Nutrition: Where and how

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Phil "PJ" Menagh
  • Ramstein Health and Wellness Center
If you have ever owned a truck, you have likely had dozens of friends ask you to tow their junk around town. A physical therapist is constantly getting questions about aches and pains in and out of the clinic. When people find out I am a dietitian, they often ask "okay then, how should I eat?" My response, "well, what do you want to accomplish by eating?" Think about that for a second. Before asking "how," let's make sure we have a "where" and a "why." Where do you want to go with your health, nutrition or fitness goals? More importantly, why do you want to get there?

Motivations and desires can be very unique from one person to another. Some may wish to lose fifteen pounds to look and feel better. Others are interested in gaining muscular strength to become more resilient and a generally more useful human. You may be training for an upcoming sports competition, or maybe your long term goal is to maintain or improve your current health for the next 30, 50 or 70 years so you can play freeze-tag with your grandkids on sunny afternoons. Each of these goals will have a few subtle lifestyle adjustments. Ultimately, when you have a solid vision of where you want to go and why you want to get there, the "how" tends to fall in to place.

Before you adopt a new health practice, think about how it may contribute or detract from your progress. Will a rapid weight loss diet affect your competitive sports performance? Will drinking a sugary "sports drink" during your workouts sabotage your waist line? How will choosing pop tarts over fruit every morning influence your long term health? When you have well-defined objectives in mind, decisions along the way seem less perplexing.

Regardless of your goal, the best place to start a meal is covering half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables or fruits, choose a sensible protein source the size of the palm of your hand and place it on one-fourth of your plate, limit starches to the last one-fourth of the plate and choose whole sources with fiber. Finally, sprinkle in some healthy fats such as olive oil or avocadoes. Eat only when you are hungry, take your time when eating meals, and stick to vegetables if you go back for seconds. Limit "treats" to special occasions -- one to two per week or less. Make time to exercise 30 to 90 minutes most days, and adjust your schedule to allow for some rest, relaxation and sound sleep.

Diligently follow the above paragraph 90 percent of the time and you will be well on your way to obtaining and maintaining a healthy body composition. Furthermore, improvements can be seen in chronic health factors such as blood pressure, cholesterol and blood-sugar control. Your performance will improve in school, work or competition, and most importantly, you will be stacking the cards in your favor for living longer, healthier life.

Are there other approaches that may also work for you? Absolutely. Then again, if you were completely content with your fitness and health, you would have stopped reading this article long ago. Try it, really try it. Do the work and eat the good food. Write your goals down and put them in clear sight. Keep them in mind while you follow the advice above for six weeks and see what happens. Then, adjust and adapt from there.

The next question to ask is "when? The answer is now. Go clean out your cupboards and discard foods with added sugars. Also, begin looking more closely at food ingredient labels. The longer the list (and the more words you can't pronounce), the further it should be from your daily menu. Shop the perimeter of the grocery store. Stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats and eggs. Grab a bottle of olive oil and some lemon juice (toss together with seasoning for a great salad dressing). Go down the freezer aisle and pick up some steamer bags of veggies, berries, maybe some salmon. While you are at it, grab a few cans of tuna, some jerky, unsweetened dried fruits and a bag of almonds. Then, leave the store. Skip the candy, soda, chips and cookie aisles, and use the time you saved to get to the gym, go outside and play or prepare foods for the work week ahead. Uncomfortable in the kitchen? Use YouTube responsibly and search for "healthy cooking" or "cooking vegetables" for some great ideas and "how-tos."

What are you waiting for? You know "where" you want to go, "why" you want to get there and have a game plan outlining the "how." The next step is up to you -- 3, 2, 1 ... go!