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30-05-2024 | Hadassah Groenewold

Eating healthy #3: Filling or feeding?

In the previous two blogs, I described my two-year journey toward a healthy lifestyle and appropriate diet, exploring the connection between lifestyle and nutrition. In this blog, I delve deeper into why we eat and when nutrition is considered "healthy."

Bowl of oats

Hunger

The primary driver of eating is the feeling of hunger. The body indicates that it needs food but does not specify what it needs. Is it sugars, fats, proteins, minerals, vitamins, a previously acquired energy deficit, or fluids? Not drinking enough can also feel like hunger. If you eat a varied and adequate diet (vegetables, fruits, grains, animal products or alternatives) and take in enough fluids, you will generally get everything your body needs.

However, with a one-sided diet or a diet that restricts certain product groups (e.g., vegan, vegetarian, low-carbohydrate, fat-free), deficiencies may occur. For instance, if your body needs more protein for muscle recovery but your diet doesn’t meet this need, you might find yourself eating a bag of chips instead of a bowl of cottage cheese. The body will still crave protein for muscle recovery, and the feeling of hunger will quickly return, causing you to eat more. This can lead to weight gain because you are filling your body but not feeding it adequately.

Nowadays, I only experience hunger when meals take longer than expected. However, this was different before I found an appropriate lifestyle and diet. I could feel hungry throughout the day, feeling restless and repeatedly visiting the pantry.

To avoid the perpetual feeling of hunger, it is important to put your stomach and intestines to work. Many fast foods are easily absorbed and require little digestion, leading to a need to eat more for a satiated feeling. Therefore, I eat raw vegetables such as peppers, cucumbers, carrots, and tomatoes daily. Not because I particularly like them, but because my intestines need the fiber to delay the feeling of hunger.

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Healthy diet

To avoid hunger, it's important to understand what your body needs and what your goals are, in order to determine what kind of products you should eat. For example, do you want to lose weight, gain weight, build bigger muscles, or increase stamina? These goals have different dietary needs. But what exactly makes certain foods healthy? Can we say that rice is better than potatoes or soy? Or that a vegetarian diet is healthier than one that includes meat?

Sports dietitian Patrick van der Duijn says: "What is the definition of healthy and unhealthy food? That's hard to say. It very much depends on the person. One person believes that eating vegan is healthy, while someone else eats healthily based on a carnivorous diet. Additionally, I don't think you can say that foods whose origins you know are inherently healthy. At a basic level, they might be, but what if you eat 10 apples in a day? You know the origin, and the product is seen as 'healthy,' but overconsumption makes it very unhealthy."

Bowl of oats

Another example: the other day, I overheard someone who wants to lose weight and eats overnight oats made with oat milk every day. When I asked why she used oat milk, she said, "Oat milk is healthy, right?" And yes, it is. Oat milk is healthy, but it is low in protein, which is incredibly important for feeling satiated and for muscle recovery. In her case, she might not be eating enough protein daily, so cottage cheese could be a more nutritious alternative. I emphasize "could" because it depends on her lifestyle, personal goals, and what she eats throughout the rest of the day.

She tried it, and what turned out: she was much less hungry and ate less during the day as a result. A simple change with great results. Knowledge is power, and measurement is knowledge. More on that in the next blog!

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