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  • How to Eat Well

  • written by: Matt Madeiro
  • published on:

This brief dietary interlude is meant to pair up with my new guest post, The 9 to 5 Guide to Staying Active, over at Zen Habits. Check it out and let me know what you think!

The Kindle version of Happiness Is, by the way, is now available. Go grab your copy for precisely ninety-nine pennies!

Want to make every day count? (Me too!)

Then let’s start with the biggest part of your daily routine: how you eat.

I think we can improve it. Try this:

  1. 90% of the time, eat healthy, natural food.
  2. 10% of the time, break rule #1.

And that’s all there is to it.

It’s amazing, in a sense, how two years of health blogging over at Three New Leaves can be so readily condensed into a few plucky statements. My personal approach to eating underwent a lot of moving and shaking during that time, but one thought (mercifully!) stayed the same: eating well—eating right—shouldn’t be hard.

Let me repeat that.

Food doesn’t have to be difficult. It can even be simple.

Our diets, accordingly, shouldn’t cause stress. They shouldn’t cause worry, regret, or sleepleess nights, and they shouldn’t prove fertile territory for the never-ending battle between you and what you see staring back from the mirror.

They should nourish. They should enable us to live better, happier, and more fully — giving us the strength and stamina we need to take every day as it comes and try and make it count.

I’m a diet dork, clearly, so I care (probably too much) about what’s on your plate. Given the transformation in my own life, though—and so many others—I’d say that changing what you eat might be one of the greatest things you can do.

Let me put that differently.

Want to live well? It starts right here.

1. Eat real food.

Meat, veggies, starch and fruit. Enjoy them in abundance.

If it came from nature, dig in.

If it comes out of a box or can—or if the ingredients list reads like a chemistry textbook—then you’re better off avoiding it.

Most of the time, at least.

2. Don’t be afraid to indulge.

One ‘bad’ meal will not wreck your health. It will not—food allergies aside—ruin your week, and it will not automatically add thirty pounds to your thighs.

It will lift your mood. It will remind you of why you do what you do — why you take care of yourself, watch what you eat, and rank your health as a number one priority.

But here’s the thing: you have to make it count.

Don’t settle for cheap snack cakes, grocery store cookies or shiny glazed donuts.

If you’re not eating these things on a regular basis (good for you!), why on earth would you settle for cheap crap? If you’re going to indulge, you had damn well better indulge.

You had better eat the birthday/wedding cake. You had better lock eyes with a slice of red velvet cake from the best bakery in town. You had better, when strolling through the streets of Paris, eat the damn bread — knowing full well that this could be a once-in-a-lifetime trip, and knowing that you are going to make every day count as much as possible while you’re there.

If you’re going to indulge, make it count. And don’t be afraid to, since you know you have one simple tool at your disposal: compensation.

3. Don’t be afraid to compensate.

It’s okay to eat less.

It’s even okay to skip a meal (or two). I’ve been in Denver, CO for the last few days on business, and you’d better believe I’ve walked the city as far as my shoes will take me. I have eaten a lot in the process. (Elk sausage and Alaskan reindeer hot dogs? Yes!)

I don’t know when I’ll be back in the Mile High City, so I’m okay—pretty pumped, even—with indulging more than usual. Will my daily caloric intake come in higher than usual while I’m here? Sure! But I knew that coming in, ladies and gentlemen, and ate pretty light last week to compensate. Breakfast was a few cups of coffee on most days, and lunch tended to come in at a smaller portion size than I usually go for. This has the added advantage of appealing to my vanity, sure, but the perks don’t stop there — I’’ll be rocking the same shape when I fly back to Texas despite all the delicious food consumed while I’m here.

I’ll be happy, too, that I had a chance to explore the cuisine of a city I’d never visited before. (For me, at least, that’s a big part of living well.) Compensation lets me do that without feeling like I’ve just set myself back on my slow march towards six-pack abs.

Look at it this another way. If you know you’ll be painting the town red with your friends tonight—eating, drinking, and generally inviting shenanigans—then why not have a smaller lunch than usual? You know you’ll be consuming quite a bit during the evening hours, so why not compensate with a smaller meal before (and a smaller breakfast the morning after)?

Keep it simple. You’ll be surprised at how much you can accomplish when you do.

What You Can Do Today

Want to make this day count? I’ve got you covered. Try these on for size:

  1. Skip breakfast. Enjoy a few cups of coffee, instead, or a steaming mug of tea.
  2. If you’re the type who typically goes for dessert, make it count — and cut a portion from your main meal to compensate.
  3. If you’re planning on going out tonight, eat a little less during the day to compensate. Skip your afternoon snack, for example, or shrink your lunch portion accordingly.
  4. The next time you feel your stomach rumble, drink a tall glass of water. Wait and eat when the hunger pangs strike again — and don’t be surprised if it takes hours.

The big one, though?

Be kind to yourself.

This blog is about living well — what it means, how to do it, and simple strategies to help make it possible. One of the biggest requirements, then, might also seem like one of the silliest: you have to like yourself.

You have to be kind to the person you see staring back in the mirror. When it comes to diet, at least, we have a tendency to beat ourselves up any time we so much as sneak a glance at a slice of cake. Rather than feeling miserable for the next week, why not try and adopt a different approach?

Eat the damn cake.
Enjoy every bite.
Skip a meal the next day or just eat less in general to compensate.
Go back to eating healthy, natural food.
Smile.

Let’s keep it simple.

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