Three Questions to Ask Yourself Regarding Nutrition
Written by Michael Gill
Everywhere you look these days there seems to be something about nutrition. If you’re like most people, you probably feel a constant pressure to “eat right”, without really knowing what that means. With all the posturing and advertising involved in the industry, it’s hard to even know where to start. This article is meant to be an introduction and simplification of nutrition and why it might (or might not) be of interest to you. It poses three questions to ask yourself about your nutrition plan, whatever that might be.
1. What should I stop eating? What should I start eating?
In future newsletters, I will speak more specifically to nutrition for specific purposes. Since this is meant to be an introduction, I will keep it simple. If it can be found in nature and is a natural food source for humans, give it a try. Now, everybody has differences in their individual chemistry and ethics, so some things might not agree with you personally, but this is still a good rule of thumb.
The internet is swimming with different perspectives on health and diet. With a bit of searching, you can find rationale for eating (or not eating) almost anything out there. At first glance, even the experts seem like they are putting out conflicting opinions. Look a bit deeper though and you will see similarities in almost every diet plan geared toward wellness. Take the Paleo diet (most known for its reliance on meat, fat and avoidance of grains) and the Ornish diet (a very low-fat diet emphasizing vegetables and whole grains). Though they would seem to be in opposition to each other, they both recommend a heavy emphasis on fresh vegetables and a minimization (or better yet, elimination) of sugars, dairy and white flour. They both recommend minimizing processed foods. These changes are almost always the ones that are hardest for people, regardless of their philosophies. If the only change you made to your eating habits was to emphasize fresh vegetables and cut dairy, you would probably notice a difference in how you feel within a matter of weeks. If you cut the sugar and flour, you would most certainly notice a difference in a matter of days.
Beyond the recommendations above, diet philosophies tend to center of a few accessory things. Should I eat beans or grains? Should I eat fish or chicken? We tend to see these things as important because eating sugar and flour (and to a lesser degree dairy) are so central to our culture that we can barely conceive of cutting them out. Still, quibbles over beans vs. meat aren’t really that important for most of us.
What can become important is that all of the nutritional posturing out there makes people afraid of certain foods. Diversity is a critical aspect of nutrition that is consistently overlooked by almost everybody. Every different plant, nut, seed, animal and fruit has a different chemical profile. They all give us different nutrients. Limiting yourself to a few specific foods, even if they are healthy foods, will almost guarantee that you’ll have nutritional deficiencies.
Finally, cook! The refining process removes nutrients and fiber from food. Preparing it yourself, with quality ingredients, ensures that you’ll get the most from what you eat. As your palate becomes less accustomed to being bombed with the excess sugar and salt in processed foods, you’ll notice how flavorful and delicious natural foods are.
2. Why am I concerned with nutrition?
If you have a hard time coming up with an answer, or if your answer centers on living a few extra years or “because I should”, you might be well off continuing your life without worrying about nutrition.
When I was younger, I would occasionally try to eat healthier, using these rationales. I would always stop before I got very far. It wasn’t until I finally made the connection that how I ate had a direct effect on how I felt that day and the next; that it wasn’t about living longer, it was about living better. At that point, it became easy; it became a habit.
The human body is in a constant state of chemical reactions; hundreds, thousands, all happening all the time. Each of these reactions requires chemical constituents. The overwhelming majority of those constituents are things we have traditionally gotten from our diet. Without these chemicals, many processes simply won’t happen. The most important processes usually have multiple pathways, so if we’re low on one chemical the process can still take place. Most of these alternate pathways are less efficient though, so even if the process takes place, it will not be done as well as if the body has everything it needs.
The results of nutritional deficiencies usually won’t be dramatic or quick (though they can be), but will show themselves over time. They can lead to fatigue, depression, skin problems, muscle weakness, slow recovery from injuries, food allergies, frequent sicknesses, and many other issues. Almost any ailment you can think of can be caused or compounded by lack of nutrition.
In the context of a gym, having the nutrients your body needs can easily be the difference between success and failure in a workout program. All workout programs center are based on training and recovery. Without proper recovery, a person simply cannot sustain a workout program. Nutrition is a key aspect of recovery, and could even be compared to performance enhancing drugs (without problematic side effects). Anabolic steroids are what we associate with bodybuilders and (sadly) baseball players; we associate them with beefy men with large muscles. They don’t actually build muscles though. They allow the body to recuperate from workouts faster; they improve the recovery process, allowing athletes to work out more often. Nutrition works the same way. It won’t be as obvious as steroids, but it can still be pretty dramatic.
When a person doesn’t like doing something, they are almost certain to stop doing it (if they have a choice). That something becomes just another thing to do. It becomes a source of stress (which often outweighs the benefits of that particular thing). We see this over and over again with people on diets. They aren’t allowed to eat those things that they love, which they hate. They inevitably cheat and eat those things anyway, than feel stressed about having done so.
Any nutrition plan should be something that you are excited to do. The foods you are going to eat should sound good. Barring that, the gains that proper nutrition will give should be more exciting than those things that will need to change.
3. Am I getting enough exercise?
Finally we come to the exercise part of the equation. It has been estimated that our prehistoric ancestors ate roughly 5000 calories per day. This stunning number could be reached because they were constantly active. Even when the changes I suggest above are put in place, it is challenging to get all the nutrients your body needs in an average day eating the 2000-2500 calories that most of us eat. You probably don’t have enough time in the day to exercise enough to require 5000 calories, but every little bit helps.
The more your exercise, the more you will need to eat. Make those foods healthy, and your body will be that much happier for it.
Michael Gill is a practicing Massage Therapist and Nutritional Therapist. He has a black belt in Poekoelan Tjiminde Poekoelan, and loves to teach.