When someone is first stepping away from toxic dieting behaviors and an unhealthy relationship with food, it’s typically not the best time to focus on “health goals”, as the very act of moving away from dieting typically takes a lot of energy and focus. But there comes a time in many former dieter’s experience, where they want to support their health, but not fall into the dieting traps ever again.

Many people think that eating healthier means following a strict or specific diet. This idea can make it feel like you have to give up all the foods you love or change your whole life overnight. But the truth is, getting healthier with your eating habits doesn’t have to be so complicated or extreme.

In this article, I’ll share easy tips for eating in a way that nourishing the body, that don’t involve dieting. Whether you want to feel more energetic, improve aspects of your health, or just enjoy food without worry, these ideas are all about making small changes that fit into your life easily. I’m here to show you how eating healthier can be simple, enjoyable, and something you can stick with for the long haul.

Understanding Mindful Eating

Mindful eating is all about paying attention to what you eat, how you eat it, and how you feel before, during, and after a meal. It means noticing the tastes, textures, and smells of your food, and listening to your body’s hunger and fullness signals. Instead of eating on autopilot, you’re fully present with your meal, which can change the way you think about food and eating. Keep in mind, there is not one specific framework for mindful eating – it can look different depending on the person and the season of life they are in. 

Benefits of Mindful Eating

Practicing mindful eating comes with lots of benefits. For one, it can support healthy digestion. When we eat slowly and chew food well, the body has an easier time breaking down food eaten. Mindful eating can also let us enjoy food more. When you really pay attention to each bite, you might find that your favorite foods taste even better. Plus, it helps build a healthier relationship with food. Mindful eaters often start to see food as something to enjoy and nourish their body with, rather than something to stress over.

Getting started with mindful eating – Here are a few simple tips:

  • Listen to the body – including subtle signs, like energy levels, mood shifts, etc. Pay attention to the signals your body sends you about hunger and fullness, and eating before signs are excessive. Note: there are more subtle signs of hunger and fullness not related to “stomach feeling”, like small shifts in energy, mood, and focus. For example, I hardly ever feel stomach hunger, but instead rely on relatively quick-changing energy levels, harder time focusing, and more agitation as my signs of hunger.
  • Eat with minimal distractions. Try to sit down and minimize distractions. This helps you focus on your food and how you’re feeling, however your comfort level of distraction might vary from another persons. For some, it could mean eating in a completely quiet environment, for others the extra quietness might feel extra loud and distracting. That’s ok! There is no “right” level of distraction. 
  • Chew food enough. Take your time with each bite, and try to chew your food well before swallowing. This not only helps with digestion but also helps you slow down and taste all the flavors in your meal.

By bringing these practices into your meals, you can start enjoying your food more and strengthening a healthy relationship with food. Mindful eating isn’t about following strict rules; it’s about listening to your body and enjoying your food fully.

Focusing on Nutrient-Density, Not Calories

When we talk about eating healthier, context matters instead of “good/bad” food lists. But we can prioritize the idea of nutrient-density. Nutrient-dense foods pack a lot of vitamins, minerals, and other helpful nutrients. This means you’re feeding your body more of what it needs to stay healthy and strong.

Why Nutrient-Dense Foods?

Choosing nutrient-dense foods means you’re focusing on including more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, a variety of proteins, and anti-inflammatory fats. These foods give you the most bang for your buck in terms of nutrients. Including a variety of these foods in your meals can help ensure you’re getting a good mix of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other important nutrients every day. Remember, many mindful eaters find it easier to focus on increasing nutrient-dense foods, rather than taking out less nourishing foods. 

Some Ways to Eat More Nutrient-Dense Foods

  • Add veggies to every meal. Try tossing some spinach into your morning smoothie, adding a handful of sugar snap peas to your lunch, or stirring some veggies into your pasta sauce at dinner, as well as snacking on no-prep veggies, like baby carrots, sugar snap peas, snow peas, baby bell peppers, baby cucumbers, etc. It’s an easy way to get more nutrients without much effort.
  • Incorporate more plant-based proteins. Foods like beans, lentils, tofu, and chickpeas are not only helpful sources of protein but also pack a punch of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Try adding them to soups, salads, or as a side dish a few times a week.
  • Explore a variety of foods at your own pace. Eating a range of foods not only makes your meals more interesting but also helps you cover different nutritional needs. There’s no need to force yourself to eat something you don’t enjoy or to change everything at once, even weekly variety (rather daily daily variety) is fine. It’s all about finding joy and nourishment in the foods you choose.

The Importance of Hydration

Water plays a huge role in keeping your body running smoothly. It helps with digestion, making it easier for your body to break down food and absorb the nutrients you need. Plus, being well-hydrated helps your heart and muscles work better and helps support skin health.

Tips for Staying Hydrated

Here are some simple ways to help ensure you’re getting enough water every day:

  • Carry a water bottle. Having water on hand makes it easier to sip throughout the day, not just when you’re extremely thirsty. Pick a bottle you like and bring it with you, whether you’re at work, running errands, or relaxing at home.
  • Choose water or herbal tea. When you’re thirsty, water isn’t the only choice. Herbal tea is another great option, especially if you’re looking for something with a bit of flavor.
  • Listen to your body. Try to drink water regularly so you don’t get to the point where you’re feeling signs of dehydration, which can include low energy, dry mouth, headaches, constipation, and more.
  • Eat water-rich foods. Fruits and vegetables like watermelon, cucumbers, oranges, and strawberries have a lot of water in them. Including these in your meals or as snacks is another tasty way to help stay hydrated.

Remember, your hydration needs can change based on your activity level, the weather, and your health. So, adjust how much water you drink based on what your body needs at the moment. Drinking enough water is a simple, yet effective way to show your body some kindness every day.

Enjoying Foods You Love

One of the most joyful parts of eating is enjoying the foods you love. A healthy approach to eating isn’t about removing your favorite foods from your diet; it’s about adding variety and nourishment to your meals. This way, you can enjoy all foods without guilt and still nourish your body.

Focus on Adding, Not Taking Away

Instead of thinking about what you shouldn’t eat, focus on what you can add to your meals to make them more nutritious and satisfying. This positive approach encourages a healthier relationship with food and makes meals more enjoyable.

How to Add More Nourishing Foods:

  • Pair favorite treats with nourishing options. Love crunchy chips? Have them with a side of sliced cucumbers or carrots. Craving something sweet? Enjoy it with a piece of fruit. This way, you’re adding nutrients and variety to your snack times.
  • Explore new flavors and textures. Trying new foods can be exciting. Add a new vegetable, grain, or protein to your usual dishes to discover new favorite combinations that are both delicious and nourishing.
  • Boost your meals with color. Aim to include a variety of colors on your plate. Each color represents different nutrients. For instance, add greens like spinach or kale for vitamins, reds like tomatoes or bell peppers for antioxidants, and purples like eggplant or berries for a range of health benefits.

Remember, eating well is about balance and enjoyment, not restriction. By focusing on adding nourishing foods to your diet, you can enjoy the foods you love and feel good about your eating habits. It’s all about creating a happy, healthy relationship with food that lasts a lifetime.

Establishing a Routine That Works for You

Creating an eating routine that aligns with your lifestyle, tastes, and nutritional needs is a cornerstone of maintaining a nourishing intake. A routine doesn’t need to be rigid or restrictive, but can be helpful in offering structure to help you make nourishing choices throughout the day.

Flexibility Is Key

A flexible eating routine recognizes that every day might not look the same and allows room for adjustments. Whether you have a busy day ahead or a leisurely weekend, your eating routine can adapt to fit your schedule while still meeting your body’s needs.

The Importance of Regular Meals

Eating at regular intervals is helpful for keeping energy levels steady. Skipping meals can lead to dips in energy and may make it more likely to reach for less helpful options out of hunger or convenience. Try to find a meal rhythm that keeps you feeling fueled and satisfied throughout the day, whether that’s three main meals, with our without snacks, or multiple smaller meals. 

Planning Ahead

Taking some time to plan your meals and snacks can make a big difference in your eating habits. Many people find that planning helps them think about what they are going to eat ahead of time, making it less likely they’ll opt for something quick but not particularly nourishing or truly satisfying when very hungry.

Tips for Planning Your Meals:

  • Start small. If meal planning for a week seems overwhelming, begin by planning just one or two days or even just one meal a day.
  • Keep it interesting. Include a variety of foods in your plan to keep meals exciting and nutritionally balanced – think carb + protein + fat.
  • Prepare in advance. When you have time, prepare some meal components ahead. Chopping vegetables, cooking grains, or marinating proteins can save time on busy days.
  • Listen to your body. Be mindful of how different foods make you feel and adjust your routine to include more of what makes you feel good.

Remember, the goal of an eating routine is to support your health and well-being without adding stress. By creating a flexible routine and planning ahead, you can enjoy a variety of nourishing foods that fit your life and help you feel your best every day.

Conclusion

Eating healthier is a journey that doesn’t have to be marked by strict dieting or a sense of deprivation. It’s about fostering a positive relationship with food, one that celebrates nourishment, variety, and enjoyment. By shifting our mindset from what we “shouldn’t” eat to focusing on adding nutrient-dense, flavorful foods to our meals, we can make significant strides towards health without feeling restricted.

Small changes, when made consistently, can lead to big improvements in our overall well-being. Whether it’s incorporating more vegetables into your meals, choosing to drink more water, or taking the time to enjoy your food, each step you take is a forward movement and body kindness.

If you want some support in this, I invite you to the Unlock Nutrition and Food Freedom Community. Join us as we explore the joy of eating, the power of application, and the strength of support in fostering a life-long, healthy relationship with food. Together, we can navigate this journey towards well-being, free from the constraints of diet culture. Welcome to a community where your journey towards nutrition and food freedom begins.