Lately I’ve been thinking about what healthy eating is and why so many people struggle with it so much. I think it all comes down to the false dichotomy; where if you have healthy eating on one side, you have unhealthy on the other with no overlap between the two.
I was looking at stock photos for a presentation and my search for “food choices” returned a similar array of images as you see in the screen grab above. As you can see, you have “healthy” eating on one hand, generally consisting of a pile of vegetables or a piece of fruit. On the “unhealthy” eating side you have fast food and not a vegetable in sight. You also see the “healthy” choice emphasized as virtuous by the presence of an angel, and the “unhealthy” choice literally demonized by the presence of a devil. It’s no wonder that people falsely attribute virtue to some foods and shame to others when we see this as the common dialogue about healthy eating.
The thing is, while vegetables are certainly healthy, a diet consisting entirely of leafy greens or apples most certainly would not be. Variety is one of the most important factors in a healthy diet. This is for a couple of reasons. One being that, in order to meet our nutrient needs, we need to consume a variety of foods. The other being that, without variety we get bored, making us far more likely to give up entirely on the whole “healthy eating” kick and scarf a bag of chips for supper.
I all too often see people posting their meal prep for the week on social media, or talking about their “healthy” snacks for work and it’s the same sad options every day. Fellow RD, Andrea Hardy put it so well on Instagram recently,
It drives me BANANAS when people say foods that are healthy don’t taste as good. What I find is lack of cooking knowledge, the weird societal belief that ‘baked chicken breast, broccoli, and rice’ is what constitutes healthy, and lack of confidence in the kitchen is why people struggle SO much with healthy eating.
I mean, man, if “healthy” eating actually entailed eating plain chicken breast, steamed broccoli, and plain rice every damn day then I sure as heck wouldn’t be eating healthfully either!
Healthy eating can include so many different things and it can be so different for different people. Vegan, omnivorous, paleo, gluten-free, sugar-free, whatever, can all be healthy. The important thing is to include a variety of foods and flavours to meet both your nutrient and palate needs. Healthy foods can be delicious. They can be as simple as fresh figs with yoghurt or a handful of nuts, or a more complicated chili packed with spices, beans, and vegetables. A healthy diet can also include less nutritious foods, you know, the ones the devil is taunting the stock photo people with. One meal or snack does not a diet make (or break). It’s about the overall pattern of food intake and enjoyment. Life is too short (or too long) to spend it eating bland food.