At the risk of sounding like the ultimate wet blanket, these are just a few areas that I don’t see discussed often enough, mainly because they fall under the category of “it’s harmless” or “…better than X/Y/Z.” But if we’re going to be fair and honest with ourselves, then we are doing ourselves a disservice by looking the other way about some of our choices throughout the day, while analyzing ad nauseam the same choices over and over again, and getting no where. Could it be that the food choices we don’t second guess are the ones holding us back? Maybe you’re wondering why you aren’t making progress fast enough. Let’s leave no stone unturned and look at some of these lesser-discussed areas. Safe to say this is my “Wow…you sure must be fun to be around at parties” post. That’s fine by me. If your nutrition coach is only giving you some macro numbers to hit, they’re not a nutrition coach. They’re just a calculator. Let’s look a little deeper, shall we?
Protein powder…fruit…spinach…almond milk….what could possibly be bad about that?! The truth is, I strongly recommend against smoothies. When you drink food as opposed to chew it, your body sends different signals of satiety (that feeling of fullness). When you drink a meal, your brain isn’t receiving the signal that it’s full. Sure, your belly might feel full (it might even feel bloated), as you just consumed plenty of calories, but the chances are you will feel hungry soon after. Fruit never made anyone fat. BUT- a surge of fruit in a smoothie in the morning will make your energy levels spike and crash, especially if they’re blended into a smoothie, because often a lot of fruit is added (more fruit than if you had been tasked with chewing it). I’d much prefer a steady, sustainable rise in energy. If you’re drinking a smoothie for breakfast, you might be setting yourself up for a rollercoaster ride in energy and hunger throughout the day. What to eat instead? Well, you’ve already got that spinach and fruit in front of you… why not create a spinach salad with fresh squeezed lemon, a drizzle of olive oil, some olives, and a handful of blueberries on top? Throw in some leftover meat (you can eat it hot or cold, you decide) and you’ve got yourself a pretty solid, fresh, well-rounded, fibrous meal that might have taken you five minutes to throw together. Give yourself 15-20 minutes of dedicated meal time to eat it, and you’re starting your day off right.
This is a strange one. Many people chew gum as a weight loss strategy to stave off hunger. I strongly, strongly advise against this. You might be thinking, well, first of all, a stick of gum has zero calories (or no less than, say, five). What’s the problem with that?! And second of all, shouldn’t all that chewing distract my brain from hunger, causing me to eat less? Here’s the deal. Chewing, just like in the case of smoothies, plays an important role in allowing our hormones to function properly. If you’re chewing nonstop throughout the day, your brain is going to have a hard time sorting out when you’re truly full and when you’re truly hungry. When the hormones responsible for sending hunger and fullness cues are functioning properly, we’re able to better regulate and gauge how much food has been eaten in relation to what our actual energy needs are. Bottom line: gimmicks and tricks don’t work. Our bodies have incredible self-regulating mechanisms on their own without us going in there and deceiving and confusing the system.
I promise I’m not trying to vilify fruit! Fruit is an amazing source of nutrients and should be a part of everyone’s diet. But fruit on its own makes a pretty crappy snack. In this third point, I’m going to make the case that your snacks should essentially be mini-meals. Now, when I suggest this idea to people, their response is usually a prolonged blank stare as if they had just seen a ghost. Hopefully by now a theme is emerging, in that good nutrition isn’t just about what you eat, but also about creating an environment that allows your hormones to function normally. One way you can go about doing this is to determine how many meals you need to eat in a day to feel your best. Do you feel better with larger, fewer meals, or smaller, more frequent meals? Determine what’s going to work best for you. If you do feel like you really need something to sustain you until your next meal (as opposed to “I just wanted something to nibble on!”), try to pick foods that contain at least a serving of, at minimum, two of the three macronutrients, from real food sources. EXAMPLE: A mini jar of olives and an organic meat stick contains a serving of healthy fats and protein. This snack trumps a bag of carrots on their own, or a handful of chips. You may say “but carrots are fewer calories!” If you’re concerned about your calorie intake, then you should also be concerned about grazing and mindless snacking, no matter what the contents of the snack are! Instead, eat the carrots, but throw in a roll of deli meat, too. We’re looking for satiating snacks, not just “fillers” to feed our oral fixation or to trick and confuse our bodies.
So, there you have it. These three foods, habits, and/or tendencies may seem harmless, but they could be part of a pattern of hormonal disruption that is affecting your ability to regulate what signals your brain is receiving regarding fullness and hunger. These signals ultimately dictate how much you’re eating. Not only that, but they also affect your mood, your energy levels, cravings, and even your digestion. Surprised? Furious? Mind blown? Excited to start implementing some of this? Let me know in the comments!