Oh my gosh – nutrition and diet info is everywhere! And each expert and association tries to lead you in their direction because they know best and their advice is going to help you. Right? Well, maybe…
Everyone has seen all the talk out there about calories and how much you eat. This has gotten way too much attention because while the quantity of food you eat does affect your weight and energy level, it’s certainly not the “holy grail” of health or weight loss. Today I’d like to focus on the often overlooked (and proven) benefits of what you eat, how you eat, and why you eat.
TIP #1 You Are WHAT You Eat
The “calories in, calories out” philosophy (i.e. how much you eat) is being drowned out with research on other factors that are just as, if not more, important. Don’t get me wrong – limiting your calorie intake can certainly help you lose weight but that’s simply not the best factor to focus on for healthy long-term weight loss and maximum energy.
Paying attention to what you eat is much more beneficial in the long run.
Ideally, you consume a variety of whole foods (you know, like the ones that grow from trees and the ground or have legs and eyes) and less minimally-processed foods (like “packaged” and “ready-to-eat”). This simple concept is paramount for weight loss, sustained energy, and overall health and wellness.
This is what you should aim to eat every day:
- A colourful array of vegetables and fruit at almost every meal and snack. You need the fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Fill at least half of your plate or bowl with a mix of nutrient dense veggies (leafy greens are a must!) and include one to two servings of fruit a day (berries and green apples are awesome choices).
- Protein at every meal. You need its essential amino acids (which are required for all of your metabolic processes) and it’s the best macronutrient for controlling hunger (bonus: eating protein can increase your metabolism). Great protein sources include pasture-raised eggs and meat, wild-caught fish, plain organic Greek yogurt or cottage cheese, and nuts and seeds.
- Healthy fats and oils (never “hydrogenated” or “modified” ones). There is a reason some fatty acids are called “essential” – you need them as building blocks for your hormones and brain as well as to absorb essential fat-soluble vitamins from your uber-healthy salads. Use extra virgin olive and coconut oil, eat organic egg yolks, and buy grass-fed meats when possible. You don’t need to overdo it here. Just make sure you’re getting some high-quality fats.
TIP #2 HOW You Eat Makes A Difference
Now it’s time to pay attention to how you eat. Studies are showing that this has more of an impact than we previously thought. Are you rushed, not properly chewing your food, and possibly suffering from gastrointestinal issues? Do you drink your food often? When it comes to how you eat let’s first look at “mindful eating”.
Mindful eating means to take smaller bites, eat slowly, chew thoroughly, and savour every bite. Notice and appreciate the smell, taste and texture. Breathe. This gives your digestive system the hint to prepare for digestion and to secrete necessary enzymes.
This can also help with weight loss because eating slower often means eating less. Did you know that it takes about 20 minutes for your brain to know that your stomach is full? Believe it or not it’s true! We also know that more thoroughly chewed food is easier to digest and absorb all of those essential nutrients.
And let’s not forget about drinking your food. Smoothies have become super popular over the last several years. Although they can be an easy and convenient way to consume more fruits and veggies (hello leafy greens!), drinking your food isn’t fool proof.
Regular smoothie consumption can lead to weight gain by taking in additional calories beyond your daily need. Just one smoothie from a popular smoothie chain can contain up to 600 calories! And many smoothies are based on fruit like bananas, pineapple and mango, which are very high in sugar. Although it is naturally occurring, a single smoothie can contain from 25 to 80 grams of sugar! I’m all for including some fruit in your diet but drinking the equivalent of 20 teaspoons of sugar will do a number on your body’s hormone response.
I’d rather have you consume a nutrient-dense green smoothie over junk food any day, just consider these safer-smoothie tips when you feel a hankering for one:
- Treat a large smoothie as a full meal and not a snack.
- Don’t gulp it down too fast; take 20 minutes to drink the whole thing and try eating it with a spoon.
- Go for a high vegetable content (like greens, cucumber, and celery) with less fruit.
- Add in a spoonful of fiber like ground flax or chia seeds, a little fat like a teaspoon of coconut oil or nut butter, and a scoop of hemp protein.
If you’re in the mood for a tasty smoothie, check out my recipe for a Peachy Green Chia Smoothie. It’s a good occasional breakfast or lunch option for those super busy days.
TIP #3 Get In Touch With Your WHY
To take mindful eating one step further, it’s really important to know why you are eating in the first place. There will be times when feelings of hunger strike but dehydration or boredom are sometimes the culprit.
TIP: Before making a trip to the fridge or vending machine, drink a glass of water and wait 20 minutes. Add in a few minutes of squats or push ups too. If you’re still feeling hungry have a light snack of some veggie sticks and humus or small serving of nuts and an apple.
Feelings of hunger can indicate your last meal or snack did not provide adequate protein, fibre, or fat, which are important for maintaining hormone levels like insulin (for blood glucose), cortisol (stress), and ghrelin (appetite regulation). Was your meal heavy in carbohydrate like a sandwich, rice bowl, or spaghetti? Or did you have a good mix of fibre-rich vegetables, protein, and a little healthy fat? Tuning into your natural hunger cues and consuming the right amount of nutrients with each meal will keep hormones steady and help you feel fuller for longer.
When it comes to healthy eating there is a lot more to consider than the old “calories in-calories out” mindset. Paying attention to what kind of food you consume, how you eat it, and why you are eating is the key to maintaining a healthy weight and steady energy to keep you going all day long.
Pesta, Dominik H. and Samuel, Varman T., A high-protein diet for reducing body fat: mechanisms and possible caveats, NCBI, November 19, 2014, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4258944/
Hoertel, Heather A., Will, Matthew J., and Leidy, Heather J., A randomized crossover, pilot study examining the effects of a normal protein vs. high protein breakfast on food cravings and reward signals in overweight/obese “breakfast skipping”, late-adolescent girls, Nutrition Journal, August 6, 2014, http://nutritionj.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1475-2891-13-80
Rose, Darya, The Science Behind Mindful Eating: What Happens to Your Body During A Mindful Meal, October 27, 2015, http://summertomato.com/the-science-behind-mindful-eating-what-happens-to-your-body-during-a-mindful-meal
Teta, Jade, Hunger, Energy & Cravings (HEC): Is Your HEC in Check? February 26, 2016, https://www.metaboliceffect.com/hunger-energy-cravings-hec-is-your-hec-in-check/