WHAT IS A BALANCED DIET?
What does a healthy and “balanced diet” look like to you?
Can you picture what a well balanced diet looks like? Have you found a balanced diet that works for you, both short term and long term?
If your answer to that question is no – I’m going to reveal to you how finding a healthy and well balanced diet has taken me from being sick, overweight, anxious and stressed-out all the time to healthy, thin (I’ve lost more than 30 pounds), relaxed and happier. It has completely changed my life! I’m also going to reveal how easy it can be for you to find the best healthy, well balanced diet that works for you!
Over the past year I have been pursuing a healthy balance while trying to figure out what “balance” really means. I have the type of personality that tends to be a bit extreme at times. For example, if I am trying out a new type of diet, I am very focused and disciplined with that new way of eating and living and will not generally sway from it (unless I decide that it’s not working for me). I am the same with almost everything in my life (including exercise and general lifestyle). This quality of focus and passion is good and does have its advantages, but I can also become a little obsessive- which can result in serious “unbalance”.
A little bit of my story
For the past year, I religiously followed a “high fat/low carb diet” together with the Paleo diet. I also did intermittent fasting (strict intermittent fasting) where I would only eat within a 4-8 hour period everyday and fast for the rest of the day (fasting: not eating). I became absolutely terrified at the thought of consuming food outside of this window of time because I believed it was unhealthy. BUT… I fully believed that this type of diet was superior to all other diets, and so I followed it religiously. While following this diet I would eat mostly leafy greens and vegetables with LOTS of cold-pressed oils, avocado, nuts, seeds, eggs, fish and lean meats. I would not touch grains and only ate starchy vegetables and fruit occasionally. I must say, I am proud of myself for sticking to it like I did – it takes discipline and some serious self-control.
The year before I started following the “high fat, low carb diet”, I followed a diet that was a combination of the Paleo diet and a vegan diet. I was so confused with what was “healthy” and what was “unhealthy” that I became terrified to make a wrong move. While following the Paleo diet, I consumed absolutely no grains, no dairy, no legumes, no refined sugar and little fruit. I ate mostly lean meats, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds and leafy greens. While following a vegan diet, I consumed no meat, fish, eggs or any animal product such as dairy while still consuming no grains or refined sugar. I ate vegetables and greens, nuts, seeds, fruit and some legumes. I also went through a raw-vegan phase where I would only eat raw fruit and vegetables. During my Paleo/vegan year, I believed it was good to eat every 3 to 4 hours – starting as soon as I woke up in the morning and ending just before I hit my pillow at night.
The year before my Paleo/ vegan diet, I followed a vegan diet where I ate fruit pretty much all day (I believed that fruit was the most superior food group), some vegetables, lots of nuts, seeds and a lot of grains too (such as oats, rye and rice). I very occasionally consumed meat or eggs, ate absolutely no dairy and did not touch any fats. I believed that all fats were bad, protein was acceptable in small amounts and carbs were the only safe option. This was my “high fruit diet” or “high carb, low fat diet”. During this time I also believed that one should graze constantly throughout the day and have snacks on hand to eat at any given moment.
The story goes on and on.
For the past decade, I have tried so many diets and have stuck to all of them long enough to realise that while all of them contain great elements of truth, there is one fundamental component that I now believe all of these diet plans are missing: BALANCE.
What do I mean by “balance”?
These diets are all extreme. I have come to realise (it has taken me more than 10 years) that each food group is important.
Carbs are healthy, protein is healthy and fats are healthy. It is about eating all of them in moderation and eating “healthy” options of each one. There are healthy and unhealthy options for every food and every food group.
What does balance look like for me?
For me, I have learned (and am still learning) to eat everything in moderation and in realistic portions. I have learned to think about how much of each food type my body needs and generally eat no more and no less than that. I have learned to listen to my body daily and assess its needs every day so that I can care for it properly.
I no longer care about the opinions of other people concerning my diet, or about what I am told is healthy. If I feel that my body is craving carbohydrates then I will make sure to have a lot of starchy vegetables, fruit and grains. If I feel like I need protein then I will assess whether my body needs plant-based protein (nuts, seeds, spirulina, etc) or animal protein (good quality lean meat, fish or eggs). If I feel like my body needs healthy fats then I will eat healthy fats (cold-pressed oils, avocado, nuts, seeds, eggs). I no longer “over consume” any food group and eat what I feel my body needs.
Something I have learned is that no diet is superior. NO DIET IS SUPERIOR. It is about finding what works for you and finding a diet that makes you feel great – long term and short term – and if that diet stops working for you after a time, then it’s about being open to change.
A healthy and balanced diet that is perfectly suited to your lifestyle and personal needs is the best diet to follow. Do not be afraid of any food or any food group, simply choose healthy options.
Another important element of balance is treating yourself. Do you treat yourself occasionally? I must admit that I still struggle with this element of balance sometimes, but I am working on it. Is it okay to have alcohol occasionally? Is it okay to enjoy a slice of chocolate cake? Yes, it is. I don’t like to eat junk food (processed and refined food) but I do treat myself with heathy desserts that I create from unprocessed, unrefined and natural ingredients. I honestly don’t like the taste of processed food anymore (like white sugar or flour) and don’t like the way that it makes my body feel. BUT I LOVE the healthy treats that I make. I will enjoy a glass of red wine (sulphate free) occasionally with friends. But when I do, I go for the most natural and organic option available and drink it in moderation. I even splurge on a cider or a beer very occasionally! See, I’m working on my balance! You have to “let go” occasionally. I still can’t bring myself to take a bite of any unhealthy, processed cake or dessert and I realise that this “food fear” is not healthy either – but it’s all right, I’ll get there one day!
For now I am focusing on enjoying all of the food groups (carbs, protein and fats) in moderation – which is huge for me. I have had so much anxiety for the past decade about finding the “healthiest diet” and have been totally afraid of so many foods that I now realise are healthy (for example: potatoes, grains, meat, eggs and fruit).
So, I mentioned that there are healthy and unhealthy options for each food group but what are the healthy options? How do you know what the healthy options for each food group are?
WHAT IS YOUR “HEALTHY”?
What does a balanced diet look like to you? Your idea of a balanced diet may look different to my idea of a balanced diet.
Think about which foods make your body feel good and which foods make your body feel not so good. Think about which foods you LOVE to eat and foods that you don’t really seem to enjoy.
These factors are all important and should all be taken into consideration. Remember that balance is all about being open to change and being willing to try new things!
Finding the perfect diet for YOU
Finding a well balanced diet that works for you and leaves you healthy and happy is so important!
Balance may look different during different seasons in your life, so it’s important to be open to change. Finding balance will reduce stress and anxiety, and increase both health and happiness.
It’s a good idea to assess your dietary needs so that you can find a balanced diet that is appropriate for you during your current season in life. Are you trying to lose weight, gain weight or just become healthy? Ask yourself these questions so that you know what your goals are.
Balance is about doing everything in moderation; Sometimes you have to work hard to achieve your personal, fitness, diet and health goals. Other times you just need to let go, go with the flow and enjoy the ride… because life is a journey and not a destination (so remember to treat yourself along the way!).
Above all else, remember to love the food that you eat and be grateful for whatever is on your plate!
Liezl Jayne xo
Photo’s by Liezl Jayne Strydom – for liezljayne.com