Why We Should Focus on Self-Care Instead of Weight Loss

We live in an extremely weight-obsessed society. A lower weight is typically associated with being healthy. The problem with this is that the two are not mutually exclusive...because there are very unhealthy ways to lose weight (think: juice cleanses, extreme dieting and disordered eating patterns). With that being said, there are certainly healthy ways to lose weight, but you can also be healthy at any weight.

Self-care is essential to living a healthy and happy lifestyle. But so often, a primary focus on the number on the scale or appearance gets in the way of what truly matters: health and your overall well-being.

Take exercise for example. Exercise is the token answer for achieving and maintaining health. But what is the point of exercise if you don't really enjoy it?

Kevin, my boyfriend, is a classic example of this. He's tried lifting weights because that's the thing to do, and it just never stuck. But throw him a frisbee, invite him for a hike, or challenge him to a 30 mile+ bike ride and he is all for it. We dabbled a little about this topic because I wanted help getting my point across. He says that exercise in the way he likes relates to how he sees what I've taught him about nutrition. The thought of restricting certain foods or dieting makes him cringe, but now that I've shown him that healthy eating does not equal restriction, he doesn't see it as such a burden. And it is the same as exercise: It doesn't have to be about forcing yourself to do something that you don't enjoy.

As for me, I have been learning to go with the flow when it comes to exercise. I've felt my fair share of guilt from driving past the gym and just going home after work instead of doing my planned circuit workout. I am learning to accept that this OK, and doing what feels right should not bring feelings of guilt. That guilt stems from not doing what I think I should be doing (strenuous exercise because society says I have to), vs. doing what I want to do (take it easy, rest). Some days, I am ready to tackle a long run or circuit, but other days I either need to go to the gym and stretch my whole body out for 30 minutes, or I just need a walk outside followed by a hot shower, tea, and a book to read. I am learning that listening to my body and giving it what it needs is so much better than that rollercoaster of guilt.

These photos are from last week when I was having a ROUGH couple of weeks and just need to take a walk and chill. Just what I needed :)

These photos are from last week when I was having a ROUGH couple of weeks and just need to take a walk and chill. Just what I needed :)

All of this was really inspired by Rebecca Scritchfield, a fellow dietitian who preaches #BodyKindness, and author of a book with the same title. She says (in the context of exercise): "When appearance is the primary goal, there will always be work to do and you will never be satisfied." My RD friend Jenna (more here) recently shared this quote on Instagram and said she exercises for energy, stress relief, and happiness. I exercise for the same reasons, as well as to stay in physical shape for hiking (which I love) and walking around to explore new places. I also do things like circuit workouts because they are challenging and fun!

The purpose of this post is really to encourage you to think about your intentions when it comes to lifestyle habits like healthy eating and exercise. Is it solely about changing your weight and how you look, or is it about other factors that truly reflect health and wellness: Increased energy, positivity, stress reduction, improved digestion, flexibility, pain relief, etc.

I would also like to note that I have nothing against someone's personal fitness goals, because I too have goals of my own. But I do believe that health should be a top priority..just my RD opinion :)

With that being said, here are some ways you can live a happy and healthy lifestyle focused on self-care rather than weight loss:

1. Yes, exercise...but in a way that you enjoy!
There is no use in dragging yourself to the gym if it's going to make you miserable. Make exercise a positive part of your life by focusing on the benefits it brings you. Instead of focusing on which routine burns the most calories, do what your body feels like. Remember that all movement has benefits, whether it is running, walking, yoga or an afternoon game of ultimate frisbee.

2. Eat a healthy, balanced diet..and enjoy that, too.
We know the benefits of consuming at least 5 daily servings of fruits and veggies. They provide essential vitamins and minerals to keep your body running smoothly, help decrease risk of chronic disease, assist in lowering cholesterol, provide fiber to keep your blood sugars and digestion in check, and so much more. But don't beat yourself up for not liking certain healthy foods! Focus on the ones you do like and explore different ways to prepare them to enjoy on a daily basis.
I would also encourage you to be open to new ways to try fruits and vegetables that aren't on your go-to list. For example, if raw kale is not your thing...perhaps try it chopped up in an omelette, covered in cheese on a pizza, or blended into a homemade pesto.
And if butter is the only thing that is going to help you eat foods such as broccoli or green beans, then by all means use it!

And with that being said...

3. Don't deprive yourself!
Food does not only provide healthy benefits. It can bring pleasure, happy memories, and comfort. To me, experiencing all of these are forms of self-care. Diet culture promotes food restrictions and deeming certain foods as "good" vs. "bad". Eating something on the "bad" list brings feelings of guilt and stress. I am telling you it does not have to be that way. Instead of using up your energy and head space trying to keep yourself from eating that cookie..take it and savor it! That is, if you are truly hungry in that moment. This may keep you from binge eating sweets later on to compensate for that deprivation. (This concept is called "Intuitive Eating", which I'll talk more about soon enough!)

4. De-stress.
Health is not just about diet and exercise. Stress is linked to both weight gain and over consumption. In this case, I think it is time we stop feeling the pressure to squeeze in a workout no matter what, and stop worrying about every little thing we eat. Why not use that time to unwind a bit more from every day life? Personally, I notice a huge difference when I unplug from my phone and spend the night reading and drinking tea (if you haven't noticed, I really love tea), do something completely out of my routine that I enjoy, or simply go back to the Cape for the weekend. 

5. Fuel yourself properly.
Instead of focusing on what you can order or prepare that has the least amount of calories or fat, choose foods that will boost your energy and keep you satisfied. By eating very little during the day, you are likely to feel extremely hungry at night which may lead to overeating. Focus on achieving an all day balance. Try to get a good source of lean protein (lean meats, eggs, tofu, nut butters, nuts, seeds, beans, chickpeas, whole grains) and fiber (fruits, vegetables, oats, nuts, beans, whole grains) at each meal and snack. Both of these help keep you full for a longer period of time. Helping your body feel good is absolutely a form of self-care!

6. Unplug and stop comparing.
Yes, I believe that unplugging from social media and sitting with our own thoughts and feelings is a form of self-care and also growth. We are so stimulated every day by what other people are doing that it is becoming more difficult to think for ourselves. I recently turned off notifications for Instagram entirely because I was constantly looking at it and being aware that, for example, other people were working out and I did not go to the gym that day. But like...who cares?! One of my aunts said to me a while ago, "Who we are is defined by the decisions that we alone make for ourselves." This will forever stick with me. And I hope it will for you, too. Eat, exercise, and enjoy life the way that it makes you happiest. There is nothing wrong with being inspired by others but only if it brings you positivity.

What are your favorite self-care practices? I would love to know! I hope to keep this conversation going about health and wellness in terms of taking care of ourselves instead of worrying about weight! Weight really and truly is just a number. There is so much more to be said on this subject and you'll absolutely be hearing from me soon :) 

Have a happy and healthy Memorial Day weekend!

Recipe: Wild Blueberry and Kefir Smoothie

Anyone else enjoy a nice, cold smoothie in the winter? (I know it is technically spring now, but the weather in New England has yet to show it.)

No? Just me? I am totally into smoothies all year round. I love them because it is a quick and easy way to get fruits and vegetables in (yes, add veggies to your smoothie!!), convenient to bring and have on my way to work, and also easier to take down early in the morning. For whatever reason, I really never want eggs at 6 am but a delicious smoothie seldom disappoints.

Like I said, part of the reason I enjoy smoothies so much is that it is an easy way to get produce in. Especially in the winter months. Fruit is astronomically expensive when it is not in season, therefore I am all about the next best option: frozen!

As soon as a crop is harvested, it begins to lose it's nutrients. Don't overthink this because every piece of produce has value. But when you compare expensive AF blueberries in January that were shipped from who knows where, to a decently-priced bag of frozen ones, you can easily tell where you'll get the better deal. That is because frozen fruits and vegetables are pretty much frozen immediately after being picked, essentially locking in their nutrition. So, more bang for your buck, as they say.

Last summer, this was one of my go-to smoothie concoctions. I was looking for a way to bump up my intake of probiotics. I am so sure you have heard this word floating around. Probiotics are good gut bacteria that help maintain and/or improve digestive and overall health.  Probiotics are naturally occurring in your gut, but can also be obtained from certain foods like fermented foods, such as kefir! I'll discuss the benefits of probiotics and kefir below. And while we're at it, I'll break down some nutrition info about the other ingredients too:

Kefir:
Kefir is a fermented milk product/drink. All fermented foods are an excellent source of probiotics - Think: Yogurt, Saurkraut, Kombucha, Tempeh, Miso, Kimchi, etc. Building on your good gut bacteria may help alleviate some digestive ailments you may have. Of course, I highly recommend working with an RD and GI doc to determine the root cause of your issue, but consuming probiotics are a great way to promote good gut health.
The taste of Kefir is pretty sour and tangy but can easily be masked with sweeter tones in a smoothie if that isn't your thing. Kefir harbors even more probiotics than yogurt, so if you're someone who consumes yogurt on a daily or weekly basis to stay "regular", consider incorporating kefir into your life once in a while! Lactose intolerant peeps don't have to worry either :) It is well-tolerated by people like us!

Wild Blueberries:
I was inspired to remake this smoothie over the winter after a recent recipe contest by Wild Blueberries (the company - click the link to learn more). Food bloggers and dietitians were asked to submit their most creative and delicious recipes for a chance to win some cash and a trip to Maine during blueberry season!
There are some key differences between standard blueberries and wild ones. Regular blueberries are planted and harvested with purpose, while wild blueberries grow naturally in parts of Maine and Canada. They are tiny compared to cultivated blueberries. Have you noticed how big and juicy packaged blueberries are in the winter time? They're grown to be that way, but they definitely don't have that distinct taste of fresh summer blueberries or even wild blueberries.
The other benefit of wild blueberries is that they have been found to contain twice as many antioxidants than cultivated berries. That means double the disease-fighting power. They're pretty tangy and sweeter than regular blueberries. You can find them in the freezer aisle any time of year. Better yet, if you ever get a chance to pick your own, definitely stock up and freeze them for winter baking (or smoothie-making if you're like me). I haven't gone blueberry picking yet, but it is definitely on my wish-list.

Cinnamon
Let me just say I love cinnamon. Like looooove it. I go through about one of those little containers about every one or two months. I add it to everything - smoothies, oatmeal, chili, cereal, whatever I'm baking. This probably means I should buy a bulk container right? Right.
Anyway, because of that sweet and tangy taste of both kefir and the wild blueberries, I feel as though the cinnamon really balances it out. It almost makes it taste like a muffin. Some may laugh, but that is truly how I feel.
Some research shows that cinnamon may also act as a natural blood sugar stabilizer. So not only do I love the taste, but I like to add it to things like smoothies to balance out all those fruit sugars to avoid that mid-morning crash.

Hemp Seeds/Chia Seeds:
I have a bag of both of these on hand at ALL TIMES. Both hemp and chia seeds pack a good amount of protein (about 6 g per serving), fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids aka healthy fats. They also add a bit of creaminess to smoothies, and that is always a plus for me.

And of course...the greens!
If you're not getting enough leafy greens in your life, I highly suggest incorporating them into smoothies to start. If the color freaks you out, cover it up! Haha. Or at least try a milder green, such as spinach, where you really cannot taste it. A slight taste of kale sometimes comes through, but rarely, especially if you have some sweet fruits in there. If you're afraid of the bits and don't have a high powered blender, then I say try removing the stems and breaking it up with your hands!

Ok, and now for the recipe! Please let me know if you try it, like it, have suggestions for a change or addition, etc. Enjoy! 

 


Recipe: Wild Blueberry and Kefir Smoothie
Serves: 1

1/2 frozen banana
1/2 cup frozen wild blueberries
1 cup plain Kefir
1 tsp cinnamon (Adjust to your liking)
1 handful of greens (Spinach is the most mild)
2 tbsp hemp or chia seeds (For a boost of healthy fats!)
Optional: 1 scoop Unflavored protein powder or 1/4 cup Greek yogurt or Skyr

 

Note: This post is not sponsored by Wild Blueberries. I am just an enthusiastic dietitian wanting you to know about them!

Veggie-Loaded Sweet Potato Nachos

Hey there! I know it has been a while..at least from my perspective. Since I am new to this blogging world, I've yet to establish a consistent schedule for myself. I would love to be sharing recipes and nutrition tips with you at least once a week, but life definitely got in the way over the last two months! Holiday shopping, having new responsibilities at work, starting a new car-buying process and deciding to start Game of Thrones took up a lot of my time. But now it's Super Bowl time and of course my thoughts are...."What are we eating?!"

First, some updates on my job! If you have read my About Me page, then you know I work as a clinical dietitian in a hospital setting. I provide both inpatient and outpatient services as part of a team of RDs. When I started back in May, my job was only part time. This is pretty normal for dietitians to start out with per diem or part time hours. However..there is always room for growth! My part time has become full time and I am now one of the new dietitians for the bariatric surgery department! This means that once week, I counsel patients who will be undergoing weight loss surgery, and continue to follow up with them afterwards. As I have said before, I LOVE outpatient and getting to work with patients one on one so I am really excited about my new position!

Ok...and now for food :)

If I were to really and truly, gun to my head, choose one food to eat for the rest of my life, it would very likely be chips and salsa. Like the really delicious homemade chips with some spicy and well-seasoned salsa. I can't go without. Just ask my family.
And nachos are basically that x1000.

So I was craving nachos on a game day a few weeks ago but we also needed a generally healthy dinner. And what happened? Sweet potato nachos! 

This recipe coming up is written just as messy as nachos should be. I wrote it how I made it..without really measuring anything. Feel free to adjust the ingredients to your liking, omit some if they're not your thing, or even add some extras. Next time, I definitely want to make this with some pulled chicken or ground turkey. 

And if you are catching this recipe after football season is over, it seriously makes a great dinner option! To me, nothing is better than eating something delicious (and healthy..wink) at home that you'd otherwise pay 5x the price for at a restaurant. 

With that, here is some sweet potato nutrition:

Sweet potatoes are loaded with Vitamin A as you can tell by that vibrant orange color. Vitamin A is essential for skin, vision, bones, immunity, and so much more. They also contain a ton of Vitamin C, potassium, and fiber. Potatoes often get a bad rap. However, research suggests that sweet potatoes may actually raise your blood sugar less than white potatoes, which would make it a great option for regulating blood sugar, especially for people with diabetes.

Some of my favorite ways to eat sweet potatoes:

- This "Stuffed Ranchero" recipe by the dietitians from Food Heaven Made Easy

- Sweet potato casserole...Amazing.

- Roasted for 40 minutes with olive oil, rosemary and a pinch of salt and pepper

- The "Sweet Potato Breakfast Cookies" from the Run Fast, Eat Slow Cookbook! I HIGHLY recommend this cookbook and those cookies are addicting!

- Or...simply poke holes in it, wrap it in paper towel, and microwave for about 6 minutes or until done!

Sweet potatoes are so versatile. What is not to love?

I hope you enjoy these nachos! When I first made them, Kevin tried to grab it all with his fingers like regular nachos. Even though I said this can get messy, I still recommend eating with a fork :) 

Happy eating! xoxo


Recipe: Veggie-Loaded Sweet Potato Nachos
Serves: Depends!
I would say:
As a meal - 2 with a little left over
As an appetizer or side - 4
When there is a lot of other food ;) - 6

Ingredients:
3 medium sweet potatoes (or 2 large)
Olive or avocado oil
About 3/4 cup shredded Mexican cheese
1 jalapeño pepper, diced (or 2 if you're feeling a little extra spicy)
1 tomato, diced
1 can black beans, rinsed
1 big handfuls of greens (I used a mix of baby spinach and baby kale)
Cilantro
Optional sweet potato seasonings:
- Salt
- Paprika
- Garlic powder
Optional toppings:
- Guacamole or simply mashed avocado with lemon juice
- Your favorite salsa
- A dollop of plain Siggi's dairy or any plain high-protein yogurt!

To make:
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Wash sweet potatoes thoroughly. Cut into about 1/4 inch-thick rounds. 
3. Toss lightly with olive oil or spray with oil with a high smoke point (I love the Chosen Foods Avocado Oil Spray for this!)
4. Optional: Season sweet potato slices with optional seasonings listed above. I made mine plain and just took in the flavors or everything else and they came out great!
5. Bake for 30 minutes or until fork tender, flipping halfway. 
6. When potatoes are done, you can choose to create your nachos on the same baking sheet, a deeper casserole dish, or a 12-inch cast iron skillet if you've got one! I firmly believe everything tastes 100x better out of cast iron.
7. Spray bottom of baking dish of choice (Unless you're using the same baking dish, then just create a bottom layer with half the amount of sweet potato slices.
8. Add 1/2 tomato, 1/2 amount of black beans, 1/2 amount of jalapeño pepper.
9. Top those ingredients with the greens (leave some left over for the top!).
10. Top greens with 1/2 amount of cheese - about 1/3 cup.
10. Add second layer of sweet potatoes.
11. Repeat step 8 with same ingredients. Top with a small amount of greens and then the remainder of the cheese.
12. Put back in oven and bake for another 10 minutes at 400 degrees.
13. Add cilantro to your liking.
14. Dig in! Top with guac, sour cream or plain Greek yogurt/skyr, and salsa! Get messy and enjoy :)
 

 

Recipe: Quinoa and Chicken Sausage Stuffed Acorn Squash

Hey hey! We've made it to my second recipe post!

Winter squash varieties have been on repeat for me for the past few months: butternut, delicata, and acorn squash that is. There are really just so many ways to eat them and include them in every day meals - from roasting with a little black pepper, to topping a salad, and in this case...STUFFING!

This recipe was inspired by various mouthwatering images on Pinterest of stuffed acorn squash. Is it a quick weeknight meal? Not entirely...unless you prep all the slicing and dicing beforehand. But it IS simple, and using two squashes makes 4 servings! So if it's just for you and your boo, then there will definitely be enough for the next night. And who doesn't love time-saving (AND nutritious) leftovers?

If for some reason or another you might think this recipe won't be filling enough, think again. 99.9% of the time, my boyfriend Kevin has seconds and/or has to raid the fridge after dinner. He says it isn't because we don't make enough food, he just loves to eat and says he only stays full for like 3 minutes...ha. But after this squash, I am telling you he was absolutely stuffed. 

I say you don't need to be eating until you're so full you can barely get up from your seat. But do enjoy each bite, and then save the what's left over...perhaps for the next day's lunch?

I also loved this recipe because even though it is nutritionally dense and very satisfying, the seasonings also gave a light, fresh taste. Basically, the whole thing makes you say "This is what fall tastes like."

Now it's time to go over some nutrition info!

Acorn Squash: Like other squashes, acorn squash is rich in Vitamin A and C. These are both essential for a healthy immune system. And what better time of year to be filling our bodies with disease-fighting properties? About half a cup of acorn squash also has around 20% of your daily recommended fiber intake! To cook, I love to cut it into rounds and roast with the skin on, cut in half and roasted - eaten by itself or stuffed with goodies, or mashed up like potatoes!

Quinoa: I wish so badly I had incorporated quinoa into my life earlier! My whole life was rice rice rice, which I still love, but quinoa offers just a little extra. Quinoa is a grain, but technically we eat the edible seeds. It is an amazing source of fiber, provides 8g plant-based protein per cup, and various other vitamins and minerals, including iron. Quinoa is one of those "staple foods" that you could prepare at the beginning of the week and use as a base for various dishes..like this one!

Pomegranate: I actually love pomegranate so much that I will be doing a post later on that focuses solely on the benefits of poms. (Kevin even joked that my blog name should have been The Pom Queen, but apparently that was already taken by either cheerleaders or a Pomeranian lover.) Anyway, don't ever say you don't eat fruit in the winter because there aren't any...because there ARE! Frozen summer fruits, citrus fruits, and of course pomegranate. Rich in antioxidants and versatile as well. I love adding it salads, yogurt, oatmeal. However, Kevin tends to eat the bowl of pomegranate seeds before I can get to it.

(For the meat, I choose chicken sausage most of the time because it is less fatty than pork.)


Recipe: Quinoa and Chicken Sausage Stuffed Acorn Squash

Serves: 4

Ingredients:
2 acorn squash
3/4 cup dried quinoa (Can also used precooked quinoa - saves time!)
4-5 links chicken sausage (I LOVE Trader Joe's Sweet Apple Chicken Sausage for this!)
2 celery stalks
1/2 pomegranate seeds
1/2 medium-sized onion
Grated parmesan cheese
Olive oil
Salt
Black pepper
Dried sage
Dried thyme
Dried parsley
(Can use fresh herbs if you've got them!)

Instructions:
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F
2. Cut very tips off of each squash, then cut them in half. Scoop out the insides (Seeds can be roasted later!).
3. Drizzle with a little olive oil, a pinch of salt, and black pepper. Roast for 45 minutes or until fork tender
4. Meanwhile, cook quinoa per package instructions.
5. Dice sausage, onion, and celery stalk
6. Sauté onion and sausage in a heated, oiled skillet for about 5-7 minutes. Then, mix in cooked quinoa, diced celery, and pomegranate seeds.
7. Season as desired with herbs. (Note: I am terrible at measuring herbs and spices. If I were to measure, about 1 tsp of each  should be sufficient - then adjust for optimal taste as desired) Toss in pan.
8. Remove acorn squash from oven and fill each with desired amount of stuffing mixture. There will likely be some left over depending on the size of your lunch. It makes a great side dish or salad topper for another meal!
9. Top each with a little grated parmesan and put back in the oven for another 10 minutes.

Enjoy! And feel free to experiment with various ingredients! If you've got a acorn squash recipe you're dying to tell me about, please share :)
xoxo

What does "Healthy" mean to you?

I'll never forget this little conversation that happened during the first week of my dietetic internship. I was doing a food demo with my community nutrition preceptor. We had the colorful table all set up with nutrition facts, images that promoted health, and recipes for the food we were about to make: no-bake chocolate peanut butter balls and a healthier version of a lemon blueberry parfait using lemon-flavored Chobani. Then one guy came over and said "Oh no. No way. You're like my wife. I'll be staying far away from you guys. You're going to force me to try to force me to eat gluten-free aren't you?"

What?!?

I wondered why this guy was thinking we had anything to do with gluten-free eating seeing as we were not showcasing anything in regards to Celiac Disease. Oh right, probably because "Gluten-free" is plastered everywhere, is the new diet fad, and something people are willing to cut out of their diets without fully understanding what it is. (Note: The purpose of this post is not to shame anyone, just to educate.)

What I've perceived so far in my experience is that these diet fads that require your favorite foods to be cut out actually make people afraid of the word healthy. It is like an automatic response. "No way am I eating healthy. It's too hard."

So I'm here to sort of de-bunk some of the concepts that people affiliate with the word "healthy."

What does healthy mean to you? Does it mean:

Meatless/Vegetarian/Vegan?
I fully respect anyone's decision on how they want to label their dietary choices, but I don't think it is necessary. You can be vegan and have a diet seriously lacking in nutrition, or eat meat and have a wonderfully balanced plate at every meal. Ever heard of vegan junk food?

Gluten-free?
I wish I could find the guy from the cooking demo and kindly explain he has nothing to worry about...unless he has Celiac disease. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. Oats are gluten-free, but due to risk of cross-contact with gluten-containing grains in growing and processing, those with Celiac should only have certified gluten-free oats.
Celiac disease is serious. It is an autoimmune disorder in which the body cannot digest gluten, thus causing an immune response that attacks the small intestine. This can lead to weight loss, malnutrition, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and more. 
Gluten, the very component of grains that gives bread that doughy texture we all love, somehow became the token evil culprit for all issues around weight, digestion, allergies, and overall energy levels. There are studies underway to try to determine whether or not a non-celiac gluten intolerance exists, but so far there is no proof. [If you DO happen to have a condition in which gluten-free is a way to manage your symptoms, then by all means go for it. I would only suggest getting assistance from a physician or RD to make sure you're not missing out on any key nutrients from your diet!)
"Oh, but my friend started a gluten-free diet and lost a bunch of weight! She feels great!"
The truth is, that person who tried a gluten-free diet and doesn't have Celiac probably feels better because a) Placebo effect or b) They ended up cutting out a large amount of refined carbohydrates from their diet, which can help anyone lose weight and boost energy levels (i.e. white bread, white pasta, white rice, refined sugar, candy, soda, baked-goods, etc.)
If you have contemplated going gluten-free before, I would recommend trying to swap out your refined grains with whole grains, omitting soda either all together, or replacing with seltzer, and curbing your sweet tooth with fruit and natural sweeteners, such as honey.
And another thing..gluten-free grains such as quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth, and flax can be part of a healthy diet. I may end up posting a recipe that is gluten-free once in a while. I love experimenting with different ingredients, and the reason I would specify "gluten-free" is to make sure that someone who does require that restriction knows they can try that recipe :)

Shopping at Whole Foods?
"It's too expensive to eat healthy." I agree that certain food costs are absurd, Whole Foods can be overpriced, and it's a shame that you can get a convenient yet poor-quality meal for $1 at a fast food place. But I also know that you can take matters into your own hands and shop smart for healthy options. Some people automatically assume that Whole Foods items guarantee health. Well, you can get crap at Whole Foods and grab a healthy snack at Walmart. What matters is the ingredients. 
Stores like Trader Joe's, Wegman's, Target, Walmart, and even ALDI offer healthy options at a lower price. I love to shop at Whole Foods because there are some things there that I can't get anywhere else (non-essential, just foods I enjoy). But I definitely don't get my entire grocery list there.
And don't even get me started on farmer's markets! Spending less and supporting your local farmers! It doesn't get better than that.
If you are one who finds that shopping for fresh produce is what is driving up the costs, take a look at what you're buying. To cut down on costs, shop in season. The fruits and vegetables that are at the front of the produce section are usually the ones in season and the cheapest. If you find you spend a lot on fresh fruits and vegetables and they go bad before you get to them, try planning out what you'll make with them before shopping, stick to a grocery list, and freeze them for later use before they go bad.

Organic and non-GMO?
Ok, this is kind of an iffy one. As a new dietitian, I don't think it is my place to make a full on recommendation on whether or not you should avoid GMOs because I am not 100% familiar with the practice. But this question does come up often. What I do know is that we definitely can't feed everyone on this earth without genetically modifying our food. I also know that an obsession with restricting GMOs and "clean eating" can lead to an eating disorder such as Orthorexia, and that is even more dangerous to me. Given the increase in GMO-labeling, I fully respect the right of the consumer to choose what they purchase.
As far as organic goes, I would absolutely love to buy all of my food organic, but not if it is going to be a financial burden. That would lead to an extreme amount of stress, which can be just as detrimental to your health. If shopping organic is important to you but you don't want to break the bank, I would focus on shopping organic from "The Dirty Dozen" List, aka foods in which you typically eat the skin. 
And if you can't do that, then I still preach that the benefits of conventionally grown produce outweighs the risk of pesticides. Just wash your produce thoroughly. Organic, after all, does not mean "more nutritious." It is simply a farming practice.

Bland and boring?
This one really gets me. Whenever my patients get put on a diet such as low-sodium, I first ask them if they have any specific questions. And they say, "Yeah. What the hell am I supposed to eat now? It's like I can't eat anything."
What a sad thought. I am not sure where the thought came from that flavorless steamed vegetables represent the doom of healthy eating. Herbs, spices, natural sweeteners, onion, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, or something like a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese can bring life to any lifeless dish. Have vegetables but don't know what to do with them? Sautée, steam, or roast them with black pepper and garlic powder. So simple yet so delicious. Or roast some potatoes with olive oil and rosemary (one of my favorite ways to eat them!)

Fat-free?
Another one that truly gets me. Decades ago, fat was the culprit against all things related to weight and general unhealthiness. Now while I am not telling you to blend butter with your coffee and eat a spoonful of coconut oil every night, I do know that the fat restriction is long over (unless you have a condition that requires it).
The thing with fat-free products, such as salad dressings, creamers, and desserts, is that they still have to taste like something right? So manufacturers take out the fat and add in sugar. The recommended amount of added sugar is no more than 36 g (9 teaspoons) for men and no more than 24 g (6 teaspoons) for women per day. But Americans far exceed that because it is in literally everything - including seemingly healthy "fat free" products! And excess, unused sugar is eventually converted in the body and stored as fat. Do you see the problem here?
While we should still focus on limiting, but NOT restricting saturated fat, unsaturated fat is an essential component of a healthy diet. Focus on incorporating healthy fat sources such as olive oil, avocados, nuts and nut butters, seeds and fatty fish.

There are so many other ideas around the word "healthy". What else have you guys heard?! Other concepts I don't associate with healthy are: Cleansing/detoxing (post coming on this topic soon!), restrictive diets, calorie counting, supplements, and one major one: Skinny. As a dietitian I understand the importance of a healthy weight, but I also understand that it is not the only factor that determines the degree of one's health.

Are you wondering what healthy means to me? To be honest, it is as simple as a diet full of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. It's not sexy, but it is true.

Healthy, to me, also means:

- Eating foods that work for you and your schedule 

- Having a wide variety of colors in on your plate from fruits and vegetables. Different colors = variety of nutrients

- Creating balanced meals with adequate protein, carbohydrate, and healthy fat sources

- Eating mostly whole, plant-based foods and cooking at home as much as possible

- Eating mindfully...meaning understanding how that food is nourishing and benefitting you, consuming an appropriate portion size, as well as savoring every single bite

- Having a guilt-free attitude when it comes to food

- Excitement about each meal, not disappointment

- Not a burden or a chore, but a lifestyle :)

A balanced plate! Roasted chicken with sautéed collard greens + roasted broccoli and acorn squash

A balanced plate! Roasted chicken with sautéed collard greens + roasted broccoli and acorn squash

There is no such thing as a perfect diet. Absolutely NO such thing. Not even mine or any other dietitians'. We are still human. What does a perfect diet mean anyway? But regardless, I do my best to live by what I just wrote above, and try to make the healthiest choices every day. I don't believe that healthy eating should cause any form of stress.

As someone who is on a mission to create a more health-conscious world, I want to know..what does healthy mean to you?

Thanks for reading!

Oh, and watch the two videos below for some humor to conclude this post :)