How To Jump Start A Healthy Eating Program
October 10, 2011 9 Comments
Snack Girl is all about collecting as many ideas as she can to support her healthy habits. I read a TON of different books about healthy living.
"Cinch!" by Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, came to my attention because a good friend said it was helpful to her. So, I wrote to Cynthia and got a copy of the book.
I was fortunate enough to meet Cynthia at the American Dietetic Association's conference. She is the real deal - someone who is deeply involved in helping her clients and the rest of us make better choices.
She is Registered Dietician and she appears regularly on television programs including The Today Show, Good Morning America, and The Early Show.
What I like about her book is that it features whole grains, vegetables, and fruits to get you to lose weight. So, you get healthier at the same time as you get thinner - a win-win!
Snack Girl: What do you think stops most Americans from eating a healthier diet?
Cynthia Sass: I think there are a number of reasons, so eating healthfully can truly feel like an uphill battle. I think some of the strongest hurdles are that practically from birth we’re all taught to eat emotionally. We use food to celebrate, reward and comfort each other and ourselves.
We’re also taught early on to tune out our body’s built-in regulators and we become programmed to eat because it’s time (even when we’re not hungry) or because food is available. In my book I talk about the mind/body connections we’re born with.
In many cases our body gives us signals and our minds trust and honor them, which guides our behavior. For example, when we’re too cold we shiver, get goose bumps and our teeth chatter, so we put on a sweater or turn up the thermostat. When we’re too hot we sweat or get flushed, so we find ways to cool down.
But with food early in life, our minds rather than our bodies become the guide for if to eat, what to eat, how much, and when to stop. I don’t believe that if our bodies were in charge they would ever choose to eat when we’re not hungry, not eat when we are, eat too much, or eat anything that isn’t nourishing, because our bodies love balance.
But our minds have all sorts of eating triggers that have nothing to do with balance, and they’re exceptionally reinforced by our cultural norms. In fact, eating unhealthfully is so much the norm that eating optimally seems extreme.
For example, the plan in my book includes no sweets other than dark chocolate, no added sugar and no added salt – when I asked my clients how many of their friends, family members and co-workers eat this way the answer is often none, and when they start eating that way they’re often treated as if they’re doing something very radical, even though they’re simply following what every current nutrition guideline and hundreds of research studies recommends. All of those things together are very powerful barriers.
Snack Girl: At the American Dietetic Association conference, I overheard an argument about "Good and Bad Foods". Do you think there are good and bad foods?
Cynthia Sass: Yes, but I don’t like the connotation. Nutritionally speaking I do think there are good and bad foods. Some foods up health risks even within the hours after eating them, or offer zero nutritional value. In a nutshell I would call that a bad food.
However, if that same food is one that a person feels they truly can’t or don’t want to live without I think the smartest strategy is to find a way to balance out its not so healthy effects. For example, one of my clients just has to have a donut every once in a while.
The refined sugar, white flour, artificial additives and trans fat all add up to bad, but if she doesn’t get her fix every once in a while she’ll wind up overeating good foods and still feel unsatisfied. So my advice is to plan her splurge and enjoy the donut with other healthy foods, like a cold glass of organic skim or soy milk and some fresh fruit.
When she does this without guilt, she finds that the craving goes away, and overall her cravings are less frequent. When I say I don’t like the connotation what I mean is that I don’t like the idea that labeling foods as good and bad can lead to judgment – you’re being good or you are good if you eat good foods and you’re being bad or you are bad if you eat bad foods.
That thinking doesn’t accomplish anything and only fuels poor self esteem and emotionally charged eating. The truth is every Registered Dietician I know eats bad foods sometimes, including me, but the savviest ones do it with strategy then move on, which makes much more sense and fosters a healthy, sane relationship with food.
Snack Girl: At the beginning of Cinch!, you have designed a five-day "Fast-Forward" diet - what is it? Why is it helpful?
Cynthia Sass: This is probably way more info than you’re looking for, but here it goes!
There are two main reasons why I created the 5 Day Fast Forward. First in my private practice I have found that many of my clients need to see quick results in order to feel confident and successful, which allows them to gain the motivation and momentum they need to move forward with long-term lifestyle changes.
Also, when I work with clients for weight loss many of them are caught up in an erratic eating pattern. Some days they may barely eat, then overeat at night and go to bed feeling stuffed. Other days may feel like a constant nibble fest.
When you lack a stable eating pattern, the side effects can include energy slumps, irritability, bloating and water retention. And when your pattern is that you have no pattern, it’s impossible to know when you are hungry or full, which can lead to a see-saw of undereating (which triggers a metabolism slow-down to conserve energy) and overeating (which causes excess food to get socked away in your fat cells).
The 5 Day Fast Forward ends the chaos by introducing order and simplicity. In my experience eating the exact same meals at the same times every day gives your body, mind, and taste buds a fresh start. By Day 5, many people notice that their cravings for salty, fatty, or sweet foods disappear, and they often begin to grown an appreciation for the natural flavors of whole foods.
Several of the women who tested the plan told me that by the end of Day 5, the thought of eating something fried or processed had simply lost its appeal, and they couldn’t imagine going back to some of their previous habits.
And when all of the decisions about exactly what to eat, how much, and when have been made for you, you can’t act on emotional, social, environmental and habitual eating triggers. That’s incredibly powerful and the reason why I included a built-in food diary in the Fast Forward chapter, along with ‘Insighter’ questions to help readers examine their relationships with food so they can begin to transform them.
Also while it’s very strict each of the five foods are foods people enjoy. Many people have asked me if they can follow the fast forward for more than five days because they not only love the results and how they feel, but they look forward to the meals. Also, because the meals can be flavored with such a wide variety of natural seasonings each meal is like a feast for the senses.
Finally, in terms of the overall Fast Forward plan when I thought about creating the perfect “detox” or “cleanse” I knew it had to meet my 10 key criteria:
1) It had to generate quick results.
2) It had to include solid food, not just liquids. In my experience with my clients liquid cleanses are just too strict and not filling enough to keep you energized and prevent extreme hunger.
3) It had to be “clean” – nothing artificial or processed.
4) It had to be nourishing, including protein, carbohydrate and fat, as well as plenty of nutrients and antioxidants.
5) It had to be vegan and vegetarian friendly.
6) It had to include foods you’d realistically enjoy eating – in other words if you’re going to be limited you have to look enjoy what you do get to eat.
7) It had to be simple and repetitive – in my experience both are keys to rebooting your body quickly.
8) It had to be easy – easy to understand, easy to shop for, and easy to do.
9) It had to include foods that have research behind them in terms of weight loss.
10) It had to be flavorful
I believe the 5 Day Fast Forward delivers on all 10 conditions.
Snack Girl: What is your favorite snack?
Cynthia Sass: It really depends on my mood. I love to eat seasonally and weather impacts my choices a lot. In the fall I crave warm snacks like mock apple crisp (pg 107) and in the summer I crave smoothies or parfaits.
And I love to experiment. I had a lot of fun creating and testing the 100 recipes in the book and I’m constantly coming up with new combinations that fit my ‘5 piece puzzle’ concept.
Have any of you tried a "fresh start" approach to healthy eating?
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