I was out for dinner recently with a friend, and the conversation turned to nutrition. My friend asked me a perplexing question: “What do you think the biggest mistake we make nutritionally is?” I had to pause to contemplate that for a moment… And, I thought my answer would be worthwhile in sharing with all of you!
To preface, I don’t think there is one specific mistake we make, but a series of mistakes. In our Western culture, we have been socialized into an environment that values productivity: getting as much done in as little time as possible. All too often, I overhear conversations between two people where the first person is griping about how busy they are; this is only to be followed by the second person trying to upstage with their list of “to-dos”. Very few people in our society take time to ‘stop and smell the roses’.
We also live in a consumer-based society that urges us to consume, consume, consume! This mentality also contributes to poor lifestyle choices. You can see this reflected in our language. The term “binging” has become common-place, whether it’s talking about food, alcoholic drinks, or watching a favourite TV show… people are more likely to spend hours sitting on their couch watching Neflix than they are to go out for a walk or meet up with a friend for a hike. Likewise, that bag of potato chips??? Bet you can’t eat just one…
It is my belief that our lack of ability to slow down and our consumer mindset is largely contributing to poor health and poor dietary choices.
Here are what I consider to be the top 3 nutrition mistakes we make on the daily.
Mistake #1 – Not chewing our food properly
As I said above, Western culture socializes us to value productivity, and to get as much done in as little time as possible. Unfortunately, this means that we usually don’t take the time we need to sit down and properly eat a meal. How many times do you pass someone in the street who is quickly scarfing down a breakfast sandwich on their way to work, or eating and walking while trying to balance a salad in one hand and a cell phone in the other? We often don’t take the proper amount of time to eat a meal. And this translates into chewing our food just enough to get it down our food hole.
In reality, digestion begins in the mouth! We have enzymes in our saliva that start to break down simple carbohydrates. And our teeth are there for a reason: they are meant to break down our food so that the rest of our digestive tract is actually able to digest it.
Did you know that you should be chewing your food to a paste before you swallow it???
The less you chew your food, the harder it is for the digestive juices in your stomach and small intestine to break it down. This can result in a number of unpleasant symptoms that we often chalk up to be a normal part of digestion, such as acid reflux, gas, burping, bloating, and flatulence. These are common symptoms experienced in our culture, but they are not normal symptoms of healthy digestion. As a matter of fact, most of these symptoms are a good indicator that your food is not being digested properly. So, chew your food to a paste before swallowing!
(As an aside, the occasional burp or toot is nothing to worry about. I’m talking regularly occurring symptoms following a meal, such as continuous burping.)
Mistake #2 – Not drinking enough water
Water is the essence of life. Literally every single metabolic process in the body requires water in one way or another. It is the solvent in which the nutrients we consume and the wastes we get rid of need to travel. You need it so that your kidneys and bowels can eliminate waste. It’s also essential for your body to produce the digestive enzymes and digestive juices needed for breaking down your food. If your food isn’t getting digested, then you can eat all the kale you want, it’s not going do you any good because those nutrients aren’t being assimilated for use in the body.
If that’s not enough to convince you, consider these statistics: a mere 5% drop in water levels in the body causes a 25-30% loss of energy; mild dehydration slows down your metabolism by 3%; and a 2% drop in fluid levels can leave you feeling fatigued and cause issues with short-term memory.
What’s the lesson? Make sure you are drinking enough water! A simple calculation to know how much you should be drinking daily is to take your body weight in pounds and divide it by 2. The resulting number is how many ounces of water you should be drinking daily. (More than this if you exercise or are in an environment that causes you to sweat a lot.)
For example, if I weigh 130-lbs, divided by 2: that is 65 ounces of water I should be drinking daily. This does not include caffeinated beverages because they make you lose more water. One cup of coffee takes 2 cups of water just to break even. Keep that in mind with your daily amounts.
Mistake #3 – Overeating
I’ve done it. You’ve done it. We’ve all done it. Maybe it’s mom’s Thanksgiving dinner, and you just can’t resist that second helping of stuffing or pumpkin pie. Or maybe you went for dinner and opted to order dessert when you already knew you didn’t have room for it. Overeating every once in a while isn’t going to make a huge difference in the grand scheme of things, but I think in our consumer-based society, people get caught up in that and it transfers over into their dietary habits. It can be an issue of simply loading too much food onto your plate and getting caught up in that “clean your plate” mentality; it might be emotional eating, food cravings, or habits formed in your younger years; or it might be related to the foods you choose to eat. If you eat a typical Western diet, laden with junk food, loads of animal products, and high fat and high sugar foods (aka. nutrient depleted foods), you might feel hungry 1 or 2 hours after eating because you didn’t give your body the nutrients that it needs to function; so your hormones stimulate you to eat more to try and get those much needed nutrients.
Whatever the cause, overeating is a common nutrition mistake. Not just because of the possibility of weight gain due to more calories being consumed than burned. It also comes back to your digestion. If you eat more food than your body has digestive juices to break down, that food isn’t going to be broken down. Do you ever wonder why it feels like you have a brick in your stomach for hours upon hours after excessively eating at a meal??? It’s because it’s just sitting there like a lump in your gut; your body doesn’t have sufficient enzymes to break it down. You’ve bitten off more than you can chew, so to speak.
In order to prevent overeating with meals, try to be more conscious of your portion sizes. Sit down for dinner; it’s much easier to overeat when you are distracted by Netflix or the news-feed on your Instagram account. Try using a smaller dinner plate to serve your meals; this keeps you from loading up, and if you’re still hungry after you’ve finished what’s on your plate, you can always go back for seconds. Also keep in mind that one serving of protein is equivalent to the size of a deck of cards (or about 4 ounces).
Following tips for regulating blood sugars (i.e. eating regular meals every 4-5 hours instead of ‘grazing’ throughout the day, eating protein with each meal, consuming adequate fiber with each meal, avoiding refined carbohydrates and consumption of sugary drinks such as pop and fruit drinks, etc.) and drinking enough water will also contribute to reduced portion sizes, so try to make those part of your daily practice as well.
I do realize that there are many other common mistakes that people eat when it comes to their diet; not eating enough fruits and vegetables or whole grains is another. But I wanted to encompass a broader population when addressing this topic, not just the people who would be considered “unhealthy” eaters. Health-conscious eaters are just as likely to eat on-the-run as followers of the typical Western diet, especially in our day and age.
All change starts with small steps. Even if you’re not ready to make the change to a healthier diet, consider implementing these 3 strategies and I know your body will thank you in some small way (at the very least). Chew your food. Drink more water. Decrease your portion size.
That is all.