Nutrition Guide For Health - More Than Diet!
Hi you! It's been awhile! I'm excited to share this post which has been cooking for a long time. :)
Let's just dive right in to the juicy details of how to optimize your health, your weight, your lab work, your energy, and more.
When I pose the question "what is your definition of nutrition?" or "what does healthy eating mean to you?" to family, friends, and clients, I usually get at least one of the following responses:
"eating healthy foods"
"cutting back on sweets"
"lots of vegetables"
"eating out less"
Rightfully so, a person's definition of nutrition will vary based on what has worked for them, what area they need improvement in, what their preferences are and more. But... is nutrition only about WHAT you eat? Or HOW MUCH?
The three nutrition parameters that influence your health, your weight, your body fat, and more are:
WHAT YOU EAT
HOW MUCH YOU EAT
WHEN YOU EAT
Let's break down the above responses into these 3 categories.
"eating healthy foods" - WHAT
"cutting back on sweets" - WHAT and HOW MUCH
"less calories" - HOW MUCH
"lots of vegetables" - WHAT and HOW MUCH
"low carb" - WHAT and HOW MUCH
"eating out less"- WHAT and HOW MUCH
"more protein" - WHAT and HOW MUCH
"______ free" - WHAT
"vegan" - WHAT
So what's missing? The WHEN of eating... so often overlooked, but just as important as the WHEN and HOW MUCH.
I visualize this as a 3-way toggle switch. You can slide each one to varying degrees to create a variety of combinations. What works for your friend/family member/co-worker may not be best for you. It is all about finding the unique combination that is just right for you to turn on your metabolism and health. No, you don't want them on all the way, all the time. For example, I don't recommend a very short eating window or extended fasting window (WHEN), a very low calorie intake (HOW MUCH) and a very narrow/restricted diet (WHAT) all at the same time, indefinitely. That's essentially the definition of starvation. It's just not sustainable or healthy.
Now, you're ideal combination could look like this:
Or like this:
Let's get into the details to help you figure out your best path forward.
1. WHAT YOU EAT (DIET RESTRICTION)
What you eat is obviously important in how you feel and modifying this toggle switch can definitely be a game changer. Your genetics (hello incredible insight from the FoundMyFitness genome tool), allergies, intolerances, sensitivities, and diseases (diabetes and celiac, for example) can heavily determine how you will feel and how your health will be impacted when you eat certain foods/diets. This category includes diets like gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, vegetarian, keto, paleo, Mediterranean, and more.
The nutrition prescription might look something like this:
Eat X diet (not as easy as it looks!)
2. HOW MUCH YOU EAT (CONSUMPTION RESTRICTION)
Calorie tracking is an external motivator to help you stay on target with a calorie goal. It can be useful, especially since it's very easy to underestimate the calories you are consuming. A 1992 study reported patients were off by 47%! However, it shouldn't be your only tool in your toolbox. 1400 calories of junk food does not equal 1400 calories of a healthy diet. You will feel the difference over time if you also toggle the WHAT you are eating.
Another part of the "how much" you eat is about macronutrients (carbs, fat, protein) and micronutrients (minerals, microminerals, phytochemicals). I'm just going to come out and say it. Going from a high carb diet (lots of carbs) to a healthy, low carb diet (few carbs) can REVERSE disease - prediabetes gone; diabetes significantly improved (if not gone all together); inflammation improved; heart disease, obesity, and more - all affected. Dr. Sarah Hallberg explains in her wildly popular TEDx talk. The complexity is in just how much is right or too much for you, compared to the person next to you. Same thing for the other nutrients. If you're looking to maintain or grow muscle mass, lose weight without losing muscle - then you need more protein. If you're aging (ahem... right here!), micronutrients found in all the colorful plants matter SO MUCH. And here in lies the dilemma. Individualization in the how much of nutrition requires experimentation, patience, and often times, expert help. Should it be 50g carbs or 100g? Should it be 1400 calories, or 2000 calories? Should it be 15% protein or 30%? Is 1/2 cup of veggies at a meal ok, or should it be more?
The nutrition prescription may look something like this:
Eat X calories, X grams carbs/pro/fat, and X cups veggies at every meal (this is just a start, it can include more).
3. WHEN YOU EAT (TIME RESTRICTION)
The WHEN incorporates principles of time restricted feeding (TRF), fasting (intermittent, short and long) and using the clock to help you gain the health advantage. It is all about adjusting your eating window to enable your brain, gut, and body enough time to rest, regenerate, get rid of damaged tissue, use up extra energy stores, clean the brain and more! This is one of my personal favorite switches to keep toggled. I currently follow a 12-14 hour fasting window... cutting those evening snacky snacks is huge for me! :)
There's so much science around this, here's just a few points:
- Your digestive clock genes are downregulated after sunset
- Your gut microbes have circadian clocks too and eating too late messes them up!
- Insulin works better on carbs in the morning than the evening when melatonin is produced to help you sleep (melatonin cues the pancreas to produce less insulin)
- Animal studies show that even without changing WHAT you eat, practicing TRF can prevent disease.
If you eat too often, especially late in the evening, before bed and/or in the middle of the night, chances are you are going to experience metabolic issues/fat gain. Food intake and nutrient digestion/metabolism disrupts your normal circadian clocks in your tissues and interferes with rest, healing and repair.
You may find that toggling the WHEN you eat is the easiest one to start with (and stick with). The Simple App can help!
The nutrition prescription may look something like this:
Eat X of hours (fast the rest). 12/12, 10/14, and 8/16 are common prescriptions.
Or it could be this:
Eat from 8am to 6pm, fast 6pm to 8am. (10/14 schedule)
THE HARD TRUTH
If you don't toggle any of these switches, be prepared to be sick, age fast and develop disease. Eating whatever you want (WHAT), how much you want (HOW MUCH), and whenever you want (WHEN) is the Standard American Diet and the recipe for ill health. By toggling these switches towards some combination of restriction, you are empowering your body to be metabolically flexible, the key to long-term health and healthy weight maintenance.
Here's another way to look at these 3 toggle switches, courtesy of one of my mentors, Dr. Peter Attia, MD. He describes these as levers, that you can pull to varying degrees to affect your health. He calls this his nutritional framework. YES!
WHAT YOU EAT = DIET RESTRICTION (DR)
HOW MUCH YOU EAT = CALORIE RESTRICTION (CR)
WHEN YOU EAT = TIME RESTRICTION (TR)
The GOLD NUGGET here is this: Always toggle 1 switch, often 2, and occasionally all 3 to find your sweet spot. This will wake up your metabolism, your fat burning ability, and more. Of course, sleep, stress, and exercise all play a huge role in health as well, but those are topics for later. :)
Now get to toggling those switches!