Today’s special guest has actually already been with us once! (You can check out Episode 21 here. We dug into all sorts of great information about stress and self-care). Sandra Mikhail has so much to share about why you don’t need to start a new diet to kick off 2020.
As a clinical dietician, Sandra shares that she primarily works with gut health and sports nutrition. As a mom and business owner, she stays busy! In addition, her own diet struggles and personal health journey has had a huge impact on how she thinks about health and nutrition.
The Latest Trends
All diets have their own origin story and background. Since it’s been trending recently, let’s take a look at keto.
Sandra shares that she first encountered keto over a decade ago. At that time it was being used as a therapeutic diet to potentially address epilepsy symptoms in children. In the last decade, it has transitioned into a phenom that many many people have tried (or are thinking about trying).
Keto is extremely low carb (your “carb allowance” is usually around 20-50 grams, or about a slice of bread). Carbohydrates are our bodies’ main sources of energy, as carbs break down into sugar. Typically, they make up our first line of energy. Ketogenic diets attempt to disrupt that pattern by pushing your body to break down fat instead of carbs. Using fat as the first line of energy may sound like a great way to lose weight, but it’s really not how our bodies were designed to work.
Most people’s extreme initial weight loss when they first start keto is really just water weight. As more and more studies are being done, they’re also starting to show that keto diets are not superior to other diets. In fact, you can achieve the same or similar results with a more moderate food plan. Other findings include that fact that muscle mass tends to decrease while on keto as well.
Even most keto advocates don’t recommend going complete keto for more than 3-6 months, which means it’s not a long-term, sustainable plan.
There has been some positive research indicating keto may have some positive impacts on some mental health disorders or conditions, or even some chronic diagnoses. However, it’s important to note that this use of keto is not about weight loss (and these studies are in very early stages!).
The Misunderstood Nutrient
Carbs tend to pop up as “fear foods” quite often!
In fact, you don’t even have to be in a dietary field to hear people talk about how they are “cutting carbs”, going “carb free” or avoiding carbs. This is common language, and has become a bit of an obsession.
When working with patients experiencing eating disorders, Sandra has found that many of these clients have a lot of fear about carbs as well. She believes they’ve been demonized for their impact on weight for far too long!
When you think about it, many nutrient dense foods that are filled with nutrients, such as fruits, yogurt, legumes, and vegetables, are also filled with carbs! When you start cutting out carbs, you also tend to cut out many foods that you body loves. One example? Fiber, which is an important part of a healthy lifestyle and way of eating.
What happens when we don’t get enough fiber? We tend to struggle with constipation and high cholesterol. These are side effects Sandra says she has seen quite a few times when taking on clients who have been following a ketogenic diet.
Long Term Sustainability
Many people don’t find keto to be a great fit for a long-term, lifestyle based way of eating.
Many people find that the aversion to carbs they develop while dieting tends to stick around even when they come off the latest diet. This leads to continued cycles of restricting (often followed by binging and guilt), which can last for a life time. Certainly not an attitude you want to live with forever!
In addition, you’ll want to consider other impacts of keto. For instance, because of its emphasis on fat and protein, ketogenic diets tend to place a great deal of emphasis on consuming meat and dairy. The environmental toll this takes shouldn’t be ignored.
Not only is keto not personally sustainable, it doesn’t seem globally sustainable either. If you want to eat sustainably for your health and for the environment, don’t go keto.
Consider what your body actually needs, and what makes it feel good.
Weight Loss Isn’t an End Goal
When people come to Sandra’s practice for weight loss, she strives to understand what the number on the scale means to them.
She also asks, “What would decreasing that number actually change?”
Usually, it’s much healthier to focus on the results you’re seeking (more energy, lower cholesterol, better health) and put your energy into achieving them rather than losing weight.
If weight loss occurs in the course of pursuing those deeper goals, that’s fine. If not, it doesn’t really matter. When improving your health is the end goal, you’ll be surprised at how little the numbers on the scale really mean.
Sandra finds that often, those using the BMI scale have a distorted sense of what they “should” weigh. In addition, often women have unrealistic ideas about what the number on the scale “should” be. These misunderstandings often lead to unhealthy ideas about the need to lose weight in the first place.
Rather than implement a diet, Sandra prefers to focus on what behaviors could be changed to bring a client to a more balanced stage. She also wants clients to understand that weight naturally fluctuates throughout our lives. Deciding that you want to weigh what you weighed 15 years ago may not be healthy or sustainable for your current stage in life.
By moving away from numbers, you can get more in tune with your actual body cues. How hungry are you before meals? After meals? What movement feels good? How much stress are you experiencing?
As people begin to have more energy, sleep better, or feel stronger, the topic of weight often begins to dissipate. They naturally being to feel more comfortable with the idea of listening to their bodies for indicators of health (rather than judging it by the number on the scale).
New Year Health Goals
Instead of setting a goal to lose weight (or any other health related goal), try asking this instead:
What have I done for myself today?
By making an effort to put yourself first and practice self-care every single day, you can create incremental changes in your life. And isn’t feeling good the best indicator of health?
Best of all? No dieting required!
You can find Sandra Mikhail here.
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