It Isn’t Only About Calories

What is the first thing you think about when it comes to health or weight loss? I am pretty sure I can guess that it is either diet or exercise. Did I guess correctly?

While diet and exercise both play very critical roles in health and body weight, there are many other things that people tend to forget about. Yep, it more than just calories in versus calories out than can impact how you feel or how much you weigh.

Here are some things to think about:

  1. Sleep –Not only can lack of sleep leave you with brain fog and feeling tired, it can also make it difficult to lose weight. Here’s why: lack of sleep increases a hormone in your body called ghrelin- your hunger hormones that tells your brain it is time to eat. Therefore, lack of sleep can cause you to eat more calories and have more cravings. Also, just like a lack of sleep makes your brain feel tired, it makes your metabolism feel tired too. That means your body doesn’t function as efficiently and you aren’t burning calories the same way as you would if you were well rested. Not to mention, it is difficult to get in a good workout in when you’re tired.
  2. Stress – When you are stressed, your body goes into the “fight or flight” response (also called “survival mode”). Just like the name, your body is doing everything it can to survive; your cortisol (stress hormone) levels increase and your body stops using your fat stores for energy. Why? Because your body thinks it needs to hold on to and use all of its energy to deal with the stress. Think about it…in evolutionary history, stress use to mean running from a dangerous situation, which does in fact require lots of energy, but now our stressors (like work and school) don’t require the same amount of energy as running from animals does. High stress and cortisol levels also cause you to crave energy dense/high calorie foods because, again, your body thinks it needs lots of energy to handle the stressor.
  3. Inflammation – Inflammation is a natural way the body protects and heals itself, but excess inflammation can cause weight gain and increased risk for chronic disease. Sugar, saturated fat, and trans fat are all pro-inflammatory foods (aka the bad guys), and more and more studies are showing dairy, artificial sweeteners, chemical food additives, and white flour are also culprits of inflammation. This means that even if you are only eating 800 calories per day worth of these foods, you are unlikely to lose weight (and you might also find yourself with headaches, fatigue, joint pain, and increased risk for heart disease and cancer).

While I am the nutrition guru and wish that all problems could be solved with nutrition, it is important to remember that there are other factors that control our weight and overall health. Try getting an extra hour or two of sleep, doing some relaxing activities (like yoga, reading, listening to some music, or taking a walk outdoors), and cutting out some of the pro-inflammatory foods and see how you feel. You might be surprised by the results after just one week!

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How my Senior Capstone has solidified my decision to be a dietitian

As a nutrition major, I get to have a very unique experience for my Senior Capstone project. Instead of writing a long research like most students, I have the opportunity to teach a nutrition education class, along with four other students majoring in nutrition, to older adults at a local YMCA. Over the course of the semester, we teach six different classes on various nutrition topics. The topic this week- diabetes. We chose to teach about diabetes because over 25% of older adults have it and many cases go undiagnosed or unmanaged.

Before we gave the presentation, our advising professor thought it would be a good idea for us to learn how to check your blood sugar since that is a major part of living life with diabetes. She gave each of us our own blood sugar meter and got to check our own blood sugar. Since needles don’t freak me out, I was pretty excited about the opportunity. Our professor walked us through the process and I got my first ever blood sugar reading: 97mg/dL which is perfectly normal :).

 

testing-blood-sugar

Overall, it was a pretty eye opening experience. While it didn’t hurt that much, it is definitely not something I would want to do every day. (Diabetics may have to test their blood sugar up to eight times a day depending on how well-managed their blood sugar is.) I found it even crazier that people with diabetes can make so many dietary changes to prevent uncontrolled blood sugar and having to test blood sugar every day, yet many people don’t make the changes they need (usually because they don’t know what they need to do or how) and end up suffering the consequences.

While we taught the class, my classmates and I discovered that many of the participants had diabetes, but they couldn’t even identify what foods had carbohydrates in them (the main contributor to elevated blood sugar). I had a little bit of a light bulb moment during the class; I realized just how little the general public actually knows about nutrition, and that I often find myself assuming that people know so much more than they actually do, which can make my job as a (eventually) dietitian a lot harder.

That being said, this is just another reason why I want to be a dietitian. The fact up to 40% of premature deaths can be prevented by changes in health behaviors like diet and exercise makes me feel like my job as a dietitian will be meaningful and will hopefully have a positive affect on the people I work with.