1 billion articles/videos/podcasts/whatever and counting. Really. Type nutrition into Google and you will get 1.1 billion results. I think, perhaps, the topic has been thought about a fair amount. Nutrition is a vast subject that ranges from gut health, to nutrient timing, to supplements, to protein intake, to every diet you can think of. The information seems never ending. At it’s simplest though, we are talking about the calories and nutrients you consume through beverages and food and how it impacts your body. Your body needs calories to survive. However, eating too many calories or too little calories has a negative outcome. Beyond caloric intake, what you eat also matters: It takes more energy to digest protein than it does a carbohydrate, eating a food high in sugar that has little fiber has a big impact on blood sugar, healthy fats are needed for proper hormone production and balance, to name a few. Here is how nutrition (diet) is impacting your fellow citizens and healthcare system:
Unhealthy diet contributes to approximately 678,000 deaths each year in the U.S., due to nutrition- and obesity-related diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes. In the last 30 years, obesity rates have doubled in adults, tripled in children, and quadrupled in adolescents.1
That’s not great.
Should I “Diet”?
Eating mostly whole foods and getting plenty of fruits and vegetables form the foundation for a healthy “diet”. I am not meaning diet as in something you could do short term to make a quick change in your physique or health. I mean diet as a way of eating day in and day out that is sustainable for a lifetime. You could jump on the Paleo “diet”, but for how long? Keto? Vegan? While it is possible (and people certainly do) adopt these styles for a long time or even a lifetime, the more likely scenario is one of jumping on a bandwagon and falling off said wagon, face first, into…ice cream? Cake? Soda? (Pop for all you onomatopoeia lovers) Bread? Pasta? Beer? Something, right? You hold on as long as you can, thinking you can just will yourself through, and then it hits you – you can’t. It is really that simple. Just admit it – you can’t. It’s okay. People love to tell other people or their kids it’s okay to fail. But when you fail, what do you tell yourself? Hmmmm? …We are our own worst critics. Unfairly so. If you haven’t read the healthy habits post (link to healthy habits post), please take some time to do that. You will then see why generalized diets typically don’t work long term. It’s not simple will power to flip a switch to healthy eating, it’s changing routine and habit around your lifestyle to make changes to your nutrition over time.
I am not saying specific diets don’t have merit – in fact, try one. Try another. See what you think. What did you like, what sucked? What was easy for you to adopt, what was really challenging? Learning what works for you is a process and will take time. Long term health and wellness is about balance, not perfection. However, balance does not mean putting in a minimal level of effort and patting yourself on the back. Take your time to put in the large effort to make the necessary changes to take care of you. Creating the habit of healthy eating starts with small changes, over time. As always don’t try to change overnight, life is a journey not a sprint.
You Are What You Eat.
The minerals, vitamins, and other nutrients (or toxins) you put into your body directly affect the ability of your body and mind to function properly. So put in the effort to treat your body and mind as if they are the only real tools you have in this world and they are of unsurpassed importance, but also indulging here and there to enjoy what the world has to offer. Meaning – eating a variety of vegetables and fruits and clean protein and carbohydrate sources to create an internal environment of health and well-being, while eating that birthday cake once in a while because it tastes so damn delicious.
But why do I need vegetables, fruits, and whole food sources? It comes down to what your body needs…NEEDS, not wants. It’s fine to give yourself what you want from time to time, but you really cannot skip the needs of your biological system and simply expect life will turn out roses. Your body needs macronutrients (lipids, proteins, carbohydrates), micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), and fiber. Ok, ok – true, carbohydrates are not actually necessary for survival. But we aren’t just looking to survive, people, we are looking to optimize – go ahead and eat some carbs. But what do the nutrients do?
Lipids/Fats: Absorption of certain vitamins, used in hormone production/balance, etc.
Proteins: Growth and repair of tissues, support immune function, and a whole lot more
Carbohydrates: Provide a major source of energy to carry out activities
Micronutrients: hundreds of roles
Fiber: regular bowel movements, slows absorption of sugar into the blood
around 25g/female/day, 35g/male/day or about 14g/1000Kc consumed
So – Where To Start?
Eat vegetables. Plenty of them. Vegetables and fruit contain vitamins, minerals, fiber, and water. How about a serving of vegetables with every meal? Not there yet? No problem, start with creating a healthy habit of eating a vegetable with breakfast. Throw some spinach into that smoothie, you probably won’t even taste it. Add some bell peppers to those scrambled eggs. Meal prep on the weekend and make an egg and sweet potato bake with onions and you are good for the week. 3 to 4 servings of vegetables and 1 to 2 servings of fruit per day and you will be on your way.
Limit processed foods and sugars found in foods such as breads, desserts, cereals, pastas, etc. The things you purchase that are eaten “straight out of a box” are a bit hard on your body. Fast food is also hard on your body. A lot of these products have simple starches or sugars that break down quickly in the body, sodium and/or fat content can be very high, and the fiber content of these products can also be quite low. (That’s not good)
The alternative then is eating whole foods, preparing your food with whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. This does take practice and time if you are not used to doing this. It is worth the effort. Preparing whole foods gives you the advantage of knowing what’s in your food and provides a more nutrient dense meal: fiber, vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and proteins.
Mindfulness and Tracking
Be mindful of the food you are eating. Try to slow down and think about what you have eaten that day, what you will be eating later on. If you are planning to go out for supper and have a big meal, then for lunch trim it down a little. Pay attention to what you eat and how it makes you feel. One way to do this is to keep a journal. Write down what you eat, when, and how it makes you feel. Figuring out what food choices you make and when, and then how you feel is a great way to start being mindful with food.
If you want to take it a step further, count your calories. While this requires more effort than keeping a food journal, counting calories will help you realize how much you are, or are not, eating. This can be a real eye opener for some. If you are wondering how many calories you should be eating, an estimate can be provided by online calculators such as this one:
https://www.calculator.net/calorie-calculator.html If you have never looked at the calories you consume, tracking for a week to get some perspective is a great idea.
Further still, you could track your macronutrients (Lipids, Proteins, Carbohydrates). Keeping track of this information will let you know what works best for you when it comes to either higher carb, lower carb, higher protein, etc. types of eating. Online trackers such as My Fitness Pal can help with food tracking. Whatever you choose to track, it is some work. And that is the catch with all of this, figuring out what works best for you and what specific foods and meal timing works is individual. It’s an experiment and it takes time and effort. But it’s not as daunting as you think. Pick one thing, just one to start. Adding a veggie with every meal. Swapping out those Cheez-its with carrot sticks and hummus. Stopping eating after supper. Pick one and go from there.
Nutrition doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Just like exercise, mindfulness, and sleep don’t exist in a vacuum. There is an interplay between all of these things. The whole goal is to lead a healthy lifestyle that affords you the opportunity to get the most out of life, whatever that is for you. Having a good night of sleep can lead to better choices, can lead to healthier eating, can lead to better workouts, can lead to healthier brain function, can lead to better choices, can lead to a reduction in stress, can lead to can lead to better sleep, and so forth. Changing little things consistently over time will lead to a healthier lifestyle, better thought patterns, healthier bodily processes, less chronic disease, less doctor visits, and a more enjoyable and productive life.
Some Helpful References