Have you ever had someone tell you a factoid that you accepted as true, simply because they said it with confidence? Maybe it just seemed to make sense, or maybe you've heard the same thing before?
Perhaps it was the statement "Humans only use 10% of our brains.” Or the popular "If you swallow chewing gum, it will take your body 7 years to digest it."
These statements don't seem so unbelievable as to warrant severe doubt immediately, and the fact you've probably heard a handful of people say the same thing makes them easy to believe. But it also turns out... they aren't true at all!
Same thing with NUTRITION!
We continue to learn more and more about what foods are best for our bodies and how foods are processed, and yet all of us probably have a nutrition misconception or two lingering in our brain.
So we're going to callout some of the truths about nutrition and see if it helps!
As always, nutrition deserves more than a quick blog post but we know that you are busy people so we'll settle for a cliff notes version.
If your body was a log cabin...
Compared to previous generations, most of us are removed from the log cabin/harvesting your own firewood days (although we know some Alaskans aren't). But tap into that wonderful imagination of yours and go with us on this one: your body is a log cabin.
Just like you need food to keep your body going, you need firewood to keep the cabin heated.
Now let's say you have a few options for firewood:
- Chopping cord wood that easily fits in the stove
- Dragging in a whole tree and sticking the end in the stove so it slowly burns little by little
- Chopping sections out of your log cabin and throwing those in the stove (because you just don't feel like going into the woods today...)
Obviously some of those plans sound better than the others. So here's the test. These three options represent three fuel options: Stored Fat, Carbs, and existing Protein.
Which is which? (Take a moment and figure out what you think.)
The first option represents carbs. While a lot of diets paint carbs in a negative light, the truth is carbs are the number one primary energy source consumed most easily by the body.
The second option represents stored body fat. While fat is also a pretty good source of energy, it takes longer to burn (that's why fat burning exercises tend to be longer and lower intensity to allow that time for fat to burn).
And the third (horrible) option is not giving your body enough of the good carbs and good fats it needs to burn, so instead it has to consume existing protein (muscle).
That's right: muscle. If you deprive your body of good things, it's next best option is the muscle. That muscle is something you've been working hard to gain so therefore it's something you want to protect, which you do by giving it the nutrition it wants.
Timing is everything...
But it's not just about what you eat, it's also how/when you eat. As we continue to learn how the body works, approaches to timing (relevant to food) have adapted as well.
Earlier stands on caloric intake and how to avoid gaining weight recommended that any consumption be finished around 6pm each day. That way the body had plenty of time to metabolize whatever was consumed before.
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM.org) has since revised that stand to say that as long as caloric expenditure (calories that are burned off) is consistent and caloric intake needs are met but not exceeded, it doesn't matter as much what the clock reads.
But. (That's right, there's always a "but.")
Where timing does come into play here is that we still recommend that the bulk of calories be consumed during the waking/active parts of your day. Schedules look different for different people, but the overall idea is that it makes more sense to fill up your gas tank (consumption) before a road trip (active expenditure) when you'll really need it, right? Same with food. Load up on the healthy stuff before you're active so your body isn't running on fumes.
Another way that timing comes in to play is how quickly we eat (particularly Americans).
Our body is set up in a way that the hypothalamus is responsible for registering satiation (when we have consumed the amount that we need). However, it takes about 20 minutes for this to "kick in," so if you eat rapidly and consume more than you actually needed in those 20 minutes, it's too late for the body to naturally regulate your intake.
And we get it: it's tough in our schedule-overload culture where it's easy to feel rushed, so you try to inhale a quick lunch so you can use the rest of your lunch hour to run errands or maybe you get little Jimmy and Suzy to scarf down a quick dinner before taking them to some kind of activity.
It's just food for thought: next time you feel pressure to inhale a meal like a vacuum cleaner, remember that it's better to work with your body than against it. So try to make time to eat more slowly so you can hear when your body says "Yay! I'm full!" (As an added bonus, it will probably be good for your sanity, too, if you take a chunk of time to slooowww-dooooowwnnnn.)
Lastly, when it comes to timing and nutrition, getting started early helps. What do we mean by that? Don't skip breakfast!
It's a myth that you can load up on calories the night before and "just skip breakfast to burn them off." Your body doesn't work like that. What you don't burn off after eating gets stored as fat and, as we learned from our log cabin analogy, it's easier to burn the chopped cord wood (carbs) than the whole tree (stored fats).
So, once again, learn how to work with your body, not against it! Eating breakfast kick-starts metabolism and other body processes to keep them running the whole day.
(Portion) Size Matters!
Even as Americans (and Alaskans in particular) become more educated with what foods are good for intake, we still struggle with portion control.
Trust me, we all know. Whether it's massive restaurant portions or just the general availability of a lot of food, for most of us our sense of how much we need gets distorted.
One way to try to get back on track is to focus on eating smaller meals/snacks several times a day (every 3-4 hours) instead of a one, two, or three large meals. Because you're eating often it will feel like you're eating a lot, but viewing it as a snack or smaller meal can help you rein in the portion size.
And keep in mind that what you are eating will determine how much you should eat as a snack, so the best thing we can recommend is to really educate yourself on what you eat. With the internet almost constantly at our fingertips, take a few moments every day to learn about the nutrition of what you normally eat and see if it has enough healthy benefits to keep it as a regular part of your diet. You can also find helpful charts like this one (http://www.healthyeating.org/Portals/0/Documents/Tip%20Sheets/Portion_Serving_Size_Chart_Eng.pdf) that will give you a better idea of what proper portions should be.
There is, however, one exception to our tendency to take in too much and that is our tendency to skimp on drinking enough water.
An average person needs 64 ounces of water a day (and it's even higher for extreme climates, like very dry, cold, or hot climates) but chances are most people don't take in nearly that much.
The body cannot absorb the nutrients, vitamins, minerals and other essentials without enough water, which makes it an important part of nutrition and a healthy diet.
Take a challenge one day and keep track of how much water you drink and see how it compares to the recommended 64 ounces. If you come in under, become more intentional about drinking water (even when you don't feel thirsty) and see how you feel. Not only will you be helping out your body, but people often say they see an improvement in their skin and energy levels when they bump up their water intake to the recommended amount.
As with some of the other topics we've discussed, the best way to institute long term change/success is by incremental and achievable goals as well as outside support.
You don't have to throw everything out of your pantry and fridge tonight and start over, just find ways to make reasonable changes and stick to them. Set goals and find people to hold you accountable, whether it's friends, family, or a trainer.
And remember the goal: your body is designed to run on certain types of foods and nutrients, so being healthy is a benefit to you! You will feel better, find that you have more energy, and a multitude of other positive things when you stop fighting your body and, instead, work with it.