As we start a new year, we think about setting New Year’s Resolutions and so many of these resolutions focus around “perfecting” ourselves. Well, let me tell you perfection is quite a funny thing because IT DOESN’T EXIST!!! When we try so very hard to reach the unattainable it can wreak havoc on our bodies and cause anxiety, tension, headaches, depression, etc. Thus, causing a destructive relationship around food.
How many times have you tried diet, after diet, after diet? You lose the weight and then gain the weight back, you know the old adage ‘yo-yo dieter’. We try to be perfectionist on the diet, but find we are trying to reach the unattainable and give up after a while because those food rules and deprivation aren’t working. Then the weight comes back on and the anxiety, tension, depression, etc. accelerates because we couldn’t be PERFECT.
So let’s try this year to let go of the perfectionistic thoughts and regain our relationship with food.
Ask yourself why. Why do I want to fill in the blank?
What is the underlying perfectionistic tendency with this question? Is the WHY because of a life transition like children, spouse, marriage, divorce, career/career change, medical diagnosis, friendship, etc.? You can’t always have control over life events, so because of this are you trying to take control somewhere else, such as with food.
2. Embrace your diet imperfections.
I know this is hard, I struggle with it too, but I’m giving you permission this year to not be perfect. It’s okay to fail and give in from time to time allowing foods you desire to bring enjoyment and pleasure to eating. When you do this, your relationship with yourself and food will be that much more joyful.
3. Focus on mindful eating.
By being mindful of your eating, this allows you to become aware of the positive and nurturing opportunities that are available through your food selections. Using your senses can be both satisfying and nourishing. Thus, acknowledging your response to food without judgment and becoming aware of physical hunger and satiety cues to help guide your food decisions.
I have quite a few patients asking for a calorie amount to follow, but I rarely give an actual calorie count to a patient. Instead, I teach patients about the different macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein, and fat) and how to portion meals and snacks so nutrient needs are being met. Although I do not give calorie amounts often, it is important to be aware of calorie content in the grand scheme of things when trying to lose weight, gain weight, or maintain a healthy weight. 2,000 calories/day has been set as the average need of an adult. However, this number varies greatly depending on sex, activity level, genetics and so on. Let’s say that 2,000 calories per day is accurate for you; do you know what this actually looks like?
A 2014, New York Times’ article, “What 2,000 Calories Looks Like”, provides examples of a 2,000 calorie meals. I’ve selected a few examples of meals from the article that you can find here in restaurants in our area. Click here to view the full article.
This meal combo meal comes in at just under 2,000 calories!
This includes the “Tour of Italy Sampler”, 2 bread sticks, side salad, and a glass of red wine for 2,020 calories!
“Classic Skillet” with orange juice is 2,000 calories.
Many of these meals (or equivalents) are eaten 2-3 times a day, meaning calorie intake can be far in excess of needs! Calories are generally controlled better at home. I use the #plategoals method to educate patients on food groups and portion control. Cooking at home decreases processed food intake, which in turn decreases calories, saturated fat, trans fat, and sodium—all good things to keep in moderation when trying to live a healthy lifestyle. Lastly is an example of a day’s worth of food prepared at home, filled with vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and lean protein!
Breakfast: Yogurt with fruit and nuts, 1 slice of toast with jam, and coffee. Lunch: beef stir-fry with farro, pretzels, a pear, and diet soda. Dinner: chicken with arugula, Brussels sprouts and squash, 2 small cookies, 1 glass of wine and water. All of this is 2,000 calories!
This is not going to be your average holiday blog on how to make a healthy, low-calorie, festive feast. In fact, I tell my patients it’s perfectly fine to relax and enjoy a cookie or two this holiday season. While many of us are concerned with weight gain this time of year, the holiday meals are usually not the blame for those extra pounds. Weight gain is more related to our daily habits that we have surrounding the holiday festivities. Before you drastically cut calories and miss out on Nana’s famous apple pie, consider some of these unhealthy habits that could be affecting your metabolism.
#1 You’re skipping meals.
Missing a feeding (or going longer than 4 hours without eating) is a sure-fire way to slow down your metabolism. When you don’t feed your body often enough, it begins to feel deprived and starts working against you, rather than for you. I know it’s easy to skip meals for the sake of saving calories later on in the day, but unfortunately, this works at your disadvantage. Your body is more likely to store calories (both good and not-so-good calorie choices) with frequent meal skipping habits. For persons with pre-diabetes and diabetes, meal skipping actually worsens blood sugar control. Planning ahead is the best approach to assure you feed your body often enough. This is easily accomplished by packing your lunch the night before, throwing an extra protein bar in your purse or creating enough time in the morning routine to allow for a well-balanced breakfast. Don’t forget about the importance of eating regularly on the weekends and with traveling in addition to the routine of the workweek.
#2 Your breakfast is too high in carbs.
It’s no secret that America loves her carbs. In fact, when you walk down the “breakfast aisle” at the grocery store, carbohydrates are the only food source available: cereal, oatmeal, cream of wheat, pancake and waffle mixes, muffins, bagels, pastries, poptarts and granola. We even find ways to eat dessert for breakfast in the form of cinnamon rolls, donuts, coffee cakes, banana breads and believe it or not, most Greek yogurts have the same amount of sugar in them as a scoop of ice cream. Additional sources from carbohydrates in the AM can come from your juice, milk, fruit, syrup and jelly. Carbohydrates are not bad for you; however, consuming them in excessive amounts with your first meal tends to send your blood sugar and insulin levels on a rollercoaster ride for the remainder of the day. When your blood sugar and insulin levels hit a low point, your irritability tends to go up and guess what, you crave the very thing that will help those levels spike again…carbs and sugar.
#3 You drink too much caffeine.
Before you read any further, heed my advice that coffee is not bad for you! However, caffeine is a very powerful stimulant and can dull the body’s natural hunger cues. Suppressing one’s appetite with caffeine can lead to long periods of time without eating or even meal-skipping altogether. Finally, when you sit down to have a good meal in the evening, rather than use your food for fuel, your body is aggressively storing it as fat as a consequence to being deprived of nutrients throughout the day.
#4 Your snacks lack protein.
Some of the most common snack choices include crackers, chips, popcorn, granola bars, pretzels and desserts. While these foods may taste great, they offer little to no nutrient benefit once chewed and swallowed. They are all very poor sources of vitamins, minerals and protein. Their lack of protein specifically, will leave your hunger pains unsatisfied and not to mention, cause a sharp rise in your blood sugar and insulin levels from the excessive carbohydrate content. For more balanced snack choices, incorporate protein-rich foods such as eggs, meats, cheese, cottage cheese, nuts, peanut butters or protein bars/shakes if desired.
#5. You’re skipping the weights at the gym.
Any form of exercise is better than no exercise, but strength-training specifically has the greatest potential for increasing one’s metabolism. Unlike cardio, lifting weights and even doing body weight exercises can stimulate both muscle retention and muscle growth. Your muscle is the wonderful calorie-burning blanket that wraps around your body. The higher your muscle mass percentage is, the more calories your body burns at rest.
Overindulging on food with family and friends on special occasions should not promote weeklong restrictive eating and guilt. It should be a time you look back and cherish with fond memories. I want you to be able to enjoy all the festivities this holiday season has to bring. Be consistent with your healthy habits and don’t be afraid to partake in some of the joyful delights this winter has to bring!
If you know me, then you know how much I love exercise. My passion for fitness led me to study exercise and metabolism in college. Obtaining a degree in Exercise Science and earning 3 different fitness certifications allowed me to share this passion with others and provide guidance for leading healthier, more-fit lifestyles. Over the past 12 years, I have learned a lot about the body, metabolism and fitness capacities through research, practice and personal experience. During that time I have learned what works and what works better.
First and foremost, you should always start with an activity that you love. This is especially true for those who are just starting out on their fitness journey. The most basic principle to remember about exercise is that your body was designed to move and any form of physical activity accomplishes that objective. Nature never intended for us to sit for 8 hours a day at work, drive umpteen hours during the week and engage in sedentary activities such as watching TV and playing on our smartphone devices. Do what you love and be happy, because if you’re not, it’s highly unlikely that you will stick to your exercise routine. This recommendation is for general health, not necessarily for those wanting to push their fitness to the next level.
That being said, some forms of exercise may not be best-matched for our fitness or physique goals. All throughout college and even into my mid-20s, I was a cardio junkie. Because nothing burns a ton of calories like a good hour of sweat, right? Sure, I would strength train and teach a variety of classes, but my workouts were still dominated by long, aggressive cardio sessions. To the untrained eye, I appeared “healthy” but looking back, old photos of me reveal I had skinny, cardio-arms and a cortisol-provoked pooch. Overdoing it on cardio workouts left my body chronically inflamed and extremely sensitive to changes in my normal routine. I would gain weight very easily which would in turn drive me to add extra workouts to burn off more calories. This cycle repeated itself over and over and over.
I began journaling my workouts and recorded how I felt after using different training methods. Surprisingly, I would always feel the best after a good weight lifting session, but it would still be years before I made strength-training my primary form of exercise. It’s easy to think that the longer your workouts, the healthier you’ll be.
In 2013, I finally entered the world of Crossfit, fell in love with it and we’ve been happily married ever since. Crossfit is a strength and conditioning program that focuses on functional movements such as weight lifting, running and rowing that are performed at various levels of load and intensity. It can be applied to individuals of all ages and fitness levels. I’ll be perfectly honest with you, when I started Crossfit I merely wanted the aesthetic benefits of it. My goals were purely extrinsic, like they had always been with exercise. As I became more immersed in the Crossfit culture, something unexpected happened. I found myself surrounded by a group of people who all shared the same passion for hard work as I did and these people are now my fit family. A Crossfit gym is unlike any other gym you will ever experience. It separates itself by the presence of spirit and camaraderie. As I continued with my training in this new environment, my goals became more fitness-oriented and less and less about my looks.
Today, I am constantly striving towards a new challenge and to make myself a better and smarter athlete than the day before. What’s crazy is that when I finally let go of the whole “gotta look good” concept of exercise, my body naturally transformed on its own. My metabolism has never been healthier. I eat twice as much as what I used to, have excellent energy levels, more positive moods and have never felt more beautiful and confident in my body. I also learned that my rest days are just as valuable as my training days. It all happened when I traded in the treadmill for a barbell.
Many would agree that Crossfit has a “less is more” approach to fitness. Some days, all I do for a workout is perform 5×5 back squats. The old Amanda would think, “That is hardly a workout” while the new Amanda says, “I can’t wait to see what my body can do today”!
I know what you’re thinking. Can you get injured doing Crossift? Sure can. You know what else you can get injured doing? Zumba, running or picking a toy off the ground. Crossfit is not injury-prone, people are. When skillfully guided by a certified trainer, Crossfit can be a safe, effective and motivating way to train the body and metabolism.
This whole concept of high intensity interval training has caught on like wildfire in the research world. What was once considered a form of training for the elite athlete is now being applied to our clinical population. Numerous studies have shown that not only is HIIT safe for the clinical population, it has shown to have greater benefits in both cardiorespiratory fitness and physiological parameters (weight, BMI, blood sugar and insulin control, blood pressure to name a few) when compared to older standards of recommended exercises such as moderate-intense cardio prescriptions. This further strengthens the need for health practitioners to be not only educated but exposed to alternative forms of exercise that includes strength and interval training.
So, if you feel like you are stuck in your exercise routine, hopefully this article will help generate the idea of pursuing alternative fitness goals. Become comfortable with the uncomfortable. For me, Crossfit served as a gateway to deeper wellness: teaching me to nourish my body better with whole food ingredients, rest, and recover properly. And I now surround myself with people that make me a better person, both inside and outside of the gym. The difference between who you are and who you want to be is what you do. It’s a very simple formula. Love. Laugh. Lift.
There are some things that you just don’t quite fully understand until you experience it yourself. Many of you would agree that having a baby is at the top of that list. Like many women, I faced several challenges throughout my pregnancy including nausea, heartburn and intense cravings. When we came home from the hospital with our sweet Oliver, I practically had Google on speed dial since I had questions about EVERYTHING! About a month later, I finally began to feel like myself again and had the same thought that every new mom has eventually…how will I get my pre-pregnancy body back? Here are some things I have learned about body after baby.
photos by Kaitlin Powell Photography and Designs
For starters, I would encourage you to let nature take the lead. Counting calories can be stressful. Counting calories with a newborn would be a nightmare, so I highly recommend that you do not take this route (unless you are having difficulties maintaining a healthy weight). Women who are breastfeeding also have increased nutrient needs and many calorie counting apps do not take this into consideration when estimating calorie goals. Most resources agree that breastfeeding requires an extra 300-500 calories above what resting metabolic needs are but it’s not uncommon for a breastfeeding mom to require even more calories than this. Mom’s activity level, body fat percent and baby’s feeding intake (think how this changes with growth spurts) can all influence how many additional calories are needed.
Try to return to your normal eating habits as quickly as possible. This took a couple of weeks for me. I found that I had Oliver glued to my chest and struggled with balancing time for grocery shopping, cooking and meal planning. I was relying more on processed foods with added sugars which ultimately made me feel like garbage. Once my eggs, fish, chicken and veggies found their way back into my belly, my mood, energy level and tummy all became much happier campers.
Make sure that you are not comparing yourself to other post-partum women. One of my guilty pleasures is those celebrity magazines you find at the check-out lane at the grocery store. New mom celebrities always make headlines with how great their bodies look just weeks after delivery. Access to personal chefs, full-time nannies and in-home training sessions is simply not a reality to us ‘everyday Janes’. Believe me, you can still achieve bikini-bod results again, it may just take a little while longer than our celeb gal pals. In addition to celebs, try your hardest not to compare yourself to your other new-mommy friends. How you carried your baby, when you gained your weight during pregnancy, energy level and hormones are just a few of the hundred factors that affect how the pregnancy weight comes off.
Be smart about returning to exercise. If you know me, you know how much I value physical activity; however, early postpartum Amanda didn’t have one lick of interest in going back to the gym. I have friends who were back to jogging a couple weeks postpartum and here I found myself sore for a whole day after taking a leisurely stroll around the neighborhood. You have got to listen to your body and understand that now is not the time to push it. It just performed a miraculous feat for you and pushing it too hard, too soon can delay your recovery time. On the flip side, once my body had completely recovered (after about 8 weeks), I did make it back to the gym and boy did that endorphin rush feel good again!
Everyone told me that a baby will change you. They’re right. A baby does change a lot of things, but it didn’t change my core values of health. I know how valuable my kitchen and barbells are in my life and once they became part of my routine again, my body began to bounce back to its original shape. To maximize time with my family, I switched up my gym routine and even purchased more equipment to do workouts at home. Sundays became big meal prep days so I could spend more of my weeknight evenings playing with my little guy. While body after baby is a little softer and curvier, I remind myself of the great story it now tells.
While you are reading my post today, I should be on maternity leave with baby #3. What a blessing children can be, but also a lot of work. Something that can take a lot of work as a new mom or experienced mom is breastfeeding. My plan is to breastfeed baby #3 like I did with my first two, but you never know. My previous two experiences breastfeeding were completely different from each other.
We have been told over and over again that the breast is always best, so you think it would come naturally and be easy to breastfeed, but I can tell you from personal experience, it is not. There are numerous studies pointing to the nutritional and health benefits of breast milk: reduced risk of illness, decreased rate of obesity, reduced risk of sudden infant death syndrome, as well as improved maternal outcomes for reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, postpartum depression and some forms of cancer. However, sometimes breastfeeding isn’t possible. This may be due to not producing enough milk, baby not latching, pain during breastfeeding, medical conditions in mother or baby, not enough support or a mother chooses not to breastfeed.
If you decide to breastfeed and are struggling, reach out for support. I had a lot of problems breastfeeding my first child and spent many of hours with lactation consultants. One of our very own Springfield Clinic dietitians, Alana Scopel, is a Certified Lactation Counselor. She can assist first-time moms, in addition to moms who had breastfed previously but encountered problems with their newest baby. Seeking out other lactation consultants/breastfeeding support groups at your local hospital/doctor office, La Leche League, or experienced breastfeeding mom friends are other options. We as moms need to educate ourselves on the support that is available.
Additionally, if you decide to breastfeed, you need to make sure you take care of yourself. Here are recommendations and tricks I’ve tried throughout my time breastfeeding.
Drink plenty of water.That is easier said than done. I stash water bottles all over the house, car, diaper bag and pump bag. Some days it only seems I can get water when I have an opportunity to sit down and nurse, so make sure there is water there to drink when you get a chance. The key to remember is that your water intake affects your milk production. I can tell you first hand it does.
Get plenty of rest. Yeah right!!! Remember, some rest is better than nothing. The dishes, laundry and housecleaning can wait. With my second child, I would set alarms on my phone as a reminder to myself to sit down even for a few minutes to rest.
Continue taking your prenatal vitamins.You still need all those nutrients when lactating. These vitamins not only help you, but help baby. I keep the prenatal vitamin bottle visible on the kitchen counter or on my night stand to remind me to take them.
You still need extra calories.I know, I know…we want to get the baby weight off. The old saying is, it took nine months to put the weight on, don’t expect it to come off tomorrow. Remember that with work and time the weight will come off, but for now you need those extra calories for milk production. The key to remember is where you are getting those extra calories from. Getting extra calories from sweets is not the same as getting the extra calories from lean protein, dairy, whole grains, and fruits/vegetables. If you have questions about what you should be eating during pregnancy or postpartum, don’t be afraid to ask any of the Springfield Clinic dietitians.
Whatever choice we as mothers make, whether to breastfeed or formula feed, it is the right decision for us and our babies. We should never be made to feel guilty about our choice or circumstance. Being happy is the greatest gift we can give to ourselves and our baby, and if that means breastfeeding and/or formula feeding, then that’s the best choice.