Why Movement Matters

By Kelly Jo Zellmann, MS, RDN, LD, CLT

Do you have a love-hate relationship with exercise? Or are you so rigid with your routines that missing one workout fills you with guilt? Do you exercise to burn calories or to feel good? Hopefully, you do it because it makes you feel good and that keeps you wanting to continue. However, for many people, years of dieting combined with strict exercise may have left them dreading the idea of working out. The good news is there are definitely some simple ways you can start increasing your movement and/or find new ways to stay motivated.

Our bodies were designed to move. Think of how active children are naturally. They want to be playing, running, jumping, and just moving. Sadly, in the era of cell phones, remote controls, and computers, adults have become more and more sedentary, which is a major health risk. The benefits of being active far outweigh the dangers of being more stationary or sitting. One study from the American Cancer Society found a link between long periods of sitting and a higher risk of death from all causes, including 14 of the 22 causes of death measured by the study. This included 8 of the 10 most common causes of death.

Benefits of movement: Physical activity has so many benefits! The list can go on, but here are just a few:

  • Stress reduction
  • Form of self-care
  • Decreased bone strength
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Improved cholesterol levels
  • Increased metabolism
  • Improved mood, decreased anxiety
  • Improved memory and learning
  • Prevents or slows cognitive decline associated with aging
  • Reduces risk for chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), stroke, and some types of cancers

How Much Movement Should We Aim for

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) and The American Cancer Society recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (i.e. brisk walking) every week and 2 or more days a week of muscle-strengthening activities. Or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity (jogging or running) every week and 2 or more days of muscle strengthening activities. That amounts to about 30 minutes/day, five days a week. It doesn’t have to be all at one time. Exercise can be broken up throughout your week to fit in when you can.  

Focus on How it Feels, not on Numbers

What’s your why? Asking yourself why you do or don’t exercise can help figure out ways to address it. Many people focus on exercise as a means to lose weight (ie – how many calories burned or the number on the scale). However, this often results in a lack of motivation and is not sustainable (similar to diets) in the long run. Focusing on how your body feels before, during and after exercise is a much better motivator. This perspective can help make it just a normal part of your daily routine. Movement is an important ingredient to promote your overall health and wellness, increase quality of life and lower risk of disease. (Notice weight is not mentioned).

Four key areas can be used to assess how movement affects how you feel:

  • How is your stress level? Are you better at handling stress after regular movement? Maybe this means you are less irritable and have a more laid back approach to situations.
  • How is your energy level? Do you feel more energized or not? How do you feel after you exercise at different times of the day? Experimenting with this can help identify when your ideal exercise time is.
  • How is your overall mood? Do you notice a change in your outlook? Do you feel more empowered and determined to get things done when you are more active?
  • How is your sleep? Are you waking more refreshed and/or sleeping better?

Common Movement Mind Traps

According to Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Raish, authors of Intuitive Eating (2020), you may find yourself falling into one of these common mindset pitfalls:

“It’s not worth it.” Does exercise feel futile because you can’t meet a certain number of minutes or steps in a designated time? Just think if you added up all the 5-10 minute walk/movement breaks you could be doing and how they add up! Remember, every step and every minute counts! It doesn’t have to be all at once or reaching a certain goal every day or week. You are better off doing something versus nothing.

“I don’t have enough time.” Who has extra time in their schedule these days? Maybe you have had some extra down time during the pandemic, but that doesn’t mean exercise was first on your “to-do” list, right? There always seems to be more important and pressing things that end up taking up our time. Or maybe you are burning both ends of the candle just to get by these days, which results in not having extra time. Shifting your mindset to prioritizing movement as a form of daily self-care can help as you find creative ways to add movement into your daily routine. This could be little things like parking farther away in the parking lot to get extra steps in. If you are working long hours or multiple jobs, sneaking in extra steps during your breaks can all add up. Also, finding an accountability partner can also help. You aren’t as likely to hit snooze 5 times if you are meeting someone for an early morning walk, bike or run. This also makes movement more enjoyable by sharing it with someone else.

“I can’t afford a gym membership.” Guess what? I hate to burst your bubble, but exercise is absolutely free! You don’t need a gym membership, you don’t need special shoes or clothes. Movement is 100% free. The beauty of it is you can do it almost anywhere, anytime. You don’t even need much space (think jumping jacks in your living room or turning music on in the kitchen and dancing). There are so many ways to be more active without having to pay a dime.

Finding Motivation for Movement

You may need to get creative with finding ways to incorporate activity into your daily routine. A few things will help keep you motivated. First of all, choose activities you enjoy. Just like food and eating should be enjoyable, so should movement. If you don’t like it, how likely are you to keep up?  Enjoyment is one of the main reasons any activity is sustainable. Ask yourself if you prefer doing things with other people and if so, find ways to be active together—either as a family or with friends.  Change it up or challenge yourself by trying new activities. Maybe you’ve always wanted to try something new. YouTube has limitless options for yoga, dance, Tabata, etc. available at the click of your remote. Many communities have groups geared for starting a walking or running program. Or, if you get bored doing something (ie – stationary treadmill or machine), find a way to make it more interesting. Turn on a podcast, music or watch a TV show to help engage your mind with something else. There’s usually a fun way to help pass the time. Lastly, be sure you are comfortable. Wearing the right type of clothing can also make a difference. (Disclaimer: not an excuse to go on a total shopping spree, unless you can afford that.)

Remember to Rest (and Listen to your Body)

It is important to listen to your body and rest when needed. This is especially important if you are prone to injuries (from over-exercising) or pushing too hard. Your body will let you know what it needs. Don’t go too hard too fast so that you burn out. Moderation with movement is just as important as it is with eating.

Bottom line, mindful movement should be enjoyed. It should be something you look forward to and makes you feel good and crave more.

Curious for more information, check out the resources below and/or contact Kelly Jo Zellmann, MS, RDN, LD at kellyjo@nutritiousweighs.com.

References/Resources:

  1. The Center for Disease Control: https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/adults/index.htm
  2. Patel A, MAliniak M, Rees-Punia E, et al..Prolonged Leisure Time Spent Sitting in Relation to Cause-Specific Mortality in a Large US Cohort. Am J Epidemiol. 2018;187(10) 2151-2158
  3. Tribole, E., and E. Resch. (2020). Intuitive Eating. A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach. (4th edition). St. Martin’s Publishing.


Creating a Mindful Eating Mindset

By Kelly Jo Zellmann, MS, RDN, LD, CLT

Do you wonder what it means to actually be a mindful eater or “eat mindfully?” Mindful eating is another tool you can have in your well-being tool-box along with intuitive eating. However, there often are many misconceptions when it comes to mindful eating. First of all, mindful eating is not about eating healthier, better, or weight loss, and it’s not just about slowing down and savoring each bite of food. Mindful eating is about eating with intention and paying attention to what you are eating and changing your mindset and relationship around food and your body. It’s about noticing the “how” and “why” we eat and allows us to appreciate the food we eat more. The art of mindfulness and mindful eating can positively change the way you engage with not only food but other aspects of your life. The skill of mindful eating can also be used to complement the 10 principles of intuitive eating.

So, let’s start by understanding what mindful eating is.According to The Center for Mindful Eating:

  • Mindful eating allows yourself to become aware of the positive and nurturing opportunities that are available through food selection and preparation by respecting your own inner wisdom.
  • Mindful eating uses all your senses in choosing to eat food that is both satisfying to you and nourishing to your body.
  • Mindful eating acknowledges responses to food (likes, dislikes or neutral) without judgment.
  • Mindful is becoming aware of physical hunger and satiety cues to guide your decisions to begin and end eating.

Similarly, to mindfulness, which is defined as the “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally,” there are many benefits to mindful eating. 

Increased Food Enjoyment

How many times are we eating on the go or while multi-tasking these days working from home on the job or in the car? While the pandemic has forced us to be eating more meals at home, that doesn’t mean we have less distractions or are paying more attention to what we are eating. In fact, it may even pose more challenges since food is available 24/7 versus having to plan or leave to get meals if you are at work. It may be easier to mindlessly eat when you’re sitting at your computer all day and “breaks” seem to happen in the kitchen more frequently than while at the office.  

More Satisfaction with eating and mealtimes

Mindful eating tends to equate to increased satisfaction with eating and mealtimes. Are you eating for satisfaction or just eating as another task on your to-do list? If you can just take a few seconds to pause and notice your environment around eating before you start to eat, you may discover that there are little things you can do to improve your satisfaction. Notice any distractions such as maybe putting your phone away or shutting off the T.V.  By doing so, you may be able to notice what your taste buds are telling you about the flavor and texture of the foods you are eating and/or if it’s really satisfying what you are wanting or are hungry for at that moment. Pausing will also allow you to check in and notice your hunger level and any cues your body may be telling you. The more you can pause and check in, the more in tune you will be with your body and the food you are eating, which will result in increased satisfaction with food.

Improved Health Outcomes

There is a lot of research from a variety of patients ranging from diabetes to disordered eating that supports mindful eating with positive outcomes including decreased emotional eating, binge eating, depression or anxiety and emotional stress. It is also associated with healthier food choices and improved blood sugar control. There are also many programs and studies that correlate mindful eating with lower body weight. However, mindful eating is NOT intended for weight loss, since that is an outcome that reflects diet culture’s obsession with thinness and health status. Focusing on weight and weight loss takes the mind off of the present moment and it is harder to maintain a non-judgmental approach to eating.  

Steps to achieving a Mindful Eating Mindset

There are several simple steps you can take to adopt a more mindful eating mindset.

Slow Down and Press Pause

One of the first steps in eating more mindfully is to press pause and be more present. Studies have shown that just by eating foods more mindfully, it is more likely that the food will be more enjoyable.  You may even get more food enjoyment eating something you aren’t crazy about when eating more mindfully. You can do this by engaging all your senses with eating. Pay attention to the sounds, colors, smells, tastes, and textures of the food(s) you are eating and how you feel. Maybe you need a cue to slow down before or when you start eating such as purposefully eating in a certain place versus eating in the kitchen. Or, sometimes taking a few deep, calming breaths can allow you the time needed to check in with your body before eating. Have you ever felt sick after eating a meal super fast? Just by slowing down before you eat allows our digestive system to get ready to eat, which results in enhanced digestion and absorption. Also, by pressing pause and slowing down, you’ll be able to notice your level of hunger and fullness much better.  

Progress not Perfection

One thing to keep in mind is that mindful eating is not a diet, therefore, there is no perfect way to follow it. There is no on or off, you just are in the moment. You are in charge of choosing what you want to eat, honoring it and letting go of any feelings of guilt or shame. So many people struggle with wanting to eat perfectly in order to be healthy or achieve a certain weight. Well, guess what. There is no perfect way of eating and a certain number on the scale does not mean you are automatically healthy. Well-being and health are so much more than what diet culture leads us to believe. Mindful eating can help overcome some of your old food rules and ideas and challenge them with a new way of thinking. Think about how children eat intuitively (ie – they internally know when they are hungry and stop eating when full).  We all have an inner child within us that knows exactly what we want to eat and how much. We just need to trust our bodies and reconnect with our inner child and experience food like children do. That doesn’t mean every meal and every bite of food is going to be the best thing ever or that we’re never going to overeat again. Mindful eating does not mean perfection, it is about progress, giving yourself grace and self-compassion. It is an ebb and flow and is a lifelong practice.

Food, Feelings, and Emotions

Emotions are a normal part of life and so is emotional eating. Contrary to what we hear and read about emotional eating as being “bad,” it is a normal part of eating and our relationship with food. We celebrate with food and we soothe with food. However, learning to eat more mindfully can help manage emotional eating if it feels out of control as we become more aware of our thoughts and feelings around food. Many people turn to food when stressed or feeling other negative emotions as a source of soothing and/or self-medication. Learning to first acknowledge and accept what and how you are feeling is key in discovering what unmet need you may have and determining how to meet that need. Mindful eating allows you to honor whatever food you may be craving and being present in the experience of eating without judging yourself. Give yourself permission to eat and be OK with it.  

Hungry for More?

Remember, mindful eating is a skill and a tool you can use, but like intuitive eating, they both take practice. If you feel overwhelmed and not sure where to go, there are a lot of great resources to help get you started or help support you. Remember, there is no right or wrong way.  If you want more information, check out the resources below.

Curious for more information, check out the resources below and/or contact Kelly Jo Zellmann, MS, RDN, LD at kellyjo@nutritiousweighs.com.

References/Resources:

  1. The Center for Mindful Eating: https://www.thecenterformindfuleating.org/StartMindfulEating
  2. Dr. Susan Albers: https://eatingmindfully.com/
  3. Tsui, V. (2018). The Mindful Eating Workbook. Althea Press.
  4. Bays, J. (2009). Mindful Eating. A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food. Shambhala Publications, Inc.

Taking Self-Care to Heart

By Kelly Jo Zellmann, MS, RDN, LD, CLT

We often hear about what good nutrition means for our heart. But, how often do we talk about what else is good for our heart and overall health? Taking care of our heart, mind, and body begins with having positive self-love and correlates to our happiness, which begins with nourishing our heart, mind and body together as part of self-care. By doing so, we are prioritizing our health (and happiness), which naturally boosts our ability to handle all the daily stressors that life throws at us. The benefits of good self-care are numerous. It can boost our immune system, improve digestion and absorption of nutrients, reduce stress, increase self-esteem and confidence, and support healthier relationships with others. And, since we are not only in the midst of a pandemic right now, we are also seeing increasing numbers anxiety and depression across the spectrum from youth through adults.  So, the need for self-care now is more important than ever before! We all need it and the beautiful thing is that anyone can practice self-care and everyone can benefit from it. So, here is a little more background on what it is, why it’s so important and what you can do to start increasing your self-care today.

What is Self-Care & Self-Love?

According to the World Health Organization, self-care is defined as “the ability of individuals, families, and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and to cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a healthcare provider.” (1). Self-care encompasses our physical, mental and emotional health.

Self-love, according to Meriam Webster, is defined as “an appreciation of one’s own worth or virtue, proper regard for and attention to one’s own happiness or well-being, and an inflated love of or pride in oneself (narcissism).” (2) Many people think self-love is selfish referring to the third definition, but in reality, this is not the self-love we are talking about. Self-love means you accept yourself as you are, your flaws and weaknesses and you have high standards for your well-being and happiness, which is something we all should have!

If we are striving to be healthy, we need to put ourselves at the top of our priority and “to-do” lists and not wait until we may experience a health scare or new diagnosis that ends up being a wake-up call. Although, this is a good time to make changes too, we can and should be practicing good self-care every day. This starts with having a mindset that true health begins with being kind to our bodies, and also includes good nutrition, getting adequate sleep, stress management and healthy relationships.  These are all keys to our self-care puzzle. In her book, Body Kindness, Rebecca Scritchfield, RDN talks about how we all have choices to make and each positive choice we make is a little investment in our health and happiness. Making positive choices can build on each other and create energy. Being kind to ourselves is about connecting with and make caring and loving choices that can transform our health into enjoyable habits. (3) This doesn’t mean we are perfect and letting go of perfection and giving yourself grace is a part of learning to be more kind to yourself.    

So, how are you doing with nourishing yourself with self-care? Do you prioritize self-care and make it a part of your normal routine? Do you struggle with it being the last on your to-do list that often gets overlooked – easy to do for so many people who juggle working full time, are caregivers, and have little time left over at the end of the day. And/or you may think taking time for yourself is too “woo-woo,” not important or even selfish. However, wherever you are with self-care, let’s take a closer look at why it is so important to your overall health and well-being and some simple ways you can start to cultivate more self-care into your life.

Where do I Begin with Self-Care?

Beginning to embrace self-care is a journey and can improve your overall health and well-being. It can be hard at first and there’s no road map or cookie cutter approach. Much like how diets don’t work, self-care must be individualized to work for you and what your body needs at any given moment. It starts by becoming more aware of and listening to your body. So much of the time we are too busy going about our day to notice how our body is actually feeling and once we pause to just breathe and slow down, we may be surprised at what it is trying to tell us.  

There’s one question you can ask yourself in regards to your habits and choices: “Is this (habit or choice) helping me to create a better life for myself?” This can help guide your choices and determine whether or not a certain habit is helping or harming your self-care.

Start with simple steps and with the area you are struggling with the most can help. Is it managing your time to fit self-care in? Perhaps, starting your day with journaling for 10 minutes focusing on daily gratitudes can help start your day with a positive mindset, or a daily meditation to help you feel more grounded and relaxed.  Or, maybe you could really benefit from getting a better night’s rest?. Whatever area it is, you can make small, simple changes that will have a big payoff on your health.

5 Simple Steps to Self-Care:

Sleep – The secret superpower of self-care.

If you are like many Americans who are chronically sleep deprived or who are experiencing sleep issues as a result of the pandemic and added stressors, this may be your first place to start and it may involve asking for help. Without good sleep, everything can feel off. Think about your energy, mood, eating and motivation when you don’t get a good’s night sleep. Chronic sleep deprivation can actually lead to serious health issues and deserves to be checked out. There are many ways to work on getting better sleep and it depends on what you may be struggling with such as relaxing and winding down for sleep, or do you wake up frequently and can’t fall back asleep? Having a good bedtime routine to help you relax and wind down for sleep is a good start. Keeping a sleep journal can help identify what you are struggling with and then you can work on ways to get better night’s rest. For more information, check out the Sleep Guidelines During the COVID-19 Pandemic from the Sleep Foundation (link at the end of the post). (4)

Gratitude

Starting or ending your day with writing and reflecting can really change your outlook by reminding you that no matter what your circumstances are, there is always something to be thankful for. Every day is a gift and we should take time to notice the people and things around us that make us happy and bring us joy. Better yet, seeking out ways to bring joy to others will reflect back to you in a positive way and provides a ripple effect. Try writing down three things every day that you are grateful for over the next two weeks and see how it changes your day.  

Manage Stress

If only there were a magic bullet, pill of potion to take all our stress away, we’d all be living our best lives, right? Unfortunately, stress is not going to go away, but learning how to better deal with it can make all the difference in the world. Identify your major stressors and try to come up with ways to help manage them. Could it be taking the time to meal plan for the week reduce your daily stress of “what’s for dinner?” Or, maybe you can enlist the help of your spouse to watch the kids while you take 30 minutes to do something for yourself (ie – call a friend, take a bath, lay down for a nap, go for a walk).

Nourish to Flourish & Mindful Eating

Good nutrition is a foundation of self-care. If we don’t eat nourishing foods, our body and brain won’t have the energy and nutrients to feel good and do all the things we want it to. Becoming a more mindful eater can help to slow down and enjoy every bite of food and the experience of eating. Remember, it’s not about following a diet to lose weight to magically be healthier, rather it’s about making peace with food and your body and learning to enjoy food for pleasure and comfort when desired and be ok with that.

Get Outside

Getting outside for as little as 15 minutes during the day can be a quick energy boost and de-stressor. Better yet, combine it with a brisk walk around the block or down your driveway breathing in the fresh air and noticing how your body feels. Reconnecting with nature can be a natural benefit for your overall self-care and well-being. Yet, in today’s world, so many of us are stuck behind our screens or working indoors all day, we’ve lost our connection to the outside world and the amazing sights and sounds that nature has to offer.

Saying “Yes” to you and prioritizing your self-care can have positive benefits to your overall health and well-being. The choice is yours and after all, the most important relationship you will ever have is the one with yourself. Why not be kind to and love yourself more. In the end, you’ll be much happier and healthier and your heart will you thank you for it.

Curious for more information, check out the resources below and/or contact Kelly Jo Zellmann, MS, RDN, LD at kellyjo@nutritiousweighs.com.

References/Resources:

  1. What Do We Mean by Self-Care? World Health Organization. Retreived from: https://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/self-care-interventions/definitions/en/. Accessed Feb. 24, 2021.
  2. “Self-love.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/self-love. Accessed Feb. 24, 2021.
  3. Scritchfield, R. (2016). Body Kindness. Workman Publishing.

Sleep Guidelines During the COVID-19 Pandemic


COVID, Chocolate and Cravings. What’s the Connection?

By Kelly Jo Zellmann, MS, RDN, LD, CLT

Valentine’s day is fast approaching. A day dedicated to giving gifts, often chocolate or other sweets, to those you love. However, it may also bring up feelings of loneliness, anxiety, sadness, and hurt instead of love and connection. And, maybe you’ve been craving chocolate, carbs, salty or fried foods more than usual during the past year, leaving you feeling guilty and wondering why you just can’t stop? Well, there are several reasons behind why you may be experiencing increased cravings and emotional eating, but first, you need to understand why emotional eating isn’t a bad thing and why you can stop feeling guilty.

Food is Connection.

First of all, understand that you are human and we all experience food cravings along with feelings such as anxiety, boredom, loneliness, sadness, and hurt throughout our lives. Food oftentimes can become a source of comfort in the short term when experiencing these different emotions. But, ultimately, food won’t solve or fix the feelings or make them go away. Think about how strongly food connects us to one another and the ways food has comforted or brought you joy in the past. Maybe, it was your mom’s homemade brownies she would make only on your birthday and not only were they delicious, but they also made you feel special. Or, how about someone bringing you homemade chicken noodle soup when you’re sick. It really is chicken noodle soup for the soul!

Secondly, let’s talk about how we as humans have an innate need to connect with others and we need connection as much as physical nourishment (Salzberg, 2017). Connection to ourselves and to others is really a foundation that allows us to be able to enjoy food for pleasure without the guilt. It’s no surprise then, that people may be experiencing increased cravings for comfort and emotional eating during this year of social isolation. Our connections and ways we typically connect with others in the past have been thrown a curveball.  Celebrations that usually center around food have been on hold or held via zoom, such as weddings and funerals. We are missing out on the togetherness of being able to break bread together or have cake. This may be leaving us with a void that we are using food to till those unmet needs of connection and feelings.

Thirdly, there is a physiological reason behind the power of increased cravings, which involves many parts of the brain. Stress itself triggers a specific brain neurotransmitter called CRF (corticotropin releasing factor) in the parts of the brain wired for cravings. Stress increases CRF, which can directly promote cravings itself.  Then, when we do eat, it causes a release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is really stimulating. Therefore, it’s easy to understand that with all the added stressors and roller coaster of emotions of the pandemic, people’s stress may be at an all time high and food may be an easy source of comfort during these times.  

So, have your chocolate and eat it too!

How we manage cravings and emotional eating is a common struggle many people have. The first step in understanding cravings and emotional eating is to identify it and bring awareness to it. Knowing what it is you want or are feeling and being able to determine if it is emotional hunger or physical hunger, will help to ensure you are going to be satisfied. Mindless eating will only lead to more consumption of food and less enjoyment and satisfaction.

The concepts of Intuitive and Mindful Eating encourage you to be gentler and more compassionate with yourself without guilt or judgment. To help get started, you can ask yourself these questions to reconnect with yourself and discover what your body needs now in order to cope with your feelings. (Tribole and Resch, 2020):

  1. Am I biologically hungry? If yes, eat! If no, continue with the following questions to find out what you are feeling and really want or need.
  2. What am I feeling? Write it out, call a friend, just sit with your feelings, and experience them if you can. If this is too difficult, you may need to talk to a counselor or therapist.
  3. What do I need? Try to identify what it is you need. Rest? Time for Self-Care?
  4. Do I need to ask for help? If needing time for yourself, you may need to ask for help. Asking your partner to help with the kids so you can do something for yourself or connect with a friend. Whatever it is you identify; you may need help to make it happen.

And, if you still are wanting to eat, then that is completely OK! Just because you are not biologically hungry, does not mean you shouldn’t eat. But, by pausing and identifying what you really need (physically and emotionally) and want, you are now honoring your body and the desire and can enjoy whatever it is mindfully and intuitively.

6 Tips for your Emotional Eating Toolbox

  1. Eat regular meals and snacks. Ensuring your body is getting a balanced mix of nutrients between carbohydrates, protein, and fat throughout the day will help minimize getting over-hungry, which can lead to cravings and overeating. Planning your meals and snacks along with having the foods available can help make it easier for you to get a mix of good nutrients with a focus on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Be sure to include one protein, fat, and carbohydrate every time you eat to help keep you energized.
  2. Drink more water. Sounds too easy and we have heard it forever, but water is the forgotten nutrient, and it is just as important as the other macronutrients. Not being adequately hydrated can leave you thinking you are hungry when you might actually be thirsty instead. How much water? The best indicator of hydration is the color of your urine. If it is a light, pale color like lemonade, you are likely well hydrated.  Get in the habit of filling up a water bottle and refilling as needed throughout the day.
  3. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep. Ever notice how you crave more foods when you are overly tired? Lack of sleep can really mess with our hunger hormones and increase cravings. If you are having trouble with falling asleep or staying asleep, this is important to work on and get help if needed! Try working on getting into a consistent bed-time routine that helps wind down your body and your brain.
  4. Give yourself unconditional permission to eat! Food restriction and deprivation naturally leads to a desire to want the food Once you start giving yourself permission to eat without guilt or judgment, food cravings can become less intense since you have normalized the food you are craving. This isn’t always easy and you may want to seek out additional support from a registered dietitian nutritionist.
  5. Get Moving. Our bodies were meant to move (not sit all day) and there are natural benefits of physical activity with the release of endorphins that help us feel good and improve our mood. This doesn’t mean having to work out for 2 hours every day or anything extreme. Exploring and finding ways that feel good to you and you enjoy are key to incorporating regular movement into your day and making it a part of your self- care routine.
  6. Take time for self-care.  If you aren’t getting enough time for pleasure and relaxation, you may end up turning to food to cope. If we don’t take care of ourselves first and our internal needs, we may not have the tools to be able to cope with our feelings without turning to food. Find ways to nurture yourself in ways that help you reconnect with yourself and keep you balanced. Meditating, journaling, reading, deep breathing, and connecting with others are all ways that can help manage stress.

So, caving into your cravings isn’t all bad! Let go of the guilt and enjoy that chocolate or special dessert mindfully! We all have the right to enjoy food and eat for pleasure and your relationship with food will become more positive as you slowly let go of the fear of food as a coping mechanism and truly embrace it.

Curious for more information, check out the resources below and/or contact Kelly Jo Zellmann, MS, RDN, LD at kellyjo@nutritiousweighs.com.

Resources:

  1. S. Salzberg, (2017). Real Love: The Art of Mindful Connection. Flatiron Books.
  2. Tribole, E., and E. Resch. (2020). Intuitive Eating. A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach. (4th edition). St. Martin’s Publishing.


Looking to lose that Quarantine 15 (or more)?

By Kelly Jo Zellmann, MS, RDN, LD, CLT

Has the pandemic affected your waistline? Let’s admit it, it hasn’t been easy. Last spring’s stay at home orders and additional shut-downs, combined with more people working from home and kids distance learning have all posed its challenges when it comes to maintaining normal routines with eating and exercise. Not having access to your usual activities (ie – gyms and/or sports activities for kids) and staying home may have resulted in increased TV binge watching, baking goodies and eating more combined with less physical activity could have easily led to a few extra and unwanted pounds.

If so, you are not alone. According to one study by Gelesis, a biotechnology company, it is estimated that 71 million Americans have gained weight during the pandemic and, as a result, 52% say they feel down about the way they look. The study also found that even though people have been motivated to develop healthier habits amidst the pandemic, it also highlighted the fact that many Americans who want to lose weight continue to struggle. And, it’s no surprise that anxiety levels have increased as well. Anxiety, stress and lack of motivation have been common effects of the pandemic for many people. Fifty percent of respondents said they lacked motivation, thirty three percent were more anxious and forty one percent were more stressed, and felt they needed more support to lose weight.

Now that January has come and almost gone, it also happens to be the most popular time for many people to set New Year’s Resolutions. The idea of a “new you” and fresh start has many people hopeful to lose that weight gained and/or if you’re like almost fifty percent of Americans pre-Covid, losing weight and eating healthier are often at the top of the resolutions list. So, if you’re finding yourself wondering which weight loss program to do or join, read on. 

As a nation, we spend nearly 33 billion dollars per year on weight loss products. We are constantly inundated with promises of products and diet plans to lose weight everywhere we look. Social media is full of daily posts about someone who has successfully lost weight on the latest fad-diet and is trying to convince everyone in the world that it’s what you need to do. However, focusing on the goal of losing weight is only looking at the desired outcome and not the habits that help you get there. What if there was a way to do both (eat healthier and lose weight) without dieting, calorie counting and restricting yourself? Sound too good to be true? Well, what if I told you it’s not! The truth is and always will be that diets don’t work! Repeat that if you need to. Diets don’t work! Somehow, as a society, we’ve been brainwashed in the pursuit of some ideal body and weight that we think we should look a certain way or weigh a certain number.  Thus, we are easily lured back to the next diet hoping it will finally work, and often times end up gaining more weight afterwards and feeling even worse about ourselves. Diets look good and appealing on the outside with their promise of a quick fix, but they fail time and time again and offer feelings of failure and feeling miserable on the inside.

So, you might be wondering, what does work then?

Well, let me introduce you to Intuitive and Mindful Eating. Ditching dieting for good is hard if you’ve had a long history and relationship with it. However, you might be pleasantly surprised at how kind and gentle both intuitive eating and mindful eating are compared to your previous dieting relationships. You might also be surprised to see just how bad those diets have been treating you all these years. 

What is Intuitive Eating (IE)? Intuitive Eating is a dynamic mind-body integration of instinct, emotion, and rational thought. It is a personal process of honoring your health by paying attention to the messages of your body and meeting your physical and emotional needs (Tribole and Resch, 2017). IE was first introduced by two Registered Dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch in 1995. Since then, it has gained in popularity and has over 125 research studies to support its positive effects on health and well-being. This non-diet approach to health and your body is a way to tune in to your body’s inner cues and break up with the cycle of chronic dieting. It encompasses ten principles that help a person gain body attunement, which is the ability to hear and respond to the physical sensations in your body – such as hunger and fullness cues, while other principles work by removing obstacles to body attunement.

There are ten principles of Intuitive Eating:

  • Ditch the Diet Mentality. While this may seem hard or even scary to do at first, it will literally free your mind and body from the harm diets and our diet obsessed culture have done to you over the years. Just like a new romance, a diet offers the honeymoon phase where it seems so easy to follow and effortless to lose weight. However, with each progressive diet that follows, your body makes it harder and harder to lose weight and easier to gain it back. Hence, you end up feeling like a failure, when actually, the diet failed you. Yet, we often don’t blame the diet, we blame ourselves.  
  • Honor Your Hunger. Allowing yourself to keep your body fed with adequate nutrition in order to avoid getting over-hungry is an important part of IE. If we ignore our internal cues for hunger, it can trigger overeating and even binge eating. This is key in rebuilding and relearning how to trust yourself with food and can be hard if you have tuned this out over the years with dieting and/or just trying not to listen to it. Using a Hunger-Fullness Scale can help. Aiming to eat when you are somewhat hungry, but not too hungry is a good place to be.
  • Make Peace with Food. This means giving yourself unconditional permission to eat. Chronic dieters tend to evaluate their success or failure on the current day.  Success is based on how good you’ve followed the rules and plan. Even just thinking that you’ve blown the diet or day can trigger more consumption of food, regardless of hunger of fullness levels. Depriving yourself and telling yourself you “can’t” or “shouldn’t” have something can, and often does, lead to strong feelings that build into uncontrollable cravings and can lead to overeating and binging. Just like how biological hunger can lead to overeating because your body is telling you that you are physically hungry, the psychological effects of deprivation and dieting can also lead to overeating because it fuels your thoughts about food and creates a disconnect from your body. Making peace with food involves exploring the fears that hold you back from giving yourself permission to eat and is a process of placing value on your emotional health.
  • Challenge the Food Police. In order to make peace with food, you need to silence your inner thoughts and voices called the food police. The food police are the negative voices in your head that have developed over the years, perhaps from childhood from dieting and/or rigid food rules. It’s your harsh inner critic that determines if you are “good” or “bad” with regards to your food intake. By bringing awareness to its presence in your mind, you can learn to challenge its power and loosen its hold on you. Intuitive eaters trust their body’s inner signals and trust themselves to make the best decisions for nourishment and challenge any negative thoughts by re-framing them and thus, silencing the food police.
  • Discover the Satisfaction Factor. Satisfaction is the hub of Intuitive Eating. Have you ever felt full without being satisfied with what you ate? So often, eating for pleasure brings about feelings of guilt and shame. Eating when you are moderately hungry rather than ravenous or starving will increase your satisfaction factor (refer back to the hunger-fullness scale). When you eat without a diet mentality you will feel free to discover more satisfaction from your food. Aiming for satisfaction helps you find a way of eating that tastes and feels best for you – this is not a one-cookie-cutter-fits-all process or approach like with diets, it is a journey of self-awareness and discovery.
  • Feel Your Fullness. Do you feel like you always have to be multi-tasking and eating is just another chore or task? Are you working on work or scrolling social media while eating or listening to or watching TV? Along with honoring your hunger, you also need to tune in to your body’s signals fullness. This can be hard for people because having so many distractions in our environment. You can start by creating a calm and pleasant environment for eating. Set your fork down between bites, pause mid-meal and ask yourself: Does this food still taste good? Is it still pleasurable? And, what is my current fullness level? Learning to feel your fullness takes practice, patience, and intention. Always remember, there is no failing or perfect way to eat.
  • Cope with your Emotions with Kindness. All of us emotionally eat at certain times and it’s completely normal. (ie – think about celebrations and holidays). However, it is helpful to understand that food restriction alone (ie – dieting), can trigger a loss of control with eating and can feel like emotional eating, but it is actually your body trying to recover from the restriction. Instead, find kind ways to nurture yourself without using food when you are experiencing feelings such as anxiety, loneliness, boredom, and anger. Food may provide short term comfort, but it won’t fix the feeling or make it go away and it may make you feel worse in the long run. You may need help finding appropriate coping skills and/or may find working with a therapist helpful.
  • Respect Your Body. Respecting your body means treating it with dignity, kindness and gratitude. Your body is your one home for the rest of your life and deserves to be treated well by taking care of it, listening to it, and giving it what it needs. If you are struggling with this, start with what you are grateful for and try to avoid making comparisons to others. Most importantly, respect your body so you can feel better about who you are. If you are unrealistic and overly critical about your body size and shape, it will be hard to truly embrace IE.  
  • Movement – Feel the Difference. Having a healthy relationship with movement is something many people who have a history with chronic dieting do not have. Instead of thinking about exercise as something you have to do or “should do” in order to burn a certain number of calories for example, try finding some kind of activity that you actually enjoy doing and makes you feel good. Just like with food and eating, let your body be your guide with mindful movement. Discover and pay attention to how your body feels during and after activity, without counting calories, without judgement, comparison or competition.
  • Honor Your Health – Gentle Nutrition. Choosing foods that honor your health, taste good, and make you feel good is the cornerstone of eating. There is no perfect way of eating in order to be healthy. One snack, one meal or one day does not ruin your health, rather your pattern of eating over time is what matters most. IE is not about being perfect – another challenge for many to let go of.  It’s more about offering guidelines and an outline for a comfortable relationship with food. This involves learning to trust your inner intuitive wisdom and thinking about progress not perfection when it comes to eating and understanding that no one is perfect. You CAN start making healthy changes today one bite at a time.

Do any of these resonate with you? If you are curious to learn more about how to set non-diet weight loss/goals/resolutions and how to ditch dieting for good by embracing the concepts of Intuitive Eating, check out the resources below and/or contact Kelly Jo Zellmann, MS, RDN, LD at kellyjo@nutritiousweighs.com.

  1. Tribole, E., and E. Resch, 2017. The Intuitive Eating Workbook. Principles for Nourishing a Healthy Relationship with Food. New Harbinger Publications, Inc: Oakland, CA.
  2. The Intuitive Eating website: http://www.intuitiveeating.org

My May & Mother’s Day Wish for You

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Wishing all the Mom’s out there a Very Happy Mother’s Day and those that aren’t the same as well!

We are all moms in one way or another (ok – sorry to the men out there, this is for the females in your life:), taking care of others is what we do for our friends or family and not just our own children! But, first we must take care of ourselves!

So, No Diet Day has come and gone.  I hear and see so many people who are trying to lose weight and are using products, pills, potions, or diets.  My initial response is “stop!” Why are you doing this to your body?  First of all, please know that diets don’t work and people usually end up gaining more weight in the long run.  So, why are we so drawn to them versus trying to change our lifestyle habits towards those that are healthy and sustainable?  I am still working on those answers and welcome responses!

The truth is that for long term success you need to accept where you are at and commit to small changes, making those a habit. Sometimes, taking our focus of the number on the scale and using our energy in a positive way is all that matters! The weight will come!  Learning to trust your body is a process and it takes time (not the “quick fix” promised by all the popular plans and products out there).

Two “S’s” can also play a major role in weight management.  Stress and sleep!  How are you doing with these? Do you get 7-9 hours of sleep daily? This is another trend I often see.  Lack of sleep and increased stress raise negative hormone (ie – cortisol) levels in the body.  No matter how much exercise and eating right you do, your body is still fighting back!  Finding ways to de-stress is a great place to start for improving your overall health and wellness and achieving your body’s natural, healthy weight as well as ensuring adequate sleep.

Focus first on getting regular sleep, de-stress and do activities you enjoy for physical activity.  Eat regular meals (not skipping) and include a good source of protein, carbohydrate and fat with each meal and snack and you will be on your way to wellness!  And, do consider the No Diet Day a forever commitment!  It is truly one your body will thank you for.  Whether you are a mom or not, your body needs the nutrients to fuel for healthy living.  It’s really quite simple, yet I think we make it more difficult on ourselves.

What steps are you taking to give your body the gift of health?  Remember, if you don’t care of your body, where are you going to live?


Bite Into A Healthy Lifestyle ~ National Nutrition Month 2015

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While most of us are hoping March doesn’t come in like a lion and that it does go out like lamb, despite the weather, it is also National Nutrition Month. I love this year’s theme “Bite into A Healthy Lifestyle,” as it coincides exactly with my taglines and passions of “Making Healthy Choices, One Bite at a Time” and “Eat Well, Live Well!”

When you think about nutrition, what does it mean for you?  Your family? What are your struggles?  It seems in today’s world, sadly, there are just way too many diets, gimmicks, product labeling confusion, and pressure to eat a certain way!  I hope to share tid-bits throughout the month that reinforce the fact that nutrition is all about YOU. Not what everyone else is doing or what the latest fad diet is. It comes down to simple and nutritious eating ~ which also means ~ moderation and that all foods can and do fit into a healthy lifestyle!

Some questions to ask yourself:

Do you have a plan focused on your  long-term health, not just hoping for an overnight quick fix?

Are you eating breakfast every day?  If not, why?

Are you planning your meals ~ lunch and supper? If not, why? And, what could help you do this better?

What are barriers to eating healthy?

Are you incorporating regular, physical activity on a daily basis?  And, this doesn’t mean sweating for an hour at the gym.  Even small (5-10 minute) breaks during your work day or at home throughout the day can and do really help!  Exercise is also free medicine and helps us feel good! Find something you enjoy and reap the benefits!

I look forward to sharing more throughout the month! Let me know what’s on your mind related to nutrition and wellness! And, remember, a registered dietitian nutritionist can develop a personalized nutrition plan that meets your individual needs!


Struggles of a Dietitian Mom

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I have to make a confession: my kids love junk food!  Sometimes, being a dietitian mom is a struggle!  Working with clients and teaching, encouraging, and demonstrating new ways to enjoy food is so rewarding, challenging, and fun!  But, I have to admit, some of my toughest clients are my very own kids! It was so much easier when it was just breastfeeding and baby foods!  Yes, regular pop (which we don’t have at home unless a special occasion), candy (what’s not to love about it), cupcakes, cookies, and sugared cereals are favorites for our kids!  What is not to love about these foods – they taste good!  Thanks to manufacturers who know what our brains and bodies like, they market all kinds of unhealthy foods to us, and especially kids!

For instance, a recent text I got from my oldest son for his grocery list wishes included:  pop tarts, hot dogs, ham, cheese and crackers, pizza, and pizza rolls.  I read it and was thinking “where have I gone wrong?”  And, I’m not so sure it’s an easy answer!  Of course, I know all the healthy foods they should be eating, but I have to admit, my kids are some of my toughest clients!  Being a dietitian mom can be so hard!  Even though they do like fruits and vegetables, they also are in tune with what their friend’s are eating and that impact is so big at their age (the older two are 10 and 8), I am no longer in control of their nutrition.  Yes, I can influence and follow the division of responsibility for parenting (our job is to provide healthy foods, variety, and options), while their job is to choose what (if anything), and how much they will eat. (See Ellyn Satter’s website for more details:  http://ellynsatterinstitute.org/dor/divisionofresponsibilityinfeeding.php).

So, what are we/I to do?  As a parent and dietitian, I hold on to hope that I am instilling healthy habits and interest in healthy foods my kids will eat and that someday they will come to appreciate whole foods and cooking healthy foods as much as I do.  My grocery cart would look a bit different if just shopping for my husband and I.  I’m sorry, but my kids don’t love spinach, and they don’t necessarily love all the dishes I try to create (try is a key word – they don’t always turn out:)!  Anyway, the fact of the matter is, I am no different than anyone else. I am not out to judge or instill my own practices on you or your family, rather here to cheer you on as a fellow mom or anyone who’s trying to make healthy changes for yourself. I’ve been there, I am there, and I know it’s not easy.  It’s a journey, one step, one bite, one meal, one pound at a time.  Let go of the guilt and get back to enjoying food like it’s meant to be.  If your child would rather eat whole wheat muffins than pop tarts – super!  But, if not, you haven’t failed or done anything wrong.  There’s a place for everything and balance and moderation truly are key!  Providing a healthy environment, including children in the process of growing, shopping, preparing, and cooking or baking is key to them learning all about the different ways to enjoy food!

What are your struggles as a mom or otherwise?


Fats ~ Friend or Foe ~ The ABC’s When it comes to Cooking Oils (Part II)

So, one of my goals for this coming year (that I knew I would struggle with) is to keep up with my blog ~ even if only once a month!  I started it last fall, then the holidays hit and I think between Thanksgiving and Christmas it is a blur!  Can anyone else relate?  So, I’ve had this pretty much ready to go for a while but haven’t gotten around to posting it. Hopefully, you may take away a nugget or two on oils.  Let me know if you have any questions!

Avocado Oil:  The fatty acid composition of avocado oil is similar to that of olive oil, and thus is a healthy option, and anti-inflammatory in nature.  It has a higher smoke point than olive oil, good for stir frying and high heat baking, and contains loads of monounsaturated fatty acids.  Cons:  Not as common as other oils, thus it tends to be more expensive.

Butter/lard:  High in saturated and possibly trans fats. For health reasons, decreasing consumption may be beneficial. If you have high cholesterol or a family history of heart disease, you may want to opt for soft tubs of margarine instead of solid bars of butter/lard, however, some argue butter is better because it is all natural!  Another alternative to butter is Ghee:  a type of clarified butter commonly used in India and other parts of South Asia.  It shares a similar fat composition as butter, although derived from milk, it contains very low lactose and is suitable even for people who are lactose intolerant, or highly reactive to corn or soy (things that cows eat).  I have had several LEAP patients find they do well using Ghee instead of butter

*Canola Oil:  Canola oil got its name in 1978 as “CANadian Oil, Low Acid”.  Canola oil is made from crushed seeds of the canola plant and it has less saturated fat than any other oil commonly used in the U.S.   Canola oil can be considered an all-purpose cooking oil. It has a light and mild-taste, and is an excellent source of monounsaturated fat, second to olive oil. Use it to sauté vegetables, in baking, and in salad dressings. It also works well in high temperature applications such as stir-frying.

Coconut Oil:  Have you joined the coconut craze (thanks to Dr. Oz and many other sources out there)? What is it about coconut oil that has people pulling it and going nuts?  First, the basics, 92 percent of its fat is saturated. That makes coconut oil far more saturated than most other oils and fats. Olive and soybean oils, for example, are about 15 percent saturated, while beef fat is about 50 percent saturated and butter is 63 percent saturated. (Only palm kernel oil, at 82 percent saturated, rivals coconut oil.)  All those saturated chemical bonds explain why coconut oil is solid at room temperature and doesn’t go rancid quickly. That makes it attractive to many candy makers, who use it in chocolate, yogurt, and other coatings that don’t melt until they hit your mouth. It’s also why some vegans—who eat no meat, fish, eggs, or dairy foods—use it as a butter substitute.

What makes it different?  Coconut oil is also unusual because it contains a high percentage of medium-chain triglycerides, or MCTs.  Most oils consist entirely of long-chain triglycerides, or LCTs, which are more than 12 carbons long. Soybean oil, for example, is 100 percent LCTs. Medium-chain triglycerides are 6 to 12 carbons long. Coconut oil contains roughly 40 percent LCTs and 60 percent MCTs.  The difference matters because our bodies metabolize MCTs differently than LCTs.  MCTs are transported directly from the intestinal tract to the liver, where they’re likely to be directly burned off as fuel and raise the metabolic rate slightly.  That means less is available to be circulated throughout the body and deposited in fat tissues.

A review of the scientific literature on coconut oil for weight loss, Alzheimer’s disease, and heart disease all have need for further research.  Bottom line:  There is no good evidence that coconut oil can help you lose weight or cure Alzheimer’s disease.  MCT oil may lead to modest weight loss when substituted for other oils.  And, there is no good evidence that “virgin” coconut oil does less damage to your heart than conventional coconut oil.  So, for cooking purposes, it does have high smoke point and works for baking, stir-frys or as a dairy free replacement to butter.  Enjoy the flavor in different recipes.  Coconut oil is good for many other purposes including moisturizing skin and hair.

Corn Oil: The polyunsaturated content is 98% omega-6 and only 2% omega 3s, for this reason, I would steer away from this oil in most cases.   It does have a high smoke point and is commonly used for frying.

*Olive Oil:  Olive oil is used in many Mediterranean and Italian dishes because it is one of the tastiest oils.  Olive oil is sold as “virgin” or “extra virgin.”  Extra virgin has less acid and a fruitier flavor and stronger aroma than pure or virgin olive oil.  A little goes a long way:).  Olive oil that is labeled as “light” is often lighter in hue or flavor but not lighter in calories.  Use olive oil in place of saturated fat, such as butter.  Dip bread in it, use it in baking, sauté, even fry vegetables and meat. But beware the smoking point is not very high so frying at high temperatures will cause your food to brown quickly.

Peanut Oil:  Peanut oil can be used for deep-frying, sautéing, or grilling food. The proposed health benefits of peanut oil is mixed among the research. It has a relatively high saturated fat content compared to most other vegetable oils, but it also has a high poly/monounsaturated fat content.  I would probably avoid this oil and stick to one with more definitive research on the health benefits. Plus, many people have allergies to peanuts.

Safflower Oil:  Safflower oil is high in polyunsaturated fatty acids and low in saturated fat.  It is best for medium-heat cooking such as stir-frying or sautéing.

Soybean Oil:  Soybean oil is high in omega-6 fatty acids and for that reason, it is probably not the healthiest choice. It has a very high smoke point and if you are looking to buy soybean oil, avoid the hydrogenated versions.

Sunflower Oil:  Made from sunflower seeds, this oil has a very high smoke point and is commonly used for frying foods.  Even though it has an abundance of polyunsaturated fat and Vitamin E, most of it is unhealthy omega-6 fatty acids and very little healthy omega-3’s.  Therefore, this is not the best nor the worst oil to choose from. If you’re looking for something healthy, try canola or olive oil.

Bottom line is ~ whatever oil and fat you choose, use it in moderation and choose the option that best meets your health needs and taste!

Other Notes:  If you’re concerned about GMO, it’s likely that corn, soy, and canola oils are genetically-modified.  There are non-GMO, organic kinds of these oils available.  So be sure to check the label.

Have fun experimenting with all the different oils and cooking methods!  What’s your favorite?

Simple Homemade Vinegar & Oil Salad Dressing:10881530_736320596436727_7348492703683382337_n

3 Tbsp frozen juice concentrate, thawed or pureed fruit

1 Tbsp Vinegar or lemon/lime juice

3 Tbsp Oil

¼ tsp Salt

Seasonings to taste (pepper, garlic, basil, mustard, onion, leek, sesame see, etc.)  Whisk or shake well to mix.  Cover and refrigerate for up to one week.  Before using, let stand at room temperature about 15 minutes, and then shake well.  For thicker dressings or spreads, add pureed olives, avocado, green or red pepper, fruits, beans, finely chopped nuts or nut butter.  Enjoy!


The Skinny on Fats: Friend or Foe

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Some of the most common questions I get asked about when it comes to healthy eating and shopping as a consumer has to do with fat.  People want to know what the best fats and oils to use are and how to know which to buy in the store.

As a culture, we have become overly “fat- phobic,” a lasting effect thanks to the 80s and 90s low-fat craze and when fat was feared by dieters and many others.  As a result, manufacturers developed brands and products of foods with food additives and ingredients to replace fat, while still trying to maintain flavor.  The truth is, fats are not bad, as long as you get the right kinds and in moderation of course.

I always try to advise people that it’s not so much the amount of fat you eat, but the type of fat that you want to pay attention to.  For example, the omega-3 fats in particular have great health benefits for our bodies and can help lower triglycerides and cholesterol, as well as decrease inflammation, compared to saturated fats that can increase inflammation and contribute to hardening of arteries.

Fat 101:

Fat is fat. Fat contains 9 calories per gram (versus 4 calories per gram compared to carbohydrates or protein).  The type of fat you choose doesn’t change the amount of calories, unless choosing “lite” or “reduced-fat” versions of products.   General recommendations are to include between 25-35% total calories from fat, and also a healthy ratio of omega-3 fats to omega-6 fats.

Types of Fats:

Saturated fats – Saturated fats are usually hard at room temperature and come from animal origin.  Saturated fats have been shown to raise cholesterol levels and can contribute to hardening of arteries.  Limit the amounts of whole fat foods you choose (ie – whole milk, cream, butter), and red meat or other animal proteins you eat.  You can do this by cutting back on how often you eat them, how much you eat of them at a meal, or both.

Trans fats – Trans fat acts similar to saturated fats and has been shown to also increase cholesterol levels.  Eliminate trans fats from your diet by staying away from foods that contain hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils. (Read the ingredient list on the food label!) Sources: Baked goods, shortening and stick margarine may contain trans fat, however, many manufacturers are now removing trans fat from products due to the known negative health risks.

Unsaturated fats –Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are the two unsaturated fats. They are mainly found in fish such as salmon, trout and herring, as well as avocados, olives, walnuts and liquid vegetable oils such as soybean, corn, safflower, canola, olive and sunflower.  Both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats may help improve your blood cholesterol when you use them in place of saturated and trans fats.

Monounsaturated fats are found in olive oil, peanut oil, canola oil, avocados, nuts and seeds. Polyunsaturated fats are found in many vegetable oils, including safflower, corn, sunflower, soy and cottonseed oils, as well as in nuts and seeds.

Essential Fatty Acids:

Your body needs two types of polyunsaturated fatty acids:  omega-3s (linolenic) and omega-6s (linoleic) from your diet, because your cells cannot make these fatty acids themselves. Both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids contribute to brain function.   A lot of research shows omega-3s are associated with a decreased risk of cancer, heart disease, inflammatory disease, depression, pregnancy problems, and much more.  You must get essential fats through food.  In general, Americans tend to get enough omega-6 in our diet, so focusing more on omega-3s is beneficial.

Food Sources: Omega-6 mostly comes from plant oils such as corn oil, soybean oil, and sunflower oil, as well as from nuts and seeds. Omega-3s come primarily from fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and tuna, as well as from plant sources such as canola, walnuts and flaxseed in lesser amounts.

Four Reasons to Make Friends with Fat:

Fat helps with fullness:  Including a source of healthy fat at every meal can help with satiety, because fat takes longer to digest and stays in the stomach longer.

Fat can help with mood and behavior:  Fats are responsible for the health of every cell in your body and essential fats are precursors to hormones and chemicals in your brain.

Fat helps you absorb fat-soluble vitamins: Fat helps to digest fat-soluble vitamins like Vitamins A, D, E and K. Without eating enough fat, your body can be deficient in these nutrients.

Fat can help with inflammation: Fats help to alleviate joint aches and pains and lower inflammation in your body.

So, to easily incorporate more healthy fats into your diet, you can start by adding ground flax into your morning smoothies or oatmeal, topping your sandwich with sliced avocado and keeping nuts in your bag for a healthy omega-3 packed afternoon snack.

Stay tuned for Part 2 on The Skinny on Fats, focusing specifically on all the different types of fats & oils and how they can be used in cooking.