Chin Up: Key to better nutrition is breaking deeply rooted habits

Dave Jones and Lori Nickel participate in a body composition reading during their marathon preparations.


In May, Dave Jones and I decided to see a nutritionist to help us work on our diets.

We are both runners who work at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. We want to eat better, lose some weight and, in Dave’s case, train for the Milwaukee Marathon Oct. 15.

We recently met with dietitian Nicole Kerneen at the Sports Medicine Clinic at Froedert to determine our body composition percentages and then develop a nutrition plan to help fuel our athletic training.

Three weeks later, we are back.

Dave really took to Kerneen’s suggestions and made some changes. I tried to follow her plan for about a week, then got swamped with work and life and felt too overwhelmed to even try to focus on my nutrition.

Here’s what we learned:

Dave’s weight didn’t change, but his body composition did.

He lost 5 pounds of fat and gained 5 pounds of muscle, according to the body composition scanner. He is 3% leaner in just three weeks.

He did have one weekend where he went to a wedding and had beer and pizza – otherwise he guessed he might have had even better numbers.

Otherwise, Dave followed Kerneen’s nutrition plan almost to the letter – even though he had a busy and stressful workweek filled with events and obligations. He’s a rock star.

I tried, for about a week, then got lost in family stuff, a half marathon and triathlon on the road and a work thing. When I am stressed and anxious, I don’t eat well or sleep well, and that was the case again. At least I use those reasons as my excuses not to eat well.

Since I really didn’t do anything in the three weeks between our sessions, I thought about canceling the meeting. Seeing a nutritionist isn’t cheap. Dave and I went in as a “couple” to get a discount package, but still invested about $150 each. I have also gone in for consultation on my own. Sometimes I debate whether that’s money well spent – especially when I continue to struggle.

I somehow lost four pounds – one of it was muscle, although that could have been because I was weighed very soon after my triathlon. Races are hard on our bodies, Kerneen said, and I didn’t really have a good recovery.

Almost everything Kerneen tells me to do makes sense, but my old habits are deeply rooted.

But Dave Jones and I both have goals: do well in our races, take care of ourselves, be healthy.

Here are some tips from Kerneen:

Water: Generally, Kerneen wants us to drink half our body weight in water in ounces a day – plus 16 ounces more water for every hour of moderate exercise. “It is also recommended that to maintain hydration that you consume 8 ounces of water per 1 ounce of alcohol or 8 ounces for every cup of caffeinated coffee,” said Kerneen. “Most people freak with that one!”

Eat: She wants us to eat every three-to-four hours. If we snack all day, that’s bad. “It just raises insulin levels,” said Kerneen. “Which blocks your body’s ability to burn body fat for energy. It depends on what we snack on – if we are snacking on kale and swiss chard, we needn’t worry about this – but most anything else will raise insulin.”

Exception: The only exception for the 3-4 hour rule is eating before and after workouts. If we don’t eat right after, it raises inflammation levels in the body.

Fast: Kerneen also wants a fasting period of about 12 hours at night while we are sleeping. For example, if we eat breakfast at 7 a.m., it’s a good idea to stop eating at 7 p.m. This helps two important things: the body’s natural cleansing system, and the quality of our sleep. By not eating too much food before, say, a 9:30 p.m. bedtime, our body gets much better rest.

Food vs. comfort: “We need to separate having a bad day and needing to eat. Food is fuel — to feel good. Really good. Not like CHOCOLATE COMA-feel good.”

Workout Meal Ideas: I told Kerneen what I liked to eat around workouts and here’s what she then suggested before and after my exercise classes at the gym: