Part II. Nutrition for Health; Nutrition for Life
Why healthy lifestyles are so hard, and how you can overcome the hardships.
“But it’s just so hard to be healthy.”
Yes, when we’ve grown up in a society like the one we have, it can be very difficult. Redesigning eating patterns takes time, often years, of work and minor improvements that build on one another. But starting now to make better food choices and managing your weight will make it easier 3 years from now after you’ve spent all that time learning and developing better patterns. You will thank yourself for making the change now when you have a grasp on things and are comfortable in your own skin, healthy, and free of preventable disease. You’ll never reach the level of perfect health, but you can find a perfectly healthy balance.
Put in the work and make the necessary changes (utilizing strategies from Part I), or keep running in circles the rest of your life skimming articles and trying various fads just to start all over again.
Nothing worth having comes easy.
That being said, I want to emphasize the importance of the two main nutritional principles and give you some insight as to why we struggle daily to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
The world of nutrition is ever-evolving and new information will continuously cloud the fundamental concepts because we humans always want what’s new, best, easiest, and fastest. Which is exactly why we are two-thirds overweight or obese as a nation. Yeah, only ONE-THIRD of our country is of “normal weight” status. (Underweight accounts for <1%, so that’s fairly insignificant to our discussion)
The numbers grow and grow each year, yet people still look past logical solutions to the issue and question why we can’t manage our weight. The number one reason, plain and clear, that obesity is so prevalent is because we as a nation are consuming more and more calories on a daily basis. As of 2006, the average American diet has increased in caloric intake by nearly 600 calories per day since 1970.
That’s an additional 219,000 calories per year compared to 47 years ago. That’s like an extra Big Mac each day on top of normal food consumption. That data is from ten years ago, so those numbers have certainly climbed since then.
As long as the people demand quick, easy, and tasty, that is exactly what they will get. Businesses and diet innovators will continue to produce and market towards the masses who continually buy into the foods that lead to overweightness, and also the diets that reverse those effects the quickest and easiest with no long-term solution.
So, why is this important to you? You work out. You watch what you eat, or try to at least. You’re not obese, perhaps you have some unwelcome “pooch,” but nothing to be concerned about on a level of severe health impairment.
I’m emphasizing these data because, due to the significant prevalence of obesity, research has found the reasons we are consuming so many excess calories. From this database of obesity research, we now have a general understanding of the factors behind altered calorie consumption. Using this information, you can determine what factors in your life are inhibiting your dietary success.
Factors Affecting Caloric Consumption
Portion size has increased substantially. Studies have shown that when individuals are served more food, they consume more food. I’m sure we can all relate to overeating when served a large meal at a restaurant, family dinner, or social gathering. When something tastes delicious and there’s a heaping plate full of it in front of them, not many people are going to eat just as much as they need and take the rest for later.
No matter your choices of foods, be it “health” foods or some you’d rather not mention to your gym buddy, overconsumption is a major issue. You CAN have too much of a good thing when it comes to healthy foods. Food is food, after all; it all carries a caloric value. However, choosing the foods with the most filling and nutritive bang for their caloric buck is a great start to limiting the overall intake. These foods are a little more difficult to overconsume and don’t leave you ravenous between meals or lethargic two hours after eating.
Social settings have also contributed a great deal to increased energy intake. Placing yourself in a setting conducive to consuming excess calories is going to result in some tests of psychological willpower to refrain from overeating. Food is used as a method of reward, celebration, condolence, reunion, etc. In these situations, we often eat mindlessly and the foods are usually quite tasty and calorically dense, so we go back for more because receptors in our brain say, “Hey, that’s good give me more.”
You don’t have to remove yourself from every setting where food will be involved, but if you are likely to cave to the temptation, know your limits and indulge reasonably. These occasions are going to come around very often. If you partake each time, especially in the fashion of mindless eating, you are going to notice a gradual increase in your bodyweight over months.
Here are 3 strategies to control "social eating:"
1) Eat a little less throughout the day when you know you will be in that environment later 2) eat before you go, or 3) eat slowly and lightly while you’re there… whatever strategy works for you to keep your overall weekly intake at a steady level.
Why didn’t they have this issue years ago? Because eating occasions have increased along with the trends of overweightness and obesity. Food is something that is more commonly becoming a means of socializing because of the ease of accessibility and improvements to taste and texture. It was not as common to have food as a central focus of these events years ago.
Media and environmental exposure encourage excessive food consumption as well (Man vs. Food, Hardee’s Commercials, and best deals on the most pizzas you can squeeze in one order).
All of these factors affect one another. Portion sizes become bigger in the home as they grow in the restaurant, more social settings occur with food as a central focus, and businesses continuously one-up each other offering the best deals for the most food.
Keeping all of these factors in mind, you can develop strategies that will help you groove patterns of a “healthy” diet.
Duffey, K. J., & Popkin, B. M. (2011). Energy Density, Portion Size, and Eating Occasions: Contributions to Increased Energy Intake in the United States, 1977–2006. PLoS Medicine, 8(6), e1001050. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001050
Drenowatz C. Reciprocal Compensation to Changes in Dietary Intake and Energy Expenditure within the Concept of Energy Balance. Adv Nutr. 2015 Sep 15;6(5):592-9. doi: 10.3945/an.115.008615. Print 2015 Sep. Review. PubMed PMID:26374181; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4561833.
Fleming JA, Kris-Etherton PM. Macronutrient Content of the Diet: What Do We Know About Energy Balance and Weight Maintenance? Curr Obes Rep. 2016 Jun;5(2):208-13. doi: 10.1007/s13679-016-0209-8. Review. PubMed PMID: 27038809.