nutrition facts label

What does serving size mean

What does serving size mean? Is it how much you’re supposed to eat? Is it a dietary guideline?

You might be surprised to know that it’s neither!

The serving size listed on a food label is actually a standardization created to allow you to compare different foods. 

If you look at the bottom of a Nutrition Facts panel, you’ll see that it’s based on a 2000 calorie diet – the standardization that everything else on the label is based on. So a serving size of 2/3 cup means: if you eat 2/3 cup of this food, you will consume X proportion of 2000 calories. 

So surely there must be a good reason why 2000 calories is the standardization…right? Right? 

Oof, I wish. The FDA arrived at 2000 calories based on self-reported surveys from men, women, and children of how much they ate per day (self-reported information is notoriously unreliable). Well, actually, based on those surveys, they chose to go with 2350 calories. But, when critics worried that setting it at 2350 would encourage people to overeat, they decreased it to 2000 calories. (See FDA calorie recommendations here).

However, while the methodology behind Nutrition Facts labels leaves a lot to be desired, the information on the label is not completely useless. It still can give you a rough idea of that food’s nutritional content. And it does allow you to compare different foods to each other. It can also serve as a starting point for finding a reasonable serving size for you. 

However, you should not be eating what the serving size states just because that’s what’s on the label. And you definitely shouldn’t feel guilty if you eat more than the serving size. 

close up photo of delicious meat being grilled

Healthy Cookout Tips

As we are heading into the unofficial start of summer with Memorial Day weekend, many are likely curious about some healthy cookout tips. As with all things, I think the key here is balance – we should be able to enjoy our favorite cookout treats while also eating nourishing foods as well and not feel guilty about it. Here are some healthy cookout tips to help you do just that.

1. Don’t try to compensate

The first thing that many people try to do when it comes to any special occasion involving food is compensate for their food choices either by under eating or overexercising before or after. There are 2 issues with this approach: 1.) it doesn’t work, and 2.) it actually creates more issues. 

If you under eat in order to “make room” for your favorite cookout foods, you set yourself up to arrive at your event extra hungry. And in response to that, you tend to eat more food and more quickly than you would otherwise. In fact, studies have shown that folks who under eat prior to an event actually consume more in total that day than folks who eat normally prior to the event. It’s just not an effective strategy. 

Beyond that, when we restrict and binge as this strategy sets us up to do, we tend to experience feelings of guilt and shame. And those feelings then prompt us to restrict more, which inevitably ends with another binge. This is how the binge-restrict cycle self-perpetuates.

Likewise, overexercising to “burn off” what you ate does not work either. You don’t get to pick and choose what you body burns for fuel. And it takes a lot more to burn calories than you think. Overexercising to compensate for special occasion eating is much more likely to result in your getting injured, possibly keeping you from exercising later. 

2. Don’t deprive yourself of the food you want to eat

Take the stress and pressure off yourself by giving yourself permission to eat the foods you want to eat. If you arrive with a list of foods you’ve told yourself you’re not allowed to have, those exact foods are going to exert so much power over you and it’s going to be increasingly more difficult to resist them. So that once you finally have them, you are likely to binge on them. The best way to avoid that is to allow yourself to have them, normalize them, treat them like any other food. This will help you strike the right balance for yourself.

3. Stay hydrated

A lot of those foods we like so much at cookouts are really salty and can dehydrate you, as can the alcohol. Ironically, the more alcohol you drink, the more of those salty dehydrating snacks you’re likely to eat and vice versa. On top of that, cookouts take place outside in the heat offering more opportunity for dehydration. Make sure you drink plenty of water before, during, and after your gathering.

4. Moderate your alcohol intake

In addition to contributing to dehydration, alcohol can also cause you to eat in ways that you normally wouldn’t – hello, drunk eating! But there is another way in which alcohol can hinder your healthy eating efforts. Alcohol is literally a poison to our body. And so, when we consume it, our body tries to process it out as quickly as possible. This means that the alcohol is processed before anything else you’ve consumed thereby increasing the amount of food you ate that gets stored as fat. Additionally, alcohol can impact your metabolism by disrupting your sleep. It can also impede your performance the next day regardless of whether you feel hungover.

5. Eat mindfully

This is a tricky one for social situations, but it is extremely helpful to eat as mindfully as possible at a cookout or other social event. This means dishing out a portion for yourself and walking away from the food table rather than mindlessly picking from it while you talk. It means pausing to check in with yourself while you’re eating and between portions to see how you feel. Should you eat more? Wait? What are you craving? It also means being consciously aware while we eat. Enjoyment of the food we eat is a key component of satisfaction and to experience that enjoyment we need to be mindful while we eat.

6. Mind your own plate

Avoid comparing your plate to others’ and don’t allow the comments other may make impact your enjoyment of your food. Remember, we all have different nutritional needs. What works for you won’t work for someone else. Comparing how you’re eating to how someone else is eating simply is not helpful. Here are some tips on what to do if someone does try to comment on how you eat.

Follow these healthy cookout tips to find balance for yourself so you can enjoy enjoy the cookout season and meet your goals.

bread food healthy beach

3 Myths about Gluten

Myths about gluten have been circulating more and more over the last several years. Indeed, as awareness of celiac and the popularity of gluten free foods have increased, myths have been multiplying. The potential to make money off this awareness only increases the potential for misinformation to crop up. In this post, I break down the 3 myths about gluten that I hear most often.

Myth 1: Gluten sensitivity and celiac are the same

Gluten sensitivity is characterized by discomfort, such as gas and bloating, following the consumption of gluten. Generally, the symptoms are not as severe or lasting as those of celiac. Furthermore, gluten sensitivity is not a gluten allergy because with a sensitivity gluten does not trigger an immune system response. There is no reliable test for gluten sensitivity.

With celiac disease, an autoimmune response to gluten causes inflammation and severe gastric symptoms. Over time, repeat exposure to gluten in someone with celiac will cause intestinal damage and related issues. To treat gluten sensitivity and celiac disease as the same trivializes the severity of celiac as even trace amounts of gluten can cause devastating symptoms in someone with celiac.

Myth 2: Gluten free foods are healthier

As awareness of issues around gluten rose, loads of gluten free fad diets and “detox” programs emerged and production of gluten free products skyrocketed. And with all of that came this idea that gluten free foods are healthier for you than foods with gluten.

The fact is that, unless you have gluten sensitivity, allergy, or celiac, there really isn’t any benefit to be gained from choosing gluten-free versions of food products. And if you’re seeking weight loss by eating gluten free foods, there really isn’t much calorie difference.

Myth 3: Gluten is unhealthy and we should all avoid it

This myth rests at the crux of the gluten-free detox fads and there is no evidence backing it up. Consuming gluten is detrimental if you have sensitivity, allergy, or celiac. However, for someone without these conditions, consuming gluten causes no harm.

If you suspect you are reacting to gluten in some way, please consult with your doctor for testing and diagnosis.

clean clear cold drink

Does the alkaline diet work?

Does the alkaline diet work? Is it safe? How does it work? Here is what you need to know.

What is the alkaline diet?

The alkaline diet is based on the debunked theory that the foods we eat can alter our body’s pH. Essentially, eating acidic foods decreases your body’s pH (making it more acidic) and that makes it a more amenable environment for cancer and other health conditions. Additionally, alkaline diet proponents claim that acidic foods leave behind “acid ash” in your body which promotes conditions like osteoporosis.

In order to promote better health, the alkaline dieter severely restricts or eliminates “acidic” foods like meat, fish, dairy, eggs, grains, and alcohol. Neutral foods like ‘natural” fats, starches, and sugars, and basic or alkaline foods like fruits, nuts, legumes, and veggies are OK.

The alkaline diet emerged in the 90s as the creation of a man named Robert Young who claimed the diet could treat cancer. He was later sued and arrested for practicing medicine without a license. So…that says something about his diet creation.

Is it safe?

The alkaline diet comes with its share of risks, as does any diet that requires you to eliminate large numbers of foods from your diet. The most obvious risk is nutrient deficiency, such as iron, B12, B6, and protein. In addition to the issues that deficiencies in those nutrients can cause, there is also a risk of muscle loss with this diet as well.

Does the alkaline diet work?

The short answer is no. You simply cannot change your body’s pH with the foods you eat and that’s a good thing! The pH of our blood falls between 7.35-7.45 and the pH of our cells falls between 7.0-7.4. So our body’s pH is actually already slightly alkaline! That pH MUST stay within that range or else our cells cannot function properly. You can’t alter your body’s pH with food. If it were that easy, we would all die.

There is 0 scientific evidence to back up the alkaline diet. In fact, the WHO actually advises against the consumption of alkaline water.

Proponents often claim the alkaline diet promotes weight loss. However, any weight lost during the alkaline diet does not result from a change in body pH but rather an increase in produce consumption, which is less caloric. You can eat more produce without eliminating large swathes of foods from your diet and risking nutrient deficiency.

So the short answer to the question “does the alkaline diet work” is a resounding no.

dinnerware set on brown wooden table

Eating after 7 PM

Does eating after 7 pm cause weight gain, really?

Many of us have heard this and believe that food eaten after a certain time is automatically stored as fat. 

The good news is that this is not true. But there are some reasons to be cautious about eating too late at night. 

First thing’s first, there is no time after which your body automatically stores the food you eat as fat. Furthermore, your digestion doesn’t just stop when you go to sleep. Sleep is actually quite an active time for our bodies and they need fuel to carry important processes. Our bodies process food eaten later at night the same way as the food you eat earlier in the day. 

Where did the myth of eating after 7 pm come from?

This myth partly arose from the fact that, in American society, we tend to eat our most calorie-dense meal at night. On top of that, many of us snack after that dinner. So that evening eating could place us into a calorie surplus, leading to weight gain. Therefore, if we stop eating after 7 pm, we most likely inadvertently reduce our calorie intake, possibly creating a calorie deficit which could lead to weight loss. As you can see, it has nothing to do with timing and everything to do with the amount of food eaten.  

So should I eat at night or not?

Eating larger meals close to bedtime could cause heartburn or GI upset as we lie down before that food has been digested and moved out of our stomach. That discomfort can disrupt our sleep which, when experienced chronically, can create other issues.

So what should you do if you are hungry close to bedtime? My advice? Eat. If you choose to ignore that hunger, you could lose sleep because of it. You could also wake up ravenous and eat in ways you normally wouldn’t and that don’t resonate with your goals. If you do need to eat close to bedtime, keep it on the lighter side of things (avoid acidic foods) and eat just enough to be satisfied. This should help prevent any GI upset. 

person in red blazer sitting at the table

How to find time to eat at work

As more of us are returning to the workplace, I’m hearing very frequently from folks that they are finding it difficult to find time to eat at work. As a result, many find themselves ravenous when they return home, leading them to overeat or make food choices they would not have otherwise.

What Happens When We Undereat During Our Workday

A number of issues arise when we fail to eat during our workday. For one, our energy levels drop and it becomes hard to focus. Our performance may suffer, whether we realize it or not. That extreme hunger can also impact our mood and, by extension, our relationships with our coworkers and staff. Failing to provide our bodies with ample nutrition during the day also makes us less resilient to stress. When we do get to eat and overdo it, that often results in feelings of guilt, shame, and regret, further contributing to our stress levels and sometimes leading to unhealthy behaviors to compensate. Finally, eating too much too late can disrupt our sleep, which can affect our performance, stress levels, and immune system function.

How to Make It Easier to Find Time to Eat at Work

Ideally, we make time for at least a lunch break each day, but sometimes that’s not possible. If you find yourself struggling to pull yourself away from your work, it’s important to make it as easy as possible to eat.

What to Eat at Work

When eating at work, we want to make sure that we have enough energy and are feeling satisfied throughout the day. The key to achieving this is balanced snacking. Combining protein, complex carbohydrates, and fat will provide the calories and nutrition we need.

  • Protein – provides fullness and satiety for longer periods
  • Complex Carbohydrates – provides steady, lasting energy levels
  • Fat – contributes to satisfaction as well as energy

Here are some nutritious snacks that will hit the mark on this:

  • Starkist tuna packet with whole grain crackers
  • Crunchy chick pea or edamame snacks
  • Jerky
  • Protein bars
  • DIY trail mix: nuts, dried fruit, dark chocolate chips
  • Individual packs of almonds
  • Cheese stick with whole grain crackers
  • Apple with nut butter (individual packets of nut butter like Justin’s are super handy!)

You might have noticed that many of the examples above are shelf stable and/or transportable. That is entirely by design. Keeping snacks like these in your desk drawer or in your car makes it very easy for you to eat and make nutritious choices.

So that’s one step for making it easier for yourself to eat during the workday: keep simple snacks handy.

But what if you tend to look up at 4 pm and realize you haven’t eaten since 8 am?

A good solution for this issue is to set an alarm or calendar event for every 2 hours or so. When that alarm goes off, take a minute or two to check in with yourself: when was the last time you ate? Do you feel any signs of hunger right now? How is your energy? Your focus? If you’re feeling hungry, grab one of those easy snacks.

If you are able to make these small changes and increase the amount of food you eat during the work day, you will likely find you energy levels improve, your mood improves, and you feel more in control around food at the end of the day.

person in red blazer sitting at the table
Photo by Marcus Aurelius on Pexels.com
top view of a family praying before christmas dinner

Managing Diet Comments from Family

Family holiday dinners are coming up and for many of us that could mean difficult, hurtful, or triggering comments about diet and weight with relatives.

Just like everyone has an opinion about the weather, it seems like everyone has an opinion on diet and weight loss. Unfortunately, many people feel compelled to share those opinions without consent or thinking about how it could land for the person on the receiving end. I think we probably all have that one relative who holds nothing back.

Some things to keep in mind: what is on your plate is your business only and it doesn’t matter what or how much anyone else at the table is eating. Your needs are unique to you and you are the only one who can tune into them. So, as much as you’re able, allow any unwanted comments to slide away and try to focus on your hunger and satiety, your cravings, and your satisfaction and enjoyment.

But, how do we curtail these unwanted conversations? Whether it be a relative going on and on about their latest diet or a relative claiming to be concerned about your health and relating it to your weight, here are some ways you can respond and enforce your boundaries.

To the relative detailing everything about their latest diet:

  • I’m really glad that you’ve found something that works for you but would you mind if we changed the subject?
  • I’m finding this topic kind of triggering, can we talk about something else?
  • This is clearly something you’re very passionate about, but this might not be the best time to discuss it. 

To the relative commenting on your holiday dinner plate:

  • Excuse me, why is my plate so interesting to you? (OK that one is confrontational)
  • You have the food that works best for you on your plate and this is what works best for me. 
  • I know you think you’re being helpful, but you’re actually doing the opposite. I would appreciate it if you would direct your attention back to your own plate.
  • I’m so happy we could get together today, but I didn’t get together to discuss my eating habits. 
  • What I choose to eat today is my business. 

To the relative making comments about diet and weight loss:

  • I know you think you’re being helpful, but I’m finding your comments hurtful. 
  • I understand that you want to help, but I am not looking for your advice on this. 
  • I prefer to keep conversations about my health between me and my physician so I’d like to change the subject. 
  • I’m not looking for weight loss tips right now. 
  • This conversation is making me very uncomfortable. I’d like to talk about something else. 

As long as there are family gatherings, there will probably always be comments about diet. However, by setting good boundaries for yourself and protecting those boundaries, you can minimize those comments and their impact on you.

bowl with yummy colorful gummies on table

Losing Control around Halloween Candy

There is currently a video going around on social media showing a woman creating a cute Halloween candy display in a large glass bowl. But that’s not the part that has been raising eyebrows. At the end of the video, she nonchalantly sprays hair spray all over the candy and the caption reads “so you don’t eat all the candy.”

Responses have been mixed, with some commenting that it’s funny or even a good idea. Others have been commenting that there is something wrong if you are spraying toxic inedible chemicals on food to avoid eating it. Here is my take.

When I first saw this video, it immediately harkened back to a practice that some individuals with eating disorders resort to: they in some way “ruin” their food so they can’t continue to eat it. Indeed, when I was in the peak of my disordered eating habits in college, I would routinely dump a shaker of pepper onto what was left on my dinner plate so I wouldn’t eat it while waiting for my friends to finish up. This is a very problematic and disordered practice and the woman in this video is promoting it like it’s the next greatest idea. So that is issue #1.

This video also prompts the question: why are you feeling that out of control around Halloween candy? As an anti-diet nutrition coach, I can answer this one. Deprivation and restriction are the top causes of binging and overeating. In other words, the foods that you feel the least in control around are the foods you allow yourself to consume the least. You may also have thoughts about those foods along the lines of: “I can’t trust myself around that food,” “it’s my weakness,” “it’s my guilty pleasure,” or “I’m being bad when I eat that.” And if you believe these things, of course you’re going to avoid certain foods!

The urge to binge or overeat when we are around foods we seldom allow ourselves to consume is a normal human response to deprivation. It’s not always conscious, but it is both a mental and physical response. When we do engage in these behaviors, it’s referred to as “last supper eating” because we tend to consume a food as though it’s the last time we will have it. And, indeed, it can feel that way because we truly don’t know when we will allow ourselves to have it again.

So what is the antidote for this?

In order to break this cycle of restriction and overeating, we must put those “trigger foods” on the same level as every other food we eat. Take the novelty out of them. Take the guilt and shame out of them. We do this by giving ourselves unconditional permission to eat them.

This unconditional permission does a few things:

  1. It removes the novelty from them and with that novelty goes the allure.
  2. It provides the reassurance to us that we can have those foods whenever we want, so we don’t need to overindulge as though we won’t have them again.
  3. Even if you at first overindulge in these foods once you give yourself permission to eat them, it will eventually level out and they will just become “normal” foods once that initial excitement wears off.

So, if you thought spraying hair spray onto your Halloween candy to prevent yourself from eating it was an appealing strategy, it’s probably because you rarely allow yourself candy or sweets to begin with. You may want to consider making candy a more run-of-the-mill presence in your life and see how that changes your relationship with it. And, from a nutritional perspective, this coach can assure you that having some candy from time to time or even a small piece of candy every day is perfectly fine. There is room in every healthy diet for some fun foods. And, having those fun foods regularly, makes your healthy eating habits more sustainable in the long-term.

photo of people having dinner together

What to do when you overdo it

Feeling like you overate can be a really crummy feeling, but the tactics we tend to turn to in those instances typically aren’t helpful options. Skipping meals to compensate, overexercising, only eating certain foods – these tactics don’t work and promote unhealthy habits. Fact: you can’t “compensate” for overeating. So what should you do when this happens?

First, let go of trying to compensate for overeating. This simply is not how our bodies work. Your body has already digested and dealt with that food accordingly. It is not sitting in a reserve tank to be emptied and you can’t create a void in your body for that food to take up by creating a calorie deficit the next day. Furthermore, even if you do successfully undereat or overexercise the next day, your body will adjust for that accordingly. You may or may not notice it, but 2-3 days later you will be much hungrier than usual and eat more. Remember, our bodies evolved to keep us alive through periods of starvation. Finally, we don’t get to pick and choose what gets burned and what doesn’t.

Second, be realistic and take it easy on yourself. One day of overdoing it isn’t going to make a difference. One weekend of overdoing also probably won’t make a significant difference. You won’t gain 10 pounds overnight and you won’t “undo” any progress you’ve made. Something else to note, when I work with clients who feel like they went way overboard with their eating, very often when we actually map out what they ate, it’s not as much as they thought.

Third, still practice those healthy habits you’ve been working on. Remember, there is no proverbial wagon to fall off of, no proverbial train to derail. Every day is a new opportunity to pursue your goals and those 4 margaritas didn’t “ruin” that opportunity. So carry right on with eating in balance. Move your body. Drink plenty of water. Listen to your body.

If you want to avoid overdoing it the future, keep in mind the main reason why we engage in overeating is deprivation. When we don’t allow ourselves to eat certain things, when we dub certain foods “bad,” we give those foods all of our power. It’s human nature to respond to deprivation this way. The best way to make sure these overindulgence episodes happen rarely, is to give yourself permission to the eat the foods you want to eat when you want to eat them. Yes, absolutely, practice balance and make sure you’re also eating lots of veggies. But, chocolate cake doesn’t only have to happen on your birthday. Mashed potatoes and gravy don’t only have to happen on Thanksgiving. When we only let ourselves enjoy these foods once a year, that’s when we get into issues with last supper eating.

photo of people having dinner together
Trying to compensate for overeating is not the answer. Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com

flat lay photography of vegetable salad on plate

You don’t need a meal plan. Here’s Why

It may seem like it’s the solution you need, but a meal plan probably won’t be very helpful…not in the long-term anyway.

Here’s the thing about a meal plan: it tells you what to eat and when but what happens when you’re not longer on it? What if you can’t afford to continue having someone write them for you? Or your nutritionist moves on? Or whatever program you’re doing ends?

You will probably resume the same eating habits you were accustomed to previously. And that is not your fault.

You see, a meal plan is really no different than a diet in that it forces you to overhaul all of your eating habits at once without teaching you any skills or helping you gain insight into your eating habits. The result? It’s not sustainable.

So if you are hoping to change your eating habits in the long-term, a meal plan is not the answer. In fact, unless you’re just looking for someone to plan your menu for you because you’re tapped out in terms of energy, creativity, and brain power, I don’t recommend them.

So what is more effective? Work with someone who can:

  • teach you how to compose a balanced meal and how to snack to keep you energized throughout the day
  • coach you in setting reasonable meal planning and prep goals
  • help you develop the skills you need to meal plan effectively
  • coach you in working through obstacles that may disrupt your meal plan

The difference is that skills continue on. They’re translatable. Meal plans are a one-time fix. So you’ll get way more “bang for your buck,” so to speak, focusing on picking up skills and strategy rather than having it done for you.

So before you seek out meal planning services from someone, ask yourself what your goals are and what you are hoping to get out of it. If your goals are more focused on long-term eating habits, that meal plan probably isn’t the best solution.

If you’re interested in learning how to make healthy eating work in your busy life, give me a shout.

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