Nutrition to feel at your best
There is a big misconception related to nutrition in our culture. Whenever nutrition comes up on our conversation, we associate it with dieting and weight loss. I have been there. For years I struggled with the way I looked and tried every diet out there on an effort to lose weight and look a certain way. I believed I had to look a certain way in order to be accepted into social circles. In my attempt to look a certain way
What I've learned is that nutrition is key for our well-being, much more beyond how we look but how we feel. Nutrition plays a key role in feeling at our best. How much energy we have, how clearly, we can think, how productive we are during the day, even our mood, it's all influenced greatly by what we consume.
I made a commitment to myself to live my best life in 2020 and in my mind, I can't live my best life if I don't feel at my best, therefore nutrition is a big part of it. I see nutrition as one of those foundational blocks in helping me live a healthy and fulfilling life.
I've totally changed my perspective on nutrition over the years and now I look at it as the way I fuel my body in order to feel at my best vs a way to achieve a certain weight or look a certain way. Nutrition used to be a punishment; dieting felt like a sacrifice I had to made in order to look a certain way. I used to think about food as the enemy. When I went off track with whatever diet I was doing I felt ashamed, defeated, upset with myself and I felt I was a failure. As a result, ended up associating diets with a negative feeling. I saw nutrition as an all or nothing. The perfectionist in me would see nutrition as a black and white thing. I was either all in or I was all out, which meant I was constantly living on a roller coaster.
As I started to learn more about nutrition vs weight loss diets, I started to better understand the difference between these two things, and I started to change my perspective around food. Today I don't look at food anymore as a punishment, as something I need to restrict, as a thing I need to deprived myself from in order to look a certain way, but rather I look at food as fuel for my body and mind. I look at nutrition as an enabler to productivity, mental clarity, energy, health and even happiness.
What we eat and drink are the main sources of energy to our body. Imagine you are driving a very fancy and expensive car. Whatever that dream car is for you. Let's say you are driving a Ferrari. I bet if you had a Ferrari or whatever other fancy car you visualized on your mind you would not fill your tank with low quality gas, why would you fuel your body with low quality foods.
Today I don't want to talk about any particular diet or nutrition program, but I do want to share with you some changes I've made in my nutrition that have helped me do all the things I mentioned earlier: improve my productivity, mental clarity, increase my levels energy, improve my overall health and even positively impact my happiness.
I started by adding some things to my life. Sometimes is easier to add than to take away things, and for me that was exactly the case. What it ended up happening is that I added new things to my diet as a side effect I started to give up on things that were not as good for me. So, it ended up being a win-win. And in my opinion, it just made it easier, because instead of focusing on what I had to take out I was focused on what I got to add to my diet. Psychologically, at least for me, this approach made the changes so much easier and sustainable.
I started by adding more water. I've never been a soda or juice drinker but I was a coffee drinker, I could drink up to 48 ounces of coffee a day!!! yes the equivalent of two venti coffees, and every ounce of coffee I was drinking typically means an ounce less of water I was drinking. In average I would say I was drinking between 32 ounces and 50 ounces of water a day, which was not enough. You probably have heard that at least you should drink half your body weight in ounces of water, and I was well below that. So, I started to drink more water. My goal was to drink at last 60 ounces of water a day. Today I drink about 90 ounce - 120 ounces every day. let me say that it did not happened over night, it took some time to slowly increase the water intake, but as I did I started to see immediate benefits. I had more energy, I felt less foggy and as a result I was able to focus more which helped me increase my productivity. I ate less snacks in between meals and started to drink less coffee which helped me get a better night sleep and wake up more energized in the mornings.
The other thing I started to add is more veggies to my diet. I was already eating veggies, is not like I wasn't but I was just not eating enough of them, both in quantity as well as in variety. I started adding some here and there. I started trying veggies I had not tried before or cook the same veggies in different ways. I made the commitment to add more veggies in every meal (with exception sometimes of breakfast). The more veggies I added, the less processed foods and empty carbohydrates I ate. I found myself eating less snacks in between meals and having less cravings.
Then I started to look at the things that were not fueling my body, the things that I were eating and not only were not helping me feel at my best but actually were making me feel tired, bloated, constipated, and sluggish. I started using a food diary. Not only to track to what I was eating but how I was feeling after eating certain foods. I did that for an entire month, and it was amazing! It helped me be so much more aware of what I was eating, how much I was eating, when I was eating, why I was eating and how food was impacting me.
As I started to keep my food journal, I also started to pay real attention to food labels. When I say real attention, I mean beyond how many calories a food had. I was already looking at the food labels but I was looking at it only with the intent to reduce my calorie intake so I could lose weight, but I really didn't look much more beyond that. I started to focus less on the calories food had and started to pay more attention to the ingredients, and how much protein, fiber and sugar there was on foods.
I thought I was eating healthy and came to realize that I was not eating as healthy as I thought I was. It was eye opening to realized how much processed foods and sugar I was eating and how low calorie didn't necessarily mean better or healthier. I realized how deceiving labels on food can be. Things like: light, low in calories, 50% less fat or fat free, organic, trans-fat free, no added sugar or sugar free, they are marketing strategies to make you buy more of these products, but not always means the food is healthier or better for you.
As I started journaling I was able to identify what foods helped me feel at my best and which were causing me to not feel at my best. This is how I found out I have a sensitivity to gluten and that fried food made me feel sick, among other things.
I now know exactly what foods help me feel at my best. That doesn't mean I always only eat those foods. I am still human. The other things that I learned on this journey is that the key to success is balance and moderation. Probably you have heard this many times before, just like I did, but I used to use that as an excuse to cheat vs a principle to live by. Today my perspective on this has also changed. I search for balance and moderation every day by listening to my body. I know I said I was not going to talk about any particular diet or nutrition program today but I have been greatly influenced by one when it comes to listening to my body and understanding what my body needs and that is a program called 2b Mindset. What I learned is that depending on what my body feels, and needs is how I fuel it.
When I start feeling hungry, I drink water
If after drinking water and pausing for a minute I am still hungry, I grab veggies
When I am hungry and I am looking to stay full for a while, I grab proteins
When my body is screaming for energy, you know, those times when you feel you just don't have energy to go with your day, I reach for fiber filled carbohydrates
Learning for what each food group is intended, what purpose they have and how can they support my body has helped me to learn how to be more mindful about what my body needs and be able to give it just what it needs when it needs it.
There is no need to eliminate any food group from your diet, unless you have an allergy, sensitivity or other medical or believe reason to stay away from them. Just learn how each food group serves your body and be intention on how to reach for each food group. I personally stay away from gluten because I know I have a sensitivity to it, I've learned that every time I eat gluten i feel bloated, I experience stomach pain, feel tired and experience fogginess and sometimes headaches. Is just not worth it. That being said, since I am not celiac there are times that I make the conscious decision to eat gluten and live with the known consequences. Like everything in life, like other decision I weight the pros and cons. Sometimes enjoying quality time having ice cream or pizza with my family weights more than me not feeling at my best the next day. I of course limit those instances which on one hand by default makes those experiences more meaningful and I enjoy them more, because let's be realistic, how many times we eat something that we know is "good" for us because we like it but don't even enjoy it as we eat it. Limiting these foods to special events has helped me fully enjoyed it, like literally enjoy every bite of it. On the other hand, by being aware of how foods make me feel I am strategic about when I have them. If I know the next day, I have an important meeting or event and I need to be on my A game, I just avoid gluten the day before.
I am not suggesting you limit your gluten intake. What I am suggesting is that you learn how food impacts you, that you identify the foods that are preventing you from being on your A game and that you are strategic about when to eat them and how often to eat them. The only way I know to identify what those foods is to keep a food diary including both what you eat, how much you eat and how you feel before and after you eat it. It takes some time, but it's totally worth it.