My Definition of Eating Well

fruit2A recent interview on the topic of orthorexia, or an obsession with eating healthy, got me thinking about my own views on health and eating well. I discussed some of the issues in my blog The Pitfalls of the Quest for Perfect Nutrition so won’t repeat those here.

We are constantly bombarded with messages about the “best” way to eat. Eat this “good” food to be healthy, avoid that “bad” food to feel better! Coffee will make us live longer one day and kill us the next. The messages we receive about food and nutrition are often conflicting and sometimes downright scary.   And, unfortunately, a lot of them come with a lot of judgement about the foods we eat. After spending the past 5 years working with people suffering from eating disorders I’ve come to develop a different, but I feel more balanced, way to look at food and eating. So here it is, my definition of eating well:

At its core, food is fuel. All foods provide energy for our bodies in the form of calories. We freak out a lot about calories, but from a scientific standpoint all they are is a unit of energy. Sure, some fuels are more productive than others, and I’ll get into that in a minute, but I don’t believe in good or bad foods. That is putting a lot of judgment on the food, which often becomes judgment on ourselves if we eat that food. How many of us have labeled a donut bad, and then referred to ourselves as “being bad” when we ate one? And how many of us actually let it ruin our day (or at least part of it) that we were bad and ate a bad food and “wasted calories”? Some of us may have even punished ourselves by going to the gym and working out when we’d rather have been hanging out with friends or family. That’s no way to live! Eating a donut (or whatever other food you think is “bad”) does not make you a bad person. It just makes you a person who ate a donut. Maybe even a person who likes donuts, which is no better or worse than a person who likes broccoli. When it comes to being non-judgmental about food I always give the example of fire. Would you say fire is good or bad? Most people immediately think of forest fires or houses burning down and say fire is bad. But for thousands of years fires have helped us cook our food and keep us warm. The same goes for water. Water tends to be thought of as good, and it’s true we need it to survive, but drink too much and you can dilute your electrolytes, feel awful, and even die. Fire is not good or bad. Water is not good or bad. Food is not good or bad. Let’s please stop judging our food and ourselves. It’s not helpful. As Yoda would say “good or bad, food is not. Just is, is food”, or something like that!

Instead of labeling foods as good or bad, I like to describe foods by their nutritional productivity. Some foods are more productive, meaning they are high in nutrients (vitamins, minerals, amino acids, fiber, essential fats etc) and other foods are less productive, meaning lower in those nutrients. If you are eating well by my definition you are probably eating both productive foods and less productive foods. Notice I am not saying “unproductive foods”? That’s because even foods that are low in nutrients are still providing calories, so still giving our bodies fuel they can use. So all foods fall on the spectrum of productivity. There is really no such thing as “empty calories” as that implies there is nothing in them, which is physiologically impossible. Even soda, often deemed empty calories, provides sugar which your body can use for fuel, and actually prefers for fuel during intense exercise.

So what exactly is eating well? Overall, eating well is choosing from a wide variety of foods. It’s having the majority of your diet come from productive foods, but also allowing yourself to eat less productive foods in moderation because they bring pleasure or enjoyment. And moderation could mean every day. Eating well is not denying yourself any food, as this often leads to over doing it with that food down the road. Eating well is listening to your body’s internal hunger cues while also being aware of how your own emotions or external factors influence your satiety cues. Eating well is letting food be fuel first, but also a way to celebrate and enjoy life. Eating well is moderation-not over doing any one food, whether that food be kale or cake. Eating well is letting food be a part of your life, but not the center of it.

Interview about Orthorexia

I had the honor this week to be part of an interview about the dangers of orthorexia, which is an obsession with healthy eating.  Many people don’t realize that trying to eat healthfully can be taken too far, but it definitely can and when it does has severe physical and emotional consequences.

Watch the interview below.

http://www.thedenverchannel.com/news/local-news/orthorexia-when-eating-right-goes-wrong

Simple Green Smoothie Recipe

It’s gegreensmoothietting warm out, and that means I’m starting to crave smoothies again!  I’m a fan of green smoothies because they are a simple and delicious way to get in lots of nutrition.

Below is my favorite recipe:

8 oz coconut milk (or other milk if preferred)
1-2 handfuls spinach
1/2 cucumber, cubed and preferably frozen
1 green apple, cubed
1 banana, sliced and frozen
1/4 avocado

Makes about 16 oz of smoothie.

 

My New Favorite Snack

ants on a log    When it comes to snacking, I’ve been getting in touch with my inner child lately, and I’m super happy about it! I hate to admit it, but I quite often get stuck in snack ruts. I bring the same old snacks to work, get sick of them, decide not to eat them, and then get so hungry that I find myself reaching for something sugary to quickly satisfy the intense hunger. Now don’t get me wrong, I love sugar and I still believe a sugary treat is fine in moderation, but when I snack on cookies or cupcakes or whatever sugar I can find I’m usually hungry again within the hour and I don’t feel as energized or satisfied as I do when I eat a more productive snack.   So because of this cycle I’ve been perusing the grocery aisles more thoroughly these days, and that is how I discovered my new favorite snack: ants on a log. For those of you with deprived childhoods, ants on a log is celery sticks with peanut butter and raisins on them. And it’s delicious. I first discovered this as a ready-made snack pack at Target, but it was fairly expensive so I decided to start making my own and it’s so simple I had to share!

So here’s why I recommend you try my new favorite snack too:

The taste: The crunch of the celery combined with the creaminess of the peanut butter and a hint of sweet from the raisins is culinary perfection (well maybe not quite, but it’s darn good!). Plus the raisins help satisfy a sweet tooth!

The cost: Celery is super cheap and raisins aren’t too expensive themselves. Depending on if you purchase regular or all-natural peanut butter will determine if the peanut butter is cheap per se, but even all natural is a pretty good bang for your buck when you consider a serving size. I recommend all-natural to avoid trans fat and added sugars.

The nutrition: Although celery gets a bad rep for being plain or “basically just water”, it does provide some important nutrients. Also, the fact that it as a high water content is not bad as this contributes to our daily fluid needs. Celery also provides small amounts of vitamins C, K, folate, and potassium to name a few. It’s also a good source of fiber and antioxidants. Plus, having celery as part of a snack is a good way to increase your overall daily vegetable intake, which most Americans don’t meet the recommendation for (5 servings a day, minimum). In addition to the celery, you get some fiber, potassium, iron, magnesium, and vitamin B-6 in the raisins. Peanut butter is a good source of protein and healthy fats but you could easily sub almond butter (or any nut butter) if that’s your preference.

So in short ants on a log will keep your stomach satisfied and your taste buds happy…and it might just help make your day a little more fun.

The Friday 5k Challenge!

iphone pics 335I’ve always had a hard time being motivated to exercise on Fridays. It’s the end of the week and I’m usually tired from working all week, as well as from my mid week workouts. Nothing sounds better than hitting snooze and sleeping in as late as possible. And working out after work on a Friday?! Yeah right!

A couple of Fridays ago I somehow found the motivation for a short run and during it I had a revolutionary (in my mind at least) idea: The Friday 5k Challenge! It’s simple, every Friday during the winter (so technically December 21-March 21) you run 5k. This is not a New Year’s Resolution, but a fitness motivation challenge so you can start whenever…but once you start you have to do it every Friday. No weather excuses. If it’s too cold or snowy for your liking then hit a treadmill. And it doesn’t have to be just running. Walking, snowshoeing, or even hiking are acceptable. As long as you’re on your feet and moving continuously for 3.1 miles it counts (so no biking or skiing, sorry!).

Now, if you’re an endurance athlete you are probably thinking “Just 5k?! That’s too easy!” I know ultrarunners run 5k’s in their sleep, literally during races, so it doesn’t have to be only 5k. Feel free to go further should the mood, or your training schedule, strike you. The distance may be small but the challenge is in doing it every single Friday. No excuses! I’m hoping this will become a big thing one day, so spread the word!

Will you take on the Friday 5k challenge with me?!

Recipe: Kale Quinoa Bowl with Poached Egg

photo(20)I get bored with the same old dinners, so I did an experiment tonight and I thought it turned out quite well! Check it out yourself.

(Serves 4)

1 cup quinoa, dry

1 bunch kale, torn into bite size pieces

2 cloves garlic

4 eggs

4 TBSP shredded coconut, sweetened if you like salty/sweet flavors mixed, unsweetened if not

½ cup slivered almonds

Olive oil

Salt and pepper, if desired

 

Prepare quinoa according to package directions (typically boiling 2 cups water with 1 cup quinoa and simmering for 15 minutes, or until all water is absorbed).

While quinoa is cooking, dice garlic and saute in olive oil for a couple of minutes. Add kale and saute a few more minutes, until kale is partially wilted. Add ½ of the almonds to the kale/garlic mixture during the last minute, so that they become slightly toasted. Add the other ½ of the almonds to the cooked quinoa and mix thoroughly.

Poach eggs in boiling water until whites are thoroughly cooked. Make sure yolk is still runny!

Portion cooked quinoa amongst 4 bowls and top each bowl with ¼ of the kale mixture, 1 TBSP shredded coconut and 1 poached egg. Season with salt and pepper as desired.

 

TidBit: Blowing Balloons Can Strengthen Your Lungs

My nemesis

My nemesis

Introducing TidBits, because frankly, sometimes I have something I want to share that doesn’t necessitate a whole blog. Today, it’s a revolutionary (insert some sarcasm) new idea I had about blowing up balloons to increase lung strength.

The idea came to me last week, as some coworkers and I prepped for a birthday celebration for a fellow RD. I bought an assortment of balloons, and as we blew them up we discovered that one particular kind was ridiculously difficult to inflate. We huffed, we puffed, we turned bright red and almost keeled over from lightheadedness, barely to inflate a forth of the balloon. It was hilarious to watch each other struggle. Eventually we figured out some tricks- if you stretch the balloon it helps, for instance- but in the meantime I started thinking about how this balloon blowing struggle was probably helping to strengthen my lungs….and what if it could be used on a regular basis to strengthen my lungs even more?!

Turns out it’s already a real thing. A quick google search yields several articles on the topic of blowing up balloons to increase your lung capacity and strength. Any balloon will do, but obviously the more difficult it is to inflate the harder your lungs will have to work. Why should you try it? Because blowing balloons forces you to use the intercostal muscles, which are responsible for spreading and elevating your diaphragm and ribcage when you breathe. Strengthening these muscles allows your lungs to expand and take in more oxygen, a clear benefit for any athlete, especially those of use who like to run at high altitude.

It’s quite simple too compared to the elaborate training schedules many athletes follow. Start by fully inflating 2-3 balloons per day (or the same balloon 2-3 times) and work your way up progressively to 10-15 per day. Working out was never so fun!