Guest post by Gabe Heck
Gabe is a senior at Cornell University studying government and public policy. He has a keen interest in health, fitness, and nutrition with an extensive background in exercise and strength conditioning.
“Is that cookie okay to eat?”
“Should I cut down on fat or carbs?”
“How many calories are in that bagel?”
“Is the Paleo diet a good fit for me?”
The world of nutrition is chaotic. We are bombarded with information-overload by the media, and sifting through the vast sea of news articles, studies, journals, and blogs can start to feel like a second job! The sheer number of diets and weight loss plans is astounding—and while there are some that may be exactly the key to health and weight loss for an individual, we as Americans are becoming more and more overweight and sick as a population.
People want help, want to be healthy, but too often, help is not to be had. And so we take a deep breath, sigh, and adjust the belt buckle another notch looser.
My passion for health and nutrition has evolved only in the last year. I do not claim to know “the truth,” nor do I have certificates or degrees to back my claims. I can only offer what I believe is useful advice based on many hours of independent research and personal experience. Take them as you like (preferably grilled, not deep-fried!).
Tip #1: Food is not mere calories.
The media has completely re-conceptualized the meaning of food to the general public. It has shifted our approach to eating, by convincing us to hone in on the amount of energy a food contains by studying the nutrition label of a product to see the number of calories it has.
If this is the default number you seek on a can of soup, box of cereal, or frozen entrée, STOP!
Now, I am NOT arguing that calories do not matter in the context of nutrition (although even this is contentious in recent nutrition literature). But rather, calories are a far cry from what is truly important—the food itself! Did it come from the ground? Is it found in nature, or manufactured in a lab? Is it certified organic or raised locally?
These are a few examples of questions we need to collectively begin pondering and searching for in the food we buy and consume, well before basing our meal choices simply on calories. Sure, that Slimfast shake may have only 150 calories, but with it comes a slew of nasty chemicals and additives that you probably do not want to be putting in your body…think about it. Is that how you want to lose weight or “get fit”?
Tip #2: Food affects how we feel. So tune in, don’t zone out.
Gaining a greater understanding of how your body reacts to what you feed it is a powerful feeling. It is all too common to arrive home after a long day at the office, heat up a frozen pizza, and collapse on the couch and watch TV while eating. An hour later, you may feel sleepy, a tad lethargic, or perhaps insanely bloated. Maybe you are still ravenous, and crave a big bowl of Ben & Jerry’s. Whatever the case may be, the reactions you observe after eating can reveal a great deal about how your body is interacting with that frozen pizza, or whatever else it is that you just scarfed down.
Contrary to what your doctor may tell you, nobody knows your body better than you do, especially when it comes to how you feel before, during, and after you eat. The responses warranted by a meal can even be crucial in diagnosing once un-detected food intolerances, or signs of other imbalances in your body.
I suggest keeping a food journal to track any of these persisting feelings of discomfort, rather than popping another Tums and calling it a night. You are going to be much better off searching for the root cause of a pain, urge, craving, or whatever else you may experience after eating rather than masking the symptom.
Tip #3: Food is pleasurable and can tempt us. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
We are only human. We all slip up every now and then. In the context of food, this can mean “cheating” on your diet by nibbling on a few Oreos before bed, or entering a massive food coma after gobbling down an entire package of Pringles. Whatever the case may be, quit the self-deprecation, pick yourself up and prepare yourself for the next meal or day.
This is not a justification to continue to feed yourself garbage. Your body deserves better than that. Strive to eat your best, but accept bumps in the road. Heck, even planning for a splurge here and there is a good strategy for some folks! An “all-or-nothing approach,” unless medically necessary, is just a mental disaster waiting to happen down the road.
Tip #4: Food is best eaten when we are hungry. Eat according to your brain and body, not by the clock.
All too often I see diet protocols preaching the importance of “three meals and two snacks per day,” or eating strategies like intermittent fasting (restricting eating to one 8-hour segment during the day, and fasting the other 16 hours) claiming to be “the key” to losing weight or optimizing your health.
While it may be that one of the above examples resonates well with your lifestyle, I advocate for something different: Eat when you feel hungry, not because “they” tell you that breakfast is CRUCIAL, and that your metabolism will crash and burn without it. Baloney.
Getting in the habit of eating because your body is telling you that it wants food may be one of the most liberating changes you can make. It isn’t easy, and I recommend experimenting to see what fits best with your hunger signals. Perhaps on Sunday you wake up and simply cannot function without consuming a huge brunch, but on Monday you only need a cup of joe to get going and out the door. Either is fine!
We are not robots operating under specific “feeding windows.” Some days we eat more, some days less. The amount, of course, may also be dictated by the amount of movement and exercise performed that day, but that is for an entirely different article. So without further adieu, the biggest take-away:
Tip #5: Food is part of us. BE AWARE. Your body is a temple.
This is a phrase I remember my mother telling my sister and I when we were growing up. For years, I shunned it, never taking the time appreciate just what she meant with those words. Now, I cannot thank her enough.
This is without a doubt the greatest piece of advice I can give to anyone seeking to improve his or her nutrition and general health.
Without awareness, all potential is severely hindered. The human body is a vastly complex, amazing specimen. Learn to cherish and love your body, and grow aware of what you decide to put in it. With awareness comes the power of educated choices; from these choices come the ability to achieve your health goals.
Do not back down, and do not give up. Practice these five tips, alter them as you see fit, and continue on your path towards improved health and wellness. I wish you all the very best!