My 11 'Food Rules' for Healthy Eating and How I Followed Them for a Week

Opening up about every single thing I eat!
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When it comes to food, I've long believed that everything boils down to Michael Pollan's three-part rule: Eat food (meaning real, unprocessed food), mostly plants, not too much. There are so many fad diets—keto, intermittent fasting, Whole30—but at the end of the day, healthy* eating really comes down to eating whole ingredients, especially vegetables, cooked at home when possible, and stopping when you feel full.

I'm asked almost daily about what I'm eating, whether it's coming from a place that's kind and curious or suspicious ("Did you really eat that?"), so I started taking photos of my food each day without knowing how exactly I planned on sharing them, whether via Instagram stories or in a full blog post.

My hope in taking the photos was to show how my diet has changed slightly since I last shared it. After Shira pointed out how much "sneaky" sugar I consume, when I recognized my mid-day energy slump, and when I started needing more calories to sustain my workouts, I started shifting the food I eat. As I looked back on my meals, I realized that there are a lot of "food rules" I follow in the back of my mind that I hadn't even identified as "rules" until I wrote them down. These rules aren't something I keep taped on my fridge to guilt-trip me, but are more like loose, subconscious guidelines I keep in mind as I plan my meals and days. I probably break one every week, if not every day, but find that following them as closely as I can helps me feel my best. Here are the 11 "food rules" I keep in mind when planning meals and eating: 

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Workdays are the perfect time to eat healthy because you, for the most part, know what to expect. While I might be running around on the weekends, I know that every day I have to be at the office from roughly 9 to 5. Because of that, I try to eat as "perfectly" healthy as I can doing the workday, which for me means eating almost the exact same thing for breakfast and lunch each day

Every single morning, I drink a Bulletproof coffee when I wake up (because they keep me full and don't make me feel shaky the way a coffee without fat does). I then usually eat three to four eggs for breakfast, cooked either over-easy or scrambled in coconut oil with sautéed spinach. 

For lunch, I used to bring dinner leftovers, until I realized that carbs were making me feel sluggish post-lunch (more on that below!). For the past few weeks, I've started making a big batch of vegetable-packed soup because it's easy to meal-prep, delicious, and completely satisfying and nutritious. At the recommendation of my friend Betsy who's a holistic nutritionist, I started making two batches of soup on Sunday: Goop's Golden Summer Soup and Goop's Creamy Coconut and Spring Vegetable Soup. She told me to switch off which soup I bring each day, to make sure I'm diversifying my nutrients and eating a rainbow of vegetables, instead of just "green" or "red" vegetables. I also keep healthy snacks at my desk for when soup isn't enough.

That way, regardless of what I choose to eat for dinner, I know I've started the day off on the right foot!

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I used to feel exhausted around 3 P.M. every day. My productivity would plummet and I'd often feel too tired to exercise after work, but that completely changed when I followed my friend Betsy's advice to limit carbs, particularly simple carbs (which I had Betsy explain below because I'm not a nutritionist, but she is!). Now, I eat as many carbs as I want, but only in the evening—and prioritize, as you saw above, lots of vegetables and protein during the day that keep my energy more stable than pasta and grains do. Here's how Betsy explains carbs' impact on the 3 o'clock slump:

Carbohydrates break down into glucose in your blood stream and will cause your blood sugar to rise. The severity of the spike will depend on the type of carbohydrates consumed, and what was consumed along with it. Processed and simple carbohydrates like bread, candy and liquid carbohydrates in sodas and fruit juice will results in a faster spike, while protein, fiber and healthy fats will blunt the response. Whenever your blood sugar spikes up, it will always have an equal and opposite reaction and result in a crash. Cue that 3 P.M. slump! The body doesn’t want to stay in a place of low blood sugar (think headaches, fatigue, irritability, etc.), so it will send out signals to get that blood sugar back up. This means cravings for more sugar and carbohydrates that are almost impossible to ignore.

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This is basic, but eat when you're hungry and listen to your body! Not listening to when you feel hungry will only lead to binges later, and can even make you sick. The rare times I've had to work through lunch then still decide to work out on an empty stomach, I get sick—every single time. 

And as much as I love the stats my new Apple watch gives me about active calories, I don't count the calories that go in, because your body is already built to tell you. Just make sure you have healthy options on hand for when you could use a few extra calories. I always keep nutrient- and calorie-rich raw cashews and fruits like apples and avocados at my desk in case I need something extra.

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On the other end of the spectrum, try not to eat for the sake of eating. I love the Michael Pollan adage that you aren't actually hungry unless you'd eat an apple, and often ask myself if I would eat an apple to keep myself from eating mindlessly at my desk. Plus, if you're eating three calorie-rich meals every day and exercising moderately, you probably won't need many snacks. If you're starving by 4 P.M., take a closer look at what you're bringing for lunch and make sure it's nutrient-packed with enough calories to get you through the day! 

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A good rule of thumb to follow: Anything you have to unwrap isn't going to be as good as whole ingredients. Even (maybe even especially) power bars and products that claim to be healthy usually have some questionable ingredients keeping the good stuff shelf-stable. If possible, try to make the alternatives at home or grab an avocado or piece of fruit. That being said, there's still some packaged, processed food that's pretty good if you need to keep a snack in the car or in your purse. 

Packaged food that's pretty good: Nut butters (I love Wild Friends) and coconut butter (fat takes a long time to break down so it keeps you full longer) are great since they have short ingredient lists. I've recently fallen hard for Daily Harvest smoothies, which include frozen whole ingredients in convenient containers you can keep in your freezer!

(but have it when you want to!)

(but have it when you want to!)

Natural, unprocessed sugar almost always occurs in fruits and vegetables that have the fiber you need to break it down (honey is the sole exception). Eating sugar that's been processed or stripped of that fiber (including things like juiced apples) has been linked to inflammation and chronic diseases. Because of this, sugar is one of the only foods I'm wary of eating, no matter the time of day. That being said, I have processed sugar when I have a craving for it, but only if it was a pre-meditated, active choice. Don't eat sugar because you've finished dinner and it's just part of your routine, and don't eat a donut because your coworkers brought them, but do eat ice cream after dinner if you're truly craving it, and do pick up your favorite donut in town if you woke up thinking about it! I apply the same logic to alcohol, which I also try to restrict for a number of reasons (health, sleep, productivity). 

Life isn't always about making the "right" decision, and making the "irresponsible" one can often outweigh the cons of eating perfectly healthy. So if you really want ice cream or beer, have it and enjoy it. You should never feel like your food choices are making you miserable or inhibiting your happiness in any way. To that end, I also recommend having the real thing when you're craving it. Have a bowl of perfect, rich ice cream instead of the 300-calories-per-pint version. 

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Last week, I made plans to eat at the new pizza place Ronan (you guys, it's amazing), and knew I would want to eat and drink all the things—so I made sure to balance it out! The evenings before, I had meals high in protein and vegetables, and walked to work that day to get a little more movement in so I could eat more without feeling stuffed.

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I exercise more for my mental health than for anything else (on days I don't move, I feel anxious and low), but my bootcamp classes and walks also keep me attuned to my body and the foods I put in it! I feel significantly more sluggish when I workout after eating unhealthy foods, and vice versa, so exercise keeps me inspired to put nourishing things into my system! 

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Because I'm so careful about what I eat during the week, I really just eat whatever I want during the weekend. And the truth is—that doesn't even leave that many meals, so the "damage" I can do is limited. I often have eggs for breakfast, then a healthy meal Sunday night along with meal-planning, so that leaves me with three meals to go for it! Bring on the breakfast burritos, tacos, and Panda Express.

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It's crazy to think about now, but when I was in middle school and high school, I used to get mad at myself when I would eat something I wasn't "supposed to" like a cookie or too much pizza (which are, for some reason, everywhere in high school). I saw my friends and women in TV shows do it, so I felt guilty too—but there's just no reason to! News flash: An evening spent eating a pint of Ben and Jerry's and a two-person pizza is not going to derail your diet or your life. Unless you are severely gluten or lactose intolerant, you probably won't even remember it two days later, at least your body won't. Enjoy the ice cream and pizza, and eat healthy in the morning but do not feel bad about it! Indulgences are part of the natural rhythm of life and food—denying them will only make you feel guilty about nothing, and you'll probably still indulge later. 

To that end, when you're all excited about eating healthy and then life hands you a humongous bowl of pasta for your office lunch, go for it (if you want to) then recalibrate for your next meal. Halfway through taking photos for this post, I ran out of my morning eggs I blab so much about, so I made do with what I had: a bunch of Daily Harvest in my freezer from my gum surgery. It's not my "perfect" breakfast but it's fine! 

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One of the keys to eating healthy is planning ahead. The week I took the photos below, I had jury duty and knew I'd have to catch up on work afterward and wouldn't have time to cook. As a result, I prepped all of my soups the week ahead and kept rotisserie chicken and salad fixings in my fridge for simple dinners. I didn't pull out my beloved pasta maker once (I miss you, pasta maker), but it did the trick! Here's what I ate for a week:

#1

Exercise: Basecamp bootcamp class

Not pictured: 6 AM Bulletproof coffee (1 tablespoon unsalted butter + 1 teaspoon MCT oil blended with 1.5 cups coffee)

7:30 AM 3 eggs scrambled with spinach and coconut oil 

7:30 AM 3 eggs scrambled with spinach and coconut oil 

11:30 AM Large Mason jar Goop Summer Detox Soup + 1/2 cup cashews

11:30 AM Large Mason jar Goop Summer Detox Soup + 1/2 cup cashews

6:30 PM Salad with a whole bunch of rotisserie chicken, feta, and Organic Girl Herb Goddess dressing

6:30 PM Salad with a whole bunch of rotisserie chicken, feta, and Organic Girl Herb Goddess dressing

#2

Exercise: 30-minute walk at lunch

Not pictured: 6 AM Bulletproof coffee (1 tablespoon unsalted butter + 1 teaspoon MCT oil blended with 1.5 cups coffee)

7:30 AM 4 eggs scrambled with spinach and coconut oil 

7:30 AM eggs scrambled with spinach and coconut oil 

12:30 AM Large Mason jar Goop Spring Vegetable Soup + 1/2 cup cashews

12:30 AM Large Mason jar Goop Spring Vegetable Soup + 1/2 cup cashews

8:00 PM Geoffrey's *world famous* ragu for Bach night at Emily's house! 

8:00 PM Geoffrey's *world famous* ragu for Bach night at Emily's house! 

#3

Exercise: Basecamp bootcamp class

Not pictured: 6 AM Bulletproof coffee (1 tablespoon unsalted butter + 1 teaspoon MCT oil blended with 1.5 cups coffee)

7:30 AM 3 eggs scrambled with spinach and coconut oil 

7:30 AM 3 eggs scrambled with spinach and coconut oil 

12:30 PM Large Mason jar Goop Summer Detox Soup + 1/2 cup cashews

12:30 PM Large Mason jar Goop Summer Detox Soup + 1/2 cup cashews

8:00 PM Salad with a whole bunch of rotisserie chicken, feta, and Organic Girl Herb Goddess dressing, and some Bub + Grandma's baguette!

8:00 PM Salad with a whole bunch of rotisserie chicken, feta, and Organic Girl Herb Goddess dressing, and some Bub + Grandma's baguette!

#4

Exercise: Basecamp bootcamp class

Not pictured: 6 AM Bulletproof coffee (1 tablespoon unsalted butter + 1 teaspoon MCT oil blended with 1.5 cups coffee)

9:30 AM 1 Daily Harvest Cold Brew + Almond smoothie

9:30 AM 1 Daily Harvest Cold Brew + Almond smoothie

12:30 AM 1 bowl-full Goop Spring Vegetable Soup + 1/2 cup cashews + 1 avocado

12:30 AM 1 bowl-full Goop Spring Vegetable Soup + 1/2 cup cashews + 1 avocado

7:00 PM The world's saddest turkey burger on lettuce from Astro Burger

7:00 PM The world's saddest turkey burger on lettuce from Astro Burger

Not pictured: 1/2 cup cashews + avocado after dinner when I was still hungry, plus a handful of dark chocolate chips I'd been craving while watching This Is Us!

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Exercise: Basecamp bootcamp class

Not pictured: 6 AM Bulletproof coffee (1 tablespoon unsalted butter + 1 teaspoon MCT oil blended with 1.5 cups coffee)

9:30 AM 1 Daily Harvest Carrot + Chia smoothie (probably my favorite I've tried!)

9:30 AM 1 Daily Harvest Carrot + Chia smoothie (probably my favorite I've tried!)

12:30 PM 1 bowl-full Goop Summer Detox Soup + 1/2 cup cashews + 1 avocado

12:30 PM 1 bowl-full Goop Summer Detox Soup + 1/2 cup cashews + 1 avocado

6:45 PM Dinner at Ronan! Only took one shot, but Jonah and I shared wine, Burrata with Romanesco, Carrots and Sunchokes, Longbeans, and Pizza! Hakuna Banana (N)ice Cream for dessert :) 

6:45 PM Dinner at Ronan! Only took one shot, but Jonah and I shared wine, Burrata with Romanesco, Carrots and Sunchokes, Longbeans, and Pizza! Hakuna Banana (N)ice Cream for dessert :) 

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Not pictured: 6 AM Bulletproof coffee (1 tablespoon unsalted butter + 1 teaspoon MCT oil blended with 1.5 cups coffee)

6:30 AM Daily Harvest Banana + Greens

6:30 AM Daily Harvest Banana + Greens

9:15 AM Hygge bun from OAT in Santa Barbara

9:15 AM Hygge bun from OAT in Santa Barbara

2 PM Car picnic in Morro Bar with friends, a ton of bread, cheese, pesto, olives, and fruit!

2 PM Car picnic in Morro Bar with friends, a ton of bread, cheese, pesto, olives, and fruit!

Not pictured: 6 PM - 8 PM A full Alison Roman-approved dinner with her date chicken, a delicious pasta, her "Ranch" dip and endless raw vegetables, roasted vegetables, salad, and an IPA!

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9:30 AM 3 eggs scrambled with lox, cream cheese, and pesto, half an avocado, tomatoes, and onion

9:30 AM 3 eggs scrambled with lox, cream cheese, and pesto, half an avocado, tomatoes, and onion

1:30 PM Jonah took this beautiful photo of the baguette sandwich he was feeding me as I drove us home, with charcuterie, cheese, butter, and pesto on it!

1:30 PM Jonah took this beautiful photo of the baguette sandwich he was feeding me as I drove us home, with charcuterie, cheese, butter, and pesto on it!

5:30 PM Some of my favorite comfort food! The "Best Worst Chicken," brown rice, and Tahini roasted broccoli 

5:30 PM Some of my favorite comfort food! The "Best Worst Chicken," brown rice, and Tahini roasted broccoli 

*I'm going to use the word "healthy" a lot here, which to me means foods that make me feel high-energy, nourished, and good (pretty much anything homemade is healthy in my book)! You may choose that healthy means something else for you because all bodies are different. 

I want to reiterate in case it hasn't been enough: The purpose of this post (and most posts on this site) is to be open about what works for me, in the hopes it works for you too! But I know that food carries a whole lotta opinions and weight. If you do not find these tips helpful, disregard them! If you do find them helpful, use 'em! Bon appétit! 

P.S., I quoted Betsy so much in this post I feel like I should interview her for her own post! What topics would you like covered? Was this post helpful? Tell me all the things in the comments!