ASK THE NUTRITIONIST: These 10 simple things will improve your health without dieting
Dear readers, Is there a such thing as dieting fatigue? I think it’s time to recognize and address it.
Many of us have such abundant food choices we can choose the type of foods we want to eat to the exclusion of others. This power is fabulous if we use it to choose foods that help us build good health, but deleterious if we are caught up in the cycle of choosing foods only based on their taste. Unhealthy foodstuff can quickly can become as addictive as any drug, because of the reactions that happen in the body in response to calorically rich, nutritionally deficit foodstuff.
We walk around feeling like an overdrawn bank account. And our waistlines and appetite for junky food keeps growing. Because junky food can never satiate. Only nutrients satiate the body.
So we diet.
To rectify this, we try various diets. We read a few blogs, maybe get a book, buy some new foods, and throw out the things we have a hard time resisting. But this rarely works.
I used to write about the diets I favour for health, but have reconsidered that for two reasons.
First, I think people absolutely need professional coaching to follow any sort of diet successfully. Otherwise they are likely to have a hard time finding reliable information on what the diet should look like and how to implement it for best results. Diets are tricky and you have to understand them.
Secondly, there is always some level of personalization needed for anyone to succeed on any dietary pattern over the long term. People who aren’t trained in nutrition don’t know where that personalization should be. They will often combine advice from one diet with another. They may think, for example, that a carby cheat day once a week on Keto is a good idea. It’s a recipe for disaster for those not already fat adapted and lean, which rules out any newbies to the diet.
Each diet has subtleties that make it or break it. Look, you wouldn’t take your car engine apart to try to fix it yourself if it’s not running right, would you? The human body is a thousand times more complex than an automotive engine. Trying to repair it without professional help is rather silly.
It’s no wonder then that those who try diets in this fashion – without proper guidance – have a poor rate of success. Many invariably find it unsustainable and give it up to go back to whatever foods they feel they have been deprived of. But a good diet undertaken with professional guidance should not deprive us. It creates healthier options and changes our tastes over time such that those unhealthy foods we used to crave are no longer attractive anymore. And it changes our hormonal response to food over time, such that overeating or eating unwholesome foods creates immediate and clear discomfort and occasional treats no longer send us binging for days.
A healthy diet, at its core, creates a high level of awareness of our bodies and how the food we put into them impacts them. It sensitizes us to what it means to feel good in our skin and to feel satiated and well. Junky food, on the other hand, can never satiate. Only nutrients can do this for us. That’s why I refer to obesity as a state of starvation. There are no nutrients so the body keeps crying out for more food in an attempt to resolve the issue.
Because so many people try dieting without professional supervision and fail, I think there’s a healthy scepticism about dieting now. And a cultural sense of diet fatigue. People aren’t only sick and tired of being sick and tired. They’re sick and tired of trying and failing to fix it!
Does this mean I don’t advocate dieting for those with health issues? No, it does not. But I only advocate it when it can be done with the guidance and supervision of a licensed professional for a good period of time to ensure tastes and hormones are normalized and you’re not just white knuckling through to get some desired result. And that result should never be weight loss.
Let me say that again. The point of dieting should never be to lose weight. It should be to be healthy and feel good and have abundant energy, with healthier biomarkers, so that the body better regulates weight and is more resilient to stress when it comes. The weight loss will happen if it’s needed on a good diet.
The body will regulate weight all by itself and the fat will drop off, just as it does in healthy childhood. But a healthy weight is a symptom of good health. Let us not take it to be synonymous with good health. Otherwise we fall into the trap of thinking everyone skinny is healthy. And it simply isn’t so.
Am I saying obesity is healthy? No, it’s never healthy. But improving nutrient density, reducing blood pressure and blood sugar, reducing pain in the joints, reducing fatigue and increasing energy, reducing cravings for unhealthy foods – those should be the target goal. The weight loss is just a sweet side effect we can enjoy.
To extend our car analogy, dieting for weight loss is like cleaning the outside of the engine a lot but never giving it new oil. It may look good but it’s not going to run right.
Given this, I feel it’s best for anyone who is not consulting a nutrition professional for dietary guidance to NOT diet at all.
But you can get healthier by learning about nutrients and foods that will benefit you. I’ll share 10 simple things you can do to improve your overall health – without dieting. Try and see the benefit you experience!
1. Change your oils
Replace vegetable and seed oils with extra virgin olive, avocado oil, organic coconut oil, and quality lard or tallow for cooking. Olive oil has a lower burn temp so can’t be heated as high without damaging the oil, but it’s okay for sauteing. The others are safe at rather high temps. These oils are all much less inflammatory than vegetable oils because they are a) natural, and b) have a better fatty acid profile that is less inflammatory.
Coconut oil is by far the best in terms of health benefits and stability. It contains medium chain triglycerides, which are beneficial on a number of levels and can even help speed up metabolism. I like coconut in baked goods or curries, olive oil for sauteing or roasting, and avocado or lard for frying. Quality butter can also be healthful, but some people are sensitive to dairy (even clarified) without recognizing it, so I eschew recommending it for everyone.
The quality of fat in our diets determines the quality of the membrane on every cell in our bodies, the quality of our steroid hormones, and the quality of the sheathing of our nerves, so I can’t stress the importance of this one change enough! There is a well established link between vegetable and seed oils and chronic degenerative conditions like heart disease, despite previous thinking on the issue. A simple rule of thumb is natural is always superior to hyper processed foodstuff. If readers don’t know how processed and unhealthy vegetable oils are they can watch by NYT best selling investigative science journalist, Nina Teicholz.
2. Replace the sugar
If you read my column regularly this comes as no surprise, but you may not understand how exactly to do this with safe products with pleasing taste. My preferred natural sweetener is Whole Earth, and I also like fresh grown stevia leaves. You can find a short video of stevia grown in my garden . Readers may also like to read one of my articles devoted to natural alternatives to sugar . In it I go into the pros and cons of various sugar substitutes. Sugar is extremely detrimental to our health over time, including dental health, bone health, joint health, liver health, hormonal health, and mood control, so it’s best to avoid it almost, if not entirely.
Collagen is the most abundant structural protein in our bodies and it makes up more than 80% of our skin! It lends strength and stretch to our tissues and we can observe it in action via the elasticity of our skin and joints. It’s required for the integrity of all structural tissues, including muscle, tendons, ligaments, organs, bones and blood vessels. These all start to deteriorate as we age and produce less collagen. Yes, I said produce it, but we can also consume it. When we eat the bones, skin, and cartilage of animals (or broth from same) we can get it naturally. But how many of us practice nose-to-tail eating today? As such, I recommend using collagen protein in your coffee or tea daily. It’s tasteless and doesn’t change the consistency noticeably. It’s an easy hack to ensure you get enough.
4. Replace one meal a day with a superfood smoothie
This is a super easy hack, as it reduces the need to think about or cook one meal a day and benefits people of all ages, even those with digestive problems. I generally favour fermented New Zealand whey protein or a vegetarian all in one protein for the backbone of my shake, with a bit of fruit, some free run egg yolk or coconut milk for healthy fat, and some matcha and a greens powder to give it extra nutrients. I sometimes add tahini for vitamin E, which most of us need more of. This is a perfect, no fuss meal of easy-to-absorb, liquid nutrients. And it’s a way to get a lot of greens in one go for those of us who don’t get enough greens otherwise.
5. Use kelp flakes on food for extra iodine and minerals
Kelp is high in iodine, which is a very common deficiency that affects thyroid health. And thyroid health impacts on our metabolic state and our hormonal health. Women take heed low thyroid function is epidemic among women today, especially those from South Asia. Adding kelp flakes to our meals is an easy way to increase the kelp we get naturally and easily. It can be gotten at any health food store. This is preventative. Those with diagnosed thyroid conditions will benefit from 1:1 coaching to address the issue holistically.
6. Use root veggies with the skin on
The most nutritious part of the root veggies we consume is the outer skin, which comes into contact with the soil. Many may not know that soil is a living organism. Healthy soil contains thousands of microbes that are essential for our gut health. This is damaged by commercial farming, so organic is best when you can. The skins of root veggies are used in herbal medicine for a nutritive broth for certain ailments, due to the minerals. It’s best to lightly wash / scrub the skins and leave them on when cooking or otherwise using the roots. This way you’ll be getting minerals and beneficial microbes for your health.
7. Avoid water from plastic bottles
Even though it’s been promoted as cleaner than tap water, most bottled water is, in fact, tap water – but bathed in plastic because the soft plastic used in the bottles leaches into the water. And most of the plastic bottles are never recycled. We manufacture far too much plastic to recycle. It’s only ever downcycled. To learn more about this issue, bottled water costs about 2000x more than tap water. It’s better for your health and the environment to get a reusable stainless steel or glass water bottle and use tap or filtered water over bottled water. Beware of aluminum bottles. We don’t want more aluminum in our bodies!
8. Don’t snack between meals
I realize nutrition advice for years has been the opposite of this, but how’s that been working out for people? More people today are diabetic and overweight than ever before. The 3-meals-plus-snacks-high-carb dietary advice is making us sick as a nation. So let’s reel it in. You’ll be amazed how much better you feel! This is actually very easy if your meals contain enough nutrients to satisfy your body and keep your blood sugar stable, without spikes from excessive carbs or sugars. Eat complete, satisfying meals and skip any snacks between. Give yourself 2 weeks to stop craving snacks.
9. Don’t drink juice, even if it’s unsweetened
Many people don’t realize that unsweetened juices still contain ample sugar – usually in the form of fructose, which is as bad – or worse – than table sugar. We think because fruit sugar is natural it’s better, but it’s just not true. Best to avoid all juices and instead make fruit water or natural iced teas with a bit of lemon or lime juice for the kids. Hibiscus is a lovely fruity tasting tea that’s all natural and very high in antioxidants. Another option is to learn to make homemade kombucha as a refreshing flavoured beverage. It’s effervescent and slightly sweet, and full of probiotics. You can learn about making kombucha through my classes online.
10. Skip dessert
It should go without saying, but this habit is killing us. Diabetes is out of control in North America today. Rather than eating dessert, it’s best to have a small plate of seconds or of fruit if you’re still hungry. And try a tea with natural sweetener for dessert, rather than a sweet treat. This can satisfy that sweet craving without spiking blood sugar. If you’re the type to make homemade treats, try getting an ice cream maker and making low sugar ice cream with natural sweeteners and natural fruit or cacao powder for chocolate flavouring. Coconut cream makes an extra creamy ice cream and helps us get more of those slimming MCT fats. This is a win-win combination to try if you want a treat that’s good for the whole family!