The typical "answer" seems to be: it's "80% nutrition and 20% exercise". What do you think? Of course, we all have our own personal experiences that affect our response. If having the right “balance” of nutrition and exercise is what we are looking for, it’s helpful to define what balance is.
Webster’s definition of balance: bal·ance noun \ˈba-lən(t)s\
: the state of having your weight spread equally so that you do not fall; : a state in which different things occur in equal or proper amounts or have an equal or proper amount of importance
Based on the definition of balance, the ideal “prescription” for achieving the proper amount of nutrition and exercise would be that everyone would move and exercise enough while eating the right amount to fuel that activity.
Unfortunately, that’s not always possible (physical, financial, access, etc. reasons). The other challenge in answering this question is what’s your objective? Are you trying to lose weight? Fight disease? Improve energy? Or, improve sport performance?
There really isn’t a standard answer. See why…
The objective: Weight loss
What’s best? Initially, nutrition makes the biggest impact on achieving your goal. Specifically, research indicates that individuals who need to lose weight and body fat are most successful by attempting to alter the energy balance equation by decreasing energy (food) intake. However, exercise is essential for keeping the weight off. For this reason, an individual who is inactive when they begin a weight loss program needs to also include some form of activity. Starting off slowly enables them to work up to an intensity that will keep the weight off, prevent burnout and injury; and, help prevent muscle loss to keep their metabolism up.
The objective: Prevent type 2 diabetes
What’s best? Exercise can make the biggest impact in your defense against this disease. Yes, diet is also important in the prevention of diabetes, but active muscle tissue is like a “sponge” in being able to absorb sugar (glucose) from the blood stream using a mechanism totally separate from insulin. Also, when you are active, your cells also become more sensitive to insulin so it can work more efficiently.
The objective: Stabilize mood, relieve stress and boost energy
What’s best? Exercise is the magic bullet! The reason why is that exercise triggers the release of powerful brain chemicals, such as dopamine and norepinephrine, that are important in helping us feel good and have more energy. Exercise (any movement) can also lead to changes in the brain that help with resilience and managing stress. Nutrition is important in supplying the fuel needed to make these neurotransmitters, but just as you can improve your blood chemistry with a single meal, you can also boost energy, mental focus and mood with a single workout. As a result, exercise may be as effective as medication for treating depression in some people.
The objective: Improve sports performance
What’s best? Nutrition can have a significant impact for athletes who are looking to improve their performance and reduce injury rates. The best athlete is well-trained, genetically gifted AND well-fueled. Fueling with the appropriate nutrients at the right time in their training regimen can make a big difference in helping an athlete achieve their goals with speed and performance; muscle growth and repair; and, recovery time.
The objective: Reduce risk of chronic disease, i.e. heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, obesity
What’s best? Both diet and exercise are important components of prevention and treatment strategies for many diseases. Prevention of weight gain is critical because overweight and obesity are difficult to treat and are conditions that directly affect many other chronic diseases. Additionally, diet (specifically the quality of food intake) and exercise also play non-weight-related roles in many chronic diseases. For example, omega-3 fatty acids from fish are shown to have a direct affect on lowering your risk of heart disease. A diet that includes a high intake of plant-based foods along with consistent exercise remains the recommendation for decreasing your risk of cancer.
Clearly, your nutrition intake (quantity and quality), along with regular activity, will have a significant impact on helping you achieve your health goals. The goal of a body builder is different than that of an endurance athlete, stressed out middle-aged man, or a woman trying to manage symptoms of menopause. Diet plays a significant role in each of these examples, but hopefully you can see why it’s misleading to simplify movement and activity to “20%” of the equation.
“Before” and “After” pictures seem to be everywhere, especially as it relates to encouraging weight loss. Honestly, this strategy makes me cringe. Is this really helpful or necessary? Before you glaze over and stop reading because you are thinking, “what’s the problem…these images really motivate individuals to achieve the desired result”, I challenge you to consider what an individual’s “after” the “after” picture looks like? For example, regarding weight loss, it has been proposed that only 2 out of 10 people who achieve modest weight loss are able to sustain that weight loss for greater than one year (Wing and Phelan, 2005). For the remaining dieters, most gain all or more of their weight back within one to three years. Was it because the successful 20% had before and after images?
In fact, individuals consistently come to me expressing their frustration over losing tens or even hundreds of pounds using the latest diet trend, supplement, weight loss program, and bariatric surgery, only to regain all of which they have lost. It breaks my heart when I see folks who have made significant healthy behavior changes with eating and exercise, but still are not happy with their “after” picture and turn to the next diet trend to “lose that last 10 pounds”. So, is this approach really motivating and helpful? Perhaps in the short term. But, at the very least, these images don’t seem to encourage long-lasting success, and at the worse, this approach continues to feed into our culture’s obsession with achieving a certain “look” and even more disappointment when that “look” can’t be achieved or sustained. My question is what do you want your “after” the “after” picture to really look like? My hope is that each individual will consider their success to be measured by some of the following qualities, not just a picture.
1) Overall health. Improving health markers, such as cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar can happen when an individual participates in regular activity along with a balanced approach to nutrition. Many of these benefits are related to a slight decrease in weight, but can also occur with consistent lifestyle changes. An added benefit is decreasing the worry about these conditions.
2) Emotional well-being. Eating well, healthy activity and regular sleep can make a significant impact on your emotional state of mind. Although advertisements aim to convince us that weight loss alone will make us “happy”, the truth is that physical activity and eating well stimulates various brain chemicals that help us manage stress and emotions so we can feel more relaxed and peaceful.
3) Healthy eating behaviors. Many individuals work very hard to lose weight. Incorporating behaviors such as mindful eating, planning meals, cooking more, physical activity, and exploring new healthy foods are important and admirable. These intentional behaviors can result in more energy, sustainable weight control and a positive relationship with food, exercise, and weight. Sadly, too many miss the benefit of their accomplishments because of focusing on one thing – body size.
4) Decreased health care costs. These days, staying out of the doctor’s office due to disease and illness offers huge dividends. There is so much we can do to decrease disease risk with a healthy lifestyle. Much of this is a common sense, balanced approach to nutrition. My mantra is “eat to live” rather than a fear based approach to food and weight. Fear doesn’t help anyone, while accomplishing positive health changes with positive support can be enjoyable and fun!
5) Improved body image. Focusing on positive behavior change rather than the pressure of needing to change your “before” picture may help you feel better about your appearance, boost confidence, and improve self-esteem.
Whether or not you choose to employ “before” and “after” pictures as a motivational tool to accomplish your goals, my hope is that you will consider all the benefits of your hard work. Also, keep in mind that many people don’t like to see themselves in pictures. There are a number of psychological reasons for this, but in general, it may be more helpful to focus on something other than a picture.
“All my limitations are self-imposed, and my liberation can only come from true self-love.” ~ Max Robinson
Many of my clients ask a variety of questions about nutrition hoping to find out what is the “right” thing to eat. Bombarded by so much conflicting information from various sources, it seems increasingly confusing for people to figure out what or whom to believe about nutrition. So, how do you know what the “truth” is about the latest trends with gluten, sugar, carbs, dairy, fat, supplements, etc.?
Something I learned early on in my nutrition studies was that nutrition is a science. You may be thinking, “duh, I knew that!” But, what’s important here is accepting what that really means. Science is a body of knowledge based on systematic study that is continually evolving. Believing that science is “the truth” can be misleading because the progress of science is marked by the development of a continuously changing picture of reality. Many folks struggle with that concept because it demands that you are able to adjust constantly to integrate new information.
A great example of this fact was when I learned that the structure of ribosomal subunits of tRNA (important in protein synthesis) changed from the 1988 biochemistry textbook I first learned this information to when I was learning about this again in 2005 – and my old textbook was out dated!
Who would ever think scientists didn’t have this completely figured out? That was crazy to me –
something that I took for granted for “truth” actually was still unfolding – and probably still is.
I see this happen over and over again in the field of nutrition. For example, once we thought that people who wanted to avoid heart disease should reduce their saturated fat intake and increase their polyunsaturated fat intake to reduce blood cholesterol levels. Many dietary guidelines and sound nutrition advice was based on this “fact”. Then, it was to decrease total fat intake to reduce blood cholesterol (finding polyunsaturated fats were not“good” for you); and, then again today we have new information challenging what we believe about the relationship between fat and heart disease. These treasured “facts” about fat continue to change – and I see many people feeling uncomfortable and even resent trying to figure out what is “right”?
I have always loved learning about science, and especially nutrition. It is what I love about my job as a dietitian which continues to be about helping individuals navigate this evolving science of nutrition information. My training and experience has taught me that remaining open-minded toward other points of view is critical when discerning the recommendations scientists make about what we “should” and “shouldn’t”eat. In fact, I’ve discovered that it is quite common for scientists to have different ideas of reality even when interpreting the same findings.
So, how do you decide what recommendations are appropriate for you? That depends on you – your needs and your history with food, weight, and activity. Being curious and open about new ideas
is always important, while remaining cautious when someone declares “absolutes” regarding science may also be helpful. Remember, YOU know yourself better than any scientist or proclaimed nutrition “expert” and finding someone who can help you explore what is ideal for YOU will likely be your best formula for success.
What to Eat? The Eternal Question!
I love my meal planning tablet (pictured here). At the top it
reads, "What to Eat" and in small print at the bottom it proclaims, "The Eternal Question!" Kind of funny, perhaps? Webster's Dictionary defines eternal as "existing at all times or seeming to last forever." And for many, the question of "what to eat" may start to feel like an eternal question. Why does this happen and how do we make a shift so we don't have to worry so much about what to eat? I love the title of a book by bestselling author, Geneen Roth, "When you eat at the refrigerator, pull up a chair!" Isn't this the truth? Whether its because you end up grazing when you simply are unprepared for your next meal or you secretly sabotage your efforts because of overwhelming thoughts about what you "should" or "should not" eat, this dilemma with food and eating is common for many people. This month, I want to equip you with a critical strategy so you KNOW what to eat!
Having a plan for meals and snacks is a critical step in making sure your chair stays at the kitchen table and not at the refrigerator! Yet, taking the time to plan meals and get to the grocery store is often difficult for individuals to do consistently. Using a resource like the meal planning sheet and grocery list pictured illustrate a great starting point. For me, Sunday is the day I think through the week, making a specific plan for each night's dinner meal (based on that week's activities), along with basic ideas for breakfast, lunch and snacks for my family. Then, I check the refrigerator and pantry as I compile my grocery list for the week, and finish with a trip to the grocery store to stock up. I realize that this process may be easier said than done.
Besides being overly busy, a common obstacle I hear from clients is the frustration of not knowing what to plan for a meal, maybe because someone in their family is a picky eater. Maybe its the worry of not being able to stick to the plan and food goes to waste - so why even make a plan? For some, its just a struggle going to the grocery store because they fear they might buy something that is a trigger for overeating. There are many reasons I hear from individuals about why this process is so difficult. And, I assure you I have been there and can relate to many of these obstacles. I also know first hand that it is possible to figure out a system and a plan that works for you! And, I assure
you the benefit is not only decreasing your stress each week when you know what to eat, but also achieving consistency with your plan for eating well consistently.
I had just turned 30 years old, and someone actually told me that “if I smiled different” my wrinkles wouldn’t get as bad. Well intentioned, I’m sure, but still a ridiculous idea! Believe me; I had no intention of living the rest of my life worrying about my wrinkles, lines, etc. every time I was happy!
How is this much different than the scare tactics many use to provide nutrition information claiming that our health is at risk if we eat _______ (you can fill in the blank)? Stay with me on this…Clearly, it is essential to take care of our health and our bodies for many reasons (have energy, feel good, prevent disease, lower health care costs, etc.). But, buyers beware of what isn't entirely true. The
multibillion dollar beauty industry has done a fabulous job of this, convincing us women that something isn’t right and thus we need XYZ product to solve it.
I have witnessed, over and over in the last 25 years, how trends about what to eat and what not to eat (that we were convinced was well researched and accurate) gets turned around about a decade later. The nonfat craze from the late ‘80s was one example; and, the fact that soy foods would
prevent breast cancer in the early ‘90s was another among many. Today, the attack on sugar and gluten are popular. Seriously, sugar is NOT evil! In fact, glucose (a simple sugar) is actually essential for survival. It is the only source of fuel for your brain! And, we would not have Olympic athletes performing at the level they do without a steady supply of carbohydrates. Yet, we continue to get bombarded with this “all or nothing thinking” that sugar (and carbs; and gluten; and red meat; and …) is bad and something horrible will happen to you if you eat it at all!
Folks, the truth is “balance, variety and moderation!” I am aware that practicing those values with food consistently might seem overwhelming and difficult. If that’s you, I recommend having a registered dietitian or wellness coach work with you to remove the obstacles that are getting in the way of your health goals. Trusting in food rules (rather than yourself) may feel “safer” but is usually not addressing the true issue someone has with food, eating, and their body.
The reality is that overexposure to UV radiation in sunlight, smoking, and air pollution, along with the
natural loss of elasticity as we age, contributes to wrinkle formation – and always has (this isn’t a new concept). Similarly, overeating food (including sugar, gluten, red meat, fat, protein, fruit, etc.) along with chronic inactivity, will contribute to health problems – and always has! Don't give in to ridiculous claims and miss out on living!
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 having 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 often 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 3rdactivity, 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.
The beginning of a new year often marks a time when people want to make personal changes. It is estimated that 44% of us make New Year’s resolutions with the top 3 reported to include: 1. To lose weight; 2. Get organized; and 3. Spend less and save more. Self improvement is always a good idea! Unfortunately, studies also report that 25% of folks are unable to keep their new resolution for even one week! What is it about change that makes it so difficult? How can you make lifestyle changes that last?
The problem seems to be in our human nature. Whether someone has struggled for years with their weight – losing and gaining over and over; or, a family that relies on fast food and eating out, it
often takes more than sheer willpower to make change. It’s not about trying harder (i.e. spend more money on the latest diet), it’s about doing things different. Instead it takes a change in attitude that leads to a change in our actions that create new behaviors and habits. Following a list of “do’s”and “don’ts” for weight loss may be helpful at first, but healthy living is more than a list of resolutions. It takes a revolution, or “a fundamental change in the way of thinking about or visualizing something:
a change of paradigm”, according to the definition in Webster's dictionary.
So, you want to be healthier in 2014, or perhaps you have an important weight loss goal? What change do you need to make in your attitude? Perhaps it’s believing in yourself; being willing to change your current way of living; or, beginning to focus on the positives. I often ask clients who desire to lose weight how they would do things different right now if they were at the weight they desired. Consistently, individuals tell me that they would likely plan their meals, go to the grocery store, have different foods in their house, prepare meals, and exercise more. My response is that you CAN do all this now. So often, I hear that someone believes they need to lose the weight before they can really make these changes. What if you could challenge the negative thoughts that you “can’t do it”, and imagined that you can be that “healthy person” now?
Practicing to identify the positive things you can do really can make a difference. Also, consider
getting support from a nutritionist or in a group to help you get started with making nutrition and lifestyle changes that fit your individual needs. Being confident in yourself, rather than a weight loss product or scheme, is ultimately the health change that is revolutionary.
Val Schonberg is a Registered, Licensed Dietitian who specializes in weight management, sports nutrition, disease