Written by Will Thompson

With New Year’s resolution season upon us, many of us are starting to think about health and fitness goals. However, with so many products and plans on the market, it can be hard to sort out constructive nutrition guidance from fad diets and fake fitness trends. Since the basis of any good health and fitness plan is proper nutrition, we asked Maureen St. Germain — owner and operator of Hunt Country-based nutrition counseling practice, Educated Wellness, and a Nutritional Therapy Associationcertified Functional Nutritional Therapy Practitioner — for her top wellness tips.

  1. Don’t starve yourself — eat good, quality foods. “If you focus on the quality of foods, the quantity works itself out,” St. Germain says. Nutrition for health and fitness is not about restricting how much a person eats, but rather concentrating on the quality of what is being eaten. St. Germain’s top guidance is to stick to whole foods that don’t have an ingredients list. Processed foods often lack the nutrients that whole foods contain, leaving people with a plate of empty calories but no fuel for their bodies. Those nutrients, including proteins and fats, are necessary for feeling full, creating energy, and keeping our bodies healthy. Luckily, Hunt Country is perfectly situated to source quality whole foods given the abundance of farmers markets, community grocers, and connections to the farming community in the area. “What is really nice about where we live is that there are great options for us, and we just need to learn how to take advantage of this,” St. Germain says. If the food does have an ingredients list printed on the label, St. Germain advises looking at it closely. “If you cannot easily pronounce everything in that ingredient list, put it down,” she advises. If the ingredient can’t be readily identified, it’s most likely a processed food or food-additive chemical, many of which are designed in laboratories to be hyperpalatable by adding sugars and salts. Maureen also advises clients to look at the total sugars and added sugars in packaged foods. Sugar-free items might not contain cane sugar, but may have dextrose or other sugar substitutes that act identical to glucose in our blood. If you are eating quality whole foods that lack excess sugars, then a restrictive diet or caloric deficit can actually work against your health and fitness goals.
  1. Stay hydrated. “Dehydration is considered the number one nutritional deficiency,” St. Germain says. Being dehydrated can lead to lethargy, decreased athletic performance, dizziness, or even more serious health consequences. Maureen suggests drinking enough water to stay hydrated throughout the day and flavoring water with things like herbal teas, lemon, lime, ginger, or cucumber. The amount of fluids needed to keep each person hydrated will vary, so people should consult with a nutrition counselor or their doctor to discuss their specific needs. Beverages like coffee, sodas, and alcoholic drinks act as diuretics and can actually exacerbate dehydration despite being water-based. “Reaching for the next glass of water would do you better than that next cup of coffee,” St. Germain advises.
  1. Move every day. St. Germain says that this can be anything from short walks a few times a day to long runs. “The best exercise is the exercise that you will do,” she explains. “If you enjoy yoga, that’s the exercise for you. And that could change on a daily basis — you could be up for a two-mile run one day then a 10-minute walk the next.” Consistency of movement throughout the day is also important. “If you run several miles once a day, then sit sedentary for the next 14 hours, you’re not doing yourself that much good,” St. Germain says.
  1. Get enough sleep. “Give yourself a bedtime and stick to it,” St. Germain emphasizes. Sleep is our bodies’ time to heal and repair itself. A lack of sleep robs the body of the vital rest it needs to repair itself and rebuild the energy levels required to take on things that are essential to wellbeing, health, and fitness like exercise, work, outdoor activities, and hobbies.
  1. Mindset matters. When it comes to health and nutrition, a positive attitude and mindset can be the deciding factor in sticking to a nutritious whole food diet. As St. Germain notes, “the worst thing that you can do is beat yourself up when you’ve had to eat the food that was available or convenient, or strayed from nutrition.” That brings a negative outlook to nutritious eating and can lead to a sense of resignation and a cycle of poor nutrition choices. “We [have] a lot of emotion [around] food,” St. Germain says. “I counsel people to choose food consciously, enjoy it thoroughly, then let it go.”
  1. Enjoy what you eat. Nutritious foods aren’t boring or tasteless! St. Germain tells people to eat what they like and be adventurous in the kitchen. New foods, flavors, and cooking methods can keep healthy food fun and interesting. When cravings do hit, it’s best to avoid buying packaged snacks and treats. Readers may be able to find indulgences with local Hunt Country bakers and food purveyors who use high quality ingredients or could even try making their favorites themselves. “If you want it, try making it,” St. Germain suggests. 
  1. Get the nutrition counseling that is right for you! Though there are universals in nutrition — including concentrating on quality of food, hydration, sleep, and exercise — every person and their physiology will be complex and unique. “When it comes down to the nitty gritty of fueling our bodies, everybody is completely bio-individual,” St. Germain says. The best way to maximize nutrition for health and fitness is to meet with a nutrition counselor. ML

More information about St. Germain, her practice, and her nutrition blog can be found at educated-wellness.com. She is offering a five-week nutrition workshop called a RESTART beginning on January 11, 2023, which features a 21-day guided sugar detox.

This article first appeared in the January 2023 issue.