I really dislike rules, especially food rules.
I like to do and eat what I like and what I want.
I also think that having specific food rules and restrictions will only lead to obsession over those foods you can’t have or the eventual binge eating of those foods.
I mean, have you ever been told that you shouldn’t eat something because it will make you fat, whether it was by a family member, doctor or the media, only to then start obsessing over that exact food or just eating it any way to prove you can eat it without getting fat?
At the same time, I know a lot of people that actually thrive off living by a set of rules or standards.
And of course, there are people that simply don’t know what to eat because of all the conflicting health information out there.
Everyone is different and I think it’s important to know yourself and learn what works best for you.
In one of my holistic health classes I had to read a book called Food Rules: An Eater's Manual by Michael Pollan. I had heard of him before, but had never read the book.
The thing I loved about this book is that it was so simple, straight-forward, and non-restrictive.
Although he calls it “Food Rules”, I actually don’t feel like they are a set of strict rules, but rather flexible guidelines to help you live a healthier life.
His famous motto is: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” I absolutely love this and often use this as a goto mantra.
So I thought it may be helpful for anyone that struggles with the conflicting nutrition information overload or simply not knowing where to even begin when it comes to eating healthier.
It's not always about WHAT you eat that's important for your health, but HOW you eat.
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33 Food Rules to Live By for a Healthier Life
Eat Real Food
This simply means to eat real whole foods, in the most natural state. This would not include anything that is highly processed or manufactured.
Avoid Food Products that Contain High-Fructose Corn Syrup
High-fructose corn syrup is a man made sweetener that is in a lot of the processed foods that many people eat on a daily basis (ex. ketchup, salad dressing, juices). It has also been linked to weight gain, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and bad cholesterol levels. For more information check out this article.
Avoid Foods that Have Some Form of Sugar (or sweetener) listed among top 3 ingredients
By now, we all know that sugar is not essential or beneficial to our health. It's important to read ingredient labels and make sure that sugar isn't in the top 3 ingredients. In case you didn't know, ingredients are listed in order by the most prominent to least prominent in the item.
Avoid food products that contain more than 5 ingredients (or ingredients that you can’t pronounce)
If you are trying to eat real food most of the time, it is helpful to try to eat food products that only have approximately 5 ingredients in them. This helps to ensure that there aren't a whole bunch of added sugars and chemicals that are disguised by words you can't pronounce.
Avoid food products that make health claims
Just because an item has a health claim does not mean it's healthy. Some claims such as "All natural" are simply not defined or regulated by the Federal Food and Drug Administration which means that many of these foods can have this claim and in fact, not be remotely natural at all. They may still contain chemicals and high amounts of sodium, so it's important to read the labels.
Avoid food products that contain terms such as “lite” “low-fat” or “non-fat” in the name
Although you may be tempted to choose foods with these labels, please stay away. These foods are filled with fake sweeteners and chemicals to add flavor and taste. These foods can actually lead to weight gain and other health issues.
Avoid foods pretending to be something they are not
Margarine, artificial sweeteners, and soy-based mock meat are not REAL foods. These are highly processed foods and should be avoided or very limited.
Shop the peripheries of the supermarket & stay out of the middle
Have you ever noticed that all of the real food in the supermarket is usually along the edge or peripheries? The processed and packaged food usually dominates the center aisles of the supermarket. Of course, you may need a few items in the middle of the store, but if you try to focus on getting 90% of your groceries from the peripheries than you will know that you are getting mostly real food.
Buy your snacks at the farmers’ market
This is a great way to assure you are snacking on real, whole foods such as vegetables, fruit, nuts, and whole grains.
Eat mostly plants, especially leaves
If there's one thing nutritionists and medical professionals can actually agree on it's this one: Eat mostly plants, especially leaves. We all know that plants are full of vitamins, minerals, and are essential for our wellbeing. It's so important that we prioritize plants and make them them a dominant part of our diet.
Treat meat as a flavoring or special occasion food
Instead of making meat the center focus of your plate, start treating it as a side or special occasion. I try to eat meat only 3-4 times a week and when I do have it I have just a small portion with lots of veggies.
Eat your colors
Try to eat the rainbow and focus on having as colorful of a plate as possible. Instead of having a green salad with broccoli and green beans, try to have a green salad with carrots and red peppers. This assures that you are getting a variety of different nutrients.
Eat animals that have themselves eaten well
When you eat meat you are also consuming what they have consumed. To make sure you are eating the best quality meat aim for organic and grass-fed options. It is also a great idea to get meat from a farm or butcher that can explain to you exactly what the animals eat.
Eat well-grown food from healthy soil
This is another way of saying focus on eating organic. Except there are actually many farmers that are not technically certified organic, but they do use great soil and grow their food with organic matter. Talk to your local farmers and ask them about what they use to grow their food.
Eat some foods that have been predigested by bacteria or fungi
Fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, and yogurt are essential for better digestion and can boost your immune system. I like to recommend eating fermented foods on a daily basis.
Sweeten and salt your food yourself
By cooking your own food and avoiding processed foods that already contain a ton of sugar and salt you can be in charge of the amount of sugar and salt you add to your food. This will help dramatically reduce your sugar and salt intake.
Minimize consumption of White Flour
Instead, focus on eating whole grains. White flour is stripped of any beneficial nutrients and is not much different than sugar.
Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself.
This is one of my favorite rules because you know, sometimes you just want a cupcake and you don't want to feel bad about! When you make your own treats you are in charge of the ingredients you use which means you can choice the best quality ingredients. You are also a lot less likely to eat a ton of junk food if you live by this rule because you aren't going to want to bake a batch of cookies or brownies every single day. It will most likely happen a lot less and you will begin to treat it as more of a special occasion instead of an every day occurrence.
Eat more like the French, Japanese, Italians, or the Greeks
People that eat according to traditional food culture instead of the typical Western diet of highly processed food tend to be healthier. It may not necessarily be that they are eating a diet high in nutrients, but that they tend to have better eating habits. The French tend to have small portions at communal meals at a very slow pace and they often do not have second helpings or snacks in their day.
Have a glass of wine with dinner.
Umm, can we just agree that this is the best rule & needs no explanation!? For real though, the French and Mediterranean diets both have wine as an integral part of their diet and they are both relatively healthier than Americans. There have also been studies that show that alcohol can actually have some health benefits such as reducing the risk of heart disease. Of course, it's important to note that one glass of wine with dinner is okay, not a bottle ;).
Pay more, eat less
If you pay a little more for high-quality food, it is more likely that you will eat less of it and treat it with more care. You will also want to focus on saving and eating your left-overs when you know you are investing in quality food. I even believe you feel more satisfied from eating the high quality food which means you will not need to eat as much and you will snack less.
Stop eating before you’re full
The #1 complain I hear from clients is that they struggle with overeating. This can happen for a few reasons, but one of the main reasons is because we eat until we feel full. It takes our body about 20 minutes to really register the food you consumed so if you are eating to the point of fullness than you are likely eating too much. I like to stop and pause and ask myself, "Am I still eating because I'm hungry or because this tastes good?" Most of the time, it's because it tastes good and I just don't want to stop. The key is to practice being completely of aware of how you're feeling and to stop eating before you actually feel full. When you do actually this you won't feel like you need to unbutton your pants after every meal ;)
Eat when you are hungry, not when you are bored
This concept is simple enough, but is it really easy to do? Not always. So many of us eat to fill a void or simply to fill our time. Instead of eating when you're bored, how about having some herbal tea or going for a walk outside?
We eat so fast, it's no wonder we are often left feeling hungry after eating a whole meal. We aren't even allowing our bodies enough time to recognize that it just ate a whole meal. This makes it hard to know when we are actually full which can lead to overeating. It's also important for digestion to slow down and really chew your food.
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“The banquet is in first bite”
I love this quote and it's so true. No other bite will taste as good as that first bite and every bite after will progressively diminish in satisfaction. This means it is so important to truly savor those first few bites.
Spend as much time enjoying the meal as it took to prepare it.
Have you ever spent an hour cooking only to completely devour the meal in less than 10 minutes? This is all too common because we tend to eat in a rush and we don't really take time to fully enjoy meal time. It's so important to spend more time enjoying your meal and talking with your family. I really believe eating a meal with your family or friends should be more of a sacred time that we really honor and cherish.
Eat full meals at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This means having some healthy carbohydrates, protein, and fat in each plate. If you eat a healthy balanced meal and feel satisfied from it, you are less likely to need to snack all day.
Limit your snacks to unprocessed plant foods.
I really like to encourage limiting snack in general to allow our bodies to properly digest our food, but of course, sometimes you get hungry and need a little snack. When you really need a snack I recommend having a green smoothie, some cut up veggies or fruit, or some raw nuts.
Do all your eating at a table.
Seriously, sit down at a table. If you've been reading this blog for a while than you know I am adamant about sitting down and eating your food at a table. It's time to stop eating while your standing, driving in your car, or sitting on your couch watching tv. When we eat at the table and really honor our food we are able to pay attention to our senses and really enjoy it. It becomes a lot easier to be in tune with your body and notice when you are still hungry or satisfied.
Treat treats as treats.
It's easy to get caught up in eating treats a couple times a day and not even realizing it. But it's time to start treating treats as what they are, treats. Eat treats on special occasions and less frequently and when you do, make sure you truly savor and enjoy it!
Plant a vegetable garden (or window box)
This is the best way to really connect with your food, care for it, and know exactly how it is being taken of. You will value and appreciate your food more and you will always have access to fresh, whole foods.
This may seem like a radical concept in today's fast-paced, digital world, but it's simply the best and easiest way to eat healthy. When you cook your own food you get to pick the best quality ingredients and you know exactly how it's being cooked. You don't have to worry about added oils, sugar, or salt, because you are in control. It's also the best tasting food when you really put your heart and soul into it. If you don't think you can cook, I strongly suggest you start practicing. It doesn't have to be complicated. Just get in the kitchen and start by cooking up some quick and easy meals.
Break the rule once in a while.
This is a hard and fast rule of mine. In order to truly be happy, enjoy myself, and not completely obsess over my food choices I simply allow myself to break a rules. Sometimes this means I'll eat Spicy Cheetos for a snack or have some non-organic meat at a restaurant. If you do the best you can the majority of the time then it's perfectly okay to break the rules once in a while.
NOW, TELL ME - Which food rule really resonates with you? I'd love to hear in the comments below!
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