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6 tips to make healthy eating realistic and sustainable
Many people pursue healthy eating, but few people figure out how to make it actually last. - photo by Paige Smathers
In the pursuit of health, many people find themselves oscillating between extremes. One minute youre eating salads and quinoa bowls and the next youre binging on ice cream.

Following a cycle of trying really hard to be "healthy" and then finding yourself knee-deep in potato chips, youre often left wondering if healthy eating is even possible and if you should even bother with it at all.

Healthy eating can feel like an elusive, impossible goal thats far out of reach. Even the thought of healthy eating can be exhausting and discouraging.

Many would-be dieters find themselves in a constant "last supper" state where theyre eating close to everything in sight out of fear of the impending diet theyll start, in perpetuity, tomorrow. The fear of dieting can lead to consistent overeating and anxiety about food, which obviously doesnt help to improve health long-term.

So how does healthy eating really work? How does a person strike a balance between the extremes of restricting and overdoing it?

What is healthy eating?

Its important to be clear about what the term "healthy" really means. Healthy eating isnt perfect eating, and perfect eating isnt healthy eating.

Its laughable to say that if you eat a carrot one day, youre healthy. Its also laughable to say that if you eat a slice of cake one day, youre unhealthy.

Health status is a complex combination of genetics, lifestyle factors, environment and behaviors over time. No single food choice is to blame for poor health and no single food choice is responsible for good health either.

Biggest mistake dieters make

The biggest mistake people make when trying to eat healthfully is assuming that healthy eating is the extreme thats opposite of binging. In other words, many people mistake rigid diet plans for healthy eating.

The truth is, though, that healthy eating is the middle ground between the extremes, not an extreme itself. When you can successfully land in the middle in a spot that is sustainable and realistic for you, youve found your version of sustainable, realistic healthy eating.

Healthy eating for you may look a little different than healthy eating for someone else, and thats OK, too.

So when pursuing healthy eating, be sure to avoid plans and philosophies that encourage extremes. If youve tried fad diets in the past and have found yourself discouraged and out of control around food, youre not alone and its not your fault. You have simply not yet found the right balance that will work for you long-term.

Here are some tips to help you create a truly healthy (mentally, physically, emotionally and otherwise) behaviors around food that are sustainable and realistic:

1. Dont get sucked into the crazes. If everyone around you is doing the latest nutrition plan craze and youre enticed to join in, ask yourself if you could see yourself eating that way for the rest of your life. If you cant imagine maintaining that way of eating forever, you will likely want to reconsider.

2. Plan ahead. Balanced, nutritious eating is much easier when theres a flexible plan in place. Planning includes grocery shopping, meal planning and packing foods for on-the-go.

3. Honor your body. Do your best to listen to cues of hunger and fullness. Some days will be hungrier days, and others will be days with a lower appetite.

4. Be gentle with yourself. Healthy eating isnt about perfection. Its great to have some general guidelines in mind about balance, moderation and variety, but no need to beat yourself up when you fall short. All you have is the here and now, so do your best in each moment and avoid the trappings of feeling angry about times youve messed up in the past or worries about how youll fall short in the future.

5. Get in touch with your emotions and feelings. Scan your emotions when you find yourself reaching for food when you know youre not hungry. Find ways to soothe and calm yourself without using food when its clear that food wont work to improve your emotional state.

6. Take good care of yourself in general. Dont neglect other areas of self-care when pursuing healthier eating. Ensuring you get a good nights sleep, moving your body with exercise you enjoy regularly and learning to manage your stress appropriately are all important in the overall picture of health.

Food should be both nourishing and satisfying leaving each meal truly satisfied is the key to sustaining your behavior change over time. When trying to find a way to eat healthfully, tap into your own inner wisdom and intuition to find a balance between the extremes.