How Food Is More Than Fuel

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Food is a complex issue.

There’s a reason that our society struggles with weight management, and it’s not necessarily because we don’t know how to eat well. I’m sure many of us understand we’d be a whole lot healthier if we ate more whole foods and less sugar, avoided fried or processed things, drank less alcohol, and limited our soda consumption. So, why don’t we?

I’m the biggest culprit of it all– I really know a lot about how to eat well. So why isn’t my diet better?

The way we eat is not just a physical, biological process–it’s highly psychological! When we eat we are not only fulfilling our bodys’ fuel needs, but often, other emotional or psychological needs as well.
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In honor of Eating Disorder Awareness Week this week, I’m writing this article to share some insight into the complexity of eating behavior.

Adaptive Roles of One’s Diet

  1. Identity
    A person uses the way they eat to define who they are. “The skinny one,” “the fat one,” and “the health nut” are all identities that people take on having to do with the way they eat. Personally, I’ve been “the health-conscious” person to the point where I felt embarrassed to eat a food that was unhealthy or in a large portion in front of others. Coworkers would remark,”Look at Kait’s lunch, it’s always so healthy.” I’d only eat candy or burritos or fried food when I was alone, because heaven forbid someone see me eat something unhealthy and I lose that identity of being the health-conscious person.
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  2.  Distraction or Numbing Emotions
    Eating becomes a way of distracting from life’s problems when one is unable to cope. Instead of being unhappy, stressed, or burdened from the life problem, the central focus becomes one’s diet and the goal of losing weight. Sometimes people eat to “stuff” down uncomfortable feelings. In concentrating on eating, one can space out instead of focusing on the problem. I have some crazy mental association between relaxing and binge eating. If I’m stressed I need to relax so I binge…which is actually counterproductive considering that binging causes more discomfort and anxiety (i.e. more stress).
  3. Control
    When life feels out of control, eating becomes the one area that no one else can control. Sometimes our bodies become the battleground for self-assertion.
  4. Social Habits
    If you are female and you break up with your boyfriend, what do you do? Grab that pint of ice cream!
    Unknown-1Rough, stressful day at work? You need a drink….or 5.
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What characterizes an eating disorder?

There are a variety of eating disorders that exist, some more well-known than others: anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, orthorexia, purging, night eating syndrome, body dysmorphia. Do you feel immense guilt after drinking an In-N-Out milkshake? Would you still love yourself 5 pounds heavier? Do you opt out of a family dinner just because the meal isn’t the healthiest? Do you feel like certain foods have control over you or cause you to lose control?

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Eating disorders involve extreme emotions, attitudes, and behaviors surrounding weight and food issues.

Research suggests that up to 50% of the general population demonstrates problematic or disordered relationships with exercise, body, and/or food, but clinical eating disorders only occur in 1-3% of the population. The difference lies in the degree of symptoms one experiences and how much they interfere with one’s life, health, and ability to function day to day. There are some common symptoms of eating disorders like food restriction, binge eating, purging, excessive exercise, and use of diet pills and/or laxatives. Symptoms that are not as well known include basing one’s self worth or self esteem highly or exclusively on weight or body shape, or having an obsession with or high amount of anxiety surrounding certain foods, calories, or food groups.

Keep your food/body relationships healthy:

  • Avoid classifying foods as good or bad. Food doesn’t have morality; you are not good because you eat broccoli or bad because you eat pizza. There is a time and a place for all foods.
  • Limit social media time. It’s easy to get caught up in comparisons, but when most people share pictures on social media, they are sharing pictures that reflect the best versions of themselves. These posts don’t tell the whole story–the struggles, the vulnerabilities–these pictures are the highlight reel. Check out Sohee Lee’s short article called Don’t Be Fooled By Photos.
  • Be as objective as possible about physical assessments. It’s been said that one should view his or her scale weight with as much emotion as he or she would count the number of white cars in a parking lot.
  • Don’t make a habit of “punishment” workouts or diets. “I ate X so now I need to do an extra workout this week.” “I binged last night, so I’m not eating any carbs today.” Be consistent with your diet and workouts and the results will come.
  • Make a list of all your amazing qualities that are not related to your body or diet. (I’m really organized, I listen well to others, My dog loves me)
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  • Be aware and respond to your own red flags. (Isolating yourself from others, becoming secretive about food, anxiety, depression, giving a lot of emotional weight to things like your scale weight, binge eating episodes)
  • Set realistic goals and focus on your system to make progress day to day. If your goal is to lose 20 pounds in the next 4 months, focus on your plan of going to the gym 4 days a week and eating enough protein each day. I like focusing on the small steps because it allows more opportunities for success every day instead of just one big moment for ultimate success or failure 4 months from now. Read my article on goal setting to learn more.
  • Forgive yourself!
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Further Reading

Body Dysmorphia in the Fitness Industry

Why Can’t I Stick to My Diet? The What-The-Hell Effect Explained

How to Break Free From Binge Eating

The Candy’s Not Going Anywhere

Ban No Foods

How to Stop at One Cookie

When Good Fitness Habits Go Bad

What are your thoughts? Let me know!

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DIY Healthy Diet

 

The-Problems-With-Low-Calorie-Diets-Article

Many of us find ourselves with more than ideal amounts of body fat. Listening to a Physique Science Radio podcast the other day, Layne Norton said something that resounded with me; talking about the national obesity problem he stated that, contrary to what one may think, we are actually really good at losing weight. Many obese or overweight people lose a significant amount of weight at some point in their lives. Unfortunately, statistics show that over 90% will gain it back within 3 years. What’s the problem?

Sustainability

Can you see yourself eating this way in 5 years?

The best diet is the one you can stick to [forever].

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If you’ve had success (weight loss) on diet xyz but gained the weight back, that diet didn’t work. It wasn’t sustainable.

This is why I’m a fan of the “moderation” approach, also called flexible dieting or if it fits your macros (IIFYM). No food is off limits and neither is the occasional alcoholic beverage. In my experience, restricting or excluding foods from a diet tends to increase cravings for them and the chances of binging on them at some point in the future.

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Life is too short to exclude delicious foods. Sometimes, I want to enjoy a homemade spaghetti dinner with my family, a glass of wine with a fancy dinner, or a sundae with more whipped cream than ice cream. More so, I definitely do not want to feel guilty.

In this article I’m going to outline the steps I use with myself and clients to change eating habits for the better.

Steps to a Sustainable Diet

Take your time with these tasks. Spend at least one week focusing on each step, and don’t be afraid to hang out on one level for a month, a couple months, or a few years.

Step 1: Track Food Intake

Record food amounts as accurately as you can, using measuring cups or a food scale when available. Tracking food, while tedious, gets you acquainted with the amount of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, fat) associated with certain foods as well as the average amount of macronutrients and calories you consume on a day to day basis.

Tips:

  • Use a phone app such as MyFitnessPal or MyMacros+
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  • Don’t judge yourself for what or how much you eat. You are an amazing, awesome person–that has nothing to do with what or how much food you eat! Approach this like a scientist: observe your food habits with objectivity and without emotion. There are no “right” or “wrong” foods or amounts.
  • Consider purchasing a food scale that measures food in grams and ounces

Step 2: Track Food Intake + Meet Protein Goal

Continue tracking food. In addition to this, gradually increase your protein on a daily basis up to your target amount.

Protein is one of three macronutrients in food (carbohydrates and fats are the other two). Protein is what muscles are made of, and consuming protein helps fuel, build, and repair muscle during and after workouts.  Protein increases satiety, and it is also very difficult for the body to store protein as fat.

To calculate target protein, multiply current body weight in pounds by 0.8 to 1.0 (0.8 if not very active, 1.0 if you enjoy protein or workout regularly) and the product is the number of grams of protein you should eat in a day. For example, for a person who weighs 150 pounds, the daily protein goal is 120 grams if he or she does not workout regularly and 150grams if he or she does.

Protein sources (not limited to): chicken, tilapia, tuna, salmon, really any fish, eggs, egg whites, jerky, turkey, greek yogurt, cottage cheese, whey.

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Tips:

  • Center each meal around a protein source
  • Aim to consume 20-40 grams of protein at a time
  • Protein shakes or smoothies are a convenient way to get more protein
  • Make a list of protein sources you like to eat and keep your pantry stocked!

Step 3: Energy Balance and Macronutrients
Track Food +Meet Protein Goal + Meet Calorie Goal

Continue tracking your food and meeting your protein goal. Additionally, hit a daily Calorie goal. Keep reading to learn how to calculate yours.

Eric-Helms-Muscle-Strength-Nutrition-Pyramid

The foundation of the “nutrition pyramid” is energy balance. Energy refers to Calories. The goal is balancing the amount of Calories one expends during the day with the amount of Calories consumed or slightly altering them to gain or lose weight.

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To find a starting point for your daily Calories, multiply your current body weight by 13, 14, or 15, depending on your level of daily activity (low activity or sedentary job=13, high activity or active job=15). If your goal is to lose some weight, multiply by 13.

Example: 150lb X 13 = 1,950 Calories

Protein has 4 Calories (energy units) per gram, so if a 150 pound individual is eating 150 grams of protein, he or she is consuming 600 Calories of energy. Subtracting this amount from the daily Calorie goal: 1,950-600 = 1350 Calories remaining to be “spent” on the other macronutrients, carbohydrates and fats.

Step 4: Micronutrients
1 Whole Food Meal Each Day + 1 Serving of Veggies

In addition to performing the previous 3 steps’ tasks, incorporate one meal comprised of whole food ingredients each day and one serving of veggies. For bonus points, have your serving of veggies with your whole foods meal.

Whole foods: foods that contain only 1 ingredient and haven’t been processed by mankind in any way.

  • Salmon, asparagus, and a baked red potato with a little butter (real butter)
  • Eggs/egg whites, walnuts, green chard, and coffee with coconut oil
  • Salad with canned tuna, sunflower seeds, and vinaigrette

Vegetables: spinach, kale, asparagus, peas, corn, chard, squash, zucchini, broccoli, radishes, and more. Boil, roast, steam, or sauté them and season with salt, pepper, garlic, etc.

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Work up to eating a couple servings of veggies each day (most days) and consuming mostly whole foods with a few “fun” foods here and there.


Consistency, not perfection, in each of these steps will help improve your dietary habits. Keep things simple, don’t over think the minutiae, and enjoy foods you like!

For more reading, check out Sohee Lee’s Website or her How to Count Macros e-book.

What is your sustainable diet like?

Let me know if you give this a shot!