Healthy Eating in an Imperfect World

No time to eat right? WebMD has the solution.

By Dulce Zamora
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD

Eat nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Choose whole-grain, nonfat, or low-fat foods. Be physically active daily. Watch calories. Limit the fat. Get enough calcium.

We live in a world with a dizzying amount of scientific research pointing to foods and habits that make for good health. In an ideal universe, that's good news. If we exercise and eat right, we give our bodies essential nourishment and movement to work at their best.

Yet our world is far from ideal. There are responsibilities, deadlines, and food or lifestyle preferences that get in the way of healthy eating. Real life happens, and in the rush to satisfy daily hunger and desires, we may succumb to less-than-healthy choices.

It doesn't always have to be that way. No matter what our lives are like, there's always room for improvement.

"There is always something positive that can be done for our health," says Sue Moores, MSRD, spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association (ADA). "Maybe it's eating an extra fruit a day, maybe it's cooking a food a different way, or maybe it's (trying) a new food that's out that we didn't know much about because of all the ethnic influences."

Making an effort to eat healthy does not mean abandoning our lives. Find a few minutes to think about a small nutrition goal, how you think you can reach it, and what can prevent you from success. Then devise a plan.

Without this vital planning stage, all good intentions can be for naught. "People need to spend just a little bit of effort planning ahead so that they just don't wait until the last minute until they're ravenously hungry and then make poor choices," says Tara Gidus, RD, also a spokeswoman for the ADA. She says people think preparing for a healthy diet takes a lot more effort than it really does.

To make it easy for aspiring healthy eaters, WebMD has put together a list of common obstacles that get in the way of good nutrition, and asked the experts for some advice on how to overcome these road blocks.

Busy Bees Can Eat Healthy, Too

Demands of work, family, and community can keep people from preparing for healthy meals. This is true for workaholics, supermoms and dads, overachievers, frequent travelers, and a host of other people trying to beat the clock. Because of their lack of time, these folks often turn to quick-fix foods that are high in fat, sugar, sodium, or calories, and low in essential nutrients.

The solution isn't to find more time, but to work with the schedule you do have. The minutes spent perusing fast-food or vending machine options could be used toward time to visit the grocery store, where you can pick up prepared salads, sandwiches, and meats, pre-washed and cut fruits and vegetables, canned soups, low-calorie and low-fat frozen meals, yogurt, string cheese, and cereals.

There may be a bit more effort involved in shopping at the supermarket, but wasteful hours of worry about flab and low energy do tend to go away with healthy eating. With well-balanced meals, we usually feel more positive about ourselves and our surroundings.

"We continue to see a really strong link between how we eat and what we eat, and being well," says Moores. "The better we do on our part to choose good foods and eat healthfully, the more effect it has on helping us stay well, feel good, and enjoy life."

Here are some more healthy tips for busy bees:

  • Cook a bigger batch of food on the weekends, and refrigerate or freeze for weekday consumption.
  • Set an alarm for mealtimes. Even if you're buried in a project, don't skip meals; designate a time to eat.
  • Try not to do anything else while eating. Mindless consumption prevents the enjoyment of food. When that happens, people tend to eat more and eat unhealthy alternatives.
  • Put fresh or dried fruit where you can see it to remind yourself of your goal to eat healthy. Bananas, grapes, and apples make handy and nutritious snack items.
  • If at a restaurant, turn down the supersize option, and choose baked and broiled instead of fried.
  • Order the lunch portion at dinnertime, and hold off on fatty condiments.
  • Keep handy snacks around, such as fruits, dried fruits, nuts, seeds, trail mix, carrot or celery sticks, wraps, and sandwiches.

Tips for Fussy Eaters

These people can be very particular about what they put in their mouths. They may not like certain textures, tastes, or preparations of food. They may wince at healthy options such as fruits and vegetables, low-fat, low-sugar, low-calorie, or low-sodium products. Or they may shun everything but their certain set of comfort foods.