Six Things We’ve Been Duped into Believing About What We’re Eating

basket-1375743_1920Well, THAT title sounds rather negative, something I don’t like to be on this blog.  But today it’s for a good reason.

I’m mad, and you should be too.  I’m mad that although we have more information about how to be healthier through good nutrition, more Americans are overweight or obese than ever before.

Are we not listening to what we are hearing, or are we misinterpreting what we are hearing?

My Sister’s Story

I have a 50-year old sister who has a mild developmental disability.  Last year, she was diagnosed as having diabetes and high cholesterol (she is at a healthy weight).  I had so many things going on at the time that I didn’t realize that she was subsequently given three prescription medications by her physician.  When I found out, I asked her, “Did your doctor say anything about how to heal from diabetes and high cholesterol through diet and exercise?”  “No, never,” she said.  I confirmed this with another sister who had accompanied her, and made sure that the doctor didn’t diagnose her with forms of both that could not be reversed by a healthier lifestyle.

Needless to say, I was less than pleased.  My sister makes very little money and is spending a huge portion of it to buy these medications, and now is dealing with significant side effects.  My sister may have cognitive deficits, but she is not stupid.  If her doctor had just given her some sound advice about diet and exercise, she would have followed them to the letter.  There wasn’t even a discussion of taking meds for a short time while she worked on improving her health. Sure doctors are overworked and have little time, but what would it have taken to direct my sister to some helpful resources?

It’s a moot point now because I am now working with her to make these changes, and will present these to her physician.

Who Are You Listening To?

When I took my sister to the store to read food labels in order to make better choices, I was struck by how little she knew about eating well.  Again, it was obvious that this was not because she is “slow”.  It seemed like she had bought into the misinformation that commercials and the words on the front of food packages cause.  If we are looking to these two sources to tell us the optimal way to eat, we are in trouble.

Which of these six things have you believe?

Lowfat is Healthy

OK, admit it.  You’ve bought into this one.  I have too.  Just because something is lower in fat, doesn’t make it the best choice if it doesn’t have any other redeeming value.  Case in point:  all of the low-fat chips whether baked chips, lentil chips, rice chips, pita chips, veggie chips, as well as pretzels.  Often there is little nutrition and more salt than your body wants.  If you’re like me, however, you crave crunchy and salty food, and these SEEM like a better choice than Frito’s.  But they are adding calories that will not fill you up or give you sustained energy.  Try to incorporate some low-salt or raw nuts instead, or something like apples, carrots and celery to satisfy your need to crunch.

Zero Calories is Healthy

The only things you want to ingest that have no calories are O2 and H2O–oxygen and water.  Don’t think that you are doing yourself a favor by drinking zero calorie soda.  Take Coke Zero for instance.  Here is the ingredients list:  Carbonated water, colour (caramel E150d), phosphoric acid, sweeteners (aspartame, acesulfame-K), flavourings (including caffeine), acidity regulator (E331).  The only thing that sounds remotely nutritious is the phosphoric acid.  Yet even that has been linked to lower bone density in some epidemiological studies, including a discussion in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.  Even Vitamin Water Zero contains things like sorbitol that can aggravate irritable bowel syndrome and other gastro disorders.  Try water with really natural flavoring, like fresh lemon juice or naturally flavored teas.

If It’s Labeled “Organic” It Must Be Good For You

We fell for this one in our household when we jumped on the organic bandwagon years ago.  We started buying packaged meals because they contained all organic ingredients.  The problem?  The ingredients weren’t much to brag about–cornmeal, white rice, high sodium or high fat sauces, etc.  We realized that we saved money buying unprocessed, organic foods and that their preparation didn’t take much more time than these “convenience” meals.  Also be aware that “natural”, “all-natural”, “100% natural”  and “organic” do not mean the same thing.  Natural foods are processed without preservatives or additives, but may have been grown with the use of pesticides or other conventional methods. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates the term ‘natural’ only as it applies to added color, synthetic substances and fragrances.

Sugar-Free is Healthy

This was a big source of misinformation for my sister, especially with her diabetes.  She thought she could ingest whatever amount of artificial sweeteners that she wanted because sugar was the devil.  But Sucralose (Splenda) and Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweeet) come with a whole host of problems themselves.  They have proven to cause headaches and intestinal distress, and have recently been linked to cancer and the increase in MS, lupus, fibromyalgia and even diabetes (ironic).  Why risk it?  Food additives are not your friend.  Did God design our bodies to be able to process artificial ingredients?  Don’t just listen to me, there is so much information available about these sweeteners.  There are fabulous natural alternatives like agave nectar and honey, so why not give them a try?

Multi-Grain is the Same as Whole Grain

According to Mayo Clinic Registered Dietitian Katherine Zeratsky, multi-grain and whole grain are not interchangeable terms.  “Whole grain means that all parts of the grain kernel–the bran, germ and endosperm–are used.  In contrast, multigrain means that a food contains more than one type of grain, although none of them may necessarily be whole grains,” she says.  The reason we want whole grain is that fiber, nutrients and other healthy parts of the plant are lost when they are milled.  So we should look for breads and pastas that are labeled “whole wheat” or “whole oats” for example.


Wheat Flour is the Same as Whole Wheat Flour

Since whole grains keep you fuller longer due to a higher fiber content (which also helps with blood sugar and colon health), they are a better choice.  But don’t be fooled by ingredient labels that say “Wheat Flour”, because that has been refined to lose the outer bran that contains the majority of the fiber.  Choose only “Whole Wheat Flour” if you are eating wheat at all.

It took a little while for my sister to realize that just because a commercial or a label gives the impression that a food is good for you, doesn’t mean that it truly is.  I think she has become a wiser consumer and actually feels empowered with this new information.  We both look forward to seeing her “numbers” at her next doctor’s appointment.

(And yes…she has also started walking and doing a bit of strength training which will also help).

What are some things that have tripped you up in your quest for better nutrition?

Writer’s Bulge: Does a Freelance Career Mean There’s More of You to Love?

man sitting at desk

photo credit: John F Hark via photopin cc

If you ask a freelance writer for the top five reasons that he/she chose to go independent, you’d likely hear “to have the freedom to set my own schedule” in that list. The ability to work when you want, with hours that are flexible enough to give you more time for family, recreation and other pursuits makes freelancing ideal.

But if you’re like me, being able to work “whenever” can be a two-edged sword. How often do you work more hours than you did when you were punching a clock?

Are you pulling all-day sessions for days in a row to meet multiple deadlines?

If so, it’s likely that you are spending a lot of that time in conditions that are perfect for writer’s bulge–sitting for long hours, hunched over a desk or computer, so focused on your work that you don’t realize you aren’t moving enough or eating right.

What’s the point of a flexible career when your body is becoming all the more INflexible and you’re gaining weight?

There are lots of small changes that you can make throughout the day that will add up to big returns!

What Are You Wearing?

At the risk of sounding like someone at the end of a 900# phone call, you need to ask yourself this. Are you wearing loose fitting clothes that will not bind you at the waist, hips or knees? The idea here is that sitting constricts your blood flow already, so you don’t want to cut off your circulation any more with something too tight. I definitely subscribe to the notion that if you want to feel professional, it helps to look professional. I’m not suggesting wearing dirty sweatpants, only that you need to wear something that allows for proper blood flow.

How Often Are You Getting Up?

woman walking dogs

photo credit: mikebaird via photopin cc

In the same vein as the previous question, I’m talking circulation here. You’ve likely heard that when you fly, you should get up every couple of hours to reduce the risk of blood clots. Granted, altitude and pressure make conditions all the more critical for movement, but the practice is a great idea for a freelance writer as well. Better yet, make a point to get up and move around every hour. That’s what I do. At first I would set an alarm, but then I just became accustomed to knowing when I had been immobile for about 60 minutes and would get out of the chair for at least 5-10 minutes.

Are You a Distracted Eater?

Freelance writers are successful because they can be extremely focused on the task at hand. The problem is that it’s easy to just grab something to eat so that we don’t have to stop working. I found it extremely helpful to put together healthy snacks for the day and stash them in the desk so that I’m not tempted to mindlessly grab for something when my blood sugar plummets. Almonds, cashews, walnuts, grapes, apple slices, Clementines, even half a Clif Bar keep me going without sabotaging my weight maintenance goals. Don’t think you’re too busy to spend 5-10 minutes prepping some snacks before you get down to work. Doesn’t it usually take longer to forage for something good when you’re starving and crabby?

Are You Hydrated?

No one wants to get up 20 times to go to the bathroom during a writing session. Yet you do need to consider how you are sabotaging your career by not drinking enough water. Sound extreme? Consider that 55-78% of the body is water depending on age, weight and gender. You lose water just by breathing, sweating and eliminating waste, so even if you’re not working out, you are losing water. The brain itself is 76% water and that studies have shown that chronic dehydration affect executive functions like planning and visuo-spatial processing, and reduces your ability to concentrate. So perhaps that writer’s block is really dehydration?

Dr. F. Batmanghelidj, in his book, Your Bodies Many Cries for Water, believes that dehydration actually produces pain and many degenerative diseases, including asthma, arthritis, hypertension, angina, adult-onset diabetes, lupus and multiple sclerosis. His message is, “You are not sick, you are thirsty. Don’t treat thirst with medication.”

How much is enough? Most agree that at least 8-8 oz. glasses of water a day is sufficient for your brain and body to function optimally. Please don’t con yourself into believing that the Diet Coke you are drinking can be counted in this total. Your body needs water not a combination of artificial ingredients that it doesn’t know how to process.

How Is Your Posture?

woman sitting at desk

Photo by portorikan

I just pulled my shoulders up, back and down as I typed this. Poor posture is every freelance writer’s nemesis. Even if you’ve set up your workstation to be ergonomically correct, you still need to check yourself often to make sure that you are sitting up straight. This means space between your ears and shoulders, concentrating on steering your shoulder blades towards your back pockets, keeping your head from falling forward and your back from overarching. Taking the time to stretch your neck throughout the day (moving your head to the left and right, and down toward your chest) helps keep these muscles limber.

Is Your Core Serving You Well?

The muscles in your pelvis, lower back, hips and abdomen work together to create balance and stability for the rest of your body. I’m sure that I don’t have to tell you how sitting for long periods can wreak havoc on your back and make your abdomen feel like mush. Some choose to sit on a stability ball which passively engages the core muscles. I like to do Knee Ups while I am sitting, which involves sitting tall towards the end of my chair, extending my arms so that my palms of my hands are touching the edge of the desk and “marching” my knees up and down in the air. Or a simple Leg Lift that involves sitting tall toward the edge of the chair, extending your legs straight and lifting one at a time slowly, holding for 10 seconds and then lowering (alternating legs).

Are You Working Out During Your Writing Sessions?

I do. I’ve learned to take those 10 minute breaks every hour (or two if I have to stretch it) to complete my entire day’s workout. I’ve put together a list of cardio, strength training and core moves that break out into several 10-minute sessions a day. More and more studies are showing that, while we want to get 30-40 minutes of movement in each day, we can benefit from splitting up those minutes into shorter sections. I found that I not only have more energy after these sessions, but I can think more clearly. Little wonder since exercise has been proven to improve brain function. In 1999, scientists at the Salk Institute in California found that exercise stimulates the creation of new brain cells, and further research shows that aerobic exercise is the most beneficial in this regard. Stringing exercises together with little break in between can bring your heart rate into a good aerobic range, making even strength training similar to cardio exercises for strengthening the heart and promoting fat loss. (email me at if you’d like a copy of my workout plan).

More free time is one of your goals as a freelance writer. Will you have the energy to enjoy that time if you don’t pay attention to what your brain and body need while you’re writing?

Let me know what you do to stay fit!