Start here before beginning a new diet!
As a Nutritionist, I have mixed opinions about all the “Best Diets of 2018” articles that are coming out.
Such as this one published by Fortune Magazine, Which is the Best Diet of 2018?
On one hand, I’m happy that nutrition has become a priority and information is easier than ever to share (thanks to social media), yet it can often create a lot of confusion and frustration. Some diet plans work well for some people, and not others……and some diet plans are just down right unhealthy or dangerous. I feel your pain people! Nutrition can be confusing.
Truth is, finding the right diet for you/ your lifestyle is a journey and takes time, some trial and error, self-awareness, patience, and at times- some discipline. It’s also important to consider what season in life you’re in. Think changes in family life (young kids at home), changes in your job, activity level, age, health, stress levels, etc. This can greatly impact your hormones, eating habits and the amount of time/energy you have to food prep. There are certain “rules” that do remain constant no matter what diet or external factors you may be facing:
It’s bad and should be avoided no matter what diet plan you’re on. I’ll save all the science talk for another blog but there’s no way to get around it, sugar is unhealthy, addictive and pervasive (it’s everywhere!). The general recommendation is to keep sugar under 25g per day. That sounds like a lot but I challenge you to track your sugar for three 3 days and average your intake to get a better idea of your sugar consumption. Take a look below at two common food items, bread and milk. If you consume a sandwich with two slices of bread and a latte with milk (full fat or skim, the amount of sugar is the same) you’re already at 21g of sugar. Yes, milk is sugar but it’s referred to as lactose. Although this isn’t technically “added” sugar, for adults…..it’s still sugar that adds up in your diet and should be factored in. Trust me, track your sugar. Right down the food item and the amount of sugar listed on the nutrition label. At the end of the three days, take an inventory on where most of your sugar is coming from and where you can swap out high sugar items. Your waistline will thank you in a week or so when you see some surprising improvements!
Regardless of what diet you follow or maybe will follow in the future, veggies are king. The recommended intake for vegetables is 2.5-3 cups per day. 75% of Americans do not reach this! Don’t be part of this statistic. Please!!!! What does 3 cups of veggies look like? It’s really not a huge volume. Take a look at the image below. Start with trying to get 1-1.5 cups of veggies in during dinner such as roasted broccoli (my personal favorite), a small side salad, or swapping out rice for cauliflower rice. I think we all know why vegetables are important so I won’t harp on the subject more but if we make veggies our first priority, other unhealthy items will inevitably fall by the wayside.
This may come as a surprise to people but my personal belief based on years of private practice and personal experience is that snacking usually tends to have more cons than pros. Obviously, there’s always the exception, but if you are a normal adult in the U.S. with a typical schedule (yes…we are all busy!) who works out 3-5x per week, then you are the majority. Snacking typically causes people to overeat, in regard to total calories. Not to mention, when we think of snacks, we often have go-to packaged food items that contain added sugar, food additives, or other processed ingredients that have no place in our diets. I know what you’re thinking, “but I’m hungry and it’s not time for lunch yet!”
If you’re ravenous before it’s time for your next meal, your problem isn’t the lack of snacks, it’s the quality or quantity of your meals. In the past, I would endlessly work with clients to find healthier snack options. Even so, they still had the same complaints like not being able to lose weight, energy crashes, digestive issues, extreme hunger (hangry much?) or mood swings. I’ll be honest, I was a huge snacker back in the day. I literally grew up in the gym industry where body builders and fitness nuts were carrying around suitcase sized lunch boxes and religiously ate ever 3 hours to keep their metabolism going. Clearly, this practice rubbed off on me. There’s some truth in this practice, however, we aren’t body builders, lifting heavy weights, working out 1-2x per day/6 days per week.
I started shifting my snacking habits when I started doing more nutrition coaching which meant more sitting. Even though I still had great workouts and my food quality was on point, I was actually gaining weight. It was definitely the increased sitting, but I was also getting older and with age comes increased stress and hormonal changes. My metabolism was changing and that was okay. But I had to shift my diet as well (remember when I said that your diet would change depending on your season of life….this is a great example!).
Now, I hardly snack unless it’s a handful of nuts or small piece of dark chocolate and most of the time, I have this “snack” as part of my meal. It’s really important to give your body and digestive system four or so hours in between meals to fully digest and assimilate all the nutrients. To ensure you avoid a hangry meltdown, aka low blood sugar (as well as some other hormonal imbalances) make sure your meal has a handful of protein, healthy fats such as nuts/seeds, avocado, olive oil (dressings), etc., and 1+ cup(s) of veggies and/or healthy carbohydrates. This WILL keep you full and satiated for at least 4 hours. It will take some time to adjust. It’s normal to still “feel hungry” while your brain catches up with your stomach.
I predict that you’ll hear a lot more about food timing and fasting in 2018. I’m totally on board and will be one of the supporters of this practice. Don’t let the word fasting scare you! Fasting does not equal starvation. What I’m referring to is when you eat and don’t eat and the profound impact this can have on your body/metabolism. The main goal of meal timing or intermittent fasting is to give yourself 12 hours of zero eating. Before you question my expertise, most of this 12 hour fast is done when you’re sleeping. You think you may already be doing this, but you’ll be amazed that most of the time you actually are not. Yes, that glass of wine or cup of popcorn after dinner counts!
To successfully fast, stop all calorie intake (food and drink, except water or herbal tea) at a set time in the evening and start the 12 hour countdown until your first meal the following day. For instance, I usually finish dinner around 7pm but after a little dark chocolate, nuts or glass of wine my fast usually starts at 8pm. The next day, I enjoy a cup of coffee around 6:30am and wait until 8am-10am to eat breakfast. To be honest, this practice was initially really hard for me. I would stop all eating after dinner but find myself with hunger pangs by 9pm-ish or wake up in the morning starving. The fix? Making sure my 3 meals during the day were balanced, full of healthy fats and I consumed plenty of water throughout the day. Cutting out any excess sugar is a must too. This will help stabilize hunger hormones and blood sugar so by 9pm I’m not hungry. The other reason why intermittent fasting was a challenge for me was because I had years of a bad habit to unlearn, which was mindlessly night snacking. Even if I wasn’t hungry, it was just habit to eat after dinner. A handful of popcorn here, a little bowl of cereal there, or an extra glass of wine I didn’t need….you get it.
Personally, I love intermittent fasting. I thrive with boundaries and this has been an amazing tool for kicking late night eating which provided zero benefit. Not to mention, there’s a lot of new research emerging about the metabolic benefits of fasting, even just for 12 hours. It allows your body, liver and metabolism to reboot, reset and repair and can help rebalance important hunger hormones. So regardless of the diet you follow or don’t follow, practicing meal timing is an essential tactic to staying healthy and trim.
So before you get overwhelmed and frustrated at all the different diet programs to choose from, start with these 4 nutrition habits. Depending on your current nutrition, it may take a few weeks to incorporate all 4 rules. Give it time, do the work and in just a few weeks these “rules” will be natural, healthy habits that will keep you healthy, balanced and in control of your nutrition. Once you’ve mastered this (at least 90% of the time) then start thinking about a more structured program that will provide you the results you are aiming for. Whether you seek weight loss, lowering your blood pressure or increasing overall energy, these 4 rules are the foundation of any healthy diet program/lifestyle.