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Published on June 14, 2017

How to know if you're really eating healthy

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine, feeling particularly frustrated with her newly adopted healthy eating routine, asked me, "Why am I always hungry after an hour when I eat healthy foods?! I never seem to have that problem when I eat the other stuff!"

Hands in the air if you've ever experienced a similar situation. I think many people have. And it's no surprise why—the word "healthy" is everywhere. But what struck me most about my friend's statement is how vastly different everyone's definition of healthy eating seems to be. So how can you tell if you're truly eating healthy?

Next time you're sitting down to a meal or snack, try asking yourself these questions:

  1. Will the food I'm eating provide me with enough fuel to get me to my next meal or snack?
    It is a common misconception that when you eat healthy you have to be hungry all the time. In fact, if you are truly eating healthfully your meals and snacks should keep you full until it is time to eat again—usually around four hours. This is done by creating a balance of calories from the energy nutrients: carbohydrates, proteins and fats. These nutrients are broken down at different rates during digestion, so having a good balance of all three will help keep you feeling satisfied longer. Ideally, half your plate should be fruits and vegetables, a quarter of your plate should be whole grains and a quarter of your plate should be lean meats or another protein source.
  2. Is the food I'm eating going to provide me with the nutrients my body needs?
    Not only does your body need fuel, it needs other nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. Balancing your plate as described above will also help you get adequate amounts of all the other nutrients your body needs to perform the important tasks it does every day to keep you alive.
  3. Am I physically hungry right now?
    Physical hunger should be the driving force behind most of your eating behaviors. If you are not physically hungry, it is important that you figure out what you really are—bored, tired, stressed, anxious, sad, lonely—so you can address that problem without using food to cope. If you are not physically hungry, it doesn't matter whether you're munching on celery or potato chips,you're still overeating.
  4. Is this a healthy eating behavior?
    When it comes to healthy eating, why you're eating is just as important as what you're eating. Not eating when you're feeling physically hungry, continuing to eat even when you're full, restricting certain foods or food groups (unless medically necessary), indulging in cheat days, feeling guilty about eating or meticulously counting calories, points, carbohydrates or pounds are all examples of unhealthy behaviors. Eat to satisfy physical hunger, and fuel your body with the energy and nutrients it needs at least 80-percent of the time. Eat just for fun or to satisfy a craving 20-percent of the time or less to stay on the right track to truly healthy eating behavior.

Remember, we live in a world driven by industry. Whether we are aware of it or not, these industries shape our perception of the world—and the diet industry is no exception. The latest and greatest diet plans and products give us any number of definitions of what constitutes a healthy food. What's important is learning to ignore all the diet noise you're surrounded by and getting back in touch with your own body. It is more than capable of telling you everything you need to know about keeping it healthy!

Love + Medicine

Every day, Gundersen Health System delivers great medicine plus a little something extra—we call it Love + Medicine.

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