Updated July 2016
Michelle Gillespie co-founded Health Hacks with me in 2015. It is a healthy eating workshop series offering participants science-based information about food and ideas about small steps that can be taken to feel better. Led by Michelle, Health Hack's first six-week series was held in fall 2015. The 2016 series is in development.
K: You've said that cutting out junk food from one's eating routine can be hard, but it doesn’t have to be. How can one resist the cravings and the call of the cookies and chips without being physically restrained?
M: Focus more on what you can eat instead of what you can't eat. Try thinking about why you're craving the cookies or chips. Cravings are usually an indication of imbalance, so bringing the body into balance helps resist cravings. Are you bored or looking for emotional fulfillment? Call a friend instead! Are you tired and looking for an energy boost? Get a glass of water and take a short walk. That would be much better for your energy than cookies. Or maybe you're hungry because you missed a meal. If that's the case, eat some non-junk food before the cookies. Consider them dessert and don't eat them alone as a snack.
Also, if you learn to eat in sync with your unique metabolism, you will be truly satisfied after your meals and are much less likely to find yourself scavenging for junk food or sugar an hour after eating or throughout the day. There is not one right way of eating that works for everyone, so finding the balance that is right for you is very helpful. Balanced blood sugar and staying ahead of your hunger are key for keeping on track. If you let yourself get "hangry" you're more likely to reach for junk food or whatever you can get your hands on, and unless you're in Whole Foods when the craving hits, you'll most likely be surrounded with quick fixes that will spike your blood sugar like baked goods, soda and sweets, setting you up for even more cravings.
K: You used to enjoy chili cheese burritos, donuts and candy bars. What inspired your shift?
M: I went to a nutritionist and he opened my eyes to food quality issues I hadn't considered before and I just chose right then and there to eat as healthy as I could for a month or so. It was just a decision, like choosing what clothes to wear in the morning. More of an experiment actually. I just decided to try it. I didn't think about how hard it was or what I would be missing out on or that it would be too time consuming or expensive. I just decided to see what would happen if I tried eating a different way for a month. And then did it. I realize that kind of cold turkey approach isn't right for everyone, but it certainly did work for me. That's the way I usually end up making changes for myself -- just jumping right in. After I cut those foods out of my diet for about a month, I simply didn't want them anymore. They are no longer hard to resist, because I literally have no desire for them. I tried a Taco Bell Chili Cheese Burrito after a month or so of eating totally healthy and I found I didn't like it. I thought something was wrong with the burrito so I tried one again a week or so later at a different Taco Bell location. Nope! The burrito hadn't changed, I changed! I re-educated my taste buds with real food! If one can get through a 30-day challenge or some set amount of time eating REALLY clean, they often become more sensitive to the tastes of sugar and chemical laden foods. Soda would literally taste bad now if I tried to drink it!
K: When you deviate from your usual eating routine, what does that look like?
M: I don't want to deprive myself of foods that look delicious, even if they don't quite measure up to my usual standards of health. I'll try a bite or two if something really catches my eye and more often than not, I don't end up eating very much because it's not as good as it looks. If I do eat a significant amount, I pay attention to how it makes me feel later, without judgement. If I notice I feel bloated and crummy after eating kimchi cheese fries, I'm probably not going to even want them next time, because I'll remember feeling poorly and associate that with the food. My favorite deviations are chocolate peanut butter flavored things or pizza.
K: What misconceptions about food and nutrition do you find most common in our society?
M: For a variety of reasons, "fat" is equated with "bad" when in reality we all need fat in our diets to varying degrees. So many people think low fat diets are the healthiest choice, as well as, low fat milk and yogurt are better than full fat milk and yogurt. It's simply not true. This one size fits all mentality simply doesn't work. Some think meat is bad and vegetarian equals healthy. Meat is not bad, especially when it's from a healthy, naturally raised animal, and vegetarianism may work better for some than others. I for one feel a lot stronger and healthier when consuming a rather substantial amount of meat, and my blood work is proof that it's working for me as it keeps looking better and better as I eat this way. Other misconceptions include salt is bad, vegetable oil is good, eating a lot of whole grains is healthy, and diet soda is a reasonable beverage choice. I usually stay away from generalized good or bad statements, but diet soda (with artificial sweeteners) and vegetable oil are pretty much a train wreck and I recommend staying away from them.
K: What's up next for Health Hacks?
M: You and I have a few things in the works. After our series ends on November 11, we'll be looking for feedback from recent workshop participants before we fine tune our plans for the next series. We're hoping to start again between late January and mid February. We plan to stay anchored in Evanston, but aim to offer workshops in Skokie, Rogers Park and the North Shore too. It's great to have been working with Whole Foods Market on Green Bay Road and Cooked during this first series. Because our mission includes connecting workshop participants with healthy food purveyors, additional sponsors will be invited to get involved soon.
K: You also coach people one-on-one. What does that look like?
M: It can look like all sorts of things. Different people need different approaches. Some people prefer minimal help -- just a diet plan and meal suggestions. Others like education about food quality and what food is doing for their body, including looking at their blood work to see how what they're doing is working for them. I can also provide more hands-on support like grocery shopping tours, pantry makeovers, or weekly phone calls offering ongoing support and accountability to help someone get through the initial phase of making lifestyle change.
K: What keeps you doing what you do…as a nutritionist?
M: Seeing and hearing about positive results from my clients is the best. I love getting an email telling me about how someone avoided having to go on diabetes meds or asking their doctor to lower their dosage. It's gratifying to hear about clients losing weight, feeling great, and pleased to having permission to eat the (real) foods they love that they may have previously thought were unhealthy.
K: And when you're not coaching what are you doing? What do you do for fun?
M: My favorite thing to do for fun is dance tango. I used to think I didn't like dancing at all until I found tango. It is the best dance ever in the history of the world. At least for me :). Other than that I like to stay active, enjoy the outdoors, hike, flip and drag around large tractor tires for exercise, and travel.
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Health Hacks is on Facebook and Twitter, too.