This month’s blogs focus on building strong foundations in your wellness practices to set yourself up for success and to enjoy the freedom this yields. Understanding the basics of nutrition is essential to create a diet that serves you.

Many of us are confused about what and how to eat. There is a lot of information about nutrition available, and much of it is crap. The amount of contradictions among sources makes it nearly impossible to know what or who is correct. One article proves going vegan is the only way to go, while the next article proves that it is life-threatening. It is a mess out there.

The more I learn, the fewer people I listen to. Find a few leaders you trust, then follow them. I do this when it comes to yoga, exercise and nutrition.

What works for one person may or may not work for another. Find the information that is right for you and stick with it until it no longer works. I have found the following guidelines – not rules – to work for me and for those I have coached in nutrition:

1. Become nutritionally agnostic. Get off the hype and limitations of being “vegan,” “paleo” or “gluten-free,” unless the restrictions come from your doctor or moral views.

I have flirted with raw-food veganism and vegetarianism. Neither worked for my stomach or mood.

I’ve also adhered to a paleo diet and lost balance in my personal and social life due to the harsh rules it imposed. Nobody likes the person who shows up to the party or dinner and can’t eat anything offered. At some point, our diets can begin to define us. They become who we are. Our diets should support who we are, not define or limit us.

2. Eat for wellness. When designing a nutritional plan for yourself, focus on how your food makes you feel, not how it makes you look. Eat foods that energize you physically and mentally. The by-product will likely be improved body composition, but this doesn’t need to be your goal.

Notice how you feel after eating specific foods. For example, when the 2 p.m. crash hits at work, drink a coffee on Monday and a fruit smoothie on Tuesday. Then, notice which choice made you feel better. When I say notice how you feel, really notice. Which one truly energized you and gave you what you needed in that moment?

Start to listen to your body and moods after eating and drinking. Then, take in more of what increased your feelings of well-being.

3. Make whole foods the focus of your diet. Whole foods are minimally processed foods that can go from the ground straight to your mouth. Literally build your nutrition and eating habits from the ground up. If it comes in a package, double check the ingredients because it may not be a whole food.

Forget the government’s original “food pyramid” and be skeptical of the new “food plate.” If the government provided solid nutritional information and wasn’t influenced by big business, two-thirds of Americans wouldn’t be overweight or obese. Instead, fill at least half at least of your plate with vegetables and fruits. Another quarter can come from nuts, legumes and some unrefined whole grains like rice, quinoa or bulgur for example. Proteins and some healthy fats fill-in the rest. Eating whole foods is the easiest step you can take to improve your diet and health as a result.

4. When eating animal products, make sure they are all-natural and organic. You are what you eat. If what you eat ate crap, then that’s what you will receive.

Focus on how the animal was fed and raised. When eating eggs, go for organic, vegetarian-fed and cage-free. The same goes for chicken.

Eat meats that are antibiotic-, hormone- and additive-free.

Most importantly, when eating beef, eat grass-fed beef. Food sellers are getting smart and are starting to advertise beef as “vegetarian-fed.” This is not the same as grass-fed in regards to cows! When cows eat vegetarian feed, such as grain, corn and/or soy, they get sick. Grass-fed cow meat also contains 5x the amount of omega-3 and higher amounts of vitamin A, E and micronutrients. If you choose to include milk, cheese and butter in your diet, ensure they come from grass-fed cows too and limit your intake.

Eating the occasional animal product that isn’t all-natural won’t kill you. But doing so every day will add up.  

5. Eat healthy fats. Eating fat doesn’t make you fat. This myth created our current obesity epidemic. Remember the ’80s, when fat-free diets were all the rage? You can look around today to see the results in our society’s weight and health.

Healthy fats include all natural nuts, seeds, avocados and oils such as olive and coconut. Healthy fats also increase HDL cholesterol (“good cholesterol”) and help to control mood by coating and protecting the nerves.

6. Limit the amount of CRAP you eat. If it comes in a package or you have to go down the middle aisle of the grocery store to find it, it’s probably CRAP: Carbonated, Refined, Artificial, Processed. Stay on the periphery of the store and stay out of McDonald’s.

Avoid drinking calories. Check ingredient labels. The first few ingredients listed on a package are the main ones. If you see sugar, soy, oil, or any other piece of CRAP listed at the top, move on.

7. Enjoy the occasional “cheat meal.” Every once in a while, disregard everything I have stated and eat whatever the hell you want. Build a strong foundation of what works for you so that you can relax and eat a cheeseburger (or whatever makes you smile) sometimes.

I’m a big fan of pizza and burritos. I don’t let them control my decisions or feel deprived when I don’t eat them. But they make me happy, so I’ll continue to eat them until they no longer work for me. Incorporating “cheat meals” is a balanced way to have fun with food. Don’t worry, you’re not really cheating on your diet or yourself. You’re just having a little fling!

Stick to these basics and explore and experiment from there. I like to think of myself as a self-scientist when it comes to nutrition. You have to experiment to discover what does and does not work for you.

Your diet and nutritional beliefs are personal and take effort, observation and patience to form. Start creating a foundation for yourself by listening to what creates more wellness in your life. Then, build from there.

Are you looking to build a foundation for yourself in nutrition to become healthier and happier this year? Contact me today to learn more about the wellness coaching services I offer that have empowered my clients to create the changes they desire in their well-being.