Cultivating Good Eating Habits
We’ve heard it all before: You are what you eat. Food is medicine. Don’t consume anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food. Yet many of us are finding it increasingly difficult to abide by these simple rules in a complex world. We’re in a hurry and we’re stressed, and often it’s just plain easier to grab something out of a bag or a box—something extra salty or sweet.
But that processed food is detrimental to our health in a big way.
A recent study published in the journal BMJ Open determined that nearly 60 percent of the American diet consists of highly-processed food products, and one-third of the population suffers from obesity, which leads to heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and even some types of cancer. We can reduce our risk of developing these conditions if we eat healthier, but what exactly does that mean? More fruits and vegetables? Get rid of gluten? Avoid red meat?
Nutrition Bootcamp provides answers.
Created by Kristen Kizer, M.S., RD, LD, a clinical dietitian specialist at Houston Methodist Hospital, the six-week course “provides a glimpse into what it looks and feels like to eat how we are told to eat by national groups like the USDA and the American Heart Association,” Kizer said.
Participants must follow a set of ground rules, including logging all food and beverage intake, drinking at least 64 ounces of water a day and eating only two junk items a week—which Kizer defines as high-fat meats and cheeses, anything fried, desserts, alcohol and high-calorie or high-sugar foods and beverages. In addition, participants are asked to submit a pantry clean-out photo highlighting all the bad habits they’re throwing out, spend at least one week measuring their food and portion sizes, consume four servings of fruit and five servings of vegetables each day, and remove all white flour or refined grains from their diet.
Put simply, bootcamp is not easy. I tried it for 30 days and failed plenty. Cheese crept into more meals than I would have predicted, my typical portions were larger than the recommended checkbook-size for protein and tennis ball-size for cereal, and trading in food delivery for home-cooked meals wreaked havoc on my already busy schedule. But I learned the importance of eating real food—with a heavy emphasis on fruits and vegetables coupled with a new awareness regarding fats and sugar—and I felt genuinely healthier.
“We understand that it’s about what you’re ready to change, what you’re willing to change, and what you can do right now,” Kizer explained. “We take a pretty realistic approach and we generally ask, ‘What are the top three things you want to change right now, and how can we make some goals to make that happen?’ My hope is that someone comes out of the program with two or three habits they carry with them.”
Kizer said her overarching mission with bootcamp is to get her clients back to eating real food, not the “food-like-products” that saturate our diets.
“They look and taste like real food, but they lack vitamins and minerals and health benefits. Our bodies were designed to eat things that came from nature.” Kizer said. “Real food has physical benefits to our body: It helps our cholesterol, our blood glucose, our blood pressure—everything. There is also this psychological well-being that can come from eating real food. We don’t binge on apples, we don’t lose control with carrots. There’s no mental lashing or negative self-talk there.”
Kizer said that a surprising number of her patients suffer from some type of eating disorder or a negative relationship with food. Part of the issue, she believes, is how addictive processed foods can be.
“I truly believe processed food is designed to be habit-forming,” she said. “The manufacturer’s No. 1 goal is for you to buy that product again, so it’s not about your waistline or your health, it’s about, ‘How can I make people eat as much of this as possible?’ I think patients find freedom from their food addictions or their unhealthy relationship with food when they’re eating foods that have a normal level of sugar, fat and salt.”
Nutrition Bootcamp is offered to Houston Methodist employees as one of the wellness incentives for lower insurance premiums; the idea is to keep employees healthy while simultaneously keeping health care costs down. But the program is also open to the general public.
“It’s a lifestyle change, not a diet,” Kizer stressed. “I talk a lot about how it becomes a value system. People have moral values, so why not food values? If everyone is eating donuts in the break room, but donuts aren’t part of your food value system, why do we compromise on it all the time?”
So does this mean you can’t ever have birthday cake or Friday night pizza if you want to live a healthy life? No, Kizer said, but it does mean you have to put a food value system in place that emphasizes health and real food.
“I myself love chocolate chip cookies, but I rarely let myself eat the store-bought kind— they’re just never worth it,” she said. “I wait until they’re homemade and then I have one and enjoy it, and I don’t feel guilty about it.”
NUTRITION BOOTCAMP: Interested in learning more? Call 713-363-7395