Is Your Healthy Diet Obsession Really Hurting You?

The other day I was at the grocery store; I saw a quite thin girl intensely reading a nutrition label on the back of a product. She held it close to her face, scoured the label up and down, made a “yikes” face, and put it back on the shelf. What was she reading? It was a bag of carrots.

The following day a received an email asking about “a serving of almonds”. “I counted out 23, because that’s a serving, but so is 1 ounce, and when I weighed them they were only .9 ounces, what do I do?”

They MUST BE EXACT!!!

Another conversation with a client included, “well, I ate some birthday cake last night, only one piece, but I decided to skip breakfast this morning to make up for it, and because I felt so guilty.”

Whether you are constantly grilling nutrition labels of every food you eat, counting out individual grains of rice, or feeling strong guilt after eating a “bad” food, you may be over thinking your health, and potentially setting yourself up for more harm than good.

Some other habits that seem to come up are:

 

  • Preoccupation and worries about eating impure or unhealthy foods and of the effect of food quality and composition on physical or emotional health or both.
  • Rigid avoidance of foods believed by the patient to be “unhealthy,” which may include foods containing any fat, preservatives, food additives, animal products, or other ingredients considered by the subject to be unhealthy.
  • For individuals who are not food professionals, excessive amounts of time (eg, 3 or more hours per day) spent reading about, acquiring, and preparing specific types of foods based on their perceived quality and composition.
  • Intolerance to others’ food beliefs. (This is another hot button topic for another day – gluten fee, vegan lovers) 😉

Now, I’m not trying to say that reading nutrition labels, occasionally measuring foods, watching what you eat, or eating less after a big meal are bad behaviors. There are just better ways to go about them that won’t keep you feeling obsessed, stressed or guilty.

The following are a few simple tips to keep you on track, without making nutrition an obsession:

1) Don’t Obsess Over EVERY Food Label. I’ll admit it, I’m a pretty boring eater 5 days a week. I eat the same thing for breakfast, lunch and the same types of things for dinners. I probably could tell you the nutrition info from each of these meals roughly, but I don’t need to. I have looked up the common foods that I eat, and I also know that I am maintaining my weight goals – therefore I must be eating the right amount of food.

If you are intrigued by a new food, or honestly have no idea what is in the food, then yes, check it out and educate yourself. Please don’t stress over every single food that you eat though, especially fruits, vegetables and proteins.

Better Strategy:  Tracking calories is a great way to take your physique to the next level, but for starting out and most peoples goals, might be too overwhelming at first. Figure out the nutrition for your top 10 foods you eat, and end there. After that, practice mindful/intuitive eating. Rather than setting calorie limits for every single piece of food and meticulously counting every almond, eat slower and listen to your body. Stop when satisfied, not when you are bursting at the seams and it’s too late.

2) Don’t label foods BAD or GOOD. Yes, some foods may not help you reach your goals very well, but the quantity you consume them in may be the real problem. Once you start labeling food bad or good, you slowly can become more obsessive with labeling foods, and then labeling ingredients, thus completely avoiding foods that may not be as bad as you make them out to be.

Example: That snickers bar is a BAD food (pretty much true – but one Snickers bar in a blue moon won’t completely wreck your body – if you are following a generally healthy eating regimen) –> that snickers bar has a lot of sugar –> sugar is bad –> carbs are sugar/sugar is a carb –> all carbs are bad –> I can’t eat that one carrot because it has 6 gram of carbs. See how this can happen? It’s not as rare as one may think. Also, when you start labeling foods bad, you think about them more, crave them more, and probably end up eating them more than you normally would once you finally “break” and “give in” to the forbidden foods – because let’s be honest, we all want to be bad sometimes.

Looks so good…is having just ONE even possible?

Better Strategy:  Some foods are better for you than others – that’s a fact. Focus on eating the more healthful foods that you already know are good for you and your goals, but at the same time don’t over analyze and critique foods or lump them into super broad negative categories. This will help reduce the rebellious pleasure that comes with eating the “bad” foods, and likely reduce your cravings for them.

Labeling foods as bad can also inhibit your sense of really feeling what the food does for you because you are too preoccupied with feeling guilty or naughty about eating it. Maybe eating one cookie is enough and satisfying, but if you are too busy feeling guilty about it you may never realize this natural bodily feedback and continue to eat past satiety. This is another example of becoming more mindful and intuitive with your eating. Easier said than done, but very helpful in the long run.

3) Stop feeling guilty and beating yourself up over foods, especially on special occasions. This relates to #2. If your child is having a birthday party, eat a piece of cake and move on. You probably physically don’t need a large piece, or several pieces, but allow yourself to enjoy the birthday guilt free. Learning intuitive eating can be a great help in these situations. Once you realize that you don’t eat cake and pizza every day, you can free up your mind from the stress that you are putting on yourself and enjoy the time with friends and family.

Same is true with using food as a reward…we aren’t dogs, so don’t reward with food!

When you break it down, guilt is an emotion about morals. Unless you are stealing the food from a starving person, you really aren’t doing anything morally wrong.

Better Strategy:  Rather than feeling guilty or bad about a food, take a step back and assess the situation you are in. First identify that you are feeling guilty and then change your reaction to it. You can try changing your reaction to “Ok, this is a birthday party, I don’t eat cake on the norm – so I will enjoy this one reasonable piece and move on.”

After eating a previously labeled guilty food, the next step is to get right back to your standard healthy routine. Don’t look at it as “well, my day is ruined, I might as well eat the rest of the leftover cake now” but rather, “I enjoyed that cake, and now its back to my usual dinner of ____, _____ and ____”. End of story. Remember, there are no bad FOODS*, but there can be bad HABITS.

*Pertaining to 99% of people wanting to get healthier and lose some pounds – for people looking to get super shredded or yoked, and take their physique to the top 1% there are definitely bad foods…maybe a future article?

I encourage all my clients to take a step back if they are getting to obsessive about food, counting every morsel, and shaming themselves for eating poorly. Get more in tune with your body, and listen to your natural biofeedback cues of hunger and fullness. If you have foods that you ABSOLUTELY know that you have no self-control with, maybe you should consider avoiding them all together – at least at the start of your new lifestyle changing plan. Focus on establishing a healthy relationship with all foods, and you will start to find that you can incorporate some of your tougher control foods back into your diet.

It all comes down to finding an overall healthy balance in life, with exercise, food and also your mental approach to both.  Stop judging yourself and comparing yourself to others, and live your life with less stress. You may find that the weight starts coming off faster than you may think.

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Stay healthy my friends,

The 38 Week Transformation of a Lifetime!

Over the last 38 weeks one of my clients had some big changes happen in her workouts.

She didn’t lose any weight, she GAINED weight, gained inches on her waistline, she decreased her workout volume, she didn’t get her heart rate super jacked up, and she tended to be a little on the slower side sometimes.

This sounds like I’m the worst trainer and dietitian ever!

WRONG – all that happened because she was pregnant and still worked out for the past 38 weeks! She totally rocked the workouts, gained weight at the appropriate weight (2-4 lbs. in the first trimester, and 1-2 lbs. per week after that), modified exercises as required and recommended, and we monitored her heart rate and rate of physical exertion as her pregnancy progressed – all leading up to her final day, only 2 weeks out from her due date.

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2 Weeks Away!

*Before I go any further in this post I want to make one point perfectly clear – ALWAYS check with your doctor/OB-GYN to make sure you are cleared to exercise during your pregnancy*

Once she was cleared, we were ready to keep on keeping on with the workouts. The changes we made to her exercises and routines slowly evolved over the course of the 38 weeks, but we were able to keep a lot of the exercises the same. The one interesting part of her training was that she did it with a small group, that is normally focussed on weight loss.

Key Point #1: We did NOT focus on weight loss with my client, we did the exact opposite. The group training structure is a healthy mix of mobility, core work, strength and cardiovascular exercise – all things that can be done prenatally, just to a different extent and with some safety modifications. For example, while the rest of the group would be training with some high intensity sprint work/jumping jacks/hills – she would focus more on steady state, much lower impact work – while monitoring rate of exertion and heart rate.

It used to be recommended to not let heart rate rise over 140 bpm during pregnancy, but the latest guidelines have dropped this recommendation . Heart rate does increase by 10-15 bpm during pregnancy to increase blood flow to the baby, so we still did take that into account. Recently, it has become recommended to monitor the RPE, or rate of perceived exertion, and make sure the client is not working out to complete exhaustion. One way I monitored this was to annoyingly  constantly ask her questions and see if she could answer without gasping for air in between words. Also, we monitored her body temp by RPE and made sure she was taking plenty of water breaks to stay cool and hydrated.

Key Point #2: We continued to focus on strength training exercises, especially for the hips and posterior chain muscles. As pregnancy progresses, and the belly grows, you often see a greater anterior pelvic tilt.

This can cause extreme strain on the lower back and hips, thus increasing overall discomfort. This also leads to tight hip flexors and potentially weakened glutes. Therefore, we made sure to work on “heavier” sumo deadlifts and hip thrust work. I put heavier in quotes because by no means were we trying to break 1 rep max records, but I know that only 2 weeks ago she was doing deadlifts with a 100 lb. dumbbell from the floor.

DB Sumo Deadlift

We also worked on a lot of core stability and strengthening exercises to keep the abdominal wall strong and sturdy. These included anti-rotation exercises like the Pallof press and standing anti-flexion exercises such as overhead band reaches with a strong emphasis on breathing and postural alignment. We avoided more “traditional” ab exercises like sit ups and crunches due to the stress on the back along with the increased risk of Diastasis Recti (DR).

Pallof Press for anti- rotation

To quote a very helpful article from www.theptdc.com, “A diastasis is the resulting separation of the rectus abdominis muscle bellies as the linea alba becomes stretched. The linea alba can become widened and so the recti muscle bellies are not held as close together as they once were.”

We DID NOT work on any heavy overhead lifts or movements with heavy weights over the torso – bench pressing especially – due to the risk of dropping the weights for obvious reasons. Also, we stayed clear of prolonged time in the supine, or lying face up, position due to the fact that this can decrease blood flow to the little bundle of joy growing inside.

Foam rolling the glutes

Key Point #3: Focus on myofacial release for tight muscles, not stretching. During pregnancy, there is an increase of the hormone relaxin. This is to aid in the muscles and joints shifting around and to eventually help with delivery. However, this also makes the joints more mobile, and increases the risk for injury. In this case, stretching may not be the best way to help with tight muscles. Foam rolling and trigger point work on the back, glutes, and hips is more appropriate for those tight muscles. The increase in mobility also is another good reason to focus on stability and strength exercises.

Key Point #4: Nutrition – you are NOT “eating for two”. To support a healthy pregnancy, women should consume and extra 200-300 calories, from good sources of protein, fibrous carbohydrates and healthy fats. 200-300 extra calories per day from these food groups is not a whole lot more.

For example, one slice of multi-grain bread with 3-4 oz. of chicken breast and a quarter of sliced avocado is 260 calories – 26g carbs, 11g fat, and 29g protein.

Screen Shot 2015-06-13 at 9.58.19 AM

 

Another example: 1 apple and 1 cup of 2% Fat Greek Yogurt is 266 calories, 39g carbs, 4g fat, 21g protein.

Even with a healthy diet, many doctors and dietitians also recommend a pre-natal vitamin to ensure that all necessary micronutrient intakes are being met.

Foods to avoid during pregnancy include: The most obvious ALCOHOL – NEVER CONSUME ANY ALCOHOL DURING PREGNANCY.

Deli-meats, processed meats (hotdogs, sausages, etc.), raw meats, sushi, due to increased risk for foodborne illnesses.

Another food of concern for pregnant women is fish. Although fish is a low-fat, healthful protein choice, there are certain fish that have elevated levels of methyl mercury or Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs), a pollutant in the environment.

Consuming fish with high levels of methyl mercury during pregnancy has been associated with brain damage and developmental delay for babies. Fish to avoid includes – shark, albacore tuna, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish.

Avoid high mercury fish

Exercise is not only okay during pregnancy, but is highly recommended to prevent complications with birth, increase the health of mother and child, and to help prevent issues postpartum. Cheers to my client for making exercise and health a priority, not only for her, but her baby as well!

 

 

 

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Stay healthy my friends,