Chocolate is not unhealthy.

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This is something I often say to my clients. It’s very common for people to feel they “have a problem” with chocolate (insert other sweet food). When I ask my clients what they feel the problem is, the answer is often along the lines of “it’s bad for you” or “I eat too much of it” or “I need to lose weight”.

Let’s start with “It’s bad for you”…

No one food on its own is bad for your health. Eating 50g (or even 200g) of chocolate is not going to adversely affect your health, eating 10kg of chocolate in one sitting – if it were possible – would likely put you in hospital and quite possibly kill you! But so would eating 10kg of broccoli or drinking 10L of water in one sitting. The point being, it’s “the dose the that makes the poison”. 

This is when my clients might tell me “but I can’t just stop at 50g of chocolate, once I start, I can’t stop”. While there may be a number of reasons for this, one of the key reasons is labelling chocolate “bad” and trying to restrain yourself from eating it. At some point, restricting your eating nearly always leads to over-eating or binging, this has been well documented and if you have ever tried to control food intake through restriction, you’ll know what I am talking about.

Emotional hunger is another reason and this can be complex and often needs to be addressed with a skilled practitioner such a dietitian or psychologist who works in a weight neutral and non-diet space.

One of the biggest paradoxes with our dieting world, is that restricting food often leads to over-eating whereas allowing yourself to eat what you want when you feel like it, actually makes it easier to decide you’ve had enough. After all, when something is available all the time, we cease to be as excited by it and after a while, we may even lose interest. There are many biological, physiological and psychological reasons for this, which are explained in the books listed here.

In addition, when something tastes good and brings pleasure, why on earth do we insist this is bad for us? I think we can blame diet culture for this.

With respect to “I eat too much of it”…

When I ask my clients “what makes you think you eat too much?” The answer is usually to do with the sugar or fat content (or calories) and the idea that you can’t possibly lose weight eating chocolate. This is where it’s important to separate health from weight loss. There is clear evidence that shows people do not need to lose weight to see improvements in their health and in fact, focusing on weight loss often leads to poorer health. Click here for research. These facts aside, it is possible to eat chocolate and be a weight that is right your body.

If you can learn to separate your eating habits from weight loss, you can learn to enjoy chocolate, really enjoy chocolate, no guilt attached and still improve your health. The Non-Diet or Intuitive Eating approaches can help you with this. Separating your eating habits from weight loss can be difficult and you may need help from a skilled practitioner.

Lastly, I would like to argue that enjoying chocolate (insert other sweet food) is actually healthy. The ability to enjoy eating without fear, guilt or anxiety is pivotal to having a healthy relationship with food and your body. Having a healthy relationship with food and your body is vital for your overall health. Research shows time and time again, that the better your feel about yourself, the more likely you are to engage in healthy behaviours be they related to eating, being active, social or your mental health.

Thanks for reading and as always, I’s love to hear your thoughts on Facebook! The Moderation Movement.

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Stop restricting and you may find you eat less

It is not uncommon for people to misinterpret the concept of unrestricted eating, as a free for all with food; just eat as much sweets as you want without any regard to nutrition or health. In fact, once people have true full permission to eat, as with the non-diet approach, the opposite tends to happen.

Many have the belief that “if I allowed myself to eat that food, I’d want to eat it all the time.” However, what people start to realise, is having full permission to eat a food, can mean they start to want it less. 

In the traditional weight loss (weight cycling) and/or “healthy eating” world, a common aim is to reduce intake of particular foods, especially more highly processed sweet foods. Let’s use the humble sweet biscuit as an example.

When you are focused on weight loss or “health”, choosing to eat less sweet biscuits usually revolves around reducing calories and sugar and being disciplined or “good”. Ironically, this type of approach leaves most people eating more sweet biscuits (and therefore more calories and sugar) and feeling “bad”.

Why does this happen?

Each time you’re faced with the prospect of a sweet biscuit, you think “I shouldn’t eat that” and for a while you may be able to resist the urge – but how long does this last? Have you ever been able to completely cut a food from your diet long-term (and I’m not including food allergies/intolerances here)? I know some people can do this, but the fact is, most people can’t. When finally that urge gets the better of you, what tends to happen? You go nuts for the food and eat more than you would normally, or you might find yourself bingeing. This type of approach is responsible for the following phenomena:

  • The “what the hell” effect – “What the hell, I’ve blown it now, may as well go the whole hog!”
    .
  • The “last supper” effect – eating all the food now as tomorrow you’re never going to eat it again
    .
  • The “I’ll get while I can” effect – eating more now as tomorrow you’ll be “good” (or start again on Monday)
    .
  • The “I’ll just finish this packet/container so it’s not in the house and I’ll never buy them again” effect
    .

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With non-diet approach, the choice* to not eat the sweet biscuit is simply because you’re not hungry for it, or don’t feel like eating one in that moment. A key difference with this approach, is that when you do actually feel like having the sweet biscuit, you have the opportunity to enjoy it without any sense of doing “the wrong thing”. You may feel like having more than one, but you don’t go nuts and over-eat because you know you can enjoy another one tomorrow or the next day or the next day…

So while the non-diet approach doesn’t restrict any food, it allows you to avoid all the above mentioned effects. When you don’t fall into these diet traps, your eating and nutrition can take on a new look, one that actually promotes healthy behaviours and benefits your health.

*Please note: reaching this point can take time, if you’ve been dieting or restricting food or struggle with how you feel about your body, you will likely need to go through a process of unlearning what you’ve been lead to believe is the best way to manage your diet, health and weight. Non-diet dietitians can help you do this.

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What makes a good food choice?

Rather than thinking about food as “good” or “bad” based on the messages from our screwed up diet culture, try considering these factors next time you’re thinking about whether or not the food is a good choice.

So what makes a good food choice?

  • Being hungry for that food

  • Food that’s the only available choice when you’re hungry

  • Taking pleasure from the food

  • Feeling satisfied mentally and physically afterward

  • Any food that allows you connect socially and enjoy the company of others

  • Any food that provides nourishment, be that physical or mental

Not every food choice needs to be nutrient rich to be a good one, provided you get adequate nutrition via a variety of food over time, enjoying food purely for the taste is healthy too.

What might make a not so good food choice?

  • Food you don’t enjoy the taste of

  • Food that doesn’t feel good in your body

  • Food that leaves you feeling unsatisfied and that results in you craving something else even though you’re no longer hungry

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

Want to learn how to nourish your body without having to diet or restrict food? Learn about intuitive eating with our ebook Nourish.

Click the banner to grab your copy today!

non-diet dietitians Melbourne

When it comes to nutrition and the human body, there is still much we don’t know and we still have so much to learn.

When I first started working as a dietitian, I could be quite dismissive of anything not backed by mainstream science or medicine. After 13 years working as a dietitian one of the key things I’ve learned, is that just because science hasn’t proved something, or Western medicine doesn’t agree with a particular idea, does not mean that idea is necessarily wrong. The human body is complex and nutrition is still a relatively new science, which means we will always be discovering new things and sometimes we will make mistakes and we will need to change our stance and text books will need to be rewritten.

So now, when a client, or anyone, tells me their homeopathic remedy or sugar free diet is helping them, I don’t try to explain that homeopathy is not grounded in science or that they shouldn’t eat sugar free. I listen to that person and if they feel strongly an alternative treatment or particular diet is helping them, I simply move on to find out why they have come to see me and how I might be able to help them.

Once I have established a good rapport with the client and they trust me, it’s very likely at some point we would discuss whether or not they are truly benefitting from eating sugar free, if they feel they are, then it’s not my place to tell them otherwise. If the client has a very disordered relationship with food and finding themselves bingeing on sugary food, or feeling highly distressed whenever they eat something with sugar, then this conversation would come earlier, but then that client is not comfortably eating a sugar free diet.

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I do however, get up in arms when nutrition claims that have no clear evidence, are broadcast as what someone MUST do to better their health. Or when a person, usually a celebrity or TV personality, uses their anecdotal evidence to encourage millions of people to do what they are doing because it worked for them. Especially when this can cause harm in some people, harm such as disordered eating, eating disorders, emotional distress, anxiety, poor body image and damaged self worth.

Peter F, Sarah W and Pete E may all have found salvation through quitting sugar (or going Paleo) and good luck to them, I am not denying it hasn’t helped them or many of the people who have also chosen to follow there rhetoric, but at this stage we don’t have evidence that what they promote actually improves health long-term (or on a population level), to be suggesting the entire population quit sugar or go paleo. The other factor we need to consider, is that if quitting sugar or going paleo is done in the context of calorie restriction with weight loss as the main objective, and often this is the case, then this is no different to dieting. There is clear evidence that dieting is ineffective and often leads to weight gain and that dieting is the number one risk factor for developing an eating disorder that does significantly worsen a person’s mental and physical health. No, not everyone who quits sugar or eats paleo will develop disordered eating or an eating disorder, but enough will and when there’s not enough evidence to back their claims, shouldn’t this be considered problematic? 

We do have an issue of highly processed (often sugary) food being too readily available at the expense of more nutritious food and this can and does cause health problems. I strongly believe the issue lies with food industry and policies, rather than the food itself. I don’t know what is required to address this, but I do know that focusing on the food products and the individual as the problem, is leading to a significant number of people ending up with a disordered relationship with food and adverse mental and physical health outcomes.

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“If I was thin, would it be ok to eat that?”

When one of my clients told me she thought eating 4 slices of toast was wrong, we explored why she felt this way. I asked her if she thought it would be wrong for a thinner person to eat 4 slices and she said no. So I probed a little further to understand why she thought it would be wrong for her. You may be guessing correctly that her response was based on her body size. It was also unfortunately influenced by a previous dietitian that told her she should only ever eat 1 slice if she wanted to lose weight.

Just as the amount of food you need to eat at a particular meal should not be based on your height or shoe size, it should not be based on your weight. How much you need to eat depends on how hungry you are. If you’re physically hungry for 4 slices of toast, then that’s what you need, regardless of your body size. The ability to know this does require connection to appetite and being able to differentiate between physical and other types of hunger. This is an example of some of the appetite work, myself and other non-diet dietitians, do with people.

In order for appetite work to be effective, you need to start loosening your grip on diet thinking. Diet thinking encompasses thoughts such as “4 slices of toast is too much”, “ I shouldn’t eat that because of my weight” or “carbs are bad”.

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If you struggle with diet thoughts, try this question next time you’re struggling with one;

“If I was thin, would it be ok to eat that?”

If the answer is yes, then yes, of course it’s ok and it’s diet culture that’s making you think you shouldn’t eat it. Just as eating a chocolate bar is not bad for a thin person, it’s not bad for a larger person. If a thinner person has a right to eat a food, so do you.

Necessary disclaimer: In saying this, I am not saying it’s ok to live on chocolate bars, or to eat chocolate bars at the expense of a varied nutritious diet. I am not in the pocket of BIG sugar, the chocolate bar could be a home-made brownie with coconut sugar and organic cacao for all it matters. The point is, your body size should not be a factor in whether or not it’s ok to eat something.

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Suggesting sugar is not evil does not mean you’re saying it’s ok to eat an entire box of donuts!

Why is it that when you speak out against extreme views, the perpetuators of those views suggest you must be encouraging the opposite – so with food, suggesting sugar is not evil means you’re saying it’s ok to eat an entire box of donuts!* 

This type of black and white thinking is what causes so much confusion around what it means to eat well. Some more examples…

Choosing not to quit sugar does not mean you are going to automatically eat excess sugar.

Choosing not to cut carbs doesn’t mean you’ll eat an entire loaf of bread everyday.

Enjoying a beer and chips does not mean you or your diet is unhealthy. In fact enjoying any food or drink seen as “unhealthy” does not mean you or your diet are unhealthy.

Equally… quitting sugar, or any food, or choosing to go vegan, paleo or gluten free does not mean you and your diet are automatically healthy. You can do these things and improve health, but they are not necessary, and in many cases extreme measures only have a short-term effect, with the longer-term effect being an on-going struggle with food and weight which leaves many emotionally and physically worse off.

The wonderful news is there is a place which flows somewhere in between the extremes of abstinence and excess and that place is called MODERATION. I say “flows” as moderation is not a static or fixed place. Moderation means sometimes saying no and sometimes saying yes, sometimes having a little and sometimes having more. All of this depends on the circumstances at the time of eating.

If you’re disagreeing with this and thinking that you are likely to polish off a loaf of bread or box of donuts, it may very well be because you’re trying restrict these foods. It’s human nature to “want what you can’t have” and making things forbidden, brings on “the forbidden fruit” effect and the food becomes even more enticing. A bit like that piece of clothing you see in a shop that you like (last one in your size) but you calmly pass it by before someone else picks it up to try it on, and suddenly you decide you really like it and pray they don’t buy it! Scarcity stirs up anxiety and abundance creates calm.

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With regard to food, especially carbohydrate rich food, these natural and very human tendencies are even stronger than with non-food items because our brains are wired to want carbohydrate rich food. Carbohydrate is the bodies most efficient fuel sources and your brain rewards you for eating them as this encourages basic survival. After a period of restricting sugar or carbs, your brains reward system will go even more nuts when you eat carbs and you can feel driven to just keep eating. This is often when people feel out of control and blame the sugar when your body’s just doing what it’s designed to do. 

If you choose not to cut out (or restrict) sugar (or carbs) from your diet, for most people, you’ll still want to eat these food, but your brain will not go as crazy for the food and you’ll find it easier to know when you’ve eaten enough. If you would like to understand more about this, check out what intuitive eating is all about.

Another layer of complexity with human behaviour around food is the food supply and food environment. Then there’s your socio-economic status which influences access to certain types of food in terms of availability and cost. If the food environment continues to be flooded with cheap highly processed foods, then I am afraid we may be fighting a losing battle when it comes to helping more people eat an adequate amount of fresh whole food (such as fruit, veg, legumes, nuts, grains, eggs, meat, fish, dairy) and not eating too much of the highly processed foods.

Note: for many people the drive to keep eating is more complex then what is described here, with factors such as the emotional strains of everyday life, stress, relationship issues, body image issues and past or present trauma being key drivers. If you feel this is you, I urge you to seek help from a non-diet dietitian or HAES® (Health At Every Size) practitioner. 

You can find us here:

HAES professionals Australia

HAES professionals worldwide

*As in most cases eating a whole box of donuts would leave one feeling uncomfortably full and somewhat sickly, I would not encourage this as you will get more satisfaction out of your eating experiences when you eat in a way that leaves your body feeling good – this is a key aspect of intuitive eating.  Now, if you eat a whole box of donuts mindfully paying attention to taste and satisfaction and how your body is feeling, if once you’ve finished you feel really comfortable mentally and physically (so not too full, sickly or with thoughts you shouldn’t have eaten them all), then eating a whole box of donuts may not be an issue. Provided the donuts are not displacing other nutrients on a regular basis or causing any other health issues, then no one has the right to tell you eating them is problematic. 

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dietitian melbourne