I have featured some incredible client transformations, but none of the warriors’ transformations would have been possible if they did not focus on making healthier food choices. Exercise alone will not result in long-lasting, or consistent weight loss results. As I shared in Mini Treats Can Have a Major Impact!, the holiday splurges really add up and can derail your progress before you know it!
With Halloweenaround the corner there are sweet treats up for grabs every where! I thought I would take a minute and share some calorie counts and offer a bit of education on how to offset this season’s indulgences.
In our society, holidays and celebrations are synonymous with food. Make sure that you educate yourself on the amount of calories you could be mindlessly eating as you walk by the candy bowl at work or dip into your children’s Halloween treasures. Below, is a chart to give you an idea of what it will take to burn off this MINI-SIZED Fun Treats!
As with any health plan, complete deprivation will set you up for failure. A term I frequently remind my clients of is, “everything in moderation.” I do not recommend that anyone completely forego sweet treats, IF they want to indulge. It is not realistic to expect to sustain a lifestyle change without participating in days of celebration. Whether it is Halloween candy, the office birthday cake, or the upcoming holiday season, don’t allow an exception to your daily eating plan to derail your fitness journey.
IF you choose to eat the treats, be ready to do the work! BAM!!!
Some say exercise can defeat depression. Sure, it’s worth a try — in theory. But when you’re depressed, it can be hard to muster the motivation. Here are some gentle incentives and strategies for giving it a go.
Just get out there, folks say. It’ll take your mind off your problems.
But if you’ve ever lived under the scratchy, smothering gray blanket of this illness, you know:
It’s not that easy.
Depression can make your body feel dull. Heavy. Wooden. Listless.
When you’re depressed, the mere idea of picking up one foot and dragging it in front of the other can seem laughable. (If you can dig up a chuckle, that is.)
I know, because I’ve been there.
One day, while in the throes of a good old-fashioned dark-rain-cloud depression, I woke up and felt stuck. I’d been glued to my flat emotional landscape like a little moth on flypaper.
I knew I needed to do something different.
Without thinking, I got down on the floor. Started doing push-ups. Grabbed a couple of dusty old dumbbells. Did a few lifts. A few rows. A few squats.
At first, it was just a gaspy, desperate rush to experience something — anything— other than what I’d been feeling.
But once I was done, I wanted more.
I needed an emotional outlet. Moving my body felt good. (And to be honest, I wanted to hit things.) So I decided to take a boxing class. Ordinarily I might have talked myself out of it. But at that point, I felt I had nothing to lose.
Lucky for me, it was love at first punch.
Looking back, I wonder about the role exercise played in healing my depression.
Was it powerful medicine? Or just a placebo? Could movement have kept my depression away in the first place?
And if exercise does help with depression… how the heck do you find the energy for it when, you know, you’re depressed.
For example, one classic study from Columbia University found that sedentary people are depressed twice as often as active people.
But does an inactive lifestyle cause depression, or vice versa?
A recent study looking at adults over the course of three decades concluded that the relationship is bidirectional. In other words, maybe sitting around makes you depressed, and maybe that reduces your urge to move. And round and round we go.
OK, so moving your body might help you avoid becoming depressed in the first place. But could it also stop depression in its tracks?
For some people, exercise is as good as antidepressant medications. Or even better. And it seems that in general, the more people exercise, the better they feel.
How exercise makes us happier
Physical activity could improve your state of mind by:
curbing stress chemicals: A 2014 study demonstrated that PGC-1alpha — an enzyme produced in muscles during exercise — has the ability to break down kynurenine, a substance that accumulates in the bloodstream after stress and has been linked to depression.
supporting neurotransmitters: Exercise may boost the production of serotonin — a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood and some cognitive function, and that may be low in depressed people. Physical activity may also stimulate neurogenesis, the growth of new neurons. That could improve cognition, and, in turn, your mental health.
boosting endorphins: Exercise can give you a short-term burst of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that block pain and produce a natural “high.”
reducing inflammation: Many types of exercise can lower inflammation, a potential cause of depression.
decreasing stress: There’s a reason that some athletes refer to their time at the gym as “therapy.” Exercise can be a great antidote to stress, which research has linked to depression, perhaps owing to the body’s inflammatory stress response.
encouraging happier thoughts and feelings: In 2009, one study explored depressed women’s use of long-distance running as a coping mechanism. Exercise can distract us from negative thoughts and feelings, while making us feel joyful and purposeful. It can also provide a sense of identity, which depression often steals from us.
I can imagine a lot of reasons why boxing helped me feel better
Boxing gave me an outlet — a way to express pent-up emotions, and a break from being “in my head.”
When I felt helpless, boxing empowered me. When I felt alone, boxing gave me a coach and a community.
When I felt frustrated, angry, or simply like beating the crap out of a heavy bag, well… boxing is just what the depression doctor ordered.
I left each class high on endorphins and a sense of satisfied accomplishment.
What to do next
I know it’s not easy to do stuff when you’re depressed. Just getting out of bed is a victory some days.
But here are some things you can try, if you’re ready.
If you can do any of these, even just a little bit, congratulate yourself. Each one is an accomplishment.
#1: Take it step by step
You almost can’t start too small. If a 30 minute jog feels impossible, try a walk around the block. If that feels too far, shrink the distance even further to whatever feels manageable. Walk from the couch to the bathroom a few times.
Depression can bleach the colors out of your rainbow and strip the fun from things you used to love.
Give it a go anyway. Do whatever you love (or used to love), whether it’s taking the dog for a walk or playing touch football with friends.
You might not feel the magic. That’s OK. Just try whatever you can manage.
Because the opposite — living completely without your favorite activities — sucks worse.
#3: Try something new
As Janis Joplin famously sang, “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.”
Depression can disintegrate you. But then, you don’t have any more rules to play by.
Sometimes, the benefit of feeling lost is that you can wander into new territory. I walked into a boxing gym when I felt so low I was willing to try anything.
If you can open yourself up to new experiences, you may find pleasure in things you never even considered before.
#4: Get support
Whether it’s therapists, doctors, family or friends, ask for help from the people around you. Tell them you want to try exercise.
They may be able to help you, inspire you, or even join you. If you can, seek out a community-focused gym or athletic group, an online support system, and/or a personal trainer. Assemble the “team” that works best for you.
#5: Get outside
Nature is powerful. Sunshine, fresh air, green space… even the friendly bacteria in soil may make you feel better.
Soak up as much nature as you can. If you live in the city, go to a park or spend time in a local garden. If leaving the house feels too daunting, start by opening a window and bringing some plants into your home. Try to work your way up to spending time outside.
#6: Mix it up
One you’re on a bit of a roll, consider mixing aerobic exercise (such as walking, cycling, running, or swimming), with anaerobic sets. While most studies on depression focus on aerobic activity, there’s a place for strength-based work, too — such as high intensity interval training (HIIT) — which can get those endorphins kicking.
#7: Be consistent
Whatever you can move, move it. The more you move, the better it works.
You might feel better right away after a single exercise session. Or it might take a little while. Either way, keep moving as often as you can, in any way you can.
Meanwhile, observe your symptoms. Consider logging your feelings in a journal, so you can look for benefits. If you’re not getting any better after a test period, consult your doctor.
#8: Be gentle and patient
Don’t beat yourself up if you skip a workout. This isn’t about achieving perfection or becoming a superstar athlete. It’s about doing something good for yourself.
On the flip side, don’t overdo it. Intense training can boost your endorphins, but it can also raise your cortisol, a stress hormone, tax the central nervous system, and cause inflammation — none of which will help depression.
How do you put this all together? Think about designing your own personal prescription.
Therapy, medication, nutrition, social support, and any other creative methods of your choosing may all work together to help you get better, over time. Pick what works best for you.
Everyone experiences depression differently. You might find that exercise doesn’t do much.
But it might just become the best depression-fighter you’ll ever find.
How much time do you spend in the gym (or working to physically improve your body)?
Probably not much. Well, at least compared with the amount of time you spend between those sessions.
Gym time is simply a stimulus for change. This stimulus will only create results if we recover enough between workouts. The quicker and more efficiently we can recover, the sooner we can spur further progress.
When someone doesn’t recover adequately, performance and health may suffer. Many athletes describe it as “hitting a wall.” Many exercisers refer to it as “overtraining.” It usually means low energy and an overall sensation of not feeling quite right. Fatigue occurs because recovery wasn’t adequate.
If we looked at someone’s insides, we might also see that their markers of inflammation are elevated. We might see that their connective tissues aren’t healing. We might see their happy neurotransmitters and anabolic hormones going down and their catabolic hormones such as cortisol going up.
In short, lack of recovery is a complex, multi-faceted phenomenon with wide-ranging effects.
The underlying causes of fatigue fall into two main categories:
Our central nervous system (CNS) acts like a car engine regulator. If the engine on a car revs too high for too long, it shuts down. Our brain attempts to protect our muscles the same way. It will reduce the rate of nerve impulses.
Conversely, local fatigue is related to energy system depletion and/or metabolic byproduct accumulation. Using our car analogy, this is sort of like running out of gas or rusting.
What you should know about recovery
We can do lots of activities between workouts. The ones we ultimately choose greatly influence how efficiently we recoup. We can place all of our “out of gym” activities into two main categories:
Sympathetic activities – often referred to as “fight or flight”
Parasympathetic activities – often referred to as “rest and digest”
Pursuing ambitious career goals, building relationships, balancing finances, acquiring food, acquiring shelter, and all of the daily activities required for human survival are sympathetic activities.
They are stressors and can bump up levels of cortisol and adrenaline.
When we get wrapped up in these activities and let them dominate our life, it can result in:
Poor blood sugar management and insulin resistance
Depression, sleep disruption, and carbohydrate craving
Decreased thyroid hormone output and a reduced metabolism
Altered sex hormone activity
Amino acid loss from muscle
If this is chronic, production of stress hormones can slow and the development of ongoing fatigue could occur. This type of fatigue is central, or neuromuscular. The body has been revving too high for too long and it’s shutting down.
Now, removing all stressors from life might sound appealing, but it isn’t a positive thing. Rather than eliminating stress, balancing stressful activities with relaxing and energizing activities is the key.
Relaxing and energizing activities are parasympathetic dominant. These include:
Meditation, yoga, pilates and tai chi can help to lower stress, improve oxygenation and stimulate recovery. They’ve been around for thousands of years because they work. Spa treatments, sauna time and baths can facilitate lymph circulation and recovery.
Sleep and meaningful relationships can also regulate our recovery. A restful sleep and a good laugh are like a carnival for energizing and recovery hormones. And everyone likes the carnival.
Most people need 7 to 9 hours of restful sleep each night to perform their best. See All About Sleep for more. If your sleep has tanked, you may be overtraining.
One activity isn’t necessarily better than another; it’s more about what the specific activity does for you. Remember, the immune system is working overtime between exercise bouts as it tries to bring things back into balance. The least you can do is nudge it along.
Prioritizing 30 minutes of parasympathetic activity each day is essential for productive recovery.
On the nutrition front, eating real food in its unprocessed form will give your body the nutrients it needs. We cover this in depth throughout Precision Nutrition v4. Consuming whole foods along with herbs and spices can help to moderate inflammation, assisting in recovery.
Avoid lowering calories below 1500 per day when training more than 7 hours each week.
Appetite can clue you in on your recovery status as well. If you can’t imagine eating more than a couple pieces of fruit each day OR feel like a bottomless food pit, you may be overtraining.
And don’t neglect hydration. Plenty of fluids can be important for lymphatic function.
Supplements after training can enhance the recovery process. These include carbohydrates, protein and BCAAs. See AA Carbohydrates, AA Protein, and AA BCAAs for more. If recovery supplements or a nutrient dense meal aren’t in place after workouts, the regeneration process can be delayed. Glutamine and creatine might also be of use for recovery. See AA Glutamine and AA Creatinefor more.
Phosphatidylserine is one of the few supplements that might help to control stress levels, see this article for more.
Avoid unnecessary anti-inflammatory medications, prescription or over the counter (e.g., NSAIDs). While we don’t want chronic inflammation, we do want inflammation to happen in the initial stages after trauma. When we suppress inflammation, we may also forfeit the recovery process long-term.
Variation and cross-training
If we don’t cross train and vary workouts, specific muscles and energy systems may not fully recover. Think of a hard core marathoner or muscle head, always doing the same program until they burn out or get injured (or both).
If you do intense intervals and then intense resistance training, day after day, you can tax your anaerobic system. This is one of the reasons lower intensity cardio is so popular between resistance training sessions for strength and physique athletes.
If you do endurance cycling and running day after day, you’ll tax your oxidative system, moreover, nutrient stores will likely go un-replenished.
Those are both examples of local fatigue, with depleted energy systems and metabolic waste product accumulation.
Starting the recovery process
After each stressful workout, we must repair damaged tissues and cells while replenishing nutrient stores and removing wastes.
Engaging in an adequate warm-up, mobility work, a cool-down, and plenty of flexibility work will assist in the recovery process. Think of it as pre-hab.
Improving and ensuring good circulation is an important part of this. Blood brings new oxygen and nutrients while removing wastes. Lymphatic circulation sends white blood cells to do their job while tidying messes left behind.
Exercise and immunity
The relationship between exercise and immunity is what researchers call a “J-shaped curve”.
Sedentary people have a moderate risk of infection. Their immune system isn’t running as well as it could be.
People who are regularly active, but moderate their intensity and vary their training, do better than the sedentary people. They’re the healthiest bunch.
People who are active but constantly pushing their limits — whether that’s workout frequency, duration, intensity, or loading — without proper recovery start to become sicker and sicker the more they crank up the difficulty. In extreme cases, they can end up with a serious infection such as pneumonia.
People often talk about “overtraining”, but in reality what they mean is “under-recovering”.
You may be overtraining if:
Your muscles are always sore
The idea of going to the gym makes you feel depressed or anxious
In fact you feel more depressed and anxious overall, with a side order of crabby
You aren’t sleeping well — or can’t stop sleeping
You have no appetite or a ravenous appetite
Everything hurts, all the time
You seem to come down with every darn virus going around
Your gym performance has been slumping — either seriously stagnating or getting worse
One objective indicator of overtraining/under-recovering is elevated morning heart rate. If you’re concerned, take your pulse before you get out of bed one morning. Here’s one handy test.
Math? To plan dinner? Isn’t there a better way? Yes there is. Just take a look at your hand. Use your fist, palm, cupped hand, and thumb to practice calorie control – while avoiding the hassle of counting calories.
If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times: The best — maybe even the only — way to lose weight is to count calories.
After all, it’s a pretty simple equation: Calories in vs. calories out. Eat more calories than you burn, and you gain weight. Eat fewer calories than you burn and you lose weight.
First of all — on the “calories in” side — you do need to figure out how many calories are in the foods you want to eat. And that takes handbooks, websites, databases and math. Just to plan your lunch. Groan.
Next, you have to assume that the handbooks, websites, and databases’ calorie estimates are correct. They’re often not. In fact, research has shown they can be off by about 25% because of incorrect labeling, laboratory measurement error, and food quality.
Then, of course, there’s the “calories out” side. Estimating your calorie expenditure each day comes with another 25% measurement error because of the equipment you’re using, laboratory measurement errors, and individual differences.
A possible 25% error on the “calories in” side, and another 25% error on the “calories out” side.
Is it even worth:
pulling out measuring cups to a chorus of boos from family members;
dusting off the food scale while trying to ignore the taunts of friends;
wheeling in the abacus from the den to keep up the calorie tally;
subscribing to apps and web services to track these less-than-accurate numbers?
Sure, we should have an idea of how much food we’re eating each day, so we can adjust based on our goals.
But counting calories itself is a drag! No wonder so many people give up and go back to eating the way they were before.
The calorie counting antidote
Here’s the good news: counting calories is rarely necessary.
Our Precision Nutrition coaching programs gauge food portions differently. No carrying around weigh-scales and measuring cups. No calculators or smart phones.
All you need is the ability to count to two. And your own hand.
Here how it works:
Your palm determines your protein portions.
Your fist determines your veggie portions.
Your cupped hand determines your carb portions.
Your thumb determines your fat portions.
To determine your protein intake
For protein-dense foods like meat, fish, eggs, dairy, or beans, use a palm sized serving.
For men we recommend two palm-sized portions with each meal.
And for women we recommend one palm-sized portion with each meal.
Note: a palm-sized portion is the same thickness and diameter as your palm.
To determine your vegetable intake
For veggies like broccoli, spinach, salad, carrots, etc. use a fist-sized serving.
For men we recommend 2 fist-sized portions of vegetables with each meal.
And for women we recommend 1 fist-sized portion of vegetables with each meal.
Again, a fist-sized portion is the same thickness and diameter as your fist.
To determine your carbohydrate intake
For carbohydrate-dense foods – like grains, starches, or fruits – use a cupped hand to determine your serving size.
For men we recommend 2 cupped-hand sized portions of carbohydrates with most meals.
And for women we recommend 1 cupped-hand sized portion of carbohydrates with most meals.
To determine your fat intake
For fat-dense foods – like oils, butters, nut butters, nuts/seeds – use your entire thumb to determine your serving size.
For men we recommend 2 thumb-sized portions of fats with most meals.
And for women we recommend 1 thumb-sized portion of fats with most meals.
A note on body size
Of course, if you’re a bigger person, you probably have a bigger hand. And if you’re a smaller person… well, you get the idea. Your own hand is a personalized (and portable) measuring device for your food intake.
True, some people do have larger or smaller hands for their body size. Still, our hand size correlates pretty closely with general body size, including muscle, bone – the whole package.
Planning your meals flexibly
Based on the guidelines above, which assume you’ll be eating about 4 times a day, you now have a simple and flexible guide for meal planning.
2 palms of protein dense foods with each meal;
2 fists of vegetables with each meal;
2 cupped hands of carb dense foods with most meals;
2 entire thumbs of fat dense foods with most meals.
1 palm of protein dense foods with each meal;
1 fist of vegetables with each meal;
1 cupped hand of carb dense foods with most meals;
1 entire thumb of fat dense foods with most meals.
Of course, just like any other form of nutrition planning — including calorie counting – this serves as a starting point.
You can’t know exactly how your body will respond in advance. So stay flexible and adjust your portions based on your hunger, fullness, and other important goals.
For example: if you’re trying to gain weight, and you’re having trouble gaining, you might add another cupped palm of carbohydrates or another thumb of fats. Likewise, if you’re trying to lose weight but seem to have stalled out, you might eliminate a cupped palm of carbohydrates or a thumb of fats at particular meals.
Remember: This is a starting point. Adjust your portions at any time using outcome-based decision making, aka “How’s that working for you?”
Want more individualization?
For those who want to go further – because they have more advanced goals or because they’re already eating well but still struggling – let’s dig a little deeper.
At Precision Nutrition, we have a really simple shortcut for helping people “eat right for their body type”.
We begin by classifying clients into one of three general categories (or somatotypes):
I types (ectomorphs),
V types (mesomorphs), and
O types (endomorphs).
And each type gets slightly different recommendations.
As a fitness or nutrition coach, you might have certain food/nutrient goals in mind for your clients. No problem.
But should you tell them to eat 1 g of protein per pound of body weight? Or 25-50 grams of protein with lunch? (Hint: No.)
Many clients don’t even know which foods have protein in them, let alone knowing how many grams each food has and what a portion size of that food looks like. That makes gram-based recommendation pretty tricky.
Fussing with numbers creates a lot of anxiety and confusion for clients. Eating healthy will seem “just too complicated” for them, and they’ll eventually give up or wander off in the wrong direction.
Plus, here’s the most important piece: Most clients don’t need this level of detail. The simpler and clearer you can make your recommendations, the more likely clients are to follow them.
So, instead, why not share these guidelines? How much easier can healthy, individualized eating be?
Download our calorie control guide
To make this even easier, we created a simple guide for men and women that summarizes our recommendations. Click here to download it, print it out, and share them with friends, family, or clients.
In the end, if you’d like to start eating better, just take a look at your hand. Use your fist, palm, cupped hand, and thumb to practice calorie control – while avoiding the hassle of counting calories.
Ideally, our physiology regulates our appetite perfectly. We evolved to eat when we’re hungry, and stop when we’ve had enough.
Of course, it doesn’t always work that way in our modern society.
Appetite has a massive “real life” component. Subtle eating cues can trump physiology. These can include:
CUES FROM OUR PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT
For example, the size of dishes, how close the food is to us, etc. One study found that people ate more from a candy dish right in front of them but much less from a candy dish 6 feet away. They also ate more from an uncovered candy dish than a covered candy dish.
CUES FROM OUR ORAL ENVIRONMENT
We like certain tastes and textures.
We like sweet, fatty, and “umami” (savoury) things.
We like creamy textures and crunchy textures.
We also like multiple tastes and textures together, such as sweet-salty.
CUES FROM OTHER SENSES
As the saying goes, “You eat with your eyes first.” We like food that looks pleasing, and we favour certain colours (ever seen candy with boring gray packaging?). Our smell is closely bound to our appetites as well as our memories and emotional associations. There’s a reason that Cinnabon smells so delectable — it’s part of a deliberate strategy to lure us in.
CUES FROM OUR SOCIAL ENVIRONMENT
family, friends, peers
cultural messages about when and where it’s OK to eat
CUES FROM OUR EMOTIONAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL ENVIRONMENT
desire for comfort
symbolic associations with a certain food, e.g. “baking cookies makes me feel happy”
CUES FROM OUR FAMILIAR HABITS AND ROUTINES:
morning coffee in our special mug, or “the usual” at the coffee shop
being rushed in the mornings, so stopping at McDonald’s drive-thru
Friday beers after work with the boys
snacking in front of the TV while watching our favourite shows
cake at birthday parties
mom’s casserole at holidays
Sometimes these cues are helpful. Most have an evolutionary purpose. For example, knowing what food looks and smells good can prevent us from eating something that’s gone rotten. Eating when we weren’t hungry, but when food was available, would be helpful in a context when we couldn’t be sure where our next meal was coming from.
However, in 21st century society, our evolutionary survival mechanisms don’t work very well. Now, we’re surrounded by good-looking food that is available to us 24/7. We’re chronically stressed and seeking comfort. Our eating impulses are out of whack. Our biology no longer matches our environment.
When we are perfectly in tune with appropriate appetite and fullness cues, we eat when physically hungry and stop when satisfied (not stuffed). We maintain a healthy body weight.
When we are not in tune with these cues, our health and weight suffer.
Under-eating and over-eating
There are many reasons why we might under- or over-eat more than we need.
Under-eating might occur because of:
social pressures (e.g. among women to be thin)
a desire to restrict food to feel “in control”
over-preoccupation with “health”
rigid restriction/elimination of certain foods
Over-eating might occur because of:
social pressures (e.g. wanting to fit in at social events)
feeling “out of control”
a desire for comfort or self-soothing
disrupted biological routines such as lack of sleep or shift work
highly palatable tastes such as fatty and sweet foods
food availability: the food is there and it ain’t gonna eat itself!
Eating when hungry and stopping when satisfied is something that nearly all mammals are programmed to do from birth. Yet, in the U.S. we tend to “unlearn” this and only stop eating when we are “full.” Many cultures discourage this.
Throughout India, Ayurvedic tradition advises eating until 75% full.
The Japanese practice hari hachi bu, eating until 80% full.
Islamic guidance from the Qur’an indicates that excess eating is a sin.
The Chinese specify eating until 70% full.
The prophet Muhammad described a full belly as one containing 1/3 food, 1/3 liquid, 1/3 air (nothing).
There is a German expression that says, “Tie off the sack before it gets completely full.”
“Drink your food and chew your drink,” is an Indian proverb that encourages us to eat slowly enough and chew thoroughly enough, to liquefy our food, and move our drink around our mouth and thoroughly taste it before swallowing.
When someone is finished eating in France they don’t say “I’m full,” rather, “I have no more hunger.”
And countries outside the U.S. emphasize that eating should be pleasurable and done in the company of others.
Homeostasis: The body’s secret weapon
The body likes things to stay the same, aka homeostasis. When homeostasis is interrupted, the body tries to self-regulate and get back on track.
With body weight, there are internal challenges in maintaining homeostasis. As nutrients are used, they must be replaced. Our bodies say “Please replenish these nutrients”, aka “Eat.” Our bodies say “Thank you, that’s enough for what I require”, aka “Stop eating.”
When we honour homeostatic hunger signals, we achieve optimal health.
If we eat when we are not hungry, the distraction and pleasure are only temporary; consequently, we have to eat more to feel better, feeding the cycle.
If we do not eat when we are hungry, our body gets us back eventually by cranking up our appetite signals and smothering our fullness signals. The biggest trigger of binge eating? Dieting.
Have you ever observed an infant eating? They eat when they are hungry, and they stop when they’ve had enough. If they don’t like something, they spit it out.
Mindful/intuitive eating is kind of like that.
When we eat this way, it promotes physical and psychological well-being. Physically, it’s gratifying to not feel overly stuffed or empty. Psychologically, it’s gratifying to be able to honor the internal cues of hunger and satiety, much like it’s psychologically gratifying to drink water when thirsty, get warm when cold, urinate when the bladder is full, or breathe after diving 8 feet to the bottom of a pool.
Years of mindless eating, restrictive dieting, and the “good” versus “bad” food mentality can warp the way we respond to internal body signals.
When the idea of “bad” food is discarded, it often removes the punishing cycle of restricting and gorging. Why? Because when we acknowledge that a food is available to us whenever we want, we can begin to select a variety of foods we enjoy and become the expert of our own body.
Three key components of mindful/intuitive eating are:
Unconditional permission to eat
Eating primarily for physical rather than emotional or environmental reasons
Relying on internal hunger and satiety cues
Why is eating the right amount so important?
If we don’t eat the right amount for our needs, our bodies will try to self-regulate to maintain homeostasis or meet evolutionary needs. If we’ve under-eaten, we might compensate with a binge. If we’re over-eating on highly palatable foods, our bodies might say “This is great! Have more, just in case of famine!”
While many people periodically eat in response to sensations other than physical hunger, this type of eating becomes destructive when it’s the principal way of dealing with feelings or going along with easy food availability. If we eat each time we get lonely, sad, bored or happy, or if food is around us, we’re in trouble.
THE PROBLEM OF “DIETING”
Few nutrition professionals question the wisdom of using food deprivation as a means to manage weight. “Eat less” is the most common advice given to people wanting to lose weight.
Still, it doesn’t seem to be working for anyone. Some are beginning to acknowledge that “dieting” — as in significant, short-term food restriction — doesn’t work for sustained health and weight management.
“Dieting” can increase food cravings, food preoccupation, guilt associated with eating, binge eating, weight fluctuations, and a preoccupation with weight.
We might get into a cycle of “deprivation mentality”: we restrict, then lose control, then vow to “get back on the wagon” (ie. restrict further), then lose control again, then apply an even more rigid control, then lose control… over and over and over.
“Dieting” can work in the short term. People can and do lose fat and weight… for a while. But more than 90% of individuals who lose weight will regain it within 2 years.
“Dieting” doesn’t address either the underlying deprivation-binge mindset, or the real problems of why you’re overfat in the first place.
MINDFUL/INTUITIVE EATING AS AN ALTERNATIVE
Mindful/intuitive eating asks “Why am I eating?” and “Am I truly hungry?” Thus it can reduce binging and emotional eating episodes. The more mindfulness and meditation someone uses, the more weight they can lose (and keep off).
Mindful/intuitive eaters aren’t obsessed eaters. Rather, they simply appreciate the value of food as opposed to hurrying through a meal. As they stop judging themselves, they are more present and aware of what they are doing.
What you should know
LEARNING BODY SIGNALS
Figuring out satiety cues involves trial and error. The level and intensity of hunger can vary, as can knowing what foods/amounts will satisfy hunger. How the body responds to food is going to be different for everyone. It can also be different at different times of the day.
As I mentioned above, consider children. Kids generally push food away when they’re content. And they know when they don’t like something. Intuitive/mindful eating is about tapping back into that wisdom.
Be aware of how you feel physically, mentally, and emotionally. For example:
Is your stomach growling?
Do you have a headache
Are you feeling shaky or irritable?
Do you feel “stuffed”?
Are you thinking, “I want to eat this” or “I need to eat this”?
Are you aware of what you are eating or are you just plowing in the food while you do something else?
If your eating routine is disrupted, are you upset because it’s a change in habit, or because you’re genuinely hungry?
Are you anxious or stressed?
Are you happy or sad?
One way to approach eating may be to start with a typical meal and then tune in to how you feel physically, immediately after and every hour after that meal.
Immediately after eating: If you’ve eaten the right amount for optimal health, you’ll likely feel a slight level of hunger, but still content. It takes about 20 minutes for the satiety signal to go from the gut to the brain. The composition of a meal can influence satiety, so include real/whole foods with fiber, protein, and fat (and balance omega-6 with omega-3).
About 60 minutes after eating, you should feel satisfied with no desire to eat another real food meal.
When you approach the 2 hour mark, you may be starting to feel a little hungry, and could probably eat something, but it’s not a big deal yet. If you are feeling quite hungry, you may not have had enough food or enough of a given type of food to hold your satisfaction.
At 3 to 4 hours, you should be feeling like it’s about time to eat again. Your hunger should be stronger, and will vary depending on when you exercised and what your daily physical activity level is. If you aren’t hungry yet, you probably had a bit too much food at your previous meal.
After 4 hours, you’re likely hungry and ready to eat. This is when the “I’m so hungry I could eat anything” feeling kicks in. If you wait much longer, chances of making a knucklehead food selection goes up dramatically. It’s important to have nutritious and appealing foods available.
There is variability with all of this, but getting to a point where you’re slightly hungry between meals is a healthy sign. If you are eating every 2-4 hours without ever feeling a level of hunger, you are likely eating more than you need.
IT’S OK TO BE HUNGRY SOMETIMES
If you’re trying to get or stay lean, it’s OK and normal to feel hungry occasionally.
It’s important to accept this feeling because it’s not going anywhere. Nor would that really be a good thing since hunger plays a vital biological function.
“Hunger is not an emergency.” — Judith Beck
CHOOSE THE RIGHT FOODS
We didn’t evolve with highly processed foods. These foods confuse our natural appetite mechanisms.
Eating a dessert on its own will often increase the craving for more. It’s not that you necessarily need more processed carbs, just that you’ve triggered the body into thinking it wants more. Processed foods trigger our natural reward systems (think: opioids and dopamine released in the brain) and we want more (and more).
Unprocessed foods help keep hunger/satiety cues clear, and it’s easier to make adjustments. Remember, if you’re not hungry enough to eat broccoli, you’re probably not hungry.
INCORPORATE ACTIVITY PROPERLY
Regular exercise makes us more efficient at using body fat, which can help balance appetite.
The type of activity can determine our appetite. Intense exercise, such as heavy weight training or high-intensity interval training, tends to suppress appetite in the short term, while low-intensity, endurance-type activity tends to stimulate appetite. (Ironically, many people do a lot of “cardio” when trying to lose fat, which can end up making them more likely to overeat!)
Still, some people play games when it comes to exercise and eating. They might allow themselves more food because they exercised, regardless of hunger changes. This “reward” system can be fickle and create a negative relationship with eating. “Exercise bulimia” occurs when we engage in a cycle of overeating then overexercising to “compensate”.
Practicing yoga can help with mindful/intuitive eating and assist in overall body satisfaction. This makes sense since yogic philosophy aims to unify mind, body and spirit.
Summary and recommendations
Dieting and cognitive control of food intake may actually lead to weight gain, disease, and disordered eating patterns.
Intuitive/mindful eating involves:
Slowing down the pace of eating (e.g., break during bites, chewing slowly, etc.).
Becoming aware of the body’s hunger and fullness cues and utilizing these cues to guide the decision to begin and end eating as opposed to following a regimented diet plan.
Acknowledging food likes and dislikes without judgment.
Choosing to eat food that is both pleasing and nourishing, and using all of the senses while eating.
Being aware of and reflecting on the effects caused by non-mindful eating (e.g., eating when bored or lonely or sad, eating until overly full).
Meditation practice as a part of life.
The goal of a meal is to finish feeling:
Better than when you started
Able to move on (not think about food until you are hungry again)
Energy to exercise and stay active
Eating too much or too little will result in variations of the normal responses mentioned above. This may include:
Anxiety or jitters
Low or nervous energy
Food cravings, even when physically full
What type of person is most likely to eat unhealthy food? A restrained eater depriving themselves of a forbidden food. This is the psychological phenomenon ofdisinhibition. Habitual disinhibition — in other words, regularly overriding our natural fullness cues — is the factor most closely linked to weight gain.
The goal of mindful/intuitive eating is to master the process of eating and not focus on weight loss. For dieters, this task is extremely difficult.
In 2006, American Idol contestant Katharine McPhee told the media she won her battle against bulimia through intuitive eating. And yes, the popularity of intuitive eating grew.
One study found that infants cry more intensely when hungry than when in pain.
Those who eat intuitively naturally are slimmer than those who diet.
If hunger doesn’t tell you to start eating, what tells you to stop?
If you eat when you’re not hungry, you’ll never be satisfied.
Food is a costly antidepressant.
If you have any doubts about whether you’re hungry, you’re probably not.
Hunger is physical. Over-eating is psychological, mental, and emotional.
When your true needs are unmet, triggers will return again and again.
Think about how you sound when working with clients.
Do you say things like:
“You’re only one workout away from a good mood!”
“You’re not gonna get the butt you want by sitting on it!”
“You’ll get a lot more compliments for working out than you will for sleeping in!”
Many health and fitness coaches think that always being positive, upbeat, inspiring, and ass-kicking is part of the job.
Encouraging language is what’s required to motivate clients through tough times and nudge them toward big success, right?
Blindly spewing positivity in the midst of the suckiness of lifestyle change doesn’t show that you’re awesome and motivating.
In fact, it suggests you don’t care. That you don’t hear your clients, you don’t see them, and you don’t understand they’re struggling.
It sounds kinda crazy, but…
Too much positive talk is bad for your clients.
There’s certainly a place for positivity in coaching.
You want your clients to feel that you believe in them. You can help them visualize success, or point out the next steps they can take.All of that can be motivating.
When your client is feeling all sunshine-and-rainbows, it’s okay to share that. Rock on with your rainbows.
But effective coaching also requires you to sense in and track with your clients.
This means paying attention. Observe carefully. Attune.
Know your clients’ cues. Listen to them. And understand their current state of mind.
Because your clients need their pain.
In most fitness and health coaching situations, we’re working with people who are in the midst of lifestyle upheaval.
That takes a lot of work. It also comes with a lot of ups and downs. Which are all completely normal.
Your clients deserve the opportunity to “feel” the lows.
In fact — this is important; pay attention — your clients may need those low moments in order to make progress.
Most change comes from responding to pain. We usually don’t change until the pain of not changing gets too strong to be ignored.
In other words, we need that pain. Pain is a signal to pay attention, get present, and check in.
And from a coaching perspective, clients need people to be with them in that pain… but not necessarily trying to push them out of it too quickly.
A study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology reveals that fantasy-caliber positive thinking may make you less likely to achieve a goal because it doesn’t generate the energy that’s needed to push forward.
If you want your clients to follow you to the finish line, you have to be able to support them in dark times. You have to let them be real.
For that, they have to see that you really get them, and that you truly empathize with how hard it can be to keep going.
When someone is struggling, the knee-jerk tendency to act like everything is happy-happy, joy-joy doesn’t communicate compassion at all.
It communicates that you’re not really paying attention.
Too much positivity isn’t real.
As a coach, thinking you have to be positive and inspiring all the time not only drags clients down — it can actually de-motivate them.
Imagine: You’re a client having a “fat day”. (Or a “scrawny day”. Or an “I’m so out of shape day”. Or your darn shoulder hurts again. Or that chocolate croissant you ate is sitting in your gut like a brick. Or…)
You arrive at the gym to greet your coach — Mr. Perfect or Ms. Invincible, who ignores your emotional state and gets in your face with rah-rah let’s-go-team!!
Not only do I suck at this and fail miserably, but my coach is a perfect model of positivity. S/he has bulletproof abs and an awesome life and a perma-smile. S/he can’t even begin to relate to how hard this is for me. I’ll never be like that.
My coach doesn’t understand me. I’m just another client.
And once you as a client start feeling that way, here’s what happens.
Activate operation “Give the heck up”…
followed by “Eat more cookies and ice cream to soothe pain of giving up”…
and, finally, “Burn down the houses of all the positive people I know, starting with my annoying trainer.”
Just kidding about that last one. (Sort of.)
Incessant positivity costs coaches, too.
Not only does this excessive positivity make it tough for clients — it’s tough for coaches, too.
Who out there can honestly keep up the “I’m always positive and upbeat and motivating” charade?
Who can continue being a walking, talking fitspiration poster ‘round the clock?
Who can cover all the bases — competition-fit body, super-nutritious diet, perfect life choices, sparkling attitude?
Hint: No one.
Real humans feel real emotions. Happiness and positivity. Ambivalence and pain.
Real humans — yes, even supercoaches — aren’t magazine cover models either.
Fitness and health are about making real choices in real lives with real demands and real messiness.
Commence operation “get real”.
To be a great coach, you need to learn when positivity and inspiration are useful. Or when other tools are more appropriate.
The truth is: Sometimes things suck. And people shouldn’t always have to look on the bright side.
Coaches can learn to be present with that and respect it.
In situations like this, don’t pat clients on the back and point to some cheesy-ass motivational poster on the wall. Don’t fall into the positivity trap. For most clients, these are actively de-motivating.
Instead, learn to recognize that real emotions are being felt. And that these real emotions have a purpose too. They have value. In fact, these real, icky, inconvenient, painful emotions may actually be moving your client closer to change.
Use these moments to connect on a meaningful level — during ups, downs, and in-betweens — because it goes much further.
Here’s how to connect.
Think about how you go about motivating clients.
Do your attitude and demeanor send the message that everything has to be happy, positive, and easy all the time?
Do you feel uncomfortable in the face of “difficult” emotions or discussions? (Or worse, silence? Augh! You probably want to freak out just reading that, right?)
Or do your actions signal that it’s okay to struggle, to be sad, to need help? To not know the answers? To feel lost?
Imagine that your client expresses some form of frustration, complaint, or negativity, like, “I’m not seeing progress,” or “My body hurts,” or “I just don’t think I can do this!”
Now ask yourself:
How do you imagine reacting in this scenario?
Does your reaction show the client that you genuinely hear them?
Does your reaction help your client feel more connected to you as a human being?
How do your expressions, body language, and words convey to your client that you can see where they’re coming from in their struggle?
How can you show compassion and help your client develop self-compassion, even when — especially when — things are tough?
Next time you encounter a difficult situation where empathy and compassion is warranted — not motivational slogans — here are some responses to try:
“Wow. That does sound tough [or sad, or challenging, or puzzling…]. How can I help?”
“Wow. That does sound tough [or sad, or challenging, or puzzling…]. Want to talk about it a bit more?”
“It sounds like you’re ___. And that’s frustrating?”
“I have so been there. And you know what? It’s perfectly normal and OK to feel anxious right now. Lots of folks feel like this when ___.”
“Tell me what the most frustrating [anxiety-provoking, saddening, irritating, etc.] thing is about this situation for you. What’s bothering you most?”
In these situations, you want a good combination of empathy and information gathering.
The key is to really hear your clients’ needs and feelings. Let them feel the suckiness.
Let yourself get used to feeling suckiness too. It’s OK.
And then find ways of moving forward, together.
What to do next
If you own a cheesy motivational poster and you regularly share it with clients, do this instead: Burn it.
Take a few moments and go through the above “Here’s how to connect” scenario. Consider alternatives to how you normally react to struggling clients and how you engage with them when things suck.
Remember: The ultimate goal isn’t to make clients pretend everything is groovy. Or even to make them feel groovy. It’s to meaningfully connect. That’s what elite coaches do.
It’s rich in two specific groups of omega-3 fatty acids known as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). DHA and EPA, along with alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), found in things like flax and walnuts, fall under the subheading of omega-3 fatty acids. (See All About Healthy Fats for more.)
EPA and DHA are often cited as being the beneficial components of fish oil. EPA and DHA actually originate in algae, which is the base of the food chain for fish. Fish consume these algae and thus concentrate high amounts of the beneficial fats.
Why is fish oil so important?
Omega-3s are very important for health, including:
nervous system function and brain development
Research shows that low DHA consumption (and blood levels) is associated with memory loss, difficulty concentrating, Alzheimer’s disease and other mood problems.
Essential fats have an integral role in promoting cell health.
Cells in the human body have a fatty membrane (known as the lipid bilayer). This membrane is semi-permable: It regulates what gets into the cell and what goes out of it. The fluidity of cell membranes depend on the fatty acid composition of the diet.
If the fatty membranes surrounding brain cells are relatively fluid, as they are with lots of omega-3s, then messages from neurochemicals such as serotonin can be transmitted more easily.
On the other hand, if people eat too many saturated fats (which are solid at room temperature), without enough omega-3s, then these membranes become more rigid, and stuff can’t get through.
Cells also require these good fats for repair and regeneration.
With lots of omega-3s, muscle cells become more sensitive to insulin, while fat cells decrease. This may mean that the body can divert more nutrients to muscle tissue.
Finally, DHA and EPA can increase metabolism by increasing levels of enzymes that boost calorie-burning ability.
What you should know
We can’t make omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in our bodies, so we need to get them from our diets.
Omega-3 to omega-6 ratio
It’s easy for us to get omega-6 fatty acids. These are found in plant oils, for instance, and factory-raised animals (which are fed a lot of corn and soy) will usually have a lot of omega-6 too. (See All About Plant Oils for more.)
But it’s hard for people in Western countries to get omega-3 fats from dietary sources. We eat a lot more processed foods and a lot less wild game and plants than our ancestors did. And we don’t usually eat things like snails and insects, which are also high in omega-3s, although many folks worldwide still eat these as part of traditional diets. We rely heavily now on omega-6 vegetable oils.
We evolved with a fat intake ratio of about 1:1 omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids. Now, it’s closer to 1:20.
Because omega-3s and omega-6s compete with each other for space in cell membranes and the attention of enzymes, the ratio matters more than the absolute amount consumed of either fat.
When it comes to fat intake, you (and your cells) really are what you eat.
Years of research has linked lower fat diets with aggression, depression, and suicidal ideation. Over time, the cells in your brain take on the dietary fat you consume. DHA is the active fat in the brain, and especially important throughout developmental stages.
Depletion of fish oil resources
About 1/3 of the world’s total fish catch goes toward fish meal/oil for farmed fish and other animals. Many open ocean fish like menhaden, anchovies, herring and mackerel are caught mainly for this purpose. Competition for fish meal/oil can drive up the price of fish, which pushes this food source out of reach for many of the world’s poorest.
Aim for 3-9 daily grams of total fish oil (about 1-3 grams of EPA + DHA) per day from a supplement company that doesn’t contribute directly to the depletion of fish (e.g., they use primarily fish discards).
Look for small-fish-based formulations (e.g. herring, mackerel). Small fish are lower on the food chain and less likely to accumulate environmental toxins. Or choose krill oil or algae oil (see All About Algae Supplements).
Avoid cod liver oil.
Avoid trans fats; they can interfere with EPA & DHA in the body.
If you find yourself using higher amounts of corn, cottonseed, and sunflower oil (omega-6 rich vegetable oils), aim to use fewer of those, which will negatively alter your fatty acid ratio.
For extra credit
The amount of DHA in a woman’s diet determines the amount of DHA in her breast milk.
Omega-3 fats are not typically used in processed foods because of their tendency to oxidize.
NIH researchers have said that the billions we spend on anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and acetaminophen is money spent to undo the effects of too much omega-6 fat in the diet.
It’s hypothesized that populations may drift toward a lower omega-3 intake because a faster metabolism (from high omega-3 intake) increases the need for food and the possibility of hunger.
Fish oil seems to be safe (except for those on blood thinning medications).
We all know that vitamins and minerals are important, but why?
Here’s what you need to know about what’s in your food… or your Flintstones chewables.
What are vitamins & minerals?
Vitamins are organic compounds that are essential in very small amounts for supporting normal physiologic function.
We need vitamins in our diets, because our bodies can’t synthesize them quickly enough to meet our daily needs.
Vitamins have three characteristics:
They’re natural components of foods; usually present in very small amounts.
They’re essential for normal physiologic function (e.g., growth, reproduction, etc).
When absent from the diet, they will cause a specific deficiency.
Vitamins are generally categorized as either fat soluble or water soluble depending on whether they dissolve best in either lipids or water.
Vitamins and their derivatives often serve a variety of roles in the body – one of the most important being their roles as cofactors for enzymes – called coenzymes. (See figure below for an example.)
Most minerals are considered essential and comprise a vast set of micronutrients. There are both macrominerals (required in amounts of 100 mg/day or more) and microminerals (required in amounts less than 15 mg/day).
Why is an adequate vitamin intake so important?
Vitamin deficiencies can create or exacerbate chronic health conditions.
9 water-soluble vitamins
Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)
Deficiency: Symptoms include burning feet, weakness in extremities, rapid heart rate, swelling, anorexia, nausea, fatigue, and gastrointestinal problems.
Toxicity: None known.
Sources: Sunflower seeds, asparagus, lettuce, mushrooms, black beans, navy beans, lentils, spinach, peas, pinto beans, lima beans, eggplant, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, tuna, whole wheat, soybeans
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
Deficiency: Symptoms include cracks, fissures and sores at corner of mouth and lips, dermatitis, conjunctivitis, photophobia, glossitis of tongue, anxiety, loss of appetite, and fatigue.
Toxicity: Excess riboflavin may increase the risk of DNA strand breaks in the presence of chromium. High-dose riboflavin therapy will intensify urine color to a bright yellow (flavinuria) – but this is harmless.
Deficiency: Symptoms include dermatitis, diarrhea, dementia, and stomatitis.
Toxicity: Niacin from foods is not known to cause adverse effects. Supplemental nicotinic acid may cause flushing of skin, itching, impaired glucose tolerance and gastrointestinal upset. Intake of 750 mg per day for less than 3 months can cause liver cell damage. High dose nicotinamide can cause nausea and liver toxicity.
Deficiency: Symptoms include chelosis, glossitis, stomatitis, dermatitis (all similar to vitamin B2 deficiency), nervous system disorders, sleeplessness, confusion, nervousness, depression, irritability, interference with nerves that supply muscles and difficulties in movement of these muscles, and anemia. Prenatal deprivation results in mental retardation and blood disorders for the newborn.
Toxicity: High doses of supplemental vitamin B6 may result in painful neurological symptoms.
Sources: Whole wheat, brown rice, green leafy vegetables, sunflower seeds, potato, garbanzo beans, banana, trout, spinach, tomatoes, avocado, walnuts, peanut butter, tuna, salmon, lima beans, bell peppers, chicken meat
Vitamin B9 (Folic acid)
Folate is the naturally occurring form found in foods. Folic acid is the synthetic form used in commercially available supplements and fortified foods. Inadequate folate status is associated with neural tube defects and some cancers.
Deficiency: One may notice anemia (macrocytic/megaloblastic), sprue, Leukopenia, thrombocytopenia, weakness, weight loss, cracking and redness of tongue and mouth, and diarrhea. In pregnancy there is a risk of low birth weight and preterm delivery.
Toxicity: None from food. Keep in mind that vitamin B12 and folic acid deficiency can both result in megaloblastic anemia. Large doses of folic acid given to an individual with an undiagnosed vitamin B12 deficiency could correct megaloblastic anemia without correcting the underlying vitamin B12 deficiency.
Sources: Green leafy vegetables, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, citrus fruits, black eyed peas, spinach, great northern beans, whole grains, baked beans, green peas, avocado, peanuts, lettuce, tomato juice, banana, papaya, organ meats
Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin)
Vitamin B12 must combine with intrinsic factor before it’s absorbed into the bloodstream. We can store a year’s worth of this vitamin – but it should still be consumed regularly. B12 is a product of bacterial fermentation, which is why it’s not present in higher order plant foods.
Deficiency: Symptoms include pernicious anemia, neurological problems and sprue.
Toxicity: None known from supplements or food. Only a small amount is absorbed via the oral route, thus the potential for toxicity is low.
Deficiency: Very rare in humans. Keep in mind that consuming raw egg whites over a long period of time can cause biotin deficiency. Egg whites contain the protein avidin, which binds to biotin and prevents its absorption.
Toxicity: Not known to be toxic.
Sources: Green leafy vegetables, most nuts, whole grain breads, avocado, raspberries, cauliflower, carrots, papaya, banana, salmon, eggs
Vitamin C (Ascorbic acid)
Deficiency: Symptoms include bruising, gum infections, lethargy, dental cavities, tissue swelling, dry hair and skin, bleeding gums, dry eyes, hair loss, joint paint, pitting edema, anemia, delayed wound healing, and bone fragility. Long-term deficiency results in scurvy.
Toxicity: Possible problems with very large vitamin C doses including kidney stones, rebound scurvy, increased oxidative stress, excess iron absorption, vitamin B12 deficiency, and erosion of dental enamel. Up to 10 grams/day is safe based on most data. 2 grams or more per day can cause diarrhea.
Carotenoids that can be converted by the body into retinol are referred to as provitamin A carotenoids.
Deficiency: One may notice difficulty seeing in dim light and rough/dry skin.
Toxicity: Hypervitaminosis A is caused by consuming excessive amounts of preformed vitamin A, not the plant carotenoids. Preformed vitamin A is rapidly absorbed and slowly cleared from the body. Nausea, headache, fatigue, loss of appetite, dizziness, and dry skin can result. Excess intake while pregnant can cause birth defects.
Sources: Carrots, sweet potato, pumpkin, green leafy vegetables, squash, cantaloupe, bell pepper, Chinese cabbage, beef, eggs, peaches
Deficiency: In children a vitamin D deficiency can result in rickets, deformed bones, retarded growth, and soft teeth. In adults a vitamin D deficiency can result in osteomalacia, softened bones, spontaneous fractures, and tooth decay. Those at risk for deficiency include infants, elderly, dark skinned individuals, those with minimal sun exposure, fat malabsorption syndromes, inflammatory bowel diseases, kidney failure, and seizure disorders.
Toxicity: Hypervitaminosis D is not a result of sun exposure but from chronic supplementation. Excessive supplement use will elevate blood calcium levels and cause loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, excessive thirst, excessive urination, itching, muscle weakness, joint pain and disorientation. Calcification of soft tissues can also occur.
Deficiency: Not a result of insufficient dietary intake. Caused by protein wasting conditions. Diuretics can also cause excessive loss of potassium in the urine. Low blood potassium can result in cardiac arrest.
Toxicity: Occurs when the intake of potassium exceeds the kidneys capacity for elimination. Found with kidney failure and potassium sparing diuretics. Oral doses greater than 18 grams can lead to toxicity. Symptoms include tingling of extremities and muscle weakness. High dose potassium supplements may cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
Deficiency: Very rare due to abundance of magnesium in foods. Those with gastrointestinal disorders, kidney disorders, and alcoholism are at risk.
Toxicity: None identified from foods. Excessive consumption of magnesium containing supplements may result in diarrhea (magnesium is a known laxative), impaired kidney function, low blood pressure, muscle weakness, and cardiac arrest.
Deficiency: Does not result from low dietary intake. Low blood sodium typically results from increased fluid retention. One may notice nausea, vomiting, headache, cramps, fatigue, and disorientation.
Toxicity: Excessive intake can lean to increased fluid volume, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal cramps. High blood sodium usually results from excessive water loss.
Sources: Any processed foods, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, vegetables
Consume iron rich foods with vitamin C rich foods to enhance absorption.Iron
Deficiency: Anemia with small and pale red blood cells. In children it is associated with behavioral abnormalities.
Toxicity: Common cause of poisoning in children. May increase the risk of chronic disease. Excessive intake of supplemental iron is an emergency room situation. Cardiovascular disease, cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases are associated with iron excess.
Sources: Almonds, apricots, baked beans, dates, lima beans, kidney beans, raisins, brown rice, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, pumpkin seeds, tuna, flounder, chicken meat, pork
Zinc deficiency results in decreased immunity and increases the susceptibility to infection. Supplementation of zinc has been shown to reduce the incidence of infection as well as cellular damage from increased oxidative stress. Zinc deficiency has also been implicated in diarrheal disease, supplementation might be effective in the prophylaxis and treatment of acute diarrhea.
Deficiency: Symptoms include growth retardation, lowered immune statue, skeletal abnormalities, delay in sexual maturation, poor wound healing, taste changes, night blindness and hair loss. Those at risk for deficiency include the elderly, alcoholics, those with malabsorption, vegans, and those with severe diarrhea.
Toxicity: Symptoms that result are abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. Long-term consumption of excessive zinc can result in copper deficiency.
Deficiency: Relatively uncommon. Clinical sign is hypochromic anemia unresponsive to iron therapy. Neutropenia and leucopenia may also result. Hypopigmentation of skin and hair is also noticed. Those at risk for deficiency include premature infants, infants fed only cow’s milk formula, those with malabsorption syndromes, excessive zinc consumption and antacid use.
Toxicity: Rare. Symptoms include abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Long-term exposure to lower doses of copper can result in liver damage.
Sources: Mushrooms, green leafy vegetables, barley, soybeans, tempeh, sunflower seeds, navy beans, garbanzo beans, cashews, molasses, liver
Deficiency: Symptoms include impaired glucose tolerance and elevated circulating insulin
Toxicity: Generally limited to industrial exposure. Long-term supplement use may increase DNA damage. Rare cases of kidney failure have also been documented.
Deficiency: Can cause limited glutathione activity. More severe symptoms are juvenile cardiomyopathy and chondrodystrophy.
Toxicity: Multiple symptoms including dermatologic lesions, hair and nail brittleness, gastrointestinal disturbances, skin rash, fatigue, and nervous system abnormalities.
Sources: Brazil nuts, mushrooms, barley, salmon, whole grains, walnuts, eggs
Deficiency: Not typically observed in humans.
Toxicity: Generally from industrial exposure.
Sources: Green leafy vegetables, berries, pineapple, lettuce, tempeh, oats, soybeans, spelt, brown rice, garbanzo beans
Deficiency: Never been observed in healthy people.
Toxicity: More likely than deficiency. Still very rare.
Sources: Legumes, whole grains
What you should know about vitamins & minerals
Years ago, medical professionals noticed that peculiar disease states were directly related to food intake. These diseases were found in the presence of adequate calorie and protein intake.
Scientists also noticed that these diseases were absent among people who consumed certain foods. For example, sailors who consumed citrus fruits on long sea voyages did not develop scurvy.
Thus, researchers reasoned, there must be other important substances in the foods. Eventually, they discovered that compounds only obtained from foods could prevent and cure these diseases.
Nutrient deficiencies in the general population
Nutrient deficiencies are common, usually from a poor diet overall, or from a reduced calorie intake. 68% of the North American population is deficient in calcium, 90% in chromium, 75% in magnesium, and 80% in vitamin B6.
Nutrient deficiencies are particularly common among populations such as the elderly, athletes (who have a higher requirement for many nutrients), and people with low incomes (who may not consume as many healthy foods).
When someone reduces food intake in an effort to drop body fat, they’re almost assured a nutrient deficiency. Why? Because as food intake goes down, nutrient intake does too.
Vitamin solubility and absorption
Fat soluble vitamins are mostly absorbed passively and must be transported with dietary fat. These vitamins are usually found in the portion of the cell which contains fat, including membranes, lipid droplets, etc.
We tend to excrete fat soluble vitamins via feces, but we can also store them in fatty tissues.
If we don’t eat enough dietary fat, we don’t properly absorb these vitamins. A very low-fat diet can lead to deficiencies of fat-soluble vitamins.
Water soluble vitamins are absorbed by both passive and active mechanisms. Their transport in the body relies on molecular “carriers”.
Water soluble vitamins are not stored in high amounts within the body and are excreted in the urine along with their breakdown products.
Our bodies and the foods we eat contain minerals; we actually absorb them in a charged state (i.e., ionic state). Minerals will be in either a positive or negative state and reside inside or outside or cells.
Molecules found in food can alter our ability to absorb minerals. This includes things like phytates (found in grains), oxalate (found in foods like spinach and rhubarb), both of which inhibit mineral absorption, and acids. Even gastric acidity and stress can influence absorption.
Summary and recommendations
Vitamins and minerals play a role in normalizing bodily functions and cannot be made by the body (except for vitamin D from the sun).
Adequate intake from food and/or supplements is necessary to prevent deficiency, promote optimal health, improve nutrient partitioning and promote fat loss and muscle gain.
The interest in vitamin/mineral supplementation to prevent diseases and/or increase longevity comes from the idea that supplementation is harmless. Yet, serious adverse events have been reported. Don’t supplement unless you need to. Avoid supertherapeutic doses — doses greatly in excess of recommendations.
If you use a vitamin/mineral supplement, look for one providing nutrients derived from whole foods. Make sure this includes natural forms of vitamin E rather than the synthetic versions. Vitamin A should come from precursors like carotenoids and not preformed retinoids.
Women still menstruating should probably include supplemental iron. Men typically do not need additional iron (and in some men, it can be actively harmful).
Those suffering from malabsorption syndromes will need to adjust their micronutrient intake accordingly.
Those with limited sun exposure should investigate a vitamin D supplement.
Those on blood thinners should talk with their doctor before adding in supplemental vitamin K.
Those on a plant based diet might benefit from supplementing with iodine, vitamin D and vitamin B12.
A plant-based diet generally has a higher content of folic acid, vitamins C and E, potassium, and magnesium. It generally has a lower content of vitamins B-12, D, calcium and iron.
Vitamin A is present in tears.
Vitamins necessary for energy releasing processes: Vitamin B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, biotin
Vitamins necessary for red blood cell synthesis: Vitamin B9, B6, B12
In some studies, supplementation with the mineral chromium has reduced total serum cholesterol, triglycerides and apolipoprotein B and increased HDL-cholesterol.
The discovery of vitamins started the field of nutrition.
Earlier names for riboflavin (vitamin B2) were lactoflavin, ovoflavin, hepatoflavin and verdoflavin, indicating the sources (milk, eggs, liver and plants) from which the vitamin was first isolated.
Prenatal multivitamin/mineral supplements are associated with a reduced risk of low birth weight infants and with improved birth weight when compared with iron-folic acid supplements.
In observational studies (case-control or cohort design), people with high intake of antioxidant vitamins by regular diet typically have a lower risk of heart attack and stroke than people who don’t consume enough.