Food Facts to Bear in Mind When Making Food Decisions
Updated: Apr 8, 2020
One thing that has really helped me consistently choose recovery whenever making food choices is my knowledge of nutritional sciences. I have watched (most) food related documentaries, read health and wellness books, self help books, research papers, taken lectures, and conducted my own research to learn everything I know now about food and my body. It took me years to learn everything I did, and would take me similarly long to share everything I learned over this time, so I want to condense what I have learned into a few main points.
1. Importance of carbohydrates
For the longest time, I feared "carbs." The way this simple macronutrient is demonized in the health and fitness industry still perplexes me, and for years I bought into the lies they sold. I didn't want to eat bread, pasta, noodles, or rice because I thought they would make me fat. The truth of the matter is, they won't. As you probably already know, carbohydrates are the main source of fuel for the body and brain - the brain can only use glucose for energy. Without supplying your body with carbohydrates, which is made up of glucose and other micronutrients, you are depriving your brain and body from its main fuel source. If you've ever felt ravenously hungry, and experienced the fear that accompanies this urge, you might have felt like you could not control yourself or your appetite. From my own experiences with overeating, purging, binging, and even restricting, low blood sugar levels are one of the primary reasons that people resort to binging. By having a source of carbohydrates (complex or simple sources) every few hours, you are effectively maintaining your blood sugar levels to prevent ravenous hunger and binges.
2. Why I don't count calories (or use any other numbers)
Everyone and their mom has a calorie counter app on their phone, and I bet that everyone has tried counting calories as a dieting strategy at least once in their life. For years, I lived by numbers. I checked every number. Calories. Grams. Milligrams. I refused to buy or eat foods unless they subscribed to my rigid rules and fell within those safe boundaries. I lived my life based on the (highly incomplete) principle that calories in and calories out dictate weight and aid weight loss. I believed that by creating a caloric deficit through restriction and overexercising, I could manipulate and control how my body looked. It's really not that simple. I have learned a lot about my metabolism and metabolic sciences, and have discovered that the simple equation above is missing fundamental elements. When you aren't eating enough calories, your body goes into starvation mode and your metabolism is slowed down. Instead of breaking down fat and losing weight like you hoped, your body holds onto any fat or weight that you have, and will likely hold onto anything you put into it next in order to survive. You obviously cannot control your metabolism, and even if you feel like you have control over your diet through close monitoring, your body and its metabolic processes will outsmart you every time. Calories are units of energy. They are just numbers. 4 calories to a gram of carbohydrate, protein and 9 calories to a gram of fat mean that calorie counts on food labels aren't all equal even if the total number is constant. 100 calories of brown sugar is no different from 100 calories of white sugar or maple syrup. Your body just wants nutrients, and the form it comes in isn't that important. A 600 calorie meal of fast food is not equivalent to 600 calories of whole and balanced foods. If I lived my life by rigid, number counting rules, there would be no room for even balanced foods because the numbers were too scary. Calories are just calories. Don't let them control your life.
3. Overexercising really is not doing what you want it to do
When I was still trying to manipulate and control my weight, I regularly overexercised due to my belief that I was creating a caloric deficit that would allow for weight loss. While you might read articles and see promotional content from gyms and magazines claiming that "one workout can burn more than 1,000 calories!" and buy into that, perhaps consider that these are just marketing techniques and aren't fully effective. Like what I wrote above about the metabolism and its response to a caloric deficit, overexercising can create the same problems, but also lower your immune system, increase your appetite, cause injury, or long term health consequences. For any healthy, able-bodied individual, we hold onto the belief that our bodies are immortal. The truth is that this is simply not true. In the same way sun damage can cause skin cancer by accumulating over the lifetime, physical consequences of high intensity exercising may only show up in the future. I remind myself of this, and so I move my body intentionally - knowing that it is a blessing that my body is moving the way I want it to now, but also that if I want to engage in these active patterns in the long run, balance is needed. 4 workouts in 2 days might feel great at the time, but that coupled with restriction and lack of rest may cause a collapse of the immune system and force you to stay in bed for a week with a fever. Running miles everyday might feel great and the runners high is real, but shin splints might require you to take weeks off from running from damage. Moving your body should not be punishment or compensation. Moving your body should be a celebration of your body's strength and ability to support you in doing what you love. Try and change the way you relate to exercise to begin to heal your relationship with your body.
4. Mental restriction is a thing
Oh yes. Mental restriction is really a thing. For the longest time, I believed that restriction was limited to the act of eating and access to nutrients. I believed that if I ate whole and balanced food, giving my body the nutrition it needs, that I wouldn't feel ravenously hungry or feel the urge to binge. It's not that simple. When I used to eat, I would feel guilty and already plan how I was going to compensate for what I was eating. I was still depriving myself because I wasn't allowing myself to experience the joy that comes with eating good food. Surely enough, the binges still occurred, and I had to learn (the hard way) that mental restriction has to also be addressed to heal your relationship with food. Work on allowing yourself to enjoy food, and savor every taste and flavor in every bite of food you eat. You might find that in doing this, you don't eat as much as you would while in a restrictive mindset, or that you are more in touch with your hunger cues, or that