If you want to know how to swap calorie counting for simple, beautiful, real food, and to infuse little daily joys into your entire day so that healthy living becomes less of a chore and more of a joy, this episode is for you.

How to Swap Calorie Counting for Simple Real Food with Sarah Adler

In this episode with Sarah Adler, we’re talking about her new book, Simply Real Eating, and dive into the importance of having real food in your life beyond calorie counting.

This conversation will get into how to eat real food and the routines and rituals involved in habit maintenance and habit-making.

On what lead Sarah to write Simply Real Eating:

Everything Sarah does at Simply Real Health is to help women live more intentional lives.

We’re all super busy, which is one reason to be intentional with the things that are important in your life.

Everything Sarah does revolves around this concept of making health simple, approachable, easy, and doable.

It’s actually her second cookbook, and it’s really about how we relate to food and how we can use food as a grounding ritual in our day instead of something we are intimidated by.

It takes the approach of making food more joyful as well as something that serves us in living our best, most intentional lives.

Check out Sarah’s first cookbook, the Simply Real Health Cookbook.

On how much food really matters for a healthy lifestyle:

For Sarah, there are three components to a healthy lifestyle: physical health, mental health, and emotional health (and sometimes spiritual and/or energetic health).

In addition to categories, there is an order— physical health comes first.

When you think about living your best life every day, it starts with what you’re eating.

Our bodies always want to be healthy and want to function at their highest potential, but we get in the way of that.

Food is the first place to start purely because it has such a physical effect on how our bodies perform.

“Having real food as your baseline, your normal, the thing that you eat the most— back to the basics, foods that have been around for thousands of years, that’s what our bodies thrive on.”

It has to start with what you’re eating.

Emotional health and mental health happen more easily when your physical health is taken care of.

Real food 101— what it is and why it matters:

The easiest way to think about real food is by going back to the food that has truly been around for thousands of years.

Across cultures, thousands of years ago, all the food people had was what they could grow, hunt, or fish.

Another way to think about it is by looking for real, simple ingredients.

Sarah considers there to be 12 categories of real food, which is something she talks about in her book (e.g. fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, meat, eggs, etc.) and then within each category there are different varieties of those types of foods.

These real health food varieties are so simple that they don’t need an ingredient label.

And to eat real food, you don’t have to buy only unpackaged items or shop exclusively at the farmers’ market— it’s truly about what the food is made of.

What are the ingredients that make up this food?

If it has a label, pay more attention to the ingredients themselves rather than calorie count, carbs, or sugars.

Are the ingredients something that you know, recognize, and can pronounce?

On what is (and isn’t) real food:

A nonfat latte is an example of something that seems like real food but really isn’t.

Milk comes from the cow in a whole milk form, which is altered in a way to make it nonfat.

Whole milk is a real food alternative to nonfat milk.

Another thing that can be deceiving is that anything can be marketed as “healthy”.

Give the things that you buy a second check, especially the things you buy often.

Are these ingredients I could find in the store? Is this something I could make at home if I wanted to?

“No matter what you’re going to have, there’s a way to do it in a real food way.”

Anything you want to have can be upgraded using the highest quality ingredients, and that’s a better way to enjoy a “treat”.

If you’re going to have ice cream, have ice cream that’s made with real milk, real cream, real sugar, real eggs.

“There’s a really big difference between “healthy” and real food.”

This approach isn’t to be judgemental, it’s to be curious and aware of what you’re eating.

You can have things that you love and elevate them even more with a real food shift.

On getting out of autopilot:

For the most part, the things we do every day happen on autopilot.

Getting out of this mode is just taking a second peek to decide if the things you’re doing are helpful or if it’s something you’re doing because it’s something you’ve always done.

There may be things that have helped us in the past, but in order to get to the next place we want to go, it requires a shift to continue growing.

On non-negotiables:

For Sarah, non-negotiables are two to three things that really make a difference for you in how you show up every day.

These are very simple things that you could do no matter where you are in the world, even if things don’t go according to plan, that will make you feel grounded, calm, and stable.

They’re what Sarah calls “the dominos”, meaning that if you do these two or three things every day it makes everything else easier.

For Sarah, she has a non-negotiable to drink half of her body weight in ounces of water every day.

No matter where she is, she makes sure to bring a water bottle because it’s a non-negotiable.

She doesn’t make decisions about it, it’s just an automatic thing she does for herself.

That one commitment to herself has so many other things that it also helps (her mood, her skin, her hunger, her digestion), but simplicity-wise, she just focuses on the water and knows the other things are taken care of.

Sarah’s other non-negotiables are eating vegetables at every meal and getting fresh air every day.

These are all things that are achievable and doable, and they’re also those dominoes that help stack things in your favor, opposed to letting the day get away from you.

On Sarah’s book:

Sarah’s book is part-coaching-part-recipes— it’s the what (the practical and the how) and it’s also about what “health” truly means and how to create a healthy lifestyle that lasts.

Sarah also talks about this idea of little rituals (she has ten scattered throughout her book).

Two of these rituals are “lunch lady” and “afternoon joys”.

Lunch lady

Sarah’s little ritual of “lunch lady” just refers to having a substantial lunch every day.

In our culture, there is an unsaid way people go about their days that don’t make time for lunch.

Then, by the time 3 PM or 4 PM roll around, you’d eat just about anything.

It doesn’t have to be a big production, just the act of taking time in the middle of the day for yourself to pause, to refill, to renourish, and reground can have an amazing impact all through the rest of the day.

“Five minutes is all you need to just stop what you’re doing and actively be present.”

Afternoon joys

Afternoon joys are really something from Sarah’s mom, who has always had an incredible approach and love of food.

She always talked about eating healthy and taking care of yourself while also having things that you love.

Afternoon joys are about taking an afternoon pause to recalibrate and appreciate joy.

Growing up, Sarah’s mom would take that time to make a cup of black tea for herself, cups of herbal tea for Sarah and her sister, and they would share cookies.

Whether it’s by yourself or with the people around you, afternoon joys are a time to check-in, get centered, and re-energize for the day.

It’s the intentional thought versus the automatic habit, picking something that resonates with you.

On mindset shifts, habits, and routines with motherhood:

There is something about being a new mother that is really about surrender.

In many moments as a new mom, Sarah has found herself caught up in the idea of “getting back” to how things were, to her schedule, to working out, to work, etc.

Overall, it’s been a lesson about finding help and support in a lot of different ways (physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually).

Whether it’s with childcare or you-care, needing help doesn’t mean that you are less-than or not doing a good job.

We are meant to help each other.

She’s steadily finding a balance, finding support from having things like non-negotiables to lean back into.

It’s also about saying no to some things so you can say yes to the things that really matter.

On what it really means to be healthy:

“Being aligned with the things that make you feel your best and the things that… help you show up and be the best version of yourself, to live at your highest human potential, including your physical health, your mental health, your emotional health, and your spiritual health, too.”

Guest Bio

Sarah is a nutrition coach, healthy lifestyle expert, food blogger, and owner of Simply Real Health. She helps women keep it simple with real food so they can live a more beautiful, intentional life.

With her signature process that blends equal parts nutrition, neuroscience, psychology, and the power of daily rituals, Sarah has served thousands of women through her cookbooks ((The Simply Real Health Cookbook (2015) and Simply Real Eating (released November 19th, 2019)), meal plans and courses, and been a featured as an expert in Huffington Post, Cooking Light, Well + Good,  Camille Styles, Refinery 29, and more.


Discover your Feel Good Archetype

How to Thrive With Real Food (& Ditch the Calorie Struggle for Good) with Sarah Adler

Simply Real Health: Sarah’s blog with recipes, resources, and guides

Simply Real Eating: Everyday Recipes and Rituals for a Healthy Life Made Simple 

The Simply Real Health Cookbook: Easy Real Food Recipes For a Healthy Life, Made Simple

Connect with Sarah on Instagram @simplyrealhealth

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