Balancing healthy eating habits with a hectic schedule can appear difficult at best and seemingly impossible at worst. Many people become overwhelmed by their schedule and settle for fast-food and pre-made meals. Stress induced binge eating is another common dietary pitfall brought on by such a schedule. On the flipside, some people become so overly fixated with eating healthy that they obsessively spend incalculable hours researching nutritional articles and preparing food—causing stress and preventing them from enjoying the meals they spend so much time overthinking.
The problem is that people seek the “perfect diet” when they should simply be striving for a balanced lifestyle. Is your goal to be in shape for a few weeks or months or to look and feel good for the rest of your life? Likely it is the latter, and the key to accomplishing this goal is to commit to a lifestyle that is both healthy and enjoyable, and practical enough to work long term.
The idea of a healthy lifestyle is probably conjuring up images of smaller portions, minimal alcohol consumption, and the removal of processed foods from your diet. While these are all good ideas, and things I certainly advocate for good health, the emphasis of this article is not to tell you what you can’t do, because you can do anything you want. The emphasis here is solely to encourage you to pursue a lifestyle that will truly make you happy.
So how does this all play out in a healthy day to day routine that is actually enjoyable? While there are a million approaches out there for constructing enjoyable eating habits that are also beneficial to your health, here are a few things I practice personally that I think may also work for you.
Enjoy What You Eat and You Will Never Have to “Cheat”
The idea of a cheat day or cheat meal commonly pops up in fad diets. I believe these are recipes for unhealthy behavior and digestive stress. If you are enjoying foods you actually like all the time and balancing a proper proportion of protein, fat, and carbohydrates, it is very unlikely that you will even crave processed junk. However, that is not to say that you shouldn’t indulge from time to time.
A much better idea than planning a cheat day—and senselessly fixating over this gluttonous event that will shock your system into an indigestive coma—would be to merely apply the 90% philosophy. We are all human beings, and no diet will ever be perfect. Just enjoy what you eat every day and treat yourself sensibly and proportionality; you will be much happier and healthier in the long run. It is much easier on your body to consume small quantities of indulgent foods, even daily, than it would be to eat “perfectly” six days in a row and then binge eat and drink everything in sight because you’re allowed to. We are all adults and we are all allowed to do whatever we want, so it is silly to allow ourselves to behave like idiots, based on the advice of businessmen, when we could just live happy, balanced lifestyles and not have to worry in the first place.
A Big Plate Without the Big Gut
Greens: the one food where less is never more. Liberally load up on as many of these as possible! If you are like me and enjoy large portions, but do not want the fat gain that often results from these portions, then greens are the perfect solution. You can simultaneously fulfill your innate desire for that big plate of food while actually doing your body a favor. Enjoy a huge salad before every meal, or if you don’t have time for this, throw greens into your smoothies—bulking up the size of your shake and its nutritional density. If you have access to a refrigerator at work, stock it up with a mix of delicious veggies, generally the greener the better. However you get them in your diet, shovel in as many of these as possible! Seriously, if you want to be big and strong like Popeye, eat that spinach! Kale, spinach, broccoli, brussel sprouts, bock choy, collard greens, and a host of other greens pack an incredible amount of health benefits.
Just a few of the health benefits greens have to offer include high levels of calcium, vitamin C, magnesium, and dietary fiber. By consuming large quantities of greens, you can greatly aid the functionality of your digestive tract as well as improve your body composition; the enzymes in greens such as broccoli and spinach have been shown in studies to aid in fat loss. Recuperation from athletic performance is another great benefit of consuming these super foods—spinach is particularly high in the amino acid glutamine, which is commonly supplemented by professional athletes and bodybuilders to aid in muscle recovery and growth.
Dietary fat often gets a bad rap, but the reality is that it’s an essential macronutrient and a great source of energy for exercise and daily activity. The key here is moderation. Like any food, if you overdo dietary fats, they will be stored as body fat. One of the best sources of dietary fat, and my personal favorite, is nuts, and if you are worried about time, these should become your best friend. Obviously ready to go out of the bag, nuts are a great and healthy snack when on the go.
Almonds are an excellent source of mono-saturated fats while also providing seven grams of protein per serving and 20% of the recommended daily value for magnesium. And walnuts are a great way to get omega-3 fats into your diet, pack five grams of protein, and provide 25% of the daily recommended level of manganese.
South of the border and on the Run
I absolutely love Latin cuisine, and I find that preparing healthy variations of my favorite Latin dishes is also incredibly fast and easy. As a good starting point, pre-making a variety of legumes is always a great base and having these available will save time. Black beans, lentils, navy beans, and garbanzos are all great sources of dietary fiber, complex carbohydrates, iron, and protein. Quinoa is another excellent complex carbohydrate and great source of protein—getting its well-deserved hype by providing all nine essential amino acids. So having a supply of this handy is another great and easy option for a healthy meal on the go. Avocados are an excellent source of healthy fat and dietary fiber, and they are already good to go for you as well.
Mix in a combination of these Latin staples with as many greens as possible, some tomatoes, and peppers, and spice it up with ground cumin, garlic, and cayenne pepper for a delicious and quick meal!
Sweet Tooth? No Problem.
If you are craving sweets then eat them. No, I am not talking about Oreos, candy, and all the processed garbage passing as “food” these days, but I am talking about a wide variety of deliciously addictive naturally sweet foods that taste better than that imitation junk.
Here are just a few of my favorites:
Probably a no brainer, but this is definitely one of the easiest and healthiest ways to fulfill a sweet tooth craving. If you are on the go, this is obviously a great option. Berries—blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, etc.—are probably the best choice as they are very low calorie and low-glycemic while packing a host of nutritional benefits. I love sticking blueberries in the freezer and munching on these when I get a sweet craving. Grapefruit is another great fruit to add to your diet, as it is packed with vitamin C and dietary fiber, has a low-glycemic index, and like greens has been shown in studies to stimulate fat loss.
By far my favorite spice! High in antioxidants and beneficial to digestion, this delicious spice is comprised of just six calories per tablespoon while providing a gram of fiber, 3% of the FDA recommended daily calcium intake, and a whopping 22% of daily manganese. I personally start every day with a green smoothie containing Sunwarrior protein, spinach or kale, a cup of berries, and a good pinch of this tasty stuff; paired with a bowl of oatmeal, also sweetened with cinnamon. This is a simple and delicious breakfast and takes just minutes to make. If I have a day off of work sometimes, I also make a salad with spinach, fruit, and walnuts and add cinnamon to this as well. Did I mention I love cinnamon?
These are the most delicious as well nutritionally-dense foods in this list, and also one of the best for an individual with a busy schedule. There are an infinite number of options and variations to explore here, but here are my two personal favorites:
Green Smoothie: great for breakfast and/or after a tough workout.
1–2 scoops Sunwarrior protein
1 cup H20
1–1½ cups spinach or kale
1 cup of berries
2 tbsp. flaxseed
1 tbsp. ground cinnamon
Mix in blender. To thicken the smoothie, I will sometimes add a bit of ice as needed. Plant-based milk can be used in place of the water as well.
Chocolate Peanut Butter Ice Cream Shake-
There are no words to describe just how delicious this is. I found this recipe on Mike Mahler’s site, www.mikemahler.com, and it has since become my absolute favorite shake. This really is better than ice cream, and actually healthy! The smoothie is packed full of protein, healthy dietary fat, a decent amount of fiber, and calcium. I like having this with a big salad following a hard day of training. I find that by having a lighter meal paired with the shake, I am going to bed extremely satisfied, while also giving my body a break from digesting heavy food.
2 scoops Sunwarrior Chocolate protein
1 cup of your favorite unsweetened plant-based milk
2 tbsp. peanut butter
1 cup of ice
When all ingredients are blended together, this stuff becomes as thick as ice cream and can be enjoyed with a spoon!
In the end, the key to a successful and consistent diet is about finding what works for you and sticking to it. There are a plethora of delicious and healthy food options out there—find the ones which fancy your taste, stop stressing, and enjoy a simple and healthy lifestyle!