Ask These 5 Questions Before Every Meal

At the beginning of March, I had the pleasure of traveling to Atmore, AL to do some nutritional coaching with the Poarch Creek Indian Tribe.

As is the case with many Indians living on a Standard American Diet – SAD diet (white bread, processed foods, soda, alcohol), they suffer from extremely high rate of diabetes and health-associated complications. Obesity, diabetes, heart disease and alcoholism aren’t just an Indian problem and extend throughout the Deep South, but is quickly spreading throughout the rest of the US.

In fact the numbers are rather staggering and are increasing significantly each and every year.

1994 → Fatter and Sicker → 2010

Just so we’re clear, in 1994, approximately 14-18% of the US population was classified as obese and less than 6% had diabetes.

As of 2010, more than 26% of the population is obese (1 in 4 people) and 9% have diabetes. (1 in 10 people have preventable diabetes).

As the prevalence of sick people begins to outweigh (pun intended) those that are without health complications, or seemingly “healthy”, we are faced with the startling realization that something needs to be done to tip the scales in the other direction.

Even with the vast amounts of information we have today; media sources, books, magazines, videos and infomercials, research studies and expert analysis about diets and exercise plans, and even Dr. Oz, we remain more confused and fatter than we’ve ever been.

My goal for my weekend with the Poarch was to learn more about their struggle and really anyone who doesn’t necessarily have the resources available to eat as healthy as they think they should. It was about bringing better nutritional habits to them – to teach them how to make better decisions and give them the opportunity and ability to make changes for themselves, their families and their future.

My weekend with the Poarch created a realization that we need to get back to the basics, hence, my 5 Questions for Healthier Eating.

Mission: Keep things simple and identify 1-2 things that I can change for the better

The purpose of having people ask questions is to make them think about how they’re feeling surrounding a given meal and to start to create some associations with food and why they eat what they eat, when they eat it.

We often shuffle through life clueless as to how foods make us feel and the link between emotions and addictions and the foods and beverages we migrate to, and ultimately their impact on our health and well being.

By taking the steps to recognize the food you’re eating and make better decisions each and every meal, we can improve your health and decrease your waistlines.

Here are the questions and quick tips I spoke to the community about during my trip:

5 Questions for Healthier Meals

1. Am I hungry, thirsty, or just bored?
- Ensure you’re drinking enough water (not soda, juice, or other caffeinated beverages) by consuming ½ your bodyweight in oz of water every day. For example, a 200lb man would need to consume 100oz of water per day.

Quick Tip: Simply cutting back by one, 12-oz can of soda per day, for a year, could keep you from gaining more than 14lbs of body fat, the equivalent of 51,000 calories!!!

2. Is it whole food or processed food?
- Concentrate the majority of your shopping around the perimeter of the grocery store in order to get the freshest, most “wholesome”, and most nutrient dense foods.

Quick Tip: If you can’t pronounce the ingredients, then don’t eat it!

3. Does it include a lean protein source?
- Eating protein throughout the day is essential for healthy metabolism, blood sugar, energy as well as muscle gains and fat loss.
- The best sources of protein are from humanely raised animals in addition to dairy products, nuts, seeds and legumes.

Quick Tip: A portion of protein is visually about the size of the palm of your hand, between 20-30g. Women should get one portion/meal (20-30g) and men should get two/meal (40-60g).

4. Does it include a vegetable or fruit?
- Replace processed, starchy grains like pasta, white rice, grits, crackers and bread with colorful veggies and leafy greens for a boost in nutrition with far less calories.

Quick Tip: Aim for at least 2 servings of veggies/or fruits per meal. 1 serving = one medium sized fruit, ½ cup raw chopped fruit or veggies, and 1 cup of raw, leafy vegetables

5. Is this meal moving me closer or further away from my goals?
- Aim for progress, not perfection.
- Simply making better food choices will make a big difference towards your goals in the log run – the more consistently – the better the results.

Quick Tip: Planning your meals in advance is the best way to ensure you will make the best decisions possible from meal to meal.

Of course these are very general concepts, my goal was to offer some general information and help make things as digestible as possible. Each of these questions could easily be expanded into a 2-3 hour lecture, but that wouldn’t have been effective and possibly been a turnoff.

Simply creating awareness, like “replace 1 soda per day with water to help improve your blood pressure” can go a long way towards better eating habits as well as helping people understand that their nutritional choices have an impact on their short and long-term health.

With awareness comes improvement, as I believe that everyone has the desire to be healthier, feel better, and live longer.

As for the Poarch Creek Indians, our journey together is just beginning. I look forward to my next visit with the ingratiating community that has endured so much.