Embracing Healthy-ish Eating
Do you feel a perpetual sense of doubt about how well you are feeding yourself and your family? With all the conflicting nutrition advice out there, it’s easy to feel like you are failing at times. And that frustration can lead to what I call the “what the heck?” effect. You may think “I can never win, so why even bother?” As a dietitian, I have seen too many people fall into this trap and give up on their journey to improve their eating. But, there is another way! We can approach nutrition from a perspective that is relaxed and forgiving—one that honors the reality of your time, energy, skills, and motivation.
Our feelings of frustration and disappointment are often self-inflicted because of our unrealistic expectations. However, there is no such thing as “perfect eating.” That is an impossible standard. It’s all about doing the best you can in less-than-ideal circumstances. I like to call this “healthy-ish eating.”
Healthy-ish eating has many benefits. It embraces moderation and enjoyment plus allows for more creativity and flexibility with meal planning. It helps you prioritize and focus on what is truly important to you. Healthy-ish eating can also encourage picky eaters to try new foods—believe me, putting bacon on Brussels sprouts can work miracles! And most importantly, healthy-ish eating is what helps nurture long-term, sustainable change.
I believe one of the main reasons people struggle to create positive long-term changes to their eating is a failure to embrace healthy-ish eating. When you set strict rules about what is “okay to eat,” you can get frustrated with the limited variety of foods you allow yourself to eat. You may end up feeling deprived and compensate by seeking out food that is definitely not healthy, which turns into a vicious cycle. Eating well is not an all-or-nothing proposition.
Embracing healthy-ish eating can be tough to do when we live in a culture that suffers from the “fear of missing out," or "FOMO" as it is more commonly known. We live with the luxury of choice, so we often try to optimize our decisions and make the “best choice.” Unfortunately, research suggests that this pursuit can also leave us less satisfied with our choices and feeling like we’ve missed out.
The solution to this dilemma is to learn to "satisfice," a clever mash-up of the words satisfy and suffice. This is a choice that gives you the minimum outcome you are willing to accept (i.e., “good enough”).
Let’s put this concept into practice with an example. Say it’s Monday night and you planned to prepare a specific recipe for dinner but ran out of the time and/or energy needed to follow through with the plan—who hasn't? Your first thought may be to order a pizza or go get some drive-thru fast food. But maybe there is another choice that can satisfice in this situation. What is the minimum outcome you are willing to accept? Maybe you want the meal to be simple, nutritionally balanced, and affordable. A solution to satisfice could be to run to the grocery store and pick up a rotisserie chicken, a bagged salad kit, and some frozen potato wedges. This would fulfill the minimum outcomes you are willing to accept. It’s not "plan A," and while it may not be perfect in your mind, it is good enough.
So how do you get started with healthy-ish eating?
Here are some tips:
- Focus on nutritional balance, not nutritional perfection.
- Think about the minimum outcomes you are willing to accept.
- Stay flexible and make reasonable compromises.
- Stay focused on the big picture.
To conclude, I'll leave you with this quote from Voltaire: “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.”