Keeping Food Simple

Thursday, April 19, 2018

CcongdonMy boss, Tim, asked if I would write a post for the Greater Green Bay Y’s blog site. The topic, “Anything you want to post about.”  I agreed. After agreeing, I read through a couple of the previous posts. Recently Andy posted a blog about eating, using technology to help track nutrition. Kellen posted her blog about setting a goal to help stay on track. I am going incorporate Andy and Kellen’s comments, reference a recent presentation I attended on various “Types of Modern Diets” and give some options on how to keep food simple for getting healthy.

The presenter for the “Types of Modern Diets” presentation is an established Registered Dietician (RD) whose opinion I respect. She did a great job. She did not support or refute any of the popular trending diets, but instead pulled out from each diet, what she incorporates (and avoids) into her recommendations. Suggestions such as if the food inflames your stomach or digestive system, do not eat it. Another comment she made was fruits and vegetables are a good source of nutrients. Sounds easy right?

If the answer is so easy, where do we go wrong? Ultimately that answer comes down to personal choices.  Year after year, decade after decade of those personal choices ultimately forms our behavior regarding those choices. The longer we have the behavior, the tougher it can be to change.

On a daily basis we get pounded, hounded and pressured about food. Buy this product, follow that diet, keep up with your spouse, sister, brother, neighbor, person on TV or anyone else. 

Through the years I have been asked literally thousands of times about what to eat to get healthy and/or how to lose weight. Three disclaimers. First, I am not a Nutritionist or Registered Dietician. Second, there is not a one size fits all perfect solution applicable to all. Third, calories in vs. calories out. 

My background is not from being a nutritional savant. Instead, it comes from years of experience, reading thousands of articles, blogs, books, watching videos, shows & webinars as well as conversations, and most importantly, feedback from your peers. Comments here will be general information. If you want specific nutritional advice or have a unique medical or nutritional situation, see your healthcare professional team.

My view of food has changed over time. Now, instead of using food as a filler (eat to get full), it has become clear that food is THE fuel to provide the nutrients my body needs. Simple, garbage in yields garbage into the body. For example, sugar causes inflammation inside the body; how much inflammation varies by individual and circumstance, but yes it can have internal ill effects, not just what we see on the scale. Ill effects may show up as bloating, aches, stiffness or perhaps an injury that takes longer to heal or a cold that lingers longer than it should.

There is not a one size fits all solution to nutrition. What works for one individual may not work for another because there are too many individual specific variables. There are varying body types, underlying situations, home stress, work stress and life’s overall stress that affect everyone differently. There are as many personal nutritional choice options as there are people. In her presentation, the RD said “diets change over time.” She asked the audience if we remember diets such as low-fat, low-carb, low calorie, high protein, gluten free or ketonic. Then she went in to specific names of the diets along with attributes from several of the more mainstream diets. A lot of information and options. Now throw into the mix our body types (e.g. apple, pear, endomorphic, ectomorphic, blood type O, A, B, etceteras). You get it, there is a lot thrown at us. With all this in front of you, not so easy. 

Calories in, calories out. Don’t over think this point. If you simply want to manage weight, ingest more calories than you it burn, yes you will put on weight. There are some exceptions to this so you may need to seek professional healthcare advice. In a recent public television program, a UW Madison lecturer referenced a 40 year study of thousands of people regarding weight gain. The study reported that on average, we gain about ¾ of a pound/year. Put another way, on average people consume ~ 7 calories a day more than they burn. That’s it. Here is the math, 7 calories/day, 365 days/year = 2,555 calories/year consumed. The math works out to about the equivalent of 3-4 Tic Tacs/day.

With all the dieting, poor nutritional options, stress and pressure from outside sources, it is no surprise we are a nation of an expanding waist line along with increased health concerns. My suggestion, start with a couple personal choice adjustments for getting healthy. Here are some options that have worked for others that can work for you too:

  1. Plan out meals in advance. Spend 10 minutes on a Sunday planning and ½ hour shopping. In less than an hour you can have three days’ worth of meals planned using fresh food. If this works, move it up to twice/week such as Sunday and Wednesday. For an investment of less than 2 hours/week you could have most (if not all) meals planned. 

  2. Liz Applegate, Ph.D., author of Eat Smart Play Hard, said that when you don’t know what to eat, make your plate colorful. This is great advice. It will help deliver a much needed cross section of healthy vitamins and minerals into your body. If you are not sure what this means or you would like to ease into adding more colors into your routine (not just varying shades of brown), there is a 4 week sample guideline near the bottom of this post. Over time, work up to 5 colorful fruits and vegetables at least twice/day at meal time. Liz’s favorite post workout meal, an easy to make burrito with beans and salsa. Feel free to add a sprinkle of your favorite cheese.

  3. Portions. If you normally eat a large meal, try slowly eating half of that large meal with a large glass of water. Wait 20 minutes. If you are still hungry, eat a piece of fruit or other healthy portion controlled option. Our stomachs expand. Conversely, they can also shrink. Over time, as your stomach adjusts to the smaller size, the extra food that created the non-value added extra calories will become a distant memory. Tip: save the other half of your large meal for tomorrow. Viola, another portion controlled meal planned in advance.

  4. It is NEVER a good idea to look at food or a snack and start your sentence with ‘it’s just ….’ (as in “it’s just a handful”) or ‘ya....but….’ (as in “ya I’ll eat this one, but work it off later”). Over time, rationalizing impromptu food decisions tend to only work out, as in your waist line working itself outward. Remember the 40 year study??? Little by little these non-planned rationalizations add up. 

  5. Experiment with easy to make meals on the fly. My friends Amy and Kayla like homemade wraps and burritos as easy convenient healthy options for a snack or meal. A wrap example could include leftover chicken (or other protein source) with some spinach (or other bagged dark greens), a tablespoon of diced tomato out of a can and sprinkle of your favorite cheese; small orange or sliced apple on the side. A burrito option could be to include beans from a can (rinsed) or heated refried beans out of a can, slice of onion, tablespoon of salsa and a slice of avocado or dab of guacamole. You get the idea, be creative with left overs and what is in your pantry. Save the bread, reduce calories and use a small wrap with a healthy side. Did you count the colors in each of these easy to make ideas?

  6. The best tip is to treat yourself, in moderation of course. Even the personal trainers on TV (or at your Y) indulge. If you can keep calories healthy for about 90% of your daily caloric intake, utilize the other 10% worth of calories toward your reward. For example, if you eat about 1,500 calories, 1,350 should be clean/healthy calories. The other 150 could be a ~1 oz. dark Seroogy’s Chocolate Bar. 

With all the information and choices it is easy to get overwhelmed. Experiment with small healthy choices then build from those choices. Some nutritional behavior has been set in for years or even decades. I do not recommend trying to adjust a decade’s worth of behavior within a week. It does not work. Start with small realistic adjustments. Consistency with those small changes will help form new long term behavior. For example, start by planning out meals in advance (tip #1). Once that becomes a routine, reduce poor nutritional rationalizations (tip #4). Slowly build momentum that will help change the behavior. 

Everyone is different in terms of what works for them. Experiment with the combination of small changes that will work for you. To help make these changes, if you like tech use Andy’s suggestion to utilize an app to track calories. If you are goal driven, Kellen suggested set a goal then stick with it. 

We do not have to be perfect all the time with our nutritional choices. Find a consistent flow that works for you in which over time can be sustainable long term. Be consistent most of the time and your body will reward you. Know this, short term DIETS tend to NOT WORK long term. Be sustainable with good consistent choices over time not just for a period of time.

Rationalizing a bad or unhealthy decision does not make it a good decision, it means that a bad or unhealthy decision was rationalized. In the present, the decision was given some sort of merit. Make a bad or unhealthy decision now, regret it later. Make a good decision now, reward with a treat later. Hmmm… The personal choice is yours.

Sample flow to introduce fruits and vegetables with varying colors. On the table below, week 1 on Sunday, try adding a serving of a blue food you would not normally eat. Monday, add something green to a meal that you would not normally eat. In week three, on Sunday eat a serving of something blue and something red (fruit or vegetable, not another red meat) at a meal. You get the idea, slowly add new colorful foods to your plate.

Week SUN MON TUES WED THUR FRI SAT
1 blue
green (1) yellow red orange purple white
2 blue green (1) yellow red orange purple white
3 blue
/ red
green (1)
/ red
yellow /
orange
red /
purple
orange
/ black
purple
/ blue
white /
green (2)
4 blue
/ red
green (1)
/ red
yellow /
orange
red /
purple
orange
/ black
purple
/ blue
white /
green (2)

For further discussion or if you have questions, feel free to contact one of your Y locations to set up an appointment (920) 436-9622 in order to speak with one of your personal trainers. While we may not be Registered Dieticians, we do have a lot of good ideas and can help hold you accountable.


Craig Congdon Greater Green Bay YMCA
Certified Personal Trainer, Certified Triathlon Coach & Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist