One of the most commonly asked questions I receive from anyone who finds out I have a masters degree in nutritional science asks,
“what is your top nutrition recommendation for people trying to improve their health?”
Despite my best efforts, I usually lose my listener within 10 seconds when they realize they’ve opened pandora’s box as I try to succinctly explain why it’s nearly impossible to give general nutrition recommendations. No one wants to accept the next sentence, but let me shout it loud and clear: everybody and every body are so different!
What “works” for one person, may not be appropriate or healthy for another. However, I do agree that it’s a valid question, so I’ve thought through some general recommendations. Please keep in mind that my targeted audience is: generally healthy adults who are looking for small lifestyle changes to elevate their wellbeing.
01. Eat balanced meals, consistently
As a nutrition professional, it breaks my heart when I hear someone express frustration that they are hungry. As in, “ugh, why am I always hungry?!” Here’s my response: give those hunger cues a giant hug and honor them.
Eat when you are hungry. If you find yourself eating when you’re not hungry – but instead, eating for comfort or boredom – then we should talk. We should also chat if you’re not feeling hungry normally throughout the day. Otherwise, we want to listen to our body when it’s communicating with us – that’s how it learns to trust us and actually use energy efficiently.
As soon as we start to restrict, limit, or consciously avoid eating, our body is going to respond by slowing down our metabolism. Yes, you heard me correctly. The body will slow down our metabolism. Why? Because it doesn’t know if/when it’s going to get the energy it needs to function normally, so it’s going to shift into preservation mode. Stop feeling guilty for feeling hungry. Embrace it, fuel your body with the energy it needs and deserves, and continue living your beautiful life.
- Eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner, every day. Include 2-3 snacks consistently throughout the day to hold you over between meals
- Never reach a point where you are FAMISHED (otherwise known as HANGRY Lauren.) This is when we tend to reach for comfort foods – high sugar & high fat – and when we stuff ourselves beyond comfort. When we honor our hunger cues and eat when we start to feel hungry, we’ll never reach this point. We’ll also stabilize our blood sugar levels throughout the day, which will benefit your concentration, mood, and energy levels.
Consideration: Also think through meal and snack compositions. I talk more about including protein, healthy fat, and carbohydrates in our meals/snacks here, but I’ll give you a quick reminder: we want to avoid carb-only meals and snacks. Carbohydrates are essential for our bodies to function, but they are metabolized the quickest of all the macronutrients. In order to sustain fullness, you’ll also want to include a protein and/or healthy fat with meals & snacks. Consider adding fiber for digestive health and satiety!
02. Nourishing our bodies does not need to be complicated or expensive
I am a healthy skeptic with just about every new “hot” food or beverage product that hits the market. Bulletproof coffee, collagen peptides, magical protein powders, turmeric milk, chlorophyll drops, juices cleanses, smoothie bowls…the list goes on. Here’s what I can tell you: it is possible to nourish your body and meet its needs with real, affordable foods and water. You don’t need to spend a ridiculous amount of money on these hot – and highly marketable – products to feel your best. In fact, I would not recommend a lot of the products available on the market today [I’ll save that for another post.] And from my public health perspective, I also have an aversion to these products because they contribute to the perception that “healthy” living is only accessible and attainable to those who can afford it.
Here’s some real talk:
- On instagram, smoothies bowls are beautiful. The coconut flakes, bee pollen, chia seeds, drizzle of nut butters, edible flowers…you name it. But they are specifically curated for instagram. In reality, smoothies bowls are often full of sugar (natural sugar is still sugar) and are not a balanced meal.
- Turmeric milk – or golden milk – is consistently marketed as having anti-inflammatory properties. Wellllll, let’s dig a little deeper. The beneficial ingredient in turmeric that’s made it so famous for its health benefits is actually curcumin. However, the average turmeric powder is only 3% curcumin. In clinical trials, the amount of curcumin needed to see a benefit varies from person to person. However, what we DO know is that humans need to consume A LOT of turmeric powder – multiple tablespoons per day – to match the amount of curcumin used in research studies. Bottom line: drink turmeric milk if you enjoy it, but don’t anticipate any dramatic health benefits. 
What to do instead:
- Do not completely eliminate any foods groups – even sweets – unless it’s medically necessary.
- Limit processed foods and dining out. These meals often have added sugar, fat, and salt for taste.
- Focus on color and variety. Fill your plate with the rainbow. This is an easy way to try to meet your micronutrient needs.
- Consider taking a vitamin D supplement, especially if you live in a place like Seattle!
- Follow the recommendations listed in bullet #01 🙂
- Be a healthy skeptic yourself – do your research – and ask the tough questions.
03. Practice self-love and self-compassion
I’ve talked a lot about self-compassion here on the blog, and how research supports that actively practicing self-love can reduce psychological stress, increase life satisfaction, social connectedness, perceived competence, intrinsic motivation, and can contribute to a healthier body image and lower body dissatisfaction. 
“The best day of your life, is the one in which you decide
your life is your own.
No apologies or excuses. No one to lean on, rely on, or blame.
The gift is yours – it is an amazing journey – and you alone are responsible for the quality of it.
This is the day your life really begins.”
How to implement self-compassion:
- Treat yourself with the same care, love, and understanding as you would your best friend. Allow yourself the freedom to look and feel exactly as you do, acknowledging that our imperfections are what make us ALL human.
- Eliminate judgement of your perceived inadequacies. We are ALL navigating this messy life together. You are not alone.
- Take time for yourself – you cannot give to others until you’re whole. This means stopping to really feel all the feels, to let your guard down, and to share your deepest fears with those who you trust and support you.
What does this look like when it comes to food?
- You are not a failure if your latest diet failed you. YOU did nothing wrong because your diet was set up to fail YOU. As supported by strong and valid clinical research, dieting is unsustainable. Your friend who started a new diet and lost 30 pounds is not you. He/she may not be healthy and/or he/she may hate his/her body. Don’t allow yourself to fall into a comparison trap. Practice sustainable, enjoyable lifestyle changes that help you feel good about the body you’re in and the life you’re leading.
- Practice forgiveness if you don’t “look” a certain way. Focus on the amazing and non-physical attributes that make you unique and loved by so many people. Shift your negative self-talk to positive affirmations. Do it – even if don’t believe it – until it manifests as truth.
- If you binge or eat a “forbidden” food, understand that it’s not because you have no self-control. You did not fail because you “slipped.” Each minute, hour, day, week…is the chance for you to forgive yourself. To acknowledge that, “It happened because I’m human. And I forgive myself.”
- Eliminate the “all or nothing” mentality. Our tendency when we “slip up” once, is to then proceed down the road of self-sabotage because, well, f*ck it! No, your efforts were not futile. Practice forgiveness. Start anew and embrace that you are doing your very best. Progress is a journey – it ebbs and flows – but at the end of the day, you’re invested in your own health. And that’s all that matters.
INTERESTED IN LEARNING MORE ABOUT MY COUNSELING SERVICES?
I will be opening up 1:1 Nutrition Counseling Packages in October 2017! Please visit this page for more information, and to sign-up via email to receive more information.
- Prasad S, Gupta SC, Tyagi AK, Aggarwal BB. Curcumin, a component of golden spice: from bedside to bench and back. Biotechnol Adv. 2014;32(6):1053–1064.
- Piran, N. (2015). New possibilities in the prevention of eating disorders: The introduction of positive body image measures. Body Image, 14, 146-157. doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2015.03.00