With so much information on nutrition, diets, and meal plans available nowadays, it can be extremely confusing to decipher what to do and what not to do - what to eat, and what not to eat. Should I try the keto diet? I heard that a college professor ate McDonald’s and other junk food and lost weight - can I do that? How do you read the nutrition facts labels? Is a high protein diet dangerous? What is intermittent fasting, and how do I do it?
You could get lost on the internet for years trying to figure out the fastest way to lose weight, how to cook healthy food so that it tastes good, or how bad nutrition makes you gain weight, among many other issues. But let’s start with a few simple principles on nutrition that can help you look, move, and feel better, without starving yourself or going on a fad diet or crash diet. First, you need to drink enough water. Yes, water! Water is used by every cell in your body to function properly. When you do not drink enough water and you become even slightly dehydrated, your body goes into panic mode because it needs water to do anything. And when your body goes into panic mode because you haven’t drank enough water, it stops everything except trying to get more water. When you are dehydrated, your metabolism slows down, which means you stop burning extra calories. You also stop digesting your food when you are dehydrated, so the healthy food you have eaten does not get absorbed by your body properly. And, most importantly, you are stressed when you are dehydrated. And nobody feels good when they are stressed, and they make bad nutritional choices during those times of stress. So you need to drink enough water, no matter what diet or nutrition plan you choose to utilize.
Second, you need to eat protein! And not just protein from peanut butter or things like that. You need complete proteins from animal meats, dairy, fish, eggs, or certain kinds of legumes and grains, if you are vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian, or anything along those lines. The average female should probably eat at least half of their bodyweight in grams of protein. So if you weigh 150, you should try to eat 75 grams of protein a day. Men often do better with their diets if they eat .75 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight, meaning a 200 pound man would need about 150 grams of protein daily. Protein helps your body repair and build new muscle, which then helps you burn extra calories and keep you at a healthy bodyweight. Protein also helps your joints, strengthening ligaments and tendons to help you prevent orthopedic injuries. Protein also helps keep you full and satisfied, so you are less likely to snack and eat extra calories. These are all great reasons to make sure you get enough protein every day, and this is also why eating enough protein is a key part of every nutrition plan and diet out there. Most people, when they actually count how many grams of protein they eat every day, find out that they eat much less than they should. Here are some great sources of protein you can try: unprocessed animal meats, such as ground beef and pork chops; chicken eggs and duck eggs; cottage cheese; healthy fish such as salmon or cod fish; and certain combinations of legumes and grains, such as black beans and brown rice.
Third, you need to control your carbs. Carbohydrates are one of the main energy sources for your body, and they are important for many functions in your body. However, most people eat too many carbohydrates on a daily basis. There is no golden rule or equation to determine how many carbs a person should eat. Some people can eat high carb diets and be good, be healthy, and keep their bodyweight under control. Other people suffer poor health when they eat high carb diets. On the other end of the spectrum, the keto diet advocates very low carbs each day, often 30 grams a day or less. That type of low carb diet can help many people with weight loss, in addition to helping people with diabetes control and manage their blood sugar and insulin levels. On a keto diet, the lower carbohydrate intake helps your body go into ketosis, which basically means that you burn fat for energy instead of carbohydrates. That can work really well as a nutrition program for many people, but you may not need to do a serious keto diet to control your carbs. For example, if you limit yourself to 100 grams of carbs a day or less, that’s still a relatively low carb meal plan, and only 400 calories from carbs, which is not much in the overall diet. The real key here is not going overboard with your carbs.
Fourth, all food is not the same, even when it is the same food. A hamburger from McDonald’s does not taste the same as a hamburger from a high-end restaurant. Of course, the two hamburgers will have different toppings on them, but a big part of the difference in the two hamburgers is the quality of the meat. Some cows are raised on huge farms, inside of a dirty building packed in with hundreds, or thousands, of other cows. They never see the sun, they are fed bottom of the barrel corn, and never get to move around. There are other cows raised on small, family farms. They live outside, are free to move around the pasture, eat grass, and get lots of sunlight every day. The second cow here, raised and grown like a cow should be, will produce higher quality meat. Or consider fruits and vegetables raised on huge industrial farms, sprayed with tons of pesticides and other harmful chemicals, compared to organic fruits and vegetables raised by a local farmer, or even raised by you in your backyard. There is a distinct difference in the quality of those foods, the nutrients they provide, and the impact they will have on your body when you eat them. Good nutrition plans pay attention to food quality, not just what foods you are eating or not. Organic, non-GMO fruits, vegetables, and grains will give your body more nutrition than the average stuff in the grocery store. Those foods were grown or raised more naturally, as they have for thousands of years (or longer), without the use of many common harmful chemicals and sprays used in non-organic farming. You will feel a difference in your energy levels, skin quality, and your body will work better overall when you eat organic foods with lots of vitamins and minerals in them. The USDA, or Department of Agriculture, has made things easier for consumers to identify organic and/or non-GMO foods at the grocery store - just look for the labels! Organic foods will have a circular label that says “USDA Organic” in either black and white colors or green and white. And if you see the organic label, that means the food is also non-GMO because all organic food in the United States must be non-GMO as well.
Finally, we’d like to give you some quick notes on some of the different nutrition plans that are popular nowadays. These will be short details and thoughts on each one.
Keto diet: eat less than 30 grams of carbs per day, including carbs from nuts, fruits, vegetables, and dairy. Helps many people lose weight, but the adjustment to low carbs can be tough for the first two or three weeks. Most people experience the ‘keto flu’ or feeling flu-like symptoms while their body adjusts to the lower carbohydrate diet. The primary cause of this is excess water flushing out of the body during the adjustment period; carbs in your body hold lots of water molecules, so when you switch to a keto diet and drop your carbs, you also lose the water molecules that were attached to those carbs in your body. And when you flush out the extra water, you also are flushing out massive amounts of electrolytes in your body, which causes flu-like symptoms, or the keto flu. The solution, that most people do not know about, is to add extra salt and other electrolytes to your diet during the first few weeks of the keto diet. That will help balance out the electrolytes you lose and maintain the proper hydration levels in your body.
Intermittent fasting: eat only for a certain amount of time each day, such as eight hours, or twelve hours. For example, you would eat all your normal food, but eat it only from noon to 8pm, or from 9am to 9pm. There are other versions of intermittent fasting, such as eating for four hours a day a fasting the other twenty hours, but the most popular intermittent fasting diet is 16/8, or fasting sixteen hours and eating for just eight hours each day. This is a great strategy for some people, and others do not feel good on that type of eating schedule. Just like there are night owls and early birds with respect to sleep patterns and habits, there are also breakfast eaters and non breakfast eaters. Some people just don’t feel good if they are forced to eat breakfast, while others have a terrible day if they skip breakfast. One recent development in the intermittent fasting research, that has not received a lot of attention yet, is early time-restricted feeding. Basically, what that means is that you eat all your normal food early in the day, and then you fast during the evenings. For example, you could eat only from 8am until 2pm, and then have nothing but water after 2pm. Early time-restricted feeding has been shown in some studies to have greater benefits for weight loss, blood sugar and insulin level management, and blood pressure compared to the traditional intermittent fasting plan of skipping meals early in the day and eating from around noon to 8pm.
Paleo diet: eat like people did during the paleolithic era, or basically eat like cavemen probably ate. No processed foods, no grains, no legumes, and no dairy. You eat only what a caveman could have hunted or gathered 10,000 years ago or farther back, such as animal meats, fish, fruits, and vegetables. And that’s about it. The paleo diet can be very effective for losing weight and improving health because you are not eating any fast food or junk food such as chips, sodas, candy, or desserts. Those things weren’t around 10,000 years ago, so if you are following the paleo diet, you can’t eat them. One issue with the paleo diet is convenience and longevity - it is often hard to eat truly like a caveman, for every meal every day.
Your diet and nutrition is the most important factor for good health, fat loss, and more energy.
Dr. Dianna Boyer, client since may 2015
I recommend Strength School to all my patients.