Who would think sharing an opinion like, “I think eggs are bad for you” could cause people to get out their virtual torches and pitchforks? Yet it happens all the time on websites everywhere, not to mention in person. When it comes to controversial topics, nutrition seems to be on par with politics and religion.
So often the answer to questions about the finer points of nutrition is, “Well, it depends.” It can be hard to say that to people repeatedly without coming off as elusive, confusing, and maybe even full of it. So it’s good to remind ourselves of the fundamentals that apply to pretty much anyone. The things that never change.
Here are four lessons that can benefit anyone who wants to improve their nutrition, regardless of which diet camp he or she falls into.
Lesson One: Your Body Is Unique
We funny human beings tend to cling to nutrition theories that are specific to a certain population and generalize. Hence the commonly heard phrase, “That’s just a fad diet.” But the fact is, people are unique, and so is nutrition. If people realized this, a lot of squabbling would cease to exist (of course, whether people would actually be happy about that is a whole other topic).
The problem is, it can be hard to know what action steps to take based on our unique genetic qualities, especially since we can’t read our own DNA. Coach Denis Faye provided four strategies to help:
- First, narrow down the foods that might not work with your values or lifestyle. For example, the only meat I eat is fish, so it’s unlikely I’ll be primal eating in the near future. (Apologies to all you cavemen out there.)
- Next, take a look at your past. Was there a time in your life when you were feeling great and achieving a lot? Any diets you’ve tried already? Maybe there was someone you dated who ate a particular way and, now that you think about it, you felt pretty good when you ate their food.
- Also, start a food log immediately. In fact, make it a life log. Not just what you ate, but how you felt, how your workouts went, how you slept, your mood. Look for trends. Days you were tired. Days you thrived.
- Once you’ve narrowed the field a little, jump right in, become a human Guinea pig. If a diet sounds interesting, give it six to eight weeks. (And remember that life log!)
learn more about the relation between nutrition and genetics, by reading Denis’s article, Your Nutrition Is as Unique as You Are.
Lesson Two: You Might Not Be Craving Food
The link between food and emotions is universal. As infants, food plays the dual role of comfort and nourishment, and although the intensity of that double bond might decrease as we age, it never completely disappears.
But eventually the child has to learn to expand his or her horizons and draw comfort from other sources, with a parent’s help. So do adults. Coach Megan Clements lists four other things you might need when you experience food cravings:
- Emotional Expression
To learn more about how these four lifestyle factors can disguise themselves as food cravings, read Megan’s article, What Are You Really Hungry For? 4 Things Other Than Food You Might Be Craving.
Emotional eating might also be at play in food cravings. If emotional eating is a frequent problem for you or your client, nutrition expert Kevin Cann provides insight into the one substance that might be the root of the problem: sugar. Sugar consumption is fine in moderation (although even that is a point of debate), but when it becomes a regular habit, you might experience the vicious cycle that characterizes sugar addiction.
When we get a prolonged elevated response of any hormone or neurotransmitter in the body the cells down regulate and desensitize to it. The same can happen with our endorphins. According to Dr. Kenneth Blum’s Reward Deficiency Syndrome any substance or activity that balances out our biochemistry will cause us to become addicted to it. If we develop endorphin resistance, there may be enough in our system, but the cells are not hearing their signal. Our body will then think we are low in endorphins. We eat a bowl of ice cream or a sweet snack and we become addicted to that food. Studies have shown that sugar has “opiate-like” effects on our brains that are similar to the effects of heroin and morphine. Just like with drugs, we
eat that high-sugar meal, get that high, and we become addicted.
To learn more about the link between sugar and emotional eating, read Kevin’s article, The Science and Substance Behind Your Emotional Eating.
Lesson Three: Your Supplements Should Be Strategized
There’s a lot of debate as to whether or not you actually need to take supplements, but one thing is true: if you’re going to take them, you need to be smart about which ones you choose. Keep a food log to track your diet habits and help you identify any missing links. That way the supplements you take will be customized to your own eating habits and help you fill any nutritional gaps.
That said, there are so many supplements out there, and it helps to have a starting point. Coach Becca Borawski Jenkins outlined twelve supplements you might need, as well as recommended dosages and brands in her articles, Demystifying Supplements: The 4 Essential Daily Supplements You Need and 8 More Daily Supplements That Might Be for You.
- Fish oil
- Vitamin D
- Alpha lipoic acid (ALA)
- Vitamin E
- Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)
- N-acetyl-L carnitine (NAC)
- Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA)
- Digestive enzymes
Lesson Four: Dogma Is Dangerous
Too often we fall in love with a particular diet and push it on other people who might not be in the same boat. We cling to dogmatic nutrition principles – meat is bad, fish is bad, carbs are bad – without having the patience to discover the bigger individualized picture. This nutritional dogma is dangerous because it slips to easily into a one-size-fits-all paradigm, which is a dead-end for coaches and clients. If you’re a nutrition coach, you’ll appreciate these words from coach Becca Borawski Jenkins:
Patience is a virtue when it comes to training, and it is a virtue when it comes to coaching, as well. New coaches typically don’t listen real well and they think everybody is just like them. They LOVE what they do. How can you fault them for that? Well, what if I break my foot wearing your minimalist shoes because I’m overweight and I haven’t run even a block in years? And what if I’ve been successfully losing weight by counting calories and I don’t have the slightest idea what your caveman talk means? Do I really need to throw out my shoes and start paleo on Monday? Do you really want to set me loose with a jar of almond butter?
Dogma is for religion, not nutrition, and coaches and gurus are not infallible. For more on this topic, read Becca’s article, When Paleo and Inov-8s Are Bad For You.
Take Baby Steps
Our society likes fast fixes. Instant results. Same day service. Overnight shipping. While that’s not a bad thing in and of itself, it’s not a helpful approach when it comes to nutrition.
Eating well takes time, especially when you’re fighting habits that have been implanted in your body since youth. You need to come to grips with the fact that you may not see results in a day, or a week, or even a month. But your chances of success will be much higher if you focus on the fundamentals and let the rest play out naturally.
Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.