Happy Birthday to Vitamin Valentine!

My blog is officially 2 years old this june (technically my blog’s “birthday” was June 10th). I’m proud that I’ve been able to make writing a commitment, even though I feel like I’m a lot less focused on this blog than when I first began. Part of this is actually for a really good reason. I’m a lot less fixated on food than I used to be. Throughout writing about recipes, nutrition tips and advice, I’ve learned quite a bit about what healthy eating actually is. Here are some things I’ve learned as a nutritionist and student of nutrition:

1. Healthy eating is different for everyone

When I started this blog, I was kind of obsessed with counting calories. I just couldn’t shake it. This was not healthy and made me have a really negative relationship with food. I’ve mentioned in past posts that I used to struggle with obsessive dieting, so counting calories was definitely something that I needed to get away from. Instead of taking the latest diet advice or trying to adopt a lifestyle that ignores your personal health needs, do what feels right to you. It might feel uncomfortable to trust your gut, but ultimately, it is the healthiest.

It's a wrap, with chicken in it, because I felt like it ;) !

2. Eat the rainbow

Ok, so you’ve convinced yourself that your “intuition” is telling you to eat burgers and fries? Let’s be real. Your body needs fresh food in the form of fruits and veggies. Things that grow from the earth offer an abundance of vitamins and minerals and are truly nourishing. Learning to prepare vegetables so that they taste good is fun, I promise!

3. Don’t compare your diet to anyone else’s

I used to follow a bunch of vegan people on instagram and then would feel guilty every time I ate something that was less than 100% organic, raw, sustainably-produced, blah blah blah. I realized I was spending more time feeling bad about my perfectly healthy diet than enjoying my food. I also became somewhat obsessed with posting my own food pictures! If you find yourself comparing your diet to someone else’s, try to remember that no one is perfect when it comes to eating. And remember to take anything food-related on social media with a grain of salt (no pun intended).

4. Always bring snacks

Wherever you go, there you are…and hopefully you brought a snack because you will get hungry! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been out running errands and became so hungry, I ended up overeating during my next meal. I’ve learned that keeping snacks in my bag really lets me avoid stuffing my face come lunch or dinner. Trail mix, granola bars, a bag of baby carrots, a piece of fresh fruit- these are all great snack ideas to have on hand.

5. Get moving

Exercise is essential for staying healthy, both physically and mentally. Not only do you burn calories and build strength (depending on the activity), exercise has been found to decrease stress and increase mental awareness. Moving your body will you help you in every way to improve your health…plus it makes your butt look good :). Start small and increase the amount of time you exercise. Try different activities and see which one you really like. I used to hate yoga, and now in a few weeks, I’ll officially be a registered yoga teacher. Go outside your comfort zone when it comes to trying new activities, you might just find your passion!

6. Have some kind of routine

Routines can be boring, restrictive, and repetitive-or-they can be grounding, give you a sense of purpose, and help you get things done. It’s all about perspective! When making a routine (whether its related to exercise or when you’ll prepare your meals, etc.) consider what will be most realistic and doable for you. If you’re not a morning person, don’t force yourself to wake up at 5 AM to go for a run everyday, because that’s not exercise, that’s torture. Likewise, if you work 60 hours a week and don’t have a spare minute to prepare your food, don’t waste your free time cooking elaborate meals. Instead, aim to have simple staples and healthy options at the places you dine at.

7. Be a perpetual student

I started this blog the same month I decided to go back to school to pursue a second bachelor’s and a master’s both in nutrition. I’ve probably learned just as much about food outside of the classroom than in it. I’ve learned a lot about how to treat illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, cancer, etc. and I love my professors, but when it comes to learning about the best way to eat, that’s in your hands. Be curious about your food and figuring out what works for you. You know yourself better than any person- nutritionist, doctor, etc. and it can never hurt to learn about food from a variety of sources and then integrate what makes the most sense for you, personally.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the past two years of my blog! If you’re a student of nutrition, feel free to share this post!

-Jess

What Influences Our Eating? (an intro, for now)

my lecture notes from class (and my cool sparkly, animal-print notebook, because I like to embrace my inner child while learning).

my lecture notes from class (and my cool sparkly, animal-print notebook, because I like to embrace my inner child while learning).

Last week, I started another year as a nutrition student as the fall semester commenced. So far, I really like the classes I’m taking. One class called “Energy & Exercise” is going to be a favorite, I think. This class is focused on weight control methods, exercise physiology, and energy balance. We’re also going to learn about eating disorders and how to prevent eating disordered behavior through promoting healthy eating habits and fostering a healthy body image in our future clients’ lives.

In yesterday’s lecture, we discussed some factors that influence our eating. This topic is of particular interest to me because of my own experiences and my belief that mindful eating is the most natural, effective way to eat healthfully while maintaining a balanced approach to diet.

Most people think that hunger, advertisements, being around food in a social setting, and emotions/stress are the top influencers of food consumption, however, I’m learning that there is SO much more to it. Neuropeptides and hormones such as neuropeptide Y, galanin, agouti-related protein, prolactin, and gherlin all have an effect on our appetites. I won’t go into too much detail about the science, because we’ve only just brushed the surface in class, but so far I’m learning that it’s a common misconception that all it takes to control ones appetite is willpower. I actually think I always knew this, because I consider myself (mostly) strong-willed, but still cave into cravings. It’s interesting to have scientific evidence that our feeding and food intake is not always so cut-and-dry.

It’s helpful to learn that there are physiological factors that lead us to eat certain foods because many people who have not struggled with their weight are quick to judge those who are overweight. It’s not always as simple as “eat this, don’t eat that” because, as I’m learning, there are so many factors that go into weight and food intake regulation. It can be frustrating when you look to diet books or magazines advising you to follow a strict diet and then you fail (or perceive failure when you haven’t lost ‘x” amount of lbs), but I hope that as a (future) dietitian, I can help my clients understand that weight has many influences to it, and then help them make the best dietary choices to counteract some factors that may be out of their own control (genetics, hormones, etc). Keep reading and I’ll continue to elaborate on this topic in future posts. There’s so much I have yet to learn and can’t wait to share it with you! 🙂

-Jess

So you want to be an RD?

The field of dietetics involves the combination of nutrition, food science, and medicine (among others).

The field of dietetics involves the combination of nutrition, food science, and medicine (among others).

I decided to write this post because I think many people are confused about whether to see a nutritionist or a registered dietitian when it comes to their diets. When I tell people that I’m studying nutrition, I always add that I want to eventually become a registered dietitian (or an RD for short). Registered Dietitians are often confused with people who call themselves “nutritionists” and this is something that many RDs take issue with because the process of becoming an RD is extremely competitive, expensive, and time consuming. The process of becoming a nutritionist is a little different. In fact, right now I am a nutritionist, but the title is essentially meaningless because anyone (regardless of whether they’ve even taken a single course on nutrition) can call themselves a nutritionist.

So, what does it take to become an RD? First you must complete a bachelor’s or master’s degree in nutrition and dietetics. The required coursework is laid out by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and is called a Didactic Program in Dietetics (DPD). The coursework includes general chemistry, organic chemistry, biochemistry, microbiology, introductory nutrition classes, clinical nutrition classes, medical nutrition therapy, food science, food service management, community nutrition, nutrition education and counseling, and research. These courses are essential because RDs work in areas where they’re directly responsible for the health and well-being of their patients or clients. Many RDs also work in food service management where knowledge of food science and food safety come into play.

After completing the DPD, aspiring RDs must apply for a residency, called a dietetic internship, at specific, accredited hospitals, long-term care facilities, universities, or food service management corporations. The internship is probably the most competitive part of the process, because a majority of people do not get into an internship on the first try. The internship is also unpaid and typically lasts 6-12 months, depending on whether it is full-time or not. Students must pay for their internships, so working and saving money is a top priority for many aspiring RDs. Having a high GPA and having over one hundred hours of volunteer service in an area related to nutrition and food are some things that are expected to even be considered for an internship. After completion of the internship, aspiring RDs must take the registered dietitian exam and if they pass, they become registered dietitians.

You might be asking: why is the process so competitive?. The process is competitive because of a few reasons. One, there’s only a limited number of accredited internship positions. It takes a lot of time and effort for experienced RDs to train interns and it can be costly to hospitals and food service facilities. Another reason is that as more people realize how important diet is to health, more people are interested in becoming an RD, so it’s just a matter of the number of applicants vs. the number of spots available.

Another reason why the process is set up to be this way is because RDs need to have a knowledge of science and apply this to different populations whom they’ll be working with. When you see a nutritionist, you never know what their formal training is, what their education is in terms of applying science and research to real people, and whether or not they know how to properly assess your nutrient needs and concerns. RDs also specialize in counseling and treating certain populations and are trained to do so in their internships and/or master’s degree classes. For example, many RDs specialize in treating eating disorders, some work with the geriatric population, while others help many members of a single community. There are many knowledgeable nutritionists without the RD title, but the problem is the nutritionist title is unregulated, and that leads many unqualified individuals to give advice which may not have a client’s best interest at hand. One thing I’ve noticed about some nutritionists who aren’t RDs is that some tend to have a holistic approach to nutrition, which I can appreciate because food is so much more than what we eat! It’s what we’re made of and what directly influences our health on a physical, mental, and emotional level.

Hopefully this post has shed some light on the process of becoming an RD. I still have some time before I apply for my internship, but it’s definitely always on my mind! Have you ever had a consultation with a registered dietitian or a nutritionist? What was the experience like? I like getting feedback, so feel free to comment or write me an email on this topic (see my “contact” page).

-Jess

It’s Just Food, or Is It?

photo-35

To someone who has always had a healthy relationship with food, food is just food. Meaning food is simply something you eat to enjoy and to keep you alive, and yes, sometimes indulge in just for the sake of eating something tasty. But, for me, and for many other people I know, food is so much more than that.

For myself, food is something I spend a lot of time thinking about. As I’ve alluded to in earlier posts, a lot of people who get into nutrition have history of disordered eating (perhaps one day I’ll share more, but today isn’t that day). One reason why I chose to study nutrition is because I was so misguided as a teenager when it came to learning how to be healthy. I wish I had a qualified nutrition professional leading me in the right direction when I was younger, so now, I’m doing my part to help myself and help others in the future. But that’s not the only reason. I love cooking, I love creating healthy versions of recipes, and I believe proper nutrition is vital to living a healthy life. I’m also intensely passionate about science and scientifcally-based evidence when it comes to using nutrition to prevent and treat disease.

As a nutrition student, I’ve learned so much in my classes. My favorite courses so far have been Medical Nutrition Therapy, where we learn how to treat illnesses and symptoms like portal hypertension, ulcerative colitis, hepatitis, and others, and I also really enjoyed Cultural Aspects of Food. In Cultural Aspects of Food, we learned about how early man ate (surprise: the paleo diet, although very healthy, isn’t completely reflective of how cavemen ate), how different cultures eat, issues surrounding the global food source and how we’re going to sustain ourselves. Even though I feel like I’m getting a great education, I sometimes doubt myself when it comes to what I’m eating. Based on the recommendations in my Nutrition 101 class, I’m doing pretty well, nutritionally. I eat a lot of fruits and veggies, my grains are always whole and not refined, I limit sugars, and my protein is usually lean (I don’t eat meat for various reasons [but I completely understand that veganism isn’t for everyone] so I stick with beans, tofu, etc. which are low in fat). But, I also take in a lot of information from outside of my classes.

My MNT textbook, often found on my bed after a long night of studying.

My MNT textbook, often found on my bed after a long night of studying.

 

When you’re passionate, or dare I say, obsessive, about food/nutrition, you tend to want to learn as much as you can, and this can present some problems because it can be information-overdrive. Somedays I’ll read some article claiming gluten is the most harmful thing one could ingest, and the next, I’ll read a scholarly paper proving that whole wheat products are perfectly fine for non-celiacs. It can be really confusing to sift through information, especially because nutrition is such a new science. We’ve only been studying what we’ve been eating for a limited amount of time and in that time, there has been so much conflicting advice. In the 80’s and 90’s, fat (in all forms) was shunned. That did us no good. In the early 2000’s, Atkins was the boss. Low-carbohydrate diets have been shown to be effective for weight loss, but at what cost? Eating large amounts of meat, especially factory-farmed meat, has been shown to increase the risk of cancers and heart disease, and it’s unsustainable for our planet. Now, it seems like the focus is on eating is purity, or cleanliness. To be healthy means you must eat organic, gluten-free, dairy-free, etc. While I can agree that a diet consisting of mostly unprocessed, whole, organic foods is best, it’s not healthy to obsess over how pure your diet is, especially if it limits your social life or mental wellbeing.

So what advice as someone studying nutrition can I give to you (and myself!)? I think the answer is to find a way of eating that is a) based on nutritionally sound advice (we need carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals to sustain ourselves) b) balanced, based on the individual (some people really do feel better avoiding gluten even without diagnosed Celiac Disease, some people do well eating only plants, some people need less carbs to thrive) c) an ongoing experiment. Meaning you might experiment with the ratios of your macronutrients and see how it affects you, or you may want to see if going gluten-free alleviates some stomach pain, or you may find that a moderate diet of whole grains, dairy, fruits, veggies, and meat is working just fine. The important thing is to find a way of eating that makes you feel healthy, have patience in the process, and focus on yourself instead of buying into every new piece of advice that comes along.

 

-Jess