My nutrition philosophy seems like an odd mix at first, but I think it is one of the best ways to eat for a sustainable, healthy and delicious lifestyle.
Two systems inspire my philosophy. The first, and the one I think it is important to start with, is called Intuitive Eating (see www.IntuitiveEating.org to learn more). According to Intuitive Eating, there are no forbidden foods except any that make you feel physically sick, those that are medically contraindicated for you, and those that you hate eating. This philosophy requires that you discard all conventional thinking about "good" and "bad" food. It requires that you trust yourself and your body to know what your physical needs are and to fill them. Once you are used to trust and acceptance of your own wants and needs in the context of food, and separating these from judgments and unrelated emotional states, you'll begin to be able to feed yourself as you need to be fed for health, enjoyment and satiety (fullness).
The second system that inspires my nutrition philosophy is the Clean Eating Diet (http://www.eatcleandiet.com for more information). Despite its name, which is unfortunate, it's not really a diet. It's more like a set of preferences for eating. It advocates eating every 2-3 hours to avoid spikes in hunger that lead to ravenous eating and out-of-balance blood sugar and hormones. It recommends avoiding over-processed foods, white flour and sugar, chemicals and artificial sweeteners. The most useful concept, in my opinion, is that of planning ahead and packing a cooler full of healthy and tasty foods for use throughout the day. This way there's no snack attack at 3pm leading to stale candy bars from the vending machine that make you feel physically and emotionally crappy, leading to more unhealthful eating that continues to make you feel crappy physically and emotionally.
I do recommend reading more about both systems. The most important concept running through both is thinking of good nutrition as a permanent change, not a temporary "diet" that's miserable and to be ended as soon as a goal is reached (or when you can no longer stand it). Numerous studies have proven that dieting in cycles does not work when the dieter eventually returns to previous ways of eating. Any weight lost is put back on, and then some, causing feelings of hopelessness and low self-esteem while being hard on the body.
No one likes dieting. It means eating less than you want, feeling hungry, cutting out foods you take pleasure in. Good nutrition as a lifestyle does not mean dieting. It means making consistent good choices that outweigh occasional "bad" choices. It means accepting your individual needs and preferences, and accepting the shape and weight your body naturally settles into at the peak of health. That does not mean you have to accept being obese - this is not a healthy state for the body to be in. It does mean that if you're at your healthiest weight and still have big hips (like me) that you don't try to diet yourself down to skin and bones chasing the "perfect body" image you have in your head.
Changing your lifestyle when it comes to food means eating enough but not too much, making good decisions most of the time and eating for both health and enjoyment. It means that you aren't caught up in the endless deprive / binge cycle. It takes awhile to perfect the eating habits that work best for you - and that's ok, because you literally have the rest of your life to figure it out.
Following is a list of my most recommended behaviors when it comes to eating for health, vitality and optimum body composition (which for many, means weight loss and maintenance). Try them and embrace what works for you. You can try one or more at a time. Don't try to do everything right away. Small steps lead to sustainable change and a better outcome than allowing yourself to become overwhelmed with too many changes at once.
1) Keep a food diary. Carry it with you throughout the day rather than trying to remember everything at night. You can use your smartphone if you hate using paper. Or your computer. Or whatever works for you. Record the date, time, what you ate, quantity, and if you like, calories, fat, or whatever other nutrition info you want to keep track of. Record on a scale of 1-10 how hungry / full you were before you ate and immediately after. Then, record any observations or feelings you have when you eat. I.e. "I was starving because I hadn't eaten for 6 hours" or "I was ticked off and wanted something to crunch on." Look over what you've written at the end of each day and figure out how you can improve your eating experience. If you're eating emotionally, figure out what you need to do to get those needs met without using food as a crutch. If you're not planning well and it's leading to binges, figure out how you can do better. Learn what works and what doesn't. Keep the diary for as long as you want, but for at least 2 weeks.
2) Get a small cooler (but not too small!). In the morning before you leave the house, or the night before if your mornings are hectic, fill the cooler with meals and snacks that you will eat throughout the day. Every week, think about what you want to eat that week, make a shopping list, and get what you need so you have tasty, convenient things to put in your cooler each day.
3) Eat breakfast, and eat often enough that you don't feel famished at any point in the day. Some nutritionists recommend eating 5 or 6 times a day and some people are put off by this. Try not to go more than 4 hours without eating something - going longer makes the metabolism sluggish. Think of it like a fire - you want it to burn hot and steady. That means putting a couple logs on as often as needed, not a bunch of logs on first and the waiting for it to die down before adding more.
4) Drink water throughout the day and aim for at least 64 oz. It keeps you feeling more satisfied, boosts metabolism, flushes out toxins and keeps everything lubed and running smoothly.
5) Each time you eat, try to get some protein, some healthy fat (unsaturated) and some healthy carbohydrates (whole grains and veggies rather than refined sugars and flours and items made with them). Ideally, the balance throughout the day should be approximately 20% protein, 20-30% healthy fats and 50-60% healthy carbohydrates.
6) When you are tempted to eat something you know is not nutritious for your body, ask yourself why you want it and how you will feel after you eat it. If you decide to eat it, check in with yourself often to see if you've had enough instead of automatically eating however much you have available.
7) Practice self-forgiveness. Don't freak out if you eat things you don't intend to. Learn what you can from the situation and move on. Ruminating and self-blame only leads to further poor eating choices.
8) As much as possible, shift to whole grains, brown or jasmine rice, veggies and small, waxy potatoes (instead of big, floury potatoes) as carbohydrate sources. If you don't like these things at first, try mixing them - i.e. half brown rice with half white rice. Shift to healthier fat sources by cooking with olive and canola oil and olive or canola oil based cooking spray and avoiding hydrogenated oils in your margarine peanut butter and other foods (this stuff turns to trans fat in your body which wreaks havoc on your arteries). Overall, avoid packaged cookies, cakes and snacks as these tend to contain lots of white flour, sugar, hydrogenated oils and salt. (Once in awhile is ok... just not every day).
9) Don't go crazy on the salt. Much of our food has salt in it to begin with. Adding more at the table doesn't help. Start with shaking a little less if the idea makes you shudder.
10) Try to build your social life on experiences other than food. Most gatherings involve a meal, snacks, cocktails, etc. Start planning events that center less on food and more on fun (even active!) activities.
I hope these help you start to consider your eating habits and how they can be improved without feeling you have to go on a deprivation diet. For more info, besides the websites above, here are some good resources on creating positive change in your food choices for life:
The Eat-Clean Diet by Tosca Reno
Overcoming Overeating by Hirschmann & Munter
Intuitive Eating by Tribole & Resch