How Studying Nutrition Changed The Way I Eat

How Studying Nutrition Changed The Way I Eat

Back in the day, I got my master’s degree in human nutrition from Columbia University. It was an intense, interesting, and rewarding experience: one that left me hungry (no pun intended) to learn more about the field. A pivotal experience, my MS in human nutrition instilled an insatiable scientific curiosity in me, and is probably why I’m on the path I am on today.

I chose to study nutrition because I was always fascinated in how the foods we use to fuel our body have the power to impact our health. For many, many, years, however, I wanted to be a doctor. However, when I was shadowing physicians, I realized many lacked nutrition education and training.

Which totally is not their fault – most medical schools have minimal time/curriculum devoted to nutrition. But when I learned about this reality, I wanted to ensure I’d have a solid foundation of nutrition (outside the nutrition minor I got while at NYU) in addition to a medical degree. And so, I enrolled at Columbia prior to going to med school.

Obviously, I’ve gone a none-medical route since, but since I’ve studied the topic, I occasionally get asked questions about nutrition, specific ingredients, my diet, and how I think others should eat.

So I thought it may be interested to list out how I’ve changed my diet since studying nutrition. Below are 12 ways studying nutrition morphed how I eat and how I think about food and health in general.

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Why Counting Calories/Macros is Worthless

Why Counting Calories/Macros is Worthless

One of my least favorite trends right now / ever is counting calories and macros. It’s right up there with juice cleanses and detox latte potions (but that’s another article currently in the works). These things are very trendy right now on blogs and by those self-proclaimed ‘wellness experts’ and ‘wholistic healers/nutritionists’ on Insta, and while some people devote themselves to such regimes religiously, I am going to share with you why I think for most people it does more harm than good.

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Now. I’m not here to tell you it’s wrong to care about the food you eat. But if you’re hyper-focused on numbers, you may be missing the point of what it means to be actually be healthy.

Below are just a few of the reasons I advise against counting calories, carbs, or macros. I hope you enjoy and feel free to leave thoughts in the comments.

Disclaimer: Dietitian-guided meal planning and food tracking may be appropriate for those in the early stages of recovering from eating disorders or disordered eating until proper self-feeding is reestablished.

1. You don’t really know exactly how much you need, and a lot of different sources will give you different answers.

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While it’s true formulas exist to guide health professionals to estimate how much of certain macronutrients or calories a person needs for various life stages and health conditions, unless there is a case of enteral feeding, these are approximate values.

It’s highly unlikely that the calculations you compute at home or find on the internet are precise enough to match your exact needs. Moreover, you probably have varying levels of activity and sleep every day, which these formulas will not reflect.

If you don’t believe me, try googling “calorie calculator.” Type your info into a few different ones on the internet. See what happens. When I did it, I got a different value from every single website, proving a lack of validity for these values.

2. Not every item of food you eat has the exact same caloric content every time.

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Think about when you eat out. Let’s say, for example, I get a you pick two at panera. A go-to order for me is the garden veggie soup with pesto, a salad with avocado added, and a side of bread. Sometimes my soup has like, a bucket of oily pesto on it. Sometimes there’s barely any. Same with the amount of avocado, nuts, and tomatoes in the salad. It’s slight different every single time.

The bread that comes with it is sometimes a tiny nub, while other times I get a big round end piece. On lucky days I beg two pieces. You get the idea…all this to say that unless you eat nothing but perfect former and processed packaged foods (which I hope you don’t think is s way to get healthy), knowing the exact caloric and macro values of your food is nearly impossible, and studies have shown most people are pretty terrible at accurately tracking food and caloric intake.

What about a muffin your sister made? Or a latte at your local coffee shop? Even the USDA database has food values that don’t always reflect the actual food you eat (ie, they list 60 calories per slice of bread…the bread I eat has 80 calories per slide according to the label).

Are you going to neglect these foods because you don’t know how precisely they fit into your eating pattern?

Don’t! Free yourself! For the work involved, there is little to no benefit to tracking your calories or macros. If anything, it invites obsessing and micromanaging which can do more harm than good (see below).

3. It causes stress, and stress really mess with your physical and mental health.

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Keeping track of calories, carbs, etc requires a decent amount of attention and brain space on a daily basis. Perhaps you have plans to go out to dinner later but are worrying all day about the meal not fitting into your shiny perfect numerical nutrition boxes. Or maybe your coworker spontaneously suggests happy hour drinks or a classmate offers to share some birthday cupcakes in class. Cue stress, panic, anxiety, and loss of control taking over.

Eating the same amounts every day isn’t healthy, nor realistic. Life has ebbs and flows and is meant to be enjoyed spontaneously at times. Subjecting yourself to deprivation or hyper rigidity will likely cause you stress and anxiety, both of which can impact your hunger hormones and mess not only with your hunger and fullness cues, but also with your sleep schedule and mental health, cultivating a path away from optimal functioning, instead of one towards it.

Moreover, think of all the brain space you must devote to tracking your intake. Now imagine what else you could fill that brain space with: creative thoughts, fulfilling activities, or more time to spend with family and friends or spent cooking yummy nourishing meals. Sound better than counting carbs? I thought so.

4. It doesn’t take into account how hungry you are.

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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: your body is not a calculator, so it shouldn’t be treated as such. Unless you sleep, move, think and breathe the exact same amount every single day, you shouldn’t eat as if you do.

One of my biggest issues with calorie and macro counting is that it teaches you to disengage with your inherent hunger and fullness cues. Once you lose touch with them, it can be quite difficult to remember how to self-regulate.

Some days you’re just extra hungry for no reason. That is okay. And other days you may not feel as hungry as usual. That’s also normal. But you should eat according to what your body wants and needs given the situation. This means listening to hunger and fullness rather than a chart full of numbers.

5. It sucks the fun out of eating and eating out.

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Per the reasons mentioned above, calorie and macro counting suck joy out of life. Don’t do this to yourself. Food and eating are meant to be pleasurable. They’re intended to be shared, joyful experiences, or at the very least, fulfilling nourishment to cary out the rest of your life’s passions without being distracted by hunger or stressed by food charts.

This evening, for example, I overheard two well-intentioned females picking items off a menu based on what would fit their macro plans based on what else they had eaten that day. It made me so sad. You are meant to enjoy the food you consume, not micromanage it.

Imagine instead if these girls ordered what they had wanted instead of what they did order, and satisfied the craving their body had, nourished mind body and spirit, and moved on with life. What struck me the most was that the concern was not on the healthfulness of the varied food options, but rather, a game of numbers and macros. I almost wanted to butt-in from my table and tell them that their original order was actually highly nutrient-dense and would likely keep them satisfied for hours. But I held back…

Well there you have it: the reasons I advise against counting calories and macros.

If you are looking to improve your health, my best advice is always the same and relatively simple: fill up on plant-based foods (fruits, veg, beans, nuts, seeds, etc). Moderate the rest. Eat what you want when you want it, and stop when you’re satisfied. Listen to your body. They’re smarter than we give them credit for. And don’t forget to prioritize sleep an stress reduction, both of which may be compromised by rigid dieting.

Cheers to a happy, healthy 2018, free from self-inflicted diet stress.

Homemade (healthified) Reese’s Puffs-ish Cereal

The other day I had a ratchet craving for Reese’s Puffs cereal. Maybe it’s because I spent all day hosting kiddie’s birthday parties at a froyo shop, where I watch wee little ones pile on every fluorescent color and artificially flavored goodie onto their mountains of frozen yogurt, but lately I’ve been craving some #tbt nostogolia noms.

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You know what I mean. Things you don’t really eat anymore but still want once in a while. Like Fun-Dips. Frosted animal crackers. Lunchables and fruit snacks and Capri Suns. And dessert-y cereal like Capt’n Crunch and Kix and Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Or in my most recent case, Reese’s Puffs. I don’t generally a lot of eat sugary cereal, though (more of a plain grain girl in the morning), so I didn’t have any Reese’s Puffs chillin in pantry. So instead of going to the store <5 minutes from my house to buy some like a normal human being, I was like “I’ll make my own!”

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…because that’s way less of a hassle. NOT. Whatever. Sometimes I don’t really bake crazy, weird, complicated, or bizarre stuff for any reason other than I enjoy the challenge. Baking has always been my hobby since I could hold a spoon, so I pretty much live to create unnecessary mini-projects for myself, like make homemade marshmallows and graham crackers, and apparently Reese’s Puffs.

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Lately I’ve been intrigued by homemade cereal anyways, so I figured this craving was a convenient excuse to give it a whirl. These babies are yes, tasty, and yes, far more work than purchasing a box of cereal at the store. But they’re healthier. And you can actually eat more than a bowl without feeling a sugar-glaze on your entire mouth/throat. Also, if you make these, you can say you fucking made Reese’s Puffs. Which sounds totally cool and/or like you REALLY need a life depending on who you speak to. I’d also like to publicly acknowledge that these kind of look like turds or weird rabbit food. I’m okay with that. Now let’s move on.

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In summary, these are a bit putsy, but yummy. I really just like them as a dry snack. Zipped in a baggie they’d go great in your backpack for a study boost, and/or in your apron as you work 3 back-to-back birthday parties at your local froyo shop. Not that I speak from experience. They make a great addition to yogurt, too. Puff puff. Crunch crunch. Nom nom.


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Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 10-20 minutes
Level: Easy (but putsy)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup flours of your choice (I used a mix of whole-wheat and oat flour)
  • 1/2 cup almond flour (If you don’t have this, substitute with a higher-protein flour, like oat or bread. If you have none of these, all-purpose will suffice!)
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • dash of salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1/4 – 1/3 cup honey and/or maple syrup

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2. Place flours, cocoa powder, sugar, salt, and baking soda into a bowl and mix.

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3. Place peanut butter into a small bowl and microwave for 30-60 seconds until warm and melty and yummy. Pour honey and/or maple syrup into the microwave and give it a nice stir until you have a gooey, sticky peanut butter mixture.

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4. Place flour mixture into a food processor and pulse ingredients together. Meanwhile, slowly pour the peanut butter mixture throw the funnel-thing and a sticky dough should eventually form. You may need to add more honey and/or maple syrup. And/or melted peanut butter if that’s what you’re more into. You just need to make sure the dough is sticky-ish. The dough should be a little dry, but moist enough to shape and hold together.

5. Transfer to a bowl and mix if necessary. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Roll dough into tiny Reese’s-Puff sized balls.

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6. Place onto parchment paper. Pop into the oven for 10-14 minutes, until hard and crunchy and slightly lighter in color.

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7. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely. Pop into your mouth directly, or enjoy with milk of choice in a bowl. Goes well with bananas. And/or mixed into your regular breakfast cereal to #shakeitup. And yes, they do make your milk taste extra gooooood at the end ;-).

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DIY Cronuts link (a recipe by me) && an explanation of my disappearance

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direct link to recipe here

hey everyone!

sorry i have vanished from my blog for quite a while. like has been crazy. once school got going, i ended up kind of tossing my blog to a backburner on my priority list and quite honestly even forgot about it for a while. but i plan to update it a bunch this winter break, and hopefully not to neglect the poor thing from now on. i’ve been home from school for a few days now and have literally been baking non.stop. cookies. more cookies. even more cookies (can never have too many cookies, right?). italian rainbow cookies (my fav – swoon). cookies for my dogs and my sister’s dogs (damn so many cookies!). cakes. candy. barks. eclairs. and i got a buche de noel on the way. so now i have quite a bit of inspiration for some posts. on top of that, i have a bunch of stuff i did over the semester that i can slap up here over the coming weeks. 

the semester was awesome. busy, but awesome. i finally felt like i’m at a place in my education where i enjoy all of the classes i am taking, and it was such a thrill to find enjoyment in doing my schoolwork, and actually enjoy lectures and reading. 

in case you are wondering, here is what i took:

  • Intro to Food Science
  • Human Anatomy (at a graduate level…it was a bit of a challenge but i ended up doing it anyway!)
  • Diet Planning & Assessment (a nutrition class, part of the DPD sequence) 
  • Lab in Psychopathology
  • Social Psychology

so that was it. five classes (one a graduate science class that met at 8am). i also wrote all semester long for NYU Spoon. it was great. all of it. especially NYU Spoon. i don’t think those kids realize how humbled i feel to be a part of it. they all seem so legit (journalism majors, working at E! and CNN, etc) and here i am, just some premed (although i’ve been having doubts about med school – more in a future post) and nutrition minor like “oh hey, i like food.” but whatever. i’m thrilled to be a part of it.

which brings me to my first post. 

here is a link to my original article on NYU Spoon on how to make cronuts

truly, it’s not as hard as it sounds. sure, it takes a long time and its repetitive. but it’s not, ya know, hard. give it a whirl and impress your family or someone special for christmas or new years breakfast this season. personally, i have a taste aversion to donuts, so even thought i knew these were good, it was hard to enjoy them, but everyone else seemed to go CRAZY for these babies. and i hope you will too!

happy holidays everyone! and hello again blog world!