By Maureen Werther
In 2006, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that many diseases that were a direct result of nutritional deficiencies in populations had increasingly given way to chronic diseases related to dietary imbalances and poor nutritional habits.
At the time, the journal pointed to the need to focus on preventive approaches to healthcare that include assessments of nutritional intake on both the individual and the community levels.
Twelve years later, the need for proper nutritional balance and better dietary choices is more urgent than ever. A 2018 article in U.S. News & World Report stated that 39.6 percent of Americans over age 20 are considered to be obese. The figure is up nearly six percent from 2008.
The health implications for people with obesity are wide-ranging and include diseases like diabetes, heart disease and cancer, to everyday discomforts such as joint pain, foot and leg pain and difficulty standing or sitting for long periods of time.
Holly Zelenkewich, the owner of Healthy PhysZeke, a traveling personal training business in the Saratoga area, said during her client assessments, the first thing she tries to determine is what part of a person’s wellness regimen presents the biggest challenge. Most of the time, it is the nutritional component, she said.
“If you can fix the nutrition, the rest comes more easily,” she said.
When she takes on a new client who is struggling with nutrition, the first place Zelenkewich starts is in the kitchen. She begins with the basics—reading and understanding nutritional labels, learning the correct portion sizes a person should be consuming, and aiding their understanding of the importance of food preparation as part of establishing a new, healthier nutritional lifestyle.
Zelenkewich said quick-fix diets are “never the solution.”
“It has to be sustainable and you must put time and effort into it and change your eating patterns forever,” she said, adding that although being on fad diets may jump-start weight loss, they do not work in the long term or establish eating habits that are sustainable and that will work over time.
“We have to find something that a person will like and that fits into their lifestyle,” she said.
Zelenkewich said that she never likes to take anything away and make people feel deprived. As a self-professed ice cream lover, she uses that treat as an example.
“You should still be able to enjoy the foods you love, just in smaller portions or maybe not as frequently. And there is no reason that you can’t have something like ice cream, as long as you are exercising and eating smaller portions,” she said.
Zelenkewich said cravings for sugary or fatty foods is often a function of the type of bacteria found in a person’s gut. How that bacteria came to be more prevalent in a person’s gut is also a function of the types of foods a person eats.
“When people crave, it’s your body wanting what it’s used to.”
The way to reduce those cravings, and the bacteria that is stimulating them, is to change the types of food being consumed.
“By changing the makeup of your insides, you will start to crave better foods,” said Zelenkewich. It can be a slow and arduous process, but one worth working on to achieve balanced wellness.
Travis and Kristen Gil own Fitness Artist, a personal sculpting studio offering private and small-group training and classes, with locations in Latham and Clifton Park. Kristen is a nutritional professional and has been a registered dietician for more than 10 years. She is big on portion control, moderation and doing what works best for each individual.
“People will come to me with crazy fad diets and my question is: ‘Is that sustainable? Can you do that for the rest of your life?’”
“Food is a huge part of our lives and it doesn’t have to be regimented or boring.”
She said when clients come to her feeling frustrated about not achieving their weight loss goals, she talks to them about their expectations. Are they realistic? For example, somebody may tell her that they weigh 150 ounds and want to get down to 125 pounds.
“My first question is: Have you ever weighed that in your life? If they say no, it may not be a realistic goal. People need to start thinking of weight a little differently. The weight is just a number and not always an indicator of whether you are healthy or unhealthy. A lot of my women clients get a number stuck in their minds,” she said.
Gil helps people with meal planning, preparation and understanding the nutritional information on food packaging.
“First, I start with grocery shopping and we look at what we are putting in the cart and in the kitchen cabinet. I also encourage clients to get into the habit of making a list of what they are going to buy, but also what they are going to do with that food. I like to do one day a week of meal prepping, making enough food in advance and freezing it in portion sizes. I also like to suggest recipe ideas to clients. The more prepared we are, the more likely we are to succeed,” said Gil.
She even discusses scenarios for going out to dinner, coaching clients on how to select menu items that will be healthier and not sabotage all their hard work in the fitness studio.
“You have to find a way to make things fit and achieve the body you are happy with,” said Gil.
Her husband, Travis Gil, focuses on the physical training side of their business and he works with clients on goal setting, performance and reducing injury through proper training, as well as making nutritional choices that will optimize a person’s fitness level.
“Nutrition plays a huge part in achieving peak performance. Good eating habits can diminish inflammation and aid in recovery following an injury,” he said.
“The biggest challenge is getting a client, first of all, to realize that something they are doing isn’t working and then getting them to make a change and then stay the course,” said Kristen.