As we head into winter 2020-2021 with the coronavirus pandemic hovering over our heads, rearranging the American lifestyle, and threatening many individuals’ well-being, let’s consider what we can control in a world that feels very much the opposite. Let’s equip our bodies with the best medicine that nature provides: nutrient-dense food.
That’s right, I’m voting for food over exercise, if I’m forced by sword to choose one, and only one, to focus on this winter.
Exercise routines have been altered for many people through this pandemic and while at-home exercises are excellent alternatives to gym machine and group exercise favorites, it can be difficult to exercise at home with nonstop work and children demands or equipment that isn’t ideal. Others who have been exercising outdoors through walking, running and biking might find themselves sidelined from their cardio routines due to winter weather. Plus, too much exercise isn’t a good thing for an overstressed and exhausted person…or even a healthy, happy person…the right balance is essential for immune health.
Likewise, food impacts our immune function by raising or lowering inflammation levels and can even impact our mood, brain health and risk for chronic disease. In a perfect world, we will always rely on both fitness and nutrition for our health.
But right now, we’re not living in a perfect world…
With the threat of lockdowns, quarantines and snow storms abound this winter, I think it’s wise to get ahead of things by adjusting your meals and snacks to focus on inflammation-fighting foods so that your body has a strong immune system in place if/when your exercise plans have to change.
I’ve worked with many personal training clients who hail from Italy, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, France, Brazil, Argentina, India and the Philippines, to name a few. These individuals have varied in gender, age, ethnicity and race, but nearly all of them have lamented to me about their struggles with weight gain and fatigue since moving to America. Even when they try to control portion sizes and calories, many of them complain that they’re still bigger than ever before. The short answer to their weight gain challenges is wrapped up in one word: inflammation.
Western diets are rife with refined white carbohydrates like breads, pastries, crackers, cereals and bars, all of which promote inflammation. Western diets also center on red meat, sugar-sweetened beverages, and fried foods, not to mention bouts of alcohol consumption exceeding healthy limits for men and women.
(Need proof? Check out how alcohol consumption has changed since the pandemic began: Yikes.)
Many people try to beat the fat-hoarding that our bodies do on a western diet by resorting instead to popularized diets like low-fat, low-carb, keto, intermittent fasting, and more. Although weight loss is possible on any diet through caloric restriction alone, the aforementioned diets tend to miss out on certain essential vitamins and minerals that are optimal for health, hormonal balance and immune function.
For instance, consider the intermittent fasting diet known for improving metabolic health. The diet is more about timing of eating rather than quality of eating. Misinformed individuals might start out on this diet and presume that their “feeding windows” can be filled with as many calories as they want or whatever foods they crave. In some cases, an individual cutting calories might lose a large amount of weight while consuming mostly nutrient-poor foods. Although they are dropping weight on the scale there can still be underlying inflammation and overall poor health.
Weight loss is not always correlated with good internal health.
According to Lisa Mosconi, author of Brain Food and The XX Brain, the only diet that has been scientifically proven to improve women’s brain health is a Mediterranean diet. If you’re wondering why brain health is important to overall body health, let’s just say that Mosconi makes countless compelling, evidence-based, scientific arguments demonstrating that brain health is the epicenter of women’s hormonal health and regulation (and thereby also largely influences inflammation). In fact, according to Mosconi, more women over the age of 60 will be diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s than with breast cancer.
The brain is the dashboard for our bodies and when we eat in ways that promote its health we are also reducing inflammation and equipping our immune systems for disease prevention over the entire lifespan. Mosconi’s evidence-based research points to a Mediterranean diet full of omega fatty acids found in nuts, fatty fish and legumes as being crucial for women’s brain health. Fresh vegetables and fruits along with nutrient-dense whole grains and extra virgin olive oil are also staples of the Mediterranean diet.
Two of my favorite examples of how nutrition can play a role in our inflammation levels, brain health and hormonal balance come from Mosconi’s The XX Brain:
Mosconi cites studies that demonstrate how increased consumption of omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy can help reduce incidence rates of postpartum depression in women. She also discusses how whole cow’s milk contains more estrogens than skim or low-fat cow’s milk and thus promotes better hormonal balance and fertility for women. Mosconi explains that the skim and low-fat cow’s milk consumption promotes a higher level of male-dominant hormones in women’s bodies, tipping the scales towards fertility challenges for some.
Personally, I find this fascinating and eye-opening. Nutrition plays a huge role in the complicated web of inflammation, hormones and immune function. For that reason, I encourage any curious woman out there to pick up The XX Brain and spend some time in Chapter 9: Food Matters for Your Grey Matter and Chapter 10: Eight Steps to a Well-Nourished Brain. You will come away with a ton of new knowledge to help you improve both immune function and hormonal balance, even if you’re already well versed in women’s health.
In summary, a Mediterranean diet has been scientifically proven to focus on all the nutrients we need for optimal health and low levels of inflammation. The great news is that you can consume these foods in whatever “style” of eating you wish; intermittent fasting programs, three big meals a day, six small meals a day or whatever works best for you!
If you’re not sure where to start then check out drool-inspiring recipes on Pinterest or any one of 500 go-to Mediterranean recipes in this cookbook: The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook. Remember, just because this cuisine has been proven to improve health and reduce levels of inflammation doesn’t mean you have to throw out your other favorite foods and styles of cooking. There’s still plenty of room in a week of cooking to enjoy healthy meals of all kinds; Indian, Thai, Mexican, Italian, you name it. Just keep the focus on nutrient density this winter and into the future; we’re living in an era when our natural defenses against bacteria and viruses, not to mention chronic diseases, is even more crucial.
We often hear that moderation is key to good health. In fact, I regularly preach this. But sometimes our definitions of “moderate” can vary, and what we think is a helpful amount of a food, beverage, supplement or form of exercise, is actually harmful. I love me a glass of wine, let me tell ya what. And right now, going into month six of pregnancy, I’ve got to confess that I miss it. So, trust me when I say that I’m just as disappointed as you may be to learn that a drink a day doesn’t in fact keep the doctor away. Read on for the latest research published earlier this month…
Before I dive into the findings, I want to say that I understand this is a niche topic finding its way onto my blog, but I think it’s important that we all stay current on relevant research. It can make a difference in our health habits and intentions.
For better or worse, it takes a while for new information to change our habits. Even when repeat studies are done it can be difficult for many of us to accept something that disproves our existing beliefs or biases. As an example of how long health information can take to impact the masses, let’s look at the history of cigarettes (which I feel parallels the history of alcohol use and research).
A Lesson from The History of Cigarette Smoking
Around the end of the 19th century, cigarette smoking became popularized. At the time, doctors were largely unfamiliar with lung cancer because it was such a rare condition for someone to have. Medical professors even often told students they would likely never see a case of lung cancer!
Around the 1940s to 1950s, cigarette manufacturers became aware that smoking had negative health consequences but, trying to protect bottom lines, worked to dispute such scientific claims. This wasn’t hard to do because the public was still trying to tease apart how many emerging cardiopulmonary issues were linked solely to cigarettes and how many were attributable to other issues of the era such as asphalt dust, air pollution, exposure to gas during WWI, and long-term effects of the 1918 influenza pandemic.
After multiple studies released undeniable evidence of the negative health effects of tobacco use, some of the American public began to buy into the idea that cigarette smoking should be avoided. Even still, with evidence on the table and a growing number of lung cancer patients, in 1960 only 1/3 of American doctors believed that cigarette smoking “should be considered a major cause of lung cancer.” In fact, 43% of all doctors were smokers themselves. Now, let’s pause for a moment to think about how this situation created a medical bias, misinformation for patients, and a preservation of a smoking culture for many more decades.
*Pause for contemplating*
To this day, cigarettes cause 1.5-2 million deaths per year, 95% of which are believed to be entirely preventable. And we know they’re bad for us.
Alcohol Consumption is up Against an Even Greater Public Challenge for Two Reasons:
1) Alcohol has been around much longer than cigarettes. Alcohol is frequently referenced as far back as the Bible; both its abuse and its use for celebratory and spiritual occasions. Alcohol is highly cultural and prevalent throughout human history.
2) Studies on alcohol render conflicting results. For a long time, it was difficult to determine how “moderate alcohol consumption” should be defined. Even then, moderate consumption has rendered differing results; correlated with positive cardiovascular health effects (to the extent that some doctors have recommended a drink a day for certain patients) but negative impacts on cancer rates and conditions.
This is confusing stuff!
How much is okay? How much can we drink in moderation? And if we drink in moderation, is it possible to do so without drastically raising the risk of getting cancer?
The Study that Addresses Many of Our Burning Questions:
The latest study on the pros vs cons of moderate alcohol consumption was published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research. Researchers felt compelled to analyze the effects of moderate daily drinking (defined as 1-2 alcoholic drinks) on overall mortality rates because of conflicting research showing that moderate drinking is beneficial to cardiovascular health but simultaneously raises the risk of cancer.
The researchers analyzed two data sets; one of 340,000+ people from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) and another of 93,000+ people from the Veterans Health Administration (VA). Both data sets were analyzed for associations between the frequency of moderate drinking (1-2 drinks at a time) and overall mortality.
Researchers found that moderate drinking (again, defined as 1-2 drinks) four or more times per week increases the risk of premature death by a whopping 20% across all age groups, both genders and non-smokers. These results were consistent across both data sets with very different populations (NHIS vs VA). This is fairly shocking because these findings refute what current guidelines say is healthy; 1-2 drinks/day. In other words, daily drinking cancels out the positive benefits for cardiovascular health and poses serious risks.
Moderate drinking with low levels of frequency is deemed safer than daily moderate drinking. The study discovered that moderate drinking (1-2 drinks) approximately three times a week or less is considered a safe range. With regards to overall cancer risk, abstinence from alcohol is the best bet.
Another recent study, published by The Lancet, evaluated over 700 studies on alcohol consumption from around the world and concluded that “no level of alcohol consumption improves health.” This study looked at both moderate and binge drinking.
Implications for the Future
It’s becoming more apparent that our culture’s enjoyment of alcohol is largely detrimental to our health. With these new studies emerging, doctors may suggest patients with heart health concerns have an occasional drink to help cardiovascular function but avoid daily drinking. More doctors will likely advise people to cut way down on alcohol consumption, especially patients with a personal or family history of cancer. Again, the safest consumption level is none followed by no more than three days a week consuming 1-2 alcoholic beverages at a time.
My personal stance:
I don’t plan on giving up my red wine entirely but I will definitely take this new information into consideration if I feel like I’m slipping into the habit of pouring myself a glass to unwind at the end of every day. I will keep myself in check and make sure I’m not drinking in moderation more than three days a week. Thankfully, this is fairly in line with my current alcohol habits. But, my eyes have been opened and I will be more cautious moving forward. That’s how I’m planning to use this information based on my individual health, family cancer risk factors, *and* enjoyment of a good Cabernet. But first, getting through my 9-10 months of sobriety in pregnancy.
How do you plan to adapt your drinking habits? What do you need to do?
As a culture, we fall into a pattern of focusing on the dangers of being overweight. Supplement companies and exercise brands play on heartstrings as they dangle images of lean, fit individuals in trendy fitness apparel racing down the street or pleasantly sipping a shake. Many people (women AND men) quest after that “fit” look and think the skinnier, the better. But this is a delusion. There are some major pitfalls of being really skinny, both for people who have achieved this through diet and exercise and for people who are naturally slender.
When a woman’s BMI is less than 18.5 she is at a heightened risk for numerous ailments and chronic conditions…we’re even talking death. Skinny isn’t always healthy! So think again the next time you’re feeling envy monsters growling and baring their teeth inside you when your super skinny friend constantly eats junk food or skips the gym “without consequence.” I’m telling you, there’s more to the story underneath. It will eventually show up.
Oh – another kind-of-crazy note is that those friends of yours who can eat a ton and never exercise (while staying rail thin) might have a genetic deviation from the general population that makes it harder for them to absorb nutrients. In other words, they’re eating a ton and their body isn’t gleaning the stuff it needs from all that food, putting them in a position of greater susceptibility to internal health problems. Suddenly, those friends aren’t as enviable. Am I right?
Here are the top (very serious) risks of being too thin:
Low-calorie diets are associated with bone loss because of a lack of nutrients to support estrogen. When estrogen takes a major dive, bones can become brittle and experience density loss. Also, if someone is on a low-calorie diet because of the desire to be skinny then they’re less likely to be incorporating healthy weight training out of the misplaced fear of being “bulky.” Weight training can help prevent some bone less plus it won’t make women bulky.
Women at a low BMI are more prone to amenorrhea or irregular cycles which means they’re either not ovulating regularly or may have trouble with their uterine lining. Additionally, they may be more likely to experience miscarriage. Science Daily says, “Women who have a low body mass index before they become pregnant are 72 percent more likely to suffer a miscarriage in the first three months of pregnancy, but can reduce their risk significantly by taking supplements and eating fresh fruit and vegetables.”
This is pretty upsetting stuff. As a woman who has one child and in the process of trying for a second has suffered a miscarriage, I wouldn’t wish this loss on anyone. It’s extremely devastating even though the vast majority of cases of early pregnancy loss are for reasons that can’t be identified. One doctor explains, “The majority of the time miscarriage is a random, isolated event and we can’t pinpoint a cause.” That said, if you know that you have a risk factor while TTC (including low BMI, an immunologic disorder, uterine or cervix abnormalities, current smoker and/or PCOS, to name a few), it’s worth speaking to a health professional about how you can help your body and reduce your risks.
If you think fertility at a low BMI is only a female challenge then you’re mistaken – men with low BMIs are 22x more likely to have a sexual dysfuntion than their healthy-weight peers. Eeerr…you can read here about more of those details.
When someone isn’t consuming enough nutrients they become more susceptible to anemia, a condition of red blood cell and/or hemoglobin deficiency. When the red blood cells don’t have enough iron, B-12 and folate to do their thing (i.e., support oxygen transport throughout the body and carbon dioxide transport to the lungs), a person’s entire body suffers. For obvious reasons. Anemia is marked by low energy and fatigue and routinely goes hand in hand with amenhorrea. Making sure your body is getting REAL nutrition is key no matter what weight you are.
Lowered Immune System
A lack of nutrients due to low-calorie diets and/or inadequate absorption means that a person is more likely to become immune compromised. A steady, strong supply of nutrients helps support gut health and immune function. People with lowered immune systems are more likely to contract seasonal viruses and bacteria and may also be at a heightened risk for serious illnesses such as cancer.
NOTE: People can also overeat but still have poor nutrient density in their diets – so lowered immune function isn’t just a consequence for people who are too skinny. This applies to everyone making poor dietary choices. Our bodies need fresh, nutritious, quality foods to thrive!
Heart Disease & Diabetes
Kind of surprising that the risk for heart disease and diabetes is high for really skinny people in addition to obese individuals, right? The tricky thing about being thin is that it can give people a false sense of confidence in their health, especially in cases where they’re not taking care of themselves through a healthy lifestyle. Some skinny people may assume they’re healthy thanks to their weight and continue to eat unhealthy foods, skip medical checkups and opt out of the gym. All of this can make for a silent, raging storm under the surface.
Also, there’s a genetic variant that causes some lean people to store more fat directly around their organs, giving them the appearance of being healthy while hiding their heightened risk for heart and organ issues:
“A new study hints that being lean doesn’t get you entirely off the health hook either. In a genetic analysis involving more than 75,000 people, an international group of scientists led by Ruth Loos at the Medical Research Council in the U.K. found that lean people with a specific genetic variant were at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease despite their lower body fat.”
As you can see, being too skinny can carry some risks with it. What’s important is that we’re tuned into our internal health instead of relying on our external health as the only indicator of what’s going on in our bodies. Our weight is only a piece of the puzzle. Only a fraction of what makes us truly healthy.
Perhaps it’s TMI…but this past summer after weaning my son, my hormones went bonkers. Not just for a month or two. For a while. And it drove me INSANE. Per usual, frustrating experiences with my health cause me to dig my feet into the ground a little harder and push like a bull-headed Taurus (which I am) to find information and natural remedies to help my body. The experience catapulted my understanding about several female hormones and how we can help them normalize.
Upon opening up about my own experiences, I discovered a trove of women dealing with equally pesky ups and downs with female hormones. And not all of them were moms who had recently stopped breastfeeding. Some of these women were trying to conceive and others were simply adjusting to new norms as they inched closer to 40 or 50 years old. Still others were feeling the uncomfortable symptoms of severe menstrual cramps, bloating and acne every month, or extremely long and heavy menstrual cycles. All of these women, in different walks of life, made me realize that very few of us actually know how to help our bodies find hormonal balance and wellness. While it’s true that we can’t control every aspect of our hormones, there’s still a lot we can do to take over the reigns. (Frequently, this kind of holistic advice isn’t readily available or discussed. We have to go hunting for it.)
So, here are the three hormones that can cause us woes and foods we can eat to help them find balance in our bodies:
These hormones play a major role “in a wide range of body functions such as the contraction and relaxation of smooth muscle, the dilation and constriction of blood vessels, control of blood pressure, and modulation of inflammation.” Prostaglandins are also involved in the start of labor for pregnant women, causing the uterus to contract. In fact, semen contains a lot of prostaglandins in it and may be one of the reasons that sex around the timing of one’s due date is said to jump start labor for some women. Forgive me, I had to throw out that weird but interesting factoid. Lastly, prostaglandins play a major role in inflammation in the pelvic region, especially. An imbalance of the different types of prostaglandins (PgE1, Pg E2 & PgE3) can lead to increased local inflammation and heavy menstrual cramps.
Prostaglandins can become out of balance and cause pesky, painful PMS symptoms when fatty acid supplies are too low. Essential fatty acids include both Omega-6 fatty acids and Omega-3 fatty acids, and they operate best in our bodies when they’re in balance with one another. When fatty acids are available within the body, The Center of Genetics, Nutrition and Health (based in Washington, DC) has found additional benefits for the reduction of breast cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and asthma! This is pretty mind-blowing and awesome (to me). So, even if your menstrual cycles are pain free and regular, there are still many benefits to eating a diet with plenty of fatty acids of both kinds. But note: Most people are deficient in Omega-3s and need to eat more foods chocked full of them. This begs the next question; Where can we find these foods?
If you’re hesitant about adding any of these important Omega-3 foods to your grocery list then you can check out one of two convenient options for an Omega-3 boost to your system:
Oatmega – a protein/snack bar full of fish oils that comes in a variety of flavors (don’t worry, you can’t taste the fish oil)
Daily Harvest – a monthly, smoothie-delivery company that has creative, delicious and healthy ingredients, and several smoothie flavors that include omega-rich foods (I’m debating stocking my freezer full of these yum-yums)
For a long time women have naturally assumed that the aging process is accompanied by a precipitous decline in estrogen as we creep towards menopause (or sometimes fall headfirst into it). We hear that the older we get the less estrogen we have. In fact, by about 50 years old, women have approximately 35% less estrogen than they did in their “younger years.” But that’s not the full picture of what’s happening in our bodies…
As the female aging process begins around 35 years old (i.e., when fertility shifts due to changing hormones), women experience a much more dramatic dip in progesterone than estrogen. Progesterone actually drops by approximately 75% (!!!!!!) in the same amount of time that estrogen drops by 35%. This creates an imbalance in the two hormones that unfortunately leads to estrogen dominance. And “ED” isn’t any fun. Trust me, after weaning my son my hormones swung hard one direction (low estrogen) and then right back the other way (high estrogen). Both ends of the spectrum feel pretty crappy. Let’s just be honest.
You see, estrogen is kept in check by progesterone, especially in the latter half of our menstrual cycles. When estrogen is allowed to “run rampant” it likes to take our bodies on a wild ride. Large spikes in estrogen (both right before ovulation and a handful of days after) can leave us experiencing all sorts of uncomfortable symptoms.
*Some* Signs of Estrogen Dominance:
Increased weight gain, especially around the middle
Insomnia or sleep disturbances
*Other Conditions That Science Suggests May Be Caused (in part) by Estrogen Dominance: Endometriosis, Fibroids, Fibrocystic Breasts, Cervical Dysplasia, Breast/Uterine/Ovarian Cancer.
(*remember, this is typically the opposite of what people need)
Farm-raised, non-organic eggs, meat, fish and dairy products
Sugary and processed foods – caloric overload in our diets increases fat mass in the body which leads to estrogen overload (same applies to overeating any foods but sugar and processed foods often have “empty calories” that add up quickly)
Produce that has been sprayed with heavy pesticides
Soy products, especially when processed
Drinking from plastic water bottles – a recent widespread study was conducted investigating major brands like Aquafina, Dasani and Nestle, and found on average 15 free-floating plastic particles in each bottle (I don’t want to drink plastic! If only I could find a crying emoji to put in here…)
For foods that help keep estrogen in check, read on to the next section…
If you read the section about estrogen, it becomes glaringly apparent why progesterone is so important for women’s health. You’ll also remember that we discussed how much progesterone drops at a ridiculous rate as we women age. Why must every stage of life be complicated as a woman? Seriously. But the good news is that there are LOTS of foods that can help boost progesterone – and they come with a plethora of other health benefits, too.
Please note that progesterone can be too high for some women, although this is a bit less common than estrogen dominance which afflicts many women who are overweight, over-stressed and/or between the ages of 35-60.
*Note: None of these foods contain progesterone per say, but they have the nutrients required for supporting the hormone’s production in the body, and many of us could use MORE of this particular hormone.
Olive oil & olives
Coconut oil or butter
Avocado – also on fruit list
Nuts, Legumes & Seeds:
I hope this is helpful information for you whether you’re a woman hoping to be expecting some day or a woman trying to understand the yo-yo of hormones that IS perimenopause. Godspeed to us all!
I opened my email inbox the other month and had a newsletter from a health professional in my network. I clicked through to read what she had to say about the germ-infused winter season and immediately felt my insides prickle. She said that we need to start pointing the finger of blame back at ourselves when we’re sick, citing that our immune systems aren’t doing their jobs because of physical and mental stresses that we aren’t keeping in check. I like this health professional and trust her a lot. I get her point. But I can’t agree with her.
Yes, it’s true that our immune systems are the foundation for our health. And we have a lot of control over how resilient (or not) our gut health is based on what we eat and how healthfully we live. But it’s also true that there are quite a few things out of our control from one season of life to the next. Take me as an example…
This past winter I cut way down on alcohol and caffeine, started sleeping longer every night, and replaced lots of household products with plant-based, plastic-free, fragrance-and-dye-free alternatives. I also dialed down my high-stress workouts and replaced them with some yoga and plenty of quality strength training for hormonal balance. Lastly, I’ve stuck to my routine of eating plenty of fruits/veggies, whole grains and lean protein, but added a boost of healthy fats to balance out omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in my diet. All of these lifestyle choices would suggest that my immune system should be fairly strong. Maybe even ironclad. Right? Wellll…
Ironically, winter 2017-2018 was not just a miserable flu season in America but also a miserable time in my household. I got sick more in the last few months than in the last 10 years combined. Three stomach bugs, countless colds and sore throats, and hormones responding to the inflammation by bouncing all over the place. Needless to say, my complexion went down the tank, too. I’ve been looking like I just hit puberty lately. Lol.
“But I’m trying so hard to be healthy!” my mind has been screaming. “This isn’t fair!” Sometimes, it’s not enough. Sometimes, toddlers aren’t good about covering their sneezes and you end up with projectile snot literally in your mouth. Enjoy that visual. Sometimes, stressful life events occur like family deaths, job changes, seasons of travel, and physical injury. The list goes on. Sometimes, life just isn’t under our control. And that’s okay. Because nature didn’t intend for our bodies to be perfect. It intended for them to be flexible and resilient.
(Random aside: I took strange comfort in Lindsey Vonn’s reaction to falling short of the podium in the 2018 Olympics; she reflected on how one moment in life you’re on top and then things can change quickly. The fact that even the most impressive athletes in the world are not removed from struggle demonstrates how connected we are as humans in our plight. It’s nothing to badger ourselves over or feel shameful about.)
The idea that our health should be perfect sets us up for false expectations and failure. It’s the reason why people come into the gym and think they have to hold themselves to a lofty standard of exercising every day or else they’re falling short. And then they quit because of the fear of failure. If perfect health is as easy as following “all the right steps” then why do healthy and active individuals get cancer? Why do we get sick when we’re actually eating healthier than ever before? Why are we more prone to injuries and wrinkles as we age? We can eat all the health-food-junkie products on the planet and exercise every day, and we will STILL fall ill at times. We will still have moments of weakness and pain. And that’s okay, too. This is normal. I’m telling you: THIS IS NORMAL. Because perfect health doesn’t exist.
Our DNA isn’t stagnant. I’ve talked about this before. It ebbs and flows just like our gut health does. In this way, Mother Nature designed us to be able to respond to life’s inevitable challenges on a cellular level. You see, our DNA expresses itself differently under varying degrees of inflammation and stress. Sometimes, there’s little we can do to control the way that certain genes express themselves because we may be more predisposed to a health condition according to our genetics. While it’s true that there are lots of gene-testing services out there, many people are still unaware of their own situation and what they are more (or less) predisposed to. But we don’t necessarily have to know all the answers up front… if we’re willing to live in wellness.
When we’re dedicated to being flexible in body, mind and spirit, we open ourselves up to transformation throughout the lifespan. Staying active about self-care is all we can control. We get the privilege of choice in our lives! And I like to think that makes us a lot more powerful than perfectly-designed, stagnant beings.
One of my favorite quotes of all time by Michael J. Fox:
Choose a healthy lifestyle because it will help you through the inevitable challenges ahead, not because you think it will clear your path of all obstacles.
Just to be clear, I’m not a raving fan of eating at fast-food establishments on a regular basis, buuuutttttt I’ve found that I have more lately. Why? I moved to a new area that has fewer grab-and-go, order-at-the-register, local eats and a whole lot more chain restaurants. Sweet Green, where art thou?!? I was pretty bitter at first, feeling like I only had two options: 1) eat at home or 2) go to a sit-down restaurant. But then I opened my mind a little, looked at the menus of restaurants I used to curse under my breath, and discovered a few really awesome, quick options for meals on-the-go or when I just can’t bring myself to cook salmon, broccoli and quinoa again.
So, here’s the roundup of fast-foody chains: Starbuck’s, Chick-Fil-A, Chipotle, Tropical Smoothie and…drum roll, please…McDonald’s.
Funny story. I spent three years living in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of DC, exactly one block from McDonald’s. I swore when I moved there that I would never set foot inside it, even when occasionally stumbling back from bars in my early 20s. And I didn’t. A while later, my husband and I owned a town home near a DC metro stop, once again just a couple blocks away from the golden arches. In all five years of living there, I went to McDonald’s only a handful of times, typically to grab a quick breakfast and coffee when getting up early for a road trip. So, the fact that I’ve been to McD’s as many times in 8 months as 8 years…*gulp*… is a bit scary sounding.
I’m not saying fast food is ideal for your body’s health. But I AM saying that the eats I’ve found below aren’t too bad, either. In fact, these five little go-to’s have gotten me through moving with my family to a new area and adjusting from city to suburban life. And guess what? I’ve LOST five pounds since moving even though I don’t have easy access to lots of farm-to-table restaurants like I used to, and even though I don’t have to take my dog on twice-a-day walks to go #2. She has a yard full of squirrels and chipmunks to chase now! The point is: Even in a world full of fast-food chains, WE HAVE A CHOICE TO MAKE. We don’t have to choose the unhealthy stuff. Even when we’re in a rush. Even when we’re low on cash. Even when we are airport hopping due to work travel. We CAN find a way to be healthy. If we put in the effort.
My 5 Favorite *Mostly* Healthy, Low-Calorie Eats at Fast Food Places:
Starbucks; Protein Bistro Box
“A hard‐boiled cage free egg, sliced tart apples, grapes, and white Cheddar cheese served with multigrain muesli bread and honeyed peanut butter.”
Calories: 370 | Total Fat: 19 g | Dietary Fiber: 5 g | Sugars: 18 g | Protein: 13 g
Likes: I love that this meal packs in meatless protein, making it a great option for carnivores and vegetarians alike. And since there are Starbucks on basically every city block and in every airport, this protein box is easy to find for a heavy snack or light meal. It definitely beats getting a scone. I even let my toddler eat half of it sometimes!
Dislikes: I don’t love that this meal is 18 grams of sugar but, at the same time, it’s almost all from the fruit so the sugar is natural. Also, if you’re sensitive to gluten, dairy or peanut butter, this little meal probably isn’t a great choice.
Chick-Fil-A; Grilled Chicken Cool Wrap
“Sliced grilled chicken breast, nestled in a fresh mix of Green Leaf lettuce, petite red and green lettuce, and shredded green cabbage with a blend of shredded Monterey Jack and Cheddar cheeses, tightly rolled in a flaxseed flour flat bread. Made fresh daily.”
Calories: 350 | Total Fat: 14 g | Dietary Fiber: 15 g | Sugars: 3 g | Protein: 37 g
Likes: This meal is FULL of protein for very few calories. Woot woot! It’s also packed with fiber and low in sugar. The mix of greens, flaxseed flour and grilled chicken mean it’s also nutritious. It’s a pretty stellar combination for a grab-and-go lunch, if you ask me.
Dislikes: The pros of the cool wrap can be easily outweighed when paired with french fries, soft beverages, and dressing toppings. Any time you enter a fast food establishment you must APPROACH WITH CAUTION.
Chipotle; Salad Bowl with Chicken
Make-your-own salad bowl topped with; romaine lettuce, chicken, black beans, fajita vegetables, fresh tomato salsa, and tomatillo-green chili salsa.
Calories: 380 | Total Fat: 8.5 g | Dietary Fiber: 10 g | Sugars: 8 g | Protein: 42 g
Likes: I appreciate that Chipotle comes with options. So while my husband woofs down a burrito, I have lighter meals at my disposal. This combo of ingredients for the salad bowl is my go-to when it comes to Chipotle. It’s full of vitamins A and C, and gives me a solid boost of iron. Not bad on calories either, right? This meal stays low-calorie by avoiding calorie-laden toppings like cheese, sour cream, queso, and rice. Heck, if you’re really hungry just throw some healthy guacamole on top for an extra 200 calories and stay satiated for even longer!
Dislikes: It’s extremely tempting to dive into the lime-salted chip bag of the Chipotle kingdom. They’re so good. But the salad bowl is already chocked full of sodium (1485 grams!), so tread lightly. And drink plenty of water.
“This smoothie is made with spinach, kale, mango, pineapple, banana, and fresh ginger.”
Calories: 180 | Total Fat: 0 g | Dietary Fiber: 5 g | Sugars: 29 g | Protein: 4 g
Likes: I love that this smoothie packs in power veggies like spinach and kale. The ginger gives it a zing and is great for digestion. Believe it or not, this smoothie is actually far lower in overall calories and sugar than the vast majority of the other ones on the menu. People love to think of any “smoothie” as healthy, but some of Tropical Smoothie’s drinks have up to 780 calories and over 100 grams of sugar! Yikes! Stick with this one or another lower calorie/sugar option. Your tummy will thank you for not destroying your gut health with sugar overload.
Dislikes: It’s important to mention that you don’t want added sugars or sweeteners with smoothies. Don’t forget this crucial step when ordering or you’ll end up with something that is less healthy than you planned. Also, if you want to make this low calorie smoothie into a meal, choose your wrap, salad or flatbread carefully. Calories can quickly add up, especially when a smoothie + sandwich combo results in a “free” cookie or bag of chips. They get me nearly every time with those Salt & Vinegar chips, darn it!
McDonald’s; Fruit & Maple Oatmeal w/o Brown Sugar
“Our oatmeal starts with two full servings of whole-grain oats and a touch of cream. Loaded with red and green apples, cranberries and two varieties of raisins. And you can have it just how you like it, with or without brown sugar.”
Calories: 290 | Total Fat: 4.5 g | Dietary Fiber: 5 g | Sugars: 18 g | Protein: 5 g
Likes: This oatmeal really sticks to my ribs. It fills me up and was a lifesaver when we were moving into our new home this summer, kitchen cupboards empty and entering each day in a craze (plowing through as much work as possible while the toddler was under Grandma’s care).
Dislikes: When topped with brown sugar, this oatmeal quickly skyrockets in sugar; up to 33 grams! Also, the oatmeal is a mix of slow-cooked and instant oats, meaning it’s not *quite* as healthy as it could be…but that’s fast food for ya.
Again, I’m not saying everyone should live off fast food. I try to keep it to a minimum in my diet, but every now and then, it’s helpful to know where to find healthy fast-food eats. They’re out there. Just gotta find ’em.
Today, I’m excited to introduce you to Nicole Dell’Aquila. Nicole has been a Registered Dietitian for 14 years and is here today to share her insights and resources on intermittent fasting (IF). Intermittent fasting has become a hot topic in the health and wellness space recently, but it’s surprising how few people know what’s really involved with it (including yours truly).
I decided it was time to bring in a professional to answer all of our burning questions. And WOW – I’m amazed by everything she has to share on the topic! I’ve never been a fan of saying everyone should adhere to the same workout or nutrition plan, but I always thought of intermittent fasting as a trend, and a bit dangerous. But my eyes have been opened! And truth be told, I will definitely consider giving this a try at some point.
1) What is intermittent fasting? Are there different kinds?
Intermittent Fasting (IF) is a way of eating that alternates windows of fasting (not eating) and feeding (taking in nutrition). It’s not a diet or a trend, but a lifestyle. There are no lists of foods to avoid; no measuring points or portions, and no counting calories. It’s not about WHAT you eat but more about WHEN you eat!
If you think about it, all of us “fast” every single day – you do sleep… don’t you? Intermittent fasting just means extending that fasting window and making your nutrition count during your feeding/eating window. There are a few different methods of incorporating IF into you lifestyle. No one way is right for everyone and a combination of methods actually becomes rather easy when you restore the ability to listen to and recognize bodily cues. All of the methods combine splitting days and weeks into fasting and feeding windows. During your fasting window, you are not eating or drinking anything that contains calories or induces an insulin response. During your eating window, you are not tied to a list of forbidden foods but are encouraged to focus on good quality nutrition.
You may be wondering… Is this the same as starvation? Absolutely not. Fasting is a completely voluntary restriction of nutrition for spiritual, health, and/or other reasons. Starvation, on the other hand, is not voluntary, controlled or deliberate. There is a lack of available food with starvation versus our 24/7 access to plentiful calories in modern day, developed countries.
2) How is intermittent fasting done?
There are a number of methods to IF but today we will discuss the three most common: The 16:8 Method, The OMAD Method, and The 5:2 Method.
The 16:8 Method requires you to fast 16 hours out of a 24 hour day, leaving an 8-hour feeding window. Most people find this method the easiest to incorporate into their initial introduction to IF. For example, you finish eating dinner by 8 pm, skip breakfast the next morning, and have your first meal after 12 pm the next day. Based on your lifestyle needs, you can move the window earlier or later but need to maintain that 16:8 pattern. If 16 hours is too difficult at first, push the window to 12-hour fasting and 12-hour feeding windows.
The OMAD Method or “One Meal A Day”:
With this method, you eat dinner (or any meal of your choosing) and then start your fasting window for a full 24 hours, ending your fast with dinner the next day. Some refer to it as the 23:1 method. It’s simple; you eat all your calories in one setting. No fancy meal plan or confusing dietary advice, just eat one meal a day, 24 hours apart.
You’re probably wondering how you could get through a whole day without eating… I mean, where will you get your energy? In fact, many OMAD participants report feeling more energized and focused on their tasks, leading to increased efficiency and productivity. They don’t find themselves slumped over their desk at 2 pm craving coffee and cookies (sound familiar?). For the fasting period, hydration is very important. You can drink water, black coffee, tea, mineral water, and bone broths.
*Avoid diet soda, tonic water, coconut water, or fruit juice to make your OMAD fast a success. These beverages contain sugar and will void your fast.
This method requires some planning and measuring. You eat 500-600 calories on 2 non-consecutive days of the week and eat your normal diet the remaining 5 days. I don’t recommend this method often since it involves calorie counting; most people tend to underestimate the calories they eat and drink.
You are probably wondering what you could eat when restricted to 500-600 calories for the day. Well, in theory, you can have whatever you’d like, as long as you don’t go over the calorie limit. To prevent those pesky hunger pangs, we suggest you eat foods that are high in fiber and water, and which are lower in calories. Pick foods like green leafy veggies; salads with vinegar or lemon juice dressings, soups with a heavy vegetable base, small portions of lean proteins like chicken/salmon, and/or eggs. Avoid highly processed carbohydrates and sugary foods to reduce insulin spikes and intense cravings. If you need something sweet on your fasting days, have a small bowl of berries. Just like the other fasting methods mentioned, hydration is very important.
3) What are the benefits to intermittent fasting? Is there any research that currently supports this?
One major benefit of IF includes a simplified lifestyle. Imagine waking up for work, drinking your coffee or tea, and leaving without scrambling around looking for something to eat before you get stuck in rush hour traffic. Not focusing on the clock to schedule your “6 smalls meals a day” can be liberating for some people.
Another benefit is that IF is more biologically how we are supposed to eat rather than the 3-4+ meals we have become accustomed to. This style of eating can result in effortless weight loss, improved brain health, reduced chronic inflammation, improved insulin sensitivity, and even longevity benefits.
The most common reason people are interested in fasting is for the weight loss benefits. Because of the fasting windows, you naturally take in less calories overall. In addition to taking in fewer calories on average, your hormone levels begin to normalize. This contributes to weight loss, too. IF can decrease insulin levels and allow more stored fat to be mobilized and converted to ketone bodies for energy use. IF can also increase your human growth hormone or HGH. The levels of HGH skyrocket, increasing as much as 5 times during intermittent fasting. This benefits both muscle growth and fat loss, and has a favorable effect on metabolism; increasing it anywhere from 3.6-14%!
Intermittent Fasting can have a profound impact on the health of your brain, too. We once believed that we were stuck with the brain we had… Once brain cells died…well, that’s it… Through science, we now know that the brain CAN repair itself through a process called neuroplasticity. Decreasing your energy intake by fasting several days a week might help your brain ward off neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s while at the same time improving memory and mood through an increased production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF. When your brain senses ketones being used for energy, an increase in BDNF takes place. Ketone production has been shown to improve memory in people with early signs of dementia in as soon as 6 weeks.
As you are likely aware, chronic inflammation, often a result of poor lifestyle choices, is the cornerstone of many preventable diseases. It’s believed fasting may assist in managing inflammation by changing how certain compounds and proteins interact with each other, inhibiting inflammatory pathways. We see a reduction in inflammatory biomarkers, such as C-reactive protein, homocysteine and cholesterol ratios. There’s also increasing research supporting the effectiveness of fasting in helping to manage inflammatory conditions such as type 2 diabetes, and autoimmune conditions such as MS and rheumatoid arthritis.
The head of the National Institute on Aging’s neuroscience laboratory, Mark Mattson, says the mild stress that intermittent fasting puts on the body provides a constant threat. This increases the body’s powerful cellular defenses against potential molecular damage. Intermittent fasting also stimulates the body to maintain and repair tissues. Its anti-aging benefits keep every organ and cell functioning effectively and efficiently.
4) Are there any risks to intermittent fasting? If so, what are they?
While getting used to this way of eating, you may initially experience some not-so-pleasant symptoms, namely hunger… or what you initially think is hunger. You may feel a little sluggish, irritable, weak, or even sense a lack of brain power. These symptoms are all common when starting IF, but they will pass. Your body has been programmed for so long to eat breakfast at 8 am, so by 9 am the entire room can hear your belly growling. Just like you adapt to a new workout or even a time zone change, your body gets used to being nourished on a different schedule. Work at it until it becomes natural!
With that being said, there are a few problems that occur with fasting, though. The most common are constipation, headaches and hunger pangs. There are strategies to deal with these symptoms. For example, I recommend initiating a low-carbohydrate diet leading up to your fasting window and using your feeding windows to consume fiber-rich foods that reduce the risk of constipation and hunger pangs.
There are also a number of medications that need to be taken with food and need to be discussed with your physician. For those with Type 2 diabetes, who are taking medications to control blood sugar levels, intermittent fasting of any kind will increase risk of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Working with your physician or dietitian on safely reducing medications and receiving proper education significantly reduces the risk of hypoglycemic episodes. Anything more serious than that is not part of normal fasting and should be discussed with your physician or dietitian.
5) Who is intermittent fasting appropriate for? Why?
IF can safely be done by most healthy people. It is biologically how we were designed to receive nutrition.
It’s also great for people with a busy schedule, freeing up time for more productive things in your life. You can take the focus away from constantly planning for meals and snacks, and make more time for exercise (that you can also do in a fasted state… wink wink). Remember, IF isn’t a diet but a way of life! It’s not a fad or a trend, and has been around for as long as humankind has existed. If you’ve tried other methods of weight loss without much success, IF may be right for you.
6) Who should NOT do intermittent fasting? Why?
There are situations in which you should not partake in IF. Those include:
If you are underweight or malnourished. In those with a BMI <20 or with suspected malnutrition, it is more important to correct nutrient deficiencies and maintain/attain a healthy weight. Lifestyle changes that include better nutrition take time and coaching. It is important to understand the body’s need for good quality nutrition, and not think of fasting as a magic cure.
Have a history of an eating disorder. IF may trigger negative behaviors in individuals with a history of unhealthy calorie restriction (anorexia), over eating, binge/purge cycles (bulemia) or body dysmorphia.
Take certain medications like those to lower your blood glucose. IF can be done with these types of medications but you need to be closely monitored for potentially dangerous hypoglycemic episodes.
Are pregnant, trying to conceive, or nursing. Your body needs regular consistent calorie intake to support a growing fetus and the demands of nursing. Women also react differently to IF when their hormones are not is a state of homeostasis. It would be unethical to conduct research of the effects of fasting on pregnant women so there is limited information on the effects fasting has on the fetus.
If you are a female with amenorrhea. In this case, it is imperative you get to the root cause of the loss of menstruation before any intermittent fasting can be done safely.
7) Why is intermittent fasting becoming so popular? Why now?
I think we once looked at fasting as something we only did for religious reasons or if our doctors told us to fast after midnight before surgery or blood work. Thankfully there are some forward-thinking physicians out there who challenged conventional medicine and said… “What if there’s a way to reverse chronic diseases, promote effortless weight loss, and improve brain health – and do it without a multi-million dollar pharmaceutical industry pill? What if the answer is not only FREE, but also easy to follow? AND puts money back into our wallets??” Dr. Jason Fung once said of intermittent fasting: “It is perhaps the oldest and most powerful dietary intervention imaginable. Yet somehow we have forgotten its awesome power and ignored its therapeutic potential.”
I truly believe IF is becoming more popular simply because we are sick and tired of being sick and tired, and demand better! We are not afraid to try something new and when it gives us incredible results, we share it like crazy on social media! Who doesn’t love a good before and after? The power of social media has helped bring these “unconventional” approaches to health and wellness to the masses, and then Registered Dietitians (like me) help people implement these easy-to-follow plans to achieve their health goals.
8) What is the historical context of fasting? What can we learn from its evolution in history?
Fasting has been around as long as humans have been on this earth; the absence of food during our sleep cycles; extended fasts related to food scarcity; refraining from eating when sick. We survived as a species because we were able to use our bodies’ stored food (fat or adipose tissue) to provide energy for our brain and other parts of our body. Paracelsus, the founder of toxicology, wrote “Fasting is the greatest remedy – the physician within.” Plutarch, an ancient Greek writer and historian, wrote, “Instead of using medicine, better fast today.” Ancient Greek thinkers like Plato and Aristotle embraced the ritual of fasting and wrote about how clear, sharp and focused they were when abstaining from nutrition.
Humans, like most animals, don’t eat when they become sick. This natural desire to not eat is certainly familiar to everyone. Think about the last time you were in bed with a cold or the flu. I bet the last thing you wanted to do was eat, right? So, therefore, fasting is a natural human instinct to protect and heal from multiple forms of illness. Even Benjamin Franklin, known for his broad knowledge in many areas, once wrote of fasting, “The best of all medicines is resting and fasting.”
9) Do you find that intermittent fasting is a spiritual experience in addition to a physical one?
Fasting has deep-rooted traditions in most cultures throughout the centuries. Those who partake in it claim that it brings both physical and spiritual resilience. It remains a part of religious traditions even today and is believed to be beneficial to both the body and the spirit! For example. it is common in Buddhism to eat a morning meal and fast from noon until the next morning, in addition to many water fasts for days or even weeks on end. In the Greek Orthodox religion, many followers fast for as much as 200 days in a year! Muslims often fast from sunrise to sunset during Ramadan, a holy month. Ramadan is actually one of the most widely studies fasting periods.
Two studies in particular, from 2007 and 2012, assessed people during a month of Ramadan fasting. The researchers compared the study participants taking part in the spiritual Ramadan fasting to a control group eating 3 meals a day. Both studies found that the individuals who were fasting had significant reductions in inflammation markers including interleukin-6, C-reactive protein and homocysteine. In simpler terms, by participating in fasting they ultimately reduced inflammation in their body. One important piece to note when reviewing these studies: There was no difference in the energy intake between the two groups. When the fasting group ate, they consumed as many calories as the group eating three meals a day, leading us to conclude that it was the changes seen during the fasting window that prompted the improved inflammation markers.
A HUGE THANK YOU TO NICOLE!! I’ve learned a lot about intermittent fasting that I never knew and I’m excited to try it once I’m out of my childbearing years. Nicole, thanks for giving us all guidance and an excellent foundation of understanding about intermittent fasting!
(Ahem…and if you’re interested in learning more about Nicole and/or her services then please see her bio and contact info below.)
My name is Nicole Dell’Aquila and I have been a Registered Dietitian for close to 14 years. My health was not always a good as it is now. I suffered from many GI troubles that I sought medical care from doctors. Never once did anyone ask me “What are you eating?” and never once was diet thought to be the cause of my digestive woes. I was given a nonspecific diagnosis and a prescription to treat my symptoms. No investigation into the root cause of WHY my body was fighting against itself. I took my health into my own hands, challenged the conventional medical model, and used food as my medicine (or lack of food). I had a wake-up call one day and knew I needed to switch my focus as a dietitian from reactionary care to preventative care, using my own personal struggles and triumph as a motivation to help others feel as great as I do now. That’s when I found Simplex Health! We believe the path to better health, effortless weight loss, reversing ‘dis-ease’ and igniting your energy levels must move beyond conventional thinking. SIMPLEX HEALTH unites a fresh approach applying our doctor-approved, integrative programs to re-balance and harmonize the whole person. Take a look at our website to learn more! www.simplexhealthcorp.com
Every year there’s a new flurry of health and fitness buzzwords that give rise to a mix of curiosity and anxiety. We’re tossed into the sea of second-guessing and confusion as trends ebb and flow, and the definition of wellness races forward in a new direction. Our minds spin over how to incorporate all the new information. Detox is out and “pretox” is in? Wait…what’s a mitochondria and why should I care? Sometimes, we’re sidetracked for months trying the latest trend in fitness or nutrition.
We’re going to break down five of the latest buzzwords in health today; Femtech, Microbiome, Mitochondria, Pretox and Recomposition, and we’re going to cover practical, non-intimidating ways they can fit into your lifestyle. Begone stress in 2018! Begone!
Am I the only woman who is starting to think she may never become pregnant (again) without the help of the Ava Bracelet? Some time around the holidays, when social media was already blowing up with engagement and baby announcements, I started seeing numerous Facebook and Instagram ads featuring well-known Bachelor and Bachelorette stars with their spouses (“casually” lounging around in their pjs at home…while filming ads for millions of viewers, of course). The stars raved to cameras about getting pregnant thanks to the Ava Bracelet. The wearable device helps women track their cycles and become familiar with the timing of ovulation. Is it just me, or is that not what peeing on the stick is for? One Ava customer says:
“I had migraine headaches randomly throughout the month. With Ava, I realized that I always get them like clockwork right after I ovulate. Ava didn’t solve my headaches (if only!) but it does help me be more prepared for them, so they never take me by surprise anymore.”
This is the first of many examples of technology aimed specifically at women. And all of our many complex, men-suck-because-they-don’t-have-’em hormonal and physiological ebbs and flows. Fun, fun, fun.
Femtech is becoming a billion dollar industry and encompasses technology designed to help women with “fertility solutions, period-tracking apps, pregnancy and nursing care, sexual wellness, and reproductive system health care.” According to Wikipedia…and who doesn’t trust Wiki? All I can say is: IT’S ABOUT TIME. Finally, we’re living in an age where public dialogue over women’s health isn’t quite as taboo. I’m not talking about women’s fitness and weight loss, I’m talking about the tough stuff. Miscarriage. Incontinence. Prolapse. STDs. IVF. Breastfeeding. Egg freezing. Cysts. Fibroids. Menopause. You name it. We’ve likely all dealt with something a bit sensitive and felt like we didn’t have *quite* as much support as we needed at times. With femtech, that just might change.
Not only are there apps and gadgets helping you learn more about your body’s rhythms but there are also some that help you troubleshoot and improve them. For example, MyFlo is a mobile app that helps with menstrual cycle tracking. It goes a step beyond telling you when to expect ovulation and “The Flo,” and offers up interesting tips for how to exercise and eat to nourish your body through the four unique hormonal changes a woman experiences in each cycle. This is what we call “functional medicine.” In other words, lifestyle changes that can impact your health all the way down to the hormonal and cellular level.
Don’t worry about trying to track every single aspect of your health through Femtech products because 1) you may break the bank, and 2) you might not need to go overboard. Hone in on the one thing you care about most; fixing PMS headaches, tracking your baby’s heart rate while pregnant, improving your sex life, or curing pelvic pain and dysfunction. You may find that by tackling just one aspect of your health, many other components of wellness fall into place too.
What IS this thing called the “microbiome?” So scientific sounding but I promise it’s not an untouchable topic for us common folk. The simplistic definition for microbiome is: “a community of microorganisms (such as bacteria, fungi, and viruses) that inhabit a particular environment and especially the collection of microorganisms living in or on the human body.” In short, “microbiome” encompasses the bacteria/fungi/viruses that colonize your skin, gut, colon, mouth and more.
There are emerging, evidence-based theories that the microbiome develops during the birthing process. MICROBIRTH, a film released in 2014, explains that a baby is exposed to its mom’s vaginal bacteria (cough cough, and sometimes fecal bacteria, cough cough) followed by skin and breastmilk bacteria at birth. The exposure to all this foreign stuff ramps up the baby’s immune system and sets them up for fewer non-communicable diseases later in life, such as Type-I Diabetes, Celiacs Disease, Asthma, etc. This is considered a “seed-and-feed” theory for how our microbiome gets its start.
While the diversity of the microbiome has been studied since as early as the 1600s, we’re still learning about it. Scientists are discovering new revelations that change the way they approach the use of molecular techniques and the study of the microbiome. They understand that there are differences in the microbiome between healthy individuals and those with diseases, and that the makeup of bacteria/fungi changes from site of the body to the next, just as it can from one individual to the next. Perhaps most compellingly, scientists now believe that the microbiome is extremely plastic, not just diverse. In other words, it can change over time. Thank goodness…because my tummy is still a wreck from the flu last week.
Most recently, “microbiome” has been at the edge of every health fanatics’ lips because it has been discovered that gut fungi serve a very important role in our overall health. That’s right, fungus is officially good. Apparently, the growth of good bacteria in our gut is aided by the good fungus in it. Moving forward we’re going to hear a lot more about probiotic supplements that incorporate fungus and “prebiotics” (supplements and foods containing fiber that properly nourishes gut bacteria). Stay on the lookout!
I’m not going to tell everyone to go out and buy the next probiotic overstuffed with prebiotics and fungi (might not hurt, though). But what I will say is that we can all take a moment to consider how out gut health impacts our mood, energy and overall health. So, a simple lifestyle fix is asking yourself which foods/beverages/supplements you regularly consume which might hurt vs aid your gut health. Making simple adjustments in your dietary choices is easy and it might change the makeup of all those bacteria/fungi that you’d rather not think about on a daily basis.
I’ve talked about mitochondria more than any of my clients and friends know. If you’ve studied kinesiology or exercise physiology then you have too. If you stretch your mind back to high school biology class and can remember anything about the Krebs Cycle or ATP, then you’re getting warm. To refresh your memory; the mitochondria are organelles (had to look it up to remember that word, haha) in the cell which regulate cellular metabolism. Think of them as tiny power generators in every cell of your body.
“Mitochondria” rarely comes up during coffee break. But that’s all starting to change. Prominent doctors such as Dr. Mark Hyman, Dr. Frank Lipman and Dr. Vincent Pedre are educating the public on how these organelles impact all aspects of our health. According to these doctors, when people suffer from “Feel-Like-Crap Syndrome,” their mitochondria aren’t functioning well and aren’t receiving proper support.
So how do we support these microscopic organelle thingys? Answer: Healthy fats. This is part of what spurred the popular ketogenic diet in 2017. But I’m not telling you to start counting macros and making every dietary choice a high-fat one. If you reeeeaaalllly want to go down that path, talk to a registered dietitian about your options (don’t come to me – I’m not a raving fan of any extremist diet). If you want to help nourish your mitochondria through simple but powerful ways, just stock up on healthy fats in your weekly meals. Don’t worry about counting macros or eating all fats, just make sure you’re eating some or all of the following on a regular basis:
Coconut Oil, Olive Oil, Olives, Nuts, Seeds, Avocados, Salmon/Fish, Eggs, Edamame, Ground Flaxseed, Chia Seeds, Lean Grass-Fed Beef & Pork, Full-Fat Milk, Full-Fat Yogurt (And guess what?! Dark Chocolate and Parmesan Cheese make the cut, too. YAAAAAASSSS!)
“Pretox is the new detox.” Apparently. Instead of focusing on detoxifying one’s body from all the bad junk one ate and drank, some health professionals [and supplement companies] are recommending that people “pretox.” It sounds very oh-la-la, fancy, elusive and, like many health trends, expensive. But it’s not! For once.
“Pretoxing” is simply giving your healthy lifestyle a gentle makeover. It’s getting those extra hours of sleep, exercising, drinking enough water, cutting back on processed foods, caffeine and alcohol, and all those tried-and-true steps towards a healthier lifestyle. These measures are called a pretox because they’re given even more attention and focus preceding a big event or vacation where one knows overindulgence will be involved. Supposedly, these measures make the detox phase of getting back on track easier.
While I certainly haven’t seen any scientific studies backing up these assertions (i.e., that the detoxing after partying is easier done if pretoxing has taken place), these steps certainly can’t hurt. If anything, they probably make someone more aware of the negative effects of too much alcohol or too little sleep, and cause the individual to curb their behavior mid-wedding reception or beach vacation.
I’ve often found that the healthier we are, the more sensitive we are. What I mean by this is that we are more aware of the negative effects of toxic substances and choices. For example, someone who strips common food allergens like soy, alcohol, gluten, eggs and dairy out of their diet will be more capable of telling whether or not they have a negative reaction after reintroducing them. The body’s reaction will be more loud and clear versus when they’re immune suppressed and experiencing the aforementioned Feel-Like-Crap Syndrome due to assaulting their body with things they’re sensitive to.
Ironically, this goes hand-in-hand with the urban dictionary’s definition of pretox: “When you know you’re going have a ridiculous amount of alcohol over the weekend and you decide to go out for a few drinks the night before as preparation – it’s the drinking equivalent of stretching.” The fact that this is a real definition kind of kills me. But to sum, drink more = less sensitive to effects of alcohol. Drink less = more sensitive. And so it can go with other things, too.
There’s no need for anyone to get their feathers ruffled over this buzzword. Just stick to the health basics for “pretoxing” and “detoxing.” Get sleep. Eat plenty of fiber, lean protein, healthy fats, antioxidant rich fruits and veggies. Drink a crap ton of water every day. Exercise and get out of your desk chair from time to time. Reduce stress. Overcome and banish negative thought patterns like guilt and shame. Curb caffeine and alcohol. Stuff like that. Please don’t feel the need to overspend on some fancy supplement or juice diet that boasts it can reclaim your youth. Just don’t.
I was recently interviewed by Shape on the ins-and-outs of this buzzword. Definitely check that article out for a full explanation of “recomp.” A few highlights:
For general nutrition, we need around .8 grams of protein per kg body weight every day (1 kg = 2.2 lbs). When trying to acquire muscle, this amount should be closer to 1 gram or higher. If someone is trying to lose weight by cutting calories at the same time as trying to gain muscle then they should aim even higher for protein intake; 1.5-2.0 grams protein per kg body weight a day. This amount of protein is easiest achieved through animal sources such as lean meats, fish and eggs since they have a high quality and quantity of amino acids. But a balanced diet incorporates a variety of whole foods so yogurt, quinoa, beans, lentils and other foods are healthful and contribute to the grams of protein, too. To sum, protein is essential for muscle growth and thereby altering body composition. A low-protein diet will not yield impressive muscle-gain adaptations, especially if there is a lack of exercise.
As for the exercise component to recomp, strength training via machines, free weights or body weight is an important part. This is not to say that cardiovascular exercise can’t add muscle to a person’s body (have you ever seen how impressively strong and dense an Olympic sprinter’s thighs are?!) but that strength training is a surefire way to add lean mass thanks to tapping into Type II muscle fibers (ironically, the same muscle fibers utilized by the aforementioned sprinters). Type II fibers are highly responsive to overload and will quickly adapt in size and contractile efficiency. These muscle fibers are best stimulated through reps in the range of 6-12, with muscle failure happening in that range. Muscle failure is a key element to building muscle. If you could keep going for a few more reps above the 6-12 rep range then you need to increase the amount of weight. True muscle failure is often accompanied by the inability to maintain form or continue working. So, when you reach that point, it’s the end of the set. Don’t compromise form for a few more reps because 1) you might hurt yourself and 2) there actually isn’t much of a point if your target muscle has reached fatigue.
There are a lot of ways to train for strength; supersets, circuits, alternating upper/lower body days, super slow or eccentric training, explosive exercises, and more. What’s important is that there is both a frequency to the training and adequate recovery. Muscle regeneration isn’t very effective when the body is chronically stressed (this can apply to mental stress or a lack of sleep, too!) so recovery days are critical. As for frequency of training, three times a week for strength is typically sufficient for the general population with basic weight loss and toning goals. For women looking to really lean down below 16-18% body fat, it will take a lot more dedication. Typically, women with these goals are athletes and/or competing in bikini or bodybuilding competitions. These individuals are usually on tight regimens, lifting 4-6 days/week and carefully monitoring their macronutrients with “bulking” and “cutting” phases built in.
If you want to put on lean muscle in an effort to improve body composition then simply try to gradually increase the amount of protein you consume and increase strength training volume, frequency and/or intensity. If counting macro-nutrients isn’t your thing then just focus on getting some quality protein at least two out of your main three meals. If strength training isn’t your favorite, try some explosive sprints or HIIT exercises that push your muscles to the point of fatigue. Even just two workout days a week that focus on explosive or strength movements will guarantee some margin of results and health improvements!
Belly fat is both bad and good (yes, good!). Hoarding fat around the stomach is nature’s way of ensuring the survival of the human race during times of stress and unpredictable food intake. Why is the stomach the place it’s stored? Here comes the “good” part… Because fat in the abdomen is the most metabolically active fat. This means that just as easily as a little extra pudge can accumulate, it can be rapidly recruited for energy and burned off. When you think about it, it’s really quite clever. It’s like a squirrel tucking some acorns into the fold of its cheek for safekeeping. Our caveman bodies do the same thing. But belly fat accumulation isn’t just about what we eat and how active we are. Let’s take a look at some of the ways it gets put on our waistlines…
The Usual Suspects for Belly Fat
You guessed it; the usual suspects for belly fat include nutrition, physical activity and genetics. Let’s do a brief review…
This is perhaps the most obvious source of stubborn fat in the tummy. It should come as little surprise that sugary foods, trans fats, low-protein diets and alcohol can be detrimental when it comes to keeping off this kind of fat.
What You Can Do: Eat lower-sugar, healthy, natural and unrefined foods that are high in fiber or protein, and keep alcohol in check.
You’re more likely to get a spare tire if you’re sitting at a desk all day and doing little to get moving during your free time. This is fairly obvious. But, what’s less obvious is that just 5-15 minutes of movement in small segments throughout the day can truly help keep your metabolism and calorie-burning engine going. So, formal exercise isn’t always a “must” if you’re leading a truly active and healthful lifestyle. Although it certainly never hurts.
What You Can Do: Be consistent and realistic about your exercise habits and goals. One of the worst things we can do to our bodies is workout like a dog for two or three weeks and then take a month off. Equally taxing on our bodies and minds is setting unrealistic expectations for the kinds of routines we should maintain. Over-lofty plans for exercise do us no good if they end in failure and guilt. Decide how you plan to lead an active lifestyle and/or get in formal workouts. Make sure your plan is integrated into the rest of your life’s priorities and schedules to ensure successful commitment.
Body shape, appetite and metabolism can be strongly influenced by genes. Some people are prone to being more “apple-shaped” (i.e., retaining weight in the middle) while others are “pear-shaped” (i.e., retaining more stubborn, less metabolically active, but less dangerous fat in the hips and thighs). Leptin levels, a hormone that controls hunger and calorie intake, can vary according to a person’s genetics. Cortisol regulation can vary family-to-family and influence weight, too.
What You Can Do:If you’re trying really hard on the exercise and nutrition front, and belly fat still refuses to come off, then your genes may be at play. But, this doesn’t mean there is nothing you can do about to help your body. Focus on being holistic and putting more energy into the following…
The Sneaky Culprits of Belly Fat
There have been lots of formal studies demonstrating the power of ZZZ’s on our health and weight. Both short and poor-quality sleep can lead to hoarding fat around the mid-section. Unfortunately, our busy-busy lives lend themselves all too easily to skimping on sleep, going to bed late and ignoring the snowball effect of increasing cortisol, inflammation and insulin resistance.
What You Can Do:Apparently, the later we go to bed the more we are skimping on deep, non-REM sleep, which occurs in the earlier part of the night. Pay attention, night owls! According to Time Magazine this is a serious problem that is linked to obesity and other health problems. So, go to bed earlier instead of only counting the total hours of sleep you get. Help yourself commit to this by creating a soothing bedtime routine for yourself about 45-60 minutes before you plan to fall asleep. Kids need a bedtime routine…and we do, too!
I can always tell I’ve had a few extra-stressful weeks because my stomach will start to feel a bit softer and fuller, even if I’ve been eating healthfully and exercising. Stress takes its toll on my body, and I know I’m not alone in this. Some people are more sensitive to stress than others by nature of their personality, goals and preferences, but none of us, even the most laid-back individuals, are 100% immune to its effects. Studies have shown that some women, with higher waist-to-hip ratios, may be more prone to the negative effects of cortisol production in response to stress than others.
What You Can Do: Sometimes we are in a stressful season of life and there’s not a ton we can do to move through it any faster. In these times, it’s especially important to care for your health through good nutrition, sleep and exercise so that the effects of stress on your waistline are minimized. Finding a relaxing or enjoyable activity to turn to on a daily basis can help release a bit of the tension and keep it from spilling over.
Brace yourselves…this one is pretty mind-blowing…apparently, there are different kinds of bacteria in your gut linked to obesity vs leanness, and overall gut health. In other words, obese individuals tend to have more of certain kind of gut bacteria that changes their energy absorption levels from food (i.e., causing them to absorb more calories from food). Say whaaa? This is part of the reason some experts blame baby formula for contributing to the obesity epidemic – the baby’s gut flora is not developed in the same way that a breastfed baby’s is and thus, energy absorption and overall inflammation may be different. This is also part of the push from some doctors who encourage both children and adults to use daily probiotics, to build up the good bacteria in the gut as a line of defense against a “hostile” gut environment and the damaging effect of processed and sugary foods.
What You Can Do:Probiotics can be expensive but worth it. You might be able to bargain hunt on brand prices online, or strike a better deal by buying them in bulk. Either way, search for a probiotic that has at least three of the five main helpful bacteria strains your tummy will appreciate: L. acidophilus, B. longum, B. bifidum, L. rhamnosus and/or L. fermentum. I have personally heard debate over whether the number of total bacteria in a supplement is important or not. Science is unsure just how helpful the total number is, but I figure it can’t hurt to have more. If you want to play it “safe,” I suggest a supplement with over 10 billion bacteria. For more information check out this article: How to Choose the Best Probiotic Supplement.
Here comes the miserable truth, ladies…menopause changes things. If you’ve been through menopause then I’m sure you know this firsthand. A dramatic drop in estrogen about a year after a woman’s last menstrual period triggers the body to shift from storing fat in the thighs and hips to the stomach. Gooooood times. There’s not much women can do to change the course of nature; HOWEVER…..
What You Can Do: Weightlifting is an excellent way to keep extra tummy fat and those pesky hormones in check. By increasing lean muscle mass, women can help their metabolisms stay sharp through peri-menopause and post-menopause. Bonus: Lower levels of estrogen might allow women to acquire lean muscle mass more easily in later age. With effort, of course.
Best of luck as you figure out how to battle the bulge! It’s something we ALL do throughout our lives so please don’t stress and feel like you’re alone, unattractive or unworthy if your pants are a little tight. No need to stress – just take action and express self-love through the process!
I can’t believe that my perspective on obesity in America has shifted so dramatically in the last six or so months. I’ve been in the fitness industry for over a decade and have taken countless courses on metabolic diseases, health and wellness. I thought I knew most of what I needed to know…until I realized that I didn’t. One lesser-known fact that I recently learned has changed everything for me. I couldn’t believe it when I found out. It made my jaw hit the ground and simultaneously made me want to cry. This one simple statistic changes the ballgame for all of us. Big time.
While conducting research for a manuscript I’ve been working on for the past year, I came across data about the prevalence of children who are overweight and obese in America. I was curious to read the stats but paused before getting to them. The age range taken into evaluation for childhood obesity is what struck me first. I always wrongly assumed that data on children who are overweight and/or obese referred to school-age children only. Kids get a little wiggle room to grow out of their baby fat, right? But no, the age range that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention assesses starts at the tender age of TWO! I was floored. For me, this changes everything. Here’s why…
The fact that the age range evaluated for being overweight or obese is from 2-19 years old reflects the fact that obesity starts way before we are irresponsible teenagers guzzling down chips and soda or even school-age children being served controversial, less-nutritious lunches in elementary school cafeterias. Being overweight or obese literally starts when children are adored for having chubby cheeks and pudge. That got me thinking, how can you tell “healthy fat” tots from “unhealthy and overweight” ones? I dug a little deeper and found that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says that parents shouldn’t worry about the weight of children younger than 2-years old, citing that there is no current and relevant information supporting the notion that children who are heavy as babies are going to be overweight later in life. But just one second…
Today, 30% of American youth are overweight or obese (17% obese, according to National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2011-2014 data), with the prevalence of overweight 2 to 3-year olds being 40% higher than it was in 1994! What’s more is that overweight 2-year olds are apparently twice as likely to become obese as an adult. The older a child gets without outgrowing their extra layer of insulation, the greater the risk goes up. Obese 6-year olds have a 50% risk of obesity at 35 years old and obese 10-year olds have up to a 80% risk! Anyone starting to feel a little uncomfortable about these numbers yet? So, going back to the toddlers…how exactly does a 2-year old hit their second birthday and magically go from being considered healthy to overweight? That’s just not fair to the little ones! Obviously, there are things happening in the FIRST TWO YEARS OF LIFE that have the power to set us up as a society for a host of challenges in our childhood onwards into adulthood.
This brings me to my next question: What is happening in the first two years that sets a child up for certain “healthy” vs “unhealthy” habits that are perpetuated throughout their youth? Moreover, what can we do as ADULTS to prevent this? After all, the first two years of life have very little to do with what a child chooses for their nutrition and physical activity and a whole lot to do with what we offer them to eat and how we help them engage (or not) with the world around them. Our attitude towards wellness very directly impacts theirs.
These are my opinions as a health professional so take them for whatever they are worth to you. These are what I see as some of the potential root causes for their unhealthy habits and compromised gut health, and the implications for us as responsible adults.
3 Things that Impact Health in the First 2 Years of Life:
I. Breastfeeding vs. Formula
I’m a big proponent of breastfeeding but I understand that sometimes formula is medically indicated or otherwise chosen by moms who want or need it for convenience. I will spare you my opinions on women’s rights for maternity leave and the necessity to have both time and a place to pump at work, but certainly those factor into maternal nutrition decisions. I digress. When we compare breastmilk and formula side-by-side, we see a couple of differences in potential nutrition and how some babies are fed.
Breastmilk has been fine-tuned by evolution over the course of nearly 200,000 years and its complexities are only just beginning to be understood. Formula, on the other hand, was first developed on a grand scale in the early 1950s and was heavily marketed as an “ideal food” for babies. Yes, formula can adequately nourish babies. That has been proven, otherwise babies being fed formula would fail to gain weight and survive. But, the debate on whether or not it’s “ideal” is certainly a heated one, with proponents on both sides. Here is where I see formula falling short and having the *potential* to impact long-term health (albeit formula is a miracle for babies who have no other options – it was made to save lives – and is in no way, shape or form the only predictor of health outcomes):
Taste changes in milk
Just like unborn babies can taste their mother’s broccoli or potato chips via the amniotic fluid they swallow, nursing babies experience the diverse flavors of mom’s diet via changes in breastmilk flavor. There are breastfeeding advocates out there who would argue that this helps a baby embrace healthy foods later on during the introduction of solids (assuming mommy eats healthy in the first place, of course!).
Ability to digest
Just as there are experts who have brought light to the fact that one-a-day multivitamins are difficult for the body to digest, others have made us aware that formula is also difficult on a baby’s digestive system due to higher caesin content in the milk compared to breastmilk. Although parents get longer breaks between baby’s feedings while his tummy sorts everything out, this lends me to believe that a baby’s system is taxed by its food source and may not absorb all of it. For this same reason, some formula manufacturers continue to attempt to make it with less curd to better simulate digestive processes aligned with breastmilk.
Antibodies and gut health
Antibodies help build up our immune systems and healthy gut bacteria. Breastmilk is full of antibodies that respond and change daily to the specific needs of the baby. Baby gets sick with a cold and mama’s milk provides the medicine for healing. The healthier our gut microbiota, the healthier children (and adults) are in general. Studies are increasingly showing that gut health, inflammation and metabolic diseases (such as obesity) are scientifically linked. This means that protecting our children’s gut health needs to be a fundamental goal of any parent, and breastfeeding is just one way we can do that (and arguably the best way, for children under one-year old).
Bottle-fed babies are sometimes subject to parents and caregivers encouraging them to finish the entire portion of milk in the bottle. Babies have varying metabolisms and milk requirements so while it may be completely appropriate for one baby to guzzle down eight ounces of milk in one slug, this may be overfeeding another child. Milk requirements may also vary day by day. In this way, babies and children are not all that different from adults. We all have different needs and overeating can become a vicious and repetitive cycle thanks to our biological tendency to hoard fat when given the opportunity (I’m telling ya…our bodies still think we are getting chased down by bears). It’s important to practice baby-led bottle feeding.
What this means to us (the adults):If you are a mother or have friends, family or coworkers with a baby, try to be as supportive as possible of the breastfeeding relationship. Don’t give women snarky looks when they are nursing in public or a hard time if they are late to a meeting because they had to finish pumping. For women who choose formula out of necessity or desire, try to encourage them to follow baby’s lead and not push them to finish all of their bottles and food unless the pediatrician has medically advised it. Both breastfeeding and formula-feeding mothers can make enormous strides in their children’s long-term health with the introduction of solids and healthy foods…
II. Introduction of Solids
The introduction of solids is an important time in a baby’s life. The new colors, textures and flavors are all fascinating to babies. While it’s obvious that overfeeding a baby solids can result in too much weight gain, there are some other things to consider that stack up and impact a little one’s health.
Sugary puree packets
Lots of puree packets look lovely – they are organic, produced by trusted brands and packed full of healthy ingredients. What’s not to love?! The challenge with lots of puree packets is that they are loaded with sugar. Baby is already getting about 17 grams of sugar from a cup of breastmilk and, at one-year old, 11 grams of sugar from a cup of cow’s milk. Clearly, sugar is a natural part of a baby’s diet, but as we know from the obesity epidemic taking flight in the 1990s when sugary sodas were having their heyday, too much of the stuff is definitely not good for our health or weight. Even veggie and fruit puree mixes have a ton of it – sometimes as much as 11-13 grams/packet! Even when you have good intentions for baby eating up all of those peas and spinach mixed in, that’s a ton of sugar! The best bet is to try to make your own baby food or choose lower-sugar, store-bought purees.
I will be the first to admit that getting a little one to fall in love with veggies is tricky business, but it’s 100% worth every effort, creative cooking method, and/or baby-friendly spices/seasonings you can muster up. Roughly 38% of American adolescents eat LESS than ONE serving of fruits or vegetables a day. Surely, we can ALL do better than that. We NEED to do better than that, starting right when solids are introduced and kids palates are impressionable. Start early and start healthy!
Yes, it’s difficult to feed extra mouths, but it doesn’t have to be an elaborate, over-the-top ordeal that’s so stressful that we break down and nuke chicken nuggets every night. If we commit ourselves to eating healthy and slowly introducing our children to the same foods, we only have to prepare one meal; the family meal! I’m totally serious – my son eats everything we do and is just a year old. It’s not because he loves salmon, quinoa and veggies more than yogurt, cheese, bread and fruit, Trust me, he would eat all the aforementioned till the cow’s come home, if we let him. He accepts and enjoys healthy foods because we try to offer him the same nutritious foods that we eat (and when we eat them). It makes things far simpler on us and way healthier for him.
What this means to us (the meal providers): Whether or not we feel like we have loads of extra time on our hands to prepare homemade, healthy purees and meals, it’s really not a matter of choice. It’s a necessity for the health of the next generation. If we give up and let nine-month olds dictate an all fruit and bread diet then how are we going to hold our own when those children are five and we are telling them to eat their peas as they protest saying they don’t like the taste? It doesn’t have to be super scary to healthfully feed young children and there are a million blogs, pins on Pinterest and nutrition resources to help make it easy! Find some or personal message me and I will help you navigate it all!
III. Modeling Good Eating
Kids are easily influenced by their surroundings. I’ve heard stories about people with babies who didn’t walk until 18 months when suddenly, on vacation with their older cousins, the child decides to morph into a walking toddler to chase after them. Our healthy choices (or lack thereof) are no different. Kids see their parents eating pizza while they have carrots and they are gonna want the pizza. Plain and simple. Who wouldn’t? Pizza is delicious and shaped like a triangle! Since when did an edible triangle not taste amazing? Watermelon, sandwiches, chips… How we influence the wellness of children is fundamental to solving childhood obesity and its propensity to carry through into adulthood.
Eat healthy foods (duh)
It’s as straightforward as that. Eat healthy foods, in front of a baby and young children, and they will be more apt to eat them too. Think of it as a chance for the whole family to get healthy.
“Snacky” foods typically pack a lot of empty calories. In other words, lots of calories from carbs or sugars with very little return in the way of vitamins, minerals, fiber, healthy fats, etc. They can also cause children (and adults alike) to lose track of what “full” really feels like thanks to zoning out in front of a cartoon while eating fistful after fistful. Mindless snack habits set children (and adults) up for health problems because of the lack of nutrition and risk of overeating (which leaves less of an appetite for healthy meals).
Food as a tool
It’s definitely tempting to shove food in front of kids for any number of reasons, but when food is abused as a tool for getting children to behave better, we begin down a slippery slope that can tie unhealthy behaviors and expectations to treats. And we all know that if you give a kids an inch they take a….yup, mile after mile after mile. Or rather, cookie after ice cream after soda.
What this means to us (the “models” for healthy eating): Modeling healthy eating takes commitment on a regular basis and also talking to kids about why you eat what you do. Even babies can sometimes be influenced to take bites of “yucky” foods when you show excitement and enthusiasm about them – or better yet, are eating the exact same thing in front of them. I understand that it’s unrealistic to expect people to eat healthy foods 24/7. I like to indulge a bit too. So, when you do go off the “healthy-food menu” simply make sure that you keep portions small for children (if you offer any at all) and discuss how certain foods are for unique occasions, and that if we ate them all the time, they would make us tired and give us stomach-aches. Your choice if and how you want to discuss the actual weight gain component.
There is a lot we can do as adults to impact the upcoming generations’ wellness and a lot starts with nutrition. It’s definitely worth noting that activity levels play a tremendous role in the childhood obesity epidemic too, even for babies. Take them out of their car seats and strollers, and let older children run around for fun – it’s the best exercise [playing] that there is! And if you’re feeling just a little bit daunted about setting a healthy example, focus hard on what it will take for YOU to be more healthy and the rest will gradually fall in place. It’s not fair to leave our children and children’s children in a place where they look down at the scale as adults and think “What the heck?! How did this happen? Where did I go wrong?” You will never regret setting a child up for good health because ultimately, it’s an integral part of what makes us happy as humans.