The readers of Athleisure Mag know that we talk about nutrition throughout our issues and with a New Year, we do like to focus on getting everyone (regardless of where you are on your dietary plan) back to basics on things that you want to incorporate for the first time or to reintroduce into your plans. We took some time prior to the holiday to talk with Amanda Baker Lemein MS, RD about how we should approach our meals, accountability, the importance of portions, the Two Treat Rule as well as misconceptions of detox versus reset and food controversies. She shares these tips with our readers as she works with a number of clients who are focused on weight loss and weight management. It’s worth noting that during this interview you will see the terms satiation and satiety being referred to. The Athleisure Mag team defines satiation as a process that occurs during a meal. It’s that point at which you feel that you have had enough to eat and don’t desire any more. Satiety, on the other hand, describes your experience after a meal – how long before you start to feel hungry again. Both satiation and satiety are influenced by a number of factors.
ATHLEISURE MAG: We believe that it is important to have a healthy mindset when it comes to looking at your food and what you’re eating regardless of the time of year; however, with it being the New Year, it’s always worth looking at nutrition and how it works with your eating lifestyle. How do you approach this subject with your clients?
AMANDA BAKER LEMEIN: In terms of the New Year, one of the things that I always recommend to clients is not to focus on what you are removing from your diet, but to focus on what you can add to your diet. I am very much a non diet, diet dietician. What I mean by that is that I really believe in a varied robust diet that is heavy on nutrient rich foods which allows for a little wiggle room for mindful indulgences and little treats here and there. Obviously, mindful is the operative word there.
That’s really the approach that I recommend to my clients overall. It’s not about looking so much on what you can’t eat as I think that there is a time and place for all food, but really focusing on what are the really nutrient rich foods that we should be eating more of.
As you know, I have been working with Green Giant Fresh and what I really like about their new product – their vegetable meal bowls – it really takes the prep work out of having to chop fresh veggies and then having to make them tasty. That is the perfect example of a volume food where I tell my clients that non-starchy veggies are 100% unlimited. Something like these bowls are a perfect example. It’s a huge bowl that is a really big portion and you feel like you are eating a ton, but calorically, it’s really low in calories and very high in fiber and micronutrients. It’s a really great starter for a meal. In terms of a New Year and starting off on a good foot, I love these because the work has been done for you – it’s in the bowls, it’s been chopped, it’s cleaned and it’s ready for you to cook and all you have to do it microwave them for a minute or two. You can top it with whatever protein you want and some of them have beans in it so it is already a complete meal. They all have a sauce packet on the side so that you can tailor it to your taste. This is a great example of addition versus omission and how I want everyone to really focus on eating a lot of those nutrient rich foods.
Beyond vegetables, some of the things that I really like to recommend eating is whole grains over refined grains. I think that this is one that we have all heard so many times. The truth is that Americans are so deficient in fiber and the majority of the grains that we do consume are refined grains which means that they have been stripped of many of their nutrients most notably, fiber. Making sure that you are consuming mostly whole grains and of course, like I said earlier, leaving a little wiggle room for some of those refined grained treats is just fine as it’s all about portion. The notion behind going carb free and removing all grain from your diet, I actually don’t recommend because that decreases fiber and decreases overall satiety. Studies show that when you decrease satiety you are much less likely to stick to that routine.
AM: How do you define mindful eating?
ABL: My version of mindful eating and I have written a couple of articles about this in the past, is focusing on a very nutrient rich diet, which for me is the base of most of our meals should be non-starchy veggies. At least half your plate should be this as it can also be more as they are unlimited. Also it should incorporate lean protein whether you are vegan, vegetarian or a meat eater – lean proteins can be incorporated across the board whatever your dietary preference. Of course incorporating healthy fats from things like avocado, olive oil, canola oil, olives in general and all of that good stuff.
In addition, allowing some wiggle room which I define by my Two Treat Rule. That’s really for my weight loss and weight management clients. I want them to feel like you can have their favorite foods. I don’t ever want a client to feel like their favorite food is pizza, but that they can’t ever eat it again if they want to eat in a healthy lifestyle! I don’t believe in that. I just believe in portions and mindful indulgences which is how I came up with this rule which simply means that you choose 2 times a week that you really love – like actually love and not just something that is in front of you. So, a lot of people love ice cream so this is a great example. I don’t recommend that people buy icecream and have it in your home so that it’s always looking at you in the face everytime you open your freezer door. That is not helpful for anyone, but, maybe go once a week to a great icecream shop and make it an event. Have a single serving, enjoy it and then be done and move on with your day.
To me, it’s more satisfying to do it that way as opposed to having the reduced fat or faux ice creams on hand where you can have a larger portion, but you are less satisfied. You’re going to be satisfied having what you want and that’s why there is a Two Treat Rule and you’re not going to go too far. The rest of your daily meals are then filled with non-starchy veggies and are balanced with whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats. Portion is key for all of these foods and our non-starchy veggies are key because once again, they are our go to as they are unlimited in terms of how much you can eat as a volume food with very low calories and it’s why I love those Green Giant Fresh Bowls so much as they are the perfect base of what we should be eating in our meals to get all those fibers and nutrients.
AM: In your opinion if you have been eating one way and are now focused on eating healthy or transitioning your diet, is there a detox period that should take place? What can they do to mitigate the shift that happens when you are making that transition?
ABL: So, first I don’t love the word detox as I am a dietician and scientist first and foremost. I really like to hang my hat on that credential. I know that our bodies are very smart and are able to detoxify itself if you have a working liver and kidneys – they can detoxify itself on their own. So that word is a little bit of a struggle for me. I like to say that if you need a reset post-holiday – I just want to make sure that everyone understands and make that point. I think there is too much emphasis in our culture on juice cleanses and other kinds of cleanses and I just want to make that distinction.
AM: We appreciate that you are making that distinction as detox is a loaded word that is being used to encompass an array of activities. We like hearing your approach to acknowledging a choice to a person’s dietary transition through a reset as we understand that the body is naturally able to detox itself.
ABL: There are many misconceptions floating around the internet regarding nutrition and as a credentialed expert, I just like to make sure to do my part by dispelling any myths. And my greatest point in talking with outlets such as yourself is to say that it doesn’t have to be that hard. Nutrition is health and it just doesn’t have to be that complicated and a lot of those things that make it complex are frankly not true.
So back to the reset, if you have been overindulging throughout the holidays – Halloween through New Years, sometimes people just need a reset to get back on track. Or you may want to start fresh with a whole new healthy lifestyle. Something that I really enjoy is eating a really heavy plant-based diet. For me, that does not mean Vegan, it means eating a lot of plants and vegetables as our base like we have been talking about and then adding in some proteins here and there. But it doesn’t mean being 100% Vegan for a month – it’s just about increasing the amount of plants you eat. So, if you are used to eating chicken everyday on your salad, perhaps once or twice a week you swap out the chicken for chickpeas, grilled tofu or another plant-based protein to give it a little mix. Again, I like to focus on where am I getting my plant-based and protein in the foods that I am eating. Then the rest of it is to balance it out with portions. For women, serving protein like a chicken or steak – or something of that nature would be 3-4oz. For men, it would be 5-6oz which is a lot smaller than our restaurant portions in this country. Just being mindful of what a proper portion is will assist you in your reset and just give you that visual and refocus as you move forward in that healthy living journey so that you know going forward what a portion is, what protein should be eaten and the remainder of the meal is on the unlimited non-starchy veggies which is going to provide all the nutrients that are needed and to provide the healthy fats that will make you feel satisfied.
Focus on that when it comes to the reset and as we continue with addition and not omission, I know there is a lot of controversy around dairy and whether or not people believe in whole fat, non-fat or low fat. I actually recommend that my clients choose low fat or whole fat, but that they just focus on portion when they are choosing their yogurt or cottage cheese that the individual cups that are pre-portioned are a wonderful guide and will help you get acclimated to what a portion is. When we have a little fat in our dairy, we are more satiated we tend to eat less. The meal times are not always the issue it’s the in-between meals that is the difference of a snack versus grazing all day long. If we’re not eating a meal that is super satiating that provides fiber, protein and a little bit of fat, those are the three pillars of this satiety equation – if we don’t have those then we are likely to feel hungry again in an hour. Usually, the foods that are readily available when you’re not ready for a meal but are looking for a snack, these foods have refined carbohydrates which don’t have any fiber and don’t have any nutrients and don’t keep us very full for very long.
AM: How does someone create accountability within their food journey?
ABL: Obviously as a dietician, working with an RD really helps with that one. Beyond that, I really believe in setting small attainable goals. Instead of looking at an entire year or weight loss journey of, “I need to lose 30 pounds before whatever event.” That to me is such an overwhelming goal that it’s almost unbearable to many people. Instead, setting those small and attainable goals by saying, “I need to plan 3 workout classes this week” or even starting smaller if you haven’t taken a class by saying that you will walk 3 times this week. Maybe it's stating that 3 out of the 7 dinners that you have this week will be plant-based you have this week will be plant-based and incorporate more of this versus animal products. Back to what we said before, making sure that half your plate for lunch and dinner has non-starchy veggies for this week. I like small attainable goals as they build upon one another. It gives you motivation behind your larger goals! When you hit the goal of walking 3 times in a week, it will encourage you to want to sign up for a class for the next week. Weight loss is a journey and it takes time and to do it in a healthy way, it is a process. You want to make sure that you are good to yourself in this process. You don’t want to beat up on yourself for not obtaining the goals that you set for yourself, but you need to check in every now and then and having that dietician as a cheerleader and a guide is really helpful. But even if you’re not seeing a dietician, if you have a Facebook or online group that you check in that has weight loss or workout groups is a great thing. It’s about holding yourself accountable to your friends and family.
AM: We know that you are based in Chicago – which is a fun city – although the weather in the winter is tough! We have enjoyed the beach, sport bars and more. Where would we find you grabbing a meal, working out and shopping?
ABL: In terms of workouts, I don’t like running – I’m not a runner. I’m not a fan of cardio to be honest. I do think it has it’s place in a healthy lifestyle and is great for your cardiovascular system. But for me, I really love group classes it’s what keeps me motivated. I don’t find that I am a great self-motivator in this area. I love barre classes, Pure Barre particularly and I go quite frequently. I also love Megaformer Pilates like Studio Lagree I like Chi 50 a local Chicago studio that also does reformer. I like targeted movements and that you’re going really slow with micro movements and this is in both barre and megaformer. Those are hitting all the accessory muscles and where you can see the change very quickly. I recommend those classes and when it’s about my cardio, I like to hit up SoulCycle for my super sweaty class. I love spinning as a non-runner over here. It’s the music, the good vibes, a group class – it’s like a party.
Now when it comes to a cocktail and grabbing a meal, now you’re speaking my language! I live in the West Loop we are THE neighborhood for all the best restaurants, bars and some of my favorites in the neighborhood are Soho House which I go to quite frequently for a cocktail or after work drink, I also love Avec which is in my neighborhood and is a great restaurant. Gilt Bar is a long time favorite of mine. One of the things that I preach to my clients a lot since I do go out a lot is that there are plenty of ways to live a healthy lifestyle when ordering off of a menu. You just have to know what a portion is and to look for those veggies on the restaurant menu so that you can fill out your meal for those unlimited foods.
When I shop, I love Damon Street in Bucktown as there are so many great shops on that street a lot of good boutiques and Armstead and Halstead has some good ones too. Oak Street is perfect for me to go to when I want to get something special.
PHOTOS COURTESY | Amanda Baker Lemein MS, RD
Read more from the latest Jan Issue of Athleisure Mag and see Something You Should Know | With Nutrient Rich Foods in mag.