The ability to be so selective with what we eat is a Western world privilege.

In terms of the Western world, I strongly suspect an over-abundance of food, our desire for convenience and of course the food industry, are reasons we have so much highly processed food in our diets. The proliferation of such processed food is, I believe, a large part of why so many people are turning to different forms of eating, be it ‘paleo’, ‘clean’, gluten free, quitting sugar, vegan etc. After all, if we only had fresh whole food available to us, the term ‘clean eating’ most likely would not have arisen. I also suspect that if we only had fresh whole food available to us, and this includes whole-grains and legumes, the paleo diet also would not have come about. There is no doubt the over-use of refined sugar in processed food is a why people have started quitting sugar.

The one thing all these new styles of eating have in common is the elimination of highly processed food. Well at least that’s what the idea was, the food industry has responded with plenty of packaged paleo food (there’s paleo chips, paleo chocolate, paleo protein bars, paleo muesli) and highly processed sugar-free (insert anything free) food, which ironically is exactly how we got into this “food fight” in the first place. Watch this space, in a few years there will another style of eating to combat all the new processed food that has infiltrated paleo, clean eating and quitting sugar – at some point I’m sure the halo will fall from rice malt syrup and it too will be seen as “evil”.

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While all this goes on, there are millions of people in the world who are just happy to have whatever food is available. They have no interest in whether the food is sugar free, clean, paleo, alkaline or Calathumpian and most likely they don’t even know theses terms exist – except maybe Calathumpian.

Rice, maize (corn) and wheat provide 60 percent of the world’s food energy intake (see source below). Of the top 10 crops in the world, all are carbohydrate rich food. I am not suggesting that this is the way it should be, but it is the current situation. The overwhelming majority of people in the world cannot afford (and I don’t just mean financially) to adhere to these Western world food trends. Luckily for them, they don’t need to, and nor do we. I’m not saying eating clean, paleo or sugar free is wrong, I’m just pointing out it’s not necessary in order to eat well and looking at some of the reasons these styles of eating have come about. Dietitians and nutritionists have been banging for years about reducing sugar – for some reason our collective voice is not really heard, it seems you need to be a celebrity, or have the message SUGAR EQUALS DEATH to be really heard. The power of the food industry might just be playing a part in our voices being drowned out, and this is probably happening to quitting sugar too.

However you choose to eat, try to keep things simple, ensure the bulk of your diet is whole fresh food (veggies, fruit, nuts, legumes, whole-grains, eggs, meat, fish, dairy, oils etc), consider how much highly processed food you consume, from an environmental and nutritional stand point, and be thankful you have access to so much nourishing food. Try to avoid placing a moral value – I’m being so good, let’s be naughty – on how you eat, or following a style of eating that doesn’t fit in easily with work, family, social events or travel, or where you don’t receive pleasure from food and eating.

Why? Aside from the practical difficulties and having to restrict food you might actually enjoy eating, restrictive eating can foster an unhealthy relationship with food and can lead to disordered eating or eating disorders. If one of your reasons for following a specific style of eating is weight loss or your appearance, then you may be increasing your risk of body image dissatisfaction, weight cycling and ultimately, weight gain. If you have ever dieted, you will know what I mean.

Note: if you have been properly diagnosed with Coeliac disease or a gluten intolerance by a health professional, then of eating gluten free is necessary for you. Vegan is also an ethical choice for which a person has every right to.

Source: What the world eats

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You don’t have to “eat clean”, drink juices, go paleo or quit sugar to be healthy.

Whatever happened to a healthy diet just meaning getting adequate nutrition from food?

These days it can feel like “health” requires activating your superfoods, liquifying your veggies, going sugar free and drinking bee water – yep, that’s right, bee water… what the? I have seen this for sale.

Health and healthy are now loaded words that have been mixed up with “clean” eating, “quitting sugar”, green smoothies and “Paleo”. While there is nothing wrong with doing any of these things per se, they are too often taken to the extreme and none are actually necessary for health. As I have always stated, if you enjoy following a specific dietary regimen, that’s fine, I am not saying you shouldn’t, I’m just saying you don’t have to.

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Why am I concerned about this?

For many people, these extreme forms of “healthy” eating are leading to very distorted relationships with food and body, and serious eating disorders or orthorexia (a yet to be classified eating disorder which is an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating).

Our culture’s preoccupation with “healthy” eating sucks the joy out of eating for many and wastes a hell of a lot of mental space. How much time do you spend thinking about food? Imagine what else we could achieve if we spent less time worrying so much about food.

Your diet is healthy if you are getting enough food energy and nutrients to support physical and mental health, and eating food (and amounts) that leave you feeling satisfied and energised. There are a million and one different ways to achieve this and there is no single food that must be either included or avoided in order to eat well.

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Fat will not make you fat.

For too many years we have been fearful of fat. Up until a couple of years ago I too tried to keep fat to a minimum with the idea that using more fat might result in weight gain or poorer health.
I now know and eat otherwise. Despite a significant increases in my fat intake, my weight remains stable and my health is just fine.
Note: by no means am I saying one should just eat as a much as they can. Being attuned to one’s appetite will prevent over-eating fat and having enough fat in your diet allows one to be better attuned to their appetite!

So why is it important to have enough fat in our diets.
Fat makes food taste good – it brings out flavour in food. When we the taste of food truly satisfies, we are actually less likely to over-eat.
Fat gives food a wonderful mouthfeel – think chocolate or cheese.
Fat actually helps us feel full. In particular food very high in monounsaturated fats such as olive oil, avocado and some nuts signal fullness in our gut and helps prevent us from over-eating.
So don’t be afraid to add extra dressing, nuts, seeds, avocado and cheese to your salad or veggies.
Don’t be afraid to add cream or cheese to your pasta dish.
Cook liberally with healthy fats such as extra virgin olive oil and enjoy butter, cream and cheese when the dish calls for it.
And… remember too much or too little of anything is what can lead to health issues.

No, potatoes are not bad for you, even deep fried ones!

I am writing this in response to a US study just published that links higher intake of potatoes, cooked in various ways, with raised risk of hypertension.

While the study did not say potatoes outright are bad, headlines have come out stating eating potatoes 4 times per week could be harmful to health, that fried potatoes are a dietary no-no and I have heard the media using the word “bad” a number of times today when talking about potatoes and this type of language is what creates panic and people turning the message of “too much” into “not good in any amount”.

Non-Diet Approach dietitian and nutritionist
So let’s recap, as I‘ve posted about this many times, that no food is all “good” and no food is all “bad”.
Eat only potato and you’ll probably get sick and die, not to mention sick of potatoes. Eat potato (even 4 times per week) in the context of a balanced diet, mix in some a physical activity, adequate rest and relaxation, social engagement and you could live a long healthy life.
By this I mean, no one food has all the nutrition we need to live, just as no one food will result in ill health – unless of course you eat too much of it.
So what is too much? Here are probably the two main examples:
1. Eating past the point of comfortable fullness and regretting having done so. Do this very occasionally and it’s unlikely to pose a problem, do this frequently and you may experience adverse outcomes.
2. Eating so much of one food that you don’t get enough variety of other foods. For example, if eating potatoes with each meal means you’re missing out on other veggies such as green, orange, red and purple ones.
To talk about potatoes as “bad” or harmful to health fails to consider the context of one’s whole diet. It is very possible to nourish your body well and still have potato, even deep fried potato, in your diet, just as it possible that a diet free from potato could fail to nourish your body well.
Given some of the poorest people have the biggest struggle with nourishing themselves well, and given potatoes are some of the cheapest food and a nutrient rich food, a message that tells people that regularly eating potatoes harms health, is quite frankly irresponsible.
Potatoes are a great source of potassium, dietary fibre, vitamin C, vitamin B6 and folate among a variety of many other nutrients.
We must stop focusing on specific foods or nutrients and consider the context of our whole diet, the food we have available to us, what our finances permit, and also how we interact with food on a social, emotional and environmental level. The role or food in our life and culture, and how we nourish our bodies, is not black and white or all or nothing.

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Eating well doesn’t need to be complicated or restrictive or involve cutting out food you enjoy.

For the most part; eat because you’re hungry, eat food you enjoy and eat food that nourishes your body.

If you’re a little unsure with what to eat to best nourish your body, could you…

– Increase your fruit & veg intake?
– Prepare or cook more of your own food from scratch?
– Be more mindful of your appetite and whether or not you’re eating for reasons other than hunger?

Start by doing any one of these and you’ll be heading the right direction to improving your nutrition and health.

If you remove yourself, even if just for a week or two, from all the media hype around how you should eat, and go back to basics, you might find that you know more than you think about how to feed yourself well.

This might include unfollowing people who are promoting specific diets that restrict foods, people who claim “their” way of eating is the best and/or people who claim they have the answer to weight loss.

If after doing this, you are still struggling to manage your eating and health, then perhaps seeking help from a dietitian could be the next step.

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Melbourne dietitians and nutritionists

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Health is not just a matter of weight loss

No, I am not anti-weight loss and yes, weight loss can be a positive thing.

If through focusing on your health, nourishing your body well, being physically active and socially engaged, you naturally lose weight, then that is what is right for your body.

The issue is, that by constantly promoting weight loss as necessary for health, this has the effect of placing the focus of improving a person’s health almost entirely on weight loss.

When you focus on weight loss, these things tend to happen and they actually damage your health:

  • You go on a diet, or restrict your calorie intake (aka dieting).
  • You feel great, perhaps even virtuous initially, but this rarely lasts…
  • You start exercising. But many people go to0 hard initially in an attempt to burn calories and fat and end up hating exercise because it’s painful, they get injured and they simply don’t enjoy it.
  • You become preoccupied with food and for many this can lead to increased anxiety and emotional distress around food and eating.
  • You become preoccupied with your body and this can lead to becoming anxious, distressed and unhappy with your body.
  • You start resenting trying to eat well or being healthy, because dieting is restrictive (and boring) and the weight isn’t falling of your body like promised and even if you are losing weight, it’s not as much as you hoped.
  • You probably lose weight initially only to regain that weight in 1-5 years, often gaining more weight.
  • You spend a good part of your life yo-yo dieting and trying to keep your weight down.
  • Your risk of developing disordered eating or an eating disorder increases.
  • Somewhere along the way, the focus on losing weight over-shadows what it really means to be a healthy happy human.
  • You stop dieting and blame yourself for failing, rather than blaming the ineffective method.

While this may seem a very bleak picture to paint, it is the experience myself and other dietitians hear over and over from people when they come to see us. It is also well documented in research

Note: these things do not happen to everyone, but they happen to a large number of people who try to manage their health by dieting to lose weight.

Intuitive Eating dietitians

How would things look different if we took the emphasis off losing weight?

  • You can stop dieting in an attempt to lose weight.
  • Instead you could take a more gentle approach where you learn to become the expert of your body and you decide the best way to manage your eating.
  • You could try a Non-Diet Approach where you learn to eat intuitively again (summary of IE research)
  • Intuitive eaters have been found to have a more positive relationship with food and their bodies.
  • Intuitive eaters are less likely to overeat or binge eat.
  • Intuitive eaters tend to eat a variety of nourishing food.
  • With no foods being seen as “bad” or needing to be avoided, the desire to over-eat certain foods starts to lessen and eventually disappears.
  • Intuitive Eating has recently been found by this study to be inversely associated with body weight.
  • You can find ways to move your body that you truly enjoy as you no longer tie exercise to working hard in order to burn calories and fat.
  • Through finding ways to move your body that you truly enjoy, you’re more likely to maintain the activity long-term.
  • Through improved eating habits, being more physically active and generally feeling better within yourself, you will be doing your best to manage any risk factors for diet-related diseases.
  • You finally find a way to manage your health that you can not only maintain long-term, but that you actually enjoy!

I have only addressed eating and activity in this piece, of course health is much more than just what we eat and how active we are. Other factors that strongly influence our health are, but not limited to, sleep, stress levels, work, relationships, mental health, disability and social engagement.

Note: I would also like to acknowledge that for many people, improving health is much more complex than what I have outlined here. The capacity to improve health is too often limited by socio-economic factors, lack of finances, access to food and education. 

Thanks for reading!

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