It’s a tough balance these days. 60% of women in our country are overweight or obese, yet eating disorders (and disordered eating patterns) are common among young women. We must find a balance between supporting healthy lifestyles while not shifting into the territory of creating unhealthy relationships with food.
How do we do this? Consider these tips:
- Aim for health goals, not weight. While weight can certainly impact risk factors for chronic disease, studies show that improving your diet and exercising improve your health even outside of weight. Make goals based on reducing your disease risk and lengthening your lifespan rather than fitting in that bathing suit.
- Supply your body with the fuel it needs. Food is not the enemy – our bodies cannot live without it. Do not eliminate entire food groups or cut out massive amounts of calories. That will simply result in your body feeling miserable and may backfire into binging.
- Focus on getting enough of the foods you do need, rather than restriction. When you work towards increasing your veggie intake each day, incorporating fruit into your snacks, or switching from white to whole grains, you can make positive choices that are not about restriction. If you work towards meeting your produce needs each day, you’ll likely find yourself more full and satisfied, and won’t have as many cravings for the unhealthy items (not to mention you’ll be getting a ton more nutrients!).
- Experiment creatively with foods. Take a cooking class, try new recipes, experiment with different cuisines, or visit a farmers market and choose an item you’ve never cooked with before. These activities can make (healthy) food fun again.
- Exercise. Whether it’s walking, taking a fitness class, or swimming – any physical activity will help you maintain a healthy weight as well as provide numerous health benefits and improve mood. Better yet, grab some of your girlfriends and tackle a new challenge together! (Check out the photo below from when my coworkers and I tackled a half marathon together a few years ago)
2) Meet iron needs.
Iron is particularly important for women aged 19 to 50 since we lose iron while we’re “surfing the crimson wave” (side note- I was watching Clueless the other day and that line was used – hilarious!). Anyway, during our menstrual cycles we lose blood, meaning we also lose iron, so we need to be eating food sources rich in this nutrient. Pregnancy also leads to increased iron needs due to greater blood volume. Globally, iron deficiency is one of the most common deficiencies in the world.
The RDA for women is 18 mg of iron each day. Iron is found in meat sources like beef and chicken and is well absorbed from these sources. Plant sources of iron include leafy greens, beans, dried fruit like apricots and dates, tofu, and fortified cereals. While the iron in plant sources is not as well absorbed, you can improve the absorption by eating them with foods high in Vitamin C like orange juice, citrus fruits, red bell peppers, and many more.
3) Get enough calcium.
Osteoporosis is much more common among women than men. Women build peak bone mass into their twenties, but still need to maintain bone mass after that. It’s important to get enough calcium (and Vitamin D) in order to support bone strength. The RDA is 1000 mg/day for women under 50, and 1200 mg/day for women over 50.
Where can you find calcium? Dairy products contain sources of calcium that are highly bioavailable, and include products like milk and yogurt. There is also calcium in green leafy vegetables like kale and turnip greens, tofu, and sardines. There are also products like almond milk and coconut milk that are fortified with calcium. You may see the claims that they have more calcium than dairy milk. While this is true based solely on the amount because the milks are fortified, the type of calcium in these milks may not be absorbed as well as the calcium naturally found in foods.
As a woman, do you have any health concerns that you struggle with? Or tips you want to share? Post in the comments!