Wednesday, July 25, 2012

What Should I Eat?

First, I must state that I am not a dietitian.  However, I do have some formal education in nutrition and a lot of instruction in physiology taken on the way to earning my degrees and certifications.  Additionally, I read a lot and continue to learn more and more about nutrition for my own benefit.  Of course, this is of great additional benefit to my clients, patients, and readers as well.  If you read my profile you will see a sampling of nutrition books that have influenced my perspective.  I also glean a lot of information periodically from and various other sites and news outlets.  Generally, if I see an article on nutrition, I will at least skim through it, consider the information, and perhaps, incorporate it into my nutritional paradigm or research it further.

There are several challenges to eating well.  It requires knowledge, planning, time, and it is generally more expensive but, it is certainly worth the effort.  Good nutrition combined with regular physical activity will prevent many chronic diseases.  It will improve quality of life and probably length of life.  I see my role as helping with the challenge of knowledge, and perhaps, forming a plan.

The challenge with improving nutritional knowledge is that there is so much information around us about food--advertisements of all types, labels, news stories, personal testimonials--and not all of it is good or accurate.  It can be overwhelming.  It's also very easy to eat poorly because of the ease of access to junk food.

I generally avoid telling people exactly what to eat.  I'm afraid they might eat only those foods and nothing else, then get tired of it and return to old habits.  I prefer to tell people how to eat and what to emphasize in their diets.  You know, "teach a man to fish and he'll never be hungry again..."

I also avoid telling people what they cannot eat.  I don't want them to feel deprived.  I don't want to introduce a negative; I want to take a positive approach.  Look at all these wonderful, healthy foods that you can eat...  By the same token, I avoid labeling foods as "bad."  Some foods are just better choices than others.

So, what should you eat?  If you look at the really good diet plans, they have a few things in common. They emphasize whole foods and limit or eliminate processed foods.  That is the key.  Eat real food and emphasize quality over quantity.  

So, eat what you like, but emphasize fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables (organic and local, if possible), whole grains (that is, you should be able to recognize it as a grain, not a flour), nuts, beans, and lentils.  This should compose two thirds to three quarters of your plate or of your daily intake.  Fill the rest with portions of fish, seafood, meat, poultry, eggs, dairy.  Try to eat this way about 80% of the time.  Then, 20% of the time, if you've earned it, you can eat whatever you want without guilt.

I decided to include the following diagram as a representation of my guidelines.  Just don't get hung up on the title, it's just happens to be the best visual representation I could find.  Several other "diets" are similar, the glycemic index diet for example.

My last blog discussed how to eat.  I've shared general guidelines for what to eat here.  Now, choose to make a healthy choice in your life by improving your nutrition.  Educate yourself about nutrition--read, talk to professionals, find good resources.  Tip: mainstream media should only be a starting point in your search for nutritional knowledge, e.g. Good Morning America, Dr Oz, Runners' World, Men's Health, Yahoo News, etc.  Then, take the time, spend the money, and plan your meals, making healthy dietary choices most of the time.  Bon appetit!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Hunger vs Appetite

I recently attended a continuing education seminar titled Food, Stress, & the Brain.  Much of what I heard confirmed my approach to nutrition but, I also learned a lot of new information and concepts that I'd like to share.

First, let me get the boring physiology stuff out of the way, starting with a simplified version of what occurs when we are hungry.  Much of the process is hormonal.  "Hunger pangs" are thought to be caused by the hormone, ghrelin.  Ghrelin is released, we feel hungry, and we eat.  When we've consumed enough, leptin and insulin are released which decrease our drive to eat and we stop, if we're paying attention to our body.  Please see the following scale.  Try to live between 4 and 6 on the scale.  This is homeostatic eating or eating for fuel to live.

Appetite is the desire to eat when we don't necessarily need fuel, eating when we are not physiologically hungry.  Some examples: when co-workers bring freshly baked cookies to work, parties, holidays.  This is emotional eating or hedonic eating.  It can also be stress-related.  Many times we eat to feel better, cheer ourselves up.  We eat highly palatable foods (usually full of sugar and fat and frequently low quality) and the brain releases dopamine and we feel good.  The problem is twofold.  First, the dopamine subsides and we no longer "feel good" so we eat more, more dopamine, and so on.  Second, there are no hormones to tell us to stop eating, because we weren't physiologically hungry in the first place.  Oops.  Thus, the obesity pandemic.

Great!  Now, we know what should happen--homeostatic eating--and what frequently does happen--hedonic eating.  What now?  This a big challenge; we are social and emotional beings.  Well, we can't control our emotions, but we can control how we react to them.  Listen to our bodies and the signals being sent.  Eat high quality food.  Be disciplined about it.  Manage stress.  Exercise.

I'm sure many people are wondering now that I've described how to eat, what should they eat?  Stay tuned...

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Leg Speed vs Running Pace

Since this has come up in conversation at least twice recently, I decided to share my thoughts.

Many runners are talking about increasing their leg speed i.e. running cadence or stride rate. I frequently discuss it with my running analysis clients. It also happens to be a major component of the Chi method of running. I utilize stride rate as a method of modifying stride length. Many runners over stride which for the purpose of this discussion I define as landing with their foot in front of their center of gravity. This usually introduces a braking component to the stride which is not economical--each subsequent stride must be more powerful to overcome the increased resistance of braking. Also, this is associated with increased forces at impact and thus a higher risk of injury. Usually I try to help my runners decrease their stride length by increasing their cadence, possibly along with other changes outside the realm of this discussion.

So, the question is: How does this affect speed?

Leg speed and running speed are not necessarily related. For example, a person can run eight-minute miles or eleven-minute miles and have a cadence at 180 steps per minute in both cases. The difference would be related to the amount of forward lean and the power with each stride. Stride length may change too, but that is not necessarily desirable as I mentioned above.

Then, what does happen?

Increasing cadence will decrease stride length and thus, distance covered with each step. However, more steps are made per minute. This may or may not increase speed; it will depend on the person. The purpose of making this change with my clients is to limit their risk of injury and ultimately improve economy. So, as they train with better form and develop more power, they should be able to improve performance, either by going faster or farther with similar effort.