What, exactly, is healthy eating? Choosing healthy, nutrient-packed foods is part of it, sure—a very big part. But it’s not the whole story.
At Canyon Ranch, we believe that true healthy eating—the kind that you can sustain over a lifetime—is about adopting habits that allow you to appreciate food and enjoy eating, while also putting nutritious options on your plate.
“Food should be a pleasurable experience,” says Marilyn Majchrzak, M.S., R.D.N., Canyon Ranch’s corporate food development director. Why does pleasure matter when it comes to eating? The reason behind this is simple and practical: If there’s no joy in your healthy meals, you’ll be less likely to keep up the good work and reach your weight goal or bring your cholesterol or blood pressure numbers into a safer range and keep them there.
But healthy eating is about a lot more than just dropping down a size or warding off disease. Meals are also an opportunity to nourish our bodies and minds, connect with ourselves and our loved ones, appreciate the bounty of nature and excite our senses—all vital components to a happy, healthy life.
We encourage you to embrace all of these benefits to get the most out of your meals. “Nutritious ingredients and delicious food are the true building blocks of a healthy lifestyle, a healthy relationship with food and, ultimately, a healthy weight,” says Scott Uehlein, former Canyon Ranch corporate chef. Keep reading to learn more about how to eat the Canyon Ranch way.
Go Ahead, Have Dessert…
“Our philosophy from day one has always been, ‘Don’t deprive yourself,’” Majchrzak says. “You should be able to eat a three-course meal—including dessert.” The problem with putting a less-than-healthy food you love—ice cream, mac and cheese and so on—completely off-limits is that it sets you up for failure. You may be able to forgo a beloved food for a while, but eventually you’re likely to succumb to your cravings and overdo it. Then comes the inevitable guilt from having fallen off the wagon. A better approach? You guessed it: moderation.
…But Do Watch Your Portions
While you can have a little bit of nearly all foods (we’ll never be on board with heart-clogging trans fats, for example), “little” is the operative term when it comes to high-calorie foods. In the Canyon Ranch dining rooms, dessert courses are around 150 calories. All of the recipes for desserts on our website hover around this number for a single serving to help you pull this off at home, and we also offer some smart recipe swaps for home cooking. Simply put, the best way to keep calorie counts down is to keep portions small—and this goes for any high-calorie food, not just sweets—and stay vigilant about not letting your serving sizes creep up over time. The trick is fill up your plate with nutrient-dense choices, like vegetables and whole grains, instead of calorie-dense options, like dessert and cheese. Make the nutrient-dense choices the stars of your meals and snacks, with French fries, rib eyes and chocolate cake playing much smaller, supporting roles for special occasions.
Be More Experimental
“If you want eating to be satisfying, you should have foods you enjoy,” Majchrzak says. “But also be open to trying new things, because you might be pleasantly surprised.” So you’ve never loved beets. Or broccoli. Or eggplant. Does that mean you never will? No—unless you never try them again. Even children—the most notorious of picky eaters—can move from “hate” to “like” after trying a food 10 to 15 times. And experts say we can develop new food preferences even into old age. For both kids and adults, it’s often a matter of how a disliked food is prepared (you've probably noticed the craze for Brussels sprouts and kale these days). More restaurant chefs—including those at Canyon Ranch—are paying attention to veggies and preparing them in interesting ways that might make them more palatable to you. At home, learning to appreciate vegetables could be as easy as roasting or grilling them, methods that, unlike boiling or steaming, bring out flavor and maintain some of veggies' appealing crunch. Need inspiration? Look for new recipes for salads, starters, sides and vegetarian entrees. Fish is another nutritional powerhouse that many people shy away from, but you may find seafood a lot more appealing with the right recipes.
And, Finally, Have More Mindful Meals
There are numerous benefits to eating more mindfully—from noticing when we feel full (so we stop while we’re ahead) and learning more about what flavors we enjoy to taking a break from the stresses of the day and having a sense of gratitude for our food and our lives. To practice mindfulness at mealtime, you might start by turning off the TV and other distractions and perhaps saying grace or giving thanks for the food. A slower pace will also give you time to consider your hunger. “Ask yourself, ‘Am I full?’” Majchrzak says. “We often don’t think about this—we just keep eating.” Then, “think about the food and what you like about it,” Majchrzak advises. “Are you enjoying the texture? The flavor? The combination? People have different sensory likes and dislikes, and thinking about them can get you to slow down and appreciate what you’re eating."