What is Body Positive Nutrition?

The most common thing to come to mind when they hear the word nutrition is weight loss.  As if the only reason to eat healthy is to lose weight or change the way our bodies look in some regard.  Nutrition is so much more than a way to force our bodies to look a certain way.

 

Firstly, we absolutely have to eat.  That is a non-negotiable fact of life.  Food fuels everything we do.  Food gives us the ability to exist on this planet.  So why then do so many of us struggle with getting proper nourishment without guilt?  In our culture food is associated with morality.  We experience a feeling of superiority when we abstain from eating certain foods and guilt when we break down in times of distress or celebration and eat those same foods. 

 

Body Positive Nutrition (BPN) takes the morality out of eating.  You are neither good nor bad for the foods you choose to eat.  Ideally, through BPN you allow yourself to eat intuitively without shame and guilt.  You know which foods best nourish your body and choose to eat them for that very reason.  You also realize that food is an integral part of our human connection and allow yourself to experience the joy of that connectivity.  As I was growing up, my mother would cook delicious foods with such joy that you could feel the love in every bite.  To this day when I walk into her house she asks if she can cook something for me.  Missing out on that delicious food would deny my mother of the ability to show me her love. 

 

Attempting to stay on a diet at the expense of connectivity is something I experienced during a 15-year eating disorder.  When I would refuse to eat certain foods at gatherings with friends and family I drove a wedge between myself and the people I love. 

 

Abstaining from foods for the sole purpose of losing weight can be both dangerous and detrimental, but it is important to note that many people have food allergies or sensitivities that dictate that they do avoid certain foods.  In this case it is important to listen to the signals your body gives you and respond appropriately.  Food journaling can be very helpful in both identifying reactive foods and moving towards intuitive eating. 

 

Another important piece in the puzzle of BPN is exercise.  Human beings need exercise in order to achieve and maintain health.  This includes physical, emotional and mental health.  One of the foundational understandings in BPN is that every body is unique.  This means that while all people need to eat differently in order to maintain optimal health they also need to exercise differently.  While some prefer a slow moving gentle yoga class others might feel better after a high intensity spin class.  Part of BPN is being adventurous and getting out of your comfort zone.  Try new forms of exercise and find the one that brings you joy.  Part of my eating disorder recovery was allowing myself to let go of doing exercise that felt boring, torturous or forced.  Moving your body should feel intuitive and fun!

 

Body positive nutrition overall is the knowledge that you are a unique being and you are the only one who lives in your body.  That means you are empowered to be its advocate.  There is no singular right way to take care of a human body.  It is up to you to put the pieces together and solve the puzzle.  There is also no perfect body. We are beautiful in our flaws.  Loving your body and taking care of it the best you can is all you need to do.

Combating Chronic Inflammation

 

Inflammation is a physical condition where a part of the body becomes swollen, reddened, hot and/or painful and can be attributed to the reaction from an injury, infection or allergy.  Inflammation is necessary in cases of acute trauma, but when it becomes chronic or widespread within the body, evidence shows that it can lead to a wide array of health concerns. 

 

Chronic inflammation has been found to be related to heart disease, diabetes, nutrient deficiencies, food allergies and intolerances, obesity, cancer, metabolic diseases and autoimmunity just to name a few of many conditions.  These health concerns are very serious complications of long term chronic inflammation, but there are ways to detect chronic inflammation before health is seriously or irreversibly damaged.  How do you know if you have chronic inflammation?  There are several symptoms that indicate the condition, including: ongoing pain in the body, allergies and/or asthma, high blood pressure or blood sugar imbalances, ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), constant fatigue and lethargy and skin problems such as eczema and psoriasis.

 

It is common practice to take anti-inflammatory steroid drugs or NSAIDS (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) to relieve inflammation.  Steroid-based drugs can impair immune system function and lead to hormone imbalance in the body.  NSAIDS, which include ibuprofen (Motrin and Advil), aspirin, and naproxen (Aleve), affect the stomach lining and compromise gut health leading to a host of complications within the body.  Some NSAIDS have been shown to increase the risk of heart attack as well as cause swelling (the very thing they are meant to relieve), rashes, asthma, angioedema, hives and anaphylaxis.

 

The good news is that chronic inflammation can be controlled by eating a healthy diet, getting enough anti-inflammatory nutrients, and getting regular exercise.  Ensuring the body’s proper elimination of inflammatory toxins can minimize inflammation.  Some of the steps we can take to lessen chronic inflammation in the body include:

·      Eating a high-quality, organic diet free of synthetic hormones, pesticides, antibiotics and other toxic residues.

·      Eating foods like leafy, green vegetables, citrus and sea vegetables to support the liver and kidneys in the process of elimination.

·      Identify and avoid allergens in the diet.

·      Ensure appropriate amounts of exercise (at least 30 minutes 3 times per week).

·      Drink enough fluids (Half of one’s body weight in ounces).

·      Avoid inflammatory foods such as sugar, alcohol, caffeine, wheat and other gluten containing grains, refined carbohydrates, fried foods, hydrogenated oils, peanuts and peanut butter and conventionally produced meat and dairy.

 

There are specific foods and nutrients to eat in order to avoid or reverse chronic inflammation.  These include:

 

Antioxidants- antioxidants are compounds that give foods their color.  Plant foods that are rich in color are rich in antioxidants such as flavonoids and carotenoids, which reduce oxidation in the body thus reducing inflammation.  Foods rich in antioxidants include: berries, grapes, nuts, dark green veggies, sea vegetables, sweet potatoes, carrots and green tea among many others.

 

Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) – eating high-quality fat is crucial to reducing inflammation.  EFAs such as omega-3 fatty acids are fats that cannot be produced by the body thus must be obtained through the diet.  They are contained in highest concentration in cold-water fish such as cod, salmon, sardines, halibut and mackerel, walnuts, flax seeds and chia seeds.

 

Fiber – fiber will help the body in eliminating stool within the appropriate amount of thus thus ensuring the body will not reabsorb toxins in the intestine.  High-fiber foods include legumes, seeds and nuts, fresh vegetables and fruits, and whole grains. 

 

Probiotic Foods – poor gut health can lead to inflammation which have effects such as insulin resistance, cancer and poor brain health.  Healthy gut bacteria is one of the most important factors of a healthy immune system. 

 

Turmeric – turmeric contains curcumin, which provides its yellow color and is a powerful anti-inflammatory compound.  Turmeric has been shown to improve symptoms in cases of Alzheimer’s and arthritis.  Turmeric can be supplemented in the diet at 400 to 600 mg per day or used liberally in cooking.

 

Garlic – garlic has anti-viral, anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and antioxidant properties.  Garlic’s high sulfur content has shown to have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body. 

 

References:

 

Black, Jessica. (2006). The Anti-Inflammation Diet and Recipe Book.  Alameda, CA: Hunter         House Inc.

Nielson, Diseree. (April 20, 2015). Probiotics and Chronic Inflammation: Balancing Our Bodies    Immune Response.  Retrieved From: http://www.alive.com/health/probiotics-and-chronic-inflammation/

Antioxidants, Free Radicals and Trans Fatty Acids: The Good, The Sometimes Bad and the Ugly

Free Radicals are molecules that have lost an electron and in turn they steal electrons from another molecule turning it into a free radical.  This is a process known as oxidation and it can be very damaging to our cells.  Oxidative stress, the stress on our bodies due to oxidation, is believed to cause aging and a host of negative effects including, damaging other molecules and tissues, gene mutations, macular degeneration, coronary artery blockage, and mitochondrial damage.  Free radicals are made during energy production in the body, also during infection and inflammatory responses.  There are also environmental sources of free radicals including UV light, air pollution, cigarette smoke, pesticides and car exhaust.  The good news is that free radicals are not all bad.  Their benefits include the killing of microbes, activating genes, liver detoxification, and blood vessel relaxation.  This is why it is important to balance free radicals with antioxidants. 

Antioxidants are molecules that donate one of their electrons to free radicals to diminish or eliminate their damaging effects.  There are many different antioxidants and the good news is that many of them can be found in the delicious food of the eating for health model.  For example, the antioxidant vitamin C can be found in red peppers, guavas, kale and parsley.  Vitamin A is found in foods like liver, whole milk and dark, leafy vegetables.  There are also antioxidant minerals found in our food.  Zinc is found in oysters, pumpkin seeds, gingerroot and pecans.  Selenium is found in wheat germ, brazil nuts, wheat bran and calf’s liver.  Antioxidant phytonutrients like lignans, found in flaxseeds, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and isoflavonoids, found in soy and red clover, are also great for keeping the body’s balance of free radicals. 

Trans fatty acids are also known as hydrogenated oils or partially hydrogenated oils.  This process involves a hydrogen molecule being added to naturally occurring unsaturated fatty acid molecules to make an oil (usually canola) more saturated thus causing it to be solid or semisolid at room temperature.  Partially hydrogenated oils, which are found in margarine as well as many shelf-safe, pre-packaged foods like cookies, cakes, and crackers, are very harmful to the function of your cell membranes and can interfere with your body’s ability to use essential fatty acids.  This results in essential fatty acid deficiency which can cause arthritis, depression, high blood pressure, constipation, immune weakness, and fatigue. 

References:

Bauman, Ed. Ph. D. (2012).  Foundations of Nutrition.  Bauman College

Bauman, Ed. Ph.D. NC103.3 Nutritional Biochemistry. (Powerpoint Slides).

Bland, Jeffery S. Ph.D. (2004). Clinical Nutrition: A Functional Approach. Washington: The Institute for Functional Medicine.

Murray, Michael. N.D. (2005).  The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods.  New York, New York: Atria Books

Three Steps to Hormonal Balance: A Guide to Balancing Estrogen in the Female Body

As a woman, balancing the estrogen levels in your body is key to living a healthy, happy life.  An overabundance of estrogen in the female body can lead to a host of complications and conditions including: premenstrual syndrome (PMS), endometriosis, abnormal Papanicolaou (PAP) tests, ovarian cysts, uterine fybriods, cystic breasts, heavy periods, hormonal acne, severe menopausal symptoms, and can lead to cancer in some cases.  There are several steps we can take in order to maintain healthy and safe levels of estrogen. 

1. Support your liver, ovaries and adrenal glands

The ovaries and the adrenal glands create estrogen and the liver detoxifies excess estrogen.  To ensure the liver and adrenals are working at their most efficient levels it is best to limit your consumption of refined oils, sugars, artificial sweeteners, fried foods, alcohol and caffeine.  It is also advisable to reduce stress in your life and ensure that you are getting adequate amounts of sleep.  There are several foods to eat to support these organs.  Try leafy greens, citrus, or cilantro to support the liver and herbs like ashwagandha and tulsi (holy basil) for the adrenals. 

2. Eat foods that balance hormones

Certain foods have been shown to aide in hormonal balance.  Lignans, compounds found in high-fiber foods such as flax, “bind to estrogen receptors and can interfere with the cancer-promoting effects of estrogen" (Murray, 2005).  Lignans can also be found in other seeds, grains and legumes in lower concentration. 

3. Avoid Environmental Estrogen

It is important to protect yourself from environmental sources of estrogen.  Many products contain parabens, plastics and bisphenol A (BPA).  Non-organic dairy and meat contain synthetic hormones as well.  Some pesticides in our food sources have also been shown to act as estrogen once they enters our bodies.  Eating organic foods, using paraben-free cosmetics and limiting the contact our foods have with plastic can all help to keep our hormones in balance. 

Adrenal Fatigue and Hormonal Imbalance

Adrenal fatigue can cause hormonal imbalances as well as insomnia, lack of energy, difficulty handling stress and weight gain.  There are several herbs that can be taken to reverse symptoms of adrenal fatigue.  Rhodiola helps the body resist stress, suma root supports the nervous, reproductive and digestive systems and ashwagandha has proven to have powerful anti-stress effects.

Sources:

Hall, D. C. (2002). Nutritional Influences on Estrogen Metabolism. www.meta-ehealth.com. Retrieved April 13, 2014, from http://www.meta-ehealth.com/site/office/article.jsp?path=\ch_wellness_center\nutrition\illness_and_prevention&fileName=Estrogen.xml
Murray, M. (2005). The Encyclopedia of Healing Food.  New York: Atria Books.
Vanderhaeghe, L. (2014, May/June). Nutrients for Balancing Hormones and Reversing Estrogen Dominance. Well Being Journal, 15-18.