Health professionals agree, the disease of obesity is very complex. We know the extra weight your body carries can affect your health. Many factors can be causes of obesity such as fitness, behavior, genetics, hormones, and medications to name a few, but nutrition can be one of the biggest contributors.
The foods you eat can have a big impact on your weight. Your everyday food choices provide your body with the energy and the nutrients you need. Each food item contains a different amount of energy in the form or calories. Your body uses those calories for energy to function every day. Eating more than your body needs can lead to weight gain and eating less than you need can lead to weight loss. One factor of weight gain is when you choose higher-calorie foods during your day or if you eat an increased portion sizes.
To break it down even further, the composition of the foods you eat can also affect your weight. Each food contains a mix of carbohydrates, fat and protein. The composition of your diet can also impact your weight. For example, grilled chicken will provide mostly protein for your body, while a candy bar, is a combination of sugar and fat. Foods higher in carbohydrates and fat have a higher calorie content, which can affect your weight. Also, people respond differently to a mix of carbohydrates, fat and protein. The combination of these macronutrients can also affect your weight.
Nutrition and Related Health Conditions
We know obesity can increase your risk of developing other health conditions as well. As your weight increases, so does your risk of developing diabetes, cardiovascular disease or some cancers. Nutrition becomes even more important for those who have these conditions.
For example, people with diabetes must control and monitor the amount of carbohydrates they eat at their meals and snacks as balancing carbohydrates and making healthy choices can ensure they can their blood glucose remains in a healthy range. Those who have a history of cardiovascular disease may follow a diet that is low in saturated fat and lower in sodium. By monitoring their diet, people with cardiovascular disease can decrease their risk factors, blood pressure and metabolic profile.
How to Start
We know nutrition is important, but where do I even begin? Sometimes it can be overwhelming as you begin your journey to health. The most important thing you can do is to take the first step, no matter how big or small that step may be. When beginning to modify your diet, there are several things to consider. Some may even consider seeking help from a health professional for a specific plan.
As you take your first steps towards health, remember, you certainly do not need to make every change at once. It can be most effective to choose 2-3 items to work on as a starting point. Many times, people try to change everything at once and find themselves overwhelmed and eventually quitting. Just by taking one small step forward toward your first change. After you complete your first two goals and then move on to something else! This can make your plan more realistic long term.
Here are some suggestions for how to get started:
- Make it balanced: A balanced plan always starts with a good protein source. Lean meat such as chicken, fish or beef can the center of your meal. Typically, a palm-size portion of a lean protein will meet your needs. If you aren’t a fan of meat, consider other protein sources such as beans, nuts, cheese or cottage cheese.
- Add some veggies and fruit: Grilled vegetables, a fresh lettuce salad, and fresh fruit can be a good accent to any protein dish. A serving of cooked vegetables or canned fruits is around ½ cup and a serving of fresh is one cup. You really can’t get enough of these low-calorie, high fiber, nutrient-dense foods.
- Make your grain whole: Adding some whole grain carbohydrates provide energy and fiber. Choose whole grain rice, whole grain pasta, oatmeal, or whole-grain bread to name a few. Choose these more often, and opt for white flours, sweets and treats, only occasionally.
- Dare for dairy: Dairy products provide your body with filling protein and calcium for strong bones and teeth. A cup of milk at dinner or a carton of low-fat yogurt as a snack can be a great satisfying addition to a meal or snack. Aim for 2-4 per day.
- Good fats: Your body does need fat, but probably not as much as you will think. Adding an avocado to a salad, using some canola oil while cooking or choosing a low-fat salad dressing is a great way to start.
Be Positive and Don’t Give Up
It is also important, as you are making changes to your diet, focus on the positive changes you are making. Many focus on things you cannot have, not on the things you are changing and adding. For example, if you drink regular soda and you would like to drink sugar-free drinks and water only, don’t focus on the soda you are choosing not to have, but what you can. Find sugar-free options to add to your plan that you enjoy.
Don’t expect perfection. If nutrition was easy, it would not be a struggle. It is important to realize this won’t be a perfect plan. You may have a good day, and then fall off your plan a bit. That’s ok. The important thing to remember is all the positive steps you have taken and what you need to do to get back on track right away at the next meal or snack opportunity. Don’t delay to the next day. Before you know it, one day turns into the next and you are further away from your goal than you want to be.