I’m pretty sure that most of us recognize that the world of health and nutrition is at times brimming with such an abundance of information, much of it contradictory, that it can be a dizzying, overwhelming mess. It can be very difficult to wade through this information and sort out what really is valuable. Which articles are objective? Which data is well-researched? Which studies were funded by greedy gigantic industries only interested in pushing forth information that supports their continued financial success – whether it’s in the public’s best interest or not?
Yes, that is how I really feel.
Over the last year and a half or so, I have delved into the world of health and nutrition information. I have a very, very strong desire to pursue a career in nutrition and wellness, but just can’t quite figure out how to make that transition happen yet. In the meantime, in lieu of a ‘formal’ education in this area, I have sought out an abundance of information regarding nutrition and I have spent a great deal of time dissecting the validity of the information I consume.
Before I actually made this effort to educate myself, I wrote off many commonly cited nutritional facts as big fat shams.
Mostly, I didn’t want to change my behaviors, so I rejected any information that told me I should do so. You know that trick, right? It’s sort of the adult equivalent of putting your hands over your ears and shouting “I can’t hear you! I can’t hear you!”
Now that I’ve moved beyond that, I thought I’d share a few of the most significant nutritional truths that I once rejected. These are some guidelines that I wholeheartedly believe in and follow on a daily basis. If you want any more information or recommendations for further reading regarding these topics, just leave me a comment below.
Truth #1: Eating breakfast really is important.
For years I rarely ate breakfast. I would scoff at breakfast-advocates, saying “I’m just not hungry in the morning.” While it was true that I didn’t usually feel hungry in the morning, I didn’t realize how much of an impact skipping breakfast had on the functioning of my mind and body. Because I hadn’t experienced what it was like to be a breakfast eater, I didn’t understand how much I was forsaking. For instance, I didn’t realize the amount of overeating that skipping breakfast led to later in the day, the sub-par mental functioning that I worked with for at least half of my day, or the way in which it just all around messed up my metabolism. Once I started eating breakfast, whether I felt hungry or not, I began to notice incredible changes. I have more energy, fewer unhealthy cravings throughout the day, better cognitive functioning, and overall I just feel better.
Truth #2: It is not wise to eat (or at least not eat much) within about 1.5 – 2 hours of going to bed.
Given that I shunned breakfast, it is likely no surprise that I ate the bulk of my food at night. My meal planning was sporadic at best and I often found myself hungry and full of cravings in the late hours before bed. Basically, I figured it didn’t matter what time of day I ate, because I was still going to consume the food at some point. What I have learned, however, is that our bodies do some pretty amazing things while we sleep – and having a full stomach to contend with during our bedtime hours can cause some major disruptions to very important biological processes. For instance, sleep is prime time for our bodies to create natural growth hormones. These hormones aid in building and repairing muscles and work in a myriad of ways to keep us healthy. The development of these hormones can be crucial to helping your body heal, grow, and recover from exercise, stress and other activity. However, if your body is so full that most of its energy is going towards digesting food while you sleep, your body won’t have the energy to create these vital hormones.
Truth #3: Protein does not have to come from animal products. Many high quality and healthier proteins exist all around us.
I have recently become a vegetarian for a variety of reasons. One thing I have learned in this process – and one of the most concerning truths I have learned about nutrition overall – is how damaging animal food products can be to our health. The scientific links made between the consumption of animal proteins to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and loads of other serious ailments are astounding. Further, the plethora of research to support these findings and the amount of effort made to shut down the dissemination of this research by powerful, influential agencies (i.e. cattle and dairy companies and organizations) is infuriating. It interferes in the ability of the average person to make informed decisions about their own health and wellness. This is a huge topic, deserving of much more attention than I will give in this post, but for more information, I highly recommend checking out The China Study. It’s amazing. In the meantime, consider the plethora of non-animal based protein dense foods that surround us (lentils, quinoa, spinach, beans, et cetera). (By the way, did you realize that consumption of milk actually leads to osteoporosis/weak bones?!)
Truth #4: Carbohydrates are not an enemy. Neither is fat. In fact, there are no actual, real foods that are the enemy. (By real food I refer to pure, natural food, not, you know, stuff like Oreos. Oreos may, in fact, be the enemy. Oreos – delicious as they are – are wily little devils.)
We are constantly bombarded with ‘diet plans’ that claim to be the right answer for achieving optimal weight and health. Only they never actually are, are they? Two of the most pervasive over the last couple of decades have been plans associated with low-carb consumption and low-fat intake. These plans are extremely problematic. Refined, processed carbs (again – not ‘real’ food) are undoubtedly detrimental to our health. However, unprocessed carbohydrates are vital to our systems and do a great deal to increase overall health. A great deal of research exists that shows how diets high in unrefined carbohydrates are some of the healthiest in the world. Regarding the low-fat craze, fat consumption does need to be moderated – this is for sure; however, the problem lies in the way this fact has manifested in our culture. A massive industry has grown around the development of ‘low-fat’ food. Processed, refined incredibly unhealthy and sometimes toxic foods fill supermarket shelves, and because they are ‘low-fat’, they are considered health foods! A low-fat diet is a good thing, but a low-fat label does not automatically equal a healthy option.
Truth #5: Sometimes organic really is worth paying for.
Organic food is expensive – I know. I live on a budget that drives the majority of my decisions around purchases; however, I am willing to scrimp in some places in order to buy certain organic food items. The high amount of pesticides and toxic chemicals on many of the foods around me is terrifying. I’m just not going to be convinced that eating an apple treated with chemicals made to de-ice planes and kill insects is inconsequential to my health. Period.
Truth #6: Sleep matters.
I really dislike sleep. Seriously. I’m always so disappointed at the amount of productive hours that are lost in any given day due to sleep. Despite this, I have come to understand and respect the value of it. Getting enough sleep has health impacts, both immediate and long-term. And I can honestly say that while I still get angry about having to do it, I easily notice a difference in my brain and body when I don’t get enough sleep.
Truth #7: Water matters, too.
Drink water. Enough said. This one is easy. Being well-hydrated keeps the body running smoothly and no amount of liquid from soda or other such beverages can replace the value that several cups of water has on our systems.
Truth #8: Weight essentially is about calories in, calories out. Health, wellness and nutrition are not.
I could write for days regarding my feelings about weight versus health. I am a firm believer that health comes in a vast variety of sizes and shapes. I also stand firm that someone’s weight or size has absolutely nothing to do with their value, moral fortitude, or intelligence. I also believe that sometimes advocacy for acceptance of all sizes and shapes can get all mixed up, sometimes losing sight of what it does mean to be healthy. It’s a very, very complicated issue. Ultimately, if you want to lose weight, you must have a calorie deficit. This is a simple case of math meets biology. You’re not going to lose weight without this deficit. However, calories and weight loss do not necessarily equal health. The nutritional value of those calories make all the difference in the world and is a key reason why plenty of size 12 people are a million times more healthy than any given size 6 person. Know the difference between these concepts and know how they can work together to help each individual reach their own healthy weight and size. This is a critical concept.
Truth #9: Food really can be addictive. Further, our tastes and preferences have likely adapted to those foods, which also means they can (and will) continue to adapt if you change up what you eat (In other words, it is not true that you naturally really hate all vegetables and can only enjoy eating cheeseburgers and fries).
I grew up on fast food, candy, and chemical-filled pre-packaged fare. Because of this, I was convinced that this was all I liked and other foods were just too far away from my natural preferred palette. Boy, was I ever wrong. The truth is that my palate adapted to that type of diet. As I began to cut that food out of my diet and introduce other foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and grains, my palate changed. I started to become more sensitive to the variety of flavors that exist naturally in food and I have never looked back.
These are some guidelines for wellness that I believe in based on what I have learned to be true from research, education, and personal experience. They obviously do not cover every aspect of nutrition, but I believe them to be good starting points for a healthy life!