Thinking on the very general question of ”What is Nutrition?” prompted me to reflect on what it has meant to me historically in my life. If you asked me growing up in the 80’s and 90’s, I would have towed the line of Low-Fat= good and high carbs in the form of processed food that declared it was low fat was even better. I distinctly remember eating a “granola bar” that promised to deliver me to good health that could have easily been mistaken for a section cut out of my particleboard bookcase. I ate very little real food back then.
The early 2000’s were even worse because at that point I no longer believed the “healthy” food actually delivered me health… because it didn’t, not the healthy food I knew. I Can’t Believe it’s Not Butter was a sham that I no longer bought into. Not because I was any more educated but because it didn’t matter if I ate the low-fat cheese product or covered my food in actual cheese, I still looked and felt the same… so food became a vice and indulgence. 25+ years of a diet heavy in processed foods and a stigma about counting calories and dieting landed me tired, in an emotional funk, and pant sizes in the double digits.
I decided it was time to do something about it and start exercising on a regular basis. I truly thought exercise was all I needed to do to make things right again. I know this because there was many a time I stated, I worked out today, so there is room for this ice cream in my diet! Thankfully, I tripped over the fact that nutrition plays a much larger role in my health than movement does. (Exercise… don’t worry, you will always hold a place in my heart!)
I was pretty sure I had the nutrition thing all figured out when I was in the midst of shedding the excess body fat that I had gained in my younger years. At that point, if you asked me what nutrition was I would have had some very definite answers. I believed my approach to nutrition and weight loss could and should work for anyone else wanting to get healthy. I was sure I could carry on with the same habits that lost me 80 pounds and keep applying it to whatever health challenges came my way.
Then I hit a bump, literally. I went through pregnancy and my hormones had their way with me. All of a sudden all of my tried and true approaches to getting fit and losing weight just weren’t producing the same results. After trying some of the same methods over and over again without stellar results I was forced to go back to the drawing board.
This brings me back to some very basic methods on achieving good nutrition habits, ones that are hard to argue with when it comes to food:
- The more nutrient dense your food is the more it will work for you- The cleaner and closer to the actual food source the better (think single ingredient foods). These types of foods have the most favorable cost to benefit ratio when it comes to gaining energy from food.
- If what you are eating helps you look, feel, and perform better over time… keep it up! It is easy to get stuck on any one of those goals in isolation (Body Composition, Health, or Performance) but if you focus on all three together it is safe to say you are fueling your body in a sustainable way.
- Calories In vs. Calories Out is simple science that works for most people! Being aware of your energy balance in correlation with your goals is a sure method to achieving results. There are different ways to go about gaining awareness of your energy intake (weighing and measuring your food, counting calories, food journals, etc) but more important than being meticulous about detailing your food intake is finding ways to gain awareness of what and how much you are eating and how it makes you feel.
- No approach to improving your health will work for everyone, all the time, everywhere. There is a lot of trial and error that comes into play in the process of reaching your goals, whether it is to get faster, stronger, leaner, or build muscle. The trial and error process will help you discover if a new habit is sustainable for you and your lifestyle, or if a certain food agrees with you, or what recovery methods help you after a workout, etc.
It is easy to get lost in all of the information that is floating out there about nutrition. If you feel like you have been struggling or are confused about what you read and hear through the media take a step back and begin with some very simple approaches. These will be the building blocks to continuing your own education and discoveries about health and learning what works for you.