Forget Fad Diets: It All Comes Down to These 8 Rules for Healthy Living

Low carb? High carb? Long runs every day? HIIT twice a week? After years of trying to keep all of it straight, one dietbetter shares the 8 simple, straightforward rules she follows to stay healthy.

The Backstory

Everyone has an opinion about how to get “healthy.” I know, because I’ve asked about a million people. Partly because it’s my job, but mostly because I really do want to know! I’ve always been interested in the best way to eat healthy, motivate yourself to exercise, and lose weight.

Last week, I overheard a lady in a store talking about how she’d lost fifty pounds in the past six months. I immediately jumped into the conversation and asked how she’d done it. (Protein shakes twice a day, one full meal a day. Somedays she would eat breakfast, some days it would be supper.) I want to know what works for people. While trying to learn what works, I’ve come to realize that the definition of a healthy lifestyle is as varied as the color treated hairs on my head.

Even professionals who’ve made a career out of healthy living have different views on how to achieve that lifestyle. You can find them prescribing diets based on body type, blood type—I’ve even heard of diets based on astrological signs.

I’m no different from anyone else when it comes to trying to figure out this “healthy living” thing, even if I do write about food and exercise. I grew up on a Food Pyramid that told me to eat 6 to 11 servings of grain, rice, cereal, or pasta a day and to limit vegetables to 2 – 4 servings. In my most recent brush with Food Guidelines, I was told I should be eating approximately 210 grams of protein a day. I lasted three days on that one. On my best day, I ate 150 grams and I had to shove the last 20 down my throat via gluten-free protein bar. I had no desire to continue eating, but I did anyway because someone, who is a professional, “knew” this style of eating worked for them and other people.

My boyfriend was laying on the couch and wondered aloud why I was eating if I wasn’t hungry.

That’s when I threw in the towel. I was exhausted from counting protein grams and watching macros and thinking about my next meal before I even emptied the plate in front of me. At that point, I’d guess I was spending the better half of my waking hours thinking about how much chicken I needed to eat to reach my daily goal.

I was done.

So as I interviewed more doctors and personal trainers, I took notes on ideas that just made sense to me. I avoided anything that sounded extreme and paid extra attention to professionals who advocated a natural way of living.

I learned that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) have spent over a hundred years trying to instruct the American public on the optimal diet. I also learned that their recommendations change every few years and these guidelines are highly influenced by the food industry. Lobbyists, large food conglomerates, and the heavy hands of agriculture-related business all play a major role in what the government tells us to eat.

Personally, I wanted to know some things for myself. I’m one of those people who wants to understand what goes in my belly and how much of it I need every day. I wanted to identify what will work for the rest of my life, not just the next year. It’s not about fitting into a cocktail dress for a special occasion—it’s about feeding the trillions of cells in my body and keeping them happy and healthy.

It’s not about weight loss. It’s about living to my best potential.

The Rules

So I sifted through everything I learned during my interviews, and found that I could distill the fundamentals of healthy living down to eight rules. What’s best, these rules are sustainable—and they make sense.

1. Half Is Better

Half of every meal should be veggies and fruits. Every. Single. Meal. This includes breakfast. If your plate isn’t half full of fruit and vegetables, rethink your meal. The minerals and vitamins in leafy greens and fruits are what feed your body and keep you healthy.

2. Go Green

Eat as much green food as possible. This means a whole lot of veggies. If it has a green stem on it, get that too.

3. Be A Prepper

Prep your food for eating as soon as you bring it home from the store. If the berries and spinach you bought are washed and ready to go, you’re more likely to eat them.

4. Nix The Fake Stuff

This includes all those “healthy” meal replacement bars and protein snacks you keep in my purse and gym bag. While they’re good in a pinch, an apple isn’t processed and it travels just as well.

5. Buy Local

From chicken and strawberries to kale, honey, and fish, local food has environmental, health, and community benefits. Many vendors at farmers markets are dedicated business owners who are continuously working on best practices for healthy growing. Not only that, you’re investing in your community and getting to know the men and women who grow your food.

6. Drink Lots of Water

For me, that’s usually around 100 ounces a day. Yes, you pee a lot in the beginning, but your bladder adjusts to it eventually.

7. Exercise Daily

Some days, it might just be a lap around the neighborhood, but getting your heart pumping and muscles moving in any way is important. Bonus points if you go outside, breathe fresh air, and get some Vitamin D.

8. Indulge

Not every day, but every once in a while. Don’t get so bogged down in the idea of perfection that you can’t enjoy a slice of cake at someone’s wedding or a beer on a Friday night.

It’s not a fancy list and it doesn’t require you deciphering the caloric content of everything that passes your lips. You shouldn’t be avoiding fruit or maxing out on any one particular food group. It’s about being sensible and creating a lifestyle you can live with for the rest of your life.

Make it WayBetter

What are your "8 rules"? Are they the same as Heather's, or different? Share the guidelines you follow in the comments!