Living Healthy-ish and What It Means for You

by Cinnamon Janzer
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Living Healthy-ish and What It Means for You

In the past year or so, a new health trend has hit the scene: healthy-ish.

Think of it as being healthy within reason. Despite being a less than intuitive term, healthy-ish was coined by Michael Pollan and has been covered in a PBS documentary titled “In Defense of Food, based on Pollan’s book of the same name, as well an article in The Atlantic. It’s also been snapped up by Bon Appetit, a media outlet known for decadent, gourmet fare, that’s adding its take on eating a balanced diet. But what does it actually mean, to eat “healthy-ish?”

According to Mindy Kurzer, a nutrition scientist, professor and director of Healthy Foods and Healthy Lives at the University of Minnesota, it’s actually not as complicated as it might seem. “The healthy-ish idea is actually consistent with what many nutritionists have said forever,” Kurzer says. What this means is “there’s no such thing as a ‘good’ food or a ‘bad’ food. The important thing to focus on is the dietary pattern overall.”

To Kurzer, healthy-ish is a health and wellness philosophy emphasizing a long-term approach rather than a set of harsh restrictions. When following a healthy-ish philosophy, “the thing to focus on is your diet over the course of a week,” says Kurzer. “Hopefully it’s good and healthy, but that doesn’t mean you can’t occasionally splurge on the treats you like. Foods that are high in fat and high in sugar aren’t necessarily bad, you just shouldn’t consume a lot of them.”

Because actually creating lasting changes can be tricky, Kurzer offers five tips to integrate the healthy-ish philosophy into your lifestyle:


Kurzer is a proponent of getting clear about why you’re interested in the healthy-ish approach and what you hope to get out of it. “Each person needs to figure out what their goals are because each person has different goals. For some it might be to lose weight, for others it might just be to get fit in general — and it might involve speaking to a nutritionist or a personal trainer to figure them out.”


The next step is to figure out where you need to make lifestyle changes to achieve your goals. Again, Kurzer emphasizes individuality: “No one program is going to work for everyone. Vegans and vegetarians, for example, already have a set of restrictions that they need to work within. It also depends on what makes you feel best — some people feel better when they eat a lot of meat and others don’t. Figure out what you can do in your specific life to reach your goals.


Once you’ve sorted out the areas and practices where you can make modifications, it’s important to focus on sustainability first. “Figure out a program that will incorporate what you naturally like and that avoids what you don’t like,” says Kurzer. “It has to be reasonable for you because this is intended to become a lifelong plan.”


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“It’s a bit of a cliche,” Kurzer confesses, “but just take it one day at a time. Allow for slip ups and don’t beat yourself up over them. If you have a bad day, just wake up the next morning and note that yesterday wasn’t great, but decide that today will be a good day. Allow for imperfection — it’s the shame of messing up that really derails people.”


“You have to figure out what your barriers to success are. What are your food triggers? Is it going to parties? For me it’s traveling. I travel a lot for my work and it’s difficult for me to eat and exercise the way I want to. I try to kind of allow it and do the best I can and, once I’m home, I can go back [to my regular routine].” Kurzer says, adding, “when it comes to gateway foods, as my trainer calls them — those foods that once you start, you just can’t stop — it’s probably best to try to avoid them altogether rather than tempt yourself with just a bit, and things like that.”



  • wendy mason

    I needed to read this. I am a super active person. My occupation is teaching music and drama and I add onto my long day by performing at night quite often. My problem is maintaining all of this in my diet. I have super fast metabolism and honestly I look close to a skeleton. I really love food and try my best to pack and prep food that can help me maintain or increase my weight. I have also taken a diploma course in nutrition to help with my cause. Reading this article has got me thinking. Am I too rule bound on my diet? Am I allowing myself to follow a plan? Honestly all I do is count calories everyday to reach a target, I think Im going to change my strategy a little. Thanks!

  • Christin

    This is me all over it. The beginning to my day is plain yogurt mixed with oatmeal and cinnamon and some honey, protein and salads and nuts, plenty of water. Stay active. Then come home and have two slices of pizza. Meanwhile my weight is down and still lose, or maintain, good cholesterol is high, bad cholesterol low. Glucose was 76, this year got bumped to 107 cause I got a sweet tooth.
    So that can be corrected by laying off sweets, the granola and honey for now. Let it get low again, then just add back the honey since that is healthy and see how my glucose fairs.
    I’ll just have to keep my sweet eating for every so often instead of every day. Which is no big whoop for me.
    Last year was a good year for me, and my diet was 100% healthy-ish. This year I added yogurt, granola and honey and my glucose went up. So now I gotta find out through experimentation what caused it then correct the eating habit.

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  • Naomi@80percentclean

    I definitely think this discussion can go beyond just healthy eating. It can carry over into our everyday lives – trying to live a cleaner overall lifestyle. Trying to get rid of the chemicals we expose ourselves to in the products we use (makeup, cleaning supplies, etc…) and being healthier mentally and physically. I’m trying to do just that by following the 80/20 rule of eating, but extending it into my lifestyle by pushing myself to look at all aspects of my life to see where I can clean it up, while still having the 20% leeway. 😉


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  • Amy at

    This is a fantastic article. The most successful health programs are ones that are sustainable over a period of time and offer grace for bumps in the road. Thank you for being a proponent of realistic balance!

  • Bobbie jo davis

    I need help losing weight can someone please tell me what to do

    • Janet Mayer

      I do Weight Watchers because it allows for any diet, is very flexible, has a lot of support both by the WW community and WW staff, and it works! It’s not some fad diet that may or may not get the results you want in the short run but is a lifestyle. It has different options such as online only or attending a group, etc. I love it and depending on what you choose, can be very affordable. I might also add that it teaches you to manage food and not make you dependent on some packaged food type plan. I hope you find what is right for you and have much success! God bless you!