Reward ≠ Food

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Patient and client conversations can be a rich source of writing inspiration to address common concerns. As we discuss new changes, cravings, accomplishments and challenges, ideas start to percolate as we work together to find the best solution for the individual. If the same issue is mentioned by different individuals more than three times in relatively short succession, we can almost *feel* the universe tapping on our shoulder.

The latest recurrent theme among us all seems to be regarding emotional eating, over-eating, and reward-eating.

Let’s break this last one down. Why would we associate certain foods with a reward?

    • With thousands of years of evolution working for (or against) us, humans naturally crave sweet flavor. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors would get a little *ping* of dopamine by eating berries and other naturally sweet substances. The brain would reward eating this food, which some argue helped our ancestors survive by promoting fat storage to see them through the leaner times. This survival mechanism is all but unnecessary during the times in which we live, with plentiful food stores and sedentary lifestyles (when was the last time we burnt 2000+ calories a day hunting down buffalo?).
    • An ostensible lack of other options or ideas for rewarding ourselves. We’ve leaned on food to give ourselves a pat on the back after a hard day in the office, for finishing a big project, or to relax after a full day with the kids finally in bed. After many years of this, we may have forgotten how to celebrate our accomplishments without cake, doughnuts, french fries, or chips.

After the sleeve of cookies is finished, there can be a poignant anxiety that settles in. Guilt and shame follow soon after and we feel terrible about ourselves. Then we say “what the Hades, I’m probably never going to lose the weight anyway” and keep going or we decide with firmness and determination, “starting tomorrow, no cookies ever again!” However, we all know how this plays out; the deprivation leads to cravings and the whole cycle begins anew.

When you eat, try eating to nourish your body and experience pleasure. Tying food to your reward-system will unravel advances in your health goals and, here’s the kicker, it doesn’t even work. By the time we are done with the chocolate chip cookie party, we only temporarily feel sated before we either look for more sugar (during the ‘down’ of our blood sugar rollercoaster) or we feel guilty…..which drowns out what ephemeral feeling of pleasure we got from the food in the first place.

By having some non-food rewards instead, or at least sprinkling them into your current routine, you can start to challenge the ‘need’ for something sweet and, instead, ‘treat’ yourself ‘sweetly’ (double puns, couldn’t resist :D). Here are a few ideas to get your started on non-food rewards:

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The 7-day Breakfast Experiment

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At the Body Mindfulness presentation we gave at VegFest this past weekend, we spoke about how to bring awareness to both our lifestyle choices and to our plates. By listening to the messages the body is sending us, we can identify issues (and solutions!) related to digestive, blood sugar, and stress woes. Are you answering the calls your body makes?

Because what we eat first thing in the morning can impact our energy levels, sugar cravings, digestion, and more, we suggest you try a fun Breakfast Experiment. Consider keeping record in a notepad, calendar, or on your computer. This exercise is a powerful tool to bring awareness to your eating patterns. Here’s an example:

Day 1: scrambled eggs
Day 2: fruit smoothie
Day 3: oatmeal
Day 4: boxed breakfast cereal
Day 5: coffee and bagel
Day 6: whole wheat pancakes
Day 7: avocado toast (toast with mashed avocado on top)

Feel free to change this experiment to fit your diet with vegan, gluten-free, or other appropriate options. If you’re diabetic or worried about becoming so, consider checking your blood sugar after each of these meals and noticing any differences in daily measurement.

On each day, you’ll want to record the food you ate, how you felt (physically or emotionally, i.e. “felt energized!” or “started getting heartburn”) a few minutes after eating and then again 2-3 hours later (i.e. “had tons of energy and was productive but then dropped, craving coffee” or “felt really full, almost forgot to eat lunch!”)

Your job, as a breakfast experiment scientist, is not to negatively judge yourself or your food choices. Objectively recording the information can assist you in making connections between what you’ve eaten and how you feel – both physically and emotionally.

This exercise may reveal digestive upset or an intolerance to certain foods. A food sensitivity or allergy may impact your level of inflammation and symptoms. Contact your integrative nutritionist to discuss what you discover and to get the support you need to experience a higher level of vitality and wellness!

Recipe: Spiced Vanilla Chia Pudding

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Oh boy – this is a filling, satisfying treat without tons of calories. What’s more, it’s made with a variety of items that may be found in your pantry or fridge. Get your sweet tooth filled without tons of sugar and experience the health benefits of fiber, omega-3s, blood sugar stabilization, and CHOCOLATE.

Ingredients
2 cups homemade almond milk
6 tablespoons chia seeds
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 heaping tablespoons whole cacao beans or 1/4 cup cacao powder for a smoother finish
1/4 cup fruit (i.e. raspberry, strawberry, and kiwi work well)

Instructions
Blend all ingredients in a blender until smooth. Refrigerate overnight, or until set. Garnish with cinnamon, fruit, cacao beans, and a drizzle of honey if desired.

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Quiz: Body Mindfulness

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*Telephone rings* You: “hello?”

Your body: “hey, I just wanted to let you know that we’re having some issues dealing with the amount of sugar coming in -it’s definitely more than we need. The pancreas is doing the best she can but I’m sure you’ve noticed some blood sugar and energy swings…

You: “yeah, I did notice and my lab results show being on the higher end of normal, but I’m really not having that much compared to my co-workers….besides, is it so wrong to have ice cream after a stressful day?

Your body: “well if you could…”

You: *hang up* “argh, as if I didn’t have enough going on…”

Your body: *experiences unanswered calls, slowly becomes pre-diabetic and then diabetic*

Often we are so stressed and busy in life that we fail to feed ourselves properly and sleep enough. We can end up driving our bodies into the ground, possibly leading to illness. The dark circles under our eyes, anxiety, poor digestion, and low energy levels are all telling a story, but are we listening?

Take a moment, a breath, and check-in with your body as you see which of the following symptoms apply to you:

  1. Excess fat around the abdomen
  2. Poor sleep
  3. Salt cravings
  4. Tendency towards hives, allergies, bronchitis, asthma, and arthritis
  5. Digestive issues – bloating, gas, indigestion, heartburn, constipation, diarrhea
  6. Poor circulation
  7. Dark circles under the eyes
  8. Low mood or depression, irritability
  9. Sugar cravings
  10. Headaches or migraines
  11. Energy issues, fatigue
  12. Skin conditions – breakouts, rashes

Add up your number of symptoms. The only acceptable answer is “0”; anything more shows there is at least one area of possible improvement. These symptoms are associated with adrenal health, blood sugar handling, stress over-load, digestion, liver function, and food sensitivities.

Does your result fit into the life of vitality and energy abundance you desire? Get clear on the areas of healing; an initial consultation with an integrative nutritionist will help you establish where to begin.

The key to an improved relationship with the body is to be open to the messages it is sending and moving towards healing.

Self-sabotage: Nutrition Behaviors

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As nutrition specialists, the advice most people seek is directly related to food and the client’s current diet. What should we eat? How much and how often? Is the newest fad diet deserving of the hype? While being worthwhile questions, what most people are completely unaware of are the problems stemming from nutrition behaviors rather than the food itself. For example, a person who chooses to have a snack while watching TV as a way to ‘unwind’ after a hard day, is developing a potentially dangerous nutrition behavior….even if it’s healthy food! 

Why would snacking on a nutritious item, such as fruit or nuts, be considered unhealthy? Nutrition behaviors can manifest and translate in a variety of forms. Let’s say that the late-night snacker started correlating this time as a type of soothing therapy. Eventually, this could become a habit of snacking as a way to relax – which could then lead to emotional over-eating. Does it seem unrealistic? It’s not – and, on the contrary, is quite common. Throughout the course of many years of nutrition coaching, we have witnessed a plethora of nutrition behaviors – many of which negatively influenced the diets of those displaying the behaviors. Our intern relays a particularly significant encounter:

“I had the honor of meeting a very determined, hard-working, and joyful man currently dealing with type 2 diabetes. It should be noted this man was cognitively disabled and required the aid of home-health nurses to make sure he kept up with his personal hygiene, medication regimen, etc. Prior to my encounter with him, he saw great progress with his HgbA1C test results (an average blood glucose over the span of 3 months) – nearly a 3% drop. When I met him, however, his HgbA1C showed a semi-significant spike. I was left baffled. This man has shown much improvement in his nutrition behaviors (in terms of diabetic control), so why has he now started to digress?

I started the counseling session reviewing the basic information that was initially covered in his sessions– what are carbohydrates, what foods have carbohydrates, how much carbohydrates should he eat. He answered every question without hesitation. I then shifted the focus of the counseling sessions away from his diabetes to his nutrition behaviors. I started to realize a trend. He would eat more sweets when he was alone. Initially I thought this was because he was not being monitored so he could get away with eating whatever and whenever he wanted. An interesting fact then surfaced – he was making so much progress that his home-health nurse visits were going to become more seldom. And that’s when it hit me…he was sabotaging his own blood sugars so he would qualify for more home-health nurse visits because he was lonely. He did so completely unable to bridge the concept that, while he was being very clever, he was doing so at the cost of his own health. His nutrition behaviors turned literally destructive so that he would not have to be so lonely.”

This is a powerful example of how we can use food as so much more than fuel for our bodies. In fact, it’s often the case that nutrition behaviors and the relationship people have with food that are the problem rather than the actual food itself.

Cowspiracy and Plant Based Diet Q&A

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There is a growing interest in plant-based nutrition and over the past three days alone, we have participated in a panel discussion following the showing of the movie Cowspiracy and presented a webinar on the Plant-Based Diet to employees of The Ohio State University. Here is a short compilation of a some common questions posed and our answers:

Q: I’m considering a vegan/vegetarian/plant-based diet but I am concerned – how will I get enough protein?

A: Some argue that Americans are getting too much protein in the typical diet. The plant-based diet includes other sources of protein, including beans, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Working with a nutritionist can assist you in finding out how much protein as well as the best protein sources for your individual needs.

Q: Which restaurants can I go to for a healthy plant-based meal?

A: Some obvious choices include restaurants that advertise such meals, such as Portia’s in Clintonville. Certain ethnic restaurants may have more vegetarian choices because of cuisines typical in regions such as South India. However, most restaurants and their chefs are more than accommodating in this aspect- even Hyde Park has or will make a vegetable-based dish upon request! You don’t only have to eat out at select restaurants. Explore new options!

Q: Does being plant-based mean I need to be a vegetarian or vegan?

A: No. Meat and dairy do not have to be excluded; however, rather than building a meal around the meat source,
the meal is based on whole, plant-based foods. Planning your meal this way means there is less need to add meat and dairy to the dish and ensures it is full of nutrients.

Q: How do I get others to be on-board with my new diet?

A: At the end of the day, a person has to want to make a change. Instead of the ‘hell-fire and brimstone’ approach of harping on someone about potential health issues associated with the consumption of animal products or about the suffering of animals, it is often easier to inspire. When one can see that plant-based food is appealing, delicious, helps them feel better, and is associated with less cruelty to animals and our plant, it can be a motivating force for behavior change.

Q: What are the benefits of a plant-based diet?

A: There are many health benefits associated with a plant-based diet including: weight loss, lower blood pressure, decreased cholesterol levels, better control of blood sugar levels, and some report having more energy. The diet is low in saturated fat, salt, and cholesterol (which can benefit the circulatory system), it has more more vitamins and minerals, antioxidants, and fiber which can all assist in disease prevention. Because it’s low in refined grains and sugar, it can help prevent the onset of diabetes. It’s also a diet that is more sustainable for our environment.

Eye Health & Nutrition

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A tremendous connection exists between eating healthier and weight loss, cardiovascular health, managing blood sugar, and even eye health. Many people wait until their eyesight deteriorates in order to start making changes, but nutrition is a powerful form of preventative medicine which can help protect the eyes from disease and age-related vision loss.

By adding vital nutrients into the diet, you can start fighting the effects of aging and oxidation in the body – including the eyes. Start building up the nutrient supply by focusing on fulfilling the daily fruit and vegetable requirements of five to nine servings per day. Green leafy vegetables are an important food source for a wide array of nutrients that can improve eye health, including the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin. In addition to turnip greens, kale, and collards, another good source of lutein is found in eggs. According to the Journal of Nutrition, eating an egg a day can boost both lutein and zeaxanthin levels in the bloodstream.

  • Vitamin C can help keep eyes healthy by providing protection from the UV-damage of sun exposure. Good sources of vitamin C include strawberries, raspberries, mango, apples, bell peppers, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. Vitamin E helps with scavenging the free radicals and can help prevent cataracts and macular degeneration. Sunflower oil, wheat germ, and almond butter are some beneficial foods with this vitamin.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids are important for the entire body and the eyes need this anti-inflammatory nutrient as well. Eating omega-3s from wild-caught fish, nuts, seeds, or supplements can help.
  • In general, avoiding processed, sugary foods, unhealthy fat sources, while maintaining a healthy weight and blood sugar levels (diabetes have a higher risk of blindness), will also help prevent eye disease.

Age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness among older adults in the developed countries. Macular degeneration is linked to free radicals and homocysteine levels. The passionate work of One Bite Wellness revolves around identifying genetic markers, creating a customized nutrition plan, including more antioxidants and regulating homocysteine levels, and deep-cleaning diets in a way that allows clients to experience a delicious and sustainable manner of eating.

The bottom line is to remember that the foods that are beneficial to the body are also good for the eyes. Quality water, nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy protein sources, and fiber are all important for maintaining overall health.

Food Focus: Natural Sweeteners

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If you’re like me, sweets are something that are hard to avoid. However, if you indulge in the right way, you do not have to avoid them totally. One healthy way to get that sweet taste without all the harmful additives we find in most processed foods, is through natural sweeteners.  But what exactly are natural sweeteners and why are they better than plain sugar? Natural sweeteners are better than refined sugar because their nutrient content is not destroyed. Refined sugar loses the vitamins, minerals, and fiber and can tend to spike blood sugar and actually cause cravings. Natural sweeteners are made in a way that keeps their nutrient content intact. Some good natural sweeteners to use include raw honey, maple syrup, and stevia. When looking for a good honey, try to opt for raw honey because this is the most pure form and contains the most vitamins, minerals, and enzymes. Maple syrup is also a good substitute for refined sugar, however make sure you get 100% pure maple syrup with no added flavors. Finally, stevia is also a great substitute for sugar especially in cooking and baking. One thing to take note of when purchasing stevia is to make sure you get the green or brown liquids or powders because the white can be very refined. These natural sweeteners are great alternatives to refined sugar however, just like anything they should be consumed in moderation.