Healthy eating without following a diet plan

(for the original source, visit USA Triathlon multisport zone)

By Marni Sumbal, MS, RD
All fitness enthusiasts and athletes must understand the importance of consuming a balanced, wholesome diet. And above all, this diet shouldn't leave you unsatisfied, without energy, feeling isolated, requiring an excessive amount of planning and prep or costing you a lot of money. It’s time to start thinking about food for fuel and health. 
Here are six tips for eating a healthy diet without following a diet plan.
1. What's your motivation to change? If you feel the need to eliminate or add certain foods to the diet, be sure to have a really good reason to do so. A good reason would be doctor's/dietitian's orders or lab work that reflects the need to place emphasis on certain areas of your diet. Weight loss is typically a top priority for most people wanting to change nutrition habits but a better focus would be on what you can do with your body when you start eating healthier. Maybe less sick days, reducing risk for cancer, being around longer for your grandkids/spouse, having more energy, taking better care of your body, performing better, having less focus on food and more focus on living life to the fullest? Whatever your reason may be, let a change in body composition be that added bonus as your health is always top priority.
2. Create a positive food environment. Stock your kitchen with everything you need to prepare wholesome foods at home and store leftovers in Tupperware. And don't forget the foods that you want to eat as well. I recommend shopping every three to four days when you are transitioning to a more real food diet so that you do not overwhelm yourself with a lot of produce and then find yourself throwing it out after a week. Think of what you can keep in your pantry, refrigerator and freezer for easy and healthy meal prep.
3. Don't be perfect; aim for progress.
Create a very simple lifestyle log to plan your day. The diet mentality is to log your day as or after it happened and this often doesn't initiate change but instead guilt, control and self-defeat. Instead, create a plan for yourself. When you think about what you will eat before or after workouts, for your three meals and then snacking with a purpose, you have a better opportunity to set yourself up for success. Not only do you have a plan for staying nourished and satisfied but you are now forced to make sure you have those food items available which reduces the risk for overeating later in the day as well as going long hours without eating (or eating on a whim). This also helps the athlete fuel better so that pre- and post-workout nutrition isn't an afterthought.
4. Rethink your plate.
I'm all about  a plant strong plate. You can pick your protein choice. Fill up your plate with fresh foods, packed with vitamins and minerals. Your plate should never limit fats, carbs or protein so find a way to create that beautiful plate that leaves you satisfied and feeling great about your meals. If you can't do this on your own, have a dietitian who specializes in sport nutrition help you plan your diet to support your active lifestyle and health goals.
5. Get in the kitchen!
Do I even need to give you a reason as to why you should cook more? Don't find the time to cook, make the time.
6. Give it time.
Don't expect to change everything overnight. Focus on a few changes every one to two weeks so you can make that lifestyle change. Be sure to have a strong, supportive team around you who will keep you motivated and inspired to learn how to eat for fuel and for health. Also keep in mind that even though you may find yourself questioning your new or improved eating habits, your diet is created by you and for you. You have your reason for your dietary changes and you are making these changes for the right reasons. You are not chasing a body image or wanting a quick fix but instead, you are taking the time to make a lifestyle change. Enjoy this wonderful journey that you are taking your body on as you learn how to eat for fuel and for health and how to develop a great relationship with food and your body.

Marni Sumbal, MS, RD, LD/N is the owner of Trimarni Coaching and Nutrition, LLC and holds a master of science in exercise physiology, is a USA Triathlon Certified Coach and a nine-time IRONMAN finisher. She enjoys public speaking, writing, plant-strong cooking and traveling. She will be racing in her 4th IM World Championship this October with her husband Karel. Learn more at trimarnicoach.com.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.