Let’s talk nutrition. Let’s demystify that term and rename it “food energy.” After all, that’s what food does in our bodies – it gives us the necessary power to run everything and perform tasks. I’m an avid user of the phrase, “I’ve learned that I must eat to live – not live to eat!” I do have a healthy appetite. I love eating good food. But my definition of “good food” has changed over time. I used to love a Wendy’s chocolate Frosty as a “treat.” I think we can agree a Frosty is tasty, but just barely qualifies as food and is certainly not good for you. Even though it may have indefinable soothing effects to the soul. I also used to love to eat beef and will, on occasion, have a steak or burger, but those times are becoming more rare. All puns aside, I have dealt with weight and digestive issues since I was thirteen and have gained and lost more weight than I care to admit. Being a yoga instructor and personal trainer, I would exercise nearly every day for hours. I realized my activity level wasn’t the problem. It was what I was feeding myself.
I wanted to learn more and really “look the part” of the fitness expert I had become and to finally get a handle on the nutritional aspects of my “bulge and purge” body. I grew exhausted from being a human yo-yo about ten years ago and decided to do something about it… Learn a lot more about nutrition and how the body processes its energy. Here’s what I’ve discovered and practiced in terms of obtaining energetic dietary needs everyday, feeling satisfied by food and still enjoying what I eat. Everybody’s body is a bit different and it takes discipline to master any practice, especially when there’s so many “palatable distractions” lurking at every intersection, but this set of guidelines works great for me and my clients. As with any nutritional advice or suggestion, buyer beware. Any statements here are not meant to diagnose or treat any disease or affliction or promote any action or behavior on the part of the reader. If you have a condition that requires medical attention, please visit your doctor. Even though some of the information I’ll mention is pure gold, the following comments should be taken as my personal experience, nothing else. Get out your spoon… here’s the scoop!
It can be tough to understand what foods are good for your energy, good for maintaining a healthy, trim and energetic body and a concentrated mind. As a personal trainer I had taken many CEU’s in nutrition and thought I was “in the know” about what foods to eat to stay fit. But I did more research when I found out I had an unhappy small intestine. I was bloated most of the time and it felt like I was six months pregnant! I was diagnosed with the dreaded IBS in 2004 and found out I was also somewhat lactose intolerant. There seemed fewer and fewer foods I could eat without feeling sick. And I love to eat!
After reading much about the Macrobiotic and Mediterranean diets in the early 2000’s and having applied myself to following their guidelines I began to see some weight loss results and became more energetic. But I dropped the ball a few times and put much of the weight back on, feeling more sluggish and increasingly frustrated that I couldn’t follow through with my nutritional goals. Both diets are pretty straight forward and, like the traditional Japanese diet, rely on consuming mainly whole grains, locally grown food, small portions of animal protein, lots of veggies and some fruit, healthy oils (fish, olive, nut) and only small amounts of sugar and starch. Although they were simple diets, I couldn’t tow the line for more than 9 months.
Maybe my lack of resolve was due to a lack of discipline or willingness to change, a shaky will power, a “rugged American individualism” or just a stubborn, rotten “sweet tooth.” I couldn’t stop eating naughty foods and always went back to consuming mass quantities. I was a ravenous omnivore. I still wanted to eat anything that wasn’t nailed down! I realized my real issue was a lack of knowledge – the power of better information to fix my diet. Then I read an article about whole grains that changed my whole outlook on food as energy. I finally figured out why I craved sugars and starches, felt wiped-out half the time and kept putting the weight back on. My metabolism was a mess. So was my blood pressure. I had been riding the “insulin roller coaster” for most of my life. It was making me fat, sick and depressed… and it was time to get off!
Refined sugar, refined grains and bad fats had slowed my body’s energy systems to a crawl. They were also the reason I craved eating more of the same. I learned that sugar was also damaging to my internal tissues, acting like a molecular razor blade – slicing and dicing my innards! The only way to combat their metabolic meddling, their damaging side-effects and their nearly addictive draw was to replace them with what my body really wanted – high-energy yielding whole grains! They had the right balance of healthy sugars, vegetable proteins and oils, plenty of gut-scrubbing fiber and the right nutrients to re-energize my sputtering engines. My metabolism was craving more energy from the food I ingested, so I had to give it better quality energy through more nutritionally sound foods. But, what to choose? I was hungry and I needed answers!
I found out that when we want something sweet or starchy to eat, it’s really because we’ve run out of complex carbohydrates – the essential building blocks for energy production in the body! But the body won’t discriminate – if it’s hungry and needs energy it will take anything resembling a complex carb – even a simple sugar – to fill its needs. Your body needs the entire grain – germ, bran and endosperm – to get the greatest nutritional benefits from eating grains. Most processed, refined wheat flours (most of what we eat as carbs these days) is only made of the endosperm – the starchy part of the grain that makes our blood sugar spike. Enriched white flour also turns to paste in the gut, creating a sludge that prevents the assimilation of nutrients and puts a drag on digestion and the body’s immune response. And don’t even get me started on how many carbohydrates we consume that are made of corn! It’s almost indigestible with little nutritional value. Why do you think it looks the same at the end of the digestive process as it does at the beginning? I digress.
My point is, we need sugar to live, but the refined stuff can only crash your metabolism. I realized every time I reached for a cookie, sugary cup of coffee, bowl of boxed cereal or pasta, sandwich with wheat flour bread or a slice of pizza, my body was actually telling me I wasn’t getting enough “good carbs” – whole grains, nuts, legumes, fruit and vegetable fiber. I needed more good carb options and the ability to make better choices… and I was “starving!” My health and even my career depended on it! I had to make the change…
Two years ago I learned to cook and eat whole grains twice a day. Now I cook them ahead of time so they’re always available as a sound meal choice in my ‘fridge. I’m proud to say I’ve lost 65 lbs. since March 2012 and have kept it off for over two years, losing over eight inches at my waist! I wear a 32 inch waist now – the smallest I’ve been in ten years – and I look and feel better than I have in probably as long. And no more IBS! I’m a new me, thanks to this pretty simple nutritional tweak and a few other informed dietary choices.
My favorite whole grains are steel-cut oats (which I make taste like rice pudding without any refined sugar or dairy milk) and quinoa, my wonder grain of choice for sweet, savory, salty or spicy fiber-filled meals. In my next post I’ll be discussing my overall nutritional program and some recipes. Check it out and see my link below for more information on what whole grains are and what they can do for you and your family’s health. It’s really amazing, we humans actually evolved with whole grains, on the same timeline. They’re our evolutionary nutritional match. Their natural boost to our metabolisms make fat storage melt off the body and make us feel full. They clear the intestines, reduce tissue inflammation and give us hours of vital energy and brain power. Who doesn’t need that?
It’s a wonder, considering their healthy effects, that whole grains are not a greater focus when it comes to fighting obesity, diabetes, heart disease and even cancer. As in all things, education is everything when learning to make better dietary choices. I also think it’s strange that people have to sift through so many misleading labels and clear away so many myths when it comes to purchasing, cooking, ordering and eating whole grains. Maybe it’s our rushed, stressed-out, overly convenient society or our need for instant gratification that’s to blame. But I’m a fitness and wellness expert and a bit of a philosopher, not a sociology professor. Please do your own research and implement the best information you find into practice so you can be the judge. We’ll reconvene on this pressing issue soon. It really is a big deal to me anyway, since I think it saved my life! Be well and check out some photos of my progress below…
View this link to see what foods are considered whole grains.
The incredible shrinking me (March 2012-September 2012)… Lost 65 lbs.!
Awesome results, right? You can have the same great returns… Just go “grainy!”
Check out my next post, “Whole Grains, Whole New Me! Part 2” for recipes and tips…