It's National Nutrition Month®: Celebrate Responsibly
March is National Nutrition Month®, which is awesome! As a health coach, I am, of course, a huge fan of any attempt to raise nutrition awareness and encourage folks to eat more healthfully. I am only slightly conflicted by the concern that in choosing a set period of "nutrition time," we run the risk of playing into that quick-fix diet culture of ours. If we concentrate really hard to get our food right for 31 days, does that mean we get to forget about nutrition and go back to pizza and cheeseburgers in April?
Many fitness/weight loss centers are using this month as an excuse to market a “Nutrition Month Challenge” which, in many cases, should really be called a “crash diet and lose lots of weight in March and gain it all back by May so you’re slaving away in our gym to lose it all again for bathing suit season" challenge. That's ok, there's always that one guy out there who has to take a good time too far. Let's not allow their bad influence to spoil our nutritious and delicious food fun. Instead, as with many other March pastimes like St. Patty’s Day and Spring Break, I’d like to invite you to celebrate National Nutrition Month® responsibly with my NNM Action Plan below. Pick one or two of these small, simple changes to focus on this month. Or, better yet, try each one for a few days and decide which works best for you! Focusing on small, specific, and realistic changes in your diet will result in lasting lifestyle change, and make every month Nutrition Month!
NNM Action Steps
Add, don’t subtract. All you professional dieters out there have been hearing for years to swap that side of french fries for a salad with your burger or to replace a decadent dessert with sweet substitute of fruit, but let’s get real; an apple ain’t cheesecake. A realistic, long-term solution is to ADD a fruit or veggie to every meal, preferably at the beginning of the meal. For breakfast, add sliced apple, banana, or blueberries into your usual oatmeal with brown sugar. Munch on carrot sticks dipped in zero fat hummus before your sandwich at lunchtime. At dinner, mix veggies like squash, mushrooms, zucchini, and peppers into your marinara to serve over pasta. Try a bowl of mixed berries before your Hagen Daas for dessert. Fruits and veggies have a high fiber and water content to fill you up fast for fewer calories, so, while you’re still enjoying those not so good for you treats, you’ll likely be eating less of them.
Eat your calories, don’t drink them. Skip the sodas, sugary coffee drinks, and juices. Yes, even the all-natural, refrigerated, super-food, super-expensive, smoothie kind. They are ALL calorie bombs! A regular size bottle (20 fl oz) of coke is 240 calories, that’s just 10 less than a regular size Snickers bar. Think juice is better? Nope! The same amount of juice will cost you a whopping 293 calories, that’s almost 20% more calories per serving than the soda! While “natural,” juicing eliminates most, if not all the pulp of the fruit, which is where the fiber lives. Fiber equals fullness, so eliminating fiber makes it very difficult for your body to count the calories you are consuming from the juice. So, if you like the taste of fruit, try eating some! This month, make it a rule that you must drink 16 oz of water BEFORE you can drink any other beverage. If you still want a soda or juice after that, limit yourself to no more than 8 oz (half a convenience store juice bottle or one mini-can of coke.) This simple change will ensure you are properly hydrated and start shifting your view on the sugary stuff from staple item to additional treat. For max results, get rid of liquid calories all together. Miss the bubbles? Try a flavored sparkling kind like La Croix or San Pellegrino.
Go whole grain. This month, try replacing your usual breads, crackers, pastas, and other processed grain products with a 100% whole grain version at least once a day. How to know if it’s the real deal? Ignore what’s on the front of the package and go straight for the ingredients. Look for the word “whole” in front of any grain ingredient. For example, “whole wheat flour” is whole grain; “wheat flour” is not. (All flour comes from wheat whether it is refined or not; sneaky, right?) Some other whole grain buzz words you want to look for when shopping for non-wheat items are “old-fashioned rolled oats”, “brown rice,” and “stoneground corn.” Our friend fiber is at play again here as well. When a grain is processed, the protective outer layer of the grain, or the “bran,” is removed. The bran contains most of the fiber along with a ton of good-for-you B vitamins and minerals. Remember: fiber equals full, so again, eliminating the fiber by refining a grain is going to cheat us out of its hunger fighting power, as well as a lot of its nutrients. Some great whole grain brands are Ezekiel/Food For Life, Wasa, and Engine 2 (only at Whole Foods). Already made the switch? Challenge yourself further by swapping a serving of a processed whole grain product (like bread or crackers) for an intact whole grain (brown rice, quinoa, corn, oats,etc). Use those veggies and hummus to top some brown rice instead of stuffing it into a whole wheat pita. Mix some peanut butter and jelly into oatmeal for a snack instead of smearing it on a piece of whole wheat toast. Intact whole grains have a higher water content than whole grain flours, making them lower in calorie density and higher in hunger fighting power.
Try something new! Boredom with a strict dietary regimen is one of the reasons many dieters fall “off the wagon.” Man cannot live on chicken breasts and broccoli alone and, regardless of portion size, a monotonous food routine can lead to feelings of deprivation. Next thing you know, you’re forearm-deep in a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. To make healthy eating changes stick, it’s important to continue to add variety to your diet. Make it a goal to try a new food, a new cooking method, or a new recipe at least three times a week. Been curious about tofu? Order it in your stir fry this week instead of chicken. Want to know what all this quinoa fuss is about? Serve it as a substitute for rice. If you aren’t sure how to prepare an ingredient, that’s what the Internet is for! Just type in the food you want to try and the word "recipes" and tons of options will pop up. If that sounds too daunting, THAT’S what health coaches are for! Book an in-home cooking session with me, and I’ll teach you how to shop for and prepare new, delicious, satisfying, healthful dishes.
Also, to help you get the party started right, I’m offering a FREE 1-hour health coaching session to anyone reading this blog. This is an opportunity in-person or via phone for us to put together a customized action plan based on your goals to begin creating real, lasting change in your diet and lifestyle; no strings attached or pressure to book more sessions. Just a gesture of my appreciation for you and your desire to take your health into your own hands! Click here to schedule your FREE 1-hour health coaching session, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject NNM Offer.
In health and happiness,