The Science Behind Nutrition: How to Eat Healthfully & Happily
As far back as I can remember, I’ve struggled with healthy eating habits and my relationship with food. In this two part series I’m talking about the negative relationships with food I’ve struggled with, the science behind exercise nutrition, and the solution and psychology that helped me overcome my issues.
When I was young I loved food, and I’d eat constantly, food eventually became my solution to boredom. As I grew up it slowly became a source of comfort, soothing any hurt feelings I might have. By the time I graduated high school, I had already experienced my first major diet overhaul. After giving up dairy products, I had lost approximately 25 pounds! Since I hadn’t been exercising or considered my overall health, I ate restrictively and lost both muscle and fat. (“I can’t wait to be skinny and mushy!” said no one, ever.) That was the beginning of a tough cycle that would take me years to break. I ended up removing a lot more than just dairy, ultimately cutting out many of the most calorically dense foods I was eating. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that if you cut back on enough calories, anyone will lose weight, for a little while.
The more I work in the fitness industry, particularly with women, the more I see the same patterns. Often times we restrict food groups and even have phobias of certain foods. We are told that certain types of food make you fat, or certain things should be avoided at all costs. Media coverage usually makes this worse by reporting conflicting information day in and out, and when a certain diet trend takes hold, there’s pressure to jump on board. I’ve had clients that go all day without eating, only to end up ravenous later and eat everything in sight. This pattern of avoidance, fear, pressure and chronic under/overeating creates so many negative emotions around food! As these negative feelings continue to become more pronounced, the whole point of nutrition and food gets very lost. How can we accept that food is here to nourish us, to help us stay strong and healthy, and that it’s crucial for helping our bodies repair themselves, while we simultaneously demonize certain foods or food groups?
Luckily, there is a ton of data out there on nutrition, specifically exercise nutrition. Our bodies use three macronutrients: protein, carbohydrate, and fat. Protein is a major building block for the tissues in our bodies, particularly muscle. We know for a fact that our bodies run primarily on carbohydrates and fats for energy. We also know how these systems work, and how these energy sources get stored and burned! We can use this knowledge to liberate ourselves from the negative thoughts and phobias.
When it comes down to it, we all know we have to eat to survive, but we don’t always know how to eat to THRIVE. Our bodies need protein, carbohydrates and fats to function optimally. From an exercise stand point, your body prefers to run on carbohydrates, however fats also play a very important role. It all depends on which energy system your body is using for that particular exercise. High intensity interval training will use primarily different energy systems than low intensity steady state cardio.
There are calculations that can be made based on your activity levels, body weight, age, and lifestyle that tell you just how much energy you need. The science is so well defined that it can even be broken down into when you need various macronutrients based on the time of day you like to workout or if you’re taking a rest day. All of these calculations are based on the idea that we should stay in caloric balance to maintain our weight, while adding or reducing calories if you’re trying to gain or lose weight, respectively. Of course, the calories in/calories out idea has been tweaked and refined to also account for the quality of food and the hormonal response that food elicits. While this approach is far from one size fits all, because everyone is a little different, there are smart ways to use this knowledge and adjust the formula to fit you perfectly.
There are so many qualified professionals who can help you determine what will work for you. I encourage you to reach out to someone if you need help. In my next post I’ll be talking about what finally helped me find balance and set me free from all my food anxiety!