Ep #27: Eat Better, Feel Better: 6 Tools to Maximize Nutrition

Strong as a Working Mom with Carrie Holland | Eat Better, Feel Better: 6 Tools To Maximize Nutrition
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Do you find it difficult to know where to start when it comes to nutrition? Nutrition can be simple, yet so many of us overcomplicate it. But when you know better, you do better, so this week, I’m offering you a number of concepts to consider when starting to rethink your nutrition.

You are not a machine. Food, as well as being fuel for our bodies, is meant to be enjoyed. But how can we ensure we are fuelling our bodies with what we need while also feeling good about ourselves? That’s what I’m teaching you this week.

Whether you want to lose weight or adopt a more balanced approach to eating, you won’t want to miss this episode. I’m encouraging you to pay attention and be mindful of the way you eat so you can start to make your nutrition feel simple. I’m also sharing some actionable tools and concepts to incorporate into your life right now to help you maximize your nutrition without restricting, depriving, or dieting.

If you like what you’ve been hearing, please review the show. Your suggestions have inspired episodes and will help me make this show better for you. Want to get the word out to other working moms who want to feel strong inside and out? Share this podcast with a friend by texting a show link, sharing a screenshot, or posting a link on your social media, and help other busy working moms feel better and change things up.

Be sure to tag me on Instagram or Facebook so I can follow along and engage with you!

What You Will Discover:

  • Some examples of low-volume, high-calorie foods and the problems with them.
  • Why you shouldn’t be afraid of healthy fats.
  • How to prioritize foods that will offer you more than choosing carbs.
  • The reason we have so many health and obesity problems in our society.
  • How to train your taste buds and learn to like certain foods.
  • The importance of being mindful of what’s going on your plate.
  • Why you don’t need to waste your time or money on juice cleanses or detoxes.

Listen to the Full Episode:

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Featured on the Show:

Full Episode Transcript:

You are listening to the Strong as a Working Mom podcast, Episode #27. If you want to keep your nutrition simple, try out one of these tools; no apps, points or tracking required.

Welcome to the Strong as a Working Mom podcast. If you’re balancing career, family, wellness, and some days sanity, you are in the right place. This is where high achieving, busy working moms get the tools they need to eat, move, and think. I’m your host, physician, personal trainer and Certified Life Coach Carrie Holland. Let’s do this.

Hey, how are you? What’s new, what’s good? So today, we’re gonna take a bit of a turn from some of the heavier, thicker topics that we’ve covered in the last few weeks. So, you know I love to talk about your brain. But it’s the end of the year, and in turn, a clean slate is approaching; a new calendar year. And for many of you, January 1 may mean the start of a new habit, especially related to healthier living.

I did a quick Google search and I found that the top three New Year’s resolutions for 2022, were these; living healthier, personal improvement or happiness, and losing weight. So, when I looked at these, I found the term “living healthier” is pretty vague, and could basically mean almost anything depending on who you ask.

But I did a little more digging, and found another statistic from the CDC, and it said that 36.6 of Americans, or almost 85 million adults, eat fast food on any given day. So, I’m going to smash those two together, and run with nutrition. What I want to do today, is share with you some of the concepts that I commonly coach my clients on regarding nutrition.

These are tools that I use, not only on my own clients, but I also apply them to myself and my kids. You will see none of these are wild, restrictive or complicated. And, that’s exactly the point. If there is one thing I would love for you to walk away with today, it’s this; your eating should not be complicated.

Our world is complicated enough. And you do not need to waste your time worrying about whether this food is a nightshade, or if it matches your blood type. Or, if it falls under a red, yellow or green list, or whatever other complicated system that you might have tried in the past. It’s food, I want this to be simple for you, so that you can use your brain space for things that are really important. Okay?

If you want a reminder of how to eat, go back to Episode 2, that’s where I answered the million-dollar question of how to eat. So, what I’m doing here today, is expanding on that even more to give you some actionable tools and concepts that you can incorporate into your life, starting now. I’m offering you a number of different concepts to consider when you’re rethinking your nutrition, as many of you are probably doing, as we round out the holidays and start a new year.

I hope some of these will resonate with you. They’re not fancy. They’re not complicated, but they are straightforward. All right, so let’s go. Okay, first, I want to introduce to you the concept of “crowding out”. I was introduced to this idea while I was a student at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, and it is by far one of my favorites. I really love this concept, because it lies in direct contrast to the idea of eliminating entire foods or food groups from your diet.

Crowding out means you don’t restrict anything from your diet, instead crowding out most definitely includes eating your favorite foods like; ice cream, Cheetos, or pastries. But when you choose to practice crowding out, you prioritize whole, real food, first.

I think this is best illustrated in an example. Okay, so think of it this way, compare a bag of Honeycrisp apples, and I say Honeycrisp because they are the best in my opinion, to a bag of potato chips. So, it is a lot harder to eat an entire bag of Honeycrisp apples in one sitting than it is to eat an entire bag of chips in one sitting. And, that’s exactly the point.

When you crowd out, you choose real, whole, nutrient dense foods, first. So those foods are things like; fruit, veggies, and lean protein. They all keep you full, they keep you satisfied. So, in the case of apples versus potato chips, the apples have more fiber to keep you full. You’d probably find it hard to pound three, four, or five apples in one sitting right? You generally don’t eat an entire bag full of apples, because they fill you up faster than the bag of chips.

There, the idea is to prioritize real, whole foods first, so that you find yourself less hungry for foods like potato chips; it’s really simple. The more healthy foods you incorporate into your diet, the less room you will have for junk food. You’re eating more nutritious food first, that’s it.

It’s kind of like establishing an order of operations for your eating. And, there it is. I haven’t had a math reference in a while, so here it is. And there’s probably more coming. On a practical level, there is an easy way to practice crowding out, plain and simple, eat more fruit and veggies.

Alright, so let’s imagine pasta night. I totally remember, growing up we had pasta night at least once a week. And the one and only thing we had was pasta with Ragu meat sauce, and occasionally a loaf of Italian bread to boot. That was it. If you were hungry, you went back and had more pasta or bread, because that’s literally all there was; those were your options.

I am suggesting that you rethink your pasta night. Instead of your dinner consisting of a plate of pasta alone, throw some veggies in there. I encourage, half your plate full of vegetables at most every meal. So, have some broccoli, have a salad. And if you’re still hungry once your plate is empty, go back for more veggies.

First, the vegetables, they will load you with fiber, vitamins, and micronutrients that you’re just not going to get from the pasta. So, no, here, you’re still having pasta, you’re not going no-carb here, but it’s not the main focus of your meal. Instead, you’re prioritizing other foods like fruit or vegetables that will offer you more than the simple carbs found in your pasta.

All right. Running parallel to the first concept of crowding out, is the idea of incorporating more high-volume, low-calorie foods into your diet. These are foods that, as they sound, you can eat a lot of, for not a lot of calories. I’m going to use myself as an example. I am someone who is not going to walk away from dinner satisfied after just a few bites of something.

If any of you have seen the salads that I’ve shared on social media, you know what I’m talking about. In fact, even our kids, they don’t joke when we order salads from a restaurant and we get this teeny, weeny, few little pieces of lettuce and some cucumbers; they laugh, and they know that that is not a mom- or dad-sized salad. And that’s because if I’m going to eat something, including salad, I want to eat it.

I prefer to have more than four bites of a food before I’m all done. And if this is you too, but if you also want to be conscious of how many calories you’re taking in, aim for more high-volume, low-calorie foods. Okay, so high-volume, low-calorie foods are things like, fruit and vegetables; watermelon, berries, apples, broccoli, snap peas, peppers. And if you’re shaking your head because I keep talking about fruit and veggies, you definitely have other options, as far as high-volume, low-calorie foods are concerned.

Other things include; oatmeal, popcorn, egg whites, cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, whitefish, legumes. You can eat a decent amount of these foods and not load on a ton of calories. And you will walk away full; so, you’ve got options. Contrast all of those foods with things like Cheetos, Oreos, or even pop tarts.

Those are all examples of low-volume, high-calorie foods. And the problem with those foods, there are many, but that’s for different podcasts. I don’t want to go off on a rant about the processed food industry, but suffice it to say the problem with these foods, is that the food scientists have designed and engineered them to be hyper palatable.

Meaning, they light up the reward centers in your brain, and ultimately deliver a message to your brain that says to Oreos, “That is not enough.” A handful of Cheetos, “Not enough.” So, you end up eating more. And often, the end result is that you take in a lot of calories for not a lot of food. And these foods offer little to nothing in terms of fiber, protein, vitamins or nutrients.

To be clear though, junk food is not the only low-volume, high-calorie food out there. So, foods like; peanut butter, trail mix, full fat dairy, avocados, nuts, olive oil, and certain cuts of meat. They are also low-volume, high-calorie foods. Generally, healthy dietary fats fall into the category of low-volume, high-calorie; and, I don’t want you to avoid them.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, please do not be afraid of healthy fats. While they are most definitely demonized in the 1990’s, we know better now. And we know that healthy fats are important to keep you full, support the cells that make up your body, provide you with energy, and help you absorb certain vitamins, among many other functions.

All of this is to say, I’m encouraging you to consider a combination of both high-volume, low-calorie foods and low-volume, high-calorie foods in the form of healthy fats, instead of junk food. I want to make another important note here; I’m not telling you to adopt a volumetric type of diet. That is not the point, at all.

I do not want you to subsist on berries and veggies and popcorn, that sounds unpleasant at best, and that’s not going to work. So instead, I’m encouraging you to pay attention and be mindful. Eat healthy fats, but balance them with high-volume, low-calorie foods, too.

Both of these have a place in your diet. And I’m asking you to think about how you balance these out for yourself, with an emphasis on the high-volume, low-calorie food. Especially if you’re like me, and like to eat a lot of bites in one sitting.

Okay, so next. Next, is a concept that I learned from my former coach and mentor Jordan Syyed. I have mentioned him a number of times before, and I’ve really enjoyed learning from him. I’ve used this concept many times with my own clients; it’s a countdown, very simple; 3-2-1. Here it is: Three bottles of water, two pieces of fruit or veggies for a snack, and one big honking salad every day. Every day. That’s it, 3-2-1. How’s that for keeping it simple?

I really, really love this. Start with three bottles of water. That’s it. Just drink three bottles of water every day. And if you’re asking what size, and when, and how much? No. Just pick one, pick a water bottle. Find a fun one if you prefer and stick with it. Aim to fill it and drink it, three times per day. Don’t overcomplicate this, okay? Three bottles of water.

As for how much water you really need, once again, there are loads and loads of studies on this, and to no surprise, none of them agree. If you Google it, some authorities will say drink 15 and ½ cups for men, 11 and ½ cups for women. That’s a lot of water. Some authorities will say 8 eight-ounce glasses a day; That’s the 8×8 rule. Some will say drink half your body weight in ounces of water. It is totally confusing.

Instead, how about this? I’m going to offer you an alternative. Look at your pee. If your urine is generally pale or light yellow, that means you’re in good shape; you were adequately hydrated. If it is dark yellow or brown, you need some more water. That’s it. Okay?

Second, look at a typical day for you, and consider how often you felt thirsty. If you often feel thirsty throughout the day, minus any medical issues, then you’re probably not drinking enough water. That’s it. Start with three bottles of water per day, and then use the pee test and ask yourself how thirsty you’ve been.

And then, aim to improve from there. Most of us just do not drink enough water. But I don’t want to make it any more complicated than it needs to be. I have coached people on this, and for some, even getting in three bottles of water a day is a start.

Alright, so next, two pieces of fruit or vegetables for a snack. Again, this is simple. This is combining crowding out with high-volume, low-calorie foods. Before you reach for a package of Little Debbie Star Crunch, which by the way, was my favorite growing up, have a piece of fruit or have some carrots with hummus; two pieces of fruit or vegetables, simple.

And last, one big honking salad a day. So, I didn’t really realize how passionate I was about salad until I started preparing this podcast. But I think it’s important to get into this a little. Have one big honking salad a day. All right? So, let me be clear here. When I’m talking about a salad, I’m talking about more than Romaine and cucumbers. I’m talking a legit salad, with loads of veggies and beans, maybe some tofu, or even chicken and a healthy fat like, avocado or olive oil.

A real, legit salad that fills you up and is more than some lettuce leaves. Okay? Because when you eat a real salad, you should walk away full. You’re full of fiber, vitamins and minerals. That’s the goal, and you should feel satisfied. If you don’t love salad, pick a vegetable, pick two vegetables. Fill your plate half full with vegetables at least once a day, but ideally, more like lunch and dinner.

What if you hate all vegetables? And I say this, because I have worked with clients who, before we started working together, were literally eating zero vegetables; like, none. And if this is you, I’m asking you to consider retraining your palate, because it is entirely possible. You can train your tastebuds and learn to like certain foods.

I did this when I studied abroad, in Paris. I was staying with a host parent who was an amazing cook, she would walk to the local market every day and buy fresh ingredients for our meals, and it was absolutely amazing. One of the foods she often brought home, was tomatoes. So, up until that point, I absolutely detested tomatoes. I didn’t want to be rude, and I decided that I have to give them a chance, and I did. I ate them over and over again.

And while at first, I was not a fan and held my breath whenever I ate them, I learned to like them. I share this to say, that with repeated exposure and an open mind, you can learn to like new foods. Okay? So, pick one, seriously. Choose one, commit to trying it. There are loads and loads of veggies out there, and I have to believe there are at least one or two that you can tolerate. Alright, so that was 3-2-1; three bottles of water, two pieces of fruit or vegetables for snack, and one big honking salad a day.

Another of my go-to concepts when it comes to nutrition, is this eat how you want to feel. So again, this is simple. This comes up frequently with clients when they have just come back from vacation, or if they’re coming back into the workweek after a weekend of overeating. This is a very simple concept to adopt.

Think about how you feel after you have a burger and fries. Contrast that to the salad and fruit that we just talked about, in 3-2-1. How do you feel after you eat takeout or fast food? Or, how do you feel after a rich, indulgent meal at a restaurant?

If you do that for multiple meals, or even multiple days in a row, you probably aren’t going to feel awesome. You might feel bloated from the salt, or dehydrated and just kind of gross. I use the word “gross” because that is by far, the most common word I hear from clients, when they’re upset with how they eat while they’re on vacation or over the holidays.

So, how do you recover from this? First, please do not go and get a detox tea. Please, please, please, please also, don’t go on a juice cleanse. Please don’t starve yourself. None of these are necessary. And the detoxes and teas are not only unnecessary, but they are not evidence-based.

Again, when I see non-industry funded, largely powered, randomized control trials that show a statistically significant benefit to a detox tea, I will change my tune. But until that time comes, you have a liver and it does a really fine job of detoxing for you. Okay? So, you don’t need to waste your time or money.

Instead, eat how you want to feel; fresh or fried? Beige or rainbow? Processed or natural? So, you see where I’m going. And I know I’m getting a little cheeky here, but it’s true. Think about it. I generally feel pretty good after I eat my salad for dinner with a lean protein. I feel good after I have egg whites and veggies for lunch. I generally feel like a sloth after I eat a big greasy or super salty meal.

So, that’s why, while I love to go out to dinner and try new restaurants, I know I’m going to feel it the next day. And for that reason, I choose to eat the majority of my meals at home. I cook or chop them at home, because then I can control how much salt and oil I’m putting on my food. This is not to say, don’t eat these things. Alright? I’m not telling you not to go out.

If you’ve hung out with me, at all, by now, you know that I’m not about restricting yourself or giving up food you love. That being said, it is no secret that too many people eat too much food that is high in sugar, salt and fat. And, that is why we have so many of the health and obesity problems that we have.

I’m using Mies van der Rohe’s very wise advice here, one more time. This applies to take-out, fast food, and highly processed food, that you find in the middle of your grocery store. “Less is more.” Less is more; it’s about moderation.

Okay, so next, if you want to think about how to build your plate, go back to math and go to your fractions. I’ve mentioned it a few times, and I don’t want to overstate it, but ideally, half your plate is full of veggies. I’m pretty sure I’ve made it clear to eat your veggies, right? But what do you do with the other half of your plate? So, roughly one quarter lean protein, and the other one quarter is grains or starches.

Here’s why I like this. You don’t have to pull out a scale and measure. You don’t have to nickel and dime yourself. If you know fractions, you can eyeball and do this. And you can practice guesstimating your fractions to keep your plate simple. The other thing I want to point out, is that if you adopt this concept, grains and starches are lumped together and they make up a quarter of your plate.

Many of you have asked about carbohydrates. And let me make it clear, carbohydrates are not your enemy; you do not need to be afraid of carbohydrates. Again, it’s simply being mindful of how much and what kind of carbohydrates you’re eating. But here’s the thing, while vegetables do contribute some carbohydrates to your diet, it is widely variable depending on what type of vegetable you choose.

To break this down a little more, I like to think of it this way. Think of it in terms of above-ground versus below-ground vegetables. So, most above-ground vegetables are largely water based. Things like peppers, cauliflower, broccoli, cucumbers, they are mostly water; they’re going to make up half of your plate.

Now, contrast that to below-ground vegetables, which are mostly root vegetables; like potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets, parsnips. Corn also applies here, too, even though it’s not a below-ground vegetable; these are all starchy vegetables. Starchy vegetables tend to have less fiber and more carbohydrates, than they’re less starchy above-ground counterparts.

Again, this is not to say, don’t eat root vegetables; I am not telling you to stop eating potatoes. Okay? I promise, nothing is off limits. Instead, what I’m offering, is that you consider starchy vegetables, or root vegetables, that grow below the ground, I’m asking that you lump these in the same category as you would rice, bread or pasta.

As an example, it’s probably not ideal to have rice and potatoes making up half your plate, if you’re trying to be conscious of how many carbs you’re taking in. Right?

And then, the last quarter of your plate is lean protein. This can be plant-based protein, or not. This includes foods like; tempeh, a tofu, seitan, fish, chicken breast, eggs; I don’t care. And let me be clear, you can have all of these. In our house, we eat tempeh one night, and turkey burgers the next.

There are no rules here. You do not have to label yourself. I am not a vegan, but I eat tempeh. Okay? Do not fall into the trap of needing to have a label for the way you eat. It’s unnecessary, and just one more way to divide us up, when we don’t need to.

And as for fat, have it. So often, the fat will come with your protein or somewhere else in your meal, whether it’s cheese, avocado, nuts, etc. And generally speaking, most of us have no trouble at all getting in dietary fat, it’s pretty easy to do. Again, there’s no hard and fast percentage here, as to how much fat you should have on your plate. Be mindful of what’s going on your plate, that’s it.

When you’re building a salad, pay attention to how much cheese, nuts, avocado and dressing you’re using. These all have a place, but it’s really easy to overdo it.

Alright, so saving my favorite for last, this is the 80/20 rule. I don’t even know that calling it a rule is necessary, but again, just think of it as another concept or principle or tool that you can apply to the way you eat. It’s really simple. So, 80/20 means you eat nutritious foods like, fruit, veggies, lean protein and whole grains 80% of the time. And then, you eat how you want with the remaining 20% of the time.

I love this, because one, it’s not really a diet. And two, it’s flexible and recognizes that you’re not eating nothing but salad and tofu for the rest of your days. Here, it gives you space to have a piece of birthday cake, that gives you space to have ice cream with your kids if you want it. It recognizes that your diet is not a zero-sum game, and eliminates the all-or-nothing approach.

This way of eating embodies moderation, without spelling out how much to eat and when. It is totally doable. It allows you to eat a variety of foods, and it avoids the trap of deprivation and restriction. What I love about the 80/20 approach, is that it includes and accounts for indulgences; it’s realistic and recognizes that you are not a machine. And that food, while fuel, is also meant to be enjoyed.

I could be totally naive here and say that food is nothing more than fuel for your body. But I truly don’t believe that. Food is culture, it’s tradition, it’s history. It’s a shared experience with family and friends. It is not just fuel for most people; food can bring you joy, and that is okay.

Think of the first dinner you had with your partner. Mine was sushi at a place called Coast, in Chicago. Think of a family recipe that comes out at the holidays. For us, it’s Martha Stewart’s Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies. It is okay to find joy from having these foods. It becomes a problem when we rely on food for joy. Or, when we use food to buffer our pain. That is entirely different. And that’s not what we’re talking about here.

The take-home here, is that I think it’s unrealistic to view food as simply fuel, and the 80/20 approach allows for this. To put this on a more practical level, and here comes some more math, if you eat 3 meals a day and no snacks, for example, in an average week, you’re going to eat 21 meals. If you apply the 80/20 rule here and round up, it means that 17 of your meals are nutritious, and 4 of your meals are flexible.

You can do the math for yourself, depending on how many meals or snacks you eat in a typical week. Or, even if you look at it from a daily perspective, the goal is that 80% of what you eat is nutrient dense food. But if you want a fancy coffee drink with your friends, you have it. This way of eating is a practice in moderation.

So, I’m applying James Clear’s concepts from Atomic Habits here. I’ve referred to it many times, but that’s because I think it’s so important to grasp. One off-plan meal, is human. Two or more off-track meals is the start of a new habit.

Following 80/20 allows you to put this into action, by planning out when you’re off-plan meals will be. And then, you practice having an indulgent meal, or a pastry over the weekend, or coffee with your friends. And then, you get back to your regular routine after.

It’s a practice in proving that it is 100% possible to treat yourself, without it resulting in you going off-the-chain; that’s 80/20. And if you choose to follow this principle to lose weight, you can test this out. So, see what happens if you eat on-plan for 17 meals, and eat whatever you want for the other 4 meals.

What happens when you eat this way, at the end of a few weeks of doing this, you’ll get data. And, you can use that data to adjust your approach. Maybe, your 4 flexible meals are really putting you off balance because they’re super calorie dense. Maybe, your other 17 meals are not as nutritious as you thought. Or, maybe you’re eating portion sizes that are too large for what your body needs.

The point here, is that even if you choose to follow the 80/20 principle, you still have to pay attention and adjust as needed, if your goal is to lose weight. But if your goal is not to lose weight, you can still use this to adopt a more balanced approach to eating.

If you don’t like strict rules, if you don’t like counting calories, macros, points, carbs, if you want a balanced approach that keeps your life simple, try 80/20. All right? So, there you have it. I just went over six different concepts, or tools really, for you to consider in regard to your nutrition.

Let’s review: We’ve got crowding out; that’s prioritizing nutrient dense whole, real foods before reaching for processed junk foods. High-volume, low-calorie foods; things that you can eat a lot of for not a ton of calories. 3-2-1; three bottles of water, two pieces of fruit or veggies for snack, and one big honking salad a day.

Next, eat how you want to feel; fresh or fried? And please, no detox tea. Next, preparing your plate in fractions; 1/2 vegetables, 1/4 protein, ¼ grains or starches. And then last, 80/20; 80% nutritious foods, whole foods, and then 20% you live your life.

Alright, so I hope this helps you gain some perspective and gives you something to think about as we approach the turn of a new year. Remember, food is not complicated. There are loads of diet books, programs, influencers, and apps, that would make you think otherwise. But how you eat really does not have to be complicated. Consider what we talked about today, and implement one.

What would happen if you took a 3-2-1 approach to your day? Or, what would happen if you started practicing the 80/20 principle? Go with a low-hanging fruit here. If one of these concepts spoke to you and seems simple, try it out. See what happens.

Alright. So, I will leave you with one last concept that I really love, because it is just that simple; If it comes from a plant, eat it. If it’s made in a plant, less is more. All right? There you go. Thank you so much for hanging out with me, and I will catch you again next week.

If you like what you’ve been hearing, please review the show. I would love to get your feedback and ideas. Your suggestions have inspired episodes and will help me make the show better for you. And, share this podcast with a friend, text a show link, share a screenshot, or post a link to the show on your social media. And, be sure to tag me @CarrieHollandMD on either Instagram or Facebook, so I can follow along and engage with you.

This is how we get the word out to other working moms who want to feel strong, inside and out. If you know someone who wants to feel better, or eat and move differently, but she is too tired or too busy, it is time to change things up. And you know, making that change starts with how you think. And that, is what we do here on the Strong as a Working Mom podcast. I’ll see you next week.

Thanks for listening to Strong as a Working Mom. If you want more information on how to eat, move, and think, so you can live in the body you want, with the mind to match, visit me at CarrieHollandMD.com.

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