Simple Rules to Start a Healthier Diet

This is a simple meal prepared with grilled chicken, steamed green beans and steamed sweet potatoes. Eating real, instead of ultra-processed, food can help you lose weight, increase energy and live healthier in general. Photo courtesy: Kevin Pascual, Preplife

By Yajen Tan

We have all heard it a million times before: you are what you eat. Yet somehow, no matter how much kale I eat, I have yet to turn into a leafy green vegetable.

I am obsessed with diet — not the starve-yourself-halfway-to-death type of diet, but the diet that keeps you full, energized and healthy, all at the same time.

Here are several suggestions on how you can start eating healthy to transform your energy, health and perspective on what a great diet feels like.

  1. Do not be too hard on yourself
  2. Maximize real food
  3. Do not deprive yourself
  4. Practice, practice, practice

Do not be too hard on yourself

I see so many people start their healthy diet journey disciplined and harsh. They start counting calories and find out they have gone over their daily limit by 400 calories. They panic and eventually end up throwing in the towel completely.

As a student, if you earned a low grade on your first test of the semester or missed a homework assignment, would you just give up and not show up for the rest of the semester? No! You would study harder, make sure you are keeping track of assignments and learn from your mistakes.

Learning a new habit is the exact same thing. You will make a ton of mistakes, learn from them and hopefully try harder next time around.

I always preach the 85% rule. Simply put: stick to the plan at least 85% of the time, and you will likely turn out just fine.

One cheeseburger or a couple extra drinks will not really derail your entire week’s work (unless you are training for a competitive event). If you are running into the problem of not being able to stick to your plan, then you need to either review your plan or figure out better ways to keep yourself accountable.

Maximize real food and minimize ultra-processed foods

Eating real food and cutting down on ultra-processed foods will help you if you are trying to lose weight, increase energy or just live a healthier life.

An ultra-processed food is a food-like substance that often does not resemble its original state.

For example, a delicious layer of sweet cream sandwiched between two cocoa-filled cookies is far from anything you may find out in nature. On the other hand, frozen broccoli (which has been processed through freezing) closely resembles what it started as.

The main concern with ultra-processed foods is that they typically lack important micronutrients while containing sugars and fats, which can be addictive and damage our waistlines.

By simply removing most of those foods from our diets, we are almost guaranteed an immediate decrease in overall caloric consumption and an increase in nutrients that our bodies need.

Do not deprive yourself

What happens when you deprive yourself of something you crave? The craving just goes away, right? Wrong!

When I was in high school, I used to swing by the local supermarket every week and pick up two family-sized bags of Kettle Cooked Lays, two packs of Oreos and another miscellaneous treat or two that I would scarf down while doing homework.

While I still enjoy Oreos, potato chips and instant noodles, I only consume such foods twice a week or less, instead of 12 times a week (like I did in my youth).

Make a plan and follow it to the best of your ability. If it does not work out, build out a new strategy and try again.

Practice, practice, practice

Remember that learning to eat healthy is a skill. You need to treat it like you are learning something brand new.

Read about it, talk it over with people you know and put yourself in situations where you can test your understanding. Repeated practice helps you progress.

One assignment I give my clients is to search for five to 15 local restaurants that serve healthy options and then identify three to five items on those menus that fit their dietary plan

Building an understanding of what a healthy meal looks like and an awareness of healthy options set you up for success.

Yajen Tan is a personal trainer and owner of Gimme Crossfit at 561 W. Arrow Highway in San Dimas. If you have health and fitness questions or would like to suggest topics to be covered in a future column, reach out to Yajen at


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