How to Be Healthy: The 6 Basic Principles

When I was obese, I spent a lot of time wondering how to be healthy.

Why were my siblings were normal and thin? Why was I different and fat? What am I doing wrong? How can I be healthy?

These thoughts bounced around in my little brain for almost 10 years.

Lucky for me, I finally learned how to be healthy. Though it took longer than I would’ve preferred, I don’t regret my journey. Learning what being healthy means made me the person I am today.

I gradually made small changes to my life. Those changes gradually added up to form six basic principles.

Here are the basic principles of how to be healthy.

What does it mean to eat healthy?

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What does it mean to eat healthy?

The sheer amount of contradicting advice makes it tempting to not decide at all.

Which is better: high carb or low carb? High fat or low fat? Natural food or meal replacement drinks?

Are grains bad? Is fruit bad? Is meat bad?

And the most important question:

How do you know who to trust?

Many of the diets above come with health benefits. Yet following one doesn’t automatically make you healthier.

Trust what works for the long term. You can easily lose 10 pounds by starving yourself or starting a fad diet. But those weight loss results don’t last.  80% of people don’t maintain weight loss long term.

What is long-term weight loss? Keeping at least 10% of your body weight off for over 1 year. Since I began my transformation in 2011, I’ve lost over 70 pounds—more than 35% of my body weight. And I’ve kept it off for over 3 years.

I’ve tested these principles for years. After that I went back and confirmed my results with research.

They work for me and they can work for you.

1. Focus on Whole Plant Foods

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Is a vegetarian diet healthy? What about a vegan diet? A gluten-free or paleo diet?

A label won’t make you healthy

BMI and health are often correlated. It’s true that studies show vegetarians have a lower average BMI than non-vegetarians. But it doesn’t guarantee health. It’s not uncommon to find overweight vegetarians and unhealthy vegans.

There are hundreds of vegan options at the grocery store that are unhealthy. One of the best known examples is Oreos.

Oreos are far from being a healthy food. The first ingredient in Oreos is refined white sugar. Not a good start. Other processed ingredients include:

  • unbleached enriched flour (wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate {vitamin B1}, riboflavin {vitamin B2}, folic acid)
  • high oleic canola and/or palm and/or cocoa (processed with alkali)
  • high fructose corn syrup
  • leavening (baking soda and/or calcium phosphate)
  • corn starch
  • salt
  • soy lecithin
  • vanillin–an artificial flavor

Interesting how chocolate is the last ingredient in Oreos.

The food you eat makes you healthy

Eating healthy means focusing on eating whole, minimally processed plant foods. I call this a whole-food plant based (WFPB) diet.

Dairy, meat (including fish) and eggs are less healthy than plant foods. That’s why many people believe vegan and vegetarian diets are best. But we just saw that not all vegan foods are healthy. The same goes for vegetarian foods.

It’s comforting to eat vegan butter, cheese and meat when transitioning away from animal products. Unfortunately, none of these foods promote health. They’re only slightly better than their counterparts.

Vegan replacements are processed and often contain flavorings, additives and refined ingredients. All of this turns a healthy plant into empty calories. The only upside is they have no cholesterol.

I struggled to learn this lesson. If you’ve read my story, I obsessed over labels for longer than I care to admit.

At first I tried being a regular vegan. Then I got into raw veganism. After that it was raw ‘til 4. I constantly labeled my diet. I assumed one of these labels would help me lose weight and make me happy.

Boy was I wrong.

It took me a long time to realize that I didn’t need to label my diet to be healthy. Having a label allows others to easily understand what I eat. Yet it warps your understanding of how to be healthy.

I still tell others I eat a vegan diet. It’s the easiest way to explain what I eat. Yet I don’t consider myself as vegan. I’m a person who eats a WFPB diet.

Basic principle #1 for how to be healthy: eat a whole food, plant-based diet.

2. Focus on High Carb, Low Fat

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Eating a WFPB diet was my first tip on how to eat healthy. But that’s not the end of the story.

Lower the fat

You’ve made up your mind to eat a WFPB diet. That’s a great start! Now you need to lower your fat intake. Most change the type of fat they consume instead of decreasing it.

Vegetarians replace meat fat with eggs, milk, yogurt and cheese. Vegans replace animal fats with oils, nuts, seeds, nut butters, and soy. Instead of replacing meat or dairy with more fat, replace it with carbohydrates.

Nuts, seeds and soy aren’t inherently bad. Soy is correlated with many health benefits. Nuts, seeds, soy and other foods high in fat can all be incorporated into a healthy diet.

High fat foods can have negative health effects if you eat too much. It all depends upon how much you eat and how often.

You need to focus on eating foods high in carbohydrates and low in fat and protein.

Stop counting

Stop counting calories and macronutrients. Instead, focus on eating high-carbohydrate foods, such as:

  • Whole grains (wheat, corn, oats, etc.)
  • Pseudo grains (quinoa, buckwheat, etc.)
  • Legumes (black beans, chickpeas, lentils, etc.)
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables

There are a few exceptions to each food group. For example, legumes like peanuts and soy are high in fat. Avocados—a fruit—are high in fat, too. As long as you stick to the typical foods I’ve outlined above, you’ll eat a diet rich in carbohydrates.

Read about Macronutrients in my article Macronutrients Everything You Need to Know (and more). It’ll give you a rundown of each macronutrient and why they’re important.

Fat is addicting

I had a tough time reducing my fat when I went vegan. At first I ate loads of tofu, peanut butter, added oil and soy milk. When I switched to raw veganism, I ate way too much oil, nuts and seeds.

It took a while for my taste buds to adjust to a high carb, low fat diet. After I made the switch though, high fat meals felt uncomfortably heavy on my tongue and stomach.

Fat is addicting. We love fat because it’s uncommon and signifies food that’s loaded with calories.

Fat is more than twice as calorically dense as carbohydrates. Fat has 9 calories per gram. Carbs have just 4.

Nowadays, we have abnormally high access to fatty foods. And we’ve refined fat beyond that found in nature.

Basic principle #2 for how to be healthy: focus on eating carbohydrates.

3. Don’t Rule Any Food Out

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Strict rules are the main reason why some quit eating healthy.

I can’t, I can’t

Vegetarians can’t eat meat. Vegans can’t eat meat, eggs, honey, yogurt, or milk ever again. They rule out foods forever due to arbitrary rules that fit the vegan label.

“I can’t eat meat,” they say. “I can’t each cheese,” they complain. Their language focuses on what they can’t do.

This creates a mental struggle.

Don’t picture a starfish. What did you just do? You imagined a starfish, even after I told you not to. When we’re told no, we want it more.

I can, I can

On a whole-food plant-based diet, nothing is against the rules. Moderation is difficult because we always wonder, ‘How much can I have?’ On the other hand, it’s the healthier mentality.

I never said being healthy was a piece of cake.

When you spend each meal defining yourself by everything you can’t eat, you’re constantly reminded of those foods. Thinking about it makes you want to eat them.

If you focus on what you can eat, you won’t daydream about the unhealthy food you long to eat.

Focus on eating vegetables, whole grains, legumes and fruit. These foods promote health. Include a serving of seeds or nuts every day. A serving of meat here or an egg there is okay as long as it’s only every once in a while.

Check out The Rainbow Plate for my own dietary guidelines on eating healthy.

If you want to eat healthy, focus on what you can eat. Define yourself by what you are, not by what you aren’t.

Empower yourself by saying ‘I don’t’ rather than ‘I can’t’. Don’t makes it a choice. Can’t is a restriction you can’t control.

Once I defined myself by what I did eat, my cravings and desires for meat and cheese went away. And when I altered my language to put me in control of what I ate, I felt that I did.

There are foods I probably won’t eat again. That’s my personal choice. I choose not to trash my body with certain junk foods. If I ever wanted to eat a piece of chocolate, I could do that.

Basic principle #3 for how to be healthy: focus on what you do eat.

4. Enjoy What You Eat

How to Be Healthy: 6 Basic Principles | www.carobcherub.com | What lifestyle changes do you need to be healthy and fit? Learn 6 easy nutrition tips that you can use to start eating healthy food and losing weight. These principles are useful for teens in high school, in college or women that have stable careers. @carobcherub

Guess what? I love to eat. And I’m still healthy.

They key to eating healthy is to love what you eat. Don’t force yourself to eat foods you hate.

Don’t like something? Don’t eat it.

People say they can’t be vegan because they don’t like beans. I don’t know what people think I eat all day, but it sure isn’t beans and iceberg lettuce!

Beans (a legume) are a great staple on a WFPB diet. That’s not to say you need to only eat beans. Lentils, chickpeas, cowpeas, peanuts and soybeans are all legumes. Why not try those?

It’s okay if you don’t like pinto beans. That’s understandable. However, saying you don’t like any beans (or legumes) is like saying you don’t care for any fruits or vegetables. Nobody hates every fruit or every vegetable out there. Likewise, nobody hates every legume. (Really, who can deny the deliciousness of hummus?)

Besides, just because you don’t enjoy eating one healthy food doesn’t mean you should quit eating healthy. Instead, find the healthy foods you love to eat. Bananas for bananas? Stuff your face with them. Or if you’re in love with Asian food, pair your curries, stir fries and dals with brown rice.

A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down

Another component of eating what you love is making healthy food taste delicious.

Americans struggle to eat their 5-A-Day. If you have trouble eating healthily, add a dash of salt or sugar. Added salt and refined sugars aren’t healthy. Then again, added sugar is better paired with sliced strawberries than doughnuts.

The first step to eating healthier is actually eating healthy foods. Doing everything at once can make eating healthy feel like a punishment.

Eating healthy shouldn’t be a chore. It should feel uplifting and energizing.

If you can’t enjoy peas without salt or strawberries without a sprinkle of sugar, go ahead—add some. Start eating vegetables and fruits the way you like them. Start weaning off the sugar and salt once eating healthy foods becomes a habit.

Make the food you love—just healthier

Enjoying what you eat means making the meals you love. You don’t have to give up lasagna, tacos or pasta to be healthy. These foods are easily made healthier with a few food swaps.

For example, prepare lasagna with whole wheat, sourdough or zucchini noodles. A chickpea cheese adds creaminess to your lasagna without adding fat and cholesterol.

Healthy tacos? You bet. Cut out the cheese and replace the beef with lentils or beans. Instantly healthy.

Pasta is easily made nutritious by substituting white pasta with whole grain pasta. Enjoy a bowlful of whole wheat, brown rice or buckwheat noodles. Get creative with an Alfredo sauce (e.g. using cauliflower—it’s surprisingly creamy) or a meatless marinara.

Basic principle #4 for how to be healthy: eat delicious food.

5. Focus on Quality, Not Quantity

How to Be Healthy: 6 Basic Principles | www.carobcherub.com | What lifestyle changes do you need to be healthy and fit? Learn 6 easy nutrition tips that you can use to start eating healthy food and losing weight. These principles are useful for teens in high school, in college or women that have stable careers. @carobcherub

Most people try to lose weight with calorie restriction. Sure, it’s an effective way to lose weight. Then again, the majority of people gain all the weight back… and more.

Why? They return to eating the same foods they did before. You can’t stay healthy and lean with a temporary diet. Permanent results need permanent changes.

Switching to a WFPB lifestyle ensures your weight loss is for good. And you don’t even need to restrict calories or spend hours at the gym. Instead, you lose weight by eating food that’s nutritious and delicious.

Focus on nourishing yourself and you won’t have to worry about calories or how much you eat. Your body will tell you when it’s full.

Caloric Density and Nutrient Density

Calorie counting creates a negative mindset about eating. Rather, be aware of caloric- and nutrient-density when choosing snacks and meals.

The best foods are full of vitamins, nutrients, water and fiber. They aren’t calorically dense.

Caloric Density vs. Nutrient Density

  • Caloric Density = calories/volume
  • Nutrient Density = nutrients/calorie
While foods with low caloric density have lots of volume and fewer calories, foods with high caloric density pack lots of calories into a small amount of space. Foods with low nutrient density have few nutrients per calorie, while foods with high nutrient density have lots of nutrients per calorie.

Examples of foods with low calorie density and high nutrient density:

  • Strawberries
  • Kale
  • Carrots
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Kidney beans
  • Beets
  • Lentils

Examples of foods with high calorie density and low nutrient density:

  • Olive oil
  • Cow’s milk
  • Cheese
  • Ground beef
  • Eggs
  • Chicken
  • White sugar

Aim to eat foods with low caloric density and high nutrient density.

If this is confusing, just think: ‘I want to pack as many nutrients onto my plate as possible.’ 

People typically eat with their eyes and forget to consider nutrients. A large bowl of salad takes up a lot of space. But it’s packed with vitamins and minerals and only has 100-200 calories. The same bowl filled with white pasta could easily quadruple that. Many don’t recognize the difference and adjust eating habits accordingly.

It’s better to rely on volume for satiety than calories. It’s how our stomachs tell us we’re full.

If you drank 600 calories (5 tablespoons) of oil, your stomach wouldn’t feel much different. The oil has a high caloric density. It wouldn’t satisfy you and you’d eat as usual.

Compare oil to kale. You’ll feel extremely satisfied if you eat 600 calories (18 cups!) of raw kale. In fact, I doubt you’d even be able to eat that much.

The key to losing and maintaining a healthy weight is to eat the most volume and nutrients you can.

Basic principle #5 for how to be healthy: eat as many nutrients as you can.

6. Power Through It

How to Be Healthy: 6 Basic Principles | www.carobcherub.com | What lifestyle changes do you need to be healthy and fit? Learn 6 easy nutrition tips that you can use to start eating healthy food and losing weight. These principles are useful for teens in high school, in college or women that have stable careers. @carobcherub

Changes can be hard. I know from experience. The best thing to do is to power through the struggles.

It takes time for your taste buds and food preferences to adapt. My husband is an example of this.

He’s always been thin, but he used to love peanut butter. He went through a jar of peanut butter every week. Over time, he’s decreased the amount of fat he eats. Now we barely finish a jar of peanut butter in two weeks.

He still enjoys the taste of peanut butter, but his taste buds have shifted. He can’t handle as much fat as he used to. Now he prefers foods that are high in carbohydrates and low in fat.

You can change your taste preferences, too. It’ll take time to prefer healthy foods over junky ones. Over time, you may even learn to crave healthy food.

Reading labels and nutritional information is another adjustment.

I remember my first month of being vegan was the hardest. I didn’t care much for meat before I switched. Nevertheless, I missed the foods and routines I’d established. They all changed when I changed what I ate.

I wasn’t used to asking for the ingredients in food. I was afraid to bother people. And examining dozens of ingredient lists on a family road trip was exhausting.

I can’t promise how low it will take for your healthy habit to stick. The general consensus is around 3 weeks.

Now checking and asking about ingredients doesn’t bother me. I automatically check labels. I’m a pro at scanning for milk, eggs, sodium, added sweeteners and oils. It’s an automatic routine and I know what to look for.

Basic principle #6 for how to be healthy: allow yourself time to adjust.

You can be healthy

How to Be Healthy: 6 Basic Principles | www.carobcherub.com | What lifestyle changes do you need to be healthy and fit? Learn 6 easy nutrition tips that you can use to start eating healthy food and losing weight. These principles are useful for teens in high school, in college or women that have stable careers. @carobcherub

Hopefully you now have a clear idea how to start eating healthy.

Recap:

  1. Focus on whole plant foods
  2. Focus on high carb, low fat
  3. Don’t rule any food out
  4. Enjoy what you eat
  5. Focus on quality, not quantity
  6. Power through it

If you stick to these six principles, you’ll be on your way to 1) becoming healthy and 2) learning how to stay healthy.

It’s overwhelming to do everything at once. Though I transitioned to a vegan diet overnight, I didn’t become healthy overnight. I learned numerous lessons to transform myself into the person I am today.

Every step of the way I believed I was eating healthy. Looking back, I now realize my unhealthy ways. Yet I don’t regret what I did.

Make mistakes. It’s okay if you aren’t perfect. You aren’t a failure if you eat refined white bread or a piece of cheese. Feeling and looking amazing isn’t the only benefit of being healthy.

It’s the process of growing along the way.

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How to Be Healthy: 6 Basic Principles | www.carobcherub.com | What lifestyle changes do you need to be healthy and fit? Learn 6 easy nutrition tips that you can use to start eating healthy food and losing weight. These principles are useful for teens in high school, in college or women that have stable careers. @carobcherub
  • Updated 11 months ago
Sara Binde
 

Sara is a health and nutrition coach. She advocates for a whole foods plant-based lifestyle and teaches the world how to achieve weight loss.

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