how do you define healthy eating?

It’s the New Year and just about everyone I know is on some sort of healthy eating regime. Among food bloggers, the “4 Weeks to Your Best Self” plan from Whole Living seems to be pretty popular. So does the Food Lover’s Cleanse from Bon Appetit.

So I am curious.
Are you trying to eat healthy this week? This month? This year? And what exactly does that mean to you?

I am not on any particular healthy eating plan right now. I’m not doing anything new (aside from cutting way back on sweets: I ate far more sugar than I normally do throughout the entire holiday season). I’m not doing anything different because I am happy with how I eat. I feel that I eat healthy. I’ve been eating the way I eat for years…it works for me and I have no complaints about my weight or my health. So there’s really no reason for me to do anything different in terms of the way I eat or the recipes I share just because it’s January.

But maybe how I eat (and the recipes I feature on this blog) don’t mesh with your ideas of healthy.

Sure I advocate eating tons of vegetables, but I’m also big on butter. Maybe you don’t think butter is healthy?

I don’t count calories. Ever. I refuse to post the calorie count for my recipes. Maybe you think you have to count calories to eat healthy?

I eat meat. Not alot, and always grass-fed, but I eat it. Maybe you don’t think eating meat is healthy?

Again, I’d like to know what eating healthy means to you. I have no intention of saying anything negative about your comment if we don’t feel the same way about something. And I ask the same of you…please be respectful. We don’t have to agree on everything.

My blog has the word “healthy” in the title, and while I know what the word means to me, I really want to know what it means to you. Does it mean avoiding processed foods? Refined sugar? Wheat? Dairy? Fat? Does it mean eating everything, but making sure to do so in moderation?

After I get some feedback on this question, maybe I’ll publish a healthy eating FAQ of sorts. The guidelines I follow, and why I follow them. And I’d love to have an ongoing dialogue about healthy eating, because my main goal with this blog has always been to inspire others to eat in a way that benefits their health.

So help me out here: what are your thoughts on healthy eating? What does healthy eating mean to you?

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31 thoughts on “how do you define healthy eating?”

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  3. WOW – so many like-minded people! I found this wonderful site while looking for green tomato chutney recipes (made yours – YUM!). Our nutritional principles are similar to those here. We eat wild, organic, home-grown or local whole foods: organic vegetables & fruits from our gardens, eggs & meat from our free-roaming chickens, pastured beef & lamb from a conscientious rancher friend and we buy non-local wild Alaskan salmon at the store. We buy raw milk from another friend who pastures his dairy cows. We use organic butter, coconut oil, and animal fats I render. We also forage and eat wild foods. We are off most grains (organic, gluten-free oats and corn meal are used occasionally). For sugars, we use local honey, maple syrup or palm sugar. In short, Real Food. Almost Primal.

  4. I just stumbled upon this site and am both surprised and thrilled to find such like-minded people! I knew they existed somewhere, but I did not know where. My idea of healthy eating is similar to many of yours: I have never counted calories, and I try to eat as naturally and unprocessed as possible. I try to limit my gluten intake–I don’t have Celiac disease, but I just feel better when I limit it. I read all the ingredients on everything before I buy it, and I avoid genetically-modified products like the plague. My fiance and I are part of a CSA, and we just started our own garden–mostly his undertaking, but I help when I can!–and soon we will be getting laying chickens. We do eat meat on a regular basis, but it is always grass-fed beef and pasture-raised poultry. We only use coconut oil and olive oil in our kitchen, we juice regularly, avoid sodas, sugary drinks, artificial sweeteners, fast food, and high fructose corn syrup. .the list goes on. But if I really want something that is less than ideal, I won’t deprive myself. I do believe in moderation, and I do have a sweet tooth. To satisfy it I bake/make something using whole ingredients. We occasionally eat out, but that has definitely decreased–we can always taste the difference and we always think about how much better a natural, home-cooked meal would have been (especially for the amount we spent). Our dream is to have a small farm one day, with a large organic garden, chickens, pigs, and cows for raw milk. I can’t wait! Oh, and we definitely always use REAL (organic) butter!

    Again, I’m so happy to have come across your blog!


  5. Healthy eating is to eat foods that are beneficial for your health. To eat healthy foods is to have the necessary nutrients that aid you on your daily activities; your own lifestyle. I guess to be healthy is to be disease-free. I hope that other people can understand how you perceive healthy eating though. I’ll be looking forward to your posts!

  6. Foods that don’t have a list of ingredients you can’t pronounce! As many fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes as you want. Meat, seafood and dairy that come from sources that are treated like they’re meant to be treated and have diets that don’t include scary chemicals or medicines.

    I hate excluding anything from my diet – moderation is key. If you want some ice cream, eat it! Just not the whole pint and if you do eat the whole pint (maybe it was a tough day!) don’t beat yourself up, just eat better tomorrow. Occasional indulgences are a necessity!

  7. It’s really a nice and helpful piece of information. I’m glad that you shared this helpful info with us. Please keep us informed like this. Thanks for sharing.

  8. This is a very interesting and rich discussion! I love reading people’s responses to this question! For me, eschewing “healthy” as a label for my eating has been a big step toward achieving a more overarching sense of balance in my life. For me, eating is a lot more about the act of eating than just the source/politics of food. I do my best to purchase and cultivate my food in a way that serves my life philosophies, but the act of eating is one that I believe is bound in presence of mind…like everything else. I really make an effort to find nourishment in things like good company, delicious food, silence and enjoying the experience of every meal. Like everything else, I try to see each meal as an experience in which wellness is connected to just being present when I’m eating..whether alone or with others. Sometimes enjoying a treat with my family feels much more wholesome than eating a “healthy” meal in front of a computer or with a distracted mind. That said, I am often the girl with the weird looking lunches in jars…and I kind of like it that way :)
    Thanks for hosting a great discussion!

  9. I like your healthy attitude! My idea of healthy is for food to be natural- as unprocessed as possible. The way it used to be before mass production. Lots of fruit and vegetables. I like the idea of not counting calories and moderation- I need to work on that!

  10. I live a virtually sugar free diet (though I am not on a diet) the holidays were good to me – I have found ways to eat that I not longer ever feel deprived because I eat all the good stuff in moderation.

  11. I have cut down sugar a lot! Basically I eat very less meat, more lentils & Beans, and vegetables! I try to remember to drink more water! Of course I try to exercise more!

  12. My definition of healthy eating is almost exactly like yours. I strive for a lot of vegetables. I do also eat butter. And full-fat dairy (but all organic). I buy as many local products as possible – my veggies, my milk and yogurt and cheese and my bread are mostly locally-produced.

    I eat meat, in moderation, and always grass-fed.

    If I want a cookie, I eat a cookie (or brownie or whatever.) I never count calories and I have not weighed myself since 1993.

    I make my own ice cream, because good ice cream is vitally important to me ;-)

    I never use artificial sweetener.

    I make an effort to try new things, because eating is all about the experience to me. It should be fun and exciting and teach us things.

    A friend who is a nutritionist once told me that she tells her clients, “If it didn’t exist 100 years ago, don’t eat it.” I think that’s an easy, flexible guideline.

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  14. I tend to think of healthy eating as avoiding processed foods and gravitating more towards whole foods. I think things like dairy/gluten/meat/etc. are somewhat personal and you should pay attention to how your body feels when you consume them. If they work for you, great!

    I personally feel best when I’m eating less dairy, very little sugar, and whole foods. So that’s what’s healthy for me.

  15. healthy eating for me and The Professor is defined as whole foods, as close to source as possible, absolutely no trans fats of any kind, loads of vegetables and fruits, green tea, grass fed meat but rarely, dark leafy greens, focus on fiber from vegetables and yep, butter. we have a garden during the spring/summer months and we also take advantage of the Farmer’s Markets in our area. we make sure we take our vitamin supplement every day; getting enough sleep (at least 8hrs/night) is important as well as exercise – usually in the form of yoga, machine pilates and the treadmill when we can’t get outdoors. i have thyroid disease so weight is always going to be an issue for me; i focus my energy more on staying limber and simply being able to move my body rather than the number on the scale. i make sure to have my annual physical every year including all the ‘girl’ stuff. i have learned that simply ‘being present’ when eating – whether it’s out at a restaurant or in my own kitchen, allows me to savor the moment. it’s about educating myself as to what’s available around me – it’s balance and common sense.

  16. If the truth be told, my starting point when it comes to food choices is always simply what tastes good to me. And, luckily, many of the foods I like to eat just happen to be reasonably healthy options: A vegetable-rich diet. Vegetables and fruits sourced from my organic garden in the fall, winter, and spring. Not much meat, although I do eat it. No fast food restaurant meals. No sugary drinks and very few sugary desserts (although I do cook them for my food blog). Mostly basic food stuffs in my kitchen (not heavily processed ingredients) and meals cooked from scratch. Mostly home made whole grain bread. I’m sure my diet could be much healthier than it is, but I’m happy with what I eat (although I do need to start eating a bit less!).

  17. Love the topic! MY philosophy is similar to yours.
    -I eat REAL food as defined by Michael Pollan’s Food Rules…fruits, veggies, beans, and some meat and fish. Butter and other natural fats are fine.
    – I limit portion size…but I NEVER count calories. I just eat very little!
    -I eat foods that I enjoy including dark chocolate, ice cream and cheeses. Nothing is off limits (but I really avoid processed stuff; it helps that I can’t stand it).

    This works well for me. I lost 25 pounds in a year just by following these guidelines, mire weight than I’ve lost on any diet! And I feel great!

    Thanks for a great post…

  18. Easier said than done, lots of good ‘anwsers’.
    What we actually do, what’s most important to me…
    Lot’s and lots of fresh, raw veggies n fruit. In season. Local local local.
    Real whole grains; millet, quinoa, bulgar, rye, and lentils, beans ect.
    Very, very little lean meats RESPONSIBLY Raised.
    Please read Barbara Kingsolver’s ‘Animal, Vegetable, Mineral’ The best writer/resource on this sub.

  19. This is a great question! To me home cooking with fresh and simple ingredients is healthy eating. I should also say that opening a box of instant mac n’cheese to make at home does not qualify as home cooking. Rather, for example, it’s about taking some time to boil some water to cook pasta perfectly to al dente, chopping up and cooking veggies, tomatoes and herbs to make a nice sauce, and sprinkling a little bit of Parmesan cheese to give you a filling and healthy home cooked meal. As just about any cooking show or magazine will tell you, most of these meals can be made in 30 minutes or less. So rather than spend the time just watching TV and waiting for the Chinese food delivery guy to show, go in the kitchen and make yourself a meal. Also, by buying the vegetables, meats and cheese you control what goes in your body. With processed foods, even the instant ones you get a food markets, you cannot.

    Finally, like most people who have commented already, I too believe in balance. Because of this balance, I find that we should not be afraid of fat or butter. Since switching to home cooking full time, I actually read labels more, buy and cook with real butter and use whole milk. I find I use and crave less of it when it is the real thing.

  20. Excellent article, excellent comments.
    For me it’s simply being focused. We need to use moderation and of course limit some foods entirely, but that does not mean we can’t enjoy meals.
    Good food should be fuel for our bodies disguised attractively for our eyes.

  21. I don’t believe in diets. Eat healthy most of the time and enjoy a few splurges. Exercise is a must too! It’s all about balance.

  22. I’m sipping a glass of red wine as I read this, and I don’t think there’s anything particularly unhealthy about that. I’m very much about moderation and balance when it comes to eating and drinking (at least I like to think I am). I don’t count calories and would have no particular inclination to put calorie counts on recipe I publish. In fact, I don’t especially like to attach the description ‘healthy’ to individual recipes (because are the rest then, by definition, less than healthy?) – eating healthily is more about balance in the overall diet than any one meal that will make or break you.

    My diet, for the record, is pretty much vegetarian + fish and relatively little in the way of highly processed foods. I like to grow at least some of my own veg as circumstances allow. I adore dairy and wouldn’t be without butter, yoghurt or cheese. I do like sweet things, though not when they’re overly sweet and I definitely prefer homemade. I do overindulge on occasion, but I think it balances out in the end (or at least it has done thus far!)

  23. Great question! I like to follow the simple advice of these two well-known authors:

    “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” –Michael Pollen

    “Eat less, move more, eat lots of fruits and vegetables, go easy on junk foods.” –Marion Nestle

  24. Hi Winnie!
    Of course I love this post and these questions. It’s what I blog about every day. Without sounding like a food radical, here are my eating rules. I’m certainly not perfect, but when I follow these rules I feel incredible. I tend to like volume and not portion control in my eating, and for those of us that need that, these “rules” work.

    Eat vegetables, raw and cooked, as many as possible.
    Eat fruit and beans, not as much as veggies, but eat them every day.
    Real whole grains, a little a day. Too much and I gain weight.
    Eat a touch of nuts, seeds, avocado, young coconut every day. Again, too much and I gain weight.
    Really limit anything else to once in a while. If I could never eat refined sugar again, I wouldn’t, but that’s not realistic. Dairy and meat of any kind, seriously rarely. Processed oil, just about never. I do all of my sauteeing in vegetable broth.

    I call it “The Luscious Verde Diet.” It is also called Nutritarian or Plant Strong. In case someone is thinking, “what does she even eat?” the answer is:
    (1) Smoothies
    (2) Soups
    (3) Salads
    (4) Sauteed Greens

    I cannot wait to see everyone else’s responses!!!!

  25. To me, “healthy eating” is a matter of balance. In recent years, I lost sight of that important concept and gained weight – a lot of it. Healthy eating – don’t mention the word “dieting” is working, albeit slowly.

  26. I don’t count calories either…and you know I like my butter :-) But I try to eat a lot of whole foods. My daily diet varies, but I know that the more produce I eat, the better I feel! Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, NUTS, organic dairy, seafood, chicken and occasionally meat all play a role in my diet. But I also allow myself to have treats. I make a lot of desserts, and while I don’t usually eat a large portion, I do allow myself to enjoy a small piece. I think that a healthy diet is all about moderation. Deprivation does no good! Thank you for allowing us to share. I loved reading the other comments too!

  27. Healthy eating to me means eating as close to the source as possible, in geographic and production terms.
    Our pantry is stocked with more bags than boxes. Our fridge is full of food that was either grown or raised, not produced in a factory, except yogurt.

    In the spring,summer and fall we eat from our large garden or from farmers markets. In the winter we eat fruits and vegetables from the grocery store, but go to a bimonthly farmers winter market and get root vegetables and greens.

    We raise our own eggs. We do not consume sugar Sunday-Thurs. Fridays I typically make a nice dessert our family of four enjoys during the weekend. Everything I make is from scratch, except for the dehydrated fruit I put in my kiddos lunch boxes.

    I must admit, sometimes those bags of frozen prepared meals are tempting. Especially when the day has been long and I don’t feel like cooking. However, I just turn the bag over and read all the ingredients and feel guilty about putting those things into my children’s growing bodies.

    We have the occasional frozen pizza, the vegan kind from Amy. That gal makes a mean frozen vegan pie, LOVE it!

    There you have it, our way of eating is not easy and sometimes it can get expensive. However, we don’t live beyond our means and most of our income is spent on good, healthy food.

  28. For me, healthy means avoiding processing foods and making choices that are higher in lean protein and fiber. Most importantly, it means moderation, paying attention to serving size. While I do provide calorie counts, calories alone are only part of the picture, along with protein, carbs, fat and fiber.

  29. i like your idea of not counting calories. my mother grew up on ghee, which she claims is healthy for you, and she was always very slim (this is analogous to eating butter). i feel being healthy means eating lots of whole grains and meat. and cutting out sugar- but many would hate me for saying that (sugar)- esp my husband- who has a sweet tooth. i eat sugary food, too, but rarely. in our home, we live on lentils on the days we are not eating meat- and yohugurt, lots and lots of it. happy new year, winnie! x shayma