Thursday, 23 July 2009

Simple Nutrition for Health & Weight Management

Weight Management – Simple but Complicated!

Let’s face it – most people are confused as to how to eat for health, fitness and weight management. If I had a pound or a dollar for every person who asked me what diet they should follow, what foods they should or shouldn’t eat, what foods will help them lose weight, I’d be a very wealthy man indeed.

So many people worry about choosing the right diet, planning their meals, organizing their gym workout etc that they don’t actually get around to doing what they need to do, I.E. getting in the gym, working hard and eating a little less! This phenomenon is often referred to as “Paralysis by Analysis”. Weight management is EASY. Okay, you need a healthy dose if will power, some common sense, a bit of application and a fair bit self discipline but the science of weight loss is simple.

Weight management is like running your bank account…if I spend less than I earn, I increase my bank balance – or in nutrition speak, I’ll gain weight (specifically adipose tissue or fat). If I spend more than I earn, my bank balance will decrease – this is the equivalent of losing weight. Spend too much and the bank manager will be on my case. Lose weight too fast, and my body will rebel and stop me wasting away to nothing.

To keep this analogy going, there are hundreds of credit cards, loans, types of overdraft, HP plans etc that allow us to go overdrawn, likewise there are hundreds of diets, exercise plans, and food supplements that will help me to lose weight. You just need to stick with one plan and give it time to work. Use the one that slots as seamlessly as possible into your life style and is sustainable, manageable, practical and healthy. It doesn’t matter how good the diet is, if you can’t stick with it, IT WILL FAIL! Just like at the bank, if the repayment plan is prohibitive, restrictive or just unmanageable you won’t be able to make the payments, no matter how attractive the interest rate was! Remember, the people who are promoting diets like South Beach, Cabbage Soup, Weight Watchers, Atkins etc are trying to SELL you something so obviously they are going to tell you that their plan is the best and that it is easy to stick to, will give you the results you want painlessly and quickly etc etc. However, the reality seldom matches the promise. Be honest – although the cabbage soup diet is virtually guaranteed to help you lose pounds, who in their right mind would want to swap great tasting food for some green, tasteless and flatulence causing mush!?!

Decisions, decisions…
Ironically, the diet business is the most successful unsuccessful business ever! In recent surveys it was found that 95% of dieters FAIL to stick with their chosen weight loss plan because of its unpleasant or restrictive eating regime. And when our dieter “falls of the wagon”, they just jump straight back on another one and try the next popular diet to come on the market! There is so much nutrition information and mis-information around most people flit from one nutritional approach to another, seeking out the magic diet that will give them the results they seek. Let’s face it – most of us want to be slimmer YESTERDAY! No body wants to lose a measly pound a week. Sadly though, successful weight loss is not sexy, fast, or dramatic. It is a slow, gentle process which takes time. Very few dieters ever come to grips with this fact and are frequently disappointed when they fail to lose 20 pounds in a month as they were promised by some diet plan or celebrity endorsed dietician.

Many diets are impractical, unpleasant, and restrictive in the extreme and can only be maintained for short periods of time. To make matters worse, when our dieting client returns to their previous eating régime, they often put the weight they lost back on – plus some extra weight for good measure and end up not only failing to reach the goals they set for themselves but actually getting further away from their ideal weight.

There are numerous physiological reasons for this happening – far too complicated to explore here, but basically can be summarized by examining the “Starvation Response” which is triggered when energy (calorific) intake is reduced by too much.

The Starvation Response
Our bodies know that fat is essential for keeping us alive during periods of starvation, so when calorie intake are reduced too low, the body will try and keep hold of this valuable resource for as long as possible. Your body has no idea you are voluntarily eating too little. It makes the assumption that there is not enough food around for your survival and makes certain physiological changes accordingly. Think about it – who will live the longest when stranded on a desert island with no food…the person with next to no body fat or the person with lots? Mr. “Lean and Got a Six Pack” won’t be looking so good after a couple of weeks of little or no food, whereas our overweight friend will be okay for a much longer period of time. Nature is so cruel!

Basically, the starvation response results in muscle loss, increased fat storage capabilities, lowered metabolic rate (daily energy requirement), increased hunger and ultimately diet failure…all of which will prolong your life when food is in short supply but in terms of weight management not really what we’re after, I think you’ll agree.

So, how can we avoid triggering the starvation response? Quite simply, we need to make haste slowly. Aim for a slight reduction in calories, a slight increase in activity levels. The body needs to almost be tricked into giving up it’s fat stores – do it too fast and we will trigger the starvation response which will, without a doubt, halt any progress and cause a rebound in fat mass gains…the so-called Yo Yo diet. Additionally, to avoid any loss of muscle, we need to engage in strength training. If your muscles are being challenged regularly, you body will keep hold of those muscles more readily, even if there is a calorie deficiency – it’s a case of “use it or lose it.” CV exercise actually promotes muscle breakdown (catabolism) where as strength training promotes the building up of muscle (anabolism).

So, we are going to try and keep nutrition simple. This plan (note – not a diet as this approach could be used very long term) is as easy as it gets…no complicated recipes to follow, no supplements to buy, no weird foods to consume – just simple nutrition which will help you reach and maintain your goal weight.

The Alternative – Common Sense Nutrition
I can sum this approach up in one sentence – 95% of all meals should consist of a lean protein plus fruit and or vegetables, drink only water, green tea or juices you have freshly pressed your self. That’s it. Hardly earth shattering or complicated, but very effective. No calorie counting or weighing or measuring your food…just make sure every meal contains protein and fruit or veg.

What’s Hot!
Protein foods…
Eggs, any “real” meat (non-processed), fish, some dairy is okay but preferably natural products like plain yogurt and cottage cheese, also nuts, beans, pulses, whey protein powder and Soya (minimal amounts for males, moderate amounts for females).

Any and all except for white potatoes, and even they are okay occasionally especially post exercise.

Any fruit in its natural state is fine, but citrus fruits are preferred so careful with bananas which can be a bit calorie dense. Homemade fruit juices are also okay but avoid most shop bought “made from concentrate” juices as these are generally so processed they are missing many of their vital vitamins and minerals and are really only sugary soft drinks and not healthy at all. Dried fruit has some benefits but beware of overeating dried fruits as they take up very little room in your stomach and it is easy to consume them in large quantities.

Make sure all meals contain a sensible amount of healthy fats. Often this will come from the protein portion of the meal but may also include olive oil, sunflower oil, fish oils, nut butters and oils, dairy butter (NOT margarine) etc. Do your very best to avoid trans fats like the plague that they are!

What’s Not!
Foods that contain wheat and other grains should be limited so avoid bread and pasta. Noodles and rice are also a no-go. For a great many people, grains can cause intestinal discomfort and abdominal bloating so minimizing their consumption may be beneficial. Breakfast cereals are generally wheat based sugar and salt laden junk so likewise they are off the menu. This will be a departure for many of you, but once you get used to it, this is a very healthy way to eat and will help you reach your body composition goals relatively easily and without triggering the starvation response. If you must consume grains, choose whole grains, preferably organic and look into how they should best be prepared for optimum digestion and absorption. This may well involve overnight soaking and repeated rinsing for example.

Basically, if it didn’t roam the earth, swim in the sea, or grow on the land, you shouldn’t eat it! Avoid all processed foods and try where possible to only consume food in its most natural state. If the food is “man made” it’s probably not very good for you. If it’s in a packet, there are probably better choices you can make and if anything on the ingredient list is unpronounceable then you really shouldn’t be putting it in your body!

You are what you eat…Eat Junk = Feel Junk!
Ingredients that should set alarm bells ringing and should be avoided where possible include anything hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated, artificial sweeteners, emulsifiers, acidity regulators, nitrates, gelling agents, colorings, preservatives, or anything else that sounds like it belongs in a chemistry set rather than in your stomach!

Ideally, more than one fruit/vegetable should be consumed in each meal…we need a wide variety of foods to make sure we get the full spectrum of vitamins and minerals necessary to support health. One very good approach is to adopt a traffic light system when selecting vegetables or fruits. Simply select foods of different colors in each meal, e.g. red tomatoes, yellow peppers, and green lettuce. By mixing the colors of foods consumed, we are more likely to be getting a good variety of nutrients. If possible, try to purchase the organic versions of all foods mentioned. Organic food is produced without the use of pesticides, insecticides, fertilizers, hormones, antibiotics and other possibly harmful chemicals. Generally they cost a little more but often taste much more “real”. If it impossible to buy organic, make sure all food (including meats) are washed thoroughly to remove any surface traces of chemicals.

As far as food portion sizes go – don’t be too anal about weighing and measuring with the exception of nuts and fats which are quite calorie dense and should be avoided in very large amounts and consumed in relative moderation. When planning a meal start off with your protein portion – a medium sized chicken breast or steak for example, then pile on the veggies and add some healthy fats to round the meal off. Adjust portion sizes as hunger, energy and bathroom scales dictate.

Food preparation is something else we need to consider. The way we cook our food can be either beneficial or possibly detrimental to our health. Preferred cooking methods include the following…

Steaming – especially vegetables and fish
Grilling – for meat and fish (Non-stick grills like the George Foreman are excellent tools for the health and waist conscious!)
Stir frying – for most foods. Cut food up into small pieces to ensure quick frying and minimal loss of nutrients
Boiling – for vegetables but careful not to over cook
Roasting – for vegetables and meats
Slow cooking (crock pots)

Microwaving is very convenient but the effects of microwaves on food and health are still relatively unknown. Some evidence suggests that microwaves may actually alter the chemical structure of our foods in such a way as to render them unhealthy. In one recent study, plants were watered using cooled microwaved water. The plants failed to sprout and soon died. Whilst not conclusive, this does seem to suggest that microwaving may be harmful so where practical use more traditional cooking methods.

If possible and palatable, try to eat fruit and vegetables in their raw state, thus preserving the vitamin and mineral content that can be lost in the cooking process. Over cooking of fruit and vegetables should be avoided at all costs as excessive or prolonged exposure to heat can damage the fragile micro nutrients and reduce their healthful qualities…

Spice it up!
Despite appearances, meals that meet the above criteria needn’t be terribly dull. It’s all about using your imagination and coming up with interesting combinations of the permitted foods. Don’t forget the condiments either – healthy sauces and salad dressings can be made in very little time and add a whole new dimension of taste to an otherwise uninspiring meal. Why not consider adding the following to your grocery list… It is possible to make your own sauces, salsas and dressings to spice up any meal using the permitted foods.

Balsamic vinegar
Olive oil (extra virgin, cold pressed only!)
Unsalted butter (ok in small amounts)
Sea salt
Black pepper
Chili or curry powder
Various herbs and spices

So, there we go. I don’t promise you will lose a dress size by the end of the week, nor do I swear you will be a stone lighter by this time next month. What I do assure you is this – eating the types of foods listed above and avoiding the man made “Frankenfoods” will give you the shape you want and the health you want without making your life so complicated you don’t know whether you are coming or going. And the best thing? This super diet won’t cost you a penny! No books to buy, no supplements to purchase, no charts to fill in. It’s a simple matter of eating the foods nature intended us to eat before processed foods became the norm.

The exception to the rule – post exercise meals
Anyone involved in serious exercise on a regular basis may find that adhering to the guidelines above may leave them feeling a bit weak or fatigued – especially post exercise. After exercise, the body’s own stored carbohydrate (called glycogen) levels are depleted to a greater or lesser degree. For a similar bout of exercise to be performed, our glycogen stores must be replenished. It is important to try and do this as fast as possible to promote anabolism (tissue growth and repair) and minimize catabolism (tissue breakdown). To achieve this, during the post exercise period we can veer away from the guidelines above and include foods that are normally not normally acceptable.

Our post exercise meal can include more refined, lower fiber carbohydrates such as rice, pasta, bread, cereals, grains, potatoes etc. as these will now be used in the restocking of our glycogen stores and are highly unlikely to end up being stored as fat. Post exercise, the body’s main job is replenishment of glycogen stores so as a result it will use the majority of carbohydrates consumed in this window of opportunity for restocking of these vital supplies of stored carbohydrates. Make sure that post exercise meals also contain protein to kick start muscle anabolism and we have a great jump start to our after training recovery, which should lead to being better recovered for our next work out.

Good examples of post training meals include:

Peanut butter sandwich
Baked potato and tuna with olive oil and side salad
Pasta with chicken in a tomato sauce
Rice with pork and vegetable stir fry
Cottage cheese with wholegrain bread
2 bananas and a handful of unsalted nuts
Soft fruits and plain yogurt blended into a “smoothie”
Whey protein powder blended with plain yogurt and fruit.

There are many options to select from so just choose a few different ones and rotate them from day to day to ensure a wide variety of nutrients are being consumed.

Think of this meal as being a reward for training hard, safe in the knowledge it will do little to unhinge your weight management efforts – then return to your simple but effective eating plan for the rest of your meals.

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