Diet culture often comes with its own set of unhelpful thoughts, ideas, and practices, focusing on an “ideal” body weight or shape that people should be striving for while ignoring the many unique factors that contribute to people’s individual health. In many ways, these ideas lead to many of the same unhelpful patterns that sustain many types of eating disorders.
In fact, people can be healthy at any size. Rather than following the strictures of a diet, which may or may not give your body what it actually needs, it’s a better idea to strive to generally eat healthy, in all the various definitions of the term.
Adopting a healthy lifestyle does away with the idea of a diet, which is utilized to reach certain body weight goals. Instead, it focuses on a more sustainable way to support your body and can improve not only your physical health but also your mental health.
Healthy Eating Tips to Follow
Of course, the specifics of eating healthy depend on any number of personal factors, from your age and activity level to any medical conditions you may be dealing with. But there are still a few tips that are generally good ideas across the board.
“Less” Doesn’t Mean “Better”
When many people think about healthy foods, they think the less fat and fewer calories, the better. But this doesn’t necessarily always hold true.
Some high-calorie foods, including those packed with healthy fats, may provide a number of health benefits. And foods like carbs, which are often demonized in toto, can come in many varieties, some of which are essential in helping power through long power-burning stretches.
When eating healthy, it’s important to understand that your body has certain nutritional needs, which exist outside of calorie counts. The real trick is getting enough of what you need, but not too much of anything overall. Balance is key.
Think of a Balanced Diet
Once again, smaller meals don’t necessarily mean healthier meals. Rather than the overall size of the meal, what counts more is the proportion of the foods on your plate.
You may have seen different models to help you visualize the concept. But overall, many experts recommend a plate that consists of: 
- 1/2 plate of vegetable dishes
- 1/4 plate of whole grains
- 1/4 plate of high-quality protein
Plant-based oils are recommended in moderation. And desserts can be made up of fresh fruit or other natural treats.
A balanced diet will include a variety of different foods, which can be made into a number of healthy meals, especially when these ratios are taken into consideration.
And, of course, staying away from processed foods, fried foods, and junk food is recommended to maintain healthy eating.
Drink Enough Water
One common struggle for many people is drinking enough water.
Rather than quench their thirst with H2O, many people instead opt for fruit juice, lower-fat milk, soda, or nothing at all. But sugary drinks—especially soda and many concentrated juices—generally have minimal nutritional value, and can be fairly unhealthy. 
If you’re struggling to drink enough water, a water bottle might be a handy companion. You may also want to consider adding some natural flavor to the mix with a bit of lemon or lime.
Herbal teas can be another good option for hydration, so long as the amount of added dairy creamer or sweeteners is minimal.
Ease Off of Processed Foods
As the saying goes, everything in moderation should be okay. That can even include processed foods, like those high in saturated fat, added sugar, or too much sodium.
Rather than beating yourself up for indulging in these foods, enjoy them for what they are, and the happiness they bring you, at that moment. Then, when you’re done eating, recommit yourself to making healthy choices.
If you have a particular yen for something that may not be good for you, you can also investigate better sources of the nutrients they provide. Grilled chicken and brown rice, for example, might offer a better option than steak and potatoes.
And there are many other possible substitutions. Nuts and beans are remarkable sources of protein, or if you do choose to eat meat, look for leaner options like fish or poultry. And fresh fruit, vegetables, and greens always make a good source of essential nutrients.
Be Realistic, and Gentle With Yourself
An important element of any lifestyle change is adopting a realistic mindset. When you’re trying to eat healthier—whether to help with blood pressure, blood sugar, to ward off heart disease, or for any other reason—make sure what you’re ultimately striving for isn’t just achievable, but healthy.
Many people only focus on weight gain or weight loss. Achieving a specific weight or clothing size is another common goal. But this overlooks the fact that someone can be healthy—or unhealthy—at any size.
Eating healthy is a lifestyle, not a diet. It’s the overall outcome of a series of healthy choices, and it often happens incrementally. If you must set goals for yourself, make them short-term and helpful, such as drinking a certain amount of water on a given day.
But most importantly, be kind to yourself. Choosing to eat healthier is a great place to start, but remember that it’s a process. A balanced diet often doesn’t get the same dramatic results as a standard diet—at least not right away. But you may feel the effects of your choices in another way, including higher energy levels, less joint pain, or feeling overall healthier and happier.
Avoid a Focus on Diet Alone
Similarly, it’s important to broaden your focus even outside of the realm of food choices.
While eating healthy is important, it isn’t the only factor impacting your health. Exercise is also important for many internal processes and energy management, and can make a huge improvement in overall physical and mental health.
And other daily habits, including sleep hygiene and stress management, can also affect the way you feel and your overall health.
Healthy Eating Habits and Caloric Intake
Many people base their diet on vastly generalized advice.
For years, experts have recommended a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet for biological women, and 2,500 calories per day for biological men.  But these recommendations, while valid, overlook the vast amount of unique factors that represent someone’s ideal dietary intake, such as:
- Age: Younger people like children and teens sometimes need more calories.
- Lifestyle: It requires more calories to support an active lifestyle.
- Size: Your height and weight affect how fast your body uses energy. People in bigger bodies generally require more calories than smaller individuals.
Diet culture often frames calories as bad across the board, strongly encouraging people to eat fewer calories, regardless of where they come from. But that view is over-simplistic and helps create a potentially dangerous “black or white” perspective about food.
Calories are simply a measure of the energy contained in foods, nothing more, nothing less. And the body, in fact, needs energy in order to function, especially if you have a more active lifestyle. So regardless of whether you eat smaller meals or not, your body is going to need calories. That’s why it’s important to get them from healthy sources, whenever possible.
Avoiding the Dangers of Diet Culture
When it comes to healthy eating tips, perhaps the most important may be avoiding the trappings of diet culture.
Many, if not most, prescribed diets focus on specific body weight- or shape-based goals. This focuses your perspective on entirely the wrong thing, especially if you’re trying to initiate a healthier lifestyle.
The emphasis on “good” foods vs. “bad” foods and the broad painting of calories as bad can also work to normalize disordered eating habits and encourage unhealthy ways of thinking about one’s body.
Instead, think of the adoption of healthier eating as an overall lifestyle shift. Choose food that’s better for your body more often than you don’t, but don’t sweat too much about times that you do indulge. And move your body often, in ways you find fun and encouraging.
Do Some Research
When it comes to the actual nutrition of what you’re eating, a little bit of research can go a long way to help you map out some dietary guidelines.
In these cases, you may want to speak with your doctor or contact a nutritionist to find out more about the types of foods that are best for building the healthier, happier body you want.
The internet can also offer some good advice, but be wary of where you get it from. Many websites offer diet culture dips in disguise. Look out for websites specifically that use scientific and other trusted sources for their information.
Overall, try to remember that beauty, just like health, comes in all shapes and sizes. Loving yourself and wanting the best for your body may be the most important healthy eating tip of all.
- Healthy Eating Plate. (2011). Harvard School of Public Health. Accessed December 2022.
- What Should I Eat? (2013, November 6). Harvard School of Public Health. Accessed December 2022.
- What Should My Daily Intake of Calories Be? (2019, October 24). United Kingdom National Health Service. Accessed December 3, 2022.