High protein, low protein, whole grains or no carbs, paleo, vegan, shakes, cleanses, healthy fats, low fat…… Nutrition advice is often confusing and variable.
Should you count calories or not? Should you watch your macros or control your portions? Eliminate foods groups? Is dairy bad? What about gluten? If Marie Osmond or Oprah Winfrey tells me what to eat, is it good advice?
These are the kind of questions I get asked every day. I’m sure you’ve asked yourself the same questions. And, if you have weight/bodyfat to lose, it’s super frustrating. You have intention and motivation, but you’ve read so many varying opinions, you’re stuck in neutral.
I apologize for my industry. We certainly are not serving you right, on the whole. The fitness and nutrition industry is supposed to have your best interests at heart. We are supposed to care about you and give prudent, safe and effective advice. But money talks. Whether it’s outdated advice from the FDA or weight loss scams with promises of weight loss magic- ” melt fat off your body with this 1 weird trick”- good healthy advice seems lacking.
Well, I recently attended 2 excellent workshops from highly regarded healthcare professionals, and I want to share with you my “take homes” on healthy eating. Thanks to nutritionist extraordinaire, Brian St. Pierre, MS, RD, of Precision Nutrition and Dr. Bill Kelley, Ph.D, professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Dartmouth College for these great knowledge bombs!
Take Home #1
Habits control many of our food choices. The human brain is wired for habit and conditioning, and you did nothing wrong to create this. It’s evolution. This does not mean we throw our hands up and give up, it just means that we need to be more aware and present with the conditions that cause us to repeat our nutritional bad habits. Emotions, cues, environment, stress, lack of “being in the now”, play a huge role in why we eat out of habit. This is why a mindfulness practice is key to weight/ fat loss and long term success. Mindfulness can allow us to change unwanted habits and create new healthy ones. Mindfulness is the only way.
Take Home #2
Relying on willpower alone is a recipe for failure. It’s amazing how many people beat themselves up for not having the willpower to change their nutrition. Willpower is not unlimited. We rely on willpower to get us out of bed, to get the kids to school, to tolerate our boss, to withstand a nasty commute and not pull a nutty….and more. We need to be very cognitive of our willpower “bank”. If you have a lifestyle which is highly stressful, you take out too many willpower loans, with nothing left for your self care. Reduce your stress where possible, stay mindful, ask for support and make a lifestyle commitment for the long term.
Take Home #3
Stop looking for a quick fix. Success with weight loss and healthy eating is a long term commitment. This is why #1 and #2 take homes are so important, and following some short term “fix” or cleanse or stringent diet is just plain Bullshit. A recent study of Biggest Loser Contestants demonstrated serious long term metabolic declines from the nutrition and exercise strategies employed in that TV show. Are you truly committed for the long term? Are you willing to make permanent changes to your nutrition? If not, that’s fine. Realize that and be with it and stop dieting!!! Extreme dieting and cleanses are screwing your body and mind up.
Take home #4
Neurotically counting calories is a quick way to getting nowhere. This is because our bodies do not use the calories ( ie. energy) in our foods in a rote, predictable manner. Sometimes we absorb more of the calories in our foods than other times. Furthermore, food labeling is rarely as accurate as we think and calorie calculating programs and apps are inaccurate too!! For example, the calories from whole foods are not absorbed as quickly or as completely as calories in processed foods. Cooked, blended or processed foods are absorbed more readily. Food labels can be as much as 25% off, and even whole food calorie estimations are highly variable. An apple can be 80 calories or 120 calories… a 50% difference! Lastly, our bodies energy balance and energy needs can change over time, making our calorie counting a useless endeavor. Yes!! Have a broad idea of how much energy you need to sustain weight, gain weight or lose weight, and then stop counting calories.
Take Home #5
Eliminate processed foods from your diet. I wonder what our nation’s health would be like if we could stay away from processed foods? I imagine our rates of cardiovascular disease, cancer and obesity would dramatically decline. Is your diet a processed food disaster? If so, then start your nutritional change here please. You can’t fool Mother Nature.
Take Home #6
Increase your protein uptake. Large cumulative research studies with thousands of dieters has shown that higher protein diets are the most successful for fat loss and permanent success. Increased protein intake also decreases hunger and increases fullness. Not to mention that higher protein diets decrease the likelihood of muscle tissue loss and increase the likelihood that your metabolism will stay as it should. Aging, with it’s accompanied muscle tissue loss (called sarcopenia) and increase in body fat, is one major cause of weight gain, unless you are weight training and eating sufficient protein. Broadly speaking, you need a minimum of .5g/lb body weight. Heavy exercisers may need up to 1g/lb body weight. Many many people have no idea how much protein they need, let alone how much they are eating. This is a great place to start your nutritional investigation.
Take Home #7
Carbs are not the devil. But the type of carbs you eat may be. We know, for sure, that the obesity rate in our country dramatically increased with the horribly poor advice of the 1970’s to go low-fat, which ultimately resulted in high carb diets. Your doctor may even be telling you to watch your fat intake. Feel free to welcome him into the 2000’s by ignoring that advice. The other end of the spectrum- no-grain diets like The Paleo Diet. Anthropologists Unite Now! Paleolithic mummies have been shown to have evidence of grains on their teeth. Sacrilege!!!! Whole grains contain many nutrients and are necessary for active people. I cycle my carb intake based on my activity. Low activity days, lower carbs. High activity, higher carbs. Don’t fall prey to either end of the spectrum.
Take Home #8
Stop relying on supplements to be a magic pill. The supplement industry is largely unregulated. Many supplements contain poor ingredients, and some even contain NONE of the ingredients they claim they do. Others have been alternately shown to have no positive benefits or are the secret to life. ( Can you say probiotics and fish oils!?) There is no supplement that can take the place of delicious whole foods. Eat the rainbow, and I don’t mean Skittles.
Common sense is essential when assessing nutrition. Eliminate the big rocks first where necessary….. limit alcohol, processed foods, fruity and sweet drinks. Drink tons of water. Eat whole foods, balancing protein, carbs and healthy fats at every meal and snack. And, stop beating yourself up. Self-compassion is key for success as we learn more about ourselves, our habits, and our bodies.