I would call myself many things, but “dieter” just isn’t one of them. In fact, the last time I was on a diet was back in 2012 when I was training for my first and only figure competition, and even that was, by my own design, not nearly as strict as perhaps a competition diet *should* be.

Don’t get me wrong though, I do love to play with my nutrition. Sometimes I feel the need to cut back on sugar, or increase my protein intake, or experiment with cutting out dairy or gluten. I might try new strategies for a couple days or weeks, just to see how my body reacts, and take them or leave them depending on how I feel.

As a side note, if “diet” and “nutrition strategy” sound like the same thing to you, it’s probably because they are very similar, with one key difference. That is, “diet” has been labeled with a negative connotation of something that is usually restrictive, difficult or at the very least not fun, and almost always temporary, whereas a “nutrition strategy” has not been flagged with these connotations and, in my opinion, gives control, flexibility, and customization to the person using it. Distinguishing between “dieting” and “strategizing” is a mental shift that has been immensely important to me in living a healthy lifestyle.

Semantics aside, over the years, I have come to rely on 5 specific nutrition strategies to keep myself healthy, fit, and happy.

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  1. Drink lots of water. Since junior high I’ve been carrying around a water bottle. That means, for the last 13 or so years, I’ve had a water bottle with me almost constantly! I pick one I like (my current selection is a glass bottle with a pink silicon sleeve detailed with a tan heart), learn how many ounces it holds and calculate how many bottles full I need to drink throughout the day to hit my goal (currently 96 oz or 6 bottles full), and keep it with me at all times. Seriously, my water bottle goes with me to the gym, hangs out in my purse while I’m running errands, and lives on my desk while I’m working and nightstand while I’m sleeping.
  2. Prioritize protein and produce. Of course there are other macro and micronutrients that I need to make sure are included in my diet, but a meal doesn’t feel right to me if I don’t have a high quality protein and lots of fruits and/or veggies. Speaking of protein . . .
  3. Source natural, humanely raised, (and local if possible) animal products. This is a biggie for me. In addition to being a health nut, I am also an environmentally conscious animal lover. Animals who are raised to be able to eat and behave much as they would in the wild are not only healthier for us humans to consume, they also have happier lives and their farming creates less environmental impact.
  4. Eat real treats (in moderation). I’ve had a sweet tooth for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, my dad used to bribe me to clean my room with packs of skittles. As a teenager I’d stop by the local drug store almost every night after ballet rehearsals to pick up a bag of peanut m&m’s or a roll of sweettarts. In recent years, I’ve shifted away from candies and towards high-quality baked goods. I don’t want to waste my dessert “credit” on mediocre-tasting, fake-ingredient loaded, questionable candies or cheap store-bought goods; but, I have perfected the art of making 5 cookies at a time from scratch with grass-fed butter, organic sugar, and pasture-raised eggs. Are these cookies good for me? Probably not, but I don’t eat them every day and I do take comfort in knowing exactly what’s in them. Which speaks to . . .
  5. Eat real food. Plain and simple, if only following one diet rule or nutrition strategy, this is it! So many of the health issues that plague people are caused by eating a diet primarily consisting of highly processed “food-like” items, that I’ve come to be in the habit of asking myself “can I pronounce the ingredients of this food and do I know what they are? Is this food in its most natural state, or at least really close?”

There is one more rule that is not listed above, mostly because I don’t find it to be so much a specific strategy but more of an all-encompassing mindset, or assumption for honoring my above rules. That is, just do the best I can. Some people like to have an “80/20 rule” (eat clean 80% of the time, and “indulge” or “cheat” 20% of the time), but I’ve come to learn that doing my best is the best strategy for me!

If you’re working on your nutrition, give these rules a try. I promise you will notice a change in how you feel and your energy, and maybe even your waistline as well! Let me know how you do on my Facebook page here!

Stay healthy friends!

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