Podcast Episodes

Redefining Health and Nutrition: How to “Eat Healthy” and Fuel Your Body Without Being Diet-y

August 29, 2023

Self-Paced Course: Non-Diet Academy


You'll also love

learn more

A Certified Eating Disorders Registered Dietitian (CEDRD) with a master's degree in dietetics & nutrition. My passion is helping you find peace with food - and within yourself.

Meet Katy

Welcome back to Rebuilding Trust With Your Body, I’m Katy Harvey your host. Today on the show we are going to talk about “healthy eating” and how we can fuel our bodies without being diet-y about it. 

I’m REALLY excited about this episode and I spent a lot of time thinking about how to break this topic down, because it’s complicated and nuanced. Part of what makes it so challenging is that health is something so individualized that it means something different to each of us, especially when it comes to the behaviors we are using to try and support our health. What is healthy for me might not be for you. In fact, some of the things that one person does to improve their health might be straight up UNhealthy for another. 

Let me give you an example of this: 

Let’s say you have high cholesterol and you’re trying to eat more fiber to see if it helps improve your cholesterol levels. So you add in more whole grains, more fruits, more veggies. That’s a supportive thing to do for your body.

However, if you have Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis (both of these are autoimmune inflammatory bowel diseases) and you’re in a flare-up, adding in fiber is the opposite of what we’d recommend. It would make you feel worse to eat all that fiber. When you have Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis, low fiber is the nutrition therapy for those conditions. 

You see, context matters when it comes to health and nutrition. And I actually think that’s what’s fun about it, because we get to be curious about our own individual needs rather than trying to apply blanket statements across the board. In this episode we’re going to do some mindset work to think differently about how you’re approaching your health and nutrition, and some of the mistakes you might be making based on the things that diet culture has told us to do. And then I’m going to give you some strategies that you can apply for fueling your body without being diet-y about it so that you can take action based on this episode today which is always great because it’s one thing to learn these new concepts, and it’s another thing to actually take them and DO something differently. That’s how we heal our relationship with food. 

The Problem With How Our Culture Views “Healthy Eating”

Our culture basically thinks healthy eating means eating as little as possible to be somewhat satisfied. When I say it that way it’s kind of sad, isn’t it? I saw this woman on TikTok the other day who was bragging about how she eats nothing but vegetables and meat dipped in mustard and she was getting all this praise in the comments for how inspiring this was, and I’m over here screaming inside that this is disordered eating. The idea that barely feeding ourselves enough is “healthy” is not how we are going to thrive. A well-fueled body is better off than a barely-fueled body. 

And you might be thinking, “Katy, I eat plenty. Just look at me, I’ve got extra weight I could stand to lose.” I hear you, AND I want to gently challenge that a body can be underfed and undernourished at any size. In fact, often the less we eat the lower our metabolism gets and your body tries to hold on to more weight as a form of self-preservation. 

By giving our bodies plenty of food, at consistent and reliable intervals, multiple times per day, your body will then trust that it has ongoing access to enough food. If your body isn’t sure about that (because of dieting, restricting, food insecurity or any other reason you might not have been eating enough) then your body is protecting you by conserving energy and burning fewer calories since it’s not sure if and when you’re going to give it enough calories.

Let’s look at some examples of what diet and wellness culture tells us is “healthy:”

  • Skipping meals and not eating all day – and making it sound healthy by calling it “intermittent fasting” or the “one meal a day diet.” 
  • Cutting out food groups – and calling it healthy by saying that we’re doing keto or paleo or Whole 30. 
  • Not eating fruit because it allegedly has too much sugar, but then drinking smoothies, cold pressed juice, and detox drinks that are basically just liquified fruit, and to make it count as a detox we throw in some laxatives. (psst…nothing about that is detoxifying your body. And even if it could, your body doesn’t need to be detoxified in the first place)
  • Avoiding gluten despite the fact that the vast majority of people tolerate it just fine. So now you’re trying to follow this gluten-free diet which is more expensive and potentially missing out on the other nutrients you’d get from the foods that have gluten in them. 
  • Another example of “healthy eating” according to our culture is the pursuit of weight loss in general. Most people do it in the name of health. And everyone around them nods their head in agreement and cheers them on, so we get that social validation and praise from our weight-loss efforts…Despite the fact that it’s well documented in the literature (and most people’s lived experience) that dieting produces weight regain 95% of the time AND that yo-yo’ing up and down with your weight is legitimately harmful to your physical health.

You see, the things we do under the guise of “health” often don’t hold up to scrutiny. Take that example of Gwenyth Paltro a few months ago. She owns a wellness company that makes millions of dollars per year, and so when she talks about her wellness regimen people’s ears perk up. She proceeded to describe this regimen in an interview with a chiropractor who just so happens to be her chiropractor who was recommending many of the things she was doing. During the interview she was hooked up to an IV that was infusing her veins with nutrients while she sat there and told us basically that all she eats most days is bone broth and vegetables. If you are eating so little that you genuinely need to get your nutrients through an IV you have some pretty significant medical issues going on, and this does not represent health. She was also talking about how she does intermittent fasting and works out with no fuel in her body. This whole thing was so extreme that it went viral with people talking about how obviously unhealthy all of this is, but yet her company is still making tons of money selling wellness nonsense, this chiropractor is still out there telling people to do these things – and people are doing it. They’re participating in these “wellness” practices. We are so mixed up on what it means to be healthy. At least with Gwenyth people could see through this and it got called out as being highly disordered, but what gets overlooked is the multitude of ways that the essence of what she is doing is upheld as being healthy, when it’s not.

There was a student in one of my programs a couple years ago who had been having some stomach issues and was miserable so she was trying to figure out if it was a type of food that was making her feel crummy, and she kept cutting things out to see if it helped, and over time she had whittled her diet down to next to nothing. She was genuinely trying to address her health, and she made the assumption that if her stomach hurt it must be the food causing it, which makes sense logically. But often times what people don’t realize is that with GI issues it’s not necessarily the food that’s the problem, because our gut is sensitive to so many things, and often times we can get someone back to where they can tolerate most (if not all) foods by addressing the underlying reasons they are having things like bloating, constipation, cramping, nausea, or diarrhea. I know it’s gross to talk about this stuff, but I want to normalize it. My boys are 7 and 5 and all they talk about is poop so it doesn’t phase me. 

Anyway, in our work together this student was able to gradually add back in the foods she had cut out, and we were able to train her gut to tolerate all types of food again. She notices that when she goes through periods of high stress or anxiety her stomach will start having problems again, and that’s become her signal that she needs to manage the things in her life that are causing her stress and anxiety, rather than cutting out food. 

Another example is one of my Non-Diet Academy students who had pre-diabetes and she when she first started she was so frustrated with herself because she would try and avoid carbs, because that’s what she was told she needed to to do prevent herself from getting diabetes. So she’d do things like use lettuce instead of a bun for her hamburgers, and she’d eat cauliflower rice instead of regular rice (even though she didn’t like the taste of it), and she’d basically eat meat and vegetables for most of her meals. But then what would happen is a couple of times per week she’d give in and let herself eat some carbs and she would eat a whole bunch of crackers, chips, bread, cookies, or whatever it was. This started happening more and more frequently and she realized that her approach wasn’t working and it wasn’t making her healthier. In fact, her A1c was continuing to increase. (If you don’t know what A1c is, it’s a lab value in your bloodwork that measures your average blood sugar over the past 3 months. So if it’s going up, that means your average blood sugar has been running higher, and that you’re likely having some high spikes in blood sugar which comes from insulin resistance and can progress to diabetes.) 

Once we started adding carbs back in intentionally, with some gentle boundaries, while pairing it with protein and fat, she stopped having those episodes of binging on carbs. You see, her attempt at “healthy eating” backfired and caused her to become less healthy and when she took a reimagined approach she was able to address her health in ways that are much more sustainable and that don’t keep her stuck in that restrict-binge cycle. 

One more quick example and then we’ll talk about how to approach things differently. One thing I have seen a LOT of in recent years is what we call “orthorexia.” It’s not an official eating disorder diagnosis, but it’s well known in the field of eating disorders to be a “thing.” Orthorexia basically means that someone is obsessed with healthy eating. They are obsessed with it to the point that it’s unhealthy for them. They might be trying so hard to eat “clean” that they won’t eat food that other people prepare. Or they might be taking hundreds of dollars worth of supplements and only eating organic food. Their anxiety about their food and what’s in it is palpable to those around them, and a lot of times other people in their life become really annoyed or frustrated because it’s hard to be around a person who is so obsessive about their food. This is what happens when “healthy eating” becomes an obsession. Our culture has gotten us so mixed up, confused and misguided on what it means to truly be healthy with food.

Let’s Redefine Health and Nutrition

How do we define “health” in the first place? Most of us think of it as not being sick, not having diseases or health conditions. And sure, that’s part of it, but health is so much broader and more complex than that. 

The World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing, not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” 

So when we think about what “health” actually is, it’s not just that you don’t have high blood pressure or diabetes. And if your “healthy lifestyle” is negatively impacting your mental health or your ability to socialize, then by this definition it’s not healthy. 

The truth is that we aren’t entirely in control of our health. In fact, studies suggest that genetics account about 20-40% of your health. This means that there are health issues that you may be genetically predisposed to and it’s not your fault if you develop them. This is especially true for things like diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol – which are often blamed purely on diet and weight. Sure, things like our eating and weight might impact or correlate with these conditions, but we also have to recognize that even if you did everything in your power from a lifestyle standpoint to be healthy, you might still develop these conditions because of genetics. 

The other thing we need to talk about here is the social determinants of health. These are the non-medical factors that influence health outcomes, and it includes 5 areas:

  1. Economic stability and income level. If you don’t have money to afford a doctor’s visit, medication or even food then you are more likely to have health issues.
  2. Education access and quality
  3. Health care access and quality
  4. Neighborhood and built environment
  5. Social and community context

When it comes to what we might consider “healthy eating” we have to also factor in these social determinants of health. What is healthy for us depends on these variables in our life – what we can afford, and what you have reasonable access to as far as grocery shopping, time for cooking or available restaurants in your area.

One example of what’s healthy in my family is that we all have the opportunity to sit down and eat dinner, whether it’s a meal prepared with fresh veggies from my garden (which I don’t have) or the frozen or canned veggies that were quick and affordable. And it’s healthy for us to get enough to eat and to have different food groups, so a meal might be a frozen pizza, one of those bagged salad kits, some breadsticks and milk. In another family, health might mean grabbing fast food off the dollar menu because that’s what they have access to and can afford. 

The definition of health and healthy eating is going to be very personal for you, your genetics and your life circumstances. We live in a society that holds up this belief system that health should be all protein shakes, green smoothies, HIIT workouts, and cold plunges (many of these I’ve already debunked as Wellness Woo). And this image that we have of eating these beautiful colorful meals, and working out and drinking a gallon of water out of our Stanley cup is a mirage, and it’s an aesthetic that is being marketed to us over and over again. And then we play into the marketing of these standards by posting pictures of ourselves in our drinking our green smoothie or in our workout clothes, and our brains think, “Oh it’s not just Suzie the influencer who is doing these “healthy” things – it’s also my friend Kelly down the street and if she’s being healthy then I should be too.” 

But we’ve got to redefine what health looks like for ourselves, and to consider what our own bodies need and what will work realistically in our lives. Again, it’s so personal and unique to each one of us. So let’s look at some examples of how to fuel your body without being diet-y about it.

How to Fuel Your Body Without Being Diet-y

The first thing we’re going to do is a mindset shift that is going to change how it feels to approach nutrition. Most of the time when we think about making changes to our eating, we think about what to eat less of or cut out entirely. We think about the things we feel like we shouldn’t be eating, or that we should eat less of. 

You might have thought to yourself, “I don’t need to be snacking at night anymore,” or, “I’ve got to get all these sweets out of my house,” or, “I’m going to stay away from carbs.” And doing these things might feel good to you at first. You feel like you’re doing something positive for yourself, and you might even physically feel better and more energized at first, which then in your mind confirms that all those “bad” foods were making you feel sluggish or bloated.

But eventually the deprivation sets in. Or we have an instance where we justify why we are going to eat a cookie or a breadstick, and it can be like a switch flips where we keep wanting more of those foods again, and now you feel like you’ve fallen off the bandwagon. 

This is the deprivation cycle that happens when we only think about what to limit or take away with food. So the mindset shift we’re going to make is flipping this around and thinking about what you can ADD rather than take away. 

And this makes it kind of fun, because you can get excited about some of the things you’re going to add in. I would start by looking at what you might be lacking or perhaps not getting enough of. The first thing to check is whether or not you are getting all of the macronutrients. This would be your carb, protein and fat. If you’re missing or avoiding any of those things, let’s start by adding in foods that contain those nutrients. A lot of people are trying to avoid carbs, so their meals end up being mainly protein and vegetables. Let’s add a grain or a starch for some carbs. Your body genuinely needs carbs for fuel. 

Let’s say you’re looking at what you typically eat and you notice that you’re not getting in very many veggies. We are told so many times that we “should” eat our veggies that it makes us not want them. Maybe you go through phases where you eat a ton of veggies, and then you get burned out and stop eating them almost completely. Let’s find that middle ground.

The truth about veggies is that they aren’t super palatable on their own compared to other foods, so they don’t light up the pleasure centers in our brains. Steamed broccoli or raw cauliflower aren’t the most delicious things until we jazz them up. 

Perhaps we can season the steamed broccoli with some salt and pepper and garlic powder, or roast it instead with some olive oil and parmesan cheese. I promise you that adding calories to your veggies doesn’t cancel them out. That’s a common thing that trips people up. In fact, we actually absorb more of the nutrients in the veggies when we have them with a fat source like olive oil, butter, ranch dip, or cheese sauce. The fat helps us absorb the fat-soluble vitamins (and it makes them taste better, which makes us more likely to eat them and enjoy them). So play around with including veggies in ways that are enjoyable and that enhance the flavor. 

Another thing you can do with your veggies is add them to things you’re already eating. Put some lettuce, tomato and pickles on your burger or turkey sandwich. Add some salsa or pico to your tacos. Put some broccoli in your mac and cheese. Add a few more carrots and celery to your chicken noodle soup. Veggies give us lots of different micronutrients and fiber, so they’re a great way to give our bodies some additional nourishment without being diet-y about it. The goal with the veggies isn’t to fill yourself up and avoid calories – it’s to add more nutrition. 

So think about what you can ADD rather than take away. 

Another thing that will help you fuel your body without being diet-y is to plan ahead. When we just wing it with food, it’s easy to end up skipping meals, not snacking, or getting hungry and the only thing you have access to is a drive thru or vending machine, or the snacks in the back of your pantry that you’re not even hungry for but it’s all that’s there. In contrast, if you have planned ahead, kept your kitchen stocked with food options, and have snacks on hand in your bag or in your car for when you’re out and about, then you’re going to be able to fuel yourself with intention. 

I’m not suggesting that you have to plan exactly what you’re going to eat when, nor do I think you need to meal prep unless you want to. I’m just saying let’s have a loose game plan for your meals each week based on your schedule, some backup options on hand, and strategic snacks too. When I say strategic snacks, I’m thinking about having snack options that are both tasty and satiating. My snack hack is to pair carb + protein, which could be cheese and crackers, or fruit and greek yogurt, or a cheese stick and some Goldfish crackers.  The other day I posted about how I had Doritos dipped in cottage cheese as my snack and people were like OMG that sounds amazing. If this sounds weird to you, and you like cottage cheese, give it a shot. It’s quite tasty. 

Anyway….when it comes to planning your meal and snack options for the week, I have a 6-step process that I’ve outlined in my menu planning guide. It also comes with a template for your weekly menus and you can grab it for free. It’s at nondietacademy.com/menuplan. Honestly, this is one of the most impactful things you can do to help yourself eat healthier because you can think ahead about your upcoming week and map out your options based on your schedule, your time available for preparing food, when you’ll need to get food out somewhere, what you need to take with you, and your budget. I promise it doesn’t have to be time consuming either. My 6-step process should take you about 30-minutes once you get the hang of it. I’m all about keeping these things quick and easy. 

When it comes to planning out your meals, I recommend my SCA framework that I teach inside Non-Diet Academy. I did an entire episode on this back in episode 89 of my podcast and you can listen to the nitty gritty of how the SCA process works. I’ll do a quick overview here:

  • S = Schedule
  • C = Composition
  • A = Amount

Schedule refers to WHEN you’re eating. You’re going to want to think about when your meals and snacks will be, and being thoughtful about not going longer than about 3-4 hours without eating something. Healthy eating means eating frequently enough and giving your body reliable and predictable opportunities to eat. Otherwise you’re going to end up ravenously hungry and desperate for food, and prone to eating whatever is in front of you.

Composition means WHAT you’re actually eating. This is where we want to think carb, protein and fat to get in all of your macronutrients. And then for some fiber and micronutrients you can throw in a fruit or veggie with your meals. At snacks remember the hack of carb + protein.

Amount refers to HOW MUCH you’re eating. This is where we want your body to guide you. Your appetite cues will tell how how hungry you ware, and when you’re full. The other way your body will guide you is with your medical needs. Perhaps you have some insulin resistance or diabetes – your body is telling you that you might need some gentle boundaries with carbs, and to pair those carbs with protein, fat or fiber to keep your blood sugar stable. Maybe you have high blood pressure and your body is telling you to be mindful of your sodium intake, and to add in more potassium-rich foods. Your body is guiding you with the medical feedback as well as your hunger and fullness cues. 

Wrapping Up

To recap, we looked at the problem with how our culture views “healthy eating,” how to redefine health and nutrition so that it’s tailored to your body and your needs, and some examples of how to fuel your body and enhance your nutrition without being diet-y about it. 

I hope you enjoyed this episode and found it helpful. Take a screenshot of it and share it in your stories or on your social media and tag me in it – I love seeing listeners out in the world spreading the message!

I also know that sometimes these discussions make sense at a big picture level, but we can get hung up on how to apply it to ourselves. It’s that thing where it’s hard to see the forest through the trees. So if you feel like you need some help sorting through what these nutrition adjustments might look like in your life, feel free to reach out via email or DM and we can chat about what it might look like to work together. You deserve to have peace and freedom with food AND to take care of your body and your health, and I promise you that this middle ground is possible, without going to any extremes and without having to spend the rest of your life on and off diets or perpetually trying to eat healthier and then feeling like you failed. So take that brave step and reach out if you need that support. 

In the meantime, be kind to yourself, be patient and stay curious. We’ll talk again soon.

I covered it all in Episode 92 – Redefining Health and Nutrition: How to “Eat Healthy” and Fuel Your Body Without Being Diet-y

Or, listen & subscribe on your favorite platform:  Apple Podcasts  | Spotify | Deezer |  Google

Search for  Episode 92 – Redefining Health and Nutrition: How to “Eat Healthy” and Fuel Your Body Without Being Diet-y

Let’s get connected! 

Looking for more support on your journey to food freedom and body acceptance?

Leave a Reply