How to Make Healthy Eating Personal -#HEBC 1

Posted in Balanced Body, Balanced Nutrition | January 27, 2012 |

What is healthy eating? Even though this question seems simple the answers will vary greatly depending on who you ask. No wonder that eating healthy becomes very confusing for a normal person like you or me.

There are plenty of theories about healthy eating nowadays but most of them won’t work for you. A diet/nutrition plan created without consideration of your preferences, goals, budget and simple likes/dislikes is just a waste of time.

I personally don’t like turnips and celery and there is no way that I can tolerate anything slimy in nature (like boiled okra or runny eggs…yuck!) If somebody told me that I had to eat those items every day to stay healthy I would say “Forget it!”

If you want to create a healthy diet that you can stick to then you need to answer the following questions:

1. What is your budget?

Do you know how much you spend on food monthly? How much would you like to spend ideally?

In August I decided for the first time to track my monthly expenses. The number shocked me (to say the least!) Writing down every little thing that we were paying for made me realize how many useless purchases we were making (especially for food.) Obviously, eating out was the biggest problem but even grocery shopping was way too high for our family. In January we managed to cut our grocery expenses by 56% and I am very satisfied with the result.

When you are in a budget-saving mode you need to eliminate expenses that are not imperative to you. Obviously the budget will be different for every person and your healthy eating plan will depend upon it. For John from New York $200/week on groceries will look like a major cut back while for Jane from Alabama $75/week actually means splurging.

Homework: Start tracking your current food expenses and figure out your ideal budget. If you want to make this process a little faster download the Grocery Budget template and make a list of all your pantry, freezer and refrigerator staples. Include the prices and how often you buy them – this will give you a general idea of how much you are currently spending on food.

2. What are your personal considerations?

Make a list of all goals that you would like to achieve with healthy eating. Include your personal likes/ dislikes, food intolerances or allergies. A healthy eating plan should satisfy every single point on your list.

Right after you are done creating this list write down how you can achieve these goals.

I am lactose intolerant so obviously I have to consider this when creating my personal healthy eating plan. I used to buy lactose-free milk but I felt that my body still wasn’t processing it right. This month I am moving to soy milk (which I disliked most of my life) and am trying to acquire a taste for it.

If you feel that something isn’t working for your body then now is the time to try a different diet.

Here are some common considerations for you:

  1. Gluten intolerance (Celiac disease) affects 1 in 133 Americans. Read the most common symptoms of gluten intolerance.
  2. Lactose intolerance affects about 60% of the world population. The degree of intolerance differs greatly but you can read the most important facts and symptoms here.
  3. Artificial sweeteners can cause allergic reactions and keep you from losing weight.
  4. 9 out of 10 Americans eat too much salt every day, and many of them get more than twice the recommended amount (2300 mg or 1500mg according to the new guidelines.) High sodium intake increases chances of dying prematurely of any cause by 50%

3. What are your food preferences?

Going from eating pizza to munching on broccoli overnight is a recipe for disaster. In order to stick to your new diet you need to adjust it to your taste and your food preferences. Make a list of taste/items that you love and the list of items that you despise and can’t eat at any condition.

During the Healthy Eating on a Budget Challenge you will focus on making healthier choices to satisfy your taste and avoiding at all costs ingredients that you hate.

4. Where are you right now?

In order to make healthy eating changes you need to look critically at your current diet. What are the healthiest/unhealthiest meals that you eat? What changes will be the easiest ones to make?

Download a Food Diary template and commit to filling it out for the next few days. In the Notes section of the template analyze what you ate during the day, what choices were healthy and which ones not so much.

Also pay attention to how much money you spend on eating daily especially if you buy your lunch or coffee daily. All these little things make a big difference for your health and for your budget.

5. How are people around you involved in your healthy eating plan?

If you cook for the entire family then obviously you need to consider everybody’s tastes. Trying to fix 2 or 3 different meals to satisfy everybody’s preferences will be an absolute nightmare. Write down everything you need to remember about members of your family before you start the challenge. You can use the questions 2 through 4 to guide you through the process.

6. What is your personal idea of a healthy diet?

Take a look at all of the answers that you just wrote down. Where do they take you?

A lot of diets are based on extremes like

  • eating very few carbs as opposed to being a carbohydrate-junky,
  • going vegetarian or vegan as opposed to being a determined carnivore,
  • eating only raw foods as opposed to eating highly processed foods,
  • cooking everything from scratch as opposed to buying everything premade,
  • eating no sugar at all as opposed to having sugary treats all day long,
  • going low-to-no fat as opposed to devouring greasy foods all the time.

In order to make your healthy eating plan work you need to find a golden middle between these options. Don’t let fads influence your health choices but rather listen to your body and choose what is right for you. The next 30 days is the perfect time to try something new and if it doesn’t work for some reason, then you can always go back to your old lifestyle or try a different approach.

My personal take on healthy eating

If everything you just read still seems confusing then let me tell you what healthy eating on a budget means for me. Feel free to follow in my steps but I greatly recommend that you create your personal healthy eating plan.

  1. I am not a vegetarian but I eat red meat once every 3-4 months, eat low fat poultry 2-3 times during the week, cook fish at least once a week (more if possible) and enjoy vegetarian meals the rest of the time.
  2. For every meal I try to stick to the 4/1/1 carb/protein/fat ratio. I am not on a low carb diet but I choose carbs rich in fiber, whole grains and vegetables most of the time. Refined carbs (cookies, sugary cereals, white bread, candy etc.) are just occasional treats and not every-day staples.
  3. I love sweets (and frankly speaking I couldn’t imagine my life without them until recently) but now I stick to natural “candy” (a few pieces of dried apricots, bananas and fruit low in sugar like apples and berries.) A few times a week I will treat myself to a small piece of dark chocolate or a small bowl of natural ice-cream (I can’t imagine my life without it even though I am lactose intolerant :-))
  4. I don’t drink any soda or any other sweetened drinks. My favorite drinks are water, flavored green tea without sugar (hot or cold), an occasional glass of juice or a cup of black coffee.
  5. I have a rule: every meal should have at least one green or brightly colored item in it. For breakfast I add frozen berries to my cereal, for lunch I have an apple or add a small salad to my meal and for dinner I always make vegetables the main ingredient.
  6. 95% of the recipes that I use take 30 minutes or less to prepare. Anything longer than 30 minutes is cooked during the weekend when I have some extra time.
  7. I avoid buying processed foods (like canned soup or pasta sauce) due to high contents of sodium and preservatives. However, I LOVE hot dogs (so does one of my girls) and I have this treat every once in a while (I choose turkey dogs with no nitrates added.) Some processed foods like thin-crust pizza (no pepperoni) and canned vegetables (corn, beans, peas etc.) are still staples in my house because they are easy, time-saving and pretty healthy.
  8. I say a definite NO to:
    • artificial sweeteners;
    • High Fructose Corn Syrup;
    • Partially Hydrogenated or Hydrogenated Oils (trans fats);
    • grocery items with ingredient lists longer than 4 lines.
  9. Vegetables are usually minimally processed in my house (sautéed or steamed for a few minute, sometimes grilled or roasted.)
  10. Healthy fats (nuts, vegetable oils) are an essential part of my diet. I don’t cook low-to-no-fat meals however I limit the amount of saturated fat by using lean meats, avoiding heavy cream and enjoying butter sparingly.
  11. I stick to all these rules only 90% of the time and enjoy myself (in moderation) the remaining ten.

It took me and my husband several years to come up with these diet guidelines but they work for us. If you decide to follow my example please pick only 1-2 habits at a time, otherwise you will be overwhelmed and disappointed.

A healthy balanced diet is a harmonious combination of all of the mentioned above factors without sacrifices that you can’t sustain for a lifetime. There is a healthy alternative pretty much for anything and with a little creativity and some research you will be able to find it.

Homework for the week:

  • Answer the following questions:
    1. What is your budget? –use the Grocery Budget template
    2. What are your personal considerations?
    3. What are your food preferences?
    4. Where are you right now? – use the Food Diary template
    5. How are people around you involved in your healthy eating plan?
    6. What is your personal idea of a healthy diet?
  • Based on these answers create your personal Healthy Eating Plan.
  • Share your answers or your plan in the comments below.

Please remember that this is just the first “draft” and you will be updating it along the challenge.

Do you have any questions? Please ask them in the comments and start your question with QUESTION.

If you like this article and are enjoying this challenge please invite your friends or family members to join us. Please Tweet, Facebook or email the link to this article to your friends.

Keep it balanced!

P.S. Healthy eating is only one part of a balanced lifestyle. I encourage you to take control of your life and start making small steps to a more balanced living every day.

If you don’t know just how to simplify your life then I would like to help you. Take a look at the Reclaim Your Life ecourse, and don’t forget to check out the Lifestyle Revolution package – a special program that I created to help you live a more active and balanced life without sacrificing your lifestyle.

Photo credit: dreamstime

Smart Thoughts (20)

  1. Shanna says:

    Thanks so much for these tips! They seem so obvious, but for some reason I thought all this time that “diets” knew more about my body than I do. Your tips make perfect sense. Thanks again.

    • Anastasiya says:

      Shanna, I am glad you found these tips useful! I too have tried plenty of diets in my life but none of them worked for me. You are the only one who knows your body that is why only you can create a perfect diet that will fit your lifestyle.

  2. Chiara says:

    I’ve lost 12kg over the past 4 months by reducing my portion sizes (cutting my meals basically in half) and having 4 meals a day instead of 3….but, reading your article shows me that there’s so much more to be considered when choosing nourishing food – thank you.

    I’m excited to be joining the challenge, and maybe even increasing the rate of weight loss (I have 35kg still to go, and at the rate of 3kg per month it’s a little discouraging).

    Thanks for your tips, and for encouraging me to be more conscious of what I’m buying/eating.


    • Anastasiya says:

      Chiara, congratulations on your weight loss! I think you have chosen the best possible strategy – cutting portions and eating regularly.

      Just like you mentioned in the comment, weight loss is just one part of healthy eating. Of course, it is important to like your body but it is even more important to know your body, make sure that it’s healthy and ready to take any challenges as well as enjoy any life experiences.

      35 kg is really not that much and at your current weight loss speed it will take you only 10-12 months to lose this weight. Do you exercise to promote weight loss? If yes, what do you do?

      It took me 1 year to lose 25 lbs (about 12 kg) after my girls were born. It wasn’t the fastest weight loss but I was quite comfortable going at my own pace and getting used to the changes in my body.

      I hope that you, Chiara, will also have a positive attitude about your weight loss. Feel free to ask me any questions!

  3. This is a great approach to eating! Our family’s diet looks a lot like your personal take. Many years ago I didn’t think much about what I ate. I didn’t eat much junk but it wasn’t all healthy. The first time I became pregnant about 9 years ago I realized that everything I put in and on my body would become part of a new body. This is a pretty big responsibility. Doctors are of little help in this area as most have no training in nutrition. I went into hyper-drive learning all I could about every ingredient on every label. I ended up cleaning out our pantry, fridge, freezer and all the cleaning cabinets and getting rid of anything that would be hazardous for a new life. I brought all the things I no longer wanted in my house to the break room in my office with a “Take Me” sign on them. Everything was gone in an hour.

    I’ve never put any of these “bad” items back in our house and we feel so much better for it.

    Thank you, Anastasiya, for spreading the word and doing such a great job educating everyone here and creating this challenge!

    • Anastasiya says:

      Paige, thanks for sharing your tips!

      Pregnancy was also the biggest turning point for me. Right now I can’t even think about buying or letting my girls eat something that is not healthy – no matter how tasty it might look :-)

  4. Peggy says:

    Thanks for the resources. My husband and 2 sons are not crazy about changing any of their eating habits, but we all will benefit from eating more healthy foods.

    I have a lot of work to do! I have tried to do too much before and then given up, so it will be baby steps right now for me. I’m off to work on the grocery budget. I have only recently gotten serious about planning meals ahead of time. I hate to admit that I have no idea of what I spend each week. I am sure this activity will help me in more than one way!

    • Jonas W says:

      Challenge accepted! Discussions about healthy eating and weight loss usually causes a lot of controversy, but I totally agree with your take on the subject. (I know the challenge is about healthy eating, but I can’t avoid commenting on the weight loss part of healthy eating)
      You’re so right when you say that it’s really a confusing subject, since some people say eat fat, some say avoid fat, some say just exercise and eat less…There are so many ways out there for people wanting to lose a few kg/pounds. My personal take on this is that just because some methods work for some people doesn’t mean it will work for everyone. We’re all different, both in mind and body, which means some people just can’t eat one diet or another because their body can’t seem to handle it, or they lack the motivation to keep it up(eg. because the new diet is so different to what they are used to)

      I recently started eating LCHF, and that has worked wonders for me. I’ve tried to lose weight a few times before without much success by eating smaller portions and going for walks. As an engineer I almost obsessively track my food intake, my daily steps(using Fitbit), and have created various spreadsheets to log my progress(although that might not be the best solution for everyone, because of the complexity). I started on January 1, and has since then lost 7.6kg (that’s 16.8lbs). My goal for May 1 is to lose 23.6kg (52lbs).

      PS. Depending on who you ask, it will take at least 30 days to make a new habit stick. So don’t think in the ways of “I’m gonna eat this for ever”, but instead think “I’m gonna eat this for 1-2 months, an we’ll see how I feel then about continuing”.

      Thanks Anastasiya for creating this challenge and I wish all the participants all the best in their endeavors!

      • Jonas W says:

        Sorry, this wasn’t supposed to be a reply to Peggys comment, must have clicked reply by mistake

      • Anastasiya says:

        Most people associate (or start thinking) about healthy eating only in conjunction with weight loss.

        I noticed that low carb diets work especially good for men since it is easier for you, guys, to build muscle when eating protein and healthy amounts of fat. Women have trouble sticking to a low carb diet for a long time because we are just too tempted by chocolate, deserts and other sweet little things :-)

        If you have a moment, I would like to find out about your everyday food staples. What do you eat? What sources of fat do you choose? What carbs do you still keep in your diet?

        You are right about habit forming. The main thing why I decided to do 1 month of healthy eating is because it is easier to stick to and it’s enough time to notice changes in the body. Once you clean out junk out of your diet you start having more energy and feeling like a new person. It works as additional motivation to stay on track after the challenge is over.

        • Jonas W says:

          Thanks for taking your time to reply Anastasiya,

          first I want to address the sweets craving issue. The high fat intake from the LCHF diet supposedly dampens the cravings for sugars, and for me personally I’ve been less tempted to buy sweets during the last few weeks. My fiancee has been a real sugar addict, and she just decided to give LCHF a serious try, so in a few weeks the results (from a woman’s perspective) are in. :)

          The first 2 weeks I hadn’t really grasped the LCHF concept fully and thus wasn’t going as extreme as I meant from the start. Since then I’ve kept track of my eating habits and have been eating more along the lines of strict LCHF the last 2 weeks. These are average numbers for last week:
          Carbs: 19.1 grams (6.9%)
          Fat: 100.6 grams (65.4%)
          Protein: 82.3 grams (27.7%)

          So what do I eat?
          Anything I fancy as long as it has less than 5 grams of carbs for every 100 grams of food. For me it’s been a lot of meat, beef, fish (salmon), sausages, fat sauces and vegetables (mostly cucumber, tomatoes and lettuce). I’m not a big fan of vegetables I may add, but I know there are a lot of other out there that would be good for me. Maybe one day I’ll get used to eating them too :)

          What fat I choose
          Pretty much any fat, but the less processed the better; high-fat cream (38% +), fat fish, real butter(for frying), eggs and of course fat from meat.

          What carbs do I keep?
          Pretty much none as you can see. I try to eat more vegetables and that’s where most of my carb intake come from. Although I stay away from in-ground vegetables such as carrots and potatoes, since the contain a lot of starch.(I tend to “cheat” about once a week and eat a slice of bread for breakfast)

          What did I stop eating completely?
          Pasta, potatoes, rice, bread. You’d think this would be hard, considering I ate loads of them before. 6+ large potatoes or a mountain of rice/pasta that covered 99% of the plate was the usual way I ate before this.

          When I’ve previously tried to lose weight I’ve only focused on counting calories. My thought was that if I consume less calories than I burn I will lose weight; although that didn’t work very well. I ate pretty much whatever I wanted as long as I didn’t exceed the daily maximum calories that the software I used for tracking my food intake would tell me. Simply put that meant eating less and trying to exercise more(which has never been easy for me), but that just led to more cravings of evening snacks (sandwiches before bedtime) and sweets/cookies during the day.

          I have high hopes for this and I’m in good spirit since I can already see results! I’m usually not very patient when it comes to things like this, and if I can’t see big numbers I simply lose interest and can’t be bothered to continue. The last year I’ve felt lightheaded almost on a daily basis because of my blood sugar levels bouncing up and down. Since I started LCHF I very very rarely feel this. Also I can’t remember a single time in the past weeks I’ve felt really hungry, even though I’ve kept eating 3-4 meals a day at the same hours as before.

          I’ve still got a big issue to overcome. I’m working in an office, and because of that tend to not move about a lot during the day. Using the Fitbit I can see that I some days struggle to reach 4-5000 steps.

          Just one more thing about the massive amount of information on dieting and healthy eating available out there. Trying to read it all and take everything into consideration is very stressful, I’ve been there myself. (This might be a problem for engineers and like-minded, that just has to know all the facts and over analyze things, but it tends to lead to information overload :p)
          My tip: Just go for it! If you feel like it, you can optimize over time (as I did), no one’s perfect at something they never done before.

          Sorry for the massive post, but I couldn’t help it :)

          • Anastasiya says:

            Jonas, thanks for your huge input!

            A long time ago I read an article (or a book, I don’t remember) about how different our bodies are in their structure and ways to utilize energy from food.
            It’s great that you found what works for your body. Something I absolutely have to mention about your diet (please, don’t take as a negative) is to be careful with all that cholesterol and saturated fat. While I believe that low-fat diets are harmful in nature but still too much of a good thing can also be bad. I hope you will be watching your blood work results to make sure that this diet doesn’t affect them in a negative way.

            When I cook meals for my family I tend to add a good amount of healthy oils (mostly olive oil when the dish is finished, walnut oil for deserts and butter or canola oil with most vegetables.) You are right, high fat does keep sugar cravings at bay and makes you feel full longer. However, I try to combine healthy fats with high-fiber foods like beans, quinoa and vegetables.

            As an ex engineer (I graduated with a Master’s in shipbuilding engineering but never worked in the field) I can definitely understand how meticulous you are with your research. I too have to know every fact and detail before I start any new project whether it is exercise, healthy eating or work.

            Thanks again for your input! I hope that your tips will help other participants of the challenge to improve their diets.

    • Anastasiya says:

      Peggy, I am glad that you are in for the challenge! The smaller you start the more likely your family will be to succeed. let me know what your first ideas/steps about healthy eating are.

  5. So great to see a plan that more people can stick to. I also believe the all or nothing diet is a recipe for failure.

    I’m really concentrating on raw food lately. It is way easier than it sounds!

    My biggest challenge is my husband is the master of making something not so good for you an exception or can actually somehow justify that it’s “not that bad” for you. I’m good about doing my own thing but sometimes fall to eating things I wouldn’t because they are here. It makes me sad to see him eat some of the things as I get concerned for his long term health. But, we can only really be in control of what we personally do, so I will keep my focus there.

    Love your articles on this. I look forward to the next one!

    • Anastasiya says:

      It’s always tough to eat healthy when your loved ones are not on board. Thankfully, my husband and I think in the same direction when it comes to nutrition. When we started living together he had to adjust to some of my tastes and preferences while I got used to his favorite meals.
      Are their any “compromise” meals that you and your husband love? Maybe you can create a family diet that will work for both of you.
      My husband made the most changes to his diet after we watched the movie Food Inc and he started reading about the risks of unhealthy meals. Our little girls are also the biggest motivation for us to eat healthy and stay healthy as long as possible. We are ready to give up our favorite treats and meals just to see them grow up and build their lives.

  6. Pedro says:

    I really appreciate this informtaion. I am trying to be healthier everyday and share my experience with others.
    Thank-you. Could I share this with people reading my blog?


  7. Kristy says:

    I was very happy to find this article as I am spending around 170 A WEEK!!! , for groceries. The problem is that is the total for me and my boyfriend only. Astounding. I found i was buying way too much of each thing. This article and site is very helpful as a way to get it all organized. I am also dairy and gluten free. I wanted to give you some suggestions on dairy free stuff. I don’t like soy milk. it has a strange aftertaste and it just doesn’t give you the same “milk” sensation. Almond milk is AMAZING!! If you have already tried it im sure you know but, if you haven’t, it is just everything! The best is unsweetened vanilla almond milk by SILK. The vanilla regular and chocolate almond milks are both also amazing. I also use DAIYA mozzarella cheese, which will work in ANY recipe calling for mozzarella. Another new thing i have found is cashew cream. It is one cup raw cashews, soaked in one cup water, 5-6 dates soaked in one cup water.(remove seeds after soaking dates before blending.) soak both for about an hour. Add drained cashews, and the dates WITH their water, a pinch of Himalayan salt, and a teaspoon of organic vanilla into blender or food processor. blend for quite awhile until smooth. This stuff is awesome as a fruit dip, a great addition to smoothies and if you mix it with frozen fruit, it turns into ice cream as the cashews are a good source of good for you fats. Also SILK makes an awesome unsweetened almond milk you can use in place of milk in any recipe from alfredo sauce to cakes and desserts. If you already know all this i apologize but, i remember the struggle i had finding something that worked just as well, tasted great or better, and was actually good for you. Also, coconut ice cream tastes exactly, if not better, than regular ice cream and has most flavors you would find in regular ice cream. purely decadent is a great brand and also SO DELICIOUS and COCONUT BLISS. There are flavors like chocolate peanut butter, cookies and creams, etc. These treats are around 140 calories and coconut is extremely healthy. good luck and thank you, thank you, thank you for the grocery tips. You definately saved me some money!!!

    • Anastasiya says:

      Kristy, Thank you for all your tips!
      Your comment was so helpful. I have tried almond milk long time ago but it was a sweetened variety (not Silk) so I didn’t like it too much. I will definitely try the Unsweetened Silk (I am actually out of soy milk anyway, so I need to buy something today :-)) I also wasn’t sure about using non-dairy milk recipes so thanks for guiding me in this direction.
      Thankfully, I can still eat cheese in small amounts so I don’t have to make any major adjustments there.
      And I LOVE coconut ice-cream. It is delicious but, I must confess, sometimes I still pop a Lactaid Fast Act and enjoy a bowl of yogurt ice-cream.
      I am glad that you were able to organize your grocery budget using the tips above. Let me know if I can help you or give you any more advice.