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Nutrition for a New Age

Food. When did that one word become identified with fear, misunderstanding, shame and guilt? When did food become the enemy? According to Judy Simon, MS, RD, CD, a nutritionist at the University of Washington Medical Center and a dietitian with over 20 years experience, disordered eating is the biggest problem her clients (mostly female) deal with on a daily basis. Patients are often referred to her because they’re suffering from less than optimal health – many times, a reflection of the poor diet they consume. Are there any sane, healthy eating strategies out there? What’s the problem with what we eat? Debra Boutin, MS, RD, CD at Bastyr University, says the last 50 years have brought about a total change in the way we approach food – from the point of production to refrigeration, delivery and even preparation. “We’re seeing huge changes in not only the way people eat but how and what they eat,” she explains. “Food is so accessible, so available; many of us rarely eat when we’re physically hungry.”

Boutin is in a unique position to make such statements. As the Dietetic Internship Director and a member of the core faculty at Bastyr, she oversees the educational programs of nutritionists and naturopaths who learn and teach the healthy relationship that should exist between us and our food. It’s a tough sell for many of the clients she advises at Bastyr, most of whom are women. “My biggest concern is the way in which society views time as such an expendable commodity. Women have so many responsibilities, so many roles – they simple don’t have time to nourish themselves,” says Boutin. “Many of the women I see simply don’t know how to prepare easy, nutritious meals.” Take a moment to consider when you last thought about food as nourishment. For many of us, food has become a way to combat boredom, ease loneliness and even settle an argument. Often consumed on the run, studies show that portability is a deciding factor in many of the food choices we make. According to the American Frozen Foods Institute, the average American now eats a frozen meal about six times a month and some fast food companies tout their products for being easily consumed while in a car.

Is there a solution?

So, how does a busy, time-starved woman in the Pacific Northwest feed her body the nutrients she needs to maintain a healthy lifestyle? It doesn’t start with deprivation, says Simon. “I counsel women who find themselves discouraged after years of suffering as the result of fad diets. Women tend to focus on weight – ‘When I’m losing weight, I’m doing well’ – instead of how they feel. We need to normalize our eating habits. No matter what a woman’s health concerns, sound nutrition can make a positive difference.”

The problem is that for many of us, identifying proper nutrition can be difficult. Pick up any newspaper, magazine or book and be prepared to be bombarded by the newest dieting craze. Urged to eliminate entire food groups, combine certain foods, restrict calories or rely on supplements, is it any wonder that making healthful food decisions is so difficult? Boutin stresses that when women begin their day with coffee, add a pastry at mid-day, skip lunch and eat a hurried dinner, they’re literally starving by the end of the day. At Bastyr’s teaching clinic, clients are counseled to move slowly toward healthier, more nutrient-dense food choices by asking whether they can imagine the foods they choose growing. Incorporating whole foods into the diet is the most optimal eating plan advises Boutin; less processing means more nutrients and increased satisfaction.

Both Simon and Boutin agree that there are many eating plans available to us; some more healthy than others. They advise that the best strategy is one that will support long-term nutritional needs while remaining easy to understand and implement in our daily life. “If we keep nutrition as simple as possible – encourage women to add more color and texture to their diet – to rely on food, not supplements, to meet their nutritional goals, women can make ’peace’ with food and discover fullness and satisfaction,” says Simon. Some current eating theories

The Eating for Body Type

Diet is based on the theory that there are three basic body types – endomorph, mesomorph and ectomorph – and that certain foods and activity levels correspond with each. Endomorphs have bigger bones, hold onto weight easier, and carry more weight in the thighs and mid-section. They should concentrate on lean proteins and a variety of fruits and vegetables, and limit their intake of processed foods, fats and sugars. Mesomorphs have a naturally lean athletic-type build and a fast metabolism. A diet of whole grains, lean protein and complex carbohydrates is recommended for this body type. Ectomorphs are naturally lean with low muscle weight, tend to be tall and may struggle to keep weight on. Their diet should consist of nutrient- dense and protein-rich foods, eaten several times a day. Both Boutin and Simon say that while little conclusive scientific evidence supports this plan, it can help guide a woman’s nutritional decisions. Boutin believes the theory behind the plan offers a way to help women become more aware of their food choices and how and when they eat. She frequently asks her clients who use this plan how closely they follow the diet. Many pick and choose certain aspects and disregard others, which can lead to problems over time. Simon likes the importance placed on whole foods and lean protein in this plan and thinks that the body type diet offers an interesting perspective on possible metabolic disorders.

The Blood Type Diet is based on a theory by Peter J. D’Adamo, a naturopathic doctor from Connecticut. Published in 1996, his book, Eat Right For Your Type, suggests a diet that is based on four blood types – A, B, AB and O. The diet emphasizes eating certain foods by type; it doesn’t require counting calories or fat grams and there is little to no restriction on the quantity of food you can eat. Blood type A’s are advised to eat a vegetarian diet; type B’s eat a variety of foods, including meat and dairy; type AB’s should eat some meat but no cured or smoked products; and type O’s can eat meat but should avoid grains. According to WebMD, D’Adamo bases his theory on his belief that lectins (proteins found in foods) can cause problems in the body when food is consumed that’s not compatible with blood type. He also theorizes that digestion is affected by blood type and suggests that even exercise should be regulated by blood type. O’s should exercise vigorously, A’s gently, B’s moderately, and AB’s should practice calming exercise.

As with the body type plan, little scientific evidence is available to support the blood type plan and some published reports caution that it could be harmful long-term. Both Simon and Boutin maintain that a diet of whole foods, including a wide variety of nutrient-dense foods, works best for all women regardless of blood type. Five Element Cooking is based on the Five Element Theory used in Oriental Medicine. According to Kitty Bradshaw of Bainbridge Island Oriental Medicine (BIOM), people have always looked for ways to understand what’s happening with their health. She explains that the logic of Five Element Theory is based on a holistic understanding of your body’s relationship to food in such ways as how you feel after eating, the types of emotions you’re prone too, and the kinds of food you crave.

A licensed acupuncturist with an advanced degree in Oriental Medicine, Bradshaw teaches courses at BIOM that enable clients to select foods which feed internal organs efficiently, thereby improving overall wellness. Each of the five elements – wood, fire, earth, metal and water – corresponds to a unique taste: (wood-sour; fire-bitter; earth-sweet; metal-spicy; and water-salty, which support internal organ and body functions differently. The theory suggests that the correct selection of particular foods will generate and regulate energy, and lead to improved health.

Boutin explains that Five Element Cooking is very complex and is steeped in a spiritual tradition that is thousands of years old. She suggests securing the assistance of a licensed acupuncturist before beginning an eating plan based on Five Element Cooking. What Boutin appreciates most about Five Element Cooking is the mindfulness it brings to eating. “Digestive problems are very common. Many times we eat because it’s what we always do. It’s so much healthier to listen to our hunger cues and think about what we’re eating. How does a certain food feel in the body?” That thoughtful process is clearly described in the fourth eating plan, Intuitive Eating.

Based on books by nutrition therapists Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, intuitive eating stresses honoring what our bodies really need. They claim that all of us know what we hunger for – it just requires some thought before we reach for the closest bag of chips or creamy sundae. “This plan asks us to take the time to discover why we’re eating,” Boutin explains. “We’ve become a society of unconscious eaters.” Simon and Boutin agree that this eating plan offers a more positive relationship to not only food, but hunger. “Hunger is a good thing,” laughs Simon. “It tells you that your body needs fuel. Once you come to peace with food, you can enjoy what you eat instead of eating around it.”

Intuitive eating is a non-diet approach, asking individuals to first consider and then rate their hunger levels before and after they eat. There are no “off limits” foods, something that is often frightening to many women who say they fear binge eating. Simon says that just doesn’t happen. “When we lift the rules and laws of restrictive diets, women slowly begin to make smart choices; they start to see food as something that brings a unique pleasure to life.” Once women begin to recognize a sense of fullness, they eat less because they know they can always have more – when they’re hungry.“That’s a major learning curve,” says Boutin. “Identifying how we use food is a critical step in improving our nutritional plans. Over time, this plan brings a sense of awareness and helps us to honor our body’s hunger cues.” Eating frequent, small meals and finding alternative methods to deal with emotional triggers are also a vital part of intuitive eating plan. Good nutrition and optimal health can be as easy as adding a colorful variety of whole foods to our diets, eating frequent small meals, tuning into the reasons we’re eating, and adding some form of daily activity to our busy lives. We’re lucky in the Pacific Northwest: Delicious, nutritious food sources are plentiful and there are many resources that can support us on the path to a healthier lifestyle. Food has always been intended for our physical and psychological enjoyment. It’s time we eat up!