Calories in, Calories out

It is a simple idea, which makes it so attractive/popular to the general public.  In one way or another we have been told that losing weight really boils down to taking in less calories than we burn.  There are of course other factors, but this is the major key to all our weight loss dreams… or is it?

We are slowly, but surely, learning that the science of nutrition is far more complex than we once believed.  As our understanding grows, scientists are finding that calories might not be the only key to losing weight.  As recently as last May, researchers discovered that the calorie count in almonds (one- ounce serving = 160 calories) was actually lower, at 129 calories per serving.  Yes, we may all rejoice that they overestimated the calories rather than underestimated, but the more important part of this study was the reason the calorie count was lower.  They found that the body could not completely break down the almonds and use their full energy as fuel.  This discovery has lead many scientists to believe that the current method of determining calories might not be the most accurate.

what you eat

If you have been reading my blog for any period of time, you know that I am a firm believer in the individualization of nutrition.  What works for me and my health might not necessarily work for you and your health, and scientific researchers are starting to see this as well.  I am not a huge supporter of religiously counting calories and making sure I am eating a set number for each meal, mostly because when I did do this I never felt any healthier.  I always felt like I was being deprived and this led to overeating.  I understand that for some of you out there, counting calories is the easiest way for you to achieve your optimal health, but I want you to also think about the kind of calories that you are putting into your body.  It’s not just a number, it is the benefits that those calories gives your body that really count to feeling your healthiest.

Look at it this way, 300 calories worth of food at McDonald’s is going to make you feel a lot different than 300 calories worth of fresh  fruits and vegetables.  Both foods have 300 calories, but the fresh foods will provide your body with far more vitamins, minerals and nutrients that you can use to fuel you throughout your day.  Your body will also use those calories in totally different ways.  While the fat and sodium content of your Happy Meal might get stored as fat in your body, the vitamins and minerals from fruits and vegetables can be used to instantly nourish your body and help you function.  Don’t get me wrong and think that only eating fruits and vegetables will provide you with the best health, there are so many foods out there that could help you be as healthy as possible.

Nutrition facts for McDonald's cheeseburger

Nutrition facts for McDonald’s cheeseburger

Nutrition facts for 3 stalks of broccoli

Nutrition facts for 3 stalks of broccoli

The message I really want to get across is that the amount of calories you put into your body is only a piece of the puzzle that makes up your health/weight loss.  I don’t think that this is insignificant, as making sure you eat enough is highly important, but I do believe that there is so much more to feeling (and looking) your best.  When you eat a meal, concentrate on how it makes you feel afterwards.  Do you feel sluggish? Like you have ton of energy? Do you feel hungry only an hour after eating a meal or were you so stuffed that you didn’t feel like eating the rest of the day?  The kinds of food you eat will give you much more information about your health than an arbitrary number on the back of a package.  As nutrition research progresses, I hope we see a major overhaul in the way we view food.  Food is much more than a number, it has the potential to truly shape our health.  As Hippocrates so famously stated, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

Obesity is a Disease: That’s a Good Thing, Right?

In case you haven’t heard, obesity has officially been recognized as a disease.  Ever since this declaration, people have been debating whether this is a good or bad thing.  There seem to be equal supporters for and against the new label and both sides have some very valid points.  I understand the pros and cons that both sides have brought up and I have a few of my own.  While I’ll share my opinion on labeling obesity as a disease, I think that the more important question I have about this whole thing is what will change?  How will this help to make things better?


From my perspective, recognizing obesity as a disease is a good first step, but I worry that it will backfire.  I am really glad that people who need help have a better chance at actually getting that help now that obesity is considered a disease.  Insurance companies may provide more financial support, allowing doctors to be better equipped and ready to help treat obese patients.  But here is where I start to get a little leery about this, I think that people will start using this as a crutch to not do anything.  I feel that they will take the “Oh I have a disease, there really isn’t anything I can do” attitude and not try to change.  I worry that people will turn to drugs or miracle pills rather than educating themselves on eating better foods or moving more.  Don’t get me wrong, I totally understand that being obese is a case by case disease and that some people really might have no control over their weight gain.  In those cases I know that surgery and medication may be the only way to go.  I also know that some people use those methods as the easy way out and now that obesity is a disease, many drug companies are going to start pumping out more and more medications that will combat obesity.  What’s easier? Overhauling your eating and your lifestyle or taking a pill 3 times a day?

My other big worry is that the whole focus of obesity is going to shift from prevention to treatment.  In fact, that is my concern with a lot of our healthcare issues.  So many diseases and conditions are 100% preventable, yet we wait until they move past the prevention stage and move into the treatment stage.  Obesity, and the many conditions that come along with obesity, is one of these diseases.  There are so many things that we can do prevent obesity, yet we are the most obese country in the world.  We know that if we eat better and exercise we can greatly reduce the risk of obesity and all it’s related disease/ailments.  Unfortunately I see obesity being called a disease furthering the problem of treatment vs. prevention.  I try not to always see the glass as half-empty, but I feel like drug companies and many doctors will see this as a prime opportunity to make even more money and I worry that Americans will fall right into that trap.  Sadly we like the easy way out of things and getting surgery or taking medications is a lot easier than putting in the work to prevent obesity.


I haven’t lost all hope though.  I think that this is also a prime opportunity for people to step up and really make some big overhauls when it comes to people’s health.  There are so many groups and organizations out there that are striving to educate the public about being healthier (prevention rather than treatment) and I hope that this new label will give them the means and support to further their endeavors.  Take Microgreens for example.  This non-profit organization works with children in the D.C. area teaching them how to cook and prepare low cost meals.  Children whose families benefit from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (aka food stamps), can take classes through Microgreens and learn how to budget, shop for and prepare a healthy meal all for $3.50 per meal.  This is a great program because it not only educates children about healthy eating, it shows them how to go through each step of the process and learning these skills at a young age is so important for future health.  It also encourages kids to share their knowledge and skills with their families, spreading the education of better health even further.  It would be amazing if we could get these types of programs to children and families all over the country and perhaps we can make that possible now that obesity is a disease.

Another benefit I hope to see is more in-depth, one on one counseling for those individuals who are serious about bettering their health and leaving obesity behind.  Before alcoholism was labeled a disease in 1956, there was little to no help for those battling their addiction, in fact most people viewed alcoholism as a stigma and tried to ignore the problem rather than do anything about it.  Once it became a disease though, so many more resources opened up.  Programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous were formed, treatment centers were set up, and counselors were trained to work with both alcoholics and their families.  I am not trying to say that obese people and alcoholics are in any way the same; each disease has it’s own criteria and symptoms.  Labeling alcoholism as a disease enabled preventative education and treatment options to flourish, and I believe labeling obesity as a disease can do the same. Perhaps more programs and groups will be formed to help those dealing with obesity, and for all those affected by obesity.  Maybe more schools and communities across the nation will be equipped with classes to help educate the public and prevent obesity from even starting.  How great would it be if those people who are obese or overweight weren’t treated like social pariah’s and ignored but rather were given an abundance of resources to help them heal and have better health and better lives?

Do I think that calling obesity a disease will fix all the problems magically? No.  Do I worry that it could make things worse? A little.  Do I believe that good changes can happen from this? You bet.  While I think we need to proceed with caution on this, I wholeheartedly believe that this can be the start of some great things for America’s health.  It’s up to us to help guide which way this can all go.  If we put our support behind things like better food in schools and supermarkets, organizations that are fighting to educate the public about health, and help for those who are struggling with obesity or their health in general, I think that we can make some major strides toward a happier and healthier future for everyone.

Clean your plate… Kind of

I am willing to bet that some of you (me included) have finished a meal even though you weren’t really hungry anymore. A lot of us have probably done this, as it’s really easy to just finish all the food on your plate even if you are already full.  You might have heard about “starving children in Africa” and felt the need to finish a second helping of french fries for their sake (because that makes a lot of sense…).  I would even go a step further and say that some of us don’t even recognize our own body’s signals for satiety, causing us to overeat at most of our meals.

This isn’t a new concept. In 2006, 6 of every 10 Americans said they ate more than they should. As a country, Americans know very well that they are overeating and that it is contributing to our ever-expanding waistlines and health problems. There have been countless studies and research that has gone into showing us that we are eating too much, but I think the more important question we need to address is when did we start overeating? I don’t mean as a nation, I mean you as an individual.

For the most part, you were not born eating too much food. In fact, if you look at children’s eating habits they are some of the best intuitive eaters. When they are hungry they will eat and when they are full they stop eating. If they don’t eat a huge lunch, they will usually eat more at dinner. They don’t obsess over certain foods or meal times. Trust me, they will let you know when they are hungry. I’ve worked as a nanny for the past two years and gotten to watch this first hand. It fascinates me how easy it is for a 2-year-old to grasp the concept of being full and being done with a meal. It doesn’t bother him if there are still five green beans left on his plate, or three graham cracker bunnies he didn’t eat. When he is done eating he is done eating and happily goes on with his day. Where did adults, the supposedly wiser and more sophisticated group, go wrong on this concept?

While there are many factors that contribute, one of the biggest influences is that of the parents, but I don’t think they are doing it on purpose.  Most parents want their child to lead a healthy and happy life.  They want to make sure that they are providing nutritious meals that will help their children grow.  It can be really frustrating and even worrisome to have a child that seems to never eat.  I know the struggle that can occur when you just want your kid to eat one bite of their meal because they haven’t eaten anything all day.  But I also believe that sometimes parents need to be open to having their child guide their own eating habits.  When parents stress over getting their children to eat, or force them to finish all their food on their plate, they could be setting their child up for future eating problems.  Over time, if a child is cleaning his plate even though he is clearly not hungry, he will begin to lose that sense of satiety.  He now knows that in order to be done with a meal, the plate needs to be empty, whether he is full or not.

Losing our sense of fullness can lead to other bad habits later on as well.  Adam shared a study with me last week about teens not paying attention to how many calories they ate in a meal.  While I am not a big supporter of religiously counting calories, it is interesting to see that most teens ignored the calorie count completely.  I don’t know if there is a definite link between being aware of how much food you eat and our sense of fullness, but I think that they probably do affect each other.  I know that there used to be many times I would be eating and I had no clue why.  I wasn’t hungry, but somehow I was downing crackers like it was my business.

How do you regain your intuitive eating skills?  It’s tough, but you can retrain your body to its childhood eating habits.  Don’t expect the change to happen overnight and don’t expect to be perfect all the time.  There will be days that you slip up and that is totally ok, just move on and do better next time.  These are a few of the tips that I use to help me really tune in to my body’s signals.

Make sure you’re actually hungry.  When you get the urge to grab a bag of chips or chow down on a huge meal, pause for just a second.  Ask yourself a few questions, when was the last time I ate?  Am I really hungry or am I bored/sad/depressed/around a bunch of other people eating?  Will I feel better about myself after eating this meal or will I look back with regret?  Once you answer those questions, you can better decide if you are actually hungry and ready to eat a meal.  To take this a step further, drink a glass of water before you eat anything.  Many times, we misread thirsty signals as hunger signals and immediately dive into a snack.

S L O W  D O W N.  When you are eating a meal, take your time.  This can be a key factor in reading your “I’m full” signal.  Sometimes we have a tendency to rush through a meal in ten minutes and not realize we had way more to eat than we really wanted or needed.  Take a few bites, put your fork down, sip some water, and enjoy the flavor of your food.  By giving your body those few extra minutes in between bites, you are letting it register the food you have already eaten and allowing you to know when you are full, before your plate is totally clean.  Also, eat until you are pleasantly full, not bursting at the seams.  No one likes that feeling of your waistband cutting in to your stomach after a huge chow fest.

Eat foods that will fill you up.  You’re probably thinking, “Uh, Katie?  Any food can fill me up.”  Let me be a bit more specific.  Choose foods that have a low density of calories, but high quantity.  Caloric-Density1

400 calories of oil, from say your fried mozzarella sticks, will not fill you up as much as 400 calories of salad.  You won’t feel full from that 400 calories of oil, so you’ll continue to eat until you do feel full, possibly taking in more food than your body really wants or needs.  I am not saying that you have to ONLY eat vegetables in order to know when you’re full.  What I am saying is that you need to choose foods that will fill you in the healthiest way.  Including vegetables in your dinner of grilled chicken and brown rice is a very easy way to add bulk that won’t bulk you up.

Be patient, and kind, with yourself.  Like I said before, it isn’t easy to retrain the way you eat or tune into your body.  Don’t get frustrated if you slip up more than once.  Realize that this is a process and it is OK to have setbacks, you’re human, not Superman.  Just make sure that your slip ups don’t make you abandon everything and fall back into your old habits.  Acknowledge that you had a setback and move on, vowing to make your next choice healthier.  Constantly beating yourself up will not help you get to a healthier state.

Remember, we all started out as some of the best intuitive eaters out there.  One way or another you might have lost that sense, but you CAN gain it back.  I think that a lot of eating problems begin with our lack of awareness of our own bodies, at least that has been the case for me.  Just because someone puts food on your plate, does not mean you absolutely have to eat all of it.  I promise that eating every single scrap of food on your plate just because it’s there will never lead to a feeling of satisfaction.  Knowing you have eaten exactly what you needed and the exact amount your body required will make you feel much happier and healthier!

Rules, Rules, Rules

Don’t eat after 7 pm, space out your eating with 5 or 6 meals through out the day, don’t skip breakfast, wait maybe skip breakfast, eat egg yolks, nope don’t eat egg yolks, wait, take that back, you can eat the egg yolks.

Does it ever seem like there is a never ending list of rules and studies when it comes to eating?  That’s because there is a never ending list of rules and studies all about eating.  All of the information that is out there is  overwhelming and often times contradicting.  This confusion can really put a damper on your good effort to eat the best way possible.  First, you’re presented with all of these diets from low-carb to no-fat to all-fat to everything in between.  How do you know which one to choose?  Then, there are what seems like daily nutritional studies released telling you the rules on how to eat.  It’s enough to make your head spin and give up all of your good intentions about eating better.

How are you supposed to navigate through the plethora of information out there?  You won’t like my answer because it isn’t an easy solution. You’ve heard me say it before, but you will have to spend time learning how different foods and eating techniques (not the fine art of chewing. Think more along the lines of what time of day to eat).  Because I can’t tell you exactly what you need to do for your body, I’ll give you a general outline of how to figure out what you need.

Define your nutritional goals. Decide what it is exactly that you want to fix/work on.  Make it a very clear goal such as: “I want to lose weight,” or “I want to have more energy.”  If you know exactly what you want from your daily diet, you can eliminate anything that does not pertain to your specific goal

Research what diets that will help accomplish your goal. There are so many resources out today that can really help you find exactly what you need for better nutrition.  Books, blogs, articles, doctors, dieticians.  The list goes on and on.  Even starting with a quick google search can get you started.  Just make sure you are only looking at things that will help you further your goal.  If you want to have more energy, but are researching the diets of super bodybuilders, you will probably NOT meet your goal and get really discouraged or confused.

Dive in and experiment. Once you find one or two methods that will help you meet your goals and are realistic (and not dangerous, like eating only through a feeding tube once a day), start experimenting and see how your body reacts.  Do certain foods effect you negatively? Or do they give you the exact result you want? Does eating at a certain time in the day or in a specific way hurt or help your goal?  As you go along you will be able to really fine tune what and the way you eat to maximize your personal goal.

Don’t get worried or sidetracked by new studies. When a new study comes out that says it has been shown that you will lose more weight if you eat while walking in concentric circles, don’t get flustered because you have been eating while walking in an oval.  If what you are doing is working for you, i.e. you are achieving your goal, then don’t worry so much about every single little study that is released.  I’m not bashing the scientific process here, I know that research studies are an important part of life and they do help us discover new and better things.  BUT, you will drive yourself crazy if you try to adhere to every single “rule” or diet that comes out, and stress isn’t good for anyone.

All in all, the most important thing is that you do what is best for YOU.  There is no one perfect way to eat for every human being.  Some people will have different dietary needs than others and that is OK!  We are all unique and we shouldn’t expect one quick fix for every person.  I used to think that I had to follow every single piece of diet advice out there or that if I wasn’t following the newest diet people were judging me.  Now that I have grown up and matured a little (not much, but a little), I have stopped worrying so much about following the crowds and care more about what works best for me.  I’m the one who has to live with this body, and I should treat it the way it needs to be treated! With all the love and care I can!

Hopefully I was able to sort a few things out for you and give you some helpful tips on how to navigate through the nutrition jungle! I hope that you all have the best week and if you’re here in the Midwest, I hope you stay warm!

When to blame others and when to blame yourself

I am going to take a wild guess and say that most of you reading this blog have, in one way or another, dealt with some health issue.  Whether it’s losing weight, gaining weight, fighting some disease or other ailment, the majority of us have gone through our own health woes.  I’ve been there and some days it feels like I am still there, so I know how tough these things can be.  What exactly am I trying to get at in this post? I am so glad you asked!

This past Sunday there was an article in the Chicago Tribune by Julie Deardorff about how there may be many factors that affect obesity, not just less movement and too many calories.  The article looks in depth at three factors that might be keeping people obese: air pollution, microbes in the gut, and sleep deprivation.  For air pollution, researchers are saying that pregnant women exposed to higher

concentrations of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) have a greater risk for obese or overweight children.  Microbes in the gut (which we have talked about before) are another cause for concern. There appears to be a link to antibiotics, which kill off both good and bad bacteria in your body, and this can also increase the risk for obesity. And there is also significant research cropping up that is saying those that get less than 7 to 8 hours of sleep are at a higher risk for being overweight.  In a side article, Deardorff also briefly lists other factors that could contribute to weight gain including maternal age, air conditioning, and decreased smoking.  Yup, you read that last one right. People who stop smoking tend to gain weight because nicotine acts as an appetite suppressant.

Well.  It appears that it is just hopeless for all of us trying to lose or maintain a healthy weight. Might as well give up now and go back to eating fast food in front of the TV.  Nope.  This isn’t the first time that I have read an article of this nature.  I agree that there are many components to living a healthy lifestyle, aside from the standard exercise and eat healthy, but I also think that people constantly try to find a way to blame everything under the sun but themselves for why they are overweight.  It’s easier, and a lot less painful, to blame the air for your weight problem instead of stepping up and admitting that your weight is caused by the pint of Ben and Jerry’s you scarf down every night, or say my mom was older when she had me so she set me up for failure right from the start. Are you sure it’s not the fact that you haven’t exercised in the last five years instead?  I am not trying to belittle the efforts of the researchers trying to fix our weight problem nor am I denying that most of this research is right.  What I am saying is we cannot be so quick to pass the buck.  You need to be accountable for your actions (or lack thereof). It’s tough and possibly humiliating, but it’s also responsible and respectable.

Now all that being said I do realize that sometimes there really are deeper underlying issues as to why someone might be overweight.  And I am not trying to bash those people who struggle to lose weight.  In fact for all of those really and truly trying but not seeing the results you want, I commend you.  You are putting in the effort and hard work and that is what counts.  If diet and exercise are not working for you and you can honestly say you have given 100 percent, talk with your doctor and see what else might be going on.  And for those of you who like to play the blame game, toughen up buttercup and get up and working.  That is the only way you can even start to blame someone else for your weight issues.  Your health starts with YOU taking action.