Updated: May 18
Most people generally have similar ideas when it comes to nutrition and healthy eating. We roughly follow the guidelines outlined in the standard food pyramid, but of course stray from these guidelines often. Occasionally you may encounter a person who has a diet so seemingly healthy, it is beyond belief. These kinds of people rigidly adhere to the strictest of guidelines and follow their nutrition habits to the letter. Do you know anyone like this? If you do, it is almost certain that you feel a sense of guilt every time you compare your eating pattern to theirs. You probably wonder, how is it possible to maintain such a perfect pattern of eating? It seems improbable that anyone could consistently follow such a restrictive diet over a long period of time, let alone a short period. Believe it or not, these people do exist, in very few numbers, but they exist. At this point, you may have the feeling that I am just about to advocate for this perfect approach to eating and dieting, but in fact, I am going to encourage a very different idea.
The idea is simple- eat realistically healthy.
So what does this actually mean?
During my time as a personal trainer, it became obvious as to what approach to healthy eating worked with the highest degree of consistency, based on the interactions I have had over the years with gym members and clients. You can generally categorize most people into 3 nutritional groups- maintenance, performance and transformation. Maintenance is simply eating well and managing a healthy lifestyle, performance is related to physical prowess and ability; while transformation is about losing and gaining weight and or muscle. The vast majority of people fall into the category of maintenance. Although many would like to be part of the other 2 categories, most aren’t willing to make the necessary sacrifices in order achieve the success they desire in these two areas. The human mind is highly resistant to change; this point relates directly to the way we habitually eat, which brings us to the main premise of this article. Success at very degrees is attainable for a great many people, but success at the high end of the bell curve is rare and extremely challenging to achieve let alone maintain. This is precisely why so many fail in the quest to improve their nutritional health.
I want to make it clear that this article is not about discouraging anyone from aiming high, it is more so about highlighting another option for those who have struggled with their goals when attempting to implement the perfect approach to eating. The perfect approach in relation to nutrition is the diet that has extremely strict guidelines. This is the kind of diet that forces you to throw away the food you currently enjoy and eat most consistently. Unfortunately this approach often leads to failure in many cases, followed by a relapse back to the previous eating patterns. It is for this reason that a more realistic and ‘standard’ approach to eating is sometimes the most feasible. There is nothing wrong with eating out on occasion, enjoying a coffee, a treat and one of your many guilty pleasures, it only becomes a problem for those who do not understand the concept of moderation. Eating realistically healthy, is for those who are already in the right place as far as their nutritional health is concerned and is not recommended for anyone who has current health issues, particularly those related to their patterns of eating. Eating realistically healthy roughly follows the 80/20 principle, or 70/30 for those who can’t resist the occasional indulgence. The 80/20 principle, in relation nutrition follows a simple set of guidelines- Eat Paleo 80% of the time and fill the gaps with the remaining 20%. This means 80% of your diet should consist entirely of whole foods- primarily fruit, vegetables, meat and nuts. Use the remaining 20% however you would like- eat some treats, add some condiments, enjoy a coffee etc. Rather than committing yourself to an almost impossible diet for the tenth time, consider a healthy but realistic approach to eating for greater health and longevity. Eating realistically healthy isn’t the only way to eat, nor is it the best, but it is almost certainly the most balanced, workable and practical for anyone wanting to maintain a basic level of nutritional health.