We all want to eat better, but where do we begin? Emulating the habits of healthy people we admire is a good place to start. You shouldn’t be surprised to discover that healthy people share several common behaviours. Here are six of them:
1. They tune in to the body’s messages.
Your body communicates with you, usually in the form of signs or symptoms. Bloating, ‘random’ aches and pains, headaches, feeling lightheaded—these and other symptoms don’t appear out of nowhere. They each have a cause and may even be trying to tell you something about a more serious condition. Learning to listen to your body takes time and awareness. Maintaining a food journal and listing any unusual physical, physiological, or emotional symptoms is an effective way to tune in. Every few days, review your journal, and look for patterns to interpret the cues. Did you experience loose stools after a breakfast of cereal and milk? Did your arthritis pain flare up after eating a certain meal? Or perhaps after a particularly stressful day at work you caught yourself inhaling an entire package of cookies.
Even those with healthy behaviours can be challenged by this one. Choosing a specialized diet, like a raw food diet, for example, might have been the best eating decision you ever made, but it may not be suitable for your body at this time. If your ethics and values won’t allow you to listen to the signs your body is providing, your health could take a giant step backwards.
2. They are not afraid to experiment with different foods.
Reishi mushrooms, kimchi, a fizzy drink with what looks like parts of ET floating in it (that would be kombucha)… healthy eaters are open minded and are not afraid to try the latest health food craze. They also realize, however, that food trends are just that—trends—and should be consumed in moderation, just like every other food. Fortunately, many of today’s food trends are health-supportive. Be careful to avoid adopting an ‘all or nothing’ mentality, and remember that despite the popularity of certain foods or eating styles, balanced diets that centre around natural plant-based foods always come out on top in the long term.
3. They avoid ‘food’ that comes in packages.
Healthy eaters understand that the body is designed to consume foods that were grown in a natural environment. That typically excludes foods with a five-year shelf life and foods sold in packages, like processed cereals, tinned or bottled soups and sauces, and frozen meals.
They fill their carts with a focus on fresh, shopping primarily around the perimeter of the market and avoiding the processed, packaged food aisles. Packaged foods can’t compete with whole foods when it comes to quality, and they typically contain preservatives and additives that may endanger health rather than promote it.
4. They focus on gut health.
The more we learn about the microbiome, the more we recognize its power over the body and our health. The large gut houses more than 1,000 strains of microbes, many of which have an important influence on mood, immunity, weight, disease prevention and more; in fact, research is finding that our microbiota may play an influential role in every aspect of human health. Healthy eaters are aware that what they eat influences their body’s daily mix of gut microbes. Foods rich in probiotics and fibre feed the good, protective bacteria, helping to increase their population.
Probiotic and prebiotic foods, including kimchi, sauerkraut, organic yogurt and kefir, kombucha, miso, garlic and onions help tip the microbial scales in the right direction. Supplying vegetables, whole grains, beans, fruit and other fibre-rich plant foods every day supports the spread of specific bacteria known to promote weight loss, and prevents gut microbes from feeding on the intestine’s protective mucus lining, a process that can trigger inflammation and disease.
5. They hang out with like-minded people.
Eating fermented vegetables on your own can be lonely. Healthy eaters lean on a supportive community of like-minded people to share (and commiserate) with. Social media provides an abundance of resources—food and nutrition bloggers, Facebook groups, and beautiful, inspiring meal photos on Instagram, but having real live friends with whom you can share recipes, articles or books, and discuss new discoveries or health challenges with—and most importantly, to dine with—is essential too.
6. They live a balanced lifestyle and practice mindfulness.
Science (and journalists) often try to pinpoint one specific food, nutrient or behaviour responsible for optimal health. They will never achieve this—because there isn’t only one. Healthy eaters recognize that while making every meal count is vital to excellent health, it isn’t enough. In addition to being mindful about the food they choose to eat, they exercise regularly, take multivitamins, don’t smoke, learn to manage stress, and appreciate that the mind and spirit need nourishing as much as the body does.
Living mindfully means paying attention to all aspects of your life, including your thoughts and feelings. Meditation helps you achieve this by focusing your awareness on the present moment. Most of us exist in a habitual state of distraction. Check out this article for tips on bringing mindfulness into your life.