Wellness Wednesday: Four Reasons To Stop Weighing Yourself

Are you stuck in an unhealthy relationship with the scale? Learn four reasons why you should stop weighing yourself. Most important reason - you are more than a number. 

Waaaay back in the day before starting my private practice, when I was first hired as a hospital outpatient dietitian, I was assigned to babysit a four week weight loss program while they hired a new dietitian to run it. Since then, I've learned the power of intuitive and mindful eating versus dieting and have shifted my focus to behavior, not weight. But at the time, I viewed the scale as most people do, a mostly accurate marker of progress.

Each class started with a weigh in. The participants lined up and hopped on the scale one by one as I marked their weight in a chart. It made me feel SO awkward, and I knew it was even more uncomfortable for them - even back then I recognized how demoralizing it was. We just accepted it as a necessary part of the weight loss process.

Even though I shudder thinking about it now, in a way, I'm glad I had the experience because it opened my eyes and made me realize how shitty the scale actually is.

During weigh ins, the scale frequently fluctuated without explanation. And this was a pretty fancy schmancy $1,000 scale. Time after time, someone would hop on, excited after making big changes to their eating and exercise habits the week before, only to see the scale nudge upwards from last week, sometimes by a pretty significant amount. I would explain water weight, but you could see they were completely dejected. Frequently, they would give up, sometimes skipping the next meeting, falling back into old eating habits or engaging in what I call "eff it eating."

Even though I spent class talking about small, sustainable changes and losing weight slowly but steadily, the scale became a bit of a race. People were disappointed to lose only half a pound or a pound. Or, initial excitement over weight loss quickly faded when someone else in class lost more.

I saw how short term "success" was inversely correlated with sustained weight loss. One guy lost something like 30 pounds in the four week program. Even though rationally I knew that this was WAY too fast, I have to admit I felt really excited for him...and for myself. I had helped this man lose 30 lbs! I was basically Bob Harper. When I turned in that month's weights, both my boss and our director gave me special praise. Rachael, Super Dietitian.

Nope. A few months later I saw him for an individual session. He had regained most of the weight and was taking in less calories than I ate on a normal day.

How often do you weigh yourself?

If you've never dieted and managed to grow up without internalizing society's pressure to be thin, then by all means, feel free to check your weight on occasion. If you're one of the 5% of people who has lose weight through dieting and kept it off more than five years, then studies show weighing yourself regularly will help you maintain. But for everyone else, I urge you to step off the scale, consider your relationship with it....then smash it to pieces!

Four Reasons to Stop Weighing Yourself

  1. The scale is a trigger. Consciously or not, the number on the scale has a profound impact on how you eat. Was the number "good?" In that case, you might treat yourself to some ice cream, because hey, you lost weight and you deserve it! Or maybe you wonder since you lost X lbs this week, maybe you could lose X + 1 lbs next week, so you restrict yourself further (which, of course, will inevitably lead to overeating, binging and/or emotional eating). Do you remember the last time you weighed yourself and got a "bad" number? How did you feel the rest of the day? How many times have you been making positive changes, feeling really good physically, only to step on the scale and get a "bad" number? All of a sudden your day (or week) is ruined. Those positive changes that would have eventually led you to health and your natural weight inevitably go to the wayside because they weren't "working." "Bad" weights also lead to what I call "eff it eating," the eating that occurs when you say "eff it," give up, and eat something you were previously restricting, usually in much larger quantities than you need.

  2. The scale is not your doctor. Does weight affect health? Sure. But it's a lot less important than you might think. There are many other factors that play a much greater role in health - stress, fitness, eating habits (regardless of weight), socioeconomics, etc. It's a mixture of behaviors, genetics and your environment that determines health, not the weight on the scale. There are many thin people who are very unhealthy. Conversely, there are many fat people who are perfectly healthy. If your goal is health, then get healthy, don't lose weight! In your quest for health, as a side effect your weight will settle at it's natural point anyway.

  3. It's not very accurate. There are so many variables that affect the number on the scale. Hydration is a major one. Did you know 2 cups of water weighs one pound? Even if you weigh yourself first thing in the morning after going to the bathroom, your hydration status will still vary based on time of the month, sodium intake, weather, previous days activity, sleep and so on. Are you hooked on the idea of losing weight quickly? Most of it is water weight, especially if you're losing weight by reducing carbohydrates. Low carb (and low calorie) diets force your body to turn to protein for energy. Seventy percent of muscle is made of water, so a pretty significant amount is lost when it's broken down. Since muscle is a more metabolically active tissue than fat, this rapid weight loss can significantly slow down metabolism over time. Two other surprising factors that affect weight - poop (when did you last go to the bathroom?) and gravity, which can vary slightly based on where the scale is located, time of year and time of day.

  4. It's a distraction from internal cues. The goal of intuitive eating is to listen to your internal cues and let that guide your eating decisions rather than relying on the outside rules and regulations of dieting. Experience and research shows that the rules involved with dieting generally results in rebellion. Relying on internal cues with mindful and intuitive eating is your best bet for reaching your happy weight (not to mention your best bet for achieving health, happiness and freedom from food). But how can you get in touch with your body's cues if you're constantly weighing yourself? Small, often arbitrary variations in weight, will make you to second guess your reactions to your body's cues. How many times did you deprive yourself after noticing your weight was high? Would you still eat your mid afternoon snack if you had a "bad" weight that morning? How would you reward yourself for a "good" weight loss? With food, right? By weighing yourself, your eating will simply become a reaction to a number on the scale, not a reaction to your body's actual needs.

Smash the scale

Ditching the scale is really scary, especially if you've relied on it for a long time. It feels like getting out of a relationship that isn't serving you. Even though you know it's a bad relationship, there's still that fear about the future. What if you gain weight or get out of control without the scale to keep you in check? An understandable fear, but in my experience, the scale is much more likely to CAUSE your eating to get out of control than keep your eating in control.

Remember, the scale does not measure your self worth, your health, your relationships, your achievements, or really anything other than your relationship with gravity at a single point in time.

You are SO much more than a number.

How does the scale impact your eating behaviors? What would happen if you ditched the scale? 

Wellness Wednesday: The Thin Myth

Do you subscribe to the Thin Myth? The idea that life will be better after you lose weight? Todays post is a reminder that fantasy isn't always reality.

This American Life is one of my favorite podcasts, so when I learned their recent episode was about rethinking fat, I had to listen immediately. Other than a twinkie joke that was in very poor taste, I thought it was really well done. They included interviews with two authors who discussed their experience being fat, as well as a piece on a weight loss program at a Christian college which basically could have been called pray the fat away.

Sandwiched in the middle was a piece featuring Elna Baker, a writer and stand up comedian who shared her story of losing over 100 lbs. I don't want to give too much away, but I could share every detail and it wouldn't be anywhere near as heartbreaking as hearing it come from her own mouth. You can listen it here or read the jist of it here.

Her story starts as many weight loss stories do. She grew up in a larger body, and although she had been pretty content with life, she hit a place right out of college where she was struggling to find a job in the TV industry and realized that despite having lots of male friends, she had never been in a serious relationship. She saw her thinner friends get boyfriends and jobs and all the things she wanted and wondered, "is it because I'm fat?"

So, she went on a diet.

In a short period of time, she lost a lot of weight. Soon after, she got some of those things she wanted, including an intro level job at a TV show and dates with cute guys. But it wasn't all happy. Despite getting these things she wanted so deeply, she was so heartbroken and disillusioned after realizing she had been treated differently because of her size all her life.

The part that made me cry (while running outside no less..it got weird), was when she realized that although she got so many of the things she wanted, she actually felt less secure in her body. Part of it was the extra skin for which she had four excruciating surgeries to remove. She notes "I still look like a flying squirrel when I raise my arms." But the biggest source of her discomfort was the fact that she still felt like "old Elna" was the "real Elna." At one point she says she would feel more comfortable wearing a fat suit. Based off a few conversations with clients and friends, I think this is a common feeling among those who have lost a significant amount of weight. I imagine it's similar to the feeling of being a lottery winner or becoming famous. Suddenly, you have this thing that other people want. People like you and want to be around you, but is it genuine? Do they like the real you?

In the end, she wonders if she would have been happier had she never lost the weight.

"I was happy when I was overweight. I had no idea I should feel sad. I was free before. I had trained myself not to care what other people thought, and I had done a good job of it."

She had recently read Lindy West's book, Shrill. Lindy was the fat acceptance activist who opened the show. In reading her book, she realized Lindy got all the things she had wanted - an attractive husband, a highly desirable job, a book deal. She got these things after choosing to accept her body as it is, not dieting.

Essentially, every day since I became a dietitian (and many days before), I have talked to someone who wants to lose weight. Some want to lose pretty minuscule amounts. Others have more significant goals. Some say health is their motivator, others say aesthetics.

Everyone who wants to lose weight has some dream of what life will be like in their new, smaller body. Some have pretty intricate fantasies, while others are tied to the loose notion that life with just somehow be better. In reality, as someone who has been 10 pounds heavier and 10 pounds lighter than I am now, I can tell you 10 pounds doesn't change a damn thing. Having never been in a heavier body, I hesitate to comment on that. From what I know from the experiences of others, while some aspects of life may improve, it often brings a new set of issues to light. Elna's story is the perfect example. 

The thin myth is dangerous because it's why so many people get wrapped up in weight loss goals to the point where they do dangerous things to achieve it. It's why health takes a back seat to a number on the scale. Not only that but daydreaming about this thin fantasy life is a complete and total distraction from present day life, which is probably quite nice if you're actually living it, undistracted by dreams of a thinner life. When you can see weight loss for what it is, just living in a smaller body with all the good and bad of your present day life, you'll stop wasting so much time fantasizing and actually start living.

One thing that's always life changing for the better? Choosing self acceptance and making lifestyle changes that honor your health.In my practice, we put weight loss to the side and focus on nourishment, health and making peace with food. 

Are you stuck believing in the thin myth? Ask yourself what specifically do you think you'll gain by losing weight? Get as detailed as possible. Now, fact check. Are these really things you have to lose weight to achieve, or could you start to pursue them now? Be honest with yourself. What would you lose or compromise or lose by going on a diet? Is it worth it?

When you critically think about the thin myth you've been telling yourself, weight loss starts to lose it's aura of importance. Deprioritizing weight loss isn't the same thing as giving up, it's simply giving yourself the space to discover a genuinely happier and healthier life, not one in which health and happiness relies on an arbitrary number on the scale.

Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below! 

Wellness Wednesday: 3 Reasons Why Calorie Counting Doesn't Work

Does calorie counting leave you feeling out of control and food obsessed? You're not alone. Learn 3 reasons why calorie counting doesn't work. 

Hey guys! Happy Wellness Wednesday :) It's a bit of a crazy week for me, so I'm popping in with a guest post I did on fANNEtastic Food last week on why calorie counting is kinda the worst.

I think of calorie counting has been the default diet. Fads come and go, but calorie counting is always lingering in the background. It's that thing that people keep going back to when they're feeling out control with their body or their eating habits. Sure, there are some people who can practice what I like to call calorie awareness and feel empowered and informed...but this is a minority. For most, calorie counting will turn you into a food obsessed, hungry and out of control mess. It certainly did for me! Shared my story with calorie counting on the post and even though I didn't find intuitive eating until much later, it was enough to convince me the calorie counting is not the way to go.

Click here to read three reasons why calorie counting doesn't work on fANNEtastic Food.

Half Marathon Recap + Why Weight Goals Are The Actual Worst

Celebrating my first half marathon today, plus sharing lessons I learned from my training and race about why weight goals are the actual worst. I promise, it's related!

This past weekend, I ran my very first half marathon in Atlanta. For those who follow me on instagram, I'm sure you're sick and tired of me talking about it, but please allow me just one more post to toot my horn! You see, this was a really big deal for me, because I am NOT an athlete. Generally speaking, I give up on things that are physically difficult. When I ran cross country in high school, I couldn't make it through a 5K without stopping to walk. So yeah, the fact that I went through three months of training and ran 13.1 miles is kind of a miracle. Or a testament to hard work, but more likely a miracle :)

The race itself was a blast, although I was really anxious for two days before it. It didn't help that I got lost in a black hole of googling awful things that can happen during a half (do yourself a favor and DO NOT google image runners trots). Thank goodness for the guy standing next to me in the pen before the race, who was dancing to himself to pump up, but looked so ridiculous I couldn't help but let go of my fears.

The run through Atlanta was gorgeous, and a fun way to explore the city I grew up in. I loved seeing places I recognized, because in a sense, Atlanta is home, but it's changed so much it's a new city to me! The course gave us views of the skyline and went through some of Atlanta's prettiest historic neighborhoods and parks. If anyone is feeling particularly generous and would like to buy me a fully restored craftsman off Edgewood, I would not hate you for it. Most importantly though, I felt REALLY good. My main goal was to be able to enjoy the race, so I ran at a comfortable pace until mile 10, then really pushed myself hard for the last three. The entire time I felt so strong, and at no point was I miserable (except for the 3 1/2 hours in the car driving back home...ouch!). So I'm calling it a success! I said I was one and done, but now I'm working on convincing Scott we need to sign up for half marathons when we travel because it was such a fun way to see the city!

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 7.07.56 PM

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 7.07.56 PM

Anyhoo, on to today's post, which is all about how two experiences I had during my half marathon and training reinforced the fact that weight based goals are kind of the worst.

When I first signed up for a half, my main goal was simple: don't die. If I managed not to die, I just wanted to have fun. I really didn't care if I had to walk or if I was the last person to cross the finish line, I just wanted to finish and have a little fun while at it.

So when I started training, I did so with that in mind. Because I didn't have a time goal, I didn't invest in any fancy training watches to track my pace. I just trained myself to run at a pace that felt good to me. Of course, some runs were easier than others, and there were times I had to stop and walk, but mostly, I felt pretty confident. On my first 10 mile run, I blew it out of the water. I felt great the entire time, and when I glanced at the clock, I realized my pace was somewhere in the 9 minute mile range. I had previously estimated my pace to be somewhere around 11 minutes, so I was pretty pumped!

Suddenly, my goal of 'not dying' and 'just having fun' was gone. Now my goal was to be able to run the whole thing without stopping and secretly, I hoped to finish in less than 2 hours. You can see where this is going.

The next couple weeks were filled with setbacks. The next week when I set out for my second 10 mile run, it was awful. I'm not sure why, but I struggled through the entire thing and ended up walking a huge chunk of it. From there, I missed a bunch of training runs with a full work load, travel, and an icky cold that sidelined me for a few days.

When I set out for my last long run of training, I felt totally defeated and that feeling was showing up in my running - I felt awful. But as I ran, I realized that I wasn't upset because I was now afraid of actually dying or that I would be miserable the whole time, but because I was afraid my new goals may not be achievable (if they ever had been). Yet, my initial goals of just running the race and having fun were still well within bounds. I mean, if I was feeling miserable, I could always just stop a walk. I had no shame in doing that in the beginning, so why couldn't I be content with my initial goals? As I realized this, I got my pep back and began to feel that same sense of strength I had in the beginning.

As I ran, I thought about my experience and how it parallels what happens when I see people get caught up in the scale. Have you ever made changes to your eating habits or lifestyle in hopes of getting healthy, or feeling better, but secretly (or not so secretly!) you have hopes of weight loss? Then when you make those changes, feel great and lose a little weight (which often happens when you eat a little healthier), the adrenaline rush hooks you. Then all of a sudden, you're on a full blown diet. That initial goal of feeling great is gone - now you will be skinny! But pretty soon, when life and/or biology kicks in, the diet won't be easy anymore and those pounds will stop dropping, or may even sneak back up. So, you give up entirely, and go back to your old eating habits, because in your mind, you are a failure. But what happened to that original goal of just feeling awesome? Weren't you succeeding in that before the weight goals came in?

Fortune cookie from my pre-race meal was perfect. Too bad it was my husbands, not mine.

Fortune cookie from my pre-race meal was perfect. Too bad it was my husbands, not mine.

During the race, I got another reminder of how numerical goals can go wrong. Going in, I really didn't know what my pace was, and really didn't care - I would just run at a pace that felt comfortable to me. That was great and all, until I saw the 2:15 pacer running right in front of me. At first I thought "Heck yeah! I'm running at her pace and I still feel pretty good!" But after a few miles of running in her general vicinity, 2:15 became no longer good enough. I wanted to go faster, and more importantly, I felt like I could go faster, but I had a voice inside my head saying "Don't burn yourself out too early." Just as loud was the voice telling me 2:15 wasn't good enough. Agh!! My head was going crazy trying decide what to do based on this one single number that may not have even been accurate instead of doing what I had trained myself to do - to listen to my body.

Sound familiar?

That's the scale for ya. It's a distraction from the internal cues that really do guide you to the best decisions for your health and wellbeing. It's SO hard to trust your body, but trust me, it knows what's right for you over any external factor, whether it's a scale or diet guru.

In the end, I was able to let go and run how I felt, and I was happy, both with my time and my experience. I know that if you are able to let go of the scale, build body confidence and get back in tune with your needs with intuitive eating, you will be happy with your body, and feel great, which to me sounds so much nicer than dieting and obsessing over the scale.

Do you agree? I have spots open for my 4 and 8 session packages starting next month. Learn more about my diet-free coaching philosophy and services here, and email me to get started or to set up a free 15 minute phone consult for more information!

Have you ever had an experience where the scale distracted from what your body really needed?

Food, Dieting and Feminism

I think we can all agree that men and women deserve equal treatment. Today we're discussing the relationship between food, dieting and feminism. 

So, I had planned on a very different post today, one that was a little more 'nutrition-y'. But after a somewhat heartbreaking experience this Monday, I decided to write this post, which has been stewing in the back of my mind for some time.

After work on Monday, I ran to Trader Joe's to stock up on groceries for the week. There was a group of three girls there as well, presumably college freshman because a.) they looked like babies b.) one was still wearing a high school lacrosse shirt and c.) I heard them talking about exams. I couldn't help but overhear most of their conversation, since the store was pretty quiet and, you know, college freshman are loud.

One of the girls was going on a diet.

Mind you, I don't think anyone should go on a diet, but especially not a pretty, athletic and from all outward appearances, healthy young girl. As she navigated the aisles, I listened with horror as she studied the calories on prepared salads, putting back the ones she wanted because they were over 400-500 calories and instead grabbing ones that were 300 calories but she would "scoop out the cheese". My heart beat faster as she asked employees tips for reducing the calories in their deli items and they gave her tips like 'only use a little bit of the dressing' or 'you could leave out the noodles." I listened as she told her two friends, who had similar body types, that she was "getting fat and really needed to work on her six-pack." I watched her pick up sugary cereals, to which her friend remarked, "that can't be healthy" and she replied, "but a cup is only 120 calories and that's all I'm going to have for lunch." I watched as she fake waddled past the canned soups, complaining about the way her thighs touched. I noticed how every time she passed sweets or cookies or chocolate, she made a remark along the lines of "Welp, can't have that 'till I'm skinny!"

It was heartbreaking.

Being a dietitian who specializes in intuitive eating, a non-diet approach to eating, I knew I could help her. So, I waited until she was by herself, approached her and said "Hey! This is probably one of the weirder things I've ever done, but I couldn't help but overhear your talking about starting a diet. It made me so sad because you are worth so much more than your body. I'm a private practice dietitian and I work mainly with women who have dieted their whole lives, which has caused a lot of emotional pain, and never actually helped them lose weight long term, and I just don't want to see you go down the same path. Here's my card, in case you ever need anything or want to talk about other ways of eating."

OK, so that's not what happened.

That's the scenario I played out in my head at least 20 times, but in the end, I chickened out. I went back to my car, literally shaking, and cried for this poor girl.

Maybe you're thinking that's a bit of an overreaction, and you might be right. After all, people talk about diets and body shame themselves every single day, often in my own office. So why was this particular instance so upsetting?

Right before I left the house, I was making my grocery list while watching CNN. I was jolted to attention when an ad featuring real women reading statements made by Donald Trump came on.

“A person who is very flat-chested is very hard to be a 10.”

“Bimbo.”

“Fat pig.”

“I look at her right in that fat, ugly face of hers.”

“You know it really doesn’t matter what they write, as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass.”

Something about seeing actual women read his words made it all the more powerful...and hurtful. I had heard most of the statements before. Being read by other women, they were no longer sophomoric statements said for shock value. The hatred, sexism and pure lack of respect for a solid 50% of the population was painfully obvious. The idea that a large chunk of the population endorses, or is at the least not disgusted by these comments, made me physically nauseous.

When you run a small business, getting political is discouraged. But to steal a sentiment shared on Humans of New York, my purpose for bringing this up isn't political. It's moral.

I'm sharing this because the thought behind his statements is one that's shared all to frequently in our society - that to be a successful woman, personally and/or professionally, you must look a certain way. Usually, it's stated in less obviously sexist terms than Trump's remarks, but that just makes it all the more dangerous, and believable.

Things like, "That actress is so fat, she should just get off the screen." So, we can't have anyone in movies that represents the approximately 60% of women whose BMI falls outside of the 'healthy' range? Hearing conversations about women in the workplace center around their looks, not their achievements or skills. When I worked in a medical center setting, both inpatient and outpatient, I heard countless, practically daily remarks about my weight. It was either something along the lines of "never trust a thin dietitian" or remarks comparing my body to my other dietitian colleagues they had worked with, implying I was a better dietitian because I was thinner than them. It was incredibly uncomfortable and I always wondered (and still do) what would happen if I got sick or older or my metabolism just changed and I gained weight. My skills and knowledge would still be there, but what would happen to my credibility?

Studies show women are 16 times more likely to face weight discrimination in the workplace then men. You're probably familiar with the gender pay gap, but did you know that women who weigh more earn 6% less than thinner women?

No wonder that bubbly, athletic, and outwardly beautiful girl in Trader Joe's was going on a diet. The man who could be president is saying her her accomplishments don't matter unless she's a 10.

I have no hopes of changing any men's minds on how they speak about women, that is, if there's any men who have made it this far into my post (if so, heeeyyy! You're awesome!). But I do hope to change some of your minds on how you think dieting. We can outwardly look at the statistics on discrimination and hear these absurd comments and know it's morally and factually wrong. But by dieting, we're essentially accepting them as truth. By pressuring our friends to join us in our diet, we're spreading the same message, that you're not good enough unless you're thin.

As women, we have to work just that much harder for the same level of success. That's a fact. But how are you supposed to do that if you're dieting? How will you get an A on that exam if your brain is deprived of the energy it needs to function? How will you have the creativity to engineer that new invention if you're constantly thinking about the food you're not allowed to have? How will you get up in front of that crowd and make a sales pitch with confidence if you're distracted by the way your arms jiggle when you try to make a point? What skills or knowledge have you missed out on by spending your free time reading women's magazines and diet books? How do you kick ass in a debate if you’re worried about the pantsuit you’re wearing making your butt look big?

Dieting is a distraction from the hard work we women need to do to achieve equal standing in this society.

This isn't to shame anyone or call them anti-feminist for wanting to lose weight. Why wouldn’t you given the society we live in? It's to say there's a better way. Focus on loving your body as it is now, because you can't take good care of something you hate. Instead of depriving your body, think about nourishing it, so you can accomplish all the amazing things in your life. Let's stop telling our friends they aren't good enough by engaging in diet talk and body bashing and instead talk current events or family life or work or literally anything else. Individually, we might not be able to change the society we live in, but we can chose not to engage in it’s most destructive parts.

This is an idea that I'm just beginning to work through, so i would absolutely love to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment below! 

The Creamiest Vanilla Chia Smoothie Bowl + A Giveaway!

Learn my trick for making the creamiest vanilla chia smoothie bowl with a protein boost from Kura smoothie powder! Don't forget to enter the giveaway for 3 bags of Kura AND a new blender! 

This post was sponsored by Kura Nutrition. I was provided with products and compensated for my time. Thanks for supporting the quality brands I love that make this blog possible! 

Eat less. Move more.

If you've ever dieted, it's a phrase you're familiar with. Heck, if you've ever opened a magazine, been to a doctors office, accidentally clicked on one of those spammy dieting articles, or stumbled across literally any government sponsored health promotion material, you've heard the saying.

And if we're being honest, it's a mantra I definitely spouted. It makes me cringe to think about it, but yes, there was a time I thought weight loss was as simple as eat less and move more.

Since then, I've been enlightened. Enlightened with both experience, and with plenty of new research showing weight is much more complex than a mathematical equation.

Eat less, move more is what I would consider a half truth. Calories are a measure of the energy in food. That goes for any food, not just chips, pizza, and double chocolate chunk ice cream. Extra calories we eat that aren't used for energy are stored as fat. One way to utilize more calories is to exercise more.

Knowing that, one might deduce that to lose weight, they must eat less and move more. And if one wants to loose a lot a of weight or lose weight quickly, they might eat a lot less and move a lot more.

This is why so many people turn to deprivation to lose weight. It's why you see 1200 calorie diets advertised on the cover of magazines. It's why people spend hours of their week pounding away on an elliptical. It's why I just saw an acquaintance post on facebook how disappointed she was in 'only' losing half a pound after practically starving herself doing one of those 3 day fix things. It's why hunger is considered a sign that you're 'doing things right.

That's the problem with simplifying weight control as eat less, move more - deprivation is the obvious conclusion. But it doesn't work. If we were machines rather than complex living creatures, sure, we could plug in the weight we want to be, when we want to be there and arrive at our destination. However we are humans, and it's a bit more complicated.

We know deprivation works for rapid, short term weight loss, but it backfires in the long run. Here's why. When you lose weight, your body responds by lowering its metabolic rate to fit your smaller size. When weight loss is rapid, metabolism drops at a faster rate than expected. To continue losing weight, you would have to eat less and less. To maintain, you could never go "off" your diet, even for short periods. With a lowered metabolic rate, it would  trigger weight regain, much more so than if you had lost the weight using slower, more sustainable changes.

There are so many other factors that impact weight besides the usual diet and exercise. Stress doesn't only trigger weight gain by causing you to run into the arms of Ben & Jerry - increases in stress hormones like cortisol trigger fat storage. Recent research is showing the role gut bacteria plays in weight. Then there's sleep. Did you know just 30 minutes less sleep than what you need can affect weight?

I can't tell you how many men and women I've worked with through the years who have whittled down what they eat to practically nothing, pound away at the gym, and still not lose weight.

As a final nail in the deprivation coffin, know that approximately 95% of people who lose weight through drastic measures will regain the weight they lost. And then some.

So we can all agree now - deprivation is the literal worst. And there's know way to know what your healthy weight is, which is opposite of what we're told. We don't have control over our weight, despite what diet culture tells us, but we do have control over behaviors. So let's start engaging in health promoting ones and let our body settle where it's supposed to. 

  1. Nourish your body - Focus on nourishment, not deprivation. When you focus on filling up on nutrient-dense whole foods, you automatically crowd out rich, sugary or processed foods. Plus, whole foods are naturally more filling, so you'll feel satisfied too.
  2. Feed your gut - Give your gut it's favorite food - fiber! That means lots of fruit, vegetables, and beans. Replenish your gut bacteria with fermented food and/or probiotics.
  3. Eat less added sugar - Enjoy sugar in things that are really delicious, like an extra gooey and chocolatey brownie. Avoid added sugar coming from foods hidden sources, like snack foods, dressings and protein shakes.
  4. Build muscle - Cardio burns calories, but it also makes you pretty hungry. That right, you're not the only one craving an entire pizza after a long run. Muscle tissue is more metabolically active, meaning it burns more calories at rest.

Kura Nutrition, the makers of the tastiest smoothie protein powder I've ever tried, covers all four of those bases. It's made with 14 grams of grassfed dairy protein from happy cows, which is packed with the amino acid leucine, the rock star of muscle growth. One serving contains 4 billion CFU (colony forming units) of probiotics as well as prebiotics to feed their growth. Kura contains 26 vitamins and minerals and provides a nice little dose of omega 3 fats on top of what naturally occurs in grassfed dairy. Best of all, it's made with no added sugar, just the hint of sweetness from the naturally occurring sugars in dairy!

What I appreciate most about Kura is that the company is committed to the same principles of nourishment over deprivation that I talk about all the time over here on Avocado. So why not start your day by nourishing your body with this extra creamy smoothie bowl, made with Kura's vanilla protein smoothie powder. Guys, I'm not kidding when I tell you it's the best smoothie bowl I've ever made! The trick is using an easy, overnight chia pudding instead of milk, which gives it a thick, pudding-like consistency. It's basically socially acceptable breakfast ice cream!

Don't miss your chance to try Kura at home! Enter the giveaway below for a chance to win 3 bags of Kura plus a new blender!

*CLOSED*

Vanilla Chia Smoothie Bowl

Serves 1

The trick to making the worlds creamiest smoothie bowl is blending in chia seeds soaked in plant milk. I made a big batch and scooped out 1/2 cup of chia pudding as needed. Also delish with chocolate and berry Kura protein smoothie powder too!

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup unsweetened plant milk
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds
  • 1 frozen banana, in chunks
  • 1 packet or scoop Kura vanilla protein smoothie powder
  • Toppings: freeze dried fruit, cocoa powder, shredded coconut, nut butter

Instructions

  1. The night before, mix chia seeds and plant milk in a small bowl. Let sit, covered, in the refrigerator overnight.
  2. The next morning, when ready to eat, blend chia mixture, banana and Kura protein powder in a food processor until creamy. Serve with optional toppings, or as I like to call them, sprinkles!

Wellness Wednesday: What is Healthy?

Healthy is a word that gets thrown around, to the point where it's almost meaningless. Todays Wellness Wednesday post answers the question what is healthy, and what it means to me. 

Have I told you guys about my nutrition counseling mastermind group? Every other Thursday, I google chat with a group of dietitians who also do nutrition counseling and blog: Anne, Alex, Robyn, and Kylie. We all work in the disordered eating/intuitive eating realm, so it's a great place to brainstorm, share and learn.

Have you ever had a group of people where every time you get together, you leave feeling inspired, supported and basically ready to win at life? That's how it is with this crew. They're essentially my Taylor Swift RD girl squad...except in that metaphor, I think I'm Hailee Steinfeld, because they’re all pretty big deals.

From what I can gather from instagram, we all have very different eating habits. Alex needs a tofu intervention, Robyn really likes dipping dark chocolate into things, Anne would starve without Blue Apron, and Kylie likes to make food love children (quichezzza aka quiche-pizza, french toast-avocado toast...). Yet, we all have the same basic food principles. Food is meant to be savored. Dieting and deprivation is the actual worst. Eat food that makes you feel awesome.

A few weeks ago, Anne emailed an article on a new study that examined how people eat in response to various descriptors, including healthy, unhealthy and nourishing. It found that after eating a cookie labeled as healthy, participants reported being more hungry than eating the same cookie when it was labeled unhealthy. They also found that people ate significantly more popcorn after being told it was healthy than when it was labeled nourishing or unhealthy. So basically, you'll probably feel hungrier and eat more if you think what you're eating is healthy, regardless of how 'healthy' it actually is.

This prompted a discussion, since we're all conflicted on the word. On one hand, well, see above. Calling a food healthy often triggers unhealthy eating behaviors. Sure, my cinnamon spice cookies, made with almond meal, naturally sweetened with raisin paste, and packed with healthy (<--there it is again!) fats from coconut oil and nut butter certainly qualify to most as healthy, but if labeling them as such triggers binge eating half the pan, are they still healthy?

On the other hand, as bloggers, the word healthy is helpful for google rankings and helps the people who need us most to find us. People don't search for "whole grain cookies made with just a little bit sugar and coconut oil instead of butter", they search for "healthy cookies". Healthy is a word most people get.

To healthy, or not to healthy. That is the question.

That's when Kylie chimed. "I think it's worth us trying to redefine the world healthy. Not using the word healthy doesn't help anyone. People have to reframe their opinions of what healthy is."

She is so right. When the world healthy is used around food, most people interpret it to mean nutrient-dense/real food/low fat/low carb/high protein/paleo/gluten free/sugar free or whatever their particular spin is. But true "healthy" has only a little to do with food itself. It has to do with behaviors.

So yes, I will continue to describe food as healthy from time to time, just to appease the google gods. When I describe a food as healthy, I mean to say it's nutritious, but that’s just part of health, not all of it.

Part of healthy is eating lots of nutrient-rich foods, like fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains. This is a big part, but much smaller than what most people think.

Healthy is not basing your self worth on food choices, considering yourself 'good' when you've eaten a certain way or 'bad' when you don't.

Healthy is moving your body semi-regularly (to your ability, not with the goal of burning calories, paying penance for eating 'bad' or to build an unrealistic physique, but because moving your body makes you feel awesome, gives you energy, or helps you reach a goal, like running a 5K.

Healthy is being able to find pleasure in food, but also being ok with not every meal being a gourmet eating experience.

Healthy is getting enough sleep, prioritizing self care, connecting with those you love and nourishing your soul as much as you nourish your body. Healthy is also going through times when you're sleep deprived, don't have time to devote to the people you love, and feel empty inside. But you recognize it, accept it, and take steps (within your ability) to correct it, or give yourself some compassion for the things you can’t change.

Healthy is aiming to eat mindfully, but also recognizing that living a full life means scarfing down a fast food meal in your car on occasion, and that's OK.

Healthy is being able to stop eating when you feel satisfied and satiated. When you know restriction isn't in your future, it's easy to eat the right amount for you without thinking about portions or calories.

Healthy being able to cope with emotions without food, but also recognizing that there are times when you've had a really bad day, and dammit, an ice cream cone WILL make you feel better.

Healthy is accepting your body, as it is. Or at least trying to accept it as it is - everyone has days when they don't like what they see in the mirror. It’s being realistic about your genetic blueprint, and trying to accept yourself in your here-and-now body.

Now, I'd love to hear from you. What does healthy mean in your book? If you had to define it, what would you say? 

The Number One Reason Not To Diet

There are many reasons not to diet. This post discusses what I think is the number one reason not to diet, the most heartbreaking consequence. 

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Happy Wellness Wednesday! It’s an official holiday at this point, right? ;)

Writing this post from the Desert Botanical Garden in Scottsdale. Scott had a phone meeting for work in the middle of the day, so we decided to find a nice secluded spot in the cactus garden and get a little work done.

If you’ve been following along on Instagram, then you know we visited Phoenix for the national championship game to cheer on our Clemson Tigers. This trip has been such a whirlwind, and honestly, one of the most fun weeks of my life. As we explored the Grand Canyon, freshly covered in snow, hiked to the top of the red rocks of Sedona, and sang the alma mater with thousands of our Clemson family fresh off a heartbreaking loss, I kept thinking to myself ‘I can’t believe we almost didn’t come.’ With all our recent trips, the travel fund is sadly depleted. Plus I’m crazy behind with work and really didn’t think I could take more time off. But then we recognized what a once in a lifetime experience it would be, so we made it happen, and what a once in a lifetime experience we got.

You only live once has been my motto lately. Maybe it's me getting older, but I find myself thinking more and more about how to make the most of each day and the things that distract me from doing just that.

It's a motto that also comes up quite frequently in my nutrition counseling sessions, especially when we talk about dieting. It's no secret I'm not a fan of dieting. I mean, does anyone actually like diets other than the people making money off selling them? There are many things that break my heart when I hear the stories of my clients who have struggled with yo-yo dieting - the feelings of inadequacy, the physical and emotional hunger, the scary negative health side effects, the fact that they simply don't work for long term weight control. But if there is one thing that breaks my heart more than anything else, it's the fact that dieting keeps you from being able to live each day to it's fullest. Knowing how many days, weeks, and years of living life have been lost to diets isn't something I can stand by and passively watch.

If I was dieting, I wouldn't have been able to linger over tapas, wine and a gorgeous Sedona view with friends without worrying about how many calories I was consuming. If I was dieting and depriving myself of much needed calories (aka energy), I wouldn't have been able to make it to the top of Bell Rock and soak up that incredible view. If I was dieting, the stress of knowing there wasn't any healthy tailgate food available would have detracted from the time I was spending with family and friends. If I was dieting, I wouldn't have been able to soak up every perfect bite of the worlds best English muffin because I would have been too busy thinking about processed carbs.

Let's stop dieting and start thinking about living. When the focus is on how to soak up every last drop of the day, you'll start making choices that nourish your body and make you feel great while leaving flexibility to savor special treats and eat stress free in social situations. Healthy isn't perfect. Healthy is flexible. What you eat should add to your quality of life, not detract. Dieting, is simply no way to live.

Why I No Longer Call Myself A Clean Eater

Whole food may be the key to health, but lately I've seen clean eating spiral out of control. Here's why I no longer call myself a 'clean eater.' 

Almost 3 years ago, when I first started my blog, I wrote a post about which food ingredients and additives to 'avoid like the plague.' At the time, it got a lot of traction. And by traction, I mean 12 people read it instead of the usual 3.

Now, I cringe a little inside when I think about that post. It's not because my photography or writing was awful (it was) or because the science has changed. It's because my views on clean eating have evolved since then, and I worry that for those 12 people, it contributed to the food fear that permeates our society.

Years ago when I first 'discovered' clean eating, it was a revelation. Although the dangers of eating too much processed food and the health benefits of whole food were stressed throughout my education, as a new dietitian working in a hospital, I was much more concerned with things like calorie control for weight loss, saturated fats for heart health and carbohydrate counting for diabetes. Things that also make me cringe a little inside.

When I started learning more about clean eating and began to look back at my education and experience with that filter, paying attention to numbers made less and less sense. I saw that focusing on filling, whole foods and identifying satiety levels was much more effective (and sane) than calorie counting and portion control. I realized limiting glucose-spiking processed foods and filling up with plants protected the body against disease, and didn't require any mathematics. Clean eating changed how I eat personally, and how I practice nutrition, both to great benefit.

Now, before I get into my issues with it, let me just say that I still 100% get behind the basic principles of clean eating. Making most of your diet whole food is the absolute best thing you can do for health. There are dozens of ingredients in the food supply that frankly, should not be allowed. I still evaluate a foods healthfulness based on the ingredients list, not the nutrition facts.

Basically, I believe in the power of whole food, but I don't like what 'clean eating' has become.

Somewhere along the way, clean eating morphed from a balanced way of eating into an almost cultish ideology. Clean eating advocates, like Food Babe, have created an atmosphere where anything with a chemical sounding name is toxic. Where fear of pesticides has made people afraid to eat something as simple as a conventionally grown apple. It's almost impossible to eat anything from a box or can without a well intentioned, but judgmental 'do you even know what's in that?'

Last week, Nigella Lawson, the celebrity chef, started trending when she stated 'people are using clean eating to hide an eating disorder.' She's right. Granted, any type of diet can be used to hide, or can morph into an eating disorder - paleo, vegan, calorie counting, etc. But clean eating has spawned it's own special kind, orthorexia, a severe obsession with avoiding food considered unhealthy, harmful or unclean to the point where it negatively impacts everyday life. I've seen clean eating advocates laugh it off as a creation of the food industry, but it's real. No, not everyone, or even most people, who aim to 'eat clean' have an eating disorder, but for many it becomes a life disrupting obsession. I've had more and more clients suffering the physical effects of an eating disorder - hair loss, fatigue, anemia, weight loss, loss of their period - but they're not obsessed with being thin, just clean.

Although not rare, the transition from clean eating to eating disorder is less common and generally occurs in people already at risk. What concerns me more about clean eating is that it's become just another diet, and along with that, come the physical and mental consequences of dieting - weight fluctuations/regain, low self esteem, stress, chronic disease, fatigue, anxiety...the list goes on. My main issues is the name. Calling food 'clean' implies anything 'unclean' is dirty, shameful and disgusting. Essentially, it sets up a good food/bad food dynamic. Labeling food as 'bad' creates fear. Fear causes you to think about it more, thinking about it more causes you to crave it, craving leads to eating, and eating the 'bad' food leads to feelings of guilt, shame and inadequacy. When you feel guilty, shameful and inadequate, you eat more 'bad' food. Thus the cycle of dieting and bingeing/overeating continues.

The thing about militant clean eating is that it ignores real life. Processed foods have their place at the table. A very small place, but a place nonetheless. No, most processed foods are not nutritious (some are!), but if it takes a little processed food to make a eating mostly whole food realistic, what's the harm? Or what if you just really, really like cheese puffs? Wouldn't it be nice to enjoy them without setting off a guilty spiral of overeating?

Want to 'eat clean' (for lack of a better word) without feeling crazy around food? Remember these points:

  • Stop calling it clean eating. Just stop.
  • Aim to eat more whole, unprocessed foods. They taste great, nourish your body, and will make you feel amazing.
  • Look for a shorter ingredients list when possible, but don't freak out over it. If you're eating mostly whole foods, a little bit of preservative or emulsifier won't be the death of you. 
  • Organic food is great for the environment and limits your exposure to pesticides and herbicides, but if you're eating a diet that includes a wide variety of foods and is centered around (but not exclusively) whole food, your dietary exposure is pretty limited anyway. If you can afford/have access to organics, great, if not, no big deal. 
  • I don't care what's in it, a double-stuff oreo is freaking delicious.

Still feeling overwhelmed? I'd be happy to work with you on finding peace with food and that ever elusive real life balance. Check out my coaching services page or shoot me an email at Rachael@RachaelHartleyNutrition.com to set up a complimentary 15 minute phone consultation.

Now, would love to hear your thoughts. Have you ever tried to 'eat clean?' If so, what was most difficult for you? Was it sustainable, or no?

An Exercise in Self Compassion

It’s always fascinating to me what I’m struggling with personally often parallel what my clients are going through. Perhaps it’s a case of synchronicity or maybe I’m picking up on topics weighing heavily on my mind. Either way, I often find myself immersed in a ‘theme’ from my personal to professional life.

Lately, that theme has been self compassion. If I’m not mindful about it, I can get pretty hard on myself, especially when it comes to professional success. After three months of website issues that have sucked up my free time and a slow client load with recent travel, I’ve definitely had days where the feeling of failure has been pretty overwhelming.

Seeing people beat themselves up over what they did or didn’t eat isn’t anything new, but recently it seems my clients have been struggling with it more than normal. A lot of it has to do with our recent flooding here in Columbia. The three week boil water advisory got many off their cooking game, and the nonstop dreary weather certainly hasn’t been helpful. I totally get it. I feel like curling up on the couch with a bowl of macaroni and cheese too (and probably would if I could motivate myself to go out in the rain to pick up some cheese).

Do you operate under the belief that willpower and self discipline are the key to weight loss success? If so, your self talk around food might sound a bit like an overzealous high school football coach. “What were you thinking eating those cookies Steve!?! How could you be so stupid?? If you keep messing up, we’ll never get to 130 pounds…I mean the State Championship!”

Many people are afraid that showing self compassion is the same as giving themselves unbridled permission to do it again. That forcing themselves in line with negative self talk is the only way to keep their eating in check

That’s not the case. Beating yourself up will just lead to a black hole of negativity and chip away at your self esteem. There’s even research that shows self compassion works. In one study, women were asked to participate in a ‘food tasting study’ that examined donuts, candy and other sweet treats. The women who were given a talk on self compassion and reminded that everyone eats food like this ate significantly less that those who didn’t receive the talk.

Trying to be a little nicer to yourself? Try this self compassion exercise I use with my clients next time you’re feeling guilty about something you ate. Take a close look at the eating event, and ask yourself the following questions to take a more compassionate look at the situation.

  1. PROGRESS, NOT PERFECTION. Remind yourself that reaching goals requires progress, not perfection. No matter how awful you felt your slip was, there’s likely some glimmer of progress. Even noticing what’s happened or making the attempt to eat or think differently is a success. So you ate a bowl of ice cream. Maybe you used to eat it out of the container. At least this time it was portioned in a bowl. Maybe you overate French fries. Feel proud of the fact that you noticed you were eating mindlessly and made attempts to pay attention. Even if you can’t find the silver lining in that specific eating event, chances are there were other times during the day where you did make progress on other eating habits. Remember, it’s the cumulative effects of these small changes that make a difference, not one singular event.

  2. WATCH THE INTERNAL TALK. What are you telling yourself about the eating event? What words are you using? Try to catch all the negative words and stories in your head. Phrases like “I cheated” or telling yourself “I already failed so I might as well eat the rest of the cake” can only have a negative effects. Imagine a child or a friend was in your shoes. Would you repeat the things you say to yourself to them? No, because it would have a negative impact on their behavior and self esteem. So why do we talk to ourselves this way? Change your story to something more hopeful and constructive, even something as simple as “Hey, I slipped, but at least I’m trying.”

  3. ASK WHAT HAPPENED. Instead of beating yourself up in hopes of shaming yourself into submission, examine what events led up to your slip. Was it an emotional state that led you to make an impulsive decision? Or was it something physical, like hunger. Maybe there was a cue you missed, like forgetting to leave your apple and peanut butter snack on the counter. Try to find the root cause.

  4. MAKE A PLAN. More than likely, you’ll find yourself in a similar situation again. Plan for it. What could you do differently the next time? What could have prevented the slip. Or, maybe you really loved what you ate. What could you do to be able to enjoy it or other worth it splurges in the future without feeling guilty. Think of a plan and set concrete goals that will help prevent future slips.

Now, I encourage you to try this method yourself. Think back to the last time you felt regret about what or how much you ate. Try to remember everything about that event and go through these four steps. Did you learn or realize anything? If so, please share in the comments below!

Wellness Wednesday: The Great Debate - Sugar vs Artificial Sweeteners

On today's Wellness Wednesday post, I answer one of my most frequently asked questions - which is healthier, sugar or artificial sweeteners. As you'll see, the sugar vs artificial sweeteners debate distracts from the real problem, that we should be eating less of both. 

Sugar Versus Artificial Sweeteners

Happy Wellness Wednesday y'all! My most recent Wellness Wednesday posts have been about the psychology of eating and non-nutrition aspects of wellness, so I'm excited to share a post on nutrition science. Today, I'm answering what one of the top five most frequently asked questions in my practice: artificial sweeteners or sugar?

The debate between sugar vs. artificial sweeteners is a heated one and has been ever since saccharin was approved by the FDA in the 50s. You can find dietitians, nutritionists, doctors, scientists, health writers, and overly opinionated facebook friends who post 2,347 articles a day on both sides of the debate.

I've been meaning to post on this topic for a long time. After reading The Evidence Supports Artificial Sweeteners Over Sugar, a recent New York Times article, I knew I had to clear things up. I hope you'll give it a read, but if not, here's the gist. The author, a pediatrician and professor, claims artificial sweeteners are a healthier choice because science shows they do not cause cancer, a reason commonly cited for avoiding them.

Technically, he's right. It's unlikely artificial sweeteners cause cancer. Save for one concerning study linking sucralose (splenda) to leukemia in mice, I haven't seen any other convincing evidence that artificial sweeteners cause cancer, and it's not for lack of research.

Still, I hold issue with the article. Although the science is right, his conclusion isn't. Artificial sweeteners may not cause cancer, but that doesn't make them safe.

People don't use artificial sweeteners to prevent cancer. They choose them to manage blood sugar and lose or manage weight. There's pretty convincing evidence artificial sweeteners do neither. We'll come back to that.

The debate between artificial sweeteners and sugar is a moot point. When it comes to your health, neither is beneficial, both are safe if consumed in small amounts, and incredibly dangerous if consumed in excess. Let's take a look at the science:

Sugar:

  • When it comes to sugar, we're eating an astounding amount. The average adult consumes 22 teaspoons a day. Compare that to the American Heart Association recommendations to limit added sugars to 6 teaspoons daily for women and 9 teaspoons daily for men. Even more tragic? The average child eats a whopping 32 teaspoons daily.
  • All calories aren't equal. Sugar isn't filling, so any calorie from sugar will likely be on top of the other calories you're eating. That's a big part of the reason why eating too much sugar is so strongly linked to overweight and obesity.
  • Forget cholesterol. Sugar is the real danger when it comes to heart disease. Added sugars cause inflammation and damage to arterial walls, essentially the first step in the heart disease process. A large study in 2014 showed people who eat the most sugar have almost double the risk of heart disease compared to those who eat the least.
  • Sugar has a profound impact on brain health, contributing to anxiety and depression through inflammation and by affecting hormones and neurotransmitters.
  • Artificial sweeteners may not cause cancer, but sugar sure does. Eating too much sugar causes inflammation and high insulin levels, both linked to cancer, especially of the pancreas, breast and colon.

Artificial Sweeteners:

  • Despite being calorie free, artificial sweeteners are linked to weight gain in several large and well designed studies.There are many proposed mechanisms. Artificial sweeteners seem to enhance appetite, contribute to sweet cravings by training taste buds to sweeter flavors, and confuse the bodies natural mechanisms for regulating caloric intake. And of course, there the psychological effect - when you're eating diet food, that totally means you can eat more...right???
  • In the short term, artificial sweeteners don't raise blood sugar. But long term, artificial sweeteners are linked to a higher risk of type 2 diabetes. Although artificial sweeteners don't break down into glucose, the super sweet taste (some are thousands of times sweeter than sugar!) confuses the body, causing it to release insulin, the hormone that controls blood sugar. Excessive insulin release can lead to insulin resistance/glucose intolerance.
  • I keep preaching the importance of a healthy gut flora, like, on a daily basis. But did you know artificial sweeteners may lead to an imbalance of gut bacteria (which also seems to effect glucose tolerance).
  • Artificial sweeteners taste absolutely awful. This is probably my biggest reason for avoiding them.

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So, what do I tell my clients? While both sugar and artificial sweeteners are two of the least nutritious and most dangerous foods we can consume, neither are toxic. Either can be consumed in small amounts without problem. That said, I encourage clients to stick with a (key word) small amount of the real thing, preferably from unrefined sugars like honey, pure maple syrup or coconut sugar. These sugars contain some nutrients, have slightly less of an effect on blood sugar and taste sweeter so you'll use less.

There are only a few cases in which I recommend artificial sweeteners. Both stevia extract and Swerve, a zero calorie sweetener made from erythritol, seem to be fairly safe. If a client is really stuck on low cal, that's what I recommend. It hasn't been researched, but I wonder if stevia has an effect on sweet cravings (being much sweeter than sugar) and if erythritol (being a sugar alcohol) affects gut bacteria, which is why I don't recommend them universally. Also, I think there's good research showing for someone who is morbidly obese and consumes a significant amount of sugar (i.e. multiple cans of regular soda/day plus sweets), switching to artificial sweeteners can help promote weight loss and serve as a "bridge" as they change eating habits.

The takeaway message? No matter what you choose, less is more. For more help cutting back and understanding what moderation is when it comes to sweets, check out my Tame Your Sweet Tooth guide, available for purchase in the nutrition shop. It includes strategies for eating less sweets while enjoying them more as well and delicious recipes for low and no added sugar treats!

Three Exercises For Newbie Intuitive Eaters

Intuitive eating has become popular, but many people feel overwhelmed in knowing where to start. Try these three exercises for new intuitive eaters. 

Intuitive eating, the practice of becoming attuned to your body's needs and signals as a form of weight management, is something I talk a lot about on this blog. Also in my practice, with my friends and you know, sometimes to random strangers. What can I say? I'm passionate about it.

When someone first learns about intuitive eating, they're usually intrigued and want to learn more. But if you're a chronic dieter, the idea of intuitive eating may be kind of terrifying. It's not uncommon that when I work with a new client, they're somewhat resistant to the idea that diets aren't the solution.

With intuitive eating, the more fully you embrace it, the easier it comes. That's why I came up with three exercises for newbie intuitive eaters, designed to help you break up with diets and get back in touch with your body. Head on over to my friend Emily's blog, Zen and Spice, for my tricks of the trade!

Wellness Wednesday: Fat, Protein & Carbs - Understanding Macronutrients

Although I like to focus on food, rather than nutrients, fat, protein and carbohydrate are confusing topics for many people. Get simple, rational and realistic answers to all your questions about the role macronutrients play in the diet and how to figure out what eating pattern is right for you. 

There must have been something on Dr. Oz, because lately I've gotten a ton of questions about fat, protein and carbs, namely, people wanting to know which one is best. With various talking heads praising the benefits of diets ranging from paleo to ketogenic to 80/10/10, it's no wonder there's confusion. Even though I like to think of food as food, not as nutrients, I think understanding the basics of the macronutrients - fat, protein and carbs - is important for digesting (pun intended) all the different diet advice you hear.

So, I decided to write a post to answer all those FAQs! If you have a question you don't seen included, let me know in the comments and I'll be more than happy to answer it for you.

First of all, what are fat, protein and carbohydrates?

Fat, protein and carbs are three macronutrients. All macronutrients break down to provide energy, or calories. The term "macro" means large, meaning these nutrients are needed in large amounts. This is opposed to micronutrients, like vitamins and minerals, which are equally important, but only needed in small amounts for health.

Fat is a compound made from fatty acids. Besides being a rich source of energy, fats play many essential roles in the body. Fat is needed to absorb fat-soluble vitamins, including vitamins A, D, E and K. The body also needs fat to form hormones. Fats also supports healthy skin and hair and is essential to brain health, since the brain is made of 60% fat.

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Most people are aware that protein is needed to build muscle, but it has many other functions as well. Protein is sometimes called the action molecule, since proteins carry out the duties specified by genes and as enzymes.

Carbohydrate is made of sugar. Not table sugar, but the chemical compounds monosaccharides and disaccharides. It is the main source of energy for the body. It's also a component of many structures within the body including RNA and DNA.

Where are fats, proteins and carbohydrates found?

Generally speaking, most foods contain a combination of macronutrients, rather than being made of only fat, protein or carbs. For example, although carbohydrate is the main macronutrient in kale, it also contains protein and even a small amount of fat. But as a general rule of thumb, these are the foods most associated with each macronutrient.

FAT // butter, oils,meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy, avocado, nuts & seeds, olives

Most nutritious choices: extra virgin olive oil, nut oils (i.e. peanut, walnut, etc), fatty fish, coconut oil, avocado, nuts & seeds, olives, grassfed/pastured and organic animal foods

CARBOHYDRATES // grains (both whole and refined), vegetables (both starchy and nonstarchy), dairy, beans, fruit, added sugars

Most nutritious choices: intact whole grains, starchy vegetables, nonstarchy vegetables, beans, fresh whole fruit

PROTEIN // meat, fish, poultry, eggs, nuts & seeds, dairy, beans, tofu/tempeh, meat alternatives

Most nutritious choices: beans, nuts & seeds, fatty fish, pastured eggs, tofu/tempeh, grassfed and organic animal foods

How much fat, protein and carbs should you eat?

I hate this question, because honestly, I don't know, nor does anyone else. According to the Daily Reference Intakes developed by the Institute of Medicine, this is the percentage of calories from each macronutrient recommended in healthy diets:

CARBOHYDRATES: 45-65%

PROTEIN: 10-35%

FAT: 20-35%

As you can see, these are pretty wide ranges. A larger, more active person with higher calorie needs aiming for 65% carbohydrates would have much higher needs than a smaller, less active person aiming for 45%. Then, to mix it up even further, calorie needs are pretty close to impossible to estimate, and change on a daily basis based on sleep, activity levels and stress.

Also, these percentages are debatable. Various diets recommend ranges higher and lower than these basic recommendations and some people not only survive, but thrive on these eating patterns. For example, the low fat, vegan diet recommended by Dr. Ornish is so successful at treating and reversing heart disease that it's one of the few dietary interventions covered by insurance. But, it's higher in carbohydrate and lower in fat and protein than the those ranges. And the ketogenic diet, successfully used to treat epilepsy in children, contains almost no carbohydrate and a whopping 85% fat.

Here's my take: for most people, the majority of your calories should come from carbohydrates. It's the body’s main source of energy, plus, carbohydrates are found in the actual foods we should be eating the most of - plants. Although different things might increase our needs for different nutrients, for example, recovering from an injury or surgery would increase protein needs.

That said, I don't recommend counting grams of carbs, protein, fat, or even calories for that matter. We eat food - not nutrients. Counting grams of fat, protein and carbs, even when an online food diary is doing the math for you, is distracting, tedious and promotes disordered eating habits. Aim for balance within meals, practice some gentle nutrition, and over time, you’ll get the right amount for you.

Which is best - fat, protein or carbohydrates?

That depends on what you mean. If you're asking which nutrient we should be eating most of, for the majority of people, that's carbohydrate (from nutritious, unprocessed plants of course!). Plants should be the bulk of what you eat, and plants all contain carbohydrate, so it makes sense. But are carbs healthiest? Or is it fat or protein?

We all need adequate amounts of fat, protein and carbohydrate for our body to function and feel it's best. A well-balanced meal contains fat, protein and carbs. Each plays different roles in the body and are essential for health. So, I would say fat, protein and carbohydrates are all equally important.

But then there's the question of what's right for you. Different people with different bodies and different activity levels and different genetics thrive on different macronutrient balances. For example, I feel my best when I'm getting plenty of fat and carbs in my diet. Because of that, I tend to emphasize foods that contain these macronutrients. That's why I love things like avocado on sprouted grain bread, cook with copious amounts of olive oil, and snack on fruit with nut butter on an almost daily basis (that is, if my hubs doesn't get to the nut butter first :) )

And that's not to say I eat high fat/carb every day, or exclusively eat high fat/carb foods. I choose foods I enjoy that make me feel good. Some days I might eat higher in protein and start the day with a tofu and veggie scramble and end with roasted salmon on a bed of greens. It depends on what I want and often times, what I have on hand.

Although a registered dietitian can give you guidance by looking at your health, activity levels and other factors, only you know what balance is right for you. And you can learn this by tuning into your body with mindfulness. Slow down when you eat. Pay attention to how you feel not just while you're eating, but afterwards. Don't be afraid to experiment with your diet, not with the aim of losing weight, but to see how you feel. It's one thing to try a low carb diet to drop pounds (a strategy that generally backfires) but reducing your carb intake to see how you feel might help you determine a pattern of eating that works for you.

Prescribing to the the rigid rules dictated by diets forces you to ignore your individual needs. The human body has evolved to adapt to a variety of diet patterns - that's arguably the reason we've become so successful as a species. As a whole, there's no one right diet or eating pattern. Maybe one day we'll get to the point where a simple blood test or cheek swab will tell you exactly what's right for you to thrive and feel your best, but science isn't there yet. Even if it was, the test wouldn't take into account what foods you love and bring you joy, something I think is equally important for health and wellbeing.

The moral of the story? Pay more attention to what your body is telling you than macronutrients.

Kapeesh? What other lingering questions about protein, fat and carbs do you have? 

How To Never Fail At Anything, Ever.

By turning failure into a learning experience, it ensures you'll never fail at anything, ever. 

In the days since Thanksgiving, I've heard a lot about failure from my clients and friends. Failure when they said they wouldn't get second helpings, but ended up eating thirds. Failure over not eating all the pies. Failure when they stuffed themselves to the point of undoing a pants button. It seems most people woke up Friday morning feeling a little guilty.

I see it a little differently. You see, I don't believe failure is an actual thing. Or, let me rephrase that. It is possible to fail, but there is not one situation in which someone has referred to him or herself as a failure or stated that they have failed and I have agreed.

It's pretty hard to fail. To demonstrate that, let's look at an example. Say you're an adrenaline junkie and decide to walk a tight rope across the Grand Canyon. Halfway through, you lose your focus, make a misstep and plunge to your death. Besides being a horrible tragedy, guess what? You failed. You'll never have a chance to hop back on that tightrope, apply what you learned and make it across. Except for in heaven, where I presume adorable little angels will serve as your spotter, so that doesn't really count. This was your last chance to succeed.

But in just about every other situation I can imagine, you have future opportunities for success. There will be more Thanksgivings. Tomorrow, you can make the decision to go for a run instead of bingeing on Netflix. At some point in life, you'll be presented with a box of donuts again and have the choice to shovel them all in, pass, or take one and savor it.

I hate the word failure. It feels so negative, when really the slips and stumbles we make on a daily basis are actually a positive thing. After all, it's the only way to truly learn. People commonly say "I learned that lesson the hard way," but isn't the hard way the only way?

Perfection isn't the goal. The goal is to take something away from every slip and stumble you make. Granted, that ideal is about as unattainable as perfection, but you'll gain a whole lot more by striving for it.

So, how do you turn the feelings of guilt after a perceived failure into an opportunity for growth? By taking these four, simple steps:

1. TAKE A DEEP BREATH.

It's easy to let a tiny slip spiral into a black hole of shame. When I first became a dietitian, I would feel incredibly guilty after overindulging. That guilt would build into something so much deeper. It became "proof" that I was a horrible sham of a dietitian with a complete lack of willpower. Logically, I knew this wasn't true, but who has ever felt rational when trapped in a cloud of guilt?

When you catch yourself falling into this trap, stop and take a deep breath. Breathe in and out through your nose, counting to 4 each time. Repeat as needed. Breathing deeply will snap you back into the present moment and allow you to see the slip for what it is - quite minor in the grand scheme of things. With a clear mind, you'll be able to reflect and prepare yourself for step 2.

2. REFLECT AND STRATEGIZE.

If you "fail," it's not because you are a failure. Never. There is always a reason for your slips and stumbles, and usually it has to do with with your plan. Spend a few moments reflecting, looking back at what when wrong. Maybe you didn't anticipate a barrier. Or maybe you were tired, wearing down the willpower you normally rely on. Figure out the why.

Since what you were doing didn't work, you need to find another way. Imagine you had access to a time machine, what would do differently? What will you do the next time you're in the situation to prevent the undesirable outcome. Figure out your strategy.

3. Take the first step.

So, you've come up with a great plan, but it does you no good if you forget what it is. Take the first step immediately and it will ensure future success. The first step doesn't have to be anything major. Something as simple as telling someone else your goals to build accountability and support. Or you could set up prompt, like a cell phone alarm or a strategically placed post-it note as a reminder. Any action you take will replace that feeling of failure with a feeling of success.

My favorite quote about failure is from Thomas Edison. He said, "I have not failed. I just found 10,000 ways that won't work." At the end of the day, it's the start of a new day, and you always have a chance to start anew.