Are you eating enough for your activity level?

Today’s topic is one that’s been on my mind a whole lot lately. A nutrition question that is frequently asked is:  Should I be eating intuitively when I’m hungry or tracking what I eat and going off the numbers?

Before I tell you my answer, I’d like you to think about this question for a moment. No really, take a moment and think about what you’d say if someone asked you. (Humor me please, this is the educator in me.)

From my instagram a couple weeks ago: as mileage and/or time on feet goes up, eating becomes almost another part-time job. the last few days I felt like I wasn’t quite eating enough, and not surprisingly, today’s long run felt a little extra challenging.
low energy availability is extremely common in athletes, and long term, it can cause widespread physiological and psychological imbalances.
so the short story is if you’re moving a lot, you need to be eating a lot.

Now, my answer:  YES, eat intuitively!! Tracking numbers often leads to becoming reliant on the numbers rather than recognizing your own body’s needs. Your body is incredibly wise and those tracking websites and apps are all using estimates. They’re estimating your energy needs and using nutrition data done in a lab on a random sample item of the food tested. And that’s not to mention that your estimates of portion size, etc. are usually not entirely accurate either.
So random sample food that may not reflect the actual nutrition of the food you ate, formula estimating your energy needs, and, unless you’re a super type-A person that weighs every morsel ingested to the nearest gram (also please don’t do this), inaccurate food measurement. Yes, they can give you an idea if you might be in the ballpark with your nutrition needs, but as above, it can vary so much. And yes, some individuals can go into a lab and get their metabolic rate measured to determine a more accurate picture of energy needs, but most of us don’t have access to or need that data.

AND also my answer: It depends. Many active individuals are actually not eating enough for their on-the-move lifestyles – and the body, because it is wise, makes decisions about where it is going to prioritize its precious calories. So if you’re going to go for a trail run in the forest for the day followed by an evening bike ride or weight session, and then follow with something similar tomorrow and the next day, and throw in a weekend long couple workouts, AND you’re routinely not eating enough to meet your caloric needs, the body is going to choose where to spend those nutrients because when this precious energy is used for one function, it is not available for another one. Essentially, you are putting your system into survival mode.

And it plays out along these lines as your body says,  “Well, if you’re going to make me go do these workouts, I’ll put my energy here, though maybe with a little less pep, energy, and high-end ability, but I’ve got to rob Peter to pay Paul, so I’ll compromise over here with bone metabolism, or over here with female reproductive hormones or thyroid health, or immune function, or over here with the GI system and the ability to break down nutrients in food (because digestive enzymes are made of proteins which may be lacking in the diet), or muscle and tissue repair or”…. and the list goes on.

Why am I bringing all this up? Because it’s actually common for active individuals to be eating to hunger levels and still not be eating enough.

While intuitive eating means we should honor our hunger, many athletes have a suppressed appetite after long or intense workouts, and we still need to replace nutrients quickly after exercise, and learn to recognize that symptoms of hunger go beyond simply an empty stomach.

While intuitive eating means we should respect our fullness, if you get to the point of overeating by having excessively large meals, it is often because of low energy intake throughout the day or because you did some seriously strenuous exercise. With more even or adequate energy intake before and during a long workout, you can avoid that ravenous feeling of needing to eat quickly and impulsively, which means you’re paying more attention to fullness.

A SELF-ASSESSMENT TO HELP YOU NAVIGATE YOUR ENERGY NEEDS

So what to do if tracking all your meals isn’t very accurate (and not to mention time-consuming and takes the joy out of eating and deciding what to eat), and eating intuitively might be a little faulty, especially at the beginning?

My suggestion is to start with a self-assessment. Ask yourself these questions:
– Am I sick more than I should be?
– Do I struggle with fatigue more than I think I should?
– Am I improving in my performance?
– Have I had a lot of injuries?
– How’s my overall health?
Basic bloodwork results holds a plethora of data on how the body is ‘performing’ internally.
– How is my menstrual cycle and/or sex drive? Women have a little advantage here in that any menstrual symptoms or irregularities* are symptoms telling you to heed warning because there’s a larger health story.
– Do I have a lot of gut upset / discomfort?
– Am I more irritable, depressed, anxious, or have decreased concentration?
– Am I sleeping well?
– and if you have teammates or friends/family that you work out with regularly: Do I eat less than my teammates but have a higher body fat? This is subjective of course because every body is different, but yep, higher body fat and eating less is also a tell-tale sign, since lower metabolic rate occurs with lower energy availability, meaning you might be eating less but weighing more or having more cushion than previously.
– and one more because it can become prevalent with long term low energy availability: Am I thinking about food ALL THE TIME? We know from eating disorder and starvation studies that chronically deprived individuals become obsessed with food, far beyond just being interested in food.

So where to go from here?
Above all, food and exercise should make you feel good. The goal is to be aware and in tune with yourself and your body’s ability to show you signs that something may not feel right or as great as it should.

And you may benefit from professional guidance. If you’re confused or concerned about your needs, or would like a professional opinion, I invite you to reach out to me for more personalized support.

*Women on hormonal birth control will not have the same ability to use their menstrual cycle to gauge abnormalities, since it is designed to eliminate ovulation and the normal hormonal fluctuation that occurs. If symptoms or irregularities occur without birth control, that is vital sign that your body has an imbalance somewhere.
This information does not intend to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease. 

References:
2018 UPDATE: Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S)
Bronwen, L., Rowe, G., and Girdlestone, C. (2020). Low Energy Availability – an imbalance that impacts more than performance. CompeatCon Nutrition Conference.
Fahrenholtz, IL., Sjodin, A., Benardot, D., Tornberg, AB., Skouby, S.,…and Melin, AK. (2018). Within-day energy deficiency and reproductive function in female endurance athletes.
Torstveit, MK., Fahrenholtz, IL., stenqvist, TB., Svlta, O., Melin, A. (2018). Within-day energy deficiency and metabolic perturbation in male endurance athletes.
Tribole, E. and Resch, E. (2003). Intuitive Eating: A revolutionary program that works. (2nd ed.). St. Martin’s Griffin.


Hot Cross Buns {gluten + dairy-free, sourdough option}

As I opened my daily planner this morning, I was reminded that I had originally been slated to be teaching a lesson today about healthy breakfasts and how to tell when one is hungry and full to several kindergarten classes I work(ed) with.

Of all the nutrition and cooking lessons I teach in public schools, that particular one is my favorite. And because the funding source leaves me tied to teaching particular curricula that I often find wanting in terms of what we should actually be teaching our children about nutrition (i.e. developing a healthy relationship to food more than focusing so much on all the food groups), this particular lesson is one I really look forward to. Hunger presents itself in numerous ways beyond just a painful, rumbly tummy, and food and nutrition is far more than just calories in/calories out, macro and micronutrients, and following the ‘right’ plan until whatever prefabricated goal is reached. If I could fill out my entire kindergarten series with this topic of developing a healthy relationship to food alone, I think my students would be far closer to having the basis of a firm foundation in healthy lifelong eating than most of us have ever gotten.


One thing I’m noticing a lot in the last couple weeks as we all go into isolation and quarantine is a few different but similar conversations about food. Panic-buying and hoarding as lack of clear leadership, lack of control over life situations, and messages about what to do change nearly daily. Bingeing or overeating on a kitchen full of food, or stress not-eating as we stay home and navigate a completely different routine. Stress-baking to put at least our hands in motion, and choosing comfort foods when nothing else is comfortable. And then stacking guilt on top of our already stressed and anxious systems as we berate ourselves for not having some willpower or not taking care of ourselves adequately, etc.

One of the questions I like to ask, not to my kindergarteners, but in clinical practice, is ‘what’s that about?’ When our minds go into worry and circular thinking about whether there’s any flour, yeast, eggs (or TP) to be found at the store. When we find ourselves needing a comfort food or snack while working from home when we’re not actually hungry. When we skip a meal or two and are ‘not hungry’ when we’ve clearly not eaten much in the last day or days. When our hands at the grocery reach for ice cream, cookies, chips and crackers, or the ingredients to make something sweet / salty. When we panic at the thought of missing a workout or being sidelined from normal training due to this situation. When we’re anxious. When we wake every night at 3am.

In any or all of these instances, ask yourself, ‘What is that about?’ What’s the underlying feeling, belief, or reason I’m doing this thing? Ask yourself without judgement, and just be okay with whatever answer comes. And if there’s no immediate clear answer, that’s okay too.

As an adult, having an awareness and lack of judgement at the reason for our actions is incredibly helpful in navigating uncertainty and beginning to form trust in yourself that you are strong and able to deal. For even when we judge our actions and ourselves incessantly, there are always fairly wise reasons for them that we are somehow protecting ourselves against.

Today as I’m writing this, it is also the beginning of Holy Week, a special solemn few days in the Christian calendar before Easter, and given the state of the world right now, the solemn state of things appears to run parallel to it. Hot Cross Buns are also a traditional specialty this time of year, at least in parts of the US, and for sure in the UK and Ireland. It you’ve never enjoyed them, they are a spiced and fruit-filled yeast bread roll, often made quite a bit richer due to extra butter/oil, added sweetener and perhaps an egg. They were traditionally eaten on Good Friday, which is also a traditional day of religious fasting. If you like to delve into the history of food traditions like me, you can learn more about hot cross buns on Good Friday in this short article and its fascinating discussion/comments.

Otherwise, may you work on asking yourself this week, ‘What’s that about?’, and if you’ve the inclination, try baking hot cross buns.


Hot Cross Buns {gluten-free and vegan, sourdough method}, makes 5
This recipe appropriately fits the needs for those avoiding all (or some) of the most common food sensitivities and allergies, and because my nutrition-brain is always on when developing recipes for this space, these are a delicious, slightly enriched and sweetened whole-grain bread option that doesn’t get too far into the super decadent category.
As you’ll note, I’ve created two options to make these, with a sourdough starter, and without. I’ve made and enjoy them both ways, and because I don’t do away with the yeast in the sourdough option or dramatically change the method, they both turn out fairly similar. Instead, I tend to use my sourdough discard for the recipe and reduce the other flours and liquid.
If you’re finding gluten-free flours difficult to source right now, substitutes work well. Sorghum flour subs in well for either brown rice or millet, oat flour made from ground up oatmeal will likely work well in part, and any of the starches (arrowroot, tapioca, potato, or corn) can be used in place of the arrowroot and tapioca combination. As always when baking and especially when using substitutions, it’s always best to measure by weight.
There are a few ways to make the cross on top, either with a bit of icing after baking, by cutting a cross in the dough before baking, or by making a flour and water paste and drizzling it on top before baking. I meant to cut my dough before baking but then forgot, and decided to use a quick couple spoonfuls of cashew, vanilla and honey ‘frosting.’ I haven’t added that in here because I think it’s too fussy and these don’t need a sweet finish. They taste great on their own!

Wet Ingredients:
6 Tbs. non-dairy milk
2 1/2 Tbs. water
1 1/8 tsp. dry active yeast
¼ cup mixed dried fruit (raisins, golden raisins / sultanas, orange peel)
2 Tbs. orange juice or tart cherry juice or water
1 Tbsp. ground flax seeds 
1 Tbsp. psyllium husk (or use ground chia seeds OR flaxseed meal)
2 Tbsp. coconut oil, melted
½ Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp. honey or maple syrup

Dry ingredients:
130 grams / ~1 cup gluten-free all purpose flour
(or 13 g buckwheat flour, 19 g tapioca flour, 20 g arrowroot flour, 26 g each sorghum, brown rice, and millet flours)
100 grams / ~ 1 cup gluten-free sourdough starter (equal parts flour and water)
1.5 tsp mixed spice  (1/2 tsp. cinnamon, ¼ tsp. allspice, ¼ tsp. nutmeg, 1/8 tsp. cloves, 1/8 ginger, 1/8 tsp. coriander, 1/8 tsp. cardamom)
¾ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. sea salt

  1. Warm up the non-dairy milk and water together until lukewarm or at about 100 degrees F / 38 degrees C. Whisk in the yeast and allow to froth up for about 10 minutes.
  2. While waiting combine the dried fruit and juice or water. Warm for a few seconds in the microwave and set aside to let the liquid soak in and soften up the fruit. I use about 1 Tbs. finely diced orange peel in this mix to make these extra festive and more traditional.
  3. Add the ground flax, psyllium, oil, vinegar, and honey to the frothy yeast liquid. Whisk together and set aside so it can thicken a little.
  4. In a large bowl, stir together the dry ingredients. Dump the wet ingredients and fruit into the middle of the flour mix and stir. Your dough will begin to look scrappy. Keep stirring with your spoon or hands until the ball of dough becomes somewhat smooth.
  5. Put a cloth over your bowl and let rest / rise for one hour.
  6. Next stir the dough well again, and then divide into 5 equal balls. Lay parchment in a small baking pan and then roll or shape each of the dough balls into rolls. Place them on the dish, cover with cloth again, and rise again for 1 hour in a warm, non-drafty space in your kitchen. These should rise enough to be touching each other in the pan, but will not double in size.
  7. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F / 190 C. Bake for 2025 minutes or until the edges have firmed up. Place the pan on a wire rack to briefly cool down.

EXTRA NOTES

1. Tastes best when eaten warm and straight out of the oven.
2. Store in an airtight container and keep for about 3 days.
3. The dough can be made ahead of time. Simply place in the fridge during the second rise time and allow to sit overnight. Baking time might need to be longer.

Hot Cross Buns {gluten-free and vegan, regular non-sourdough method}, makes 5

Wet Ingredients:
6 Tbs. non-dairy milk
6 Tbs. water
1 1/8 tsp. dry active yeast
¼ cup mixed dried fruit (raisins, golden raisins/sultanas, orange peel, etc.)
2 Tbs. orange juice or tart cherry juice or water
1 Tbs. ground flax seeds 
1 Tbs. psyllium husk (or use ground chia seeds OR flaxseed meal)
28 grams / 2 Tbs. coconut oil, melted
½ Tbs. apple cider vinegar
1 Tbs. honey or maple syrup

Dry ingredients:
180 grams / 1 ½ cups gluten-free all-purpose flour
(or 18 g buckwheat flour, 27 g tapioca flour, 27 g arrowroot flour, 36 g each sorghum, brown rice, and millet flours)
1 1/2 tsp. mixed spice
(1/2 tsp. cinnamon, ¼ tsp. allspice, ¼ tsp. nutmeg, 1/8 tsp. cloves, 1/8 ginger, 1/8 tsp. coriander, 1/8 tsp. cardamom)
¾ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. sea salt

  1. Warm up the non-dairy milk and water together until lukewarm or at about 100 degrees F / 38 degrees C. Whisk in the yeast and allow to froth up for about 10 minutes.
  2. While waiting combine the dried fruit and juice or water. Warm for a few seconds in the microwave and set aside to let the liquid soak in and soften up the fruit. I use about 1 Tbs. finely diced orange peel in this mix to make these extra festive and more traditional.
  3. Add the ground flax, psyllium, oil, vinegar, and honey to the frothy yeast liquid. Whisk together and set aside so it can thicken a little.
  4. In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. Dump the wet ingredients into the middle of the flour mix and stir. Your dough will begin to look scrappy. Keep stirring with your spoon or hands until the ball of dough becomes somewhat smooth.
  5. Put a cloth over your bowl and let rest / rise for one hour.
  6. Next stir the dough well again, and then divide into 5 equal balls. Lay parchment in a small baking pan and then roll or shape each of the dough balls into rolls. Place them on the dish equally apart, cover with cloth again, and rise again for 1 hour in a warm, non-drafty space in your kitchen. These should rise enough to be touching each other in the pan, but will not double in size.
  7. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F / 190 C. Bake for 2025 minutes or until the edges have firmed up. Place the pan on a wire rack to briefly cool down.

EXTRA NOTES

1. Tastes best when eaten warm and straight out of the oven.
2. Store in an airtight container and keep for about 3 days.
3. The dough can be made ahead of time. Simply place in the fridge during the second rise time and allow to sit overnight. Baking time might need to be longer.

If you enjoyed this, I’ve been sharing a few practical resources and video posts over on my E+O Facebook page about how to navigate these times with resiliency and less anxiety / fear. For new nutrition clients, I’m currently offering a package of three consults for half off. Be well.

The best seasonal braised cabbage, kitchen morning mindfulness, and connecting to our food’s story.

When I wake in the morning, my tendency is to go towards some distraction immediately, whether it be reading emails on my phone, putting on a podcast to hear others talk at me, or perhaps even social media, though that’s much less my go-to than it was. When I am in the kitchen a little later cycling the dishes and making breakfast, my tendency is to reach for a distraction again.

Last year, I listened to a really impactful series of short podcast episodes on BBC’s Slow Radio about Benedictine Monks meditating on the nature of silence. One of the monks spoke about listening to the pauses in the everyday noise of our life, not filling it, but letting it be there, for it’s in the pauses that we hear guidance about our life (whether you’re religious or not, I’m guessing you have experienced this). So instead of filling the early hours with someone else talking, I’ve taken to letting my attention go to the moment and what I’m doing, walking this stack of bowls from the dishwasher to the cupboard, tracking back to the dishwasher, stacking the plates and walking them across the kitchen to the cupboard, pouring the boiling water over my first cup of tea, asking Alexa for a three minute timer, turning to the other counter, picking up the pear and knife, cutting the pear into haphazard pieces and scraping them into my oatmeal pot. Making my experience of the everyday morning hours, still technically dark outside, a fits and starts routine with less distractions from the outside world.

This kitchen meditation is important because it sets my whole day. My mind has a tendency to jump around, jump ahead, form conversations that will never happen, and turn unimportant moments and experiences into catastrophes, dreams and goals into hopeless pursuits. I’m not consistently mindful in the mornings, not able to have this presence always, nor do I carry it through for the rest of the day. But the daily practice lately is helpful. When I stack days on days of this practice, I notice I become more present for longer stretches elsewhere and thus my go-to mind chatter and on-too-much stress cascade is triggered less or bounces back a little quicker.

I have this Ayurvedic Cookbook by Kate O’Donnell, which I love for its easy meal inspiration and adaptability, but even more I love the introductory section, which makes up a good chunk of the book. Part of Kate’s introduction has a story about her yoga practice. She asks a long-time practitioner about the myth of mental calm through yoga and he tells her, “Do less physical monkey business and more concentration. Count your breaths.” She tells of not being particularly impressed with this advice, but then says, “When I practiced counting my breaths, I began to wonder – who is that counting and observing, and who is that telling me that I should be doing something else? So often, we identify with only the turbulent aspects of our minds, because they tend to be the loudest, and we are in the habit of joining their conversation. It takes patience and focus to stay tuned to the calm center, but it is possible. With practice, I stopped listening to the person arguing and began truly concentrating. It was in this state of focus that I finally found calm.”

Beyond this practice of paying attention, not engaging with the chattering, turbulent mind, is food, nutrition, and lifestyle. We have consistent research now backing up what the yogis and buddhas have known for centuries –that the mind and gut are connected. That there are energetic frequencies between the foods we consume and their effects on our mind and body. That the state of mind we prepare our food in has an affect on how we process it. That the symptoms we continually fall into, anxiety, depression, fatigue, pain, inflammation, hormonal imbalances, and on –they are symptoms, not problems, but symptoms of the body trying to get our attention.

As I’m writing this, it is the beginning of NEDA week –National Eating Disorder Awareness week, and as such it has been fairly routine for me to reflect on my own place in recovery annually. This week, it’s become apparent through my morning kitchen mindfulness practice that I’ve been connecting a little more into the beginning of my recovery, which began haphazardly about 13 years ago. What worked for me then, what really was my life raft out of my mental control and self-sabotage through food restriction was really connecting to my food community. I grew up on a ranch and our family had a garden growing up. Local food was really a way of life even if it was far from the romanticized version of farm life we all think of. As I found my way into nourishing instead of punishing my body, I needed that connection again, not to awareness of my mind’s tendencies–I wasn’t that far along and mindfulness wasn’t a thing that was ever brought up in therapy–but connection to my food. Who grew my carrot? What were the steps involved in getting that _____________(name that ingredient) to my store or farm stand and then to me?


Lately, I’ve been putting more emphasis on getting to my local Saturday market. It’s inconvenient to do so, I have to drive across town on a busy weekend at an inconvenient time of day, find a place to park, walk a few blocks, get cash ahead of time, deal with traffic back home, build the extra trip into my schedule, etc. But each time I do this, I’m reminded of the faces that feed us. The farmers themselves –often the farmer’s employees but still farmers—standing for hours on concrete in the middle of winter on cold, blistery, rainy days selling what we think of as ‘expensive food for the elite’ for mere dollars, and at the end of the day and year only making the farming business work because of a spouse or partner’s off-farm job or health insurance. If that sounds totally unglamorous, it was meant to—being aware of the reality of our thoughts or situations is rarely glamourous.

But when I see the hands that feed me and stay more connected to the origins of my food, I stay on the right side of my relationship to food in the recovery process. My relationship with my body is better, I care more for the livelihood of those that grew my food, I have more gratitude for our extremely happy and spoiled ‘ladies’ (hens) who provide the best eggs I’ve ever eaten, I translate that energy of good vibes into my presence in the kitchen and my emphasis on being in a state of calm and clear-mindedness, rather than cluttered, flustered, or not caring for myself well. Again–mostly. This takes practice. It’s certainly not my go-to mindset.

So much of each of our trajectories in this lifetime are like hiking up a slippery, icy mountain. We take a step towards improvement in whatever regard and then we slip back, sometimes giving up for a while before starting anew. As eating disorders and other mental health conditions become a little less stigmatized, or at least acknowledged, it’s important to remember that the glamorous recovery stories we read or hear, of healing through this or that process or someone else staying on the straight and narrow while we slip and slide up and down the same stretch of mountain, are not actually glamorous like they may appear. William’s ladies might lay golden, delicious, nourishing eggs, but there’s a lot of chicken manure in the process. The same goes for the beautiful food brought to the town square – freezing fingers and toes, big waterproof coveralls to wash off all the winter mud before it gets there are more the reality.  And have you ever picked vegetables for at least a day? I have. Once. For a day in the middle of a hot and humid July in Virginia as a community service project. It was back-breaking work. Truly uncomfortable and challenging. And there were giant spiders.

Connecting to the story of your food has a real way of anchoring in gratitude and mindfulness, whichever way that background story goes.

This National Eating Disorders Awareness week, if you’re inclined, I encourage you to try some sort of mindful connection, to the source of your food, or to the process of preparing it for yourself and/or family. Count your breaths. Tune into the process of preparing your food. Thank a farmer. And most especially, give yourself a big hug.

The Best Simple Braised Cabbage, serves about 4, if you’re lucky. ;)

Cabbage is one of my all-time favorite foods this time of year. I crave it every winter before all the new colorful fruits and vegetables start to appear again. Truthfully, I enjoy it just about every way, steamed simply with some salt and pepper is at the top of my list, then braised, roasted, boiled in a flavorful broth, or lastly shredded into some sort of raw salad creation–they’re all good. Cabbage cooked simply has a subtle natural sweetness that comes through and it’s just one of those still wintery-filling foods that walks the line between the green leaves of spring. At my local farmers market, all the different types of cabbage have been catching my eye lately. Use any type here, from bright red/purple, crinkly savoy, or your standard green variety.

a little splash of olive oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp. salt
2 Tbs. raw apple cider vinegar
1 medium cabbage, thinly sliced
1/2 cup water

  • Heat the oil in a large skillet or wok over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally for about 8-10 minutes, or until tender and starting to turn golden brown.
  • Turn up the heat slightly and stir in the salt, apple cider vinegar, and sliced cabbage, along with the water. When the water begins to boil, lower the heat, cover the pan, and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the cabbage is very tender. Check and stir the cabbage a few times while cooking and add a little more water if begins to dry out or starts to stick.
  • Season with pepper, additional salt as needed, and then enjoy as a simple, tasty side dish.