In the Mind of a Nutritionist

Mmm, water.

Mmm, water.  At Basic, in Jersey City.

I originally wrote this post for the Hospital for Special Surgery blog, which you can find here.  The HSS On the Move blog has a great series of rehab, fitness and nutrition blog posts, please do check it out!

From the HSS On the Move Blog, “In the Mind of a Nutritionist” (me!) –

“I eat chocolate. And I eat salads. I don’t count calories, but I pay attention to my portions (i.e. I know when I’ve eaten too much). I try to eat slower, a constant battle considering my genetics. I drink diet soda a couple times a week, but I drink a lot of water every day. I drink a glass of wine or beer on occasion. I drink a green smoothie most mornings (thanks to meeting my wife). I exercise a fair number of days per week, but I’d always like to do more. And I’ve maintained my 30+ pound weight loss for the past eight years – which got me into this whole fitness and nutrition field to begin with (I used to be an engineer). These are my habits, and they allow me to achieve what I want in my life.

Will things change in the future?  Sure they can. And then I’ll tackle those goals when they come. If I wanted to train for a marathon, I’d have to change some habits. If I wanted six pack abs, I’d have to restrict a lot more. In fact, I went for them back when I was losing my weight in 2005 and when I got to single digit body fat percentage and a good outline of 4-pack abs, I felt like food was becoming my enemy – not a good feeling. I guess that’s why most bodybuilders are miserable right before competition.  So I’m ok not being ripped.  I can still deadlift 300 pounds. And I can run. And I can spend time with my family. And most importantly, I’m happy with all of those results because no one is the judge but me.

This is why the glut of fad diets and misrepresented nutrition research infuriates me. People stop listening to the most important part of the healthy eating and living equation – themselves. Yes, I have the background in nutrition and exercise science that can help someone run faster, jump higher, drop inches or recover from training better. But in the end it’s not about me. It’s about you. I can’t force someone to be motivated and accountable (a.k.a. the dream client, or a fair number of athletes). I can merely explore the hopes and dreams a person has and figure out how eating and exercise can best complement them in that pursuit.

When I meet with clients, I always remember there are two experts in the room: I may be an “expert” in nutrition and exercise. But my client is the expert in their own life, preferences, routine and habits. And to get long-lasting change, we need a partnership. I promote people, not plans.”

TELL ME: What’s your dream?

Measuring Fitness Results Beyond the Scale

Scale

Weight: Only One Marker of Fitness Results
Image Courtesy of Microsoft Images

The one instrument that most people use to measure health and fitness progress – the scale – is the one that we have the least amount of control over.  Lots of other things influence weight (i.e. time of day, recent meals, what you’re wearing, the scale you use, the time of the month, maybe you’ve gained muscle, etc.), and it’s usually the last to respond to the progress we make compared to many other markers such as better energy levels, less stress and even a slimmer waistline! You may lose inches before pounds if you’re gaining muscle and lean mass while losing fat.

So while body weight is one way of measuring fitness results, by no means should it be the only one.  I like to “triangulate” results with my clients.  In other words, if someone does want to track weight, I try to have them choose at least a couple of other indicators of meaningful results, such as:

  • Pants, dress or waist size
  • Ability to perform a sport or daily activity better
  • Energy levels
  • Stress levels
  • Hunger levels
  • Self-confidence levels (in your body/physique)
  • Non-Scale Victories (NSV’s)

I came across the idea of NSV’s in a book called Coach Yourself Thin, written by Michael Scholtz and Greg Hottinger.  An NSV is any success you’ve had in the past day, week, or month related to eating better or being physically active that is not related to your weight, but is still meaningful for you.  Something as simple as saying “no” to a free cookie and choosing a piece of fruit instead is a non-scale victory.  Here’s a link with more examples: http://www.weightwatchers.co.uk/util/art/index_art.aspx?tabnum=1&art_id=40701.

Ultimately, weight is really just a means to an end, whether it’s looking sexier, performing better or feeling more energized.  Connect with the real reasons why you want to lose weight and track those too.  Then when looking at results in 4, 6 or 8 weeks from now, review progress on all counts and consider the majority: if your waist is slimmer, you feel better, and you have a list of 10 NSV’s staring you in the face, odds are the improvements you made to your eating and exercise habits have had a positive result, even if the scale only shows a couple pounds of weight loss.

Combat Food Cravings, Part 2: When to Fight and How to Indulge

Berry Delicious, Berry Tempting?

Berry Delicious, Berry Tempting?

Hopefully you’ve taken the past week to identify your food craving triggers (Step 1).  Feel free to use the Death of the Diet Indulgence Journal.  And as promised, here’s the second part, which contains steps 2 and 3 to combating  cravings.

How will you be combating your food cravings?  Comment below.

Step 2: Determine How You Fight Back Best Against Food Cravings

Once aware of your triggers, you can take steps to fight them.  While there are many tactics, the only ones that matter are the ones that work for you.  How do you know which ones work for you?  Educated trial and error.  Start with the list below for ideas – give one a shot for a week and see how it goes.  If it’s working, keep going.  If not, try another.  I’ve broken down ways to fight back into four categories – omission, substitution, preparation and distraction.

Omission – Get temptations or cravings out of sight, and therefore out of mind.  Get rid of the candy bowl at work or remove tempting foods from the house.

Substitution – Making a healthier choice, or having a healthier choice available, in response to a temptation or craving.  Choose a piece of dark chocolate after dinner instead of cookies.  Think of, and write down, non-food ways to cope with a stressful day: problem solve your work issues, exercise, meditate, or just sit up tall and take ten deep breaths.

Preparation – Plan ahead to give yourself options to make a better choice.  Bring healthy snacks to work from home, so you’re not at the mercy of the office vending machine at 3 PM.  Or review the menu of a restaurant you’re going to ahead of time and choose a healthy option so you’re not tempted when you’re actually there and hungry.

Distraction – Do something that will get your mind off the craving.  Bored at work?  Drink water instead of eating.  Sitting around the house?  Do some housework, call a friend, go exercise or start a hobby that involves using your hands like knitting or playing the guitar.

Another great resource that I was interviewed for: http://fitbie.msn.com/slideshow/print/9115

For Emotional Eaters – This is by far the hardest craving to deal with, but my friend Adam Gilbert, founder of MyBodyTutor.com has a great piece of advice:
When we get emotionally “hungry” it’s worth asking ourselves a few questions:

1. How long has it been since I’ve eaten?
2. What am I really hungry for?
3. Is anything bothering me?
4. If I had an ‘EASY’ button to magically help me with what I’m dealing with, right now, what would I use it for?

Perhaps, what you’re really hungry for is affection, assistance, rest, excitement, peace of mind…

Is it possible to have the need met by someone? How about by yourself?

Here’s the challenge: Many times we feel like our needs can’t or won’t get met – so food becomes our escape.  When we’re “hungry” that is a need we feel like we can actually control. Sometimes, it can be very helpful to explore what it feels like to have the need go unmet by simply writing about it. Many clients have reported that this eases the discomfort tremendously. This is also how you can find out what you might really want out of your life because typically we’d shovel food into our mouth so we don’t have to experience or face the feelings. Because when we’re not suppressing feelings, they’ll come to the surface, and we’ll be able to see what it is we really want.

Food is ONLY love when it is used to feed our true physical hunger and we actually enjoy and relish and savor the experience. Otherwise, we’re using food to cover up feelings. Feelings that are preventing us from becoming the person we really want to be.

Step 3: Decide What’s Worth Indulging On – How Much & How Often

Effectively dealing with food cravings doesn’t mean you have to swear off all sugar, alcohol and chocolate for the rest of your life.  The goal is to be in control of how and when you indulge, so you can enjoy it without guilt – and still get the weight loss or fitness results you want as well.

First: List your five favorite indulgences.  Think about what satisfies you the most.  Make sure you only have one of those as an indulgence – not the random doughnut lying around the office (unless that’s one of your five).  You can always change your “fav five.”

Second: How often do you feel like you need to have an indulgence to feel satisfied, not restricted?  Note that “how often” and “how much” are usually opposites.  In other words, do you prefer to have a little treat every day, or one day per week where you can have what you want.  Regardless of what you choose, moderation is still important.  Two slices of pizza, not half a pie.

Interestingly, research has shown that smaller portions work just as well as larger ones in satisfying cravings.  If you’re taking from a larger bag or box, place your portion in a bowl or on a plate and put the larger container away.  One client told me she’s safer with a gallon of ice cream in the house than a pint because she can’t sit down on the couch and polish off a gallon of ice cream like she can with a pint.

Third: Plan where and when you will have those indulgences.  Will you be going out to dinner twice a week with friends?  Will you have a piece of dark chocolate at home after dinner every evening?  Planning your indulgences keeps you focused on what you want most, gives you something to look forward to and allows you to savor some of your favorite, less-healthy foods guilt-free.  The other great thing about plans is that you can adjust them: If you end up having an unplanned indulgence, choose which planned indulgence it’s replacing – guilt-trip free.

*Extra Tip: Make sure any treat you keep in the house or at the office is one that you have a low-risk of overeating.

After combating food cravings for a few weeks, track your indulgences again to measure progress and see how your patterns have changed.  Remember, with permanent change comes permanent results.

How will you be combating your food cravings?  Comment below.

Effectively dealing with temptations and cravings is so important that it’s one of the Easy Eight Habits (Habit #5) in Death of the Diet, available on Kindle and in print!

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