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Ester Marsh column: You are what you eat

First of all, I am not a licensed dietitian but can give solid nutritional information set by the FDA. Personally, I follow those guidelines. Winter months typically are cold and we go for the higher calorie “comfort” foods. Then throw in hot drinks, such as hot chocolate, and very quickly your calorie intake jumps up a lot even when you think you are not eating and/or drinking that much. Then, on top of it you wear lots of layers and thick clothes so not much skin is showing.

This winter is crazy with the way the temperatures are jumping up and down 20 and more degrees in just one day! Saturday I was in a tank and jeans riding my horses, and Sunday I had three layers on riding my horses with friend Sharon.

With these beautiful warm days we are faced with more skin showing and therefore also facing the question a lot sooner: “What should I eat”?

I believe your body does a lot better when you watch your diet throughout the year, even in the winter months. Your eating is different in the wintertime, with higher calorie dishes, so you have to be more aware what goes into your body and how many calories you are consuming. But even “winter” dishes can be healthy.

Too many calories in and not enough calories out makes you gain weight, even if you are eating healthy. If you eat 3,000 calories and you burn 2,000 calories you have 1,000 calories left. The body tries to store it first in the muscles, some organs and other tissues, but whatever is left will be stored as fat, no matter how the calories came in.

I am also a big believer in “you are what you eat.” Even when the calorie intake and usage are balanced, if you take in the wrong calories (lots of sugar, processed foods, fast foods) you might not gain weight but your body is not working at its best. Then when the skin comes out in warmer weather you think “I didn’t gain weight but it surely doesn’t look good.” And that’s just on the outside. Your skin is an organ, too. If you don’t feed it the right kind of foods and nurture it with proper care, it is not going to look its best. Same for the muscles beneath. Even when you don’t gain weight, not eating the proper foods for rebuilding and recovery is going to hinder the process of a healthy body. And what a bad diet does to your heart and arteries!

Sadly, most people take better care of their cars than their bodies. Cars need regular oil changes and tune ups to run properly, and they need gas in the tank because if your car doesn’t have the right fuel it stops working completely. Yet, our body will survive when we don’t eat breakfast and lunch (but it will go in “survival mode,” metabolism slows down, energy drops).

Try to look at your body as a car; when you do not put the right foods into it, the right amount of calories, it will not “run” very well. You wouldn’t put oil in the gas tank, right? It’s not easy; if it was everyone would be healthy and in great shape.

My favorite site is ChooseMyPlate.gov. This site will help make you aware of which foods you should be eating and what serving sizes. Typically, a female needs around 1,500 calories; a male, around 2,000. Of course it changes with activity levels, age, size of the person, and weight and genetic makeup, just to name a few variables. But the fact that your body needs good calories to function properly is a given.

One of my ways of eating is that I have a “schedule” of when to eat what. I don’t wait until I am hungry; if I do, I am way less picky about what I put into my body. I eat because I know my body needs it. One huge positive change I made years ago is that I started reading labels. Boy, is it scary at times! Check the list of ingredients and what the serving sizes are. Sometimes an item doesn’t seem that high in calories but the serving size is so small that you would eat at least five times the serving size, which means you need to multiply the calories by 5.

Your body is your temple and you need to take care of it. Splurging once in a while is fine, but the majority of the time you should feed your body the nutrients it needs to be healthy and work properly. When changing your eating habit take small steps. Instead of cutting out your favorite pasta dish, see if you can make it healthier and with fewer calories.

There are wonderful healthy and very tasty dishes out there. When cutting calories do it with 500 calories each day. It’s very doable, and in a week that would be 3,500 calories — and it takes that many calories to lose one pound! You keep that up, and that’s 52 pounds in a year!

If you need more than the Internet and free phone apps to help with healthy eating habits I highly recommend Weight Watchers because they teach you how to eat real foods and to be healthy and learn portion control. And remember how long your eating habits were not where they were supposed to be; give yourself time to make changes that you will continue for the rest of your life.

Ester H. Marsh is health and fitness director for the JF Hurley YMCA.

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