Jake Hilden, Nutritionist
There is something exciting about kicking off the start of a new year. The energy is motivating. Many people are hoping for new beginnings. It’s a time to create and be a new you by achieving goals of getting healthier, being happier, or some other priority in your life. It’s your story and you are the writer.
For this article, I wanted to share a bit about the link between nutrition and our physical and emotional health. I find that when we dig deeper into a subject, it sparks intrinsic motivation to stick with changing your lifestyle - especially when things get hard.
Before I get into the nitty gritty of it, I want to share a story about me, nutrition, and my health.
After about three years of being a police officer, I noticed many things that had changed about me. I was tired all the time, stressed out, irritable, and I was the heaviest that I had ever been in my life. I knew something had to change. I didn’t want to continue living this way.
A majority of my diet was processed foods, which wasn’t surprising because about 60% of most peoples’ calorie intake comes from processed and ultra-processed food. They’re highly palpable and addictive. And a majority of the liquid I consumed was most definitely not water. I also rarely ate fruit and the only vegetables I ate came from ketchup or the lettuce on a taco.
But, before this time as a police officer, I had been into bodybuilding and weightlifting ever since high school. So, I was relatively strong and had been working out at least four days a week on average.
I found that I was still miserable though. I realized that exercising and building up muscle only scratched the surface of what being healthy meant. Everything changed for me when I changed my entire lifestyle - including the food that I ate.
My energy increased, I naturally lost extra pounds without being restrictive or counting calories, and my mood was more stable. I felt pretty dang good.
Now, I’ll never recommend anyone to “diet.” This word screams failure in my mind. Diet culture is unhealthy and usually highly restrictive. It never lasts and, if people do lose weight on a strict diet, they almost always gain it back.
So, I’m talking about slow and steady lifestyle changes. I’m also talking about finding your deeper why – the intrinsic motivation to do better. For me, I was tired of feeling sick and tired. I wanted to have more self-confidence, energy, and to feel better. I also wanted to be a role model for my kids by showing them someone who cared for their body, which is one of the greatest forms of self-love.
I have found in all of my nutrition research that Michael Pollen sums up a healthy diet best, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” I also add to drink mostly water when thirsty.
Let’s break this down further:
The two words “eat food” are important, because as I mentioned earlier, a majority of our calories come from food-like substances (ie. not real food). Ultimately, this means to eat food in its most natural form and closest to nature as possible. Trust me, you will notice a difference as you add more whole foods into your diet. You’ll obtain more fiber which is important for overall health and to reduce risk of multiple chronic diseases. You’ll also obtain many more nutrients that your body needs to thrive.
Not Too Much
Overeating is a problem in society today, because even though we have an abundance of food, we are starving for nutrients. Food-like substances lack any necessary nutrition that our bodies need. Therefore, we continue to feel hungry as our bodies are trying to obtain what it needs to survive. Overeating also causes us to feel sleepy, low energy, gut aches, and it leads to weight gain.
Whole food plants such as whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds contain fiber, complex carbohydrates, phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals that our bodies need to not only survive, but thrive. A wide variety of plants also feed the beneficial microbes in our gut that play a fundamental role in our health and longevity.
Whatever you're seeking in 2022, I can say from experience that the more you can clean up your diet, the healthier and happier you will feel. Focus on more whole foods, less processed foods, and more water, and you will be off to a great start. You’ve got this!