Friday, January 6, 2012

General Thoughts on Nutrition

With it being the start of a New Year, I've been seeing a lot of things related to diet and exercise - everywhere.  More people are on the health bandwagon, I see more ads online and on TV, stores are having sales... 'Tis the season!

I think that the most intriguing part of this for me is hearing/reading about what kind of diets people are trying. People are always looking for the quick fix.  I suppose if you absolutely need to drop five pounds, in a short time, then such a plan is a good idea for you. However, dropping and gaining weight like that is not. Don't be fooled into thinking that you won't gain it back when you go back to your normal lifestyle. You will. Rapid losses resulting are generally not long-lasting.  Remember the expression "slow and steady wins the race"? It applies to weight loss too.

This week I've seen diet pills on sale in store ads. I know people who have used such products and had success. Short-term.  As soon as they've gone back to their usual lifestyle, they gain some (if not all, or more!) of the weight back.  This is the case with pills, shakes, HCG, and the like. You cannot have long-lasting, healthy results by spending money on these products.  Most people eat healthy when they use such products. Why not spend a little extra on the healthy foods, saving your wallet and your body from the effects of buying unhealthy products.

Clearly I do not endorse the use of chemical weight loss aids, in general. 

Obviously some people have to use prescription medications for various reasons, and that's a little different. If you're using these meds you are under the supervision of a physician.  There may be some reason that a person must use these methods. If you're consulting a physician, it's much different than picking up Over the Counter product Z.

I don't know how many times people have to say it...The sure-fire method of long-last weight loss? Eating healthy and exercise!!

How do you know you're eating healthy? Learn about ingredients and learn to read nutrition labels. A good general rule is that natural foods are better for you than processed.  Processed foods are filled with all kinds of crazy things that you don't need.  They're often packed with preservatives and sodium. If you find it in nature, it's probably good for you. If it's man-made, it's probably not.  This idea is also known as "clean eating." 

Nutrition labels are also very important to learn about.  Why?  You have no idea how many things are lurking in your food? Sodium is something not many people pay as much attention to as they should. Too much sodium isn't good for you.  You should keep it under 2000 milligrams a day. I try to stay between a minimum of 500 (easy to achieve) and 1500.  Some foods or restaurant meals have an entire day (or more!) worth of sodium in them. This is probably why you may feel bloated after eating a big meal out, especially if you drink with it as alcohol also causes bloating.

Another sneaky danger? Carbs. 

Let me first say that I am not anti-carb. I love carbs. I'd eat more unhealthy carbs if I could because I love them.  That's probably part of how I got so fat in the first place... That and fast food, college drinking, being less active, etc... Anyway, carbs. Most of us love them. They're in yummy breaks, cupcakes, cookies, white pasta, chips, all of those horribly wonderful things that we enjoy. I'm sure it's safe to say that most foods that people consider comfort foods are filled with carbs.

Like chemical means of controlling weight loss, super low-carb diets are not something I support either. Many of these diets focus on very few carbs, yet you can eat all the eggs, cheese and meat you want.  Ever hear of fat? It's in those foods. How 'bout sodium? You'll find it in them too (all foods have sodium but processed foods...YIKES).  Cholesterol? Hey there!

My point? These diets may help you lose weight by cutting one thing, but you're just increasing your intake of other unhealthy things.

Carbs are interesting. An easy way to distinguish them is to call them good carbs and bad carbs. I believe even Oprah referred to them this way. The difference in carbs is how your body breaks them down, and the benefits they have for you body and your health. The important thing to know is that there are not actually bad carbs. Everyone needs carbs to function. They are converted to energy and without enough you'll likely find yourself tired, cranky, and you may suffer physical ailments like headaches. 

Come of think of it.... Too few carbs has many of the same effects on the body as too few calories (ahheemmm...HCG and that stupid 500 calorie thing comes to mind, helllllooo unhealthy).

What would be a "good" carb? Anything whole grain. Basically your daily carb intake should be from high-fiber foods. These are foods like 100% whole grain products such as pasta, sweet potatoes, beans, and quinoa.  Obviously fruits and vegetables both contain carbs and are healthy, making them an obvious good choice. Just be sure to stick to the suggested servings of fruit a day, because they do contain a lot of sugar (carbs!).  Focus on eating these high-fiber carbs if you're worried about weight management.

Something "bad" would be carbs that come from sugars and white flour... Enter candy, baked goods, potato chips, white bread, cereal that's not whole grain... These are the dangerous carbs. They're the guys who sneak up on you and cause you to gain weight or maintain it/lose slower than you'd like. These are the foods that you should eat in moderation. Interestingly, they are often foods that are higher in calories. You should know that fruits are technically considered "bad" because they are the same type of carb. However, they have other good benefits for your body and you need them.

Opinions vary, but I've seen suggestions that 100-150 grams of carbs a day will help you lose weight.  100 or less will result in fast weight loss.  If you're a serious athlete you should eat 200-250 for energy (and when I say serious, I mean, you're working your tail off).

Other research states that 300+ are bad.  If you look at the bottom of a nutrition label, based on a 2000 calorie diet, 300 grams is suggested. My personal opinion is that this is too high.  I've seen 150-300 noted to cause a possible steady gain, 100-150 considered maintenance, 50-100 results in loss, and 0-50 is considered to burn fat like crazy.  This is based on Primal eating/living. 

The opinions and viewpoints are conflicting, yes.  My online program suggests how many I need (and I'm set for a loss goal, of about 2 pounds a week). Lately I've been eating less (but not much).  There were times when I was eating way too many, which probably caused my loss to slow.

An easy illustration to show that carbs do matter? When I first started losing weight I cut out all white flour products. I stopped eating pasta. I switched my breads and cereals to 100% whole grain (FYI, that 100% is key!).  I reduced my sugar intake.  I lost weight.  Did I switch to a low-carb diet? Nope. I just replaced those simple carbs (the bad guys) with complex carbs (the good guys). I didn't even realize I was doing it at the time. I just knew that whole grains were healthier/better than the white flour products. My plan was to change to eating healthy. At first I didn't count anything, then I started paying attention and following a calorie plan. I did other things too like not eating fast-food or drinking soda, which is an obvious good nutritional choice.

A formula to calculate what's right for you is to take your daily suggested calories, divide it by two, then take that answer and divide it by four. My result puts me right in the range that is suggested by the online program I use, which is still higher than I've been eating this week. Totally fine...I'm not too low, so that's what's really important.

Anyway... The thing you need to learn about carbs is that it's not really the carb that's bad.  It's the way it's broken down in your body.  Simple vs. complex.  This is all based on the glycemic index, which for most people isn't that important. However, if you're diabetic, you'd want to pay close attention to that.

Now? The mighty calorie. Say what you want, but I still believe in a very simple formula when it comes to weight loss. Calories out are greater than calories in. This means you need to burn more than you eat. Calories are stored as fat or used as energy.  Calories are what cause pounds to change... Remember 3500 calories is one pound. 

Carbs and calories are related when it comes down to it. Still though, I feel it's more important to pay attention to the calories. If you are eating the unhealthy high carb foods you're going to pack on the calories too.  A treat now and then won't hurt. We all need them. However, if you eat that stuff all the time, you're not going to lose and you just may gain.

I received one of my e-mail newsletters today (Hungry Girl; Lisa Lillien - you are awesome!!).  In this one, she talks about something I posted about the other day ...80/20.  I like the way she used the rule to illustrate her point about eating healthy (also watching those cals!).  She noted that 80% of what you eat should be healthy and only 20% (or less!!) can be unhealthy. This helps to show that while you should be eating healthy, you're allowed those occasional treats.  I loved that and had to share!

I've included some samples of labels so that you can familiarize yourself with the layout. Most labels are the same, although not all of them list the same vitamins and minerals. 

On a personal note, I wasn't following my plan very closely in more recent months (while I didn't go overboard, I still feel partial-victim to the holiday madness, eating things I don't generally eat). My loss slowed. Actually, I gained a little from my lowest weight at the start of October. Then you also have to account for water retention, which I suffer from on a monthly basis...Big time. Two months ago I went up 16 pounds, in water weight alone. That was from my low weight, which I may have been a little too strict in getting to. Anyway, though, I've eaten things I don't normally eat - more white flour and more sugar. Now that I'm back to what's normal for me and getting into my usual routine, I anticipate that the pounds will start coming off again. 

I hope that you will take the time to read labels when you're shopping and that you will use a tracker to track your values. I cannot stress enough how important that is. It may take some time at first, but when you get the hang of it, it really doesn't take that long.  Isn't your health worth a few extra minutes at the grocery store?


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