Our Bodies, Our Food
We have very little control over certain parts of our lives. Genes account for much of our behavior, physical appearance, and health history. That means that we need to grab control of the behaviors we can change in order to live a healthier, higher quality life.
The goal of this first article is to help you make some small changes that are easy to implement and can make a big difference in starting your journey to better health.
For those of us who are lucky enough to be born and raised in the US, we have choices beyond counting as well as many services to help us make choices. Unfortunately we are bombarded with tempting stimuli that might not be in our best health interest. We need to filter everything we see, hear, and read to hone in on the right choices for each of us. This has been labeled the “ the filter bubble” (1, Parieser).
The purpose of this and future articles will be to help you navigate the maze of information, and to choose the right fork when faced with a choice related to your health.
Here we go……..
TIP #1 Stop Dieting, Start Enjoying
Wikipedia has the following food-based definitions of Diet:
- Diet (nutrition), the sum of the food consumed by an organism or group
- Dieting, the deliberate selection of food to control body weight or nutrient intake
- Diet food, foods that aid in creating a diet for weight loss
- Healthy diet, the process of helping to maintain or improve overall health
Diet can refer to restriction of calories with the goal of losing weight. Diet can also refer to someone’s overall consumption of food. Although they both refer to the consumption of our food every day, they are very different in how we perceive them.
Let’s start thinking about diet in terms of what we put into our body everyday to nourish ourselves and maintain good health and try to rid ourselves of diet meaning caloric restriction.
It is true that calories ingested vs calories expended determines weight gain and loss. However 2 foods with the same calorie content can be processed by our bodies differently and may also cause our bodies to feel and behave differently.
Most people have heard the expression ‘diets don’t work’. Restricted calorie diets intended for weight loss are difficult to sustain indefinitely and often the weight is regained after the initial caloric restriction phase. On traditional diets, your body perceives that you are starving during the dieting phase so during maintenance, unless you are very diligent, it becomes easier to gain weight as your body wants to protect you from starving again. At the same time we hear that ‘diets don’t work’, we hear so many food trends; the Paleo diet, the mediterranean diet, the gluten-free diet, low carb diet, low FODMAP, and most recently the Keto diet (similar to Atkins). It is easy, even for me, to fall into the hole of “ Oh Susie feels so good on the xxx food plan, I think I will try it” or your best friend or family member is eating only yyy, doing cleanses etc. I should be doing that. Try not to regard what others are doing or saying as advice for you.
Try these things instead and remember that the goal is to simplify and maintain healthy behaviors so that easily become part of your everyday life.
1. Don’t beat yourself up, put yourself down, or consider yourself a failure for past behavior or if you are not perfect in following the rules. Mirrors and scales are dangerous — I don’t look in the mirror very often and I don’t own a scale.
2. Eat when you are hungry and stop when you are satisfied. This is a simple concept but hard to implement if it is new for you. So, spend some time ( it can take a long time so be patient with yourself) getting to know satiation feelings, e.g, you are no longer hungry but you are not stuffed.
You should really try to eat before you would describe yourself as starving and stop before you feel uncomfortably full. Pay attention to how you feel when you are getting ready to eat and as you are eating. Eat from a small plate rather than from the original container of food and make sure you are eating in a peaceful setting. So many of us are grabbing and going — fast food, energy bars, portable items and eating them in our car or shoveling the food in so as not to waste time. Eating should be a pleasant experience not associated with stress or rushing. To start, try to develop your awareness of the number of times you eat like this in a day or week.
Also, a tip to remember — it takes 20 minutes for your body to digest your food enough for you to feel full. So, if you still feel hungry when you finish that first plate of food, wait a little while before eating more. If you still feel hungry after 20 minutes, then you can eat again. You don’t need to feel as if you are being restricted. This is called mindful eating (2, Aamodt)
3. Once you feel more intune with your body, per point #2, no food is off limits. If you are truly eating mindfully, you should enjoy everything you eat. Notice if some foods cause you discomfort each time you eat them and of course, stay away from those foods. If you have actual diagnosed food allergies or issues, of course you need to pay attention to those, e.g., nuts, shellfish, gluten (diagnosed Celiac disease).
TIP # 2 Set Point
Each person has their own Set Point weight range. Set point is the weight range in which your body is programmed to function optimally. Set point theory holds that one’s body will fight to maintain that weight range. If you work to eat intuitively and mindfully, it won’t generally matter how your calories differ each day. Chances are you will remain within a 10–20 lb range. If you continuously overeat or undereat your body will resist a change away from your Set Point. When you go below your body’s natural Set Point, both appetite and metabolism adjust to try to return you to your set point. Your metabolism may slow down to try and conserve energy. Just as your metabolism will slow down when you go under your body’s Set Point, it will also increase if you go above it. The body will try to fight against the weight gain by increasing its metabolic rate and raising its temperature to try and burn off the unwanted calories.
The best way to determine your Set Point is to eat mindfully, exercise regularly, and note your weight fluctuation during this period. It behooves us to use this more as a guide to our natural weight over charts, and advice. You may feel that you want to be thinner or heavier than your Set weight range but it is in your best interest to adjust by accepting what your body is telling you rather than fighting against it. It will reduce stress and allow you to be happier (3, Thompson).
TIP # 3 Hydration
Staying balanced with hydration is a relatively easy behavioral change with big potential results. Symptoms of under-hydration include thirst, flushed skin, apathy, and discomfort (muscle cramps). With severe under-hydration, you may experience dizziness, headaches, nausea, chills and vomiting (4, Shirreffs). The common misconception is that you need to drink 64 oz of water a day. There are many beverages and foods that contribute to your hydration. Liquidy foods such as oranges, lettuce, watermelon and yogurt contribute, as do other fruits and veggies.
A lack of thirst is not an indicator of being hydrated. A better indicator is how often you urinate and what your urine color is. Urinating every 2–4 hours that is light yellow in color indicates adequate hydration. If you urinate infrequently and the color is a dark yellow, you could be at risk for dehydration (4, Shirreffs). People who exercise and/or spend a lot of time in hot environments need more fluids.
The bottom line is:
- Replace the water you lose every day from Activities of Daily Living (ADLs), sweat, heat, fluid used to rebuild cells, blood etc, and maintenance of your body temperature.
- The eight 8-ounce rule isn’t backed by science.
- Any fluid will add the necessary water replacement in your body, but water takes the blue ribbon (5, Hatfield).
Here come the simple tips to help you establish this healthy habit.
- Don’t get discouraged. Keep trying. Over the long haul staying hydrated will contribute tremendously to your health.
- If water is not palatable to you try flavoring it with lemon, lime, orange, strawberries, herbal teas,or even cucumber. You can certainly buy flavored waters but it is simple to make them at home, will cost you nothing, and does not contribute to your environmental footprint by having to purchase and dispose of plastic bottles. HANDOUT
You can also try drinking hot water by itself or with lemon, lime or other citrus. Drinking hot water may be more palatable and very soothing.
- Try not to let yourself get thirsty. Keep ahead of the game.
- Purchase a stainless steel thermos to keep filled with water, herbal tea etc. and always keep it nearby. Electrolyte drinks such as gatorade are rarely necessary if you are in good health and maintain ongoing hydration. They are expensive and many have added sugar.
- If you are in the heat for long periods, or are exercising heavily, you will need to drink more but you don’t need to measure. Listen to your body and it will tell you what you need to know.
- Pariser E. The filter bubble: What the Internet is hiding from you. London: Penguin UK; 2011.
- Aamodt, Sandra, PhD, TED TALK https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/06/07/481094825/a-neuroscientist-tackles-why-diets-make-us-fat, 2016.
- Thompson, Colleen, https://www.mirror-mirror.org/set.htm, 1997, Updated by Dr. Lauren Muhlheim and Tabitha Farrar, 2014
- Shirreffs, S.M. et al. The effects of fluid restriction on hydration status and subjective feelings in man. The British Journal of Nutrition, 91, 6, 951–958, 2004.
- Hatfield, Katie, WebMD, https://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/quest-for-hydration#4
If you are interested in connecting further feel free to contact me.
Meg Solomon ACE, ACSM Certified Health Coach and Personal Trainer