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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“From now on I will no longer get sucked in by products or people promising weight loss”

It’s not too late to change your New Years resolution; repeat…

“From now on I will no longer get sucked in by products or people promising weight loss.”

Social media is rife with people, products and advertisements that promise weight loss. Some ads are clearly ads while others ads are disguised by the people who promote them, often popular social media influencers, bloggers and celebrities.

I learned today from a friend and social media influencer, Tara Leong (aka The Nutrition Guru and The Chef), that people can be paid upward of $450 for one post/blog showing them using the product. Tara says to look for these hashtags as a sign someone is being paid #collab, #ad, #ambassador, #spon, #partner or #partnership. If you want to learn more about this, read Tara’s excellent piece on this.

 

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It should come as no surprise that the advertising/marketing industry generally cares more about money than people, I’m sure even the most easily influenced people can recognise this. So why do we continue to get sucked in by marketing?

Trust – As humans we need to trust others, and when our trusted role models or people we respect get on board the marketing train, we want to believe them. I wouldn’t be surprised if many of the people promoting products actually don’t realise the harm they are doing, after all, many of these people are in naturally smaller bodies and haven’t experienced a lifetime battle with food, exercise and weight. Some of them may truly believe what they’re promoting will work. But if you’ve tried everything and nothing seems to work long-term, then perhaps it’s time to start questioning the products.

Hope – Hope is also a key aspect of being human and it’s human nature to feel that “this time, this one will work”. Most, if not all, weight loss products and people promoting them play on this emotion. 

Desire – We live in a world where being thinner is equated with success, worthiness, attractiveness, health and happiness. It’s completely normal to have a strong desire for these things. Again, weight loss products and people promoting them play on this emotion. 

When your well meaning doctor or health professional also suggests you should lose weight, this reinforces these desires and even provides a medical reason why you should do it – despite the fact that actual evidence that weight loss improves health long term is lacking.

Exposure – products and people that promote weight loss are constantly in our face, making it very difficult to ignore. Even more so as weight loss is such an emotionally charged subject.

Having given you a bunch of reasons why it’s so easy to get sucked in to the latest weight loss (aka healthy lifestyle) trend or product, if you experience an on-going battle with your eating and body, here are a bunch of reasons to reflect on in order to NOT get sucked in…

  • Any results you gained were short-term and you regained the weight.
  • You didn’t get the results you’d hoped for and you felt a deep sense of failure and shame.
  • You were left feeling worse about yourself when it didn’t work, or after you regained any lost weight.
  • In your years of trying to lose weight, you’ve actually become heavier.
  • You wasted your hard earned money on something that didn’t bring about the results you so dearly hoped for.
  • You wasted your precious time and energy on something that didn’t only fail you, but that also probably made you feel worse.
  • The product or program made you feel miserable, you felt hungry, the food was “as boring as bat shit” (as one friend said to me recently) and you missed out on delicious food at parties, dinners or other occasions.
  • The evidence simply doesn’t exist for a product or program that leads to permanent long-term weight loss.

Note: if you feel a particular weight loss product or program has worked for you, then great, but please understand that for most people any results are not maintained long-term and this can lead to a worsening in physical and mental health.

So what can you do?

Here’s a radical idea… have you ever tried to focus on improving your health without weight loss at a goal? The Health At Every Size HAES paradigm allows you to do this through explore these avenues…

  • Learning to eat in a way that is both nourishing and pleasurable – this can be done through intuitive eating
  • If you really feel unhappy in your body, looking at ways to start feeling better in your body that don’t depend on weight loss (the HAES approach is not anti-weight loss, if weight loss occurs as a by product of changing health behaviours then this can be welcomed)
  • For many people, addressing body image concerns is a key part of learning how to truly take care of your body
  • Finding ways to move more that feel good,  that fit in with your lifestyle and that have you wanting to participate for the joy of being active rather than to lose weight 

Need help?

We strongly recommend you seek help from a HAES practitioner in Australia or overseas

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Do you have a healthy relationship with food? – take our free quiz to find out
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Get a taste of what’s involved with with our ebook Nourish.

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5 steps to eating well – plus what you don’t actually need to do…

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Just as it seems dieting is becoming uncool, more and more people seem to be getting caught up in the dieting world. Rather than diets, people now talk about wellness plans, macros, sugar free, keto and in some cases, choosing veganism – all of which can end up being just another diet with only short-term results (if any) and long-term problematic eating behaviours (such as the restrict-binge-restrict cycle) and weight cycling.

I’ll pause here to stay choosing to eat vegan for reasons of animal welfare is a perfectly valid choice. However, as a dietitian, I am seeing and hearing about many people turning to veganism for their health, because it’s “cleaner” and although people may not say so explicitly – for weight loss or to enhance how their body looks.

While for some people, even this reason may be a valid choice, for many it is not and the result is getting caught up in the same diet cycle and pattern of disordered eating and body image mess that dieting creates.

If you are fed up struggling with your eating and feeling awful about your body, you have to get yourself out of the the dieting and body image mess our culture has created. You need to take a step back from much of the “wellness” industry and anyone who claims they have the answers you’re looking for through eating certain foods or through the right way to eat for your body. There is no one right or magic way to eat that is going to be your golden ticket. There are a gazillion different ways of eating well, just look at various cultures around the world and how variable their diets are.

In fact, loosening your grip on the food focus, and even on nutrition, may be exactly what you need to start feeling calmer around food and start being able to tune into what your body truly needs. Your body is amazing organism and can guide you with how look after yourself. But with so much external noise about how to eat, how to exercise and how your body should look and feel – it’s easy to lose touch with what your body is telling you. I urge to experiment with taking a step back from all the “health” messages and instead, turn your focus inwards and see what your body tells you.

Some people will be able to do this without too much difficultly, but some people will really struggle, especially if you’ve been caught in the diet cycle for some time or if you feel really bad about your body. If this is you, you might like to seek help from a health professional who works under the Health At Every Size and Non-Diet paradigm.

 

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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!

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Just eat more celery and less meat pies!

Want to lose weight?

Just eat more celery and less meat pies!

While most people should recognise this as ridiculous advice, is it really any different to the message of just eat more veggies and less “junk”? As in, if losing weight were that simple, surely the millions of people who have tried to lose weight would have been successful by now. In addition, the current common wisdom around what is required to control body weight is mistaken (weight loss is not a simple equation of eat less and move more), which helps explain why no one is able to do it.

If we were machines and could just program our food for the day, then just doing what is suggested by this “common wisdom”, might actually be possible – but we are not machines, we are complex organisms with complex emotional and physiological needs and desires. You can’t simply instruct someone on how to eat to meaningfully* lose weight – oh wait, that’s what most weight loss programs try to do – it’s no wonder they don’t work!

*meaningfully, meaning in a way that benefits the individual mentally and physically over their life-time

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So why isn’t it as simple as just eat more veggies and less “junk”?

Factors that influence food choices:

  • How hungry you are
  • Awareness of how hungry you are
  • How long since you last ate
  • The type of food you late ate
  • The type of food that appeals to your taste buds
  • The type of food available
  • History of dieting
  • Past or current food restriction
  • Emotional state
  • How tired you are
  • How much sleep you’re getting
  • How much stress you’re under
  • Your hormones and metabolic factors
  • Any medications you may be on
  • Where you’re next meal is coming from
  • A sense of when and what you’re going to be eating next
  • How active you’ve been
  • What you’ve got on for the rest of your day
  • What the other people you’re eating with will eat
  • What other people are telling you you should or should not be eating

I’m sure there’s many more, so feel free to add more in the facebook comments.

Eating celery over meat pies, or less extreme, advice to eat more veggies and less highly processed food does not take into account or address any of these factors, in fact, placing the emphasis on the food could exacerbate a number of them. Now, I am not for a second staying eating more veggies is not a worthwhile pursuit, or would not benefit health. Instead, I am wanting to highlight that very often, well meaning dietary advice falls way short of the mark and only serves to perpetuate our culture’s unhelpful and often very damaging diet and weight loss industries.

 

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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!

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We must stop pathologising people in bigger bodies.

Not everybody in a larger body is unhealthy and calling people “obese” does nothing to help people care for their health.

For example, a few weeks back on the radio, the headline “Obese men have worse sperm quality” was read out by one of the presenters.

When (many) people hear the word “obese”, they hear unacceptable, bad, undesirable, disgraceful or serious problem. Having a high BMI does not mean you are any of these things.

People can be classified “obese” as per the BMI scale and have perfectly good health and for men, good sperm quality.

In fact there is not one health issue that only larger people get. Thin people can suffer all the same health issues, including low sperm count, but we don’t pathologise all thin people – we don’t even have a word equivalent to “obese” for thinner people. Or if thin is the antonym, it doesn’t carry the stigma that the word “obese” does.

Yes there are people in larger bodies who have behaviours that may adversely influence their health, but there are thinner people who fit this bill too.

How do we know these men with low sperm quality have low quality sperm because of their weight and not because of a lifestyle factor such as diet or activity levels? We don’t.

If we, as a population, really care about helping people live healthy lives, we need to stop making people in larger bodies feel awful about themselves (weight stigma). How does making people feel shame about their body and terrible about themselves motivate people to change? It doesn’t. In fact, this study published in the American Journal of Public Health, shows how the public health implications of weight stigma are widely ignored and how this adversely affects health.

Obesity Stigma: Important Considerations for Public Health – www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2866597/

Tackling weight stigma is one of the tenets of the Health At Every Size (HAES) Movement. You can learn more about HAES and other resources that back up why we must stop with the “war on obesity” here
www.lovewhatyoueat.com.au/the-non-diet-approach-research/

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

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As a dietitian, I don’t sell “the dream”…

As a dietitian, I don’t sell “the dream”, be that the weight loss dream, the health dream or the happiness dream. I don’t sell it because I can’t, and nor can anyone else despite the claims made, the shiny TV shows, the millions of followers or the millions of dollars.
 
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I learned fairly early on in my career that part of my job as a dietitian is to pick up the pieces, the pieces from broken dreams. I don’t see my job as something sad or secondary, I see my job as something healing and powerful, something with the potential to show people, that’s you, that you can find within yourself what it is you’re really looking for. And when you do this, you can finally stop the search for the next best thing that will turn your life around. You can stop blaming food, or looking to food for the answer to health and happiness, and you can stop hating your body. And when you learn to do this, you can truly be free to find whatever health and happiness means to you.
 
For those of you who watched 60 minutes on Sunday, I have a few points about Peter F’s new book.
 
Awesome that he’s dropped a stack of weight and feels great, I don’t begrudge him for that in any way, shape or form.
 
But his claim that sugar was the main villain and that everybody else should do the same… let’s look at that more closely.
 
From what he said he ate and drank, a large portion of the food energy he cut out wasn’t from sugar, it was from alcohol (ethanol). FYI a bottle of wine has less than 6g of sugar.
 
He also pointed out he ate too much food. Food is a combination of fat, protein and carbohydrate (sugar is a carbohydrate). Again he didn’t just reduce his sugar intake, he ate less food. In addition to the decrease in food and alcohol, Peter significantly increased his exercise, again not a sugar thing. I strongly suspect the sugar angle is simply to get the headlines and of course it has worked as a brilliant money maker for several others.
 
His message for men, “don’t be a weak bastard”, I’m sorry Peter but shaming people does not lead to long term changes in health behaviours, plenty has been written on this. Here’s a starting point www.psychologytoday.com/blog/living-single/201506/11-reasons-never-shame-anyone
 
Now, to be clear, many people do have too much added sugar in their diets and this adversely impacts on health. Dietitians work to help people understand this and change their eating behaviours in a way which is both enjoyable and sustainable. For many people, just cutting things completely out of their diet is neither enjoyable or sustainable, and many people’s eating habits actually end up worse when they try these more extreme measures, as dietitians we see thousands of these people. Of course some people are able to go cold turkey and that’s fine. But can I just make the point that when you have a book deal and a prime time TV segment, money can be a great incentive…. and when you’re not making $$$ from cutting out sugar, you’re motivation might not be as strong, at least not long-term.
 
That aside, complete avoidance of sugar is not necessary, many people enjoy good health without having to quit sugar. Lastly, as I’ve explained many in my blogs and on The Moderation Movement, health is much more complex than just what we eat or how much we weigh (see my Health At Every Size and Managing your food blog categories).
 
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