Q: What does a Nutritionist do?
A: A nutritionist provides education, guidance and suggestions for changing your dietary habits, so that you don’t have to go down this road alone. Improving one’s diet can be a daunting and overwhelming endeavour, especially with everything else on our plates. But with the support of a nutritionist it can be easier, more enjoyable…and definitely delicious. An holistic nutritionist provides both food and lifestyle recommendations. After all, it’s not just about what you eat but how you eat it that has an affect on wellness. Nutritionists do not diagnose, prevent, treat or cure disease, but they do work with you to help you meet your goals, and support your body to achieve its optimum wellness.
Q: How do I determine my ideal weight?
A: This is a great question, but so personal and difficult to answer as there really is no “ideal” weight outside of the standards set by our media and cultural expectations, rather than by science.
Many people recommend using the BMI (Body Mass Index) as a guideline to determine healthy weight but it’s not typically accurate. It doesn’t take into account bone density, muscle mass and such. For example, if professional athletes with so much lean tissue on their bodies used the BMI to determine their health, they’d be considered obese!
In my opinion, the way to determine ideal weight is to go by how you feel. Do you feel comfortable at your weight? Can you carry yourself easily and with confidence? Or do you feel like you’re carrying extra weight on you everywhere you go? Can you walk up a few flights of stairs with ease? Or are you out of breath and struggling to make it? (Note: this isn’t a weight issue necessarily, as it can also be due thyroid and adrenal issues, low iron and B12, poor cardiovascular health if you tend to be sedentary…)
What usually matters isn’t the number on the scale at all! If we work to improve how we feel about ourselves on the inside, it can manifest into feeling great about ourselves on the outside.
One of the best ways to improve our inner self is by eating well and moving often. As we exercise more and eat whole foods, our body composition may change and we may lose fat and build muscle. Our weight won’t necessarily change (though it may increase or drop) but how we feel about ourselves will greatly improve.
Rather than trying to figure out your ideal weight, I recommend using your body fat percentage as an indicator of health. Why? Because our bodies need enough body fat for energy storage, insulation for our vital organs and for our endocrine and other systems to function properly. It is a common misconception that less body fat is better. There is definitely such a thing as too little body fat. For example, women with too little body fat can suffer from hormone and menstrual irregularities, including amenorrhea – which is the complete lack of a menstrual cycle. On the other hand, too much fat on the body can store harmful toxins, obstruct our vital organs and lead to insulin resistance and other hormonal issues. Therefore, falling within the recommended fat percentage may be the thing to strive for.
For women, it is recommended to have 16 to 30% body fat.
For men, it is recommended to have 6 to 24 % body fat.
You can determine your body fat percentage on some home, consumer scales, and also many wellness centres and health clinics have them.
Precision Nutrition developed this super informative infographic about how to achieve ideal body fat – it very clearly illustrates what’s considered unhealthy on both sides of the scale.
Also good to keep in mind… Too much or too little weight can be your body’s way of telling you something. Perhaps your body could use a liver detox to get it processing nutrients quicker, or your thyroid or adrenals need supporting. Perhaps you’re taking in more calories than you’re expending, or maybe you’re dealing with nutritional deficiencies or food sensitivities that are causing you to hold onto or lose weight. Try to listen to your body for clues. It usually knows what’s best.
Q: How do I make sure my food includes the nutrients I need?
A: Back in the day, eating a “well-balanced” diet was enough to ensure we were getting an adequate amount of nutrients in our diet. Sadly, this may no longer be the case. Due to industrial agricultural practices and the heavy use of pesticides on crops, our food and the soil its grown in have lost much of their nutrients over time, which potentially puts us at a deficiency. What’s more is that our environment is growingly toxic which means our bodies need even more nutrients to detoxify what gets in.
What this means is that we have to be more deliberate with our food and lifestyle choices to ensure that we’re getting the nutrients we need. Here are some ways to increase the nutrients in your diet:
1. Eat whole foods and avoid refined foods
Whole foods are foods that haven’t been processed and are therefore closer to their natural form than refined, processed foods. Therefore, they are higher in nutrients. For example, whole grains (brown rice, whole wheat bread and pasta, and others like quinoa, millet, oats etc.) are naturally rich in minerals, but when they are refined into white flours, rice and pasta, their minerals get stripped away as well. Even table salt has been stripped of its minerals! (Note: the pink colour of Himalayan salt comes from its iron content!) Therefore, eat as much whole food and avoid their refined “empty” versions.
2. Shop from your local farmers markets
Small farmers tend to use less chemicals and have gentler agricultural practices than the big industrial giants. What this means is that the foods they produce and sell to us come from more nutrient-rich soils – which produce more nutrient-rich produce! I can’t stress enough the importance of shopping from farmers markets. By doing so, we are purchasing the most nutritious fruits and vegetables possible. Also, because these foods haven’t travelled as many food miles, they haven’t been sprayed or irradiated and further depleted of nutrients, as compared to their foreign and exotic cousins. And finally, by shopping from farmers markets, you are voting with your money and letting the world know what quality of food you want to be available.
For a list of the winter farmers markets, please click here.
[And when at the supermarket, opt for the organic versions as much as possible. Refer to the list of Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen here to know what to prioritize.]
3. Eat the rainbow, and eat it often
Eat all the colours of the rainbow – from the green leafy veggies that are rich in calcium, magnesium and iron to the orange-coloured carrots, peppers and squashes that are rich in beta-carotene. By eating the rainbow, you are ensuring that your diet has the whole spectrum of phytonutrients that our bodies need to function well.
And more importantly, be sure to eat vegetables often. Try and incorporate half a plate of veggies into every meal. This is often a missing but crucial food group in the Standard North American diet.
4. Opt for Omega 3 over Omega 6 fats
Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids are both essential dietary fats – meaning, they are essential for proper body function and we rely on our diet to provide them. However, the Standard North American diet favours Omega 6 over Omega 3 fats. Therefore, make a conscious effort to increase your intake of Omega 3-rich food sources, such as wild salmon (must be wild), sardines, flax oil (do not cook with it!), pumpkin seeds and walnuts. Grass-fed chicken and meats are also higher in Omega 3 fats because grass is rich in it!
5. Improve your digestion and absorption
Nutrient-rich foods are useless to our bodies if we don’t absorb them properly! Therefore, improve your intake of nutrients by focusing on good digestion and absorption habits: chewing (REALLY WELL), avoiding liquids with meals, and sitting down and savouring every meal, are a few ways to start.
Finally, to further ensure I’m taking in a sufficient amount of nutrients, I include half a scoop of vegetarian-based protein powder in my daily diet. While I aim for an entirely whole foods diet and prefer not to look to supplements for nutrition, I am concerned with the declining levels of nutrients in our food, as well as our increasingly toxic environment, and so I do this for good measure. I choose a vegetarian-based protein powder because it is complete with vitamins, minerals, probiotics and omega fatty acids, which are not in animal-based (whey) protein powders – those just have the protein.