Nutrition, Not Just Exercise, Key To Getting In Summer Shape

May 6, 2013

Credit Jennifer Chait, flickr

With the warmer weather here, more people are heading outdoors and striving to be in better shape and lose weight -- but it’s not all about being active. As WAMC’s Michael Masciadrelli reports, it’s all about paying more attention to proper nutrition.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third of U.S. adults and approximately 17 percent of children and adolescents are obese. Many factors can be associated with why it’s become a major issue in our country. Registered dietician and high school biology teacher in Agawam, Mass., Nancy Bobskill, believes one cause may be due to our fast-paced lifestyles.

“One of the problems related to obesity is what happens in our country culturally. For example, we’re in a hurry," she says. "Eating takes a back seat where we are always eating while we’re doing something else, so we are kind of eating mindlessly. I know people are really busy, but if we want to get to the bottom of this problem we have to take the time to eat so we enjoy the experience. If you can, try to eat with others so it’s enjoyable.”

Nutritionist Nancy Dell of Feeding Hills, Mass., works with many patients who are looking to lose weight by looking at how they can improve their diets. She points out another couple reasons why many people overeat and gain weight.

“Generally, with the people I work with, the food options that we discuss are really 10 percent of the issue," she says. "Ninety percent are the obstacles to eating well…I can’t eat well because I can’t afford to, I stress eat, I’m bored at night, there’s too many temptations in the office, you know you have the whole emotional aspect.  There are also components of food that may trigger us to overeat. People who eat a high-sugar diet; sugar is as addictive as cocaine. We know from studies published in the Journal of Neuroscience that once you start eating sugar it’s really hard to stop."

When sitting down at the breakfast, lunch, or dinner table, there’s a certain method one can follow to eat healthy. The nutrition guide called MyPlate, created in 2011 by the USDA, describes exactly how to receive proper nutrition and proportion out the food we eat by breaking up the typical plate into different sections.

“I think in general, it’s a very good guide to use. Half your plate should be your produce, vegetables and fruit, a quarter a lean protein, a quarter whole grain, and a little bit of healthy fat to add flavor," Dell says. "That’s a good basis. From there, you can help people pick their foods at fast food restaurants, plan meals, decide what to bring to a party, you know what part of your plate is missing. It’s a great tool to use and you can fill it in with the produce you like and the lean meats that you like. If you want to be vegetarian you can count your beans in that protein part.”

For those people who choose to eat healthy, it can provide them many benefits.

“When people eat a healthier diet, there is a decrease risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer. As far as for high blood pressure, eating more fruits and vegetables may help to bring down blood pressure," Bobskill says. "Eating healthy foods, if it leads to a reduction of weight, a person may feel better. If they are having like joint pain, that may be a little bit less because that is less weight they’re carrying around. Heredity does play a role with development in different diseases, but food maybe the thing that pushes that trigger. If a person ate healthy, they may not develop those diseases, even though they had the predisposition to develop them.”

College senior Talia Moseley from Boston struggled with being overweight since she was little. After deciding to live a healthier lifestyle at college, Talia was able to reach her weight loss goals and now is happy with the way she looks.  She shares how eating healthier and being active has improved her life.

“My freshman year I came in 210 and right now I’m 185," she says. "I can wear a large or medium now and not have to wear an extra-large. I was always in the doubles digits since I was little like with big pants size, so I just love seeing the decrease and me being able to go ‘Can I exchange these for a smaller size,’ always feels good. Being able to look in the mirror and look at pictures all over my wall at home, and in my room here at school, and see the difference… It makes me feel really, really good.”

With several health conditions running in her family, it offers Talia more motivation to remain healthy and active.

“My 8-year-old and 13-year-old cousins have diabetes from eating too many sugars, a lot of people in my family have high cholesterol, kidney failure, and almost everybody has high blood pressure on both sides of my family," she says. "I’m half-Spanish and half-black and a lot of those health issues are always prevalent in races like that. I don’t want to be another statistic. I don’t want diabetes. I don’t want high cholesterol. That’s why it’s very important to watch what I eat and making sure what I put inside my body.”

Both nutritional experts agree how portion control plays an important role in eating properly and losing weight. Nancy Dell provides strategies to control the amount of food eaten at each meal:

“Mainly what you want to do is eat when you’re first hungry and stop eating when you’re first full. Ideally you want to try to listen to your hunger signals, but many things influence those signals. The MyPlate picture can actually help control hunger. Your half plate as produce, are low calorie foods that have lots of volume and make you feel full. You need that protein, a little healthy fat to get signals that you’re full, and fiber and whole grains will make you also feel full.”

Talia has implemented eating smaller portions, which helped her be successful in losing weight. She offers her advice on how to stick with eating right and live a healthy lifestyle.

“I feel like a better person now, knowing I can lose weight. Being healthy goes beyond the physical…definitely a mental emotional satisfaction that comes along with it," she says. "Go for the change, no one will do it for you. Honestly, it’s about doing it slowly but doing it wholeheartedly, and just changing what you eat. Instead of having soda, have water, instead of having soda maybe have tea. The little steps make the biggest change and once you start seeing results it’s going to empower you to keep doing it. And then it becomes a lifestyle change and you are just always going to live that way.”