Losing Weight on a Healthy Diet – Just what is a ‘healthy diet’ anyway?

I was going to post the ‘All Things PT’ diet plan today – even though the last thing we need is another diet plan. The regular reader might remember a review done by Julia Belluz / Science-ish which found that every diet will help in losing weight, if one sticks to the diet plan. This begs the question, ‘Why do we need another losing weight diet plan?’ Good question. We don’t.

Instead, I was going to post on what, in general, constitutes a healthy daily diet. As I was researching this, I stumbled upon the Harvard Medical school guidelines for a healthy diet, and these guidelines are so close to my own, that I am accepting these as the official All Things PT guidelines to healthy eating – with a few modifications, of course.

So, just what constitutes a healthy diet?

The Healthy Food Pyramid / Healthy Eating Plate – Harvard School of Public Health (See pyramid above, Healthy Plate below, or click on link to read the guidelines.)

As an alternative to the USDA’s nutrition advice, faculty members at the Harvard School of Public Health built the Healthy Eating Pyramid. It resembles the USDA’s old pyramids in shape only.

  • Fill half of your plate with vegetables and fruits. 
  • Save a quarter of your plate for whole grains—not just any grains.
  • Pick a healthy source of protein to fill one quarter of your plate.
  • Enjoy healthy fats.
  • Drink water, coffee or tea.
  • Stay Active.
  • Take a daily Multi-vitamin, especially with Vitamin D.

Why do I like the Harvard food pyramid more than any other healthy diet food display out there? One is that Harvard encourages intake of a daily multiple vitamin. Even though the research out there indicates a daily multi-vitamin is of negligible value, the medical team at Harvard realizes that research in this area is lacking. It is difficult to track a life long health history as relates to diet and diet insufficiencies. Or, as Dr. Willett says,

Multi-vitamin: Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide

“Dr. Walter Willett, chair of the Harvard School of Public Health’s nutrition department, has suggested that taking a multivitamin daily is a form of nutritional insurance. He still says it’s a good policy, despite the spate of negative study results.”

When it comes to daily multivitamin use, as far as Harvard goes, it is better to be safe, than sorry.

I also like that Harvard encourages whole grains over processed grains. Most importantly, I like that Harvard encourages daily exercise – as part of a healthy diet plan. I could not agree more. A healthy daily diet must include a daily exercise regimen. Where Harvard falls short is that they do not discuss just what a daily exercise regimen should include. Though I have my own advice on what a daily exercise program should be, I am going to use advice from the Mayo Clinic – because it just happens to mirror my advice exactly.

Daily Exercise Needs: The Mayo Clinic /  Ed Laskowski, MD

As a general goal, aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day. If you want to lose weight or meet specific fitness goals, you may need to exercise more.

Got it? 30 minutes a day just to maintain general wellness. More if you want to lose weight (45 minutes minimum, in my book).


The only other addition I want to include is that a healthy daily diet includes generous servings of water throughout the day. The Harvard food pyramid does not mention this, though their healthy eating plate does. Still, the Harvard guidelines are a bit incomplete, so again I am turning to the Mayo Clinic.

Water – in all of its forms: Guidelines per the Mayo Clinic.

“The Institute of Medicine determined that an adequate intake (AI) for men is roughly 3 liters (about 13 cups) of total beverages a day. The AI for women is 2.2 liters (about 9 cups) of total beverages a day.”

“Drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of fluid a day,” because all fluids count toward the daily total.”

 In short, a healthy daily diet is

  • The Harvard Healthy Food Pyramid / Healthy Eating Plate,
  • including a daily Multi-vitamin,
  • 2-3 liters of liquid a day (water, juice, coffee, etc.), and
  • 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise/ 45+ minutes for losing weight.

Hopefully this helps our readers figure out how to eat healthier. To be honest, all of my research has definitely helped me develop a healthier diet plan. Good luck, and write if you have any questions.

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I would like to add a footnote to this post. I am not fanatical about rigidly sticking to a diet. Food can be as much about ‘Fun’ as it is about ‘Health’. I write this having just finished a Pacszki from Roma Bakery in Lansing, Michigan. Don’t be afraid to go off your diet every now and then. Just get back on that horse as soon as your fun is over. – Bruce