It’s 2002. You just got home from school, so you grab a Push Pop from the cabinet and turn on the TV because Lizzie McGuire is on. Life is good. 20 years later, Hilary Duff is still an icon. Maybe we no longer look to her for boy advice (Ethan Craft, you’re so 2001) or how to artfully apply 18 butterfly clips to our hair, but we can look to her for lots of other inspiration: motherhood, chic fashion, and #fitspo (let’s be honest, she looks better now than when she was a teenager).
A key piece of the latter (besides undoubtedly killer genes) is Erik Young, a celebrity nutrition coach. Duff swears by Young for keeping her healthy while still enjoying bread, chocolate, and wine. Yes, you read that right. Celebrities are just like us! With other celeb clientele (including the Molly Sims), Young is basically Hollywood’s best-kept secret. I knew I had to grill him for all of his best health tips (and where, oh where, does the bread, chocolate, and pasta fit in?). Read on for seven healthy eating hacks that this celebrity nutrition coach swears by for a healthy diet that still includes all your favorite foods. Now that is what dreams are made of.
1. Healthy eating should be flexible
Young is called the flexible nutrition coach for a reason. While he’s a fan of the 80/20 rule (80 percent of the foods you eat are nutritious, whole foods, while 20 percent is food that is “just for fun”), he knows that there’s room for the foods you love, even in a nutritious diet. “With a flexible dieting approach, you can enjoy foods you don’t think you would normally be able to when trying to make changes in your body,” he explained. Young’s approach is to give clients exact macronutrient percentages and calorie goals based on each individual’s body composition, current diet, and health goals. That means that there’s room to adjust those macro percentages and calorie goals based on the indulgences and meals you love. As Young says, “Track your macros, eat what you want, and enjoy life.”
2. Knowledge is power
PSA, you can’t just “start on a diet” one day and hope for the best. Knowing what you’re currently eating, lifestyle habits, and the food you gravitate toward is crucial for success. “I start off by getting a three-day food journal so I can get an idea of what clients are eating and how much they are eating,” Young explained. Try tracking what you eat for a few days. Make a list of your meals and snacks, or even take pictures on your phone. You’ll start to see patterns where cravings come up, what foods or flavors you love, and what you’re actually eating (versus what you think you’re eating). The idea here is not to judge but to get curious. Self-awareness is the key to health in every area, so figuring out where you are and what you’re eating is crucial for knowing the next steps.
3. Meal prep
Unfortunately for you meal prep haters, prepping in advance is key to keeping up a healthy diet. “Most of us don’t have a lot of time during the week, so it’s almost impossible to cook three meals a day every day,” Young said. “You will definitely set yourself up for a successful week if you already have food made.” As for what and how to prep? You bet I asked for all the details! Young recommended keeping it simple by prepping a carbohydrate, a protein, and some veggies. He likes cooking rice or potatoes in bulk (super easy and still tastes good when reheated!) or having tortillas on hand for easy meals and healthy carbs. As for protein, baked chicken is the easiest, but ground turkey keeps better. If you don’t eat meat, try roasting tofu or rinsing chickpeas ahead of time. As for veggies, you can roast at the beginning of the week or steam the day of since it’s fairly easy.
4. Snacks are your friends
Snacking not only has a place in a healthy diet, but it is also crucial for keeping a healthy diet. Picture this: You had a nutritious breakfast, deliciously healthy lunch, and are fully prepared for a tasty, veggie-filled dinner out. But then your hunger starts to kick in around 4 p.m., and by the time you get to the restaurant, you’re scarfing down the bread basket and ordering Fettucine Alfredo over the tasty salmon dish you had planned. There’s nothing wrong with eating bread or Fettucine Alfredo (yum and yum!), but if you’re not really enjoying it and just mindlessly eating because you’re so hungry, that’s not great for a healthy diet or a healthy relationship with food. Try adding in snacks between meals (because FYI: when your body feels hungry, you should eat). Young recommended clients try snacks like nuts, fruit, hummus, yogurt, cottage cheese, popcorn, string cheese, and KIND bars.
5. When eating out, plan in advance
Speaking of restaurants, you can eat out and still have a healthy diet. In fact, if a diet ever tells you to stay home to avoid eating out, run (life is meant to be enjoyed!). Since many of Young’s clients are celebrities, he’s used to making a healthy diet work, even when restaurants, events, and takeout are a part of everyday life. The key? Planning ahead. “Clients who are on the go or eat out often should have their day planned out,” he explained. “You can pretty much get a meat and veggie or a protein and a carb at any restaurant. If a client does want to have pancakes for breakfast, then we would just eat less carbohydrates through the rest of the day to compensate. It’s all about balance!”
In other words, look up menus ahead of time to make a plan of what to eat, or build your day around allowing for the indulgences you want. Young knows that carbohydrates or fats are not an enemy against health goals (they’re important nutrients your body needs). Instead, he teaches that the key to achieving goals is to have a balance between all macronutrients throughout the day, and planning out your meals helps you get there.
6. If you don’t feel like you’re on a “diet,” you’re doing it right
What makes Young’s program unique (read: flexible) is that he asks clients what they like to eat in all categories (like proteins, carbohydrates, fats, fruits, and veggies) as well as their non-negotiables so that he can fit those into the plan too. “Our whole goal is to have clients not feel like they are on a diet so they are more likely to stick to the plan and sustain the changes.” Anything that’s meant to be temporary or feels too restrictive does not work. Restriction is unsustainable by nature, so at best, you’ll “fail,” but at worst, you’ll experience damaging emotions, food guilt, and nutrient deprivation. “Healthy eating” does not mean only eating certain foods, it actually just means being aware of getting in the right nutrients for your body while still enjoying the foods you love. Not only is there room for your indulgences in a healthy diet, but it also wouldn’t be “healthy” without them.
7. Mindset is everything
“It’s very important to set expectations and be in the right mindset when you start your journey into healthy eating,” Young advised. “Focus on the big picture and don’t compare yourself to other people. There’s a lot of smoke and mirrors on social media, so just focus on you and your goals.” In other words, eat healthy for the right reasons. Change your diet because you want to feel your best in your body, and keep it as healthy, energized, and balanced as possible. Also, don’t get discouraged if you don’t immediately reach your health goals or if you struggle with sticking to a healthy eating plan. Remember the key principle that Young (and Hilary Duff) know to be true: A healthy diet is supposed to be flexible.