How on earth did eating well, get so complicated?

Do you remember a time when it was just cereal and milk for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch and meat and 3 veg for dinner, with fruit, yoghurt and toast for snacks? This was pretty much how my family ate growing up in the 70s, 80s and 90s and we were healthy, energetic kids.

The good news is that eating well does not need to be complicated or involve special ingredients or expensive “superfoods”. The following relatively simple concepts are one brilliant way to avoid getting confused about what or how to eat, and you can apply them to just about any style of eating.

1. Eat food because you’re hungry
2. Eat food your body needs
3. Eat food that you enjoy the taste of

You don’t need to make food choices based on calories, carbs or the latest food trend – and no you don’t need to completely avoid sugar, eat “clean” or go “Keto”. That said, if you really enjoy any of these eating trends and you feel they serve you well both mentally and physically, then of course that’s fine too. 

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So let’s unpack this…

1. Eat because you’re hungry:
While this may seem like a no brainer, many people are out of touch, or have lost connection, with their appetite cues and eat because it’s a meal time, other people are eating, just in case, out of boredom or to help manage emotions. You may also decide to eat something simply because “it’s good for you”. If you’re unsure what your hunger cues are telling you, then you may need to look at getting back in tune with them – you can read more about this here.

2. Eat food your body needs:
Choose from a variety of whole foods (or core food group foods) such as fruit, vegetables, legumes, eggs, meat, fish, nuts & seeds and grains and dairy foods. While you don’t necessarily need to include all these food types in your diet, when you do eat a variety of these foods, chances are you’ll get all the nutrients your body needs without needing to over-think it, or track macros. It is possible to achieve adequate nutrition without consuming all these types of food (e.g. if you’re vegetarian or have a food intolerance), if this is you and you’re worried you might be missing out on something, perhaps chat to one of our dietitians

The fascinating thing with being in tune with your appetite and responding to true physical hunger, your body instinctively knows what it needs and craves a variety of nutritious food. Yes you will still want to eat “fun” foods such as chocolate and ice-cream, but these don’t prevent you from getting adequate nutrition from all the other foods. I like to think of “fun” foods as food you eat more for taste than hunger, or food you enjoy them in the company of others or eat simply to relax and give yourself some pleasure.

If you feel out of control around certain foods or feel unable to trust your appetite, you may benefit from talking with one of our dietitians or one near you who can help you with this.

3. Eat food that you enjoy the taste of:
Eating should be pleasurable and there is a huge variety of food that is capable of providing both nourishment and pleasure. By eating food you enjoy, you can nurture a healthy relationship with food and your body, and you never need feel like you’re on a diet or missing out. Eating food you enjoy is also a maintainable way of managing your eating well for life. Whoever said “If it tastes good, it must be bad for you” was wrong – this is simply a diet culture message designed to confuse you and make you reliant on following a diet rather than trusting your own body.

Why not calories?

If you choose a food based on calorie content, are you considering your appetite, how the food will taste and whether or not it will satisfy you? If you are, then the food is likely a suitable choice. If you’re choosing a food purely because it’s low calorie, you may not find it as satisfying and you’ll end up craving and eating something else. 

Why not nutrients?

Similar to calories, if you’re choosing a food because it’s low fat, low carb or sugar free, you may not find it as satisfying and still be craving something else. If you eat a food because it’s full of vitamins and you’re not hungry, you may be giving your body nourishment it doesn’t actually need. Routinely eating when you’re not hungry can make it harder to work out when you’re actually hungry. 

Note: Non-hungry eating is a very real battle many people face and you may benefit from talking with our dietitians or one near you who can help you with this.

Why not the latest trend?

Most diets, or dietary advice, rely on external rules or cues to help you manage your eating. By this I mean they suggest you eat certain types of food and restrict others, they may also ask you to weigh and measure food portions and/or track your calories. For most people, a more powerful and sustainable way to manage your eating is to learn how to listen to, and act on, your internal cues of hunger and fullness. This way you don’t need to rely on an external source to guide you with what, when and how much to eat. Trusting your internal cues also gives you the freedom to manage your eating when you’re out of your usual routine, travelling for work or on holidays – the times that pretty much everybody finds they are unable to stick to their diet or meal plan.

I am not saying that various diets or food trends are wrong or don’t help anyone, I am just describing an alternative way to manage your eating. Although, listening and trusting our appetite cues is our default way of eating – babies and kids do this until they are taught otherwise.

If you’ve spent years, or a life-time, looking externally for the solution to your health through various diets or diet programs, perhaps it’s time to start look internally. Just some food for thought.

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What if you didn’t need to lose weight?

The common assumption (or common wisdom) is losing weight will make you healthier, that if your BMI is above 25, you need to lose weight to manage your health. These assumptions are so strong that they prevail despite lack of evidence that pursing weight loss improves long-term health, largely because not enough people have lost weight and kept it off long enough to test this theory.

The strength of this common wisdom may also explain why most people overlook the fact that weight is not a behaviour. Take a moment to let that sink in – WEIGHT IS NOT A BEHAVIOUR. The way in which people can influence their health, is through behaviours. Focusing on weight distracts from the actual behaviour change and the weight loss often takes the credit for health improvements when it was actually the changes to lifestyle, diet, activity, mental health etc that should take the limelight. In short, we really need to stop focusing on weight when it comes to health.

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You may ask, given this lack of evidence, how has this common assumption become so pervasive? Here are some of the reasons why…

  • Our culture’s strong weight bias – we live in culture that has been deeply conditioned to believe fat is bad and unhealthy, a culture that wrongly equates thinness with worthiness, attractiveness, success, health and happiness.
    .
  • Our culture’s weight stigma – people in bigger bodies are constantly being judged as doing something wrong, having a body that is wrong, being lazy, incompetent and unhealthy.
    .
  • The persistent public health (or more accurately, public shaming) messages that fat is bad and being “obese” is deadly
    .
  • The continual advertising of weight loss solutions, weight loss products, body transformations and surgery
    .
  • Doctors and other health professionals advising weight loss as necessary for almost any condition. Being weighed at the doctor and told you need to lose weight regardless of your health status.
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  • Being surrounded by people, often family and friends, deeply conditioned to this assumption and talking about the next diet they’re doing or how they’re losing weight

 

Given all these factors, it’s not difficult to understand why so many people are unhappy with their bodies and desperate to lose weight, even people who don’t have any health issues or who may not even be considered fat by societal standards. I’m not saying it’s wrong to want to lose weight, I’m hoping to acknowledge why this desire is understandable. I’m also not saying it’s wrong to lose weight, if through changing various health behaviours, your weight changes, then that is a side-effect your body is happy to have happen.

But what happens when changes in health behaviours, while perhaps improving indicators of health such as blood pressure or blood sugar, don’t result in the desired weight loss? Or what happens when the weight is regained, which it nearly always is. Do you keep up with the positive changes or do you feel it’s not “working”? Do you then give up altogether, or do you try something else, usually something more drastic and rarely maintainable? When this happens, people end up in the (sometimes lifelong) cycle of dieting or falling off the wagon, losing weight, then regaining the weight. 

What if despite taking better care of your health and doing all the “right” things, you still have high cholesterol or develop diabetes? Does this mean you still try to lose weight even when your body doesn’t appear to want to lose weight? Again, do you give up, or do you try something else, usually something more drastic and rarely maintainable?

It’s often after turning to something more drastic (see below), or years or yoyo dieting in an attempt to lose weight, that people hit rock bottom and come to see us (dietitians). Rarely has the drastic approach or long-term pursuit of weight loss improved health, in fact quite the opposite, often it’s worsened both physical and psychological health. If you are someone who has pursued weight loss, has this pursuit lead to an overall improvement in your health, be that mental health, emotional health, social health or physical health?

What do I mean by drastic? Anything that can’t be sustained or that interferes with daily life, including;

  • Completely cutting carbs or any other other food type from your diet
  • A diet with specific rules that interferes with eating out, eating with others, holidays or just enjoying food
  • Any sort of 9-12 week body transformation
  • Any program that promises rapid weight loss
  • Any program that leaves you feeling hungry or thinking about food all the time

Now if you can do any of these with ease and no interference to your enjoyment of life, then I’m not here to say you shouldn’t be doing them. I’m talking to the people who struggle with such restrictions – which, I think is fair to say, is most people.

So what can you do? See if you can pop your weight loss the goal on the back burner, this is often easier said than done and you may need help from a non-diet/HAES practitioner who doesn’t focus on weight loss or promise weight loss as an outcome. Instead, could you think about being kind to your body, perhaps moving it more in ways you enjoy and feeding it in ways that feel good both mentally and physically. Being kind to yourself and doing things you enjoy are also vital to health, when you actively dislike and hate on yourself, you are much less likely to treat your body well, be that with food, exercise or social interaction. If you feel you need help with this, please find a non-diet/HAES practitioner, be that a therapist, dietitian or nutritionist. Or you can contact us to make an appointment today.

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The diet culture we live in has a very black and white way of thinking about food.

If you believe diet culture (and this includes the “wellness” industry), it seems food will either harm you or heal you. 

Food is seen as either good or bad which often then translates to “I’ve been good or bad”. This is simply not true and can be highly problematic as I talk about in this blog.

This way of thinking (we call it diet mentality) – which is sadly very common – really limits our brains capacity to reflect and to be flexible.

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As one participant explained at our latest workshop, she didn’t realise there were other options, for her it was either a matter of expecting to feel good about oneself or bad about oneself based on the food choice. It was a matter of, “if want to be good, I better not order the chips”.

The black and white thinking that one should either feel “good” or “bad” based upon their food choice, meant choosing to eat a food seen as bad could only lead to feeling bad. As chips are often seen as “bad and fattening”, choosing to eat these meant feeling terrible about oneself no matter how delicious or satisfying they were.

It was a pleasant revelation when she heard different ways of thinking about food and how one might want to feel, such as…

“What do I feel like eating?”

“What will satisfy me?”

“What am I hungry for?”

“I want to enjoy the taste of the food”

“I want to be able to share this meal with my friends”

“I want this to be a really pleasurable experience.”

“Those hot chips look amazing, just the way I like them!”

What black and white thoughts do you have that limit your ability to reflect or be flexible with food? What happens when you do eat the food you label “bad”? How do you feel about yourself and how helpful is this with regard to taking better care of your health, both mental and physical? How does this type of thinking effect your relationship to food and your body?

If you would like to learn more about how problematic our diet culture/the “wellness” industry and diet mentality can be, please check out our ebook Nourish.

dietitian melbourne

 

 

 

Do you have a healthy relationship with food? – take our free quiz to find out
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Want to undertand how to nourish your body without dieting or restricting food?
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Are you caught up in diet culture?

It’s not until you step outside of diet culture that you realise you’ve been caught up in that very diet culture and how warped many people’s thinking has become around food.

Examples of diet culture…

Uber eats adds using language such as “this bad boy” and  “tonight I’ll be eating like nobody’s watching”.

Ready to eat meals that use words such as “clean”, “guilt-free” or that have 70/30 meal plans.

A remark from a woman to her partner in a Netflix series about cookies bought from a girl scout – “You’re taking those into work tomorrow so I don’t eat them all.”

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Bizarre combinations of expensive ingredients served in unusual ways that usually look beautiful, but are completely unrealistic and unnecessary for health.

A dog lead with candy stripe colouring called “sugar free” – yes this really does exist.

Much of the chatter at work around lunch is about the “health” of your food, what food you think “should” or “shouldn’t” be eating or what food trend you’re following.

When trusted GPs (doctors) advise people to cut out certain foods or food groups in order to lose weight when the nutrition research just isn’t there to support such advice.

When you find yourself, or hear someone else, justifying why they chose to eat something.

You just happen to feel like eating salad and others comment that you’re being good, or that must be how you stay the size you are.

When I tell people my business name email address over the phone and the most common comment is “l love my food too much”

You know your eating is too restricted and messing with your mind and health, yet your friends and family think your discipline is a great thing.

I will be exploring diet culture and diet mentality in our next workshop on Sunday 28th April. There are still a few places available, click link to find out more about the workshop and buy your ticket today! ($39) Challenging the myth that we have to avoid certain foods to be healthy

dietitian melbourne

 

 

 

Do you have a healthy relationship with food? – take our free quiz to find out
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Want to undertand how to nourish your body without dieting or restricting food?
Get a taste of what’s involved with with our ebook Nourish.

Click the banner to grab your copy today!

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Donuts do not make people fat.

As many of my posts are, this post was inspired by a client this week who loves donuts but avoids eating them as she’s worried they will make her fatter. She was lamenting how she wasn’t able to enjoy freshly made donuts at a market with her friend, and how it was ok for her friend because she’s thin. My clients very typical diet mentality meant not only was she missing out on a key aspect of health (experiencing pleasure and connecting with friends), but it also meant she found herself over-eating whenever she ate sweets and thought she was “addicted” to sugar.

Donuts do not make people fat.

But thinking they will and restricting them, which can lead to over-eating (this goes for any food), may impact weight*. But it’s not the donut that is the problem or needs to change, it is the thinking which influences behaviour that needs to change.

 

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Not everyone who chooses to restrict certain food finds themselves feeling “addicted” to that food or over-eating it, but for many people, this is what happens. After all, it is human psychology to want what you can’t have and restriction can result in – as the sayings go – “the forbidden fruit effect”, “deprivation driving desire” and “the last supper effect”.

When a food is off limits it is more enticing (forbidden fruit effect) and when faced with the “forbidden” food people can experience the last supper effect – “This could be the last time so I’ll eat as much as can” – or – “I may as well have it all now and I’ll be good tomorrow”. Sound familiar?

Time and time again in my practice I see people discover that are able to enjoy their “problem” foods or “weaknesses” without going nuts and eating the whole lot and that they can leave certain food in the house without eating it all. In fact, a common scenario once people stop restricting and stop thinking about the food as a “weakness”, is they buy the food, enjoy a little and then forget it’s even there!

For many people, a tendency to over-eat certain food is driven by more than just restriction. Not eating enough during the day and altered emotional states are also key and very common drivers. All of these need to be addressed in order to foster a healthy relationship with food free from distress, guilt and shame. If you feel you need help with this, I urge you to seek help from a dietitian/nutritionist trained in the non-diet approach and who works within the Health At Every Size (HAES) paradigm.

*Note: weight changes are actually far more complex than just over-eating. If a person gains weight from appearing to over-eat, we massively over-simply the issue when just focusing on food. Again, working with a dietitian/nutritionist trained in the non-diet approach will allow you to explore this in more depth.

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Do you have a healthy relationship with food? – take our free quiz to find out
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Want to undertand how to nourish your body without dieting or restricting food?
Get a taste of what’s involved with with our ebook Nourish.

Click the banner to grab your copy today!

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Why recommending weight loss, even when a person’s BMI is very high, is often unhelpful and misguided.

A personal trainer tagged me in a post showing the image of a fat person and how this fat/weight was damaging to their body and therefore, why weight loss was necessary.

I am going to to attempt to break this down as simply as possible to explain why such attitudes are misguided and damaging to a person’s health. This is actually a very complex topic and I hope those with much greater understanding of social justice issues will forgive me for only mentioning them as a factor without going into depth.

Let’s say this fat person – described as “obese” in the mainstream culture – does have issues with some organs and joints, let’s say they have diabetes and knee pain. And let’s agree for a moment that their high body weight is exacerbating these conditions.

The mainstream assumption is losing weight will help this person. Now if this personal trainer was to help this individual lose weight, I am going to assume they are not going to suggest liposuction, therefore if the person changes their health behaviours, how do we know if any improvements to health are due to weight loss or the change in diet and exercise? 

We don’t, but either way, if this PT encourages the client into calorie deficit to achieve weight loss, the client will almost certainly regain the weight at some point. If there are PTs reading this who feel strongly that they have helped the majority of their clients lose weight (through diet and exercise) and keep it off  for life, we need your evidence of this please – at present we have none. What we do have though, is evidence that shows many people end up heavier through pursuing weight loss.

This brings us to vital and often overlooked factors that affect a person’s health and which may explain why this person ended up at this weight. While these factors may influence current eating and/or exercise habits, they can affect health independent of diet and exercise.

To assume diet and exercise are the key, or only factors to address when helping someone manage their health is misguided and in most cases highly insufficient. I want to pause for a moment here and acknowledge that this is more or less what I was trained to do and what I did for the first part of my career. I’m not saying that I ignored, or that other practitioners who still work this way ignore a person’s psychology or life circumstances, I certainly didn’t, but I did not address them adequately, particularly with regard to body image and impact of weight stigma, and I did not understand the implications of continuing to place focus on body weight.

 

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Some of the reasons people end up with a higher body weight

  • Concern about weight from a young age, be that underweight or “overweight” as per growth charts. There is evidence that parents who worry about their kids weight, end up with fatter children. 
  • Natural human size diversity – their genetic blueprint for size is a bigger body
  • Medication
  • Hormonal disturbances
  • Mental health issues with or without medication
  • Economic and social circumstances
  • Adverse childhood events, including trauma
    ….
    .
    and the most common reason I see with my clients…

    .
  • Through the pursuit of weight loss – a large number of my clients have dieted themselves to a heavier weight, research shows that up to 2/3 of people end up heavier through dieting in an attempt to lose weight.

Regardless of the reasons, placing the focus on weight and encouraging people to pursue weight loss is more likely to lead to the following, than it is to improve a person’s health long-term…

  • Weight loss followed by regain (weight cycling/yoyo dieting), often to a higher weight.
  • Engaging in diet behaviours that are generally not sustainable and may lead to a poor relationship with food over-time, disordered eating behaviours such as restricting and bingeing.
  • Engaging in exercise behaviours that are generally not sustainable and may lead to a poor relationship with exercise over-time, injury or a general dislike of exercise.
  • An increased sense of shame over body size and perceived “failure” to control their weight, eating behaviours and maintain a certain level of exercise. Shame has been identified as an independent risk factor for health.
  • Perpetuating our cultures weight bias (that thinner people are more worthy, healthy, attractive etc) and the social stigma that accompanies this.

To state this person is unhealthy because of their high body weight or to keep this as the focus for their health issues, is at best misguided and very simplistic, and at worst, serves to further damage the individuals health through the continued pursuit of weight loss, weight cycling and weight stigma. Those of us who work in the Health At Every Size paradigm work to take the focus off body weight and instead focus on addressing health behaviours and the various factors that influence these. 

Note: HAES and the non-diet approach are not anti-weight loss, just anti-pursuit of weight loss. Some people may lose weight through changing health behaviours, we just can’t predict for whom this will happen and therefore can’t promise or expect it will happen. For those who have dieted themselves to a higher weight, the chance of significant weight loss will be lower.

 

dietitian melbourne

 

 

 

Do you have a healthy relationship with food? – take our free quiz to find out
.

Want to undertand how to nourish your body without dieting or restricting food?
Get a taste of what’s involved with with our ebook Nourish.

Click the banner to grab your copy today!

 

non-diet dietitians Melbourne