complete and utter killjoy when it comes to food.
Like, the WORST guest at a potluck ever.
HELL NO, PEOPLE! WAKE UP! I love 7-11 plastic nacho cheese just as much as the next person! I also can’t live without coconut cake, KitKat Chunky bars, and the occasional bag of the ultimate dirty snack food, beef jerky. Like, the kind you get at the drugstore, not the fancy kind.
That’s okay though – because healthy-ish is what I live and teach. I’m so glad that someone finally coined an actual term for being mostly healthy! Yay!
Over years and years of practice, I’ve learned something very important: that most people (including myself) respond really well to leniency and permissiveness in diet. Of course there will always be those outliers who want to be screamed at and restricted boot-camp style, but that’s just not the way I roll – personally or professionally. You’ve got to cut people a little slack, because diet is so very emotional, so personal, and not many people want to give up cookies, wine, eggs benedict or what have you, forever. I certainly wouldn’t do it. People generally want to keep some of their vices, even if they’re interested in leading a healthy life. And just in time, here comes ‘healthy-ish’!
Healthy-ish is around a 7 or 8 out of 10 on the scale of healthy eating. It’s not Froot Loops for breakfast every day (that’s a 1), and it’s not kale in your granola and zero added sugars for the rest of your life (I don’t even think that’s healthy, it’s nuts). It’s a meet-you-in-the-middle, half fries half salad, a bit better-than- average level of eating that recognizes that you’re gonna have a piece of cake sometimes, and that’s okay. There will be crazy days when you eat zero vegetables, and that’s okay too. Healthy-ish is an average, where that average tips in favor of healthy but isn’t obsessive.
Here’s how I think the best way to achieve a ‘healthy-ish’ diet is:
Stop with the food guilt. Try to understand that a healthy diet isn’t one that is completely ‘clean’ and without indulgence. And by ‘indulgence’ I don’t mean avocado chocolate pudding. I mean real, thick, amazing chocolate pudding, or whatever other indulgence you love. Food and guilt shouldn’t be at the same table, ever. They don’t get along, and they never play nice together. Food guilt will take away from the true happiness of being healthy-ish and defeat the purpose.
Unhealthy: Eating a piece of cake and obsessing about how fat it’s going to make you.
Healthy–ish: Eating the same piece of cake and understanding that if you plunk a piece of cake into a mostly healthy diet, it’s not going to do anything to your weight or ruin your life.
Be mindful. Healthy-ish is eating what you want when you want it, but not eating just because it’s there or using the term as an excuse to consistently overeat crappy food. Do you get the difference?
Unhealthy: margaritas and nachos for 8 hours every day of a weeklong vacation.
Healthy-ish: 1-2 margaritas and a few chips every other week while you’re enjoying a dinner with friends.
Understand that overall, on average, your diet should consist of healthy choices.
Just because there’s a bit of permission to eat less-than-healthy food, doesn’t mean that your diet should suffer. I still expect you to eat a ton of plants and make wise nutrition choices most of the time. Healthy-ish works because you’re never really restricted, but you need to keep up your end of the bargain: eating a mostly healthy diet. Healthy-ish doesn’t like to be abused.
Unhealthy: Having McDonald’s every day for breakfast.
Healthy-ish: Having Froot Loops…okay, bad example. Having eggs benedict on Sundays because it’s your ritual and you’re sticking with it. Plus, you’ve eaten a healthy breakfast all week.
If you need help with healthy-ish, Abby Langer Nutrition loves local and remote clients! We’d be more than happy to connect with you in the office or via FaceTime.