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Enlightening You about Food and Nutrition


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Reasons This Dietitian Refuses to Cut Out Sugar

On the heels of the anti-carb movement is the notion that sugar is bad and to feel good, look good, lose weight, and be healthy, you just need to cut out sugar! Advocates of a sugar-free diet proclaim that people need to remove table sugar, sweeteners such as honey and maple syrup, condiments, dressing, refined flour, soft drinks, sweets, dairy products, and often fruits such as bananas and apples.

I don’t agree! Here’s some reasons why…

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#1. I love food. All food.  And…”cutting out” a particular food “for the sake of health” would actually compromise health.

Health is more than just a physical state of being or defined by the mass of your body tissue. For any individual – especially a health provider – who believes otherwise, consider spending some time working with individuals struggling with all types of eating disorders. I have worked with plenty of people who have a healthy weight and BMI, and are far from “healthy” or able to enjoy life.

Mental and psychological well-being matters for overall health too and enjoying a variety of nutritious and enjoyable food supports this important aspect of health.

Yes, it’s true. Food is fuel and what we eat matters! As such, I’m a huge proponent of cooking at home (most of the time), and enjoying a variety of wholesome and nutrient-dense foods.

…But, there’s more to food and eating, such as food memories; heirloom recipes; favorite foods; celebrations; holidays; social events – many of which happen to include sugar. I prefer not to minimize the fact that there’s something special about food and how it brings us together. Whether it’s religious, ethnic, holiday or family traditions, food has a meaningful role.

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Christmas hors d’oeuvres…my mom and daughter (making her famous fried pickles!)

For those who play the “I just enjoy these foods occasionally-card,” but you still believe the forbidden food is “bad”, or that your health will suffer because of eating these foods, that’s just a recipe for shame, guilt, stress, and anxiety. Research, Research, and more research demonstrate that people who worry about food are more likely to get caught in a cycle of restrict, eat, overeat, guilt, repent, and repeat; and, consequently gain more weight in the long run.

Most important is that some of my everyday “favorite foods,” that I’d rather not give up, contain natural or added sugar (yogurt, milk, fruit, bread, crackers), and happen to provide important nutrients (calcium, vitamin D, B vitamins, fiber, etc). Consumed in moderation, these foods make it easy to combine nutrition with convenience, affordability – and pleasure.

#2. I love to cook and bake – and sugar happens to be important ingredient for a quality food product.

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One of my favorite recipes for Pecan Lassies…clearly it’s been used a bit!

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I learned the hard way when fat was the “evil dietary villain”, that removing fat from cooking (i.e. replacing oil in muffins with applesauce; cream cheese in cheesecake with strained yogurt, or half-and-half with nonfat evaporated skim milk) resulted in poor food quality. At the time,  somehow I “believed” that the food was “good”. But, when I was really honest with myself, the truth was that the food and these cooking methods sucked!

The sugar-free diet explosion and food substitutions are no different. When boredom sets in after removing all the offending foods, efforts to replace sugar in recipes with Stevia or artificial sweeteners, sugar alcohols; or, the example of making a pancake with nothing more than an egg, some banana and a little cinnamon is, well, just history repeating itself.

Yes, sugar is valued (or demonized) for it’s sweet taste, but it also performs many other essential functions in cookies, cakes, and other baked goods. In addition to adding flavor, sugar affects the texture of food by creating tenderness and keeping baking goods soft and moist, while adding color and crunch in a recipe.

I’ve worked with folks who’ve tried to bake a so-called “healthy” dessert, i.e. leaving out sugar, and what resulted was a poor quality product that triggered a binge. No, this doesn’t happen to everyone, but the point is that when your experience with a particular food (taste, mouthfeel, aroma) is less than your expectations (or what your brain remembers), there can be an impulsion to keep eating hoping that eating more will provide the satisfaction you desired.

#3. I’ve been doing this “nutrition thing” for more than a couple decades and have helped many people over this time achieve their weight and health goals without needing to follow this particular “rule” and become worried or obsessed about sugar in food. I’m sensitive to the fact that we all have a unique relationship with food, so perhaps “cutting out sugar” seems like the right thing for some folks. It just seems a bit extreme and with a disrespect for the potential long term consequences of restricting or forbidding sugar – or any particular food.

I do not subscribe to the “eat like me, look like me” style of nutrition counseling, so I suppose my habits and relationship with food shouldn’t matter. So bear with me as I share something that may sound a bit boastful, but really my intent is far from that. At 53 years of age, having raised and fed four active children, and with both parents thriving at 76 years of age – all healthy, energetic, productive…and a healthy weight – it’s just another reason it’s hard to agree with the black-and-white thinking that “cutting out sugar” is a good idea.

Perhaps my clients, family, and myself are just “an anomaly.” I’ve actually heard that from someone. On the other hand, there’s a chance that all these folks, including myself, share many of the the same busy and stressful life and food challenges that everyone else does, and have been able to adopt a little moderate restraint, while still being able to enjoy pleasurable foods, and remain healthy.

#4. It’s called “Balance, Variety and Moderation.”
I know. Not a popular (nor sexy) headline. The idea that the sugar industry is out to kill us (per the reputable Dr. Oz) and headlines claiming that “Sugar is as addictive as cocaine and heroine” gets more views, followers and sells more.

For those readers who believe any of that, you may want to read “No, Sugar isn’t the new heroin” by Traci Mann, researcher from the University of Minnesota.

With respect and without judgement, the truth is that some people struggle with over-consumption – for many different reasons. Some unknowingly, while others recognize an intense and persistent draw to highly palatable foods for reward, comfort, etc. The reality is that some folks really do struggle with over-consuming sugar/food; alcohol (and I’m not referring to those with a known alcohol addiction); they may also overspend; over-commit; over-exercise – hopefully you get the idea.

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In the case of over-eating – or when sugar feels like an “addiction,” making healthy and sustainable behavior change is possible. When a particular food (i.e. highly palatable foods such as sugar-laden goodies) take up residency as the go-to for nutrition, then we need to work on changing the “mental channel.”

This may mean “taking a break” from a trigger food or foods to create a safe and healthy eating environment that focuses on nutrient-dense foods. But, this is NOT
…a 10, 20, or 30- day detox.
…the idea that XYZ food (that contains sugar) is fatal and should be forbidden
…believing fear based messages about XYZ food.
…giving into the idea that “you are a flawed person” and someone else can “eat whatever they want.”

Finally…

#5. Plain and simple, it’s disordered eating to have forbidden foods.
Disordered eating has become normalized in our culture – but that doesn’t make it right or healthy. It is well established that restrictive eating, eliminating foods/food groups, and dieting is an environmental trigger for pathological eating problems and all types of eating disorders.

Not everyone has an eating disorder and eating disorders are a complex mental illness, but restriction and worrying about food is certainly an important risk factor that shouldn’t be disregarded or minimized when making or receiving nutrition recommendations.

The statistics speak for themselves. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) reports that 35% of “normal dieters” progress to pathological dieting and that 20-25% of those individuals develop eating disorders. Furthermore, hospitalizations involving eating disorders have increased for all age groups, but hospitalizations for patients aged 45-65 have increased the most, by 88 percent, from 1999 to 2009.

When one considers the common emotional and behavioral symptoms of an eating disorder, it’s worth questioning the “normalization” of dieting or food restricting – “for the sake of health”.

Common Emotional and Behavioral Symptoms of an Eating Disorder:

– In general, behaviors and attitudes that indicate that weight loss, dieting, and control of food are becoming primary concerns
– Preoccupation with weight, food, calories, carbohydrates, fat grams, and dieting
– Refusal to eat certain foods, progressing to restrictions against whole categories of food (e.g., no carbohydrates, etc.)
– Appears uncomfortable eating around others
– Food rituals (e.g. eats only a particular food or food group [e.g. condiments], excessive chewing, doesn’t allow foods to touch)
– Skipping meals or taking small portions of food at regular meals
– Any new practices with food or fad diets, including cutting out entire food groups (no sugar, no carbs, no dairy, vegetarianism/veganism)
– Withdrawal from usual friends and activities
– Frequent dieting
– Extreme concern with body size and shape
– Frequent checking in the mirror for perceived flaws in appearance
– Extreme mood swings

Source: National Eating Disorders Association

Finally, an individual’s relationship with food, eating and weight is a very personal and even intimate topic.

Nutrition is a science that interprets the interaction of nutrients in food in relation to growth, development, health and disease in an organism. But, overall health is more than just how nutrients function in our body.

Enjoying a variety of pleasurable foods and understanding how the “joy of eating” feeds our soul and makes life interesting, adventuresome and fun is something I would encourage anyone to not miss out on!


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3 Steps to Keep you Committed (and successful) with your Health Goals

New Year's ResolutionsResolutions seem synonymous with a new year and a new beginning with your health goals! Setting a resolution stirs up hope that this year really can be different! It feels mentally refreshing after a season of obstacles and disappointments.

But, how do we stay committed to our goals when 80% of new year’s resolutions fail and don’t see the daylight of February? 

A resolution or goal is often what you hope or wish for. A common example: “I’m going to lose 20 pounds by my spring break trip in March.” According to goal-setting criteria, this goal seems to meet the SMART criteria:
S – specific
M – measurable
A – achievable
R – realistic
T – timely
So….we are good to go – right?  

You could define a goal, “I’m going to make a million dollars by the end of 2018” but how will you make this happen, and is it realistic? 

The SMART criteria may be an important place to start and definitely better than “I’m going to lose weight.” However, how are you going to achieve your goal? Is it realistic? When it comes to weight loss, there are many reasons it may not be, including the misunderstood calorie equation that “eat less and exercise more = weight loss.” (This topic coming soon – so stay tuned!)  

So what else do you need to do to stay committed and successful with your resolutions this year? 

After carefully setting your new goal, consider the following 3 steps to help you stay committed and successful.

1. What is motivating you…and what will potentially get in the way of success?
We all want to be healthier, but why? Even the most tenacious individual will cave in to old behaviors or temptations if they’re trying to change for someone else – diet because your friend is; get thinner for a spouse or because society says so; exercise because you’re supposed to.

Question on a forkTo get motivated in a healthy way, it’s helpful to dig in and ask yourself a series of questions to understand what your true hopes, desires and intentions are.  These questions may seem challenging and time consuming at first, but allow yourself some space to reflect or even meditate about your thoughts.

What are your long term goal(s) for your relationship with food, exercise and overall health?

If you have listed more than one goal, pick the one that you would most like to tackle first.

List the three things in your life that are most important to you.

 

How would making this change improve your ability to nurture these three things?

Take either yesterday or today as an example.  How would your day have gone differently if you would have already made the change that you are currently contemplating?

What are you most afraid of as you embark on this new journey?

What could you do to prevent these fears from becoming a reality?

Which of these changes do you think you will find the easiest to achieve, and which will rank as the hardest?

List five ways that you could keep yourself motivated on especially hard days.

2. Start small. Define 2 to 4 specific behaviors you can change or do to help you achieve your goal. For example, if my well-defined “SMART” goal was to “increase revenue by 30% by the end of 2018”, I would need to change some behaviors or do some specific actions to make this happen. 

There are many ways to get started with your health goals. Making behavior change with food and eating to achieve your goals takes practice, patience…and time. But, as the saying goes, “If you change nothing, nothing will change”, so even the smallest change will move you toward your goal.

Simple examples of where you might start include the following:
• Increase my daily water intake
• Decrease my intake of “energy dense” fluids, i.e. soda, sweetened coffee beverages, energy drinks, alcoholic beverages
• Eat 3 meals daily
• Work with a dietitian to establish a meal plan to eat more balanced meals and snacks
• Reduce in-between meal snacks when I’m not hungry
• Increase awareness of pace when eating and eat more slowly
• Journal food intake and/or food and feelings or food and symptoms, i.e. low energy Etc…

If you tend to skip breakfast, skimp on lunch and overeat the rest of the day, then the behavior of “Eat 3 meals daily” might be most helpful. To follow-through on this specific behavior, a few steps to consider to ensure success include:
1. Review a list of nutrient dense foods and highlight or make a list of enjoyable foods or foods you can tolerate or will eat. (this is something I provide my clients)
2. Make a list of 2 breakfast ideas, 3 lunch ideas and 4 evening meals that you commonly eat or typically enjoy.
3. Use the meal ideas and/or eating plan (provided by a dietitian) to balance out each of these meals, i.e. if Spaghetti and meat balls is a family favorite; add a tossed salad or favorite vegetable and glass of milk or water.
4. Now do some meal planning for the week. Based on your schedule, when will each of these meals fit into your week?
5. After you’ve made a plan, assemble a grocery list by checking to see what you have on hand and what you need to get from the supermarket. Then, go shopping!
6. Work with a dietitian to learn what an appropriate portion or serving of each of these meals would be and begin to notice your hunger and fullness cues at each eating event. 

3. Get support. Who will you call for support when you are having a tough time sticking to your plan? Do you need any resources to make this time easier for you? 

Examples might include: a daily check-in’s and emotional support from provider, motivational book, gym membership or even something like vegetable steamer, electronic health monitor (FitBit, Jawbone, etc.).

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Finally, remember you can do this! If 20% of individuals who set goals and resolutions are successful, then you can too. The keys to success depend on your motivation to change; setting realistic and achievable steps/objectives that get you to your goal; and, getting support that makes sense for your lifestyle and goals. 

Whatever your goal or how you decide to begin, there are many resources and tools to support you and keep you on track as you work on your goals. Don’t forget, your dietitian is here to guide you in making decisions about what will work best for you and help you be successful, so don’t hesitate to reach out!

To success and wellness in 2018!
Val Schonberg
val@enlightenUnutrition.com
 

 

 

 


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Healthy Eating – Interrupted

shutterstock_183284807We talk a lot about “healthy eating patterns” in nutrition these days. In fact, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans emphasizes healthy dietary patterns for overall health and wellness, rather than getting overly focused on a single nutrient. The recommendations include the following:

A healthy eating pattern includes:

  • A variety of vegetables from all of the subgroups—dark green, red and orange, legumes (beans and peas), starchy, and other
  • Fruits, especially whole fruits
  • Grains, at least half of which are whole grains
  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and/or fortified soy beverages
  • A variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), and nuts, seeds, and soy products
  • Oils

A healthy eating pattern limits:

  • Saturated fats and trans fats, added sugars, and sodium

The Mediterranean diet is another example of a healthy eating pattern that is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains; a moderate consumption of reduced fat natural dairy products; and, emphasizes increased consumption of oily fish, legumes, nuts, seeds and extra virgin olive oil. fish, lowfat dairy and olive oil. Numerous studies have demonstrated a beneficial effect on overall wellness and a recent study showing that even a modified intervention proved to be helpful in managing depression.

I’m a strong proponent of these recommendations. I’ve lived out these recommendations and taught my family the importance of eating patterns that include these principles.

But then there are…

Interruptions. They seem to happen a lot, right?? We may even take them for granted as just a part of daily life – and we just keep moving along.

But then there are those interruptions in life – whether good or bad – that throw us for a loop. Those major life changes that might be anything from a marriage, a baby, college, a new job, or job loss, divorce, or an unexpected move. Those are the ones that seem to knock us off our feet – if even for a brief time.

We all endure these life changes and interruptions. Sometimes they feel tolerable while others are downright catastrophic and seemingly impossible to navigate. I think of myself as a rather resilient person, so when major life change(s) happen, I stop and notice! For me, I’ve noticed it’s a crazy a roller-coaster of emotions along with overwhelming chaos that disrupts my well-established “routine” (and I like routine!).

Recently, I recognized that one of the “side-effects” of a life interruption was a change in my eating. Yes! You read that correct, even a dietitian and nutrition nerd can seemingly get thrown off track with eating. I’m by far NOT a perfect eater, but I do practice what I teach and typically follow my good-ole “healthy dietary pattern.” But all that seemed to fall by the wayside when life through me a major curve ball.

I’ll save you the specifics about what happened to my eating, but let’s just say I wasn’t craving fruit and veggies – unless it was red wine or some fried pickles (pickles are actually considered a vegetable – LOL!). Also distressing for me were moments when my motivation to cook was dismal – while having no one to cook for – and a lack of appetite due to my constant state of stress I was experiencing.

Eating Interrupted! I stopped and noticed that not only was my life interrupted – but how do I navigate my interrupted eating pattern? Following are some of my tips – that got me through a tough time. I’m just hopeful that if you are going through something that is interrupting your “healthy eating pattern” these tips may help you too!

5 Tips for Navigating Life – and Eating – Interrupted

1. Stick to your food and eating schedule. Stress can really mess up your appetite! For some, it may trigger more hunger/appetite and for others it may completely shut down your hunger signal. Try to eat something at regular intervals throughout the day – and don’t overthink it or fall for the idea that your food needs to be “Instagram worthy!” For me, I had some “go-to” meals that I knew were nutritious and also “sounded good” so even if I didn’t feel hungry, I knew if I needed to slow down enough to eat something at my regular meal times. A few examples include: oatmeal with peanut butter and honey, a glass of milk and a banana; a simple egg and cheese sandwich with berries; or a frozen entree and some carrots/sugar snap peas with hummus. Easy snacks are string cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese, whole grain crackers, banana and berries (quick to wash and eat) – and also my favorite Ghirardelli dark chocolate with cinnamon tea is always a yummy treat.

2. Get to the grocery store or ask someone to do it for you. Simply put – if you want to eat good food, you need to keep good food in your house. For me, that meant I had to keep some of the snack-type foods (chips, cookies, and nuts) that I usually can eat in moderation out of the house for a time being. Why? Because those foods “sounded” a lot better than a meal, and I could easily rely on those foods – which is NOT helpful for managing stress.  I chose to keep foods around that I enjoy – but also would satisfy my physical hunger.

3. Cut yourself some slack with food, eating and exercise! I said this before, but I can’t say it enough – your food and meals do not have to be “Instagram worthy” and it won’t kill you to have a burger and fries or your favorite take-out meal. My desire to cook went out the window with the stress and workload of dealing with our life interruption. But, it comes back! Remember, this is just an event or season in life – it’s not a way of life.

4. Get some professional help for the stress.  If the emotional stress seems a bit over the top, try to meet with a therapist, psychologist, or counselor for talk therapy and some skills work to manage the stress. If possible, schedule a massage or some relaxing, personal time to re-group and manage the roller-coaster of emotions and physical stress on your body.

5. Be realistic with your goals with food, eating and weight. Dieting is never a good idea, but definitely not helpful during a major life change. Too often, restrictive diets and efforts at weight loss seem like a good idea as a way to “get control” when life feels out of control. Unfortunately, this is really a bad idea! Diets, restrictive eating, and intense exercise are just an added STRESS to the body. For me, I didn’t hesitate to take some time off from the gym and my workouts. I was already extremely active with the events we had going on and found my workouts made me more tired and fatigued – the exact opposite of what they were suppose to do. So, consider what’s most helpful for you. If your workout feels energizing and helpful for managing your stress and life change, then by all means, stick to your workout. But, if you can’t get in to the gym, or feel overwhelmed and fatigued, then give yourself permission to take a break!

Life Happens. But, it doesn’t need to be a life sentence for ill health. Be patient. Ask for help. And, your “normal” will return one day soon!

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Feeling Uncertain about Your Nutrition Goals? Tips to Keep You on Track in 2017.

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You’ve committed to health goals for the new year. Or perhaps you are just thinking about committing to some goals for the upcoming year?

Either way, whether you are hoping to lose weight, improve health, have more energy, feel better, run faster, optimize body composition, etc., the new year provides motivation that paves the way for new possibilities!

Then reality sets in: Now what? What’s your plan? How will you make these goals happen? What works? What doesn’t work? Perhaps you’ve tried before and weren’t successful. Or, the diet that you lost 30 pounds on before isn’t working now – and you feel uncertain about what is the “right” way to accomplish your health and wellness goals.

I get it! I truly understand your frustration. When a decision needs to be made; or, I’m investing in something with money or time, I want to know “What’s the RIGHT decision?”

One things for certain about uncertainty – it’s everywhere! And it seems to be increasingly more apparent in health and nutrition.

  • What’s the best diet?
  • What and how much should I eat to lose or gain weight?
  • How do I fix my “broken” metabolism?
  • How much exercise do I really need to do?
  • Which exercise helps with metabolism: Cross Fit, yoga, spin class or kettle bells?
  • What’s the best supplement? Do I need to take supplements?
  • What foods decrease inflammation? Which foods increase inflammation?
  • What do I need to eat to survive a 5K, 10K, marathon, or a triathlon?

These are the type of questions I hear from my clients, along with the confusing and misleading responses to these questions in the media. Some of these are easier to answer than others for a variety of reasons. But, we all want to know: what’s “right” for ME?

Uncertainty, according to Wikipedia, is a situation which involves imperfect and/or unknown information. We need to remember that nutrition is a science which means that the information and knowledge we have is incomplete and it is always changing. Believing that science is “for certain” can be misleading because the progress of science is based on a continuously changing picture of reality. Read More about The Science of Nutrition.

Another piece to this puzzle that makes it difficult to find a one-size-fits-all answer to the questions highlighted above is each individual is genetically and environmentally unique with their own personal and intimate relationship with food, eating and weight. I see this first hand with individuals trying to lose or gain weight. An individual struggling with Anorexia Nervosa struggles to gain weight eating over 3000 calories a day with no activity, while another individual can’t seem to lose weight eating 1200 calories and exercising 60 minutes every day. Clearly the “energy balance” equation we like to rely on seems a bit out of whack. We have many theories about why this happens (hyper-metabolism, metabolic adaptation, hormonal effects, etc), but we have yet to see one, perfect solution to either of these situations.

And to the uncertainty of the remaining questions:

What’s the best diet? Probably the one you can stick with.

How do I fix my “broken” metabolism? First off, let’s start with the fact that your metabolism isn’t really “broken”.

How much exercise do I really need to do? We need to move our bodies every day. What does “exercise” mean to YOU?

Which XYZ exercise is best for XYZ problem? What exercise do you enjoy doing?

What’s the best supplement and do I need to take supplements? It depends on what the deficiency is and whether you have a deficiency in the first place.

…and so on.

The point is this: We all “know” what we need to do, but struggle (for a whole bunch of different reasons) with doing it!

Following are a few tips or suggestions that may help you stay on track with any of your health and wellness goals in 2017:

Commit to Consistency. Whether it’s meal planning; cooking more; eating more fruit and vegetables; regular exercise; drinking less alcohol or soda; drinking more water, etc, you don’t need a nutrition expert or well-designed science experiment to tell you that these behaviors are important. But, just like eating one salad won’t help you lose weight, neither will enjoying an occasional burger and fries cause you to gain weight. It’s about what we do consistently over time that either helps or hurts.

So, what will help you maintain consistency? Do you need an accountability partner? Perhaps some education to challenge rules or beliefs about food and eating that are interfering with your success? Whatever it will take – I suggest you commit to a “365 day challenge.”

Pursue Progress not Perfection. Making behavior change that is sustainable takes time. If your plan to accomplish your goal to lose weight and get healthier in 2017 looks something like this:

  • Eat less
  • Exercise more
  • Stop eating fast food
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables
  • Cook more at home (and you don’t know how to cook)
  • Drink more water
  • Eat more ________ and eat less ________
  • Stop smoking
  • Sleep more – and better

…which are all great goals – but how will you implement all of this, at one time, into your already crazy, busy, overworked, stressed-out lifestyle that created the unhealthy habits to begin with?

Remember “If you chase 2 rabbits, both will escape” ~ author unknown

Try to focus on one do-able behavior at a time. Perhaps you already exercise 3 to 4 days a week, but don’t take time to shop and cook meals at home. Instead of adding more exercise at this time, take that time to plan, shop and cook more fresh and wholesome meals at home. Sadly, I’ve seen individuals give up because they are only losing 1/2 to 1 pound a week when they are making these small, but important changes. When they revert back to a more restrictive (often unsustainable) plan that seems to deliver more, faster weight loss, a year later they’ve gained all the weight and more back – and haven’t accomplished any of their goals.

Focus on Non-Scale Victories. Many individuals unfortunately give up on their goals when results don’t match expectations. I’ve heard it over and over from folks who are going to the gym consistently; have cut out all kinds of “unhealthy” foods; are following through with their “clean” eating; but state that they don’t “look like they do all that.” Consequently, they feel frustrated and either invest in more supplements, a more restrictive diet, or give-in to urges that actually lead to other health problems – when the real problem likely has something to do with negative body image (a separate issue that needs attention, but no diet or supplement will fix that).

Make a list of health goals that have nothing to do with the scale or “what you look like.” Perhaps it’s feeling stronger (because you’ve taken up a weight lifting program), are saving money (from not eating out as much); have more energy (because you’re eating more fresh produce and exercising more); or enjoy cooking more at home (because they’ve learned to cook). These are all important victories that can’t be measured by any device.

The National Control Weight Registry (NWCR) is a research study that includes people who have lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off for at least one year. The NWCR reports that it is tracking over 10,000 people who have successfully lost and kept the weight off. How did they do it? Overall, they’ve modified their food intake in some way and increased their physical activity. The majority maintain their weight loss by consistently eat breakfast, watching less TV, and exercising about 1 hour every day. None of the research demonstrates that one particular diet or exercise program was superior – it was just the fact that the individuals made positive, healthy lifestyle changes they were able to stick with.

There is a great deal of uncertainty in the year ahead. But, one thing you can count on is 2017 is an opportunity for a new beginning! Remember to commit to consistency, pursue progress not perfection, and focus on your non-scale victories – and Let’s Do This!

 


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What Does it Mean to “Be Healthy”?

dad and gocartA good friend of mine invited me to contribute to a book she was writing, about what it takes to “Be the Exception.” It’s a wonderful project about steps to overcome hardship and live an exceptional life. She asked me to describe one of the steps, in my own words, about what it means to “be healthy.” It’s an interesting question. In fact, most of my clients will tell me exactly that: “I just want to be healthy.” To which I respond, “What does that mean? How will you know when you’re healthy?” Most reply that it means “to get in shape.” Others say that it is “to have more energy” or “to feel better.” It seems like a simple question, but what does it really mean to “be healthy”?

The above picture is the image that propelled me to think differently about what health means to me. I was at a turning point in my life after years of excessive, compulsive exercise, restrictive eating, and the never-ending battle to be “as healthy as I could be.” A painful divorce; sinking into a crippling depression; and, cycling into emotional, binge eating made me realize I had to figure out how I was going to be “healthy” for my two young children. My world had changed dramatically and no amount of exercise or eating well was going to change that.

The word “health” means different things to different people. In fact, it’s taken on new meaning to me over the years. I was brought up to value health, but most of what I understood about “being healthy” was related to physical health. And, most notably, if you weren’t thin, you weren’t healthy.

So, I pursued thinness. Right along with the rest of our culture, I pursued the belief that if you have the “right” body size and eat the “right” way, your problems will be solved and you will live happily and healthfully ever after.  And, being a perfectionist, I’m quite certain I did it the “right” way.  Unfortunately, there was no “happy and healthy” for me during this time. Now, there’s nothing wrong with trying to eat well and stay physically fit. However, when this is your number one priority in life, it turns out, it can become quite “unhealthy”!

Although I struggled with my distorted beliefs about health early on in life, I went on to pursue a master’s degree in nutrition science and completed the requirements to be a Registered Dietitian. I’m fascinated by science and really do love food and eating. So, in many ways, my education was an important part of correcting some of my misunderstanding about physical health.  With some practice, my personal relationship with food, eating, exercise and weight began to come into balance.

My quest for finding peace or a healthy relationship with food, eating and weight; however, has less to do with what I eat or how much I exercise, and everything to do with my mindset, priorities and learning to manage adversity. 

Over and over again, people try to quantify “health” by referencing weight, body fat percentage, BMI (body mass index), calories consumed, calories burned, how many steps you’ve taken, hormone levels, and on and on. Ugh! This is just madness! I know, I’ve tried it all.

Of course there is a correlation between many of these indices and one’s physical health, but it really doesn’t tell us anything about the person’s overall health – which includes how they manage stress; whether they have healthy, intimate relationships; if they smoke; do they get productive sleep; or what their overall emotional state is. Unfortunately, there is too much room for misinterpretation and judgement of a person’s true health with this preoccupation of numbers. The principles of Health at Every Size are a great example of expanding the definition of a person’s overall relationship with food, eating and weight.

Truly, the pain inflicted on people because of our culture’s obsession with weight bias and stigma (at every age these days) is far from healthy! 

So, if these numbers don’t give us the complete picture of health, what else matters? Well, what keeps a person functioning when stress, trauma and pain strikes, while another falls to pieces? Resilience. Physical health certainly plays a role in a person’s ability to be resilient, but there is much more to it. Plenty of research has demonstrated that nutrition and activity are important, but faith, sleep, positive relationships, and stress management are the difference makers for overcoming hardship and staying well.

A great example of this is illustrated in a landmark study, called The 90+ Study, of thousands of members of a retirement community in Southern California. This study is revealing factors that may contribute to living longer. It’s no surprise that researchers have found that smoking leads to shorter lifespans, while those who exercise live longer. Other findings have been unexpected — vitamins did not prolong life, but carrying some extra weight did.

My personal experience of overcoming divorce, loneliness, and stress along with my professional experience as a clinical dietitian working in mental health has clearly demonstrated to me that “being healthy” is more than a person’s body size.

My dear friend’s book, Be the Exception: Your 7 Steps to Transformation, dramatically illustrates this truth through her sensitive, kind and inspiring words.

And…most important my parents have demonstrated what optimal health is. At that dark, pivotal point in my life (over 15 years ago now), I saw my 60+ year old father pushing my kids up the hill in front of our home and realized, that’s what I want! I just want to be able to do that when I’m a grandparent.

Still today, my parents continue to role model a healthy lifestyle. They’re active, travel regularly, remodel and restore homes, climb houses (my dad pictured below oiling their weather vane), have healthy relationships, are devoted to their faith, eat intuitively and enjoy quality time with friends and family.

dad on top of roof

For me, I’ve learned to balance my time by living what I teach – eating intuitively and staying active. I don’t always do it perfect, correct and right, but my priorities of faith and family first, certainly keep me grounded.  My greatest joy is my kids and cooking, family meals and quality time with friends and family.

Pictured below is our family trip to Key West, Florida to celebrate my parent’s 55th wedding anniversary!  Life is tough – that’s for sure – but truly enjoying good food, eating and fun activity is just part of everyday life.

key west bike ride