Healthy Eating 101
As a nutritionist, it’s hard to go anywhere where people don’t want to pick your brain – on the airplane, at the grocery store, standing in line at the movies! Over time I have found that most people have the same burning questions and, unfortunately, the same misinformation. Here are the answers to the top 10 questions I get asked!
Should I cut carbs to lose weight?
If you were to ask any stranger on the street “What is the best way to lose weight?” they would most likely say avoid carbohydrates. This has been the go-to answer for years and the truth is that it will result in fast, short term weight loss. However, for most people it is not sustainable and if you are a woman or exercising, it can actually have a negative hormonal effect over time. First, remember that fruits and vegetables are carbohydrates and they should make up the majority of your day. Next, most people thrive on a moderate amount of whole grain carbs per day. If you are just starting out (and exercising), try making sure that at your main meals you are getting ~1 cup of whole grains (rice, potatoes, beans, quinoa, etc.). This is approximately 1 fist full. You may need to slightly increase it or decrease it based on your body type but this is a great starting point for most people. It will get you closer to a long term solution rather than a short term fix.
I eat healthy, do I need to take vitamins too?
This was one of the hardest things for me to come to terms with, because I really wanted to believe that we could get all of our nutrients from the food we eat. However, even if you are getting really high quality food into you every day, I find that most people benefit from a few extra vitamins & minerals. All supplements are not created the same. I would opt for a “food based” vitamin. These are supplements that deliver the nutrients in the same form they are found in nature. This tends to make them easier on your stomach (i.e. no nausea) and better absorbed by your body. Two great over the counter brands are New Chapter and Rainbow Light.
I know I’m supposed to eat more often, but I’m not hungry during the day. What should I do?
It is important to remember that eating 6 small meals a day isn’t for everyone. Check out this post to help determine how often you should be eating. Still many of us misinterpret our hunger signals, wait too long in between meals and then end up over eating. For many of us hunger isn’t your stomach growling. It can show up as a slight change in mood (not quite “hangry” but a little more easily frustrated or things just seem a little harder), trouble concentrating, lack of motivation or fatigue. Next time you are experiencing one of these symptoms, try having a small, healthy snack and see if your body was telling you it was hungry in a way you weren’t expecting.
Do I need to eat differently on days that I exercise and days that I don’t?
Elite athletes or people at the end stages of training for an endurance event need to eat differently on long training days vs. rest days. However, the average exerciser benefits from consistency rather than eating more on days that they exercise and less on days that they don’t.
I have high cholesterol, should I stop eating meat?
Dietary cholesterol is not the leading factor in body cholesterol. What that means is that the cholesterol in your food does not go into your body and automatically stick to your arteries. Instead of cutting out all dietary cholesterol, focus on adding fiber. If you shoot for 35g of fiber per day from beans, legumes, vegetables and whole grains, you should see a reduction in your cholesterol.
How much water should I be drinking?
The rule of thumb is half of your body weight in ounces. So if you weight 160 lbs. that is 80 ounces of water or 10 glasses. Check out this post for tips to sneak in more water.
A lot of nutrition bars are full of sugar – how do I pick a good one?
Look for a bar with more fiber than sugar AND/OR protein than sugar. Next, make sure that they didn’t take out the sugar but replaced it with sugar alcohols or artificial sweeteners. My favorite bars are the KIND Nuts & Spices line.
I started exercising and now I’m hungry ALL THE TIME! What should I do?
Focus on your post workout meal timing. When we exercise we use our short term energy stores in our muscle and liver. This is a very important type of energy and it is the priority for your body to refuel it immediately after you stop exercising. Make sure to have one of your meals or snacks within 30-60 minutes after you stop exercising. This will help your body recover from your workout and help curb your appetite so you don’t turn into a bottomless pit!
I can lose weight but it’s the maintenance that I struggle with. How do I maintain my weight loss?
One of the biggest misconceptions of weight loss is that there is a “weight loss zone” and a “maintenance zone.” In other words, you use one strategy to lose weight and another to maintain. The fact of the matter is there is no end date when it comes to healthy eating and exercise. If you use one technique to lose weight and then plan on using another to maintain you will most likely gain all of your weight back (and then some). When you are considering implementing new habits, it is important to consider if you can do this long term. As you consistently add in these healthy habits, you will lose weight, and when your body is at its healthiest spot, it will stop. You can read more about the myth of the maintenance zone here.
What’s the single best piece of advice you can give someone just starting to think about their nutrition?
Make sure you are having both a carbohydrate and protein at all of your meals and snacks. We tend to do a good job of this at lunch and dinner, but breakfast falls through the cracks. Protein breaks down slower than carbohydrates so it will keep you satisfied longer, stabilize your blood sugar, improve mood and help with weight loss. It is important to remember that this does not have to be animal protein. In fact, I would suggest really incorporating more vegetarian options like lentils and nuts (see the chart below). This small change is a great first step and a great reminder for even the most seasoned nutrition nerds!
* Beans and lentils have both protein and carbohydrate properties.