Last night a Mars Bar saved my night

Last week I attended a public lecture on healthy eating behaviour and weight management (which I realise is a pretty dull start to a blog post – but bear with me).  The reason I feel compelled to write about it is that actually, it was the best Tuesday night I’ve spent in ages.  There was no mention of menu planning, protein to carb ratios or meal replacement shakes – but get this:  we all had to eat a Mars Bar together.  Now that’s what I call professional development.

Image: coffeedundee.com.au

Image: coffeedundee.com.au

Colleagues reading this post have probably guessed who I’m talking about.  Dr Rick Kausman has been working to help people eat well and take control of their weight for over twenty-five years, but the big news is that he doesn’t believe in dieting.

So how on earth does he help overweight people without putting them on a diet? Well that is just it.

Rick recognises that dieting (however you do it) only works in the short term. Because whether you’re counting calories, or banning whole food groups – you’re essentially suspending ‘normal’ behaviour, for the purpose of losing weight.  In an existential way, he describes it as a bit like holding your breath.  hungry as f***

But here’s the thing that really struck a cord with me: Instead of blaming the diet when it all goes to pot, we always blame ourselves.

   “The diet worked and I lost some weight, but then I mucked it up.  I put the weight back on”  

Sound familiar?   In the long term, diets do more harm than good, with the vast majority ending up right back where they started, plus a few extra kilos and an extra dollop of shame – thanks for playing.  Case in point is our national treasure and ex-Jenny Craig poster girl Magda Szubanski – who lost upwards of 35kg with Jenny Craig back in 2009, only to be resigned in 2014 to do it all over again (and then dropped six months later).

ironic much?The truth is that most overweight people have a pretty decent idea of how to eat better and exercise more.  Many are good at losing the weight – but just not keeping it off. They’ve been there, done that, and bought the t-shirt (in a variety of sizes).

But what Rick Kausman’s experience has taught him is that exercise and nutrition are only two small pieces of a very large puzzle.   And you can’t solve a puzzle when you’re missing most of the pieces.  Fabulous – right there.  I think I have nerdy, non-sexual crush on an older married man.

So what are the other missing pieces?  Here’s my three take away messages:

1.  Mindful eating.  We need to start listening to our bodies.

So many of us have lost touch with the way we eat.  We’re wolfing food down so fast that we barely have time to register fullness or pleasure.  Or we’re mindlessly nibbling our kids’ toast scraps at the kitchen bench. Sometimes, we eat just because it’s there, and sometimes because we’re anxious, exhausted or bored.

This is what Rick refers to as non-hungry eating.  It’s normal and totally okay to do some of the time, but do it on a regular basis, and you’re tricking your body into consuming more fuel than it really needs.

Rick teaches his clients to practice mindful eating, by recording their hunger levels and state of mind using a food awareness diary.  He uses the Mars Bar exercise (God bless him) to demonstrate how with practice, mindful eaters are able to eat less, and enjoy it more.  The simple, yet powerful question he proposes is ‘I can have it if I want it, but do I really feel like it?’

And that leads me on to my next point:

2.  We need to ditch the food guilt 

Fitspo? Clean eating?  Detoxing?  How have these ridiculous, self-riteous concepts ever helped overweight people?  I’ve said this before, but man, we really need to stop thinking of foods as good or bad, right or wrong, clean or dirty.  That goes for us, and doubly so for how we talk to our children about food.clean eating pulp fiction

As parents, most of us have done it before – and I’ll put my hand up here.  Against my better judgement, I’ve caught myself calling food ‘rubbish’ in front of my children. But does it stop them wanting the alluringly packaged, disturbingly coloured, salty-sweet ‘junk’ in question?  No.  This kind of language just encourages guilt and shame around food.  And as a mum (and a dietitian), that’s certainly not what I want to impart.

It may sound a bit naff when you first say it out loud, but talking about ‘everyday’ and ‘sometimes’ foods is an infinitely more helpful and effective approach.

3.  A number on the scales shouldn’t be mistaken for a measure of health and wellbeing

On my final point here, please don’t get me wrong – I’m well aware that obesity is a huge health and economic burden in Australia today.  It’s just that I don’t see how our obsession with weighing and measuring, diet ‘policing’ and fat-shaming is going to help.

grumpy bird

It’s time to recognise and foster the idea that healthy bodies come in a variety of shapes and sizes.  As health professionals, we need to shift the focus onto the person –  helping them to improve their self esteem, and motivating them to nurture (rather than detest) their bodies.  It’s called the person centred, non-diet approach, and the word is slowly spreading.

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Do you need help, or do you want to learn more?  You can sign up over here to access Rick’s free resources, and find the link to his inspirational book If Not Dieting, Then What?

 

 

 

 

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Paleo? Y/N? A post in defence of cheese

Okay. Are we officially over the Pete Evans / paleo social media shit-storm in Australia? I think it’s safe to say that I’m just about there.  I’m experiencing a severe case of Chronic Paleo Overload Syndrome (CPOS).

The problem is that as a practicing dietitian, it’s in my interests to keep abreast of the whole kerfuffle, and to know what Chef Pete Evans is preaching today to his 300K+ tribe on Facebook. Because you can bet your bokashi that my clients, colleagues, friends and family will be asking me about it.

How long – I wonder – before we’ll be asked to vote ‘for’ or ‘against’, and have our official paleo status stamped on our licence?:

Organ donor? (circle) Y / N.
Paleo? (circle): Y / N.

If you’re thinking I sound a bit paranoid, you may be right (along with premature ageing and a compulsion to stockpile Cherry Ripes, paranoia is a common symptom of CPOS).

But I’m not blogging here to enter into debate over Pete Evans’ recent attacks on the Heart Foundation tick – I think this recent post by a fellow dietitian says it perfectly.  When it comes to our healthy eating guidelines, or the role of fats and carbohydrates in the obesity epidemic, I defer to the extensive grey matter of Dr David Katz, and encourage anyone interested to read his recent thoughts.  And as for the idea that paleo can treat everything from autism to MS –  are you thinking what I’m thinking?..

Image: Getty images - ABC archives

What I am talking about here is the push I’m seeing for paleo to be accepted as a healthier alternative to current evidence-based nutrition guidelines.  And the proliferation of comments from the general public along the lines of:

‘I don’t see the problem with Paleo. It’s just a healthy diet that cuts out processed foods, and surely that’s better for us than eating crap isn’t it?

Most dietitians and public health experts are in furious agreement that there are some really good points to the paleo style of eating.  Engaging in debate about the quality of our food supply and where it comes from.  Stepping away from the supermarket shelves – groaning under the weight of sugary, processed, nutrient-poor foods.  Eating lots of fibrous, nutrient-rich vegetables, nuts and seeds.  Of course these are things we should all aspire to.

But let’s not get so blinded by these positives, that we fail to see the full picture.  The newsflash I have here is that there is a middle ground, which falls somewhere between a diet full of processed rubbish, and going paleo. It’s called eating things that grow in the soil, making your own instead of buying the packet, and developing a healthy relationship with food.

Quite simply – I believe going paleo is throwing the baby out with the bath water.

And this is why:

oats v fruitloops (1)

Paleo would have you think that a bowl of oats (with all that soluble fibre, folate, magnesium, protein and low GI carbohydrate) is no different to a bowl of Fruit Loops.

sandwich v fairy bread (1)

Paleo doesn’t distinguish between a sandwich made with grainy, low GI bread, and a sugar-laden cake made with refined white flour.  It lumps these two distinctly different beasts in together as ‘bad’ foods.  It perpetuates the idea that there is something inherently dangerous about gluten, despite any robust scientific data to this effect (and as a dietitan married to a guy with coeliac disease – I kind of know my research in the area of gluten sensitivity).

dairy and legumes bad

True paleo diets omit legumes and dairy – two incredibly nutrient dense food groups consumed by diverse cultures around our globe.  We’ve been eating these foods for centuries – long before the current obesity epidemic, the rise of food allergies, intolerances and their associated health burden.

There is a tonne of research which shows the benefit of legumes in the diet – probably because they are an excellent source of slow release carbohydrate with a wide range of nutrients and a good whack of fibre.

And dairy?  Slow release carbohydrate again, with quality protein, potassium and an ideal ratio of calcium and phosphorous for bone health.  A high dairy diet may not suit everyone (lactose intolerance and cow’s milk protein allergy/intolerance are known issues), and some prefer not to drink the milk of another mammal for ethical reasons.  But does dairy classify as a toxic food that is inherently bad for all of us?  No.

Please don’t make me live in a world without cheese – I just don’t think I’d cope.

miniature cheese platter

Miniature Cheese Platter – Stephanie Kilgast

So I have an idea.

Let’s start talking about nutrition without the sweeping generalisations and one-size fits all perspective. Let’s encourage a back-to-basics, cut-the-crap approach, without demonising foods we’ve been cultivating and eating without incident for centuries.  Let’s ditch the Facebook slinging match, the before and after shots and the contest for most number of ‘likes’ and ‘shares’.  And while we’re at it, how about accepting that as powerful as our diet is – it is not the cure for every disease or disorder under the sun.

With that in mind, I’ll get back to prepping my utterly non-paleo, yet delicious and healthy dinner.  Legumes, rice, cheese, vegetables – and a sneaky glass of wine on the side.  The perfect salve to my CPOS-riddled brain.

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