Nutrition can be tricky. Try out these tips from our resident
nutritionist to get you started.
Info Provided by:
Amy Enright, RDN
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
Wendy Brooke, RDN, LN
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
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MAKE SMALL CHANGES
Decreasing Added Sugars
By: Amy Enright, RDN
As a parent and a dietitian, I am constantly trying to make better choices when it comes to what we eat at home. I know from discussion with friends, family, and clients that a first step for many who are trying to eat healthier is to cut back on the amount of added sugar in their diets. It isn’t always easy to understand where added sugar in the diet comes from and it’s virtually impossible (and unnecessary) to eliminate it entirely. Hopefully the information and tips below help you find a small change that you can make to help consume less added sugar.
Sugars are one or two molecule carbohydrates in our food that don’t require much if any digestion. Our bodies also break down larger carbohydrates in our diet into individual sugars in order to absorb them. Sugars are found naturally in many nutritious foods such as fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy products. Added sugars are exactly what they sound like. Added sugars are added to many foods to sweeten, preserve, provide color, browning, and texture. Foods that are high in added sugars are often low in other nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
The recommendation for added sugars in our diets can be a little confusing and requires a little math. Officially, the recommendation from the US Dietary Guidelines is less than 10% of an individual’s daily calories. We tend to eat different amounts every day so this recommendation would change daily depending on if you are eating more or less.
2200 calories = less than 55g
2000 calories = less than 50g
1800 calories = less than 45g
1600 calories = less than 40g
1500 calories = less than 38g
The FDA has recently required food manufacturers to begin listing the quantity of added sugars on the nutrition facts label. The original deadline for this change was 2018 and I have seen that many companies have already implemented these requirements though now the deadline has been moved back to 2020. While I don’t recommend routinely counting each individual gram of sugar consumed this information can be used to compare similar products at the store.
You can find a good overview of the nutrition facts label on the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website: https://www.eatright.org/food/nutrition/nutrition-facts-and-food-labels/the-basics-of-the-nutrition-facts-label
If the nutrition label still doesn’t include information on added sugars, you can look at the ingredients. The ingredients in the list below indicate that the product contains added sugars.
Sugar (confectioner’s powdered, invert, raw, granulated, turbinado cane, white, brown, beet)
Dextrose & anhydrous dextrose
Syrups (corn, corn syrup solids, hi fructose corn, maple, malt, brown rice pancake)
Fructose (naturally found in fruits but is considered added when added to other foods)
Lactose (naturally found in milk & dairy products but is considered added when added to other foods)
Nectars (peach, pear, apricot)
Sucrose (table sugar)
Decreasing your consumption of sweetened beverages including sodas, energy drinks, flavored coffee beverages, sports beverages, and others as well as what we would normally consider “sweets” such as cakes, candies, cookies, and pies will make a big difference. In addition, it can be impactful to focus on items you eat all the time.
Compare the sugar content of your staple foods. If you eat a couple of different brands of the same type of product ex: bread, try to buy the one with less added sugar more often. Do the same with breakfast cereals, jarred pasta sauces, salad dressings, snacks, etc.
Try plain yogurt or oatmeal with frozen fruit instead of the flavored versions. Try sliced or warmed fruit instead of jams, jellies, and syrups on your toast, pancakes, waffles, and sandwiches.
Look for peanut and other nut butters without any added sugar. These are often the natural style and the oil separation takes a little getting used to but if you store the jar upside down it helps.
Replace one sweetened beverage per day with water. After a month, try to replace another, keep going. Make your families kool-aid, sweet tea, or lemonade with 3/4 the amount of sugar you normally would. Then try 1/2. Add unsweetened strawberries, mango, or peach to make it sweeter. Ask about the ingredients in your favorite purchased smoothies. If it does contain an added sweetener request that less be added or that the sweetener be left out.
Finally, I use this recipe in the summer after swimming when the kids and when we want a cold treat. It isn’t low calorie by any means, but I find it is a nutrient rich way to satisfy the milkshake & ice cream craving.
1 can refrigerated lite coconut milk
1/2 frozen banana
1/2 cup frozen strawberries
Place all items in a blender and blend until smooth.
I hope you are able to find a small change to make this week. Good luck!
INCREASE YOUR FIBER
MAKE SMALL CHANGES
Increase Your Fiber
By: Amy Enright, RDN
It is easy to be overwhelmed by the variety of information available about what makes a healthy diet. In my experience, most people find it easier and more sustainable to focus on making small changes and to build up healthy habits over time. A good place to start making small changes is to increase your daily fiber intake. Fiber is a nutrient that we don’t always think about but it has many benefits for our bodies and most of us can find a way that meets our preferences and limitations to increase the fiber in our diet.
Dietary fiber refers to carbohydrates that are found in plants that our body cannot break down. In plants, the fiber helps make up the cell walls and provides structure. When we consume food from plants, we consume fiber.
A fiber rich diet has many beneficial effects for the body:
Fibers can slow gastric (stomach) emptying. When our stomach empties slower we tend to feel satisfied longer.
Fibers can help delay glucose (blood sugar) absorption, and can affect the bodies’ response to glucose. These effects are particularly beneficial to those with diabetes mellitus or pre- diabetes.
Fiber can bind some fat and cholesterol in the intestine and prevent it from being absorbed. This process is thought to be one of the reasons behind fiber’s ability to lower blood cholesterol levels.
Fiber helps feed the good bacteria in our guts. These good bacteria can help our bodies remove toxins.
Fiber helps keep our bowels regular by promoting healthy bacteria in our guts and by keeping some water in our intestines to help move stool along.
How much fiber do we need and where do we get it?
Recommendations for fiber intake in the 2005 Dietary Reference Intakes were based on the amount of fiber shown to protect against heart disease. For women 19-50 years old the recommendation is 25 grams per day and for women more than 51 years old 21 grams per day. A simple tool for balancing and evaluating your meals rather than tracking individual nutrients is the plate method. Make 1/2 your plate fruits and veggies, 1/4 of the plate a grain, and 1/4 of the plate your source of protein (nuts, peas, beans, or lean meat). Following the plate method will make it much easier to balance your meals and get the nutrients your body needs including fiber.
Fiber is found in plant foods so eating your favorite plant foods cooked in a variety of ways will help you get the fiber you need. Obtaining nutrients through food first rather than using supplements is recommended but a dietitian or other healthcare provider may recommend supplements on an individual basis depending on your needs or other health conditions. When you start adding higher fiber foods to your diet make sure you are drinking plenty of water. If you are concerned about gas, build your intake up over a few weeks to give your gut time to adjust.
Nuts, peas, beans, and lentils are great sources of fiber and there are a lot of creative ways to incorporate them into meals as an ingredient or as the star of
Grains, especially whole grains, are another good source of fiber. When you are shopping look for breads, cereals, pasta and products like snack bars with at least 2g fiber per serving and with the word “whole” before the grains listed in the ingredients. If you aren’t yet up for 100% whole grain products there are many products available that are blends of whole grains and refined that are a step in the right direction. Manufacturers can also pay the Whole Grains Council to add a yellow whole grain stamp to the product to help shoppers identify products that are whole grain. Some snack and grain products are marketed as double fiber or extra fiber, these products often have added fiber which some people find upsetting to their digestion. Ingredients to look for that are added fibers include inulin, psyllium, resistant starch, and wheat dextrin.
Fruits and vegetables are also great sources of fiber but the amount of fiber in a portion will vary. Eating a variety of fruits and veggies is best but if you are newly incorporating them into your diet focus on your favorites and leave a little room for trying some new or seasonal types prepared in different ways. Aim for at least 2 fist sized servings of fruit a day and 3 fist sized servings of vegetables per day. Try to include an orange and dark green veggie at least twice a week if not more.
Here are some options to incorporate higher fiber choices into what you may already be doing.
Choose a breakfast cereal with at least 2 grams fiber per serving and add some fresh berries or a sliced banana
Add frozen blueberries and a tablespoon of chopped pecans to 1/2 cup instant oats before cooking
Add last night’s leftover veggies to an egg for a veggie scramble
Look for whole wheat or whole grain toast, English muffins, or bagels
Use avocado or hummus as a sandwich spread instead of mayo
Try a peanut butter and sliced banana or strawberry sandwich
Load up sandwiches with your favorite veggies as toppings
Add sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, nuts, or chopped apples, grapes or pineapple to your
chicken salad or tuna salad
Try the salad options at fast food restaurants
Make ahead bean enchiladas or a vegetable lasagna for a week of packed lunches
Choose whole grain pasta or spaghetti
Try a stir fry with brown rice
Top a baked potato with taco meat, lettuce and tomatoes or a vegetarian chili
Add a bag of your favorite frozen veggies or leafy greens to a ready made soup
To get kids to try more, keep your entree simple and let your kids help pick out a veggie or
whole grain side recipe to try
At the vending machine choose trail mix or popcorn
Apple slices or celery and peanut butter are a classic snack
Choose carrots or bell pepper strips and your favorite dip
Swap a handful of whole grain crackers for chips
What small change can you make this week?
Health washing - It's like green washing, which is the misleading messages and labeling of products to lead the buyer to believe they are produced in an environmentally friendly way and it's use is not harmful to you or the environment. Health washing is my term for the same concept, but it's misleading messages making a food product sound like it offers health beneﬁts and is an overall healthy food. I'm going to dirty things up a bit and dissect a few examples.
Almond milk - a more healthy option? The situation with almond milk brings to mind something my father said about Lutheran church coffee back when I was a teenager. It was so weak that he used to joke that it was made by someone passing a coffee bean over the pot. It still makes me chuckle, but when it comes to nutrition, the concept is not so funny. The reality with almond milk is very similar to the single coffee bean joke. There is an insigniﬁcant amount of actual almond in it, certainly not enough to provide any beneﬁt. The main reason we don't offer it at the hospital, where I work, is that there is zero protein in it. There's also no fat, so between that and no protein, you really have to wonder about the real almond content since those are the two main nutrients contained there in. It can serve as a nice low-kcal beverage (unsweetened) and such, but if you are choosing it as a healthier alternative to cow's milk, it's just not. Cow's milk is naturally high in calcium and B vitamins, protein, potassium, plus it is fortiﬁed with vitamin D. Cow's milk is also an important part of the DASH diet - dietary approaches to stop hypertension.
You've no doubt seen major brands of soda revert back to the sugar of yester-year - cane sugar. Though back then, it was just called sugar. Cane sugar is gaining in popularity as a supposedly healthier alternative to high fructose corn syrup. As a cheaper source of sugar used as an ingredient in a variety of food products, high fructose corn syrup allowed sugary junk foods and beverages to be sold in inﬂated sizes and packaging for less money. Yup. When people eat and drink larger quantities of high calorie sugary junk, there is a good chance they will gain weight - whether the sugar source is high fructose corn syrup or cane sugar.....or honey and a variety of other types of sugar for that matter. Cane sugar is still sugar and is still something to limit in our diets.
For a while now, we've been seeing sea salt pop up both in ingredients lists and front row and center on food packaging. Sea salt is touted as natural and there is a general belief that it is lower in sodium than regular iodized salt. While sea salt can have subtle ﬂavors and may be less pungent from a culinary standpoint, gram for gram, the sodium content is equivalent.
Speaking of salt (sodium).....Americans continue to have a love a affair with salt and we eat too much. Reducing the sodium in our diets is a real and legitimate recommendation, whether you have high blood pressure or not. A high sodium diet can contribute to the stiffening of our arteries, which in turn increases risk for having an actual event - a heart attack or stroke. Unfortunately, it isn't popular enough with the masses, so there isn't really a bandwagon for the food industry to jump onto. There are a few offerings out there that are a little better, but they certainly are not wide spread. There are a few items that are so incredibly high in sodium, like canned soups and tomato/vegetable juice, that have lower sodium options. I want to emphasize 2 things here. One is that "lower" does not mean "low" sodium. These foods were so high to begin with that a reduction by a deﬁned % by the labeling laws, still leaves the food high sodium. The second point is that very often, these products are replacing the sodium chloride with potassium chloride. Now, that's just ﬁne for healthy people, but for anyone that has kidney problems or on a medication that puts a person's potassium level on the high side, these products could be deadly.
On that note, it is important to be aware of what's what on the front of packaging. We tend to be drawn to foods that specify they are organic, natural, gluten-free, non-GMO, etc. You could wander into any health food store and see all those messages on all kinds of foods. But, turn the package over and look at the sodium content and you will ﬁnd that those foods aren't so healthy at all. Some are down right salt licks!
What about those claims then?
Organic: While there are strict standards for a food to be labeled as organic, it does not necessarily make it a healthy option. One misconception about organic fruits and vegetables is that they have higher nutritional values than non-organic. That simply is not the case. It is good to be aware of the "dirty dozen" - 12 common fruits and vegetables that tend to have higher pesticide residues and may be worth purchasing organic. These include peaches, apples, bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, kale, lettuce, imported grapes, carrots and pears. Unfortunately, there has come to be a perception that in order to eat healthy, you must buy all organic. This has perpetuated the belief that eating healthy costs more, when the opposite is actually true. We also need to keep things in perspective. Eating a peach that is not organic is better than eating no peach at all. I once heard an FDA person say, (at a conference, I believe) that one does more harm to themselves pumping their own gas once, than a lifetime of pesticide exposure. Whether exaggerated or not, it does put things into perspective.
Natural: The term natural doesn't mean a whole lot and also doesn't make a food healthy. There are a lot of natural substances out there that can cause harm, like hemlock, foxglove (digitalis) and arsenic, just to name a few. (By the way, did you know that natural licorice can increase your blood pressure and kava kava has the potential to cause severe liver damage?)
Gluten-free: The only good thing about the gluten-free rage is that there are more products available for people who have celiac disease, which is a true and severe gluten intolerance. However, not all gluten-free is truly gluten-free. For someone with celiac, something as simple as using the same toaster that has had wheat or rye bread in it, can contaminate their gluten-free bread enough to cause intestinal damage. And did you know that malt vinegar and soy sauce both contain gluten? There are some people with non-celiac gluten sensitivities as well, but for the majority of the population, there is no beneﬁt whatsoever. Frankly, I'm all for gluten! It's the protein in wheat that makes dough stretchy and makes a bagel chewy!
Genetically Modiﬁed Organisms, or GMOs: Many food products proclaim non-GMO on their packaging as a selling point, suggesting that it is a more healthy option. Well, humans have actually been genetically modifying plants for food for 10,000 years. In fact, it even happens naturally! Plants must evolve in order to survive in changing ecosystems and they do this through spontaneous genetic mutation. Those that are susceptible to destructive processes, such as infestation or weather extremes, will perish. From among the survivors, humanity harvests food for survival. If you are a gardener, you have no doubt seen it in action with cross pollination resulting in some hybrids, like peas that have the qualities of both a shelling pea and snap pea when grown in close proximity to one another. Did you know that cantaloupe would not exist without the miracles of genetic modiﬁcation? Crossing plants with certain desirable and beneﬁcial attributes to produce a seed that will grow with less water or in poor soil, with higher nutrient content, higher yields, stay fresh longer without perishing, etc, helps feed the world. This is particularly true in third world countries where drought is ever present and food is scarce. Here in our ﬁrst world markets, consumers have driven the demand by not tolerating fresh produce with blemishes, bruises, or minor defects when making purchasing decisions. Sellers also demand that fresh produce have a longer shelf life. So, the practice has always been around, but over the years with advances in genetic engineering, we can now make a rather slow process happen much more quickly. It just sounds scary. (Hollywood has surely played a role in developing that sentiment!).
Lastly, do not be fooled by a food product that says it contains so many grams of whole grain per serving. This is absolutely meaningless as there is no standard for that. What we are looking for here is ﬁber. Like books and wine, we can't judge a food by its cover. Turn it around for the real story on the food label and the ingredients list.
I'll end with my favorite healthy washed food like substance, sort of, kind of, not really. More of a novelty, I suppose.
In June’s article, I made the statement that all foods are ok and it truly is a matter of balance and moderation. How do you wrap your mind around that when you are bombarded with messages that tell you otherwise, like high-fructose corn syrup and white flour? Not to mention all the conflicting information out there. It’s craziness and chaos out there in the food and health industries and if you feel like pulling out your hair, you are not alone! I, too, wish to do so at times, but more out of frustration at the misleading messages and all out false claims out there. I often feel like it is a losing battle with all the bad nutrition information out there, like the expert voices can hardly be heard above the cacophony of all exaggerated claims, financially biased advice, research taken out of context, pseudoscience presented as gospel, fear tactics and the ever so popular conspiracy theories related to nutrition and health, just to name a few. The food industry is ever quick to jump on the band wagon with deceptive marketing practices, furthering the belief of nutrition myths. I would like to give you a few tricks of the trade to help you decipher the messages that come your way, so you can more confidently decide for yourself if it’s a bunch of bologna or reasonable info from a reputable source.
Does the product promise a quick fix for a health issue or physical performance? A cure, even? Does it sound too good to be true? – If it does, it probably is! Rarely are there true quick fixes, especially for complex issues that may be poorly understood even by the experts. Here’s a pretty extreme example and one of my personal favorites….”burn disease out of your body….lying flat on your back, using nothing more than the palm of your hand!” REALLY?
Does it contain some secret ingredient or formula? Is it a recent or ancient discovery not available from any other source? – Anything “secret” should send up a red flag. Personally, I want to know exactly what I am putting into my body! Some claims will go so far as to say that the healthcare industry doesn’t want you to know about it because they would all be out of business! This could not be further from the truth, especially the out of business part!
Is it advertised mainly by use of anecdotes, case histories or testimonials? Are current popular personalities or star athletes used in its advertisements? – testimonials mean little in the science world and you can bet the people giving them are being PAID to say what they say. Even if someone truly believes something worked for them, everyone is different and there are too many variables to account for and possibly contraindications for someone else with different health problems…… and never underestimate the placebo effect!
Is it promoted by the “expert” that is also selling and making money on the claims or advertised in magazines whose publishers also sell the product(s)? Is it expensive, especially when compared to the cost of equivalent nutrients that may be obtained from ordinary foods? – As a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, it would be an absolute conflict of interest if I were to sell a dietary/nutrition supplement. The risk, of course, is bias and fudging data out of self-financial-interest.
Does it take a simple-truth about a nutrient or other ingredient and exaggerate the truth in terms of the benefit it provides? Does it take the results of a single study or outdated and poorly controlled research to support its claim? – Say for instance, we know that many vitamins and minerals are necessary for the metabolism of carbohydrate, protein and fat (components of food that provide calories or “energy”). You may see a claim that says a vitamin supplement will boost your energy! Well, only if you were quite deficient in the first place would there be any noticeable difference. I might also add that a supplement cannot replace a good diet nor make up for a poor one and taking more than recommended is not always better - it doesn’t necessarily translate to an increase in effects and too much of a good thing can sometimes be harmful. So, additional vitamins and minerals will not give you more energy, nor will they help you use more energy.
Did you know that “dietary supplements” are kind of, sort of, not closely regulated? The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) of 1994, though well intended, created a monster. The intent was to have dietary supplements available without the Federal Government “imposing unreasonable regulatory barriers limiting or slowing the flow of safe products and accurate information to consumers”, thus protecting the “right of access of consumers to safe dietary supplements in order to promote wellness”. Unfortunately, it has led to a real buyer beware situation that can, at times, be dangerous, not to mention expensive. Basically, the manufacturers and distributors of dietary supplements are responsible for evaluating the safety and labeling of their own products before marketing to meet FDA and DSHEA requirements. The FDA is responsible for taking action against any product that does not meet the requirements, but not until AFTER they reach the market. They generally don’t intervene with products unless there are serious complaints and/or problems, such as product contamination or illness/injury (or death). The result is that we don’t have assurance that a supplement is effective, safe or even contains enough of the ingredient to even provide the advertised effect. The good news is that there are great resources out there to find out what’s what. Here are some links that you can count on for the real deal. Here you will find objective info, describing what the research does or does not say, or if there is no research at all. Most importantly, you can find information about potential safety concerns.
The following links are geared towards dietary supplements and general consumer information and protection in all areas of FDA regulation, from medical devices to cosmetics. You can sign up for updates that include recalls and other issues.
The sites that I visit the most are the many National Institute of Health sites, such as the following:
Next month I would like to discuss what I call “Health Washing”. If you’ve heard of “Green Washing”, it’s like that, but crosses over into food. Basically, it is advertising tactics designed to lead the consumer to believe that a product is green, or “eco friendly” or that a food is healthy, when in reality, it really isn’t. I’d like to help people understand how to interpret wording on packaging, what the labeling laws allow and what it means and what it doesn’t. So, stay tuned!
THERE'S ALWAYS MORE TO THE STORY
It had been 21 years since I was last in Denmark, where my ancestors hale from. It was long enough to forget many of the cultural differences between us. Traditional Danish food is quite different, as I remembered, but what I hadn't really remembered was the differences in food culture. You may recall when the idea of the "French Paradox" came around in the '90s, which was based on the fact that the diets of French people were higher in fat and saturated fat, but they didn't seem to suffer from the higher rates of heart disease and obesity that we have here in the United States. So, eat more butter, cheese and baguettes? Wait, no...it must be the red wine! While red wine may provide some benefits when consumed in moderation, I have always contended that it is much more complicated that that. I believed then, and still do today, that you can't compare diets without considering the culture. Food isn't just part of their culture, it IS their culture and it is to be savored along with conversation and relaxation. During this trip abroad, I had the opportunity to speak to a very sweet French girl who now lives in the U.K. She recounted that when she was a girl, she and her family ate all 3 meals together each day - breakfast, lunch and dinner. She also recalls that she would cook every Saturday with her mother and grandmother. When they sat down to eat, there was conversation and the meals were eaten slowly. They savored their food and ate less. Quality was king over quantity. All the food was home cooked, no convenience foods. Oh, and they walk everywhere, too. Does this sound like what you experience at your dinner table? Do you even eat at the dinner table? Sometimes we are lucky to eat standing at the counter in the kitchen!
In Denmark, I noticed additional factors that affect what and how much people there eat. For the most part, grocery stores are small and scattered around neighborhoods. Small stores have small packages of food. The price of soda pop is on par with the price of beer, which is already quite heavily taxed. Food is not cheap, either. And like the French, Danes walk a lot, plus they also bike a lot as their mode of transportation, not recreationally. Denmark is one of the most cycling friendly places in the world and it shows. Incidentally, Denmark is also ranked #1 for happiness and sense of well-being. Coincidence?
Unfortunately, for a large number of Americans, the days of the family dinner at home are long gone. Here, food is something to squeeze in between appointments and other commitments, eat at our desks, get at a drive though and down in an instant while focusing on everything but our food. Or, lunch? What's lunch? Then dinner is just 60 seconds away in the microwave, straight from the freezer. We are in such a hurry, one might wonder how we taste anything at all? Maybe our highly processed foods are laden with so much salt and sugar in order to beat us over the head with something our deprived taste buds might sense. Is it any wonder our waistlines exceed that of our French and Scandinavian counterparts? We are we missing out. The French are most often exalted for their foodie ways, but much of Europe and other cultures around
the world have had it figured out. It pains me to see it fading a bit with the spreading influence of the hustle and get-ahead way of life that consumes so many Americans.
Something to ponder, and perhaps aspire to. To live in a way that celebrates the food experience with quality over quantity, requires commitment, especially when it comes to time. Time is finite and a precious commodity, so if it isn't a priority, competing activities will continue to take precedence. Maybe just carve out one day a week to dabble in creating and savoring a nice meal at the dinner table with your nicest place settings, a lit candle and some nice, relaxing music. See what it can do for you. Do it numerous times before you decide because it can take some exploring. At the very least, you may relax and clear your mind of the day, which is good for everyone!
BIGGEST DIET SECRET
THE BIGGEST DIET SECRET to end all diet secrets is………. that there is no diet secret.
The diet industry is a multibillion dollar industry. If they worked, wouldn't we be a nation of slender people? It's not that people can't lose weight on a diet, the problem comes in with keeping it off. We blame ourselves, but really any diet that doesn't get to the core of the problem and promote long-term behavior change, is doomed to fail – the diet fails you not the other way around. We talk a lot about sustainability on so many fronts, the way we eat and think about food and nutrition is no different. So, if it isn't something you could sustain for the rest of your life, don't waste your time and attention, because long-term results cannot be expected from a short-term solution. Just as we can't expect to stay fit by only being active for 6 months and then going back to a more sedentary lifestyle.
Are we doomed? Absolutely not! However, we may have to adjust our expectations and how we measure success. For some, taking the steps necessary for them to make peace with food, is liberating and life changing. However, no one said it would necessarily be easy and it requires patience. Good things come to those who take things slow and do it right
What now? Where do I start? Here are a few concepts to start thinking about.
1. All foods are ok!
No food is horrible enough to warrant completely eliminating it. This doesn’t mean eat whatever you want whenever you want. Sometimes I really crave onion rings, but I may have them just 1-2 times a year and when I treat myself, I make sure I am I a position to savor and enjoy them. This helps me eat just a small portion and be satisfied. It truly is about moderation, variety and balance. Often, just knowing it's ok to have your favorite “bad” food makes the need to overeat it go away. This behavior has been studied and it has been found that those in the category of “restrained eater”, i.e. dieter, have a tendency to eat far more than “normal” eaters when faced with a “forbidden food”. Some theories about why - “I've blown it, so I might as well go for it! Or, perhaps “After this time, I'm not ever going to have ice cream again! (so I better eat all I can now!)”
And forget all the terrible things you’ve heard about some foods and their constituents, like gluten, potatoes, dairy, carbohydrates, the paleo diet and a smattering of other foods and diets. Get the real facts from reputable sources (for the internet, go for .edu, .gov and .org). Question anything that completely demonizes a particular food or food group like it will always cause weight gain and/or other negative health consequences. We should not fear food. That would suggest that food is an enemy and that does not bode well for a healthy relationship with food.
2. Fuel yourself during the day when you need the energy!
That being said, there is no magical cut-off time in the evening when you must stop eating or all the calories immediately turn into fat. A common mistake people make is to eat minimally during the day in the name of weight loss, only to be so famished by dinner time that they lose control. Then they unfairly chastise themselves for lacking will power. But, it has nothing to do with will power! When we go too low in calories, a losing battle ensues. We are powerless against survival mechanisms that have neurotransmitters and hormones on their side!
3. If hunger (stomach) isn’t the problem, food is not the solution!
Sometimes I hear people say that they are hungry all the time, but with a little discussion, what we usually find is that they are not actually physically hungry. There are several types of hunger in addition to physical hunger. There can also be head hunger, heart hunger and mouth hunger. None of these have anything to do with needing fuel.
There is physical or “stomach” hunger. This one is turned on when you are running low on fuel. You may experience symptoms of a low blood sugar – weak, tired, shaky, irritable, headache – or maybe just a gnawing in your belly. This hunger is satisfied by food/calories (not water!).
Head hunger can be eating out of habit or boredom. Many people have a habit of snacking in front of the TV. When we associate eating with other activities, we must separate them. This means do one or the other, not both, in order to break the habit. If it's boredom, well, maybe it would be great time to go for a walk or start that project you’ve been meaning to get to.
Heart hunger is eating when we are stressed, anxious, lonely, depressed or any other emotion. What we are really doing is using food to stuff those emotions so we don't have to feel them – temporarily, anyway. There is evidence that sugar and such act on the pleasure center of the brain, so it really can make you feel better, but only temporarily. How do you feel AFTER eating all that ice cream? Now you are not only back to feeling that unpleasant emotion, but now also stuffed and guilty for eating so much! Isn't that what our culture tells us to do? We see it everywhere!Food can be a very destructive coping mechanism, much like abusing alcohol or drugs, if it leads to serious health problems. This one can be tough, but not impossible. The key is learning to adopt more constructive coping strategies to replace eating. Emotional eating is one of many reasons diets don't work long-term for some people. A person with the tendency to turn to food will always struggle with weight coming back on if that issue is not addressed. It may take considerable effort, but with some soul searching and support, and perhaps the advice of a mental health professional, it can be done!!
Marketing companies that promote food know exactly what they are doing and it works. This is where mouth hunger comes in. You know when that commercial comes on for some mouth-watering, savory, burger dripping with grease and special sauce or that salty, crispy, addictive, “can’t eat just one” snack comes on? Or you see some sweet, creamy, gooey decadence advertised on the side of a truck and now it’s all you can think about? Food wasn’t on your mind, but now suddenly you are craving it? Yup, that’s mouth hunger. Ever heard of Pavlov’s dogs? The mere sight, scent or thought of food can rev up your digestive system to prepare for what goodies may be coming it’s way – literally. Your system goes into a “preabsorptive” phase which prepares your digestive system for absorbing nutrients. Other organs and systems prepare as well, such as your kidneys, endocrine and cardiovascular system. But, perhaps the most potent physiological response is the stimulation of neurotransmitters and secretion of hormones that regulate appetite. While we don’t fully understand all the intricacies of what does what, how and why, it seems the overall effect here is an increase in your drive to eat. The good news is that it has been found to be transient and diminish in a few minutes. So, hang on and divert your attention and focus to something completely unrelated and this too shall pass!