When there’s a trendy new diet making headlines every week with new rules about what you should and shouldn’t eat, things can get confusing. That’s why Vanessa Kahen, a New York City-based health coach, says it’s so important to take a step back to basics. In reality, there’s really only one thing you need to remember when it comes to eating healthier.
While trendy diets don’t generally work long-term—or at all—Kahen says something that does work for pretty much everyone is focusing on eating real food. “Quite simply, real food is any whole single-ingredient food that either came from the Earth or had a mother. Or any food that’s made up of a combination of real foods,” she said in a webinar for Intuition. “Some examples of real foods are vegetables, fruits, fish, eggs, meat, beans, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.”
This might sound similar to something like Whole30 or “eating clean,” but she says there’s a huge difference between eating real food and being on any kind of diet: “The main takeaway is we’re not restricting things as long as what we’re eating is real,” Kahen says. “Making sure you’re either eating whole foods—or foods made up of whole foods—will send you in the right direction when you’re trying to eat better. Here are some tips that will make eating real food fun and easy.
Tips for Eating Healthy
1. Count ingredients, not calories.
Eating real food doesn’t mean you can only get carrot sticks at the grocery store. You can buy packaged items, too. Kahen says the key is flipping the item over and looking at the ingredients list—not the calories. “The shorter it is, the better. If you start seeing ingredients and foods you don’t recognize, that’s a good time to put it back on the shelf and look for a healthier alternative,” she says. “You’ll almost always be able to find what you’re looking for that’s made up of entirely real foods.”
2. Make it tasty.
You don’t have to eat plain whole foods. Kahen recommends seasoning your food well with spices and herbs to elevate the flavor, finding a sauce you love (and using it often), and making inspired recipes that you’re excited about eating. “As long as you make things taste good, you’re probably going to be more keen on eating them,” Kahen says.
3. Make it easy.
If you want to create sustainable habits that last, make this healthy diet easy to hold onto. “When things get too tricky, people like to ditch—that’s just how we work, whether that’s a workout routine, diet, or job,” Kahen says. That’s why making it easy for yourself is so important, and you can do that by planning your meals ahead of time, meal prepping, and stocking your fridge with the foods you actually want to eat.
4. Make it last.
In order to make these new healthy eating habits last over time, Kahen recommends making small shifts that end up making a big difference over time. You can start by choosing one change to make each week or each month.
“For example, let’s say you have a bowl of ice cream every night after dinner. Choose one night a week where you have fruit instead. Or, substitute your bread for a grain-free tortilla,” Kahen says. “If you’re making these small shifts little by little, chances are it’s not really going to rock your world enough for you to dip out and say it’s too hard.”