The most important thing to know about a healthy diet
There is no one size fits all solution.
Do not trust anyone that tells you the healthiest way to eat is vegan, carnivore, vegetarian, pescatarian, low carb, balanced, dust, intermittent fasting, keto, Atkins, intuitive eating or any of the many other fads on the go right now.
There are people out there who will literally die if they eat a peanut.
There are people that cannot be in the same room as a peanut.
This shit is complicated.
The 'diets' I listed above are actually philosophies, frameworks and guidelines. That's it, nothing more. Not one of them is a single holy grail that will grant eternal health and happiness to everyone.
And you are part of 'everyone' so there is a good chance that one or more of them will not work for you.
(Note: I am referring to dietary veganism/vegetarianism and ignoring the ethical argument, which you should not ignore imo).
What does it all mean?
The only way to find what works for you is to experiment.
I've been doing this for a couple of years now and still haven't figured it all out for me, but I have learned a lot about myself.
For example - whey protein. No, can't touch the stuff or I end up with cramps, toxic farts and constipation (This was before I started avoiding dairy altogether). For others it might be fine.
The best way to experiment with this is to try different foods and see what makes you feel good.
I eat a salad every day for lunch and every day I feel good afterwards. I don't get sluggish and sleepy in the afternoon and I feel satiated.
If I go out and eat a greasy falafel wrap and chips I will be sluggish for a few hours and likely feel a bit of heartburn.
It's as simple as that.
Pay attention to how you feel after you eat. It's all about after - you might feel great while eating a big dirty burger, washing it down with coke and finishing it off with a slab of salted caramel chocolate but you sure as shit won't feel great thirty minutes later.
There's another element to all this that is also worth mentioning.
There is a word - 'orthorexia' which is defined as:
an obsession with eating foods that one considers healthy.
It's important to remember that mental health is a part of your overall health and that society today is set up such that it's actually pretty difficult to eat only healthy, organic and unprocessed foods.
If you set really strict standards for yourself it can become problematic to the point where you withdraw socially and end up constantly berating yourself for every minor slip up.
A healthy diet should not leave you miserable, if eating some processed food once a week brings some joy then do it. You can still do that and feel pretty good after, the key is simply to not overdo it.
This is why I'm not a fan of 'cheat' meals - once you cheat you tend to over do it. Just have a different meal that is not so healthy but still relatively balanced and not excessively calorific.
For me abstinence has always been easier than moderation which mean's I've actually found myself teetering around orthorexia in the past and it definitely had a negative impact that all the healthy food in the world could not offset.
The best view of all this that I've seen comes from a health and fitness coach called Matt Schifferle. He presents healthy eating as having four pillars that need to be addressed by how you eat:
Hunger - the way you eat should not leave you constantly hungry
Nutrition - Your food should provide adequate nutrition
Enjoyment - It's important to get some enjoyment out of food as it can reduce stress, which has a major negative impact on overall health
Energy - You should have enough energy to get through the day without needing a crutch like coffee or sugar
He then goes on to suggest that each meal should consist of the "3 P's":
Plants - each meal should have some plants
Protein - each meal should have a palm size portion of protein
Portion size - don't put too much food on your plate
I think this is a decent approach that will suit most people, and is easy to iterate on and improve.
And finally, remember that you have a diet you are not on a diet, and that you only really see the impact of your diet over long periods of time - healthy eating for a month won't make you healthy.