Nutrition as a science is remarkably obscure and confusing. Why? Because of something called bio-individuality. Everyone’s body responds differently to a multitude of factors that contribute to our overall health. There is no one-size-fits all diet. Still, there is some misinformation about general health that has been ingrained in American culture and buying into this misinformation may be holding you back from achieving your health goals.
Quality over quantity
There is no disputing that calories matter. But if you’re worried about how many calories you’re eating, you’re focusing on the wrong thing. The issue isn’t how many calories you eat, it’s whether or not your body can readily process and use the calories you consume. If you’re living a moderately active lifestyle and eating mostly quality calories that come from real food, you shouldn’t have to worry about counting calories at all. I can’t remember the last time I thought about my calorie intake, and I’ve maintained a 25lbs weight loss from my starting average for over a year now. The most important shift you can make concerning your diet is to start eating real food that's unprocessed, chemically unchanged, and made with ingredients you recognize.
Eating fat does not make you fat
Please don’t avoid fats! Trans fat and vegetable oils are the exceptions: Avoid them at all costs! But the right types of fats from quality sources, including monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and even saturated fat, offer your body amazing benefits, such as increasing your metabolism and stimulating fat burn. Even though dietary fat is higher in calories per gram than either carbs or protein, it actually helps your body burn more calories. So don’t fall into the trap of eating a low-fat diet. To boot, your brain is more than 60% fat. Specifically, omega-3’s are vital for cognitive health and development, so don’t deprive yourself. Just remember, once again, quality is key. Great examples of quality healthy fats include avocado, coconut oil, extra-virgin olive oil, nuts, and seeds.
Cut the sugar… and flour
As Dr. Mark Hyman likes to talk about, sugar and flour (including whole wheat flour), which our body processes exactly like sugar, are the biggest roadblocks on our journey towards health. If you want to improve your overall energy levels, lose weight and avoid chronic illness, your best bet is to focus on minimizing refined sugar and foods that your body processes like refined sugar. In the event of frequent sugar spikes, your body’s insulin response is exhausted and much of the sugar you’ve consumed can’t be burned or used up. So the body resorts to storing it as fat. Balancing your blood sugar is really important to maintaining a level head and a healthy weight. If your body is craving sugar, it’s likely your blood sugar is unbalanced. Try eating a healthy serving of quality proteins and fats before you go for that candy bar. Maybe keep some organic, grass fed jerky on hand, or packets of almond butter. And if you must get your sugar fix, snack on fruit or something with a good amount of fiber in it.
Exercise, but not too much
Would you believe that avid runners (those running multiple days a week at a fast pace totaling more than 4 hours a week) have the same risk of dying as those who are extremely sedentary and exercise very rarely? When trying to get healthy and lose weight, people often start killing themselves at the gym. Don’t. Exercise, or simply moving our bodies regularly, is necessary for optimal health. But don’t run your body into the ground. Contrary to popular belief, there is a such thing as too much exercise. To get the most benefits, try doing regular short, but higher intensity workouts. And don’t avoid strength training. Building muscle helps burn stored fat. Walking, gardening, cleaning (go with non-toxic products), and other daily activities are great ways to stay active as well, so don't discount them.
- Accept your body - it’s the only one you get
If you’re living a healthy lifestyle and feel healthy and your numbers are good (blood sugar, blood pressure, etc.) you’re on the right track. Don’t believe the lie that your body should look a certain way. My motivation for eating healthy, resting, and sleeping well, all of which I still struggle with on a regular basis, is not a number on a scale or even inches lost. My motivation to live healthy is to FEEL GOOD: have energy, be productive, and be in relationship with others! The human body, if given what it needs, can correct a lot of inner turmoil, such as chronic pain, inflammation, fatigue, unhealthy weight, and sleeplessness. So, check your insecurities and notions about self-image at the door. And get pumped to feel good and strong and grounded.
If you are eating quality, real food and limiting sugar, and you still don’t feel better or aren’t losing weight, there is most likely an underlying condition your body is trying to reconcile. Unfortunately, many chronic conditions aren’t diagnosed by a conventional doctor until the condition is full blown. And even then, treatment is usually focused on suppressing symptoms, versus treating the underlying cause. Testing for key factors early on (before symptoms start stealing your quality of life) that help to identify potential issues down the road simply isn’t covered under standard insurance programs. That’s why, if you struggle with chronic issues, take a minute to look into functional medicine. Maybe even find a practitioner nearby you can chat with, to see if they’re a good fit. Make sure that whoever you use is reputable and valid. Functional medicine is all about seeking out the cause, and helping to provide your body with the things it needs to heal itself. Don't settle for a life of chronic illness.