EnlightenU Nutrition Consulting, LLC

Enlightening You about Food and Nutrition


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5 Tips for Managing Emotional Eating

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Emotional eating is when an emotion triggers a person to eat, instead of the physical symptom of hunger.

There are many misconceptions about emotional eating.  One of the biggest myths is that all emotional eating leads to overeating and weight gain.  In fact, it is natural to eat for emotional reasons and still maintain your weight.  For example, celebrations with family and friends often include special foods that we have an emotional relationship with.  Having birthday cake with friends, not because you are hungry, but because it feels good isn’t necessarily a prescription for overeating or weight gain.   In fact, a recent study investigated how an individual’s perceptions about eating a food, like chocolate cake, influenced their motivation to maintain a healthy eating plan.  Researchers discovered that those who felt “guilty” after eating a piece of cake were more likely to sabotage their weight loss efforts than those who associated the cake with “celebration.”

So then, what’s the problem with emotional eating?  Emotional eating is a problem when you abuse it.  When a person is out of touch with their feelings and eats to comfort themselves or stuff their feelings down, it can result in overeating.  When an individual engages in this behavior day after day, it is likely to result in weight gain.

Diets and forbidden foods often make the problem worse.  Dieters, or individuals with restricted eating patterns, are typically eating less than they need; less of the foods they enjoy; and, are chronically hungry.  When faced with stress or other emotions, the ability to maintain control of the restrained eating becomes intolerable for the individual who “gives in” and overeats.  In these situations, the individual eats quickly; is distracted; and, is disconnected from his or her internal cues.  Feeling guilty and remorseful, the dieter tries harder to restrict the eating and the cycle continues.

How to stop abusing emotional eating.

  1. Identify your triggers.  Keep a mood food diary and track information about your meals and snacks (including unplanned eating), Write down what you are eating, when you are eating, where you are eating, whom you are eating with, and how you are feeling at the time.  Many of my clients strongly object to keeping a journal for various reasons.  Taking time with a nutritionist or other health professional to discuss strategies to overcome  those barriers may be key for you to take the first step in getting control of your emotional eating.
  2. Don’t skip meals.  Feed yourself regularly while being mindful of balance, variety and moderation in your meal planning.
  3. Eat whole foods.   Eating whole foods that you enjoy, on a regular basis, can help to balance out your mood and provide consistent energy during the day.
  4. Develop alternative coping skills to manage your emotions. Take a moment to create a list of activities you can use when emotions run high.  Things like calling a friend, gardening, being outside, reading, and taking a bath are all examples.  Many activities result in the release of the chemicals in the brain that help us feel better.  I suggest that individuals have their list visible and easily available.  When you notice a trigger to use food for comfort, try one of the items from your list.  After 10 minutes, if the food is still beckoning you, try the 2nd activity for 10 minutes, and so on.  Usually if you make it to the 3rd activity, you will notice that the urge to eat is less.
  5. Try Individual or group counseling. Talking about your triggers and getting support for planning healthy meals and snacks may be the key to making the behavior changes that are needed.


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CSA Cooking: Summer Veggie Stir Fry

 

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I grew up with a small garden that my parents tended to every year. Each summer we had fresh veggies right out the back door – carrots, leafy greens, kohlrabi, potatoes, tomatoes and cucumbers.  Looking back, I truly took it for granted. The food was fresh, flavorful and we ate all summer from our garden. Where I live now, unfortunately I do not have the space for a garden – but the real reason is that I’m a horrible gardener! I can hardly keep my summer flowers alive, let alone tend to a garden in a respectable way. But I miss so much those fresh, seasonal veggies.

Therefore, the reason I’m trying out a CSA – Community Supported Agriculture program – for the first time this year. The way it works is that early in the spring consumers (members) “invest” in the farm for a “share” of the harvest. According to Pahl’s Market, the farm I participate with, the advantages of joining a CSA are:

“Farmers get to spend time marketing the food early in the year before their 16 hour days in the field begin.  They also have the unique opportunity to meet the people who eat the food they grow.

Customers get to eat ultra-fresh food with all the flavor and vitamin benefits.  Customers also get exposure to new vegetables and new ways of cooking.  CSA members develop a relationship with the farmer who grows their food and learns more about how their food is grown.  In addition, members also have the opportunity to visit the farm and share in harvest events.” 

I have to admit it has taken some adjustment. For example, I’m such a creature of habit and regularly do my meal planning and grocery shopping at the beginning of the week. So, it caught me off guard when food I hadn’t planned for was coming into the home mid-week (I pick up my share every Wednesday). We don’t find out what produce will be in our share until the night before so I’m practicing some spontaneity and flexibility with my meal planning and cooking habits. And, what a treat it has been! In one of my first boxes, we got kohlrabi. Yum! I don’t think I’ve had this vegetable since I lived at my home in Nebraska – so over 30+ years ago! Not quite sure why I haven’t bought this in the grocery store over the years, but when it’s ready to picked and harvested, that’s what you eat!

So, now my meal planning is at the mercy of what the farmer harvests that week, which brings me to my CSA Summer Veggie Stir Fry. I recently received such a bounty of leafy greens, lovely beets and some gorgeous scallions. Right away I couldn’t wait to make the following recipe.

I have to give credit for this stir fry to Nadia Giordana who demonstrated it on the talk show, “It’s a Woman’s World,”  that I was a guest on earlier this week. Her veggies were a little different (based on what was fresh from her garden), but the idea is hers!

CSA Summer Veggie Stir Fry

  • Servings: 2-4
  • Time: 15 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
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A fresh, flavorful and nutritious recipe perfect with any of your favorite summer vegetables.


Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons thinly sliced scallions
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • 2 to 3 cups chopped mixed summer vegetables (pictured in this recipe are red beets, thinly sliced, Tuscan and curly kale,  green beans and yellow wax beans – but whatever you have on hand will work!)
  • 1 cup cooked quinoa
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 2-3 tablespoons soy sauce

Directions

  1. Heat oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add scallions and garlic and lightly saute (about 1-2 minutes).
  2. Add beans, beets, and other vegetables that require a longer cooking time, and stir fry approximately 3-4 minutes. Add leafy greens and cook another 1-2 minutes longer.
  3. Stir in cooked quinoa
  4. Drizzle in sesame oil and soy sauce and stir until ingredients are combined. If desired, season lightly with salt and pepper – but taste first because it may not need it!
  5. Enjoy!

 


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Battling Midlife Weight Gain: The “Perfect” Problem


“Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” is an unalienable right we Americans have. For many women experiencing midlife weight gain, the pursuit of happiness seems to have been replaced by the “prison of perfection.”

I’m often asked by women who are experiencing symptoms of the menopause transition what’s the secret to the “battle of the bulge” – you know that increasing waistline that never used to be a problem? My answer is that the key to success is about making appropriate lifestyle changes that manage the effects of aging and declining hormones (keep reading to learn more about those). I know, I know! Not a very sexy answer, especially for the woman who is desperate and has already made significant attempts at “eating well” and “exercising regularly.”

The problem, I learn after more questions, is not just about what she needs to do to stay healthy through her midlife transition, but really this: “what’s the perfect diet to get thin/stay thin (you know like I was in my 20’s)… and remain ageless?” After all, we’ve been bombarded by messages from media, marketers and society that have seemingly convinced us that “healthy and happy” is found in perfection – the perfect body, job, husband, house, kids, food, skin…

Plastic surgery concept. Doctor hands in gloves touching woman face

Consider the fact that the number of cosmetic procedures using Botox (botulinum toxin which is a neurotoxic protein produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum) have increased a whopping 750% from 2000 to 2014, according to a report from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Somehow, cosmetic surgery and these types of procedures have become “normalized” for remaining ageless. We’ve become convinced that challenging the imperfection of aging is the key to happiness.

In fact, the battle with midlife weight gain may actually be a “perfect” problem, as well. The struggle many midlife women have over gaining a few pounds during the menopause transition can become quite intense; resulting in restrictive eating, diet cycling, disordered eating and excessive, compulsive exercise…if not a pathological eating disorder.

shutterstock_perfect body“The perfect problem,” according to Margo Maine, PhD, in her book Pursuing Perfection: Eating Disorders, Body Myths and Women at Midlife and Beyond, “promotes the myth that we can find life’s meaning and the answer to every challenge in the shape of our bodies.” Dr. Maine’s book eloquently points out that midlife women are not immune to the cultural pressure to attain a perfect body and may mistakenly underestimate the power of dabbling in pathological behaviors like these. She challenges the reader to many questions, but this one stood out to me:

“When was the last time we were part of an all-woman conversation where no one brought up weight, food, or personal appearance?”

Okay, time out. I’m a born and raised perfectionist, so I’m not here to throw any stones. In fact, my perfectionism has been a gift in many ways – pushing me to academic achievement, career success, and fiscal and financial stability. But, sadly it also got me into a lot of trouble (a prison as Dr. Maine refers to in her book), especially in my 20’s and 30’s as I sought out to have the perfect body, house…you know the list. I was desperate. Desperate to fit in at a time when I didn’t really know who I was. Without going into the gory details, the point is that no matter how hard I tried, it never felt “good enough”.  Someone else always had “it” better. Let’s just say my 30’s didn’t end well.

I’ve come a long way since those days (with a lot of hard work, therapy, faith, and good family and friends), thus the reason I am passionate about helping women of all ages feel confident and at peace with food, exercise and weight – no matter what their size. I want women to know it’s okay to age imperfectly! You are not your body. Wrinkles are normal. Skin will sag. Fat prefers to be stored in the belly after menopause… and, this: “There is no greater power in the world today than the zest of a postmenopausal woman.” ~ Margaret Mead.

So, do we just need to surrender to mediocrity?  Absolutely NOT!

Don’t get me wrong. I want to age as healthfully and gracefully as I can. I want to be strong, energetic and healthy enough to bike the country, travel the world, and chase grandchildren around. The difference is that the pursuit of health is different that the pursuit of perfection. Getting sucked into following the latest trends with food, exercise, skincare, surgery, etc. actually contributes to more stress and anxiety. There will always be something better. Something more “right” and the cycle just continues. Ultimately, none of these behaviors will help you achieve those important life-long goals.

So, the point is this: Do we need to give in to the multi-billion dollar diet, supplement and cosmetic industries – who are working hard to convince women we aren’t good enough the way we are, by the way – to be happy?

No, we don’t! But, what can we do?

Most people I know and work with want to feel in control. Life often feels out of control, so, it’s helpful to know what we CAN control and know it  will make a difference. Spoiler alert: The following list is not “sexy.” You’ve probably heard all this before. But, here’s the deal. These behaviors DO matter. When done consistently, you can be and feel strong, healthy, confident and energetic.

Stay active. Find things you enjoy doing and participate in those activities daily – hiking, gardening, biking, running, golfing, playing volleyball, and lifting something heavier than a soup can!

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Cook at home. As we get older, have more money or even more time, eating out can become an all-too-frequent pastime. Change it up. Invite your friends over, explore new recipes, cook with new foods, or just learn to cook if you need to. We know that eating more nutrient dense (versus calorie dense foods) provides more vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, etc. and helps with weight management and overall health. Eating at home provides more control over what you are eating – saves money and can be a lot of fun too!

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Eat more fruits and vegetables. I know this point may sound cliche, but the reality is that over 80% of Americans do NOT get the recommended five servings a day of fruits and vegetables, while 60 to 75% of Americans eat more than the recommended servings of grains and protein. So, it wouldn’t hurt to work on eating more of these wholesome nutrient dense foods which will naturally replace over-consumption of other foods. (What We Eat in America, NHANES 2007-2010.)

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Eliminate restrictive eating and diet cycling. I can’t say enough about this. But whether intentional or unintentional, restrictive eating sends a powerful message to the body to become very efficient with metabolic processes; use less energy; and, store more fat to protect the body from a state of famine. Thus, although weight loss may happen initially, anything you can’t sustain will backfire with weight regain and likely even more weight stored as fat – in the abdomen! Thus the feeling midlife women have that “their old tricks don’t work anymore.”

Drink less alcohol. Any of the reported benefits associated with alcohol intake are based on drinking in moderation or less than one serving of wine or beer per day and less than three servings at a time. Research demonstrates that women who drink heavily are more prone to central obesity while increasing the risk of breast cancer and cardiovascular disease. Additionally, women at menopause are especially vulnerable to depression, and heavy drinking can just make that worse.

Get good quality sleep. This can be tough for midlife women experiencing shifting hormones that may interfere with sleep. Maintaining a regular bedtime routine and practicing good sleep hygiene (i.e. turn off electronics one hour before bed) may be helpful.

And, let us not forget:

  • Don’t smoke – ever. Enough said.
  • Brush and floss your teeth regularly.
  • Wear sunscreen daily

There is a strong psychological association between taking important steps to take care of yourself and improving body image. For many women, just a week of eating well and regular exercise promotes positive thoughts about their body – even if they didn’t lose weight. There are many reasons for this, but the challenge is to remember that behavior change takes time. Getting support from friends or even a professional, such as a Licensed Psychologist or Registered Dietitian, may be critical to declaring your freedom.

You have a “right” to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Don’t let the “prison of perfection” take that away!

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Overcoming GI Distress During Exercise

shutterstock_runner stomach problemsMost individuals are familiar with the lure and appeal of endurance activities. In fact, people seem to be coming out in droves to be a part a weekend marathon race, Ironman triathlon, or 100+ mile ultra-endurance events. However, what most of these people don’t hear about as they venture away from their comfy couch in hopes of a stronger, healthier body are some of the common side effects of gastrointestinal reflux (or heartburn), stomach cramps, nausea, bloating, vomiting and/or diarrhea. In fact, the majority of endurance athletes experience some gastrointestinal (GI) discomfort in their training or racing. Of course, these symptoms can be distressing and may affect performance. But, in some cases can be quite severe and result in needing to drop out of a race or discontinue the activity all together.

To keep your training and racing season enjoyable, check out some of the common causes of GI distress along with simple suggestions to help reduce symptoms.

Causes

The main causes of GI problems during exercise include:

  • Mechanical – The vibration or “jostling” of organs during strenuous activity, such as running or riding on rough pavement, may contribute to intraabdominal pressure and reflux, for example.
  • Physiological – Exercise reduces blood flow to the gut while directing blood flow to active tissues, such as the muscles, heart, lung and brain. Consequently, GI functions, such as the emptying of food and fluids from the stomach are affected.
  • Nutritional – A number of nutrition factors are known to contribute to greater GI distress, including too much fat, protein, and fiber; high concentrations of carbohydrate, especially fructose, lactose, and artificial sweeteners; caffeine and dehydration.

Additional factors such as anxiety, stress, and pre-race nerves can be a problem. Also, frequent consumption of aspirin, NSAIDS (ibuprofen) and antibiotics can negatively affect gut permeability and contribute to GI problems.

 Recommendations

Most important is to practice your nutrition plan during training! It’s common for recreational athletes who decide to challenge themselves by training for longer events to neglect the role of nutrition in their preparation.  Too much focus on activity and exercise for weight loss rather than adequately preparing the body for the rigorous nature of the sport can backfire.  Athletes, who are not accustomed to fluid and food ingestion during exercise, struggle more with GI symptoms compared to those who consume fluids and food regularly during exercise.

To stay on track with your favorite activity, check out the following tips:

  • Limit intake of high-fiber foods the day before or morning of your activity or event. Fiber in foods, such as beans, lentils, high-fiber cereals/bread, and fruits and vegetables increases bulk and reduces transit time. Of course, consuming adequate fiber on a regular basis offers a number of health benefits; however, for athletes managing transit troubles, it is recommended to consume a low fiber diet the day or two before a race. Therefore, foods such white bread, white rice, plain bagels, canned or well-cooked fruits and vegetables may be more easily tolerated. A few fruits and veggies that are lower in fiber such as zucchini, cucumber (with skin removed), asparagus, tomatoes, grapes and grapefruit may also be tolerated.
  • Limit intake of fat and protein prior to activity or event. Foods containing fat and protein take longer to digest and can contribute to delayed emptying and stomach cramps. Try to consume meals at least 3 to 4 hours before an event.
  • Reduce or eliminate foods containing sugar alcohols (sorbitol, xylitol, erythritol, etc). Often found in “low carbohydrate” or “low sugar” foods, such as gum, candy, nutrition supplements or bars, this type of sugar can cause diarrhea.
  • Limit highly concentrated carbohydrate concentrations in foods or beverages. To avoid the accumulation of carbohydrate in the intestine, glucose (6%) or glucose plus fructose (8% to 10%) beverages are recommended. It can be especially important to avoid excessive intake of fructose, most notably in drinks or gels that are exclusively fructose. The ability of the human intestine to absorb fructose is limited, with 80% of people found to incompletely absorb 50 grams of fructose when ingested without other food (JADA, 2005). When fructose is consumed in the presence of glucose, absorption is enhanced.
  • Avoid dehydration. Start the race well-hydrated and ensure adequate fluid intake throughout the duration of the event. Dehydration as a result of loss of fluid from sweating is often associated with athletes struggling with GI complaints. This can especially be of concern during events when an athlete reduces intake because of being concerned or worried about suffering from GI problems.
  • Avoid trying any new foods or beverages the day of the event. Especially for individuals with a sensitive stomach or who frequently complain of problems, avoid consuming any unfamiliar foods or fluids the day of a big race.

If you follow the above recommendations and still have problems, try to keep a food and symptom journal to identify potential triggers. Eliminate suspicious foods for a week or two and then slowly re-introduce small portions and note whether the GI symptom resolves or persists. Continue to experiment with a wide variety of foods during training, allowing time for your gut to adjust. Learn what foods or fluids are most tolerable for you, and for best results, stick to your plan!


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“Evidence-Based” Diets: Sound Science or Practically Impractical

shutterstock_fasting dietTrue or False: Popular Diets (such as Paleo, Atkins/Low carb, and Intermittent Fasting) are all based on evidence-based research.

The answer is TRUE!  There really is some interesting research that demonstrates how each of these nutrition interventions can result in weight loss, fat loss and even improved health and cognitive functioning.

But, does that mean these diets should get a “seal of approval” as an appropriate intervention for weight loss or achieving optimal health?  Let’s chat about that…

Recently I watched a TED Talk by the Chief of the Laboratory of Neuroscience at the National Institute on Aging, Mark Mattson. He is also a professor of Neuroscience at The Johns Hopkins University and a leading researcher in understanding the mechanisms behind neurogenerative disorders, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. Mark and his team from John Hopkins have published several papers that discuss how fasting twice a week could lower the risk of developing these types of neurogenerative diseases.

Pretty impressive, right? I mean that’s a big deal!

Then, there’s The Paleo diet, based on years of research conducted by Loren Cordain, PhD who bases his nutrition recommendations on the premise that there are some fundamental characteristics of our hunter-gatherer ancestors that will “optimize your health, minimize your risk of chronic disease and lose weight.”

I’ve also been learning more about the research behind Intermittent or Alternate Day Fasting (restricting intake to no more than 500 calories every other day) and the significant effect it can have on weight loss and other markers of health. Some of the most notable work on this approach has been done by research from the University of Illinois in Chicago.   And, of course documented in the popular book, The Every-Other-Day Diet: The Diet That Lets You Eat All You Want (Half the Time) and Keep the Weight Off.

What a great idea! Pretty much every individual I work with – midlife female, recreational or competitive athlete, professional dancer, or disordered eater – would like to optimize their health, lower their risk of chronic disease, most desire to lose weight, and would prefer the option of being able to “eat all you want” – even if it is only half the time.

And, of course, there’s all the latest research coming from the labs of Dr. Stephen Phinney, MD, PhD and Dr. Jeff Volek, PhD, RD about the “Art and Science of Low Carb Diets.”

Well, if you know me, you know that I LOVE science and am fascinated by research. I’m constantly digging into the latest literature in popular scientific journals or looking up supporting research on Pubmed about various topics in nutrition and beyond.

My question is always, “Why?”…Why do things work the way they do? Why are midlife women gaining weight when seemingly nothing else has changed? Why do some athletes perform better than others? Why doesn’t energy in = energy out for most of my clients?

Ultimately, I want to know: “What’s the best solution to the problem?” and “What will be the most effective nutrition intervention for my client?”  

So inherently research should be able to give us the answer – right?  Well, not entirely. Yes, we learn a lot from this research and the science can be extremely fascinating, but there are a number of problems with these diets that potentially cause more problems than what the dieter started with.

The use of evidence based medicine is important in any clinical practice – including nutrition. However, after working with 100’s of individuals who have gained and lost hundreds of pounds from these “evidence based” diets; who often know enough about nutrition to have a degree themselves; and who ultimately continue to struggle with food, eating and weight, I’ve learned that clinical judgement and practical application are critical to an appropriate and effective nutrition recommendation.

And, as obvious as that may seem, it’s very interesting how often folks (including well-meaning researchers and providers) get enthralled with the “science” and seem to miss asking an important question of “how will this recommendation work out in the long run for this individual?” and ultimately whether the application of this “science” is even practical.

Remember:  Clinical judgement is something you don’t learn in school, from an online course, or from reading Pubmed articles. It is something you learn in practice!

In fact, we are reminded in an editorial about Evidence Based Medicine: What it is and What it Isn’t, that “Evidence based medicine is the conscientious, explicit, and judicious use of current best evidence in making decisions about the care of individual patients.”  In other words, it’s important that researchers and clinicians work together to develop realistic, practical and do-able approaches to health and well-being.

As an illustration of this point, let’s take a look at just 5 reasons why it might be “practically impractical” to use an intervention like Intermittent or Alternate Day Fasting.

Problem #1:  This is not normal eating. Rigid diets that rely on counting and restricting calories is just plain and simple disordered eating. At the very least, the majority of dieters will not be able to sustain this plan for the rest of their life (ultimately sustainability is important, right?). Many will likely suffer guilt and shame when they go over their 500-calorie limit; and consequently continue the cycle of dieting that, research has demonstrated, leads to even more weight gain, depression and a worsened health condition. There’s a lot more we could say about this point, but hopefully you get the gist.

Problem #2: How do you sustain your mental stamina, focus and not suffer from dizziness on a 500-calorie day?  The researchers state that your body “gets used to it” and you aren’t hungry on the fasting days. In a study published in the Journal of Nutrition looking at the  effect of alternate day fasting (ADF) on disordered eating behaviors, researchers noted that “Subjects undergoing ADF experienced mild gastrointestinal issues, occasional problems with staying asleep, and minor dizziness/weakness.” Bad breath seemed to be the most annoying symptom to which it was recommended for dieters to chew sugar-free gum in between meals. It’s also important to note that 20% of the study subjects dropped over the course of the 8-week study.

I just want to stop for a moment and remind the reader that tax payer dollars from the National Institute of Health are funding much of this research as an effort to “improve our health.”

Problem #3: How can an individual participate in stress-relieving, mood-stabilizing exercise on a regular basis, especially on a 500-calorie day? Researchers have a recommendation for that too. They suggest that the dieter get exercise or activity out of the way in the morning on the fasting days. What if you are an afternoon or evening exerciser – because of work, responsibilities, or that’s just what you prefer? Also, I’m a pretty active person who enjoys my exercise in the morning, but then I might also work in the yard for a few hours after lunch or I stay active running from appointment to appointment. It’s not an option for me to just “plop” for the rest of the day – nor do I want to or recommend as a solution!

Problem #4:  How does the dieter manage social events on the 500-calorie day? I’m guessing that if you tried to implement this plan consistently; at one time or another, you are going to have an event with food like a grad party, wedding, birthday party, work event, gala, etc on the calorie-restricted day. Are you just supposed to abstain from eating at these events? If the answer is yes, that’s unfortunate. And, if you decide to throw in an exception here or there, how’s that going to work in the long run? I know for most of my clients who are trying to make behavior change, not learning how to navigate these kind of events is many times the reason for sliding into old behaviors.

Problem #5: Eating doesn’t need to be this difficult. In a small, non-scientific survey I completed with a number of individuals of various ages, not one person thought they could (or would want to) implement this diet consistently. A common response was that it “sounded like a lot to think about” and they “weren’t sure they could keep the days that organized”.  I have plenty of clients who are just fine with the feeling of control they get from counting calories, but even these folks admit it’s distracting and a very compulsive and obsessive behavior, and frankly would rather not to have all those numbers in their head.

I’m completely aware that there is always the possibility that none of these scenarios would pose a “problem” for you. If that’s the case, and this sounds like a useful approach for managing food, eating and weight, then it may certainly be an option.

Ultimately, the decision about what nutrition intervention would be best for an individual hoping to lose weight, optimize their health and decrease their risk of chronic disease needs to be a collaborative effort between the health care provider and patient.

Being fascinated by science is a cool thing. And, providing sound, evidence-based nutrition recommendations is an important principle in any practice. But, science alone should NOT become a replacement for critical thinking and experienced clinical judgment about what is appropriate for each and every individual client or patient.


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Crockpot Asian Turkey Lettuce Wraps

IMG_0310“I don’t have time” seems to be a common obstacle to eating healthy – and enjoying food that taste good! I have a family of relatively picky eaters and so exotic, trendy foods can frankly be a waste of time and money around my house. Go figure!

Therefore, I’m always seeking for recipes that my family will enjoy and that I can manage with my busy schedule. It’s rare that I have more than 30 minutes to dedicate to preparing and cooking a wholesome meal for my family. Thus, I love crockpot meals! Quick, easy to prepare and ready to eat when I come home from a long day.

Asian lettuce wraps are a family favorite! I’ve experimented with a couple that are fairly simple to prepare on the stove. However, that can sometimes take more time and effort than I have at the end of the day. Therefore, I’ve combined a few ideas from other recipes and developed this concoction that includes simple ingredients yet delivers a flavorful punch! My favorite part is that I can toss lots of colorful and nutritious veggies (red bell peppers, carrots and spinach) and no one seems to notice – most notably the spinach cooks down quite a bit.

In less than 10 minutes, your meal is in the cooker. Simply heat up turkey, onions and garlic and toss in your slow cooker. Add remaining ingredients, cover and heat for 3 to 4 hours.

Make a side of brown or your favorite rice and serve with romaine, iceberg or Bibb lettuce “cups” and wah lah, dinner is served!

Asian Turkey Lettuce Wraps

  • Servings: 6 to 8
  • Time: 3 to 4 hours on low
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds ground turkey
  • 1/2 cup chopped yellow onion
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper and/or 1/2 cup carrots, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup Hoisin sauce
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 handfuls raw spinach leaves (I use about 1/2 of a 6 ounce bag. You can use as much or as little as you want)
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 can finely chopped water chestnuts
  • Washed and dryed iceberg (1 to 2 heads), romaine or Bibb lettuce

Directions:

  1. Cook ground turkey with chopped onion and garlic in a large skillet for about 5 to 6 minutes, or until cooked through and no longer pink.
  2. Drain off liquid and pour cooked mixture into 5 to 7 quart slow cooker.
  3. Add bell pepper, Hoisin sauce, soy sauce, spinach leaves, salt, pepper and carrots (or any other desired vegetables)
  4. Cover and cook on low heat for 3 to 4 hours. If you are able to stir intermittently, it could hold even longer, if necessary. Stir in water chestnuts in the last 1/2 hour of cooking. This is usually when I’m cooking my rice, separating and cleaning the lettuce leaves and setting the table.
  5. Scoop mixture into lettuce cups, serve with rice and enjoy!

Makes great leftovers! Serve over rice and with a side salad or fruit.


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Almond Milk: Health Food or Hype?

As a nutrition professional working with a diverse population of individuals – of various ages, different food preferences, individual struggles, and unique goals – I try to remain unbiased and open. But, I have to admit the almond milk craze confuses me. Allow me to explain. Typically the folks that are investing in this milk substitute are doing so because they have been convinced that it is “healthier.” They may not even be able to explain what that means for them, but they’ve bought into the idea, nonetheless. Some will explain they heard it is healthier because “it is a more wholesome food product” or because it is “less processed” or that it is “better tolerated”, “doesn’t cause inflammation”, “doesn’t contain hormones, antibiotics”, etc…(than cow’s milk or soy milk).

Well, I’m not going to dive into all the evidence-based reasons why those are not entirely true statements (perhaps for another blog). My point here is to encourage folks to ask questions, get curious, be a little more skeptical, and use some “common sense” instead of always relying on “google university” for information. Therefore, I’m offering some ideas on how my own curiosity about this popular food product helped me with my skepticism about whether almond milk is a health food or just hype.

Let’s get started. First off, I’m all about a diet that includes foods that are unprocessed, wholesome and as close to their natural state as possible! I love to cook from scratch and was brought up to enjoy fresh produce and great tasting food. More important, I agree that we are bombarded with a plethora of foods with ingredients and additives and we need to get back to eating more “real food”.

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So, of course, I am interested in what like-minded (or so it seems) health and wellness professionals recommend. And, this almond milk recommendation comes up every time! This is interesting to me because even the least processed almond milk (“unsweetened”, “original”, “all natural”) I could find at the grocery store seems pretty processed to me and contains food additives, such as Gellan gum, natural flavors, salt, sunflower lecithin, etc. And…the very fact that the product has an expiration date 3 months passed the date of purchase suggests that this product may not be as wholesome as I’d prefer.

Well, because of my compassion for my clients who want natural, wholesome food products and don’t like, want to avoid, or can’t tolerate dairy, I thought I’d try making my own almond milk and see if that would be a decent recommendation.

I went out, bought my raw almonds and joyfully prepared my homemade almond milk…as directed in an article from the “healthy way of life company” ~ Life Experience Magazine (Lifetime Fitness). It’s fairly easy, not terribly time consuming and surprisingly produced a frothy, white-ish product that tasted somewhat similar to the store bought original and unsweetened almond milk.

Okay, so this is interesting. To produce about one-half quart almond milk (from 1 cup of almonds) – again according to the recipe from the source mentioned previously – cost me about $3.00 (1/2 of my $6.00 bag of almonds) and is supposedly shelf stable for 3 days in the refrigerator. For reference, the 1/2 gallon store bought almond milk was $3.50 – perhaps you can find it cheaper somewhere else, but that’s what I paid – and it is shelf stable until June 5 (again 3 months passed the date of purchase).

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And, even more interesting, in the process of straining out the undesired pulp, you lose most of the nutrition and are left with basically almond-flavored water – thus only 30 kcals and 1 gram protein per 1 cup serving. So, okay. Perhaps a nice option for those who truly don’t want or can’t tolerate other, more nutritious milk products. But again, I’m confused by the momentum behind this being recommended and touted as a “health food.” To me, it seems hard to even consider it a food product. Maybe an ingredient for something. But, in terms of my overall daily nutrition needs, I’m really not convinced it’s contributing much, if anything at all to sustaining my health.

Again, I truly am not concerned whether someone wants or chooses to drink almond milk or any other nut milk – store bought or home-prepared. I respect everyone’s food preferences and the variety of reasons that contribute to those choices. But, what I get a little riled about is the “hype” and the misinformation that contributes to consumers being confused about food being “good” vs “bad” or “healthy” vs “unhealthy”.  Food is just food. There is not any one food item that will make or break your health status. On the other hand, eating too much or too little of anything, not moving your body, smoking, stress, not sleeping well, is another story.

So, my suggestion: be curious. Ask questions. Does this really make sense?

Remember, skepticism is a good thing. Denial, on the other hand, can be a problem. 

My conclusion: I’m personally sticking with my yummy and fresh cow’s milk. The rest of my family agreed (lucky for them, they all were subjected to a taste test). Even my cat agreed and wouldn’t touch the almond milk (before you get concerned: she seems to love and tolerate cow’s milk quite well). And, in case you’re interested, here’s the ingredients in cow’s milk (that expires within 2 weeks after purchase).  Cheers!

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