As a nutritionist, it’s hard to go anywhere where people don’t want to pick your brain – on the airplane, at the grocery store, standing in line at the bathroom! Over time I have found that most people have the same burning questions and, unfortunately, the same misinformation. Here are the answers to the top 10 questions I get asked!
Should I cut carbs to lose weight?
If you were to ask any stranger on the street “What is the best way to lose weight?” they would most likely say avoid carbohydrates. This has been the go-to answer for years and the truth is that it will result in fast, initial weight loss (not necessarily fat loss). However, for most people it is not sustainable and if you are a woman or exercising, it can actually have a negative hormonal effect over time. Specifically this means that for women it can actually increase your cortisol and increase belly fat.
First, remember that fruits and vegetables are carbohydrates and they should make up the majority of your day. Next, most people thrive on a moderate amount of whole grain carbs per day. If you are just starting out (and exercising), try making sure that at your main meals you are getting ~1/2 – 1 cup of whole grains (rice, potatoes, quinoa, etc.). This is approximately 1 fist full. You may need to slightly increase it or decrease it based on your body type but this is a great starting point for most people. It will get you closer to a long term solution rather than a short term fix.
I eat healthy, do I need to take vitamins too?
When I first became a nutritionist, this was one of the hardest things for me to come to terms with. I really wanted to believe that we could get all of our nutrients from the food we eat. However, even if you are getting really high quality food into you every day, I find that most people benefit from a few extra vitamins & minerals. All supplements are not created the same. I would opt for a “food based” vitamin. These are supplements that deliver the nutrients in the same form they are found in nature. This tends to make them easier on your stomach (i.e. no nausea) and better absorbed by your body. Two great over the counter brands are New Chapter and Rainbow Light. Alternatively, look for “medical grade” or “third party verified” on the label. This shows that the company has taken extra steps to ensure that what they say is in the bottle is actually in there!
I know I’m supposed to eat more often, but I’m not hungry during the day. What should I do?
It is important to remember that eating 6 small meals a day isn’t for everyone. Check out this blog to help determine how often you should be eating. Still many of us misinterpret our hunger signals, wait too long in between meals and then end up over eating. For many of us hunger isn’t your stomach growling. It can show up as a slight change in mood (not quite “hangry” but a little more easily frustrated or things just seem a little harder), trouble concentrating, lack of motivation or fatigue. Next time you are experiencing one of these symptoms try having a small, healthy snack and see if your body was telling you it was hungry in a way you weren’t expecting.
Do I need to eat differently on days that I exercise and days that I don’t?
Elite athletes or people at the end stages of training for an endurance event need to eat differently on long training days vs. rest days. However, the average exerciser benefits from consistency rather than eating more on days that they exercise and less on days that they don’t.
I have high cholesterol, should I stop eating meat?
Dietary cholesterol is not the leading factor in body cholesterol. What that means is that the cholesterol in your food does not go into your body and automatically stick to your arteries. Instead of cutting out all dietary cholesterol, focus on adding fiber. If you shoot for 35g of fiber per day from beans, legumes, vegetables and whole grains, you should see a reduction in your cholesterol. For more ways to increase fiber for heart health, check out this blog.
How much water should I be drinking?
The rule of thumb is half your body weight in ounces. So if you weight 160 lbs. that is 80 ounces of water or 10 glasses. Check out this blog for tips to sneak in more water.
A lot of nutrition bars are full of sugar – how do I pick a good one?
Look for a bar with more fiber than sugar AND/OR protein than sugar. Next make sure that they didn’t take out the sugar but replace it with sugar alcohols or artificial sweeteners. My favorite bars are the KIND Nuts & Spices line.
I started exercising and now I’m hungry ALL THE TIME! What should I do?
Focus on your post workout meal timing. When we exercise we use our short term energy stores in our muscle and liver. This is a very important type of energy and it is the priority for your body to refuel it immediately after you stop exercising. Make sure to have one of your meals or snacks within 30-60 minutes after you stop exercising. This will help your body recover from your workout and help curb your appetite so you don’t turn into a bottomless pit!
I can lose weight but it’s the maintenance that I struggle with. How do I maintain my weight loss?
One of the biggest misconceptions of weight loss is that there is a “weight loss zone” and a “maintenance zone.” In other words, you use one strategy to lose weight and another to maintain. The fact of the matter is there is no end date when it comes to healthy eating and exercise. If you use one technique to lose weight and then plan on using another to maintain you will most likely gain all of your weight back (and then some). When you are considering implementing new habits, it is important to consider if you can do this long term. As you consistently add in these healthy habits you will lose weight, and when your body is at its healthiest spot, it will stop. You can read more about the myth of the maintenance zone here.
What is the main thing that causes people to fall off track?
Perfectionism. This tends to show up in one of three ways:
- Waiting for the perfect time to start…and then never really starting.
- Setting very rigid black and white rules, derailing when they are not followed perfectly and then being too ashamed to actually examine the setback.
- Assuming that they are the failure rather than considering they had simply chosen the wrong solution.
The reason I know this is that I am a card carrying member of the Pain in the Ass Perfectionist Society (PAPS for short!). Boy, is it exhausting. When it comes right down too it, it is really just a sneaky way of not fully committing. Instead of saying “I’m going to figure this out no matter what!” we say “I’m going to figure this only if it goes 100% as planned.”
Here’s the thing, there are a lot of layers to this whole food thing. There is the science part (that we love to dive into on the internet), there is the planning part (that we love pin on on Pinterest), there is the social part (that we love to share on Instagram) and the emotional part (that we love to hide from everyone).
None of the parts follow rigid rules so true a true nutrition solution involves an understanding of how to manage them rather than expecting things to always go 100% as planned. This is not a license to justify, but if your solution doesn’t involve flexibility or understand that nutrition is a skill and not a set of rules, it is not the right solution for you.