As women, many of us are prone to neglecting our own dietary needs. You may feel you’re too busy to eat right, used to putting the needs of your family first, or trying to adhere to an extreme diet that leaves you short on vital nutrients and feeling cranky, hungry, and low on energy. Women’s specific needs are often neglected by dietary research, too. Studies tend to rely on male subjects whose hormone levels are more stable and predictable, thus sometimes making the results irrelevant or even misleading to women’s needs. All this can add up to serious shortfalls in your daily nutrition.
Most traditional fitness plans happen in predictable patterns that usually involve moving in two planes of motion—up and down or forward and backward—ignoring the third plane of motion, lateral. “Move your body in all directions to create the most fit, functional, and athletic physique,” Stokes says. If you're a runner, cyclist, or walker, remember to include movements such as jumping jacks, side shuffles, side lunges, and carioca (the grapevine-like move) in your warm-up or cool-down, she suggests.
Calories. Most times, women need fewer calories. That’s because women naturally have less muscle, more body fat, and are usually smaller. On average, adult women need between 1,600 and 2,400 calories a day. Women who are more physically active may need more calories. Find out how many calories you need each day, based on your age, height, weight, and activity level.
If you lose weight suddenly or for unknown reasons, talk to your health care professional immediately. Unexplained weight loss may indicate a serious health condition. And even if it doesn't, simply being underweight is linked to menstrual irregularity, menstrual cessation (and sometimes, as a result, dental problems, such as erosion of the enamel and osteoporosis) and a higher risk of early death.
When trying to adopt new healthy habits, it's important to work around other long-standing practices that could sabotage your efforts if overlooked. For example, if you are a morning person, working out in the a.m. is likely best, but if you’re a night person, exercise after work, says Tara Stiles, owner of Strala Yoga in New York City. [Tweet at Tara!]“Don't try to become one or the other if it's not natural to you. You're more likely to stick to it if you like the time of day and the whole experience.”
A healthy vegetarian diet falls within the guidelines offered by the USDA. However, meat, fish and poultry are major sources of iron, zinc and B vitamins, so pay special attention to these nutrients. Vegans (those who eat only plant-based food) may want to consider vitamin and mineral supplements; make sure you consume sufficient quantities of protein, vitamin B12, vitamin D and calcium. You can obtain what you need from non-animal sources. For instance:
Young adults. Teen girls and young women usually need more calories than when they were younger, to support their growing and developing bodies. After about age 25, a woman’s resting metabolism (the number of calories her body needs to sustain itself at rest) goes down. To maintain a healthy weight after age 25, women need to gradually reduce their calories and increase their physical activity.
No matter how busy you are, eat lunch before 3 p.m., a Spanish study suggests. Researchers placed a group of women on a diet for 20 weeks; half ate lunch before 3 and half consumed their midday meal after 3. Although both groups’ daily caloric intake, time spent exercising and sleeping, and appetite hormone levels were the same, those who lunched late lost about 25 percent less weight than earlier eaters. Being European, lunch was the biggest meal of the day for these women, constituting 40 percent of their calories for the day, so consider slimming down dinner in addition to watching the clock.
It's a cliché, to be sure, but a balanced diet is the key to good nutrition and good health. Following that diet, however, isn't always that easy. One challenge is that women often feel too busy to eat healthfully, and it's often easier to pick up fast food than to prepare a healthy meal at home. But fast food is usually high in fat and calories and low in other nutrients, which can seriously affect your health. At the other extreme, a multimillion dollar industry is focused on telling women that being fit means being thin and that dieting is part of good nutrition.
Omega-3 fatty acids — essential to health and happiness, reviewed by Dr. Mary James, MD. From conception to old age, every cell in our bodies needs omega-3’s. Learn how omega-3 fatty acids benefit every body system — from the brain to the heart, breast, bones, colon, skin and more, this is one nutrient that can make all the difference to our health, our happiness, and — perhaps best of all — our longevity.
Consult your health care professional. Women of childbearing age may want to consider taking folic acid supplements to reduce the risk of having a pregnancy affected with neural tube defects. Many women and teenage girls don't get enough calcium or vitamin D, both of which are critical to healthy bones and avoiding osteoporosis. Some people with diabetes appear to benefit from chromium. Vegetarians, especially vegans, may want to consider supplements to obtain nutrients they aren't getting from animal products.