Nutrition Expert Q&A
Susan Bowerman is the senior director of worldwide nutrition education and training at Herbalife Nutrition. As a registered dietitian and a board-certified specialist in both sports dietetics and obesity and weight management, she brings a wealth of wellness knowledge to share in her bi-weekly column, Dear Susan!
If you’ve ever had nutrition-related questions and searched your inquiry online, you know that it’s not always easy to find answers or sources you can trust. With all of the information and misinformation that’s out there regarding healthy eating, making sense of how it all applies to you can seem pretty daunting. Plus, as the saying goes, don’t believe everything you read on the internet.
Get the answers to your nutrition-related questions from Susan Bowerman!* Whether you’re wondering about the timing of your meals, the portion sizes or anything in between, she’s got you covered and is providing expert insight and advice in her weekly column, Dear Susan. Simply drop her a line at the link below and keep an eye out for her answer!†
*Susan will select questions to answer here within the column every two weeks and regrets that she cannot answer every question received via email individually.
†The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. Susan cannot provide advice for individual health issues and cannot directly answer product questions. All product-related questions should be directed to the Herbalife Nutrition Support Center.
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Reader Wants More Nutrition for Less Money
February 23, 2021
I try hard to eat well, but it seems like healthy foods are so expensive. On top of that, my friends tell me unless I buy only organic fruits and vegetables, I’m not getting all the nutrients my body needs. How can I eat well on a budget?
- Wanting more for less
There’s no question that many of the least expensive foods are sugary, starchy and fatty – not nearly as healthy as more expensive items like fruits, vegetables and healthy sources of protein. Here are a few things that might help. First, try going vegetarian at least once a week.
A combination of whole grains (like brown rice, quinoa or corn) with beans, split peas or lentils is an inexpensive way to provide good, quality protein. You can top some brown rice with curry-seasoned lentils or have a bowl of black bean soup with some corn tortillas. Fruits and veggies can take a big bite out of your budget so, if you can, try to shop the farmers markets and buy what’s in season, which should save you some money. And don’t avoid the freezer aisle. Frozen fruits and vegetables have as much nutritional value as fresh.
In fact, in some cases freezing may preserve more nutrients since the foods are processed so quickly after harvest. Purchase loose-pack fruits and vegetables in bulk so that you can use only what you need. With regard to whether you should only buy organic: While organic produce is becoming more widely available, it still tends to be a bit more expensive than conventionally grown fruits and vegetables. But from a nutrition standpoint, you won’t be getting more nutrients from organic produce. If you’re concerned about pesticide residues, you can find resources online that can tell you which foods tend to have the lowest levels.
Second Helpings Aren’t Helping with Weight Loss
February 23, 2021
I have a big problem with portion control and I realize that one of my biggest problems is that I really like to take second helpings of everything at dinner. I know it sounds silly, but I almost enjoy those second helpings more than the first! How can I stop?
- Not helping myself
Good for you that at least you’ve been able to pinpoint the problem! Since you’ve got a double dose of calories at stake, taking second helpings might be a habit worth breaking. You could try to pretend you’re in a restaurant, where – with few exceptions – there are no refills. But if that doesn’t work, here are some tips that help you avoid that extra helping – without a second thought! First, try to avoid serving food at the table family style and dish out portions in the kitchen instead. It’s too easy to grab “just a little bit more” when the food is right in front of you. If there’s extra food left over after everyone’s been served, put it away as soon as you can. Set aside a portion for the next day’s lunch, or stash leftovers in the freezer. Another thing that can really help is to eat in courses.
For one thing, it will slow you down and help you savor your food, and help you enjoy your meal from the first bite to the last. If you have your salad or vegetable first, you’ll start to fill up on relatively few calories, and then you can move to your entrée. You might be wondering if you should just dish up half your usual portion, so you can still go back for seconds without overeating. If you’re really diligent, this might work – but you aren’t really breaking the habit since you’re still going back for seconds. And, while you might be careful to cut your portions in half at first, chances are pretty good that they’ll creep back up to their former size, and you’ll be right back where you started.
Underweight Guy Gets No Sympathy?
February 9, 2021
I know that many people ask you for advice about weight loss, but I have the opposite problem. I’m really skinny and I don’t like the way I look. It’s really hard for me to put on weight, and my self-esteem suffers as a result. My overweight friends just say that they wish they had my problem, but I wish they understood that being too skinny is hard too. Any tips to help me gain some healthy weight?
- Slim Jim
My first piece of advice would be to be patient. Just like your overweight friends, I know you’d like to change your physique overnight, but the process is going to take time. To gain just a pound in a week, you need to eat an extra 500 calories above what you burn every single day, which is often easier said than done. And don’t try to hurry the process along by loading up on unhealthy, high-fat/high-sugar foods – that’s no way to gain healthy weight. You should be focusing on nutrient-dense foods that offer extra calories and couple your healthy diet with resistance exercise to build lean body mass, that way you’ll “bulk up” rather than simply “fatten up.”
Try to eat on a schedule and set aside time to eat more frequently so you can work in plenty of snacks, including one at bedtime. Some good snack options for you would be trail mix, dried fruits, dense whole-grain cereals (like granola or muesli), yogurt topped with nuts and dried fruit, or a Formula 1 shake made with fruit, nuts/seeds/nut butter and rolled oats added.
Rather than trying to increase your portions too much, which can be a turnoff, add an extra spoonful or two of food to your plate and then gradually increase your portions over time. Pick up some extra calories from fluids like fruit juices, low-fat milk or soy milk, but have them in between meals if they fill you up too much. Add some healthy fats to your foods – drizzle olive oil dressing or avocado on your salads, sprinkle nuts and seeds on cooked veggies, or toss some nut butter into smoothies and hot cereals. Good luck!
Can You Ever Eat Too Much of a Healthy Food?
February 9, 2021
Last night, while we were watching TV after dinner, my dad ate an entire small watermelon! He said that he should be able to eat as much as he wants of anything that’s healthy, but I think that’s too much! His belly is starting to look like that watermelon, and I told him that calories still count! Who’s right?
- Too much of a good thing
Dear Too Much,
When it comes to eating healthy foods, there are lots of people like your dad who believe that “if some is good, more is better.” And, it’s true that the foods that make up a healthy diet – fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains and low-fat dairy products – do have a lot fewer calories per bite than foods that are full of fat and sugar. But that doesn’t mean that if you only eat healthy foods, you don’t need to worry about how much you’re eating, because the calories still count. That watermelon your dad ate has a lot going for it – plenty of water, fiber and potassium. But he probably ate several hundred calories’ worth – and that was right after dinner.
Label claims can trip people up, too. Many people figure they can’t possibly overeat a food labeled fat-free or sugar-free. It’s actually pretty easy, since fat-free or sugar-free doesn’t mean “no calories.” Many fat-free cookies have the same number of calories as the regular versions and just because sugar-free granola sounds healthy, doesn’t mean you should eat it from a bowl the size of a football helmet. About the only foods that are difficult to overeat are watery vegetables – a whole cucumber has only 10 calories, a whole head of lettuce about 25. But as vegetables get denser, or sweeter, or starchier, the calories start to bump up a little bit. A single baby carrot has about 5 calories, which is a great bargain, but if you eat the whole bag, even healthy veggies can add up.
Does Empty Stomach Workout Mean Washboard Abs?
January 20, 2021
I heard that if you work out on an empty stomach, you’ll burn more body fat. I’m trying to get leaner so this sounds good to me! Should I fast before my workout?
- Fast (or) Food
There are a few things to unpack here so let’s start with the idea behind a “fasted workout” and the thinking behind it. Normally, your body prefers to use carbohydrates as fuel which are available from stores in your muscles and liver as well as the sugar (glucose) that’s circulating in your bloodstream. The idea is that if you haven’t eaten for many hours (most people who practice this do their exercise first thing in the morning), your carbohydrate stores are depleted so your body is going to have to use body fat for fuel instead.
The first thing you’ll want to consider is the impact of a fasted workout on your performance. If you’re doing just some moderate exercise like a brisk walk or slow jog, then your performance isn’t likely to suffer, and your body will burn a bit more fat during a moderate-intensity exercise session than during a high intensity one. But if you’re doing more intense exercise – heavy lifting, HIIT or a lengthy cardio session – then your performance is very likely to suffer and you’d be wise to fuel up with some carbohydrate before you start.
In terms of its effects on your body fat, it’s true that you may burn a bit more fat during your moderate-intensity workout if you’re fasting, but that doesn’t mean you’ll burn more fat the rest of the day. In fact, you might undo any possible benefit of your fasted workout by overeating afterward.
One other thing to keep in mind is that your body can tap into stored protein (such as your muscles) and convert it into glucose to maintain blood sugar – not something you want to have happen if you’re trying to build up your muscles.
Fruit Juice Fast – Fruitless?
January 20, 2021
My sister goes on a two-day juice fast about once a month. She just drinks fruit juice all day and says it cleans out her system. She tells me that she loses weight, too, but she admits that she gains it all back once she starts eating again. I don’t need to lose weight, but should I be doing a juice cleanse, too? I worry that it might not be safe.
- On the Fast Track
I think one reason people engage in these short-term fasting regimens is because it gives them
a sense of wiping the slate clean, kind of like changing the oil in your car or cleaning out your closet. And as long as your sister is healthy and stays well hydrated, a short two-day juice fast probably isn’t anything to worry about. As your sister noted, it’s not unexpected that she would drop a couple of pounds in the process, but most of the weight loss is water, which is why her weight comes right back.
But the idea that you need to fast in order to “clean out your system” is a little bit faulty. Your body is designed to handle pretty much whatever comes its way, keeping whatever is useful and nourishing and getting rid of waste in a number of ways. We naturally detoxify every day by eliminating unwanted substances not just through the digestive tract – but the liver, kidneys, lungs and skin get into the act, too. And so, whatever the body can’t use, or doesn’t want, is eliminated very efficiently and effectively as long as we take good care of ourselves.
A two-day juice fast might produce a bit of temporary weight loss but nothing more. If your sister’s goal is to lose weight in a healthy way, a more sensible approach would call for fueling the body with a healthy balanced diet all the time, staying well hydrated and exercising regularly.
Three Meals a Day or Six: Does It Matter?
January 13, 2021
I’ve heard different opinions about how often you should eat. Some people say you should just eat three meals and no snacks, and other people say you should eat as many as six small meals spread out throughout the day. I know that you recommend eating three meals and a couple of snacks, but why? Does eating really boost your metabolism and help with weight loss?
- More or Less
I’ll answer your last question first, since it’s fairly straightforward. Eating a meal (or a snack for that matter), doesn’t really rev up your metabolism. Let’s say you go on a 1,500-calorie diet to lose weight. Whether you spread those calories out over three meals or six, you’ll lose weight at the same rate. In other words, if it’s weight loss you’re after, the bottom line is keeping your calorie intake in check.
That said, there are plenty of good reasons to eat more often, which is why I support more frequent meals. For one thing, there’s a practical issue – the more often you eat, the more opportunities you have to get your nutritional needs met. Let’s say you’re trying to get five to seven fruit and vegetable servings a day, and you’re trying to meet your calcium and protein needs, too. That might be hard to do if you have to cram all those foods into just three meals. But if you use snacks as an opportunity to work in more healthy fruits and vegetables, or maybe some calcium-rich yogurt, or an additional shot of protein, it’s a lot easier to hit your daily nutritional targets.
Here’s another thing. People who eat less frequently can convince themselves that they’ve “hardly eaten all day” – giving themselves license to do pretty much whatever they want when mealtimes roll around. Or, they assume that eating huge, but less frequent, meals will “hold them” longer. That rarely happens. They usually end up snacking anyway.
And even though more frequent meals don’t directly affect weight loss by speeding up your metabolism, they can have an indirect effect, by helping with portion and calorie control. You can teach yourself to be satisfied with less food every time you eat, since you know you’ll be eating again in a few hours.
Calorie Counter Can’t Keep Track
January 13, 2021
I know that you have to control your calorie intake in order to lose weight, but I just feel like counting calories gets me nowhere. I try to keep track the best I can, but I'm not losing any weight. What am I doing wrong?
- Counting on You
Calorie counting can be a great tool when you’re trying to control your weight, but it can be hard to account for everything accurately. And it can be frustrating when you think you’re doing everything right but your weight isn’t budging.
One common mistake people often make is to count their calories after they’ve eaten them. If you track your calories just before you eat, you’ll probably get a more accurate count since the food is sitting right in front of you. But when you try to add it up at the end of the day and you’ve overdone it, the damage is already done.
You’re also more likely to forget a few items, which is another common mistake – in particular all the “extras” like condiments, cream and sugar, salad dressings and sauces that can add up, so make note of them. And don’t forget to include beverages, because the calories in sugary sodas, beer, wine, mixed drinks, sweetened teas, coffee drinks, lemonade, and fruit and vegetable juices all add up.
If you’ve stopped weighing and measuring (or if you never got into the habit) make a point to do so, since you’ll get more accurate calorie counts. And forget vague references to “half a chicken breast” or “a medium apple” which could range widely in size, and weigh foods on a scale instead.
Chocolate Lover Needs to Break the Habit
December 23, 2020
My problem is that I can’t stop eating chocolate. I love it so much. I know I shouldn’t eat it all the time, but I just can’t help myself! Any advice for me?
- Chocolate Challenged
Chocolate is certainly one of the great pleasures in life, isn’t it? One reason you (and plenty of other people) love it so much is that it appeals to so many of our senses – there’s the taste of course, but there’s also the velvety smooth texture, the aroma and the deep rich color. But chocolate treats can be high in calories, so you may be wise to try to curb the habit.
The first step is to avoid bringing chocolate into the house, which might be difficult at first. Some people say it’s comforting to know there’s chocolate around in case the urge strikes, but I think that’s just backward – the urge strikes because you know there’s chocolate around! If chocolate is out of the house, you’ll have to work a little harder to get it, which automatically reduces the amount you’ll eat. When you do decide to indulge, try to identify as specifically as you can what you truly want. If you really want a piece of chocolate candy, you could probably satisfy the craving with a small piece and be done with it.
But let’s say you try to satisfy a candy craving with some frozen yogurt. Since you don’t really want the yogurt, you’re likely to eat a lot of it while trying to satisfy the candy craving, and you might even wind up eating the candy, too. So having a small portion-controlled piece of candy (ideally premeasured and prewrapped) could work in this situation.
Finally, when you do indulge, rather than mindlessly eating any form of chocolate, make a careful selection, allow yourself a small bite and take time to really enjoy it.
Stress Eating Just Stresses Her Out More
December 23, 2020
I'm what you’d call an emotional eater. When I get angry or stressed, I get these really strong cravings for unhealthy food, and then I just feel more upset with myself after I eat them. What can I do?
- Emotional Emily
Years ago, someone gave me a refrigerator magnet that said, “‘Stressed’ is ‘Desserts’ Spelled Backward.” Like you, emotional eating was a big challenge for her, but it wasn’t making her feel any better. Emotional eating happens to most of us from time to time. But when it gets out of hand – when eating is the first and most frequent response to negative thoughts and feelings – it’s time to get a grip.
One thing that helps a lot of people is to keep a journal, because it can really help you see what triggers your stress eating. Whenever you feel the need to eat, make a note of how hungry you are on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 = I’m faint with hunger; 10 = I’m so stuffed I have to loosen my clothing), and write down how you’re feeling at the moment. This will help you understand which emotions tend to trigger you to want to eat. From there, it can be really helpful to simply own up to your feelings. It’s OK to be mad or lonely or bored sometimes. The feelings may be unpleasant, but they’re not dangerous, and you don’t always need to “fix” them. Let your emotions come and go without judging them – they are what they are.
When the urge to stress-eat strikes, try asking yourself, “What’s the worst thing that will happen if I don’t eat?” Yes, your stress level might rise a bit for a minute, but the feeling will pass and it’s probably not nearly as bad as you thought it would be. Instead, take a few moments to reflect on your feelings and think of ways you can solve whatever it is that’s bothering you. Make a list of things you can do instead of eating. Take a walk to clear your head, listen to music, meditate, read, or call a friend and talk things over.
Delaying tactics work, too. You might be thinking that if you don’t eat, the craving will just get worse and worse and worse – but more often the urge simply passes. Rather than immediately giving in to your urges, promise yourself you’ll wait a few minutes. Chances are, you’ll get distracted or busy, and the craving will pass.
Nighttime Noshing Helps Him Nod Off
December 8, 2020
Is it bad to snack at bedtime? I don’t eat much and it’s usually pretty healthy – usually a little bowl of whole-grain cereal with some milk and fruit. My wife keeps telling me that since I’m just going to sleep, I won’t burn off the calories and I’m going to gain weight. But I’ve done it all my adult life (I’m 66), my weight is stable, and I feel like it helps me sleep better.
- Sleepytime Snacker
Eating before bed isn’t necessarily a bad thing – a lot depends on what you eat and how much; it also helps to know what happens if you don’t have a bedtime snack. You’ve already let me know that you eat a small, healthy snack and that you feel like it helps you sleep. And you’ve also said that your weight is stable, so it seems that you’ve learned to save some calories during the day so that you can afford to have this little snack at night. So, taking all that together, I really can’t see any reason why you shouldn’t enjoy this little nighttime nosh.
One reason your snack might help you sleep is that it may be helping to keep hunger hormones in balance. Normally, your body’s production of ghrelin (a hormone that increases hunger) is suppressed when you eat, and leads to an increase in the production of leptin – a hormone that tells your body you’re satisfied. If the balance of the two is off (or, let’s say, you’ve eaten an early dinner), a light snack might put you back on course.
Let me also clear up something that your wife said. She suggested that since you’re eating and then just going to sleep, that you won’t burn off the calories. I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating: Foods aren’t any more fattening when they’re eaten at 9 p.m. than they are if they’re eaten at 9 a.m. You’re burning calories all the time – even while you’re sleeping. So, eating right before you go to bed isn’t a problem as long as it doesn’t cause you to exceed your calorie limit for the day.
Fighting Fat After 50
December 8, 2020
Ever since I turned 50 and went through menopause, I’ve had a really hard time managing my weight. I’m eating and exercising the same way I always have, but my weight is slowly creeping up – mostly around my midsection. Any advice?
-Once a Pear, now an Apple
What you are experiencing is the natural effect of hormonal changes that can make weight maintenance a bit of a challenge, but not inevitable. There are a few things at play here so let’s unpack this a little bit.
Estrogen is a hormone that promotes fat storage in the hips and thighs during the childbearing years, but these fat stores shrink during menopause as estrogen levels decline. At the same time, your body is trying to maintain estrogen levels as best it can. It does this by hanging onto any other body fat it can (often around the midsection) since estrogen is produced by body fat and released into the bloodstream.
The other thing that is often going on is a gradual loss of muscle mass. As people age, their activity levels tend to decrease. They may do less exercise overall, and the intensity level of the exercise might also decline, too. One of the best things you can do right now is to regularly engage in strength training* – it helps to keep bones healthy, and it also builds lean body mass, which in turn increases your daily calorie burn, which may help you lose some of that belly fat.
Dietwise, focus on nutrient-dense, low-calorie foods – in other words, plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and nonfat dairy products – to give your body what it needs. The fruits and vegetables supply fiber and phytonutrients, protein helps keep hunger at bay, and calcium-rich dairy products support bone health at a time when declining estrogen levels can lead to accelerated bone loss.
* Please consult a doctor if you have medical conditions that would compromise your ability to exercise. If you feel any discomfort during exercise, stop immediately.
Doing Everything Right, but the Scale Won’t Move
November 17, 2020
I’m really frustrated. I’ve been following my diet and exercise plan faithfully for the last two months, but my weight on the scale has hardly moved at all! I feel great, I sleep better than ever, and my clothes are fitting better, too, but it’s really disappointing to see that my weight is about the same as when I started. What’s going on?
So glad you asked this question, as I get asked about this all the time. The short answer to your question is that while you’re likely losing weight in the form of body fat, you may also be gaining weight in the form of muscle – so your total weight loss isn’t as much as you think it should be.
A pound of muscle takes up less space in your body than a pound of fat, so as you become leaner and more toned, you lose inches and your body becomes more “compact.” You actually explained this yourself when you said that your clothes are fitting better. So often we rely on the scale to tell us that we’re doing everything right, but your body weight is only part of the story. Positive changes in your body composition (how much fat and how much lean mass you have) matters much more than your actual weight, and that’s where your efforts are paying off. Try to focus on the other great results you’re getting, too – feeling great, sleeping better and feeling more comfortable in your clothes are more important than simply a number on the scale.
Cousin Follows Alkaline Diet, but Can’t Explain Why
November 17, 2020
My cousin follows every diet fad, and lately he’s been on something he calls an alkaline diet. He says I should do it to keep my body from becoming too acidic, but he can’t really explain what that means. What is he talking about?
-Not a Fan of Fads
The alkaline diet has sometimes been called the “alkaline ash” diet and promotes the idea that you should eat foods that, once metabolized, leave behind an alkaline residue, or ash. This dietary ash is what’s left after you “burn up” everything in that food that can be broken down – primarily a mixture of minerals. And, depending upon which minerals are present in a food, the resulting ash is termed either “acid ash” or “alkaline ash.”
Processed foods, sugar, alcohol, many protein foods, dairy and grains are considered too acidic (and therefore shunned), whereas fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds are favored for their alkaline properties.
Those who follow the alkaline diet believe that it helps the body maintain an optimal pH level.
If you’re not familiar with the term, pH is simply a scale that measures how acidic or how alkaline a liquid substance is. The lower the number, the more acidic the substance is and as the number rises, the substance is more alkaline (sometimes called “basic”).
Now, it is true that if the body becomes too acidic, your health will suffer. No argument there. But here’s what is also true: You can’t change the acidity of a healthy body simply by eating certain foods and avoiding others. Nor would you want to.
Your body maintains the pH of various body fluids in a very narrow range because the many chemical reactions in your body can only take place within this range. As long as you’re in good health, you can’t (nor should you hope to) change your blood pH through diet. Because, if the pH were to stray from these narrow confines, you’d be in serious trouble. And, by the way, there’s no evidence that an alkaline diet can affect the pH of the body in a healthy person.
That said, the alkaline diet does place an emphasis on healthy plant foods, especially fruits and vegetables, which isn’t a bad thing. On the other hand, there are a lot of healthy foods that are not permitted, including nuts, fish, poultry, eggs, lentils, beans, soybeans and avocado. So, simply finding enough protein on an alkaline diet could be challenging.
Curbing Cravings for Carbs
September 22, 2020
What can I do about my carb and sugar cravings? I manage OK for most of the day, but in the afternoon, I get really strong cravings for sugar and carbs. I keep pretzels and cookies around for my kids but I end up eating most of them! It just throws my whole day off and sometimes I eat so much, I’m not that hungry for a healthy dinner. What can I do?
-Taking my Sweet Time
Carb and sugar cravings can develop out of habit, and some people turn to them when they’re stressed. But I suspect that you may be eating the wrong types of carbohydrates at lunchtime.
Carbs are important, because they’re what your body relies on to provide the energy you need to get you through your day. But different carbohydrates have different effects on your blood sugar. When you eat sugary foods or highly refined carbohydrates – like soda or white bread – they’re digested relatively quickly, releasing a surge of sugar (in the form of glucose) into your bloodstream. But once your blood sugar shoots up, your body tends to “overcorrect” – sending your blood sugar plummeting. And that’s when you might start craving high-carb pretzels and cookies to bring blood sugar levels back up.
On the other hand, carbohydrates from unprocessed foods (like vegetables, whole fruits and whole grains) take longer to digest. Instead of causing a big spike in your blood sugar, they release their sugar more slowly into the bloodstream and help provide more sustained energy over a longer period of time.
I’d take a closer look at what you’re eating for lunch. Are you drinking sugary beverages or eating refined carbs like noodles, rice or white bread? Are you getting enough protein to help control hunger? Are you including some high-fiber, slow-digesting carbs like veggies? Try placing an emphasis on protein and the right carbs to see if it makes a difference. A salad topped with some canned tuna or a turkey sandwich on whole-grain bread with some baby carrots on the side should do the trick.
And, afternoon snacking isn’t a bad thing if you do it properly. The pretzels and cookies aren’t doing anyone much good, so why even bring them into the house? The stretch between lunch and dinner can be long, and a balanced snack (like some yogurt with fruit or some hummus and raw veggies) can help keep you – and your kids – satisfied.
Bloated Belly Needs to Loosen Up
September 22, 2020
Why do I sometimes get so bloated after I eat? There are times at the end of a meal when I feel like my stomach is just growing and growing before my eyes. Sometimes I get so uncomfortable that I have to loosen my belt or even unzip my pants – which is OK if I'm home, but it happened to me in a restaurant not too long ago and I was miserable. Why does this happen, and why just once in a while?
– Belly Buster
Dear Belly Buster,
That “puffed up” feeling is often the result of air that gets trapped in your digestive tract, which can come from a surprising number of sources. You could be swallowing excess air while you’re eating, which can happen if you eat too quickly, drink liquids through a straw, or talk while you’re chewing. And if your meal includes carbonated beverages (even sparkling water) you’re not just chugging liquid, but air too.
Certain plant foods – like cabbage, broccoli or beans – are notorious gas producers, mainly because your body has a tough time breaking down some of the carbohydrates they contain during the digestive process. But when these undigested carbs reach your lower digestive tract, the bacteria that naturally reside there start to break them down, releasing plenty of gas in the process.
Some people find that certain non-calorie sweeteners give them trouble, especially if they take in a large amount at one time. And gumchewers should take note – you’re likely gulping down plenty of air while you’re chomping away.
Eating quickly can sometimes be traced back to a skipped meal – so don’t skip and make sure to take your time when you do sit down. Not using a straw is easy, and there are plenty of reasons not to eat with your mouth full. Instead of carbonated beverages, try switching to plain water or tea. You might be tempted to give up the veggies and beans that give you gas, but they’re such healthy foods, you don’t really want to ditch them. Instead, try small portions and eat them frequently – which often allows your system to adjust. And if you’re a gumchewer, try munching on healthy raw veggies instead.
Friend Loves Eating Ice
September 8, 2020
My friend chews on ice cubes all the time. She says she craves it. We were trying to watch a movie at her house the other night, and I could hardly hear it over the sound of her chewing. I keep telling her she’s going to break a tooth! Why is she craving ice and how can I get her to stop?
- Needs earplugs
It could be that your friend simply likes chewing ice – we often clench our jaw muscles when we’re stressed, so some people find that the act of chewing acts as a stress reliever. Another possibility is that she’s lacking iron. Iron deficiency sometimes brings on the urge to eat unusual things – not just ice, but also dirt, paper or chalk. It’s not really clear why this happens, but the cravings often go away when the iron deficiency is treated. Your friend might benefit from a visit to her doctor for an evaluation.
Busy Student Craves Bed over Breakfast
September 8, 2020
I’m a college student with a full-time job and I’m not much of a breakfast eater. I’m so busy with work and school that I’d rather sleep as late as I can in the morning rather than take the time to eat, and I'm just not that hungry. Coffee gets me through my morning classes and then I make up for my missed meal by eating a big lunch. I stay up late and study and eat another pretty big meal before I go to bed. Do I really need to eat breakfast?
-Bed or Breakfast
Dear B or B,
With such a busy schedule, I can see how you’d be tempted to give up breakfast for a little extra sleep in the morning. But they’re both equally important, so it’s best not to sacrifice one for the other.
I know you’ve heard all the reasons why you should try to break the breakfast-skipping habit, but here’s a quick review. Even when you’re sleeping, your body burns fuel all night long to keep your systems going. Without filling up with a balanced breakfast, it’s hard to have the mental and physical energy you need to get through your morning. Not only that, the breakfast habit is associated with a better diet overall. Breakfast skippers tend to eat more fat, cholesterol, calories, and sugar – and fewer fruits and vegetables – than those who routinely eat breakfast.
Figuring out why you’re not hungry in the morning can be tricky. As you mentioned, you rely on coffee to keep you going, but that’s just an alertness boost from the caffeine, and not the actual fuel your body is craving. It’s possible that you are hungry, but you’ve just adjusted to the habit of not eating and so you can ignore it. And, since you manage to get through your morning OK, you just tell yourself you don’t really need to eat. It’s also possible that your big dinner the night before is putting a damper on your appetite.
Start small and light and have something that you can carry with you – you can easily whip up a protein shake or grab a carton of yogurt or a hard-boiled egg and a piece of fruit on your way out the door. That way you can still get your sleep while giving your body the fuel it craves.
Loves Asparagus, But….
August 25, 2020
I love asparagus, but it makes my urine smell funny. Does that happen to everybody?
-Holding my nose
Asparagus contains several sulfur compounds that are responsible for the odor in urine. The veggie is so well known for this phenomenon that those who produce the aroma assume that everyone else does, too. But not everyone does. About 80% of Americans are “excreters” – (which means that their bodies dump these smelly compounds in the urine) while non-excreters don’t. There are some studies that suggest that the 80% figure might not be right – they argue that it’s possible that everyone produces pungent urine after they eat asparagus, but not everyone can detect the smell. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle; there are probably those who produce and those who don’t, just as there are those who can pick up the odor and those who can’t. And not everyone thinks it smells bad. Marcel Proust famously wrote that asparagus transforms “my humble chamber pot into a bower of aromatic perfume.”
Fast Eater Wants to Slow It Down
August 25, 2020
My family calls me “the vacuum” because I eat so fast. I am always the first one finished, so I usually go back and get a second helping before anyone has finished their meal. I don’t really notice how full I am until a little while later, and then I’m just stuffed and uncomfortable. Can you give me some tips that would help me slow down?
-Gone in 60 seconds
People eat too fast for a variety of reasons – sometimes it’s just habit, but it can also be that you get too hungry before meals so you just shovel it in. It does take your stomach about 20 minutes to send alerts to your brain that you’re getting full, which explains why you don’t feel full until after you’ve finished. Aside from making sure you’re not starving before you sit down, you can try eating in courses and deliberately swallowing each bite before you load up your fork again (and you can also practice putting your fork down between bites). And focus on high-fiber foods – they’re not only good for you, they also slow you down because they take longer to chew.
Too Many Milk Choices
August 11, 2020
I’m lactose intolerant, so I don’t drink cow’s milk. The good thing is that there are so many milk alternatives in the grocery store now, so there are a lot of choices. The bad thing is that the nutritional content seems to be all over the place when it comes to protein and calories. What should I be looking for on the label to help me make the best choice?
- Why Buy the Cow
A lot depends on how you’re using your “milk alternative.” If you’re trying to replace the nutrients found in dairy milk, you’ll want to focus on protein and calcium. Most, but not all, soy and pea milks will give you a similar amount of protein (about 8 grams per cup) and calcium (around 300 mg per cup). If you don’t need the extra protein or calcium and you’re watching your calories, some – but, again, not all – nut milks might work for you. Most nut milks have very little protein, but calories can vary tremendously. Almond milk can be as low as 30 calories a cup, but pecan milk can run closer to 150 calories. Calcium content of nut milk is all over the place, too, ranging from none to as much as 450 mg per cup.
Grain-based and seed-based milks (rice, oat, hemp) also have widely varying nutrition content. Rice milk is usually very low in protein, but some brands of flax milk have an amount that rivals that of cow’s milk. And, as with the others, the amount of calcium and calorie count varies a lot. Lastly, in addition to reading the nutrition facts, look at the ingredient list, too, because some alternative milks have added sugars, which you may not want.
Boyfriend Won’t Use Soy
August 11, 2020
My boyfriend won’t drink our Formula 1 shakes because he says soy contains estrogen and he’s convinced he will get “man boobs.” I’ve tried to tell him that lots of people eat soy foods on a regular basis with no problem, but he won’t budge. Is there anything I can say to convince him?
- Shake Lover
Dear Shake Lover,
This is one of the most common misconceptions about soy, so let’s clear this up. Soy (and many other foods, by the way) contains natural plant compounds called isoflavones, which are classified as “phytoestrogens” (meaning, “plant estrogens”). So, when people like your boyfriend hear that, they assume that soy foods will expose them to too much estrogen. The reason they are called phytoestrogens is because they have a chemical structure that is similar – but not identical – to the estrogen hormone that is made by the body (in both men and women, by the way). But the main thing to know is that phytoestrogens are not the same as estrogen made by the body, and they don’t exert the same effects on the body, either.
Soy protein intake does not affect levels of reproductive hormones in men when consumed at levels that are considered equal to, or even higher, than are typical for Asian males. Of course, if your boyfriend still isn’t convinced, we also have other shake options. Formula 1 Sport is formulated with whey protein, and Formula 1 Select derives its protein from a blend of pea, rice and quinoa.
New Year’s Resolutions Are Fizzling Out
July 27, 2020
Like most people, I promised myself at the start of the new year that I was going to eat better and get more exercise. I did well for a couple of weeks, but now I’ve totally lost my motivation. This happens to me every year and it makes me feel like such a failure. How can I get back on my plan and stay on it?
- Lost My Mojo
First of all, give yourself a pat on the back for making the effort! Making change is hard (as you’ve discovered). Maybe you gave up because you tried to make too many changes at once, or your resolutions weren’t realistic. Try to prioritize the changes you want to make, then commit to them in writing and work on tackling the easiest things first. This will help you gain confidence that you can achieve what you set out to do, and you can then build on your successes. You also need to figure out why you failed and have a plan to put your new habits in place. Promising yourself that you’re going to pack your lunch every day might not work if you don’t have storage containers, ice packs, or a bag to pack it in.
Setbacks happen to everybody, so try to learn from them. Figure out what led you to slip up and figure out how you can prevent it from happening next time. For instance, if you plan to work out every morning but you’re hitting the snooze button instead, place your alarm across the room so you’ll have to get out of bed to turn it off. And don’t forget to ask for support. Friends, family members and online communities can be tremendous sources of support, as can your Herbalife Nutrition Independent Distributor. It helps to have someone to turn to, so let those around you know what you are trying to achieve.
Can Diet Promote Better Sleep?
July 27, 2020
Are there any dietary remedies that would help me sleep better? I know that alcohol and caffeine can disrupt sleep, but is there anything I could be doing diet-wise that would help me fall asleep and stay asleep?
- Sleepless in Savannah
There are lots of reasons that your sleep can be disrupted, but let’s look at the dietary factors that might affect your sleep quality. Both alcohol and caffeine can disrupt normal sleep patterns which make it hard to stay asleep and reach the deepest (and most restful) stage. Alcohol also interferes with the release of an anti-diuretic hormone, which means you might be awakened for a bathroom break. If your full bladder isn’t caused by alcohol, it could be that you’re taking in too much fluid in the evening. Try to curb your intake after dinner and drink more liquids during the day. Keep your dinner meals moderate – if they’re too large, you might awaken from indigestion, but if they’re too skimpy, you might be awakened by hunger pangs. Omega-3 fatty acids help to regulate your body’s internal clock, in part through effects on the release of melatonin (a hormone that regulates the sleep cycle), so try having fish on the menu more often. Melatonin is also naturally found in kiwi, bananas, pineapple and oranges, so they might make a good bedtime snack.
He Eats Too Much After Exercise
July 7, 2020
I’ve been practicing HIIT (high-intensity interval training) for a while now, and I’m seeing pretty good results. But I get super hungry after my workouts which I think might be slowing down my progress. I don’t know if it’s a physical thing or a mental thing – what do you think?
In general, appetite tends to lessen after intense workouts, rather than increase – at least for the next hour or so. Exercise tends to lower levels of ghrelin (a hormone that makes you feel hungry) and increase levels of peptide YY (which signals that you’re full). And, these effects are more pronounced with increased intensity. It all makes sense, since blood is being diverted away from your digestive system and channeled to your heart and muscles which are doing the intense work. But, once you recover from the workout, it’s likely you will feel hungry.
The length of time you exercise does have an effect – the longer your workout, the longer it takes your body to recover. So, it’s possible that with a short, intense HIIT session, you will feel hungry sooner. But there could be some psychological factors at play, too. You might tell yourself that because the exercise is SO intense, you certainly must feel extra hungry after your workout. Pay attention to both pre- and post-workout fueling. For example, if you’re doing HIIT first thing in the morning and don’t eat something first, you’re likely to be quite hungry afterward since you haven’t eaten since the night before. So, try having something small and light like a banana or some yogurt. If you do HIIT after work and haven’t had an afternoon snack, you’re also likely to feel quite hungry. In this case, you can have something more substantial like an energy bar, a bowl of cereal with milk or a Formula 1 shake.
July 7, 2020
A lot of my friends are on this new diet plan to help them lose weight. They eat all their food within an 8-hour time frame. Most of them are skipping breakfast and then eating really big lunches and dinners. It seems to me they’re making up for a skipped breakfast by eating more the rest of the day, and they’re not losing any weight. Aside from that, we can’t meet for breakfast anymore! What do you think about this?
- Missing My Breakfast Pals
Your friends are following a form of intermittent fasting called time-restricted feeding (TRF). In TRF, all your eating episodes are compressed into a shortened time interval – usually about 8 hours as your friends are doing – so in a 24-hour day, all your food intake would take place between, say, 11:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. One advantage of TRF is that it generally leads to modest calorie control without the need to count calories, simply because there are fewer hours during which you can eat. This obviously would reduce, for example, late night snacking for many people – which could result in significant calorie savings.
But not everyone approaches intermittent fasting properly. When you cut meals and calories, you need to pack all the nutrients into fewer meals and calories, so every bite really counts. Your friends may be making a common mistake in assuming that since they are fasting part of the time, they can eat whatever they want (in whatever amount) the rest of the time. Since breakfast seems to be “off the table,” you might have to meet for brunch instead.
June 18, 2020
I hope you can settle an ongoing argument I’ve been having with my mom. She only uses “natural” sweeteners at her house, like honey, agave and maple syrup because she says they’re healthier. I say “sugar is sugar.” Who is right?
The short answer is that you’re right. The argument that many people make is that these natural sugars are better for you because they have more nutrients, such as iron in maple syrup or B vitamins in honey. While that’s technically true, most people use such small amounts of these natural sweeteners that they aren’t going to make major contributions to your nutritional intake of whatever vitamins or minerals they contain. Whether it’s unfiltered honey, maple syrup, agave or plain old table sugar, they are all sugar, and all have about 50–60 calories per tablespoon.
Are Daily Bowel Movements Necessary?
June 18, 2020
I heard that it’s bad if you don’t have a bowel movement every day, but that just doesn’t happen for me. I have regular bowel movements, but they’re every other day instead of daily. Is that bad?
Many people believe that anything other than a daily bowel movement is abnormal, and that if you go less often, it means you’re constipated. But defining constipation isn’t just about how often you go (or not), it also factors in how difficult it is for you to get the job done. For healthy people, constipation is usually suspected if you’ve gone three days or more without a bowel movement. By that time, a lot of water has been absorbed from the waste material in your gut, so it’s going to be difficult to pass. But some people might have difficulty after only two days, and others – like you – might go regularly and without any trouble after the same period of time. Of course, if you have any concerns, be sure to check with your doctor.
She’s on a Diet, He Isn’t
June 5, 2020
I’m trying to lose weight, but it’s really hard because my husband isn’t on a diet. It’s really frustrating for me because he likes to eat out a lot, and he’s constantly snacking, but he never puts on weight! It’s hard for me to stick with my plan when we go to restaurants, and even harder to watch him eat all those snacks when I can’t have any. What can I do?
- Venus vs. Mars
This is a common problem among couples because it can affect both parties. Try to approach your weight loss as a long-term effort toward healthier eating – something that will benefit you both. Have an honest talk about the issues that are hard for you and try to compromise on a solution. Yes, dining out may be hard for you – but it’s also something you’ll need to learn how to do in the long run, so maybe you can identify a few restaurants that serve foods that work with your plan. Another thing that can really help when you eat out is to order before your husband does. That way, it’s easier to stick to your plan and you won’t be swayed by his choices. You don’t need a high-calorie meal in order to enjoy a night out – focus on how much you’re enjoying this special time with your partner. Learn how to ask for support – which isn’t the same as asking your partner to go on a diet with you. Maybe he can help with meal prep or watch the kids while you go to the gym. And try to avoid being angry with your husband because of his ability to eat what he wants to without gaining – that’s never productive.
She Worries about Nutrient Losses in Frozen Foods
June 5, 2020
I like to use frozen fruits and veggies in my Formula 1 shakes, and I see that you do that sometimes in your videos. But I’ve heard that some nutrition gets lost when foods are frozen. Is that true?
Dear Chill Girl,
It’s fine to use frozen fruits and veggies! When foods are processed for the freezer, they’re usually picked at peak ripeness and then processed quickly, which means they retain their nutrients. I also like the convenience factor, and frozen fruits and veggies (like spinach, winter squash and carrots) make my Formula 1 shakes so thick I can eat them with a spoon. Just be sure that you’re buying plain, whole fruits and veggies and not paying for extra sugar on your fruit or salty sauces on your veggies.
Vegetarian Worries about Getting Enough Protein
May 18, 2020
I’ve been trying to eat more vegetarian meals lately. I feel great, but I’m wondering if I’m getting enough protein. How can I get enough protein without eating meat?
Dear Animal Lover,
A vegetarian diet can provide enough protein, as long as it’s well-balanced and you eat a variety of plant proteins. You need to consume plenty of the nine essential amino acids (these are the ones your body can’t make) – they’re used to assemble and maintain the various proteins in your body, like your muscles. Animal and animal-derived proteins contain all nine essential amino acids, so if you’re eating dairy foods and eggs (in other words, you’re not vegan), you should have no problem meeting your needs. Most plant proteins (with the exception of soy) lack one or more essential amino acids. But if you mix up your plant proteins from beans (including soy), lentils and whole grains, and include some nuts and seeds, you should be able to meet your needs. Protein powders can be a big help – for those who consume dairy, our Personalized Protein Powder is a blend of soy and whey proteins; our Select Products provide protein from a blend of three plant sources – pea, rice and quinoa.
Coffee Lover Hates PLAIN Water, Seeks Hydration
May 18, 2020
Do I really need to drink eight glasses of water a day? I don’t really like plain water, but I try to force it down in between my cups of coffee and tea that I have during the day. Can I count coffee and tea as part of my daily fluids?
Good news! Tea and coffee count toward your eight cups of fluid per day. While it’s true that caffeine is considered a diuretic, many people take that to mean that caffeinated beverages cause excessive water loss – but that’s not the case. People who are habitual coffee drinkers develop a tolerance to the effect, which means that caffeinated beverages are indeed hydrating. Plain coffee and tea are calorie-free and fine for hydration purposes. To make plain water more appealing, add a bit of flavor with a few chunks of fresh fruit or cucumber, or a few capfuls of Herbalife Nutrition Herbal Aloe Concentrate.