A Nutritionist Shares 7 Secrets to Living a Balanced Life

More intention, plain and simple.

By Katherine Fluor

As a nutrition coach, wellness expert, food blogger, and cookbook author, Sarah Adler is all about finding ways to create and design the life you’re made for. Founder of Simply Real Health, she helps women stop quick fix diet regimens, instead embracing a healthy lifestyle approach that actually lasts.

After living much of her life with the “all-or-nothing”  mentality that so many women have around food and fad diets, she finally realized that the secret lies in tuning into your own body. It’s about learning how to be more intentional in all areas of life: food, workouts, self-care, and relationships. Now as a coach, her process is a unique blend of nutrition, neuroscience, and psychology, with a special emphasis on daily rituals.

When we got our hands on Sarah’s latest cookbook, Simply Real Eating, we loved her approachable and healthy recipes based on her 5×15 method: 5 ingredients or less and 15 minutes or less (for the most part). Read on for Sarah’s advice on living an intentional life, as well as two of our favorite breakfast recipes from her book!

Excerpted from Simply Real Eating, (2019.)

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a leader, a parent or spouse, a student or seeker on a quest for your very best life, the equation is simple:

Eat real food most of the time, and you’ll feel better. Do it daily and with intention and you will be unstoppable.

The ultimate goal? That you feel calm, empowered, and joyful around food, and in taking care of yourself, too. To find the joy in eating and being well, as a lifestyle that can last. Because we all need new ideas. Ways to stay inspired and ways to remind ourselves to keep things simple and create more joy in our lives. And a way to always have those options and ideas at our fingertips in the moments that we need them most.

Here are my 7 steps to creating a healthy lifestyle that lasts…

1. The Mind-Set Reset

The best news of all is that the only thing you’ll need to get started with this much more freeing and healthy way to live, is one very simple thing: a willingness to change how you’re thinking about food. That instead of it being:

A chore. A hassle. The last thing on your to-do list. The last thing you squeeze in sometimes, if you have time.

That your food—including the acts of buying it, cooking it, prepping it, ordering it, and eating it—is instead a radical and daily act of self-care, that you get to do and have a say in, every day.

Because, can I tell you a secret? Food is a profound source of power in your life, if you learn how to harness it well. It’s where everything magical starts: with your mind-set and inner dialogue first. There are so many parts of life that we can’t control, but our daily energy, how we think, our mood, how we treat others, how our body feels, all starts with what we put in our mouth each day.

So, my advice? Take back your ownership and power of this part of your life. If you feel like you don’t have the time, make some room by clearing out some things or commitments in your life that aren’t nourishing you back. Right here and right now, I’m giving you permission to do so. Because you are worth it. And your life is worth it. It’s that big, and that important. And a required part of the work, if you want to live your best life.

2. Eat Real Food

The next step in creating a healthy lifestyle that lasts? Wiping the slate clean and totally starting over with your definition of healthy food, as I did after those magical Italian days. To finally have the freedom to forget about those old-school and outdated rules, and 98 percent of what you think you already know. And instead: learn the difference between diet food that’s marketed to us as healthy, and true, real food.

So, what exactly is the difference?

Real food is this: food in its most natural state. It’s simple, natural, and has existed for thousands of years in relatively the same forms as we have today. They’re often one-word foods, or have labels that list five or six ingredients that even an eight-year-old could pronounce.

What’s not real food? Pretty much everything else. It’s processed food, diet food, even most “health food.” It’s the food that is packaged to appear healthy on the front of the label, but when you look at the actual ingredients list, it has words you can’t pronounce, or would take you a full five minutes to read.

So, take a peek right now in your desk, your car console, your purse, and especially your fridge or your pantry. Find some of your “healthy” food and take a second look. Is what you’re eating made with a few real and simple ingredients? If not, upgrade it to something that is.

Because here’s the truth, behind it all: if you can’t pronounce it, your body can’t, either. Keeping it simple and pure is kinder on your body. It really is as easy as that.

And the best part? Once you start looking at food like this, there are so many amazing and delicious options, most of which would be considered off limits for most diets: think of a life that now can happily include butter, real ice cream, whole milk, wine, potatoes, dark chocolate, well-sourced meat, and homemade baked goods. The result? A more simple, clear, and freeing perspective on food that will never change with the fads or seasons. Hallelujah.

Get the recipe for Sarah’s Chocolate Green Smoothies here!

3. Clear the Clutter

Changing your mindset and eating all real food are the first steps to a healthier and happier life, for sure. They are the unshakeable foundation. But it’s the next piece that matters just as much if you want to create a healthy lifestyle that lasts: it’s learning how to let go of the rest.

In other words, contrary to everything we’ve been taught, being healthy isn’t about adding more things to think about in our day. Instead, it’s about learning how to release the clutter that can keep us stuck in the same routines and habits for years on end. Clutter food. Clutter behaviors. Clutter routines. Clutter thoughts. Clutter emotions. Or even, clutter people.

This much I know is true: simplifying your food simplifies your life.

Even after just a week of eating real food, this step starts to happen naturally. Without all the chemicals, additives, and processed foods, your body immediately goes to work, detoxing, healing, and flooding every major system with the nutrient-dense food you’re eating. All of your internal systems begin to normalize, optimize, and function so much better.

The result? Most people report having so much more energy, less brain fog, better quality sleep, easier digestion, fewer cravings, fewer ups and downs throughout the day, better mood, more patience, and more vibrancy in their daily lives. Over time, the result of this is so much bigger: a sense of calmness, clarity, and simplicity around food and the rest of your life starts to trickle in. And with it, a lot more space and freedom in your life for what actually matters and what, where, and who you want to spend your time with.

Get the recipe for Sarah’s Anytime Breakfast Bowl here!

4. Get Out of Autopilot

Eating real food, does more than simplify your life—it forces you out of autopilot, and gives you the space to actually start tuning in and listening to your body and the signals it’s giving you, instead of tuning out. This concept is actually why most diets never work for the long term: because by nature, diets and set programs encourage you to tune out of your own body and mindlessly follow a set of predetermined rules.

But the real game changer is when you understand how your body operates best—in every occasion and situation. The types of food. The timing of your meals. The things that make you feel energized, and the things that don’t.

All bodies do better on real food because that’s how our system was designed, but every person is a little bit different and needs different things to feel his or her absolute best. So, part of this process is learning how to tune into your own body, listen to it, and trust the wisdom of what it’s saying. It will rarely lead you astray.

You take your body wherever you go. So, get to know it. Learning how to read your body and rely on the messages it’s giving you is one of the biggest gifts you could ever give yourself.

5. Bring the Joy

Tuning in to your body also finally allows the space for the best and most beautiful shift to take place: the ability to have more joy and enjoyment with food. Because a big part of having a healthy life is about actually enjoying it.

That it’s not just about the food, but having a good relationship to it and to everything it’s connected to. To be fully wherever you are. That instead of deprivation or perfection, you now have so much more room for the things, experiences, and foods you love most in life: great cocktails, cheese boards, great bread, eating out, and sharing meals with family and friends—all are an encouraged and celebrated part of living this kind of lifestyle.

But the key? Pick and stick to what you love. What foods do you truly love and enjoy and savor every bite or sip of? Which ones make life worth living?

Define what they are for you, and get specific on what you love about them. Is it the taste, the texture, the temperature, or the ambience it comes with? Is it the first sip of a perfectly made handcrafted cocktail? Warm chocolate chip cookies, right out of the oven? Your best girlfriends sitting around a plate of gooey cheese and crackers? A juicy burger on date night? Find what’s worth it for you, and then let go of the rest.

As long as they’re chosen with intention and joy, there is plenty of room for these things to be sprinkled into your life.

6. Define Your Non-Negotiables

Something that most people don’t realize is that designing a healthy life doesn’t just happen naturally. We have to take an intentional and active role in creating it for ourselves.

And to do that, you have to have a deeper why. An understanding of why being healthy is important to you. Because if you’re just doing it to fit into a certain jeans size or see a specific number on a scale, that motivation fades pretty quickly. But having a deeper reason makes it about something so much more important: showing up for yourself, every single day.

I know that what I eat daily has a direct and immediate impact on how I feel mentally, physically, and emotionally. All of which impact how I show up, in all areas of my life: for myself, my business, and my relationships.

As humans, we don’t do well with too much freedom or too much structure. We need a balance of both: a flexible framework that we can carry with us wherever we go, and something to lean into when life gets busy so we don’t have to think so hard. This is where creating and defining your nonnegotiables begins.

“What are nonnegotiables?” you ask. They are small daily acts of self-care that have a high impact. They are two or three very simple actions that we can commit to doing daily that help keep us grounded, focused on what matters for our body, and accountable, no matter how busy our days or weeks get. Part of this is figuring out which behaviors and habits help encourage other healthy ones in your life. Think of them as the dominoes in your life.

Eating real food most of the time is one that everyone can (and, might I suggest, should) start with as a baseline. Committing to just this one act alone can change your life in such big and meaningful ways. Some other examples of non-negotiables could include: eating veggies every single day, or at every meal. Moving your body. Eating an actual lunch. Getting fresh air daily. Drinking enough water daily.

Think about the things that make the biggest difference for how you feel. Take note of them. Write them down. Commit to and honor them daily and watch them lead and guide you to such a better place. And if you need help, my book is full of fun ideas to get you started.

7. Create Rituals

Once you have your nonnegotiables down, the next and final piece to creating a lifestyle you love is to take those two or three actions and make them a daily part of your life, in ways you enjoy and look forward to each day.

I call these your daily rituals. But don’t worry. They don’t require weird chanting or lighting a million tea lights.

A ritual is simply the art of taking care of ourselves—with joy.

Because one thing is for sure: life will always be busy, and it’s easy to get distracted and pulled off track, even if we “know” what to do. We’re human. So, the ­longer-lasting solution? We all need reminders built in to our days that help keep us accountable to how we want to live and feel.

Rituals are exactly that: tiny little acts, done with love daily, that add up over time and help you show up as your best self, each day. They can be different for everyone, but their message is the same: to help you pause, slow down, tune in, come back to the good, and ultimately, help you learn how to find the joy in taking care of yourself well.

The equation is easy to me: if I eat well and take care of myself, I feel good. And if I feel good, I do good. Because of this, eating real food and taking care of myself are high priorities in my life. They are nonnegotiables in my day that I make the time and space for first, as a commitment to myself.

Excerpted from Simply Real Eating. Copyright 2020 by Sarah Adler. Photographs copyright 2020 by Carina Skrobecki Photography. Reproduced by permission of The Countryman Press. All rights reserved. Photo credit: Carina Skrobecki