How to eat healthy without losing weight (Complete guide)

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For many of us, a switch to “healthy eating,” comes from one simple idea:

We want to lose weight!

And cutting back on really high calorie foods is definitely a good way to do that. 

But what if you like the way you look, but want to be more conscious of what you’re eating and your overall health?

Or what if you want to bulk up and add muscle, but in a healthy way?

Yes, it is possible, and I’m about to show you in exact detail how to eat healthy without losing weight.

Simply put: You’ll have to consume the right amount of calories for your bodyweight and activity level. Then, for your health, cut back on potentially harmful ingredients and up your intake of nutritious ones.

I’ll explain in much more detail below how to do it.

(Real quick: If you’re interested in a great nutrition and workout program that’ll help you add lean muscle to your frame while minimizing fat gain, check out the one I used right here.)

How do you define healthy food?

If we’re going to talk about how to eat healthy, we have to first agree on exactly what that means.

Your definition of healthy food will likely depend on what kind of nutritional philosophy you follow.

  • For example, some people consider dairy and red meat unhealthy.
  • Others consider most carbohydrates unhealthy.
  • Others steer away from any food that’s processed or contains artificial ingredients.

Personally I’m a big believer in ‘everything in moderation.’

I think you can still live a healthy lifestyle and have delicious, buttered popcorn at the movies once in a while, grab a beer with friends, and chow down on a cheeseburger when you want.

(I also don’t believe that just because something has an artificial compound in it, it’s necessarily bad for you.)

Do I think doing those things every day is healthy? Probably not.

Below, I’m only going to share the basics. How to set your calories for weight maintenance or healthy weight gain, what kinds of foods or ingredients you should limit according to scientific research, and what kinds of foods or ingredients you should definitely make sure you get enough of in a healthy diet.

(If you’re interested, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defines healthy food, in general, as a way to steer people “toward less processed foods like fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, whole grains, fish, and poultry.” But there’s still a lot of room for interpretation even in that official government definition.)

How to eat healthy and maintain your weight (Maintenance calories)

Your body burns a certain number of calories each and every day.

How many calories it burns is determined by your age, gender, weight, and activity level.

You’ll obviously burn lots of calories doing strenuous workouts, but beyond that, your body needs a certain number of calories every day to simply exist and perform its basic functions (even if you’re just sitting on the couch all day).

The average number of calories you burn every day is called your Total Daily Energy Expenditure, or TDEE.

There are a million ways to calculate (more like estimate) this number, but know that it fluctuates great and is hard to know for sure. 

The best method I’ve found, to start, is to multiply your bodyweight x 15.

If you weigh 150 pounds and keep an average activity level, that means your body needs about 2250 calories per day to function normally without gaining or losing weight.

(If you are extremely active or very sedentary, your maintenance levels may be a little higher or lower, respectively.)

Now here’s the important thing: For your overall weight, it doesn’t matter much where those calories come from. If you eat 2250 calories of nothing but broccoli every day (we can all agree that broccoli is healthy, right?) you shouldn’t expect a major change in your overall weight.

Though you might lose water weight from reducing your starch and sugar intake so drastically.

That means that if you eat healthy, but still get enough calories, you don’t have to lose weight.

People generally lose weight when eating healthy because foods like lean protein, fruits, and vegetables are filling and have far fewer calories than “unhealthy” foods.

Imagine trying to eat 2250 calories of broccoli! You’d be absolutely stuffed, not to mention bored to tears, in no time.

However, a medium-sized burger, fries, and a drink can easily push 1800 calories on its own at an American restaurant.

To recap:

  • Multiply your current bodyweight x 15
  • That’s your calorie target on a normal day
  • You can adjust for days you’re extremely active or sedentary
  • That’s how many calories of healthy food you need to eat per day
  • If you begin gaining or losing weight, adjust your calorie target.

How to eat healthy and gain weight (Bulking calories)

Can you eat healthy while bulking or gaining muscle! Absolutely.

Again, it all comes down to calories. (And protein intake… but we’ll get to that.)

The biggest health mistake people make during bulks is to remove all limits on their calorie consumption, eating three or four thousand or more calories per day in the name of maximum muscle gains.

However, it’s been shown that without steroids, you can really only hope to gain about 2lbs of muscle per month. (Maybe more if you’re very new to the gym.)

All those extra calories will just cause you to store more fat.

To bulk while eating healthy food, shoot for only 200-300 extra calories per day. Or take your bodyweight x 17.

This should put you right on target to gain the most muscle you can per month while limiting how much fat you gain.

It might actually be hard for you to eat this much when filling up on healthy foods, which naturally have less calories!

But you can definitely bulk very effectively eating lots of lean proteins, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables provided you calculate your calories correctly.

To recap:

  • Multiply your bodyweight x 17
  • This is your calorie target for healthy bulking
  • You don’t have to eat junk to put on weight!
  • Eat quickly and often if you’re having trouble getting enough healthy foods for your bulk

3 things to reduce in a healthy diet*

OK, so if you’re ready to eat healthy, and you know how many calories you need on an average daily basis… what should you actually eat?

Let’s start with a couple of things you should look to cut back on.

(Not eliminate entirely! After all, no one is perfect, and a minimal amount of any of these things isn’t going to be enough to harm you. What you want is to shift away from a diet that’s BASED around these things. Make sense?)

Trans Fats

You’ve probably heard a lot about the “dangers of trans fats.” 

Trans fats are specific kinds of unsaturated fats (unsaturated fat is the kind of fat you usually find in butter, for example). Their chemical structure differs slightly, however, and can cause serious health problems when overconsumed.

In particular, you should watch out for artificial trans fats, or hydrogenated fats.

Consumption of these kinds of fats has been scientifically linked to increased risk of heart disease, inflammation, and high blood pressure.

You’ll usually find the worst kinds of trans fats in margarine, fried foods, coffee creamers, and lots of pre-packaged snacks. Try to limit these in your new, healthy diet.

Added Sugar

Sugar gets a bit of a bad rap, but it’s still something you should look to limit in your diet.

It won’t make you gain excess fat on its own, contrary to popular belief, though it can pack a lot of calories without really satisfying your hunger.

But a diet too high in sugar HAS been linked to pretty much everything under the sun, including increased risk for: acne, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, depression, kidney disease, and tooth cavities.

Even if you’re not worried about your weight, there are still plenty of reasons your new, revamped, healthy diet should include less sugar.

Shoot for no more than 50-100g per day.

Alcohol

I promise, you don’t have to stop drinking!

But if you want to live a healthy lifestyle, you need to be aware of the effects of too much alcohol on your body and learn to limit or eliminate the binges.

It’s true that a little bit of moderate drinking (red wine, in particular), can maybe be good for your heart and have little to no effect on weight gain over time.

But heavy drinking episodes wreak havoc on your brain and can even make it shrink over time, is brutal on your liver, and can cause you to make lots of other unhealthy choices while drunk.

Too frequent drinking over the long term is linked to, you guessed it, heart disease, liver disease, lung infections, thinning bones, and just generally feeling like crap all the time.

I think alcohol has a place in a healthy lifestyle, but it should definitely take a backseat.

*Major caveat: If you have a medical condition or have otherwise been advised by a doctor or nutritionist that you should or shouldn’t eat certain foods, take their advice and not mine.

3 things to get more of in a healthy diet*

So now you know what to limit in your new, healthy diet.

Time to talk about a few things you should definitely be getting more of.

Lean protein

There are lots of low carb diets. There are also plenty of low fat diets.

But there are very, very few people who would ever recommend a low protein diet.

Protein is simply one of the key building blocks of a healthy diet and body. It fuels your muscles and helps build or maintain muscle mass and performance, fills you up (satiety), and generally keeps your body running properly. It’s also delicious when you season it up properly!

Protein is not optional, and you’re probably not getting enough.

The bare minimum you should be eating to exist is about .36 grams per pound of bodyweight per day. If you’re active, or like to exercise or lift weights, you should be eating significantly more than that.

In other words, if you aren’t getting a solid 20g of protein per meal, you’re likely not getting enough.

But that doesn’t mean you have to eat red meat, or even meat at all. Make sure your healthy diet has plenty of white fleshed fish (like cod and flounder), Greek yogurt, beans or lentils, and skinless poultry.

Whole grains

Some proponents of low carb diets or Keto might disagree, but unless you’re doing a specialty nutrition program you should be eating plenty of whole grains.

That’s foods like brown rice, quinoa, and oatmeal, for starters.

Real whole grains (not bleached, enriched versions… read your food labels!) are high in fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and even have a nice amount of protein in them.

Remember all that stuff from the Foods to Avoid list that put you at risk for heart disease and diabetes? Whole grains act to lower your risk for those and other ailments.

They also keep you nice and full, give you lots of energy, and help you feel great throughout the day.

Along with lean protein, whole grains should be a staple of eating healthy.

Fruits & vegetables

Fruit is another victim of people in the nutrition world overthinking the research.

If too much sugar is bad, and fruit has sugar in it, then we shouldn’t eat a lot of fruit. Right?

Eh, not really.

Fruit is fibrous, full of water, and quite filling. It would be nearly impossible to eat too much sugar or fructose simply by consuming fruit.

The benefits far outweigh the sugar: Fruits are packed with fiber, vitamins, minerals, water, and give you great energy. They’re also delicious and easy to eat!

(Just be aware of fruit juices with lots of added ingredients and extra sugar.)

Vegetables have a lot of the same benefits. Packed with nutrients, fiber, and very low in calories, it’s almost impossible to have too many vegetables in your diet.

*Major caveat: If you have a medical condition or have otherwise been advised by a doctor or nutritionist that you should or shouldn’t eat certain foods, take their advice and not mine.

Wrapping Up

There’s really no one right way to “eat healthy.”

If anyone tries to tell you that low carb, low fat, Keto, Paleo, or Intermittent Fasting is “the only way,” run!

What you can do is moderate your calorie intake to fit your goals, whether that’s weight loss, maintenace, or gaining muscle.

Then, make sure the building blocks of your diet are lean proteins, whole grains, and fruits and veggies. From there, moderate your consumption of alcohol and other things you know you shouldn’t overconsume.

If you can accomplish those things, you’ll have an excellent start on a healthy lifestyle.

And if you want to splurge a little from time to time, don’t be afraid to do so.

(If maintaining your weight or packing on some muscle is something you’re interested in, check out the full program I used to get strong and stay lean.)

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