December 2007

The 85/15 Rule for Healthy Eating

Author: Theresa Jackson

Last night my son and I made chocolate chip cookies. The entire house was filled with the delicious aroma that only fresh baked homemade cookies can provide, and those cookies sat on the counter saying, “Eat me now.” (It’s true. I can hear them.) They are never satisfied. If I eat one, the others just start calling louder: “Eat us too.” And we all know that as the holidays are upon us, those holiday cookies, cakes and pies, all dropped off by well-meaning family and friends, will too, continue to call out in the night and demand to be eaten.

Same as most people, I love food. I love all kinds of food. The dilemma is that I am also very health-conscious, and it turns out that not all the foods I like are healthy. I don’t think I am alone.

So as the holidays seem to present an even higher temptation factor, how do we justify our (sometimes uncontrollable) desire to eat something delicious that may not be “good for us” and at the same time remain true to ourselves in eating healthy and maintaining a healthy lifestyle? In working with many clients through my weight reduction program and teaching many others to eat healthy and to pay attention to nutrition, I have discussed the 85/15 rule of eating. It goes something like this. We eat to survive 85 percent of the time. We need to grab some breakfast in the morning so we can go to work. If we are listening to our bodies, they are probably hungry again around mid-morning so we grab a snack. We eat lunch some time around noon. The day continues, and we eat because we need the nutrition and energy to live.

The other 15 percent of the time, we eat for social reasons. We may be going out to dinner with friends or we may get invited to a party. Or we may bake cookies with our children. We are not really eating to survive or for energy or to stay healthy. During these times, we are eating because we want to, because it tastes good or because we are at a social event. I call this “play food”–food that provides no nutritional redemptive powers whatsoever.

I believe the secret to solving the dilemma of being a “health nut” and still being able to have the occasional “play food” is the 85/15 rule. Adopting this way of eating, whereby, we consume healthy foods 85 percent of the time, we can have occasional treats and maintain our health and weight. If we choose items that provide us with good nutrition and energy 85 percent of the time, then the other 15 percent doesn’t really matter.

The 85 percent part of this eating plan consists of the following components:

Fruits and vegetables: Eat at least five servings of fresh fruits and vegetables every day. In addition, try to vary the color of these items. Each color represents different nutrients. So try to have something green, yellow, red, orange and purple to get a wide variety of powerhouse, disease-fighting nutrients. If eating five helpings of fruits and vegetables a day is difficult, which it can sometimes be, getting a juicer might help. Or you can incorporate a whole food supplement like Juice Plus+, which is fruits and vegetables in capsule form and is an easy way to bridge the nutrition gap.

Water: Just drink as much as you can. The general rule is to drink half your bodyweight in ounces each day. So if you weigh 150 pounds, drink 75 ounces of water. I do not believe, as some others do, that you need to be constantly carrying a water bottle with you and flooding your kidneys. Our bodies are brilliant and have an amazing mechanism to keep us from becoming dehydrated. It is called thirst, and you should listen to it. But when you are thirsty, instead of reaching for a soft drink—or some food—drink water first and then see if you still want anything else. Chances are you will be satisfied.

Protein: Next to water, which makes up 60 to 70 percent of our bodies, protein is the most abundant substance at 20 percent. Protein is important for building and maintaining blood and muscles. It also plays a vital role in immunity. Just keep in mind, too much animal protein is not a good thing. High animal protein diets cause the body to leech calcium from the bones; there can be digestive problems, as well as an increased risk of kidney disease and cancer. Choose free range or organic meat when possible. Cows and chickens are pumped up with antibiotics to keep them from getting sick and hormones or steroids to get them big and to keep cows lactating. The long-term effects are not good. Your diet should consist of at least four servings of protein a day, including organic meats, protein shakes, protein bars, beans, legumes, nuts, dairy products or any other source of lean, healthy protein.

Eat frequently throughout the day. Grazing—eating small amounts of food throughout the day instead of in three big meals—is the best approach to eating. It helps to keep a better balance of insulin and other hormones. And it keeps you from getting really hungry, which means you will be more likely to eat nutritious foods and less of them.

So go ahead and splurge occasionally. You don’t have to feel guilty as long as you are following a common-sense eating plan 85 percent of the time. Today, I have eaten my five servings of fruits and vegetables; I’ve had a protein smoothie and plenty of water. I think it’s time for another cookie.

Theresa Jackson is a Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist and Nutritional Counselor who is also pursuing a doctorate in Natural Health. She is the Founder & President of Wellness Within Centers with programs in weight reduction, smoking cessation and golf performance improvement. You can reach the Wellness Within office at 843-986-9700.

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