If your goal is to achieve optimal health, you should focus on finding balance in your diet.

Optimal health means something different to each of us. To me, it's about learning to find the balance needed in your diet to maintain a healthy body and build sustainable eating habits. Being lean is great, and getting strong is cool, but what good are those goals if they leave your health compromised?

There is no doubt that you can still be healthy while working towards goals of cutting body fat or improving strength and performance. You can eat high quality food and avoid drastic dieting, but eating for those aesthetic or performance goals may not always be completely sustainable. If you are eating in a calorie deficit for aesthetic purposes, you may have to be more restricted with your eating and sacrifice some flexibility to enjoy that extra dessert or meal out. If you are eating in a big calorie surplus, chances are you may turn to lower quality foods out of necessity. Eating for general health is finding the balance between these two points.

A balanced diet of high quality foods means making sure we are eating the right amount of macronutrients and micronutrients.

MACRONUTRIENTS || Protein, carbohydrates, and fats are the three essential macronutrients. Our bodies need large amounts of these macronutrients to keep our systems functioning. Each food we eat is made up of these macronutrients, and it is important that we eat adequate amounts of all three as they each play important roles in fueling our bodies.

MICRONUTRIENTS || Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals (calcium, iron, magnesium, vitamins A, B, C, K etc.). We only need small amounts of micronutrients, but they are essential to promoting health and preventing disease.

If you track your food, chances are your diet is already pretty balanced in macronutrients. But while you can technically fill your macros with any foods that “fit” your macro goals, focusing on high quality whole foods like fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains will help ensure that you are consuming the appropriate amount of micronutrients as well. Eating an array of different foods and consuming all of these different foods in moderation will help you check the box on all of those essential vitamins and minerals that are so important in reaching your goal of optimal health.

If you track your food on MFP, you are probably already tracking your micronutrients without even knowing it! Go to the “Nutrients” screen, scroll down to the bottom, and then you can see your daily intake of various vitamins and minerals. Scroll back through a few days of tracking and see if there is any major nutrient you may be missing. If you find you’re missing out on some important vitamins or minerals, try adjusting your day by swapping out any processed foods for more nutrient-dense fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and dairy sources.

A balanced diet also means focusing on flexibility rather than restriction.

Eating for health also means working towards balance in your food choices and eating for our mental health as well as physical health. You can eat all the fruits and veggies in the world, but are you truly healthy if you won’t let yourself enjoy a treat or a meal out every once in a while? 

If you are a chronic dieter who has lots of experience with restrictive diets, you may approach your nutrition with a “restrict and binge” mentality - eating strict all week only to feel out of control during the weekend and indulging in all the foods you denied yourself all week. Eating for optimal health means overcoming this cycle by practicing balance throughout the whole week. Try following the 90/10 rule,  keeping 90% of your food coming from nutritious whole food sources and the other 10% from foods you truly want and enjoy. Not only will this allow you to enjoy the foods you love, but a diet filled with a majority of high quality food means you'll also be getting those essential micronutrients you need.

Our health should always be top priority when focusing on our goals. Take an inventory of your diet and make the changes needed to help build long term eating habits that are geared towards our health. Maybe that means adding in more fruits vegetables, maybe it means adding in the occasional dessert. Embracing the concept of flexibility and avoiding the mentality of restriction is an essential part of balancing our mental and physical health.