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How, then, shall we eat?

Photo by KS KYUNG on Unsplash

Don't eat grains. Grains give you fiber - and you need fiber. Non-dairy is best. Milk is necessary for strong bones. Red meat will kill you. High Protein-High Fat foods are all you need to be healthy and happy.

Alcohol is poison. Red wine is good for your heart. Eggs are the worst. Eggs are a good source of protein. Fish is the healthiest source of protein. Fish contain toxic levels of mercury. Coconut oil is the miracle food that will cure anything (and everything) that ails you. Coconut oil is just saturated fat that is bad for your heart. Soy causes cancer. Soy prevents cancer.

Are you confused yet?

It's dizzying (and often discouraging) to think about how we should fuel our bodies, isn't it? There is so much conflicting information out there about how, when, and what you should eat - how do you cut through all the noise?

I hear you. I became a nutritionist, in part, because I wanted be confident in my ability to make healthy, sustainable choices for our family. Below are three things that really helped me get started on the right track.

Step 1: Listen to your body.

Paying attention to how your body feels before, during and after you eat is a great start to figuring out what your body needs to function optimally. Before you reached for that brownie, were you feeling happy? Defeated? Nervous? Excited? Tired? What were you thinking as you ate it? Did you eat it quickly or did you savor each bite? Did you feel satisfied when it was gone? Did you feel regret for having eaten it? How did you feel physically - did you notice a headache shortly after you ate it? Maybe your nose started to run? Some of these responses are born out of habit and hormones (as previously discussed), some can indicate an allergy or inflammation, and all of them are relevant as you decide whether or not a particular food item should be a regular part of your diet. Consider keeping a food journal so you can track the data and become a student of your own body.

Step 2: Ask for help.

If you don't know, find someone who does. There is no shame in asking for help - in fact, I would argue that it's a sign of strength. Seek out a trusted adviser who can answer your questions. Take a class, read a book, talk to your friendly neighborhood nutritionist (wink, wink). Believe it or not, there are constants in the nutrition universe and I love to share what I've learned!

A couple good rules of thumb:

- Shop the perimeter of the grocery store. Most of what's in those center aisles is highly processed and therefore not good for you (for lots of reasons). Plus, if you don't go down those aisles, you won't be tempted to toss those Oreos in your cart.

- For every serving of fruit you eat, try to have two servings of vegetables. Fruit is an excellent source of vitamins, minerals and fiber but it also has a fairly high sugar content (fructose) and can reinforce that sweet tooth you're trying to curb.

- Be mindful of your protein. Try to stick to lean proteins like chicken, turkey and fish. My family doesn't enjoy ground turkey by itself so I buy lean ground beef and ground turkey and mix them in a 1:1 ratio - they still get the taste of ground beef but the health benefits of ground turkey.

- You don't need that many servings of whole grains. Really. You don't. Fruits and veggies have more fiber, nutrients and good carbs. If you're going to have toast for breakfast or a sandwich at lunch, look for a brand that doesn't have a lot of ingredients you can't pronounce. I really like the Brownberry brand.

- Watch out for added sugar. Your brain likes sweet food and, because of that feel-good hormone, dopamine, your brain will seek out those sweets. Sugar lights up the reward centers of your brain just like cocaine. Also, remember that there are four grams of sugar in a teaspoon - next time you're thinking about that chocolate cookie coffee drink, remember that it has more than 50 grams of sugar...in a 16oz serving. That's 13 teaspoons of sugar in one coffee drink!!!

Photo by Ty Nash by Unsplash

Step 3: Tough Love

Of course you want another one! Habits and hormones are a powerful combination! But, as Dave Ramsey says, "Adults devise a plan and follow it, children do what feels good." There are going to be moments when you have to decide whether you want to feel good for a minute or feel good for the rest of the day. You are the only person who gets to make that call and you are the only one who can own that decision. Homemade chocolate chip cookies are my weakness. I know that I will feel bloated several hours after eating them and there's a good chance I'll end up with a zit on my chin as a result...but sometimes it's worth it. On a cold snowy day, when my kids are home and the house feels cozy, that cookie is worth it. But at 10am on a Monday, when I have a kickboxing class that evening, it's not. Is that brownie worth it? If it is, then put down the shame and enjoy every single delicious bite for as long as you possibly can. But if it's not - if it's just a band-aid for something else or a bad habit that isn't serving you - then put it down and call your accountability partner (or your friendly neighborhood nutritionist ;) ); go for a walk. Pour a cup of water over that pan of brownies so you won't be tempted to go back to it (seriously, it works - who wants soggy brownies?). Grab a glass of water or a piece of fruit. Understand that this process of changing habits and telling yourself 'no' won't always be fun and it certainly won't be easy. But it will be worth it. Let's chat!