You are what you eat. Now that saying doesn’t mean that you somehow transform into the types of food that you put into your body, but it does stand to reason that what you feed yourself is really all your body has to generate new cells and repair what it already has.
So whether you’re skinny or fat, your body still needs nourishment, and Nutrition Council Executive Director Lauren Niemes gives you some tips and tricks for giving your body the good and staying away from the bad all while enjoying your food.
"In our society, I am concerned about people not having a healthy relationship with food or their body, that they’re so fearful of food and eating that their diet becomes so restrictive that they sort of forget that we need to eat and be nourished, and food is very nurturing," Niemes says.
1. Stick to the perimeter of the grocery store. Produce, meats and dairy generally are on the outskirts of the grocery store "Those foods tend to be less processed, and so it’s much easier to make healthier choices," Niemes says.
2. Pay attention to nutritional information when you go out to eat. Restaurants tend to use fat and salt to add flavor to their food, and calories can be disguised in even the healthiest looking salad on the menu. With the new healthcare reform, every chain restaurant with more than 20 locations has to provide calorie information next to menu items, so this information will be easier and easier to get.
Until then, though, it’s best to arm yourself with the info before you leave the house. "For me, if I’m going out to a good restaurant that is a special treat, I’m not going to worry about it so much, but if it’s a restaurant where I’m eating out on a regular basis like for lunch once a week or something like that, then I’m going to see if there’s nutritional information available for their menu," Niemes says.
3. Focus on the nutrients you’re getting. When it comes to food, everyone always talks about calories, but when it comes down to it, some calories are just better than others. It all depends on the food’s nutrient density, or how many nutrients you’re getting for the number of calories you’re consuming. Kale is Niemes’ personal favorite nutrient dense food.
But it’s not just that you’re getting the nutrients. It’s also that you’re getting them in their original form. Vitamin and mineral fortified foods might make some calories seem better than others, but "often it’s just a marketing ploy," Niemes says. Nutrition studies have shown that it’s not just about vitamin C or vitamin A, but it’s more about all of the naturally occurring compounds in foods working together than just one vitamin by itself.
4. Eat whole foods. Because vitamins and minerals are best for your body when consumed with all of the compounds with which they naturally occur, it’s best to eat them in their natural form. This goes for fruits, vegetables and grains. The sugars in fruits are digested more slowly when fiber is part of the mix, so juice isn’t as healthy as eating a whole fruit. Processed grains lack the vital parts of bran and the endosperm, which provide you with fiber and a concentrated source of trace minerals and phytochemicals.
5. Be strategic about your food’s flavor. Fat and salt aren’t the only ingredients that make food more friendly to your taste buds. Experiment with herbs, spices, citrus juices, vinegars, and even veggies like onions and garlic. Some spices have been linked to specific health benefits. For example, turmeric can aid in cancer prevention while cinnamon can help manage blood sugar levels.
"It’s really about making small, little changes that you incorporate into your daily life and making those a habit and not trying to do everything at once or feel you have to give up everything," Niemes says. "It’s just finding the little things that work for you."
Nutrition is only part of the equation for a healthier you. Physical fitness is another major factor. And if you’re sitting there thinking that you’re healthy because you’re thin, think again.
"Anybody over 5 [feet] 4 [inches] needs to have 100 pounds of lean muscle mass, and what we’ll find is that some women who look thin, they just don’t have a lot of muscle mass," Keep it Tight Fitness Owner Melissa Matson says. A lack of muscle mass means they have more fat and a decreased metabolism, which is an unattractive combination that can lead to pre-diabetes, diabetes or heart disease.
So no matter what you look like in the mirror, keep Matson’s tips in mind to stay on top of your physical health:
1. Keep your core strong. "If I had to pick an area that was really important to work on, I’d probably pick your core just because having a strong core also helps with back health and posture, and people who have stronger cores tend to have less problems with joint mobility and trouble with their back," Matson says.
2. Catch up on your cardio. Cardio serves as a huge part of losing weight, but even if you’re just looking to live a healthy lifestyle, you need to make sure you have some cardio worked into your lifestyle. Matson has found that making your heart rate fluctuate between a higher rate and a lower pulse during your workout is more effective than raising your heart rate and keeping it there.
Also, remember that running isn’t the only workout that raises your heart rate. "If you do fast-paced walking, especially if you increase your incline whether you’re doing hills outside or on the treadmill, you can effectively burn just as many calories as you can with running and you don’t have the stress on the joints," Matson says.
3. Stick to proper nutrition. "Diet does account for 80 percent of your success with your fitness goals," Matson says. Because of the importance of nutrition, Keep it Tight Fitness incorporates nutrition information into their clients’ experience. (Go ahead and re-read Niemes’ tips up top.)
4. Work it hard. The No. 1 mistake women make in the gym is that they don’t work out hard enough, Matson says. They don’t call it a "work" out for nothing. It should be hard work that makes you sweat, so you shouldn’t plan on multi-tasking at the gym and read a magazine during your cardio.
5. Put yourself as a priority. Time and money are the top reasons why women don’t work out, but working out actually can make the rest of your time more effective. As you become physically fit, you become more energetic and engaged and much more able to accomplish all of your other to dos.
As for the money concern, spend some time thinking about where your money goes. How much do you spend going out to eat? Having drinks? Going to the movies? Paying for cable/satellite? All of those expenses can detract from your overall health, so if you rework your budget to incorporate a little more fitness by detracting a little money from these budgetary areas, you’ll give yourself a healthier lifestyle.
For more information about Keep it Tight Fitness and how they can help you incorporate these five tips into your lifestyle, check out KeepItTightFitness.com.
Photographer: Neysa Ruhl
Model: Lauren Niemes (top photo) and Melissa Matson (bottom photo)
Location: BOOST…for meeting’s sake