Filed under: Nutrition
An eating disorder can impact your performance, both physically and mentally. But you can take steps to overcome it.
Eating disorders are serious conditions involving a person’s attitudes and behaviors toward food, weight, and body image. People with eating disorders eat extremely small or excessive amounts of food and usually feel embarrassment, disgust, and depression.
Eating disorders can be triggered by a number of causes, including genetic, biologic, behavioral, emotional, psychological, and social factors. Service members must meet certain physical requirements and often set even higher expectations for themselves. Pressure to be at an ideal weight or have the best physique can contribute to an eating disorder.
Even the most resilient service members are not immune to these triggers, and female service members are affected more than males. In addition, the number of diagnosed eating disorders in the military seems to be increasing, and many military members with eating disorders may go undiagnosed.
Not getting enough food or not eating healthy, consistent amounts of food means that your body is not being optimally fueled. And even worse, eating disorders can take a serious toll on your physical and emotional health, and your relationships.
The key to overcoming an eating disorder is seeking help as soon as you can and putting in the time. (It doesn’t go away overnight.) Research shows that psychotherapy is often the most successful approach, but treatment is complex and draws on expertise from other fields such as nutrition and medicine.
Most Americans don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables, especially purple fruits and vegetables. But give these foods a second thought: Eating purple fruits and vegetables could improve your diet, lower your blood pressure, and give you a smaller waist.
Purple fruits and vegetables great sources of vitamins, minerals, and fiber, and many are also high in plant compounds such as anthocyanins, which give these foods their purplish colors. Anthocyanins have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and help protect against heart disease, cancer, and age-related memory loss.
Power your performance with foods high in anthocyanins such as açai berries, blackberries, blueberries, cranberries, black raspberries, red cabbage, red and purple grapes, eggplant, and red onions. Try making a parfait with your favorite berries, low-fat Greek yogurt, and granola for a sweet treat. If you’re craving something more savory, how about an eggplant parmesan for dinner? (Bonus: You’ll get another antioxidant—lycopene—from the tomato sauce!)
Lycopene is a chemical that gives some fruits and vegetables their red, pink, and orange hues. Most of the lycopene that people eat comes from ripe tomatoes and tomato products, but other foods high in lycopene include watermelon, red- or pink-fleshed guava, red-fleshed papaya, pink grapefruit, and apricots. These foods are also great sources of vitamins A and C, folate, potassium, and fiber. In addition to being nutritious, foods high in lycopene have been linked to lower risk of cancer (specifically, prostate) and heart disease thanks to lycopene’s antioxidative properties.
If eating a whole, raw tomato doesn’t seem appetizing, don’t fret. There are countless ways to add lycopene-rich foods into your eating plan. You actually get more lycopene from cooked and canned tomatoes and tomato products because cooking makes lycopene easier for your body to absorb. Make a pesto with sun-dried tomatoes or add them to a sandwich for a tangy touch. Instead of stuffed peppers, try stuffed tomatoes; or make a simple pasta dish with marinara sauce. Eat half a grapefruit with your breakfast or use it to top a salad at lunch (but check for interactions if you’re taking any drugs). For dessert, blend some frozen papaya and watermelon to make your own sorbet or smoothie.
For more information on lycopene, visit the American Cancer Society.
If you’re avoiding grains due to a particular diet plan, or if you think you have to exclude grains due to gluten sensitivities, you may want to think again. HPRC has put together a table of grains (with and without gluten) and their basic nutrients to point out how nutritious grains can be. Even for those who are gluten-free or sensitive to gluten, the table shows there are plenty of healthy, gluten-free options to incorporate into your diet.
As the table indicates, whole grains are very nutrient dense: They contain fiber, vitamins such as niacin and folate (and other B vitamins), minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, manganese, zinc, and selenium, as well as protein and branched-chain amino acids.
A diet rich in whole grains has been associated with lower risk of Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Paleo diet followers, as well as those who are following a gluten-free diet, need not eliminate whole grains from their diet. The benefits are vast, with many choices for a varied diet. For more information about whole grains, see the ChooseMyPlate.gov resource, “Why is it important to eat grains, especially whole grains?”
Bright orange fruits and vegetables contain performance-boosting nutrients and should be included as part of your colorful plate. You may just imagine oranges and carrots when you think orange, but orange includes vegetables such as pumpkin, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, orange peppers, and fruits such as mango (the most widely consumed fruit in the world), peaches, apricots, papayas, cantaloupe, and persimmon.
Vitamin C, fiber, potassium, and folic acid are just some of the powerful nutrients found in many orange fruits and vegetables. The bright orange color is due to the phytochemicals (plant compounds) carotenoids. Beta-carotene, which your body converts to vitamin A, gives yellow and orange vegetables their rich color and supports your immune function, promotes eye and heart health, and reduces the risk of cancer.
There are plenty of ways to incorporate more orange on your plate at any meal. For breakfast, add sliced orange, mango, peach, cantaloupe, or papaya to your cereal or in a homemade smoothie; for lunch, top your salad with chopped orange peppers or shredded carrots; and for a healthy version of fries at dinner slice sweet potatoes, sprinkle them with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and bake.
Do you think of white when you hear “make your plate a rainbow of colors?” Think again! White fruits—bananas, pears, white nectarines and peaches, and vegetables such as cauliflower, potatoes, garlic, mushrooms, onions, white corn, turnips, parsnips, kohlrabi, and jicama—are all full of nutrients and count towards your daily fruit and vegetable intake.
White fruits and vegetables contribute fiber, potassium, and magnesium, which most Americans don’t get enough of. Many white fruits and vegetables are also high in flavonoids, which give these plants their white color. Flavonoids are plant compounds shown to be anti-inflammatory and to help protect against heart disease and cancer. And allium, a component found in garlic and onion, has antioxidant properties and cardiovascular benefits.
Incorporating nutrient-dense white fruits and vegetables into your meals and snacks is easy. Add sliced bananas or pear to your oatmeal in the morning, or roast hearty root vegetables such as turnips, potatoes, and parsnips with olive oil, dried herbs, and spices for a delicious dish. Sauté onions and garlic to add flavor to pasta, rice, and stir-fry dishes.
For fruit- and vegetable-filled tips, resources, and recipes, visit Fruits & Veggies—More Matters.
Two new performance optimization documents are now available on the U.S. Army Public Health Command website. The Performance Triad Guide contains useful tools and strategies for optimizing your sleep, activity, and nutrition.
The Sleep section includes ten effective sleep habits, strategies for addressing sleep countermeasures (caffeine and supplements, for example), and considerations for a sleep management plan, including relaxation techniques.
Activity has tips for meeting your exercise goals, how to achieve the functional fitness required to succeed on the PRT, as well as information on injury prevention that includes safe running strategies and shoe selection.
Nutrition provides detailed information on nutrition for performance, daily carbohydrate and protein calculators, hydration, nutrient timing for peak performance, and dietary supplements.
The Performance Triad Challenge, designed for squad and unit leaders, provides information organized into six areas: the professional soldier athlete, physical dominance, cognitive dominance, emotional dominance, sustained operations, and social, family, and spiritual information. The beginning of each module features a leader’s guide for identifying target areas for improvement.
March is National Nutrition Month®, and this year’s theme is “Bite into a Healthy Lifestyle.” Sponsored by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, this month-long nutrition education campaign focuses on showing you how to make informed food choices and promoting healthy eating and physical activity patterns to help you maintain a healthy weight, reduce your risk of chronic disease, and support your overall health. Be sure to check out their resources on food and health, and visit HPRC’s ABCs of Nutrition section too.
Fruits and vegetables provide many essential nutrients that benefit health and reduce risk of disease. Juicing provides an easy, convenient way to get more fruits and vegetables into your diet. However, most countertop juicers extract the juices from fruits and vegetables but leave behind the skin and pulp—where most of the performance-enhancing nutrients and fiber are found. To get the most from your fruits and vegetables, add the leftover skin, pulp, and fiber to other foods such as muffins, breads, or pasta sauces so you don’t miss out on the benefits they provide.
Juices that are mostly fruit-based provide concentrated sources of carbohydrates (“carbs”)—great for when your carb needs are high, such as before or after working out. However, drinking high-carb juices at other times of day can cause your blood sugar to “spike,” setting you up for a “crash” later on. Vegetable-based juices offer an appealing, lower-carb alternative, especially for the veggie-hater. In particular, juices from vegetables such as beets, carrots, and celery that are high in nitrates can naturally increase blood flow and reduce blood pressure—real performance-enhancers. If the flavor of vegetable-based juices doesn’t appeal to you, try adding a small amount of fruit to provide a touch of sweetness without too many carbs. And you can add low-fat yogurt or tofu for a protein boost.
Juicing is a great way to use up fresh fruits and vegetables that are a bit past their prime, reducing waste and saving you money. That’s important because juicers can be expensive, ranging in price from $50 to over $1000! A good-quality blender probably costs less than many juicers, doesn’t remove beneficial fiber, and might offer more versatility.
Keep in mind that fresh, unpasteurized juices can be a food-safety hazard. Harmful bacteria on your hands and on the surfaces of fresh fruits and vegetables can cause diarrhea, vomiting, and in some cases severe dehydration or other health problems. Thoroughly wash your hands, fruits, and vegetables before making fresh juices, and clean juicer parts with hot, soapy water when finished. Drink fresh juices the same day you make them and freeze leftovers in ice-cube trays to add to smoothies or thaw and drink another day.
Whether you get your fruits and vegetables in a glass or on a plate, make sure you’re getting enough for optimal performance. Use this handy calculator from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to find out how many you need each day.
Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight can be a challenge, especially when trying to juggle the demands of active-duty service, deployments, family, and life in general. Knowing that the next weigh-in is looming can be stressful and can sometimes lead to eating behaviors that spin out of control to become a life-threatening eating disorder. But even if you don’t have a classic eating disorder, you might have what is called “disordered eating.”
“Disordered eating” refers to eating foods or having eating patterns that can lead to serious nutritional consequences such as deficiencies in key nutrients and electrolytes. It can compromise a person’s strength and/or stamina and lead to more frequent illness or injury. This could happen to a Warfighter, spouse, child, or other family member.
Examples of disordered eating include emotional eating, binge eating, night eating, highly restrictive dietary patterns, and avoiding foods considered “bad.” Some individuals use over-the counter products such as weight-loss supplements or laxatives; others participate in excessive exercise as a means to control weight. What starts out as a way to lose a few pounds or tone up could become a serious problem.
If you’re wondering if you practice disordered eating, ask yourself these questions:
- Do you eat in secret?
- Are you terrified of gaining weight?
- Are you always counting calories/carbs/fat grams or some other component of food?
- Do you think your identity and self-worth depend upon your weight and body shape?
- Do you exercise a lot (maybe too much) to maintain your weight or appearance?
If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, you might have disordered eating. It’s important to get help before your problem becomes more serious than you can handle. Nutritional and emotional counseling from professionals—registered dietitians, counselors, and therapists—can help. Support from friends and family is important too. See the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics for more information on disordered eating.