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Every Bite Is Divine

Seven Principles of a Healthy-Weight Lifestyle

by Annie B. Kay

There are many, many paths to good health and to healthy eating. There are few universal truths, however, that, regardless of your personal choices of how and what to eat, bear up well under the light of scientific scrutiny. Despite what you hear in the media, the basics of a healthy lifestyle haven’t changed in the last 50 years. There is lots of debate, however, about the details.

Here are seven basic, time-tested principles.

  1. A healthy lifestyle is one that you can stick to without feeling deprived. Be it vegetarian, the Zone, Weight Watchers®, Atkins™, or most other plans out there, a healthy lifestyle is one that nourishes your body without messing with your mind. You can stick with it for the rest of your life, not just for a month or two while you’re losing weight. Some diets have a more restrictive “cleansing phase,” which can be fine if you know it won’t backfire. If you know you are a compulsive eater or binger, deprivation has a funny way of backfiring into a diet-binge cycle. Likewise, doing exercises you hate won’t last long, and you probably won’t give it your all, so you may even burn fewer calories doing it.

  2. A healthy diet relies on plants: fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. The science is clear. Meat and animal products can be part of a healthy diet, but whole grains and plenty of fruits and vegetables provide the fiber and nutrients in such short supply in our fast-food, overprocessed culture. Aim for at least five servings of fruits and/or vegetables every day. The optimal number is nine to 10 daily servings.

  3. A healthy diet nourishes your body; it has enough calories to meet your basic metabolic needs. Starvation diets don’t work (and are no fun at all!). The deprivation mindset they engender can have an impact on your entire life. You can’t lose weight permanently without feeding your body and having the energy to be physically active. Wouldn’t it be great to not be in the deprivation mindset ever again? Actually, it’s the only way.

  4. A healthy lifestyle is a physically active lifestyle. The interplay of eating and movement is an ever-evolving dance. You just can’t be active unless you eat. Becoming active often makes people more interested in eating a healthy, balanced diet. No matter who you are—how old or your physical condition—being active can change your life for the better.

  5. A healthy lifestyle is individualized: It reflects your age, health history, social and financial needs, preferences, and temperament. Your best diet is as individual as you are. It takes into account the food you like to eat and whether you like to cook or are a take-out connoisseur. It’s one you can afford without taking a second job. Your stage of life, gender, and the diseases that run in your family all play a role in what’s on your plate.

  6. A healthy diet is fat-savvy. Diets high in animal and processed fats lead, over time, to a myriad of health problems. The shift from artery-clogging saturated and trans fats to healthier vegetable and fish oils can make you feel better and live longer.

  7. A healthy diet is moderate and varied. Moderation. We all know it’s important, but do we really know what moderation is? In our anything-but-moderate culture, there are few examples to follow. That’s where yoga comes in. The moderate yogi is no passive snoozer, but a strong and practiced warrior standing in the fire between overindulgence and deprivation.

No one recipe, even if followed to a tee, will deliver a healthy diet to absolutely everyone. The principles above are flexible truths that can guide your exploration toward your healthiest diet. The important thing is to stay on your path, revel in the fullness of your humanity (your strengths and limitations), and live your most soul-filled life. Your journey won’t happen overnight, or over a weekend, or even in 30 days. It will take the rest of your life.

Annie B. Kay, Kripalu’s Lead Nutritionist, is an integrative dietitian and Kripalu Yoga teacher. This article is adapted from her book Every Bite Is Divine. www.everybiteisdivine.com

© Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health. All rights reserved. To request permission to reprint, please e-mail editor@kripalu.org.