Summer is on its way. The sun is out, the gloomy days are gone, as are bulky sweaters, coats and excuses to stay inside. Yes, the winter is finally gone, but what about all that comfort food that seemed like such a good idea over winter break? Many people make resolutions to lose weight and improve fitness, and now is the time to see how well you have done. If you are like most people, you still have that extra cheesecake or Christmas ham hanging around.
The diet industry in America was reported to gross over $10 billion per year in the late ’90s, a figure exceeding the GNP of Ireland. Most dieticians will tell you, however, that the only dependable long-term weight-loss formula is to eat better food and get more activity. “Eat better food” is an oversimplification, and many different sources will give you completely different, often incompatible definitions of what this means.
Do not despair. The Center for Student Health and Counseling is offering a first-of-its-kind program this term only. Dietetic interns from OHSU have been placed at SHAC to offer nutrition counseling to PSU students. I spoke with Jordann Henkelman at the Wellness Fair held Thursday in Smith Memorial Student Union. She gave me some details about the new program and a few tips that just about anybody can use. I suggest that you call SHAC at 503-725-2800 and schedule a one-on-one consultation even if you think you have a good diet already. A professional opinion can never hurt and the counseling is already included in your student health fee.
In the meantime, here are some diet tips courtesy of United States Department of Agriculture.
Understand what is right for you
Nutritional guidelines can be confusing for a lot of people. We’re told to eat six to eight servings of grains a day. Well, should I aim for six or should I aim for eight? What is a serving anyway? It seems like different manufacturers use different definitions.
You can finally get personalized advice from the comfort of your own computer through http://www.mypyramid.gov, which gives individualized advice. You enter in your gender, age and level of activity to receive daily nutrition recommendations, in ounces and cups. The tools don’t stop there, however. You also get suggestions about the variety of veggies to eat in a week and can download a PDF file of your advice and a worksheet to make tracking your meals easier. There is even a diet and activity tracking web site, offering the type of features that you may have paid to subscribe to through web sites like eDiets or Weight Watchers. All the tools through the USDA are absolutely free.
Small choices can make a big difference
Becoming healthier doesn’t have to entail major life changes. You don’t have to make drastic changes like some fad diets require. Most quick food restaurants have healthier options that you can choose from time to time. You don’t have to start training for a marathon to get more physical activity. Taking the stairs instead of the elevator every other day can make a difference. Of course, the more often you get activity or choose nutritious eating options, the better off you will be, but you can make those changes as you are comfortable with them.
Be aware of what you eat
How much of the food that you consume do you actually taste? How many mouthfuls of food does it normally take before you feel full? If you don’t know, there is a good chance that you are eating too fast. It is a proven fact that people who eat slower also eat less. Another good tip is to take a drink of water between bites of food. This will help with digestion and also help with getting the recommended amount of water. Finally, really consider the taste of what you eat – what flavors can you identify and which ones are new? Mindful eating is essential to becoming an educated eater and also helps build a vocabulary that is useful when you cook.
Be aware of why you are hungry
Many people, including myself, are emotional or compulsive eaters. For us, overeating can lead to a terrible downward spiral. Insecurity about body image causes us to find comfort in food, which makes our body shape even less acceptable to us, leading to depression, and all the emotional problems that brings, which causes us to eat.
Being aware of where your hunger is located in your body is a good first step. Chances are that if your belly is feeling hungry, you actually need food. If your hunger is located more in your heart or brain, there is a good chance that you aren’t after nutritional fulfillment. SHAC offers counseling, which is the best option.
Choose food based on nutrition, not calories
There are lots of low-fat, low-calorie foods that don’t provide your body with any nutrition and will therefore leave you hungry much faster than other, more nutritional food. Henkelman recommends avoiding most processed food by choosing options “around the outside” of supermarkets. This includes fresh fruit and veggies, breads (not the doughnuts), non-prepared meats and the like. It is also a good idea to choose the non-refined options like whole-wheat bread and pastas when you have the chance. Yes, this means that you will probably have to learn to cook for yourself, at least once in a while. This might seem scary or appear to require a large investment in time, but you will also save money and have more control over what goes into your food. You can replace saturated fats, like butter or margarine, with unsaturated fats, like olive or canola oils. This will also help you learn what flavors you actually enjoy
So, there you have it. Improving your diet shouldn’t be about what you can’t or shouldn’t do. Following some simple advice can make eating a lot more varied and a lot more fun. I know for me, removing the aspect of guilt and expanding my culinary vocabulary has definitely made my life much better, and isn’t that the point anyway?