Eating For Two: What You Should Know

a photo from my nutrition textbook, "Wardlaw's Persepctives in Nutrition" by  Carol Byrd-Bredbenner, Gaile Moe, Donna Beshgetoor, and Jacqueline Berning.

a photo from my nutrition textbook, “Wardlaw’s Persepctives in Nutrition” by Carol Byrd-Bredbenner, Gaile Moe, Donna Beshgetoor, and Jacqueline Berning.

 

This week in one of my nutrition classes, we covered nutrition during pregnancy. Although I am in no way, shape, or form pregnant, nutrition during that particular life stage has always interested me. If you think about it, everything a mother eats is directly forming the future health of her child, so to say nutrition is important during this time would be an understatement. Although many expecting moms believe they can eat whatever they want during this time, only about 300-400 extra calories are needed, and where these calories are coming from is something to keep in mind. It’s better to eat an extra snack or two of yogurt and granola, or a larger portion of high-quality protein, like a lean cut of steak, than to gorge on cheesecake and chocolate just because you’re “eating for two”.

Another particularly interesting thing that we learned is how weight gain during pregnancy influences the developing baby. In the 50’s and 60’s, women were advised to not gain much weight, and it actually ended up being detrimental to their kids. Restricting calories during pregnancy can actually turn on a “thrifty” gene in the baby, which basically means that child is going to metabolize calories in such a way that makes it very difficult to lose weight. Because the baby’s body learns food is a limited resource, they will hold on to fat stores and are more likely to be obese as adults. Some doctors are now advising that pregnant moms who are already obese at the start of pregnancy to not gain any weight at all, and this is a very hot topic of debate. Weight loss during pregnancy is extremely dangerous for the child, because the body starts burning fat and ketones are released. When this happens, the baby is exposed to these ketones and it can be harmful to their developing brains. In fact, babies born to mothers who are in ketosis (the fat-burning process) have been shown to have lower IQs (see the article linked below for more info). In my opinion, women who are pregnant should not become obsessive about their weight, and instead focus on eating a really healthy diet based on fruits, veggies, lean protein, dairy or dairy-alternatives, essential fatty acids (omega 6’s and omega 3’s), and legumes/nuts. Exercise also has so many benefits, especially during pregnancy, but always check with your doctor on whether it’s appropriate.

Besides weight concerns, there are several vitamins and minerals that are essential during pregnancy. Iron, which is often low in women as it is, helps form the blood supply of the baby and you may want to have your levels checked if you are pregnant or trying to become pregnant. Calcium is also taken from your body during pregnancy in order to supply the baby’s bones with this mineral, so supplementing with calcium, or upping your intake of calcium-rich foods such as yogurt, low-fat milk, and enriched dairy alternatives may be helpful. Folate, or folic acid, is another essential vitamin that forms the neural tube of the baby. Deficiencies in this vitamin result in neural tube defects, like spina bifida, so it’s imperative that you have good sources in your diet. Good sources of folate include leafy green veggies, black beans, and whole grains, or products made with whole grains.

There are so many nutritional concerns during pregnancy that are way beyond the scope of this blog, so if you’re pregnant, trying to become pregnant, or just want to have the best nutritional plan for your future, be sure to consult with a Registered Dietitian and your doctor about what you can do to ensure you’re being the healthiest you can.

For more info on the debate on obese mothers and weight gain, as mentioned above,  see this article:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/15/health/15obese.html

As always, take care!

-Jess

When Counting Calories Becomes Harmful, Instead of Helpful

For anyone that has been reading my blog since I started posting regularly, I tend to take moderate approach to eating and diets. That is, I don’t advocate for elimination diets or encourage people to worry about every morsel that goes into one’s mouth. I write this way because I feel moderation and mindfulness are the two keys to having a good relationship with food while staying healthy. I know from experience that for many people, myself included, going on a restricted diet or being obsessed with calories often is just that—an obsession. I’ve known for a while that I’ve wanted to write about this issue from my own perspective, so I’m going to dedicate this entry to my experiences with calorie counting. Some of you reading may disagree with my own personal feelings on the matter because calorie counting is a legitimate way to lose weight (assuming there is an actual deficit of calories burned vs. consumed). I’m not disagreeing with the laws of thermodynamics, rather I am writing this for people who have counted calories and feel obsessive about it, and for people who have suffered from disordered eating and want to break free of their obsessions with food and calories.

In my experience, once you get into the habit of counting calories and start to get obsessive about it, it can become more destructive than it is helpful. Food becomes only about calories and a lot of judgment can occur based on whether you were “good” or “bad” that day, depending on whether you stayed under your calorie allowance. The pleasure of food is often reduced or eliminated once you begin to see food as calories, which are unwanted to any dieter aiming to lose weight. This is a very destructive mindset to get into, because food is fuel. It can also backfire heavily and lead you to eat in rebellion, because as soon as you eat the forbidden food or go above your allotted calories for the day, you might feel like a failure and simply give up on attempts to be healthier. In a worst case scenario, when this goes on repeatedly it can lead to restricting/compensation eating disorders or binge eating disorder.  Sure, on a “good” day of eating, you may feel powerful and in control, but on a “bad” day of eating, you may feel like an utter failure. This disordered way of viewing food can be avoided by using a different method other than calorie counting to achieve health and weight loss (if desired).

If you feel the need to lose weight, first you need to look at your habits of how you gained weight. Was it a decrease in activity? Increase in junk food?  A combination of both? Once you pin point the definite contributors, you may also want to take a look at what was going on during the period of weight change. Were you under stress for a particular reason? Did you use food to cope with the stress? If so, there are many ways to reduce stress that do not involve food (Listed at the end of this entry are some resources for reducing stress). The next step is to figure out what foods you are likely to overeat. Sweet, salty, high-fat foods are usually everyone’s weakness, which isn’t to say you should completely eliminate them from your diet, but if you keep a steady supply of junk food in your kitchen, you might want to reconsider and only have small portions available or only treat yourself to such foods as a special occasion.

Another change you can make instead of calorie counting is to become a mindful eater. I wrote a post about mindful eating earlier in October, but I will restate the importance of mindfulness with regards to food and eating. Being present during a meal or eating experience is essential for people who eat on autopilot, as well as those who view food solely as calories. It is difficult to truly enjoy a meal when you’re distracted or anxiously calculating the calories in each bite. It is also difficult to gauge your hunger and fullness when you’re not in the present moment. Being mindful allows you to consult your stomach (ask yourself if you are hungry/full/something in between) and your brain (decide what food choice would be both healthy and satisfying) without having to stress out about macronutrient minutia. As you become more in touch with yourself using mindfulness techniques, you’ll probably eat less due to not being distracted or anxious.  Food is also a lot more satisfying, and thus you may require less of it to feel satisfied, when you are actually paying attention to all the sensations that eating involves.

Some of you, especially dieters who’ve relied on counting calories for a long time, may find it difficult to get out of the calorie counting habit and I can definitely relate. I find it very difficult to NOT count calories because I’ve been a calorie counter since my early teens. My wish for anyone that feels obsessive about calorie counting is to get out of that habit as soon as possible by being mindful and using food as fuel. If calorie counting is working for you or you have a detail-oriented mindset and don’t judge yourself for minor food indiscretions, then keep doing what’s working. For anyone that suspects their relationship with food has taken a destructive turn, please visit the following link for a self-assessment to determine whether you may have an eating disorder.

http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/online-eating-disorder-screening

You can also find additional resources on the National Eating Disorder Association website.

Here are some tips for stress relief without using food:

  • Get out of the house/out of the area where junk food is present. Take a ride or walk around your neighborhood.
  • Paint, draw, make beaded jewelry…or take a trip to the nearest art supply store and buy the materials for all of the above!
  • Make an inspirational collage (not using model’s bodies that you wish to attain) but instead, fill it with words of encouragement and pictures of scenery you enjoy. My favorite magazines to use for collages are Outside and Travel + Leisure.
  • Text or call a friend.
  • Take a hot bath or shower.
  • Give yourself a manicure.
  • Get a massage
  • Go to an animal shelter and hug some furry friends
  • Go outside and take pictures
  • Do yoga. Instead of judging yourself for any flexibility limitations, enjoy the way it feels as your body stretches.
  • Organize your closet
  • Listen to music and do one or more of the above

Eating disorders go beyond issues related to food and dieting. Although this post was specifically about calorie counting and its relationship with eating disorders, not everyone with an eating disorder is focused on calories specifically and not everyone who counts calories has an eating disorder. In my experience, calorie counting has not been a positive thing for me to focus on and I know many others in the eating disorders and dietetic communities also agree that obsessive calorie monitoring can lead to a distorted relationship with food.

-Jess