People usually recognize the physical and mental benefits of healthy eating and exercise. Often the question is not whether we should invest time, energy and resources in nutrition and weight optimization, but rather how to proceed to be the most effective and efficient at attaining our goals.
Diverse theories on this topic, from both a commercial and an academic perspective, can make this decision confusing. It is estimated that more than 87% of U.S. consumers take some form of dietary supplement. In 2009 alone, approximately $60 billion was spent in the weight loss and diet control industry in the United States, as well as $108.3 billion on nutrition products overall.
It is important to recognize what drives us to eat. Personal habit, cultural values, social scenarios, lack of energy and pleasure can all drive our food choices. While it is essential to our survival, food is also a choice and needs to be recognized as such. The food that we put in our bodies plays a key role in our health, both on a short-term and long-term basis. At times, the flexibility of food choice can be limited, such as when we are out at a business or social meal, or when we are invited to someone’s home. But for the times when we have more control over our food choices, it is important to keep a few basic principles in mind.
When we remove the technicalities of each specific diet, the key point to consider is that calories expended must equal or be greater than calories taken in. It is important to watch the number of calories consumed, but also what type of calories you are eating. High-density foods, such as butter, some salad dressings, and pastries can pack a lot of calories into a small serving. In addition, the glycemic index of foods can affect their absorption rate, which affects how quickly the food is turned into energy or fat.
It is best to stick to foods with a low glycemic index. Most vegetables and fruits fall into this category, which may be surprising due to their sweet and refreshing taste. This is due to the high fiber and water content that help to slow their absorption in the intestine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recognizes that a diet high in fruits and vegetables can reduce the risk for many leading causes of death, and can also play an important role in weight management. Varying the types of fruits and vegetables in our diets can also provide us with beneficial and essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. In some european cities, the inhabitants choose to eat the fruits and vegetables that are currently in season. This maintains a variation in diet as the seasons change. Another way to increase our fruit and vegetable intake is to blend or juice fruits and vegetables, which help make it easier to consume more.
Avoid the tendency to stick exclusively to one food or type of food. The high content of fiber and water in fruits and vegetables also tends to make us feel full more quickly. As our stomachs stretch to a certain point, they send a signal to the brain that tells us that we are getting full and can stop eating. We can also use this principle to benefit weight optimization in another way. Prior to eating a meal, try drinking a large glass of water. When you begin eating, your stomach will already be partially full so you will feel the sensation of having a full stomach with less food consumption.
Other simple principles that can be beneficial include drinking plenty of water throughout the day. Sometimes we can mistake thirst for hunger. When we are dehydrated, our bodies may crave salty foods. Staying well hydrated can help to curb this craving. When faced with the urge to snack, drink a big glass of water and wait about 20 minutes. Many times this will cure the craving to snack. Lack of hydration and sleep can also lead us to believe that consuming a large meal will give us the energy we need to complete our day. You should also keep serving sizes to the size of a fist.
Exercise is an important part of weight optimization. It works along with our food choices in several ways. First, some of the same pleasure chemicals that are released in our brains after we eat a tasty treat are also released when we exercise our bodies. These are called endorphins, and their effect during and after exercise lasts much longer than any food treat. The positive effects of exercise can also help us avoid using food to lift our spirits and mood. Exercise gives an energy boost, and can help you to sleep better. Studies have also shown that exercising on a regular basis can lead to better food choices. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that each adult should engage in moderate-intensity exercise at least five days or 150 minutes per week.
Avoid comfort foods, such as a bowl of cereal, ice cream, or other potentially high caloric/high glycemic index foods around bedtime. When we sleep, we burn fewer calories than when awake and active. The calories from that bowl of ice cream will be stored instead of burned. A good rule of thumb is to minimize intake for about three hours prior to bedtime. If you have a small snack close to bedtime, a vegetable or something high in protein is best.
It is important to always talk to your doctor when considering a change in diet and/or exercise regimen, particularly if you are taking medication and/or have any medical conditions. Altering food choices or starting a rigorous exercise program may or may not be appropriate with certain medications or those with certain medical conditions. This will help to get you on the most effective regimen, as well as discuss changes or monitoring along with your medical care.
If you need to find a primary care physician near you, please reference the index at the back of this publication, or visit IntermountainMedicalGroup.org