What is “Healthy Eating”?

Last week we introduced you to our perspective of what it means to be healthy. We mentioned that the two most well-known parts of health and wellness are 1) healthy eating and 2) healthy movement. Today we’ll tackle the first one: nutrition! Here are a few lessons we have learned along our journeys to working in food and nutrition.

Lesson #1: Many practices that are marketed as healthful are actually harmful.

Our society makes it difficult to tell the difference between what’s true and what’s just a clever marketing scheme. Every day, we’re bombarded with messages about how to eat but they all seem contradictory. Food labels tell you one thing, TV shows tell you another, and the internet tells you something completely different. Do you ever get frustrated by all these mixed messages? We sure do!

What’s most concerning about this situation is that the lines between healthful and harmful behaviours get easily blurred. We want to clear things up a bit by identifying a few things that healthy eating is NOT. Some companies and individuals might market these as “healthy eating,” but that claim is far from the truth.

  • Healthy eating is NOT dieting3,7,8
  • Healthy eating is NOT labelling some foods as “good” and others as “bad”8
  • Healthy eating is NOT restriction6
  • Healthy eating is NOT eliminating food groups6
  • Healthy eating is NOT counting calories3

Sometimes we can get so concerned about eating healthy that we adopt behaviours that are harmful, like the ones listed above. We begin to restrict ourselves, leading our bodies to become deprived and we start to be even more preoccupied with our eating6. We avoid certain foods because we view them as “bad” but then we miss out on key nutrients6. We become so focused on following our food rules that we can’t focus on the hobbies we used to enjoy or we start to isolate ourselves from our friends7. These are just a few of the ways that an extreme focus on “healthy” eating can negatively impact our well-being and it’s something to watch out for.

Lesson #2: Nourishing our body with food isn’t as complicated as we’ve made it to be.

We can enjoy our food – food is supposed to make us feel good! And we should aim to eat foods from all food groups to get the nutrients our bodies need, like protein, carbohydrates, fat, fibre, water, vitamins and minerals. But it is also important to choose foods that make us feel good in other ways, like enjoying birthday cake with friends or having a bowl of our favourite ice cream as an evening snack.

Lesson #3: All foods fit!

It’s pretty widely accepted that a “healthy diet” includes whole, minimally processed foods like vegetables, lean protein sources and whole grains. But did you know that healthy eating also includes enjoying a slice of chocolate cake, a glass of wine or processed foods6? Another non-diet dietitian, Julie Duffy Dillon, states in her podcast, “healthy eating includes pleasure, connection and feeling at home in your own skin no matter your size”4. We love the points she brings up with this definition. First, food isn’t just meant to nourish our bodies – it feeds our souls, too. We can enjoy ALL foods! The other part of Julie’s definition we want to highlight is that healthy eating is connected to a healthy body image – when we feel at home in our skin, no matter our size, we can enjoy eating and have a positive relationship with food!

Lesson #4: Healthy eating is flexible, and it looks different for everyone.

That’s because it involves intuitively listening to our bodies’ natural cues instead of eating according to a set of rules. If you haven’t had a chance to read our blog post on intuitive eating, go check it out! Intuitive eating means listening to your body when it tells you that it’s hungry, and then responding by eating2. It also involves finishing eating when your body tells you that it’s satisfied2. People come in all shapes and sizes, so we all need to eat a little differently! Plus, the amount or type of food someone eats one day will generally be different the next day – and that’s perfectly normal. So, healthy eating involves honouring both your health and your taste buds while respecting your body’s natural shape and size2.

Lesson #5: Take time to eat and savour your food5.

One way to help you become more in tune with your body while eating is to practice mindful eating. Engage all five senses to get the most out of your eating experience1!

To wrap up this post, we want to share with you our favourite description of normal eating, quoted directly from Registered Dietitian and author, Ellyn Satter9:

  • Normal eating is going to the table hungry and eating until you are satisfied.
  • It is being able to choose food you enjoy and eat it and truly get enough of it – not just stop eating because you think you should.
  • Normal eating is being able to give some thought to your food selection so you get nutritious food, but not being so wary and restrictive that you miss out on enjoyable food.
  • Normal eating is giving yourself permission to eat sometimes because you are happy, sad or bored, or just because it feels good.
  • Normal eating is mostly three meals a day, or four or five, or it can be choosing to munch along the way.
  • It is leaving some cookies on the plate because you know you can have some again tomorrow, or it is eating more now because they taste so wonderful.
  • Normal eating is overeating at times, feeling stuffed and uncomfortable. And it can be undereating at times and wishing you had more.
  • Normal eating is trusting your body to make up for your mistakes in eating.
  • Normal eating takes up some of your time and attention, but keeps its place as only one important area of your life.
  • In short, normal eating is flexible. It varies in response to your hunger, your schedule, your proximity to food and your feelings.


  1. 7 tips for mindful eating. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://women.smokefree.gov/food-nutrition-nourish-your-body/7-tips-for-mindful-eating.aspx
  2. 10 principles of intuitive eating. (2017). Retrieved from http://www.intuitiveeating.org/10-principles-of-intuitive-eating/
  3. Carney, S. (1996). Compare and contrast the meaning of food to those people with and without an eating disorder. European Eating Disorders Review, 4(4), 272-282. doi:
  4. Dillon, J. D. (Producer). (2018, January 5). Is my healthy eating a problem? {ep 105 with robyn Goldberg}[Audio podcast]. Retrieved from http://www.juliedillonrd.com/lovefood105/
  5. Eating well with Canada’s food guide. (2011). Retrieved from https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/hc-sc/migration/hc-sc/fn-an/alt_formats/hpfb-dgpsa/pdf/food-guide-aliment/print_eatwell_bienmang-eng.pdf
  6. Fleming, K. (2018). “Clean eating”: when “healthy” eating becomes unhealthy. In Centre for Clinical Interventions. Retrieved from http://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au/docs/Clean%20Eating%2025-01-18.pdf
  7. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/learn/by-eating-disorder/other/orthorexia
  8. Prevention & health promotion. (2014). Retrieved from http://nedic.ca/give-get-help/prevention-health-promotion
  9. Satter, E. (2018). Adult eating and weight.In Ellyn Satter Institute. Retrieved from https://www.ellynsatterinstitute.org/how-to-eat/adult-eating-and-weight/

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