Eat less sugar, eat more whole foods, and consume fats in moderation and mostly liquid form. The American population is inundated with good, useful information about how to eat healthy. So why is it that the American diet is still so heavy in saturated fats, added sugars and processed foods? Unfortunately, for every one good piece of nutrition information there are likely three or four bad, or just misleading pieces competing for Google’s top search response. Add in the fact that the Vitamin Mineral and Supplement industry is a 36 billion dollar a year industry that is growing by over a billion dollars each year, and suddenly it becomes much more lucrative to sell American’s on the next great quick fix pill/diet fad. Now the question first becomes ‘How do I find reliable information about nutrition that is right for me,’ and second, ‘How do I make the choices necessary to apply what I learn about my nutrition.’ Because i’m sure you have heard and understand the three pieces of advice I stated in the beginning of this post, but how often do you apply those simple tenants of healthy eating? How often do you settle for a burger, fries and a coke or four street tacos, two tamales and a Jarritos? The answer to why you make these choices over and over may be tied less to your knowledge about eating and more to your cultural upbringing.
Let’s first uncover the mystery of how to find credible sources for information on food and nutrition. The reason we are often confused by contradicting information in this field is because nutrition is just as dynamic and changing as any other science. That’s right, nutrition is considered a science; those who put to practice and further the field of nutrition are called Dieticians. That leads me to my first point to help you find the information that is right for you - please visit with a registered dietician. These healthcare professionals have bachelors and sometimes masters degrees in the field of dietetics and can help you navigate all aspects of nutrition as they apply to your specific body - this kind of assistance is invaluable and has no substitute.
Other than committing to working with a dietician to find out what will work for you specifically, there are plenty of resources out there bosting heaps of general health information that you can use to greatly improve your health and wellbeing. Understanding that nutrition is a science will help you to understand my next point about looking for secondary sources that site actual scientific studies (primary sources). Chemists, dieticians and kinesiologists who do research on foods and our bodies utilization of those foods, go through the scientific process in finding their answers to society's great questions of our time, “How do I lose weight while gaining muscle?,” “How can I maintain lean muscle mass on a low carb diet?” “Is a low carb diet right for me?” “Should I be eating more protein/less fat?” All of these questions and many more just like them are the reason we need actual scientific studies conducted. However, not all scientific studies are considered equal. Just as is the case with any scientific field, studies range from Epidemiological, Animal, Cell Culture, and Case Control studies as well as Clinical trials. If you are going straight for the hard facts of what works and what does not work, look for Double Blind Case Control Studies. This means neither the subject being studied, nor the researcher conducting the study knows which group of participants are receiving a placebo treatment and which are receiving the nutritional treatment in question. Here are a few resources you can look to as secondary source that utilize sound scientific research: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, USDA National Agricultural Library, Food and Nutrition Information Center, US Department of Health and Human Services. And on the note of sources, please only use primary and secondary sources for actual guidance. Third and fourth party sources (generalist magazines and newspapers with ‘science writers’, and nbc nightly news), should be utilized more as ideas you can look into further with actual scientific research findings. BuzzFeed and any other facebook viral posting should be taken with the smallest grain of salt.
*A note from the writer: Media Misleads their Leads.
As someone who has a degree in broadcast journalism, and has worked for local television stations producing news stories and other media, I can vouch for the fact that ratings rule. If I were to bring a nutrition study to my news producers and say I wanted to tell a story that day about the findings of the study, they would look through the abstract, find the most appetizing piece of information (the bit that tells people what they want to hear, or sometimes exactly the opposite of what common knowledge would have you believe), and they would give me 30 seconds to tell that information. This leaves little time for facts and findings. It’s just enough time to mislead the viewers and cause drama or excitement. That is how you get ratings, and ratings rule the news.
Okay, so you have consulted with your dietician and spent hours, maybe weeks researching topics about nutrition that align most closely with your personal needs. Why is it so damn hard to make the right choices in the face of so much good information, and with a real desire to want to be healthier? That answer is threefold - Environmental, Personal and Health factors play into every choice we make about food. This part comes down to Willpower. By definition willpower is just an energetic determination. In this case, the amount of energy or ‘power’ you give your determination comes to play. Let’s say you have a finite amount of power in each decision you make, you can give all of the power to your determination to make the healthy choice you know to be right, or you can give it just a fraction of that energy. Those three factors I mentioned above will also be fighting for some of that power in every decision we make. Our environment can be anything from our economic status and Geographic availability of foods to Cultural and Religious influences. You can see how the affordability of fresh produce and influences from our peers at social gatherings could dictate our eating habits. Personal Preferences have more to do with learned habits of Comfort and Discomfort eating, Food marketing and diet trends, Taste smell or texture preferences and even beliefs about nutrition. While it may seem crazy to one person to drink a sugary beverage and a salt saturated hot broth when sick, it is completely commonplace for most Americans to turn to the cold staples of Sprite and Campbells Chicken Noodle Soup thanks to learned comfort habits and predatory marketing/advertising campaigns. Lastly our Health Status, which includes Medical Conditions, Physical Fitness level, Genetics, Age, and Gender may also cause contention in our food choices. Someone who is diabetic, and has been encouraged to modify sugar intake to optimize insulin levels will make far different choices than someone who suffers from epilepsy and may have been encouraged to observe a Ketogenic Dietary lifestyle. If you can become aware of every factor that pulls some of your energy in each food decision, you can begin to take your willpower back and give all of your energy to becoming the fullest, happiest and healthiest version of yourself.
Take a moment for yourself. Try this quick and easy brainstorming activity to sort through your own food-choice hangups. Divide a sheet of paper into three columns and write "Environment" "Personal Preference" and "Health" at the top. Under each column category, list out any and all factors related to those categories that have an influence on your food choices. Then check out some of the links I posted above to look deeper into what healthy choices you should be making in order to reach your personal goals. I bet you will make better choices this time around. Above all else, be kind to yourself. We all make mistakes and slip up on our fitness journeys. The trick is to not let it send you tumbling down the hill. Just grab onto the next good decision and continue the climb.