Healthy eating - getting started

Most athletes will come to me for nutrition help with the goals of:
-Improving performance
-Improving their relationship with food and/or the body
-Changing body composition

All three goals require dietary changes (in some capacity) and depending on the athlete, he/she may want to achieve all three goals listed above, or just one or two.
Oddly enough, sometimes changing body composition can improve performance but so can improving the relationship with food and the body. And sometimes focusing on nutrition limiters and strengths in order to improve performance, with a great relationship with food and the body can change body composition. 

There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to dietary changes as every individual is on his/her own nutritional journey.

Furthermore, every athletes may have his/her own personal limitations when it comes to the "best" approach to changing the diet - this can be anything from lack of healthy food options, unrealistic eating/body/performance goals, disordered eating or body image dissatisfaction, training routine/fitness level, motivation, family support, self-confidence, etc. 

Similar methods and ideologies may work for the masses but ultimately, every athlete is in his/her own journey.

Healthy eating for one person may be making homemade almond milk, grinding his/her own nut butter, picking produce from an at-home garden and never using sport nutrition because no workout exceeds 70 minutes in length.

Whereas for another person, healthy may be better portion control and controlling the emotional eating.

And for another individual, healthy eating may be not restricting calories from the daily diet and learning how to use sport nutrition properly to help adapt to endurance training while preparing for a half or full Ironman.

Or, healthy eating could be making changes so that cancer doesn't return for a second time.
Or, healthy eating could be overcoming years of disordered eating (ex. orthorexia) or an eating disorder.

As you can see, you may have a goal of improving performance or changing body composition but in order to eat "healthy" it's important to create healthy eating patterns which work for you....right now in your life.

The goal of "healthy eating" is to not try to eat like someone else who may be more along in his/her nutrition journey.

Healthy eating doesn't mean buying food that you have no idea how to prepare (or you hate).
Healthy eating doesn't mean eating “perfect” like what you read and see on the internet nor does it mean eating food that doesn't make you feel good inside your body.

And healthy eating doesn't mean feeling the need to eat differently, at any/all costs, because you hate your body image.

Healthy eating means setting yourself up for good eating patterns - eating patterns that are sustainable, realistic, healthy and performance enhancing.

As you progress in your individual journey, be mindful that your definition of healthy eating will/may change overtime. You may go from being extremely rigid and strict in your diet to allowing more food freedom and food flexibility. Or you may be proud that you are "at least" eating breakfast now and eating a few veggies throughout the day and you may find yourself learning how to plan a more balanced breakfast and even eating a hearty salad as a meal. 

And as you adapt to your training plan, your physiology will likely change, thus allowing you to train harder, longer or stronger. Your body will require additional energy and electrolytes and fluids and you will begin to understand that a well-planned sport nutrition plan is very important to keeping your body healthy. 

Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

-Create an eating plan for what you will eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner each day of the week as well as for snacks. When you have a plan, you will find it easier to be proactive and plan ahead. You can keep this extremely simple by eating similar foods each day to get started. Be mindful of your hunger and fullness cues. 

--Don't bring a diet mentality (or off limit food list) to your eating patterns. Allow for flexibility and avoid having an all-or-nothing approach. You have enough education and knowledge to know what foods are "healthy" (hint - prioritize food made in gardens and grown on farms).

-Spend 30 minutes each day planning for tomorrow's eating. Reflect on today and what worked/didn't work and make small tweaks so you feel more control, satisfied and comfortable with your eating patterns. The more food that you have prepped and available, the easier it is to follow through with your plan. 

-Consider your life to-do's so that eating is not too complicated, time consuming or difficult. Never let eating be an afterthought (or pushed aside as something you don't have time for) as a well nourished body functions well in life.

-Give yourself time at time-out to eat a meal (at least 20 minutes) before continuing on with the rest of your day.

-Don't aim for perfect - allow for flexibility.
-Consider how your workouts impact your appetite and food choices.

-Consider how your pre/during/post workout nutrition can positively or negatively affect your workouts as well as your eating patterns throughout the day. 

-Don't try to use willpower, discipline or being strict to initiate a change. Be proactive with your eating patterns so you set yourself up for good behaviors. If you have trigger foods that are too tempting to eat right now in your journey, remove them from your environment.

-Always maintain a healthy relationship with food. Food is not for managing stress or emotions and it is not reward for a great workout or punishment for a bad workout.

If a body composition modification is a desired goal to enhance performance or to improve health, the methods should not be strict, limited or extreme. You should allow for gradual weight loss (not a quick fix), without extreme food restrictions, excessive exercising, unsafe behaviors (starving, purging, laxatives) or use of weight loss or performance-enhancing supplements.